Sen. Bernie Sanders argued in an interview Saturday that the U.S. public cares more about Congress delivering ambitious solutions to the current crises facing the country than bipartisan deal-making, a comment that came as Democratic lawmakers are weighing plans for a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package that Republicans will likely reject.
"I think everyone wants bipartisanship," Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told NPR. "But what is most important is that at a time when this country is facing unprecedented health crises, economic crises, educational crises, mental health crises, we've got to move. And if the choice is doing it without Republican support and moving aggressively or spending, you know, month after month after month debating and discussing and not doing anything, to me the choice is pretty clear: We do it."
"If the choice is doing it without Republican support and moving aggressively or spending, you know, month after month after month debating and discussing and not doing anything, to me the choice is pretty clear: We do it."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"And when the American people get those $1,400 checks, they're not going to be sitting around saying, 'Oh, my goodness, this is not good, we didn't have any Republican support,'" the Vermont senator continued. "I think they're going to be understanding that finally, that the United States Congress, the president, are beginning to respond to their needs."
Sanders' contention is borne out by polling data showing that the American Rescue Plan—the $1.9 trillion relief package President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday—drew majority support from self-identified Democrats, Republicans, and Independents even as GOP lawmakers in Congress united against the measure. The bill won final approval from the House on Wednesday without a single Republican vote.
With the new relief money starting to make its way out the door, the Democratic majority is kicking off discussions on another legislative package focused primarily on infrastructure and green jobs—legislation that will, like the American Rescue Plan, likely have to go through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process as Republicans balk at additional spending.
Talks over the next package are still in their early stages, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and a key swing vote—is already indicating that he will object to any effort to move forward with an infrastructure bill without first seeking input from congressional Republicans.
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"I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start trying," said Manchin, who told Axios that he believes it's possible to get at least 10 Republican senators to support infrastructure legislation, despite the mountain of recent evidence indicating that the GOP has no interest in such cooperation.
As Politico reported last week, conservative Senate Democrats such as Manchin, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have also voiced concerns about new spending that isn't "paid for" by either tax increases or spending cuts, even as economists argue that much-needed infrastructure investments should not be constrained by such debt fearmongering.
In a statement on Thursday, the youth-led Sunrise Movement said it is "outrageous" that "Senate Democrats are already placing time and cost constraints on an infrastructure package."
"Democrats always maintain they have big, bold ideas but claim their hands are tied by Republicans," said Sunrise press secretary Ellen Sciales. "In reality, Democrats are tying their own hands. Senator Carper and other Democrats are choosing political inaction instead of pushing for the infrastructure package and economic recovery package that millions of Americans need right now."
"Democrats must keep the momentum up with an infrastructure package that not only supports people around the country who are acutely suffering, but also rebuilds our crumbling infrastructure, which has been weathered down for decades by disinvestment and privatization," Sciales added. "No one batted an eye when Republicans gave trillions of dollars in tax cuts to CEOs and their elite friends, so why are Democrats like Senator Carper now so stressed about the price tag of helping working people?"