Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont and self-described socialist, has been a steadfast supporter of the working class since the beginning of his career. From supporting universal health care and increased Pell Grants to opposing tax cuts for the wealthy, Sanders has consistently and aggressively promoted progressive policies. It should be no surprise, then, that when Sanders heard that Republicans were opposing any notion of balancing the budget on anyone's back besides the working class, he sprang into action.
One might recall Sanders' December 10 eight-hour-and-37-minute filibuster against President Obama's deal with the Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich in order to also extend unemployment benefits. His filibuster was so popular that it temporarily crashed the Senate's video server.
Sanders attacked Republican hypocrisy for demanding tax cuts for the super-wealthy - which increases the national debt - in exchange for their agreeing to extend unemployment benefits - which they had opposed due to the cost. He also criticized Democrats for agreeing to extend the tax cuts, which he noted only furthered the widening income disparity in the nation. For those who are interested, his entire speech was made into a paperback, the proceeds of which benefit charities in his home state of Vermont.
Now that deficit cutting is in vogue in Washington, Republicans are demanding that all deficit reduction come out of spending. In fact, they are demanding massive cuts prior to raising the debt limit. From Speaker of the House John Boehner, to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the GOP is flatly refusing any revenue increase.
Even after the Democrats had agreed to around $2 trillion in cuts (over a decade), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stormed out of the talks last week when discussion turned to revenue increases. What proposals set off this tantrum? Democrats proposed to end tax deductions and loopholes for those who make over $500,000 a year, tax subsidies for oil companies, and tax breaks for corporate jets.
Where do Republicans demand cuts? Their proposals have ranged from benefit reductions in Medicare and Medicaid, which would place additional burdens on seniors and the poor, to (of course) lowering taxes on corporations.
As Sanders sees that Democrats on a whole have yet to create a line in the sand on deficit talks, he is showing his backbone and standing up to protect the middle and working classes from having to shoulder all the burden of deficit reduction.
In a letter to the president, which he has opened to the public to sign, he urges Obama not to "yield to outrageous Republican demands that would greatly increase suffering for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society." His letter asks Obama to stand with the middle and working classes, and not with "with the millionaires and billionaires who have never had it so good."
Sanders agrees that the deficit is a problem, yet he opposes fixing it by "savage cuts in desperately-needed programs for working families, the elderly, the sick, our children and the poor" while avoiding asking anything of the rich who have only continued to prosper. Instead, he argues that the nation has to share the sacrifice, rather than asking those with the least to sacrifice the most.
He asks that President Obama consider the will of the majority of Americans who want to increase taxes on the wealthy before cutting the social safety net. He asks that at least 50 percent of the deficit reduction occur through revenue increases by ending tax breaks for the top income tier, and ending corporate loopholes that only serve to funnel wealth to the top. Additionally, he proposes that significant cuts come from the nation's military budget.
Bernie Sanders, in essence, is helping mobilize that public opinion, asking that Obama, and the Democratic Party, put the needs of the working class and middle class over the luxuries of the wealthy. His initiative builds momentum to oppose any efforts that would further burden the less fortunate, while only serving to widen the already obscene income gap that is facing this nation.
You may sign Sen. Sanders' letter here.
Keep reading at: People's World