As an unabashed progressive and as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been on the front lines of trying to advance an ambitious and sweeping multi-trillion-dollar spending package.
The $3.5 trillion budget bill addresses many priorities for the Democratic party, especially among progressives.
In a conversation with LEX 18, Sanders discussed the bill, as well as other significant topics that have garnered attention.
THE BUDGET BILL
Although the legislative text has not been released, Democratic lawmakers have outlined the bill's core components.
- Clean energy standard
- Universal Pre-K and "quality and affordable child care"
- Paid family and medical leave
- Expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing
The bill also includes an expansion of the child tax credit, which took effect earlier this month under the American Rescue Plan.
If made permanent under the budget bill, families would receive direct monthly payments of up to $300 per child to families.
"If you're a family struggling right now with the cost of health care, or rent, or putting gas in the car," Sanders explained. "It is going to go a long, long way in making it easier to take care of your kids."
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blasted the proposal as a "reckless multi-trillion-dollar taxing and spending spree."
Sanders has been open about his desire to pay for the plan by raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.
"[Senator] McConnell may disagree with me," Sanders said. "But I do believe that the time is long overdue to have the wealthiest people in this country and large profitable corporations start paying their fair share of taxes."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said he wants to hold votes before the August recess on both the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal and the $3.5 trillion budget bill, the latter of which will be passed through a parliamentary tactic called reconciliation, which would allow Democratic senators to pass the bill with just 51 votes.
Although the White House and a group of bipartisan senators agreed to a framework on an infrastructure deal nearly five weeks ago, hammering out the final legislative text has proven to be difficult.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is playing an active role in the discussions, told reporters Monday that a collapse in infrastructure negotiations could have a domino effect.
"I would say that if a bipartisan infrastructure bill falls apart, everything could fall apart," Manchin said.
When LEX 18's Mike Valente asked about this, Sanders waved off any concern and said that they would still vote on the spending package even if negotiations over the infrastructure bill stall.
"We can [vote on the bill]," Sanders said. "I think what Senator Schumer is trying to do is give the people on this bipartisan effort as much time as they need. They have already taken a whole lot of time, but he wants to see this get done."
Sanders added that in a worst-case scenario, he would be open to including about $600 billion from the infrastructure deal in the broader social spending package.
LEX 18 spoke to Sanders before two major developments pertaining to the fight against the pandemic: reports of the CDC's updated guidance on masks and reports of President Joe Biden's plans to require vaccinations for federal employees.
Mike Valente did, however, ask the senator about the Department of Veterans Affairs' decision to require COVID-19 vaccines for health care personnel and if states should begin following suit.
Sanders said that he would leave those decisions to the states, but added that we need to move more aggressively to make sure people get vaccinated, pointing to the NFL's recent crackdown on unvaccinated players.
The league has promised to withhold salaries from players if a game is canceled due to COVID-19.
"I think that's the direction we're going," he said. "No one likes mandates, no one likes telling people what they have to do. On the other hand, I would hope that nobody likes people getting other people sick and perhaps killing them."
Sanders said he believes more organizations will take their lead from the NFL.
To listen to the full conversation with Sanders, including his thoughts on the filibuster and voting rights, click on the video at the top of the page.