As Joe Biden prepares to lay out his sweeping economic agenda, including massive investments in childcare and education, Bernie Sanders is capitalising on the president’s ambitions to urge support for even larger investments in childcare and education, as well as renewing his signature push to expand federal healthcare coverage.
The president’s first primetime address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday will begin the process of “dealing with the structural problems facing this country,” the progressive Vermont senator said in a video posted to social media.
Mr Biden’s plan would provide universal preschool for millions of three- and four-year-old children, provide for two years of tuition-free community college enrolment, and build funding for childcare and federal paid family and medical leave, among other proposals.
The senator said the US needs to “move aggressively” to combat the nation’s high rates of child poverty and bridge disparities in childcare and education.
“It is insane that hundreds of thousands of bright young kids” cannot afford tuition costs, or end up leaving school before graduation “so deeply in debt that they’re paying off that debt for decades,” he said. “That is pretty crazy stuff.”
He also urged Congress and the administration to “summon the courage to take on the healthcare industry, the pharmaceutical industry” to lower the cost of health insurance and prescription medicine.
“I would hope that right now in this session what we can begin the process is expanding Medicare,” he said.
The senator supports a nationalised health insurance system through a Medicare For All proposal by expanding the federal healthcare programme for elderly Americans to everyone, rather than through private for-profit insurance networks.
In this legislative session, he is joining calls to lower the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55, which could open the plan to 40 million more Americans. A growing number of congressional Democrats have also urged the White House to expand eligibility.
Democrats have also called on the administration to expand Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits by negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of prescription drugs, which would save the programme $450bn and increase revenues by $45bn over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
On Wednesday, a study commissioned by Mr Sanders revealed that Americans pay two to four times more for prescription medicine compared to other wealthy countries.
The senator, and Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal, have also proposed the College for All Act, which would grant tuition-free community college for all students, and allow students from families earning under $125,000 to enrol in public colleges and universities “tuition-free and debt-free”.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and US Rep Mondaire Jones have also proposed the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, a $700bn plan to establish a network of childcare centres across the US in partnership with state and local governments and school districts.
The proposal aims to “fix our broken child care system and ensure that women and families are not left behind in our recovery,” she said in a statement. “Expanding quality childcare would create jobs, increase productivity, and have lifelong benefits for children’s development and growth.”
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