Sanders Says Deficits in Good Jobs, Infrastructure, Equality Will Be His Focus

At first budget committee hearing of the year, Sanders spells out 6 initiatives for helping American families

Sanders Spells Out 6 Key Points on For Restoring the Economy

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, today opened his first hearing of the new Congress with a call for focusing on the needs of American families.

His remarks as prepared for delivery follow:

“Thank you Chairman Enzi. I look forward to working with you and I would like to welcome all of the other Senators who are with us today. I would also like to thank Director Elmendorf for being with us this morning and I look forward to hearing your testimony. We have a lot of work to do.

The Congressional Budget Office’s report on the budget and the economy is an important document that will help guide our committee during the course of the year.

The good news is that our economy has come a very long way since President Bush left office in January of 2009. At that time, we were hemorrhaging some 800,000 jobs a month, our financial system was on the verge of collapse, and the deficit was $1.4 trillion. Today, the economy has made substantial progress. During the last reported quarter we saw very strong economic growth of 5.0 percent, and last month the economy created another 252,000 jobs. This is the 58th straight month of private sector job growth.

Further, the federal deficit has been reduced by more than two-thirds since 2008, and federal deficits over the next decade are estimated to be about $4.7 trillion lower compared to what the Congressional Budget Office projected in 2010. That’s more than what the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission called for just four years ago.

All of that is good news, but it does not tell the full story of what is happening in our economy and what is happening to the lives of tens of millions of working families who are part of the disappearing middle class, and who worry about the kind of country we will be leaving their kids.

While we must continue to focus on the federal deficit, we must also be aware that there are other deficits in our society that have been causing horrendous pain for the vast majority of the American people.

These are deficits in decent-paying jobs, deficits in infrastructure, deficits in income, deficits in equality, deficits in retirement security, and deficits in education.

Let me make six points.

Point Number one. The United States today is experiencing more income and wealth inequality than any major country on earth, and more than any time in our country since 1929.

Today, the top 0.1 percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and one family -- the Walton family -- owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans.

Since 1999, the typical middle class family has seen its income go down by nearly $5,000. Meanwhile, since the Wall Street crash of 2008, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top one percent.

Further, in 2013, 25 hedge fund managers made more income than 425,000 public school teachers. The rich are becoming much richer, while the middle class continues a 40-year decline. This committee must address that issue.

Point number two. While it is absolutely true that the unemployment rate has fallen significantly over the last 6 years, we must be mindful of the fact that real unemployment (which includes those working part-time when they need a full-time job and those who have given up looking for work) is not the official 5.6 percent, it is 11.2 percent. Further, youth unemployment is close to 17 percent. And African-American youth unemployment is over 30 percent. In other words, while we have made some progress in reducing unemployment, we still need to create millions of decent paying jobs.

The fastest way to do that is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure -- roads, bridges, dams, levees, water systems, waste water plants, airports, and rail systems.

Today, almost one-third of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and more than 40 percent of urban highways are congested. One of nine bridges in our country is structurally deficient, and nearly a quarter are functionally obsolete.

The United States now spends just 2.4 percent of GDP on infrastructure, less than any point in the last 20 years. Europe spends twice that amount, and China spends close to four times our rate. We are falling further and further behind, and the longer we wait, the more it will cost us later. This committee must address that issue.

Point number three. At a time when millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, we need to substantially increase the salaries of low and middle-income workers. Today, the minimum wage, after adjusting for inflation is about one-third lower than it was in 1968. To equal the purchasing power of what the minimum wage was back then, we would have to raise it to $10.88 an hour.

In the year 2015, no one in America who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty. No one should be making the starvation wage of $7.25 an hour.

Raising the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour would not only be good for low-wage workers, it could reduce spending on Medicaid, public housing, food stamps, and other federal programs by more than $7 billion a year.

We must also reform our antiquated overtime regulations. Today, it is unacceptable that so-called “supervisors” who earn all of $25,000 a year are not able to receive overtime pay after working 60 hours a week. Updating these regulations could increase the take-home pay of an estimated 24 million workers who make below $57,000 a year. That is an issue that this committee must address.

Point number four. If we are going to lower our deficit, create the millions of jobs that we desperately need, and bring about more income and wealth equality in our country, we need real tax reform. It is unacceptable, that each and every year, millionaires, billionaires and profitable corporations are avoiding $100 billion in taxes by stashing their cash in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens.

It is unacceptable that huge and profitable corporations like General Electric, Verizon, Bank of America, and Citigroup have, in recent years, paid no federal income taxes and in some cases have gotten huge rebates from the IRS.

It is unacceptable that hedge fund managers making millions a year pay an effective tax rate lower than that of teachers, firefighters, and nurses. That is an issue that this committee must address.

Point number five. At a time when the United States is engaged in an extremely competitive global economy, we need the best educated workforce in the world and we need to make certain that every American can get a higher education without incurring debt.

Today, too many Americans cannot go to college, not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it. Millions of others who do graduate from college are drowning in debt.

Last year, college seniors graduated with an average debt of roughly $33,000. Student loan debt is now over $1.2 trillion, which is more than credit card debt. We need to make college more affordable and significantly reduce student debt in this country. That is an issue that this Committee must address.

Point number 6. In the midst of the obscene level of wealth and income inequality that we are experiencing, the United States has by far the highest rate of childhood poverty of every major country on earth. Close to 20 percent of our children live in poverty and about 1 out of 4 kids gets their nutrition from food stamps. There are schools throughout America where the one good meal a child receives is through the federal school lunch program. Incredibly, over half of the public school students living in America today qualifies for the school lunch program.

Further, millions of seniors and disabled people are struggling to put food on the table. Over the last six years, the cost of living adjustments for Social Security have been as follows:

• In 2009: 0.0 percent

• In 2010: 0.0 percent

• In 2011: 3.6 percent

• In 2012: 1.7 percent

• In 2013: 1.5 percent

• In 2014: 1.7 percent

According to some of the most recent statistics, 20 percent of seniors live on an average of just $7,600 a year. In 2013, half of all older adults lived on less than $21,000 a year.

Today, the only source of income for three million persons with disabilities is a Social Security Disability benefit that averages just $35 a day.

Throughout our country there are long waiting lines for the meals- on-wheels program. The simple truth is that many millions of some of the most vulnerable people in this country – our parents and grandchildren – are having to make the choice every day as to whether they buy the food they need, the medicine they need, or heat their homes adequately. That is not acceptable. We have got to expand Social Security benefits so that all of our seniors and people with disabilities live with dignity and not in desperation.

The vision that I am outlining here not only makes our country more humane, more competitive, and more just, it does something that my Republican colleagues would very much appreciate. It lowers the deficit. When you put millions of people back to work earning decent wages they begin paying taxes and they no longer qualify for food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of public assistance. Revenue goes up and spending to support the unemployed goes down. The deficit falls.

And, this is also good for the economy because Americans with decent-paying jobs have more money to spend on goods and services.

Today, 70 percent of our GDP is based on consumers spending. And what CEOs all over this country are telling us is that they cannot sell the products that their companies make if people don’t have enough money to purchase them. That is something that this committee must address.

I thank the chair and I look forward to hearing from Director Elmendorf.”


Contact: Vince Morris (202) 224-3728