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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Why Sen. Bernie Sanders can single-handedly filibuster tax cuts for rich

BerniesandersSen. Bernie Sanders became a sensation on cable television and new media outposts like Twitter with his filibuster Friday of a proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans.

Twitter lit up with highlights from Sanders’ (an Independent from Vermont) prolonged and sometimes angry speech, decrying an agreement between President Obama and Republicans to allow the breaks even for millionaires, while he said many of his constituents are going hungry.

The filibuster, from a Dutch word meaning “pirate,” has a long and not so proud history in the U.S. Senate. Those in the majority have tried for more than two centuries to make it go away. They have failed.

Vice President Aaron Burr paved the way for the filibuster with a seemingly innocuous move in 1805 to simplify the Senate’s rules. He argued that the Senate debate guidelines were too complex and that one rule, allowing “previous question” motions, should be stricken.

The previous question rule had allowed lawmakers to end debate and call for a vote. But the Senate went along with Burr and dumped the rule. It wasn’t until more than three decades later, in 1837, that a filibuster stalled Senate action for the first time.

The filibuster became more common as Senate expanded and as issues, such as slavery, became more contentious.

The Senate several times over the decades debated whether to end the practice and free the way for legislation. It took a crisis, in 1917, for a compromise to be hatched. In the spring of that year, President Woodrow Wilson wanted to arm merchant ships for World War I. Senate Republicans  blocked him.

Wilson and Democrats framed reform as a national security issue and won approval of Rule 22, which provided that a vote by two-thirds of the Senate could force an end to debate.

Still, senators from the South made liberal use of filibusters to block civil rights legislation. That included stalling anti-lynching legislation, according to the Senate website, until cloture was invoked after a 57-day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964.

It was not until 1975 that the Senate reduced the number of votes required to shut off debate from two-thirds to three-fifths. That means 60 votes to end debate with the current complement of 100 senators.

Sanders finally broke off his prolonged performance just before 7 p.m. Eastern time Friday, some 8 1/2 hours after he started. The extended speech was technically not a filibuster since it did not delay a vote or other business.

But there Sanders stood, protesting a vote on the tax measure that could come as early as Monday. He had the Senate floor microphone all to himself (with a brief bit of assistance from Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana), with only a staffer and a bare minimum of other Senate personnel in attendance.

He talked about the "insanity" of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. He savaged the accompanying idea of cutting the estate tax--which he said would expand the national debt by $1 trillion over 10 years.

With a lot of time to fill, the 69-year-old senator with the giant spectacles also talked about the weather, the delights of his native Vermont (inviting outsiders to come ski at Stowe), his opposition to the Comcast-NBC merger and scads of other things.

Sanders paused occasionally for a sip of water or to confer for a moment with his staff. But he kept going. By days end Friday he had the top TWO trending items on Twitter and his own hashtag, #filibernie, highlighting Twitter posts about his exploits. Websites like had popped up to celebrate his fete. Pollsters purportedly were ready to measure the lefty-legislators appeal as a possible president candidate.

It's anybody's guess whether the filibernie could resume next week, but his persistence Friday heartened many liberals and conjured up a raft of Senate history.

--James Rainey

Photo: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Dec. 7. The Obama administration is pushing for Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts in a compromise with Republicans. Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images


Comments () | Archives (16)

The comments to this entry are closed.

"One last time, they are NOT tax cuts. They are maintaining the same tax levels as we currently have. Authors Pat and James need to cut the biased reporting. Why not report on the pork that some are trying to add to this? Solar and Wind subsudies added, why not pixi dust?

Posted by: Alvin

For the first time, they were tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.
In July 2001, the administration of George W Bush declared that we have "budget surpluses 'AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE'
For the first time in decades the national debt was reduced twice using these budget surpluses. Mr Bush promptly converted these surpluses AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE, into deficits FURTHER THAN THE EYE CAN SEE by two tax cuts and two unfunded wars costing so far one trillion dollars. Why do 400 billionaires whose collective treasure is 1.3 trillion dollars need a tax cut? To "create jobs"?
From SBA statistics,of 27.5 million small businesses in 2009,there were 6.1 million with employees, compared to 21.4 million WITHOUT.. The percentage with fewer than 500 employees 99.9 percent. In 2008 (President George W Bush) 81,046 businesses closed, in 2009, 169,137
From Feb. 2007 to Jan. 2009 (George W Bush) the change in employment (jobs LOST)was 2,688,000 . There was a great recession in 2008 which carried over till the present day..
From Feb 2009 - Nov 2010 loss of jobs 3,170,000
During 2001 - 2010 the taxation was the BUSH TAX CUTS
So what is going to be different with the same taxation?
The interest on the 14 trillion dollar national debt, at a rate of 1 percent is 140 billion dollars annually. Apply the actual rate (?) and the annual interest maybe is 400 BILLION dollars. How is adding one extra trillion to the already overblown 1.3 trillion deficit going to help? Hey, you teabaggers, and HYPOCRITES, what do you say?
One can have a billion dollars, when the person dies, he/she might be wrapped in it and put in the casket, but THE WORMS WILL DEVOUR THE MONEY AND THEN THE OWNER.
YOU FOOL, this night will your soul be required of you


I'm now having one of those "HUH?" moments that have occurred with more and more frequency in the last ten years. What should be happening at this point is a showing of unified national outrage. Instead it would seem that most of us could hardly care less. And the anger that is being expressed by the Tea party types is being directed in the wrong direction and for the wrong reasons. They actually believe that Barack Obama is some kind of left wing extremist when, in reality, he's as tepid a right-of-center moderate as we've had since Bill Clinton.

The policies of low taxation for the obscenely wealthy that have played so huge a part in our current economic catastrophe will be allowed to continue. The Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they plan to hold the government hostage unless the Bush tax cuts, scheduled to expire on the last day of this month, are allowed to be continued indefinitely. That means "forever". It also means a loss of four trillion dollars in revenue over the next decade; a lousy deal any way you dice it or slice it. The president of the United States, far from being the Progressive warrior his base was praying for when we sent him to the White House two years ago, appears hellbent on caving into their demands. As Theodore Roosevelt once privately said of President McKinley, "He has all the backbone of a chocolate eclair".

I never thought I would live to hear myself even think this, but the Democrats probably should have nominated Hilary Clinton two years ago. President Obama has let us down in every way imaginable. There is still a part of me that wants to believe that he still has a few cards up his sleeve and that he is within days of delivering an unexpected political counter-punch. Maybe. I really hope that's the case, but that hope is dwindling by the day. I know in his heart he is a good guy but his leadership style leaves much to be desired. Seriously, if this is the sort of change I'm expected to believe in, you can keep it.

I still thank Heaven every day that John McCain is not at this moment sleeping in the White House. I am beside myself with joy that Fascist Barbie is not a seventy-four-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency. If you were thinking for a minute that I'm sorry that Obama won on Election Day 2008 - think again. As disappointed as I may be in the current administration, a McCain/Palin White House would have been the apocalypse. Now let's move on, shall we?

Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, is yet another stark reminder why I left the Democratic party nearly thirteen years ago. The fact that they're not half as bad as the Republicans doesn't make their very existence any easier to justify. It's getting clearer by the day that they don't really have our interests at heart. The overwhelming majority of the American people - unlike the small percentage of us perceptive enough to have seen the light - have their stakes tied up with either one of the two major political parties. They cannot see (or refuse to see) that both the Republicans and the Democrats are morally unfit to govern this country any longer. Unfortunately, as long as so many of us refuse to acknowledge this simple and undeniable truth, our slide into the abyss will only continue.

Tom Degan

As someone from Vermont, Sen. Sanders continues to make me and every other Vermonter proud. He speaks his mind and more importantly actually makes sense! Keep up the good work Bernie!

Bernie finally has everyone's ear. We need to ensure that he has up to the minute accurate facts. Who's researching???? He can't do it ALL himself!!!

The press didn't cover Sanders, because the Corporations control the media and they do not want the American people to hear the truth. One guy with guts says it all. The rest of the idiots continue to vote against their own best interests. The ruling elite buy their vote with misinformation and lies and play upon their prejudice to come through for them. The polls show that the American public is against giving tax breaks to the wealthy by a whopping majority of 70% to 30%. The amazing thing is that the poll doesn't read 98% to 2% because the Republican policies only benefit 2% of the population. What does it tell you about the state of our country when the wishes of the majority are trumped by the wishes of the 2%?

Nothing is threathening the American and European way of life more than Western Corporations themselves. If the next label you read on anything you buy says: "Made somewhere in Asia by a formerly American/European company", think that that purchasing that item was done at the expense of American or European manufacturing jobs. Delocalization of enterprises is practically destroying the social and economic fabric of America and Europe. It will eventually bring the West to its ultimate economic destruction, only for the sake of a buck! It's inconceivable that the very same corporations causing this haven't yet figured this out. Now the cat's is out of the bag hoping that our politicians will start tackling this problem, instead of keeping cutting taxes to the rich. It's the middle class that has made America what it is, why destroy it? Have the Asian given anything to us in return? Don't forget that the latest Nobel Peace Price winner was an empty chair!

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