"We are at a pivotal moment in American history," Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday on The Thom Hartmann Program. A dismal jobs report out on Friday showed U.S. hiring slowed dramatically in May as unemployment rose to 9.1 percent. The Labor Department announcement was the latest sign of a sputtering economy. A spike in oil prices was blamed for the sluggish growth figures out earlier in the week. A new Sanders bill to halt excessive oil speculation was announced at a press conference on Thursday. House Republicans on Tuesday voted not to increase the nation's borrowing power, but there were signals that the vote on the debt limit was a political show. Wall Street, as one analyst put it, was "in on the joke."
Unemployment The 9.1 percent unemployment is bad enough. The more realistic jobless figure is 15.8 percent, the rate that factors in workers forced to settle for part-time jobs and those who gave up their job search. Some of those long-term jobless reentered the job market last month, but more than 4 million people were unemployed for more than a year. The long-term jobless account for almost one-third of the unemployed.
Sputtering Economy The U.S. economy is limping along at an anemic growth rate of 2 to 3 percent, much slower than economists had forecasted. One factor experts pointed to in analyzing the worsening economic prospects was a spike in oil prices.
Gas and Oil Prices Sanders will introduce legislation to force federal regulators to curb speculation in crude oil markets, which experts blame for driving up gasoline prices. He accused the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of flouting a law that required regulators to impose new limits on speculators by January. The senator cited evidence that high gasoline prices are not caused by supply and demand, but by speculators. "These speculators do not use oil. They are not the airlines. They are not the trucking industry. They are not fuel oil dealers. Their sole function in life is to speculate to drive oil prices up and to make money."
Corporate Tax Dodgers Twelve big, profitable U.S. companies reported $171 billion in pretax U.S. profits but, as a group, tax subsidies and loopholes resulted in their federal income tax liability coming in at negative $2.5 billion, according to a new report from Citizens for Tax Justice.
Debt Ceiling House Republicans staged a vote on Tuesday and overwhelmingly rejected a measure to increase the government's debt limit. The vote was a chess move in negotiations with President Obama over budget cuts. "Where is President Obama?" Sanders asked in a column. "Will the president demand that any deficit reduction agreement end Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy? Will he fight to eliminate corporate tax loopholes? Will he end the absurd policies that allow the rich and large corporations to avoid taxes by establishing phony addresses in off-shore tax havens?" Wall Street pressure on Republicans should strengthen President Obama's hand in budget negotiations, Sanders said. "This gives the president a lot of leverage," he said.
Budget As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders clearly staked out his position in a column posted Thursday on The Huffington Post and elsewhere. "I will not support a plan to reduce the deficit that does not call for shared sacrifice. At least 50 percent of any deficit reduction plan must come from increased revenue from the wealthy and large corporations. Instead of ending Medicare as we know it and making savage cuts to community health centers and children's health care programs, we must ask the top 2 percent of income earners to start paying their fair share of taxes. Instead of making it harder for working families to send their kids to college, we must end the foreign tax shelters that enable the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying tens of billions in U.S. taxes. Instead of making major cuts in job creating programs in infrastructure, public transportation and sustainable energy we must do away with a wide variety of loopholes that allow Wall Street executives, whose profits and compensation packages are soaring, to have a lower tax rate than middle class workers.
At Home in Vermont Last Sunday Sen. Sanders awarded Willie Nelson the 2011 Vermont Free Spirit Award. The senator made the presentation during a Memorial Day weekend concert by the country music legend at the Champlain Valley Expo. Sanders was headed Saturday to Brattleboro's 10th annual Strolling of the Heifers for a parade and to participate in the cow milking contest.