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Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Coalition of the Unwilling


Earlier this month, the Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reported that Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had joined with Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) to form the "Coalition of the Willing." The group of four Republicans and three Democrats, Brown reported, "may well determine health care reform in the Senate." Earlier today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), called me from his home in Vermont to discuss a new coalition he'd been thinking about forming: "The Coalition of the Unwilling." An edited transcript of our discussion, which starts out with comment from Sanders and no question from me, follows.

The Coalition of the Willing sounds a bit strange to me. You have a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, and the coalition that is determining health-care policy are seven people, including four Republicans?

I have a lot of respect for Max Baucus. I know he's working very hard. But I think his strategy is just not right. The people have given the Democrats the responsibility to bring real change and that's what people want. You've probably seen the New York Times poll showing 72 percent want a Medicare-like public option. No Republicans support that at all.

So I think, with all due respect to Max and his hard work, it's the wrong strategy. I think the strategy should be to say to all 60 members of the Democratic caucus that even if you don't want a public plan in the final bill, you should commit to ending the Republican filibuster. You don't need 60 votes to pass legislation. You need 60 votes to end the filibuster. And if we do that, we can get a strong public plan that will be real change.

Max calls his group the Coalition of the Willing. We'll try and form a Coalition of the Unwilling. People prepared to stay strong for a strong public option. You know my view, which is that single payer is the way to go. But if we can't do that, at the very very very least you need to have a strong, simple, Medicare-like option that every American can use.

Have you begun talking to your colleagues about this?

I have begun.

Look, the Democrats said give us 60 votes so we can come up with something. They gave it to us! I'm not a Democrat, I'm an Independent, but I caucus with the Democrats. They gave us 60 votes. So how many do we need? Seventy? Eighty? I understand that there are some Democrats, without ascribing motives, who are not comfortable voting for a strong public plan period. But I think it is not asking too much that they vote against the Republican filibuster.

But people will say, look, the Democrats aren't going to vote against this bill. We need Republican support. It should be bipartisan. That's how you assure passage.

Look, I like Chuck Grassley. But people in the country are not sitting around saying, "We need a good bipartisan bill! That's what we need!'" They're saying we need good, universal coverage for every American, man, woman, and child. And it needs to be affordable. If Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe and these other nice people I know decide to vote against it, that's fine. People in America aren't sitting up nights worrying how they'll vote. The goal should not be bipartisanship. It's passing something that is strong and good.

Photo credit: AP Photo by Dennis Cook

By Ezra Klein  |  June 30, 2009; 5:17 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Democrats Have 60 Votes. What Will They Do With Them?
Next: Getting Specific on the Public Plan


On the issue of the filibuster, Sanders nailed it. Senate Conserva-Dems, at the very least, should always vote for cloture (not just when they support a particular bill). Then like their fellow conservatives in the Republican party, they're more than welcome to vote against legislation when it comes up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Bayh, Nelson, Baucus, Conrad, Feinstein and others are disguising their ideology behind the mask of bipartisanship, and the fact that they threaten to support filibusters when legislation they don't like is proposed is proof positive.

This issue doesn't get nearly enough attention.

Posted by: cjo30080 | June 30, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I think a new Senator Franken will be soon joining this coalition of the unwilling.

Posted by: JonWa | June 30, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

At last! Someone up there is listening! Hooray for Senator Sanders. I had given up hope.

Single payer insurance would be the best of all, but if this is not possible, as everyone from Obama on down insists, let's at least have a strong public option. That's what over 70% of people polled recently have asked for, it's what will keep the insurance (read
profit-driven) industry with their millions of dollars paid to CEOs
closer to honest. The profit driven health care industry is breaking this country's back. Yes, Senator Sanders, you get
my vote! Wonderful to realize one senator isn't tone deaf!

a grateful reader from Tucson, Arizona

Posted by: nfahringer | June 30, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

The fundamental problems are payola and patronage. Max and others opposing the public option for the same reason that he supported TARP when 75% of Montanans opposed it.....He is owned part and parcel by the big money interests in WDC. He is a good man, years ago he was a great senator, but he's clearly lost his way. In WDC: Campaign contribution=bribe. Why won't the press ever talk about it honestly?

Posted by: coffinjd | June 30, 2009 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Bravo, Sen. Bernie! Would that there were a majority of honest and fearless men and women like in the Senate (and that other house, too). Too many trimmers and recipients of lavish campaign contributions from God knows how many special interests, all bent on thwarting a strong health program--and a strong program to fight back at global warming, as well.

Face it, "bipartisanship" is fast becoming an excuse of abandoning principle and selling out the public interest. Is a single Republican interested in seeking the public good? (Oh, for the ancient days of Battling Bob La Follette and George Norris!) Even the likes of those two ladies from Maine are selling out. The heck with bipartisanship, and let those wishy-washing Demi-Dems go vote themselves into Republican oblivion! Pass a good, solid bill with 51 votes and the country will be eternally grateful. You'll have earned your place in history.

Posted by: jasm917 | June 30, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't care about bipartisan bills - I want good bills that pass the common sense test. To come right out and say you are not willing to work with others is illustrative of the mess we have in Congress.

Posted by: floucka | July 1, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I agree that we don't need a bipartisan vote for health because this country is to far behind other countries in getting health care because republican always opening up their mouths about what the country need when in fact they don't know what we need and never tried to find out the only thing that the republicans think is there own needs and some democarts to they try to vote for their own needs, and not for the good of the people we did not sent you to washingto to for your own personal gain.

Posted by: shrmcln | July 1, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

This is a prime example of what is wrong with the media: they find a poll they like (instead of the several others that show the public is very ambiguous about what they actually want) to support a claim that over 70% of Americans want a single payer option, while not a single Republican supports it. Well, of course no Republican Congressman supports it; the poll queried twice as many people that voted for Obama than voted for McCain. The vote in the election was 53% to 46%. When posting in the future, please check your sources and their methodology. For example this Rasmussen poll found that 49% of Americans believe private insurance companies will provide better service and more choice than the government option. Thirty-four percent (34%) hold the opposite view.

Posted by: BradBlasiar | July 1, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

And if I can't qualify for ANY private health insurance??? I should just spend my life savings down until I qualify for Medicaid??? THat is insane, but it is the current American system.

Let's provide care for ALL Americans via the public option and those that still prefer to use a private insurer can keep their current coverage...

Posted by: member5 | July 1, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I completely agree with you that is insane. But it's also easily fixed with simple government regulation and adjustment to physician, hospital, etc. compensation. What's insane is letting the people who run the post office run a Doctor's office

Posted by: BradBlasiar | July 1, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

(answer to Member5)..In Texas, it is possible to obtain health insurance regardless of whether a person can qualify medically...altho it costs more, it's out there for those with catastrophic conditions needing coverage. I believe every State has one so check with your State Insurance Board...
If public healthcare is put in place.....we won't have ANY private insurers...reason being that they won't be able to compete on cost....freedom of choice, freedom to select your own physicians, participation in care choices will be GONE...the government will decide what you need, when you need it...and there will most certainly be a waiting period for appointments, another for required tests, and another for treatment...try telling cancer to hold up because you need to stand in will turn into "Survival of the Fittest"...and government will, in turn,not only control when you see a dr etc. but will also control all insurance policy fees(frightening thought in my opinion). Yes, we do need some kind of, we don't need the inefficiencies of government taking over...just recently the pharmaceutical companies lowered prescription drug expenses for Srs...kudos to them for taking this step...publicizing healthcare is like blowing up your house because you have a leak in the roof..

Posted by: BipartisanDallasite | July 2, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

I love Bernie, but the fact is there is only one major political party-The American Corporate Party. It has two-wings: Democratic & Republican. The only difference is a few Senate Democrats aren't corporate owned. Bernie knows Congress represents Congress. "We the People" are just three-words mouthed by bought & paid for politicians on the Fourth of July.

Posted by: allen11 | July 2, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

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