With Sen. Bernie Sanders set to become the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee this week after Republicans take control of Congress, the Vermont lawmaker is wasting no time remaking the panel that writes the government's budget in his image.
After naming a self-described “deficit owl” as his chief economist, Sanders has hired well known progressive operative and writer Matt Stoller to advise the committee on Wall Street and other economic issues. Stoller started last Monday as senior policy adviser on financial services, trade and economic issues, a spokesperson confirmed to msnbc.
Sanders is sure to clash with incoming committee chair Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican who will set the agenda for the committee and hold its gavel. That will prevent Sanders from pushing his agenda very far, but the post will give Sanders a key perch to speak out against Republican funding priorities. Sanders will likely play the role of loyal opposition, though the Vermont senator says he's committed to bipartisan work.
Stoller, who most recently held a similar job under liberal firebrand Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, rose to prominence during the Bush era as a widely read progressive blogger and has gone on to have a varied career in politics and media. That included stints producing for msnbc's “The Dylan Ratigan Show” and co-starring in the first season of FX's “Brand X with Russell Brand" as the British actor's political analyst.
During his several years working with Grayson, Stoller worked on legislation to audit and reform the Federal Reserve, along with bills that dealt with foreclosure fraud and financial reform.
Sanders, who is eyeing a 2016 presidential bid, will become ranking member of the Budget Committee when Congress reconvenes Tuesday.
“At a time when the middle class is disappearing and the gap between the rich and everybody else is growing wider, we need a budget which reflects the needs of working families and not Wall Street and the top 1%,” Sanders said upon being named to the post last month.
The Independent self-described Democratic-socialist also recently named academic Stephanie Kelton as his chief economist.
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Kelton, the chairwoman of the economics department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who used to tweet under the handle “@DeficitOwl” (as opposed to a “deficit hawk”) is a leader in a school of thought known as Modern Monetary Theory that advocates for some deficit spending as a means to grow the economy. This year, she gave a lecture titled “A Heartwarming Tale of Debt and Deficits in the Modern Economy.”
Sanders has filled out his staff ranks with experts from various Washington policy organizations plugged into the progressive movement. As senior tax analyst, Sanders hired Steve Wamhoff, the former legislative director of Citizens for Tax Justice. To lead defense policy, Sanders brought on board Ethan Rosenkranz from the Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group that often criticizes Pentagon waste.
And as his budget policy director, Sanders hired Josh Smith, formerly of the liberal Economic Policy Institute think tank. Smith previously worked with the Congressional Progressive Caucus to craft their progressive budget alternative in the House.
Coordinating their work will be staff director Warren Gunnels, who told msnbc he was excited by the "top-notch staff that will be focused on the senator's top priorities."
It's another sign of the resurgence of the progressive left, which is aiming to move the Democratic Party on key issues ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
The previous top Democrat on the powerful Budget Committee, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, was an often-praised low-profile deal-maker who brokered a major 2013 government funding bill with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.
This article has been updated to include the names of additional hires.