Sen. Bernie Sanders, who rose to national prominence criticizing big business in general and the pharmaceutical industry in particular, claimed the spotlight Wednesday on what might at first seem a powerful new stage from which to advance his agenda: chairmanship of the Senate health committee.
But the hearing Sanders used to excoriate a billionaire pharmaceutical executive for raising the price of a covid-19 vaccine showed the challenges the Vermont independent faces.
Though its formal name is the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), the panel Sanders chairs has little if any authority over drug prices. In the Senate, most of that leverage lies with the Finance Committee, which oversees Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare.
As far as drug prices go, the platform Sanders commands is essentially a bully pulpit. So Sanders was left to bully his way toward results. And while some committee Republicans sympathized with his complaints, others bristled at his approach.
By the end of the hearing, seeming to acknowledge the limits of his power, the former presidential candidate was pleading with Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel for a relatively modest concession on vaccine pricing.
The CEO made no promises. Then again, pulpit proclamations can lead to corporate action, even if delayed and informal; in the weeks following President Joe Biden’s State of the Union call for che …