Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dismissed attempts to construe one of his recent comments as praise for the Republican tax legislation, declaring in a statement on Wednesday that the GOP law is “one of the worst pieces of legislation in the modern history of our country.”
In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Sanders conceded that the tax cuts for middle-class families in the GOP tax bill were positive, before slamming the bill for specifying that they would expire in eight years.
“Next year, 91 percent of middle-income Americans will receive a tax cut. Isn’t that a good thing?” host Jake Tapper asked Sanders.
“Yeah, it is a very good thing,” Sanders responded. “And that’s why we should’ve made the tax cuts for the middle class permanent.”
Some Republicans delighted in the idea that they had caught Sanders owning up to the bill’s perks.
In an email blast to reporters, Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens dubbed the Vermont progressive “Sanders Claus.”
“Bernie has long supported massive tax increases on everyone – including the middle class – but this Christmas, even this Grinch’s heart has grown,” Ahrens wrote in a note that linked to Sanders’ CNN interview. “When Bernie comes back to town, he should pledge to vote with Republicans in ten years to make the tax cuts permanent for the middle class.”
But Sanders maintained on Wednesday that the legislation’s modest middle-class benefits do not outweigh its problems. He lamented how much it privileges ultra-rich Americans “at a time of massive income and wealth inequality.”
To keep the law within mandatory budget guidelines, Republicans stipulated that the provisions for individuals, including lower tax rates, will expire in 2025, even as they made the legislation’s massive corporate tax breaks permanent. As a result, by 2027, more than 82 percent of the law’s benefits will go to the top 1 percent of earners in the country.
Sanders also fears that congressional Republicans will cite the $1.4 trillion the law is expected to add to the national debt as an excuse to pursue cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said that slashing these programs is next on his agenda.
Rather than do away with the tax law entirely, Sanders supports repealing the tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations to make the bill’s middle-class tax breaks permanent and expand upon them.
“Let’s pass tax reform that permanently benefits all middle-income and working-class families without giving tax breaks to the top 1 percent,” he said. “Instead of providing huge tax breaks to the rich and large corporations that explode the deficit, which this bill does, millionaires, billionaires and large, profitable corporations must begin paying their fair share of taxes.”
Sanders has ambitious domestic spending priorities, including a national, single-payer health care system that he and other boosters have dubbed “Medicare for all.” Sanders declared flatly at a Democratic presidential candidate forum in January 2016 that to fund these priorities, “We will raise taxes, yes we will.”
He introduced new legislation in September laying out his vision for a universal public insurance plan that goes beyond even the benefits Medicare currently provides to seniors and people with disabilities. The bill, which attracted the support of over one-third of the Senate Democratic Caucus, offers many potential revenue options for funding the new program. One of the ideas is a 4 percent income-based premium on all households ― in other words, a middle-class tax increase.
However, Sanders insists that the single-payer program would still provide a significant boost in net income for middle-class Americans because of the money it would save them in premiums and other out-of-pocket costs. A family of four earning $50,000 would save $4,000 a year, according to estimates by Sanders’ staff.
There is real evidence to suggest that centralizing insurers’ buying power in the hands of the federal government would provide the leverage needed to negotiate lower costs. Countries with health care systems that resemble the one Sanders envisions have per-capita health care costs that are a fraction of those of the United States.
“Both Medicare for all and middle-class centered tax reform are about putting more money in the pockets of working families,” Josh Miller-Lewis, a Sanders spokesman, told HuffPost in an email.