Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

By The Situation Room - November 29, 2012

BLITZER: So, let's get more on the standoff right now.

Joining us, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. An independent, he caucuses with the Democrats.

Senator, first of all, congratulations on your reelection. Thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Republicans say, you know what, they will be flexible, but the Democrats have to be flexible, too, especially when it comes to entitlement spending, Medicare, Medicaid, maybe even Social Security reform. Are you open to any of that?

SANDERS: First of all, when Republicans talk about being flexible, we have not heard one definitive word as to what they mean.

Second of all, our Republican friends have got to understand that this issue of the fiscal cliff was debated during the election. And you know what? Mitt Romney lost. Obama won.

The American people are very clear that at a time when the middle class is disappearing and the people on top are doing phenomenally well -- as Warren Buffett reminds us, their effective tax rate is quite low -- you know what the American people have said? The wealthy are going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes.

And I am happy to report to you what you already know, is that more and more Republicans are catching on to that fact.

BLITZER: But the Republicans did maintain a significant majority in the House of Representatives, and it takes two to tango.

SANDERS: Absolutely. But I think the Republicans are also good politicians.

They have seen the polls, they have seen the election results, and more and more Republicans have been saying, you know what, we're going to have to ask our wealthy friends to start paying their fair share of taxes, do what we did in the Senate, which is protect the bottom 98 percent.



BLITZER: But you're not open to any cuts in entitlement spending?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, Social Security, as I think most Americans know, has nothing to do with deficit reduction.

BLITZER: What about Medicare and Medicaid?

SANDERS: What you can do with Medicaid, is you can eliminate a lot of the waste in those programs.

For example, right now under the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, we can't negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. We can save significant sums of money doing that. There are other ways that you can save money in Medicare and Medicaid.

But will I vote in the middle of this terrible recession to cut benefits for the elderly or low-income people? I personally will not.

BOLDUAN: Well, and Republicans, they're telling me that they are offering a concession. They're talking revenue. John Boehner came out right after the election and said that he's putting revenue on the table. And what Republicans say what they're waiting for...

SANDERS: What do you mean?

BOLDUAN: Republicans say what they're waiting for is for Democrats to talk about what entitlements they're ready to move on.

SANDERS: What does the word "revenue" mean?

BLITZER: Capping deductions for rich people, how about that?

SANDERS: How much money are they going to get? We're talking right now. Let's...

BLITZER: You've got to start some place.

SANDERS: Just because you say revenue doesn't mean much. How much are we talking about? That's not so specific.

BOLDUAN: On the issue of entitlements, though, you know...

SANDERS: By entitlements you mean -- I don't like the word...

BOLDUAN: Let's say Medicare and Medicaid. By -- talking Medicare and Medicaid, at some point it's going to come down to we're either going over the fiscal cliff or we're going to have to make a deal. Are you willing -- are you willing to go over the fiscal cliff or not have changes to Medicare and Medicaid?

SANDERS: First of all, I think the American people are very clear. Every single poll that I have seen says do not cut Social Security. Do not cut Medicare. Do not cut Medicaid. Do away with corporate loopholes and ask the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes. Take a hard look at excessive military spending.

And, by the way, let's not forget, we have already in the last three years cut approximately $1.5 trillion in programs. This is not a hard -- this is not a fiscal debate. This is a political debate. CEOs from Wall Street, big money interests are there to protect their interests. They could care less about working-class people. Some of us want to defend the middle class.

BLITZER: And, you know if nothing is done by Congress between now and the end of December, everyone's taxes -- the middle-class families in Vermont, everyone's taxes...

SANDERS: That's right.

BLITZER: ... are going to go up.

SANDERS: And that's why we've got to do something. And that's why the Republicans have got to do exactly what we did in the Senate, which is say we're going to protect the bottom 98 percent of the American people. No tax increases at all. We're going to continue the Bush tax breaks. But the wealthiest 2 percent, are, in fact, going to have to help us deal with the deficit.

BOLDUAN: As always, Senator, you make your case very passionately.

But I do want to play you some sound, a bit of sound from the White House senior adviser, David Plouffe, in talking about how to resolve the fiscal cliff crisis.

Listen to this.


DAVID PLOUFFE, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: We also need to engage in entitlement reform. You know, Medicare, Medicare, carefully, these are chief drivers of our deficit. We made a lot of progress with Obama care. There's a lot more to do.


BOLDUAN: So he says we need to engage. The White House is acknowledging this. Do you not go along with...

SANDERS: Well, let's get...

BOLDUAN: ... the president?

SANDERS: ... if they are talk -- well, yes, sometimes I do disagree with the president.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that is true.

SANDERS: But if we are talking about making Medicare more efficient, lowering the cost of prescription drugs to Medicare, that's a reform, though, I certainly will go along with. There are other reforms that we could do.

BLITZER: How about this reform, raising the retire -- the eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67, over several years?


BLITZER: Why not?

SANDERS: Why not?

Because there are working people out there who have worked 30, 40, 50 years. They're in construction. They're waiters. They're waitresses. These are people who have worked their entire lives. They're exhausted. And they should not be asked to continue working to 67 before they get their health care.

BLITZER: Because even though people are living much longer now than they were in the '60s, when that 65-year limit came into effect.

SANDERS: We're -- that's another discussion. Not quite accurate. If you exclude the fact -- if you're looking at people who have reached the age of 65, unfortunately, in this country, our life expectancy hasn't increased all that much.

BOLDUAN: We interviewed the CEO of Goldman Sachs yesterday.

Let's play...

SANDERS: Ah, yes.

BLITZER: Lloyd Blankfein.

BOLDUAN: Lloyd Blankfein. You know him very well.

Let's play a bit of what he told us and I want to get your reaction.


LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: I think if people get -- as soon as people leave their ideological perch and realize that we have to have a reasonable compromise, I think the better it is for everybody.


SANDERS: Yes, and by a reasonable compromise, what he means is cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And I want to tell you something...

BLITZER: Well, you know, he also said...

BOLDUAN: He also talked about...

BLITZER: ... raising taxes...

BOLDUAN: ... raising taxes...

BLITZER: ... on rich people.

SANDERS: I know. I know. I know.

All right. But here you've got a guy from Wall Street who's making 10, $20 million a year, worth a whole lot of money, who, along with his other CEO friends, helped plunge this country into the worst recession since the 1930s, got a huge bailout. They got hundreds of billions of dollars from the Fed in zero interest loans, billions of dollars from the taxpayers in this country as their bailout.

BLITZER: I don't remember if Goldman Sachs got anything.

SANDERS: Yes, they did. They did. Believe me, they did.

BOLDUAN: But President...

SANDERS: Yes, they did.

BOLDUAN: ... Obama is the one who invited him to the White House...

SANDERS: Well, that's fine. I don't want to be a problem. But I do have a problem with wealthy CEOs from Wall Street who caused the recession now coming to Washington and saying, if you're old, if you're sick or if you're poor, we're going to cut your benefits. I, frankly, think that's obscene. We don't need advice from the people who helped cause this recession through their greed and illegal behavior. BLITZER: Next time you come on the show, Senator, you've got to tell us how you really feel.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

SANDERS: All right, I will.

BLITZER: Don't hold back.

SANDERS: I won't.

BLITZER: Don't be so diplomatic.

SANDERS: I was a little hesitant tonight.

BLITZER: I know.

BOLDUAN: You need to come out of your shell.

SANDERS: All right.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Senator.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in. 

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