War on America’s Working Class?
Do you agree or disagree with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ accusation that Republicans, Wall Street and corporate interests are waging a war on America’s middle and working class families? Watch Sen. Sanders speech from last week, and send us your feedback!
Transcript of Sen. Sanders’ speech on Dec. 1st.
Mr. President, there is a war going on in this country and I’m not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I’m talking about the war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country.
The reality is many of our nation’s billionaires are on the war path. They want more, more, more. Their greed has no end, and apparently there is very little concern for our country or for the people of this country if it gets in the way of the accumulation of more and more wealth and more and more power.
Mr. President, in the year 2007, the top 1% of all income earners in the United States made 23.5% of all income. Top 1% earned 23.5% of all income more than the entire bottom 50%. That’s apparently not enough. The percentage of income going to the top 1% nearly tripled since the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, the top 1% earned about 8% of all income, in the 1980s that figured jumped to 14%, in the late 1990s that 1% earned about 19%, and today, as the middle class collapses, the top 1% earns 23.5% of all income, more than the bottom 50%.
Today, if you can believe it, that top one-tenth of 1% earns about 12 cents out of every dollar earned in America. We talk about a lot of things on the floor of the Senate but somehow we forget to talk about the reality of who is winning in this economy and who is losing. And it’s very clear to anyone who spends two minutes studying the issue that the people on top are doing extraordinarily well at the same time the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing.
Mr. President, if you can believe this, you know many people out there are angry, they’re wondering what’s happening to their own income, to their lives, the lives of their kids. Since between 1980 and 2005, 80% – 80% – of all new income created in this country went to the top 1%. 80% of all new income. And that’s why people are wondering and asking “What’s going on in my life? How come I’m working longer hours for lower wages? How come I’m worrying about whether my kids will have as good of a standard of living as I’ve had? From 1980 to 2005, 80% of all income went to the top 1%.
Today, the Wall Street executives, the crooks on Wall Street whose actions resulted in the severe recession that we are in right now, the people whose actions – illegal actions, reckless actions – have resulted in millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes, their savings, guess what? After we’ve bailed them out, the CEOs today are now earning more money than they did before the bailout.
Mr. President, while the middle class of this country collapses and the rich become much richer, the United States now has by far the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on Earth. When we were in school, we used to read the text books which talked about the “Banana Republics” in Latin America. We used to read the books about countries in which a handful of people owned and controlled most of the wealth of those countries. Well, guess what? That’s exactly what’s happening in the United States today.
Mr. President, the wealthiest people in this country – not all of them, by the way, not all of them – there are many wealthy people in this country who understand and are proud to be Americans, who understand that one of the things that’s important is that all of us do well. But there are, on the other hand, many others whose apparently only concern is more and more wealth and more and more power for themselves. And this is an issue, this greed is an issue that we have got to deal with. Now, in the midst of all of this, growing income, and wealth and inequality in this country, we are now faced with the issue with what we do with the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. And if you can believe it, we have people here – many of my Republican colleagues – who tell us “Oh, I am so concerned about our record-breaking deficit. I am terribly concerned about a $13.7 trillion national debt, terribly concerned about the debt that we’re leaving to our kids and our grandchildren. But wait a minute, it’s very important that we give over a 10-year period $700 billion in tax breaks to the top 2%. Oh yeah, we’re concerned about the debt, we’re concerned about the deficit, but we’re more concerned that millionaires and people who earn at least $1 million dollars a year or more get on average $100,000 a year in tax breaks.” So you got a $13.7 trillion national debt growing, you got growing income inequality – top 1% earning more income than the bottom 50% – but the highest priority of many of my Republic colleagues is to make sure that millionaires and billionaires get more tax breaks. I think that is absurd.
But it is not only income tax rates that we’re dealing with. It is the estate tax as well. And let’s be clear, while some of my friends want to eliminate completely the estate tax which has been in existence in this country since 1916, let us be clear that every nickel of benefit – all of those benefits – will go to the top 3/10th of 1%. And if we did, as some of my friends would like, eliminate the estate tax completely, it would cost us $1 trillion dollars in revenue over a 10 year period – all of the benefits going to the top 3/10th of 1%! So I am sure that in a little while my friends are going to come down to the floor and say “We’re very concerned about the deficit. We’re very concerned about the national debt. But you know what we’re more concerned about? Giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country.”
But Mr. President, the tax issue is just one part of some of our wealthy friends want to see happen in this country. The reality is that many of these folks want to bring United States back to where we were in the 1920s. And they want to do their best to eliminate all traces of social legislation which working families fought tooth and nail to develop to bring a modicum of stability and security to their lives. There are people out there – not all but there are some – who want to privatize or completely eliminate Social Security, they want to privatize or cut back substantially on Medicare. Yeah, if you’re 75 years of age, you have no money? Good luck to you getting your health insurance at an affordable cost from a private insurance company. I am just sure there are all kinds of private insurance companies out there just delighted to take care of low-income seniors who are struggling with cancer or another disease.
Mr. President, furthermore, there are corporate leaders out there and many members of Congress who, not only want to continue, want to expand our disastrous trade policies. My wife and I went shopping the other day, started our Christmas shopping, and we looked at virtually every product that was out there in the store – consumer products was China, China, and China. We seem to be a country in which we have a 51st state name China, which is producing virtually all of the products that we as Americans consume. Our trade policy has resulted in the loss of millions of good-paying jobs as large corporations and CEOs say “Why do I want to re-invest in America when I can go to countries where people are paid 50 cents, 75 cents an hour? That’s what I’m going to do. The heck with the working people of this country.” So not only are we saddled with this disastrous trade policy, there are people who actually want to expand it.
One of the things that we’re going to see going on is that while we struggle with a record-breaking deficit and a large national debt caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, caused by tax breaks for the wealthy, caused by an unpaid for Medicare Part D prescription drug program, caused by the Wall Street bail out, driving up the deficit, driving up the national debt, then some people could say “Oh my goodness! We’ve got all these expenses! And then we have to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires but we want to balance the budget.” Gee? How are we going to do that? Well, obviously we know how they’re going to do that. We’re going to cut back on health care, we’re going to cut back on education, we’re going to cut back on child care, we’re going to cut back on Pell programs, we don’t have enough money for working families and then we’re going to cut back on food stamps, we’re surely not going to expand unemployment compensation. We got a higher priority, Mr. President. We have got to – got to – give tax breaks to billionaires. I mean, isn’t that’s what this place is all about, isn’t it? They fund the campaigns; they get what’s due to them.
Mr. President, amazingly enough we have our friends on Wall Street, the CEOs of the large financial institutions, they want to rescind or slow down many of the provisions – the modest provisions – in the financial reform bill. I voted for the financial reform bill but I’ll tell you clearly it did not go anywhere far enough but it went too far for our Wall Street friends and their lobbyists who are all over here and for the hundreds of millions of dollars Wall Street spends in this place, they want to rescind, slow down some of the reforms there. These people want to cut back on the power of the EPA and the Department of Energy so that Exxon Mobil can remain the most profitable corporation in world history while oil and coal companies continue to pollute our air and our water. Last year, Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profit. Guess what? They paid zero in taxes; they got $160 million refund from the IRS. I guess that’s not good enough. We ought to give the oil companies even more tax breaks. So Mr. President, I think that’s where we are. We got to own up to it. There is a war going on. The middle class is struggling for existence, and they’re taking on some of the wealthiest and most powerful forces in the world whose greed has no end. And if we don’t begin to stand together and start representing those families, there will not be a middle class in this country. Mr. President, with that, I would yield the floor.