- Sanders ruled out backing a Democrat-only infrastructure plan below $3 trillion.
- “That’s much too low,” he told New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd.
- It may set up a confrontation with centrists like Joe Manchin, who favor a smaller plan.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders indicated that he would oppose a Democrat-only spending bill if its price tag didn’t top $3 trillion, brushing anything lower as too meager. It may set the stage for a confrontation between Sanders and moderate Democrats looking to restrain the size of a follow-up package.
In an interview with New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd published Saturday, the Vermont senator ruled out backing a party-line infrastructure plan that amounted to either $2 trillion or $3 trillion.
“That’s much too low,” he told Dowd. He also pulled out a list of his priorities for a reconciliation package.
—Maureen Dowd (@maureendowd) July 10, 2021
They appeared to include broadband, climate, childcare, universal pre-K, paid family and medical leave, Medicare expansion and housing among others.
“Does anyone deny that our child care system, for example, is a disaster?” Sanders told Dowd. “Does anyone deny that pre-K, similarly, is totally inadequate? Does anyone deny that there’s something absurd that our young people can’ t afford to go to college or are leaving school deeply in debt? Does anybody deny that our physical infrastructure is collapsing?”
Sanders’s remarks could potentially set up a showdown with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as Democrats move ahead with a reconciliation spending package. Reconciliation is a legislative tactic Democrats are poised to use and circumvent Republicans because only a simple majority is needed for certain bills.
The party holds a narrow majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate that relies on a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. Every Senate Democrat must be onboard as a result or else the package fails.
Manchin has made clear he favors a party-line package that’s fully paid for with tax increases and doesn’t grow the national debt. He previously suggested a $2 trillion price tag.
“I’ve agreed that can be done. I just haven’t agreed on the amount,” he told MSNBC late last month. “I haven’t seen everything that everybody is wanting to put into the bill.”
As chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders wields enormous influence over reconciliation since the panel helps set overall spending levels. Senate Democrats are weighing up to $6 trillion in spending aimed at overhauling the economy with new initiatives in childcare, higher education, monthly cash payments to families, and clean energy programs.
Manchin along with a few other Senate Democrats like Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia have already balked at supporting $6 trillion in spending, making cuts likely.
President Joe Biden has already struck a $1 trillion infrastructure agreement with a centrist group of lawmakers concentrated on roads, bridges, and highways. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has dug in on not passing the plan until the Senate also approves a separate reconciliation package containing measures unlikely to draw Republican support.
It’s unclear whether it will ultimately pass, given Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t thrown his support behind it yet. For now, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Democrats to gear up for potentially long days ahead to kick off the reconciliation process before the August recess next month.
“Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do,” Schumer wrote Friday in a letter to Senate Democrats. “Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period.”