Drawing the Line on Tax Breaks
By Sen. Bernie Sanders
11/19/10 9:56 AM EST
The billionaires are on the warpath. They want more,
The top 1 percent now controls more wealth than the
bottom 90 percent combined. Not enough!
In 2007, the top 1 percent of U.S. income earners made
23.5 percent of all income -- more than the bottom 50
percent combined. Not enough! The share of income going
to the top 1 percent has nearly tripled since the
mid-1970s. Not enough! Eighty percent of all new income
earned from 1980 to 2005 has gone to the top 1 percent.
Wall Street executives, with their obscene compensation
packages, now earn more than they did before we bailed
them out. Not enough! With the middle class collapsing
and the rich getting richer, the United States now has
by far the most unequal distribution of income and
wealth of any major country on earth. Not enough!
The very rich want more, more, more, and they are
prepared to dismantle the existing political and social
order to get it. During the midterm campaign, as a
result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision,
billionaires were able to pour hundreds of millions of
dollars of secret money into the campaign -- helping to
elect dozens of members of Congress.
Now, having made their investment, they want their
congressional employees to produce. Republicans in
Congress, needless to say, are all on board. The issue
is whether a Democratic president and Senate will go
along to get along. Or will they draw a clear line at
protecting the interests of the middle class and other,
more vulnerable populations while tackling our economic
and budgetary problems in earnest?
Despite Republicans’ loud rhetoric about the "deficit
crisis," the GOP now wants to add $700 billion to the
national debt over the next 10 years -- by extending
the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent of earners.
Families who earn $1 million a year or more would
receive, on average, a tax break of $100,000 a year.
Republicans also want to eliminate or significantly
reduce the estate tax, which has existed since 1916.
Its elimination would add, over 10 years, about $1
trillion to our national debt.
All benefits would go to the top 0.3 percent. More than
99.7 percent of families would not gain a nickel. But
Walmart’s Walton family would receive an estimated tax
break of more than $30 billion if the estate tax were
That’s just the start.
The billionaires and their supporters in Congress are
hellbent on taking us back to the 1920s, eliminating
all traces of social legislation designed to protect
working families, the elderly, children and the
disabled. No "social contract" for them. They want it
They want to privatize or dismantle Social Security,
Medicare and Medicaid and let the elderly, the sick and
the poor fend for themselves.
They want to expand our disastrous trade policies so
corporations can continue throwing U.S. workers out on
the street as they outsource jobs to China and other
countries known for low wages. Some want to eliminate
the minimum wage so American workers can have the
"freedom" to work for $3 an hour.
They want to eliminate or slash the Department of
Education, making it harder for working-class kids to
get a decent education, child care or the help they
need to go to college.
They want to rescind the modest financial reform bill
so Wall Street executives can engage in all the
reckless behavior that has been so devastating to our
They want to curtail the powers of the Environmental
Protection Agency and the Department of Energy so
ExxonMobil can remain the most profitable corporation
in history and oil and coal companies can continue to
pollute our air and water.
They want to make sure billionaire hedge-fund managers
have a lower federal tax rate than middle-class
teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers by
maintaining a loophole in the tax code known as
We know what billionaires and their Republican
supporters want. They’ve been upfront about it.
But what about Democrats? Will President Barack Obama
continue to reach out and compromise with people who
have made it abundantly clear that the only agreement
they want is unconditional surrender? Or will he use
the powerful skills we saw in his 2008 presidential
campaign and bring working families, young people, the
elderly and the poor together to fight these attacks on
Will Senate Democrats continue to pass tepid
legislation, or will they use their majority status to
protect the interests of ordinary Americans and -- for
a change -- put Republicans on the defensive?
While it’s true billionaires and their supporters are
"fired up and ready to go," there’s another, more
important truth: There are a lot more of us than there
are of them.
Now is the time for us to stand together, educate and
organize. Now is the time to roll back this orgy of
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) serves on the Budget
Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources
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