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Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, there has been a lot of talk about one of the major issues we as a nation are going to have to deal with, and certainly the Presidential candidates will be talking about it during the next few months, and that is that we have a $16 trillion national debt and we have a $1 trillion deficit. I think all Americans understand this is a very important issue, and it is something we as a nation are going to have to grapple with.
How we deal with the deficit and the national debt is certainly one of the most important and interesting issues we are going to have to address.
What I find interesting is that when we talk about the deficit and the national debt, there seems to be, among some of my colleagues, collective amnesia. It is as if this debt and deficit popped up yesterday and we have no understanding of how we got to where we are today.
I would like to take a moment to remind some of my friends that back in January of 2001--not so many years ago--when President Bill Clinton left office, this country was not running a deficit, it was running a very significant surplus of some $236 billion. That is a very significant surplus. As a matter of fact, in 2001 the Congressional Budget Office projected that we would have Federal budget surpluses totaling $5.6 trillion from 2002 to 2011. In other words, when Clinton left office there was a very significant surplus, and the projection was that surplus was going to go up and up. What happened? Well, that is a question we need a little bit of time to discuss.
I find it interesting that there is no context for deficit reduction. Let me suggest that, in fact, some of the people who come down to this floor and talk the loudest about the deficit and the national debt are precisely those same people who caused the national debt of $16 trillion and a deficit of over $1 trillion.
How did we get to where we are today from the time when Clinton left office and we had a significant surplus? No. 1, many of our deficit hawks who are coming down to the Senate floor telling us about all the programs we have to cut for the middle class, working families, our children, and the elderly, are real deficit hawks. My goodness. When it came to the war in Iraq, many of us voted against it since it didn't make a whole lot of sense. We also noted that our deficit hawk friends went to war--I believe for the first time in the history of America--and forgot they would have to pay for that war. I think some of us might hold a little bit of doubt in some of the comments of our friends about their real sincerity and concern about deficit reduction when they went to a war in Iraq which will end up--after we take care of the last veteran wounded in that war 80 years from now or whenever--costing probably $3 trillion.
Well, if you spend $3 trillion to go to war, forget to pay for it, and then come to the Senate floor and tell us how concerned you are about the deficit and the national debt, some of us are saying: Well, maybe that is not the case. Where were their concerns about the deficit when they went to war when we had a deficit hawk President named George W. Bush? So that is one of the major reasons we are running a $1 trillion deficit right now.
The second reason is--and you don't have to have a Ph.D. in economics to understand it--that if in the middle of a war they decide to give huge tax breaks, including $1 trillion over a 10-year period to the top 2 percent, the billionaires and millionaires, so $1 trillion is not coming into the Federal Government, that adds to the deficit. I ask my Republican friends where was their concern about the deficit and the national debt when they gave $1 trillion in tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires?
The third point I wish to make is that we are in the middle of a horrendous recession. Unemployment is sky high and underemployment is sky high. People have lost homes and their life savings. People are hurting. This recession was caused by the efforts--and I must confess, not just a Republican effort but also a Democratic effort--and the bipartisan desire to deregulate Wall Street because people believed that if we deregulate Wall Street and allow insurance companies to merge with commercial banks and investor banks and we do away with Glass-Steagall, my goodness, those folks on Wall Street--honest people with great integrity--would just create wealth for all Americans. That is what Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and all these guys were telling us. I was a member of the Financial Services Committee in the House and never believed that for one moment. It never made an iota of sense to me. Anyway, these guys fought for deregulation. We had deregulation, and as a result of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street, we were plunged into the terrible recession we are in now.
One of the points that are very rarely made on the Senate floor is that today, at 15.2 percent as a percentage of GDP, revenue is the lowest in more than 60 years. So it is easy for people to come to the Senate floor and say we have to cut, cut, cut. They forget to tell us that as a result of the Wall Street-caused recession, at 15.2 percent, revenue is the lowest as a percentage of GDP in more than 60 years. That is an issue we have to deal with.
You know what, we don't increase our revenue when we give more tax breaks to billionaires. We don't increase our revenue when we say that at a time when we have tripled military spending since 1997, maybe we need even more for the military. That is not a way to reduce the deficit.
Now, what do my Republican friends and some Democrats say? Well, they come to the Senate floor and suddenly--after going to war without paying for it, after giving huge tax breaks to the rich, after deregulating Wall Street--realize we have a deficit problem, and they are very concerned about this deficit problem. They come to the Senate floor and say: The only way we can go forward is to cut Social Security. Social Security is funded independently. It hasn't added one nickel to the deficit, but we are going to cut Social Security anyway. We are going to cut Medicare, we are going to cut Medicaid, we are going to cut Pell grants, we are going to cut education, and we are going to cut environmental protection. That is deficit reduction.
Are we going to ask millionaires and billionaires, who are doing phenomenally well, whose effective tax rate is the lowest in decades, to pay one nickel more in taxes? No, we can't do that, but we can cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and every program that the children, seniors, and working families of this country depend upon.
Now, to add insult to injury in terms of this movement supported by big-money interests that have so much influence over what goes on here in Congress, it is important to look at the playing field of the American economy today to understand what is going on. Are the people on top really hurting and suffering? Are large corporations today really struggling under onerous corporate taxes? The answer is, obviously not.
We don't talk about it enough, and too few people even mention it, but I do, and I will continue. It is important today to understand that the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income since the 1920s and the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth. Why is that important? It is important to know that. Before we cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the ability of working-class kids to go to college, we have to know the condition of how people are doing today. The middle class today is shrinking and poverty is increasing. When we cut food stamps and Medicaid, we are going to hurt a whole lot of people, and in some cases very tragically.
Just last week a member of my staff went to southwest Virginia, and she spent the day at a program in which thousands of people in that area were lining up to get dental and health care because they didn't have any health insurance. There are 45,000 Americans who will die this year because they don't have health insurance and can't get to a doctor in time. There are people who say: Let's cut Medicaid. There are people all over this country who can't find a dentist. There are children who are suffering from dental decay. Let's cut Medicaid. Well, I don't think so.
If we look at the country, the middle class is shrinking, people are hurting, but people on top are doing phenomenally well. Very few people talk about it. I am going to talk about it. In the last study we have seen in terms of income distribution in this country--and that is what happened between 2009 between and 2010--93 percent of all new income created over that year went to the top 1 percent. I will say it again. Ninety-three percent of all new income in that year went to the top 1 percent. The bottom 99 percent had the privilege of sharing the remaining 7 percent. Yet, when we ask the people on top to maybe pay a little bit more in taxes, oh my goodness, there are lobbyists all over Capitol Hill saying: We can't afford to. We are down to our last $50 billion. We just can't afford another nickel in taxes. We need that money now. Thanks to Citizens United, we can pump that money into political campaigns.
One family who is worth $50 billion is going to put $400 million into the campaign. Another guy who is worth $20 billion can't pay more in taxes, but he does have hundreds of millions to pour into political campaigns.
In terms of distribution of wealth, which is a different category of costs than distribution of income, we have an incredible situation.
I hope people understand what is going on in this country, where one family--one family, the Walton family, of Wal-Mart--now owns more wealth at $89 billion than the bottom 40 percent of the American people. One family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent. Do we know what some folks want to do here? They want to repeal the entire estate tax and give that family a very substantial tax break, because owning $89 billion is obviously not enough. They are struggling. We have to give them a tax break while we cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If that makes any sense to the American people, I would be very surprised, and it does not make sense to the American people.
According to a February 2011 Washington Post poll, while more than 70 percent of Americans oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare, 81 percent supported a surtax on millionaires to reduce the deficit. My guess is if we go to New Hampshire, Maine, or any other State in America and we say to people, we have a deficit problem and the choice is between cutting Social Security or asking millionaires and billionaires to pay more in taxes, there is, in my view, no State in America--no State in this country, no matter how red it may be--where people will say: Cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, but don't raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. I don't believe that is true anyplace in America.
Today, the top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the wealth of our Nation while the bottom 60 percent owns less than 2 percent. The top 1 percent owns 40 percent; the bottom 60 percent owns less than 2 percent, and there are Members of this Senate coming to the floor and saying we are going to punish the bottom 60 percent and we are going to give more to the people on top.
There was a study that recently came out that talks about the ability of billionaires and corporations to use tax havens. What we know--and I am a member of the Budget Committee--is that millionaires and billionaires and corporations in this country are avoiding paying about $100 billion every single year by using tax havens in the Cayman Islands, in Bermuda, Panama, and other countries. Maybe, just maybe, before we cut Social Security and Medicare, we might want to pass legislation to make those people start paying their fair share in taxes and do away with those tax havens.
Let me conclude by saying we are in a pivotal moment in American history. If we as a Nation do not get our act together, in my view, we will move even more rapidly in the direction of an oligarchy, where we will have a few people on the top with incredible wealth controlling not only our economy but also, through Citizens United, the political life of this country. We are seeing that playing out right here on the floor of the Senate, with people who are turning their backs on working families and the middle class, and at a time when the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well, fighting for more tax breaks for people who absolutely don't need them.
I hope the American people pay rapt attention to this debate, and I hope the American people get involved in this debate, because if they do not, mark my words, within 4 months, a handful of people, supported by corporate America and the big money interests, are going to bring down to this floor a deficit reduction proposal which will cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and give more tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country. It will have virtually all Republican support. It will have some Democratic support. If we don't aggressively oppose this approach, that is exactly what will happen.
I yield the floor.
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