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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SANDERS. In the Senate, I hear a lot of criticism of government, some of which is certainly justified. All of us, I would hope, are deeply concerned, embarrassed, and disagree with what the IRS did in terms of picking out one political persuasion in terms of tax-exempt status. That is clearly wrong, unacceptable, and must be dealt with.

Many of my friends attack government day after day when government is trying to do the right thing in protecting middle-class and working families. There are some in the Congress, for example, who believe that government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should be significantly cut or that maybe government shouldn't even be involved in those areas. They believe these programs are unconstitutional.

If you were to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, what would happen to tens of millions of people who rely on Social Security for their retirement, especially at a time when many private pensions have been cut severely? If you make cuts or eliminate Medicare for the old or you undo the Medicare system we know and turn it into the system our friends in the House would like to have, what will happen to elderly people when they get sick and need health care and don't have the money in their own pockets to pay for that? I will tell you what will happen.

This year alone, it is estimated that approximately 45,000 Americans will die because they never made it to a doctor on time when they should have made it. If you make major cuts in Medicare or do away with the basic guarantees Medicare now provides, clearly the number of people who will die will simply increase.

If you are 67 years of age and are diagnosed with cancer and Medicare is not there for you and you don't have a family who has money, what will happen to you? Some of my Republican friends will say: Well, go to charity. Charity is not going to be there to provide health care for millions of people.

In terms of health care, what we must point out over and over again because many Americans don't understand it is that our Nation is the only Nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right of citizenship.

Today, although we hope that will change in the very near future, 50 million people have no health insurance. Many others have large deductibles or copayments, which keep them from going to the doctor when they should.

We have invited the Ambassador from Denmark to join us in a town meeting in Vermont on Saturday. He will explain to us how in Denmark, among many other countries throughout the world, they can provide health care to people that is virtually free from out-of-pocket expenses and yet per capita end up spending substantially less than we do. He will explain to us why the cost of their prescription drugs is substantially lower than it is in the United States.

In terms of education, this is at a time when in my State the average college graduate in Vermont leaves school some $28,000 in debt--roughly the national average. This is at a time when hundreds of thousands of young people cannot afford to go to college, and we lose all of their intellectual capabilities and the genius they might provide for our society. In Denmark, college education is virtually free, including graduate school and medical school.

At a time when in our country millions of people are overworked and underpaid; at a time when we work some of the longest hours of any people in the industrialized world, when people in Vermont are working not 40 hours a week but 50 hours a week, 60 hours a week; at a time when people are not working one job but two jobs, three jobs, trying to cobble together an income; at a time when some employers are hiring people and providing zero vacation time or maybe, if one is lucky, a week off, how does it happen that in countries such as Denmark people not only get 5 weeks' guaranteed paid vacation, but they get another 11 vacation days?

In this country, we talk a lot about family values. However, if you are a working-class woman having a baby, you will get some maybe. If you are working for a large enough employer, family medical leave may have an impact and you may get some time off to have the baby, but you can't stay home very long to take care of your newborn because you will not have any money coming in.

Millions of folks have a baby and go right back to work, putting the child back in childcare when they would prefer otherwise. How does it happen in countries such as Denmark that women get 4 weeks off, fully paid before they give birth, and then months off afterwards to stay home with the baby, not to mention three-quarters payment from the government for childcare, while we so poorly manage that?

I think it is time we have a serious discussion about values, and that discussion has to include whether we feel good about the fact that in this country so few have so much and so many have so little.

Do we feel comfortable with the growing imbalance in terms of income and wealth such that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the wealth and the bottom 60 percent owns only 2.3 percent, and the gap between the billionaire class and everybody else is growing wider?

As the Pope asked: Are we comfortable with a financial system where the goal is not to invest in the productive economy but to make money for itself, such that the top six financial institutions in this country have assets equivalent to some 70 percent of the GDP of the United States--some $9 trillion--and enormous political power?

This IRS business people are talking about on the floor of the Senate is related to the absurd campaign finance system we have where big companies can secretly put hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process. Are we comfortable with a political system where people can make contributions in secret that end up in the political process and then end up on a 30-second ad on our TV--money coming from billionaires who don't have to disclose their contributions?

So when we talk about values, it is important to assess who we are as Americans and what we believe in. I believe most Americans believe we have to do a lot better job at focusing on the needs of the declining and disappearing middle class; that we have to create millions of jobs so our young people do not have outrageously high levels of unemployment and older people who lose their jobs have nothing to go back to; that we have to address the issue of high childhood poverty; and we have to, in fact, make sure government works for all of the people and not just the people on top.

I would just conclude by recommending to the Members and to the American people they examine the remarks made this morning by Pope Francis, which I think raise some very important issues. I think there is a lot to be learned from those remarks.

With that, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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