Declaring that "Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation's history," and decrying threats to Medicare and Medicaid that would punish Americans who did not cause the current economic crisis, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders brought thousands of progressives from across the Midwest to the feet Saturday, as they cheered his message to President Obama and the congressional "Super Committee":"We can deal with deficit reduction in a way that is fair and responsible."
“Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the most vulnerable," Sanders said, "it is time to ask the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country to pay their fair share.”
In several speeches to crowds numbers in the thousands who gathered for Fighting BobFest events in Madison, Wisconsin, Sanders continues to spell out the progressive economic agenda that argues against cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to balance budgets and address deficits and for tax policies that end special breaks for the wealthy and multinational corporations that offshore jobs from the United States.
President Obama is expected to deliver a major speech Monday on deficit reduction and the White House has indicated that the president's plan will not include "changes to Social Security." Sanders is glad of that: “I am delighted that the White House has decided not to cut benefits under the program that has kept millions of retirees out of poverty,” the senators said in Madison. “Social Security has $2.5 trillion surplus, can pay out every benefit for the next 27 years and has not contributed one nickel to the deficit. Social Security should be strengthened, not cut.”
That does not mean the House-Senate "Super Committee" on deficit reduction -- which is ramping up its work as members of Congress return to Washington -- will do so, however. Nor does it mean that related and equally vital programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, are off the chopping block.
"Rumors persist that President Obama may embrace the idea of raising the age of Medicare eligibility, an idea he put on the table in his negotiations with Republicans during the debt ceiling debacle." notes the Campaign for America's Future, which has been closely monitoring threats to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“The report that Social Security is not going to be on the chopping block is welcome news – especially since Social Security contributes nothing to America’s deficits," says CAF director Roger Hickey. “However, if the President again proposes raising the age of Medicare eligibility on Monday, he would be making a huge mistake, and such a policy would harm America’s most vulnerable citizens. Medicare is a target for deficit cutters because many of them never liked the program; however they claim they want to change the eligibility age because health care costs are skyrocketing. The solution is instituting policies that control overall health costs: hit the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, not low income and sick Americans. We can't afford to let profiteers from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries make millions off of taxpayers any longer. The President should propose letting Medicare use its buying power to negotiate discount prices with the drug companies."
Sanders has taken the lead in the fight against balancing budgets on the backs of working Americans,
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He's pushing a number of plans designed to strengthen the safety net, while demanding that the richest Americans -- who have enjoyed massive increases in their income and wealth in recent years -- begin to pay their fair share.
Some of the loudest applause for Sanders -- when he joined Dr. Cornel West, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, radio host Thom Hartmann and others in addressing an arena filled with labor, farm and community activists for Saturday's main BobFest gathering -- came when he spelled out a plan to assure the long-term stability of Social Security.
Arguing that the most effective way to strengthen Social Security for the next 75 years is to eliminate the cap on the payroll tax on income above $250,000, Sanders declared: "Lift the cap and cause the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share."
Thousands of activists whose level of commitment will decide the fate of Democratic contenders in 2012 leapt to their feet and cheered.
If President Obama and other Democrats in Washington want to know how to leap the enthusiasm gap that will be needed to win battleground states such as Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania next year, Bernie Sanders has provided the answer.
Asked at a packed Friday night gathering in Madison to explain how Obama and the Democrats can win next year, the senator answered: "Clearly, you are not going to win over the American people unless you are prepared to stand and fight."
Again, the applause was thunderous.
Let's just hope it was loud enough to be heard in Washington by the president and by the Democrats who have been assigned to the "Super Committee.