Voicing exasperation with months of fruitless backroom talks over the Build Back Better Act, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday demanded floor votes on individual pieces of the stalled legislation in order to force Republicansand right-wing Democratsto go on the record opposing policies with widespread public support.
Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill that "amazingly, there have been no votes" in the Senate on the Build Back Better package, the House-passed version of which includes an extension of the boosted child tax credit, a plan to lower sky-high prescription drug prices, and significant investments in renewable energy, child care, housing, and other Democratic priorities.
"Let's have every Republican and Democrat take a position on some of the most important issues."
"The result: the Republican Party is able to escape responsibility for their reactionary positions and is now laughing all the way to likely political success in the 2022 elections," the Vermont senator warned. "Here's a radical idea for the Senate, 'the world's greatest deliberative body.' Let's vote. Let's have every Republican and Democrat take a position on some of the most important issues facing the working families of this country."
Republicans haven't exactly been quiet about their opposition to the Build Back Better package as a whole. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly derided the bill as a "liberal wish list," and House Republicans unanimously voted against the $1.75 trillion measure in November.
But Sanders argued that making Republicans cast votes on singular components of the legislation that are supported even by a large percentage of GOP voterssuch as a plan allowing Medicare to negotiate medicine prices directly with pharmaceutical companieswould be good politics for the Democratic Party and beneficial for the country.
"Eighty-three percent of the American people support empowering the federal government to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to lower prescription drug prices," Sanders noted Wednesday. "What do the Republicans think? Are they prepared to stand up to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry which charges us the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs?"
"Let's vote and find out," the senator wrote.
Sanders made the same demand of other portions of the Build Back Better Act, from Medicare expansion to paid family leave to tax hikes on the rich to climate actionall of which, the senator argued, have strong backing from the U.S. public.
"This is an enormously difficult moment for the struggling working class of our country, and the Senate needs to act," he wrote. "In our democracy, the American people have a right to know where their senators stand on the most important issues impacting their lives. No more endless 'negotiations.' No more hiding behind closed doors. Let's vote."
Sanders' op-ed was published as Democratic leaders signaled plans to revive the Build Back Better Act in some formand potentially with a different nameafter Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) killed an earlier iteration of the bill and demanded that the party start "from scratch," taking even his own counterproposal off the table.
In a last-ditch push to make progress on a central element of his domestic policy agenda, President Joe Biden has suggested breaking up the Build Back Better package and attempting to pass "big chunks" of it, including green energy provisions. But it's unclear whether such a strategy would be workable, given the constraints of the budget reconciliation process.
"What the president calls 'chunks,' I would hope would be a major bill going forward. It may be more limited, but it is still significant," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters last week. "This is a reconciliation bill. So when people say let's divide it up... No, they don't understand the process."
With the path forward for Democrats' main legislative priority highly uncertain and as key pandemic relief programs continue to lapse, Sanders and progressive activists have vocally warned in recent days that the party could face disaster in the fast-approaching midterm elections.
"After six months of 'negotiating' behind closed doors with these two conservative Democratic senators, there is widespread understanding that this strategy has failed not only from a policy point of view, but politically as well," Sanders wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday, referring to Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
"The base of the Democratic Party is now demoralized and, according to many polls, Republicans stand a strong chance of winning the House and the Senate in the 2022 elections," the Vermont senator continued. "We need a new direction, a new approach. We need to show the American people that we are prepared to stand up and fight for the working families of this country."