President-elect Joe Biden’s former primary opponent is now set to become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, where he will influence some of the most important legislative priorities under the Democratic majority.
The panel establishes the terms for budget reconciliation, a procedure that enables senators to pass certain tax and spending bills with a simple majority and sidestep the 60-vote threshold required for most legislation.
With a 50-50 split that will usually need tie-breaking votes cast by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Democrats are expected to find themselves relying on an agreement to advance the parts of their legislative agenda most likely to attract full GOP opposition, from more COVID-19 relief, including another round of stimulus checks, to infrastructure, health, and climate legislation.
As Budget Chair, Sanders will have the chance to form each reconciliation bill. He addressed that new position on Tuesday.
"In the past, Republicans used budget reconciliation to pass massive tax breaks for the rich and large corporations with a simple majority vote," Sanders announced. "As the incoming Chairman of the Budget Committee, I will fight to use the same process to boldly address the needs of working families."
Fellow progressives are enjoying his new capabilities.
“Everybody on the Democratic side wins if we pass the most maximalist proposals that all 50 Democrats can agree on. What Bernie Sanders being Budget chair means is that there will be at least one strong advocate in the room for the maximalist equation,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
The liberal society is pushing for a combined $5 trillion worth of spending in coronavirus relief and support, based on existing proposals. That amount, Green explained, would be much less if the decision making was left to lawmakers like Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
“You could see a scenario where it was Schumer, Manchin and Coons in the room, where they’d find things to agree on, but it would be $2 trillion less than what they could have passed,” Green announced.
Although some said that the details of the budget reconciliation process, combined with a razor-thin Democratic majority in both chambers, could end in a scenario where Sanders and his committee gavel aren’t as great.
"There are things you can do through reconciliation that you couldn't do otherwise, but if you don’t have a majority that already agrees on the policy, the rules won’t save you,” said Molly Reynolds, a budget expert at the Brookings Institution.
“The fact that the majority is so slim really does mean that Democrats are going to have to get all their members on board.”