Home2024 Elections1/30-31 News Roundup & Open Thread
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A thankful T and R x 2, Ms. Benny!! 🙂 Here’s hoping that your healing is progressing rapidly and well.





Sen. Bernie Sanders has long made no secret that he thinks drug companies and health insurers are ripping off Americans. But now he’s chairman of the Senate health committee.

Why it matters: Sanders has signaled an early focus of the committee’s work will be drug prices, and manufacturers are bracing for some contentious hearings.

“I have no doubt there will be tough hearings with people from industry being forced to testify, subpoenaed to testify, etc.,” a pharmaceutical industry source said. “And I think that’s going to be a real challenge.”

What they’re saying: Sanders told Axios in a brief hallway interview last week that he does plan to have hearings in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on drug prices.

Asked specifically if that will include calling drug company executives to testify, Sanders said: “We’re working on a strategy right now that will be very aggressive.”

Sanders has already set the tone for his chairmanship with a Fox News op-ed saying “greedy pharma rips off Americans.” In a short video he posted on Twitter, Sanders previewed the committee’s agenda, including how it would “take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.”

Sanders allies say it is little secret that he wants to press pharmaceutical executives. “I think very near the first order of business for Bernie Sanders at HELP is calling these corporations to account,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of the progressive group Social Security Works.

Lawson said he expects Sanders to send letters to drug companies with questions before calling hearings.

“It doesn’t take reading tea leaves to think that Sanders will want to do that,” Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, the top Republican on HELP, said of drug company hearings. “If he calls them in, I have questions,” he added.

Between the lines: The important upside for industry is that with a divided Congress, Sanders has basically no ability to get his most sweeping ideas signed into law at the moment. What he will have is the use of the bully pulpit and the public relations battle.

“We’re seeing companies intensify their proactive education and advocacy efforts, while also preparing to deal with fresh attacks from the senator,” said a consultant who works with pharmaceutical companies.

The consultant added that there is hope attention can shift to other players in the drug supply chain, starting with pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, who negotiate drug prices on behalf of health plans and have been the target of more finger-pointing over what patients actually pay at the pharmacy counter.

Lori Reilly, chief operating officer at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said they are “preparing for anything and everything” when asked about Sanders as chairman.

She said they had not heard directly from him about hearings, but “my assumption is he will be having hearings on that, and our companies have testified before and we’ve testified before, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.”

PhRMA spokesman Brian Newell said in a statement that “we can’t ignore the real drivers of health care spending or middlemen who are shifting costs onto people at the pharmacy.”

Keep in mind: Democrats last year fulfilled a long-held goal by passing drug pricing provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that for the first time gave Medicare the power to negotiate the prices of some drugs that have been on the market for several years but don’t have competition from generics.

While Sanders has put his early focus on drug companies, the Medicare for All proponent and two-time presidential candidate is certainly no fan of health insurers either. But one health insurance industry executive said they hope to work with him on drug pricing — and putting heat on manufacturers.

“Senator Sanders certainly has his point of view,” David Merritt, a senior vice president at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, told reporters last week. “I do think we can find some common ground on the need to reform the prescription drug industry.”
The bottom line: Sanders is getting ready for a fight.

“However scared they are, they’re not scared enough,” Lawson said of the health care industry. “Because that’s the energy that Bernie Sanders, from my opinion from speaking with HELP, is bringing to this.”



In his new role as the chair of the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is calling for the minimum wage to be raised for the first time in nearly 14 years, saying that the old benchmark of $15 an hour is no longer enough.

On MSNBC on Sunday, Sanders said that it is time for the federal minimum wage to be raised to at least $17 an hour, if not more. This would be nearly 2.5 times the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which was set in 2009.

“A couple of years ago, we fought to raise the minimum wage to $15. As a result of inflation, in real dollars, that should be at least $17 right now,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi.

“Here’s the bottom line: you’ve got over 60 percent of the people in this country living paycheck to paycheck, tens of millions are working at starvation wages,” he continued. “It is not too much to ask the wealthiest country on Earth where we have massive income and wealth inequality, people on top doing phenomenally well, to say that in America, if you’re working 40 hours a week, you’re not living in poverty.”

In 2021, Sanders and progressive lawmakers fought to have a provision increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour included in the Democrats’ budget reconciliation bill. But the provision was dropped from the package due to uniform opposition from Republicans and figures like Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona), and unwillingness from Democrats to overrule the Senate parliamentarian who ruled that the minimum wage wasn’t sufficiently related to the federal budget.

Because of extremely high inflation rates over the past year, $15 is about equivalent to $17 now. In fact, $15 an hour was already insufficient in 2021, many activists said; workers have been waging the “Fight for $15” since 2012, and research done in 2021 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found that a worker making $15 an hour working 40 hours a week wouldn’t be able to afford to rent an average two bedroom apartment in any state in the U.S.

If the minimum wage had risen with productivity in past decades, perhaps better reflecting workers’ contributions to the economy, the minimum wage would be over $23 now, economists say. If it had risen at the same rate that Wall Street employee bonuses have risen since the 1980s, meanwhile, it would be $61.75 per hour.

“The price of housing has soared in recent years. If you’re an average worker, my god, you’re paying $1,500 a month to put a roof over your head and your child’s head,” Sanders said. “The bottom line is — this is not complicated — you’ve got an economy right now that is doing great, fantastic, for the 1 percent. How about creating an economy that works for ordinary Americans? That means you raise the minimum wage to a living wage.”

With Congress dragging its feet on raising the minimum wage, the current value of the minimum wage is extremely low. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found last July that the value of the federal minimum wage has declined by 27 percent since it was established in 2009, reaching its lowest point since 1956. This has an effect not only on workers who are paid minimum wage, but also across the economy, as the value of the minimum wage has ripple effects across workers whose wages aren’t directly dependent on the federal threshold.

It’s unlikely that Republicans will pass legislation to raise the minimum wage any time soon, as the party is currently working on plans to put even less money in the hands of the working class. In this moment, however, Sanders said that it is important for Democrats to introduce legislation that puts on display the cruelties of the Republican agenda.

Though House Republicans are discussing cutting Social Security, Sanders told Velshi that he plans to introduce legislation this week that would increase Social Security payments by ensuring that the wealthiest Americans pay a share of their incomes that is equivalent to what the rest of the country pays into the program.

“I think our job in the Senate is to put concrete ideas on the table that the American people will say, ‘yeah, we should raise minimum wage. Yes, we should raise the benefits for low income seniors and improve the solvency of Social Security,’” Sanders said. “I think if we do our job, people will see the contrast between serious legislating and what goes on in the House.”


How about getting rid of the SS cap that was instituted by Raygun and his goon squad.