Incredulous that Wall Street investment bankers and billionaire CEOs have descended on Washington in the midst of ongoing budget talks to tell Americans that they should "lower their expectations" when it comes to the security of their retirement and future health care, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor Thursday to call out the audacity of corporate-minded millionaires and billionaires, calling them the new "face of class warfare" in the United States.
"I find it literally beyond comprehension, that we have folks from Wall Street who received huge bailouts from the people of our country—from working families in this country—because of the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior, which Wall Street did to drive us into this recession, and now these very same people are coming here to Congress to lecture us and the American people about how we have to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid while they enjoy huge salaries and retirement benefits."
Sanders specifically called out CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, who has recently been making both the media rounds and consulting with lawmakers regarding the ongoing tax and budget debate in Washington during the current lame duck session. Blankfein, one of the highest paid executives on Wall Street and worth hundred of millions personally, made the comments about 'lowered expectations' in a recent evening news interview with CBS and said that average Americans should understand that the US simply can't "afford" to maintain programs like Social Security and Medicare.
The facts of such sentiments, as many economists repeatedly point out, are false, but Sanders said that Blankfein delivered the familiar rightwing trope "with all the sympathy for someone struggling to get by on $14,000-a-year retirement that you’d expect from a Wall Street banker paid $16 million last year."
Blankfein is also a member of the CEO cabal that has come together under the banner 'Fix The Debt' to protect the historically low tax rates of the nation's wealthy elite while simultaneously calling for the slashing of social programs. As the Huffington Post reports:
CEOs including Blankfein have been warning that the fiscal cliff could hurt business investment, hiring and the economy as a whole, and they have been calling for cuts to the social safety net to avert it. Dozens of major CEOs, including Blankfein, are members of the CEO council of the campaign Fix the Debt, which calls for cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and vague Social Security reform to address the deficit. More than 80 CEOs, including Blankfein, also signed a recent letter calling for deficit reduction.
But as a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies aimed to show, the 'Fix the Debt' campaign, which has raised $60 million to lobby for a debt deal that "would reduce corporate taxes and shift costs onto the poor and elderly," is really just a Trojan horse designed to use an invented debt crisis to achieve long-held agenda goals.
“Think about the arrogance of these guys on Wall Street who were bailed out by the middle class of this country when their greed and recklessness nearly destroyed the financial system and now they come to Capitol Hill to lecture Congress and the American people about the need to cut programs for working families.” -- Sen. Bernie Sanders
The CEOs involved in the group, including Blankfein, are trying to "pass themselves off as noble leaders who are willing to compromise in order the save America from financial ruin,” explain co-authors of the report Scott Klinger and Sarah Anderson. But the reality is that these CEOs are "leveraging the 'Fiscal Cliff'" in order to push age old attempts to avoid paying taxes at the expense of those in need, they say.
And, as Ezra Klein points out in a recent Bloomberg op-ed, the US has an 'austerity crisis' not a 'debt crisis'. Klein argues that employing the much-used term "fiscal cliff" mistates the nature of the financial and policy realities. Worse, he says, the term "provides no hint of how to solve it."
He says, "I prefer the term 'austerity crisis,' which at least describes the real issue -- too much austerity, imposed too quickly."
Called by its true name or not, the CEOs behind 'Fix the Debt'—with Lloyd Blankfein and Honeywell's David Cote leading the charge— are using the generated panic around the talks as a way to impose their own interests and have proven unafraid to speak boldly and use their fast resources to make their case.
However, what Klinger and Anderson call 'leverage', Sanders simply called arrogance Thursday.
“Think about the arrogance of these guys on Wall Street who were bailed out by the middle class of this country when their greed and recklessness nearly destroyed the financial system and now they come to Capitol Hill to lecture Congress and the American people about the need to cut programs for working families,” he said.