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Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

By The Situation Room - November 18, 2011

BLITZER: And Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont is here in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Do you want this so-called super committee to reach a deal, a big deal by this coming week?

SANDERS: I want them to reach a good deal, a deal that's fair to the middle class and working families of this country that does what the American people want, which says no cuts in Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, ask the wealthiest people in this country to pay their fair share of taxes, do away with corporate loopholes so that companies making billions of dollars a year in profits start paying some taxes.

BLITZER: But as you know, the compromise in the works has always been there would be some tax increases, which is what you want, but at the same time there would be cuts in what's called entitlement spending, including Social Security and Medicare.

SANDERS: Well, I think that position is way out of line with what the American people want. I just saw a poll today. Seventy percent of Republicans, of Republicans say do not cut Social Security. Numbers are higher for Democrats and independents. In this economic moment when so many people are hurting, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are enormously important. They are life and death issues.

BLITZER: Are you open to reforms in Social Security, for example, raising the retirement age?

SANDERS: No. I'm open to reforms by lifting the cap taxable income so that millionaires contribute more into Social Security so that it will be solvent for 75 years. Let's be clear. Social security has not contributed to one nickel to the deficit. Compare every benefit for the next 25 years has a --

BLITZER: Are you open to means testing for Social Security recipients, in other words, if you're a millionaire, do you still need to get a $2,000 a month check?

SANDERS: Yes, you do. No, you know why -- no, the millionaire should be asked to contribute more into it. Once you start with millionaire, trust me, next year it'll be those making $100,000, and in 10 years it will be those making $50,000 --

BLITZER: So you don't want to touch entitlement spending at all?

SANDERS: I want to make sure that in the midst of recession, when tens of millions of people are desperately hanging on, that you don't cut those people at the knees so that they become even more desperate.

The issue now, Wolf, let's be clear, the richest people in this country are doing phenomenally well, large corporation, record- breaking profits. You do not balance the budget in a civilized democratic society on the backs of the most vulnerable. You ask those people who are doing well whose effective tax rates are lower than in that case to start paying their fair share of taxes.

BLITZER: But you know even President Obama is open to some changes on Medicare and Social Security, for example, adjusting what's called the cost of living index so that there's less of increase every year to deal with -- SANDERS: President Obama is dead wrong on that issue. He should go back and listen to what he said during his campaign. You go and talk to senior citizens and you say, you know, the COLA that you're getting, it's too generous.

BLITZER: COLA is the Cost of Living Allowance.

SANDERS: Right. The Cost of Living, it's too generous. They'd say you're crazy. For two years in a row when prescription costs, health care costs were soaring, we didn't get anything. Zero is too generous? Nobody believes that. And again, the poll that I just saw, 70 percent of Republicans say do not go in that direction.

BLITZER: But based on if everyone took -- the Democrats took your position, there would be no compromise with the Republicans because they are adamant they don't want tax increases.

SANDERS: Then you go -- let's be clear, there is a situation there will be sequestration, which does not --

BLITZER: Automatic cuts, the triggers.

SANDERS: Military and others which do not begin, Wolf, until January, 2013. And then the American people can make a decision in this election, which side are they on? Do they believe and agree with Republicans that you give tax breaks to billionaires and you cut Social Security? If I were a Republican, believe me, I would not want to run on that proposal.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, senator, you would rather have what's called the sequestration, the trigger, the automatic cuts beginning in 2013, half defense, half non- defense, rather than some sort of compromise which would deal with entitlement spending like Social Security?

SANDERS: I would rather have no deal than a bad deal. And the deals that I'm hearing -- and in all fairness, I'm not on the committee. But what I'm hearing is revenue, maybe we get it from the middle class, maybe a little bit here and there. I'm not impressed by what I'm hearing so far.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little politics for a second while I have you. How enthusiastic or unenthusiastic is the liberal progressive base out there that helped President Obama get elected in 2008 this time around?

SANDERS: Well, I will tell you. President Obama said vote for me because John McCain wants to cut your Social Security. Now, if Obama comes forward and says, hey, I want to cut your Social Security, how enthusiastic do you think --

BLITZER: He doesn't want to cut Social Security. He wants to make changes, though.

SANDERS: No. Wolf, that is called a cut. You know what it would mean? You know what this change in CPI means? It means $560 a year when you're 75, starting at 65. It means $1,000 a year when you get to be 85. That in plain language, in the real world, is called a cut. And so the president, if he were to support that proposal, would be going back on his word.

The problem that the president has is he ran a brilliant campaign. He inspired a whole lot of people. But people now are nervous. They're not quite sure where he is coming from. He needs to stand up for the working class, the middle class of this country and say I am going to protect you.

BLITZER: Having said that, you look at the Republican field, those eight Republican candidates out there, I'm sure you're not enthusiastic about any of them.

SANDERS: I am not. But here's the point to be made. I don't think it's made enough in the media. If you look at the ideology of these right wing Republicans, more tax breaks for rich, cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, deregulate Wall Street after Wall Street caused this horrendous recession we're in, more unfettered free trade so we can lose more jobs to China. Do you know how many people believe in that ideology? Maybe, 15, 20 percent max. The real issue is why Democrats aren't winning by 30 or 40 percent.

BLITZER: Why not?

SANDERS: Because they are not clarifying they reality that -- that's their problem. They have got to make it clear they are on the side of the middle class and working class and differentiate themselves from Republicans. So when the president and other Democrats come forward and say, well, we're thinking about maybe cutting Social Security. The average person says is there a difference --

BLITZER: Do you think, and we're almost out of time, but you think the president has been too wishy-washy?

SANDERS: Absolutely. I think the three previous agreements that the president and the Democrats negotiated with the Republicans have given the Republicans almost everything they wanted. Now is the time for the Democrats to stand up and say we are on the side of working families and the middle class. American people, you decide where you're coming from.

BLITZER: As it stands right now, will you go out in Vermont, your home state, and campaign for the president's reelection?

SANDERS: I certainly that hope I will.

BLITZER: You can't tell me that you will?

SANDERS: No, I can't. I want to hear this president tell me from his heart that he's going to stand with working families and the middle class. And when he does that, he will have an enormously strong support.

BLITZER: Does he ever call you? Does he ever invite you over for a conversation? SANDERS: Not recently, but I have been to the White House on a number of occasions.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks, as usual.

SANDERS: Thank you, Wolf. 

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