The quirky independent from Vermont, once seen as more likely to lead a protest than pass a law, was at center stage early Wednesday when the Senate approved a historic $3.5 trillion budget blueprint. If the congressional Democrats are able to hold together, which is a big “if”, Sanders will be one of the main architects of America’s largest expansion of its social safety net since FDR.

He seems a bit surprised by the journey. “Ideas I spoke about in 2016 when I ran for President were radicalized, such as ‘Medicare For All’, boldly addressing climate change, making sure children have quality, affordable care, or demanding that the rich and large corporations pay their fair share of taxes.”

Sanders spoke in an exclusive interview just hours after the vote. He was hardly able to catch his breath and said that he didn’t want to forget any priority.

The budget bill was passed by a narrow margin, along party lines (50-49), and some Democrats are now questioning its cost. Republicans call it reckless spending by an out of control government. Sanders’ embrace could help to reinforce their portrayal of it as a leftist’s dream.

But approval of the bill was a crucial milestone in the effort to enact what would be the most consequential social legislation in decades.

Not only is Sanders the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, but his role in making that happen is also noteworthy. He has been a prominent voice for the Democratic Party’s left throughout a 40-year career in politics and through two credible presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020.

He hasn’t changed the name he used to call himself a democratic Socialist, even though he called himself one before any other ambitious politicians. Nor did he change his admiration for the Scandinavian governments. He has changed some of his strategies and tactics since the election of Democrats to the Senate and his seniority as chair of one of Capitol Hill’s most powerful panels.

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He said, “When you’re out, running for office that’s one thing.” “When you are a chairperson of a Senate committee, where you have members from the Democratic caucus (which is obviously what you do), your role changes.”