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August 22, 2014

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Mr. Sanders Goes to Washington

It’s the wrong Mr. S, but independent senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders is channeling the spirit of Jimmy Stewart circa 1939 today, in his filibuster of the president’s tax bill.

It’s been six hours and for the most part, he’s managed to stay on message, accepting a lunch break from Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who took over. The two are, by most measures, the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus, and are objecting to the fundamental premise of a tax extension that gives breaks to the rich while the country’s supposedly still trying to climb its way out of a recession.

Sanders isn’t alone in his objections — several Democratic lawmakers, including Brown and also the whole House caucus minus Shelley Berkley, have voiced their disapproval of the deal, urging their leaders in the House and Senate to stop it from coming to a vote.

The president called such Democrats “sanctimonious” in remarks delivered Tuesday, for being political purists instead of worrying about unemployed and taxpaying Americans.

That hasn’t sat too well with the Dems objecting. But they’re not the only ones: the conservative wing of the Republican Party has also taken umbrage at the proposal for not doing enough to cut spending.

Nevada Sen. John Ensign said Thursday that he is working with Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn to craft amendments that would add offsets to the bill.

Regardless of the ongoing controversy, a vote appears to be in the works, for at least the Senate, next week.

For now, Bernie Sanders goes on — into hour seven now. His display is a rare sight these days, when the Senate usually just circumvents the talking by taking a vote on proceeding to motions and bills: 60 votes trumps a filibuster threat.

But it’s usually the minority party staging the filibuster — not less senior members of the majority against the leadership of their own party.

The last time there was a real filibuster on the floor was 1992, when Senator Al D’Amato, a Republican from New York, ranted for 15 hours and 14 minutes against a change in a tax bill that would have hurt a home-state typewriter company, according to the Associated Press. Sanders hasn’t gotten that far yet.

Nor is he anywhere near the record for longest filibuster, which is held by Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina. He was filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 — apropos for the Senator who’d made a run for the presidency on a segregationist platform just nine years earlier.

Sanders isn’t expected to try to beat that record heading into a weekend when the Senate isn’t scheduled to be in session. But he’ll need relief if he’s to make a long stride to the finish. You can’t eat on the Senate floor, and there’s no caffeine allowed either — just little sips of water.

Anyway, let’s hope the 69 year old Senator from Vermont, and self-described Democratic Socialist, doesn’t have his filibuster meet the same Hollywood ending that most Americans have come to equate with filibustering. Sanders’ speech hasn’t been quite as good as Stewart’s so far.

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