Editor’s Note: Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is the junior US senator from Vermont. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
What happens in Congress in the next few months will determine the future of our country – and our planet.
In this pivotal moment in American history, Democrats in the US House of Representatives and US Senate, working with the White House, have proposed several pieces of legislation which can strengthen working families, protect the planet and save American democracy from right-wing extremism.
We can create millions of good paying union jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, water systems and constructing the millions of units of affordable housing we desperately need. We can also end starvation wages in America by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. At a time when real wages for American workers have been stagnant for decades, these actions will be a major step forward in improving the standard of living of a declining middle class.
Further, we can create millions more jobs by taking the global leadership in combating climate change – the existential threat to our planet – and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels.
By extending the child tax credit, we can cut childhood poverty nearly in half and end the international embarrassment of the US having one of the highest rates of childhood poverty in the industrialized world.
By having the federal government negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, we can not only lower the outrageous cost of prescription drugs but we can raise the necessary funds to expand Medicare to finally cover dental, vision and hearing needs and improve the lives of millions of struggling seniors. We can also provide good quality health coverage to millions of older workers by lowering the eligibility age of Medicare to 55.
By passing universal child care and Pre-K legislation, we can make sure that every child in America, regardless of income or zip code, gets a good start in life. We can also strengthen the economy by enabling parents to go to their jobs knowing that their young children are safe and well taken care of.
By passing paid family and medical leave, we can join every other wealthy country in making certain that workers can stay home with their sick kids or spend precious time with a new born baby.
By making public colleges and universities tuition free, and substantially lowering student debt, we can create the best educated workforce in the world and provide support to a younger generation which, otherwise, will likely have a lower standard of living than their parents.
By passing progressive tax legislation that finally asks the wealthy and large corporations to begin paying their fair share of taxes, we can begin to address the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality and raise trillions of dollars to address the needs of working families.
By passing universal voting rights, ending outrageous levels of gerrymandering and moving forward on campaign finance reform, we can end voter suppression, increase voter turnout and strengthen our democracy.
By passing new criminal justice reform, we can reduce the rate of incarceration and make certain that all of our citizens, regardless of the color of their skin, can safely walk the streets of this country without fear of abusive, illegal or lethal police action.
By passing comprehensive immigration reform we can, after years of inaction, finally give Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients and temporary protected status holders the stability they deserve, and create a path toward citizenship for 11 million undocumented people, many of whom are doing the critical work that keeps our economy going.
Relying on the same budget process we used to pass the American Rescue Plan in March, we can improve the lives of working families with just 50 votes in the Senate and a simple majority in the House of Representatives.
In other words, if the Democrats in the House and Senate are able to stand together, have the courage to take on powerful special interests and do what so many working families of this country want us to do, we can create an economy that works for all and not just the few, we can help save the planet from the ravages of climate change and we can strengthen American democracy.
These are no small accomplishments. They are transformational.
And because good policy is always good politics, passing a progressive and popular agenda like this would, in my view, guarantee that Democrats not only retain control of the House and Senate but expand their majorities in both bodies next election cycle.
But what happens if Democrats go forward in a different direction? What happens if they spend week after week, month after month “negotiating” with Republicans who have little intention of addressing the serious crises facing the working families of this country? What happens if, after the passage of the vitally important American Rescue Plan – the Covid-19 rescue package signed into law by President Biden in March –the momentum stops and we accomplish little or nothing?
Without strong and ongoing accomplishments that improve the lives of working families, there is a strong possibility that Republicans will win the House or the Senate or both bodies next year. The American people want action, not never-ending “negotiations” and obstructionism, and they will not come out and vote for a party that does not deliver.
And if the Republicans do regain control of Congress, we can be sure that the economy will move steadily forward toward a system in which the rich get richer thanks to increased corporate domination. We can be sure that the climate crisis will intensify, diminishing the likelihood of our children and grandchildren living in a healthy and habitable environment. We can be sure that our government will drift away from democracy, as voter suppression, dark money and conspiracy theories continue to dominate our political system.
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This is an unprecedented moment in American history. The Democrats in Congress must move forward boldly, protecting the working families of our country and restoring faith in government. Yes, the future of the country is at stake.
And that is why I’m prepared to do everything in my power as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee to enact a reconciliation bill that reflects the main tenets of President Joe Biden’s transformational agenda, an agenda that millions of Americans want and need in these difficult times.
If not now, when?