BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, I appreciate the remarks of the Senator from Illinois, and I wanted to amplify on them a little bit. But before I do, I wanted to mention something we don't talk about enough here on the floor of the Senate.
In New England, and I'm sure in Minnesota, we have a lot of sports fans. When we are interested in baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or whatever, the key question everyone always asks is: Who wins and who loses? Well, I think it is appropriate that in terms of the economy, as it currently stands, we should also ask that simple question: Who is winning and who is losing? Let me discuss that for one moment before I get into deficit reduction.
We don't talk about it almost at all on the floor of the Senate. The media doesn't talk about it terribly much either. But the reality is we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth and more income and wealth inequality in this country than at any time since the late 1920s.
Today the wealthiest 400 people own more wealth than the bottom half of America, which is about 150 million people. We could squeeze 400 people into this room, and if they were the wealthiest people in America, they would own more wealth than the bottom half of America.
A report came across my desk yesterday which I want to share with the American people. This is quite incredible and kind of tells us where we are moving as a Nation, and that is that today the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame--the folks who own Wal-Mart--now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America. One family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America.
Today the top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the wealth of the country. I think a lot of people are very surprised by that number. The top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the wealth of America. But what people would be far more shocked at is if we asked them how much the bottom 60 percent of the American people own. I have done this. In Vermont, I have asked people. They say: 10 percent, 20 percent. The answer is less than 2 percent. The top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the wealth of America. The bottom 60 percent owns less than 2 percent. The bottom 40 percent of America owns three-tenths of 1 percent, less than one family--the Walton family--owns.
Why is that important? It is important because it tells us from both a moral and economic perspective the direction we have to move in terms of deficit reduction. I find it a little bit amusing that some of my Republican friends come to the floor of the Senate and say: We are deficit hawks. We have got to cut, cut, cut. We are worried about our kids, we are worried about our grandchildren, and we are worried about borrowing money from China. They have a whole set of talking points. They are worried about the deficit.
I am worried about the deficit, every American should be worried about the deficit, but I have a question to ask some of my Republican friends who today are great deficit hawks and that is: Where were they a few years ago? I voted against the war in Iraq for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it wasn't paid for. The war in Afghanistan wasn't paid for. I find it kind of interesting that former President Bush, who was a great deficit hawk, and all of my Republican friends who are great deficit hawks went not just to one war, they went into two wars. And you know what. It just slipped their minds. They forgot to pay for it. We all have slips of memory. You go to the grocery store and forget to buy the container of milk your wife wanted you to buy. It just slipped their mind. They were so busy talking about the deficit, they went into two wars that cost trillions of dollars and forgot to pay for them. Today they have noticed and it has come to their attention that there is a deficit.
I voted against the war in Iraq. I am not so sure many of them did.
The second issue. If we go on a shopping spree or a gambling spree or whatever it may be and we spend a lot of money, give away a lot of money, we have less money. Our Republican friends fought for and created huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country. Hundreds and hundreds of billions of tax dollars in tax breaks went to the top 1 percent, went to the top 2 percent. So our deficit hawk friends who come down here every day to tell us how concerned they are went into two wars they forgot to pay for, and, for the first time in American history, they actually gave tax breaks to the very rich while they were at war.
Furthermore, one of the major problems our country is facing now in terms of the deficit, which Senator Durbin touched on, is that because of the recession, which was caused by the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street--and many of my Republican friends and some Democrats told us awhile back when I was in the House how important it was to deregulate Wall Street, to allow the large commercial banks that have merged with the investor banks to merge with the insurance companies, and just get the government off the backs of these honorable people on Wall Street who are looking out for the American people. It turned out, of course, that they are a bunch of crooks. We deregulated them, and they did what many of us thought they would do: they began exchanging incredibly complicated financial transactions, which took this country to the verge of an international financial collapse. And our friends on Wall Street needed their welfare payment from the middle class of America--$700-and-some billion of welfare payments for Wall Street--to bail them out. The Fed provided $16 trillion in low-interest loans on a revolving loan basis. So in the midst of all of that, what ended up happening is that revenue is now down to 15.8 percent of GDP, which is the lowest amount of revenue per GDP we have seen in a very long time.
So we go into two wars and don't pay for them; we give tax breaks to billionaires; we deregulate Wall Street, which causes a recession; revenue declines as a percentage of GDP; and we have a serious deficit crisis, which is where we are right now. We have a $16 trillion national debt. I think it is a $1.2 trillion-a-year deficit--a serious situation. How do we deal with it? Everybody here recognizes that it is a problem. We don't want the younger generation to have to pick up this national debt. How do we deal with it?
Well, my Republican friends have a great idea. Let's see. We went to two wars and didn't pay for them; tax breaks for the rich; deregulated Wall Street; a recession. Oh, I know how we can deal with the deficit. Let's cut Social Security. That is a good idea. After all, we only have 50-some-odd million people on Social Security. Why don't we come up with a chained CPI? Nobody outside of Capitol Hill knows what a chained CPI is. And to any senior citizen, somebody on Social Security, who is watching this, please don't laugh, but I do want to tell you what a chained CPI is. You will think I am not telling you the truth. Check it out. I am.
There are people here in the Senate and in the House who think your COLAs have been too large; that the formula that determines COLAs--cost-of-living allowance increases for seniors--has been too generous.
Now, the seniors are saying: What is this guy talking about? How can it be too generous when for the last 2 years we didn't get any COLA? At a time when our prescription drug costs are going up and our health care costs are going up, what are they talking about?
Well, you are right, I say to those back home, they are a little bit off their rocker. The idea that they could think that after 2 years of zero COLAs, those are too large, and that we have to create a new formula to reduce COLAs--that is what people--certainly Republicans and some Democrats--are talking about right now.
So what about Social Security? How much of the deficit did Social Security cause so that my Republican friends--all of them--want to cut it and some Democrats may want to cut it? Well, the answer is zero, and everybody in America back home understands it, because Social Security is funded by the FICA tax, by the payroll tax. Social Security does not get general fund money, it comes independently. Social Security, according to the Social Security Administration, has a $2.7 trillion surplus--let me say it again: surplus--to pay every benefit for the next 22 years. Why do they want to cut Social Security? Go ask them. I don't know. It certainly doesn't make any sense to me. It should not be part of any deficit reduction effort. But it is not just Social Security that is under attack. They want to go after Medicare. They want to go after Medicaid. They want to go after nutrition programs for elderly people and for children. They want to go after Pell grants. You name the program that benefits working-class and middle-class families, and they want to go after it.
What about asking the wealthiest people to pay a nickel more in taxes? Oh, we can't do that, just can't do that--moral objection to having billionaires, who are doing phenomenally well and who are now paying the lowest effective tax rate they have paid in a very long time--we cannot allow them to pay a nickel more in taxes. It is far more important to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and education.
Well, I think that set of priorities is dead wrong, and I think the American people think those priorities are dead wrong. We have to work together to make sure that doesn't happen in some kind of grand plan or whatever it is. Yes, we can deal with the deficit. We should deal with the deficit but not on the backs of the elderly.
Millions of senior citizens of this country are living on $12,000, $13,000, $14,000 in Social Security--it is either all or most of their income--and people here are talking about cutting Social Security? We have 50 million people who have no health insurance. We have 45,000 people who died this year because they didn't get to a doctor on time, and people say: Let's take our kids off Medicaid. Let's take lower income people off Medicaid. What happens? Let's do away, says the Ryan budget, the Republican budget, with Medicare as we know it. Let's give people an $8,000 check instead of Medicare. Well, a person has cancer or heart disease, and we have an $8,000 check for them to go out and get private insurance. How many days do my colleagues think they are going to stay in a hospital with cancer on $8,000? Not a whole long time, but that is what their plan is.
So we are now in the midst of a great philosophical and economic debate. The rich are getting richer, and our Republican friends want to give them more tax breaks. The middle class is collapsing. Our Republican friends want to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
In terms of defense spending, I would just say this: Everybody here agrees we want and need a strong defense. Do we really have to spend more on defense in the United States of America than the rest of the world combined? We spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined. Do we really have to do that? We spend 4.8 percent of our GDP on defense.
Our European allies, by the way, provide health care to all of their people as a right. Our European allies provide, in many instances, college education free to their young people--not $40,000 or $50,000 a year. Our European allies--and I say this in all due respect to them; I respect that, and it is what we should be doing--provide excellent quality childcare to their working families. Our European allies spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense.
We spend 4.8 percent.
So we are in the midst of an interesting moment. I hope the American people become engaged in this debate because I think, by and large, the position the Republican Party is taking--tax breaks for billionaires, cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid--is way out of touch with where the American people are today.
I hope we have a serious debate on these issues. I hope the American people join us, and I hope the road we go down in terms of deficit reduction is one that is fair to working families and the middle class, and that means asking the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes.
With that, I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT