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Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, an Independent, is Vermont's junior senator

November 18th, 2011 7:15 PM

Democrats, Stop Caving In

Here is something we all can agree on: Federal deficits are a serious problem.

Here is something no one seriously disputes: Today's big deficits were caused mainly by big tax cuts for the wealthy, two unpaid-for wars, a horrible recession caused by Wall Street greed, and an expensive prescription drug program rigged to favor pharmaceutical companies.

Here is something we should not agree to do: Cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

There is surprisingly broad consensus among Americans (except inside the corporate-dominated D.C. beltway) on what to do about deficits. In poll after poll, strong majorities favor making the wealthiest Americans, who, in many cases, have never had it so good, share the sacrifice and pay a little more in taxes. Increasing taxes on the wealthy is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats and independents. A majority of Republicans and people in the Tea Party movement also support taxing millionaires to help bring down deficits. Even many millionaires say they should be paying higher taxes. At a time when many profitable corporations pay nothing in federal income taxes, there also is widespread support for closing corporate tax loopholes. Taking a hard look at mushrooming defense spending also enjoys widespread support.

For far too long, the Washington agenda has been set by powerful corporate interests and a right wing that do not represent the needs and aspirations of most Americans. For too long, the Democrats have gone along with Republican demands and caved in to these powerful special interests. The American people are frustrated and disgusted. They want Democrats to fight back.

As a Thanksgiving deadline nears for action by the powerful Super Committee on deficit reduction, I hope (but doubt) that Republicans will listen to the American people and support deficit reduction in a fair and responsible way. I hope (but doubt) that Democrats will not once again capitulate just for the sake of an agreement - but that's been the pattern.

In December -- when Democrats controlled the Senate, the House and the White House -- Congress and President Obama not only extended Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy but also gave new breaks to heirs of the super-rich.

In April -- with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats still in the majority in the Senate -- Republicans threatened to shut down the government and delay the processing of new Social Security benefits for senior citizens unless their demands were met. Democrats went along with $78 billion in cuts from the president's budget request.

In August, in an outrageous display of unprincipled gamesmanship, Republicans put the United States on the brink of bankruptcy. Instead of invoking clear 14th Amendment powers to honor our nation's debts, the president and most Democrats agreed to a $2.5 trillion deficit-reduction package.

That's how we got to where we are today.

Incredibly, throughout all of these negotiations -- in December, in April, in August and again today -- the wealthiest Americans and the country's major corporations have not yet been asked to contribute one penny toward deficit reduction. That is despite huge cuts in life-and-death programs for working families.

The American people have had it. The Occupy Wall Street movement is growing. A virtual popular uprising forced Bank of America to drop an unpopular $5 monthly debit card fee. On Election Day 2011, in Ohio and many other states the American people said NO to right-wing extremism and corporate greed.

The American people are very clear. They do not want Democrats to reach another 'grand bargain' with representatives of the rich and powerful that eviscerates the most successful and popular social programs in the history of this country. They want Democrats to stand up for the 99 percent, not the 1 percent.

If the president and Democrats on the super committee go along with cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the three pillars of the New Deal and the Great Society, and permanently extend the Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent, the American people will shake their heads in disbelief. They will arrive at the reasonably valid conclusion that there are no significant differences between the two parties controlled by corporate interests.

This is a pivotal moment in American history. The rich and large corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. Now is the time to answer the question that the Woody Guthrie song poignantly asked, "Which side are you on?" The Democrats must answer boldly that they are on the side of working families and the middle class and that they will fight to protect their interests.

What if the super committee ends in stalemate? Across-the-board, automatic cuts are set to kick in. That so-called sequestration wouldn't start, however, until 2013. That would make 2012 one of the most important election years in modern American history.

If Democrats stand with ordinary Americans and make it clear that they are prepared to take on the wealthy and the powerful, they could win both houses of Congress. They could give Obama a fresh infusion of boldness as he enters a second term in the White House.

Somehow I recall a few years ago millions of Americans chanting, "Yes, We Can." Now is the time to hear their voices.

Follow Sen. Bernie Sanders on Twitter: www.twitter.com/senatorsanders

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