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Sanders attacks GOP budget at Md. event

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, railed Tuesday against the GOP budget just approved by Congress, telling a Prince George's County audience the spending plan would exacerbate poverty and income inequality.

Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, became the first declared candidate for president to speak in Maryland — a state generally overlooked by national campaigns. He will soon be followed by Republican Ben Carson, the former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, who is scheduled to address a Maryland Right to Life banquet in Woodlawn later this week.

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The longest-serving independent in Congress, Sanders arrived in Lanham minutes after the Republican-controlled Senate approved a budget he has been fighting for weeks. Its passage marked a legislative victory for GOP leaders: It is the first spending blueprint to clear both chambers of Congress in six years.

Congress still faces the challenge of translating the plan into spending bills that will satisfy both parties and avoid a government shutdown this fall. But the measure will allow Republicans to maneuver a repeal of President Barack Obama's signature 2010 health law through the Senate with a simple majority, forcing an expected presidential veto.

"We're talking about thousands of people dying and others becoming much sicker than they should have been," Sanders told an audience of several hundred gathered at a union hall to hear him speak.

"The time is long overdue [for] the billionaire class and the largest corporations in this country have got to start paying their fair share of taxes," he said.

Republicans argued that the budget, which has already passed the House, would protect vulnerable citizens while stemming runaway federal spending. Because the plan sets only top-line figures, the real fight over federal spending will ultimately take place as part of the appropriations process later this year.

"I think what drives our friends across the aisle crazy is that they haven't passed a budget since 2009," said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. "We have done the basic work of governing."

Sanders' Maryland event was organized by his Senate office, not his presidential campaign. But his address underscored the liberal rhetoric some Democrats hope will draw former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the left on issues like trade and income inequality. Sanders entered the presidential contest last week, following Clinton's announcement last month.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is another politician who is attempting to stake out ground to the left of Clinton. O'Malley has said he will announce a decision about whether to seek the Democratic nomination later this month.

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Sanders took several questions from the audience about the violence that erupted last week in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. Sanders said he hoped the tension exposed by the riots would spark a national conversation about policing, but also communities that have been neglected for decades.

"The American community is saying that's not right," Sanders said. "Cops have a difficult job, but cops have got to act responsibly, and when they don't, they've got to be held accountable."

twitter.com/jfritze

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