Sunday, December 12, 2010



By Reginald Johnson

Dec. 12, 2010

Hooray for Bernie Sanders! Hooray to a man who finally stood up and said it’s time to stop caving in to the Republicans and it’s time to start really fighting on behalf of America’s working class.

Bernie Sanders of course is the Independent/Socialist Senator from Vermont, who on Friday waged nearly a one-man war against President Barack Obama’s sell-out tax bill. The measure gives the middle class a tax cut, but also doles out hundreds of billions in unneeded tax breaks to the rich and corporations, compounding the nation’s already high deficit. The bill also threatens to undermine future funding for Social Security.

Sanders took to the floor of the Senate and in an historic address talked for more than eight hours --- eight hours!--- blasting the tax bill, which Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had secretly negotiated with Senate Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Whose brilliant idea was it that we drive up the national debt, ask our kids to pay higher taxes to pay off that debt, in order to give tax breaks to the rich?” Sanders asked.

The Vermont senator’s long speech captivated people not just in the U.S., but around the world. There were so many people watching the senate’s live video feed, that the chamber's computer server crashed at one point. Sander’s speech was the leading trend on Twitter nationally and the second leading trend worldwide.

Sanders read letters from constituents, who are struggling economically at the same time the government ponders more giveaways for the wealthy. According to an account in the newspaper the Bennington Banner, Sanders related a letter from a woman who described trying to save money by buying food from a “dented can store.”

“Does anybody in Congress know what a dented can store is?” Sanders asked.

Sanders also laid out quite a history lesson, detailing all the factors that have gone into the decline of the middle class over the past 30 years and how the country now has a gross disparity in incomes --- with an upper crust consisting of 5 percent of the population controlling more than 50 percent of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 20 percent have almost no wealth.

Sander’s marathon speech was not technically a filibuster, since no vote was being taken up. That won’t come until Monday. But Sanders wants to slow the process down, and force senate supporters of the bill to come up with a new measure that in his words “better reflects the needs of the middle class and working families of this country.”

And Sanders is getting some support. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and surprisingly, Louisiana’s conservative Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, both said they were against the bill and agreed to hold the floor for Sanders while he took brief breaks. More significantly, eight senate Democrats sent a letter Friday night to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying they had “grave misgivings” about the proposed bill and recommended changes before a vote.

They urged a plan which would restore tax rates on income over $1 million per year to the higher Clinton-era rates and to “dedicate the resulting revenues to shoring up the Social Security trust fund,” according to an article in The Nation by John Nichols.

Meanwhile dozens of Democrats in the House are refusing to back the Obama-McConnell plan and are also demanding changes.

Some Congressional Democrats and Social Security advocates are voicing concern over another aspect of the Obama measure, which calls for cutting the payroll tax by 2 percent to give employees a $1,000 tax break next year. It’s supposed to be a one-year tax cut on employees paying what is known as the “FICA” tax, as opposed to the income tax.

While the tax break seems to be nice on the face of it, and may act as an economic stimulus, the problem is the money is coming from a revenue stream that is supposed to be a dedicated fund only for the Social Security retirement fund.

The administration is pledging that Social Security won’t lose any money, that the Treasury Department will replenish the retirement program with other government funds. The lower tax is also supposed to end in one year.

But the fear is that in one year, a Congress more heavily dominated by Republicans will never approve a tax hike to restore the old rate, and money again will have to be borrowed from the general fund to make up the difference. In later years, the lower payroll tax rate may become permanent, putting Social Security in competition with other funding needs year to year.

With a tight general budget for the foreseeable future, and warnings about deficits, there inevitably will be calls for benefit cuts in Social Security.

“This 2 percent payroll tax cut is the beginning of the end of Social Security as we know it,” said the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, headed by former Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly, D-Conn. “Worker contributions have successfully funded the program for 75 years and that critical linkage between contributions and benefits is what keeps Social Security a self-funded program.”

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