Strange but true: Bernie takes a “very pragmatic” turn

The episode revealed a conciliatory side to the liberal icon often portrayed by the media and Republicans as blind and far to the left of his party. Sanders has opposed some of the policies and candidates of Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but never in cases where his vote is decisive. He also softened his opposition to a bipartisan infrastructure deal, acknowledging that he cannot alienate his fellow Democrats if he is to push his own agenda forward.

Yet the Vermont Independent is not quite ready for the “P” label.

“It’s not that I’m more pragmatic. It is because there are 50 members of the Democratic caucus. And unfortunately not everyone agrees with me on everything, ”Sanders said in an interview.

“It was important to have a vision of the future where we needed to go. And I think that was the right vision, ”Sanders added. “Obviously, it was a bit more comprehensive view than some of my colleagues. “

Even after two presidential elections brought him national fame and beneficial ownership of the American left, Sanders worked hard in the Senate minority with few levers to pull. This Congress, as chairman of the Senate budget and a member of Schumer’s leadership team, the 79-year-old is one of the most powerful people in Democratic-controlled Washington.

He also seems to be having a good time after decades of prowling the Capitol with gruff rebuttals for reporters delivered with his signature Brooklyn accent. After his interview with POLITICO, he was urged by another journalist to answer “another question”.

“She makes me speculate,” he teased the second reporter, his voice rising in playful disbelief. “Another question?!”

All kidding aside, moderates assumed it wasn’t easy for Sanders to give up his tough stance on this year’s massive spending plan, which may still be months away from becoming law. Tester, who quickly approved Sanders’ budget plan despite reservations, observed that Sanders “probably hesitated” to cut $ 2.5 trillion.

“Maybe that was one of those deals where it was, ‘Look, Bernie, if we don’t get this, there’s nothing we can do. “And he decided to move on with it,” Tester said of the haggling.

Yet senators on the Budget Committee saw Sanders as taking an extreme stance precisely so that it resulted in an all the more successful compromise for the Liberal Democrats. Had Sanders started endorsing Biden’s $ 4 trillion number, it is possible that he and other progressives had to settle for less than the $ 3.5 trillion they set their sights on. agreement.

“Bernie Sanders is like a human embodiment of moving the Overton window,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Who sits on the budget committee. “We wouldn’t be there without him spending $ 6 trillion. “

With a cap of $ 3.5 trillion, Sanders says he can pursue whatever changes he has prioritized, but not as long as he wants. This raises the possibility of future battles over expanding programs like the expanded child tax credits championed by Democrats.

Nonetheless, Sanders maintains whenever he has the opportunity to lobby “the most important law passed since the 1930s for workers.” On the price alone, he’s right: if successful, the current social spending bill will be the largest ever passed by Congress.

These lofty aspirations and his influence on the Democratic Party’s agenda make Sanders a practical villain for Republicans. The GOP tried to use his eventual rise in the majority as a line of attack in the Georgia Senate races – only to see Democrats win these contests, giving Sanders the budget hammer.

Senate Republicans are still trying to tie vulnerable Democrats to Sanders, even more so than Biden or Schumer.

“We applaud Bernie Sanders’ commitment to socialism and his influential leadership pushing the 2022 Democratic Senate candidates to the far left,” said Katharine Cooksey, spokesperson for the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee.

In addition to his central role in the Democratic caucus, Sanders also has the ear of former presidential rival Biden. Since winning the nomination and throughout the first six months of his presidency, the president has kept Sanders close.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain essentially had an open door policy with Sanders as he called for a $ 15 minimum wage earlier this year. This hike was eventually crushed by the moderates and the parliamentarian of the Senate, a blow to Sanders.

But Sanders quickly returned to pressure Biden to adopt extended Medicare coverage for dental, hearing aids and vision. In a private Oval Office meeting ahead of the budget announcement, Sanders “again championed this case with passion” and Biden “gave his full support,” a senior White House official said. Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said Biden “deeply respects Senator Sanders’ steadfast commitment to fight for workers.”

The expansion of Medicare is included in the Senate Democrats’ budget proposal, although it is not clear whether Sanders will be able to lower the age of Medicare eligibility as he had planned it months ago. Nonetheless, Sanders looks set to make a major change to a rights agenda. it has helped define the party’s legacy for generations.

For many years, Sanders played “a sort of gadfly role,” said David Axelrod, who served as an adviser to former President Barack Obama, whom Sanders briefly entertained during the 2012 presidential campaign. But now, He added, Sanders “has moved comfortably into the role of negotiator.”

“You see a very pragmatic Bernie Sanders, but he’s pragmatic in a principled way,” Axelrod said, observing that Biden and Sanders, “who really came from different parts of the party, came together at the sunset of their careers to do something potentially historic.”

When asked if Sanders was a pragmatist, Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) offered a “yes” cut for an answer: “I don’t want to get him in trouble.”

This isn’t the first deal Sanders has made, and it probably won’t be the last. In 2014, he memorably teamed up with the late Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) on a landmark deal to reform the scandal-ridden Veterans Affairs Department. As part of the deal, Sanders approved expanding access to private care for veterans, a concession in direct contradiction to his long-standing commitment to single-payer healthcare. Sanders also struck an alliance last year with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) To push for new pandemic stimulus controls.

“He is obviously a passionate lawyer. But he also understands that this is a moment we cannot pass up, ”said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, a member of the Democratic Leadership and Budget Committee. “He was able to read the play.

Sanders is already preparing for the next round of fights. He may have centrist Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) And the rest of the Budget Committee on board with his budget plan, but he has yet to convince the more conservative Democratic senses Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of ‘Arizona. Manchin said he had yet to speak to Sanders about the proposal.

Once again, Sanders draws a line in the sand, claiming he’s not going down $ 3.5 trillion any more. Time will tell if this one is real or tactical.

“No. Quite the contrary,” he said, hinting that progressive allies across Capitol Hill could push the price up. “We’ll see what happens in the House.”

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