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Sen. Bernie Sanders delivering a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, December 15, 2014. “'Despite what you may hear from some politicians or pundits on TV,' Sanders said, 'Social Security is not going broke.' (Photo: screenshot)

Sanders Has a Couple More Good Ideas: Break Up Big Banks, Expand Social Security

US senator puts forth two key policy proposals designed to steer economic and political control away from Wall Street and towards the working class

Jon Queally

Promising to put forth and lobby on behalf of two bold progressive policy ideas in the months ahead, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has announced his intention to push for new pieces of legislation in the next session, one of which would break up the nation's largest Wall Street banks and another that would expand the Social Security program for all Americans.

"If Congress cannot regulate Wall Street, there is just one alternative.  It is time to break these too-big-to-fail banks up so that they can never again destroy the jobs, homes, and life savings of the American people."

In separate floor speeches in recent days, Sanders announced his plans and explained his thinking on the two policy ideas that he says could help transform the economy from one that works for the rich and powerful back towards one that promotes a stable economy and honors the needs of working people.

Sanders, who has said he is seriously considering a run for president in 2016 to challenge the presumptive Democratic nomination of Hillary Clinton, announced his plan for breaking up banks like Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and others during a floor debate on Saturday over a contentious spending bill—of which certain sections were literally written by lobbyists from Citigroup.

“Over the last several days, it has become abundantly clear that Congress does not regulate Wall Street but Wall Street regulates Congress," Sanders said. "If Wall Street lobbyists can literally write a provision into law that will allow too-big-to-fail banks to make the same risky bets that nearly destroyed our economy just a few years ago, it should be obvious to all that their incredible economic and political power is a huge danger to our economy and our way of life."

Sanders said, "Enough is enough.... If Congress cannot regulate Wall Street, there is just one alternative.  It is time to break these too-big-to-fail banks up so that they can never again destroy the jobs, homes, and life savings of the American people."

"At the beginning of the new Congress," he announced, "I will be introducing legislation that will break these behemoth banks up once and for all. If a financial institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.  I look forward to working with both progressive and conservative senators who have the courage to stand up to Wall Street and protect the working families of this country."

"Right now a billionaire pays the same amount into Social Security as someone who makes $117,000 a year. If we lifted this cap and applied the Social Security payroll tax to income above $250,000 we could expand Social Security. That is exactly what we have got to do. And that is exactly what the American people want us to do."

On Monday, Sanders took the Senate floor once again and moved from tackling Wall Street to pushing for expanded funding and benefits of the Social Security program. Progressive economists say lifting the cap on contributions to the program is one of the most direct and accessible ways to restore equity to what he called "the most successful government program in history." Doing so, argues Sanders, will bolster the economic prospects of the nation's aging and retiring population in the years ahead while making sure the program is adequately funded further into the future than it already is.

"At a time when prescription drug prices are skyrocketing and one-third of all seniors depend on Social Security for a least 90 percent of their income, we should not be cutting Social Security, we should be expanding it," said Sanders in his speech. "Despite what you may hear from some politicians or pundits on TV, Social Security is not going broke. In fact the program has a $2.76 trillion surplus and has paid out every nickel owed to every eligible beneficiary since its inception."

When the next session of Congress begins in the new year, Sanders will return to the Budget Committee, but this time as ranking member of the minority. Sanders is an Independent but caucuses with the Democrats.

In that role, Sanders will push previously introduced legislation that would lift the cap on contributions to Social Security, a move he says will bolster the program and strip its detractors of their claim that the nation can no longer afford one of the most popular programs in the history of the nation.

"Right now a billionaire pays the same amount into Social Security as someone who makes $117,000 a year," said Sanders. "If we lifted this cap and applied the Social Security payroll tax to income above $250,000 we could expand Social Security. That is exactly what we have got to do. And that is exactly what the American people want us to do."

Watch his speech:

In a new Republican-controlled Congress, Sanders' prospects of achieving victory for these legislative proposals are not promising.

"Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all?"

However, as Campaign for America's Future senior fellow Richard Eskow argues in a blog post on Tuesday, those who say that these proposals by Sanders are just exercises in futility are missing the point.

"The value of [bills like these] isn’t measured solely by its likeliness to prevail in the current Congress," Eskow writes. "Sometimes their purpose to change the composition of future Congresses, so that measures like this one are more likely to succeed. Too-big-to-fail banks pose a systemic threat to the economy. As we now know, they also present a threat to democratic process."

Earlier this month, Sanders released a 12-step agenda which he said should be the basis for a bold economic transformation.

"The American people must make a fundamental decision," Sanders said as he released his list of proposals. "Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all?"

His economic agenda didn't gain much attention in the mainstream press nor did it receive much traction in Congress. Sadly, that it has been so ignored by the institutions most attuned to serving the interests of the elites may just underscore how necessary the proposals are.


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