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Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Jayapal

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) appear at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Sanders, Jayapal Say Medicare Expansion in Reconciliation Package 'Not Negotiable'

"This is what the American people want," the socialist senator from Vermont insisted.

Brett Wilkins

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.

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."

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."

Tweeting Tuesday against potential cuts in the bill, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said that "we cannot pit child care against Medicare expansion, or pre-K against free community college."

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