Sen. Bernie Sanders urged his supporters on Thursday to tell congressional leaders that the proposed bipartisan coronavirus relief bill must address the "extraordinary suffering happening all across the country" by rejecting austerity and embracing the need for a comprehensive economic stimulus.
In an email from his congressional campaign, the senator said adequate relief would include at least $1,200 in cash payments as well as extended supplemental unemployment benefits and sufficient aid for cities and states.
Sanders wrote that "in Washington, there's endless amounts of money for war. Congress is about to pass a $740 billion defense spending bill and no one seems to care about the price tag there."
"Tax breaks for billionaires? Endless amounts of money. Corporate welfare? Endless amounts of money," he wrote.
"Now when children are going hungry in America and so many families are struggling, suddenly we don't have enough money?" he continued. "Wrong. "
Beyond the direct payments and employment benefit boost that have been a rallying cry for progressives, Sanders said the bill could "set the agenda for the first two years of the Biden administration"—either one of austerity policies or "a progressive agenda that meets the needs of the working people of this country."
Endless money for wars? No problem. Endless money for tax breaks for the rich? No problem. Endless money for corporate welfare? No problem. But when it comes to providing a $1,200 direct payment to the working class during a pandemic, somehow we can't afford it. Not acceptable.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 10, 2020
The senator also rejected Republicans' newly-resurged debt concerns.
"If we are concerned about the debt," said Sanders, "we need progressive taxation, we need to end corporate welfare, we need to end the bloated military budget, but we do not need, in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, to punish working families who are hurting so badly today."
The email also directed supporters to a petition he said would "send a message to the Republican and Democratic leadership that we must stand tall and fight for the working people of this country, because they need us more than ever."
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The demands came the same day Sanders gave a speech on the Senate floor urging the body not to adjourn without sufficiently acting to remedy the "economic desperation facing tens of millions of working families."
He pointed to the CARES Act passed in spring, saying the measure "went a long way toward preventing absolute misery and destitution for so many of our people." But given that the "crisis is worse today than it was in March," Sanders asked "why we are not responding accordingly."
With new unemployment claims remaining at over 1 million a week for months and roughly 19 million Americans facing possible eviction at the end of the month, Sanders said lawmakers could not simply adjourn for the holidays.
"To get out of Washington, to turn our backs on the suffering of so many of our people would be immoral, would be unconscionable, and cannot be allowed to happen," he said.
Yesterday alone, over 3,000 died from this horrific virus.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 10, 2020
The working class of this country is in the worst financial shape since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The American people need help and they need help NOW! https://t.co/fJzx5N9tHi
Sanders also drew attention to the nation's massive wealth inequality.
The "middle class is collapsing and poverty is growing." And yet, he continued, "over the past 9 months, 650 billionaires have seen their wealth go up by over $1 trillion and now own over twice as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of Americans."
"That is the state of the economy in America today," said Sanders. "The very rich get much, much richer, while tens of millions of Americans get poorer and poorer and face an unprecedented level of economic desperation."
"Congress cannot leave unless we get at least $1,200 in direct payments for every working class adult and at least $500 for their children. Not $300. Not $600. $1,200 at a minimum. More than that," the senator continues, "we must extend supplemental unemployment benefits and get adequate aid for cities and states."