A year ago, Bernie Sanders was powering toward a victory in the New Hampshire primary and confident he would take the nomination that Hillary Clinton had denied him in 2016. Then establishment Democrats decided that if Sanders were the nominee his radical reputation would cost him the election to Donald Trump. In late February, Joe Biden proved he could win minority votes by taking the crucial South Carolina primary. And, in the space of one week, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Michael Bloomberg, and Kamala Harris all endorsed Biden. The coronavirus then hit, froze the nomination race in place, and made Biden the nominee. You’d think Bernie would be bitter that at age 79 he’s had his last shot at being president, and indeed much fun was made at Biden’s inauguration of a photo that went viral showing a grouchy-looking Sanders wearing mittens. But his fellow senators tell me that Sanders is in as close to a good mood as he can get right now. Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Sanders praised Biden’s first week in office as “a good start.” As the incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman, he has charted a path that will allow a torrent of federal spending and significant tax hikes to become law even though Democrats face a 50-to-50 tie in the Senate. In 2017, after President Trump took office, his allies in Congress used an expedited procedure known as budget-reconciliation that requires only a simple majority — instead of a filibuster-proof 60 votes — to change taxes, adjust mandatory spending, and make some changes in Obamacare. “You did it, we’re going to do it,” Sanders taunted Republicans on CNN. “But we’re going do it to protect ordinary people, not just the rich and the powerful.” CNN’s Dana Bash pointed out that Sanders had bitterly attacked Republicans for using the reconciliation tactic to lower the number of votes needed on major legislation. “Yes, I did criticize them for that,” Sanders acknowledged. But, using a classic variation of the argument that the ends justify the means, he said not using it now would mean that Americans would wait “weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward,” and “the American people are hurting, and they want us to act.” Reconciliation rules mean that any spending on mandatory programs, as well as new taxes, can pass with only 51 votes. So look for Biden and Sanders to stuff the COVID-19 emergency package with spending on things such as Medicare, Medicaid, and expanded eligibility for Obamacare. Watch for them to play budget tricks such as reclassifying as much discretionary spending as possible as mandatory spending — by, for example, creating mandatory federal “trust funds” that would then reimburse states for certain spending. Just last spring, Bernie Sanders was a two-time loser for the Democratic presidential nomination. His refusal to knuckle under to the establishment of his party had made him a pariah with major donors. But Sanders, a radical socialist since his teens, never allowed himself to become discouraged. He negotiated an agreement with Biden that moved the former vice president to the left on key issues in exchange for his endorsement. After the election, he partnered with some Republican senators to dramatically increase the direct payments to Americans in the pandemic relief bill. The split that created in Republican ranks may have indirectly led to the two Democratic wins in the Georgia Senate race. Those wins in turn gave Democrats their Senate majority and made Sanders the chairman of the Budget Committee. Now, while Joe Biden is the new president, it’s Bernie Sanders and his allies who will often be in the driver’s seat making policy. “We’re going to push Joe — the president — as far as we can,” Sanders told CNN. Wherever that ends up being, it will move this country further to the left than most people thought possible a year ago. Bernie Sanders is proof that if you’re persistent enough, you don’t have to be elected president to be in a position to accomplish your goals.