Bernie Sanders: We Need to Convince D.C. Lawmakers to 'Do What the American People Want'

Jan 4, 2016

While campaigning at New England College today, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke of student debt and other domestic policies. His proposals include providing health care for all Americans and free tuition at public colleges. But how will these be paid for? Sen. Sanders spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello about this policy idea, and much more. 

Last month on NHPR you mentioned that you would provide details about the top marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans that would you implement as president. It’s now 39%. You mentioned that it will rise. There’s a little more than a month to go before the New Hampshire primary. Have you settled on a percentage for the wealthiest Americans?

Well, Peter, that is a good question. As you know, we have detailed a lot of information on taxation. What we have proposed is to do away with the huge tax loopholes that allow major corporations to stash their money in the Cayman Islands and avoid paying $100 billion dollars in federal taxes—some of them pay zero federal taxes. We are proposing a tax on Wall Street speculation, which would make public colleges and universities tuition free. We are proposing to lift the cap on taxable income in terms of social security, so people making over $250,000 a year stop paying the same percentage as people who are middle class. The result of that will be to extend and expand social security benefits for people who are in desperate need of an expansion of benefits. And we have proposed other ideas.

Now, in terms of the individual tax rate, we are going to have information on that coming up very shortly. And this is what I can say—at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, where almost all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1%, yes, a Sanders administration will demand that the wealthy people in this country who are doing phenomenally well start paying their fair share of taxes. The exact details will be coming out fairly soon.

Can you let me know exactly how soon that might be? I ask only because New Hampshire has less time than the rest of the country to analyze any proposal that you may put forward.

Well, that information will certainly be out before the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

Along the lines of the Wall Street speculation tax that you briefly mentioned: You’re going to use at least part of that to pay for free college tuition at public colleges. You said that would raise about $300 billion, but the non-partisan tax policy center says, estimates of course, that that’s about $51 billion a year. So, a big difference between your number and theirs. How do you account for that difference?

There are differences. We don’t have it right now, it’s a tough proposal to estimate. But what they are proposing I believe is much, much too low. The truth is nobody knows exactly, but there are people who have estimated that we could raise up to $300 billion. But, even if we don’t, the cost of my proposal in terms of making public colleges and universities tuition free, and the cost of my proposal to substantially lower interest rates on student debt—that will cost about $70 billion dollars a year. And I’m confident that my proposal to impose a tax on Wall Street speculation will in fact pay for both of those positions.

You’re in support of a Medicare for all type healthcare system. How would you convince lawmakers in Washington to go along with a Medicare for all plan?

Well, I think it’s a question of convincing the lawmakers in Washington to do what the American people want. The essential political problem we have right now is the result of the corrupt campaign finance system, where many members of the congress are far more interested in pleasing their corporate donors or the billionaires who fund their campaigns, rather than responding to the needs of the American people. What my job as president would be is to rally the American people, to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, to create millions of jobs for rebuilding our infrastructure, pay equity for women workers, dealing with climate change, and in fact moving towards a Medicare for all single payer program. The way you do that is when millions of people stand together and they say to congress, you know what congress, maybe you better start representing all of us rather than the billionaire class and all your wealthy campaign contributors. When that happens, we can transform this country and have a government that represents all of us and not just a handful of very wealthy people.

Back in 2008, President Barack Obama rode into election with record turnout, lots of support, and he asked people to stay along with him. And it’s a claim similar to the one you’re making now, asking people to start a political revolution. So, how would you as president get people who were inspired to vote for you to keep working for you if you are elected?

Well, that’s a great question. That is a great question, and the answer is that it’s exactly what has to be done, and I can’t give you all the details about how we’d do it. But, what you’ve seen already, it’s an imperative that it happens, because at the end of the day no president, not Bernie Sanders or anybody else, can accomplish what has to be done—rebuilding the disappearing middle class, dealing with income and wealth inequality, dealing with climate change, dealing with the corrupt campaign finance system—no president alone can take on Wall Street and corporate America and the big money interests. You need a round and organized public, who are demanding that congress listen to the needs of working families rather than billionaires. Now, how you do it, I can’t outline the exact program to you, but clearly the president has the capability of bringing people together around an agenda that works for the middle class. That’s certainly what I would intend to do. 

ISIS continues to be a threat. As president, what would be your first action against ISIS?

Well, my first action would be to make certain that the young men and women in the United States Armed Forces are not forced to engage in never ending perpetual warfare in the Middle East. I voted against the war in Iraq. That was the right vote, and I think we’ve got to learn the lessons of that war. And that lesson is that we form a coalition in which the major powers of the world—the United States, UK, France, Germany, Russia—work together in support of Muslim boots on the ground; of Muslim troops who will win the fight, I believe, for the soul of Islam against the barbaric ISIS organization who have hijacked Islam. That is what people like Kind Abdullah of Jordan are talking about, and I support that.

So, my goal would be to put together a coalition of major powers supporting the major countries in the region to take on ISIS. And the good news is, you know, in the last week or so we have seen the Iraqi Army, not historically a great fighting army, actually retake Ramadi, which is a step forward. ISIS has lost about 40% of the territory it once held in Iraq. So, perhaps we’re making some progress, but we’ve got to keep going forward to destroy ISIS.