Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Sunday that he and Democrats holding the Senate majority will use budget reconciliation, a process by which certain legislation can be passed with the support of a simple majority, to pass a coronavirus relief bill “as soon as we possibly can.”
“We are going to use reconciliation ― that is 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president ― to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, became chairman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee when Democrats regained control of the chamber earlier this year. The senator has been a vocal proponent of Democrats finding ways to enact President Joe Biden’s agenda despite Republican opposition, and reconciliation is one method, effectively preventing Senate Republicans from using the filibuster to block certain types of legislation.
“What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks, and months and months, to go forward,” Sanders said, arguing against a protracted debate over the relief bill. “We’ve got to act now.”
The United States has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more deaths from the disease than any other country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 25 million Americans have been infected and more than 418,000 have died from the coronavirus. The pandemic has also battered the U.S. economy, forcing widespread business closures and layoffs. This week, the Labor Department announced weekly jobless claims remain historically high.
Still, several Senate Republicans have opposed Biden’s pandemic relief bill since it was unveiled two weeks ago, arguing it costs too much. The immediate GOP opposition to Biden’s agenda harkens back to Republicans’ vows to obstruct former President Barack Obama’s agenda after he entered office in 2009, when Democrats similarly held control of Congress and the White House. The threat of obstruction has inspired a growing number of Democrats to support passing some key measures through budget reconciliation.
In 2017, Republicans in the Senate majority used budget reconciliation to narrowly pass steep tax cuts shown to largely favor wealthy Americans and large corporations. At the time, Sanders said Republicans were “abusing this process” by using it to pass the cuts despite their deep and widespread unpopularity.
On Sunday, the senator stood by his criticism of using budget reconciliation for the GOP tax cuts, and he said the dire circumstances brought about by the pandemic call for its use now.
“Yes, I did criticize them for that,” Sanders said.
“And if they want to criticize me for helping to feed children who are hungry or senior citizens in this country who are isolated and alone and don’t have enough food, they can criticize me,” he added.
Watch a clip of Sanders’ appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” below.
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Correction: A previous version of this piece misstated the