SEnator Michael Bennet hardly resembles anyone’s idea of a progressive hero. The Colorado Democrat often uses his raspy voice to discuss goofy topics like why Democrats shouldn’t lift the cap on state and local tax deductions that Republicans have put in place with Trump’s tax cuts, and sounds like the ex-Denver Public Schools superintendent he once was.
“Well, look, I don’t think the American people sent us to Washington to cut taxes on the rich,” he said. The independent in an interview. “And the reality is that we’ve had about $8 trillion in tax cuts since 2001, almost all of that has gone to the wealthiest people in this country at a time when we have the greatest income inequality that we have known since the late 1920s.”
When he ran for president in 2019 and 2020, he quit without winning delegates and regularly criticized Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All proposals as unrealistic.
“I think I describe it as my unnoticed presidential campaign,” he joked.
Mr. Bennet launched his campaign largely after delivering a speech on the US Senate floor condemning Republican Senator Ted Cruz during the government shutdown in 2018 and 2019. During that time, he criticized Mr. Cruz for shutting down the government in 2013. But the viral moment failed to get it started as progressives overwhelmingly backed Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren while moderate voters preferred fellow Senator Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg while voters ultimately chose President Joe Biden.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and when Congress passed the CARES Act under the Trump administration, Mr. Bennet teamed up with Senator Ron Wyden to add an extra $600 a week to unemployment insurance. This was reduced to $300 a week in Mr. Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.
Similarly, when Mr. Biden passed his Covid relief legislation, he included another of Mr. Bennet’s policies he championed during the 2020 presidential campaign: an expanded child tax credit that was fully refundable. and gave families earning $150,000 a year – and single parents earning up to $112,500 for single-parent households – $300 a month for children for each child under six and $250 for children between six and 17 years old.
In turn, Mr. Bennet has become one of the most prolific voices in politics, not just on child poverty, but in general. He worked with Mr. Sanders – whom he criticized during the primary – to ensure that lifting the SALT Cap, a priority for Democrats in California, New York and New Jersey, is not a gift to the rich. Likewise, he was part of a group of eight senators who passed the 2013 immigration reform bill that ultimately died.
Bennett said he was interested in adopting policies he knew would be possible if he lost his presidential race and returned to Colorado, which is a politically evenly divided state.
“And that’s what I wanted to do and I think that’s what I did. And I’m glad there’s been some adoption of those policies. I think there was a lot of overlap between a number of things that I came up with and what Joe Biden ran on.
It also helps that one of the early adopters of the tax credit is now in the White House. Initially, Mr. Bennet introduced the credit through the American Family Act with Senator Sherrod Brown, a progressive populist from Ohio. But the second person to sign on as a co-sponsor was then-California Senator Kamala Harris. An aide to Bennet said on condition of anonymity that the senator contacted the vice president before the Biden administration’s plan passed Congress.
Mr Bennett said he first started thinking about child poverty when he was superintendent of Denver Public Schools, a role he held before he was nominated to fill the Senate seat of Ken Salazar, who has joined the Obama administration as Secretary of the Interior. Mr Bennet said he frequently saw parents who worked two or three jobs and still couldn’t pull themselves out of poverty no matter what they did.
“And what I know from that experience is that it’s not that people don’t work, they work incredibly hard, but they can’t afford housing or health care, college or early childhood education,” he said. “But it’s the cost of those building blocks of freeing your kids from poverty or feeling like you have a middle class life, the cost of those has exceeded the pay raises that people have had. And I’ve come to see the child tax credit as the most elegant way to try to solve this problem.
Mr. Bennet’s oldest friend in the Senate, fellow Coloradoman John Hickenlooper, hired him as his chief of staff when Mr. Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver.
“He was always committed to children, in all facets, always,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “I’ve only been here a year, but I see him as one of two, three or four real driving forces behind the child tax credit.”
Mr Hickenlooper, who went on to serve as governor of Colorado and also ran for president before quitting to issue a successful challenge to Republican Senator Cory Gardner, said Mr Bennet helped him learn the Senate.
“He was the best mentor I ever had,” he said. “He was too generous, extremely generous in his help.”
Mr. Wyden, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that worked with him on unemployment insurance, also praised his work.
“I went to school on a basketball scholarship and I know of no greater compliment than to say that Michael Bennet comes to play every day,” he said, claiming that he and M Bennet had looked at unemployment for some time and said he negotiated with the Trump administration at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. “This bill was also historic in that it also covered gig workers.”
At the same time, Mr. Bennet’s work on these two issues faces major political peril. Many Republican governors ended expanded unemployment insurance on the grounds that it prevented people from looking for work, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the program. Second, January marks the first month parents won’t see monthly payments, after Sen. Joe Manchin killed fellow Democrats’ Build Back Better bill and widely criticized the child tax credit. because he was worried he went to people who were making too much money and wanted to make sure he could go to grandparents who were raising children.
But an aide to Bennet said the senator told Mr. Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, that grandparents were already eligible because they could claim them on their taxes. Similarly, the assistant noted that the credit is already means-tested.
For his part, Mr. Bennet said he would continue to speak to Mr. Manchin.
“I gave her a little break over the holidays, but I talked to her a lot before, and I will talk to her a lot again,” he said. “And the last thing we should be doing is doubling the child poverty rate in this country.”
Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who has developed his own child tax credit plan, said he and Mr Bennet discussed their different child tax credits.
“We both concluded that it was a priority. I like my plan better than the president’s, but I’d be happy to work with the Democrats and do something together for good,” Romney said. The independent and congratulated Mr. Bennet, with whom he went rafting last year.
“He’s a very reasonable and thoughtful person who I believe would work in a collaborative, bipartisan way, if that was an option,” he said, adding that he hopes they can work together. “We can and have. I don’t think it’s in the currents, but we’ll see if it happens later.
Mr. Bennett said he was actually impressed with Mr. Romney’s tax credit, noting how the former GOP presidential candidate’s credit was more generous for children under six.
“So there are some benefits that I don’t like, but do I think that forms the basis of a potential bipartisan deal to extend the child tax credit at some point and make it permanent? I really do. And I think what’s going to happen with that is that over time, it’s going to become popular with the American people.
Furthermore, despite being a more moderate Democrat who is up for re-election, Bennett also said he has become convinced that the filibuster as it currently stands is unworkable and must change.
“And frankly, what made me change my mind about this is that I don’t think we can compete with China with a minority of senators having a permanent detail on what the majority wants to do” , did he declare. “I just don’t think democracy can compete with two hands tied behind their backs, which is the effect of the modern abuse of the filibuster.”
Mr. Bennet’s remarks came the same week that his fellow moderate, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, defended them. But Mr Bennet said it would be one thing if it only existed once a year, but now it has become an obstacle to progress.
“And that means senators representing 22% of the country can prevent everyone else from doing what needs to be done,” he said. “This is far from what the founders wanted. So I believe that we can restore the Senate so that it is not like the House, which is simply a pure majority body, but rather the Senate where you have prolonged the debate by forcing people, if they are going to make filibuster, to actually be out on the ground, having a Mr. Smith goes to Washington debate.”
The Independent Gt