Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why I Stand With Senator Sanders

It's currently being suggested that the "compromise" between President Obama and the GOP is a good deal.  The mainstream media, which of course is owned by incredibly monied interests with a huge stake in this deal, has all weekend been trumpeting a brief appearance by former President Clinton in support of this "compromise."  This is the same mainstream media which ignored a much longer appearance by a much more heroic figure which captured the hearts and minds of this nation via internet streaming and social networking sites.

By now, you must have heard of The Bernie Sanders Filibuster.  Yes, I know, it wasn't a real filibuster because it wasn't actually blocking a vote.  But what it was was a super-human, super-progressive display of endurance and speaking truth to power.  At over eight and a half hours, it was not only the truth, but it was the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Senator Sanders stood on the floor on the Senate and kept going, explaining why this "compromise" is a very bad deal.

He explained why the tax cut extensions were bad, why the free trade deals are bad, why the reduction in estate taxes are bad, why everything that you and I know are bad are bad.  Essentially, it was the progressive platform that any progressive should be in agreement with 100% and should be getting behind 100%.

Because Senator Sanders said it so well, I'm compelled to simply let Bernie speak for himself.  Up here, you may view the beginning of the speech in video form.  Below the fold, I'll simply snip the best of the best from the transcript as it was entered into the Congressional Record, all 124 pages of it.  But before that, let me tell you how I heard this was happening and how I experienced the speech myself.

It was Friday, and I did not get a call to work that day as a driver helper for UPS.  I was just finishing my first week back to work in nearly two years.  So around noon-time I picked up my first paycheck in two, proud to see that I was finally contributing state and federal payroll taxes again, and decided to hop over to my father's to get my laundry done in preparation for another week of work.  Naturally, I was trolling about the internet, checking my Facebook page and the news sites.  Suddenly, I was altered that Senator Sanders, who I heard speak on a conference call with Democracy for America earlier in the week, had been filibustering the tax "compromise" deal for the past four hours.  I found the feed on C-SPAN2 and was instantly captivated.  Any progressive should have been.  I then headed over to my fathers, and had him and his fiancee (a Vermont constituent of Sen. Sanders) turn the feed on as well. 

I tell you now: sharing that event with my struggling family meant far more to any of us than when we watched the Democratic convention in 2008, or the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009.  We were finally seeing a representative doing their job the way it was meant to be done, not just speaking in political platitudes to win an election or rise his standings in the polls.  We saw a Senator just telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  By the time Senator Sanders got to the point of reading letters from his constituents telling how they are freezing because heat oil is too high and having to choose between groceries for their children and gasoline to drive to and from work, there were tears in our eyes.  The same tears that nearly well up in a strange concoction of anger and sadness now that I hear some of my progressive friends proclaiming that, somehow, this is a "good deal."

Here's the beginnig of the speech from YouTube.  Below the fold, excerpts from the speech's transcript as it appears in the Congressional Record.  Watch it; read it; then ask yourself if you stand with the GOP and Obama...or with Senator Bernie Sanders.

(Cross-posted on The Albany Project)

All emphasis added is my own.  The excerpts are in chronological order.  All I ask if you wish to comment is that you don't address my own words in the introduction; do you best to argue with Senator Sanders' words, and see if you can do better.

But here we are today with a $13.8 trillion national debt, a $1.4 trillion deficit, and almost all Americans are in agreement that this is a very serious issue. So the first point I would make is that it seems to me to be unconscionable--unconscionable--for my conservative friends and for everybody else in this country to be driving up this already too high national debt by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don't need it, and in a number of cases they don't even want it.

We have been told not to worry too much because the extension of these tax breaks for the wealthy will only last 2 years--not to worry. Maybe that is the case. But given the political reality I have seen in Washington, my guess is that 2 years from now these tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country will be extended again. What happens around here is that the argument will be made that if you end these tax breaks you are raising taxes. That is what we are hearing right now. I see no reason why, in the middle of a Presidential election, those arguments will not be made again and I see no reason not to believe that those tax breaks will be extended again.

This agreement between the President and the Republican leadership also calls for a continuation of the Bush era 15-percent tax rate on capital gains and dividends, meaning that those people who make their living off their investments will continue to pay a substantially lower tax rate than firemen, teachers, nurses, carpenters, and virtually all the other working people of this country. I do not think that is fair. That is wrong.

Here is the important point I think many people do not know. I have to confess my Republican friends and their pollsters and their language people have done a very good job. This is the so-called death tax. I think all over America people say this is terrible. I have $50,000 in the bank and I want to leave that to my kids and the Government is going to take 55 percent of that, 35 percent of that. What an outrage.

Let us be very clear: This tax applies only--only--to the top three-tenths of 1 percent of American families; 99.7 percent of American families will not pay one nickel in an estate tax. This is not a tax on the rich, this is a tax on the very, very, very rich.

The above quotations are all available in the YouTube video above the fold, in case any of you are unable to access it.  From here on out, it's part of the 8 hours and twenty minutes that Senator Sanders continued speaking, continued fighting, continued to tell the truth.

On the Social Security payroll tax "holiday:"

What the President and others are saying is not to worry because that money will be covered by the general fund. That is a very bad and dangerous precedent. Up until now, what Social Security has been about is 100 percent funding from payroll contributions, not from the general tax base. Once again, this is a 1-year program. The loss of revenue going into Social Security can be covered by the general fund. But we have a $13 trillion national debt. How much longer will the general fund put money into Social Security? Is it a good idea for the general fund to be doing that?

I would argue this is not a good idea.

Even though Social Security contributed nothing to the current economic crisis, it has been bartered in a deal that provides deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy. Diverting $120 billion in Social Security contributions for a so-called ``tax holiday'' may sound like a good deal for workers now, but it's bad business for the program that a majority of middle-class seniors will rely upon in the future.

On better things to spend the money on:

Economists on both ends of the political spectrum believe that if we are serious about addressing the horrendous economic crisis we are in now, 9.8 percent unemployment, there are far more effective ways of creating the jobs we have to create than those tax proposals. With corporate America already sitting on close to $2 trillion cash on hand, it is not that our friends in corporate America don't have any money, we have to help them. They have $2 trillion cash on hand. The problem is not in my view that corporate taxes are too high; it is that the middle class simply doesn't have the money to purchase the goods and products that make our economy go and create jobs.
I think if our goal is to create the millions and millions of jobs we need, and if our goal is to make our country stronger internationally in a very tough global economy, I would much prefer, and I think most economists would agree with me that a better way to do that, to create the millions of jobs we have to create, is to invest heavily in our infrastructure.

On the myth of this being a compromise:

But here is the point I want to make. Some people say this is a compromise. Well, the Republicans gave on unemployment; the President gave on extending tax breaks for the rich, et cetera. But here is the point. I do not believe, honestly, that the Republican support now for extending unemployment benefits constitutes much of a compromise because the truth is, for the past 40 years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, under the leadership in the Senate and the House of Democrats or Republicans, it has been bipartisan policy that whenever the unemployment rate has been above 7.2 percent, unemployment insurance has always been extended. So what we have had is longstanding, bipartisan policy. That is what we have always done. That is what we should be doing in the future. I do not regard Republicans now supporting what their party has always supported, extending unemployment benefits when unemployment becomes very high--I do not see that as a compromise. I see that as what has been going on in this country and in the Senate for four decades.

On why the precendent this "compromise" sets is terrible:

I think what we will be seeing is--if this proposal negotiated between the President and the Republicans is passed, what you will be seeing within a few months are folks coming on the floor of the Senate, and this is what they will say: You know what. The deficit is high. The national debt is too high. And, yes--oh, yes--we drove the national debt up by giving tax breaks to millionaires. That is the way it goes. But we are going to have to deal with our national debt.

The Republicans will tell you: Oh, we have a great plan to deal with it. We are giving tax breaks to millionaires. But now what we are going to have to do is start making deep cuts in Social Security, and that deficit reduction commission started paving the way for that, very substantial cuts in Social Security.
:: I would suggest their argument is that we have a high deficit and a high national debt; that if we pass this agreement and the national debt goes higher, it only gives them more impetus to go forward to cut programs that benefit working families and the middle class.

Let me also say there is no doubt in my mind what many--not all but many--of my Republican colleagues want to do; that is, they want to move this country back into the 1920s when essentially we had an economic and political system which was controlled by big money interests; where working people and the middle class had no programs to sustain them when things got bad, when they got old, and when they got sick; when labor unions were very hard to come by because of antiworker legislation. That is what they want. They do not believe in things like the Environmental Protection Agency. They do not believe in things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Federal aid to education. That is the fight we will be waging.
I think to surrender on this issue is to simply say we are going to be waging fight after fight, starting within a couple of months.

On why we, the people, shouldn't be calling this "a good deal":

This fight is not going to be won inside the beltway in a Senate debate. It is going to be won when the American people stand and say: Wait a second. We cannot continue to give tax breaks to people who are doing phenomenally well right now. We cannot give tax breaks to the rich when we already have the most unequal distribution of income of any major country on Earth. The top 1 percent earns 23 percent of all income in America, more than the bottom 50 percent. They don't need more tax breaks to be paid for by our kids and grandchildren.

The vast majority of people are behind us on this issue.

On what's really going in America and what kind of nation we have become if this deal goes forward:

We have to look at it within the context of what is going on in the country today, both economically and politically. I think I speak for millions of Americans. There is a war going on in this country. I am not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people against working families, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country. The billionaires of America are on the warpath. They want more and more and more. That has everything to do with this agreement reached between Republicans and the President.

While people are working harder and harder, in many cases their income is going down. The fact is, 80 percent of all new income earned from 1980 to 2005 has gone to the top 1 percent. Let me repeat that because that is an important fact. It explains why the American people are feeling as angry as they are. They are working hard, but they are not going anyplace. In some cases, in many cases, their standard of living is actually going down. Eighty percent of all income in recent years has gone to the top 1 percent. The richer people become much richer, the middle class shrinks. Millions of Americans fall out of the middle class and into poverty.

That is not apparently enough for our friends at the top who have a religious ferocity in terms of greed. They need more, more. It is similar to an addiction. Fifty million is not enough. They need $100 million. One hundred million is not enough; they need 1 billion. One billion is not enough. I am not quite sure how much they need. When will it stop?

Today, in terms of wealth as opposed to income, the top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. When we went to school, we used to read in the textbooks about Latin America, and they used to refer to some of the countries there as ``banana republics,'' countries in which a handful of families controlled the economic and political life of the nation. I don't wish to upset the American people, but we are not all that far away from that reality today.

On where the money from this tax cut is going to go:

What happened last year, as I think most Americans know, is the Supreme Court made a very strange decision. The Supreme Court decided that corporations are people and they have the right of free speech and the right without disclosure--all of this is through the Citizens United Supreme Court decision--to put as much money as they want into campaigns all over the country. In this last campaign, that is what we saw: Billionaires, in secret, pouring money into campaigns all over the country. Does that sound like democracy to anybody in America; that we have a handful of billionaires probably dividing up the country?

One of the manifestations of that is, in fact, the agreement reached between the President and the Republican leadership. The wealthy contribute huge sums of money into campaigns. The wealthy have all kinds of lobbyists around here through corporate America. What they are going to get out of this agreement are huge tax breaks that benefit themselves. That is not what we should be supporting.

And now I see that it is quite and impossible task to do what I'm trying to do.  So I will make one final highlight while only halfway down the first of twelve pages of Senator Sanders' speech in the Congressional Record.  Conveniently, it's the only point you could possibly take away from reading any portion of his speech or looking at this deal:

We should understand this agreement is just the beginning of an assault on legislation and programs that have benefited the American people for 70 or 80 years

It's just the beginning.  So I say we kill it before it sees the light of day.