Sanders Asks If Manchin Thinks Seniors Having Dental Care Is an “Entitlement”

After months of opposition to the Build Back Better Act by conservative Democrats in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) voiced his frustration with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), taking particular umbrage with Manchin’s recent comments about the U.S. becoming an “entitlement society.”

In 15 minutes of remarks in the Capitol on Wednesday, Sanders condemned the West Virginia senator for his comment on entitlement, adding that Manchin hasn’t been negotiating fairly.

“Senator Manchin, as I understand it, talked about, today, about not wanting to see our country become an ‘entitlement society.’ I am not exactly sure what he means by that,” Sanders said. “Does that mean that we end the $300 direct payments for working class parents which have cut childhood poverty in this country as a result of the American Rescue Plan in half? Is protecting working families and cutting childhood poverty an ‘entitlement?’”

He then asked a series of questions surrounding Manchin’s opposition to provisions in the reconciliation bill, which include guaranteed paid family and medical leave, affordable housing, addressing the climate crisis and expanding Medicare coverage.

“At a time when millions of seniors in Vermont, in West Virginia, all across this country, have teeth in their mouths that are rotting — when they can’t afford hearing aids in order to communicate with their grandchildren, and when they can’t afford a pair of glasses in order to read a newspaper — does Senator Manchin really believe that seniors are not entitled to digest their food, and that they’re not entitled to [care that could enable them to] hear and see properly?” Sanders demanded. “Is that really too much to ask in the richest country on Earth?”

Sanders concluded by saying that it’s “long overdue for [Manchin] to tell us with specificity — not generalities, we’re beyond generalities — with specificity what he wants and what he does not want.”

Manchin has been far from straightforward about his demands for the reconciliation bill, concealing critical elements like his desired price tag from the public and even from fellow senators. Though he has gradually revealed measures that he would support — including the inclusion of the anti-choice Hyde Amendment, which would further restrict abortion access, particularly for nonwhite and low-income people– he has been consistent in his opposition to the bill at large.

Sanders voiced his dissatisfaction with Manchin’s negotiating tactics on MSNBC, saying that there is “growing frustration” in Congress and among the public over the prolonged movement of the bill. “It’s not a 50-50 deal,” he said, pointing out that Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) are the only lawmakers in the Senate opposed to the bill, forcing their convservative proposals to be given disproportionate consideration.

On Wednesday, Sanders claimed that Manchin and Sinema are more closely aligned with the lobbyists who are opposing the bill than with their own party. “Let me tell you who is vigorously opposed to this legislation, and I think it’s important that the American people understand that,” he said. “Because this is the corruption of American politics.” He then pointed out that the pharmaceutical, health insurance and fossil fuel industries are pouring millions of dollars into lobbying against the Build Back Better Act.

Billionaires are also antagonistic toward the bill, which would raise taxes for corporations and the wealthy. “They love the idea that some of the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations in a given year do not pay a nickel in federal income tax,” the Vermont senator said. “They’re fighting to preserve that absurdity.”

At this juncture, Sanders continued, it’s important to negotiate in good faith and move in lockstep with the rest of the Democratic caucus. Though he himself could draw a hard line with support for Medicare for All, he chooses not to — because he knows that he wouldn’t have the backing of the rest of the caucus.

“I could in five minutes go to Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader and say, ‘Chuck, I can’t support this bill unless you have a Medicare for All provision.’ But I am not going to do that because I know… it would be irresponsible,” Sanders said. “So my concern with Mr. Manchin is not so much what his views are — I disagree with them. But it is that it is wrong, it is really not playing fair, that one or two people think that they should be able to stop [the Democratic agenda.]”