Sen. Bernie Sanders made a full-throated case for universal programs that leave no one behind during the 2020 Democratic presidential debate Thursday, favorably contrasting proposals like Medicare for All and tuition-free public college with complicated means-tested alternatives offered by rival candidates that would render large swaths of the population ineligible on the basis of income.
"I believe in the concept of universality," Sanders said during a discussion of the idea of tuition-free public colleges, universities, and trade schools. "One of the crises in America today is people are sick and tired of filling out forms. So you're not eligible for the program today because you're at $150,000, but you lost your job, are you eligible? You get a better job, you're eligible."
"One of the crises in America today is people are sick and tired of filling out forms."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"I think what we have to do is what we do with Social Security, what we do with public education," the Vermont senator added. "Donald Trump's kids can go to a public school. They should be able to go to a public school."
Sanders' defense of universal programs came after South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg pitched his own education plan, which would make public colleges and universities tuition-free only for families that earn less than $150,000 per year.
"I do think that if you're in that lucky top 10 percent—I still wish you well, don't get me wrong," Buttigieg said. "I just want you to go ahead and pay your own tuition."
NO MORE FORMS
MAKE SURE EVERY WORKING CLASS PERSON CAN AFFORD CHILD CARE
COLLEGE FOR ALL
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) December 20, 2019
Observers applauded Sanders' willingness to advocate for universality over means-testing on the national stage. Zach Carter, reporter for HuffPost, tweeted Thursday night that "Sanders making a straightforward case for universality is good."
"This is the kind of rhetoric Democrats have been afraid to voice for decades," said Carter.
"The headache is part of the design: means-tested programs are designed to cut public spending by dropping people from the rolls on technicalities or intimidating them into giving up."
—Meagan Day, Jacobin
Meagan Day, staff writer for Jacobin and outspoken Sanders supporter, said "Bernie's right, means-tested social programs mean miles of red tape and people are sick of it".
"But the headache is part of the design: means-tested programs are designed to cut public spending by dropping people from the rolls on technicalities or intimidating them into giving up," Day tweeted.
After addressing attacks on the idea of tuition-free public college, Sanders also defended Medicare for All from former Vice President Joe Biden, who attacked the proposal as "unrealistic" and touted his public option alternative that—by his campaign's own admission—would leave millions of people uninsured.
"The average worker in America, their family makes $60,000 a year. That family is now paying $12,000 a year for healthcare," said Sanders. "Under Medicare for all, that family will be paying $1,200 a year, because we're eliminating the profiteering of the drug companies and the insurance companies and ending this byzantine and complex administration of thousands of separate healthcare plans."
When Biden responded that Medicare for All would raise taxes, Sanders said "that's right, we are going to increase personal taxes."
"But we're eliminating premiums, we're eliminating co-payments, we're eliminating deductibles, we're eliminating all out-of-pocket expenses, and no family in America will spend more than $200 a year on prescription drugs," said the Vermont senator.
Watch the exchange: