Sen. Sanders Continues to Fight for Middle Class in Budget Battle
Sen. Sanders: Thank you very much. As the ranking member of the budget committee, I want to take a few minutes to discuss the budget situation. My understanding is that Senator Enzi, the Chairman of the committee, intends to have a Budget Committee markup on Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19, and my understanding is that the resolution will come to the floor the following week during the week of March 23, and unless I am very mistaken, we will engage in what is called within the beltway a vote-a-rama. There will be a very significant number of amendments that will be allowed to be offered.
Mr. President, I think before we discuss a budget, whether it is at the federal level, state level or one's family, it is imperative to understand the conditions that exist as one prepares a budget. A budget reflects what our country is about. It reflects our national priorities. It reflects how we attempt to address the problems we face. It attempts to address how we go forward as a people into the future.
So the first issue at hand when we discuss a budget is to, in fact, determine what's going on in America today. What are our problems? What should we be doing and what should we not be doing?
And I start off with the premise that I think is shared by the vast majority of the American people, is that the middle class of this country, over the last 40 years, has been disappearing. That people today by the millions in Vermont and throughout this nation are working longer hours for low wages despite a huge increase in productivity. That is the reality that face most people in this country, but there is another reality, and that is that the people on top in the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well.
Mr. President, today real median family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999 in inflation accounted for dollars. Why is that? How does that happen? The typical male worker, that man right in the middle of the American economy, made $783 less last year than he did 42 years ago after adjusting for inflation. How does that happen? You have got an explosion of technology, huge increase in productivity. You have this so-called great global economy, free trade all over the world, and the typical male worker, the guy in the middle of the economy, makes $783 less last year than he did 42 years ago. The typical female worker is making $1,337 less than she did in be 2007.
Today, despite the modest gains of the affordable care act, legislation I supported, 40 Million Americans continue to have no health insurance, and we remain the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right. And then we have today, because many people were driven from the middle class into poverty, we have more people today living in poverty than almost any time in the modern history of America. How does that happen?
Despite a very significant improvement in the economy since President Bush left office, real unemployment is not 5.5%. It is 11%. Youth unemployment, which we never talk about, is 17%. And African-American youth unemployment is much higher than that. Throughout this country, a significant number of young people have given up on the dream of college. Here we are in a competitive global economy, and you have bright young people from working class families, and they are looking at the cost of college and they are saying sorry, ain't for me. I'm not going to come out of school $50,000, $60,000 in debt. What sense is that when we are engaged in enormous economic competition with countries all over the world?
And then you have another group of young people graduating college or graduate school in debt to the tune of $50,000, $100,000. I talked to a young doctor in Burlington, Vermont some months ago. She graduated medical school $300,000 in debt for the crime of wanting to be a primary care physician. Does that make any sense?
Mr. President, while the middle class continues to disappear, the people on top in the largest corporations have never had it so good. That's the other reality of America today. Middle class shrinks, a whole lot of people living in poverty, people have no health insurance, kids can't afford to go to college. People on top doing phenomenally well.
Today, the top 1% earns more income than the bottom 50%. And since the Wall Street crash of 2008, over 99% of all new income goes to the top 1%. Over 99% of all new income goes to the top 1%. Corporate profits are soaring. Stock market is up. C.E.O.s’ now earn 270 times what their average employee makes. Mr. President, today the top 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Top 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and the wealthiest family in this country alone, one family, owns more wealth than the bottom 42% of the American family.
Does that sound like the America that we want to see, that we believe in? Where so few have so much and so many have so little? Mr. President, it's an extraordinary fact, between 1985 and 2013, the bottom 90% of our people lost $10.7 trillion in wealth that it otherwise would have had if the distribution of wealth had remained the same level as it was in 1985.
We had the same distribution of wealth, the bottom 90% would have had close to $11 trillion more wealth. Meanwhile, the top .1% experienced an $8 trillion increase in wealth as the distribution of wealth became increasingly unequal. What a phenomenon. Huge transfer of wealth from working people to the millionaires and billionaires.
And now let me get to the budget, because when you deal with a budget, you can't ignore that reality. If the rich get much richer and the middle class declines, it makes no sense at all to say we're going to give more tax breaks to the rich and we're going to cut programs for the middle class and working families. This is the Robin Hood Principle in reverse. It is taking from the middle class and working families and giving to the very rich.
But I worry very much, Mr. President, that this is exactly, exactly what will be in the Republican Budget that we debate next week in committee. And I expect – and I may be mistaken. I hope I am, but I don't think I am. I expect that the Republican Budget in the senate this year will be very, very close to what the so-called Ryan budget did last year, which was passed by the Republican House. There may be nuances of differences, I don't know, but I think it will be very close. Let me tell you what the Republican Budget will be about.
The Republican Budget will oppose ending tax loopholes for the wealthy and large corporations, loopholes rate than electricians and schoolteachers. I expect that the Republican Budget will continue to allow major profitable corporations like General Electric, Verizon, many others to go through be a given year paying absolutely nothing in Federal Income Tax. I expect that the Republican Budget will attempt to voucherrize Medicare, end it as we know it to be, and I expect that will there will be mass -- that there will be massive cuts in Medicaid, nutrition, education programs, Pell Grants and the kinds of programs that working families absolutely depend upon.
Mr. President, we need a very, very different budget than what I believe the Republicans are going to propose. We need a budget that stands for the working families of this country and not just the millionaires and billionaires, and let me tell you what that budget should include, although I don't think the Republican Budget will do this.
When real unemployment is 11%, we need a budget that creates millions of decent paying jobs, and in my view and in the view of many economists, the fastest way to create those jobs and address a real national crisis is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, dams, levees, expand broadband to rural America. According to the American society of civil engineers, we need to address over $3 Trillion to rebuild our infrastructure. We're not going to do that, but we need to make a major investment, and when we do that, we make America more productive and safer and we also create millions of jobs.
A serious budget needs to make our tax code fairer and to bring substantial new revenue into federal coffers. We need a budget that ends unfair tax loopholes and asks the wealthiest people in the largest corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Today at the hearing we had in the Budget Committee a republican witness testified that he thought that corporate taxes should be zero, zero. Well, that does not make a lot of sense to me.
Mr. President, we need a budget that understands that the federal minimum wage is a starvation wage of $7.25 an hour. We need to substantially raise the minimum wage. We need to deal with the overtime scandal. We need to raise wages for low and moderate income families.
At a time when large numbers of our young people have given up on the dream of higher education and college is increasingly unaffordable, we need a budget that says to every kid in America that if you have the ability and you have the desire, you are going to get a higher education, regardless of the income of your family.
At a time when corporations have shipped millions of decent-paying jobs to China and low-wage countries, we need a budget that rewards companies for investing in America and for creating jobs here, not abroad. At a time when millions of people still lack health insurance, we need a budget that ensures quality, Affordable Health Care for all Americans by supporting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, strengthening Medicare and Medicaid and extending funding for the children's health insurance program community health centers and the National Health Service corps.
Mr. President, let me conclude by making the simple and obvious point. A budget is about priorities. A budget is about choices. And what we have got to determine is whether our budget coming out of the senate is a budget that represents the needs of the rich and large corporations and their wealthy campaign donors or whether we produce a budget which represents the needs of working families and the middle class and the millions and millions of families that are struggling economically to keep their heads above water.
Mr. President, I hope we make the right choice, and I hope we stand with the working families of this country. And with that, Mr. President, I would yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.