Sanders hits Business Roundtable & Committee For Responsible Deficit for targeting seniors

Argues that rich CEO's with huge pensions should not lecture middle class Americans about living on less

Sanders Calls Out Corporate Heads For Lobbying To Cut Social Security, Medicare While Extending Offshore Tax Breaks

WASHINGTON, March 11 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, today made a strong case for protecting retirement and health care for middle class Americans and he criticized corporate CEO’s for seeking to cut Social Security and win new tax cuts for the wealthy. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing.

For most Americans the reality of today is pretty clear. For the last 40 years, the American middle class has been disappearing, while the wealthiest people have been doing better and better.

Today, real median family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. The typical male worker, despite huge increases in productivity, made $783 less last year than he did 42 years ago after adjusting for inflation. The typical female worker is making $1,337 less than she did in 2007. Despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act, 40 million Americans continue to have no health insurance and more people are living in poverty today than almost any time in the modern history of America.

Despite a significant improvement in the economy since President Bush left office, real unemployment is not 5.5 percent it is 11 percent. Youth unemployment is 17 percent and African-American youth unemployment is much higher than that. Throughout this country, a significant number of young people have given up the dream of college because of the high cost of tuition, while millions of others are struggling with the yoke of excessive debt around their necks. The federal minimum wage today is a starvation wage, and half the kids in public schools are eligible for free or reduced price school lunches.

And, while the middle class disappears, the people on top and the largest corporations have never had it so good. Today, the top one percent earns more income than the bottom 50 percent. And, since the Wall Street crash of 2008, more than 99 percent of all new income goes to the top one percent. Corporate profits are soaring and CEOs now earn over 270 times what their average employee makes. Today, the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. And, the richest family in this country owns more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of the American people.

The fact of the matter is that, over the past 40 years, we have witnessed an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Between 1985 and 2013, the bottom 90 percent lost $10.7 trillion in wealth that it otherwise would have had if the distribution of wealth had remained at the same level as it was in 1985. Meanwhile, the top one-tenth of one percent experienced an $8 trillion dollar increase in wealth as the distribution of wealth became increasingly unequal.

And today, we are going to hear testimony from our Republican–invited witnesses that I can only refer to as the Robin Hood principle in reverse. We are going to hear from witnesses who suggest that in the midst of this massive income and wealth inequality, that we cut programs that the elderly, the children, the sick, the poor and working families desperately depend upon. And then, at the same time, they want to give more tax breaks to the rich and large corporations. And, unless I am very mistaken, (if I am I owe you an apology, Mr. Chairman) that is exactly what the Republican budget will be doing, just as the so-called Ryan budget did last year which was passed by the Republican House.

Further, we will hear testimony today from one of the Republican witnesses about the need to make major cuts in Social Security and Medicare. In other words, not only do some of my Republican colleagues want to provide huge tax breaks for the wealthy, not only do they want to make cuts in healthcare, nutrition, education, heating assistance, food stamps, meals-on-wheels, and affordable housing – they also want to cut Social Security benefits for elderly seniors in Vermont and throughout the country struggling to survive on $14,000 or $15,000 a year or less, and to cut back on benefits for disabled veterans. That is wrong, that is terribly wrong.

Frankly, it is almost laughable that this advice to cut Social Security and Medicare comes from the Business Roundtable – an organization representing the CEOs of many of the largest corporations and Wall Street financial institutions in the country. While these people tell us that we should cut Social Security for a senior in Vermont who doesn’t have the funds to heat her home or pay for her medicine, a study from the Institute for Policy Studies tells us that the CEOs of these major corporations in the Business Roundtable can expect a monthly retirement check of about $88,576. In other words, people who are extremely wealthy, who when they retire will receive over $88,000 a month are telling us to cut Social Security benefits for some of the most vulnerable people in America. That’s advice that this Senator will not accept.

Further, when we talk about the deficit and debt which is the focus of this hearing, I find it interesting that some of my colleagues seem to ignore the fact that we have major corporation after major corporation, including many in the Business Roundtable that pay virtually no taxes at all in the United States. To name just three companies in the Business Roundtable, General Electric, Verizon, and Boeing – these are enormously profitable corporations that in some recent years have paid zero in federal income taxes because of all of the loopholes they enjoy. But, it’s far bigger than that. This country is losing approximately $100 billion in revenue a year because American companies and the wealthy are stashing their profits in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and other tax havens. The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Cayman Islands is the “home” of more than 18,000 corporations. Maybe if we are serious about deficit reduction, rather than cutting Medicare or Social Security, we might want to examine that reality.

Last point, if we are serious about lowering the deficit and the debt, the best way to do that is not by developing an austerity program which increases suffering for those who are already hurting. The best way forward is to create a full employment economy with jobs that pay good wages. When people work and when people have jobs they pay taxes. When people have jobs that pay them a livable wage they no longer need a variety of government programs.

In fact, just think back to the last time we eliminated the deficit. From 1998-2001, the budget was in surplus. And it wasn’t because we adopted draconian measures to beat the books into submission. It was because we had a full employment economy. Back then, wages were rising, consumers were spending, and businesses were scrambling to hire enough workers to keep up with demand. Today, with real unemployment at about 11 percent, it is clear to me that if we are serious about not only addressing the declining middle class but also the deficit and debt, it is imperative that this Congress pass a massive federal jobs program putting millions of people back to work. And, I think the fastest way to do that is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure – roads, bridges, water systems, airports, dams, levees, and expand broadband.

Contact: Vince Morris (202) 224-3728