A Bernie Sanders Presidency Could Revolutionize Bipartisanship

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 16:  Democratic Presidentail Candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during the Bernie Sanders HBCU Tour
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 16: Democratic Presidentail Candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during the Bernie Sanders HBCU Tour and Rally at Atlanta University Center on February 16, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Prince Williams/WireImage)

Conventional wisdom dictates that should Bernie Sanders overcome all electoral hindrances and assume the presidency, much of his agenda would not get through the U.S. Congress. Since Sanders comes from the left wing of the political spectrum, it would be nearly impossible for him to persuade moderate Republicans to vote for his proposals.

Traditionally, presidents shepherd legislation through the Congress by consolidating the votes of members from their own party, then by siphoning off the votes of enough moderates from the opposing party to get legislation passed. This is how Lyndon B. Johnson got Medicare through in 1965, how Ronald Reagan pushed his tax cut proposal through in 1981, and how George H.W. Bush won approval for the the Persian Gulf War Resolution in 1991.

Along these lines, many of Sanders's major proposals would have a near impossible chance of passing without major changes to temporize the legislation. The Republicans are likely to maintain control of the House, and while there is an outside chance they could lose the Senate, the chances are de minimus that the Democrats will hold a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority.

Sanders's flagship legislative proposal to establish a single-payer health care system would not likely garner a solitary Republican vote in Congress. There are no longer any liberal Republicans in either chamber. The most moderate Republicans, like U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and U.S. Representative Mike Turner (R-OH) voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and would have no incentive to go a step further to support a not-for-profit healthcare system.

Any Republican who defected and supported the Sanders Plan would likely suffer recriminations by losing his/her seat on a prominent committee, by losing funding for a project in his/her state or Congressional District, or by facing a redoubtable primary challenger when he/she is up for re-election.

Even if the Democrats did win supermajorities in both houses, moderate Democrats, especially those with constituents who work in the health insurance industry, would not likely support the Sanders proposal.

That being said, on many other issues, a Sanders administration would have the opportunity to revolutionize bipartisanship. Instead of working through the center, Sanders could effectuate coalitions of the progressive left and the Tea Party Right. The opposition would come from the center-left and from the center-right in both parties. American politics is not a continuum but a circle. There is a point where Ralph Nader's bicycle crashes into Pat Buchanan's Mercedes. This is the point Sanders would have to work from for legislative achievement.

Sanders calls for a truncation of the U.S. military budget. He has voted against the Defense Authorization Act in 2012, 2014, and in 2015. Sanders often highlights the fact that the U.S. spends more on Defense than the next seven countries combined.

Cutting the Defense budget has support on the far left, as well as on the far right. While many establishment Republicans and GOP Presidential candidates continue to call for increases in the military budget, they are often at odds with consistently fiscally conservative Tea Party members who call for across the board cuts in federal spending and they make no exception for the military budget.

U.S. Representative Mike Mulvaney (R-SC) is one of the most conservative members of the Congress. On the issue of military spending, Mulvaney found common ground with one of the Chamber's most liberal members, U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) in 2012 in supporting a freeze in military spending. Mulvaney could be Sanders' pointman in securing GOP votes to freeze or cut military spending. In addition, conservative U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) could be a partner with Sanders. He is a perpetual critic of government waste at the Pentagon. Grassley once complained to Presidential Ronald Reagan: "It's great that you are going after the welfare queens, Mr. President. But when are you going to go after the welfare queens in the Pentagon?"

Another issue where Sanders could consolidate a left-right coalition is on the war on drugs. Sanders, like most Congressional progressives, favors the decriminalization of marijuana and maintains: "Nonviolent offenders should not be incarcerated." Many small government conservatives concur with Sanders that the federal government has no business in punishing non-violent drug offenders.

The legalization of marijuana would not be done as part of an all-encompassing legislative process. It would have to be a gradual process. The first step would be to legalize medical marijuana. A vociferous proponent in this effort is conservative U.S. Representative Scott Perry (R-PA). Perry introduced legislation legalizing medical marijuana to help kids with Epilepsy and seizure disorders. In addition, conservative U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is a cheerleader for marijuana legalization, averring: "The marijuana laws have been used to expand the power of government over people's lives more than just anything else I can think of." When asked if he ever smoked marijuana, Rohrabacher opined that he did: "Everything but drink the bong water." (The fluid used in a water pipe)

Along these same lines, Sanders might be able to get landmark legislation passed which would end mandatory minimum prison sentences and give judges greater discretion over drug-related crimes. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act has earned the support form conservative Republicans like U.S. Senators like Mike Lee of Utah and liberal Democratic like Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Sanders has galvanized a groundswell of grassroots support for his call to "break up the largest financial institutions in the country." Here again, Sanders could assemble a right-left coalition. Sanders would work to reinstate the parts of the Glass-Steagall Act repealed by Bill Clinton in 1999, which eliminated a wall of separation between commercial and investment banking. One of the most conservative Republican Senators, Mike Lee of Utah, claims that repeal of this part of the law "probably led to our economic meltdown." Lee supports reestablishing the provision.

There are other issues where Sanders could lead a left-right bipartisan coalition as well, letting the charter for the Export-Import Bank expire. The bank gives credit to U.S. exporters and foreign importers. Much of the funds are awarded to opulent corporations. Sanders brands the bank "an outrageous example of corporate welfare." Sanders could also work with Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (assuming Paul wins re-election) on this. Paul labels loans provided by the bank: "crony capitalism."

Finally, Sanders could work with a right-left coalition to retrench the size and scope of federal government surveillance activities. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama supported the National Security Agency Surveillance Program. The program's critics include conservative U.S. Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) and his liberal House colleague John Conyers (D-MI).

While the Sanders single-payer healthcare plan would likely be dead on arrival, a Sanders presidency could revolutionize the concept of bipartisanship on other issues. Sanders would have to consolidate his progressive base, and then reach way across the aisle to the most conservative members of the Congress. They would have to lay their difference aside and work together on the issues where they agree. The opposition to most of these proposals would come from the center-right and center-left establishments of both parties. Nevertheless, A Sanders presidency is reminiscent of the perennial quote by Ninetieth Century novelist Charles Dudley Warner: "Politics makes strange bedfellows."