Mr. Sanders Goes To Washington

Bernie Sanders took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to rail against President Obama's tax cut deal. It was history in the making, but it's not clear that it actually accomplished anything.

With the possible exception of Bill Clinton’s bizarre late afternoon appearance in the White House press room, the biggest story in Washington yesterday was the 8 1/2 hour long speech given by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on the floor of the Senate:

At 10:24 Friday morning, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont took to the floor of the Senate to share a few thoughts about the tax-cut plan brokered by President Obama and Republican leaders.

Well after the sun had set and most of his colleagues had flown home, Sanders was still sharing – about taxes, bad trade deals and “the crooks on Wall Street,” among many other topics.

“China, China, CHINA!” he yelled at one point, stressing that the $14 trillion national debt was largely being financed by the Chinese government’s decision to continue buying U.S. bonds.

By early evening Sanders took to reading letters from constituents who had been hit hard by the Great Recession.

Sanders yielded at times to Democratic colleagues who wanted to speak briefly against the plan, but otherwise he held the floor until nearly 7 p.m., his thick Brooklyn-born accent filling the chamber.

It looked a lot like a good old-fashioned filibuster, only Sanders wasn’t actually stopping anything. Under a bipartisan deal reached Thursday, a vote would be held Monday on the tax deal no matter how long Sanders spoke or what he said Friday.

“You can call what I am doing today whatever you want, you it [sic] call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech,” said Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. “I’m not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle. I am simply here today 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.”

The last time any senator spoke as long as Sanders did was in November 2003, when Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), then the minority whip, spoke more than nine hours all by himself to protest a proposal by Republicans to eliminate filibusters on judicial nominations. To help fill the hours, Reid even read from his autobiography.

Before that, the only other attempt at an old-school filibuster in the past two decades came from Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.) in 1992, when he spoke for more than 15 hours against a tax provision that would close a typewriter plant in his state. D’Amato sang “South of the Border” at times, protesting how the typewriter plant was headed for Mexico.

While technically not a filibuster and apparently done largely with the prior consent and knowledge of Senate leadership, Sanders’ speech nonetheless garnered much attention online:

Sen. Bernie Sanders went from filibuster to Twitter-buster hours into his nine-hour stand Friday against the proposed tax cut deal, the first genuine filibuster seen in the Senate since 1992.

Twitter users flocked to Sanders’ page to express their support for the independent senator from Vermont, a longtime critic of extending tax cuts for America’s wealthiest and a vocal critic of the deal President Obama negotiated with Republicans, as he stood talking for hour after hour with only water as sustenance.

Sanders added more than 4,000 new Twitter followers, and his name trended at No. 1 on  Twitter throughout much of the afternoon. His name was also a top search term on Google Trends.

Sanders took the floor at 7:25 a.m. PST and eventually ceded it just after 4 p.m. His staff tweeted continually through his stand, the latest being: “Sen. Bernie Sanders is now in his 9th hour of …

…non-stop #filibuster. Sanders has not left the floor once in that time.”

Here at OTB, the little one-off post I did yesterday morning noting that Sanders had been on the floor for about an hour and a half and showed no signs of stopping ended up generating more traffic via social networking sites and search engines than any single post in quite some time. Clearly, people were interested in something that you don’t see very often to begin with.

The question is whether Sanders’ marathon speech will accomplish anything. Michael Tomasky at The Guardian suggests it could stiffen the resolve of Democrats opposed to the tax cut deal between President Obama and Senate Republicans:

Still, it’ll be enough to make Sanders a hero to the left. “Bernie for President” talk will … heck, there’s probably already a website. Let’s hope he doesn’t drink any Ralph Nader juice. He’s a good senator and should stay there.

However, let’s also hope that there arises a popular groundswell behind his efforts today, enough that some other Democrats and – God help us – a few Republicans see that his view is a responsible one. It is one, after all, that majorities typically support in polls.

People, especially liberals, need to remember that even if or when this deal passes, the tax fight is a long way from over. Obama and the Democrats have a mulligan here, a 2012 do-over. Sanders and simpatico colleagues like Sherrod Brown can lead a progressive charge to strengthen the no-upper-bracket-cuts position when all this comes up again. Two years will pass quickly enough.

In the meantime, even though I disagree with Sanders’ position, I do like his style.

I do have to agree with Tomasky there. I pretty much disagreed with everything Sanders said yesterday, but you’ve got to have  certain am0ut of admiration for the chutzpah of someone who’s willing to speak, largely extemporaneously, for eight hours about something they believe in passionately. It’s part of a grand tradition in American politics and, as I’ve noted before, it’s the kind of filibuster I’d like to see return to the Senate.

As for the tax debate itself, I’m not sure what impact Sanders tour de force will have. He isn’t the only Senator with doubts about the deal, and with House Democrats in open revolt against the White House, the odds against passage seem to be rising by the day. If that happens, Sanders will not have lit the fire, but he sure as heck helped it spread.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Taxes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Stan says:

    I’ve benefited hugely from Bush’s cut in the capital gains tax, but I think it was lousy public policy. If you want to encourage investment, you say that capital gains on stock bought AFTER passage of the tax cut bill will be taxed at such and such a rate, and if you want to eliminate spurious capital gains due to inflation, you write that into the bill. This of course wasn’t done. The bill simply rewarded wealth. I’ve yet to see an economic justification for low tax rates on the wealthy that passes that laugh test. So I say, right on, Bernie Sanders, you’re one of the few honest people in the Senate.

  2. floyd says:

    So the idea is to punish wealth?
    Now I am beginning to better understand the left’s approach.
    This explains why they want to punish work and productivity while rewarding sloth and dependency. Thank you Stan for the clarification.
    This does beg a particular question however…. If wealth is so evil, why does the left wish to confiscate it all and redistribute it without regard to rewarding effort? Is it the effort itself which is evil, or is it just not fair that hard work should yield more wealth than a walk to the mailbox?

  3. floyd says:

    “China, China, CHINA!” he yelled at one point, stressing that the $14 trillion national debt was largely being financed by the Chinese government’s decision to continue buying U.S. bonds.”
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    I’m assuming that Mr Sanders in his usual “eloquence” is explaining that the congress will of course spend several times the amout which they have at their disposal.
    “Disposal” being the key word.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    “So the idea is to punish wealth?”

    No, the idea is to encourage investment, do pay attention…

    “This explains why they want to punish work and productivity while rewarding sloth and dependency.”

    How, exactly, does “the left” want to do these things?

    And while some are railing against “the left” and how much they want to spend, perhaps some rancor should be held for “the right”, or at least those who are supposed to represent the right…oh wait, the GOP is now supposedly the middle, isn’t it? “The right” no longer has any representation, or at least that’s the sham theory I’ve seen now that Republicans have negotiated this deal…I guess they’re all just RINOs now…

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    lol, a socialist filibustering the United States Senate, what a strange U.S.A. we live in.

  6. anjin-san says:

    > Now I am beginning to better understand the left’s approach.

    No, but you are doing pretty well at repeating Fox talking points

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, do you somehow thing all wisdom comes from Fox News? Surely we know none of it comes from you. All you ever want to do is take that which belongs to others to give to those who have not. If you feel that way, give yours. Leave the decision to give mine to me.
    Stan, I am far from wealthy but I did purchase a large amount (for me) of Ford stock when it was around a dollar and a half. I have no idea why the government is entitled to any percentage of that decision. If I had lost money, how would I have written that off? If the government would get out of the business of minding other people’s business and do what is outlined in the Constitution rather than finding ways to change what was a comodity into a right which must be paid for by taxes we would be better off as a nation.
    If you don’t like the way it is done here move to a communist country of your choosing. Might I suggest North Korea. Wealth is not a problem there.

  8. TG Chicago says:

    “So the idea is to punish wealth?”

    No, you invented that. Stan said “the bill simply reward[s] wealth”. But to take away those rewards would not be to punish wealth.

    For another example, if we took away the mortgage exemption, we wouldn’t be punishing homeowners. We would just stop rewarding them for something they’d likely do anyway.

    If you don’t see this point, then I’m going to have to start complaining that the government is punishing me by refusing to grant me a special TG Chicago Tax Cut.

  9. floyd says:

    No tax is a reward, an obligation perhaps?
    When confronted by a robber at gunpoint, most would feel obliged to pay up, few would go home feeling rewarded.

  10. Stan says:

    floyd and zels, take it easy. I’m not advocating socialism. Unequal incomes and wealth are necessary, I think, to encourage hard work and innovation. The question is, how unequal? Beyond a certain point, inequality is bad for an economy like ours because the middle class is unable to buy enough to sustain our consumer structure, and it’s bad for social stability. Natural economic forces are one cause of inequality, another is changing social norms, specifically changing expectations on the part of our managerial class. I see no need for government to aid the process by cutting taxes on the wealthy unless there is some compelling economic reason. There wasn’t any, in the case of the Bush capital gains tax.

    If I may say so, I think both of you are a tad hysterical. You’re throwing the word “communist” around much too readily. I suggest you learn what it means before using it again. I also think you ought to consider whether it’s possible that even you two might decide that too high a percentage of our productivity gains are going to the people at the top.

  11. anjin-san says:

    > No tax is a reward, an obligation perhaps?
    When confronted by a robber at gunpoint, most would feel obliged to pay up, few would go home feeling rewarded.

    Floyd.. this stuff is what you would expect from a high school kid who just read Atlas Shrugged for the first time.

    Have you used public roads today? Public sewers? Guess what skippy, you are not being “robbed”. Is there a guy in your town who has a house that costs five times as much as yours and pays property taxes in proportion? Do you give him a check at the end of the year to make up for the services that you both use, but that he pays more for? No? Guess you are robbing him…

  12. anjin-san says:

    > All you ever want to do is take that which belongs to others to give to those who have not.

    I will break my Zels boycott for a moment to address this.

    Do you even have a job Zels? I do. Our household income is in the top 5% in the country, and I assure you that we work our asses off for it. We provide financial support to three relatives who are elderly/ill, to the extent we bought a home for one of them in the bay area, which is not cheap. We also give time and money to several local charities. We could just take this money and kick it in the south of France for 6 weeks every year, but we choose to take care of others who for various reasons are unable to do it for themselves.

    So you see, I take the money I make and give it to others who have not. You just whine a lot. Really a lot.

    Kindly go Fuvk yourself.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    “When confronted by a robber at gunpoint, most would feel obliged to pay up, few would go home feeling rewarded.”

    Anyone who really feels this way about taxation would do well never to use public roads, never to call the police if someone is breaking into his house, never to call the fire department if his house is on fire, and never to send his children to public schools and/or colleges, among many other things…

    “Beyond a certain point, inequality is bad for an economy like ours because the middle class is unable to buy enough to sustain our consumer structure, and it’s bad for social stability.”

    Exactly right…that is a hardly a socialist, communist, or any other kind of bogeyman view that anyone might like to spin it as…

    “If you don’t like the way it is done here move to a communist country of your choosing. Might I suggest North Korea. Wealth is not a problem there.”

    Along those same lines, if you don’t like the way it is done here, move to a libertarian paradise of your choosing. Might I suggest Somalia? Government is not a problem there…

  14. No tax is a reward, an obligation perhaps?
    When confronted by a robber at gunpoint, most would feel obliged to pay up, few would go home feeling rewarded.

    That’s really what it comes done to. I just saw that Wesley Snipes is going to prison for 7 years or so for tax evasion. Not that I feel sorry for him, but our government really does hold us a gunpoint.

  15. Eric Florack says:

    Do you even have a job Zels? I do. Our household income is in the top 5% in the country, and I assure you that we work our asses off for it. We provide financial support to three relatives who are elderly/ill, to the extent we bought a home for one of them in the bay area, which is not cheap. We also give time and money to several local charities. We could just take this money and kick it in the south of France for 6 weeks every year, but we choose to take care of others who for various reasons are unable to do it for themselves.

    All without governmental involvement? All without being forced to by the government?
    Amazing.

  16. Eric Florack says:

    Has it occurred to anyone that the complaints Sanders makes are exactly the same complaints made by Stalin and Hitler? They used class warfare to gain power, too…..Perhaps it’s not accident that Sanders is a self-admitted socialist, as were both Stalin and Hitler?

  17. Grewgills says:

    Yeah, bit is right. Sanders is Hitler! Quick get your Gay and Jewish relatives out of Connecticut.

    IDIOT

  18. sam says:

    “Has it occurred to anyone that the complaints Sanders makes are exactly the same complaints made by Stalin and Hitler?”

    I see BitEric has turned his commentbot on.

  19. sam says:

    @ Stan

    “Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 16:08

    floyd and zels, take it easy.”

    Don’t waste the bytes, Stan.

  20. Eric Florack says:

    What any despot needs is an enemy… a target to focus anger at, Grew.

  21. Eric Florack says:

    I pretty much disagreed with everything Sanders said yesterday, but you’ve got to have certain am0ut of admiration for the chutzpah of someone who’s willing to speak, largely extemporaneously, for eight hours about something they believe in passionately.

    I note with a mix of amusement and alarm that Fidel Castro is noted for this.

  22. nevrdull says:

    > Has it occurred to anyone that the complaints Sanders makes are exactly the same complaints made by Stalin and Hitler?

    are you really that dense?

  23. Eric Florack says:

    What, you didn’t notice that their complaints are the same?
    Or are you simply denying the similarity because you fear you’ll have to admit something you’d rather not?

  24. anjin-san says:

    > All without governmental involvement? All without being forced to by the government?
    Amazing.

    What are you going on about?

  25. anjin-san says:

    > Not that I feel sorry for him, but our government really does hold us a gunpoint.

    If you enjoy the considerable benefits of our society, many of which flow from the work of the government, and duck out when its time to pay the bill. who is the robber?

    Or would you prefer to live in a country with inadequate national security, bad roads, not enough hospitals, and so on?

  26. Davebo says:

    Dimbit manages to invoke Hitler, Stalin and Castro!

    Epic win!

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    It ‘s crays that you libs can’t see the similarities, twixt you and the communists, fascists, and the Nazi. It is very obvious, as if history was repeating itself, of being fulfilled.

    But just keep thinking that your just the new norm and that the people that try to show you the history your repeating are the villains.

    The world needs role players too…….I guess…..

    same as it ever was same as it ever was

  28. Eric Florack says:

    GA: Quite.

  29. anjin-san says:

    > The world needs role players too…….I guess…..

    That is why we have you and bitsy. The world needs clowns too…

  30. An Interested Party says:

    “What any despot needs is an enemy… a target to focus anger at…”

    Indeed, a target like Muslims or liberals or the poor or black and brown people…

  31. An Interested Party says:

    While the usual suspects around here actually want to compare Bernie Sanders to Hitler and Stalin ( I guess the irony is lost on these people that Sanders and his family probably would have been sent off to a particular kind of camp in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia), let’s take a look at a view in minature of what the national GOP is doing…

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/12/11/the-tea-party-in-power

    How’s that fiscal responsiblity working for you…

  32. Eric Florack says:

    And at what point have I ever said that the GOP is the ideal solution to our situation? Why, after al, does the tea party exist, do you suppose?

    And Irony? THe number of ppl who continue to deny the similarity of argument, including Sanders, himself.

  33. An Interested Party says:

    Awwww…without the GOP, who are “real conservatives” to turn to? I humbly suggest that such people form a third party…of course, most of them would have to leave the Republican Party first…

  34. Eric Florack says:

    That depends, I suppose, on the degree of success in changing the GOP away from the establishment it has become, and back to it’s roots

  35. anjin-san says:

    > Why, after al, does the tea party exist, do you suppose?

    Because the GOP had to be rebranded after it’s long string of dismal failures?

    > And at what point have I ever said that the GOP is the ideal solution to our situation?

    Ah yes, your ideal solution. Put people that are even stupider than Bush, the guy who created the train wreck, in charge…