One-on-one: Bernie Sanders talks Medicare for All, affordable housing

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Krystal Ramirez / Special to the Sun

D. Taylor, president of Unite Here, left, looks on as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sander speaks at a town hall meeting at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 hosted by Unite Here Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.

Sat, Dec 14, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders was in Las Vegas this week touting “Medicare for All,” the proposed government-run health care plan on which he is basing his presidential campaign.

In an interview with the Sun after his appearance at a Culinary Union town hall meeting, the Vermont independent seeking the Democratic nomination for president outlined his plan and talked about the dearth of affordable housing in Nevada.

Here are some highlights, edited for clarity:

What are you hearing from voters in Nevada?

We are hearing that people are sick and tired of a government that represents the wealthy and the powerful, while working families are struggling to put food on the table for their kids.

They’re also tired of an administration which lies all of the time, which is racist, which is xenophobic. They’re tired of the unending attacks on undocumented people in this country, and they’re tired of the general racism of the Trump administration. That’s some of what I’m hearing.

What I’m also hearing — much more than I did a few years ago — is people’s concerns about climate change. I know that it’s a big issue here in Nevada and California.

People now understand that climate change is very real, it is devastating our country and the world and that we have got to address it in a very aggressive way. Climate change has become a much more significant issue in Nevada, I believe, today than it was four years ago.

You spoke to Culinary Union members this week about your government-run health care proposal. Some union members are concerned about losing the private insurance they have negotiated. How do you speak to their concerns?

The Culinary Union is one of the great unions of America. What they have shown is no matter what the work you do is, whether you’re cleaning beds or anything else, you can earn a decent living and have decent benefits if you have a strong union behind you.

Medicare for All will provide comprehensive health care to every man, woman and child in this country, and that includes dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses and home health care.

Under Medicare for All, nobody will pay more than $200 a year for prescription drugs. That is a pretty strong program.

Medicare for All eliminates the profiteering of the insurance companies and the drug companies and it does away with the incredible administrative bureaucracy that now exists when we’re administering literally thousands of separate health insurance programs. We are going to save employers very substantial sums of money.

Nevada cities like Las Vegas and Reno are seeing a decrease in the amount of available affordable housing. What are some of the things a Sanders administration would do to help increase the amount of affordable housing?

We have introduced a major housing proposal. It’s not just a Las Vegas or Nevada issue, it’s an American issue, all over the country. You’re seeing a lot of gentrification. You’re seeing rents go up. You have 18 million people who are paying 50% of their incomes for housing, and you’ve got 500,000 people who are homeless.

We have introduced a proposal that will build 10 million new units of low-income and affordable housing. We will have standards involving rent control to protect tenants. We will also build the housing we need to end homelessness in this country and, by the way, when we do that, we’re going to put millions of people to work in good-paying jobs.

Could you detail the rent-control policy?

I grew up as a kid in a rent-controlled apartment. If you’re renting, you can go back to your house and get a message that your landlord has doubled your rent. You have no protection at all. That’s wrong. Tenants need protection. We have a proposal that would provide standards with regard to rent control, giving communities the ability to develop rent control to protect their tenants.

That would change per community?

It has to be flexible. Las Vegas is not New York City.

How do you ensure that affordable housing developments are not centered in one area?

Obviously, what we want is integrated housing — racially integrated, economically integrated. The bottom line is we need many, many, many millions of low-income and affordable housing units. I’m proud to tell you that some years ago, along with Rep. Barbara Lee of California, we introduced the first significant low-income housing construction bill, which now amounts to a couple hundred million dollars a year. We’ve got to go further. Housing has been an issue that I’ve worked on since I was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and it’s an issue that we will work on big time in the White House.

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