Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday staunchly defended a new plan to cancel $81 billion in medical debt owed by Americans, acknowledging this “is a lot of money” but saying “it’s the right thing to do.”
But asked what he'd say to Republican critics who see a slippery slope in the candidate's expanding debt-forgiveness programs, the independent senator from Vermont seemed to at least draw a line. Under a Sanders administration, he said, Americans would still be responsible for paying off their Visas and their Mastercards.
“I don’t believe we wipe out credit card debt,” Sanders said.
No candidate, including Sanders, has floated such a fanciful idea as wiping out credit card debt. But Sanders' comments rejecting such a scenario are noteworthy, considering his sweeping campaign platforms have stirred a broader debate over where to draw the line between personal and collective responsibility when it comes to finances.
Sanders sat down for an interview in New Hampshire with Fox News and NHTalkRadio.com just a few days after he announced a plan to wipe out unpaid medical debt -- which came on the heels of a plan to wipe out student loan debt.
The progressive senator and champion of a government-run "Medicare-for-all" health care system, who’s making his second straight bid for the White House, didn’t offer many details on his latest plan or how we would pay for it, but teased that “we will have it out in a couple of weeks.”
And an animated Sanders stressed that “500,000 people go bankrupt every year because of medical bills they cannot pay. How disgusting. How outrageous is it… I happen to believe that it is an outrage.”
Pointing to the plan’s price tag, Sanders acknowledged that “$81 billion, that’s a lot of money. It is a lot of money.”
But he added, “Compared to what? Compared to the $1.5 trillion that Trump gave in tax breaks to the one percent and large corporations. Compared to the billions of dollars that we spent bailing out the crooks on Wall Street 11 years ago. It is a lot of money but I think it’s the right thing to do.”
As for where he draws the line, Sanders said “there’s a difference” between wiping out medical debt and credit card debt.
“I don’t believe we wipe out credit card debt. You want to buy something, you pay for it,” he noted. ”If you want to go out and buy a fancy house, you want to go out and buy a yacht, and you go in debt, hey that’s your decision.”
“But I do believe we have to make a distinction,” he said. “Getting cancer is not your decision. And I think we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to cancel that debt.”
Sanders has said that under his plan, the federal government would negotiate to pay off past-due medical bills reported by credit agencies. And he’s added he would also propose repealing parts of the 2005 bankruptcy reform bill.
In Tuesday’s interview, Sanders once again refused to criticize Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, his fellow progressive standard-bearer among the record-setting field of Democratic White House hopefuls. The two senators from New England and longtime friends have kept the peace since launching their campaigns at the beginning of the year, even as they’re now basically tied for second place behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the most recent polls in the race for the 2020 nomination.
Asked how he’ll contrast himself with Warren, Sanders quickly answered: “I’m not going to talk about Sen. Warren.”
And he added that Warren “is more than capable of talking about her own campaign.”
Asked a similar question Monday during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Warren once again explained that “Bernie and I have been friends for many, many years, long before I ever got into politics, and I don’t see any reason that that should change.”