Liberal lawmakers praise Senate Democratic budget deal

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) arrives to the Capitol for the first vote of the week on July 12
Greg Nash

Progressive lawmakers are praising the Senate’s $3.5 trillion budget deal, arguing that if it moves through Congress along with a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan deal, it would amount to a historic effort to reshape the economy.

“There are a lot of things that are positive about the bill,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said during an appearance on MSNBC. “I think there is a lot of enthusiasm.”

On an afternoon call with reporters, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) called the measure “excellent momentum” and said she was pleased that top policy concentrations outlined by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) were kept intact.

Progressives were particularly happy that the bill included more spending toward clean energy and other climate initiatives, home care and education, affordable housing, and a roadmap for some undocumented immigrants to become citizens.

They also liked that it significantly expanded some critical Medicare components for seniors, a key constituency for the party.

“We’re still looking at all the details, but we certainly see this as important movement forward,” said Jayapal, who chairs the CPC, during the briefing.

The final deal is much less than the $6 trillion that liberals had said was necessary, but Jayapal in an interview with CNN said “perfect is not going to be the enemy of the good.”

In truth, if Congress approves a separate bill being put together by a bipartisan group of senators that could cost as much as $1.2 trillion over eight years, the total spending would be around $4.7 trillion. That’s not so far from the $6 trillion figure.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is also the progressive who worked out the $3.5 trillion deal. He called the agreement “transformative” and “huge,” and his stamp of approval goes far on the left.

“The legislation that the president and I are supporting will go further to improve the lives of working people than any legislation since the 1930s,” said Sanders, the party’s progressive standard-bearer in two presidential campaigns who was President Biden’s last serious challenger in the 2020 Democratic primary. He is now the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Multiple progressive sources on Wednesday were not arguing that the spending was too little.

“He got a lot more than I thought he’d get, honestly,” said one former aide who worked closely with Sanders in the Senate. 

But some outside activists were notably more muted.

“We’ve been calling for $10 trillion over the next decade, $1 trillion per year, because that’s just what climate change requires at this point,” said Ellen Sciales, the communications director of the Sunrise Movement.

Progressives in Congress and aligned groups pointed to climate as one of the most critical areas to watch as the negotiations play out.

One adviser to progressive campaigns offered a smaller figure, more in line with what the final total would be if both bills are passed. But if that number is not met, some in the party’s left wing will likely be vocal with their disappointment.

“If they come in under $4 trillion total, folks will not be 100 percent pleased with it,” the source said. “This is the chance. Lord knows what will happen in 2022 or 2024.”

Tags Bernie Sanders budget reconciliation Climate change Filibuster Infrastructure Joe Biden Pramila Jayapal Ro Khanna

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