“What are these people smoking?” asked Bernie Sanders, independent senator from Vermont, deriding those who want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in his epic six-hour filibuster on the floor of the Senate. He argued, rather effectively in this blogger’s opinion, that at a time when American working and middle class people are struggling and we have the highest rate of hunger amongst our young of any industrialized nation, giving the richest Americans what amounts to billions in tax cuts–trillions if they are extended again–is obscene. This will force tax increases on future Americans to pay for the deficit engendered by these tax cuts and will do very little to stimulate the economy since it is impossible to imagine what more these people can spend the money on. They will invest it and make more money.
As for the payroll tax holiday, Sanders pointed out that this is an attack on Social Security in disguise because it will reduce revenue to Social Security by several hundred billion dollars. And as Sanders cogently argued, both the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and the payroll tax holiday for one year, will inevitably be extended; the Republicans will argue that not extending them further will amount to a gigantic tax increase, particularly for working people. Sanders has no illusions. He knows that the Republicans will use this argument to manipulate the simple-minded Americans into believing that they are right.
The original supporters of the payroll tax holiday are a group of right-wingers who have openly called it a tactic to “destroy” Social Security, turning it into a welfare program reliant on general revenues rather than direct contributions to the Social Security fund, which has a current surplus of over a trillion dollars. As Sanders argued, simply by increasing the income level on which Social Security tax is paid and adjusting benefits for the wealthiest Americans, Social Security will be safe for seventy five years.
Because of these considerations, Sanders opposes the “compromise” bill, which he claims is not a compromise but a surrender.
Even under Reagan, he related, the general policy when unemployment was over seven percent was to extend unemployment insurance, the same being true under Bush’s father when he was president. So whether the president has been a Republican or a Democrat, the policy of extending unemployment insurance has remained the policy until now. Trading an extension of unemployment benefits for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, Sanders concluded, is a terrible deal.
One was struck by Sanders’ common sense as he read letters from constituents who can’t afford heating fuel and gas for their cars to
get to work, hard-working people who are desperate. The Republicans say we can’t afford a program to provide health care to victims of 9/11 but we can afford billions in tax cuts for the wealthy. Sanders holds out his hands and pleads, “If anyone can understand this, explain it to me because I cannot.” In his down-to-earth manner and feigned politeness to those he referred to in his monumental speech as “my Republican friends,” Sanders brilliantly illuminated all the terrible problems the country faces as well as some practical solutions. He has his finger on the pulse and was every bit as eloquent, with his Brooklyn accent, as Obama.
Sanders simply cannot abide what is going on. Neither can anyone with common sense and a sense of compassion, both totally lacking on the Republican side as well as among certain DINO Democrats, Democrats in name only.
To add insult to injury, Obama dragged out Bill Clinton at the White House to make the argument that this is the best deal possible. Christopher Hitchens wrote a book about Clinton called “NO ONE ELSE TO LIE TO.” He got it right about the inventor of “triangulation,” which created the largest tax increase on middle-class Americans to balance the budget, but now says we can get along fine by letting his rich friends get a hefty tax cut.
What is going on is obscene. Sanders rejects the idea that America should be a plutocracy while everyone else is on the brink of disaster. The tax code should be revised not only to increase taxes on the wealthy, but also to impose a wealth and excess profits tax. Sanders also rightly explains how reducing the inheritance tax, which is part of the deal, would increase the deficit by trillions over ten years. The Republicans manage to instill fear in Americans with $50,000 in assets that the IRS will come and take it away after they die. This is a patent lie. The only people truly affected by the inheritance tax are the super rich, like the Walton family.
Sanders does not come across as filled with hate or resentment against anyone. If Obama can’t regroup and remember why all those people voted for him, maybe Bernie Sanders should offer an alternative. He takes no prisoners and is free of the inhibitionsas that constrain the regular Democrats, ever afraid they will offend someone. It’s true that Bernie voted against the Brady Bill and with the NRA, so it’s not as though he’s entirely pure. Almost everyone in Vermont has a gun and he needs those votes. But at the moment, he is the best we’ve got.