Senator Bernie Sanders, who has promised to do "whatever it takes" to block the deal President Obama cut to extend tax breaks for billionaires and create a sweeping estate-tax exemption for millionaires, began to wage what he said could be called a "filibuster" on the floor of the Senate Friday.
After Sanders took the rostrum at 10:24 a.m. Friday, the Vermont Independent posted a message on his his twitter account that read: "You can call what I am doing today whatever you want, you [can] call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech…"
Sanders spoke for more than eight hours. His bold gesture grabbed the attention of the nation, as Senate video servers were overwhelmed when more than 12,000 people tried to watch the speech online.
For all the excitement, Sanders was not actually blocking a vote on the tax deal. The Senate will not take the issue up until Monday, at the earliest.
Sanders was, however, sending a powerful signal about the fight to come.
The senator concluded his remarkable 8.5 speech with a call to action. "If the American people stand up and say, ‘we can do better than this, that we don’t need to drive up the national debt by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires,’ (if) the American people are prepared to stand – and we’re prepared to follow them – I think we can defeat this proposal," he declared. "I think we can come up with a better proposal which better reflects the needs of the middle class and working families of our country and, to me, most importantly, the children of our country. And with that, Madam President, I would yield the floor."
The senator was not alone in his sentiment. He was supported on the floor by an old progressive ally, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, and by a moderate Democrat, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, who does not always make common cause with the democratic socialist senator from Vermont.
Landrieu referred to the agreement the White House is trying to force the congress to accept as "almost morally corrupt."
For the most part, however, Sanders held the podium Friday, speaking calmly and in great detail about his specific objections to the tax-cut deal and about his broader concerns about federal policies that favor the wealthiest Americans while neglecting working families.
Sanders’s speech capped a week in which Democrats in the House and Senate raised became increasingly vocal in their opposition to the deal that President Obama initially advanced as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.
First House Democrats rejected the tax deal President Obama cut with Senate Democrats and told Speaker Pelosi to negotiate a better agreement.
Then, on Friday, eight Senate Democrats told Majority Leader Harry Reid that they want to amend the deal to cap tax breaks for the rich and protect Social Security.
In a letter circulated by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, the senators said: "We have grave misgivings about the recent tax agreement. We hope that the Senate can improve on it. We look forward to working with you to ensure a vote on our amendment to strengthen Social Security in lieu of bonus tax cuts for people who are doing quite well."