Bennet: Take politics out of health care

Fresh off failed presidential bid, senator says high cost of living weighs on Americans

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U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet isn't running for president, but that doesn't mean he's done taking on President Trump.

Bennet, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary in early February after a lackluster showing in the New Hampshire primary, spoke to about 100 constituents at a town hall meeting in south Jefferson County on Feb. 18.

“This is the most important election of our lives,” Bennet said. “When you think about the obligation of a citizen of a republic, particularly when we have a president who doesn't believe in democracy, the separation of powers, the freedom of the press or the independence of the judiciary, that's a moment when citizenship really matters.”

Though Bennet said he has not yet chosen a candidate to endorse in the primary, or even if he will endorse one, he said he would back whomever the nominee is because he feels voting Trump out of office is vital.

“There's a concern that our democracy is at risk and the rule of law is being jeopardized,” Bennet said. “When I ask people why they voted for Donald Trump, I get a similar answer: 'We wanted to blow the place up.' Well, congratulations, you achieved your objective. But what are we going to do for our kids and our place in the world?”

Bennet condemned Trump's treatment of border security, saying his mother, a Holocaust survivor, was horrified by the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents who crossed illegally at the southern border.

“She said she saw herself in those kids,” Bennet said. “She knows what it does to a person over a lifetime. I don't think our country is built on nativist hostility or anti-immigrant sentiment. We have to overcome it.”

Beyond presidential politics, Bennet said he hears similar concerns at numerous town halls: citizens saying they can't afford some combination of housing, health care, higher education and early childhood education. Many are worried their children will end up worse-off financially than their parents.

Bennet outlined a series of policy proposals he said would help address the issues: a program to ensure high school graduates get their diploma with a year of community college under their belts, an end to tax cuts for the wealthy paired with a low-income tax cut, lower interest rates on federal student loans, a focus on reducing the cost of college and developing a public option for health care.

Bennet said he doesn't see “Medicare for All” — the signature health care proposal of current Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders — as a winning proposal, saying polls suggest a minority of Democratic voters support it.

Two constituents who commented on health care at the meeting backed up Bennet's views.

“We don't trust the government for health care,” said Jo Douglas, an osteopathic doctor in Littleton. “I don't know how we got on the Bernie march of everything for everybody. It's ridiculous. We'll go bankrupt.”

George Sechrist said he was frustrated after his wife's recent emergency room visit that it took months to get an itemized bill.

“The free market should be allowed to work in health care,” Sechrist said. “Let's see some competition.”

Bennet touted his plan, that he calls “Medicare X,” which centers around a public option.

“I hope we can take politics out of the health care debate,” Bennet said. “There's a huge opportunity here, because of how much money we're wasting today.”

Bennet said he hasn't yet decided how or if he'll work to assist the campaign to unseat fellow Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who faces a tough reelection campaign this fall, though he has endorsed former governor John Hickenlooper to challenge Gardner.

Bennet said while his presidential campaign didn't get much traction, which he attributes to starting late and being shut out of Democratic party debates, he's glad to be home.

“Town halls are a big part of a senator's job,” he said. “It feels good to be back in Colorado.”

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