Congress heads back to Washington Monday to continue a lame duck session with several pressing issues still pending. Among these is how to address the schedule expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, a treaty with Russia, support for seniors, and federal spending bills that include key programs such as low-income home heating assistance. Sen. Bernie Sanders will continue to fight for responsible ways to spur job growth while addressing the growing budget deficit. He has also asked Vermonters for their ideas and has collected more than 70 essays on the topic. The senator believes that one way to begin to address the budget problem facing the country is to end tax breaks for the wealthiest American. Sanders joined Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen on Friday to call for an end to these tax breaks. Cohen said, "I as an individual don't want to pay taxes more than anyone else. But we're one country, and we're all part of it," he said.
Tax Breaks for Millionaires "In my view, we should not extend these tax cuts for the very wealthiest people in this country - and I say that for several reasons," Sanders said. "First, at a time when this country has a $13.7 trillion national debt it would be a huge mistake, over a ten year period, to add another $700 billion to that debt by providing more tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country. Further, this country already has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country. While the middle class is in decline, the people on top are already doing extremely well." Sanders favors continuation of tax cuts for people making less than $250,000 a year. To read the senator's full statement, click here.
Grassroots Ideas Ostensibly to move us toward a balanced budget, there are some people who are suggesting that we cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction and the child tax credit, increase interest rates on student loans, increase the gas tax, and increase co-pays for veterans receiving health care through the V.A. "I think there's a better way," said Sen. Sanders. Sanders asked Vermonters for their ideas for confronting our huge deficit and national debt. "As Vermonters, I would like to see us engage in a serious conversation on this issue," he said. Sanders asked that constituents watch a video and submit short essays on Facebook that explain their ideas for fair and responsible ways to approach these challenges. "If we don't, the people who have money will prevail. It is important that American working families engage in this discussion," Sanders told the Bennington Banner and Brattleboro Reformer.
Social Security When congress returns from recess, Sanders wants to help Social Security beneficiaries who did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment. He said, "I will be doing everything I can to make sure that seniors and disabled veterans get, at the very least, a onetime emergency $250 check in lieu of the lack of a Social Security COLA this year. A lot of seniors in Vermont are hurting, their health care and prescription drug costs are going up, and they need help. I brought this issue up in March, and we only got 47 votes. This time I hope we can succeed." Sanders reintroduced his legislation recently which has had the support of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in his efforts to secure this onetime emergency payment.
Home Heating Aid This winter, Vermont estimates that more than 27,000 households will receive home heating benefits, up from 20,350 last year. Thanks to legislation by Sanders, federal funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program was nearly doubled in the last two years. But because Congress has not yet approved spending bills for the coming year, initial allocations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the energy assistance program were about 40 percent less than last year's levels. "LIHEAP is a lifeline to dignity for thousands of Vermont senior citizens on fixed incomes, the disabled, and families with children. Fully funding this program is essential this winter," Sanders said in calling for Senate appropriators to fully fund this program. To read more, click here.
Earmarks Many Republicans want to get rid of earmarks while most Democrats say not so fast. "If you cut all the earmarks in the world tomorrow, it would not reduce the budget by one cent," Sen. Sanders told Fox 44. He's in favor of stopping the next bridge to nowhere, but says much of the spending is good. "Don't tell me that bringing money back into the state so that children can have dental care is a bad thing." If you go by the numbers, earmarks are a big deal in Vermont. In fiscal 2010, Vermont received $100 million in earmarks. In other words, out of the entire United States, Vermont is 4th highest in earmark dollars per person at $162. To watch the interview, click here.
START Treaty Sen. Sanders told MSNBC "it is imperative" that Senate Republicans stop blocking the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. "Everybody should be very concerned about nuclear weapons and the need to cut back on nuclear weapons, the need to make sure there are not nuclear weapons out there falling into the hands of terrorists," Sanders added. To watch the video from the Rachel Maddow Show with guest host Chris Hayes, click here.