1 Bernie Sanders' Filibuster Stalls Tax Cut Deal
2 Tax-Cut Deal: Sympathy for the President
Bernie Sanders Filibuster: Senator Stalls Tax Cut Deal
The Huffington Post
UPDATE: The filibuster ended just shy of 7:00 PM ET,
after 8 hours and 37 minutes of speaking.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is leading a stalling
session resembling a filibuster against Obama's tax
proposal on the Senate floor Friday, after earlier
promising "to take as long as I can to explain to the
American people the fact that we have got to do a lot
better than this agreement provides."
As First Read notes, however, the event is not an
actual filibuster under the traditional definition: "If
it were a true filibuster, he would be blocking
Republicans from conducting business or speaking."
The near-filibuster, which began at 10:25 AM, became so
popular that it temporarily shut down the Senate video
Sanders kicked off the debate on the bill with a two-
hour stand in opposition to the tax cut deal before
handing over the lectern to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
and then Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
"How can I get by on one house?" Sanders said. "I need
five houses, ten houses! I need three jet planes to
take me all over the world! Sorry, American people.
We've got the money, we've got the power, we've got the
lobbyists here and on Wall Street. Tough luck. That's
the world, get used to it. Rich get richer. Middle
In discussing the cost of Obama's plan, Sanders
castigated Republicans for "hypocrisy" in their concern
over the debt and deficit, saying that if they voted on
the package, there should be "no more lectures" from
GOP senators about spending.
But Sanders said the issue wasn't only about the price
of the two-year extension of the tax cuts, it was about
the precedent that was being set by the deal.
"If [Obama] caves in now, who's going to believe that
he's not going to do the same thing in two years,"
Sanders said, expressing his belief that a vote in the
future would produce a further and perhaps permanent
extension of the cuts.
UPDATE: A Sanders spokesman told HuffPost's Arthur
Delaney that Sanders will talk "as long as he can" and
that the 69-year-old senator has not taken a break
since morning or had anything but water. The spokesman
could not predict when the speechifying would stop. "He
doesn't have an end time."
Read Sanders' blog post about the almost-filibuster
Tax-Cut Deal: Sympathy for the President
December 20, 2010
It was tough times for progressives before President
Obama announced his tax-cut "compromise" with the GOP
this week. The Democrats were routed in the midterm
elections, tea party zombies were in ascent, and the
inspiring change-candidate of 2008 wasn't looking too
triumphant. Then came the deal, and many on the left
became apoplectic, accusing Obama of caving to the
obstructionist Republicans. After all, he had indeed
yielded on an article of faith for the left: George W.
Bush's tax cut bonuses for the well-to-do had to go.
Perhaps even worse, Obama had reached this hard-to-
swallow accommodation without forcing the just-say-no
GOPers into a showdown. (Former Labor Secretary Robert
Reich denounced the deal as an "abomination.") But
after talking to several top administration officials,
I've become a tad more sympathetic regarding Obama's
decision to negotiate this pact.
The agreement is indeed ugly. In exchange for decent
policies that can help mid- and low-income Americans --
temporarily extending the Bush era tax cuts for middle
and lower brackets, continuing a variety of refundable
tax credits, cutting payroll taxes, extending
unemployment insurance -- Obama accepted a high price:
a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the
wealthy and generous breaks on the estate tax for the
well-heeled. Essentially, the swells will benefit much
more than hard-pressed commoners.
Here's how it breaks down: Obama's desired provisions
will provide about $214 billion in tax cuts and
benefits to 156 million people, and the GOP's treats
will dole out $133 billion to 4 million. You can do the
math without a calculator and see that those poor rich
folks will be handed oodles more than the rest. One
comparison: On average, people with more than $1
million in income will end up with an extra $140,000. A
taxpayer in the $40,000-to-$50,000 range will receive
$1,679. You may ask yourself, why do millionaires and
billionaires warrant more pocket money, particularly
when it's generally accepted that spreading cash among
the rich is not effective economic stimulation? The
answer: That's what Republicans want. And Obama is
right: They held the rest of America hostage -- no cuts
and benefits for you, unless there's "relief" for the
Liberal House Democrats and other progressives are
enraged about this -- and rightly so. The House D's on
Thursday passed a non-binding resolution that decried
the deal; dozens of them have vowed not to accept it
unless amended. They want a fight. And they yearn to
see Obama be at least as ticked off at GOP
obstructionists as he is with his on-the-left critics
(whom he testily chastised at a press conference
earlier this week).
I'd like that, too. The White House and the Dems should
have gone after the Republicans on this months ago --
before the election (even if some D's thought such a
brawl would not boost their reelection prospects).
Obama has not succeeded in an important mission:
depicting the Republicans as extremists who routinely
block attempts to revive the economy and who care
mostly about easing the tax burdens on millionaires.
This accord would have been far more palatable at the
end of a fight, rather than as a substitute for
But come this point, Obama had to play a lousy hand --
even though it was a hand he had a hand in dealing. And
here comes the sympathy.
In meeting after meeting, during which the president
and his aides discussed his options, Obama repeatedly
asked if anyone could guarantee that were he to put up
his dukes, go to the mat, and play chicken with the
GOPers, mid- and low-income Americans would end up with
the breaks and benefits he believed they need. If he
went nose-to-nose, mano-a-mano, and the R's didn't
blink, they'd be nothing for nobody -- and the Bush tax
cuts would end for the middle class, mean that come
Jan. 1, hard-working Americans would see a smaller
paycheck. To make matters worse, this might have an
anti-stimulative effect on the economy.
Then what would happen? He might be able to win the
blame-game against the Scrooge-ish Republicans -- which
would be a significant victory, especially heading into
the next Congress. But there would be no action until
next year, and any tax-related bill would have to
originate in the Republican-controlled House and pass a
Senate with a larger and more tea party-ish GOP caucus.
It could take weeks or months to hammer out a package.
What were the odds it would contain as much assistance
for the non-rich? In the meantime, working-class
Americans would be contending with less money. That is,
So at this late stage of the game, in the dwindling
moments of the 111th Congress, should Obama have been
willing to put those Americans on the line in order to
do battle with the nefarious Republicans? Had he done
so and won (forcing the GOPers to forgo the the tax
bennies for the rich and to accept tax cuts and
benefits, including unemployment insurance, for
others), he would have saved the nation a lot of money
and not established some dangerous precedents (such as
the more generous exemptions for the estate tax). He
would have served several valuable principles: We don't
pay off the rich to help struggling Americans; we don't
negotiate with hostage-takers. It would have been
glorious. But had he failed, he might not have been
able subsequently to work out a deal with the benefits
of this one. As the nation has learned, the Republicans
cannot be shamed into supporting measures that help
besieged Americans -- but they can be bought off.
Of course, no one can say how such a titanic clash
would have climaxed. But Obama is the lonely-at-the-top
fellow who is responsible for the well-being of the
citizenry. It's his job description. If you consider
this moment from that perspective -- even if he
miscalculated his way to this, uh, decision point --
it's a tad bit tougher to pummel him. Sure, this deal
is causing havoc, dividing the Democratic Party as well
as his base. (As I was tweeting Obama's press
conference this week, half of the responses were
vituperative denunciations from past Obama supporters
now accusing him of selling out; the other half were
hurrahs from Obama backers who cheered him as a
pragmatic hero doing his best to overcome ungodly GOP
intransigence.) Yet once again, Obama appears to have
lost the narrative war. The immediate storyline, right
or wrong, was that the Republicans rolled the
It's not hard to see why the guy who had to make this
difficult call opted not to go nuclear. Obama was
engaged in asymmetrical warfare, He apparently worried
about what would happen to the unemployed and put-upon
Americans without a deal. The Republicans didn't. This
put Obama at a disadvantage. I don't counsel anyone not
to criticize the package (and how Obama steered himself
and his party into this corner). But I can almost feel
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