Bernie Sanders rallies Reading, Pa. crowd against GOP tax bill

In a scene straight out of 2016, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addressed more than 1,000 people at a rally in Reading, Pa. Sunday afternoon.

But the issues were all current as the U.S. Senator from Vermont decried the GOP’s tax overhaul plan, which narrowly passed the Senate early Saturday morning.

“Why in God’s name would anybody support legislation that provides 62 percent of the benefits to the top one percent? That is a question you might want to ask Senator Toomey, one of the leading advocates,” he said to jeers from the crowd.

Sanders described an alliance with Pennsylvania’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in rejecting the bill, which was supported by the state’s Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey who called it a win for American families and businesses.

The bill permanently cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, and lowers the tax rates for people of various incomes until 2025.  It also doubles the standard deduction for taxpayers who don’t itemize.

Sanders chose to hold the event in Berks County because, though it voted Republican in the 2016 election, it did so by only a 10 percent margin.

“I could understand why people in Reading and elsewhere said, ‘You know what? People on Wall St. are a bunch of crooks, I’m glad that candidate Trump is talking about taking them on,’” Sanders said to a lively crowd of about 1,600 people. “But my point today is that on virtually every issue, what Trump said during the campaign is the exact opposite of what he is doing as president.”

The bill also ends the individual mandate, or the Affordable Care Act requirement that Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine — a significant blow to the ACA’s stability and a victory for Republicans, which have long sought to end the health care act.

In Reading, the packed theater hosted older, mostly white attendees. Among them was Thomas Simpson, a small business owner from Hamburg, Pa. He and his fellow rally-goers gave Sanders a standing ovation for proposing single-payer universal healthcare.

Simpson says he recently had to fire all of his employees, including his son, because health insurance premiums were too high.

“People say, ‘Well I can make it on my own.’ No, you can’t,” said Simpson. “As soon as you get sick, where you going to go? The doctor. When you go to work, you’re going to drive on the highways. Nobody makes it on their own. We’re a society. It takes everyone together to make a society.”

Saying the crowd was full of potential school board officials, judges and elected officials, Sanders urged people to vote and run for office in 2018.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

50% of WHYY’s funding comes from donations made by people just like you.