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Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, there has been, appropriately enough, a lot of discussion about our $16 trillion national debt and our $1 trillion Federal deficit. This is, in fact, an enormously important issue, and it is an issue that Congress must address. But it must address this crisis in a way that is fair to the middle class and to working families and our seniors and our kids. It is an issue that must be addressed, but it must be addressed fairly.
When we talk about the deficit and the national debt, it is important to remember how we got to where we are today. We can simply go back 10 years or so to January 2001 when President Clinton left office and President Bush assumed the Presidency. At that particular moment in history, in January 2001, I hope everybody remembers not only did this country have a $236 billion surplus, all of the projections for the future at that point were that that surplus was going to grow and grow and grow. In fact, at that point, this was one of the great debates taking place in Congress: What do we do with all of that money? How much do we give back in tax breaks? How much do we put into Social Security? That was the debate in January 2001.
So before we discuss how we go forward in deficit reduction, with a trillion-dollar deficit, it is important to remember that, and it is important to remember how we got to where we are today.
How we got to where we are today really, in a significant way, is not complicated. President Bush assumed office and within a few years we were fighting not just one war in Afghanistan but another war in Iraq. I hope the American people appreciate that many of the ``deficit hawks''--the people who tell us: Oh, gee, we have to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and nutrition and education; we have to cut, cut, cut, cut--when asked to pay for those wars had nothing to say.
Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney's Vice Presidential nominee, chairman of the House Budget Committee, voted for the wars but forgot to pay for them. Nobody knows exactly how much these two wars will end up costing, but the guess is that by the time we take care of the last veteran 70 years from now, those wars may run up over $3 trillion, and we did not pay for them to the tune of one penny, all put on the credit card, all added to the deficit.
I find it somewhat unusual that many of our Republican ``deficit hawks,'' who stand here on the floor of the Senate every day and tell us how deeply concerned they are about the deficit all voted for huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires to the tune of $1 trillion over a 10-year period.
Well, you do not give huge tax breaks to the rich and not offset it if you are serious about the deficit and not being hypocritical. Many of my Republican friends, during the Bush years, voted for the insurance company-written Medicare Part D prescription drug program, written by the insurance companies and the drug companies. It is going to cost us about $400 billion over a 10-year period.
How did we pay for that program? Oh, I guess we did not pay for it at all. Our deficit hawk friends voted for that program, which was good politics, I guess. They forgot to pay for it. Add another $400 billion to the deficit.
It is important to understand that today, in the midst of this horrendous recession, the issue is not just cuts, cuts, cuts. The issue is that right now, today, at 15.2 percent, revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product is lower than at any time in the last 60 years. Because we deregulated Wall Street--Republicans wanted that; some Democrats wanted that--we allowed investor banks to merge with commercial banks, to merge with insurance companies, and, as a result of the illegal behavior on Wall Street, we were driven into this recession: mass unemployment, businesses go under, less tax revenue comes in, and, at 15.2 percent, revenue today as a percentage of GDP is the lowest it has been in 60 years.
So those are some of the reasons that today we are experiencing a trillion-dollar deficit and a $16 trillion national debt. My Republican friends will say: Well, you know, Bernie, be that as it may, yes, maybe we should have paid for the wars; maybe we should not have given tax breaks to billionaires when the rich are doing very well; maybe we should have paid for Medicare Part D; maybe we should have not deregulated Wall Street. But be that as it may, that is water over the dam. We are where we are right now. We have got to go forward on deficit reduction.
So what are their ideas? Well, Mitt Romney has not been as clear as I think he should be about his ideas. But we do have a blueprint from our Republican friends in the Ryan budget. As you know, Congressman Ryan is chairman of the Budget Committee. He presented a budget. It was passed by the Republican House. Here is some of what the Republican budget is about.
What the Republicans want to do is to make cuts to Social Security and to raise the retirement age. I want to say a word about Social Security right now. It is an issue I feel very strongly about. I think a lot of Americans do not know this. Social Security, because it is funded by the payroll tax and not the general Treasury, has not contributed one nickel to our deficits. Social Security today has a $2.7 trillion surplus and can pay out all benefits owed to all eligible Americans for the next 21 years. In my view, it would be wrong, it would be deeply wrong, to consider cuts in Social Security as part of deficit reduction, because Social Security has not contributed a nickel to the deficit. But our Republican friends support cuts in Social Security. And many of them over a period of years want to move toward the privatization of Social Security.
The Ryan budget would end Medicare as we know it in a 10-year period. What does that mean? What that means is that in 10 years, if you are 70 years of age, you would be given a voucher for $8,000, as I understand the number. Let's assume that an individual, a 70-year-old, 75-year-old individual walks into a doctor's office, and the doctor says: Joe, Mary, I am sorry to tell you this, but you are dealing with cancer. We are going to have to send you to a hospital. There are a whole lot of treatments you are going to have to undertake. Those treatments are going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. That individual then goes to his or her insurance company and says: I have $8,000 to buy an insurance policy.
What do you think that insurance agent is going to tell that individual when that person is facing tens and tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills? That insurance company's function is to make money. They are not going to say: Oh, sure, give us the $8,000 so we can spend $50,000 on health care costs for you. It is not going to happen. That insurance company is going to say: There is the door. Try somebody else. That is going to happen to a whole lot of people.
You can think of what the end of that story is. The end of the story is, if that family, that individual, does not have any money, he or she is going to go to their kids. If they do not have any money, the outcome is not going to be good, because that person simply will not have the treatment he or she needs.
The Ryan budget proposes to cut $770 billion over a 10-year period from Medicaid. That would result in at least 14 million Americans losing their health insurance and would also cut nursing home assistance in half, threatening the long-term care of some 10 million senior citizens. Many people do not know that. Many people say: Well, you know, Medicaid is for the poor. It is certainly true that millions of low-income kids, deservedly, through the Children's Health Insurance Program, get their health insurance with significant help from Medicaid and State money. But what people do not understand is that Medicaid is also a major contributor toward nursing home care.
I want the average middle-class family to understand that if their mom or their pop develops Alzheimer's or some other very difficult situation, cannot stay at home, cannot stay with their kids, has to be put in a nursing home, which is pretty expensive, understand that all over this country, Medicaid is putting money into making sure that elderly people can stay in nursing homes with some degree of dignity.
But it is not just Social Security or Medicare and Medicaid our Republican friends are going after. In my State of Vermont, and I am sure in Minnesota, we have lower income working-class kids who no longer can go to college because college is too expensive. We have other young people who are graduating college $25,000, $50,000 in debt, unable to find jobs which help them pay off that debt.
In my view, the Pell grant program, which is the major way in Washington we help low and moderate-income kids--I think that is too low; we are not helping enough kids with enough resources. But the Ryan budget would slash Pell grants by about 60 percent next year alone. So if you are a parent or you are a young person in college, that is how they intend to balance the budget.
In the midst of this horrendous recession, older people, lower income people are struggling. It is very easy to forget here in the confines of the Senate, but there are millions of Americans today wondering how they are going to feed their kids tonight, who open the refrigerator, there is no food in that refrigerator, who depend upon food stamps. Half of the food stamp money goes to the elderly and children. They want to make devastating cuts in food stamps.
My main point is pretty simple. The deficit is a serious issue and we have got to address it. But it would not only be immoral, it would be bad economic policy to move toward deficit reduction, to move toward a balanced budget, on the backs of millions and millions of seniors and children and working families who today, as a result of this terrible recession, are already struggling to keep their heads above water. You do not balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country. That is bad economic policy. That is immoral. There are ways to move forward which can achieve the same goals but without hurting people who are already in pain.
What we do not talk about too much in Congress is who is winning and who is losing in the current American economy. I want to bring forth a few facts that I think the American people and my colleagues should be familiar with. That is, No. 1, in America today we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth and worse in America today than at any time since the 1920s. We have in America today--and people should check it out; they may not believe me when I say this. You have got one family, the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame, one family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people. One family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent.
And our Republican friends say: That is not enough. We have to give those people, billionaires, even more tax breaks. Today the top 1 percent owns about 41 percent of the wealth of America. The bottom 60 percent--that is a significant majority of the American people added all together--own about 2.3 percent of the wealth of America: Top 1 percent, 41 percent; bottom 60 percent, 2.3 percent.
Common sense and decency would suggest that when a few people have incredible wealth, when a few people are seeing their incomes and their wealth grow rapidly while the middle class is shrinking and poverty is increasing, common sense and common decency suggests that you ask the people on top whose effective tax rate is the lowest in decades to start paying their fair share of taxes before you cut Social Security, before you cut Medicare, Medicaid, education and nutrition programs.
Right now, about one out of four major profitable corporations is paying zero in taxes. We have had instances which I have portrayed here on the floor of the Senate of some of the most profitable corporations in America in a given year paying nothing in Federal income taxes, and, in fact, getting a rebate from the IRS.
Well, before you tell the elderly and children that they have to experience cuts when they cannot afford it, maybe you say to corporate America: Sorry, we are going to end the loopholes you currently are enjoying. Every single year we are losing about $100 billion in tax revenue because corporations and wealthy individuals are stashing their money in tax havens in the Cayman islands, Bermuda, and elsewhere. They are ``patriotic'' Americans who love this country so much they are stashing their money abroad in order to avoid paying taxes in this country.
Maybe before you cut education, maybe before you cut back on infrastructure, we make sure that we do away with these tax havens and these tax shelters for millionaires and billionaires and large corporations.
Lastly, we have tripled military spending since 1997. Right now the United States is spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined. We spend over 4 percent of our GDP on the military. Our friends in Europe--many of the countries there provide health care to all of their people, educational opportunities stronger than we do to our people--are spending 2 percent. We are spending twice as much in GDP on defense. Maybe it is time to take a hard look at a lot of the waste and inefficiency that currently exists in the Defense Department.
On my Web site, sanders.senate.gov, we have a whole list of ways that we can bring in revenue, where we can make cuts which are fair, which protect the middle class and working families and the most vulnerable people in this country.
I am going to do everything I can to make sure we do not go forward in terms of deficit reduction by punishing people who are already hurting and then giving more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. That is bad economic policy. That is immoral. It is not something we should be doing.
I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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