Dems Aghast as Senator Sanders Threatens to Block Reform

The socialist from Vermont could sink health care legislation

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist Democrat from Vermont, suggested Wednesday evening that he might vote against health care reform. Sanders is the first liberal Democrat to threaten to overturn the months-long Democratic effort to pass reform. His wavering support comes after a long week of left-wing calls, led by Howard Dean, to kill the bill for being insufficiently liberal-minded. (It also comes the same day as Sanders's amendment proposing single-payer health care was, as expected, defeated.) With the loss of a single vote sufficient to doom the entire initiative, Sanders joins conservative Democrat Ben Nelson, Independent Joe Lieberman and Republican Olympia Snowe in the pantheon of Senators whose personal demands must be met for reform to pass. Is Sanders's dissent a good thing for health care, for Democrats, or for himself?

  • Doesn't Matter Unless Sanders Filibusters  Washington Monthly's Steve Benen reminds us, "keep in mind that Sanders hates Republican filibusters. When he says he's 'not voting for the bill,' Sanders is almost certainly talking about the final bill -- unlike center-right members of the caucus, Sanders makes a distinction between the procedural vote and the legislative vote." Benen recounts Sanders's long-held opposition to Republican filibusters. "It's extremely unlikely that Sanders would reverse course on this commitment." Overturning a filibuster requires 60 votes, but passing the legislation only requires 50, so if Sanders joins Democrats on the former he can break on the latter without endangering the bill.
  • ...Which He Might  The Plum Line's Greg Sargent reports that his sources tell him Sanders could still vote with Republicans on a filibuster. "Given Sanders’ longtime commitment to health care reform and single payer, it seems unlikely that he’d vote against cloture in the end, since that would sink the bill. Still, Sanders was bitterly disappointed by the dropping of the public option, and this doesn’t make things any easier for Reid."
  • How Dems Can Win Back Sanders  The Atlantic's Chris Good explains. "While Sanders is clearly disappointed that the Medicare buy-in provision was dropped, he hasn't made up his mind to vote against it. He is currently working to expand the role of community health centers, and it's conceivable that changes in that area--not necessarily a reinsertion of the Medicare buy-in proposal--could secure his vote."
  • He'll Come Around  Outside The Beltway's James Joyner sighs, "My guess is that far left Democrats will vent a little while longer and ultimately support whatever compromise deal they can get." He writes, "The most likely outcome, then, is that Senate Democrats will follow the lead of SEIU president Andy Stern, condemning the parts of the bill they don’t like, fighting to make it “better,” and ultimately holding their nose and voting for the best they can get."
  • Should Sanders Act Like Lieberman?  MyDD's Charles Lemon thinks Sanders should emulate Lieberman's willingness to block legislation unless his personal demands are met. "It is only folks like Senator Lieberman and Senator Nelson who seek to hold the nation hostage and not permit an up or down vote. Personally, I see this as a welcomed development. I'd rather have the leadership placate Bernie than appease Joe.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.