Sanders Working To Filibuster Tax Deal

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders says he’s trying to put together an unusual coalition of senators to defeat a tax package backed by President Obama and many Congressional Republicans.

Sanders is appealing to liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans to eliminate an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) According to Mary Baumann of the U.S. Senate Historical Office, it’s very unusual for a Vermont senator to lead the effort to filibuster a specific bill because she says Vermont senators have a long reputation of working behind the scenes to achieve their goals.

That’s not the case with Senator Bernie Sanders and his determination to derail a tax agreement between President Obama and Congressional Republicans.

(Sanders) "Do I think we have a chance to defeat this proposal and then come up with a better one which makes sure that we do extend tax breaks to 98% of our population – everybody in the middle class – that we do make sure that 2 million unemployed workers get extended unemployment benefits? Do I think we have a shot at that? I do. Is it going to be a very tough fight?  It surely will."

(Kinzel) During his Congressional career, Sanders has occasionally put together a coalition of members from the far left and the far right.  He’s now appealing to very conservative Republicans who are unhappy that the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy doesn’t have a funding source and would add 700 billion dollars to the national deficit over a ten year period:

(Sanders) "Our job now is to get a handful of Republican senators to join us and say ‘no’. With a $13 trillion national debt, when the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider, it is totally absurd to give huge tax breaks to the very richest people in this country."

(Kinzel) For the last two years, Sanders has sharply criticized Senate Republican leaders for using the filibuster to block legislation because it means that 60 votes are needed to pass a controversial bill in the Senate.

Sanders is now threatening to use the filibuster to defeat this tax bill, but he says the circumstances are very different.

(Sanders) "Do I think it is inappropriate to take advantage of existing rules in order to protect the middle class and our kids? No I don’t. Long term, do I think we need to have changes in the rules to make this institution less dysfunctional? I do believe that and that is something we’re working on."

(Kinzel) Economist Dick Heaps says there’s something for everyone to dislike in this tax package but he argues it’s the best bill that has any chance of passing Congress this year.

Heaps says a much larger concern is the size of the national deficit.

(Heaps) "We have this deficit commission that issued a report that’s an extremely serious thing that we need to begin to take some action on and we solved this short run problem. We can’t all relax, pat ourselves on the back and go home.

(Kinzel) The Senate could hold its first vote on the tax cut package in the next few days.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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