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Sen. Bernie Sanders on what an economic relief bill should look like

As Congress continues to debate the details of an economic relief package, one key voice of dissent over the current framework of a bipartisan plan is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he believes stimulus money should go directly into the pockets of Americans.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This bipartisan plan that Lisa was reporting on is not supported by all. There is one key voice of dissent. And that's from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He wants to see money going directly into the pockets of Americans.

    And he joins me now.

    Senator Sanders, thank you so much for joining us again.

    Tell us why you think this so-called direct payment is the way to go. How much should it be? How much does it cost?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    Well, Judy, I think you just gave the answer a moment ago.

    We are looking right now at the worst economic crisis facing working people since the Great Depression. I mean, we're talking about millions of people who have lost their jobs and their income. We're talking about tens of millions of people who face eviction. We're talking about half our population living paycheck to paycheck. People don't have any health care.

    And we're seeing a record-breaking level of hunger in the United States of America. People can't feed their kids. This is an emergency. And in an emergency, it is obligatory for the United States government to respond to the pain and needs of its people.

    Now, the bill that we are discussing right now has some good things in it, to be sure. But it is, in terms of new money — it's a $900 billion bill. In terms of new money, as opposed to the money carried over from the CARES Act, it's like $350 billion.

    Democrats have demanded over $2 trillion. What this bill does not do is provide one nickel in direct payment to adults. And I want to see $1,200, $500 for kids. And it only has $300 a week for unemployment supplement.

    So, we have got to do a lot better than that, if, in fact, we're going to address the very serious economic problems facing our people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you don't seem to have the Democratic leadership on board with this yet, as you know.

    But what I want to ask you about is the fact that some Republicans are with you. Conservative Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri is pushing the White House hard, and no doubt influenced the White House to say it favors direct payments.

    How odd, how unusual is it for you to be on the same side of this argument with him?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, the truth is that I think, when pushed, for whatever reason, Donald Trump will, in fact, end up supporting a $1,200 direct payment for working-class people in this country.

    And I think you're right. We have some Republican support. And you have, I think, at the end of the day, an overwhelming majority of Democratic senators who want to do this.

    But what has to happen right now, we have got to have the backbone to say, very simply, we are not leaving Washington, we're not going home for the Christmas holidays unless we stand with the working families of this country who are in such terrible distress right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, again, Senator, you have Democratic — Democrats in the leadership, Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Senate, saying it's more important at this point to get money out there in the form of unemployment benefits, rather than these direct payments, which were something they earlier supported.

    So, how are you going to square this circle? How do you see this coming together?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, pay attention. We're taking a hard look at the Senate rules.

    I think — I didn't see the results of your poll, but my guess is, if you ask the American people whether or not, at this terrible moment in terms of our economy, whether the United States government should be providing direct assistance, as we did a number of months ago in the CARES Act, I think there would be overwhelming support for that. And I think that is what we have got to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator, you're asking, as you said a minute ago, for a lot of money, a lot more money than many members are comfortable with.

    Our poll is showing most Americans, more than 60 percent of them, want to see compromise. Are you prepared to settle for something smaller just to get something passed?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, Judy, as you may recall, it wasn't so many months ago where Mr. Mnuchin, representing the president, was willing to go to $1.8 trillion.

    And, right now, we're at $900 billion and really about $350 billion in new money. So, there has been already a huge, not only a compromise, I think major, major concessions on the part of the Democrats.

    And all I am asking for is another $300 billion to $400 billion to make sure that every working-class adult in this country gets a check of $1,200, kids $500, in the midst of this terrible economic crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there's no doubt this has looked a lot like a roller coaster over the last month months, Senator, since the House passed legislation back in May.

    But one other argument I want to raise with you quickly against direct payments is those saying that what they do is, they end up helping people who may not all need help, that the most direct way to get it to the people who need money the most is to go with unemployment benefit for people who are out of work.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Judy, it's not either/or. It is both.

    And one of the problems of the president's proposal the other day is, they did away with virtually all supplementary aid for unemployment. That is outrageous. You have got millions and millions of people today who are unemployed, they have no income. We cannot turn our back on them.

    But let me just say this. You know, I find it amusing, having been in Congress for a few years, that, when the government wants money for war, there's trillions of dollars available. You want tax breaks for billionaires, we have got a trillion dollars for the 1 percent and large corporations. You want corporate welfare for the fossil fuel industry? We have got hundreds of billions a year.

    But when it comes to making sure that the children in this country don't go hungry, suddenly, everybody is very worried about money.

    Well, this is an unprecedented moment in American history. We have got a pandemic. We have an economic crisis. Now is the time not to turn our backs on people who are suffering.

    And what I am asking for is, in fact, modest. It is less than what the Democratic leadership asked for several months ago and less than what the White House agreed to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will certainly see what happens, both among the Democratic leadership and among the Republicans.

    Senator Bernie Sanders, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you, Judy.

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