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Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) talks to reporters while leaving the U.S. Capitol on August 9, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders Says $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan Is 'The Minimum'

"I already negotiated. The truth is we need more," said the chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

Jake Johnson

Anticipating a clash with conservative Democrats over the price tag of the party's emerging reconciliation package, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday laid down a clear marker: the $3.5 trillion in spending outlined in a newly approved budget resolution is already the compromise, and anything less won't cut it.

"I already negotiated. The truth is we need more," Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee and chief architect of the reconciliation blueprint, told Politico in an interview published Thursday.

"While it will have no Republican support in Washington, Democrats, independents, and working-class Republicans all over the country support our plan."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

"The needs are there," the Vermont senator added. "This is, in my view, the minimum of what we should be spending."

Sanders' remarks came less than 48 hours after the House Democratic leadership quelled a small revolt of right-wing members and passed the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which the Vermont senator helped usher through the upper chamber earlier this month.

Congressional approval of the budget blueprint—which establishes the outer boundaries of the reconciliation package—sets in motion the likely contentious process of converting the popular resolution into legislative text. With Republicans unanimously opposed to the filibuster-proof reconciliation package, Democrats will need the support of virtually every member of the House and Senate to ensure it reaches President Joe Biden's desk, a reality Sanders acknowledged Thursday.

"Democrats have a very slim majority in the House. We have no majority in the Senate. That's it. It is 50/50," Sanders said. "Trust me, there are a lot of differences in the Senate among the Democrats. But at the end of the day, every Democrat understands that it is terribly important that we support the president's agenda. And most of these ideas came from the White House."

But conservative Democrats in both chambers are already threatening to derail the reconciliation process by expressing opposition to the $3.5 trillion price tag—which, as Sanders noted, is significant downward compromise from the $6 trillion proposal that he and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) were originally considering.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reiterated that "she will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion"—music to the ears of Republicans who are openly hoping that Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) team up to pare back the legislation, in which progressives hope to include historic investments in green energy, Medicare expansion, and other top priorities.

A $3.5 trillion bill could also face trouble in the House, where at least nine conservative Democrats have voiced "concerns about the level of spending and potential revenue raisers." Among the revenue raisers floated for the reconciliation package are tax hikes on wealthy individuals and large corporations, proposals that are popular with the U.S. public but opposed by some right-leaning Democrats—many of them bankrolled by powerful corporate interests.

In his Politico interview Thursday, Sanders made clear that he views "every single thing" in the reconciliation framework—from the proposed lowering of the Medicare eligibility age to paid family and medical leave—as essential, though he declined to say what he would do if such priorities were stripped from the package.

On Friday, Sanders is set to travel to the Republican stronghold of Indiana to advocate for a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. Two days later, the Vermont senator will hold a town hall on the legislation in Iowa.

"Sanders said if he could, he would travel to all 50 states this fall to make his case," Politico reported Thursday. "And he did not rule out West Virginia and Arizona, home to the Senate's two most conservative Democrats."

In a statement last week announcing his trips to Indiana and Iowa, Sanders said that "while it will have no Republican support in Washington, Democrats, independents, and working-class Republicans all over the country support our plan to finally invest in the long-neglected needs of working families."

"I very much look forward to hearing from some of them," Sanders added.

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