Sen. Bernie Sanders at a meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 21, 2013. (Win McNamee/Getty …
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont filibustered President Barack Obama's late 2010 tax deal with Republicans. His 8.5-hour marathon on the Senate floor failed to stop the legislation, but FiliBernie was a hit with liberals. Now, Sanders, who is perhaps the Senate's most liberal member, is vowing to pull out all the stops to block Obama's push for cuts to Social Security spending.
“I am terribly disappointed and will do everything in my power to block President Obama’s proposal to cut benefits for Social Security recipients," Sanders said in a statement on Friday. "As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I also am especially concerned about the impact this change would have on disabled veterans and their survivors."
Sanders has been waging a campaign opposing the use of chained CPI, which would mean lower annual cost-of-living increases for Social Security benefits and veterans, and would reduce help to the poor. Making the change would cut federal spending by roughly $130 billion over 10 years. But it would also adjust how taxes are calculated, generating about $100 billion in new revenue over the same period.
Obama will include it in his budget, to be unveiled April 10. Federal budgets are not like family budgets—they’re nonbinding spending road maps that serve chiefly as statements of political priorities and punching bags for political opponents. Even if Obama’s budget passes both the House and Senate (it won’t) and he signs it, it’s unlikely to have much impact on how Congress decides to spend federal dollars.
That’s not to say that it’s a wholly useless bit of theater. Washington has been at war over how best to reduce deficits and rein in the country’s galloping debt. The budget says, in effect, what Obama might be willing to do to achieve those goals, which in turn puts pressure on congressional Democrats to fall in line.
Obama’s support for that longstanding Republican wish-list item is not really a surprise. It’s been a part of each of his “grand bargain” offers to the GOP for cutting the deficit. White House press secretary Jay Carney had said in his April 1 daily briefing that the proposal “remains on the table.”
But Sanders, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, recalled that candidate Obama promised Americans in 2008 that he would not cut Social Security.
"This is not a minor tweak, as its proponents contend," Sanders scolded. "Under Obama’s proposal, according to the Social Security Administration, 65-year-old retirees would lose more than $650 a year by their 75th birthday, and more than $1,000 a year would be cut from their benefits once they reach 85. The proposed change would also affect more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who started receiving V.A. disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 a year at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65. Benefits for more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children would also be cut."
How far would Sanders be willing to go to block chained CPI? His statement did not explicitly say whether we'll see The Return Of FiliBernie.