Friday, December 10, 2010


Having just written about a letter from a group of former leaders of European Union countries that is laboring mightily to get Middle East peace talks onto an acceptably productive track, it seems also appropriate to acknowledge a letter originating from our own Senate that is laboring just as mightily to bring some sanity to our system of taxation.  The parallel is painfully obvious:  Coming up with a tax system that will be seen as acceptable by both Wall Street and Main Street is probably about as realistic a goal as bringing about peace in the Middle East, particularly when Wall Street is about as resistant to change on their turf as Israel is on theirs (and has pretty much the same influence on any decisions made in Washington).  Thus, what President Barack Obama is trying to sell as productive compromise is being seen by many as caving in to Wall Street, whose only goal seems to be widening the income gap that separates them from Main Street.

In this case the letter originated with Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders;  and, while the BBC only reported about the Middle East letter to the current EU Administration and identified only some of the signatories, John Nichols has used a post to The Beat blog both to reproduce the letter and to identify all those who signed it.  This is clearly “share and enjoy” material.  In that spirit, here is what Sanders wrote:

The tax package announced by President Obama and Congressional Republicans includes some important provisions that we strongly support, but also a deeply misguided allocation of resources at a time that the United States does not have resources to waste.

The Senate, however, can make it better.  We ask that you ensure an opportunity for the Senate to vote on an amendment that will give the American people a clear choice whether they would prefer to give bonus tax cuts to the very wealthiest among us, as the package currently proposes, or to use these resources to strengthen Social Security.

Success in America should rightly be celebrated, but the very wealthy do not need bonus tax cuts and America cannot afford to give them.  As you know, the agreement would require American taxpayers to borrow over $50 billion in order to give, on average, $100,000 in additional annual tax cuts to people earning over $1 million per year.  These bonus tax cuts are on top of the $43,000 per year that millionaires will receive in tax cuts on their first million dollars of income.  The Congressional Budget Office ranked these tax cuts dead last in terms of effectiveness in boosting economic growth and job creation.  In a time of urgent national needs and long-term deficits, we believe the country has higher priorities than these huge tax cuts for the very wealthy.

Specifically, we propose to amend the package to restore tax rates on income over $1 million per year to the Clinton-era rates, and to dedicate the resulting revenues to shoring up the Social Security trust fund.  The President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform noted that in 2037, Social Security will exhaust its trust fund and be unable to pay full benefits, and consequently proposed a number of benefit cuts for seniors.  Improving Social Security’s finances is, in our opinion, a more important national priority than directing tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money to a relative handful of families.

We have grave misgivings about the recent tax agreement.  We hope that the Senate can improve on it.  We look forward to working with you to ensure a vote on our amendment to strengthen Social Security in lieu of bonus tax cuts for people who are doing quite well.

According to Nichols, those who added their signatures to Sanders’ letter are Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Alaska's Mark Begich, Hawaii's Daniel Akaka, Ohio's Sherrod Brown, Minnesota's Al Franken, Colorado's Mark Udall and California's Barbara Boxer.  At least we now know which members of the Senate believe that seeing viable economic recovery is more important that propping up deceptive figures of economic growth.

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