On Friday, December 10, 2010, Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent Socialist, of Vermont, came of age. At last. With just about the best progressive voting record, Senator Sanders has nonetheless been an underachiever in the minds of those Americans who marveled at his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vt. before he became a Congressman and now a Senator.
Last Friday, Sanders tore the covers off an oligarchic driven Congress and a concessionary President with eight-and-a-half hours of non-stop presentations of facts and figures and a plea for fairness and justice. His goal was not heated rhetoric, though he showed deep moral indignation, but to attempt to rally the American people "to voice their feelings" to their members of Congress via phone calls, letters and e-mails. C-Span carried him live, since he was the only activity on the Senate floor that day.
He asked the over-riding question of "who is winning and who is losing?" The winners were the giant, bailed out corporations and other companies so coddled with tax breaks and subsidies that they pay no federal income tax at all. He named some of these company bosses who make sky-high salaries and bonuses and take advantage of tax havens. ExxonMobil, Sanders noted, made $19 billion in profits last year, paid no federal income taxes and even received a $156 million refund from the U.S. Treasury!
Senator Sanders filled the Congressional Record with statements about a variety of inequities and contradictions regarding President Obama's capitulation. Highlights follow:
- A Government Accountability Office report states that two-thirds of corporations making $2.5 trillion in sales over several years paid no federal income taxes.
- During the giant Wall St. bailout of 2008-2009, the Federal Reserve also bailed out with huge credit draws foreign banks from Bavaria to Japan. Such disclosures will be more common as a result of a successful Sanders amendment to the financial reform law earlier this year.
- The Obama-Republican deal would increase the deficit by $900 billion dollars over ten years but devote "not one nickel" to any infrastructure projects in local communities.
- He cited Warren Buffet and 90 other very rich Americans who wrote a letter to Congress opposing a tax cut for rich people like themselves.
- He cited the top one percent of the richest Americans who have wealth equal to the bottom 90 percent and receive 24% of all income. "When is enough, enough, do you want it all?" cried Sanders to an empty Senate chamber. (His colleagues had gone home Friday morning except for Senators Sherrod Brown and Mary Landrieu who conducted brief colloquies with Sanders while he rested his voice or went to the men's room.)
- The top 25 hedge fund managers each made an average of a billion dollars last year with much of that income taxed only at a 15% rate. The richest 400 families paid a 16.6% effective tax rate on average. The Obama deal would extend their tax cuts for another two years.
- There has been zero net job creation since 1999 leading to a decline in average household income. Inequality of wealth in the U.S. is the worse in the industrialized world.
- The U.S. has the highest rate of child poverty in the western world, in some cases five to six times that of Scandinavia.
- The Obama Republican deal would divert for the first time $120 billion from the payroll tax, leading Sanders to say this is the beginning of the unraveling of social security, "eating our own seed," he added.
- "Let us be very clear: This [estate] 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 estate tax is reduced, while the exemption is increased, leading to $30-52 billion retained by the very wealthiest of estates over two years.)
- And of course over $120 billion over two years are left with the highest income rich, worsening the deficit in the coming years.
"We can do better" repeated Sanders, noting that Obama challenged his liberal base in Congress by asking "where are the votes?" To which, Sanders replied: "Our job is to mobilize the people of America," noting a rising flood of support for a fairer deal.
Of course, Obama has a healthy majority in Congress until January 2011. It is the threat of a Senate Republican filibuster-which Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid et al have never made the Republicans use during the first two years of the Obama Administration-that has neutralized that majority. Moreover, the Senate Democrats could have changed these obstructive rules by a simple majority vote back in January 2009. But they chose not to allow their own working majority of well over 50 votes to prevail.
Obama came to the White House swearing that he would not live in "a bubble" and that he would keep his promises, which explicitly included no further extensions of tax cuts for the rich and a $9.50 federal minimum wage (still lower in purchasing power than the federal minimum wage in 1968!) by 2011.
So what do we see from the President? Well, he boasted about being a community organizer in Chicago years ago. Yet for months, knowing what was coming, he failed to arouse the citizenry against the Republican tax cuts for the wealthy which Obama swallowed last week. He is known to be an expert poker player, but he displayed none of that skill with the Republican corporacrats, Rep. John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell. Where are Obama's touted oratorical skills? How smart can he be-undercutting his own Democrats and presenting them with the results of a closed-door sweetheart deal with their Republican adversaries?
Obama has frittered away his comfortable majority in Congress on many accounts for two years. And millions of people and their children will be paying the bill for his failure to fight for them.