CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., promoted the $3.5 trillion reconciliation budget bill he authored to an audience at Newbo City Market on Sunday.
The stop is part of a promotional tour that the 79-year-old chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, a self-described democratic socialist, is doing to convince Americans about the bill.
“These are tough times. This last year has probably been the hardest year for all of us in our lives, and we have lost friends. We have not been able to socialize. Our kids have not been able to go to school, the economy tanked. These are tough times,” Sanders said. “But I am here today in Iowa to tell you that I am absolutely convinced that if we as Americans have the courage and the determination to stand to get the stand up in the fight for justice, like economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, if we can stand together, and not allow politicians to divide us up by the color of our skin or where we were born, or our sexual orientation if we can say together, we cannot only address these awful problems, but we can move this country forward in a very different and positive direction.”
He touted the American Rescue Plan Act and child tax credit.
“As a result of the direct payments that were made during the American Rescue Plan to working-class families in Vermont, in Iowa, and all across this country. And as a result of the $300 per month payment that working parents are now receiving for their young children. We have reduced childhood poverty in the United States by 50 percent,” Sanders boasted. “That is an extraordinary accomplishment. The kids are our future. And in the richest country in the history of the world. We should not have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation on Earth. And we are making real progress, allowing working moms and dads the ability to raise their kids with security and dignity.”
He touted the infrastructure bill that passed in the U.S. Senate and said that the 30 Republicans who voted against it “voted against the elderly, of the sick, and the poor.”
Sanders defended the use of reconciliation to allow Democrats to pass the separate $3.5 trillion spending bill without Republican support. He stated Republicans had used it during the Trump Administration, particularly with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which Sanders claimed only helped the wealthy.
“So the use of reconciliation is not a new concept. What is new about this bill, is that we are going to use it to improve lives for working families, not just the wealthy and the powerful,” he stated.
However, reconciliation has not been used for a bill with such a hefty price tag. He admitted that passing the legislation will still be challenging, considering Democrats have a slim margin in both the House and the Senate. The bill is unlikely to get a single Republican vote.
Democrats can’t afford to lose any of their caucus members. In the Senate, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., stated they are unwilling to pass such a large spending bill.
“We need to pass this legislation. Because we are sick and tired of seeing so many of our people earn starvation wages. And I have been all over your great state. I’ve talked to the people who make 9-10 bucks an hour. And that is why this legislation, as it begins to address the long-neglected needs of America, will create millions of good-paying jobs,” Sanders argued.
He said the bill would raise taxes.
“We are going to raise taxes on the billionaire class at a time when large profitable corporations make billions in profit and, n some years, do not pay a penny in federal income taxes,” Sanders said.
He also said the bill would address childcare to help more parents work and pay for universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds.
“There are many good-paying unfilled jobs where employers cannot find workers. When we do the right thing for childcare and pre-K, more than a million workers, mostly women, will be able to rejoin the workforce,” he said.
Sanders also said the bill would offer three weeks of paid family and medical leave for families.
The bill will also pay for two years of community college, but Sanders wished the bill would go further.
“I think we should make public colleges and universities tuition-free. We should cancel all student debt in this country. That is my view. Unfortunately, I got 49 other members of the caucus. They don’t all agree with me,” he said.
Sanders added that the bill would also invest in low-income affordable housing.
“In America today, we got some 600,000 people who are homeless, many sleeping out on the streets, two blocks from the nation’s Capitol,” he said. “We have some 18 million households in America who are spending 50 percent of their limited incomes on housing.”
Sanders claimed the investment in affordable housing would also create “good-paying jobs.”
He also said he wished that the bill would bring about the Medicare for All plan he touted during his 2020 presidential campaign, but it doesn’t. Instead, Sanders said it would expand Medicaid, including coverage for dental care, hearing aids, and eyeglasses.
“We’re going to reform and expand Medicare. And I’ll tell you how we’re going to fund that. We’re going to fund that program by having Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry,” he explained.
Sanders also noted that the bill would make “unprecedented” investments to position the United States as the world leader in “combating climate change and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”
“This bill finally begins to invest significantly in moving this country to carbon emissions to moving this country to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” he said.
The bill, Sanders stated, would create a “civilian climate corps.”
“This bill will provide them with good wages, and educational benefits, as they go out helping us lead the world, in transforming our energy system. We’re going to put billions of dollars into a civilian climate corps, hundreds of thousands of young people will have the jobs they want, helping us deal with this existential threat,” he explained.
“The time is long overdue for us to restore the faith of the American people in a democratic society, not in conspiracy theories, not in authoritarianism. But in a democratic society where government works for all, and not just the wealthy and the powerful. So what this bill is about. It is helping millions and millions of people who are in pain today. It’s addressing helping to address the existential threat facing the planet in terms of climate change. But hopefully, it is a step forward in helping working-class families all over this country understand that in a democratic society, we can have a government that works for them, and not just the rich and the powerful,” Sanders concluded.
Sanders had several Iowans speak after his remarks, and he concluded the event with a Q&A session.
Listen to his remarks below: