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Bernie Sanders Is Off To The Midwest, Aiming To Win Voters Over On The Spending Plan


Democrats in Washington hope to spend the next month writing the largest partisan spending bill in a generation. The plan is to spend up to $3.5 trillion to overhaul and expand the reach of the federal government. It hinges on the expectation that every Democrat in the Senate will rally around the idea. That's why budget committee chairman Bernie Sanders is returning to his presidential campaign roots and hitting the road this weekend to sell the plan. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has this report.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Budget committee chairman Bernie Sanders has lofty hopes for the list of problems Democrats can address with their upcoming spending plan - child care, health care, education and climate change, all for starters.


BERNIE SANDERS: 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.

SNELL: That was Sanders outlining his goals to fellow senators ahead of a vote to begin writing the massive spending bill. Now Congress is getting ready to actually do the very complicated work of deciding exactly how to spend the money to meet those goals. And Sanders is going out to Indiana and Iowa this weekend - two states that went for former President Trump in 2020 - to try to convince everyday Americans that all of this spending is intended to help people like them.

SANDERS: Most people, whether you are conservative, moderate or progressive, understand that for many decades, the government has paid a lot of attention to the wealthy, the powerful and campaign contributors and has kind of turned its back on the working class and the middle class of this country.

SNELL: Sanders spoke to NPR ahead of his trip, and he says voters in both parties will benefit from those populist ideas. This mini budget tour harkens back to the hugely popular rallies of the Sanders presidential campaign. But this time, instead of selling a vision of what progressive politics could do for people, Sanders aims to remind people that policies he's backed, like monthly child tax credit payments and expanded unemployment insurance, are working for them.

SANDERS: And at the end of the day, what will happen is millions of people will have good-paying jobs.

SNELL: Sanders is attempting to deliver this message as a kind of counterprogramming to what residents in these states are hearing from the mostly Republican lawmakers who represent them in Washington - people like Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. She has been a major messenger for Republicans, saying the tax increases Democrats have planned to help pay for this bill are going to hit farmers and small businesses, not just the wealthy.


JONI ERNST: This Bernie and Biden's tax and spending spree is going to be paid for one way or another by our middle-class Iowans, middle-class Americans.

SNELL: And Indiana Congressman Jim Banks.


JIM BANKS: I can't think of a greater threat to the future of this country than the Democrats' socialist big-government takeover.

SNELL: Banks is one of the many Republicans and even some centrist Democrats who worry that all of this federal spending will drive up prices on everything from gas to milk and lumber.


BANKS: If you think inflation is bad right now, can you imagine what it will be like when Democrats pass this budget?

SNELL: But instead of arguing that Republicans are overblowing how much Democrats want to spend, Sanders says he actually thinks this budget they're considering should be much, much bigger. Sanders also says the legislation will be paid for with tax increases on the wealthy and that people making under $400,000 a year won't see their taxes rise at all. And he wants to drive that message home to regular people.

SANDERS: I think this is an enormously popular proposal, and it's going to be paid for.

SNELL: But Sanders needs to convince more than just the people of Iowa and Indiana. He needs to win over every single Democrat in the Senate and virtually every Democrat in the House, and there's no sign that he's there yet.

Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.