Yesterday, as a member of the Financial Services Committee, Congressman Bernie Sanders heard testimony from Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez and from HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The hearing primarily focused on the Bush Administration's proposal to slash federal investments in our nation's towns, cities, and states -which is not surprising from an Administration that is attempting to dismantle almost every federal program for low and moderate income Americans.
What Congressman Sanders did find surprising was the Orwellian nature of the testimony from Secretary Gutierrez and the shameless degree to which the Bush Administration is prepared to turn truth on its head. In his prepared opening remarks, Secretary Gutierrez stated that America is experiencing "tremendous economic prosperity." Really? What America is Secretary Gutierrez living in?
Has the Secretary visited with any of the 21.9% of children in America who are living in poverty? Or did he mix us up with Denmark where virtually 100% of children live poverty-free lives.
Has the Secretary visited with any of the 4 million Americans that have entered the poverty ranks since President Bush was first elected, or is he only attending cocktail parties at country clubs with the rich and famous?
Has the Secretary visited with any of the 5 million Americans who have lost their health insurance since President Bush was first elected?
Has the Secretary ever met any of the 3.5 million Americans who will experience homelessness this year including 1.35 million children and 500,000 veterans?
If Secretary Gutierrez spent his time with these struggling Americans, he might change his tune. In their America, they are certainly not experiencing tremendous economic prosperity.
Given the brazen lies and distortions offered by the Bush Administration, Bernie believes that it is important to take on their basic assertions and not let them use language to help shape the debate in their favor. One can argue for or against the privatization of Social Security, but Social Security is not in crisis and is not going bankrupt. One can argue the plusses and minuses of free trade, but free trade has not been a net creator of new jobs in this country--quite the contrary. One can have a serious debate about the strengths and weaknesses of the American economy, but someone has got to be completely detached from reality to believe that the average American is enjoying "tremendous economic prosperity."
Sanders' response to Secretary Gutierrez was the following:
"Mr. Chairman, let's look at the facts. Over the past 4 years, poverty has gone up. Today, over 4 million more Americans, 36 million overall, are living in poverty than was the case 4 years ago. Sadly, 21.9 percent of U.S. children live in poverty, only slightly better than Mexico where the childhood poverty rate is 27.9 percent. Mr. Chairman, compare that to Denmark, where only 2.4 percent of children live in poverty.
Today, over five million more Americans do not have health insurance, 45 million in all, than was the case four years ago, and the United States is the only industrialized nation on earth that does not have universal health care.
Over 14 million American families today are paying more than 50 percent of their income on rent. There are now over 20 million Americans with incomes so low that they had to enter the food stamp program in order to feed their families.
Last year, more than 1.6 million American families went bankrupt, up from up from 289,000 in 1980. 90 percent of these bankruptcy filings were the result of a lost job, a medical emergency or a divorce.
Real (inflationary-adjusted) wages have gone down over the past 2 years. The new jobs being created today pay 21 percent less than the jobs that are being lost. In my State of Vermont, those numbers are higher. The new jobs being created pay 29 percent less than the jobs we are losing.
The gap between the rich and poor in the United States more than doubled from 1979 to 2000. Today, the richest 1 percent have more money to spend after taxes than the bottom 40 percent. Meanwhile, millions of workers have not seen any increase in the minimum wage in years.
Secretary Gutierrez, as you well know, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that over the next decade seven out of the top 10 occupations with the most employment growth will be low-paying and only require short-term on-the-job training: nursing aides, orderlies and attendants; waiters and waitresses; janitors and cleaners; cashiers; food preparers and fast food servers; customer service representatives; and retail salespersons.
According to Andy Grove, the founder of Intel, the U.S. will lose the bulk of its information technology jobs to India and China within the next decade. Due to our disastrous trade policy we have lost more than 2.7 million manufacturing jobs, more than half a million information technology jobs over the past 4 years, and 14 million American jobs are in danger of being outsourced overseas during the next decade with CEOs in this country bragging about closing down factories and moving abroad.
In the midst of all of this, Secretaries Gutierrez and Jackson, why would the President propose cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires even more, while destroying the safety net for low and middle income Americans across the country? Why would the President eliminate the highly successful Community Services and Community Development Block Grant programs, and other investments important to our cities, towns, and states, shifting these services to Commerce, and cutting overall spending by 30%?"
Erin Campbell is the communications director for the office of Congressman Sanders, she can be reached at email@example.com