Senator Sanders Lays Out Middle Class Priorities Ahead Of Budget Markup

WASHINGTON, March 5 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, today laid out the middle class priorities Congress should be working on, rather than the Robin Hood in reverse budget Senate Republicans are expected to release.

“In essence, what the debate over the budget will be about is whether or not we produce a document that represents the interests of the middle class and working families of this country or whether we continue to give more help and support to those at the very top,” said Senator Sanders. “That is what this debate is about.”

Below are Sanders’ remarks as prepared for delivery:

"Thank you very much for being here.  I’m happy to be joined by Senators Murray, Wyden, Stabenow, Whitehouse, and Merkley.

The budget of the United States is an enormously important document.  It lays the foundation for how we address the major problems facing our country.  It speaks to our national priorities, who we are as a people, and how we can best go forward.

To the best of my understanding, Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi has indicated that there will be a committee mark-up on the Budget Resolution on Wednesday, March 18th and Thursday, March 19th.

My understanding is that the resolution will go to the floor during the week of March 23rd. 

No family or government entity can do a budget without first understanding the economic reality that we face. 

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, over 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.  In other words, Mr. Chairman, the rich and the large corporations are doing phenomenally well while the working families of our country, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor are struggling. 

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.

Sadly, in the midst of this economic reality, I expect that my Republican colleagues will bring forth a budget that I can only refer to as the Robin Hood principle in reverse.  It will likely be a budget that, despite massive income and wealth inequality, will cut programs that the elderly, the children, the sick, the poor and working families desperately depend upon.  It will likely be a budget that gives more tax breaks to the rich and large corporations.   My guess is that this year’s Republican Senate budget will look a lot like the Ryan budget which was passed last year by the Republican House.

It is not clear whether or not they will attempt to cut Social Security – an issue their witnesses in various hearings have proposed.

Needless to say, this type of Republican budget, this vision for America, is something I will strongly oppose.  Instead, here is an outline of a budget that I think makes sense for the middle class and working families of our country.

Jobs – AT a time when real unemployment is around 11 percent, we must work for a budget that creates millions of decent paying jobs.  In my view, the most effective way to do that and an effort that addresses a huge national problem, is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure – our roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, airports, dams, levees, and broadband.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest over $3 trillion by the year 2020 just to get our nation’s infrastructure in good repair.  And when we make a significant investment in infrastructure, we create millions of decent-paying jobs – which is exactly what we should be doing. 

In order 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 and largest corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.

At a time when the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, we need a budget that substantially increases wages for low-income and middle-income workers.

At a time when large numbers of our young people have given up on the dream of higher education because of the high cost of college and graduate school, we need a budget that makes certain that every American can get a higher education regardless of the income of his or her family.

At a time when we have seen the massive outsourcing of jobs, we want a budget that rewards companies for creating jobs here, not in China or other low wage countries.

At a time when millions of people still lack health insurance, we will fight for a budget that ensures quality, affordable healthcare 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. 

In essence, what the debate over the budget will be about is whether or not we produce a document that represents the interests of the middle class and working families of this country or whether we continue to give more help and support to those at the very top.  That is what this debate is about."