Rachel Maddow and Sen. Bernie Sanders discuss the GOP's hypocrisy when now claiming to be the great champions of Medicare after years of railing again
September 30, 2009

Rachel Maddow and Sen. Bernie Sanders discuss the GOP's hypocrisy when now claiming to be the great champions of Medicare after years of railing against it.

MADDOW: Belated salvo in the scare the bejesus out of elderly voters so they‘ll put you back in power regardless of whether you‘re telling the truth war is an editorial in the conservative newspaper, “The Washington Times,” and it screams “Death Panels by Proxy”—ostensibly argues that the so-called Baucus bill on health reform encourages doctors to withhold health care from Medicare patients. Health care reform is a secret plot to kill people on Medicare.

This is now become an ongoing strategic conundrum. How do you plan to win an argument with opponents who are undeterred by being disproven? Undeterred by the facts, when you don‘t even believe that they believe what they‘re arguing anymore?

It‘s not even just the “death panels” nonsense now. Take Medicare itself, a program Republicans have railed against since before President Johnson signed it into law in 1965. They railed against it since then until—well, until now.

Now, in the Senate Finance Committee, Republicans are trying to portray themselves as the champions of Medicare. They‘re fighting hard to kill any bill that contains any cuts in Medicare, even though people who support Medicare like, say, the AARP, say those cuts won‘t affect care.

Republicans defending Medicare. What would Ronald Reagan say? These guys do remember Ronald Reagan, don‘t they?

Here‘s what he did say about Medicare when it was just a twinkle in some socialist, fascist, freedom-hating, community-organizing Democrat‘s eye.


REAGAN: We can write to our congressmen and to our senators. We can say right now that we want no further encroachment on these individual liberties and freedoms. And that the moment, the key issue is, we do not want socialized medicine. Write those letters now, call your friends and tell them to write them.

If you don‘t, this program, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. Until, one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don‘t do this and if I don‘t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children‘s children what it once was like in America when men were free.


MADDOW: That was Ronald Reagan, 1961, on a record sent out by the American Medical Association when they really opposed it. Republicans have been echoing that anti-Medicare sentiment ever since.


GINGRICH: The Medicare is a massive government bureaucracy that wastes at least 40 percent of its money, has no effective controls, doesn‘t give senior citizens choice, and rips off doctors.

THOMPSON: Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are the ones that we‘re really going to have to reform if we‘re going to make any headway into spending.

BLUNT: The government never should have gotten into the health care business.

DELAY: I want Medicare to be privatized. It shouldn‘t be a government program.


MADDOW: Yet now, the Republican Party expects voters to believe that as of this week, the last half-century never happened.

Earlier this year, 137 members of the House voted for an alternative budget plan which called for abolishing Medicare for every American who‘s under age 55, and it would force all of those people who would otherwise expect to become eligible for Medicare instead onto the private insurance market. That was this year.

But now, Republicans want to portray themselves as the champions of Medicare, the people you can trust to preserve it against those evil Democrats. Yes. Forget all that stuff that happened in the past.


STEELE: Let‘s agree in both parties that Congress should only consider health reform proposals that protect senior citizens. For starters, no cuts to Medicare to pay for another program—zero.


MADDOW: Thanks, Republicans. Great idea.

Joining us now is Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, a member of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Sanders, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

SANDERS: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: The Republicans have decided that they would like to portray health care reform now as an attack on Medicare. What‘s your overall response to that allegation?

SANDERS: Well, my overall response is that in Washington, D.C., where hypocrisy levels are pretty high, this one is actually quite extreme. It really bounces off the charts. Here you have people whose whole mantra, whose reason for living is to tell us that government can‘t do anything, that government health care is the worst thing imaginable. They want to privatize almost every form of government activity, and now, because they think they can get a few votes, they‘re suddenly champions of Medicare.

I mean, it is totally absurd, and I think the American people and especially seniors who know the Republican record on Medicare will see right through this hypocrisy.

MADDOW: I went back today and looked at some of the contemporaneous coverage from the time that those 137 Republicans voted earlier this year that they wanted to abolish Medicare, they wanted to get rid of Medicare for everybody under age 55, and instead, force them into the private market. And at that time, they were willing to tell reporters that they were worried that vote was going to come back and hurt them. That it was going to look like an anti-seniors vote.

As yet, it doesn‘t seem to be coming back to hurt them. I wonder if you think that it will.

SANDERS: Well, I think it will. I think the more we make the point that here you have people today who are vigorously opposed—we don‘t have one Republican vote for a Medicare-type public option, all right, which would give people under 65 a Medicare-type program in opposition to private health insurance. I think very few people will believe that these people who are not supporting a public option, who historically have wanted to voucherize or privatize Medicare, are suddenly now strong supporters.

Clearly, this is 100 percent political, and I think the American people, and especially seniors, will see right through it.

MADDOW: You‘ve been a guest here over the last few months, frequently talking about progress on health care about not only the procedural battles but the principles at stake. At this point, looking ahead at this week and coming weeks with these crucial battles that are being fought now, how do you feel about the public option and the other important components of health reform that people have fought so hard for?

SANDERS: Well, you know, Rachel, there was just a poll in “The New York Times” where I think the numbers were 65 percent of the people wanted a public option to give them a choice as opposed to private health insurance. It is hard for me to believe that the Democrats are not going to respond to those numbers.

And what I can tell you, we are working very, very hard—a number of senators are working hard for two reasons. Number one, we think it‘s right that people have that choice. And, number two, if you are serious about cost containment, if we are serious about addressing the fact that we have almost a million people in this country this year who are going to go bankrupt because of soaring health care costs and medically-related bills, you have got to give competition to the private health insurance companies.

We are now spending almost twice as much per person on health care as any other major country, and yet our outcomes in many cases are not as good. So, clearly, we need to wring the waste out of this current system, the bureaucratic waste that exists, and provide quality care without kind of—spending the kind of money we currently are.

MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, thanks very much for your time tonight, sir. Good to see you.

SANDERS: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you.

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