Bernie Sanders Tells Obama, 'We Will Not Balance the Budget on the Backs of Working Families'
Mr. President, this is a pivotal moment in the history of our country. In the coming days and weeks, decisions will be made about our national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American in this country for decades to come.
At a time when the richest people and the largest corporations in our country are doing phenomenally well, and, in many cases, have never had it so good, while the middle class is disappearing and poverty is increasing, it is absolutely imperative that a deficit reduction package not include the disastrous cuts in programs for working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor that the Republicans in Congress, dominated by the extreme right wing, are demanding.
In my view, the President of the United States of America needs to stand with the American people and say to the Republican leadership that enough is enough. No, we will not balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor, who have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost homes, and lost pensions. Yes, we will demand that millionaires and billionaires and the largest corporations in America contribute to deficit reduction as a matter of shared sacrifice. Yes, we will reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon. And, no we will not be blackmailed once again by the Republican leadership in Washington, who are threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States government for the first time in our nation’s history unless they get everything they want.
Instead of yielding to the incessant, extreme Republican demands, as the President did during last December’s tax cut agreement and this year’s spending negotiations, the President has got to get out of the beltway and rally the American people who already believe that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice.
It is time for the President to stand with the millions who have lost their jobs, homes, and life savings, instead of the millionaires, who in many cases, have never had it so good.
Unless the American people by the millions tell the President not to yield one inch to Republican demands to destroy Medicare and Medicaid, while continuing to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and the powerful, I am afraid that is exactly what will happen.
So, I am asking the American people who may be listening today that if you believe that deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice, if you believe that it is time for the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share, if you believe that we need to reduce unnecessary defense spending, and if you believe that the middle class has already sacrificed enough due to the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, the President needs to hear your voice, and he needs to hear it now.
Go to my website: sanders.senate.gov and send a letter to the President letting him know that enough is enough! Shared sacrifice means that it’s time for the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations in America to pay their fair share and contribute to deficit reduction.
Mr. President, as you know, this country faces enormous challenges.
The reality is that the middle class in America today is collapsing and poverty is increasing.
When we talk about the economy, we have got to be aware that the official government statistics are often misleading. For example, while the official unemployment rate is now 9.1%, that number does not include the large numbers of people who have given up looking for work and people who want to work full-time but are working part time.
And, when you take all of those factors into account, the real unemployment rate is nearly 16%.
Further Mr. President, what we also must understand is that tens of millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages. The reality is that over the last 10 years, median family income has declined by over $2,500.
As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, which caused this terrible recession, millions more have lost their homes, their pensions, and their retirement savings.
Unless we reverse our current economic course our children will have, for the first time in modern American history, a lower standard of living than their parents.
Mr. President, we throw out a lot of numbers around here. But, I think it is important to understand that behind every grim economic statistic are real Americans who cannot find a decent paying job, and are struggling to feed their families, put a roof over their heads or to just stay afloat.
Last year, I asked my constituents in Vermont to share their personal stories with me—explaining how the recession, which started more than three years ago, has impacted their lives. In a matter of weeks, more than 400 Vermonters responded and I also heard from people throughout the country who are struggling through this terrible recession.
Their messages are clear. People are finding it hard to get jobs or are now working for lower wages than they used to earn. Older workers have depleted their life savings and are worried about what will happen to them when they retire. Young adults in their 20s and 30s are not earning enough to pay down college debt. People of all ages, all walks of life, from each corner of Vermont—have shared their stories with my office.
Let me just read a few of these letters:
The first is from a 51 year old woman from West Berlin, Vermont who wrote “Dear Mr. Sanders, Don’t really know what to say, I could cry. My significant other was out of work for a year, now he works in another state. I’ve been out of work since April. Our mortgage company wants the house because we can’t make the payments. I can’t find a job to save my soul that will pay enough to make a difference. How bad does it have to get! My mother went through the Great Depression and here we go again. I figure that I’m going to lose everything soon! I’m a well educated person who can’t see through the fog.”
A gentlemen in his mid-50’s from Orange County, Vermont wrote: “After being unemployed three times since 1999 due to global trade agreements, I now find myself managing a hazardous waste transfer facility that pays about 25% less than what I was making in 1999. My wife’s children have moved back in, unemployed. And we are saving very little for retirement. If things don’t improve soon we will likely have to work until we die. We consider ourselves lucky that we are employed. Our children’s friends tend to show up around meal time. They are skinny. We feed them. This is no recession, it’s a modern day depression.”
A woman in her late 40s from Westminster, Vermont wrote: “I am a single mom in Vermont, nearly 50. I patch together a full time job making $12 an hour and various painting jobs and still can’t afford to get myself out of debt, or make necessary repairs on my home. No other jobs in sight, I apply all the time to no avail. Food and gas bills go up and up, but not my income. I have no retirement at all, can’t afford to move, feeling stuck, tired, and hopeless.”
And a 26 year old young man from Barre, Vermont wrote: “In 2002, I received a scholarship to Saint Bonaventure University, the first in my family to attend college. Upon graduation in 2006, I was admitted to the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State University, and graduated in 2009 with $150,000 of student debt. In Western New York I could find nothing better than a $10 an hour position stuffing envelopes … I live in a small studio apartment in Barre without cable or internet … I have told my family I don’t want them to visit because I am ashamed of my surroundings … My family always told me that an education was the ticket to success, but all my education seems to have done in this landscape is make it impossible to pull myself out of debt and begin a successful career.”
Mr. President, just over the last two weeks, nearly 500 people from Vermont and throughout the U.S. have written me about their experiences with trying—often in vain—to find affordable dental care. One wrote: “I can’t afford health insurance so dental work is definitely out. I agree [that] … we are so backward in this country, even though studies have linked bad dental care to heart problems and cancer.”
Mr. President, when the Republicans are talking about trillions of dollars in savage cuts this is what they are talking about. They’re talking about throwing millions and millions of people off of Medicaid. Let me tell you what that means.
Earlier this year Arizona passed budget cuts that took patients off its transplant list. As a result people who were kicked off the list have died. Not because they couldn’t find a donor but because the state decided it could no longer afford to pay for their transplants. To make matters worse Arizona’s Governor has gone further, asking the federal government for a waiver to kick off another 250,000 from its Medicaid program.
They’re talking about making it impossible for working class families to send their kids to college. They’re talking about cuts in nutrition programs which will increase the amount of hunger in America, which is already at an all time high. According to a 2009 study, there are over 5 million seniors who face the threat of hunger, almost 3 million seniors who are at risk of going hungry, and almost 1 million seniors who do go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food. The Republicans in Congress would make this situation much, much worse.
Mr. President, this is a lot of pain that the Republicans are tossing out while they want to protect their rich and powerful friends. In my view, the president has got to stand tall, take the case to the American people, and hold the Republicans responsible if the debt ceiling is not raised and the repercussions of that.
That, Mr. President, is what’s going on in the real world. People fighting to keep their homes from falling into foreclosure; struggling with credit card debt; marriages have been postponed; lives have been derailed; and retirement savings have been raided to pay for college tuition, to keep their businesses afloat, or simply to keep gas in their car and pay their bills. That is what is going on in the real world.
And, Mr. President, while the middle class disappears and poverty is increasing, there is another reality and that is that the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider. The United States now has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.
Today, the top one percent earns over 20 percent of all income in this country, which is more than the bottom 50 percent earns. Over a recent 25 year period, 80 percent of all new income went to the top one percent. In terms of the distribution of wealth, as hard as it may be to believe, the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class continues to disappear. That is what is going on in this country in the year 2011, and we have all got to understand that.
Mr. President, everybody knows this country faces a major deficit crisis and we have a national debt of over $14 trillion. What has not been widely discussed, however, is how we got into this situation in the first place. A huge deficit and huge national debt did not happen by accident. It did not happen overnight. It happened, in fact, as a result of a number of policy decisions made over the last decade and votes that were cast right here on the floor of the Senate and in the House.
Let’s never forget, as we talk about the deficit situation, that in January of 2001, when President Clinton left office, this country had an annual federal budget surplus of $236 billion with projected budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. That was when Clinton left office.
What has happened in the ensuing years? How did we go from huge projected surpluses into horrendous debt? The answer, frankly, is not complicated. The CBO has documented it. There was an interesting article on the front page of the Washington Post on April 30, talking about it as well. Here is what happened.
When we spend over $1 trillion on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and choose not to pay for those wars, we run up a deficit. When we provide over $700 billion in tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country and choose not to pay for those tax breaks, we run up a deficit. When we pass a Medicare Part D prescription drug program written by the drug companies and the insurance companies that does not allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and ends up costing us far more than it should—$400 billion over a 10-year period—and we don’t pay for that, we run up the deficit. When we double military spending since 1997, not including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we don’t pay for that, we drive up the deficit.
Further, Mr. President, the deficit was also driven up by the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, which caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and revenue was significantly reduced as a result.
Mr. President, the end result of all of these unpaid-for policies and actions—year after year of the deficits I just described—is a staggering amount of debt. When President Bush left office, President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion with deficits as far as the eye could see, and the national debt more than doubled from when President Bush took office.
The reality is Mr. President, if we did not go to war in Iraq, if we did not pass huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, who didn’t need them, if we did not pass a prescription drug program with no cost control written by the drug and insurance companies, and if we did not deregulate Wall Street, we would not be in the fiscal mess that we find ourselves in today. It really is that simple.
In other words, the only reason we have to increase our nation’s debt ceiling today is that we are forced to pay the bills that the Republican leadership in Congress and President Bush racked up.
Now, Mr. President, given the decline in the middle class, given the increase in poverty, and given the fact that the wealthy and large corporations have never had it so good, Americans may find it strange that the Republicans in Washington would use this opportunity to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition assistance, and other lifesaving programs, while pushing for even more tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations.
Unfortunately, it is not strange. It is part of their ideology. Republicans in Washington have never believed in Medicare, Medicaid, federal assistance in education, or providing any direct government assistance to those in need. They have always believed that tax breaks for the wealthy and the powerful would somehow miraculously trickle down to every American, despite all history and evidence to the contrary. So, in that sense, it is not strange at all that they would use the deficit crisis we are now in as an opportunity to balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor, and work to dismantle every single successful government program that was ever created.
And, that’s exactly what the Ryan Republican budget that was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year—and supported by the vast majority Republicans here in the Senate just last month—would do. Here are just a few examples:
The Republican budget passed by the House this year would end Medicare as we know it within 10 years.
The non-partisan CBO estimates that under the Ryan proposal, in 2022, a private health care plan for a 65-year-old equivalent to Medicare coverage would cost about $20,500, yet the Republican budget would provide a voucher for only $8,000 of those premiums. Seniors would be on their own to pay the remaining $12,500—a full 61% of the total. How many of the 20 million near-elderly Americans who are now ages 50-54 will be able to afford that? This approach would transfer control of Medicare to insurers and there would be no guaranteed benefits, essentially ending Medicare as we know it.
The Republican budget would force 4 million seniors in this country to pay $3,500 more, on average, for their prescription drugs by re-opening the Medicare Part D donut hole.
Under the Republican budget, nearly 2 million children would lose their health insurance over the next 5 years by cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance, the Republican budget would cut Medicaid by over $770 billion, causing millions of Americans to lose their health insurance and cutting nursing home assistance in half—threatening the long-term care of some 10 million senior citizens.
The Republican budget would completely repeal the Affordable Health Care Act preventing an estimated 34 million uninsured Americans from getting the health insurance they need.
At a time when the cost of a college education is becoming out of reach for millions of Americans, the Republican budget would slash college Pell grants by about 60% next year alone—reducing the maximum award from $5,550 to about $2,100.
At a time when over 40 million Americans don’t have enough money to feed themselves or their families, the Republican budget would kick up to 10 million Americans off Food Stamps, by slashing this program by more than $125 billion over the next decade.
At a time when our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, the Republican budget passed in the House and supported by all but a handful of Republicans here in the Senate would slash funding for our roads, bridges, rail lines, transit systems, and airports by nearly 40 percent next year alone.
Yet despite the fact that military spending has nearly tripled since 1997, the House Republican budget does nothing to reduce unnecessary defense spending. In fact, defense spending would go up by $26 billion next year alone under the Republican plan.
Interestingly enough, at a time when the rich are becoming richer, when the effective tax rates for the wealthiest people, at 18 percent, are about the lowest on record, at a time when the wealthiest people have received hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks, at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high and major corporations making billions of dollars pay nothing in taxes, my Republican colleagues, in their approach toward deficit reduction, do not ask the wealthiest people or the largest corporations to contribute one penny more for deficit reduction.
In fact, the Republican budget would keep the good times rolling for those who are already doing phenomenally well—it provides over $1 trillion in tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires by permanently extending all of the Bush income tax cuts; reducing the estate tax for multi-millionaires and billionaires; and lowering the top individual and corporate income tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.
Mr. President, the Republican idea of moving toward a balanced budget is to go after the middle-class, working families, and low-income people, and to make sure the millionaires and billionaires and largest corporations in this country that are doing phenomenally well do not have to share in the sacrifices being made by everybody else. They will be protected. The Republican approach to deficit reduction in Washington is the Robin Hood philosophy in reverse: taking from the poor and giving to the rich.
And it’s not as if it’s good for our economy. Mark Zandi, the former economic advisor to John McCain when he was running for president, has estimated that the Republican budget plan will cost 1.7 million jobs by the year 2014, with 900,000 jobs lost next year alone.
The House Republican budget is breathtaking in its degree of cruelty.
But, don’t take my word for it.
In a letter to Congressional leaders after the House GOP plan was introduced, nearly 200 economists and health care experts wrote, “turning Medicare into a voucher program would undermine essential protections for millions of vulnerable people. It would extinguish the most promising approaches to curb costs and to improve the American medical care system.”
Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University, who was a key economic adviser to the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Health Organization, told MSNBC last April that the House Republican plan, “goes right out to destroy Medicaid within the next few years, slashing it drastically. And then on Medicare, it delays [cuts] for 10 years, and then [the House Republican plan] goes out to destroy it, to make sure that elderly people will not have a guaranteed access to health care. They will be getting some premium [support] but they`re going to have to put a lot of money out of pocket.”
Robert Greenstein, the President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said last April that the House Republican budget “proposes a dramatic reverse-Robin-Hood approach that gets the lion’s share of its budget cuts from programs for low-income Americans—the politically and economically weakest group in America and the politically safest group for Ryan to target—even as it bestows extremely large tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Taken together, its proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.”
Ezra Klein, a columnist at the Washington Post wrote last April that “the budget Ryan released is not courageous or serious or significant. It’s a joke, and a bad one. For one thing, Ryan’s savings all come from cuts, and at least two-thirds of them come from programs serving the poor. The wealthy, meanwhile, would see their taxes lowered, and the Defense Department would escape unscathed. It is not courageous to attack the weak while supporting your party’s most inane and damaging fiscal orthodoxies. But the problem isn’t just that Ryan’s budget is morally questionable. It also wouldn’t work.”
Harold Meyerson, a columnist for the Washington Post wrote on April 5th that “If it does nothing else, the budget that the House Republicans unveiled provides the first real Republican program for the 21st century, and it is this: Repeal the 20th century … Ryan achieves the bulk of his savings through sharp reductions in projected spending on Medicare and Medicaid … Ryan’s budget would also reduce projected spending on discretionary domestic programs—education, transportation, food safety and the like—to well below levels of inflation … The cover under which Ryan and other Republicans operate is their concern for the deficit and national debt. But Ryan blows that cover by proposing to reduce the top income tax rate to just 25 percent. He imposes the burden for reducing our debt not on the bankers who forced our government to spend trillions averting a collapse but on seniors and the poor.”
Mr. Meyerson, concludes by saying this: “There’s talk that we have a president who’s a Democrat—the party that created the American social contract of the 20th century. Initially, he focused on reshaping and extending that contract into the 21st. Now that the Republicans want to repeal it all, he’s nowhere to be found. Has anybody seen him? Does he still exist?”
Mr. President, the deficit has been caused by unpaid-for wars, tax breaks for the rich, the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, the bailout of Wall Street, a declining economy, and less revenue coming in. The Republican “solution” in Washington is to balance the budget on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor, to cut back on environmental protection, to cut back on transportation, while providing even more tax breaks to the wealthy and well connected. That is unacceptable and that is what we have got to stop.
Mr. President, it’s not just rich individuals who are making out like bandits. As hard as it may be to believe, some of the largest, most profitable corporations in this country are not only avoiding paying any federal income taxes whatsoever, but they are actually receiving tax rebates from the IRS. And, the Republican response to this reality is to provide even more tax breaks to these corporate freeloaders. That may make sense to someone. It does not make sense to me.
Earlier this year, my office published a top ten list of the worst corporate tax avoiders in this country. I would like to take this opportunity to read this list. These are just a few of the corporations that the Republicans want to protect, while they are trying to deny millions of Americans health insurance, a college education, and nutrition assistance. Here are the top ten corporate freeloaders in America today:
1) Exxon Mobil. In 2009, Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits. Not only did Exxon avoid paying any federal income taxes that year, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.
2) Bank of America. Last year, Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and just a couple of years ago received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.
3) General Electric. Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.
4) Chevron. In 2009, Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS after it made $10 billion in profits.
5) Boeing. Last year, Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS.
6) Valero Energy. Last year, Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.
7) Goldman Sachs. In 2008, Goldman Sachs paid only 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.
8) Citigroup. Last year, Citigroup made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes, even though it received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.
9) ConocoPhillips. ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction during those years.
10) Carnival Cruise Lines. Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.
In other words, Mr. President, at a time when major corporations such as General Electric and ExxonMobil make billions of dollars in profit, and pay nothing in federal income taxes, the Republican plan is to provide them with even more tax breaks.
Mr. President, large corporations are sitting on a record-breaking $2 trillion in cash. The problem is not that corporations are taxed too much. The problem is that consumers don’t have enough money to buy their products and the Republican agenda would make that far worse.
Corporate tax revenue last year was down by 27% compared to 2000, even though corporate profits are up 60 percent over the last decade.
Large corporations and the wealthy are avoiding $100 billion in taxes every year by setting up offshore tax shelters in places like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Bahamas. Ending that anti-American shell game could raise $1 trillion over 10 years toward deficit reduction.
In 2005, 1 out of 4 large corporations paid no income taxes at all even though they collected $1.1 trillion in revenue. The simple truth is that if we are going to reduce the deficit in a responsible way, we have got to make sure that profitable corporations pay their fair share.
Now, I understand that my Republican friends, and quite frankly some of my Democratic friends, will do everything they can to protect the wealthy and the powerful, even if it means destroying the lives of millions of Americans in the process.
But, what we need to understand, what the President needs to understand, is that poll after poll after poll shows that the Republican plan to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and education, while providing even more tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations, is way out of touch with what the American people want.
Let me just read to you a few of these polls.
According to a recent Boston Globe poll of likely voters in New Hampshire, perhaps the most anti-tax state in this country, 73% support raising taxes on people making over $250,000 a year; 78%oppose cutting Medicare; 71% oppose cutting Medicaid; and 76% oppose cutting Social Security.
Now, Mr. President, you may be saying to yourself well, that was just one poll, and it was only polling one state. Clearly, that must have been an aberration.
Wrong. National poll after national poll have almost mirrored what New Hampshire voters are saying.
A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found the following:
* 81 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to impose a surtax on millionaires to reduce the deficit.
* 74 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to eliminate tax credits for the oil and gas industry.
* 68 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to phase out the Bush tax cuts for families earning over $250,000 a year.
* 76 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to eliminate funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says are not necessary.
* 76 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Medicare to significantly reduce the budget deficit.
* 77 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Social Security to significantly reduce the deficit.
* 67 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Medicaid to significantly reduce the deficit.
* 77 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut funding for K-12 education to significantly reduce the deficit.
* 56 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Head Start.
* 59 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut college student loans.
* And, 65 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut heating assistance to low income families.
And, while the leaders of the Tea Party movement in Washington are fighting to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and getting the vast majority of Republicans in Congress to follow their marching orders, 70% of those who identify themselves with the Tea Party outside of the beltway oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid to reduce the deficit, according to a recent McClatchy Poll.
Mr. President, here is the last poll I would like to highlight. It was done by the Washington Post and ABC News, and here is what it says:
* 72% of Americans support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 to reduce the national debt—including 91% of Democrats; 68% of Independents; and 54% of Republicans.
Yet, Mr. President, there does not seem to be one Republican in Washington, DC, who would support raising taxes on the wealthiest two percent of Americans—those earning over $250,000 a year to reduce the deficit. Only in Washington is it considered a controversial idea to make the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share.
Instead of listening to millionaire and billionaire campaign contributors, it is time for our leaders in Washington to start listening to the overwhelming majority of Americans who want the wealthiest people in this country and the most profitable corporations in this country to contribute to deficit reduction. It is time for shared sacrifice. The middle class, the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost pensions, and lost homes. When are the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations going to be asked to pay their fair share? If not now, when?
And, the fact of the matter is, Mr. President, that moving towards deficit reduction in a way that’s fair is not quite as complicated as the American people have been led to believe by the corporate media and right wing think tanks.
In fact, if you are not beholden to Wall Street, large corporations and wealthy campaign contributors, and you are not scared to death of the unlimited number of 30 second ads they may run against you, it is actually quite easy.
I know many people have different ideas about how we might move towards a balanced budget. I am not saying that I have all of the answers. But, let me just give a few examples of how we can reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion dollars over the next decade that asks the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share and does not unfairly harm ordinary Americans.
First, if we simply repealed the Bush tax breaks for the top two percent, we could raise at least $700 billion over the next decade. The Republicans claim that repealing these tax breaks would increase unemployment. They are wrong. These tax breaks have been in place for over a decade and they have not led to a single net private sector job. In fact, under the eight years of President Bush, the private sector lost over 600,000 jobs and the deficit exploded. When President Clinton increased taxes on the top two percent, over 22 million jobs were created, and the revenue generated from this policy led to a $236 billion budget surplus.
Secondly, a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires and billionaires would raise more than $383 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Tax Committee. As I said earlier, a millionaire’s surtax has the support of 81 percent of the American people according to NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
Third, Mr. President, the U.S. government is actually rewarding companies that move U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas through loopholes in the tax code known as deferral and foreign source income. This is unacceptable. During the last decade, the U.S. lost about 30% of its manufacturing jobs and over 50,000 factories have been shut down.
If we ended the absurdity of providing tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, the Joint Tax Committee has estimated that we could raise more than $582 billion in revenue over the next ten years. Right now we have a tax policy that says that if you shut down a manufacturing plant in America, and move to China, the IRS will give you a tax break. That may make sense to corporate CEOs. It doesn’t make sense to me.
Fourth, Mr. President, if we ended tax breaks and subsidies for big oil and gas companies, we could reduce the deficit by more than $40 billion over the next ten years. The five largest oil companies in the United States have earned about $1 trillion in profits over the past decade. Meanwhile, in recent years, some of the very largest oil companies in America like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, as I pointed out earlier, have paid absolutely nothing in Federal income taxes. In fact, some of them have actually gotten a rebate from the IRS. That has got to stop.
Fifth, Mr. President, if we prohibited abusive and illegal offshore tax shelters, we could reduce the deficit by up to $1 trillion over the next decade. Each and every year, the United States loses an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues due to offshore tax abuses by the wealthy and large corporations. The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Cayman Islands is now the “home” to more than 18,000 corporations. That is wrong. The wealthy and large corporations should not be allowed to avoid paying taxes by setting up tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas or other tax haven countries.
Sixth, Mr. President, if we established a Wall Street speculation fee of less than one percent on the sale and purchase of credit default swaps, derivatives, stock options and futures, we could reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade. Both the economic crisis and the deficit crisis are a direct result of the greed and recklessness on Wall Street. Establishing a speculation fee would reduce gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy, and significantly reduce the deficit without harming average Americans.
There are a number of precedents for this. The U.S had a similar Wall Street speculation fee from 1914 to 1966. The Revenue Act of 1914 levied a 0.2% tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled that tax to help finance the government during the Great Depression. And today, England has a financial transaction tax of 0.25 percent, a penny on every $4 invested.
Number seven, Mr. President, if we taxed capital gains and dividends, the same way that we tax work, we could raise more than $730 billion over the next decade. Warren Buffet has often said that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. And, today the effective tax rate of the richest 400 Americans, who earn an average of more than $280 million each year, is just 18 percent, lower than most nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers pay. The reason for this is that the wealthy obtain most of their income from capital gains and dividends, which is taxed at a much lower rate than work. Right now, the top marginal income tax for working is 35%, but the tax rate on corporate dividends and capital gains is only 15%. Taxing wealth and work at the same rate could raise more than $730 billion over a ten-year period—and it’s the right thing to do.
Number eight, if we established a progressive estate tax on inherited wealth of more than $3.5 million, we could raise more than $70 billion over 10 years. Last year, I introduced the Responsible Estate Tax Act that would reduce the deficit in a fair way while ensuring that 99.7 percent of Americans who lose a loved one would never have to pay a dime in federal estate taxes.
Number nine, we have got to reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon, which now consumes over half of our discretionary budget. Since 1997, our defense budget has virtually tripled going from $254 billion to $700 billion.
Defense experts such as Lawrence Korb, an Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, has estimated that we could achieve significant savings of around $100 billion a year at the Pentagon while still ensuring that the United States has the strongest and most powerful military in the world.
For example, as a result of four separate investigations that I requested, the GAO has found that the Pentagon has $36.9 billion in spare parts that it does not need and which are collecting dust in government warehouses. We have got to do a much better job than that.
And, much of the huge spending at the Pentagon is devoted to spending money on Cold War weapons programs to fight a Soviet Union that no longer exists. That has got to stop.
Further, we also must end the unnecessary War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan as soon as possible. These wars have gone on long enough. Reducing Pentagon spending by at least $900 billion over 10 years is something that we can and must do.
Number 10, if we required Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, we could save over $157 billion over 10 years. As a result of the Medicare Part D prescription drug legislation signed into law under President George W. Bush, Medicare is prohibited from negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices for seniors. This is wrong. Requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices could save the federal government and seniors over $15 billion a year.
Number 11, if we enacted a robust public option or a Medicare-for-all health insurance program, we would be able to save more than $68 billion over the next decade and provide affordable health insurance coverage for millions of Americans.
Number 12, Mr. President, as almost everyone knows, China is manipulating its currency, giving it an unfair trade advantage over the United States and destroying decent paying manufacturing jobs in the process. If we imposed a currency manipulation fee on China and other low wage countries, the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that we could raise $500 billion over 10 years and create 1 million jobs in the process.
Finally, Mr. President, I think just about everyone agrees that there is waste, fraud, and abuse in every agency of the federal government. Rooting out this waste, fraud, and abuse could save about $200 billion over the next 10 years.
Mr. President, if we did all of these things we could easily reduce the deficit by well over $4 trillion over the next decade, if not much more. It would be done in a fair way, and it would not unnecessarily and needlessly ruin the lives of millions of Americans who are struggling desperately just to make ends meet.
Mr. President, the radical right wing agenda of more tax breaks for the wealthy paid for by the dismantling of Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition, and the environment may be popular in the country clubs and cocktail parties of the rich and powerful, but it is way out of touch with what the overwhelming majority of Americans want.
Mr. President, as you know, late last week, Congressman Eric Cantor, the Republican Majority Leader in the House and Senator Jon Kyl, the Republican Minority Whip in the House walked out of the budget negotiations being led by Vice President Joe Biden.
And, the reason they walked out was clear. They were not willing to close one single loophole in the tax code that allows the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying taxes by stashing their money in the Cayman Islands. They were unwilling to stop tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, or close tax loopholes that give billionaires like Warren Buffet the ability to pay lower effective tax rates than their secretaries.
There is apparently no end as to how far the Republican leadership will go in Washington to protect their wealthy campaign contributors, even if it means allowing the federal debt limit to expire and causing another depression.
My sincere hope is that the President will use this Republican walkout as an opportunity to rally the American people and make it clear that he will never support Republican demands to move toward a balanced budget solely on the backs of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor.
But, I don’t think that the President will do this unless the American people send him a message that enough is enough! The American people have got to write to the President and tell him not to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country. Do not decimate Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, education, and the environment to pay for more tax breaks for the rich and powerful. Stand up for the millions, who have seen their homes, jobs, and savings vanish, instead of the millionaires, who have never had it so good.
For those of you who are listening to this speech, if you believe that enough is enough, if you believe in shared sacrifice, if you believe that it is time for the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations to contribute to deficit reduction, go to my website: sanders.senate.gov. At this website, you will find a letter to the White House that you can sign—let me read what it says:
“Dear Mr. President,
This is a pivotal moment in the history of our country. Decisions are being made about the national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American for decades to come. As we address the issue of deficit reduction we must not ignore the painful economic reality of today—which is that the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. In fact, the United States today has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.
Everyone understands that over the long-term we have got to reduce the deficit—a deficit that was caused mainly by Wall Street greed, tax breaks for the rich, two wars, and a prescription drug program written by the drug and insurance companies. It is absolutely imperative, however, that as we go forward with deficit reduction we completely reject the Republican approach that demands savage cuts in desperately-needed programs for working families, the elderly, the sick, our children and the poor, while not asking the wealthiest among us to contribute one penny.
Mr. President, please listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice. The wealthiest Americans and the most profitable corporations in this country must pay their fair share. At least 50 percent of any deficit reduction package must come from revenue raised by ending tax breaks for the wealthy and eliminating tax loopholes that benefit large, profitable corporations and Wall Street financial institutions. A sensible deficit reduction package must also include significant cuts to unnecessary and wasteful Pentagon spending.
Please do not yield to outrageous Republican demands that would greatly increase suffering for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. Now is the time to stand with the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to survive economically, not with the millionaires and billionaires who have never had it so good.”
If you’re listening out there, and agree with what I am saying, but are wondering what you can do to make a difference, I would urge you to consider signing this letter. Staying silent and doing nothing is not an option. Your voice needs to be heard and you can make a difference.
Mr. President, we have seen this movie before. The Republicans, led by their extreme right wing, have been successful in getting their way because of their refusal to compromise and their willingness to hold the good credit and economic security of the American people hostage.
In December, the Republican leadership was prepared to hold the middle class tax cuts and unemployment benefits hostage in order to extend the Bush tax breaks for the top two percent. The Republicans won and as a result over $200 billion was added to the deficit over the next two years.
Specifically, the December tax cut agreement extended the Bush income tax rates for those earning more than $250,000; maintained lower tax rates on capital gains and dividends; and lowered the estate tax which only benefits the top 0.3 percent.
Let me remind, my colleagues who the biggest winners were from last December’s tax cut agreement.
According to Citizens for Tax Justice, extending the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent has provided Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corporation, with an estimated $1.3 million tax break.
Tom Donohue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has urged American corporations to ship jobs overseas, will receive an estimated $215,000 tax break from this deal.
Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, whose bank received a bailout of over $160 billion from the Federal Reserve, will receive an estimated $1.1 million tax break from this deal.
Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, a bank that got more than $2.5 trillion in near zero interest loans from the Fed, will receive an estimated $785,000 tax break by extending the Bush tax cuts.
Ken Lewis, the former CEO of Bank of America, a bank that got nearly a trillion dollars in low interest loans from the Fed, will receive an estimated $713,000 tax break.
The CEO of Wells Fargo (John Stumpf), whose bank got a $25 billion bailout, will receive an $813,000 tax break from this deal.
The CEO of Morgan Stanley (John Mack), whose bank got more than $2 trillion in low interest loans from the Fed, will receive a $926,000 tax break from this agreement.
The CEO of Aetna (Ronald Williams) will receive a tax break worth $875,000.
The CEO of Cigna (David Cordani) will receive a $350,000 tax break. And, on and on it goes.
The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class disappears. That is what is going on in this country today.
Then, Mr. President, In April, the Republicans in Congress were prepared to shut down the government, disrupt the economy, and deny paychecks to 800,000 federal workers if they couldn’t get their way in slashing programs for low and moderate income Americans. As a result, the President and this Congress agreed to virtually everything the Republicans wanted by enacting a budget thatslashed $78 billion from the President’s request.
Let me give you just a few examples of what kinds of cuts were included in this year’s spending agreement:
At a time when college education has become unaffordable for many, Pell grants are now being reduced by an estimated $35 billion over 10 years.
At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance, at a time when we have a crisis in access to primary care, and at a time when 45,000 Americans die each and every year because they delay seeking care they cannot afford, the 2011 spending agreement cut $600 million from community health centers and $3.5 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
At a time when we should be putting Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, federal funding for new high-speed rail projects was eliminated. In other words, the rich get richer, while the needs of ordinary Americans are attacked.
And, today, the Republican Leadership has made it clear that, unless they get their way on implementing a significant part of the Ryan budget in 2012, they are prepared to vote against raising the debt ceiling. If the debt ceiling is not extended, the United States will, for the first time in history, default on its debt and likely plunge the world’s financial markets into a major crisis. Yet that is just what the Republican leadership and its members are threatening to do. Shame on them.
Mr. President, in many ways, the Republicans in Washington have been acting like school yard bullies. And, as we know, bullying is a serious problem in our schools. Every educator worth his or her salt will tell you that when you’re dealing with a bully, you must not give into their tactics or tolerate their temper tantrums—you have to deal with them sternly and consistently. You cannot allow them to win by dictating the rules of the game and trampling over everyone else if they don’t get their way.
Mr. President, we have a serious deficit problem that must be solved, no one would deny it.
But the problem is not that we spend too much on the needs of the elderly and have to slash Social Security; the problem is that we have provided hundreds of billions in tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need them and in many cases don’t want them.
The problem is not that we spend too much money on financial aid for college and have to slash Pell Grants. The average college senior today is graduating with $24,000 in debt. The problem is that each and every year, large corporations and the wealthiest in our society are avoiding $100 billion in federal taxes through tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other places throughout the world.
The problem is not that we are spending too much on childcare. Childcare is increasingly becoming out of reach for too many American families. The problem is that about one out of four large and profitable corporations in this country do not pay any federal income taxes, and in many cases get a tax rebate from the IRS.
The problem is not that we spend too much money to reduce childhood poverty in this country. We have the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world! The problem is that when all is said and done we will have spent $3 trillion on the unnecessary and misguided Iraq War.
Mr. President, the problem is that this deficit was caused by actions voted for by nearly all of my Republican friends: the wars, tax breaks for the rich, Medicare Part D, and the Wall Street Bailout. In the middle of a recession when the middle class and working families are already hurting, when poverty is increasing it is not only immoral, it is bad economics to balance the budget on working families and the most vulnerable people in this country.
When people are hurting, when they have lost their jobs, when their incomes are going down, you do not say to those people: We are throwing you off Medicaid. We are going to end Medicare as we know it, we are going to cut back on Federal aid to education so your kid cannot go to college. That is not what you say in a humane and fair society.
On the other hand, at the same time as the wealthiest people are becoming phenomenally wealthier, and when large corporations are making huge profits, and in many cases not paying any taxes at all, it is entirely appropriate—in fact, it is a moral imperative—to say to those people: Sorry, you are also American. You have got to participate in shared sacrifice. You have also got to help us reduce the deficit.
That is where we are right now. We are at a pivotal moment in the midst of a major debate, but it is not only on financial issues. It is very much a philosophical debate. It is a debate about which side you are on. Do you continue to give tax breaks to the very rich and make savage cuts for working families, for children, the elderly, the poor, the most vulnerable?
Mr. President, another thing that is rarely mentioned on the floor of the Senate is the $3 trillion Federal Reserve bailout, that was only fully made public after I inserted an amendment into the Dodd-Frank Act last year to require that it be made public.
As it turns out, while small business owners in the State of Vermont and throughout this country were being turned down for loans, not only did large financial institutions receive substantial help from the Fed, but also some of the largest corporations in this country also received help in terms of very low interest loans.
And, here is something we also learned: this bailout was not just about American banks and corporations but foreign banks and foreign corporations also received hundreds of billions of dollars from the Fed as well.
Then, on top of that, a number of the wealthiest individuals in this country also received a major bailout from the Fed. The “emergency response,” which is what the Fed described their action as during the Wall Street collapse, appears to any objective observer to have been the clearest case that I can imagine of socialism for the very rich and rugged free market individualism for everybody else.
In other words, if you are a huge financial institution, like Goldman Sachs, whose recklessness and greed caused this great recession, no problem. You get almost $800 bilion in near zero interest rate loans from the Fed. If you are a major American corporation, such as General Electric or McDonald’s or Caterpillar or Harley-Davidson or Verizon, no problem. You received a major handout from the U.S. Government.
But if you are a senior citizen living in a nursing home paid for by Medicaid, well, guess what, you are on your own.
If you are an elderly person who cannot afford to heat their homes in the winter when the temperature is 20 below zero, tough luck. We don’t have any money for you. But, if you happen to be the state-owned Bank of Bavaria—not Pennsylvania, not California, but Bavaria—the Federal Reserve has enough money to loan you over $2.2 billion by purchasing your commercial paper.
The Fed said this bailout was necessary in order to prevent the world economy from going over a cliff. But over 3 years after the start of the recession, millions of Americans remain unemployed and have lost their homes, their life savings, and their ability to send their kids to college. Meanwhile, huge banks and large corporations have returned to making incredible profits and paying their executives record-breaking compensation packages, as if the financial crisis they started never occurred.
Mr. President, everyone understands that over the long-term we have got to reduce our record-breaking $14.2 trillion national debt. But, we must reduce the deficit in a fair way and not balance the budget solely on the backs of the middle class, the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor.
That means we absolutely must tell the wealthy and large corporations that it is high time that they to pay their fair share in taxes. And, that means that the President has got to stand tall and stand firm and let the American people know that if we do default on our debt obligations, if America and the world economy is plunged into a depression, it was because the Republicans refused to raise the taxes of the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations in this country by one red cent.
Shared sacrifice isn’t just good public policy, it is also what the American people want. Overwhelming majorities of the American people believe that the best way to reduce the deficit is to end tax breaks for the wealthy, big oil, Wall Street, and that we must bring our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s about time that Washington listened to the American people. Let’s reduce the deficit. But, let’s do it in a fair and responsible way that requires shared sacrifice from the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations.
I thank the President and I yield the floor.