There's a lot more at stake in the 2016 election than who becomes president. Down-ballot races are getting more and more attention, in part because control of the Senate may well turn over to Democrats. And though Sen. Bernie Sanders' bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was unsuccessful, there's still much in store for him if control of the Senate flips. In fact, Sanders could head the Senate Budget Committee in 2017.
This scenario is exactly what House Speaker Paul Ryan has warned with doom and gloom to motivate voters to cast their ballots for Republicans. “If we lose the Senate, do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee? A guy named Bernie Sanders. You ever heard of him?" he said while addressing a crowd in his home state of Wisconsin.
All Senate committees are chaired by members of the majority party. Though Sanders said he plans to switch his affiliation back to independent, he has caucused with the Democrats during his time in the Senate since 2007, and could therefore be selected for the position. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed Sanders as the ranking member of the committee in 2014.
The Senate Budget Committee, along with the House Budget Committee, is responsible for developing a resolution every year that shapes what the country's fiscal policy will look like; the resolution must be agreed upon by both the House and Senate. The committee sets the framework for how much money the government will spend, how much it will take in through taxes and other sources, and how much debt it will be allowed to incur. And it determines where that money will be spent — for example, if more or less will go toward national defense or health care than in the previous year. Once a resolution is passed, the committee can block certain pieces of legislation which violate the terms it has set out.
Sanders could use his position as the chair of the Senate Budget Committee to push the progressive economic proposals highlighted throughout his campaign by, for example, directing more spending to social programs. But keep in mind that even in such a position, the Vermont senator would be working with Republicans on the committee, and, importantly, that the House and Senate must agree on the same resolution. Since the House is less likely to see a Democratic majority in 2017, Sanders would probably have to work with a Republican House Budget Committee chair toward agreement on a resolution. We couldn't, then, reasonably expect for a purely Sandersized budget framework, even if he assumed the top spot on the committee.
Still, the position comes with a good bit of sway. The Budget Committee shapes fiscal policy, and Sanders would no doubt keep progressive economic proposals that benefit low-income and middle-class Americans at the forefront of the discussion. Democratic control of the Senate would bring a lot of changes, and Sanders assuming a chair position on this or some other committee would be a big one.