The U.S. Senate is holding a key test vote today on President Obama’s controversial legislation that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The bill caused an uproar when it was announced last week, but no one voiced more powerful opposition than Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He took to the floor of the Senate at 10:24 a.m. on Friday morning to denounce the tax-cut plan. He did not yield the floor back until 6:59 p.m., more than eight-and-a-half hours later. We play highlights of his address. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The Senate is holding a key test vote today on President Obama’s controversial legislation that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Democratic leaders expect to muster the 60 votes needed in the Senate to clear a procedural hurdle before passage on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Last week, Obama reached a deal with Republicans to extend the tax cuts and reduce the estate tax in return for a 13-month extension of jobless benefits and a handful of tax credits for low- and moderate-income Americans. According to the New York Times, at least a quarter of the tax savings under the deal will go to the wealthiest one percent of the population.
The plan’s $900 billion cost will be added to the federal deficit, not made up through spending cuts or the closing of loopholes that have taxed capital gains and dividends at just 15 percent. By contrast, the only group that will see its taxes increase are the nation’s lowest-paid workers.
The bill caused an uproar when it was announced. In the House, the Democratic caucus passed a non-binding measure denouncing the tax deal. The House is expected to take up the legislation later this week.
But no one voiced more powerful opposition to the deal than independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He took to the floor of the Senate at 10:24 a.m. on Friday morning to speak out in opposition to the tax-cut plan. He did not yield the floor back until 6:59 p.m., more than eight-and-a-half hours later. Senator Sanders’ speech made news across the country. We begin today’s broadcast with some of the highlights of his address. This is how Senator Sanders began.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: As I think everyone knows, the President of the United States, President Obama, and the Republican leadership have reached an agreement on a very significant tax bill. In my view, the agreement that they reached is a bad deal for the American people. I think we can do better, and I am here today to take a strong stand against this bill, and I intend to tell my colleagues and the nation exactly why I am in opposition to this bill.
You can call what I’m doing today whatever you want. You can call it a filibuster. You can call it a very long speech. I’m not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle. I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides.
There is no doubt in my mind what many of — not all, but many of my Republican colleagues want to do. And that is, they want to move this country back into the 1920s, when essentially we had an economic and political system which was controlled by Big Money interests, where working people in the middle class had no programs to sustain them when things got bad, when they got old, when they got sick, when labor unions were very hard to come by because of anti-worker legislation. And that’s what they want. They don’t believe in things like the Environmental Protection Agency. They don’t believe in things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal aid to education. And that is the fight that we will be waging. And I think to surrender on this issue is simply to say that we’re going to be waging fight after fight starting within a couple of months.
Mr. President, President Obama has said that he fought as hard as he could against the Republican tax breaks for the wealthy and for an extension in unemployment. Well, maybe. But the reality is that that fight cannot simply be waged inside the Beltway. What our job is is to appeal to the vast majority of the American people to stand up and to say, "Wait a minute, I don’t want to see our national debt explode. I don’t want to see my kids and grandchildren paying higher taxes in order to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires." The vast majority of the American people do not support that agreement in terms of giving tax breaks to the very rich. And our job is to rally those people. And I would like very much to see the American people saying to our Republican colleagues, some Democratic colleagues, "Excuse me, don’t force my kids to have a lower standard of living in order to give tax breaks to the richest people in this country." And what the President and all of us should be doing is going out and saying to those people, "Call up the members of the Senate. Call up the members of the House and say, 'Excuse me, how about representing the middle-class and working families for a change, rather than the wealthiest people in this country?'"
It is important to put the agreement that the President struck with the Republicans in a broader context. You can’t just look an agreement unto itself. You have to look at it within the context of what’s going on in this country today, both economically and politically. And in my view, and I think I speak for millions and millions of Americans on this, there is a war going on in this country. And I’m not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I’m talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country against the working families of the United States, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country. The billionaires of America are on the warpath. They want more and more and more. And that has everything to do with this agreement reached between the Republicans and the President.
Mr. President, in 2007, the top one percent of all income earners in the United States made 23-and-a-half percent of all income. Let me repeat that. Top one percent earned over 23 percent of all income. That is more than the bottom 50 percent. One percent here, 50 percent here. But for the very, very wealthy in this country, that’s apparently not enough. The percentage of income going to the top one percent nearly tripled since the 1970s.
Now, all over this country people are angry, they’re frustrated. It’s true in Vermont, I’m sure it’s true in Virginia. It’s true all over America. But one of the reasons that people are angry and frustrated is they’re working incredibly hard. In the state of Vermont, which I represent, I can tell you, there are people who don’t work one job, they don’t work two jobs, there are people who work in three jobs and four jobs, trying to cobble together an income in order to support their families. And I suspect that goes on all across the country. But people are working harder and harder. In many cases, their income is going down.
And the fact is that 80 percent — 80 percent — of all new income earned from 1980 to 2005 has gone to the top one percent. But that is not apparently enough. Our friends at the top, who have a religious ferocity in terms of greed, they need more, and they need more. It’s like an addiction. Fifty million is not enough; they need $100 million. A hundred million is not enough; they need a billion. A billion is not enough. I’m not quite sure how much they need. When will it stop? Today, in terms of wealth, as opposed to income, the top one percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.
You know, Mr. President, we went to school, and we used to read in the textbooks about Latin America, for example, and they used to refer to some of the countries there as what they call banana republics, countries in which a handful of families control the economic and political life of the nation. Well, I don’t want to get the American people too upset, but we are not all that far away from that reality today. Top one percent has seen a tripling of the percentage of income they earned since 1970s. Top one percent owning 23 percent of all income, more than the bottom 50 percent. Top one percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. That’s not the foundation of a democratic society; that’s the foundation for an oligarchic society.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking on the floor of the Senate on Friday. Eight-and-a-half hours after he began, this is how Bernie Sanders concluded.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me conclude. And it has been a long day. Let me simply say that I believe the proposal that was developed by the President and the Republicans are nowhere near as good as we can achieve. I don’t know that we able ourselves to get the handful of Republicans that we need to say no to this agreement, but I do believe that if the American people stand up — and by the way, it may not just be Republicans, there may be some Democrats, as well — 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," that if the American people are prepared to stand, and we are prepared to follow them, I think we can defeat this proposal. 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.
AMY GOODMAN: Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont took to the floor of the Senate 10:24 a.m. on Friday to speak out in opposition to President Obama’s tax-cut plan. He did not yield the floor until 6:59 in the evening, more that eight-and-a-half years — more than eight-and-a-half hours later. Senator Sanders’ speech made news around the country. A first vote on President Obama’s tax plan will — deal with the Republicans — will take place today in the Senate.