It is fame in Washington DC political circles that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are two talkative people. And as if to attest to this, the two recently spent an hour talking in the Oval Office talking about infrastructure.
The two former White House rivals are now partners, negotiating a compromise for an infrastructure plan that they can both live with and that will serve as the legacy of their decades of work.
At that meeting, independent ‘leftist’ Sanders argued that Biden’s already ambitious investment in infrastructure should be even greater, and include what has been one of his long-standing goals: dental, hearing and vision benefits for covered older Americans. by Medicare.
The president, a centrist Democrat, gave his support, according to a senior White House aide and another person familiar with the private session, who spoke on condition of anonymity with the AP agency to describe the meeting.
The agreement was the product of mutual trust and a common interest in helping the working class, but also to restore some faith in the functioning of the government and the democratic system after the turbulent era of Donald Trump.
“We are moving forward to move forward with the most momentous legislation passed for workers since the 1930s,” Sanders told the AP this week, when Biden was addressing the Capitol for the first time in his term to convene senators’ support for the plan.
On Monday, President Joe Biden said that his infrastructure and families agenda must be approved to maintain the economic momentum of his first six months in office, with the goal of setting the tone for a crucial week of negotiations in Congress on the two projects. Of law.
Towards the evening, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the vote to debate the infrastructure project will be this Wednesday. It will need 60 votes, including the support of at least 10 Republicans, to advance a bill, in which senators would exchange the text of the bipartisan agreement once it is finalized.
“That vote on the closure will take place on Wednesday,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. “What we are talking about this week is a vote on whether or not to proceed to the debate.”
That of Biden and Sanders is an unlikely but understandable association of a president who won over voters with a reassuring wink offered by a more traditional government, and a ‘democratic socialist’ senator who twice came close to winning the nomination. presidential with an agenda that until recently was seen as idealistic.
Sanders is now chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. And together, they are trying to unite progressives and centrists in the Democratic Party around the $ 3.5 billion presidential plan. Democrats narrowly control the House of Representatives and have a Senate split in half (50-50).
They are aiming to achieve a legislative feat on par with the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, in the 30s of the last century, or the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson, of the 60s.
For two political leaders in the twilight of their careers, it is the opportunity of a lifetime, to make their legacies well established.
“We’re going to do this,” Biden said Wednesday as he entered the Capitol’s private dining room, where he encouraged senators to think about the good they could do for people by investing in places like Scranton, a traveling industrial town in Pennsylvania, where he was born.
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Biden and Sanders warned in that meeting that the future of democracy depends on the connection they can achieve with citizens of similar areas, who feel that the government has forgotten them.
That day, when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called senators who had raised their hands to speak, none asked questions or raised objections. They only chimed in to express enthusiasm, according to a person in the room who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the private matter.
“Truly transformative,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat, using a word now shared by Biden and Sanders.
Sanders, the Senate Outsider
The relationship between Biden and Sanders goes back years. Today’s president had already spent decades in the Senate when the Vermont legislator was elected to the Upper House in 2006.
While Biden was an ‘animal’ of the Senate, Sanders has always been seen as an outsider on Capitol Hill. The senator declares himself independent, and not as a member of the Democratic Party, although he usually votes aligned with the bench. His rumpled suits, gruff demeanor, and relentless focus on liberal causes contribute to that image.
When Sanders is asked about almost any topic, his answers are almost always the same: It is time for the government to stop serving the rich and powerful and focus on the workers of this country.
What was once seen as outlandish, Sanders’ views have now captivated millions of Americans who packed stadiums to hear him speak, particularly after the Great Recession and amid growing awareness of the nation’s vast inequality.
Although he lost the presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and in 2020 to Biden, his campaigns succeeded in broadening the scope of his progressive preaching.
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At the end of those primary campaigns and back in the Senate, Sanders quickly became a focal point for Republicans who opposed Biden’s agenda.
Republicans see Sanders as influential, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and other prominent progressives, pushing the president to adopt more liberal positions.
“The president may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said recently in Kentucky. That same day, he said he was “100% focused” on stopping Biden’s agenda.
But in developing the investment package with the president, Sanders showed another side of his skill set: that of a pragmatic legislator.
News circulated on Monday of last week that the two were meeting in the Oval Office, a key moment in which Democrats were struggling to build consensus.
Biden’s family and employment plans total more than $ 4 billion in traditional public works and investments in human infrastructure. Sanders had come up with a bolder $ 6 billion proposal.
Sanders has been imploring his colleagues not to focus on amounts but on priorities: helping the middle class, fighting climate change, helping older adults. He had also been insisting that large and rich corporations pay their fair share in taxes.
“The meeting was substantive, warm and friendly, which also describes the nature of their relationship for years,” said White House Under Secretary of Press Andrew Bates, who said the president values the leadership of his former colleague and rival.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators is compiling a smaller package of $ 1 trillion of spending on highways and other public works that is expected to be voted on this week.
But with Republicans opposed to Biden’s broader proposal, Democrats are moving forward with the strongest package that they could pass themselves by the reconciliation method, the special budget rules that allow 51 votes to win certain approvals. laws instead of the 60 that are normally needed to close debate and go to the final vote in the plenary session.
With that calculation, if Biden, Sanders and Leader Schumer can keep all 50 Democratic senators together, Vice President Kamala Harris will have the tiebreaker vote in her hands.
Democratic Senator Jon Tester, a centrist farmer from Montana, still doesn’t support the president’s broader plan, but said Sanders often advocates for things that are “common sense.”
While Tester acknowledges that Sanders sometimes goes beyond the point where he feels comfortable, he assures that his colleague from Vermont “is trying to give the common citizen a chance.
“You know, that’s what the Democrats are for, at least that’s what I’m for. I want to make sure that the common citizen has a chance. “