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


The episode revealed a conciliatory side to the liberal icon, often portrayed by the media and Republicans as wild-eyed and far to the left of his party. Sanders has spoken out against some of the policies and candidates from Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but never in cases where his vote would prove crucial. He has also tempered his opposition to a bipartisan infrastructure deal, realizing that if he wants to change his own agenda, he cannot alienate his Democrats.

Still, the Vermont Independent isn’t quite ready for the “P” label.

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

“It was important to have a vision for the future of where we need to go. And I think that was the right vision, ”added Sanders. “Of course it was a vision that was a bit broader than some of my colleagues.”

Even after two presidential elections brought him national fame and effective participation in the American left, Sanders has worked with few levers in the Senate minority. In this congress, the 79-year-old is one of the most powerful people in democratically controlled Washington as head of the Senate budget and member of Schumer’s leadership team.

He also seems to be having a good time, having roamed the Capitol for decades with harsh rebuttals for reporters delivered in his signature Brooklyn accent. After his interview with POLITICO, another reporter urged him to ask “one more question”.

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

Jokes aside, moderates suspected that it was not easy for Sanders to abandon his uncompromising stance on this year’s massive spending plan, which may be months away from law. Tester, who was quick to approve of Sanders’ draft budget despite reservations, noted that Sanders likely “hesitated” to cut it by $ 2.5 trillion.

“It might have been one of those deals that said, ‘Listen, Bernie, if we don’t get this, there is nothing we can do.’ And he decided to move it, ”Tester said of the haggling.

But the Senators of the Budget Committee saw Sanders as an extreme position, precisely in order to reach a compromise that would be all the more fruitful for the liberal Democrats. If Sanders had started advocating Biden’s $ 4 trillion figure, he and other progressives might have settled for a figure less than the agreed-upon $ 3.5 trillion.

“Bernie Sanders is like a human embodiment of the Overton Window shift,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Who serves on the Budgets Committee. “We wouldn’t be there without him spending $ 6 trillion.”

With a $ 3.5 trillion cap, Sanders says he can track any changes he prioritizes, just not for as long as he wants. This increases the possibility of future struggles to expand programs such as the expanded child tax breaks advocated by the Democrats.

Nonetheless, whenever the opportunity arises, Sanders argues that he is promoting “the most momentous law passed for working people since the 1930s”. He’s right about the price alone: ​​if successful, the current social spending bill will be the largest ever passed by Congress.

These ambitions and his influence on the Democratic agenda make Sanders a handy villain for Republicans. The GOP tried to use his possible rise in the majority as a line of scrimmage in the Georgia Senate races – only to see the Democrats win those competitions and give Sanders the budget hammer.

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

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

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

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain essentially had an open house policy with Sanders when he pushed for a $ 15 minimum wage earlier this year. That hike was eventually crushed by moderates and the Senate MP, an early blow to Sanders.

However, Sanders quickly returned to urge Biden to take an expansion of Medicare coverage to include dentistry, hearing aids, and eyesight. During a private meeting in the Oval Office prior to the budget announcement, Sanders “re-presented this case with passion” and Biden “gave his full support,” said a senior White House adviser. Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said Biden “deeply respects Senator Sanders’ unwavering commitment to fighting for working people.”

The Medicare expansion is included in the Senate Democrats’ budget proposal, although it’s unclear whether Sanders can lower the Medicare eligibility age as he proposed months ago. Nonetheless, Sanders seems to be on the verge of fundamentally changing an authorization program that has helped define the party’s legacy for generations.

For many years, Sanders had “played a kind of braking role,” said David Axelrod, who served as advisor to former President Barack Obama, whom Sanders briefly installed in the primaries during the 2012 presidential campaign. But now, he added, Sanders has “comfortably moved into the role of deal-maker”.

“You see a very pragmatic Bernie Sanders, but he’s principled,” said Axelrod, watching this Biden and Sanders, “who were really from different places in the party, got together at the end of their careers to do something possibly historical.”

When asked if Sanders was a pragmatist, Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) replied with a curt “yes”: “I don’t want to get him into trouble.”

This isn’t the first deal Sanders has made, and it probably won’t be the last. In 2014, he worked memorably with the late Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) To create a landmark agreement to reform the scandal-ridden Veterans Affairs Division. As part of that agreement, Sanders signed to expand access to private care for veterans, a concession that goes directly at odds with his longstanding commitment to health care alone. Sanders also formed an alliance with Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) Last year to push for new pandemic stimulus checks.

“He’s obviously a passionate lawyer. But he also understands that this is a moment we cannot miss, “said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, member of the budget committee and Democratic leadership. “He could read the room.”

Sanders is already digging in for the next round of combat. He may have centrist Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) And the rest of the Budget Committee on board with his budget, but he has yet to win over the more conservative Democratic sens Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Manchin said he had not yet spoken to Sanders about the proposal.

Once again, Sanders draws a line in the sand and says he can’t go down from $ 3.5 trillion. Time will tell if this is real or tactical.

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

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