- Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote an opinion column this week pushing for Democrats to implement a bold economic agenda.
- Now that the Democratic Party has full control over Congress, Sanders argues they can use a tool called reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority in the Senate to pass bills.
- Among the key measures Sanders urges the Senate to pass are $2,000 direct payments to Americans and raising the minimum wage to $15.
- However, the process may not be as simple as Sanders indicated.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders this week implored Democrats to flex their power and implement a “bold and aggressive economic agenda” now that the party has full control over Congress and the White House.
In an opinion column for CNN published Tuesday, the Vermont senator argued that Democrats should utilize the budget reconciliation process to pass a wave of “big” policies under the new Biden administration.
“The Senate’s 60-vote threshold to pass major legislation has become an excuse for inaction,” Sanders wrote. “But let’s be clear: We have the tools to overcome these procedural hurdles.”
Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass bills fairly quickly and with a simple majority, as they are not subject to filibuster. The maneuver, first used by Congress in 1980, is mainly aimed at budget and spending legislation that need quick consideration.
“When the Republicans controlled the Senate during the George W. Bush and Trump presidencies, they used reconciliation to pass trillions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations. They also used reconciliation to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017,” Sanders wrote. “Today, Democrats must use this same process to lift Americans out of poverty, increase wages and create good-paying jobs.”
“If Republicans would like to work with us, we should welcome them,” he added. “But their support is not necessary.”
Sanders, an independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats, emphasized that the party must move urgently as millions of Americans are still struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without action, he warned, Democrats may end up in the minority in the 2022 midterm elections.
Democrats held the House in the 2020 elections, albeit by a slimmer margin at 222-212, after losing 11 seats. The swearing-in of three new Democratic senators and Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday granted Democrats the Senate, now evenly split 50-50 with Harris as the tie-breaking vote. Sanders is posed to become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, which handles reconciliation bills.
“Failure to adequately respond to the economic desperation in America today will undermine the Biden administration and likely lead Democrats to lose their thin majorities,” Sanders wrote, cautioning that the party “must not repeat those mistakes” of the Obama and Clinton years, when Democrats lost majorities during the presidents’ first terms in office.
Among the key measures Sanders has proposed to tackle the economic crisis include sending $2,000 direct payments to Americans, raising the minimum wage to $15, canceling student debt, as well as providing universal pre-K and guaranteed paid family and medical leave for 12 weeks.
Sanders also called for a coronavirus relief package that offers additional funding for COVID-19 vaccine and testing, aid for state and local governments, hazard pay for essential workers and expanded weekly unemployment benefits.
President Joe Biden has backed some of Sanders’ progressive ideas and put forth major items in his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, including $1,400 checks to bump up the $600 distributed in December to $2,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled on Thursday that her caucus is preparing to pass the relief in early February.
However, the stimulus bill’s pathway in the Senate, as well as any other spending legislation, may not be as swift and easy as Sanders suggested.
Some moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have previously balked at Sanders’ proposals. Considering the razor-thin Democratic majority, any reconciliation process will collapse if even a single Democrat fails to support it.
Biden, too, may be reluctant to approve bills only with Democratic support. He’s repeatedly expressed his intentions to work across the aisle and come up with bipartisan agreements as president, in order to fulfill his campaign and inaugural promises of “unity.”
Some Republicans have also signaled that they are ready to put up a fight against big spending moves.
“I’ve got a fight on my hands,” GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who serves on the Senate Budget Committee, told Fox News this week.