With spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect on Jan. 1 unless Congress acts, the Senate made plans to return to Washington two days after Christmas. Members of the House of Representatives streamed out of the Capitol on Thursday after Speaker John Boehner was confronted with a conservative revolt by his own extreme right-wing troops. The speaker scrubbed plans for what would have been a doomed vote on his plan to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all incomes up to $1 million. “The Republican caucus is in chaos,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday on his weekly radio and Internet program. It was unclear what would become of a tentative agreement that emerged earlier in the week from talks between President Obama and Boehner. A provision in that tentative deal would cut benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans. Sanders was a leading voice in opposition to that proposal. “The American people are saying let's do deficit reduction, but do it in a way that is fair,” the senator said.
Protecting Disabled Veterans
As the incoming chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Sanders held a news conference on Wednesday flanked by 20 of the nation’s leading veterans’ organizations including The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Bernie’s message was clear: “Do not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, their legs and their eyesight defending our country.” Sanders was responding to the reports that Obama was acceding to Republican requests to cut Social Security and benefits for disabled veterans. “We must do deficit reduction, but not by cutting programs for people who lost arms, legs and eyes defending our country,” Sanders said. “We must not balance the budget on the backs of men and women who already sacrificed for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He cited broad public opposition to cuts in Social Security and Medicare and overwhelming support for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
Watch the news conference »
Defending Social Security
Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus, can pay all benefits owed to all eligible Americans for the next 21 years and, because it is funded independently, has not contributed one penny to the deficit. Sanders agrees with AARP, the National Coalition to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and virtually all seniors’ organizations that Social Security should not be part of the deficit reduction negotiations. Bernie opposes a so-called chained CPI, a stinger way of measuring consumer prices which would lower cost-of-living adjustments. The typical Social Security recipient who retires at age 65 would get $653 a year less at age 75 and benefits would be cut by $1,139 a year at age 85. Sanders has vigorously opposed efforts by Republicans, President Obama and anyone else who wants to balance the budget on the backs of seniors. The senator spelled out his concern in a floor speech on Wednesday.
Gun Violence in America
There was a moment of silence at 9:30 Friday morning as the people in a small New England town in Connecticut marked the week that had gone by since 20 grade school children were gunned down. A grandfather of seven, Sanders shared in the national outpouring of grief over this "unspeakable and unimaginable tragedy." In Washington, the shootings renewed a debate on gun violence and mass killings. Sanders stressed that there is no simple solution to this crisis but that Congress must act in a bold and decisive way. Bernie cited the need for improved and accessible mental health care. He decried violence in movies and video games. And he said "we must make certain that highly destructive weapons do not fall into the hands of people who should not have them."
A Bittersweet Moment
Sen. Patrick Leahy was sworn in Tuesday as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate. Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stood at Leahy’s side as Vice President Biden administered the oath of office. Leahy was elected to the post Monday night after the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. “It’s kind of a bittersweet moment,” Biden whispered. Commenting on the passing of Sen. Inouye, Sanders called him a “giant among senators who treated everyone with respect and dignity. He was a World War II veteran who earned the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, and continued to serve his country throughout a long and distinguished career. He was one of the best.”