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Sportsmen's Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, I want to congratulate my colleague, Senator Harkin, for his remarks. I certainly agree with him. I want to amplify a point Senator Harkin made. There was a frightening story in the New York Times today. I don't know that people have digested it, but the headline is ``Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S.''

Generally speaking, the trend for life expectancy in the United States, and all over the world, has been going up. The goal of a good society and a strong health care system is to see that people live longer, healthier, and happier lives, but as a result of the devastating attacks in a variety of ways on the working class of this country, over a period of years--not just starting yesterday--this is where we are. Let me quote from this article. I hope people hear this because this is shocking stuff. I quote:

The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008.

Their life expectancy went down by 5 years. This is astronomical. Going back to the article, it says:

S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead investigator on the study, published last month in Health Affairs.

What happened is between 1990 and 2008--an 18-year period--life expectancy for white women without a high school diploma declined by 5 years.

The article states:

White men lacking a high school diploma lost 3 years of life. Life expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics of the same education level rose, the data showed. But Blacks overall do not live as long as whites, while Hispanics live longer than both whites and blacks.

So let's digest what that means. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, last year we held a hearing entitled ``Poverty as a Death Sentence.'' What that hearing pointed out is that people who are in the top 20 percent live, as I recall, about 6 years longer than people in the bottom 20 percent. But what new evidence is suggesting is that people without a high school degree--the least educated people in America and often the poorest people in America--we are now seeing a significant decline in the life expectancies of both men and women. This is moving in exactly the wrong direction.

The authors of the study are not exactly sure why this is taking place. Many low-income, uneducated people are using drugs, cutting short their lives. Lack of health care is certainly one of the reasons. More and more low-income people can't access health care, which is why it is so important that we defeat the Romney-Ryan effort to devastate, as Senator Harkin just said, Medicaid and throw millions and millions of people off health insurance. If life expectancy for low-income people is now going down, think of what it will mean if we throw millions more off Medicaid. It is a death sentence.

I also wish to say a word on the issue of Social Security, and I wish to thank the Presiding Officer and Senator Whitehouse and Senator Begich for joining me yesterday in releasing a letter which had 29 signatures on it from Members of the Senate, and that letter was pretty simple. What it said is that Social Security has not added a nickel to the deficit because Social Security, of course, is funded by the payroll tax. It said Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus and can pay out all the benefits to eligible Americans over the next 21 years. So it is absolutely wrong and bad public policy to be talking about cutting Social Security within the context of deficit reduction when Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.

The reason we are in a deficit situation in a significant way--the reason we have gone a very long way in the wrong direction since January 2001 when Bill Clinton left office with a $236 billion surplus--has nothing to do with Social Security. It has everything to do with Bush and those people who voted for two wars and forgot to pay for them, thereby adding to the deficit; those people who gave huge tax breaks, much of it going to the richest people in this country, forgot to pay for it; passed the Medicare Part D prescription drug program and forgot to pay for it; and a recession caused by Wall Street which resulted in lower revenue coming into the Federal Government. Those are the reasons why we are in a deficit, not because of Social Security.

I understand Republicans want to cut Social Security. That is what they do. They are not very sympathetic to Social Security. They have opposed Social Security for years. They don't believe the government should be involved in retirement security. They want to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor and give tax breaks to the rich. I understand that. More and more Americans understand that.

But I will tell my colleagues what I am concerned about. I am concerned about President Obama. Four years ago, the President was very clear on this issue. When the President was running for election against Senator McCain, this is what he told AARP and, ironically, he just spoke to AARP, I believe it was today. So 4 years ago, same venue. This is what he said 4 years ago:

John McCain's campaign has suggested that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments or raise the retirement age. Let me be clear: I will not do either.

Candidate Barack Obama said that 4 years ago. Barack Obama is in the White House now.

We have people such as billionaire Pete Peterson, who has been pushing deficit reduction on the backs of working people for years now. He has been spending huge amounts of money to make sure we do deficit reduction not by asking the wealthiest people in this country to pay their fair share but by balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor. These guys have come up with a strategy called the chained CPI.

Nobody in America outside Capitol Hill knows what the chained CPI is. It is a new formulation as to how we determine cost-of-living adjustments--COLAs--for seniors. What these economists have decided--these rightwing economists--COLAs today are formulated in a way that are too generous--too generous for America's seniors and for disabled veterans. They want to reformulate how we come up with these COLAs. If they get their way--and I have a great deal of fear that unless some of us stop them, unless the American people stop them, they will, in fact, get their way--what this will mean is that if a person is 65 years of age today, by the time they are 75, they will lose about $560 a year in their benefits. If a person is 65 years of age today, in 20 years, when that person is 85, they will lose $1,000 a year.

Let me be very clear. I do not believe we should move to a deficit reduction on the backs of a senior citizen living on $14,000 or $15,000 a year and take $1,000 away from them and then get on the floor of the Senate and talk about how we have to give more tax breaks to billionaires. I think that is not only morally inexcusable, I think it is bad economics.

While we are talking about this so-called chained CPI which will cut benefits for seniors, we are also talking about cutting VA benefits for disabled veterans. So I want to hear all these tough guys here who think we should balance the budget on the backs of the elderly and the children, let them get up here and tell us why, when somebody fought in a war to defend the United States--maybe they lost their legs or their eyes or their arms--they want to cut their benefits and then they want to give tax breaks to billionaires.

The American people don't want to do that. So I think we have to get on the phones right now. We have to call our Senators and we have to call Members of the House and we have to call President Obama: Mr. President, 4 years ago you told us you weren't going to cut Social Security. Is that still your position? Four years ago, you came up with an idea that is, in fact, exactly the right idea. You made the point that multimillionaires are contributing the same amount of money into the Social Security trust fund as somebody making $110,000, and 4 years ago you made the point that if we lift that cap--and we don't have to start at $110,000; we can go up to $250,000--if we lift that cap above $250,000, we could bring in enough revenue to fund Social Security for the next 75 years. That was your position, Mr. President, 4 years ago. Is that your position today? Are you going to stand up to the Republicans and the Wall Street folks who want us to cut Social Security?

That is where we are right now.

My last point I wish to make is on the much discussed remarks of Governor Romney from the video released recently that has gone all over the Internet. There is a lot that can be said about it, and I suspect everybody has said a lot. I just want to pick up on one point. I feel strongly about this point because I am the son of a working-class family--of a father who never made a lot of money but worked hard his entire life and of a mother who raised her kids as best she could. So I take this kind of personally.

This is what Mr. Romney said in connection with the famous 47 percent of the people who don't pay taxes, which is not true, of course. As we know, they pay Social Security taxes and gasoline taxes, Medicare taxes. But be that as it may, that is not the issue I want to get to.

This is what Mr. Romney said:

My job is not to worry about those people. I will never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Let me repeat that.

I will never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

He was talking about my parents. He was talking about the parents of millions of people who worked hard their whole lives who don't need advice from a multimillionaire who went to elite schools and had all the money and privileges his family could provide him. We don't need advice from him to families who have worked and struggled their whole lives to, in fact, take personal responsibility to make sure their kids did well. That is an incredibly arrogant statement from a guy surrounded by money, speaking to millionaires, who should not be making that statement.

People on Social Security, people on Medicare, in many cases, have worked their entire lives, have done the best they could to provide for their kids, have seen their kids go to college. Many of the people on Social Security, Medicare have fought in wars defending this country. They do not need advice from a multimillionaire about how they should take personal responsibility for their lives. That is an insulting remark and it would become Governor Romney to apologize for that remark.

With that, I yield the floor.


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