Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders discussed some of the key issues Democrats are working to address now that they have control of the House, the Senate, and the White House — from raising the minimum wage to climate change — on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Tuesday night.
Sanders said his new role as the chair of the Senate Budget Committee has been “a lot of fun” so far because the budget intersects with all aspects of the federal government.
One of his first priorities in the role, he said, is to hold a number of hearings to examine some of the deep inequities and systemic imbalances plaguing American life — among them “why the gap between the rich and everybody else is growing wider” and “why so many of our people are uninsured or underinsured.”
But the New England independent also broke down what it’s like dealing with some Republicans who still refuse to accept Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential election, and how his progressive goals measure up to those proposed by President Biden.
Here are some of the major topics Sanders and Kimmel talked about:
Raising the minimum wage:
A topic Sanders said the Senate Budget Committee is looking to explore this week is to determine why millions of people in the United States are “working for starvation wages.”
For many years, Sanders said, he has been trying to get the minimum wage raised federally. When he ran for president in 2016, he called for a $15 minimum wage.
“At that point, frankly, not a lot of people supported it,” he said. But Sanders cited a recent poll that found more than 60 percent of Americans are now in favor of the $15 minimum.
One of the greatest misconceptions surrounding the debate, Sanders said, is that only teens are working jobs that pay a minimum wage, such as at a retail store or at restaurant chains. In reality, “these are adults.”
“They got to pay rent, they need to have all the basic necessities of life, they need to feed their kids,” Sanders said. “And one of the great crises that we’re facing is that so many of our people in the richest country in the history of the world are literally struggling to put food on the table.”
Sanders emphasized that the plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 is “not a radical idea” but rather one that could be accomplished “over a four-year period.”
“You make 15 bucks an hour, you are not getting rich — but at least you have a shot to live with a minimal [amount] of dignity,” he said.
The senator gave the example of the Walton family, which owns Walmart and is worth billions of dollars, as another heated talking point revolving around raising the minimum wage: Who pays?
“They are the wealthiest family in America. And about half of their workers earn less than 15 bucks an hour,” Sanders said. “And when you are paying people starvation wages, those people need to get food stamps, they need to get Medicaid, they need to get public housing, perhaps. They need help in order to survive.”
But it is the taxpayers of this country — the middle-class and working-class — “who are paying those taxes in order to subsidize the wealthiest family in America,” he said.
“That is absurd,” Sanders said. “A multi-billion dollar family, the richest family in America, can’t afford to pay their workers living wages.”
The reconciliation package:
The top priority of the Senate Budget Committee at the moment, Sanders said, is the reconciliation package — or the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan proposed by Biden that aims to both combat the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn.
“What we are trying to do is to make sure that every working-class family in America — $75,000 for an individual or less [and] $150,000 or less for a family, including children — will get on top of the 600 bucks they got last month, a $1,400 check,” Sanders said.
Democrats are also looking to expand the child tax credit, which Sanders said would “cut childhood poverty in half.”
“Our job right now in reconciliation, and we hope to have something on the floor, literally next week, is to address the health care crisis, the educational crisis, the mental health crisis,” he said.
Kimmel began the discussion on health care by saying that in the effort to focus on addressing the pandemic — “for obvious reasons” — it seems as though attention has “drifted away from health care” despite the two issues being so closely linked.
“I hope and expect that Joe Biden made you some promises in the area of health care in exchange for your enthusiastic support,” Kimmel said.
Sanders noted that his opinion on how health care should be addressed — Medicare for All, a cause largely championed by progressives — differs from Biden’s view on the topic.
The senator said he believes it is “absurd” that while the United States is “spending twice as much per capita on health care as any other major country,” thousands die every year because they are unable to get to a doctor when they should and millions are either uninsured or underinsured.
“I believe we’ve got to finally take on the greed of the insurance companies and the drug companies and pass Medicare for All,” Sanders said.
But what Biden wants to do is expand the Affordable Care Act, which Sanders called a “step in the right direction,” and said he would work with the president on achieving.
“At the end of the day, I would hope that we conclude health care is a human right, whether you’re rich or whether you’re poor, and the function of the health care system is to provide quality care to all — not to make huge profits for the insurance companies and the drug companies,” Sanders said.
Texas faced a devastating — and unusual — winter storm this past week that left millions without heat, electricity, and running water. Nearly 80 people have died from causes including carbon monoxide poisoning and freezing conditions.
Texas runs on its own power grid separate from the rest of the country, and the operators were unable to maintain control of the power supply during the storm. The state also derives the majority of its electricity from thermal heat sources like natural gas and coal, which were negatively affected by the cold.
Sanders said the crisis in the Lone Star State, and similar events that have occurred globally, “tells us that in the long run, it will be much more expensive if we ignore the existential threat of climate change than if we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel.”
After the reconciliation package is addressed, Sanders said lawmakers also have the opportunity to address climate change — along with other issues — through Biden’s infrastructure package.
The Build Back Better plan includes a number of proposals related to the climate, among them: building sustainable infrastructure, generating clean electricity, and creating jobs in climate-smart fields.
The bill will deal with “the need to transform our energy system, create millions of good-paying jobs, combating climate change, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure,” he said.
Sanders said Senate Democrats are prepared to pass Biden’s infrastructure package through the budget reconciliation process if Republicans do not get on board with the bill, which would ultimately reconfigure the economy.
“You want to lower the cost of prescription drugs; you want to provide health care to all people; you want to raise the minimum wage in this country — we’d love to have you,” Sanders said. “But if you are not prepared to come on board, we are going to go forward, and we’re going to do it alone.”
Instead of requiring 60 votes to pass, a reconciliation bill only needs a simple majority — or a 51-vote majority — in the Senate.
“We got 50 votes plus the vice president. We can do it in the Senate. We got the votes in the House. That’s what we intend to do,” Sanders said.
The ‘Big Lies:’
Sanders began by saying there are a lot of Republicans who are “decent human beings — they are good fathers and mothers and everything else.”
But under Trump especially, Sanders said, “We have seen this country and the Republican Party move, to my mind, very far away from reality.”
Sanders continued: “And the fact that you got colleagues of mine in the Senate, who refuse even today to acknowledge that Donald Trump lost the election — how do you deal with that? How do you deal with the ‘Big Lies?’ How do you deal with conspiracy theories? How do you deal with a massive effort to try to undermine American democracy by claiming that the campaign, the Biden victory, was a fraud, wasn’t real?”
None of the above, Sanders said, “is easy to deal with.”