Congressional Democrats Warm to Bernie Sanders’s Agenda

Go left, young Democrats. Photo: Barry Chin/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly strong primary campaign did not win him the Democratic nomination. Nor, for that matter, did it prevent the White House from becoming the wholly owned subsidiary of “the billionaire class.” But it did, apparently, increase support within the Democratic Party for two of his key agenda items.

Following Trumpcare’s untimely death, John Conyers’s Medicare for All bill has attracted some 80 co-sponsors in the House, the most its had since 2009.

“I have been introducing the Medicare For All bill every session of Congress since 2003, and I’m the longest serving member of Congress. I have never seen more enthusiasm and energy behind this issue than what I’m seeing today,” Conyers said in a statement last week. “I will keep introducing this bill as long as it takes because access to health care—not just health insurance, but quality, affordable care—is a universal right, not a privilege for those who can afford it.”

Meanwhile, another staple of Sanders’s stump speech, free public college, is gaining traction among Senate Democrats. In 2015, the Vermont senator’s proposal to abolish tuition for public universities failed to attract a single co-sponsor. On Monday, Sanders introduced the College for All Act with the co-sponsorship of senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Granted, Sanders’s new bill is a bit more fiscally moderate than his last one. The legislation is similar to the plan the senator hashed out with Hillary Clinton last summer, with free tuition at four-year public colleges guaranteed only to children from households that earn less than $125,000 a year. But the plan would make community college free to all comers, while slashing the interest rate on student loans, and levying a hefty sales tax on financial transactions.

The fact that the bill has attracted the support of younger Democratic leaders like Gillibrand, Harris, and Murphy — who may well have one eye on their future presidential prospects — testifies to the growing strength of the left within Team Blue’s tent.

Washington congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is leading the push for the bill in the House.

During the campaign, Donald Trump’s plan to increase college affordability involved forcing borrowers to pay 12.5 percent of their annual income toward their loans for 15 years, at which point their debts are forgiven. For low-income borrowers, this would actually increase their annual debt burden in the short run, but provide some relief in the long term.

Anyhow, if Democrats can ever frame an election as a referendum on “free public college for the working class” and “Medicare for All” — versus “make student borrowers give 12.5 percent of their salaries to banks for 15 years” and “throw millions off of Medicaid to finance a tax break for millionaire investors” — they should probably do so.

By all appearances, in the coming years, some will try to.

Congressional Democrats Warm to Bernie Sanders’s Agenda