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Sanders Filibusters Tax Deal As Key Senate Democrats Join Revolt
Update: Senator Bernie Sanders concluded his filibuster at 6:50 pm after nearly 9 hours at the podium.
First House Democrats rejected the tax deal President Obama cut with Senate Democrats and told Speaker Pelosi to negotiate a better agreement.
Now, eight Senate Democrats have told Majority Leader Harry Reid that they want to amend the deal to cap tax breaks for the rich and protect Social Security.
In a letter circulated by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, the senators say: "We have grave misgivings about the recent tax agreement. We hope that the Senate can improve on it. We look forward to working with you to ensure a vote on our amendment to strengthen Social Security in lieu of bonus tax cuts for people who are doing quite well."
They also offer an outline for a plan that would to restore tax rates on income over $1 million per year to the Clinton-era rates, and to dedicate the resulting revenues to shoring up the Social Security trust fund.
The White House will push back against any amendment strategy, fearing that changes might endanger Republican support for the agreement.
But the letter gives Reid a bargaining chip. He has a numbers problem. In addition to the eight signers of the letter -- Merkley, Landrieu. Alaska's Mark Begich, Hawaii's Daniel Akaka, Ohio's Sherrod Brown, Minnesota's Al Franken, Colorado's Mark Udall and California's Barbara Boxer -- several other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have voiced strong objections to the agreement.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is now filibustering to block the proposal. And his Vermont colleague, Patrick Leahy, has been bluntly critical.
So Reid can, and should, suggest to the White House that they really ought to talk to congressional Democrats about reworking the deal. At the very least, that strengthens Pelosi's hand -- especially as she raises concerns about the estate-tax exemption that has raised many objections on Capitol Hill.
In those negotiations, however, Reid and Pelosi should also focus on the concerns about Social Security raised in the letter from the senators, whose worries need to be addressed.
Here's the letter to Reid:
"The tax package announced by President Obama
and Congressional Republicans includes some important provisions that we
strongly support, but also a deeply misguided allocation of resources
at a time that the United States does not have resources to waste.
"The Senate, however, can make it better. We
ask that you ensure an opportunity for the Senate to vote on an
amendment that will give the American people a clear choice whether they
would prefer to give bonus tax cuts to the very wealthiest among us, as
the package currently proposes, or to use these resources to strengthen
"Success in America should rightly be
celebrated, but the very wealthy do not need bonus tax cuts and America
cannot afford to give them. As you know, the agreement would require
American taxpayers to borrow over $50 billion in order to give, on
average, $100,000 in additional annual tax cuts to people earning over
$1 million per year. These bonus tax cuts are on top of the $43,000 per
year that millionaires will receive in tax cuts on their first million
dollars of income. The Congressional Budget Office ranked these tax
cuts dead last in terms of effectiveness in boosting economic growth and
job creation. In a time of urgent national needs and long-term
deficits, we believe the country has higher priorities than these huge
tax cuts for the very wealthy.
"Specifically, we propose to amend the package
to restore tax rates on income over $1 million per year to the
Clinton-era rates, and to dedicate the resulting revenues to shoring up
the Social Security trust fund. The President’s National Commission on
Fiscal Responsibility and Reform noted that in 2037, Social Security
will exhaust its trust fund and be unable to pay full benefits, and
consequently proposed a number of benefit cuts for seniors. Improving
Social Security’s finances is, in our opinion, a more important national
priority than directing tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money
to a relative handful of families.
"We have grave misgivings about the recent tax agreement. We hope that the Senate can improve on it. We look forward to working with you to ensure a vote on our amendment to strengthen Social Security in lieu of bonus tax cuts for people who are doing quite well."