Bernie Sanders becomes a supporter – and critic – of the Democrats’ bill

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Bernie Sanders was jubilant. It was July 2021 and the Vermont senator had just helped finalize a $3.5 trillion plan to overhaul the country’s health, education, climate, immigration and tax laws. .

“This is the most important legislation…since the Great Depression,” he told reporters after a round of negotiations that stretched late into the night. “There is still a lot of work to do.”

More than a year later, however, the vast set envisioned by Sanders is much smaller in size and scope. And as Democrats prepare to hold a key early vote on the bill, the senator himself has changed his tone — from a proud architect to a powerful mix of supporter and critic.

“You can do something big with 50 votes,” Sanders said in an interview Thursday, referring to the special legislative process Democrats plan to use to push through the Republican Opposition Bill. “Does this bill do that? No. Maybe it’s better than nothing? Yes.”

For Sanders, the new health, climate and tax package that the Senate aims to pass as soon as this weekend amounts to a huge missed opportunity. While the independent brandon backs its core goals – and is seen as likely to vote for its provisions aimed at lowering drug costs and tackling rapid global warming – it has made it increasingly clear that the draft law stops well short of what Democrats should have pursued when he rarely controlled the House, Senate and White House.

Twice in recent days, Sanders has visited the Senate to speak about the bill, at one point mocking its name for “the so-called Inflation Reduction Act.” He has promised to make one last attempt to expand his reach, proposing amendments during the debate that could spend billions more on health care and the climate.

Implicitly, Democratic leaders defended the bulk of their policy efforts, saying a lean package was the only way to resuscitate the party’s economic ambitions after Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) – a key fiscal hawk and a swing vote in their ranks – rejected the ideas defended by Sanders.

But the rationale offered little comfort to Sanders, whose budget proposal last year paved the way for Democrats to expand Medicare, provide free preschool, provide paid family and medical leave and solidify other federal health programs. security net. Now the senator and former presidential candidate is gearing up for a long-awaited debate on a bill he considers disappointing.

When asked if he would vote for the bill, Sanders replied, “I’m watching carefully,” adding, “We’ll have to see.”

The two-week scramble that saved the Democrats’ climate agenda

The new democratic economic package offers spending more than $433 billion on health care and climate change. It saves millions of Americans from insurance premiums that are due to take effect next year, and it includes investments to fight global warming that total the largest ever increase in federal spending on energy. green.

Democrats hope to pay for those expenses with a host of tax policy changes as well as a new program to lower drug costs for seniors, saving money for Medicare patients and the federal government. Lawmakers say their plan can raise enough money to cover the cost of the bill and generate about $300 billion to reduce the deficit.

Democrats secured the provisions after weeks of intense talks between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (NY) and Manchin, kept out of sight of the rest of their party. The duo reached the agreement at the end of July, even after Manchin signaled that he could not support some of the Democrats’ tax and spending plans over concerns about inflation.

Schumer and other Democratic leaders have since rushed to prepare the bill in the Senate, hoping to hold a vote to begin debate on Saturday. Ultimately, Democrats are seeking to pass it through the process known as reconciliation, which allows party lawmakers to avoid Republican filibuster — but only if they stick together and limit their legislation to measures that involve the budget. GOP lawmakers are united in opposing the bill.

Democrats plan to cut new taxes to get Sinema vote for climate bill

Anticipating an uphill battle, lawmakers held another round of meetings on Thursday with the House parliamentarian, which aides said would continue until Friday. Party leaders also struggled behind the scenes to accommodate another moderate in their ranks: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona). After days of silence, Sinema finally signaled on Thursday evening that she was ready to “move forward”, after securing an agreement with Democratic leaders to reverse some of their tax plans.

Even before they brokered the deal, however, Schumer had shown a public air of confidence in their prospects — sensing that an opportunity to fulfill Biden’s longstanding agenda was finally within their grasp.

“For years, many in Washington have promised to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing our nation, but have failed,” he said in a Thursday afternoon speech, promising that the Democrats would “keep their word”.

For many Democrats, the proposal is only part of what they hoped to achieve by winning a majority last year. Gone are their proposals that could have increased funds for public housing, extended tax benefits to families with children or committed billions of dollars to care for the elderly. All of these were part of the original Build Back Better Act, a roughly $2 trillion measure made possible by the budget resolution Sanders helped craft last July.

“It’s not all we want, but it’s pretty rare that you get everything you want in one bill,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said going through Congress.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) acknowledged Thursday that he would have preferred the proposal to still include about $400 billion for child care. But he said Democrats had managed to secure other priorities, including a campaign pledge to try to cut drug costs, adding, “It’s not going to be a tough bill to vote yes for.”

Sanders, however, sounded a much different note. On Tuesday, he delivered the first of two speeches calling attention to the bill’s deficits. Addressing the Senate, Sanders did not mention Manchin directly, but he began by addressing “some of my colleagues” who had described the former Build Back Better Act as “dead” – a reference to recent comments of the senator from West Virginia.

“Now I don’t know if that’s absolutely true or not,” Sanders began. “But I know if that’s true, it would be a disaster for working families across the country who are desperately trying to survive economically.”

Sanders then described the myriad of ideas lost in the negotiations — from free community college for millions of low-income students to new dental, hearing and vision benefits for Medicare beneficiaries. Regarding the remaining provisions, the senator praised Democrats for including new spending on health care and climate change while ensuring businesses pay at least some tax to the US government. But he said many of those items fell far short of what was needed.

On drug pricing, for example, Sanders said covered drugs would be limited in number — and their savings years away. On climate, he lamented the inclusion of “free” provisions for fossil fuels that the senator later described as at odds with the spirit of Democrats’ efforts to address global warming.

A day later, Sanders returned to the chamber, emphasizing the changes he planned to push. As part of the reconciliation, senators can propose unlimited amendments during debate — and the Vermont independent said it intends to propose some aimed at restoring its original spending plans. That includes changes to provide dental, vision and hearing benefits under Medicare and to target oil and gas companies, he said.

Sanders’ pledge amounted to another subtle shot at Manchin, who has long opposed Medicare expansion and only signed the new bill after winning concessions that boost the fuels industry. fossils. And that has posed a major challenge to other Democrats, who may soon be asked to vote on proposals they’ve backed in the past – but abandoned in the present in a bid to strike a deal.

“Does this bill solve the health care crisis in America? No,” Sanders told The Washington Post on Thursday. “Is this dealing with the cost of higher education or community college? No. Does he take care of accommodation? No… Does it address the issue of wealth and income inequality? No, it really isn’t.

“Reconciliation is the opportunity, the only opportunity we have, to really address the needs of working families,” he continued, saying of the bill, “No one can claim that it the fact [that].”

Like other members of his caucus, Sanders said Thursday he was not included in the top-secret talks between Schumer and Manchin that led to their breakthrough deal. But he said it would have been a “vain effort” for him to negotiate with Manchin, as previous attempts to reach a resolution with his moderate counterpart “have been for naught”.

At one point last year, the duo publicly fired on each other, after Sanders went so far as to publish an op-ed in Manchin’s home state extolling the virtues of the Build Back Better Act. That fall, Manchin repeatedly hit back, saying that if Democrats wanted a different outcome, they should try “to elect more liberals” instead.

Since then, the direct public acrimony has died down. But Sanders said Thursday that Democrats have still failed to mount “the kind of effort we need” to address a broad range of economic concerns.

“Do I think the Democratic Party, or any of us for that matter, has done the kind of work we should be doing to rally the American people around this kind of agenda? No, I don’t think we have it,” Sanders said. “It’s a difficult thing to do.”

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