Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Wednesday assailed the White House for purportedly wasting a year vying for Republican votes on health care reform, alleging that the protracted debate weakened the bill and damaged the party’s standing among progressives.
“We have wasted month after month negotiating with people who do not support serious reform,” he said at a progressive media summit on Capitol Hill. “It’s been a year now and I think the White House finally got that message.”
President Obama advocated for a bipartisan bill last year and worked extensively to court Republican votes, offering major concessions in the process. But only one Republican – Rep. Joseph Cao (LA) – in Congress wound up voting for it, and even he has since backed out.
But Obama has struck a more aggressive tone in recent weeks, demanding an up-or-down vote on the health care bill and championing the use of reconciliation to amend it. Better late than never, said Sanders, who also claimed Democrats made a strategic blunder by ignoring the single-payer option.
“I think [Sen. Max] Baucus [(D-MT)] made a mistake and would admit it when he said single payer was not on the table,” the senator said.
A self-described Democratic socialist, Sanders is an ardent proponent of a Medicare for all insurance system. He ripped Democrats in his speech for refusing to seriously consider the idea — if even to use it as a bargaining chip for a stronger bill — noting that it has support among millions of progressives.
The Vermont senator blamed the White House in part for the Democratic timidity, alleging Obama should have focused on the substance of the bill “from day one,” rather than dwelling on the elusive goal of bipartisanship.
He said the senate has 50 votes to pass strong health care legislation and urged Democrats to move forward aggressively with the proposal, describing it as flawed but nonetheless an important step forward.