By Mike McCombs
SEABROOK – The Island News was given roughly 10 minutes with Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachussetts and 2020 Democratic candidate for president, prior to her organizational rally on Monday night at Whale Branch Middle School.
MM: In the last election, there was a battle in the Democratic Party between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, which Clinton won and then she moved on to the general election. And there’s a lot of people who may question who they voted for in that race. And then you have a (potential) candidate like Joe Biden … didn’t run last time. You may get some people from the last election who have some regrets. What makes these voters say Elizabeth Warren is the choice over these guys?
Warren: I don’t think it’s about 2016. I think it’s about 2020. Right now, we have a government that’s working great … for the rich and powerful. It’s just not working much for anyone else. Right now is our big chance to change it.
MM: Do you think having a big field like the Democratic Party does this election is a positive?
Warren: That’s something, I’m sure, all the pundits have an opinion about. I’m just here talking about the reasons that I’m running for president. I’ve done more than 50 town halls, taken more than 250 un-screened questions. People want to talk about the price of prescription drugs. And the cost of child care. They want to talk about student loan debt. And a decent public education. They want to talk about off-shore drilling. And a government, 50 different ways to slice it, that keeps working great for giant corporations. For billionaires. And not for them.
MM: You mentioned prescription drugs. Health care.
Warren: Uh huh. It’s killing people.
MM: You’ve tried to tackle it once. What’s the solution?
Warren: So, I believe that health care is a basic human right and we fight for basic human rights. I strongly support Medicare for all. Right now, we have three jobs in front of us. First is to defend the Affordable Care Act. This administration is trying through the courts, through the agencies, to do everything that they can to roll back protections for millions of Americans. To take away protections for those who have pre-existing conditions. To knock kids 18 to 25 off their parents’ health insurance plans. So between now and January 2021, we need to be in the trenches fighting to protect the health care access we have. It’s not perfect, but we don’t want to lose what’s there.
Part 2 is we need to come in and pick the low-hanging fruit. Washington works great for giant drug companies. It just doesn’t work great for people trying to get a prescription filled. We can import drugs from Canada that meet our safety requirements but that can be as little as one 10th the cost that we pay here in the United States. We can authorize Medicare to negotiate with the drug companies. We can adopt my proposal on generic drugs, to reduce the cost on more than 90 percent of the prescription drugs out there. We should do the things that we can do, and we could do them fast. We just need the political courage to step up against the giant drug companies.
And the third (part) is, we’ve got to find our path to Medicare for all. There are a lot of different proposals out there. Some say start lowering the age for Medicare from 65 to 60 to 55 to 50. Others say build it from the bottom up, cover everybody under 30, then everybody under 35, then everybody under 40. Others say let employers buy in. Others say let employees buy in. There are a lot of different paths and different time frames. No one thinks we’re going to be able to flip a light switch. But we need a clear commitment that we’re going to get everybody covered at the lowest possible cost. And everything we know points toward Medicare being the way to do that.
MM: How do you convince people that hear Medicare for all, and it doesn’t matter how you go about doing it, they’re instantly opposed? What can you say to those people to try and change their minds?
Warren: You know, I look at it this way. I have three brothers. One’s a Democrat, two are not. There’s a lot of things we disagree on. But we all agree that nobody should go bankrupt over a medical problem. We all agree that our children and grandchildren should be covered by health care that they can afford. We all agree that people shouldn’t die just because they don’t have the money to pay medical bills. We all agree that rural hospitals shouldn’t close because they’re trying to cover too many patients that don’t have health insurance or a government plan to back them up. Our values are very much the same. We just have to figure out a right way to get there. I think we start by talking about our values. What it is that we care about. I think that’s the place where we begin.
MM: Obviously, (Beaufort) is a small town with three military bases in a very small area. This is a military town. There’s a lot of retired military here, as well. Really, two parts. One is veterans and their issues, coming home from what has really been a two-decade war. How do we better handle how we’re treating the people who are defending our country?
Warren: All three of my brothers joined the military. I saw, up close, the sacrifices that they made, and the sacrifices of the families of those who serve make. When people are willing to step up and make those kinds of sacrifices, then we, as Americans, have a commitment to honor our promises with them. And that means we don’t use our military to try and solve non-military problems. It means that when they have served us, so honorably and selflessly, that we make sure that they have the full range of health care that they need. And every other federal benefit that we promised them. And that we do everything that we can to help them when they leave the military, to find good jobs, good housing and be the honored civilian members of our country.
MM: The other side of that coin, we’ve been at war for 20 years. Is there an end to that road, or …
Warren: I’ve been. I serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq. I was in Afghanistan with John McCain on what I think was his last trip to visit our troops, Fourth of July, a year and a half ago. The question I ask everyone on the ground in Afghanistan is “Describe to me what winning looks like and how we can measure if we’re coming closer to that or slipping further away.” I asked civilians and military. I asked generals and privates. I asked people in the Afghan government and people who have served in our own government. And nobody could give an answer. Endless war is not an answer. Great nations do not fight endless wars. Right now, after having spent 17 years (in power), the Afghan government controls less than 60 percent of the land. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, that criminals, terrorist, smugglers can move back and forth at will. The opium trade is stronger than ever. There are multiple terrorist groups that are supported by different outside interests that are taking root in different parts of the country. That’s not success. And spending more of the time of our honorable men and women who serve, and putting them in harm’s way in Afghanistan. It’s not in our national interest. We’ve got to bring them home.