Bernie Sanders, Dealmaker

[ Posted Wednesday, July 14th, 2021 – 16:46 UTC ]

Although few are pointing it out today, Senator Bernie Sanders is truly the man of the hour in the Democratic Party right now. Much faster than anyone expected (myself included), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last night that a deal had been struck within the Democratic caucus over the reconciliation bill that Bernie Sanders is in charge of writing (as chair of the Senate's budget committee). This deal was principally negotiated between Sanders and Senator Mark Warner, who represented the penny-pinching faction within the Democratic Party. But even with this necessary trimming, what was just announced is simply breathtaking in its scope and reach.

Of course, the details will matter, and we won't know all of them for quite some time now. The bill under negotiation is merely the first step in the budget reconciliation process, since it will contain only topline numbers. From these totals, the details will be filled in later, in a second bill (this is the normal process for such things). The biggest news from last night's announcement was they had agreed on a total price for the bill: $3.5 trillion.

This is down from Bernie's initial bid of $6 trillion, but up significantly from the opening-bid figure the fiscally conservative Democrats had offered a few weeks ago ($1.5 to $2 trillion). In fact, it is precisely the figure I had hoped they would compromise on when I wrote about it back then. This represents a clear victory for President Joe Biden, because if it holds it will mean he got exactly what he asked for in his entire "three-legged stool" of economic legislation. Biden's American Rescue Plan, his American Jobs Plan, and his American Families Plan requested, in toto, $6 trillion in spending. He got $1.9 trillion in the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will contain $0.6 trillion in new spending, and the reconciliation bill will add the final $3.5 trillion to the mix, to come up with exactly the figure Biden had asked for. That is a clear victory for the White House.

Republicans really can't complain, although they no doubt will. They made a honkin' big deal over microscopically defining "what was true infrastructure and what was not" in their talks over the bipartisan bill, and they jettisoned most of what Biden had proposed (because they complained that you couldn't actually "drive a car on it"). While doing so, they carefully avoided badmouthing all the ideas they were cutting, because even Republicans know how popular the whole agenda already is. Their reasoning, at the time, was: "Well, that'd be nice to do in some separate legislation later on, but it is not traditional infrastructure" (as if that mattered in any way to any voter out there). So this is exactly what the Democrats did -- they took all the discarded pieces and added them all together and came up with their companion bill. But that won't stop the GOP's complaints, because they are only truly happy when they have some Democratic bugaboo to gnash their teeth over.

Everyone else in the country, of course, will judge the proposal on its merits. And this is where Bernie Sanders can truly feel proud, because some transformational changes made it into the reconciliation bill. The biggest of these -- which Bernie had been pushing very hard for -- is the addition of vision, dental, and hearing coverage for those on Medicaid. This will be an enormous change in seniors' lives, since they'll now be covered to get glasses, dental visits, and hearing aids, and they won't have to take out supplemental insurance for it or pay for it straight out of their own pockets. If you don't think this is going to be a big deal, please go ask a senior -- they'll tell you.

Bernie also was successful in including a measure to close the gap in the red states that have stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid. The people who have so far fallen into this gap will now be covered (in one way or another, there are a number of ways they could achieve this under discussion), just like the people in the states (both blue and red) which already have expanded Medicaid. This will bring health insurance to millions who have so far been missing out on the benefits of Obamacare.

Other major policies that made it in to the compromise include: universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children, childcare subsidies for parents, paid family and medical leave, nutrition assistance, tackling climate change in a big way, reducing the cost of prescription drugs, and an increase in who will qualify for Pell Grants to be able to afford college. That last one seems like a bit of a disappointment, because it seems to have taken the place of the idea of providing two years of tuition-free community college to all, but we'll have to wait to see what the final bill has in that regard.

The novel approach to the Child Tax Credit has been extended, which is welcome news indeed since it has so far only been funded for this calendar year. These checks are about to start arriving in parents' mailboxes everywhere (or arriving directly into their bank accounts), so Democrats will be able to remind everyone who receives one that Republicans voted against this idea -- and more than once.

The bill will even attempt to at least partially tackle immigration reform, but this one is probably the most dubious of the lot, since it remains to be seen whether it will survive the scrutiny of the Senate parliamentarian (who rules whether each part of the bill fulfills the budget reconciliation rules or not). For now, this is a big progressive victory, but it might not make it into the final package, so we'll have to see.

To satisfy the fiscal conservative Democrats, the entire reconciliation bill will be fully paid for. This will be done by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthiest of individuals (those making over $400,000 per year). The I.R.S. will be beefed up so it can catch more high-income tax cheats as well -- which is critical because the Republicans have been gutting the auditors' budgets for years now. All of these provisions are extremely popular with the voters -- even with Republican voters. The chickens will be coming home to roost on all the faux populism introduced into the Republican Party by Donald Trump, because now Republicans in Congress will have a very clear choice: vote to continue to allow gigantic corporations like Amazon to pay zero dollars in taxes, and also vote in favor of tax cheats -- or vote with the Democrats to fix these problems.

If both the bipartisan bill and the reconciliation bill pass, it will constitute a major part of the Democratic political platform for the midterm election season. If the bipartisan bill stalls, then its provisions will just be rolled into the reconciliation bill anyway, so Republicans will really have no chance to fully stop the Biden agenda dead in its tracks. But it all hinges on getting complete and unanimous buy-in from the Democrats in Congress, though.

President Biden did his part towards this goal today, by visiting the Democrats up on Capitol Hill to praise the newly-announced compromise. He's got to champion both bills and get all the Democrats (especially the two cantankerous senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) on board for the final votes. But if he can manage to do this, his economic agenda will be talked about for decades to come -- in the same breath as L.B.J.'s Great Society and F.D.R.'s New Deal. If these two bills make it to Biden's desk, he will already have achieved being a transformational president, to put it another way.

Ironically enough, Joe Biden will have his main competitor in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race to thank for this. Because this never would have happened if Bernie Sanders hadn't been able to quickly strike a grand bargain with the fiscal conservatives in the Democratic Party. Bernie is routinely portrayed as being some sort of bomb-throwing extremist who refuses to compromise and always demands his way or the highway, but either this caricature was never true in the first place or else Bernie's ascension to chairing the budget committee has given him not only new powers, but also a new outlook. Either way, Bernie Sanders must be acknowledged as the best dealmaker the Democratic Party has right now. He's certainly earned that accolade, this week.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


15 Comments on “Bernie Sanders, Dealmaker”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:


    As time goes by, more and more becomes public. From a review of the bill:

    "The highlight is an extension of the expanded child tax credit that was enacted on a one-year basis in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan earlier this year. Delivered at a maximum rate of $3,600 per year for kids under 6 and $3,000 for kids between 6 and 17, the credit has the potential, if permanent, to cut the child poverty rate, 14.4 percent in 2019, by half. The package also contains other major elements of President Biden’s American Families Plan — tuition-free community college, family and medical leave, universal pre-K, increased tax credits for Obamacare and investments to fight climate change. Mr. Sanders won a new dental, vision and hearing benefit under Medicare, a potential life-changer for millions of seniors who now pay for these items out of pocket — or don’t get them at all."

    So I guess the tuition-free community college will make it in the bill after all. This is good news...


  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You know, I've always thought of Senator Biden as the foreign policy guy and the guy I always went to for his thoughts on any given foreign policy issues, the old comments from former defense secretary notwithstanding. Ahem.

    So, I'm always surprised, to this day, when he turns out to be the guy to go to on domestic economic issues, too!

    But, my vote for the MIDOTW award goes to none other than Senator Sanders! :)

  3. [3] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    LizM [2],

    Trolling the Deathtroll tonight, eh?

  4. [4] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    The biggest of these -- which Bernie had been pushing very hard for -- is the addition of vision, dental, and hearing coverage for those on Medicaid. This will be an enormous change in seniors' lives, since they'll now be covered to get glasses, dental visits, and hearing aids . . .

    I think maybe the editor was asleep at the wheel.

  5. [5] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Bernie is routinely portrayed as being some sort of bomb-throwing extremist

    Actually, he's routinely portrayed as a communist and a not-Democrat.

    . . . alternatively, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Deathtroll from Planet Dore will call him a Big Money Deathocrat because he takes $201 campaign donations and doesn't give grifters enough free stuff.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:



  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Oh, I get it ... I catch on eventually ... :)

  8. [8] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I figured you would.

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    is there a unicorn in here? i thought i smelled a rainbow.

  10. [10] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    After four long years of keeping his idiotic mouth shut about the orange menace, King George W went on German TV to criticize Biden's decision to pull the US out of his forever war in Afghanistan. I hate him so much. He had the gall to talk about how the women there will suffer as if they haven't suffered elsewhere thanks to his Big Lie (not to mention Saudi Arabia). The Obamas shame themselves by befriending him rather than shunning him.

    I'm not sure that Florida Man was the worst ever. He's mentally ill. W's best excuse is that he's an arrogant, know nothing frat boy who was born with a silver foot in his mouth. He killed more people and presided over more economic destruction.

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    not so sure i agree with you about W. he was in way over his head and let the wrong people take charge at first. in his second term he got rid of rumsfeld, fenced cheney in a bit, generally got a bit more moderate, and was very gracious when obama took over. no way does his death toll and economic failure match donald's covid count. dubya is bottom third, donald is bottom 3.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Good God ...

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:



  14. [14] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Like clockwork. Projecting, narcissistic, and lying like his delusional, destructive, deranged orange hero.

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:




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