WASHINGTON– Capitol Hill resounded with angry denunciations of the Republican right for holding “hostage” unemployment benefits for millions of jobless workers to force through tax giveaways for billionaires.
“There is a war going on in this country, and I’m not referring to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Sanders thundered. “I’m talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest, most powerful people against the working people…”
He called it “religious fervor in terms of greed.”
The tax compromise preserves Bush-era income tax cuts for the rich. It slashes the estate tax from 55 percent to 35 percent. It also keeps in place the 15 percent capital gains tax on dividends.
Sanders charged that these tax giveaways mean that Wall Street financiers will pay lower taxes than “firemen, teachers, nurses, carpenters, and virtually all the other working people in this country. I do not think that is fair. That is wrong!”
Tens of thousands signed a “No Deal” petition supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ eight hour filibuster against the tax cut package negotiated by the Republicans and the White House. The Senate video server crashed temporarily as millions watched his angry diatribe against the deal and his Twitter page was swamped with 4,000 new followers.
Most Americans, and even most Democrats and liberals, favor the compromise, according to recent polls.
The Senate mustered the 60 supermajority needed to cut off debate by a whopping 83-15 vote, essentially guaranteeing its passage.
But in the House, foes of the giveaways to the rich planned to fight for removal of the most outrageous of these giveaways, especially the estate tax rate. Fifty three progressive lawmakers vowed to vote against the deal.
President Obama urges the approval of the compromises package, while at the same time, disagrees with the extension of tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
In his nine hour filibuster, Sanders took aim at a little debated item, the two percent reduction in the Social Security withholding tax a loss of $120 billion that the Obama administration argues will be made up from the General Fund.
“That is a very dangerous precedent,” Sanders warned. “Up until now, what Social Security has been about is 100 percent funding from payroll contributions, not from the General Fund.”
He predicted that the Republican right will seize on this precedent to step up their war aimed at privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
Sanders debunked the Republican argument that tax cuts for the wealthy stimulate the economy. Wall Street and corporate America, he said, “have $2 trillion cash on hand” and all time record profits. Yet they refuse to invest in job-creating industries.
The real drag on the economy, Sanders said, “is that the middle class simply don’t have the money to purchase the goods and products that make our economy go and create jobs.”
He cited the successes of the Obama stimulus package and urged the federal government to “invest heavily in our infrastructure”
The “horrendous recession,” Sanders charged, “was caused by the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street” and now they want the people to clean up the mess.
In the November 2 election, he charged, they seized on the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision. “Billionaires, in secret, poured money into campaigns all over the country. Does that sound like democracy to anyone?” he demanded.
Sanders acknowledged that there are major items he agrees with including the 13 month extension of jobless benefits for some of the unemployed, extension of tax cuts for middle income earners, and extension of the earned income tax credit. There must be “a fight to make sure all of these programs remain in the final package when it is passed,” he said.
There were voices in support of the deal. Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Congress should approve the deal even with all its defects. Economists say the extension of tax cuts for middle income people will reduce their taxes by about $800 next year, and keep two million people from poverty.
If unemployment compensation is not extended, 7 million unemployed will lose their weekly check. And 600,000 jobs will be lost and economic growth will be reduced by 0.6 percent.
Greenstein said the package contains “surprisingly strong protections for low and middle income working families” and a “stronger than expected boost for the economy and jobs.”