Meet the New Senate Budget Committee Chair–Bernie Sanders (Video)

Here are the words we have longed to say for four years: Donald Trump is gone.

After four dark, disconcerting years of anxiety and despondency, things are finally beginning to look brighter.

Not only is Joe Biden now the 46th President of the United States.

He will enjoy the rare luxury of working with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress now that Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia have been sworn in.

With the power shift also comes a change in congressional committee leadership.

Something Republicans have feared since Paul Ryan was still Speaker of the House is the possibility of Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders assuming the role of Senate Budget Committee Chair.

Well, the next Senate Budget Committee Chair is none other than Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

And he wasted no time in making his priorities clear.

Following Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, Sanders told CBS News:

 “The people are demanding action. The times call out for bold action on the part of the Congress, for a willingness for us to stand up to powerful special interests who want to maintain the status quo. That’s what we gotta do, and we gotta do it quickly.”

In an op-ed published in The Guardian Wednesday, Sen. Sanders stated:

“Democrats, who will now control the White House, the Senate and the House, must summon the courage to demonstrate to the American people that government can effectively and rapidly respond to their pain and anxiety. As the incoming chairman of the Senate budget committee that is exactly what I intend to do.

“What does all of this mean for the average American?

“It means that we aggressively crush the pandemic and enable the American people to return to their jobs and schools. This will require a federally led emergency program to produce the quantity of vaccines that we need and get them into people’s arms as quickly as possible.

“It means that during the severe economic downturn we’re experiencing, we must make sure that all Americans have the financial resources they need to live with dignity. We must increase the $600 in direct payments for every working-class adult and child that was recently passed to $2,000, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand unemployment benefits and prevent eviction, homelessness and hunger.”

He goes to stress one of the signature policy positions of his two presidential campaigns: a Medicare-for-all-type universal healthcare system.

He explains:

“During this raging pandemic, we must guarantee healthcare to all. We must also end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on Earth not to provide paid family and medical leave to workers.”

Sanders’ 100-day agenda includes, in addition:

Some may claim it’s too bold a vision, that there is too much intransigence in Congress, despite Democrats being in the majority.

Sanders plans on using the reconciliation process, as Republicans have done, to “deal with the major structural changes that our country desperately needs,” stating:

“Let us never forget. When Republicans controlled the Senate, they used the reconciliation process to pass trillions of dollars in tax breaks primarily to the top 1% and multinational corporations. Further, they were able to confirm three rightwing US supreme court judges over a very short period of time by a simple majority vote.

“If the Republicans could use the reconciliation process to protect the wealthy and the powerful, we can use it to protect working families, the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the poor.”

Democrats will have a full two years before the 2022 mid-term elections to roll up their sleeves and pass progressive legislation nearly impossible under the prior Senate.

If they do it right, if they go bold, they might avoid the mid-term rout that traditionally descends on the majority party.

That would put us in a winning stance for 2024, when rising stars of the fascist wing of the Republican party will be seeking the GOP nomination.

As Jacobin magazine founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara explains in The Guardian:

“The party has two paths before it–sweeping action or excuse-making…There is a lot that the Democrats can and should be doing. For starters, as Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer will be able to select which bills come up for a vote. Combined with the weight of the presidency, this gives his party the ability to dictate the national conversation on everything from pandemic relief to healthcare. Though his record gives reason to doubt his commitment to change, Schumer could demonstrate through the legislation he prioritizes that Democrats stand for economic egalitarianism and Republicans for elite privilege.”

More than 72 percent of Americans want a Medicare-for-all-type universal healthcare system.

They worry about climate change and yearn for an infrastructure that will protect them from its ravages.

They want the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes.

They want to ensure the minimum wage is a living wage.

They want to an end to racist mass incarceration and policing practices.

They support free tuition at public colleges and universities.

They want to protect Social Security.

They want to bring our jobs back from corporate avarice responsible for shipping them to low-wage countries.

They hate having to pay more than any other other developed nation for prescription drugs.

These are bold, realistic, progressive policies every Democrat should adopt.

This is why so many genuine progressives who threw their hats into the political ring after Sen. Bernie Sanders’ inspirational 2016 bid for the White House have unseated entrenched establishment Democrats.

Some of those progressives, like “The Squad”–New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley–mopped the floor with their opponents again.

It’s why former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman trounced 16-term incumbent Eliot Engel.

It’s why activist Cori Bush has become Missouri’s first Black congresswoman.

It’s why Raphael Warnock has just become the first African American Senator ever elected to represent Georgia.

As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote recently:

“The moment calls for public investment on a scale far greater than necessary for Covid relief or ‘stimulus’–’ large enough to begin the restructuring of the economy. America needs to create a vast number of new jobs leading to higher wages, reversing racial exclusion as well as the downward trajectory of Americans whose anger and resentment Trump cynically exploited.

“This would include universal early childhood education, universal access to the internet, world-class schools and public universities accessible to all. Converting to solar and wind energy and making America’s entire stock of housing and commercial buildings carbon neutral. Investing in basic research–the gateway to the technologies of the future as well as national security–along with public health and universal healthcare.”

He concludes:

“It is a question of political will. It requires a recognition that there is no longer a ‘center’ but a future based either on lies, violence and authoritarianism or on unyielding truth, unshakeable civility and radical inclusion. And it requires a passionate, uncompromising commitment to the latter.”

Although Joe Biden has a neo-liberal past to reckon with, he can–and must–become “the most progressive president since FDR,” as Bernie Sanders insisted he has the potential to be.

If we don’t successfully push President-elect Biden further left, we risk another fascist Republican who’s actually competent marching into the White House in four years.

And the republic might not be as retrievable by then.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.