By Bernie Sanders.
Madam President, the American people are angry.
They are angry because they are living through the worst recession since the great depression.
Unemployment is not 8.2%, real unemployment is closer to 15%.
Young people who are graduating high school and graduating college, they’re going out into the world, they want to become independent, they want to work, and there are no jobs.
There are workers out there 50, 55 years old who intended to work the remainder of their working lives, suddenly they got a pink slip, their self-esteem is destroyed, they’re never going to have another job again and now they’re worried about their retirement security.
What the American people are angry about is they understand that they did not cause this recession. Teachers did not cause this recession. Firefighters and police officers who are being attacked daily by governors all over this country did not cause this recession. Construction workers did not cause this recession. This recession was caused by the greed, the recklessness and illegal behavior of the people on Wall Street.
These people on Wall Street spent billions of dollars, billions of dollars, trying to deregulate Wall Street and they got their way. $5 billion in ten years is what was spent, and then they were able to merge investment banks with commercial banks, with insurance companies. They got everything they wanted. They said get the government off the backs of Wall Street. They got it. And the end result was that they plunged this country into the worst recession since the great depression.
Now, four years after the financial crisis caused by J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and the other huge financial institutions, one might have thought that perhaps they learned something, that maybe the lesson of the great financial crisis was you cannot continue to maintain the largest gambling casino in the history of the world. But apparently they have not learned that lesson. They are back at it again and we have recently seen the $2 billion or $3 billion or $5 billion in gambling losses at J.P. Morgan Chase. If we’re going to put people back to work we need Wall Street to invest in the productive economy. Small and medium-sized businesses all over this country need affordable loans and that’s what financial institutions should be doing. They should be helping us create jobs, expand businesses, not continue to engage in their wild and exotic gambling schemes. Now, Madam President, when we talk about why the American people are angry, they are angry because they understand that Wall Street received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world. But it was not just the $700 billion that congress approved through the TARP program. As a result of an independent audit that some of us helped to bring about in the Dodd-Frank bill, we learned, Madam President, that the Federal Reserve provided a jaw-dropping $16 trillion in virtually zero interest loans to every major financial institution in this country, central banks all over the world, large corporations and, in fact, to wealthy individuals. And what the American people are saying is if the Fed can provide $16 trillion to large financial institutions, why can’t they begin to move to protect homeowners, unemployed workers, and the middle class of this country?
The American people are looking, and they are angry not just because unemployment is high, they’re angry not just because millions of people have lost their homes and their life savings. They are angry because they understand that the middle class of this country is collapsing, poverty is increasing, while at the same time the people on top are doing phenomenally well. They, the taxpayers of this country, bail out Wall Street, and Wall Street recovers. Wall Street does well, but now we have kids in this country graduating college deeply in debt, can’t find a job. We have older workers losing their jobs and people are saying what is going on in America?
The American people ultimately, I believe, are angry because they are looking at this great country, a country which many of our veterans fought and died for and what they are seeing is that this nation is losing its middle class, is losing its democratic values, and, in fact, is moving toward an oligarchic form of government where a handful of billionaires control the economic and political life of this nation.
In the United States today we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income since the 1920’s. Now, you’re not going to see what I’m talking about on Fox, you’re not going to see it on NBC or CBS, but it’s important that we discuss this issue because it’s one of the most important issues facing America.
Today the wealthiest 400 individuals in America own more wealth than the bottom half of America, 150 million people.
Today, the six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune now own more wealth than the bottom 30% of the American people. One family owns more wealth than the bottom 30%, 90 million Americans.
Today the top 1% own 40% of all of the wealth in America. The top 1% owns 40% of all the wealth in America. What do we think the bottom 60% of the American people own?
I ask this question a lot around Vermont. People say maybe they own 15%, maybe they own 20%. Well, the answer is they own less than 2%. Less than 2%. So you got the bottom 60% of the American people owning less than 2% of the wealth, top 1% own 40% of the wealth.
Here’s another astounding fact and we don’t see this too much in the media. Many of my colleagues don’t talk about it too often but incredibly, the bottom 40% of the American people own 0.3% of the wealth of this country. And I know we have some of my colleagues coming up here and say look, not everybody in America is paying taxes.
We have millions of people not paying any taxes. No kidding. They don’t have any money. Because all of the money is on the top.
According to a new study from the Federal Reserve, median net worth for middle-class families dropped by nearly 40% from 2007 to 2010, primarily because of the plummeting value of homes. That is the equivalent of wiping out 18 years of savings for the average middle-class family. Now, I talked a moment about distribution of wealth. That’s what you accumulate in your lifetime. Let me say a word about income, which is what we earn in a year. The last study on income distribution showed us that between the years 2009 and 2010 — 2009 and 2010 — 93% of all new income created went to the top 1%, while the 99% had the privilege of enjoying the remaining 7%. In other words, the wealthy people in this country are becoming wealthier, the middle class is disappearing and poverty is increasing. Now, when we talk about an oligarchic form of government, what we’re talking about is not just a handful of families owning entire nations. We’re also talking about the politics of the nation.
And as a result of this disastrous Citizens United decision which is now two years old, one of the worst decisions ever brought about by the Supreme Court of this country, a decision that they just reaffirmed a few days ago with regard to Montana, what the Supreme Court has said to the wealthiest people in this country, okay, you own almost all the wealth of this nation — that’s great — now we’re going to give you an opportunity to own the political life of this nation. And if you’re getting bored by just owning coal companies and casinos and manufacturing plants, you now have the opportunity to own the United States government. So we have people like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson. The Koch Brothers are worth $50 billion. That’s what they’re worth. And, they have said they’re prepared to put $400 million into this campaign to defeat Obama, to defeat candidates who are representing working families.
Sheldon Adelson says he’s only worth $20 billion. He’s kind of a pauper. But he’s willing to spend what it takes to buy the government. And if you look at it, it ain’t a bad deal. If you’re worth $50 billion and you spend a billion or two, you can buy the United States government. That’s a pretty good investment. And that’s what they are about to do. So on one hand we have a grossly unequal distribution of wealth and income. These guys control the economy.
You have the six largest financial institutions in this country that have assets equivalent to two-thirds of the GDP. of America. Over $9 trillion. These six financial institutions write half the mortgages, two-thirds of the credit cards in America. Huge impact on the economy. That’s not enough for these guys. Top 1% owns half of the wealth. Not enough for these guys. Now they have the opportunity to buy the United States government. So that’s where we are.
Now, in my view, working families all over this country are saying, enough is enough. They want this congress to start standing for them and not just the millionaires and the billionaires who are spending unbelievable sums of money in this campaign. So it seems to me, Mr. President, that what we have got to do is start listening to the needs of working families, the vast majority of our people, and not just the people who make campaign contributions. And I know that’s a very radical idea. I do know that. But, you know, it might be a good idea to try a little bit to reaffirm the faith of the American people in their democratic form of government. Let them know just a little bit that maybe we are hearing their pain, their unemployment, their debt. The fact that they don’t have any health care. The fact they can’t afford to send their kids to college. Maybe, just maybe, we might want to listen to them before we go running out to another fund-raising event with millionaires and billionaires.
I do know that is a radical idea. So let’s talk about what we can actually do for the American people. In the midst of this terrible recession, where real unemployment is closer to 15% if you include those folks who have given up looking for work and those people who are working part time when they want to work full time, we know that the fastest way to create decent paying jobs is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
In Vermont, many of our bridges are in desperate need of repair, our roads are in need of repair, and our rail system is falling further and further behind Europe and China. We’ve got water systems that desperately need repair, wastewater plants, we have schools that need repair. We can put millions of people back to work making our country more competitive, more efficient by addressing our infrastructure crisis. Let’s do it. It is beyond my comprehension that we can’t even get a modest transportation bill signed into law. I know that Chairwoman Boxer and Senator Inhofe are working on a modest transportation bill. We can’t even get that through the house. In fact, we’ve got to do a lot more than that. But at least they’re making the effort.
Mr. President, at a time when we spend some $300 billion a year importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other foreign countries, at a time when this planet is struggling with global warming and all of the extreme weather disturbances that we see and the billions of dollars that we are spending in response to these extreme weather disturbances, we need to move toward energy independence, we need to reverse greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, we need to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and into sustainable energy like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. And when we do that, we also create a substantial number of decent paying jobs. And, by the way, in the midst of a very competitive global economy, what we should not be doing is laying off teachers and child care workers. We should be investing in education, not laying off those people who are educating our kids.
I know that there is a lot of discussion on the floor with regard to the national debt, almost $16 trillion. The deficit over $1 trillion. That is a serious issue and we’ve got to deal with it. But my view is a little bit different than many of my colleagues in terms of how we deal with it.
I think most Americans understand the causation of the deficit crisis.
President Bush went to war in Iraq and he went to war in Afghanistan. And, you know, he just forgot something. We all have memory lapses, don’t we?
We go shopping and we forget to buy the milk or the bread. He had a memory lapse. He forgot to pay for them. Now, a couple a trillion dollars and he forgot to pay for them. And all of our deficit hawks out here, all of those folks that say, “You got to cut food stamps, you got to cut education, you got to cut health care.” Oh, two wars, $2 trillion, $3 trillion, $4 trillion, no problem. No problem at all. And, for the first time, as I understand it, in the history of this country, we went to war — which is an expensive proposition — and at the same time not only did we not raise the money to pay for the war, we went the other way, we decided to give huge tax breaks, including to the wealthiest people in this country. You spend trillions going to war, you give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country, well, that begins to add up.
That’s called creating a deficit. And then on top of that, because of the greed and the recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street which drove us into this recession, when you’re in a recession and people are unemployed and small businesses go under, less revenue is coming in to the federal treasury.
You’re spending a whole lot, less revenue is coming in, and you have a deficit crisis. Now, some of my Republican friends — and some Democrats, I should say — they say, well, maybe, maybe we should have paid for the war. Yeah, you’re right. Maybe we shouldn’t have given those tax breaks to the rich. Yeah, maybe you’re right. But, be that as it may, we are where we are, and we need deficit reduction and we know how to do it.
We’re going to cut Social Security. And my friends back home, when you hear folks talking about Social Security reform, hold on to your wallets because they are talking about cuts in Social Security. Nothing more, nothing less. They’re talking about something that in Vermont, nobody has heard of, the concept called chained CPI.
Every time I go home, I ask them. People don’t know what chained CPI is. The so-called chained CPI is the belief — and I know senior citizens back home are going to start laughing when I say this — that COLAs (cost of living adjustments) for Social Security are too high. And seniors back home start scratching their heads and say wait, we just went through two years when my prescription drug costs went up, my health care costs went up and I got no COLA and there are people in Washington, Republicans, some Democrats, they think I my COLA was too high?
What world are these people living in?
And that’s the reality. So some of the folks here want to pass something called a chained CPI, which, if it were imposed –and I will do everything I can to see that it does not get imposed — would mean that between the ages of 65 and 75, a senior would lose about $560 a year, and then when they turn 85 and they’re trying to get by off of $13,000 or $14,000 a year, they would lose about a thousand bucks a year. That’s what some of our colleagues want to do. Virtually all the Republicans want to do it. Some Democrats want to do it as well. As chairman of the defending Social Security caucus, I’m going to do everything that I can to prevent that. Now, they also want to cut Medicare and they want to cut Medicaid. Well, we’ve got 50 million people without any health insurance at all. We’ve got people paying huge deductibles. Medicaid covering nursing home care. They want to cut Medicare and Medicaid. They have the brilliant idea, some of them, that maybe we should raise the retirement age for Medicare from 65 to 67.
Mr. President, tell me about somebody in Minnesota who’s 66 and is diagnosed with cancer, and if we do what the republicans want us to do in the house, which is to create a voucher plan for Medicare, we’d give that person a check for, I don’t know, $7,000 I think or $8,000 and say, you can go out to a private insurance company – anyone you want — here’s your $7,000 or $8,000, you’re suffering with cancer, go get your insurance. And I guess that would last you maybe one day or two days in the hospital. That’s what it would do. That’s the republican plan. So, Mr. President, I agree that deficit reduction is a real issue and I think we have got to deal with it. But we are not, if I have anything to say about it, going to deal with it on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, the poor and the hungry. The way you deal with deficit reduction in a responsible way, in a fair way is you say to the billionaires in this country, who are doing phenomenally well, that there’s something a little bit absurd that millionaires and billionaires today, in the midst of the deficit crisis, are paying the lowest tax rates that they have paid in decades.
So, yes, we’re going to have to ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. I saw a piece in the paper the other day. It was quite incredible. Some billionaires apparently are leaving America, they’re giving up their citizenship, and they’re going abroad. These great lovers of America who made their money in this country, when you ask them to start paying their fair share of taxes, they’re running abroad. We have 19-year-old kids in this country who’ve died in Iraq and Afghanistan defending this country, they went abroad not to escape taxes, they’re working-class kids who died in wars and now some billionaires want to run abroad in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. What patriotism, what love of country. So, Mr. President, yeah, we’ve got to deal with deficit reduction. But you don’t cut Social Security, you don’t cut Medicare, you don’t cut Medicaid, you don’t cut education.
You ask the wealthiest people, the millionaires and billionaires, to start paying their fair share of taxes. You end these outrageous corporate loopholes. Senator Conrad showed a picture of a building in the Cayman Islands where there are 18,000 corporations. They’re there in the Cayman Islands using a postal address in order to avoid paying their taxes. We’re losing about a hundred billion a year. You’ve got large corporations making billions, paying in some cases nothing in taxes. That’s the way you go to deficit reduction, not on the backs of people who are already hurting. So, Mr. President, we are in a very difficult moment in American history. We are in the process of losing the great middle class. We’re seeing more of our people living in poverty. We’re seeing savage attacks being waged against the elderly in terms of cuts in Social Security and Medicare, attacks against those who get sick in terms of going after Medicaid and Medicare. And I think what the American people are saying is enough is enough. This country, this great country, belongs to all of us. It cannot continue to be controlled by a handful of billionaires who apparently want it all. You know, I, for the love of me, I cannot understand why people who have billions of dollars are compulsively driven for more and how many people have got to die because they don’t go to a doctor because you want to avoid paying your taxes?
Well, that’s not what America is about. That’s not what people fought and died to create. With that, we have got a fight on our hands. The job of the United States national is to represent the middle-class families of this country, all of the people, and not just the super-rich. I hope we can begin to do that.