With Democrats narrowly securing the Senate, Bernie Sanders will now chair the powerful Budget Committee. Although it initially appeared that the Senator was vying for President-Elect Biden’s nomination to be Labor Secretary, the scenario on the ground changed following the results of the Georgia election. Now, with Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh given the nomination for Labor Secretary, Senator Sanders’ focus is on causing a ruckus in the Senate. Given Senator Sanders’ long-standing commitment to economic support and protection for millions of working-class families and individuals, this new role is especially significant for him.
Smashing the deficit myth
In 2015, as the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Budget, Senator Sanders brought in a deficit heretic to be chief economist–Stephanie Kelton. Kelton was teaching at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, when Senator Sanders requested her to come to D.C. to participate on the Committee. Kelton went on to become a senior economic advisor to the 2016 Sanders presidential campaign. Currently, Professor Kelton works at Stony Brook University, where she continues championing the school of economic thought that attracted Senator Sanders, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).
As Kelton explains in her recent book, The Deficit Myth, “MMT stresses that inflation, not the deficit, should be the major constraint on spending.” This line of thinking goes entirely against any conventional wisdom you may hear from elected officials who preach about the importance of “balancing the budget” and the chaos that will follow if we continue deficit spending. However, Senator Sanders appears to support the ideas of MMT that provide a new way of thinking that will help resurrect the American economy and put millions back to work in good-paying jobs.
In a recent conversation with Kelton, she highlighted that, “It has to be acknowledged that so much has changed regarding reception to these ideas from four to five years ago. I am regularly in conversation with a wide variety of members of Congress from both chambers. There is much more openness and interest in understanding what our arguments [MMT] have been.” She went on to say that crises will make people do “surprising things” and that people are figuring out that they’ve been “misled about the constraints on the Federal Government’s finances.”
Surprising things in surprising times
Even President-elect Biden, traditionally a centrist voice, understands that these times call for unique approaches in rebuilding the economy. “If we don’t act now things will get much worse and harder to get out of the hole later. So, we have to invest now,” according to Biden. “There’s a dire, dire need to act now.” The President-elect went on to tell reporters that every major economist thinks the country should be investing in deficit spending.
These are encouraging signals on how the President-elect intends to rebuild the country in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. For Senator Sanders, this news gives his dynamic policy agenda more weight in the Senate where he plans to fight for the desperately needed economic support to facilitate a recovery.
When asked by Politico how should Democrats approach reconciliation in the new Congress, Senator Sanders’ response was clear, “I’m going to use reconciliation in as aggressive a way as I possibly can to address the terrible health and economic crises facing working people today.” The Senator went on to highlight how Republicans have used their majority position on the Committee to push for massive tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations and even to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Build back smarter
As the President-elect is seemingly on board for ambitious spending to reel the country out of devastation to build back better, and both the House and Senate held by Democrats, Senator Sanders finds himself in a unique position to champion the change he has so long fought for. With millions unemployed, uninsured, and facing a deadly pandemic, deficit spending and significant investment is the only option for economic revitalization in the United States.
With support from the President-elect and the general public, Senator Sanders will hold significant power to enact sweeping economic relief. How he uses this new role and how his Senate colleagues support or challenge his proposals will be some of the most interesting events of the 117th United States Congress.