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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, sometimes there is no end to arrogance. I find it literally beyond comprehension that we have folks from Wall Street who receive huge bailouts from the people of our country, from working families in this country, because of the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior that Wall Street did to drive us into this recession, and now these very same people are coming here to Congress to lecture us and the American people about how we have to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid while they enjoy huge salaries and retirement benefits.

Lloyd Blankfein is the CEO of Goldman Sachs. In 2006 and 2007 he was the highest paid executive on Wall Street, making over $125 million in total compensation. My understanding is that he has wealth of hundreds of millions of dollars. Goldman Sachs received a $278 million refund--Goldman Sachs did--from the IRS in 2008 even though it made a profit of $2.3 billion.

During the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs received a total of $814 billion in virtually zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve and a $10 billion bailout from the Treasury Department. This is the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Now, with his huge wealth, he is coming here to Washington to lecture the American people on how we have to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for tens of millions of Americans who are struggling now to keep their heads above water.

This is a statement Lloyd Blankfien recently made, I believe, on a TV show:

You're going to have to, undoubtedly, do something to lower people's expectations, the entitlements, and what people think they're going to get because they're not going to get it. Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30 year retirement after a 25 year career ..... So there will be certain things, like the retirement age will have to be changed, maybe the benefits will have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments will have to be revised ..... But, in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.

This comes from a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars whose company, along with the rest of the companies on Wall Street, drove this country into the recession it is in, which, by the way, contributed to the deficit we are in. He is coming to Capitol Hill to lecture us and lecture the working families in this country on how we have to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I think arrogance has no end, that people from Wall Street can come down here and tell us that.

I think most Americans understand that the reason we are in the terrible recession we are in right now and the reason we went from a $236 billion surplus when Bill Clinton left office has everything in the world to do not with Social Security but with the fact that we went into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and forgot to pay for them; we gave huge tax breaks to people such as Mr. Blankfein and did not offset them; passed the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, not paid for; and as a result of the Wall Street recession, significantly less revenue is now coming into the Federal Government. That is why we went from a $236 billion surplus in 2001 to a $1 trillion deficit today.

The deficit is a serious issue and it has to be addressed, but it has to be addressed not in the way that Mr. Blankfein, Pete Peterson, and the other Wall Street billionaires want us to address the deficit but in a way that is fair to working people. Among other things, we have to protect Social Security, protect Medicare, protect Medicaid.

I was appreciative the other day when I read that the White House has said something that many of us have wanted them to say, which is that Social Security had nothing to do with the deficit; Social Security should be treated separately. I think that is a real step forward. Many of us signed a letter to that effect.

But what does worry me is this issue of chain CPI. I want everybody to understand what the chain CPI is about. Nobody outside of Capitol Hill knows what it is about. What it is about is reformulating how we determine COLAs. If this chain CPI passed, what it would mean is that if somebody was 65 now--this would go into effect immediately if it were passed--by the time they were 75, there would be a $560-a-year reduction in what they otherwise would have gotten in Social Security benefits through the COLAs. By the time they are 85, it would be $1,000 a year. We must defeat any and all efforts to oppose a chain CPI not only on Social Security beneficiaries, but it would also apply, if my colleagues can believe this, to disabled veterans. Mr. Blankfein and his other CEO friends on Wall Street really want us to balance the budget on the backs of the disabled vets? Well, this Senator surely is not going to support that.

There are ways to deal with deficit reduction that are fair. Everybody has to understand that we have already cut approximately $1 trillion in benefits. So when we talk about $4 trillion in deficit reduction, $1 trillion has already taken place.

Second of all, obviously, at a time when the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and we have growing wealth and income inequality in America, of course we have to repeal Bush's tax breaks for people making $250,000 a year or more. That is another $1 trillion. We have to appreciate the fact that one out of four corporations in America doesn't pay a nickel in taxes. We can bring in significant amounts of revenue through tax reform that asks corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. We are losing $100 billion a year because corporations and the wealthy are stashing their money in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, thus losing substantial revenue in the United States.

Defense spending has tripled since 1997. We are now spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined. Let's take a serious look at defense spending. If we do that, make some changes toward efficiency in Medicare and Medicaid, make them more efficient but not cut benefits, we can move toward serious deficit reduction without cutting Social Security, without cutting Medicare, and without cutting Medicaid.

We just had an election a few weeks ago--November 6--and what I think the American people said is that the time is now for the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes. We have seen poll after poll after poll, including from some very conservative people who are saying do not cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I think it is time for the Senate and the Congress to start listening to the American people. Let's go forward with deficit reduction, but let's not do it on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, or the poor.

With that, I yield the floor.


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