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Sen. Bernie Sanders: COVID relief bill ‘addresses the crises facing working families’

For an opposing perspective on COVID relief and the congressional agenda we turn to Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who chairs the Senate's budget committee. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the minimum wage, the Republican response to President Biden's agenda, and the need for federal aid for local and state governments during the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For an opposing perspective on COVID relief and the congressional agenda, we're joined by independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

    Senator Sanders, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    I just was speaking with the Senate Republican whip, John Thune. And I want to ask you first about minimum wage, because this is something of enormous importance to you.

    He said, at this moment, to more than double the minimum wage is going to put more small businesses out of business. And he said he could support something maybe $10 an hour, but not $15.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, first of all, that's what Republicans always say. We have not raised the federal minimum wage in Congress since 2007.

    And it is now at a starvation wage of $7.25 an hour. And that's what they always say: Now is not the time.

    Second of all, what John should know, and I hope he does, is, we're not talking about raising the minimum wage right now from $7.25 to $15. It's a five-year process, $7.25 to $9.50, to $11, to $12.50, to $14, and then, in 2025, to $15.

    So, it is something that is long overdue, because, Judy, in my mind, the great economic crisis that we face today is half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. And many millions of workers are, frankly, working for starvation wages. Raising the minimum wage is what the American people want. It's what we have got to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, and, as we know, it is not part of the COVID relief bill. You're going to be trying to introduce it. And we're going to follow that very closely.

    But I do want to turn your attention to the overall COVID legislation. As you know, Republicans are saying they support the direct payments, most of them seem to. They support the direct payment. They support extending unemployment benefits.

    But they have a real problem, they say, with the overall price tag. They say there's a lot of waste in the bill. What do you say to that?

  • Bernie Sanders:

    Oh, I wonder where their diligence and their concern was when — for the deficit when they gave over a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the very rich and large corporations.

    I wonder where their concern was when they voted and pushed the $740 billion military budget, massive corporate welfare all over this country.

    Look, here is the simple truth. And I think most Americans understand it. Today, we are facing a series of crises, health care, pandemic, economic, education, mental illness. We are facing crises unlike any we have faced in our lifetimes. And working-class people all over this country are crying out to Congress: Please hear our pain. Hear our children's pain. Do something.

    The bill that we are fighting for right now that hopefully will pass in a few days, in my view, is the most significant piece of legislation for working families that Congress has passed in many, many decades.

    It provides $1,400 per person and for children of working-class families. It puts billions of dollars into making sure that we get — we produce the vaccines and get them out to people as quickly as possible. It will lower — by expanding the child tax credit, lower childhood poverty by 50 percent in this country.

    So, this is a 600-page bill. I can't go through all of the details.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Bernie Sanders:

    But it addresses to a significant way the crises facing working families in America right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, as you know, another point the Republicans are making, though, is that there are hundreds of billions of dollars still in the pipeline from legislation, relief legislation that Congress passed in 2020 and even earlier in 2021.

    They're saying, let's get that money spent before we spend this additional money.

  • Bernie Sanders:

    Well, it doesn't quite work like that. Some of the money is not supposed to be spent right away.

    I mean, you don't pass legislation and say that, in two weeks, you got to spend all the money. Some of it is designed to be spent over a period of years.

    Look, and all due respect to my Republican colleagues, right now, as I speak to you, they are forcing a reading of a 600-page bill that will — requires nine, 10 hours of wasted time. The American people perceive correctly that we are in an urgent moment. We ought to move as quickly as we can. That's what President Biden wants.

    They are now on the floor of the Senate right now wasting Senate time, 10 hours, reading a bill in order to obstruct our progress. I'm afraid that I have to be honest with you and say that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are much more interested in obstructionism and making sure that President Biden does not push through his agenda than they are in — really in dealing with the problems facing the American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, one final argument they are making is that a lot of this money would go, hundreds of billions, to state and local governments that they say don't really need it.

    They say, if you look at the revenue state and local governments had last year, it was just a very small decrease, not anything like the number — the amount of money that this bill would give them.

  • Bernie Sanders:

    Look…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you respond to that?

  • Bernie Sanders:

    I respond by telling you that, to the best of my knowledge, state and municipal governments have laid off well over a million workers in the last year. So, we're talking about firefighters, teachers, police officers, municipal workers.

    And at this moment, when we face so many health and economic and educational crises, you need career people at the state and local and federal level to be able to deal with these crises. Just getting out unemployment checks requires an enormous amount of manpower.

    So, I don't accept that argument. I think state and local governments are in need of help, and we should provide it to them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

    And, Senator, we will continue to follow this closely and talk to you as the process goes along. Thank you very much.

  • Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you very much.

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