Sen. Bernie Sanders, the incoming chairman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, dared his Republican colleagues on Sunday to criticize him for attempting to use the expedited reconciliation process to push through a coronavirus relief package, noting that the GOP utilized the same procedural tool to pass major tax cuts for the rich just over three years ago.
In an interview on CNN Sunday, the Vermont senator said the Democrat-controlled federal government cannot wait "months and months" trying to convince austerity-obsessed Republicans to support the kind of sweeping Covid-19 relief package that experts say is necessary to slow the spread of the deadly virus, stimulate the economy, and provide crucial aid to millions of struggling families.
"You did it, we're gonna do it, but we're gonna do it to protect ordinary people, not just the rich and the powerful."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
If Republicans—who in recent days have criticized the $1.9 trillion price tag of President Joe Biden's opening relief proposal—refuse to quickly come aboard, Sanders reiterated that he is prepared to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a coronavirus aid package and legislation that addresses other key priorities, from the existential climate crisis to prescription drug prices. The reconciliation process is filibuster-proof and thus requires only a simple-majority vote.
"Reconciliation... was used by the Republicans under Trump to pass massive tax breaks for the rich and large corporations," said Sanders. "It was used as an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And what we are saying is, 'You used it for that, that's fine. We're gonna use reconciliation—that is, 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president—to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now. You did it, we're gonna do it, but we're gonna do it to protect ordinary people, not just the rich and the powerful."
Top Democrats in the House and Senate, according to Roll Call, are already "prepping an audacious and fast-moving game plan" to pass a relief package through reconciliation should the GOP continue to obstruct.
When CNN host Dana Bash noted that Sanders has previously criticized Republicans over their use of the reconciliation process, the Vermont senator responded, "Yes, I did criticize them for that. And if they want to criticize me for helping to feed children who are hungry or senior citizens in this country who are isolated and alone and don't have enough food, they can criticize me."
Sanders' remarks came as the work of the Senate has effectively been "ground to a halt" by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is threatening to block a must-pass organizing resolution if Democrats refuse to commit to leaving the archaic 60-vote legislative filibuster in place. The organizing resolution itself is subject to the filibuster, a fact McConnell is using in an attempt to extract early concessions from the new majority party.
In a floor speech on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said McConnell's proposal is "unacceptable" and "won't be accepted."
As the Washington Post reported Sunday, "Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees—veteran GOP lawmakers such as Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) and James M. Inhofe (Okla.) continue as chairs of key panels, while veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder."
"That's because the old Senate structures—which had Republicans controlling the committees—will remain in place until Schumer and McConnell reach a power-sharing agreement," the Post explained. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck."
One option available to Senate Democrats is to immediately eliminate the filibuster—a move that would require the support of the entire Senate Democratic caucus and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris—and then pass an organizing resolution with 51 votes.
"If McConnell insists, the Dem response should be to go nuclear on the organizing resolution, which under current rules needs 60 to pass," former Senate aide Adam Jentleson, public affairs director at Democracy Forward, said last week. "Dems extended a reasonable deal, McConnell spit on it. So reform the filibuster now, organize the Senate as Dems want, and pass Biden's agenda."
In an appearance on "Meet the Press" Sunday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)—the number two Senate Democrat—said that "if this filibuster has now become so common in the Senate that we can't act, that we just sit there helpless, shame on us."
"Of course we should consider a change in rule under those circumstances," Durbin added. "But let's see."