On December 10, 2010, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders addressed the Senate regarding the Wall Street bailout. He delivered a long speech, one that could be described as a filibuster. The speech lasted more than 514 minutes, or about eight and a half hours. At that time, the Obama budget deal was on the table, and Sanders and several Democrats opposed it. He described it as a deal where the billionaires got tax breaks and regular families, the working poor, and minorities were left out, as often happens in these types of deals.
The full text of the transcript is 77 pages long, and Sanders made some strong arguments against the bill, which ultimately passed in April of 2011.
“…here we are today with a $13.8 trillion national debt, a $1.4 trillion deficit, and almost all Americans are in agreement that this is a very serious issue… it seems to me to be unconscionable… for my conservative friends and for everybody else in this country to be driving up this already too high national debt by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need it.”
He also pointed out that two prominent billionaires had already come forward to say they did not even want new tax breaks.
“Two of the wealthiest people in the world… Bill Gates of Microsoft and Warren Buffet of Berkshire, say: It is absurd. We don’t need a tax break.”
He then decried the GOP effort to eliminate the estate tax. The tax, Sanders said, applies to the very wealthy, and had the GOP succeeded in getting rid of it, the Walton family of Wal-Mart alone would have been given a $30 billion tax break.
Sanders gave bullet-pointed objections to the bill, indicating that he had actually read it. He criticized a payroll tax holiday that eliminated $120 billion in Social Security payroll taxes for workers. On the surface, Sanders noted, it sounded like a good idea. Workers would have more money in their pockets in the short term, but taking a closer look at who actually introduced the idea, it became more clear why such a tax holiday was a bad idea.
Republicans came up with the idea to create the holiday, which would result in a long-term loss of revenue. Effectively starving the program, that revenue loss would give the GOP an excuse to privatize Social Security or get rid of it altogether.
“Even though Social Security contributed nothing to the current economic crisis, it has been bartered in a deal that provides deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy. Diverting $120 billion in Social Security contributions for a so-called ‘tax holiday’ may sound like a good deal for workers now, but it’s bad business for the program that a majority of middle-class seniors will rely upon in the future.”
The Washington Post reported days before Sanders’ filibuster that the loss to Social Security trust fund would be covered by general revenue. The budget package also included token benefits for those who were struggling with joblessness. Emergency unemployment benefits were extended by 13 months under the deal. Child tax credits were expanded, and college tuition reductions were extended.
Sanders was not the only member of Congress unhappy with the deal. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin blasted the deal as a tool to hurt the working class for their own benefit.
“[Republicans] have successfully used the fragile economic security of our middle class and the hardship of millions jobless Americans as bargaining chips to secure tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.”
President Obama lashed out at Democrats who opposed the bill, including the independent Sanders, calling them “sanctimonious purists” because the bill lacked a public health option.
“People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are.”
During the filibuster, Bernie Sanders proved prescient about the Flint water crisis. He told a story about a visit he made to Rutland, Vermont, where the mayor showed him a water pipe that had been laid more than 140 years ago.
“So, you are talking about water pipe being in Rutland, VT — and this is true all over the United States — laid before the Civil War. The result is, we lose an enormous amount of clean water every day through leaks and water pipes bursting all over.”
Sanders painstakingly pinpointed multiple reasons why the budget deal was a raw deal for Americans, and he rarely repeated himself except when appropriate. His filibuster speech even foresaw a bigger economic crisis than what occurred in 2008. Six years ago, Bernie Sanders knew the recession would not end well and would likely continue under President Obama. Too much mounting debt and too little tax dollars generated would leave the country crippled financially.
In January, guest contributor, and financial strategist Michael Pento warned of an impending economic collapse worse than what happened in 2008. Four months later in May, investing legend Jim Rogers essentially said the same thing. The financial crisis is sure to come, he said, and it will be on a bigger global scale than before. Asian countries, which skirted disaster in 2008, he predicts will be hit hard.
For years Bernie Sanders has warned the country that bad policies will come back to haunt us. No one listened. No one cared. Then Occupy Wall Street happened in 2011, and people began to sit up and take notice. When Sanders announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for President, the time was ripe. Finally, people are listening.
[Photo by Gerry Broome/AP Images]