CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 -- (Senate - March 10, 2008)
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Mr. SANDERS. Let me say, very clearly, to set the record straight, as an Independent, we need more revenue. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. We have people who are hungry. We have mothers who can't afford childcare. Yes, sir, we need more revenue. We should ask the wealthiest people in this country to help us come up with the revenue.
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Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, the Senator from Arizona has just left the floor, unfortunately. But I did want to make two points. He has referred to something called the death tax, which is what we call the estate tax, which was developed by President Teddy Roosevelt way back when. What he forgot to mention is that this estate tax--and as I understand it, the Senator from Arizona, if he had all of his wish fulfilled would repeal the estate tax completely--benefits only the wealthiest three-tenths of 1 percent of the population.
So for all of the concerns about the onerous impact of the estate tax, it benefits three-tenths of 1 percent. Mr. President, 99.7 percent of the families will not benefit at all from the repeal of the estate tax.
The second point is, if the estate tax were completely repealed, the estimate is over a 20-year period it would add about $1 trillion to our debt--$1 trillion--which, like the war in Iraq, is simply not paid for.
So when people talk about fiscal responsibility, I find it a little bit hard to understand how they could dump another $1 trillion into our national debt, which benefits only the top three-tenths of 1 percent of the population, which means it will be the middle class and working families who are obliged to have to pay that off over many years. Sometimes when our friends on the Republican side talk about fiscal responsibility, I am not quite sure where they are coming from.
I thank the Presiding Officer, by the way, for sitting in for me, and as soon as I finish, I will take the chair.
However, I wish to say a budget--and the budget we are debating right now on the floor of the Senate--is not just numbers. A budget is about the values of our country and the priorities of our country. Within that context, it is important to understand what, in fact, is going on in America right now.
The simple reality is, the middle class is collapsing. Everybody who gets into their car in the morning and pays $3.20 for a gallon of gas, then goes to work and finds that they are paying a lot more for their health insurance than they used to, understands they don't have a pension when at one time they were promised a pension, understands that over 8 million Americans since Bush has been President have lost their health insurance.
The middle class is in collapse. Wages are going down for tens of millions of Americans.
During the Bush administration, private sector job growth has averaged less than 50,000 per month compared with over 220,000 under the Clinton administration. Since President Bush has been in office, from 2001, nearly 5 million more Americans have slipped into poverty. Median household income for working-age families is down by $2,500. Eight and a half million Americans lost their health insurance. Three million lost their pensions. The annual trade deficit has more than doubled, and over 3 million good-paying manufacturing jobs have been lost. The price of gas at the pump and home heating oil has more than doubled, while ExxonMobile made $40 billion in profits last year--more than any company in the history of the world. The personal savings rate recently dipped below zero--something that hasn't happened since the Great Depression. Home foreclosures, of course, are now the highest on record, turning the American dream of home ownership into an American nightmare for millions.
The reason I raise these issues is, it is important to put the debate over the budget in a general context. This is not some abstraction. This is not some academic exercise. We are talking about the priorities of the American people within the context of what is really happening to the middle-class and working families.
I found it interesting that my good friend from Arizona talked about the European Union and tried to compare the United States in terms of tax policy to other countries. Well, let me also compare the United States to some other countries.
Today, the United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on Earth. We have the highest infant mortality rate of any major country on Earth. We have the highest overall poverty rate of any major country on Earth. We have the largest gap between the rich and the poor, the most people behind bars, and we are the only country in the industrialized world not to have a national health care program.
Now, I wonder if my friends who get up and talk about the European Union might on occasion mention the kind of health care systems that exist in every single one of those countries, which guarantees health care to all of their people. Try to describe the types of parental leave programs that exist when families have a baby. Americans could not understand the extent to which those countries are ahead of us in terms of family values.
So while the middle class in this country declines, while poverty increases, while we have the highest infant mortality rate of any other country, while 17,000 Americans die because they don't have any health insurance, there is another reality in American society today, a reality that we should also be talking about, and that is the wealthiest people in this country have never had it so good since the 1920s.
According to Forbes magazine, the collective net worth of the wealthiest 400 Americans increased by $290 billion last year. Four hundred families, $290 billion increase last year, to $1.54 trillion. In addition, the top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.
Sometimes my Republican friends talk about averages and so forth. That is not the reality. If you look at the American economy as one would look at a football game or a baseball game, the important question to ask is, who is winning and who is losing? Well, let me be very clear. The middle class is losing. Working families are losing. The people on top have never had it so good since the 1920s. They are winning, and they are winning big time. To ignore that reality is to ignore what is happening in American society.
The question then becomes, given that reality, where do we go from here? What we do know is the President has given us his answer. The President has brought forth a budget. He has told us that in his budget, we don't have enough money to meet the health care needs of this country. So at a time when our health care system is disintegrating, the President has decided we cannot adequately fund the Children's Health Insurance Program and that we should cut Medicare and Medicaid by more than $600 billion over the next decade. Think about it. The health care system is disintegrating, more and more people uninsured, more and more people having higher deductibles and copayments. The President's response: Let's make a terrible situation even worse.
The President has said in his budget that we need to reduce the number of children receiving childcare by 200,000 kids. Any mother, any parent understands that our current childcare situation in America today is an absolute disaster. We say to single moms, go out and work, but we forget to ask what are those moms supposed to do with their 2-year-olds or their 3-year-olds? Should we leave them home alone in the apartment or should we provide quality childcare for them?
Well, in Vermont and all over this country, it is increasingly difficult for families to secure quality, affordable childcare, and the President's brilliant response is, let's cut the number of children receiving childcare assistance by 200,000.
My friend from Arizona said: Are there some people who want to spend more money? And I said: Yes, I do. I do not want the children in this country to have the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of poverty of any major country on Earth, and I would hope that every Member of the Senate would be deeply humiliated and embarrassed about that reality taking place within this country.
There is a housing crisis all over America--in Vermont and all over America--and I am not just talking about foreclosures. I am talking about the needs of working families to find safe and affordable housing. The President's response in the middle of this crisis is, let's provide 100,000 fewer section 8 housing vouchers to low-income families.
The President, in his budget, has said there is not enough money for special education. We made a promise to school districts all over America decades ago. We said: If you mainstream kids--which I think is a great idea--we will pick up the very high cost of special education. That was the promise. Today, in Vermont and all over America, more and more kids are coming in with special ed needs. School districts are paying outrageously high property taxes to accommodate those kids. I think it is time to keep the promise we made to school districts and adequately fund special education. Yes, I think we should do that.
I think we should adequately fund Head Start so all of the families in America who want their kids to get a decent start so they are not behind when they enter the first grade have that opportunity. But somehow, in the midst of not funding the needs of our kids, as well as not funding housing, not funding LIHEAP, not funding virtually every need of low- and middle-income families, the President does have some money available. If you are rich, the President has money available for you. The President believes we have enough money to provide $812 billion in tax cuts for households earning more than $1 million per year over the next decade--not for our children, not for the homeless, not for the hungry, but for people who are earning over $1 million a year.
That is an absurd and obscene sense of priorities. Fortunately, while the budget resolution we will be debating this week is not perfect, it is a vast improvement over the President's budget. I thank the Presiding Officer, Senator Conrad, for his hard work in giving us that budget. Instead of cutting back on the educational needs of this country, this budget resolution provides $5.4 billion more than the President's request for education, including the largest increase for elementary and secondary education programs since 2002. Instead of cutting back on the needs of our veterans--which has long been the history of the Bush administration--this budget resolution provides a $3.2 billion increase over the President's budget for our veterans. Instead of ignoring the urgent need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels, this budget resolution provides $8.45 billion to invest in clean energy, creating millions of good-paying, green-collar jobs and energy efficiency.
Instead of cutting back on our Nation's enormous infrastructure needs--can you imagine the engineers, civil engineers, telling us we have over $1 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs, and this White House is refusing to even acknowledge the severity of the problem and is asking the cities and towns that are hard pressed to come up with the money?
This budget resolution provides almost $9 billion more than the President for our roads, bridges, highways, sewers, and clean water improvement. It is not enough, but it is a step forward. I think over the long term, we can do even better than that. We have made progress in this budget, and we can do better.
One area to which I will be paying particular attention is our children. It is not acceptable to me, as I said earlier, that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty among our children. Where are all of those people who keep talking about family values? How do they continue to ignore the reality that, by far, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country? Nearly one out of every five children in this country lives in poverty. That is not a family value; that is a national disgrace.
What happens to these kids when they become adults? Many of them will do well, but many of them will not. My colleagues may have recently seen an article in many of the papers talking about the fact that the United States has more people behind bars, at great expense--great expense for States and for the Federal Government--than any other country; more than China in total numbers. I happen to believe there is a correlation between the fact that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty and kids who drop off the wagon when they are young--they drop out of society, they do drugs, they do destructive activity, they end up in jail, and we spend $50,000 to keep them in jail--rather than providing the childcare and educational opportunities they need.
In my opinion, there are three major trends in American society that we should be addressing in this budget process. First, the fact that the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider.
Second, as I mentioned earlier, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty. Third--and I know the Presiding Officer has made this point over and over again--we have a $9.2 trillion national debt, which is soaring to $10 trillion; that under the Bush administration we have seen a $3 trillion increase in the national debt. This is a debt that is unsustainable economically, and it is a debt that is immoral because we are simply piling it up and leaving it to our kids and our grandchildren.
I think those are some of the trends in American society that we should be dealing with in this budget. This week, I will be offering an amendment which is being cosponsored by Senators Durbin, Mikulski and Boxer, which is a very simple amendment. It doesn't go as far as I personally would like it to go, but it is a step forward perhaps in changing the nature of the debate that we have on the floor of the Senate. It puts the needs of our kids, working families, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens on fixed incomes ahead of the wealthy few. That is what it does.
Specifically, this amendment would restore the top income tax bracket to 39.6 percent for households earning more than $1 million per year.
That is the only group of people impacted, households earning more than $1 million a year. That is three-tenths of 1 percent of our population. We use that revenue to address the urgent unmet needs of our kids, dealing with job creation and deficit reduction.
According to the Joint Tax Committee, restoring the top income tax bracket for people making more than $1 million to what it was in 2000, before the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy, would increase revenue by $32.5 billion over the next 3 years, including $10.8 billion in fiscal year 2009 alone.
We have a choice in the Senate. We can give $32.5 billion to the top three-tenths of 1 percent, or people making at least $1 million a year, including billionaires, or else we can do something else with this money. Let me suggest we should do something else. Let me suggest that at a time when all of the Presidential candidates are talking about change, change, change, when the American people want to move our country in a new direction, maybe the Senate can begin that journey of taking this Nation in a new way that is more equitable, more fair, and begins to address longstanding social needs.
Here is the option: $32.5 billion more in tax relief for millionaires and billionaires--and I suspect that many of our friends on the Republican side think that is a great idea--or there is another option. It is $10 billion over a 3-year period to go into the program of special ed. This will not only allow school districts the opportunity to better educate kids with special ed needs, it will also lower property taxes and local taxes. Most importantly, it will keep the promise that was made to school districts all over this country.
The Federal Government made a promise that it would fund 40 percent of the cost of special ed. Unfortunately, today we are about at 17 percent. If you want to raise our credibility, let's keep the promise we made to school districts all over America and take care of some of our most vulnerable kids. So $10 billion goes to that.
Then this amendment would also increase Head Start by $5 billion over the next 3 years. Every study indicates that Head Start works. It gives kids, who otherwise don't have the intellectual and emotional environment, the chance to do well when they get to school. It is a good investment. It is better to invest $5 billion in Head Start than it would be in jails.
This amendment would provide a $4 billion increase for the Child Care Development Block Grant Program so that working families all over this country will have a fair shot at trying to find affordable childcare.
This amendment puts a $3.5 billion increase into the Food Stamp Program. In my view, hunger in America is not something we should be about. This will take us a small step toward addressing hunger.
This amendment would put $4 billion into the LIHEAP program because nobody in America should go cold in the winter or die of heat exposure when the temperature gets to 120 and they don't have an air conditioner.
This amendment would also provide $3 billion for school construction, and it would create good-paying jobs in the process and make sure our kids have good schools in which to learn.
Also, this amendment would reduce the deficit by $3 billion. So that is what we do. We reduce the deficit, protect our children, and protect the most vulnerable people. That is one option. Or we give another $32 billion in tax relief to people who don't need it. I think the choice is pretty clear. I hope this amendment will receive widespread support.
I yield the floor.
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