Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has blasted the spending priorities of the Trump administration and his Republican colleagues in the Senate, asserting that the U.S. spends too much money on its military while shortchanging the health care system. Sanders, who has drawn speculation of a potential presidential campaign in 2020, outlined his foreign policy vision in an hour-long speech.
On Sept. 21, Sanders delivered a foreign policy address before an audience at the Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The venue held historical significance, marking the site where former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned of Soviet expansion in 1946. The Vermont senator asserted that the U.S. should practice a foreign policy that leaned on diplomacy rather than military might.
"The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world," Sanders said, according to NPR. "Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of 'America First.' Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance. This is better for our security, better for global stability and better for facilitating the international cooperation necessary to meet shared challenges."
The independent senator, a self-described democratic socialist, also blasted U.S. budget priorities, arguing that the GOP was overfeeding the military with money while cutting on domestic programs, The Hill reports.
"Foreign policy is about U.S. government budget priorities," Sanders continued. "At the exact same time as the president and many of my Republican colleagues to substantially increase military spending, they want to throw 32 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have because, supposedly, they are worried about the budget deficit," Sanders said.
On Sept. 18, the U.S. Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 89 to 8. The legislation would provide $640 billion to the Pentagon and an additional $60 billion to current U.S. engagements overseas. The bill exceeded the caps on military spending that had been set by the Budget Control Act in 2011, Reuters reports.
Sanders was also referring to the latest GOP effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Senate Republicans had rallied around Graham-Cassidy, a bill that would convert the federal subsidies and Medicaid expansion of the ACA into state block grants. It is difficult to verify whether or not Sanders' assertion that the bill would result in 32 million Americans losing insurance is accurate because the legislation has yet to receive an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.
Graham-Cassidy was introduced on Sept. 18. Senate Republicans hope to pass the bill before Sept. 30, when their ability to pass legislation through budget reconciliation and avoid a Democratic filibuster would expire. The CBO disclosed that it would not be able to evaluate how the bill would impact insurance markets and Americans' access to coverage within that window of time, the Washington Post reports.
On Sept. 22, the prospect of Graham-Cassidy's passage dimmed when GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona announced that he would not support the bill. McCain had been considered one of the few key swing votes in the repeal effort, according to CNBC.
"I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal," McCain said in a statement.
From Sanders' point of view, the U.S. pours too much of its budget into military spending, leaving an insufficient amount of funding for other discretionary spending. The senator stressed his point by quoting a 1953 speech by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was himself a U.S. military general.
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," Sanders said.