BURLINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Monday he would rather tax cuts expire next year as scheduled than see Democrats agree to spending cuts to Social Security and other programs relied on by low- and moderate-income Americans.
The left-leaning independent who caucuses with Democrats said he hoped President Barack Obama would travel the country, including to conservative states, to campaign for Democratic budget priorities as Congress negotiates a way to avoid falling off the "fiscal cliff."
Congress is facing a series of deep, automatic cuts in defense and domestic discretionary spending and the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers, scheduled to begin taking effect in January.
"If we are unable to reach an agreement, is it better to deal with this issue in the next session, rather than accept a bad agreement in this session? Yes, it is," he said.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said later Monday he doubts an agreement will be reached before Jan. 1 to avert the cuts that Congress had approved in an earlier budget agreement.
Sanders said he was prepared to compromise, just not too much, and noted that Democrats won 25 of the 33 Senate races, putting Democrats in a position of strength. After the election, Democrats enhanced their majority in the Senate by two seats and Republicans kept their majority in the House.
"Will there be compromises? Yeah, there will. Should there be? Yeah, there should. But let's be clear. In a democracy, the majority is supposed to rule ... The truth of the matter is that on Election Day we had two very different sets of principles" offered by Obama and by Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Sanders said.
He said Democrats are in a strong position to use the proposals they articulated during this year's campaigns as a starting point in negotiations.
"The principles that the president campaigned on, and that many of us campaigned on, should be the principles under which we begin that discussion," he said.
Sanders spoke nearly a week after cruising to a second Senate term, defeating little-known Republican John MacGovern by a margin of 71 percent to 25 percent.
He also said Monday that he would back an effort in the Senate to change its rule on filibusters, a procedural move that allows legislation to be stalled unless supporters can muster 60 of 100 votes. He said he would support changes even if Republicans were in charge.
"The minority has got to have the ability to make its case to the American people, to offer amendments. So it's not my view that you just run all over the minority. But it is just plain wrong and creates a dysfunctional situation when, in some cases, a handful, in some cases one member of the United States Senate can stop the work of the United States government," he said.