WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today voted against a year-end budget package that raids the Social Security trust fund, fails to make millionaires pay their fair share, surrenders to Republican demands on the environment and shortchanges the home heating assistance program.
On a separate roll call vote, Sanders voted with the 72-to-27 majority for a disaster relief bill. The measure boosts to $7.1 billion the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund. Vermont could be in line for an estimated $200 million to help the state recover from flood damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.
The Senate-passed package of spending and tax provisions would extend for two months a Social Security payroll tax cut. "Middle-class working families need tax relief to help them survive in this terrible economy," Sanders said, "but diverting billions of dollars from Social Security to provide that tax relief is wrong. This continues a dangerous process that began last year. I strongly believe tax relief should be done in a different way."
The deal also included a provision to force the White House to make a speedy decision on a controversial proposal to build an oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. "I strongly oppose the provision to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Producing tar sands oil creates 82 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. NASA scientist James Hansen says exploiting the tar sands would be ‘game over' for our efforts to reverse global warming. I urge President Obama to call the Republicans' bluff and reject the dangerous Keystone XL project," Sanders said.
He also faulted the package for failing to extend renewable energy incentives that expire on Dec. 31. "These incentives have helped to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in wind and solar and other sustainable energy industries. I will fight to ensure these vital programs are extended as quickly as possible," Sanders said.
Congressional negotiators dropped from the final package a proposal for a surtax on millionaires, which was first suggested by Sanders in legislation he introduced last March. "It is time to ask the wealthiest people in this country who have never had it so good to pay their fair share of taxes," Sanders said of the idea that is overwhelmingly supported by the American people.
The package also cuts home heating aid by about 25 percent this winter. Sanders said he was disappointed by the $1.2 billion cut, but vowed to fight for legislation he introduced to provide more money when Congress reconvenes. In Vermont, the $19.5 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is down from $26 million that went to more than 35,000 Vermonters last winter. "At a time when heating oil costs are rising, we must at least restore funding at last year's level for this critically important program that helps seniors and families with children," Sanders said.
Sanders and Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the bipartisan lead sponsors of a bill to increase home heating aid, today sent a letter to the Democratic and Republican Senate leadership pressing them to make restoration of LIHEAP funding a priority when Congress returns in January.