September 21, 2021

“The End of Neoliberalism”: Rep. Ro Khanna Hails “Historic” $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan

5 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
The Democrat-controlled Senate has approved a $3.5 trillion budget framework along party lines. The final vote took place at 4 a.m. Eastern time this morning in Washington. It came less than a day after 19 Republicans joined Democrats on passing a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes $550 billion in new money to help repair roads and bridges, invest in public transit, expand broadband, and more.
Senate Democrats are hoping to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the larger package, but they can only do that if every Democratic senator supports it. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema has already expressed opposition to the price tag. Both spending packages now go to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she will not bring the bipartisan bill to the House floor unless the reconciliation bill is also considered at the same time.
On Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his colleagues to support the $3.5 trillion budget package, which would help expand the nation’s social safety net.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: This legislation will not only provide enormous support, unprecedented in recent American history, to the children in our country, to the parents in our country, to the elderly people in our country, to the working families of our country, but it will also, I hope, restore the faith of the American people in the belief that we can have a government that works for all of us, and not just the few.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Ro Khanna, Democratic congressmember from California.
Congressmember, welcome back to Democracy Now! In our next segment, we’re going to be talking to you about Afghanistan, but this happened in the last hours, two major infrastructure bills — $1.2 trillion, then $3.5 trillion by reconciliation. It’s hard to understand. Explain both and what happens next.
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, Amy, Senator Sanders is absolutely right. This is a historic piece of legislation that marks, frankly, the end of neoliberalism, that has governed America for the last four decades. It is a major investment in the American people. This will have child care being universal. It will have community college for everyone. It will expand Medicare to include dental, vision, hearing. It will mark the largest investment in tackling the climate crisis, with massive investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. And it will have significant investment in infrastructure, including improving our broadband, replacing lead pipes and upgrading our roads, bridges and airports. It’s an extraordinary piece of legislation, and we need to pass it through both the House and Senate as is.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman, first, though, about the infrastructure bill, it is considerably smaller than what the president wanted to, about a fifth in terms of new money, and a lot of the stuff was scaled back — for lead pipes, $15 billion, when — removal of lead pipes, when the president originally wanted $45 billion, and most estimates are that it will take $60 billion. So, this is really a down payment on a much bigger problem when it comes to infrastructure. I’m wondering your sense: Was it worth it to go through this bipartisan process to get such a whittled-down, hard infrastructure bill?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, first, let’s see what they add in the reconciliation. I agree with you that the infrastructure bill was whittled down. It didn’t have enough for lead pipes. It has nothing for climate. It doesn’t have enough for broadband. My hope is some of that funding will be restored in the reconciliation bill, and especially the reconciliation bill as we write it through the House.
The reason that we had to go through the bipartisan process to get the reconciliation bill is we wouldn’t get 50 votes for the reconciliation bill if we hadn’t had to do the bipartisan process. So, you’re right to point out the flaws of the bipartisan bill. It’s why the Progressive Caucus has been clear that the reconciliation bill has to pass for us to support the bipartisan bill. The bipartisan bill is inadequate. But if we get the reconciliation bill, which I believe is one of the best bills in modern American history in making the investments we need, then it is worth supporting the inadequate bipartisan bill.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of getting that reconciliation bill through the Senate, your sense, at this point, of where those key lawmakers — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — are standing right now?
REP. RO KHANNA: My sense is that they will ultimately vote for it, because if one or two senators reject it, they are, at the point, literally rejecting the president’s entire agenda. It’s important to note that the reconciliation bill is not Bernie Sanders’ or Elizabeth Warren’s agenda, it is Joe Biden’s agenda. Everything in that bill is something that President Biden ran on.
So the question for every United States senator is actually very simple: Do you believe we should have the Mitt Romney agenda, which is basically the bipartisan deal, or do you think Joe Biden, who was elected president of the United States, is entitled to his agenda? If you believe we should have the Joe Biden agenda, I don’t see how you vote no on the reconciliation package, once the House sends it there.
AMY GOODMAN: But what’s going to happen with the Senate, with Sinema and Manchin, on the $3.5 trillion, which is more than infrastructure — a complete social safety net on the scale of FDR?
REP. RO KHANNA: As I said, that is Joe Biden’s agenda. That plan, that $3.5 trillion, is directly from what the White House proposed. It’s directly from what President Biden ran on. I just don’t see how any senator votes against it, once push comes to shove. Sure, they may right now be making noise about things that they want to see differently, but as long as we stick to the fact that the $3.5 trillion already represents a compromise — as you remember, Bernie Sanders started out at $6 trillion — and that the $3.5 trillion doesn’t have a single thing in there that President Biden didn’t propose or run on, I am confident that we will not have a United States senator, on our side, vote against this president’s agenda.
AMY GOODMAN: Ro Khanna, we want you to stay with us, a congressmember from California. After break, we’re going to look at what’s happening in Afghanistan, as the Taliban, just this morning, seized the ninth provincial capital, as the U.S. troops, most of them, leave. Stay with us.