AMES (AP) — Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in Iowa weighing a 2016 presidential candidacy, said his top priority as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee will be resisting cuts to Social Security in the newly Republican-controlled chamber.
"My priority is to work in as bipartisan a way as I can to create a budget that works for the middle class and working class of this country," Sanders told reporters after speaking to more than 200 people in an Ames church community center.
Sanders said he would not simply work against cuts to the entitlement program for older and disabled Americans, but to expand or increase benefits. It is unclear whether Republicans will seek cuts, or whether Sanders could block such action.
He also said he would seek higher taxes on the nation's wealthiest residents and tax assets held by corporations who hold their profits in off-shore accounts.
On his fourth visit to the leadoff presidential caucus state, Sanders railed against the impact of private wealth on elections, and asked the mostly Democratic audience to form a movement of millions of Americans to push back against corporate dollars that have flowed into groups supporting and opposing candidates since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Sanders said he believes Democratic President Barack Obama, who drew millions of new voters into the electorate, has failed to seize upon the support and sustain the movement throughout his presidency. Tuesday's daily tracking poll by Gallup showed a sluggish 43 percent approval rating for Obama.
"People have given up, and democracy needs them," retired teacher Bert Permar said after hearing Sanders. "He's trying to revive that spirit."
Sanders said he has not decided whether to run for president, much less whether he would do so as a Democrat or independent. Iowa's caucuses are party-run events, which could mean he'd have to run as a Democrat there should he decide to run.
He was expected to meet with liberal groups in the Des Moines area before speaking to a progressive policy group in the evening.