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Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to reporters following a vote at the U.S. Capitol on April 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sanders Warns Dems Could Lose Congress If They Get Mired in 'Never-Ending' Negotiations With GOP

"The Democrats in Congress must move forward boldly, protecting the working families of our country and restoring faith in government. Yes, the future of the country is at stake."

Jake Johnson

As the White House's fruitless infrastructure talks with Republican lawmakers persist with no deal in sight, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont warned Thursday that Democrats risk losing control of Congress if they get bogged down in unending negotiations with the GOP and fail to urgently confront the climate emergency, soaring prescription drug prices, and other key issues.

"What happens if they spend week after week, month after month 'negotiating' with Republicans who have little intention of addressing the serious crises facing the working families of this country?" Sanders asked in a CNN op-ed. "What happens if, after the passage of the vitally important American Rescue Plan—the Covid-19 rescue package signed into law by President Biden in March—the momentum stops and we accomplish little or nothing?"

Under such a scenario, the Vermont senator wrote, "there is a strong possibility that Republicans will win the House or the Senate or both bodies next year."

Sanders continued:

The American people want action, not never-ending "negotiations" and obstructionism, and they will not come out and vote for a party that does not deliver. And if the Republicans do regain control of Congress, we can be sure that the economy will move steadily forward toward a system in which the rich get richer thanks to increased corporate domination. We can be sure that the climate crisis will intensify, diminishing the likelihood of our children and grandchildren living in a healthy and habitable environment. We can be sure that our government will drift away from democracy, as voter suppression, dark money and conspiracy theories continue to dominate our political system.

This is an unprecedented moment in American history. The Democrats in Congress must move forward boldly, protecting the working families of our country and restoring faith in government. Yes, the future of the country is at stake.

The Vermont senator's warning came hours after Senate Republicans unveiled the outlines of an infrastructure counteroffer calling for just $257 billion in new spending over the next eight years—a far cry from Biden's initial $2.2 trillion plan and the president's pared-back $1.7 trillion proposal.

Senior Senate Democrats reportedly believe that, with bipartisan talks set to spill into next week and possibly beyond, they will not be able to complete work on an eventual infrastructure and climate package by September 30, the end of the fiscal year—a timeline that likely means additional months of inaction on voting rights, child care, immigration reform, and other top agenda items.

Earlier this week, Sanders cautioned that "millions of voters will be disenfranchised and Democrats will become a permanent minority party" without passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill that is currently stuck in the Senate due to opposition from the GOP and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). If passed, the legislation would counteract many of the Republican Party's attacks on ballot access at the state level.

In his op-ed on Thursday, Sanders—the chair of the Senate Budget Committee—wrote that he is prepared to swiftly assemble and approve a far-reaching infrastructure and climate measure using reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that allows for the passage of spending bills with a simple-majority vote.

But President Joe Biden, the Democratic leadership, and conservative rank-and-file Democrats such as Manchin have thus far refused to endorse such a path, opting instead to let weeks go by as bipartisan infrastructure talks continue to flounder. During a Financial Times event on Tuesday, Manchin signaled that he would be willing to let the negotiations drag out until the end of the year in the interest of pursuing an unlikely compromise with the GOP.

"Legislative calendar is a precious commodity," New York magazine's Eric Levitz wrote Monday. "And Democrats may have even less time to enact their agenda than they realize. On average, ten lawmakers have died in each two-year Congress. Chuck Schumer's bare majority rests on the health of several senior citizens in states where Republican governors have the power to fill vacant Senate seats. Biden can't afford to waste more than a month on a charade—which is what the infrastructure negotiations have become."

The Week's Ryan Cooper similarly argued in a column Thursday that—contrary to Manchin's claim that a bipartisan deal is within reach—congressional Republicans "obviously don't want Biden to pass anything," preferring instead to "string him along with fake promises of bipartisanship, running out the clock on the Democratic majority, until they get a chance at taking control of Congress in the 2022 midterms."

"If that happens," Cooper wrote, "they will try to strangle the economy by demanding massive austerity every time the government needs to pass a budget or raise the debt limit—trying to create a recession that Biden will be blamed for, so that the Republican nominee (probably Donald Trump) will be elected in 2024."

"Even the most conservative Democratic members of Congress agree on the need to do something on infrastructure," Cooper continued. "They can either figure out internally (and quickly) what they want to do and pass that on a party-line vote, or they can do nothing and effectively collaborate with the Republican plot to topple Biden and set up one-party rule. Those are the only options."

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