Bernie Sanders gave President Obama good marks for his State Of The Union address, but he also warned about coded language in the speech that hinted at cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Here’s the video from MSNBC:
Transcript from MSNBC:
SCHULTZ: Senator Bernie Sanders joins me tonight. Senator, thanks for your time. Thanks for coming over at this hour. The president — I want to talk about some of the hits that he has taken from the right wing. Obama care is what they call it. They all talk about repealing it. Tonight the president made it very clear he doesn’t want to go back. How important was that, to make sure, look, we’ve come this far? We’re not turning around.
SEN. SANDERS: We’ve had a dysfunctional health care system, 50 million Americans no health insurance, millions more that are underinsured. 45,000 people dying every single year because they don’t get to a doctor on time. What do the Republicans say about health care, cut Medicare, Medicaid, and repeal the health care reform bill. That’s insane. I think the health care reform bill is a step forward. We have to defend it. We’re the only country in the industrialized world that doesn’t have a health care program yet we spend almost twice as much on health care per capita.
SCHULTZ: The president talked about the payroll tax cut, the tax code and taxes have been in the news a lot in the last 48 hours, did he go far enough? Making the case, you you know, that graph I show on TV, the vulture chart, the red line and the blue line, did he address it tonight?
SANDERS: In my view, he probably could have addressed it more. The American people are beginning to catch on, there’s something fundamentally wrong in our society when so few have so much and so many have so little. To be talking about asking finally the richest people in this country to be paying their fair share, it’s an important step forward.
SCHULTZ: He’s not going to get any help on that, is he? This was as much about wing the minds and hearts of the American people to send us in the right direction as it was getting any legislation done.
SEN. SANDERS: Well, clearly in their hearts and souls, the Republicans are there to defend the wealthiest people in this country. I’m not sure that if we can’t — if we can create the kind of grass movement and public consciousness that it is insane to be talking about more tax breaks for the rich when we have an increased number of people living in poverty when we need to invest in job creation.
SCHULTZ: The president said, we can’t have it both ways, he’s talking about the tax code, he’s talking about the tax rates, he’s talking about the spending.
SCHULTZ: He asked tonight for us to take half the money we spend on military, and turn it into nation building here. How does that play?
>> i think that’s exactly right. i think what he’s saying on one hand, we have got to pay off our debt, that’s right. on the other hand, we have got so invest in rebuilding our infra structure, creating millions of jobs, transforming our energy system. i think it was exactly right on that issue.
SCHULTZ: Where was he weak tonight?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, I’ll tell you where he was weak. I get nervous when the president talks about working with republicans about reforming entitlement programs. You know what that really means? Let’s be frank, that means cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
SCHULTZ: Are they come someday?
SEN. SANDERS: If he proposes that, I will be leading the opposition against that. Social Security has not contributed one nickel to the deficit because it’s funded by the payroll tax, has a $2.5 trillion surplus, I will defend to –
SCHULTZ: He didn’t say that tonight?
SEN. SANDERS: He didn’t say it, but its code language out there. When you work with Republicans to reform entitlement programs, that’s the code word.
SCHULTZ: Was he not strong enough on the big three tonight?
SEN. SANDERS: Of course he was not strong enough. He should have gotten up there and said, you know what, in the midst of a terrible recession, I promise you we are not going to cut one nickel of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We are going to move toward deficit reduction, we are going to do it in a way that is fair and responsible. Ask the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes and end these absurd corporate loopholes.
Sen. Sanders gave the president a good grade for his State Of The Union address. President Obama does seem to have a weakness for buying into the Republican desire to change and kill Social Security and Medicare. There is no reason for Social Security to be included in any talks about possible cuts. Discussions on Social Security should begin with means testing and raising the taxable income cap. As more Americans enter the system, there will be a greater strain placed on Social Security in the decades to come. Both programs will remain solvent into the 2030s. There should be no urgency to cut entitlements right now. A plan to maintain the long term solvency of these programs is what will be needed.
The fact that Sen. Sanders gave President Obama fairly high marks illustrates how successful the address was. This State Of The Union was crafted to appeal to most Americans. The people who despise the president wouldn’t like anything he said even if they agreed with it, so they were never the target audience. The far left will certainly be outraged over portions of the State Of The Union, because Obama’s address was moderate in tone, and like the far right, the far left wants ideological purity, not moderation.
People would be wise to adopt Sen. Sanders’ approach. Sanders viewed the State Of The Union as generally a step forward. President Obama doesn’t govern alone. In comparison to what the Republicans would like to do to our nation, President Obama is trying to hold the line for many liberal and progressive values.
We the people need to change the president’s mind about the necessity of entitlement cuts right now. Sen. Sanders was correct that those on the left should start getting nervous when changes to Social Security are brought up, but the left also needs to understand that in the long term some changes are going to have to occur. A surge in the number of Americans participating in these programs, along with a decline in the number of workers paying into the system, means that the current model is not sustainable in the long run.
However, Sen. Sanders has it right. These changes don’t need to happen in the middle of a recession. Republicans are using the recession as a cover for their entitlement killing dreams. If he wins a second term, President Obama will have a chance to protect Social Security and Medicare for generations to come.
It will be up to political leaders like Bernie Sanders and the American people to stand tall and protect the two most beloved icons of America’s liberal tradition.