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
June 30, 2009; 5:17 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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