Marketplace Fairness Act

Floor Speech

Date: April 24, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, I also agree we should not invade Canada. I live right near there. It would be terrible.

What we are hearing and what we have heard now for a number of months is a discussion about deficit reduction, about how we proceed and how we address the fact that this country has a $16.6 trillion national debt. That is a serious issue.

I think as we contemplate how we address this issue, we have to put it into a broader context as to what is going on in the United States. What is the best way forward in terms of deficit reduction at a time when the United States has by far the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth. In other words, we cannot talk about how we proceed with deficit reduction, we cannot say it is OK to cut Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid or nutrition programs when the middle class of this country is disappearing, poverty is extremely high, while at the same time the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well. Any serious discussion about deficit reduction has to include those issues.

Let me bore you for a moment with some interesting statistics. This, in fact, came out just yesterday from the Pew Research Center. What they said is that all the new wealth generated in this country from 2009 to 2011 went to the top 7 percent of the American households. All the new wealth went to the top 7 percent of American households, while the bottom 93 percent of Americans saw a net reduction in their wealth.

The Pew Research Center found that from 2009 to 2011, the mean net worth of American households in the top 7 percent rose by 28 percent, while the mean net worth of the bottom 93 percent of American households went down by 4 percent; in other words, the people on top are doing very well, everybody else is not doing well.

Over this same time period, the top 7 percent of American households saw their wealth increase by a combined $5.6 trillion--the top 7 percent, $5.7 trillion in wealth increase; the bottom 93 percent saw a wealth decline of $600 billion. That is what the Pew Research Center reported just yesterday.

Today, when we talk about distribution of wealth and income, the wealthiest 400 individuals in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America. Four hundred people have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. Today, one family, the Walton family--owners of Walmart--own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people; one family has more wealth than the bottom 40 percent.

Today--and this is truly a remarkable fact which of course we do not talk about too much--the top 1 percent of Americans own 38 percent of all financial wealth. Let's guess what the bottom 60 percent of the American people own. The top 1 percent own 38 percent of the wealth. The bottom 60 percent own 2.3 percent of the wealth in America. That is a rather remarkable and disturbing fact.

Today, as Warren Buffett has pointed out, the 400 richest Americans are now worth a recordbreaking $1.7 trillion, more than five times what we were worth just two decades ago. Meanwhile, according to a June 2012 study from the Federal Reserve, median net worth for middle-class families dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2010. That is the equivalent of wiping out 18 years of savings for the average middle-class family.

That is distribution of wealth. That is incredibly unequal, incredibly unfair, and getting worse and worse. That is something we might want to keep in mind when we talk about how we do deficit reduction.

Then when we talk about distribution of income, what we earned last year, that is even worse than distribution of wealth, as bad as that is. If you can believe it, the last study we have seen on this subject--this is quite amazing--showed that from 2009 to 2011, all the new income created during that time period went to the top 1 percent while the bottom 99 percent actually saw a decline in their income. All the new income created in that time period, 2009 to 2011, went to the top 1 percent. Real unemployment today is not 7.6 percent, it is 13.8 percent if we count those people who have given up looking for work and those people who are working part-time.

The youth unemployment rate is just horrendous, and it is even higher than the general average.

Very interestingly, a new poll came out by Gallup that was done just a few days ago--April 17, 2013. I find the results of that poll very remarkable. This poll deals with an issue that very few people in Congress are even prepared to talk about, let alone act upon.

Here is what the poll from April 17, 2013--this week--said: About 6 in 10 Americans--about 60 percent--believe money and wealth should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people in the United States, while only one-third of Americans think the current distribution is fair.

So when my friends want to cut programs for the middle class and give tax breaks to the rich, they should understand that about 60 percent of the American people already believe that we have an unfair distribution of wealth in America. What is even more interesting, according to this Gallup poll from a few days ago--and they do this poll every year--is that a recordbreaking 52 percent of the American people believe ``that our government,'' i.e, the Congress, ``should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.'' Again, that is 52 percent of the American people who believe that.

How many Members of the Congress get up and come close to reflecting what a majority of the American people want? The American people know that the middle class is collapsing. They know poverty is unacceptably high. They know the wealthy and large corporations are doing extraordinarily well, and they want us to do something about it. But around here, forget doing something about it. We cannot even talk about what the American people want us to do.

The American people are frustrated with Congress for a whole lot of reasons, and certainly at the top of the list is how we are ignoring the economic reality facing the middle class of this country and the growing wealth and income inequality. They want us to do something about it, and I think it is high time we did.

So instead of cutting programs for the middle class, they are giving more tax breaks for those people who don't need it. Maybe we should do what the American people want and ask the wealthy and large corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes and protect working families.

Interestingly enough, we hear from the wealthiest people in this country and from their organizations. What we hear from them is not: Hey, we are doing really well. We know this country has a whole lot of problems, and we are prepared to pitch in; we are prepared to help out with deficit reduction. By the way, for those who are on Wall Street, remember that it was the American people who bailed out Wall Street. Instead of hearing how they are prepared to reciprocate now in America's time of need, unfortunately what we are hearing is quite the contrary.

Lloyd Blankfein is the CEO of Goldman Sachs, and this is what he said on November 19, 2012, to CBS:

You're going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people's expectations--the entitlements and what people think that they're going to get, because they're not going to get it.

Blankfein and his friends at the Business Roundtable recently came out with a report. Now, the Business Roundtable is the organization representing the CEOs of the largest corporations. All of them make millions of dollars a year in salary or benefits. All of them have very generous retirement benefits. Some of them are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

These people, the Business Roundtable, which consists of Wall Street and other large corporations that are doing phenomenally well, came forward and said to Congress: You should raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to 70 and cut Social Security COLAs by adopting the so-called chained CPI. The wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well, Wall Street gets bailed out by working families all over this country, and then these guys come back to Congress and say: Raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare to 70 years of age.

Needless to say, my views are a little bit different than Mr. Blankfein's or the Business Roundtable. I believe the way to do deficit reduction is not by punishing people who are already hurting and struggling to keep their heads above water. We don't punish the sick, the kids, the elderly, or disabled veterans. We need to ask those people who are doing very well to start paying their fair share of taxes.

Now I will talk about what I think we should be doing and why we should be doing it. In 1952, 32 percent of all of the revenue generated in this country came from large corporations--about one-third of all the revenue. Today just 9 percent of Federal revenue comes from corporate America. In 2011, corporations paid just 12 percent of their profits in taxes. That is the lowest percentage since 1972.

In 2005--the last figures we have--one out of four corporations paid no Federal income taxes at all even though they collected over $1 trillion in revenue during that 1-year period.

In 2011, corporate revenue as a percentage of GDP was just 1.2 percent lower than any other major country in the OECD, including Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, and many other countries. Each and every year corporations and the wealthy are avoiding more than $100 billion in U.S. taxes by sheltering their incomes in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and other offshore tax havens.

So the point is: How do we do deficit reduction? Do we say to an elderly woman in the State of Vermont who is trying get by on $14,000 or $15,000 a year that we are going to cut her Social Security?

Do we say to a disabled vet: Thank you for your service and your sacrifice for this country, we are sorry you lost your legs, but we are going to have to cut your benefits?

Do we say to a struggling low-income family trying to survive on one or another nutrition program: Sorry, but you may have to go hungry and not get dinner on Wednesday?

Do we say to working people who have lost their jobs: We are going to have to cut your unemployment compensation which will make it almost impossible for your family to survive?

Is that our approach or do we go to corporate America, which is enjoying recordbreaking profits?

One out of four corporations pays nothing in taxes. Do we say to them: You know what, it is time you helped us with deficit reduction.

I hear a lot of my Republican friends and the President talking about how we need tax reform, but we are going to do it deficit neutral. No, I beg to differ. We do need tax reform. We do need to end the absurdity of losing huge amounts of money because of the tax havens in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda and elsewhere, but we also have to raise revenue when we do tax reform. It is not simply lowering tax rates.

I will give some examples about how absurd the current situation is and why--before we cut Social Security and before we attack programs that the middle class and working families of this country depend upon--we have to end these absurd loopholes corporate America is enjoying.

I have just a few examples. Bank of America is one of the financial institutions that was bailed out by the American people when their recklessness and greed almost resulted in the collapse of our financial system. In 2010, Bank of America set up more than 200 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, which, of course, has a zero percent tax rate to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Bank of America set up 200 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands. In 2010, not only did Bank of America pay nothing in Federal income taxes, but it received a rebate from the IRS worth $1.9 billion that year. Bank of America paid nothing in taxes.

In 2010, JPMorgan Chase operated 83 subsidiaries incorporated in offshore tax havens to avoid paying $4.9 billion in U.S. taxes. They avoided paying $4.9 billion.

Goldman Sachs is one of the largest institutions in the country. In 2010, Goldman Sachs operated 39 subsidiaries and offshore tax havens to avoid an estimated $3.3 billion in U.S. taxes.

Citigroup, which is another financial institution that was bailed out by the taxpayers of this country, has paid no Federal income taxes for the last 5 years. That is not bad. Many people who are out there watching this are saying: That is pretty good. How did they avoid paying income taxes when they are one of the largest corporations in America for a 5-year period? That is pretty good.

During the last 5 years General Electric made $81 billion in profit, which is not too shabby. Not only has General Electric avoided paying Federal income taxes during these years, it received a tax rebate of $3 billion from the IRS. GE has at least 14 offshore subsidiaries in Bermuda, Singapore, and Luxembourg for the purpose of avoiding U.S. income taxes.

Does anyone still want to know why the American people are cynical about what is going on in Washington? Does anyone want to know why the Congress of the United States has an extremely low level of support or favorability? It is because the American people know they are getting ripped off. They are working 50 or 60 hours a week, and they are paying their taxes. General Electric makes $81 billion, and over the last 5 years they have paid nothing in taxes. Does anybody vaguely think that is fair?

We have some people who say: We want to do tax reform, but we want to make it revenue neutral. We don't want any new income in order to help us with deficit reduction. Let's cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, but, no, we cannot get new revenue from large corporations.

During the last 5 years Verizon made over $48 billion in profits. Not only has Verizon avoided paying Federal income taxes during those years, it received a $535 million rebate from the IRS--not too bad.

From 2008 through 2010, not only did Honeywell avoid paying Federal income taxes, it received a $34 million tax refund from the IRS.

Merck is a pharmaceutical company. In 2009 not only did Merck pay no Federal income taxes, it received a $55 million tax refund from the IRS. On and on it goes: Corning, Boeing, Microsoft, Caterpillar, Cisco, Dow Chemical. I have example after example of large profitable corporations where CEOs make millions and millions of dollars, and they say to the American people: We support cuts in programs for you--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, you name it--but don't ask us to pay more in taxes.

This Senate has a decision to make: Do we occasionally--I am not asking for much--stand up to the lobbyists, campaign contributors, and big money interests and ask the large corporations and the wealthy who are doing phenomenally well to help us with deficit reduction or do we continue to stick it to the working families and the middle class of this country? That is the challenge and the issue we face. I hope we have the courage to do the right thing.

With that, I yield the floor.