The Budget

Floor Speech

Date: Oct. 31, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SANDERS. First of all, I congratulate the Senator from Michigan and the Senator from Missouri for touching on what is obviously a very serious national issue; that is, how we deal with the crisis of mental health in this country. I thank both of them for the work they are doing.

I would like to say a few words as a member of the conference committee on the budget, which is hoping to avert another government shutdown and come up with a sensible long-term budget for our country.

The first point I would make is that when I return from Vermont and come here to Capitol Hill, I am always amazed at how different the world view is here as opposed to the real world--whether it is Vermont or when I travel to other States around the country. It almost seems as if we are living on two separate planets.

As a member of the Budget Committee, I understand, as do the American people, that a $17 trillion national debt and a $700 billion deficit is a serious issue that must be addressed. The American people know that, but what they also understand is that there is an even more important issue out there; that is, real unemployment today is close to 14 percent. Youth unemployment--an issue Pope Francis is beginning to talk about a great deal--in this country is approximately 20 percent. African-American youth unemployment is over 40 percent.

The American people are saying: Yes, deal with the deficit, but do not forget that we continue to have a major economic crisis with millions of Americans unemployed. And for many other Americans who are working, their wages are deplorably low. We have millions of folks working for $8 or $9 an hour who cannot take care of their families under those wages.

While the middle class is disappearing and the number of people living in poverty is at an alltime high, we also have another dynamic we don't talk about too much here for obvious reasons; that is, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well, corporate profits are at recordbreaking levels, and the gap between the very wealthy and everybody else is growing wider and wider. We are surrounded by lobbyists representing the wealthy and large corporations, and they don't really like that discussion, so we don't talk about that too much, but it remains absolutely true.

When I go home and talk to Vermonters or when I go around the country, people tell me--and the polls tell me--that the American people--regardless of political persuasion, by the way--are in significant agreement about a lot of issues. We don't see that reflected here, but the American people are in significant agreement. If we ask the American people, I suspect, in North Dakota, Vermont, Maryland, or anywhere else whether they think we should cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, they would overwhelmingly say no.

These are tough economic times. Poverty is going up among seniors. People are worried about health care costs, and these programs are vital to the survival of so many people. So do not cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That is not what Bernie Sanders is saying; that is what the American people are saying. That is what Democrats are saying, that is what Republicans are saying, that is what Independents are saying, and that is what people who agree with the tea party are saying. There is not a whole lot of dispute outside of Washington, but inside Washington the picture becomes a little different. We have virtually all Republicans talking about cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We have the President talking about cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We have some Democrats talking about it. But that is not what the American people believe.

According to the latest poll I have seen on this issue--the National Journal/United Technologies poll--81 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicare, 76 percent of the American people do not want to cut Social Security, and 60 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicaid. So I have a very radical idea for my colleagues. What about occasionally--we don't have to overdo it--listening to the people who sent us here? What they are saying is they do not want to cut these terribly important programs.

Second of all, what do the American people want? What they want is for us to invest in our infrastructure and create the millions of jobs we desperately need. According to a Gallup poll of March 3, 2013, 75 percent of the American people--that includes 56 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Democrats--support ``a federal jobs creation law [that would spend government money for a program] designed to create more than 1 million new jobs.''

The American people are saying: Yes, the deficit is important, but what is more important is creating jobs, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure is one way to do it, but don't cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

What else are the American people saying? Well, not too surprisingly, when we see so much income and wealth inequality in America, the American people believe that when 95 percent of all new income in the last few years has gone to the top 1 percent, given the fact that the wealthy are doing phenomenally well, maybe they should be asked to pay a little more in taxes, and maybe we should end all of the corporate loopholes that currently exist.

Again, that is not Bernie Sanders. According to a January 29, 2013, poll by Hart Research Associates, 66 percent of the American people believe the wealthiest 2 percent should pay more in taxes and 64 percent of the American people believe large corporations should pay more in taxes than they do today.

The American people are giving us a solution to the major crises facing the American people. They want to invest in our economy, they want to create jobs, they want to ask the wealthy and large corporations to pay more in taxes, and they do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That is the real world, but then when we come back to Washington, what are people saying? Let's cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; let's not invest in our infrastructure and create jobs; and, in fact, let's give more tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. This is an ``Alice in Wonderland'' world. The American people are saying one thing and the lobbyists around here and many Members of Congress are saying something very different.

The deficit is an important issue, and we should be proud, by the way, that we have cut the deficit in half in the last few years. We have more to go, but we should take some credit for that. But when we talk about the deficit, it is very important for us to remember how we got to where we are today--a $17 trillion national debt and a $650 billion-or-so deficit.

I find it interesting that some of those people who were most active in causing the deficit are now standing up saying: Oh, I am really worried about this deficit that I helped cause; therefore, we have to cut all these programs that working people and children and the elderly need. So let's take a brief look back into the recent past and find out how we got to where we are today and who voted for those programs.

As I hope most Americans know, in January 2001 when President Clinton left office and President Bush took over, this country had a $236 billion surplus--a $236 billion surplus. That is quite a large surplus. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the 10-year budget surplus would be $5.6 trillion; that there would be a huge increase in our budget surplus. The projections were very strong. In fact, they projected that we could erase the national debt by 2011. Imagine that. That was where we were heading.

Well, President Bush took office and a number of things happened. We went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I voted for the war in Afghanistan; I strongly opposed the war in Iraq. But be that as it may, many of my friends, who are great deficit hawks, forgot to pay for those wars. Those wars are estimated to cost somewhere around $6 trillion. So folks who are standing up today saying: Gee, we just can't afford nutrition programs for children, they didn't have a problem voting for two wars and not paying for them. They also did not have a problem voting for huge tax breaks that went to the wealthiest people in this country, and they also did not have a problem voting for a Medicare Part D prescription drug program--written by the insurance companies, by the way, by the pharmaceutical industry--which also added to the deficit.

The point I am making is that many of the folks who are standing here demanding cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid voted for two wars, tax breaks for the rich, and an unfunded Medicare Part D program. Then on top of all that, we had the Wall Street crash, which resulted in less revenue coming in to the Federal Government. Add all that stuff up and you have a large deficit.

Let me conclude by simply saying at a time when we have massive wealth and income inequality in America, which is something we should focus on from both a moral perspective as well as an economic perspective; at a time when the middle class is disappearing and millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages, at a time when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, at a time when senior poverty is increasing, at a time when we have 20 percent youth unemployment in this country, in my humble opinion, we do not balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country--working people, the elderly, the children, the sick, and low-income people. That is not what we do.

What we should do is go to those people who are doing very well and say to them: You know what. Welcome to the United States of America. You are part of our country, and you are part of our economy. This country has problems now. You, if you are a large corporation--one out of four large corporations paying nothing in Federal income taxes--you are going to have to start paying your taxes. You can't just stash your money in the Cayman Islands and in other tax havens. And if you are an extremely wealthy person doing well, you are going to have to contribute more in tax revenue.

The bottom line is that we need to create jobs in this country, we need to protect the most vulnerable people in this country, and we need to do it in a way which is morally right and which makes good economic sense.

With that, I yield the floor.