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Sanders: GOP ‘nervous’ about ‘overdue’ progressive policies in budget, infrastructure bill

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and the person tasked with overseeing the multi-trillion-dollar budget proposal introduced by Democrats last week. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the infrastructure deal, the $3.5 trillion budget proposal, the politics surrounding it, who it aims to benefit most and its path to being passed by Congress.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now I'm joined by the person tasked with overseeing the multitrillion-dollar budget proposal Lisa was just discussing, Bernie Sanders, independent senator from Vermont and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

    Senator Sanders, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, tell us, where do things stand tomorrow on the infrastructure piece, this so-called bipartisan plan that there had been agreement on? Is there agreement now? What do you think?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Well, Judy, I have not been involved in the bipartisan plan. I have been involved very much in the partisan plan, which is something that I think the American people desperately want.

    And the truth of the matter is, there are a lot of people in our country, working-class people, who are losing faith in the ability of government to address their needs. And what we are doing is just that.

    We are going to take on income and wealth inequality. We're going to ask the wealthiest people and the largest corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. We're going to take on the pharmaceutical industry and have Medicare negotiate prices. We're going to finally deal with child care and pre-K.

    Can you imagine in this country where you have free pre-K for every working family in America? We're going to have — end the disgrace of the United States being the only major country on Earth not to have paid family and medical leave. We're going to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing aids and eyeglasses. We are going to got home health care.

    So what we are talking, in my view, is about the most consequential piece of legislation for working families in the modern history of America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And my question, Senator, has to do with how this may be tied or not to what's going on with regard to infrastructure?

    Because we just heard our Lisa Desjardins say we don't know what's going to happen with that vote.

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If that goes down, will there be an attempt to fold those infrastructure elements into this bigger bill?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Yes. Well, of course.

    If you're dealing with an infrastructure bill, it might be a good idea to have infrastructure in it. And that is what we — the traditional infrastructure of roads and bridges and water and wastewater and broadband. And, by the way, I should point out, we are going to deal in a very big way with climate, including the creation of a climate — of a civilian climate corps, putting hundreds of thousands of young people to work transforming our energy system.

    So, to answer your question, if, for whatever reason, the bipartisan bill does not succeed, I would expect that we'd incorporate all of the traditional infrastructure proposals into the larger reconciliation bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, I hear you saying this is a — quote — "partisan bill." You're not counting on Republican votes.

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You would like to get a pass with all 50 Democrats and the vice president breaking the tie.

    But you do have Republicans still calling this tax and spend.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're using words like reckless.

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Oh, are they?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're saying — we had Senator Barrasso saying this really does seem to be — quote — "Bernie's effort to socialism, the ultimate liberal wish list."

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Really?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you say to them?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Well, I say that, on virtually every single proposal, it has widespread support from the American people.

    Let Mr. Barrasso go to the folks in Wyoming and ask them whether they think it's a good idea that they should be paying a third of their income in child care. Ask elderly people who don't have any teeth in their mouth whether they should be able to get dentures through Medicare.

    Ask the scientific community whether the time is now in a big way to deal with climate. Ask the ordinary American consumer whether we should take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, which charges us the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

    What makes the Republicans very nervous — and they are — it is true, they are — is they know that this is an extremely popular set of proposals long overdue. And, in fact, by demanding that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes, we're going to pay for it in a progressive way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You do need the 50 Democrats, as we discussed a moment ago.

    There are Democrats, including Senator Manchin, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who are concerned about some of the efforts to move toward renewable energy. Are you confident you have all 50 Democrats on board right now? And do you think you have the votes to get this passed?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Short answer, yes.

    Look, there are 50 Democrats. Each and every one, including myself, thinks that we should do something a little bit differently. But when I — when you look at the reality that the very richest people in this country are becoming phenomenally richer — in fact, one of them has been out in outer space today, I guess. That's what he does with his billions, while ordinary Americans are struggling to put food on the table, send their kids to college.

    Every member of the Democratic Caucus understands that now is the time to address the needs of working families, to address the great climate crisis that's besetting our country and the world.

    So, I'm not going to tell you there are not differences of opinions. They will be worked out. We're going to pass this thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator, another issue we're hearing, there may be — that there are efforts to include immigration reform.

    If you're doing that — well, first of all, are you doing it, and second of all, what it would look like. What are you trying to cover there?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Well, we're trying to cover people who have been in the forefront, among other things, of protecting our economy, critical care workers, dreamers, and others.

    I have believed for a long time, as I think almost all the members of the Democratic Caucus and some Republicans, that the time is long overdue to pass comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship.

    So we can't do it completely, the way I would like to do it, in a reconciliation bill. There are real constraints, in terms of policy, what you can do. We're going to do the best that we can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you — at this point, that is in the bill?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Senator, I want to ask you about the news we're hearing on Capitol Hill today that there are new cases of the COVID-19, including the Delta variant.

    Are you, members of your staff, other senators you know going to be taking new steps now to be safe, to stay safe? How is this going to change things for you?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Well, I will tell you one very clear way — we were just talking about it a few minutes ago in my staff meeting — is, we had hoped to open our doors here in Capitol Hill to visitors.

    We — every day, we have all kinds of folks from Vermont and around the country coming in. We're going to have to delay that, precisely because of the growing threat of the variant.

    I suspect you will see more mask-wearing. All of us were so excited not to be having to wear masks all the time. I think, in closed-door rooms, you will probably be seeing more masks — masks being worn.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In other words, going back to where we were?

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Well, I don't know how far back we're going to have to go. That depends upon what happens.

    And, obviously, one of the things that is so disconcerting is that we have too many Republican leaders, if I may say so, and too many Americans who are not listening to science. And that is the understanding that, right now, the overwhelming — I think it's 99, 99.5 percent of the people who are in hospitals who are dying from the variant are people who have not been vaccinated.

    And we have got to do — and I know the president is trying as hard as he can to vaccinate, to see as many people as possible are vaccinated. And that is what we have got to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, thank you so much.

  • Bernie Sanders, I-VT:

    Thank you, Judy.

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