We must not balance the budget on poor, elderly
By Senator Bernie Sanders
November 18, 2012The Democrats won a major victory on Election Day.
Despite dozens of billionaires spending huge amounts of money to defeat President Barack Obama, he won a crushing victory in the Electoral College and received 3 million more votes than former Gov. Mitt Romney did nationally. Democrats won 25 of 33 seats contested in the Senate and, to everyone’s surprise, expanded their majority there by two. They also gained seats in the House.
Now, with this victory behind them, the president and congressional Democrats must make it very clear that they will stand with the middle class and working families of our country. These are the people who, because of the Wall Street-caused recession, have seen a significant decline in their family income. These are the people who worry about whether they can afford health care and whether their kids will be able to attend college. The Democrats in the House and Senate must stand with these people — not the millionaires and billionaires who are doing just fine.
Most important, in the coming weeks and months, the Democrats must demand that deficit reduction is done in a way that is fair — and not on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. At a time when real unemployment remains close to 15 percent, we must also focus on creating the millions of jobs that our people need.
In America today, we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth. Incredibly, the top 1 percent owns 42 percent of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent. In the last study done on income distribution, we learned that 93 percent of all new income generated between 2009 and 2010 went to the top 1 percent while the bottom 99 percent split the remaining 7 percent. This extraordinary unfairness is not only morally reprehensible, it is bad economics. It will be very difficult to create the jobs that our people need when so many Americans have little or no money to spend.
Congress must pass legislation to create a major jobs program to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. Throughout our country, we need a massive effort to improve our roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems, airports, rail, broadband and cellphone service. Rebuilding our infrastructure makes us more productive and internationally competitive — and creates millions of new jobs.
In terms of deficit reduction, let us not forget that in 2001, when Bill Clinton left office, this country had a $236 billion surplus. As a result of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were unpaid for, huge tax breaks for the rich, a Medicare prescription drug program put on the credit card and a significant decline in federal revenues because of the recession, we now have a $1 trillion deficit and a $16 trillion national debt.
Congress must address the deficit situation and the fiscal cliff, but we must do it in a way that is fair. At a time when the wealthiest people in this country are doing extremely well and their effective tax rates are low (think Romney), the people on top must pay their fair share of taxes to help us deal with the deficit. We must also end the outrageous loopholes that allow one out of four large profitable corporations to pay nothing in federal corporate income taxes. Further, it is absurd that current tax policy allows the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying over $100 billion a year in federal taxes because they stash their money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere.
We must also take a hard look at wasteful spending in the Defense Department, where we now spend almost as much money as the rest of the world combined. Significant savings can be found at other federal agencies, too.
What we must not do, however, is move toward a balanced budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. Sadly, that is the approach that virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are advocating. As the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus, I look forward to working with other members of Congress, the AFL-CIO, senior and disability groups and the vast majority of people in our country who want to prevent cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and other programs vitally important to the working families of America.
In my view, if the Republicans continue to play an obstructionist role, the president should get out of the Oval Office and travel the country. If he does that, I believe that he will find that there is no state in the country, including those that are very red, where people believe that it makes sense to continue giving huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires while cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I have a strong feeling that when large numbers of constituents all across this country start calling and emailing their senators and members of Congress about this issue, the American people will win this fight.
The good news is that we are already beginning to see some Republicans make thoughtful comments showing they understand that elections have consequences. Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator and Weekly Standard editor, said Sunday that the Republican Party should accept new ideas, including the much criticized suggestion by Democrats that taxes be allowed to go up on the wealthy. “It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It really won’t, I don’t think. I don’t really understand why Republicans don’t take Obama’s offer.”
Kristol is right. At a time when the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider, common sense and justice require the people who are doing extremely well financially to help us in a significant way to reduce deficits.