The point that needs to be made is, when is enough enough? Greed, in my view, is like a sickness. It is like an addiction. They can't stop. But I would hope that these people who are worth millions of dollars will look around and say: "There is something more important than the richest people becoming richer when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world." Maybe they will understand that they are Americans, part of a great nation which is in trouble today. Maybe they have to go back to the Bible, whatever they believe in, and understand there is virtue in sharing. This greed, this reckless, uncontrollable greed is almost like a disease which is hurting this country terribly. During the Bush years, the wealthiest 400 Americans saw their wealth increase by some $400 billion.
I come from a small State. We have community banks. Here is the irony: The banks in Vermont, in the midst of all of this financial disaster, did just fine. They are small, locally owned banks. They know the people they lend money to. The CEOs are not making millions of dollars in profit. They know their community. Now, I may be old-fashioned like Mr. Volcker, but I think that is what banking is about: to lend out money to people in the productive economy, to the business community, who can use the money to expand and create jobs; to homeowners who need that money to buy a home, not to be living in your own world engaged in a huge gambling casino producing and selling worthless products nobody understands.
As many as 170,000 high school graduates each year are prepared to go on to college but cannot afford that. Let me repeat that. About 170,000 young people in this country, who graduate high school, who want to go to college, are unable to do it because they cannot afford it.
Are we nuts? What are we doing in wasting the extraordinary intellectual potential of all of these young people? What we are saying to them is because you don't have the money and because college is so expensive, and because our Federal Government is more busy giving tax breaks to billionaires and fighting two wars, we are not investing in you. That makes no sense at all.
Will my kids earn less income? Will my kids not have the education I have? Will my kids not have the opportunity to travel and learn and grow as I have done? Are the best days of America behind us? That is really the question. I don't think that has to be the case.
But if we are going to change the national priorities in this country, if we are going to start devoting our energy and our attention to the needs of working families and the middle class, we have to defeat this [Obama-Republican tax] proposal and we have to defeat similar types of proposals which come down the pike.
I asked the guy who was in charge of all the Walmarts in Asia--I asked him a simple question: Tell me, how many of these American company products are actually manufactured in the United States?
He was a little bit sheepish and a little bit hesitant and he said: Well, about 1 percent. Obviously, what everybody knew, it is a lot cheaper for the American companies to set up plants in China, hire Chinese workers at 50 cents an hour, 75 cents an hour, whatever it is, and have them build the product for the Chinese markets than it is to pay American workers $15 an hour, $20 an hour, provide health insurance, deal with the union, deal with the environment. That is not a great revelation. I think anybody could have figured that one out. But the big money interests around here pushed it and Congress and President Clinton, at that time, signed it and we were off and running.
I remember there was one CEO of a large, one of our largest American corporations, and he said: "When I look at the future of General Electric, I see China, China, China, and China." By the way, we ended up bailing out that particular corporation. He didn't look to China to get bailed out, he looked to the taxpayers of this country.
But the word has to get out to corporate America, they are going to have to start reinvesting in the United States of America. They are going to have to start building the products and the goods the American people need rather than run all over in search of cheap labor.
The wealthy contribute huge sums of money into campaigns. The wealthy have all kinds of lobbyists around here through corporate America. What they are going to get out of this [Obama-Republican] agreement are huge tax breaks that benefit themselves. That is not what we should be supporting.
We should understand this agreement is just the beginning of an assault on legislation and programs that have benefited the American people for 70 or 80 years. Mark my words, there will be an intensive effort to privatize Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Furthermore, it is part of the Republican agenda. They want to expand--and it is not only Republicans here, some Democrats as well--our disastrous trade policies.
So when we talk about Iraq, it is not only the terrible loss of life that our soldiers and the Iraqi people have experienced, let's not forget what it has done to the deficit and the national debt. We did not pay for the war in Iraq. We just put it on the credit card.
Well, in the midst of a serious recession, at a time when millions of our fellow Americans have been out of work for a very long time, it would be, in my view, immoral & wrong to turn our backs on those workers. Their unemployment benefits are going to be running out soon. It is absolutely imperative that we extend those unemployment benefits for the 2 million workers who would lose them.
I do not believe, honestly, that the Republican support now for extending unemployment benefits constitutes much of a compromise because the truth is, for the past 40 years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, it has been bipartisan policy that whenever the unemployment rate has been above 7.2%, unemployment insurance has always been extended. That is what we have always done. That is what we should be doing in the future.
Where are all those jobs now? During the Bush years alone, we went from 19 million jobs in manufacturing to 12 million jobs, a horrendous loss of manufacturing jobs. If you are a kid today and you are not of a mind, for whatever reason, to go to college, what are your options? You can get a minimum wage job at McDonald's or maybe at Walmart, where benefits are minimal or nonexistent. That is a significant transition of the American economy.
This payroll tax holiday concept originally started with conservative Republicans. These are the same people who either want to make significant cuts in Social Security or else they want to privatize Social Security entirely. Here is the point: They understand that if we divert funding that is supposed to go into the Social Security trust fund, which is what this payroll tax holiday does, that is a lot of money not going into the trust fund.
What the President and others are saying is not to worry because that money will be covered by the general fund. That is a very bad and dangerous precedent. Up until now, what Social Security has been about is 100% funding from payroll contributions, not from the general tax base.
Social Security, in my view, has been the most successful Federal program in perhaps the history of our country. In the last 75 years, whether in good or bad times, Social Security has paid out every nickel owed to every eligible American. Today, Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus. Today, Social Security can pay out benefits for the next 29 years. What we must do is make sure we extend it beyond 29 years, for the next 75 years. Well, if we divert $120 billion from the Social Security trust fund and give it to workers today, what you are doing is cutting back the long-term viability of Social Security.
This Nation has a recordbreaking $13.8 trillion national debt. We have been told not to worry too much because the extension of these tax breaks for the wealthy will only last 2 years. Clearly, we have a number of Republicans who want to make that extension permanent. A 10-year extension would add $700 billion to our national debt.
This agreement also calls for a continuation of the Bush era 15% tax rate on capital gains and dividends.
On top of all that, this agreement includes a horrendous proposal regarding the estate tax. Eliminating this estate tax completely would raise the national debt by $1 trillion over a 10-year period.
I was in Rutland Vermont; the mayor showed me a piece of pipe, an old piece of pipe. He said: "You know, the engineer who helped develop this water system and lay this pipe, after he did this work for Rutland, he went off to fight in the war." I knew there was a catch line coming. I said: "What war was it?" He said: "It was the Civil War." This is true all over the US. The result is, we lose an enormous amount of clean water every day through leaks and water pipes bursting. The point is, when you invest in infrastructure, you get a bigger bang for the buck
Let me tell you something as a former mayor: infrastructure does not get better if you ignore it. You can turn your back, if you are a mayor or Governor, on the roads and the highways because you do not have the money to fix them today, but they are not going to get better next year. At some point, they are going to have to be repaired and fixed. We may as well do that right now.
I believe the money, the very substantial sums of money in this agreement between the President and the Republicans, which goes into tax breaks for corporate America, could be effectively spent on infrastructure.
Years ago, I was in Shanghai, China. There was a blur that went by the window. That blur was an experimental train they were working on--high-speed rail, which is now operational there, and other similar prototypes are being developed in China. Here we are, the United States of America, which for so many years led the world in so many ways, and now you are seeing a newly developing country such as China with high-speed rail all over their country, and in our cities, our subways are breaking down. Amtrak is going 50, 60 miles an hour, and the Chinese and Europeans have trains going hundreds of miles an hour.
In my view, when credit card companies charge over 20% interest, they are not engaged in the business of making credit available to their customers; they are involved in extortion and loan-sharking--nothing essentially different than gangsters who charge outrageously high prices.
The above quotations are from The Speech|
A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of our Middle Class
by Bernie Sanders.
Click here for other excerpts from The Speech
A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of our Middle Class
by Bernie Sanders.
Click here for other excerpts by Bernie Sanders.
Click here for a profile of Bernie Sanders.
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