Bernie Sanders takes aim at budget, health care and Trump record

MIDDLEBURY — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warned that a Republican-backed health care plan could result in closure of many small, rural hospitals like Middlebury’s Porter Medical Center, and he reiterated his intent to fight against President Donald Trump’s health insurance and budget priorities.

Sanders touched upon rail, health care, the federal budget and the national political scene during a recent, brief phone interview with the Addison Independent. Sanders made his remarks just prior to leaving for a tour of European nations, including Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Health care

Sanders was candid in his assessment of the U.S. House-passed American Health Care Act, which would roll back many of the provisions of the current Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare.”

He said the Republican plan, which has earned the endorsement of President Trump, would be “devastating” for small community hospitals like Porter Medical Center, which last month celebrated its affiliation with the University of Vermont Health Network as a way to stabilize its financial health and offer more diverse services to its patients.

The GOP plan — which Sanders projected as a non-starter in the U.S. Senate — would leave an estimated 24 million Americans uninsured over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO has also estimated the proposal would cut around $880 billion in federal Medicaid dollars to the 50 states. The Medicaid program provides health care subsidies for the poorest Americans.

“Obviously, I can’t make predictions on what will happen to any particular hospital, but there is no question that if this health care plan and budget were to go through, small rural hospitals all over the country would be shutting down,” he said during the interview.

But Sanders believes the U.S. Senate will be able to prevent the American Health Care Act from advancing.

“The good news is, the health care plan passed by the Republicans in the House is not going to be going through, and the budget being proposed by Trump is not going to be going through,” he said.

Trump presidency

Sanders also did not mince words on his early view of the Trump presidency. Sanders has been a member of Vermont’s tiny Congressional delegation since 1991.

“This is clearly an administration which is the worst in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said. “And it is horrific not only because of its tendency toward authoritarianism; not only because of its attacks on media and the judiciary; not only because we have a president who lies all of the time, but because their economic agenda is very much the agenda of the billionaire class and against the needs of the middle class and working families of this country. You combine those two realities — a president who is moving us in a more authoritarian direction, that with the fact that his health care plan and his budget would devastate the middle class and give $3 trillion in tax breaks for the top 1 percent — you add all that together and this is the worst administration in the modern history of this nation, by far. (George W.) Bush was a conservative — no ifs, buts or maybes, and I opposed Bush very strongly. But this is way, way beyond where Bush wanted this country to go.”

Rail

As Middlebury braces for a lengthy, $52 million replacement of its two downtown rail bridges, Sanders said he remains committed to supporting rail infrastructure projects and placing an increased emphasis on train travel.

“I am of the belief that we need to very significantly invest in rail in this country for a number of reasons,” Sanders said. “Number one, we are behind much of the rest of the world in terms of high-speed, reasonably priced rail transportation. Second of all, in terms of combatting climate change, it’s important that we move away from the carbon economy and carbon transportation to rail. I would hope that if we are able to pass a major infrastructure bill, that there would be significant funds available to improve our rail system in Vermont and throughout this country.”

National spotlight

Sanders acknowledged his appearances have been drawing larger crowds since his run for the presidency last year. He said he hopes to use his larger spotlight for the benefit of the state and what he called the “progressive grassroots movement.”

Once considered somewhat of a political renegade, post-2016-presidential-election Bernie Sanders is now called upon to make campaign appearances for Democrat hopefuls nationwide. Case in point — Sanders did some stumping for Montana Democrat Rob Quist prior to the special election for the state’s at-large House seat. Republican candidate Greg Gianforte prevailed by a 6-point margin.

“My life is a little bit different,” Sanders said. “I am now part of the leadership ... I am doing everything I can to try and strengthen the progressive grassroots movement in this country, which is prepared to stand up and take on the establishment. We’ve had some real good successes with that in many parts of the country. So I am working really hard on that. I am the ranking member of the (Senate) Budget Committee, which puts me in a leadership position in opposition to this Trump budget, so that’s keeping me kind of busy.”

He said his presidential run gained international attention abroad, and he’s happy to export his message.

“A lot of what our campaign was about has resonated throughout Europe,” he said. “Ironically, it’s not only the United States that’s paying attention to the reactivation of a grassroots movement; Europe is doing that as well.”

Would Sanders, now 75, consider another run for the White House?

“My position is, it’s really much too early to be talking about that. Trump is in his first four months,” he said. “I am working night and day to try to stop and defeat his health care proposal, trying to defeat his budget, rally the American people around a progressive, grassroots agenda. That’s what I’m focusing on right now, so it’s a little bit early to be talking about presidential politics in 2020.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com


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