In an interview with The New York Times' Ezra Klein, Sen. Bernie Sanders talked about the size and ramifications of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — and some of his optimism going forward about the economy and President Joe Biden's vision for it.
When asked why the 50 Democrats in the Senate are legislating "so much more progressively than 59 Democrats did" under President Barack Obama in 2009, Sanders addressed the progressive measures passed so far. These include an expanded child tax credit, increased unemployment benefits, and billions in funding for state and local governments
"I think the conclusion from the White House and from Congress is now is the time to do what the American people need us to do," Sanders told Klein.
The bill didn't come without some defeats for progressives, some of which were major initiatives for Sanders. He was the architect of the Raise the Wage Act, which would have increased the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, but that provision was struck from the reconciliation package by eight moderate Democrats.
"I was bitterly disappointed that we lost the minimum wage in the reconciliation process as a result of a decision from the parliamentarian," Sanders told Klein, saying it was a "wrong decision." Biden had also campaigned on a hike to the federal minimum wage, which hasn't increased from $7.25 in more than a decade.
Sanders added: "We're not giving up on that. We're going to come back, and we're going to do it."
Sanders stressed the importance of embracing a progressive agenda
Sanders praised Biden, a historically moderate Democrat, for his "courage" in championing the measures in the stimulus to address Americans' suffering. But he said he hopes this continues. "What I hope very much is that understanding of the need to act bold goes beyond the American Rescue Plan," he said. Next up for Biden seems to be a far-reaching infrastructure package, which could also carry a hefty price tag.
Sanders also touched on his support from younger people, a group that he said is both more progressive and in more economic pain — and said he wants the government to step up and address that.
"I love the younger generation. I really do," he said. He pointed to how much traction the issue of student debt got in 2016; student debt relief — and how much should be forgiven — is one topic that's led to a divide between progressive Democrats and the more moderate Biden.
When asked about differences among members of the Democratic caucus, Sanders said he thinks and hopes that the group understands the importance of working with the president, who "is prepared to go forward aggressively in a number of issues."
"We cannot sabotage the needs of the American people," Sanders said.