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Public Statements

Default Prevention Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, this country has gone through over 2 weeks of very difficult times. It is extremely distressful that approximately 1 million Federal employees have not received a paycheck. These Federal employees have gone 3 years without a raise, they have been furloughed because of sequestration, and now they have been sent home, in many cases without any pay. Similar to every other working American, these are people who are worried as to how they are going to pay their mortgages, how they are going to pay their car loans, how they are going to pay their college loans, and they are extremely anxious.

But it is not only the 1 million or so Federal employees who are hurting. Obviously, it is the tens of millions of Americans who are in enormous anxiety about whether they are going to get the Federal benefits they are entitled to and the Federal services they need.

I am talking now, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, about Vietnam veterans who have written to me from Vermont and elsewhere who are worried that they may not get their veterans' disability benefits. Think about that. People who have put their lives on the line for this country, were wounded in action, and they are sitting at home wondering whether they are going to get a check, which they desperately need in order to keep their family going.

I am talking now about people on Social Security who are wondering that if this government actually defaults for the first time in our history--does not pay our bills--that they may not get a Social Security check. Millions and millions of seniors depend on that Social Security check in order to pay their bills and to maintain a very minimal standard of living.

I am talking about moms who today are walking their kids into the Head Start Program and then going off to work, and they are worried about what happens if their Head Start Program is shut down. What does that mean to their child? What does it mean to them? How do they get to work? Who is going to take care of their kid? Are they going to lose their job?

So what has happened in the last few weeks has brought a whole lot of anxiety and pain to tens and tens of millions of Americans. Why? Because over in the House we had a handful of rightwing extremists who decided they were going to hold hostage the American Government unless they were able to defund ObamaCare. That was last week. Then more recently, they were going to hold the government hostage unless we made major cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That was a few days ago.

So I think what has happened has been incredibly unfortunate for our country. The damage done in terms of our position in the international community will take many years to overcome. What do you think the international community--people in Latin America, people in Europe, people in Asia--believes when they see the United States, the largest economy on Earth, presumably the leader of the free world, government is shut down and this country is debating whether we pay our bills? How does the President of the United States go to the United Nations, go to the world community, and say: Listen. There is an international crisis. You need to follow our lead. And we are the country that cannot even pay its bills or is threatening not to pay its bills for the last couple weeks and has shut down the entire U.S. Government.

So the damage already done by rightwing extremism is irreparable. I think people's confidence in the U.S. Government has been shattered. I am thinking about kids in Wisconsin or kids in Vermont who are now looking at the U.S. Government as some kind of joke, where maybe at some point they were thinking of running for office, getting involved in the political process, and now they say: It is not something I want to do. That is very sad.

I intend to vote for the agreement hammered out by the majority leader and the minority leader. But I wish to make something very clear. If anybody thinks this sequestration budget is a good thing for America, they are very mistaken.

As I understand it, sequestration will be extended until January 15, and we do not know what happens after that. Presumably that is going to be based on negotiations. But according to the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, if, in fact--and I will do everything in my power to see that does not happen--but if the $988 billion sequestration budget were to go throughout this year, it would cost us some 900,000 jobs.

I have heard many of my Republican friends--and perhaps some Democrats--making the point, and an important point, that we have to do something about the budget deficit and we have to do something about our national debt. I agree with that. I am proud that along with other Members, we have cut the deficit in half from $1.4 trillion to $700 billion. Anyone who does not think that is progress is very wrong. Cutting the budget deficit in half is significant progress.

But let me make a point that is not made terribly often on this floor. Yes, the deficit is a serious problem. Yes, we have to work on it. But every poll I have seen--and in my discussions with people in Vermont--they say: Yes, the deficit is a serious problem. Do something about it. But let me tell you, Senator Sanders, what is a more serious problem; that is, that the middle class of this country is disappearing. Median family income is lower today than it was 24 years ago. Real unemployment is close to 14 percent. Youth unemployment is somewhere around 20 percent. African-American youth unemployment is somewhere around 40 percent.

The people of America are saying do something about the economy. Make sure that when my kid graduates high school, there will be a job available for him or her. Do something about the high cost of college education because I do not want my son or daughter to be leaving school $25,000 or 50,000 in debt. Make sure, they tell me, that you do not cut Social Security because Social Security is one of the few bedrocks remaining to protect some of the most vulnerable people in this country. Make sure you do not voucherize Medicare, as the Ryan budget in the House proposed, ending Medicare as we know it and giving senior citizens an $8,000 check, and when they get diagnosed with cancer, good luck to them, because that $8,000 will last 2 or 3 days.

Make sure you do not slash Medicaid.

The important point that has to be made is deficit reduction is an issue, but the more important issue the American people want us to resolve is to create the millions and millions of jobs this country desperately needs. The sequester budget we are voting on today moves us in exactly the wrong direction.

If that budget were to go on for a year--right now it is scheduled to end January 15. But if that would go on for a year, it would cost us 900,000 jobs rather than growing the many millions of jobs we currently need.

Let me again raise an issue many of my colleagues do not talk about, but I think the American people understand. At a time when we have more income and wealth inequality in this country than since the 1920s, what morality demands, and, in fact, what good economics demands, is you do not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, working families, the poor. But I do not hear much of that discussion here.

If you have a situation in America where the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 60 percent owns 2.3 percent of the wealth, who should have to experience austerity? Should we go to working families who in many cases have seen a decline in their income and say: Guess what. We are going to have to balance the budget on your backs. We are going to have to cut Medicare, cut Medicaid, cut nutrition programs, cut the ability of our kids to go to college, because we need to balance the budget. Guess what. The rich and the powerful have too many lobbyists here, so we are going to have to cut programs that impact you.

I know many people in the Senate want to move in that direction. I do not. Not only do we have an obscene, unfair distribution of wealth, it is as bad when we talk about income inequality.

The Presiding Officer has seen the same studies I have seen which talk about how in the last few years 95 percent of all new income generated in this country went to the top 1 percent--95 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent, while tens of millions of other Americans saw a decline in their income.

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Mr. SANDERS. I think if the Presiding Officer had a discussion at some diner in Wisconsin or I did the same in Vermont, and talked to people and said: Look, the wealthiest people are becoming much richer; the middle class is declining; poverty is at an all-time high, how do you think we should deal with deficit reduction? Do you think we should be cutting programs for the elderly, working families, the children, the sick, or the poor, or maybe do we ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes?

Maybe--I know this is a terribly radical idea. Today one out of four major corporations pays zero in Federal income tax, because a lot of these multinational corporations are stashing their money in the Cayman Islands and in Bermuda and in other tax havens. I know it is a very radical idea. I guess I am an extremist to think maybe it is more important for corporate America, which is enjoying record-breaking profits--one out of four major corporations pays nothing in Federal incomes taxes--maybe we might want to ask them to pay something in taxes so we do not cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and nutrition programs.

I think what goes on around here is our sense of reality is distorted because surrounding this building are not working families--they are too busy back home trying to maintain their family. Not children. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. They are not here. But all of the lobbyists from the billionaire organizations and for corporate America are here, telling us what we should be doing.

Well, I think maybe the time is long overdue that we stood for the working families of this country, for the children, and for the elderly, and not move for deficit reduction on the backs of the most vulnerable people.

I yield the floor.

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