Sanders plans active push for health care reform

By:  Bob Kinzel
Vermont Public Radio

Listen to the radio report here.

Montpelier, Vt.

(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders says he plans to play a very active role in the coming weeks to make the proposed health care reform bill as comprehensive as possible.

Sanders says the issue is totally in flux and that no one really knows how this debate is going to turn out. He says the outcome could well be determined by the leadership of President Obama.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) During his nearly 20 years in Congress, health care reform has been a signature issue for Bernie Sanders.

As a member of the Senate Health committee, Sanders pushed for a plan to allow anyone at any age to sign up for Medicare - a proposal that he says would effectively create a single payer option in this country.

Sanders says it's clear that this approach doesn't have enough support to pass, so he's working for a bill that includes a strong public option, subsidies for low and middle income people, and more money for community health centers.

He also wants the legislation to allow a number of states to create a single payer pilot program.  Sanders says it's been a tough fight:

(Sanders) "We are playing hardball here and I am doing my best to make this legislation as strong as it possibly can be."

(Kinzel) Sanders isn't convinced that when the final vote eventually comes, that all Republicans will necessarily line up against the bill:

(Sanders) "At the end of the day, some Republicans begin to say ‘you know, what I want is to be on the right side of history on this thing. I don't want to be remembered as somebody who stopped the effort that has been proceeding for 100 years to bring health care to all people. Maybe I don't want to vote on that now'. At this point we have zero people who are Republicans - which is quite outrageous, but it's not for sure. You really can't predict that at the end of the day you may get some other Republicans on board."

(Kinzel) In the last few weeks, a number of Democratic senators have linked their vote to whether or not the bill includes a public option.  Sanders isn't making that kind of statement and he thinks there's an elaborate political dance going on over this bill:

(Sanders) "Politics and doing legislation is like playing poker. There's a lot of bluffing that's going on and everybody's saying ‘no way no way no way' on every piece of legislation in history. And somehow legislation gets passed, so we will see what's going to happen and a lot of this will have to do with the President of the United States and the role that he will be playing."

(Kinzel) The Senate Finance committee is scheduled to vote on its bill by the end of the week - that proposal will then be combined with a more sweeping plan passed by the Senate Health committee.

A vote on the Senate floor is expected in the next few weeks.