In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont argued the United States needs “every penny” of the reconciliation package that is currently taking shape in Congress amid ongoing fights over its size and scope.
“The question we face right now is: at this moment, do we have the courage to keep faith with the American people and show them that their democracy in fact can work for them, and not just powerful special interests?” Sanders said. “Let us go forward, let us do the right thing, let us pass this $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.”
As conservative Democrats attempt to pare back the legislation, Sanders stressed that the $3.5 trillion plan would make major investments in climate action and child care, establish universal pre-K and paid family leave, and expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits. The Vermont senator went on to declare that the bill—which corporate lobbying groups are working hard to tank—”should and will be fully paid for” by raising taxes on the rich and big businesses, and by lowering prescription drug prices.
“This legislation takes an important step forward,” Sanders said. “It doesn’t go as far as it should, but it is a major step forward in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday challenged members of the media—and conservative Democrats—to specifically cite which portions of the emerging budget reconciliation package they would remove to lower the proposal’s $3.5 trillion price tag, which some lawmakers have characterized as excessive.
Asked during an appearance on “CBS Mornings” whether he would accept a package smaller than $3.5 trillion to appease Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W-Va.) and other right-wing Democrats, Sanders responded, “You tell me what we should cut.”
“Tell the working families of this country that we don’t need to make child care affordable,” said Sanders. “Tell the American people and the younger people that we should not address the crisis of climate change and try to save the planet. Tell the homeless people that we should not build affordable housing. Tell the young people that we should not make community colleges tuition-free.”
“All we are trying to do is address the crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people in this country start paying their fair share in taxes,” he continued. “At the end of the day, I believe that we’re going to prevail.”
Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, reiterated that he and a majority of the Democratic caucus originally pushed for a $6 trillion bill, given the urgent need to combat the climate emergency with massive investments in green energy.
“We have already made a significant compromise,” said Sanders. “Poll after poll tells me, and tells you, that what we are trying to do is enormously popular. Every single issue has widespread support not only from Democrats, but from Republicans and Independents.”
Sanders’ remarks came after he and other prominent progressive lawmakers met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the reconciliation package, which Democrats hope to pass in the coming days.
But efforts to quickly advance the sprawling bill have run into opposition from conservative Democrats who, for the most part, have raised vague objections to the bill’s price tag and the filibuster-proof procedure being used to pass the bill without Republican support.
Earlier this month, Manchin—a key swing vote in the Senate—urged the Democratic leadership to “hit a strategic pause” on the reconciliation process, arguing that we “must allow for a complete reporting and analysis of the implications a multitrillion-dollar bill will have for this generation and the next.”
The West Virginia Democrat has reportedly voiced broad concerns about “Biden’s plan to spend $400 billion for home caregivers” and expressed a desire to more aggressively means-test other proposals.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), for her part, has stated flatly that she will not support a $3.5 trillion bill without elaborating on her objections in any detail.
In an attempt to push the reconciliation package through over conservatives’ protests, progressive Democrats in the House are threatening to tank a Senate-passed $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin and Sinema helped write. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said earlier this week that “more than half” of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ 96 members are willing to vote against the bipartisan bill unless the reconciliation package is approved first.
Jayapal, the chair of the CPC, held to that position after meeting with Biden on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has committed to holding a floor vote on the bipartisan bill by September 27, but it’s far from clear that the reconciliation package will be finished by then.
“I reiterated what I have consistently said: progressives will vote for both bills because we proudly support the president’s entire Build Back Better package, but that a majority of our 96-member caucus will only vote for the small infrastructure bill after the Build Back Better Act passes,” the Washington Democrat said in a statement outlining what was discussed during her meeting with Biden.
“This is the president’s agenda, this is the Democratic agenda, and this is what we promised voters when they delivered us the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Jayapal added. “We agree with President Biden that, ‘We can do this. We have to do this. We will do this.’ We remain strongly committed to continuing these discussions so we are able to deliver these two important bills to his desk.”