The Week in Review
A “grand bargain” on budget cuts that President Obama is negotiating with congressional Republicans would be a “bad bargain” for seniors, veterans and others whose benefits would be cut, Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Friday. Legislation to implement a better Obama idea to strengthen Social Security was introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Sanders and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The U.S. economy added jobs in February, but the Labor Department reported on Friday that real unemployment remained at 14.3 percent. The failure of Congress to come up with an alternative to $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that began to kick in this month could cost 750,000 jobs, economists say. One way to create jobs would be to invest in new energy systems to replace the fossil-fuel polluters that cause global warming. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere jumped dramatically in 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported on Wednesday.
Real Unemployment at 14.3% The U.S. economy added 236,000 jobs in February when the official unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. But the real unemployment rate was 14.3 percent. That rate, also calculated by the Labor Department, takes into account workers forced to settle for part-time jobs and those who were jobless for so long that they gave up hunting for work. The real unemployment rate has barely budged off a high of 17.1 percent in April, 2010. Before the financial crisis began in the fall of 2008, the figure hovered between 9 percent and 11 percent. Sanders favors a massive effort to create jobs putting Americans to work on badly-needed projects to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges, schools, water systems, railroads and other infrastructure projects. Instead, Congress this month let $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts by Sept. 30 begin to take effect, a decision economists say could wipe out 750,000 jobs by the end of this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Not a Grand Bargain President Obama stepped up efforts to cut Social Security benefits and lower payments for disabled veterans and their survivors. “It’s a horrendous idea. It is totally absurd because for a start, Social Security has not contributed one penny to the deficit … But it`s not just seniors on Social Security. If you can believe it, this chained CPI [consumer price index] will make devastating cuts for disabled veterans. The men and women who lost arms and legs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the widows of people who were killed in Iraq, it will mean significant cuts for them,” Sanders said Thursday on MSNBC. Obama pushed his “grand bargain” over dinner Wednesday with 12 Republican senators and at lunch Thursday at the White House with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan “The president historically has not been a strong negotiator,” Sanders said. “The fear is he is going to get a deal that will probably not be strong enough on revenue. That does worry some of us.”
Strengthen Social Security Legislation to strengthen Social Security by making the wealthiest Americans pay the same payroll tax that nearly everyone else already pays was introduced Thursday by Sanders. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cosponsored the bill. Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced the companion measure in the House. Under their legislation, those with yearly incomes of $250,000 or more would pay the same 6.2 percent payroll tax already assessed on those who earn up to $113,700 a year. Applying the Social Security payroll tax on income above $250,000 would only affect the wealthiest 1.3 percent of Americans, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Social Security officials say that simple change would yield about $85 billion a year to keep the retirement program strong for at least another 50 years. The legislation mirrors a proposal that President Barack Obama made in 2008 during his first campaign for the White House. Watch the Obama video. Watch highlights from the Sanders news conference.
Scientists on Global Warming Global temperatures are warmer than at any time in at least 4,000 years, the journal Science reported on Friday. The authors expect temperatures in coming decades to be warmer than before the last ice age. In a separate study, the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere jumped dramatically in 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported on Wednesday. The rise in CO2 reflects increased burning of fossil fuels, scientists said. “As carbon concentrations continue to rise and we see more and more extreme weather and other effects of global warming, it is clear Congress has got to get its act together and pass strong legislation. That is why Sen. Boxer and I introduced the Climate Protection Act, bold legislation to cut emissions by a significant amount and invest in energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sanders said. “I fear very much that history will look back at this period and ask, ‘How could it be that the United States did not address this planetary crisis when it had the chance?’” Read more about the Sanders-Boxer bill.
CIA The Senate on Thursday confirmed John Brennan as CIA director. The vote was 63 to 34 to confirm the nomination. Sanders voted no. During Brennan’s confirmation process, questions were raised about the use of drone aircraft and so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. “While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans,” Sanders said. “With regard to the use of drones and other methods employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, I am not convinced that Mr. Brennan is adequately sensitive to the important balancing act required to make protecting our civil liberties an integral part of ensuring our national security.”
Filibuster The confirmation vote for the new CIA director was put off for one day as Sen. Rand Paul staged a 13-hour filibuster that drew comparisons to Sanders’ speech in 2010. “When the iconoclastic, contrarian liberal took the floor of the Senate … and talked for eight and a half straight hours he talked on the collapse of the American middle class, the huge escalation of income inequality in our country and the policies that either ignore those problems or that make them happen … What he did that day … made an impact,” Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC. She showed a video that Nora Ligorano created with Marshall Reese.
Credit Reports Sanders on Wednesday introduced legislation that would provide consumers free access to error-riddled credit scores that banks use to decide who gets loans and how much interest to charge. Rep. Steve Cohen introduced a companion bill in the House to protect consumers by giving them access to the same credit information that banks see when considering loan applications. A Federal Trade Commission study released last month found errors in one out of four credit reports by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major agencies in the United States. According to the study, 5 percent of the consumers spotted errors in their reports that could cost them more for mortgages or car loans. To read the bill, click here. For a fact sheet on the bill, click here.
Medicare Cuts First it was $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts. Now, in the name of deficit reduction, some of the far-right Republicans who run the House may abandon their own campaign pledge and cut Medicare benefits for people 55 and older. Sanders wants to lower deficits. He has offered ways to do it by, for example, stopping profitable corporations from stashing income in offshore tax havens. Instead of adding revenue, Republicans want to eliminate the social safety net. “It’s part of their long-term plan to decimate programs that benefit working families,” Sanders said on Tuesday. Listen to the Ed Schultz radio interview.