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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) passes through a hallway at the U.S. Capitol March 5, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) passes through a hallway at the U.S. Capitol March 5, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sanders Pushes Back After Manchin Says He Doesn't Want to Create 'An Entitlement Society'

From climate policies, child care, and pre-K to drug pricing, Medicare benefits, and free community college, Sanders called on Manchin to "tell us with specificity" what he wants to cut from the reconciliation package.

Jessica Corbett

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders responded forcefully on Wednesday to remarks from Sen. Joe Manchin, one of just two senators holding up the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package containing key parts of President Joe Biden's agenda.

"Does Sen. Manchin really believe that seniors are not entitled to digest their food and that they're not entitled to hear and see properly?"

Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has proposed a $1.5 trillion investment over a decade versus the $3.5 trillion favored by the vast majority of Democrats, said Wednesday that "I don't believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society."

"I think that we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society," he continued. "Compassion means taking care of those who can't take care of themselves, whether they're young, whether they've had some type of a challenge in life, whether it be mental or physical, those are responsibilities that we have and we can all meet those responsibilities."

While Manchin expressed support for some of the policies being negotiated—including reforms targeting the beneficiaries of the GOP's 2017 tax cuts and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices—Sanders (I-Vt.) responded by asking his colleague to "tell us with specificity, not generalities …what he wants and what he does not want, and to explain that to the people of West Virginia and America."

During his afternoon press conference, Sanders highlighted that the proposed $3.5 trillion investment is backed by not only the American public and Biden but also most Democratic caucus members in the House and all but two—Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—in the Senate. He also noted who is "vigorously" opposed to the bill: the pharmaceutical, health insurance, and fossil fuel industries as well as the tax-avoidant "billionaire class."

Pointing to Manchin's "entitlement society" comment, Sanders launched into a series of questions for the West Virginian, beginning with: "Does that mean that we end the $300 direct payments for working-class parents, which have cut childhood poverty… in half? Is protecting working families and cutting childhood poverty an 'entitlement'?"

"At a time when millions of seniors… have teeth in their mouths that are rotting, when they can't afford hearing aids in order to communicate with their grandchildren, and when they can't afford a pair of glasses in order to read a newspaper, does Sen. Manchin really believe that seniors are not entitled to digest their food and that they're not entitled to hear and see properly?" Sanders continued. "Is that really too much to ask in the richest country on Earth?"

Sanders also questioned whether Machin believes that "we have to end the absurdity of the United States paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs."

"Does Sen. Manchin believe that we should be the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave?" Sanders said. "And that working mothers should not be able to stay home with a child who is sick? Are workers not entitled to be able to do that?"

"Does Sen. Manchin believe that working-class parents in West Virginia and Vermont… should have to pay 25 or 30% of their incomes on child care?" he asked. "Are the children of this country not entitled to high-quality child care and pre-K education?"

Sanders also inquired about Manchin's position on whether working families are entitled to affordable housing—noting that hundreds of thousands of people are homeless—and whether Americans are "entitled to at least two years of free community college," particularly "at a time when we have a major labor shortage… because our young people lack the skills they need."

"And, perhaps, most importantly, does Sen. Manchin not believe what the scientists are telling us, that we face an existential threat regarding climate change, and that it is absolutely imperative that we move boldly to cut carbon emissions?" Sanders asked. "Does Sen. Manchin not believe that our children and grandchildren are entitled to live in a country and a world that is healthy and is habitable?"

Manchin responded to the press conference by doubling down on his earlier comments. According to The Washington Post, he said: "Respectfully, Sen. Sanders and I share very different policy and political beliefs. As he and I have discussed, Sen. Sanders believes America should be moving towards an entitlement society while I believe we should have a compassionate and rewarding society."

Questioned by reporters after his prepared remarks, Sanders made clear that he was not there to "disparage" Manchin but suggested that his and Sinema's ongoing opposition to a version of the reconciliation package backed by most Democrats is irresponsible.

While mostly taking aim at Manchin and his "entitlement" comment, Sanders also said that Sinema should "absolutely" make her positions on various parts of the package clear to the public.

This post has been updated with additional comment from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

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