Sanders opposed to Social Security reform plan

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders says he strongly opposes President Bush’s new plan to reform Social Security.

Bush has proposed cutting benefit levels for middle and upper income individuals to help keep the program solvent for decades to come. Sanders says the president’s plan will turn Social Security into an entitlement program, and the congressman thinks that development would be a major mistake.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For virtually his entire political career, independent Congressman, Bernie Sanders, has been a proponent of raising taxes on wealthy people. In recent years, he’s strongly opposed President Bush’s tax cuts for upper income people because Sanders feels the government needs the revenue to fully fund critical domestic programs.

At first blush, one might think that Sanders would support elements of Bush’s new Social Security plan. The proposal guarantees current benefit levels for low-income workers while it reduces future levels for many middle and upper income individuals.

Sanders says it’s unfair to cut Social Security benefits for middle income workers. The president’s plan would begin to reduce benefits for individuals who make more than $37,000 a year.

Sanders also opposes benefit reductions for the wealthiest people. He’s concerned that this approach will eventually erode support for the entire program.

(Sanders) “What Social Security is about is an American program. It’s for all Americans. We all contribute. What we have to do now is make the funding of Social Security more progressive by lifting the cap, not by eliminating people, not by going after upper income people or middle income people. Because if you do that, not tomorrow but 20, 30 years down the road what Social Security will then be, is a welfare program for low income seniors which will have very little support.”

(Kinzel) It’s very likely that Sanders will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by senator Jim Jeffords in 2006. Sanders expects the race will be a referendum on the president’s major priorities.

(Sanders) “And the agenda of the Republican party has been and will be huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in our country, cutbacks in Medicaid cutbacks in environmental protection, cutbacks for our veterans and that is to a significant degree what the election is about. Do you approve of the agenda of the Bush Administration, or do you not? And I think on that issue, my record is pretty clear. I think the president’s agenda is very, very reactionary.”

(Kinzel) It’s not clear who the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate will be. Over the weekend, Governor, Jim Douglas, announced he won’t run for the seat.

IDX Corporation founder, Richard Tarrant, and Lt. Governor, Brian Dubie have both expressed interest in the race and other candidates may emerge in the coming months. It’s likely that the Democrats will not run a well known candidate because they fear a strong three-way Senate contest might insure a victory for the Republican candidate.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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