Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Sen. Bernie Sanders for some help "reforming" our "entitlements" in exchange for flattening the tax code. Sanders responded with a reminder of just what the word "reform" means for those relying on our social safety nets.
September 25, 2013

I've generally been staying as far away as possible from CNN's new stinker of a show, which is the revival of Crossfire, but this Tuesday, the inclusion of Sen. Bernie Sanders as one of their panel members actually gave me a reason to sit through most of it.

Towards the end of the show, they spent some time arguing about the Senate filibuster rules and whether Republicans have been allowed to air their grievances over the Affordable Care Act or not, along with Ted Cruz and his stunt of a fake filibuster. Sen. Sanders took the opportunity to do what he does best, and advocate for working Americans out there, and the record income disparity and the fact that the Congress has done very little to get Americans back to work and rebuild our infrastructure.

So naturally, his fellow guest on the show, Sen. Lindsey Graham thought it was a perfect opportunity to make an offer to Sanders to "reform entitlements" in exchange for flattening the tax code. What a deal. Thankfully Sanders was there to remind the audience of just what Graham's "reforms" would mean for average Americans.

SANDERS: Let me just jump in and say I happen to think -- and by the way, Newt, when you were speaker, you ran a pretty tough ship there, as well, I recall.

But I happen to think that the rules in the Senate are pretty crazy. You or I could go down there and basically stop the entire United States government. One person could do that. Is that what democracy is about? I don't really think so.

But here's the point. Lindsey correctly says there are some bills that he thinks are not getting to the floor that might pass. Fair enough. But let me tell you something else. I happen to believe that the reason that Congress is now held in such contempt is the American people are hurting very badly. Middle class, in my view, is collapsing. Poverty numbers are at an all-time high, and the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider.

JONES: And they blame Obama for that. Do you blame Obama for that?

SANDERS: No. I mean, it's a -- you know, it's a long-term trend.

JONES: Just checking. Just checking.

SANDERS: The bottom line is, what do the American people want, Lindsey? They want us to create jobs.


SANDERS: They want us to rebuild a crumbling infrastructure and create millions of jobs. They want us, in my view -- Newt, you quoted polls -- to raise the minimum wage substantially above where it is now. They want us to end these absurd loopholes that billionaires and corporations enjoy.

One out of four corporations doesn't pay a nickel in taxes. And Republicans are saying, "Oh, we have to cut 4 million people from Food Stamps."

GRAHAM: Bernie, if I -- if I was willing to flatten the tax code and take deductions away from the wealthy to pay down debt, would you reform entitlements by extending the age, based on the fact we're all living like Strom Thurmond?

SANDERS: Absolutely not. Not at a time where we have so much...

GRAHAM: That was a moment of bipartisanship that quickly passed.

SANDERS: Now let me ask you. Let me ask you.


SANDERS: At a time when the top 1 percent own 38 percent of the wealth in America and the bottom 60 percent own all of 2.3 percent, will you work with me to ask the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes so we can deal with...?

GRAHAM: Here's what I will do. I will create a tax code that creates jobs for more Americans, because that's a good thing. But I would tell the wealthy people of this country, when it comes to Medicare, you're not going to get any more subsidies. When it comes to Social Security, you're going to have to take less, because we can't afford to give everybody what we promised.

If you will help me reform the tax code, I -- help me reform entitlements, I'll help you reform the tax code, because we're becoming Greece if we don't do this.

SANDERS: All right. But when you talk about reform entitlements, I understand.


SANDERS: Correct me if I'm wrong. You want to raise the entitlement age to Social Security?

GRAHAM: Over 30 years.

SANDERS: Over 30 years to 70 years.

GRAHAM: No. What I want to do is harmonize Medicare with Social Security: go from 65 to 67 over the next 30 years. And I want means testing for people in my income level, Newt's income level, Van's income level. Have to pay the actual costs.

SANDERS: But you also support the chain CPI.

GRAHAM: Yes, I do.

SANDERS: Which cut benefits -- let me talk. Which would cut $650 from Social Security benefits between the ages of 65 and 70. And make massive cuts for disabled vets.

GRAHAM: Well, no. What I'm trying to do is save the country from bankruptcy. And when the president of the United States, who I usually don't agree with, put CPI on the table, I thought it was a very courageous thing to do. And I am willing to flatten that tax code. I can go to the rich people in America and all the corporations, say, "We're going to take deductions off the table you now enjoy. Take that money back for the many, not just the few."

But if you don't help me reform the entitlements, there's no way to get there by taxing people.

SANDERS: I want everybody to understand, when Lindsey talks about reforming entitlements, what he means is cutting Social Security and cutting Medicare. I think that's a bad idea.

GINGRICH: OK. And I would say -- and we're about to run out of time. But I would say what you're talking about is going bankrupt, and that's a debate we want to invite you to come back.

GRAHAM: ... program. I've actually spent...

GINGRICH: We'll have you back on access for health care, which will be a great topic, the two of you. And we ought to come back and talk a little bit more about how do we solve this?

GRAHAM: Eighty million Baby Boomers are going to retire in the next 40 years. How do we replace them? We need rational immigration.

JONES: The first thing, maybe stop giving those subsidies...

GRAHAM: How do you save Medicare and Social Security with 80 million people coming into the system?

JONES: What about first of all, you supported $4 billion subsidies to oil company that don't need them. We've got -- we have a lot of conversations we need to have -- I'm going to give it back to you, Newt, to take us out of here.

GINGRICH: Kind of -- You almost agreed with him for a second. I was sitting back.

JONES: I changed my mind.

GINGRICH: Let me -- I want to thank Senator Sanders and Senator Graham.

Next, we "Ceasefire." Is there anything out of all this that the two of us can agree on?

I think Sanders did a good job here, but it would have been nice to see him push back harder when Graham pulled the "we're becoming Greece" card."

When Graham wants to address what's gone on with Wall Street and the banks and what they did with Greece and allowing them to mask their debt, maybe we can have an "honest conversation" about that as well, but I've seen no desire on the part of the likes of Graham or his fellow Republicans to do anything other than further deregulate financial markets and make those sort of problems worse and not better.

The fact that he continually brings up Greece to justify gutting our social safety nets is dishonest and disgusting, but that hasn't stopped him from doing it over, and over, and over, and over again.

Can you help us out?

For nearly 20 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.