In an important step forward for millions of seniors and disabled Americans, the White House on Monday took Social Security off the table in year-end budget negotiations with Congress. Sen. Bernie Sanders had long argued that the retirement program with its $2.7 trillion surplus should not be part of any deficit-reduction package. He welcomed the White House announcement, but the fight isn’t over. On Wednesday, Wall Street CEOs came to Capitol Hill and the White House to press for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s right, the same CEOs who plunged the country into the Great Recession and then took trillions in taxpayer bailouts are now lecturing us about how our country cannot afford to provide retirement security and health care for America’s working families. Also on Capitol Hill this past week, the Senate on Friday added a Sanders anti-fraud provision to a Defense Department bill.
Sanders welcomed White House assurances that Social Security benefits won’t be cut as part of negotiations on a year-end deficit-reduction deal. President Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters on Monday that Social Security should be addressed separately from the lame-duck deficit negotiations. “We should address the drivers of the deficit and Social Security currently is not a driver of the deficit,” Carney said. “This is a step in the right direction for more than 55 million Americans who have earned Social Security benefits today and every working American who will receive Social Security benefits in the future,” said Sanders, the founder of the Senate Defending Social Security Caucus. “The simple truth is that Social Security has not contributed a nickel to the national debt so it makes no sense for it to be part of deficit negotiations,” he said.
The Face of Class Warfare
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein came to Capitol Hill this week to call for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. As Congress and the White House are negotiating a year-end deficit deal, Blankfein sought to “lower people’s expectations” about their retirement and health care. He spoke with all the sympathy for someone struggling to get by on $14,000-a-year retirement that you’d expect from a Wall Street banker paid $16 million last year. “Think about the arrogance of these guys on Wall Street who were bailed out by the middle class of this country when their greed and recklessness nearly destroyed the financial system and now they come to Capitol Hill to lecture Congress and the American people about the need to cut programs for working families,” Sanders said in a Senate floor speech.
In an opening bid in the budget talks, President Obama on Thursday proposed a $1.6 trillion tax increase and $50 billion in job-creating infrastructure spending next year. Republicans have yet to make specific proposals. “When Republicans talk about being flexible, we have not heard one definitive word as to what they mean,” Sanders told Wolf Blitzer on CNN. “Our Republican friends have got to understand that this issue of the fiscal cliff was debated during the election. And you know what? Mitt Romney lost. Obama won … You know what the American people have said? The wealthy are going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes.” The deficit-reduction talks are the latest illustration that the real legislating in this Congress occurs only at the leadership level. Sanders told National Journal that the congressional leadership should not give the rank and file members “a fait accompli.”
Sanders and others called on the House of Representatives to pass a Senate-approved bill that would keep taxes from rising on middle class Americans in January but end tax breaks on income for the top 2 percent of Americans. “The wealthy are going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes,” Sanders said. “More and more Republicans are catching on to that fact and that's why the Republicans have got to do exactly what we did in the Senate, which is say we're going to protect the bottom 98 percent of the American people.”
Say No to Simpson-Bowles
Sanders on Wednesday called on colleagues to reject proposals by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles that would hurt working families and help the wealthiest Americans and profitable corporations. The Simpson-Bowles plan “will cause major economic pain to virtually every American while lowering tax rates for millionaires, billionaires and large corporations,” said Sanders, a member of the Senate Budget Committee.
The Senate on Friday agreed to make the Pentagon compile annual reports on contracting fraud. The provision was one of two by Sanders that the Senate added to a Defense Department authorization bill. The other would make public a list of senior military officials who leave the government and land on the payrolls of defense contractors. “This country has a $16 trillion national debt. It is unacceptable that the Department of Defense continues to lose vast sums of taxpayer money because of fraud perpetrated by major defense contractors. This has got to stop,” Sanders said. Over the past decade, the Department of Defense paid more than $400 billion to contractors who had been previously sanctioned in cases involving $1 million or more in fraud, according to a 2011 Pentagon report. That study, the first of its kind, was required by a Sanders amendment to an earlier defense authorization bill.