At a Wednesday news conference, Bernie Sanders blasted his colleagues Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
Manchin and Sinema are the holdouts in the Senate on Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending bill.
“Two people do not have the right to sabotage what 48 want,” Sanders said. “That, to me, is wrong.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders is ready to fight for the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package – and, in a fiery press conference on Wednesday, he took aim at the moderates holding back the spending plan.
He said that 48 out of 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus support the bill, as do 210 members of the House: “And, by the way, the president of the United States supports this bill.”
“Two people do not have the right to sabotage what 48 want, what the president of the United States wants. That, to me, is wrong,” Sanders added later.
He was referring to the moderate Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have both said that a $3.5 trillion price tag is too hefty. Manchin wants $1.5 trillion; Sinema’s exact desired size is unclear.
Sanders said he’s unsure what Manchin means by saying he does not want the country to become an “entitlement society.” Sanders cited findings that $300 direct child tax payments have helped cut childhood poverty. The Democrats’ proposal would extend those payments through 2025.
“Is protecting working families and cutting childhood poverty an ‘entitlement?'” Sanders asked.
The reconciliation package would also expand Medicare to cover dental and vision, along with hearing aids. Currently, as Insider’s Kimberly Leonard reports, seniors either have to buy those benefits as an add-on, or enroll in the privatized version of Medicare.
“Does Sen. Manchin really believe that seniors are not entitled to digest their food, and that they’re not entitled to hear and see properly?” Sanders said. “Is that really too much to ask in the richest country on Earth – that elderly people have teeth in their mouth and can see and can hear?
Sanders called out Manchin for using ‘vague phraseology,’ saying, ‘it’s not good enough to be vague.’
Sanders contrasted Manchin and Sinema’s intransigence with his own beliefs about expanding healthcare.
“I believe that our current healthcare system is totally dysfunctional, and I strongly, strongly believe in a Medicare for All single-payer program,” Sanders said, adding that he could withhold his support for the bill since it doesn’t include Medicare for All, “but I’m not going to do that.”
If maybe half or a third of the caucus doesn’t support that provision, “it would be irresponsible” to act that way, Sanders said.
Also, Sanders highlighted Manchin’s vagueness on climate change, asking how, “in this time in world history, you cannot talk about the crisis of climate change and tell us what you want to do? That is really inexcusable.”
At the end of the press conference, which focused primarily on Manchin, he was asked about whether he’d like to see more specifics from Sen. Sinema, to which he responded “absolutely.”
“I think Sen. Sinema’s position has been that she doesn’t, quote-unquote, negotiate publicly,” Sanders said. “And I don’t know what that means. We don’t know where she’s coming from.”
“I have heard that she is opposed to having Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and lowering prescription drug prices,” Sanders continued. “I have heard that she is opposed to asking the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. That is what I’ve heard, maybe I’m wrong. But I think, to answer your question, yeah, I would love to see her.”
It’s the latest escalation of intra-party negotiations over infrastructure. When moderates expressed hesitation with the larger spending bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to bring forward just a bipartisan bill for a vote. But Sanders urged House Democrats to vote against the standalone bill, and the vote was ultimately pulled.
Sanders has made his stance clear. “I look forward to working with Sen. Manchin and everyone else to pass a strong reconciliation bill and a bipartisan infrastructure bill.”
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