Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

By The Situation Room - August 2, 2011

BLITZER: And joining us now, the independent senator from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders. He's independent, but he caucuses with the Democrats.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SANDERS: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Why did you decide to do what most of the Democrats didn't do? You voted against this legislation. What was wrong with it?

SANDERS: It's an extremely unfair piece of legislation.

Look, the wealthiest people in this country are becoming much richer and in many cases paying a very low effective tax rate. Corporations are making billions in profits, not paying in some cases a nickel in taxes.

And what this legislation does is does deficit reduction on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and some of the most vulnerable people in our country. It is extremely unfair.

BLITZER: But the White House makes the point that those issues that you just raised will be subject to negotiation in this new super committee that is going to be created and then there will be recommendations down the road. So the president did not really have any choice in order to avoid default. He had to accept this deal.


SANDERS: No. No. No one had to accept anything. And a better program should be negotiated.

But let us be very clear. What we are looking at is massive cuts in education, Head Start, child care, environmental protection, affordable housing, police protection, fire protection.

You name the issue, there are going to be massive cuts that will impact negatively on working people. Plus, the fact is we are going to also lose about several hundred thousand jobs. A better program -- a better piece of legislation should have been negotiated.

BLITZER: So it sounds to me like you believe the president was a poor negotiator.

SANDERS: I don't think anyone disputes -- I think everybody who understands who has studied this issue this is a huge win for right- wing Republicans.

And that is why in the House, an overwhelming number of Republicans voted for it, far more than Democrats.

BLITZER: But if he wouldn't have accepted this, aren't you concerned that the country could have gone into default? That would have raised interest rates, potentially raised unemployment.


SANDERS: No, clearly default would have been a disaster.

And it is unconscionable that for the first time in American history, the Republicans would have pushed us to the brink on this issue. As you know, under George Bush, we raised the debt ceiling seven times. And nothing like this ever happened. Under Obama, this is what they did. But having said that, I don't believe that default would have occurred. I think at the last moment, the president appropriately would have used the 14th Amendment to protect the faith and credit of our financial system.

BLITZER: Even though he had said repeatedly he didn't think that would work, even though the former President Bill Clinton recommended that he go ahead and simply declare the 14th Amendment...


SANDERS: You are right, Wolf, is saying that default would have been a disaster. I honestly believe that would not have happened.

BLITZER: If he would have declared the 14th Amendment, then it would have gone to the courts. We would have seen what was going to happen.

But in the meantime, you are right. There would not have been a default. But he didn't want to use it. He's a former constitutional professor at the University of Chicago. So I assume he looked at the law and he concluded that it wasn't a good idea.

SANDERS: But there are other lawyers who disagree.

The other point that I want to make, Wolf, is this is a fairly complicated piece of legislation. And not everybody knows what is in it. But here's the main point. First tranche, there will be $900 billion in cuts to discretionary programs. They will hurt a whole lot of people.

The second approach is $1.5 trillion that goes to a super committee. Everything is on the table for that committee, including the possibility, the possibility of major cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I'm not saying that that will happen. But everything is on the table. You have a whole lot of Republicans who want that to happen.

You have some Democrats who have been talking about cuts in Social Security. You add it all together, the wealthy and large corporations contribute zero to deficit reduction. All of the burden comes on working families, the elderly, the kids and the sick. I don't know how anybody could think that this resembles anything that is fair.

BLITZER: There a lot of disappointed progressives out there, a lot of liberals who are disappointed in the way the president handled this.

Do you think anyone is going to emerge and challenge him for the Democratic presidential nomination?

SANDERS: I have no idea.

But I do believe that the president should be held accountable. When you say something in a campaign and you don't do what you said you would do, I think that it's fair to raise those issues.

BLITZER: Do you think he will be reelected?

SANDERS: I think there is a reasonable chance that he will be reelected because I think while people are certainly not enthusiastic about President Obama, I think when they look at right-wing Republicans and their strong defense of the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations, their willingness to make devastating, devastating cuts on the need of working people, I think he may do just fine.

BLITZER: I know that a lot of his political advisers think that the liberal base of the Democratic Party really has no place else to go, that in the end, even though they are upset now, they are disappointed, they will be with him in November 2012.

SANDERS: Wolf, I got to say this. Let me say this, in all due respect.

BLITZER: Please.

SANDERS: The media keeps talking about the political games here and who wins and who loses, will he be reelected.

That's all very interesting, but you know what? Back home, the calls that I get from Vermonters are, are they going to cut my Social Security? Are they going to cut Medicare? I'm a low-income person. I'm on food stamps. Am I going to continue to get food stamps? What about the ability of my kid to go to college?

That's what ordinary people are worried about. And I think we have got to be very careful in making clear that the American people understand what is in this legislation, how many jobs are going to be lost, how many of the most vulnerable -- there people in the state of Vermont, senior citizens, who depend upon the Meals on Wheels program. They are fragile people. They get delivered meals.

I can't guarantee -- I'm going to do my best -- that that program will continue at the same funding level. There are kids right now on waiting lists to try to get into Head Start. Some of those kids may never get into Head Start. Some of the kids in Head Start right now will be cut.

So I think what we have to do is really focus on what this legislature means to ordinary people. And I think when we do, people will conclude it is grotesquely unfair.

BLITZER: Hey, Senator, thanks very much for joining us. And good luck.

SANDERS: Thank you very much, Wolf.

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