In what may be a huge setback for the Democratic leadership, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said Wednesday on the Fox Business Network that “as of this point” he cannot vote for the Senate health care bill after the concessions recently made to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
“He wants to strengthen the bill,” Michael Briggs, Sanders’ Communications Director, wrote in an e-mail to Raw Story. “With the public option and Medicare buy-in off the table, he is focused on strengthening provisions on community health centers.”
“He wants to dramatically increase support,” Briggs added, “for the primary care facilities that provide doctors, dentists, mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs on a sliding-scale basis — and he is working to improve a provision that would let states experiment with single payer or other innovative programs to deliver comprehensive, affordable health care more efficiently and economically.”
But the Senator made no promises about how he’ll ultimately vote, saying “we’ll see” what happens.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid removed a Medicare buy-in option from the health bill on Monday, following Lieberman’s announcement that he would join a Republican filibuster of the bill if it included the Medicare expansion. Lieberman’s vote was seen as crucial to getting the 60 votes needed to overcome filibuster.
But Sanders’ comments Wednesday indicated that the Democratic caucus may have gained the support of one of its most conservative members at the price of one of its most liberal. (Sanders, a longtime favorite politician in Vermont, is a self-described “democratic socialist.”)
“As of this point, I’m not voting for this bill,” Sanders told Fox’s Neil Cavuto. “I’m going to do my best to make this bill a better bill, a bill that I can vote for, but I’ve indicated both to the White House and the Democratic leadership that my vote is not secure at this point. And here is the reason. When the public option was withdrawn, because of Lieberman’s action, what I worried about is, how do you control escalating health care costs? How do you give competition to the private insurance companies who are raising rates outrageously every year?”
“So they gain Joe Lieberman and lose you,” Cavuto said. “That sounds like a loss to me.”
Perhaps realizing he may have walked into a conservative talking point, Sanders responded: “Well, we’ll see what happens.”
Sanders has been one of the Senate’s staunchest supporters of some sort of public alternative to private health insurance. In an interview with Raw Story Wednesday, a spokesman for Sanders said the senator believes Americans will eventually come around to a single-payer health care system.
“The Senator thinks it makes so much sense and has worked so well in other countries that it is eventually where the United States will end up,” Michael Briggs, Sanders’ communications director, said.
The following was broadcast on the Fox Business Network December 16, 2009, and uploaded to the Web by ThinkProgress.
–Sahil Kapur contributed to this report