Senator-Elect Sanders

Columns / Dec. 28, 2006 12:00am EST

Priorities for 2007 Congress
By Bernie Sanders

Senator-Elect Sanders

Priorities for 2007 Congress

By Bernie Sanders

Since the election, my staff and I have been working hard to make the transition from the House to the Senate. We’re getting prepared so that we can hit the ground running when the new session convenes on January 4.

One of the key differences between the House and the Senate is that Senators have the opportunity to sit on more committees, and have a greater voice on each of their committees. I am very appreciative that Senator Harry Reid, the new majority leader, acceded to my request to join the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee, the Environment Committee and the Veterans Committee.

In addition, I have also been appointed to the Energy Committee and the Budget Committee. These are exciting and important committees and, along with Sen. Leahy’s committee assignments, we should be able to pretty much cover the bases for Vermont’s interests.

Major Issues

Let me offer a few words about some of the major issues that will soon be surfacing when Congress reconvenes, and some of the legislation that I will be focusing on:

THE WAR IN IRAQ: I strongly disagree with those who support a "surge" in our troop strength in Iraq. In my view, the Bush Administration has been tragically wrong on the war from the very beginning. They misled us into a war that we should never have entered, they were totally unprepared for what happened, and they now have no coherent plans on how to bring our troops home safely.

The result is that Iraq is now in the midst of a civil war, with horribly high casualty rates for Iraqis and for our troops. In overwhelming numbers, the Iraqi people believe that their country would be safer and more stable if the United States withdrew its troops. While there are no "good options" now available, I believe we should honor the feelings of the Iraqi people and bring our troops home as soon as possible, while we do all that we can to help strengthen Iraq’s government, its police, and its military.

THE MINIMUM WAGE: At a time when the middle class is shrinking and poverty is increasing, it is incomprehensible that the Bush Administration and the Republican leadership have kept the national minimum wage at the absurdly low rate of $5.15 an hour. I will vote to raise the minimum wage and do all that I can to make certain that no American who works 40 hours a week lives in poverty.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: In a period of our history in which corporate America has been excessively greedy, there is no industry that has been greedier than the pharmaceutical industry. I intend to play an active role in trying to strengthen benefits for seniors in the Part D Prescription Drug Medicare bill by eliminating the "donut hole" and enabling Medicare to negotiate drug prices. I also believe that we now have the votes to pass a Prescription Drug Re-importation Bill that will end the absurdity of Americans having to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for their medicine.

EDUCATION: It appears that two major bills will soon be coming before the HELP committee. With college becoming more and more unaffordable for middle class families I will do my best, in the Higher Education Reauthorization bill, to lower interest rates for families borrowing for college, greatly expand the Pell Grant program and substantially broaden the loan forgiveness program so that college graduates who enter public service will get their loans forgiven or reduced. I will do my best to substantially increase funding for the Head Start Reauthorization Bill.

THE BUDGET: With an $8.5 trillion dollar national debt, and huge unmet needs in our country, it is clear that we must make fundamental changes in our budgetary and tax policies. As a member of the Budget Committee I will fight to rescind the huge tax breaks that President Bush has given the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers and to put a stop to the billions in corporate welfare that have gone to the oil companies and other profitable corporations.

Our goal should be to reorder national priorities to put children, workers, seniors, veterans, family farmers, students, and the needs of working and middle class families ahead of the interests of the wealthy and the multinational corporations.

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