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Bernie Sanders pressed in interview about how much his agenda will cost. He admits he doesn't know.


'I can't rattle off to you every nickel and every dime'

Image source: 60 Minutes/Twitter screenshot

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has some ambitious plans for what he wants the federal government to do if he's elected president, but he admitted in an interview that he doesn't exactly know how much his plan is going to cost the American taxpayer in sum.

Speaking on Sunday night's episode of CBS' "60 Minutes" with show contributor Anderson Cooper, the self-described democratic socialist was asked about the costs of his wide-ranging proposed agenda, which the segment pointed out includes a government backed Medicare for All system, taxpayer-funded college education, student debt forgiveness, the controversial Green New Deal, and even a federal jobs guarantee.

"How much will that cost?" Cooper asked the senator at one point during the interview.

Sanders responded, "Obviously, those are expensive propositions, but we have done our best on issue after issue in paying for them."

"Do you know how all, how much though?" Cooper persisted. "I mean, do you have a price tag for, for all of this?"

"We do," Sanders answered. "I mean, you know, and, and, the price tag is — it will be substantially less than letting the current system go. I think it's about $30 trillion."

"That's just for Medicare for All, you're talking about?" Cooper asked.

"That's just Medicare for All, yes," Sanders clarified.

"Do you have a price tag for all of these things?" Cooper pressed.

"No, I don't," Sanders admitted. "We try to — no, you mentioned making public colleges and universities tuition free and cancelling all student debt, that's correct. That's what I want to do. We pay for that through a modest tax on Wall Street speculation."

"But you say you don't know what the total price is, but you know how it's gonna be paid for," Cooper continued. "How do you know it's gonna be paid for if you don't know how much the price is?"

"Well, I can't — you know, I can't rattle off to you every nickel and every dime," Sanders answered, appearing somewhat flustered. "But we have accounted for — you, you talked about Medicare for All. We have options out there that will pay for it."

And Sanders' proposed spending isn't just limited to the programs he had rolled out prior to going on the show. During the appearance, he also rolled out plans for government-funded "universal childcare" for American kids from birth until age for which he said would be paid for by a "tax on wealth."

When pressed again about how he would cover the costs of universal childcare and pre-kindergarten, the senator said, "It's taxes on billionaires" and that he is "a little bit tired of hearing my opponents saying, 'Gee, how you going to pay for a program that impacts and helps children or working-class families or middle-class families? How are you going to pay for that?'"

A 2018 study by the Mercatus Center projected that the Medicare for All plan Sanders proposed the year prior would cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years. A 2019 Study from the Urban Institute similarly placed the price tag of a single-payer health insurance plan similar to the kind Sanders supports at just over $32 trillion over 10 years. The Vermont senator estimated last year that his "free" college and debt cancellation plan would cost $2.2 trillion. A 2019 memo from the think tank Third Way notes that a federal jobs guarantee would cost "at least hundreds of billions of dollars per year and much more during a recession when the employment rolls for the government would naturally increase."

On top of all that, a 2019 American Action Forum study placed for the cost of a "Green New Deal" environmental overhaul — including health care and jobs guarantee costs —placed its price tag between $52 trillion and $93 trillion.

Just for reference, the Congressional Budget Office says that the federal government spent $4.4 trillion overall in fiscal year 2019 and the national debt is currently over $23 trillion.

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