Sanders urged his party to be as bold as it was in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt dramatically expanded the size and role of the federal government. Still, the package, emerging after weeks of fitful negotiations, won’t come close to that ambitious call to action.
Getting Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, on board with the scaled-down reconciliation bill is imperative for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who cannot afford a single deflection within his caucus in the 50-50 Senate.
If Sanders agrees to the deal, other progressive Democrats in the House and Senate are likely to follow his lead and swallow their disappointment that the legislation no longer includes a clean electricity program and 12 weeks of paid family leave.
Many view Sanders as the key to unlocking progressive votes in the House for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. While Liberals wait for a deal they can accept with centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in the upper chamber.
He will not be thrilled to embrace the emerging deal based on the current trajectory of the talks. Over the past several weeks, the package has moved further and further from his ideals.
“I think it will be a very bitter drink, if it goes down at all. There are certain red lines that have been crossed as far as Sanders is concerned,” commented Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who has held several fellowships in the Senate.
“Everybody has been concerned about whether or not Manchin and Sinema would support this. The question now is whether Bernie Sanders will support it,” he said.
Sanders initially desired to spend $6 trillion on legislation that he viewed as a historic opportunity to address massive wealth disparities, expand Medicare benefits and lower the cost of prescription drugs.
He finally agreed to a $3.5 trillion spending target after intense negotiations with Schumer and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a prominent moderate, on the budget panel. The legislation is now expected to top out between $1.75 trillion and $2 trillion and won’t expand Medicare or lower prescription drug costs in the way Sanders envisioned.
Negotiators discuss dropping Sanders’s proposal to expand Medicare to cover dental benefits and limiting Medicare’s power to negotiate lower prices for only a handful of drugs, instead of the broad spectrum of medications that Sanders wanted to be covered.
Sanders has made clear for months that expanded Medicare and lower prescription drug prices are his top two priorities, and both are close to getting watered down or pushed off the table entirely.