- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2015

Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, who is eyeing a 2016 run as a Democrat for president, staked out an economic agenda Monday that is far to the left of his most liberal colleagues, including a proposal for free tuition to college and graduate school for all Americans.

He called for expanding Social Security, making it easier to unionize workplaces, strengthening overtime pay laws to include more workers, breaking up the big Wall Street banks and raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

For health care, he demanded the full government takeover that Obamacare failed to achieve.

“The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege,” Mr. Sanders, an independent and self-described socialist who caucuses with Senate Democrats, said in a speech at the liberal Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system,” he said.

The proposals that Mr. Sanders rolled out included most of the staples of the Democratic Party’s economic agenda, such as raising the minimum wage — but he often pushed it further.

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Where President Obama and his Democrats call for investments in infrastructure projects to create jobs, Mr. Sanders boasts plans to spend $1 trillion.

In the case of the minimum wage, he tops Mr. Obama’s proposed hike from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour with a $15 per hour living wage.

“No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty,” he said.

The speech confirmed Mr. Sanders far-left ideology and, if he gets in the race, positioned him as a liberal alternative to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

It also presented a challenge to other left-leaning potential contenders, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat whose anti-Wall Street crusade has made her a darling of the party’s left wing.

Mr. Sanders said that he’s a “big fan” of Mrs. Warren when pressed about competition between the liberal during a question and answer season at the Brookings event.

Mrs. Warren insists she isn’t running, while Mr. Sanders acknowledges that he is interested.

If he gets in the race, Mr. Sanders likely will face an epic uphill battle against Mrs. Clinton and whoever else jumps in.

“He obviously has no chance of winning the nomination, but perhaps he can move the discourse leftward by appealing to the party’s activists,” said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group, an independent polling and consulting firm in Washington.

Mr. Valliere saw an upside for Mrs. Clinton from a Sanders campaign.

“Frankly, Sanders and his agenda will be a convenient foil for Clinton the general election, when she will seek to portray herself as a moderate. And she is — compared to him,” he said.

Echoing his Democratic colleagues, Mr. Sanders identified income inequality as one of the most sinister threats to America.

He said that his policies would help close the income gap and prevent the country from becoming what he described as an oligarchy, pointing to the concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent of families while all others suffer falling wages.

“The real struggle is whether we can prevent this country from moving to an oligarchic form of society in which virtually all economic and political power rests with a handful of billionaires. And that’s a struggle we must win,” he said.

Mr. Sanders also said that he would have been “stronger” than Mr. Obama in taking on the big banks in the wake of the Great Recession.

“I think he missed the opportunity, politically, of doing what Roosevelt did when he was elected and making it clear to the American people what is happening and why,” he said, explaining what he would have done differently to hasten the recovery.

“What Roosevelt said was ‘the economic royalists hate me and I welcome their hatred,’” Mr. Sanders said. “I think that’s what President Obama should have [said]: ‘These people have destroyed millions of lives because of their greed and recklessness. I will take them on and we’re going to rebuild an economy [so] that it works for all people and not just the very wealthy.’”

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