Fed up with political pundits asking him where he would shrink the reconciliation bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) published an op-ed on Wednesday highlighting popular policies that he views as crucial to the package and to the American public. In it, he implored pundits to tell him where they think the bill should be cut.
“For whatever reason, there are pundits out there who say we should compromise even more and cut back on addressing the long-neglected problems facing working families as well as climate change. Really?” Sanders wrote for USA Today. “Please tell me where we should cut.”
He asked if pundits think that lawmakers should cut the massively popular expansion of child care and Medicare, child tax credits and affordable housing funds — and then demanded to know if the U.S should “continue being the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave.”
The Vermont lawmaker, who is leading the fight in the Senate against conservative Democrats’ lobbyist-fueled interests, went on: “When the planet gets hotter, with unprecedented forest fires, drought, floods, extreme weather, and acidification of the oceans, when scientists tell us that we only have a few years to avoid irreparable harm to our planet, should we really continue to ignore this global crisis?”
Pundits have repeatedly asked Sanders what he thinks should be cut from the Build Back Better Act — even though he has insisted for months that he’s “already negotiated” the topline spending of the bill, which moderates cut down from $6 trillion earlier this year.
As progressives fight for the $3.5 trillion figure, corporate media outlets have been instrumental in making the price tag seem larger than it is. In reality, the $3.5 trillion is spread out over 10 years, meaning that the average of $350 billion spent per year is less than half of the funding that Congress authorizes yearly for the Pentagon — which conservative Democrats, Republicans and the media rarely question.
This coverage has empowered lawmakers like Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, to attack the bill on the grounds of the price tag. On Tuesday, Blunt tweeted a misleading claim that “the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion tax-and-spend spree is 67 percent higher than the $2.1 trillion spent by all 50 states combined in 2019.” But this simply isn’t true when the time frame is taken into account — compared to the $2.1 trillion in state spending, the reconciliation bill would cost only a sixth of that amount a year on average.
The Intercept points out the reconciliation bill is small in comparison to the size of the economy. Compared to Congressional Budget Office projections of the next 10 years, the bill would only make up 1.2 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Sanders has also made this point. “You should stick around [me] for a day. You hear all kinds of folks coming up to me: ‘Bernie, we need to do more on child care, we need to do more on pre-k, we need to do more on affordable housing, we need to do more.’ The truth is, 3.5 trillion is not enough,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper earlier this month. $3.5 trillion is “barely more than one percent” of the projected GDP, Sanders noted.
Further, the senator has emphasized that the bill won’t add to the national debt and will be fully funded. He called out the conservative lobby in his op-ed, stressing that the tax reform proposals are crucial to the bill.
“This reconciliation bill is being opposed by every Republican in Congress as well as the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class. They want to maintain the status quo in which the rich get richer while ordinary Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet,” Sanders wrote. Instead, he said, now is the time for Congress to stand up to those interests.
Though Sanders faces forceful opposition from conservative Democratic senators, he has recently backed progressives in the House who are vowing to withhold their votes for the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the reconciliation bill is passed.
“I strongly urge my House colleagues to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill,” he wrote, adding that progressives will have no leverage left if they don’t stick to their plan.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) joined Sanders in his support of House progressives on Tuesday. “The agreement has been we’re going to move it all together,” she said on MSNBC. “The House progressives have been terrific on this. They’ve said ‘we had an agreement and we expect everyone to stick with the agreement.’”