Sen. Bernie Sanders is pushing to become the chairman of the Senate Health Committee in the new Congress, a perch from which he could champion Medicare for all and other bold ideas.
If he seizes the gavel, Mr. Sanders would take over for Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, who just won reelection and is positioned to take over the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee after Democrats retained the majority in the midterm contests pending the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff.
Mr. Sanders is a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats and is the foremost champion of a government-run, single-payer system that would provide health insurance to all Americans.
Sitting atop the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee would give him heft in pushing the plan, even if it has no chance of becoming law through the GOP-controlled House.
Finding ways to usher in universal health care and lower the cost of prescription drugs would be Mr. Sanders’ key priorities as chairman, according to a staff member for the senator.
Mr. Sanders would likely be paired with Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, who is slated to serve as ranking member.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, was in line for the job but opted for the ranking member slot on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He said he looks forward to robust oversight of the government and bipartisan investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Mr. Paul clashed frequently with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the departing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at HELP hearings during the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr. Cassidy is viewed as more of a centrist than a firebrand, though it is unclear if he will find much common ground with Mr. Sanders, whose views are considered left of the Democratic Party’s mainstream.