Bernie Sanders is at the adults' table now, and he can't stop acting like a child

As the Chairman of the powerful Budget Committee in the Senate, Bernie Sanders is at the zenith of power, and he can't stop whining about it.

Sanders and those attracted to him like moths to fire have always been more comfortable standing outside throwing stones than coming inside and governing. That's because for them, perpetual victimhood and always blaming someone else - especially Democrats - is a much more comfortable position than having to deliver on the things they spend all their time calling for a general strike about. Having the power to do something in a democracy does not, unlike a dictatorship, amount to having the power to do anything, and therefore governing in a democratic society becomes an art of balance and compromise to determine how one can do the most good for the greatest number of people.

And that's not at all a comfortable position for ideological purists, the leftist subsection of which Sanders has led through two failed presidential campaigns. For them, anything less than everything is not just about a governing choice but capitulation to nefarious forces they imagine really control the government. You can't quite get the comfort of the peanut gallery when you have to perform. Monday morning quarterbacking is a lot harder when you spent Sunday on the field.

Sanders and his infamous Berniebros are in a similar situation now. Although Bernie Sanders never became president, thanks to Vice President Harris's tie-breaking vote and the two Senate seats Democrats won in January's Georgia runoffs, Democrats now control a 50-50 Senate. That means that Bernie Sanders, once the Senate Budget Committee's ranking member, is now its Chairman.

Now, Bernie is no spiderman, much as his devotees would like to imagine him as a superpowered hero, but with great power - which Sanders now has - does come great responsibility, and Bernie doesn't like the responsibility part.

The first big test of Bernie Sanders's commitment to the principles he espoused on the campaign trail and from his senate seat is shaping up to be his ability to manage and deliver on the Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. There are two things Sanders wants in particular in the final legislation, and it looks like one will have to be compromised and the other eliminated.

The original package - in addition to massive funding to shore up vaccinations, aid to states, and unemployment, rent, and food assistance - included $1400 additional direct payments to those who received $600 payments in December's relief package and a $15 minimum wage.

Republicans were poised to filibuster the whole thing, so Democrats in the Senate are being forced to pursue the legislation through the Senate's budget reconciliation process, which allows legislation that are predominantly budgetary in nature to pass without needing 60 votes to break the filibuster. But by the same token, things that are not primarily about the budget - like the minimum wage increase - are unlikely to get the green light from the Senate Parliamentarian to be part of a reconciliation bill.

In another twist, Republican senators and certain moderate members of the Senate Democratic Caucus like Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), and Sanders's fellow independent Sen. Angus King (ME) favor lowering the threshold on who receives the $1400 direct payments. Manchin proposes that the direct payments begin to be gradually reduced for those making ovar $50,000 and be completely eliminated for those making over $75,000 (double these amounts for couples filing jointly). Not everyone on the Manchin side of things is committed to these thresholds, but it's clear that they want the thresholds to be lower than the original proposal, in which the phaseout would begin at $75,000 and be zeroed out at $99,000.

If no Republicans join Democrats in the final COVID rescue plan vote, Democrats - and specifically, Bernie Sanders who is managing this legislation as the Budget Chair - will need every senator who caucuses with Democrats, including the much-maligned 'conservaDems' like Joe Manchin. For a much more immediate problem, the moderate Democrats in Manchin's camp are likely to agree to, propose, and pass an amendment to the actual reconciliation bill to lower those thresholds closer to Manchin's like than to Sanders's, with all or nearly all Republicans and a significant number of Democrats voting in its favor. That would leave Sanders no choice but to whip votes for the full legislation which includes the lower thresholds. If Bernie Sanders wants a different outcome, he needs to lobby the Manchin caucus.

And yet, Bernie Sanders's plan to change the trajectory of this debate appears to be tweeting and finger-wagging on TV rather than negotiating. Sanders and his allies are subtweeting and flailing around on TV about Manchin and his coalition, an outreach strategy without any persuasive power and without any incentive for the moderates to change their position.

The cudgel approach may be inviting during a campaign where one can get away with black-and-white framing, but it rarely works in legislating within a political party with a big tent, because legislators represent different constituencies. Manchin won't lose his next re-election if he forces a tighter threshold on direct payments, or for that matter, for his opposition to a $15 minimum wage. Now thanks to Bernie's tantrum offensive, Manchin has even less of an incentive to come on board with either, which means that even if somehow Bernie's 'room full of lawyers' were able to convince the Senate Parliamentarian to allow increasing the minimum wage under reconciliation rules, Chairman Sanders will likely still fall short of the 50 votes he would need pass the actual increase.


What's worse, thanks to Bernie Sanders, the $15 minimum wage has now suffered a brutal and potentially fatal wound. Sanders asked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for a new analysis of the minimum wage hike, hoping it would show enough budgetary intricacies to qualify it for reconciliation. The CBO just released that report, and it is an absolute disaster for those wanting to see the minimum wage go up to $15 an hour. The new report finds that on the net, it will increase the deficit slightly and cost 1.4 million jobs, likely sealing the legislation's fate not just in the reconciliation package but in this Congress.

Bernie Sanders isn't an 'outsider' anymore. He never was - he's been in Washington longer than most of the people who crowd his rallies have been alive - but he isn't even just a weird backbencher in Congress anymore. He is the Chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the Senate, indeed, of one of the two Senate Committees (the other being Appropriations) in charge of Congress's most potent Constitutional power, the power of the purpose. He is a member of leadership. It's time he put on his big boy pants and do the hard work of negotiating and persuading his fellow Senators instead of throwing rocks that make things worse. Let's be clear: whatever isn't delivered in the COVID relief package will rest solely at the feet of Bernie Sanders, not just because he has a powerful position, but because he's not trying to persuade his colleagues differently.

Bernie Sanders is at the adults' table now. It's time he started acting like it.

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