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Sanders Vows to Vote Against $858B Defense Bill, Calls for Medicare for All

“We have got to start protecting the needs of working families,” Sanders emphasized.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on December 1, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has vowed to vote against the 2023 national defense budget, saying that it is unconscionable to spend that amount on defense when millions across the U.S. are struggling to survive.

In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday, Sanders said that he is planning to continue his tradition of voting against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) when it soon comes to a vote in the Senate.

“Look, we have 85 million Americans who have no health insurance. We have 600,000 people who are homeless. We have a dysfunctional health care system, dysfunctional child care system where working parents are paying $15,000 a year on average for child care,” Sanders said. “We have got to start protecting the needs of working families.”

He went on to criticize the Pentagon’s continual failure to account for the massive amount of funding that it gets each year.

“The Pentagon is the one major agency of government which has never been independently audited. There is massive waste and fraud and cost overruns within that agency,” he said. “I think that we can have the strong defense that we need without spending the huge amount of money that we’re currently spending on the military.”

Lawmakers from both major parties deem the NDAA a “must-pass” bill each year. It has reached towering new heights in this year’s proposal that will likely pass the Senate in upcoming weeks, coming to a total of $858 billion — smashing records set in previous years and exceeding President Joe Biden’s already sky-high defense request by over $50 billion.

Progressives, including Sanders, have condemned the Pentagon budget year after year, pointing out that over half of the hundreds of billions of dollars allocated for defense go toward massive private contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing — and, in turn, help pad those companies’ huge profits.

The House passed the NDAA last week by a 350 to 80 vote, with left-leaning lawmakers like Squad members Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Cori Bush (D-Missouri), Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), and others voting against it. Some Republicans voted against the bill — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) had baseless complaints about “woke” provisions in the bill — despite scoring a major win for their party in getting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members ended.

Sanders said that, rather than funding defense, his priorities are soon going to be lowering the price of prescription drugs and advocating for Medicare for All. In the new Congress, the senator is slated to become the chair of the influential Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, where he has vowed to focus on universal health care, advancing workers’ rights and access to higher education.

“In that job, I intend to do everything I can to lower the outrageously high costs of prescription drugs in this country,” he said. “We’re going to take on the pharmaceutical industry, we’re going to take on the insurance industry, and try to end the situation where we are the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people.”