Sen. Bernie Sanders on Health Care

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Health Care

By Countdown - July 1, 2009

Joining us now, as promised, the independent senator who supports a public option and universal health care, for that matter, Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Senator Sanders, thanks for joining us.


SHUSTER: If we stipulate that Lieberman and a handful of Democrats may be a lost cause for you on health care, who has the power to at least make them help you at least end a Republican filibuster?

SANDERS: Well, this is the way I look at it: I mean, as you heard at President Obama‘s-town meeting today, we have a disastrous health care situation in this country; 46 million uninsured, more underinsured, 20,000 people dying every year because they don‘t get to a doctor in time. A million people going bankrupt because of medical related bills.

So I think that what the last two elections were about, 2006 and 2008, was that the American people saying, we are tired of right wing extremism. We are going to trust the Democrats to move us in a very different direction, including health care.

And in my view, what the American people want, what the polls show, is the American people overwhelmingly want a national health care program, guaranteeing health care to all people. They want to make sure that people are not going bankrupt. And they want to make sure that we do it in a cost-effective way.

And one of the key components of that-I happen to be a strong proponent of a single payer system. I think that‘s the only way to really tackle comprehensive universal health care in a cost-effective way. That‘s not going to happen because of the power of the insurance companies and the drugs companies.

But at the very least, at the very least, what we should be talking about is a strong public option to compete with the private insurance companies, which will look like a Medicare for all programs, something like Medicare, except for people of all ages and you provide subsidies for low and moderate income people.

My view is that it is wrong to say that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass a bill. It doesn‘t. It takes 60 votes, as you have just indicated, to end the Republican filibuster. Republicans are filibustering every other day on virtually every important coming down the pike. They want to do nothing.

We now, with Al Franken on board, have 60 votes in the caucus. And my view is that every one of those people in the Democratic caucus should be saying to the Republicans, sorry, you are not going to prevent health care reform; we are voting for cloture. We are voting to end your filibuster. And now we are going to go forward and pass a strong health care bill, which begins to address the very serious crises facing millions of Americans.

What I also think is that of some of the Democrats, for whatever reasons, choose not to vote for final passage, that‘s their business. I can understand that. But the key issue here is stopping the Republican filibuster. And then, if we end up with 52 or 53 votes in the Senate, to pass a strong bill, strong bill, with among other things, a public option to compete with the private insurance companies, that‘s good enough for me.

SHUSTER: In other words, Democrats vote the way you want, but at least allow an up or down vote to take place. If that fails, why will it fail?

SANDERS: Well, you know, in my own view, we should not be naive about what goes on in Washington. And that is the reason we pay the highest prescription drug taxes in the world, the reason we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care program is largely attributable to the enormous power and money of the insurance companies, and the drug companies, who in the last ten years have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions.

I think right now they are spending something like a million dollar a day to prevent us moving into the direction that the American people want us to move in. You know, one of the problems that I just have a hard time understanding; a recent poll out by the "New York Times," it said 72 percent of the American people want a public option to compete with the private insurance companies. They want that choice of going outside of the private insurance companies. Ninety percent of Democrats wanted that option.

So to me, it seems like a kind of no-brainer for the Democratic caucus to at least say that we are going to stop the Republican filibuster. Republicans don‘t want to do anything. They are not serious about health care reform. That‘s fine. Let‘s reach out to them. Let‘s try to bring them on board. But if they want to filibuster, we are going to say no to that filibuster and move forward and do what the American people want.

SHUSTER: On that point, on the power and influence of the insurance industry and their lobbyists, at some point, if it is necessary to get a good bill passed, isn‘t the responsibility on you to specifically start naming names and say that he or she is selling us out to big insurance?

SANDERS: I think it is more complicated than that. I mean, I think you have conservative Democrats, who are conservative in a number of issues, for a number of reasons. I‘m not going to ascribe motives for those people. But all I am saying is that right now I think it is reasonable, given the fact that the Democrats have been given the responsibility for moving this country in a new direction, certainly including health care, that at the very least, every Democrat should be able to say look, the Republicans don‘t want to accomplish anything, and we are going to end that filibuster.

And at the end of the day, I may not end up voting for a strong piece of health care reform legislation for reasons A, B, C. I want to explain it to my constituents. That‘s fine if people do that. But I think that given the fact that we have a strong majority in the House, we have a Democratic president, we now have 60 votes in the Democratic caucus, at the very least, every Democrat should stand up and say no to the Republican filibuster, and allow us to go forward.

If they choose to vote against the final passage, that‘s their right.

SHUSTER: Of course, it would take getting every Democrat to do that.

Do you think that you would get that?

SANDERS: Well, that‘s what I think we should-that‘s what I think we should have, and that‘s what I‘m fighting for. You know, at the end of the day, if we can rally public support for a strong health care reform, piece of legislation, you may get a couple of Republicans as well. I think the American people know that there is something wrong when we were spending twice as much, almost twice as much, per person on health care as any other country, and yet our health care outcomes are not nearly as good as many of our international competitors.

SHUSTER: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Senator, thanks so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

SANDERS: Thank you for your interest in this issue.



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