Bernie Sanders: ‘I Don’t Know’ If Democrats Will Try to Include a Public Option in $3.5 Trillion Bill

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Senator Bernie Sanders departs the Capitol following a vote on March 18, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

All the chatter in the press this week that Senate Democrats have “agreed” to a $3.5 trillion budget-reconciliation bill ignores some important facts. The $3.5 trillion top-line figure is something that not all Senate have actually agreed to, and there are still huge open questions about what Democrats will put in the bill.

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For example, Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, says it isn’t even clear if Democrats will try to include a “public option” in the reconciliation bill. 

“The answer is, I don’t know,” Sanders told National Review on Thursday in the Capitol when asked if there was hope for a “public option” in the budget bill. 

Much of the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign was dominated by the debate over Sanders’s “Medicare for All” proposal, but President Joe Biden favored a “public option”— a government-run health-care plan that would be offered on Obamacare’s exchanges along side privately administered plans. To its advocates, the “public option” is a more politically palatable way to migrate toward a “Medicare for All” type system over time as more people sign up for the government-run plan.

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Although the Democratic Party, now working with the slimmest majority possible in the Senate, seems to have put a public option on the back burner, Dylan Scott reported at Vox in May that Democrats haven’t given up on it.

Here’s the full exchange between Sanders and National Review on whether Democrats will try to include a public option in the budget bill:

National Review: Is there any hope for a public option? You were for Medicare for All. President Biden was for a public option. In this budget bill, is there any hope for a public option? 

Bernie Sanders: Well, you know, as I said, the details–the answer is, I don’t know. Right now what we’re focusing on is expanding Medicare in an historic way, lowering the age of Medicare, making sure that people who are living in states that aren’t on Medicaid get health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, Medicare-negotiated prices with the pharmaceutical industry, and expanding the graduate medical-educational program so that we have doctors where we need them. That’s a pretty big agenda. 

NR: And on a public option, you said you don’t know? 

Sanders: I don’t know. You know, a lot of ideas are being thrown out. So I don’t know. 

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