Cross-posted from The Nation
(image by YouTube)
Bernie Sanders does not believe that government always gets things right.
But the independent senator from Vermont does believe that where government has the capacity to act on behalf of those in need, it should do so.
In a capital where an awful lot of folks still buy into Ronald Reagan's "government is the problem" calculus, Sanders knows that government can be the solution. Indeed, he recognizes that for those most neglected by an economy that almost always takes care of CEOs and celebrities but often fails clerks and construction workers, government is able to provide answers that the private sector cannot or will not produce.
"In the US Senate today, my right-wing colleagues talk a lot about 'freedom' and limiting the size of government," says Sanders...
"Here's what they really mean: They want ordinary Americans to have the freedom not to have health care in a country where 45,000 of our people who die each year because they don't get to a doctor when they should. They want young people in our country to have the freedom not to go to college, and join the 400,000 young Americans unable to afford a higher education and the millions struggling with huge college debts. They want children and seniors in our country to have the freedom not to have enough food to eat, and join the many millions who are already hungry. And on and on it goes!"
Sanders cannot always get the Senate to consider the alternative. But as the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, he has the authority and the bully pulpit to focus the nation's attention not just on the neglect of military veterans -- an issue that has long been his focus -- but on the solutions government can provide for them.
Even before the details of how veterans are forced to endure excessively long wait times to access VA medical care were revealed, Sanders had written and advanced major legislation to address the underfunding of VA services and a host of other programs for veterans.
Then came the revelations of the extent of the dysfunction at VA hospitals -- most recently in the form of a Veterans Affairs Department audit describing how more than 57,000 veterans have been forced to wait at least three months for their first appointments. And that another 64,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past 10 years never got the attention they requested -- and deserved.
Sanders saw an opening to talk about what could, and should, be done. He started looking for allies. He found one in Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican and Vietnam War POW.
Together, Sanders and McCain crafted a response to the crisis. Yes, there were compromises. But the outlines of what Sanders had previously proposed were very much in evidence in the proposal to spend $35 billion over three years to dramatically improve VA staffing and to provide resources for vets seeking care from doctors close to home.
Sander told the Senate, "The cost of war does not end when the last shots are fired and the last missiles are launched. The cost of war continues until the last veteran receives the care and the benefits that he or she is entitled to and has earned on the battlefield."
This time, the Senate agreed.
The often bitterly divided chamber voted 93-3 in favor of the Sanders-McCain plan.
When conservative Republicans objected to the price tag, McCain told them, "Make no mistake: this is an emergency."
The most austerity-obsessed Republicans -- Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin -- still voted "no."
But most of Senate Republicans, including some of the chamber's most conservative members, voted "yes."
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