Bernie Sanders’s “I wrote the damn bill” retort is coming to stickers — and probably more merch — near you.
One of the viral moments during the first night of the Democratic debates on Tuesday came in an exchange between the Vermont senator and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio over Medicare-for-all. Ryan questioned what Sanders’s plan would mean for unions, many of which negotiate plans for their members. As Sanders responded, Ryan tried to interject, and Sanders went on the offensive.
“[Union members] will be better because Medicare-for-all is comprehensive — it covers all health care needs. For senior citizens, it will finally include dental care, hearing aids, and eyeglasses,” Sanders said.
“But you don’t know that, you don’t know that, Bernie,” Ryan said.
As moderator, CNN anchor Jake Tapper tried to tell Ryan to hold off, but Sanders got there first. He responded, “I do know it, I wrote the damn bill.”
The audience erupted, and Sanders quickly moved on to finish his point. Within seconds, a viral moment was born.
Before the debate even ended, the Sanders campaign was already capitalizing on the moment, offering “I wrote the damn bill” stickers for its donors. The campaign doesn’t have T-shirts yet, but don’t be surprised if they do soon.
Sanders isn’t the only candidate this cycle to turn a debate moment into a merchandising opportunity. During the first round of debates in June, Sen. Kamala Harris’s “that little girl was me” exchange with Joe Biden went viral — and her campaign had T-shirts ready to go.
Sanders’s national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray tweeted on Tuesday night that his campaign didn’t have “I wrote the damn bill” T-shirts at the ready because the senator’s line wasn’t scripted. Harris, on the other hand, appeared to have come in with a plan.
“I wrote the damn bill” is a viral moment but an also important distinction on health care
While Sanders’s retort might have been the most memorable line on the issue, Tuesday’s debate entailed a pretty robust and, at times, heated discussion about health care in the United States. And the battle lines were clearly drawn.
On one side was Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both progressives who back Medicare-for-all, and on the other moderates including Ryan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and former Rep. John Delaney, who got a surprisingly large amount of airtime given his failure to register in the polls. (And then, as Vox’s Dylan Scott explained, you’ve got the few Democrats trying to thread the needle between the two, like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.)
As Vox’s Tara Golshan noted, Sanders and Warren showed a united front on single-payer health care amid criticism from other candidates who claimed the plan would take away from people health insurance they like and questions from moderators about what the system would mean for taxes. But their responses were also different, rhetorically. Sanders was more aggressive and on the attack, while Warren had a lighter touch. Per Golshan:
She reframed the debate altogether, making the case that moderate Democrats were echoing Republican talking points, at a grave human cost. When asked if she would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare-for-all, she simply replied, “Costs will go up for billionaires and go up for corporations; for middle-class families, costs total costs will go down.”
She invoked activist Ady Barkan, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and early this year moved Democratic lawmakers to tears using a computer system to deliver a testimony in defense of Sanders’s bill.
It makes sense that Sanders would be extra animated about the matter — he is largely responsible for the Democratic Party’s shift to the left and toward Medicare-for-all, and it’s something he’s been passionate about for years. As other candidates have moved in his direction, he has made an effort to reclaim the issue and make sure he can continue to set the frame of the debate. Just this week, Sanders’s campaign bristled at Harris’s rollout of its own health care plan, which it called “Medicare-for-all” as well.
The “I wrote the damn bill” retort is more than a good line from Sanders, it’s also a good way to remind voters of an issue he owns.