By an overwhelming 83-15 vote this afternoon the U.S. Senate voted to approve a sweeping compromise to extend tax cuts to Americans of all income levels, casting aside the complaints raised Friday by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in a daylong faux filibuster.
Sanders told Seven Days the Senate's approval was "disappointing, but not surprising." Sanders said it's unclear at this point whether the populist anger he fomented Friday had an impact on his colleagues.
"That's a good question," said Sanders. "At this point I know that my office and those of other senators I spoke with today did receive thousands of phone calls, but I'm not sure if that had an impact on how senators voted."
Sanders said he had no intention of a repeat filibuster during today's vote. "I think we're through with filibusters for awhile," he said. "I think I made my feelings about the legislation clear."
Aside from tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent of wage earners, Sanders said he also has concerns about the bill's purported payroll tax cut that will cost $112 billion. While many people believe this will help put money into the pockets of the middle class, Sanders argues it also takes money out of the Social Security system.
"The truth is that it is a very good thing for the economy if we can put money directly into the hands of working people, but we did that in the stimulus bill last year when we gave each taxpayer $400," said Sanders. "We shouldn't be doing this at the expense of Social Security — it's like taking money out of your retirement account."
Sanders said the payroll tax cut, touted by Pres. Barack Obama, was originally a Republican concept which the junior senator believes is aimed at weakening Social Security.
Joining Sanders in his disappointment at the Senate's passage of the tax package was Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who also voted against the legislation.
"I support tax relief for working and middle-income Vermonters, but I am not willing to add another $858 billion to our national debt in order to give enormous tax breaks to multi-millionaires," Leahy said in a statement. "I am first and foremost a Vermonter, and the citizens of Vermont elected me to express my Vermont values. In this case, I believe the deal on tax cuts is wrong for most Vermonters, and certainly wrong for our country."
Leahy said one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush administration was launching a war on two separate fronts and paying for them out of future budgets and at the same time cutting taxes for the wealthy.
"We should not repeat that mistake by rubberstamping this agreement between President Obama and Congressional Republicans to extend and expand the Bush-era tax cuts for two more years," added Leahy.
Pres. Obama hailed the passage of the legislation in the Senate.
In a statement released by the White House, Obama said: "I recognize that folks on both sides of the political spectrum are unhappy with certain parts of the package, and I understand those concerns. I share some of them. But that's the nature of compromise — sacrificing something that each of us cares about to move forward on what matters to all of us. Right now, that's growing the economy and creating jobs. And nearly every economist agrees that that is what this package will do."
The bill now moves on to the House where Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) is leading opposition to the package in that chamber. Last week, Welch had 53 colleagues sign onto a bill opposing the legislation's passage.
Statement of Sen. Bernie Sanders:
It makes no sense to me to provide huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires while we drive up the national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay. I further object strenuously to the lowering of rates on the estate tax, which only benefits the top 0.3 percent, the very, very wealthiest people in this country. I also am concerned about a significant precedent which diverts $112 billion in payroll taxes away from the Social Security trust fund. Our goal now must be to strengthen Social Security, not weaken it. Of course we must extend unemployment benefits and the tax breaks that the middle class desperately needs, but in my view we could have and should have negotiated a much stronger agreement.
Sanders also issued a separate statement to the thousands of people who emailed and called his office last week. You can find that statement here.
Statement of Sen. Patrick Leahy:
I support tax relief for working and middle-income Vermonters, but I am not willing to add another $858 billion to our national debt in order to give enormous tax breaks to multi-millionaires.
I am first and foremost a Vermonter, and the citizens of Vermont elected me to express my Vermont values. In this case, I believe the deal on tax cuts is wrong for most Vermonters, and certainly wrong for our country. Given the overwhelming number of calls, letters, and emails I have received this past week, most Vermonters seem to agree with me as well. I commend Senator Sanders for speaking out so strongly against this tax deal on the Senate floor last Friday.
One of the biggest mistakes of the last administration was to wage two wars without paying for them, while cutting taxes for the most wealthy. We should not repeat that mistake by rubberstamping this agreement between President Obama and Congressional Republicans to extend and expand the Bush-era tax cuts for two more years.
The Bush tax cuts have led to record federal deficits, contributed to the government’s current financial woes, and have not helped many Americans who face the greatest financial burdens. Most disappointingly, the Bush tax cuts failed to “trickle down” to help those Americans most in need. Instead, the wealthiest two percent of Americans have benefited substantially.
As The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, most of the wealthy beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts have not injected that money directly into the economy to hire new workers or create new jobs. Rather than using their windfall to invest in our economy, corporations are building record cash reserves and executive pay is through the roof once again. Why would anyone think that extending the tax cuts to the wealthiest among us will produce a different result now?