Bernie Sanders Will Assume Powerful New Role in the Senate as Democrats Retake Majority


Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders may have lost out on that labor secretary seat, but the independent self-identified socialist is going to be sitting atop the committee that has a powerful role in guiding tax-and-spend policies to the Senate floor.

The long-feared prospect of Sanders moving from ranking member to head of the Senate Budget Committee has come true with the Democrats’ wins in the Georgia runoff elections.

Sanders said Tuesday he plans “aggressive” moves — using, among other things, budget reconciliation, a process that isn’t subject to the filibuster and requires only a majority of votes. (By the way, if I haven’t mentioned it — thanks, Lin Wood.)

Republicans are probably saying it could have been worse, given the possibility of Sanders heading the Department of Labor. This was a possibility in the same way that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Treasury secretary was a possibility: That’s some fantasy you have there.

“I did give serious consideration of nominating my friend, Bernie Sanders to this position before. I’m confident he could have done a fantastic job,” President-elect Joe Biden said at a news conference Friday announcing his pick for the position, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

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“I can think of no more passionate, devoted ally to working people in this country,” Biden said. “But after two of these results in Georgia, give me a Democratic control of the United States Senate, and a tie vote, Bernie and I agreed, matter of fact, Bernie says, ‘We can’t put control of the Senate at risk on the outcome of a special election Vermont.'”

If Sanders actually said this and talked Biden out of nominating him, he’s about as well-read as I thought. Vermont might be Republican in a historical manner — having voted for the Republican candidate in 27 straight presidential elections through 1960 — but the state is so overwhelmingly Democratic now that it elects Sanders and Pat Leahy to the upper chamber.

Surely Vermont Democrats could have found someone to replace the irascible Sanders, who won 67 percent of the vote against a nominal Republican challenger in 2018, according to Ballotpedia. The last Republican senator was Jim Jeffords, who was first elected in the 1980s. In 2001, however, he became an independent who caucused with the Democrats. He decided to retire prior to the 2006 election.

That said, maybe he’s lucky Joe Biden thinks that’s an excuse. Bernie as labor secretary is bad. Bernie as Senate Budget Committee chairman might be worse.

“Republicans have long feared the prospect of Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont, taking the helm of the powerful committee given his embrace of bigger government and more federal spending with borrowed money. With Democrats reclaiming the Senate, that fear is about to become a reality,” The New York Times reported Tuesday.

“Mr. Sanders, the most progressive member of the chamber, will have a central role in shaping and steering the Democrats’ tax and spending plans through a Congress that they control with the slimmest of margins.”

One of these ways will be in shepherding a coronavirus spending bill through the Senate. The Times reported Sanders “would move quickly in his new role to push through a robust and deficit-financed economic stimulus package soon after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office.”

“‘I believe that the crisis is of enormous severity and we’ve got to move as rapidly as we can,’ Mr. Sanders said in an interview.

“‘Underline the word aggressive,’ he said. ‘Start out there.'”

He didn’t check with Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who’ll be the hinge vote in the Senate, on this one, I’m guessing. Especially since Sanders seems to want to move “aggressively” on a number of line items.

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Consider his recent interview with Politico, published Tuesday. He used the word “aggressive” in a few contexts, and not in ways that should hearten conservatives:

  • “I’m going to use reconciliation in as aggressive a way as I possibly can to address the terrible health and economic crises facing working people today.”
  • “It is absolutely imperative that the Congress not lose sight of the fact that working families in this country are facing more economic distress today than at any time during the Great Depression. What Congress has got to show the American people is that … it can handle more than one crisis at a time. While we must address the total irresponsibility of the president of the United States, we must absolutely move forward aggressively in dealing with the economic crisis facing working families today.”
  • “We’ll be working with my colleagues in the House to figure out how we can come up with the most aggressive reconciliation bill to address the suffering of the American working families today.”

And when he wasn’t using his new favorite word, he was calling for using budget reconciliation in problematic ways.

Are you concerned about Sanders being chairman of the Senate Budget Committee?

“I think we should think about how we use reconciliation in two ways,” Sanders said. “And it’s still not clear to me whether the two ways end up being in one piece of legislation or two. One is, dealing with the immediate crisis. Children in America are hungry. People are sleeping on the street. People are facing eviction. People have no health care in the middle of a pandemic. That is the immediate crisis of today, and it must be addressed.

“But, there is also a systemic crisis that has been brewing for years that must be addressed. … What we’ve got to do is create millions of good-paying jobs, and that means clearly, as the president-elect has indicated, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, our roads and bridges. And I would add affordable housing to that, as well.

“But it also means creating millions of jobs by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and retrofitting homes and buildings throughout this country, and moving to sustainable forms of energy, and creating jobs in health care. If this crisis has told us anything, it’s that we don’t have enough doctors, we don’t have enough nurses and other health care personnel. We have to build a primary health care system which is now in very, very poor shape.”

This is essentially the beginning of a move to enact the tamer provisions of the Green New Deal via budget resolution.

In 2016, when the Senate was at risk of falling into Democratic hands, GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke to a group of college Republicans just before the election.

“Do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee?” Ryan asked them. “A guy named Bernie Sanders. You ever heard of him?”

We all have. And we’re going to hear a whole lot more of him.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture