TOUGH TALK

Bill Maher Stuns Bernie Sanders: How Will America Pay For Your Radical Agenda?

The host of HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ grilled the Democratic candidate on exactly how the U.S. will foot the bill for all his socialist programs.

10.17.15 3:10 AM ET

This week, the first Democratic debate went down in Sin City, and preliminary polls indicate that Hillary Clinton took first place. But her fiercest competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was a close second, and claimed to have raised a whopping $1.3 million in the four hours after the debate began.

On Friday night, political satirist Bill Maher felt the Bern, inviting the 74-year-old presidential candidate on his HBO program Real Time with Bill Maher to discuss his socialist agenda.

But first, he took a dig at Donald Trump (as is his wont).

“This week after the Democratic debate [Trump] went on a tear,” said Maher in his monologue. “He called my first guest a ‘Communist,’ which is ridiculous, went on a rant about how horrible socialism is. But you know what? Isn’t Trump’s hair socialism? It’s the richer hair covering the poorer hair for the good of the head.”

Then came Sanders, who sat down opposite Maher for his pre-panel interview. Maher endorsed the candidate and admitted that he “wanted to help [Sanders’] campaign” by demystifying the word “socialist” for Americans. “They hear socialist and they think herpes, Bernie!” he exclaimed.  

“What we do is we have to make a movement if you like to correlate what we’re talking about, because on every one of the major issues I’m talking about, the American people agree,” explained Sanders. “Do the American people agree that public colleges and universities should be tuition-free, as they are in many other countries? Do the American people agree that the largest corporations and the wealthiest people, who today are doing phenomenally well while the middle-class shrinks, do people believe they should have to pay more in taxes? The American people say yes.”

But Maher—in a surprise move—challenged Sanders on his utopian plan, echoing the most common critiques of the candidate’s agenda: that there’s no way raising taxes for the top 1 percent of Americans could pay for all these programs.

“The tax revenue that we would get just from taxing the people who I think your fans think you’re talking about, the people who own a yacht, does not come close to covering what you want to pay for,” said Maher.

“Not true. Not true,” a clearly-thrown Sanders fired back. “What I’m saying is there have been articles out there that have been really unfair and wrong. For example, what they are suggesting is that if we move to a Medicare-for-all single-payer program, which guarantees healthcare to all people, it would cost a lot of money. That’s true. But what they forget to tell you is it would be much more cost-effective than this dysfunctional system we have right now, which is the most expensive per capita on earth.”

“But it couldn’t even work in your home state of Vermont!” Maher said. “They were going to institute it, and the governor said it’s going to cost too much money. We just can’t do it. It would be the entire budget. That’s true.”

“No… Well, it’s not…,” a shaken Sanders replied. “I’m not the governor from the state of Vermont, I’m the senator from the state of Vermont…”

Sanders asked Maher—Maher?!—to explain why he feels his universal healthcare plan wouldn’t work. And Maher obliged him.

“Because they control both ends of it,” said Maher. “If you’re saying that the government is going to pick up the tab but not make the insurance companies, the hospitals, and the doctors not gouge people, then we are going to break the budget. It has to work both ways. So you’re going to make the hospitals do that? Because that is socialism.”

And Sanders, who once again looked utterly shocked by the pushback he was getting from Maher, delivered his standard spiel, deflecting Maher’s question. “The United States is the only major country on earth that allows private insurance companies to make huge profits on the healthcare system,” he blustered. “The function of healthcare should be to provide quality care for all people, not to make huge profits for the drug companies and insurance companies. So, here is my point: We are spending more per capita on healthcare than any major country on earth, our healthcare outcomes are not particularly good, and I believe that healthcare should be a right of all people.”

Maher proceeded to probe Sanders on exactly how he’d fund each of his radical programs.

OK. But you want to increase social security.

“And you know how we do that? We pay for it. We say that somebody who’s making $10 million should not end up paying the same amount as someone making $118,000. Lift the cap. We can extend and expand social security.”

You also want free college.

“We do. Not free college—free tuition at public colleges and universities. You know how we pay for that? Through a tax on Wall Street speculation.”

So you’re saying we can pay for all this without raising taxes on anybody but the 1 percent?

“We may have to go down a little bit lower than that—but not much lower. And what people have to understand is right now people can’t afford to send their kids to college, and people are graduating school deeply in debt. Do I think we should join Germany and many other countries and encourage young people to get the education that they need, and make the country stronger? I sure do.”

That, of course, remains to be seen.