Ridin' the Biden train?

Posted Tuesday, January 19, 2021 in Opinion

Ridin' the Biden train?

One-time rivals Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are focused on Biden's agenda as Sanders becomes chair of the powerful Budget Committee.

by the New Maine Times Editorial Board

Bernie Sanders isn't president of the United States, but he might have more power than Joe Biden right where he is, courtesy of the win of two candidates in Georgia.

Sanders is poised to hold the gavel of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, and his ascension to the chair is giving Biden and the Democrats hope for a successful Biden agenda in his first term, and giving his GOP counterparts fits.

That's because his control of the committee allows the Democrats to pass spending and  taxation bills also passed in the House by a simple majority. Although Biden and Sanders seem to be working together on which issues Sanders would force through using the manuever, called budget reconciliation, Sanders doesn't even need Biden's signature.

The Republicans used budget reconciliation in the last Congress to cut taxes, the majority  of which benefitted the wealthy; Sanders has signaled he would increase taxes for the wealthy and use the revenue saved to increase spending on programs that would help the working class and poor.

How can one person wield such power? The reconcilation process begins with a budget resolution, which originates in the House and Senate Budget Committees. If the two resolutions are identical -- a snap if one controls both houses, a little more complicated if one does not -- the resolution can include directions to congressional committees to increase or decrease federal spending, decrease or increase taxes, and propose entirely new programs, such as the pandemic relief program Sanders is envisioning.

Biden and Sanders seem to have agreed on an additional amount of relief spending to individuals -- an additional $1,400 per person -- but other parts of the stimulus bill are as yet undecided. With Sanders' fellow liberal Ron Wyden of Oregon as chair of the Finance Committee, there should be little demur from Democrats in the Senate on the relief bill.

Sanders is thinking beyond the immediate box. While the initial means of financing the bill will be deficit-funded, Sanders says he intends to raise revenue in a "progressive manner". That means tax increases for people at the top of the economy -- the one percent and their slightly less well off friends, including corporations who, despite earning billions, have paid little to nothing in income tax over the last decade or so.

Sanders also said he intends to test the boundaries of reconciliation to address issues that go beyond traditional budget items and deal with more structural issues in society. No doubt Sanders and Biden will be speaking regularly about these things.

However, less enamoured are Senate Republicans, who have long worried about Sanders in such a position. Losing his gavel will be Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said this week that he had a "fight on his hands" and that "Republicans would have to fight like hell" to prevent tax increases and to prevent America from being a socialized nation.  Graham is also, probably justifiably, concerned about Sanders pushing through statehood for the District of Columbia, which would come with its own two, probably Democratic, senators. The actions of Jan. 6 had already made statehood a sympathetic issue for many senators, even Republicans, since DC's mayor was unable to call out the National Guard and relied on Trump and the Secretary of the Army to do so.

Now, Joe Biden is a nice guy. He invited former rival Bernie Sanders on board his train. He is inviting his GOP friends as well. But he was there when President Barack Obama was stonewalled by them. Biden won't make the same rookie mistake. If Republicans won't get on the train, Democrats will leave them behind at the station. And Engineer Bernie Sanders will be given leave to work up a full head of steam.

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