“You think they will be making that criticism again if we get this done?” Sanders (I-Vt.) chuckled, after being reminded of his critics during an interview this week.
The self-described democratic socialist bristles at the suggestion that he has been a legislative lightweight — he helped orchestrate a major expansion of veterans health care in 2014 and an $11 billion investment in community health centers in 2010, among numerous smaller-bore initiatives. But he readily acknowledges that the pending legislation — which could include free community college, paid family and medical leave, universal pre-K, vast clean-energy investments and the largest-ever-proposed expansion of Medicare — outstrips them all.
“I’m proud of what we have accomplished,” he said. “But obviously this bill would be many levels above anything that I’ve ever been involved with before.”
Sanders’s Democratic colleagues — including some who had publicly minimized his legislative impact in the past — are now singing his praises, crediting him with both seeding the political atmosphere with an unabashedly liberal vision of federal government and now, as Senate Budget Committee chairman, putting that rhetoric in action.
“The fact that it has so much momentum is a huge tribute to Bernie,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who shared a ticket with Sanders’s 2016 presidential rival, Hillary Clinton. “We would not be where we are in terms of talking about a package of this size and scope and impact but for two things: Bernie and a once-in-a-century public health crisis. . . . The man, the message and the moment are completely aligned right now.”
Sanders is not celebrating just yet: Not only has his budget outline not passed the House, but subsequent legislation actually turning that blueprint into law stands to be a grueling, months-long process. Already his $6 trillion ambitions had to be scaled back to accommodate more-moderate members of the Budget Committee, and other Democrats, such as Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), have indicated they intend to give the package an additional spending haircut.
But he remains electrified at the prospect of bringing his life’s work to fruition at what he sees as a pivotal historical moment.
“At this moment, where we have the power to do something good . . . we’re going to address them in a bold way,” Sanders said.
Republicans say they are equally elated at Sanders’s new prominence and influence over the Democrats’ agenda, signaling that they are perfectly happy to make an avowed socialist a mascot for the Biden agenda.