Editorial: Sanders: 'We can move this world to a much better place'
When Sen. Bernie Sanders was in Middlebury this past Monday, he was indirectly answering a question recently posed by Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas when he exclaimed in mock horror last Thursday, as the House Natural Resources Committee began drafting its portion of the $3.5 trillion social policy plan, “What are Democrats trying to do to this country?”
The answer, Sanders has said consistently for the past 40 years in politics and at Monday’s rally, is to direct the nation’s resources to help families in need, rather than pass policies — as Republicans have long done — that make the rich richer, the poor poorer and that have undermined America’s middle class.
In his address to more than 600 area residents Monday, Sanders implored the crowd to help him convince other Americans around the country to embrace a vision that would rebuild America’s communities: “If we stand together — not let the demagogues divide us by race or economic circumstance — we can move this world to a much better place,” he said.
That “better place” addresses the following issues in the social policy plan:
• The high cost of childcare, which in Vermont, Sanders said, “costs $15,000 per child … In my bill no family would pay more than 7% (of their annual income) ... and we’re adding free preK for three- and four-year-olds.”
• The high cost of higher education, making community college free and offering more Pell Grants for four-year colleges so that people can improve their skills to earn a higher income.
• Health care’s high costs, of which the $3.5 trillion plan would be “the strongest expansion of Medicare since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” including new coverage of dental, hearing aids and eyeglasses. “That’s a big deal for seniors,” Sanders said.
The plan would also establish:
• Paid family leave.
• Expansion of funding for low-income housing.
• Provisions for in-home health care to enable seniors to stay in their homes longer.
• Spending “hundreds of millions of dollars to transition away from polluting fossil fuels to renewable energy,” including support of weatherization of homes and businesses, adoption of electric vehicles, expansion of solar power and implementation of green agriculture.
• Creation of a Civilian Climate Corp., or CCC, to create jobs that tap the energy of young people and veer us away from the worst affects of climate change.
Ripton environmentalist and political activist Bill McKibben called Sanders’s human infrastructure legislation the “Give Us A Break Bill,” noting that “for 20 years we have been giving a break to the richest people in America, and as a result they have built up a pile of money that is so high that they can jump off of it and on to Mars.”
McKibben also noted that the bill, along with the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that was recently passed with some Republican support, finally included provisions that would begin to address the negative impacts of the world’s warming climate. “The U.S. Congress for 30 years has done nothing about climate change. Zero! Zilch!” The two bills, he said, help move the nation in the right direction.
And in separate remarks, U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., who is vice-chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, explained the critical need to build an educated workforce to compete (with China and others) in what is an increasingly knowledge-based economy: “We’re talking about free or affordable child care where no one pays more than 7% of their (annual) income; we’re talking about universal pre-K programs with two years of formal instruction; we’re talking about two years of postsecondary education. This is how you build a strong nation.”
What Democrats are trying to do to this country, to answer Mr. Westerman’s question, is create a nation that boosts opportunity for the 90% of Americans who struggle to create a life of prosperity and stability for themselves and their families — and not squander the nation’s resources by helping the top 10% reap more wealth for themselves to the detriment of the collective good.
“It’s about restoring confidence in ourselves,” summed up Vermont Congressman Peter Welch at Monday’s event. “We’re entitled to a government that pursues policies to help us build a stronger community.”