Sanders describes disruptive health care forums as 'undemocratic'

08/12/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders says he hopes to persuade members of the Senate to pass a comprehensive health care bill that's financed through progressive tax sources.

And Sanders says some of the critics of the reform bill who are disrupting town hall meetings across the country are acting in an "undemocratic manner" as part of a right wing effort to spread lies about the legislation.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Sanders is a member of the Senate's Health and Pension committee - a panel that supports sweeping changes to the health care system including the creation of a new public plan. 

But he's concerned that this approach could be undermined by the work of the Senate Finance committee - a panel that has strong doubts about the public plan and imposing an income tax surcharge on wealthy people to pay for the bill.

Sanders says his job in the coming weeks is to keep pushing for the comprehensive approach:

(Sanders) "The role that I'm going to be playing is to make sure that we have at least a strong public option to keep the private insurance companies honest give the American people a competitive choice and to make sure that whatever funding is needed is done in a progressive way."

(Kinzel) The debate over health care reform has become very heated. Some opponents of the bill have challenged members of Congress at special town hall meetings and these interactions have led to shouting matches. Sanders says this behavior is "undemocratic":

(Sanders) "They're coming out not only very vocally but in some cases disruptively and I think undemocratically. It's one thing in my view for a person to go to a town meeting and say you know senator or congressman I have a question, I disagree with you on that. And it's another thing when people are coming out basically trying to disrupt the meeting and not allow a conversation, not allow people to discuss the issue. I think that's very wrong."

(Kinzel) Sanders says one of the problems facing supporters of health care reform is that there isn't a concrete plan yet for Congress to consider.  Instead, there are five different Congressional committees looking at this issue with very different approaches:

(Sanders) "From a political point of view it's hard to defend and fight for something that isn't there yet - that's not clear. It's much easier to attack it, spread innuendos and from the extreme right just make up fictitious stories about how Obama wants to kill off the old people."

(Kinzel) Rob Roper is the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party.  He thinks the lack of specifics about the bill is a big reason why some people have concerns and he thinks it's appropriate to challenge elected officials in a respectful way:

(Roper) "People have a right and an obligation as citizens to speak up and you've got to remember these folks work for us and our first amendment rights guarantee our ability to free speech, free press and assembly and that's what people are doing...and that's exactly how our democracy is supposed to work."

(Kinzel) Sanders is holding two health care town hall meetings this weekend - one will be held in Rutland and the other in Arlington.  Sanders says he hopes both supporters and opponents will engage in a respectful discussion.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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