Oct 12, 2021
As congressional progressives push back against right-wing Democrats seeking to shrink the size and scope of the Build Back Better Act, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal on Tuesday insisted that expanded Medicare benefits must remain part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package.
"I do understand that the healthcare industry does not like this idea, but maybe, just maybe, we stand with the American people."
In a call with journalists reported by The Hill, Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, adamantly declared that dental, hearing, and vision benefits must be added to Medicare as part of the Democrats' flagship package.
"This to me is not negotiable," he said. "This is what the American people want."
Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, backed Sanders--the group's only Senate member--saying his stance is also "the position of the House Progressive Caucus."
Sanders, in recent tweets, has pointed to polling showing that expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing, and vision is overwhelmingly popular, with 84% of U.S. voters supporting the proposal. A new survey published Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation also found that 83% of respondents favor empowering Medicare to leverage its prodigious purchasing power to secure lower prescription drug prices.
\u201cAs part of the Reconciliation Bill, Americans want to lower prescription drug costs (88%) and expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing (84%).\u00a0Both proposals are strongly opposed by drug companies and private insurance.\u00a0The Dems must stand with the people, not fold.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1634067439
Sanders noted industry opposition to Medicare expansion during Tuesday's call.
"I do understand that the healthcare industry does not like this idea, but maybe, just maybe, we stand with the American people," he said. "There are millions of seniors who have rotting teeth in their mouths or are unable to hear what their grandchildren are saying."
Echoing her progressive colleagues, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted: "We are fighting for roads and bridges, universal child care, Medicare expansion, and climate investments. We know what we need and progressives in Congress will continue to hold strong."
\u201cMillions of seniors struggle to afford their prescription drugs each year. \n\nMedicare also doesn't cover vision, dental, and hearing, even though seniors need it.\n\n#BuildBackBetter can and must fix this.\u201d— Alliance for Retired Americans (@Alliance for Retired Americans) 1634068801
Earlier Tuesday, Common Dreams reported that eight House Democrats representing New York City--including progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman--sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warning them against slashing funding for public housing, transportation, and immigration reform from the Build Back Better Act.
"We can't negotiate the reconciliation bill down to nothing," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
However, Pelosi indicated in a Monday letter to House colleagues that Democratic leaders are open to considering scaling back the proposed legislation to reduce its $3.5 trillion cost in a bid to win the support of right-wing Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have balked at the bill's price tag.
Responding to the letter, Sanders said that "$3.5 trillion is already a major compromise."
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