In countless speeches over the past seven years, Democrats have rightly slammed “the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy” as reckless, unnecessary, and unjust. Yet Senator Bernie Sanders has provided Senate Democrats with ample opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and his colleagues have failed to seize that opportunity.
Last year, Sanders introduced the National Priorities Act to rescind the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and use those revenues for health care, education, childcare, veterans services, infrastructure, deficit reduction and other vital needs. The bill had no cosponsors, was never brought to the floor for a vote, and it languishes in the Senate Finance Committee.
Sanders then took a more modest approach. In a budget amendment, he targeted only the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest three-tenths of 1 percent of taxpayers – in essence, Americans who earn at least one million annually. That garnered 38 Democratic votes (including Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton). Progress, yes, but still only a whimper as compared to the sometimes fiery rhetoric of the party.
Yesterday, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Sanders announced his latest effort to restore fiscal sanity to the tax code, hoping that the third time will be a charm. Again, his amendment would rescind the tax cuts only for the wealthiest .3 percent of taxpayers in order to increase revenues by $32.5 billion over the next three years (less than 3 months of spending in Iraq). It is currently cosponsored by Senators Clinton, Sherrod Brown, Richard Durbin, Tom Harkin, Edward Kennedy, Barbara Mikulski, and Chuck Schumer. (Disappointingly, Senator Obama hadn’t indicated his intention to sign on at the time of this post.)
“At a time when the presidential candidates are running all over the country saying ‘We need change, change, change….’ Sander said. “At a time when the American people are saying we are moving this country in a very wrong direction – we’ve gotta change our direction. This amendment gives the Senate an opportunity to cast a vote which begins the process of changing our national priorities and moving America in a very different direction.”
Sanders said the amendment begins to address three major problems facing our nation: the growing economic disparity between the very rich and everyone else; the “shameful reality” that America has the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized nation at 18 percent; and record-breaking deficits and a national debt approaching $10 trillion.
The Sanders amendment calls for $10 billion to be used towards special education – the federal government hasn’t fulfilled its statutory commitment in this area and as a result states have been forced to raise property taxes; $5 billion to Head Start which today serves less than half of eligible children; $4 billion to the Child Care Development Block Grant – only one in seven eligible children are able to receive federal childcare assistance due to a lack of funding; $3 billion towards school construction – schools across the nation have a $100 billion backlog in needed repairs; $4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help low-income families with children, fixed-income seniors, and persons with disabilities stay warm in the winter months; $3.5 billion on Food Stamps to help address growing food insecurity; and $3 billion for deficit reduction.
“This is change, this is real change,” Sanders said. “At a time when the wealthiest people have not had it so good since the 1920s, almost all of the new wealth creation has gone to the people at the very, very top. We as a nation have got to decide whether we ask those people to pay a little bit more in taxes so that we address the absolute, pressing needs facing our kids in working families all over this country.”
The fact that Sanders is once again giving the Democrats a chance to take a stand on this fundamental issue isn’t lost on the Senator.
“I think every poll taken indicates that a huge majority of the American people believe that this country under Bush is moving us in the wrong direction,” Sanders said. “I think this is one of those areas. People perceive that while the wealthiest people in this country are making huge increases in their incomes, the middle-class is shrinking and poverty is increasing…. From a public policy point of view, it would be very disappointing to me if we did not have overwhelming Democratic support. And from a political point of view, I think it would be a mistake.”
Senate Democrats have had too many moments when they needed to show their mettle and they faltered. This is another one of those moments. It’s time to follow Sanders’ lead.