Bernie Sanders Can’t Count to 52

Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022 on Capitol Hill, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

This argument seems to be growing in popularity among progressives:

Bernie Sanders repeated it this evening, too, saying: “The problem is not with the President, the problem is with members here who, although they are very few in number, they are a significant minority, think that they have a right to determine what the rest of the Congress should be doing.”

This is nonsense.

For a start, it is facile to think of the Senate — or the federal legislature in general — as some sort of national “democracy,” akin in nature to the British parliament. The federal government exists to do a handful of things, with the remainder of the decisions being deliberately left to the states. It is not “undemocratic” for the federal government to stay out of most areas; it is the way America is supposed to work. Obviously, there is nothing preventing any state from passing paid family leave, which means that what Berman and Sanders are really saying when they complain in this way is that they want the states with a temporary majority in Congress to force the policy on the others, and that they are angry that not everyone is on board with that.

But, even on its own terms, the argument is ridiculous. Joe Manchin didn’t “kill” paid family leave. A majority of 51 senators, composed of Joe Manchin plus the 50 Republicans, did. (It’s possible that there were more holdouts, too.) Likewise, when Bernie says that Manchin, Sinema, and others “think that they have a right to determine what the rest of the Congress should be doing,” what he is really complaining about is that his own party has only 50 votes in the Senate, and that the 50 people who wield those votes are are not on the same page. While I profoundly disagree, I can comprehend the arguments against the filibuster. What I can not understand, by contrast, is what sort of Senate we might have if bills could pass with just 48 votes out of 100 cast. Unless Bernie Sanders believes that, having won, the Democrats have formed some sort of purist politburo, whose only responsibility is to work out its internal differences, his argument make no sense at all.