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Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, it is no secret to anybody that the American people are frustrated and they are disgusted with what is going on in Washington.
The Presiding Officer may have seen The Onion magazine, the satirical magazine that ran a story which says that at a time when 5 percent of the American people approve of what is going on in Congress, The Onion reported psychiatrists are deeply worried about the mental health of 5 percent of the American public. In other words, all over this country, regardless of political persuasion, people literally cannot understand what is going on, and they have every reason to be outraged and frustrated because so many people today are being hurt.
We can disagree about the Affordable Care Act. We as a nation can disagree about how we address Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, global warming, or any other issue out there. But what should not be happening is that this government and the American people should not be held hostage by an extreme right wing of the Republican Party saying: Well, yeah, we lost the election by 5 million votes, we lost two seats in the Senate, we lost seats in the House, but nonetheless, unless we get the agenda we campaigned on and lost, we are going to shut down the Federal Government. We are going to punish millions of Federal employees and tens of millions of taxpayers who paid for Federal services. Also, for the first time in the history of the United States of America, we are not going to pay our bills and as a result perhaps thrust the American financial system and the world's financial system into a horrendous recession.
What the American people are saying over and over, regardless of political persuasion, is, yes, we can disagree on issues; no, we cannot bring the U.S. Government to a halt and default on our payments because a particular faction disagrees on certain legislation.
Interestingly enough, a couple of days ago I gathered that we had to bring the government to a halt and that we had to not pay our bills and bring the world's financial system into crisis because of the horrors of ObamaCare, the Affordable Care Act. That was the reason. Well, 2 days have come and gone and guess what. It is not the Affordable Care Act. That is no longer being discussed. Today, I gather--I haven't seen the news in the last 15 minutes, but the last I heard the reason we are shutting down the government and threatening not to pay our bills is that we are spending too much money and the deficit is too high. I gather that is the latest reason.
Clearly, a deficit of $700 billion and a debt of $16.7 trillion is too much, but let's make a couple of points about that issue.
First, in the last 3 years we have cut the deficit in half. A few years ago it was $1.4 trillion, and today it is $700 billion. That is not an insignificant effort.
Second, and perhaps most important, we have to understand how we got to where we are in terms of the debt and in terms of the deficit. Do we have a large deficit because we are spending too much on Social Security? Well, actually not because Social Security is independently funded through the payroll tax and hasn't added one nickel to the deficit. So it is not Social Security. We will talk about Medicare and Medicaid in a moment. But the reason we have seen a spike in the deficit in recent years has to do with the fact that many of my deficit hawk Republican friends--and some Democrats--voted for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they forgot to pay for that war--just a slip; they just forgot about it--and those wars are going to cost between $3 trillion and $6 trillion. So I want everyone to remember that the great deficit hawks who are busy trying to cut every program that working families in this country need forgot to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that will cost between $3 trillion and $6 trillion.
The third issue is that our great deficit hawks had no problem during the Bush era giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country.
Fourth, of course, is that as a result of deregulation and greed and recklessness and illegal behavior, Wall Street brought us to a financial collapse and a recession, with the result that revenue substantially declined.
I raise those issues, giving a little bit of history about how we got into the deficit today, because now, I guess, Congressman Ryan and others have decided that the reason we shut down the government is not because of ObamaCare, it is because there is too much spending, and that translates into their desire to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and to cut other vitally important programs for the middle-class and working families of this country.
Before we talk about the pain that would be caused by making savage cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, it is important to put this discussion in a broader context. If we go out to the American people and ask people in Virginia and people in Vermont and people all over this country and if we look at virtually every single poll that has been done in recent years asking the American people what they consider to be the most important issues facing them, do we know what they say? They say the deficit is important, but what is much more important is the issue of high unemployment and the economy in general. That is what every single poll shows. And the American people are right.
The deficit is important. What is even more important is addressing the reality that almost 14 percent of our workforce--if we count those people who have given up looking for work and are working part time, almost 14 percent of our workforce today is unemployed. What the American people are saying to Congress is create jobs, deal with unemployment.
The other issue out there that all across this country people are deeply worried about is that most of the new jobs being created--and this has been the case for a number of years now--most of the jobs being created are part-time, low-wage jobs.
How is somebody supposed to survive working for $10 an hour and getting 25 hours of work a week? You cannot do it, and we are seeing more and more of those types of jobs in the economy--by the way, jobs that provide little or no benefits.
What the American people are saying is raise the minimum wage. I cannot remember what the last poll was, but surely more than 70 percent of the American people have said: A minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. We need to raise the minimum wage.
Anybody who has kids in college today understands it is harder and harder for working-class and middle-class families to send their kids to college. The American people are saying to us: Do something. You tell us what is true--that it is hard to make it into the middle class unless kids have a college education. Well, do something to make college affordable. Do not have my kid leaving college or graduate school $50,000 in debt or $80,000 in debt. Do something about that.
Anybody who drives anywhere in America, in Vermont or in Indiana or anyplace else, understands that our infrastructure--our roads, our bridges, wastewater plants, water plants, our rail system--is deteriorating rapidly, and they say: Do something about the infrastructure.
As global warming is perceived as more and more of a crisis, people are telling us: Do something about energy efficiency. Why are we emitting greenhouse gas emissions into the air when we can be a much more energy-efficient country?
On and on it goes. The American people are hurting, and they want us to address their problems.
The other point that needs to be made is that when we talk about the financial and economic problems facing this country, it is terribly important to take an overview of what is going on in the economy in general. There is no debate about this: The middle class in America today is disappearing. Median family income today is less than it was 24 years ago. Despite all of the increase in productivity and technology, median family income is less today than it was 24 years ago. That is rather extraordinary.
We have 46.5 million people in this country living in poverty--more than at any time in the history of this country; 22.5 percent of our kids live in poverty. That is the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. Poverty among senior citizens is increasing. So we have major economic challenges that we face.
Our Republican friends, who a few days ago were telling us they had to shut down the government and threaten not to pay our bills because of the horrors of ObamaCare, now apparently are no longer concerned about ObamaCare, and they are now concerned about the national debt and they are concerned about our spending.
Well, this is what I want to say: If we want to have a conversation or a conference or a discussion or a special committee--call it whatever you want--we cannot just look at cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, as Congressman Ryan and many others want. We have to put into that discussion how it happens that one out of four major corporations in this country does not pay a nickel in Federal income taxes.
Do you think that should be part of the discussion? I think it should be. We have to put into that discussion how it happens that corporate America is putting their money in the Cayman Islands and in other tax havens and avoiding paying tens and tens of billions of dollars in Federal taxes. Do we need that in the discussion? I think we do. If you are going to talk about a conference on the economy, the conference must include the need to create millions of jobs, it must include the need to raise the minimum wage, it must include pay equity so that women get the same wages men get for the work they are doing, and it must include rebuilding our infrastructure.
This discussion on the economy cannot simply happen on Republican terms. We live in a country in which the middle class is in rapid decline while the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well. Any discussion we have--after we reopen the government, after we pay our bills--has to include that important reality. We cannot and we must not--for moral and economic reasons--balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, and low-income people. The wealthiest people and the largest corporations have to get involved, have to pay their fair share of taxes, and we have to create the millions of jobs this country desperately needs.
As I see the constantly changing agenda on the part of my Republican colleagues as to why they have shut down the government, I want to make it clear that the first thing that has to happen is they have to understand this government has to be reopened, and it has to be reopened with a strong budget that lasts for the rest of this fiscal year. And we have to pay our debts so this country and the entire global economy does not descend into financial chaos. We have to do that, and if Mr. Boehner were to give the Members of the House of Representatives a vote on that issue today, I expect it would win.
But as we go forward and we discuss broader issues, as we should, the agenda cannot simply be the agenda of the Republican candidates for President and Vice President who lost by 5 million votes. The agenda has to be what the American people want, and that is expanding the middle class, creating jobs, raising wages, rebuilding our infrastructure, pay equity, and making college affordable. Those are the issues that have to be on the agenda as well.
With that, I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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