Sanders calls for stand-alone votes on parts of Democrats’ agenda

Julia Nikhinson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged Democratic leaders to hold individual votes on portions of President Biden’s agenda that he hailed as “enormously popular,” including proposals to expand Medicare and lower prescription drug prices.

Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, told The Guardian in an interview published on Monday that Democrats need “​​a major course correction,” adding that holding individual votes on different sections of the sweeping Build Back Better spending package would force those who oppose the measures to vote against them.

“All these issues, they are just not Bernie Sanders standing up and saying this would be a great thing,” Sanders told The Guardian. “They are issues that are enormously popular, and on every one of them, the Republicans are in opposition. But a lot of people don’t know that because the Republicans haven’t been forced to vote on them.”

Among some of the policies that have been proposed as part of the roughly $2 trillion Democratic spending plan are provisions to expand Medicare, provide universal pre-K and offer funding for affordable housing and climate measures.

“We have to bring these things to the floor,” Sanders told the news outlet. “The vast majority of people in the [Democratic] caucus are willing to fight for good policy.”

Sanders has argued that bringing individual votes to the floor could put pressure on key centrist holdouts such as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whom Democrats have struggled to get on board with the spending package in recent months.

“If I were Senator Sinema and a vote came up to lower the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs, I’d think twice if I want to get re-elected in Arizona to vote against that,” Sanders said. “If I were Mr. Manchin and I know that tens of thousands of struggling families in West Virginia benefited from the expansion of the child tax credit, I’d think long and hard before I voted against it.”

Sinema has expressed for support for a proposal in the latest iteration of the bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, though she had concerns about previous proposals calling for broader action.

Democrats had initially aimed to get the spending plan, a major piece of Biden’s economic agenda, through Congress last year. But efforts to pass the package hit multiple roadblock as intraparty fighting played out in headlines over disagreements surrounding the size and scope of the plan.

In order to pass the plan in the evenly split Senate, Democrats are using a process known as budget reconciliation to approve the bill by a simple majority, bypassing a likely GOP filibuster. That means it needs the support of every Senate Democrat to pass, as Republicans uniformly oppose the plan.

Manchin has indicated that he wants to see more changes to the plan. The moderate West Virginia senator said last month he will not vote for the package in its current form.

Sanders put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in The Guardian interview to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote, regardless of whether it has the support needed to pass.

“People can understand that you sometimes don’t have the votes. But they can’t understand why we haven’t brought up important legislation that 70 or 80 percent of the American people support,” he said.

Schumer vowed earlier this month that he would bring the bill to the floor eventually.

“As much as I wanted it done by Christmas, and I thought that was possible, I think we should give it as much time as we need,” he said. “If we can pass a different version of Build Back Better in the late spring, that would be good.”

–Updated on Jan. 11 at 10:23 a.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema

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