‘We have to fix it:’ Bennet calls for democratic reform at Steamboat town hall
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — During his first town hall in Steamboat Springs since he dropped out of the presidential race, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet had some sobering remarks on the state of American politics.
“It is not at all assured that our democracy will remain,” he told the crowd of about 120 people seated in the Fulbright Auditorium at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs.
A broken system
Bennet, a Democrat, blamed the Trump Administration for exacerbating many of the issues the country faces, from political polarization to outside meddling in elections. But he believes President Donald Trump is a symptom, not the cause, of a democratic institution that was already broken when Bennet entered politics a decade ago.
The first year he was elected to the U.S. Senate, in 2010, was the same year the Supreme Court decided to allow corporations to pump money into political campaigns. The case, popularly known as Citizens United, has ushered unprecedented amounts of outside spending on campaigns, which Bennet argued has deepened divisions, both political and economic, in the country.
He referenced Bush-era tax cuts dating back to 2001, which the senator said have reduced federal tax revenue by $5 trillion and necessitated borrowing from China. While those cuts were touted as a way to help American citizens, Bennet said the gains have not been equal.
“Almost all the benefit of that has gone to the wealthiest people,” he said of the tax cuts.
Asked what to do about America’s national debt, which grew to $22.7 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2019, as well as the growing wealth gap, Bennet cited health care reform as a priority.
“We are spending twice as much as any other industrialized country is spending on health care,” he said. “There is a much cheaper way to get to universal health care.”
Bennet favors a public option health care program. His plan, which he calls Medicare-X, would allow people the option to stick with their private insurance or join a public program. It would piggyback on Medicare’s network of doctors and providers to provide benefits established under the Affordable Care Act, such as maternity care and mental health services.
As Bennet fielded questions from the audience, climate change emerged as a main talking point. One woman asked the senator, who visited Craig the previous day, about his ideas to help coal-reliant communities grapple with the nation’s growing divestment from fossil fuels.
“I have a lot of thinking to do on this issue myself,” Bennet admitted, though he added that politicians need to have a better response to concerns about job losses if they are going to achieve comprehensive, durable climate action.
One of the main issues, he said, is finding a way to replace high-paying coal jobs with jobs that offer similar wages and to help coal-reliant communities avoid economic collapse.
He proposed finding ways to incentivize investments in such communities or establishing grants that help to offset the tax revenue places like Hayden and Craig will lose when local mines and power plants disappear.
Regardless of how the energy transition pans out, Bennet argued durable climate action is necessary for the planet’s future and must be insulated from changes in political leadership.
“You can’t solve climate change two years at a time,” he said, proposing the idea of creating a coalition of climate action supporters at the federal level.
Taking a stand
Bennet concluded the town hall with a call to action for voters to take more responsibility for the nation’s future. His rhetoric took an even more somber tone as the senator criticized the political stonewalling of Congressional Republicans and what Bennet characterized as Trump’s ambivalence to the sanctity of democratic institutions.
“We are being asked in this moment to save this democracy,” the senator said. “There is nobody that is going to rise to the rescue to fix it. We have to fix it. We have to fix it. I think we can.”
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