By Katrina vanden Heuvel Legislation Watch
Senator Bernie Sanders - founder and current member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - wants to raise $100 billion to address the needs of ordinary Americans who are currently struggling, and another $30 billion to lower the deficit.
"It's very, very simple," Sanders told me, "if we have the guts to stand up to the wealthiest one percent of America."
Sanders has introduced the National Priorities Act to "expand the middle class, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, and lower the poverty rate" - largely through rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of American taxpayers.
Speaking at a Senate Budget Committee meeting yesterday, Sanders said of a current Senate Budget Resolution for FY 2008: "While the Budget Resolution... is far from perfect, it is much more responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans than the President's....But I think that over the long-term, we can and must do much better in establishing our budgetary priorities than this budget does."
Sanders' National Priorities Act makes his budgetary priorities crystal clear: providing primary and dental care to millions of Americans and health insurance for children; full funding for veterans health care; increasing access to affordable childcare and fully funding Head Start; lowering property taxes by federally covering 40 percent of special education costs for kids; providing 330,000 additional Pell Grants and doubling the maximum allowable amount; creating 200,000 jobs by investing in renewable energy, public transit, and high speed rail; creating 180,000 jobs by constructing, preserving, and rehabilitating at least 150,000 affordable housing rental units; reducing taxes for 10 million working families by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit; and reducing the deficit by $30 billion.
"We're going to make people discuss the idea that if we were to rescind the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent, this is what we could do," Sanders said. Not surprisingly, there are still plenty of Democrats - especially in the Senate - who don't want to have that discussion at all. The Republicans have had great success in scaring the bejeezus out of Democrats that come election year, any tax increase on the rich will be misconstrued (through successful Republican spin - and Fox) as raising taxes on everyone.
"It's like Bush with the so-called 'death tax,'" Sanders says. "Never mind that the estate tax only impacts the wealthiest 3/10th of 1 percent of our population - the Republicans have people thinking it's about small businessmen, family farmers, and ordinary Americans.... And in this case - with my legislation - they scare good people into thinking that it's 'radical' to rescind taxes on the top 1 percent... even though it's been poll tested and the American people support it!"
Because of the "radical" label there are currently no cosponsors of this legislation and Sanders doesn't seem to be holding his breath for any sudden rush.
"I'm in this for the long haul," he says. "We're going to push Democrats to begin to take on the Big Money interests that have held sway in this institution for too many years."
This truly independent Senator from Vermont has done a great service in providing a simple yet powerful vision of what might be achieved with the right priorities and a dose of courage.