Vice President Biden administers the oath to Sen. Bernie Sanders during a swearing in ceremony re-enactment on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
The Senate and House were in session on New Year’s Day for roll call votes on an agreement to roll back income tax increases that were set to take effect this year on the vast majority of Americans. The bill also raised taxes for the first time in two decades on the wealthiest Americans, but not by as much as President Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders and the vast majority of Americans had wanted. Sanders said the final product wasn’t a good bill, but doing nothing would have been worse. After months of negotiations over how to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff, Obama signed the measure on Wednesday. At noon on Thursday, a new session of Congress opened with swearing-in ceremonies. Sanders took the oath of office for a second term extending his record as the longest serving independent in congressional history.
Fiscal Cliff Fallout
The final deal raises taxes on those making more than $400,000. Throughout his campaign for re-election, Obama called for making the top 2 percent, those with incomes above $250,000 pay more. The agreement does provide tax credits for working families. It provides more jobless benefits, preserves Medicare for seniors, and extends a tax credit that has helped create a clean-energy boom. Dropped from the final version was a proposal that Sanders strongly opposed to cut benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans. So at about 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Sanders concluded the compromise was better than the alternative – doing nothing – and voted yes.
Social Security and Veterans
Despite an eleventh-hour bid by Senate Republicans, the final bill did not include a proposed change in how cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. “As the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus and the incoming chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am proud that organizations representing seniors and veterans worked together to block the switch to a so-called chained CPI as a way to cut future benefits for more than 55 million Americans,” Sanders said. “Social Security has not contributed a nickel to the deficit, has a $2.7 trillion surplus and can pay all benefits owed to every eligible American for the next 21 years. It makes no sense to balance the budget on the backs of seniors and the disabled. I will continue fighting to make sure cuts in Social Security are not part of any future budget deal,” Sanders said.
The year-end fiscal bill preserves incentives for the development of clean energy by encouraging companies that are creating jobs in America and helping reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. That is a win-win for our economy and our environment. In Vermont and across the country, hundreds of wind manufacturing plants already are producing wind turbines, and the industry is providing jobs for 75,000 American workers. The fact that we have doubled wind generation since 2008 is an American success story. Extending the Production Tax Credit means we can continue the tremendous growth in wind and other safe, clean, renewable sources energy that must be developed if we are to reverse global warming.
When budget negotiations resume in late January, Sanders once again will lead the fight to fend off cuts in Social Security and veterans’ benefits. “If we are going to protect programs that working families desperately need and create the millions of jobs our economy needs we need more revenue,” he told The Boston Globe. He noted that government revenue is now 15.4 percent of gross domestic product, the lowest in 60 years. He argued that the wealthiest Americans and corporations should be paying more taxes. “We need more revenue from the wealthy and large corporations, so what I will do as part of this process is make sure we close these loopholes and ask corporations to start paying their fair share,” Sen. Sanders told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
Sanders was sworn in Thursday for his second term in the U.S. Senate. The oath of office was administered by Vice President Joe Biden, the president of the Senate. “I want to thank the citizens of Vermont for sending me to the Senate for a second term,” Sanders said afterward. “In these very difficult economic times, I will continue my efforts to fight for jobs for the people of our state and country, and to defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid against those who want to cut those vitally important programs. I also intend to bring forward sweeping legislation to transform our energy system and address the crisis of global warming. I look forward to working with Vermonters on these and many other important issues.”