Joe Manchin, Bernie Sanders.
Michael Arceneaux, The Independent
This week, while Joe Manchin dominates headlines as the stubborn conservative Democrat standing in the way of progress, another Democratic Senator has been quietly working on something equally as monumental. That Senator is none other than the loved-or-loathed lawmaker from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.
On Tuesday, Sanders announced a trio of bills intended to index the price of popular drugs according to the global market; give Medicare the opportunity to pay for drugs through a competitive bidding process; and allow Americans to buy drugs at cheaper prices from foreign sellers.
“In my view, the pharmaceutical industry is out of control,” Sanders explained in an interview with CNN. “They can charge any price they want at any time and that has to change.”
Yes, he sounds exactly as he did in both of those presidential campaigns that didn’t work out as well as many would have liked. But while Sanders may never be president, he is not squandering time like others in his party. Nor is he planning to wait on Republican support to get anything done. Why would he when it’s so obvious they have no interest in helping working-class people?
For years, members of the GOP have warned of doom and gloom if Sanders were given enough power to make their lives functionally more difficult. Not long before the 2016 election, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan told a group of college Republicans, while warning about the consequences of Democrats winning back the Senate: “Do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee? A guy named Bernie Sanders. You ever heard of him?”
Thankfully, the name Bernie Sanders is more relevant in politics in 2021 than Paul Ryan, so most people have heard of him now. And of course, Sanders did become the chairman of the Budget Committee recently, and the sky has not fallen in. Indeed, the Senator from Vermont has already made good use of reconciliation, helping shape the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. Speaking with the New York Times, Sanders noted that as disappointing as of the bill’s losses were — the $15 minimum wage and paid family leave were dropped as a concession to Republicans, and the child tax credit made only temporary — the significance of the bill can’t be understated.
“Congress does not pass perfect bills,” Sanders said. “But for working-class people, this is the most significant piece of legislation passed since the 1960s. And I’m proud of what we have done.”
Sanders plans to use reconciliation again to deal with America’s failing infrastructure, and as of now, will seek to include his trio of proposed bills in the legislation. Manchin may stand in the way of that. Sanders has shrugged off Manchin’s criticism of potentially cutting out Republicans again, but here’s hoping he is made to change his mind. After all, there’s a limit to what compromise with the GOP can actually do — especially when your main concern is what’s happening on the ground.
Sanders is now in a position of serious power and we can see for ourselves what he’s done with it. He may not be producing the political revolution the movement behind his two presidential bids sought — he isn’t the president, after all— but he is wielding his influence to help the Biden administration fundamentally change America for the better.
I don’t say that out of hyperbole or naïveté. The United States still faces multiple hurdles. Wage stagnation, mass shootings, and a pandemic continue to blight our country. But if we are to overcome any of our obstacles, grandstanding in the style of Manchin will not prove effective. Showing people that the government can work will.
Say what you will about Bernie Sanders, but the Biden administration is better for following his lead.
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