Interview with Senator Sanders

Interview with Senator Sanders

By The Situation Room - July 22, 2011

BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, the independent senator from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you. BLITZER: Why did you vote today against this cut, cap, and balance legislation that passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives?

SANDERS: Because it's a proposal that would make drastic cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, Social Security, and every program that has of relevance to ordinary Americans. Look, the deficit is a serious problem, but you don't balance it on the backs of the weak and the vulnerable. You don't back balance it on the backs of children by throwing them off health insurance or substantially cutting back on Social Security benefits.

The way you do deficit reduction and what the American people have said in every single poll is you ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. You do away with loopholes that corporations are enjoying so that while they make billions in profits, they're not paying a nickel in taxes.

You take a hard look in military spending. You don't do what right-wing Republicans want and that is to savage programs that, in the middle of recession, people desperately need.

BLITZER: Well, the House Speaker John Boehner this morning said you could have made changes. He says it affect your abdicating the Senate Democrats and you, your legislative responsibility. I want to play for you a little bit of what the speaker said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: And if they don't like our version of cut, cap, and balance, guess what? That's what the legislative process is for. They can amend it. They can change it. They can send it back over to the House. And frankly, they've got to take action on that bill.


BLITZER: What do you say to the speaker?

SANDERS: Well, we did take action on the bill. I took action on it. I voted against it. It is a disaster. Again, when the richest people in this country are getting richer, but Mr. Boehner is saying sorry, we're not going to ask them to pay a nickel more in taxes, when large corporations make billions of dollars in profits and pay nothing in taxes, Mr. Boehner is saying oh, no, I don't want them to pay any more in taxes.

But when it comes to destroying Social Security and asking an 85- year-old to pay $1,000 a year -- lose $1,000 in Social Security benefits in 20 years, Mr. Boehner thinks that's a good idea. Throwing people off of Medicaid when we already have 50 million people without any insurance, Mr. Boehner thinks that's a good idea.

Well, we have some differences of opinion. Every poll that I have seen, Wolf, says that the American people want shared sacrifice. They do not want to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children or the middle class. BLITZER: Would you be open to some sort of deal that the president might work out with the House Speaker in order to avoid this August 2nd default deadline, a deal by whereby there would be significant spending cuts right now, but any tax increases would be punted, would be kicked way down the road in order to get it passed? Are you open to that?

SANDERS: No. That would be a disaster. And again, a proposal like that is defying what the American people have said over and over again. Only a small minority of people, apparently, right here in Washington, D.C. thinks that it makes sense to attack Social Security when Social Security hasn't contributed one nickel to our deficit to cut back on Medicare, to cut back on Medicaid, to cut back on education.

I do not support that proposal. And the idea that pushing down the road at some point in the indefinite future maybe will raise some revenue, I think that is absurd and way out of line with what the American people want to see happen.

BLITZER: You know, the president has said publicly, he's open to making some reductions, some significant changes in Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid for that matter, means testing. He's raised that possibility. Changing the cost of living index. Are you with the president on that?

SANDERS: No, absolutely not. And I think, you know, we're getting a whole lot of calls in Vermont. And I suspect members of Congress in the Senate are getting the same calls. You know what, Wolf, go back to the records. Find out what Barack Obama said when he was running for president. And what he said when he was running for president is, John McCain, John McCain wants to cut your Social Security, not me. I'm not going to do it. I'm going to stand with the middle class of this country.

The president should go back and read the speeches he gave when he was running for president. There is a massive, massive amount of disappointment. Let me get back to Social Security. Social Security today has not contributed a nickel to the deficit because it's funded by the payroll tax. It has a $2.6 trillion surplus. It can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 25 years.

Why in God's name in the middle of a recession would you cut back on Social Security? This is what the right-wing Republicans have wanted for decades. And it saddens me very much that the president is going back on his promise to the American people and is apparently exceeding to the Republican's request.

BLITZER: Is it too much to suggest that if it is you let me know that you almost feel betrayed by this president?

SANDERS: Well, it's not just me. When somebody runs for office and says I am not going to cut Social Security, and then two and a half years later says, oh, I am going to cut Social Security. It's not just me. I think there are millions of people who think the president said one thing and did another thing. Massive disappointment in this country.

BLITZER: So, what are you going to do about it? Right now, there's a crisis potentially. There could be a default. Interest rates would go up, unemployment would go up, the value of the dollar would go down. That would be an across the board burden on everybody in America.

SANDERS: That's right. No question about it. And it's incomprehensible to me that the Republicans today are holding our entire economy hostage on this debt ceiling issue when during the Bush years, you will recall, when we increased the national debt by $5 trillion, they had no problem about raising the debt ceiling seven different times. Seven times, $5 trillion increase. But right now, the world is coming to an end, they can't do it.

I think the good news is that our good friends on Wall Street who have caused this recession and the big money interests, they know that they're going to lose a whole lot of money also if we default. They're beginning to put pressure on the Republican leadership, and I think they are powerful enough to make the Republicans understand that default is not a good idea.

BLITZER: Senator Sanders, thanks very much for coming in.

SANDERS: Thank you.


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