Sen. Bernie Sanders announced on Friday that he will work with members of Congress, labor unions, seniors’ organizations and others to develop progressive alternatives to proposals first floated on Wednesday by leaders of a White House deficit commission. As Congress prepared to return to Washington on Monday for the first time since the midterm elections, a key debate shaped up over the fate of Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year. What most Americans know about those and other public policy issues is filtered through a national news media dominated by fewer and fewer big corporations. Sanders opposes a proposed merger of NBC Universal and Comcast.
A Progressive Alternative In a letter, Sanders invited progressive activists and economists to meet next week to develop a progressive plan to reduce the deficit. “We all know that there are a number of fair ways to reduce deficits without harming the middle class and those who have already lost their jobs, homes, life savings and ability to send their kids to college. The time has come to put these proposals into a package so that a fair and progressive deficit reduction plan will become part of the national discussion,” he said.
Social Security Sanders was among the first and most forceful to speak out Wednesday against a proposal to raise the Social Security retirement age to 69. The idea was floated by former Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, the leaders of a White House commission on budget deficits. Sanders sharply disputed their effort to pin the blame for deficits on Social Security. “The huge increase in the national debt in recent years was caused by two unpaid wars, tax breaks for the wealthy, a Medicare prescription drug bill written by the pharmaceutical industry, and the Wall Street bailout. Unlike Social Security, none of these proposals were paid for. Not only has Social Security not contributed a dime to the deficit, it has a $2.6 trillion surplus.” To read Sanders’ complete statement, click here.
Military Spending One way to cut the $13.7 trillion national debt, Sanders said, would be for the Department of Defense to drop outdated and expensive Cold War-era programs and refocus on modern-day enemies. “Our military posture should be fighting international terrorism and al Qaeda,” he said. “When the military budget was substantially increased we were fighting a major world power called the Soviet Union. We are still spending tens of billions of dollars a year on Cold War weapons systems except the Soviet Union no longer exists.” Citing other ways to save, Sanders mentioned Government Accountability Office studies he commissioned that found billions of dollars are wasted every year on unneeded spare parts. To watch the MSNBC interview with Rachel Maddow, click here.
Taxes Another way to reduce red ink, according to Sanders, is to stop giving expensive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans whose incomes have soared while the buying power of middle-class workers has shrunk. Senior White House adviser David Axelrod signaled on Thursday that the administration was ready to accept a temporary extension of all tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year. Backpedaling, the White House said all Axelrod was doing was restating President Obama’s willingness to compromise on extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans in order to preserve expiring tax breaks for the middle class. Sanders favors renewing tax cuts for the middle class, but he said the White House should not bargain away $700 billion in tax breaks for the richest Americans for a decade. “The immediate problem the president has is he wants to compromise, but there’s no one to compromise with. You cannot keep reaching out to people who don’t want to work with you.”
Draw the Line President Obama repeatedly has turned the other cheek as Republicans rebuffed his efforts to work together. "I think compromise makes sense,” said Sanders, who throughout his career in Congress has reached across the aisle to pass legislation. “But when the job of the Republicans is to see he gets nothing through, their job in life is to be the 'party of no,' their job is to say he's going to be a one-term president and not cooperate, I think he's got to draw a line.”
Stop the NBC-Comcast Merger “There already is far too much media concentration in this country. We need more diversity. We need more local ownership. We need more viewpoints. We do not need another media giant run by a Republican supporter of George W. Bush,” Sanders said. The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing the transaction that would transfer NBC Universal broadcast licenses to Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider. The deal also is under Justice Department antitrust review.