Sen. Bernie Sanders traveled to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky on Sunday to slam the GOP chieftain for “working overtime to represent the needs of the wealthy” while obstructing legislation that would expand healthcare, slash poverty, and strengthen voting rights.
“As we speak, Senator McConnell is leading the effort against the long-term structural changes that working people in Kentucky and throughout our country desperately need,” Sanders (I-Vt.) said during a rally in Louisville with Charles Booker, a former state representative who is hinting at a bid to unseat Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“It’s a question of whose interests the government represents. It’s a question of whether you fight for the needs of the wealthy and large corporations who fund your campaigns, or the working families of our country.”
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
“How does it happen that Mitch McConnell is working overtime to block legislation that would improve the lives of so many working-class people in Kentucky, while he is doing everything that he can to make the richest people in America even richer? And the answer is pretty simple: Follow the money,” the Vermont senator said, pointing to McConnell’s well-known history of raising money from Wall Street banks, insurance giants, and fossil fuel companies.
Noting that McConnell still wields significant power in the narrowly divided Senate despite losing control of the chamber in January, Sanders said Democrats must be willing to use the procedural tools at their disposal to bypass Republican obstruction and approve ambitious legislation to tackle the country’s myriad crises, from Covid-19 to climate change.
“If Republicans refuse to work with us, if Senator McConnell and Republicans in the Senate continue their strategy of obstructionism, it means passing a progressive agenda through the Senate with 51 votes, instead of 60, by using budget reconciliation,” said Sanders. “And I say that as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. The American people are hurting, they want action and we have got to deliver for them.”
“And when my Republican colleagues complain about this approach, let me remind them: When Mitch McConnell was the majority leader, he used the reconciliation process to pass trillions of dollars in tax breaks primarily to the top one percent and multinational corporations,” the Vermont senator added, referring to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “He used reconciliation to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”
Specifically, Sanders called on the Democratic Senate to pass a $15 minimum wage, allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, lower the Medicare eligibility age and expand its benefits, cancel student loan debt, and make public colleges and universities tuition-free.
“The difference in ideology between Senator McConnell and myself, between the Republican Party and the progressive movement, is not a question of big government versus small government,” said Sanders. “That’s not what it’s really about. It’s a question of whose interests the government represents. It’s a question of whether you fight for the needs of the wealthy and large corporations who fund your campaigns, or the working families of our country.”
Sanders’ push for unilateral Democratic action to advance a sweeping legislative agenda comes as the Biden White House is reportedly signaling to Republican lawmakers in private that it is willing to make concessions on its $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal in an effort to win bipartisan support—an approach likely to frustrate progressive leaders in Congress.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that “some Democrats are hunting for a framework to sell the infrastructure proposals that doesn’t sound too liberal, hoping to frame it as what they call ‘bold moderation,’ which they hope might be less objectionable to centrists of both parties.”
But Sanders, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and other congressional progressives have implored Biden not to weaken the infrastructure bill in a potentially futile bid to win support from a party that has vocally bashed the proposal and offered a vague alternative that’s just a fraction of the size.
Last month, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that Democrats can pass additional bills this year through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process, whereby legislation can pass with a simple-majority vote. To pass legislation through regular order, Democrats would need to win over at least 10 Senate Republicans.
“If Senator McConnell could use the reconciliation process to give tax breaks to billionaires,” Sanders said Sunday, “we can use that same process to protect the interests of working families.”
“If you believe in a vibrant democracy and not authoritarianism,” Sanders continued, “if you believe that all Americans are entitled to economic security and that we must stand with the working families of this country, if you believe that all people, regardless of race, country of origin or sexual orientation are entitled to equal justice, if you believe in environmental sanity and the need to combat climate change, the choice is clear.”
Read Sanders’ full remarks, as prepared for delivery: