At a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blasted as large a hole in the newly-released Republican budget as he could muster, declaring it an attack on low- and middle-income Americans, a fiesta of deregulation and subsidies for Wall Street and Big Business, and a plan to further enrich the nation's wealthiest and most powerful while ignoring the perils of climate change and the interwoven crises of inequality, personal debt, and unemployment that is ravaging the health of the economy and destroying the dreams and prosperity of millions.
"At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the Republicans apparently believe that the richest people in America need to be made even richer," said Sanders, ranking member of the committe. "It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. That’s apparently not enough."
Republicans in the House and Senate released budget proposals this week, which progressives inside and outside of Congress were quick to pillory as representing the same destructive set of economic policies that have fueled stagnant wages, inequality, and joblessness over the last four decades.
Sanders' statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing and we look forward to the mark-up tomorrow. Also, thank you for releasing the budget a little bit earlier than it is often released. We’ve had a few hours to examine it.
“As we all know, the federal budget that we are working on is not an appropriations bill. It does not provide explicit funding for this or that agency or program. What it does do is lay the foundation for that process, and tells the Appropriations Committee, through the 302(A) allocations, the total amount of money they have to spend. In other words, this budget is more than just a very long list of numbers. The federal budget is about our national priorities and our values. It is about who we are as a nation and what we stand for. It’s about how we assess the problems facing our country and how we resolve them.
“That is what our committee is undertaking, and it is a very, very serious responsibility.
“Let’s be clear: no family, no business, no local or state government can responsibly write a budget without first understanding the problems and challenges that it faces. And that is even more true when we deal with a federal budget of some $4 trillion dollars.
“As I examine the budget brought forth by the Republicans in the House and here in the Senate, this is how I see their analysis of the problems facing our country.
“At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the Republicans apparently believe that the richest people in America need to be made even richer. It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. That’s apparently not enough. It is not good enough that the top one-tenth of one percent today own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Clearly, in Republican eyes, the wealthy and the powerful need more help. Not only should they not be asked to pay more in taxes, the Republicans believe that we should cut tax rates for millionaires and billionaires.
“It is not good enough that corporate America is enjoying record breaking profits, and that the CEOs of large corporations earn some 290 times more than what their average employees make.
“It is apparently not good enough that since 1985 the top one-tenth of 1 percent has seen a more then $8 trillion increase in its wealth than what they would have had if wealth inequality had stayed at the same level that it was in 1985. An $8 trillion increase in the wealth of the top one-tenth of 1 percent! Apparently, that is not enough.
“Meanwhile, as I understand the Republican view of our country, as manifested in the House and Senate budgets, it appears that millions of middle class and working families, people who are working longer hours for lower wages, people who have seen significant declines in their standard of living over the last 40 years, these people apparently do not need our help, rather they need to see a major reduction in federal programs that help make their lives, and the lives of their kids, a little bit better.
“At a time when we have over 45 million Americans living in poverty – more than almost any time in the modern history of this country, my Republican colleagues think we should increase that number by cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, affordable housing, and Medicaid. At a time when almost 20 percent of our children live in poverty, by far the highest childhood poverty rate of any major country on earth, my Republican colleagues think that maybe we should raise the childhood poverty rate a bit higher by cutting childcare, Head Start, the Child Tax Credit and nutrition assistance for hungry kids.
“To summarize: the rich get much richer, and the Republicans think they need more help. The middle class and working families of this country become poorer, and the Republicans think we need to cut programs they desperately need. Frankly, those may be the priorities of some of my Republican colleagues in this room, but I do not believe that these are the priorities of the American people.
“Mr. Chairman, today, the United States remains the only industrialized nation on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of its people. We have about 40 million Americans who lack health insurance, and millions more who are under-insured. Well, apparently that is not good enough for my Republican colleagues in their budget. They want to abolish the Affordable Care Act and take away the health insurance that 16 million Americans have gained through that program. In other words, instead of having 40 million people uninsured, we would have 56 million people uninsured.
“And, if you include the massive cuts in Medicaid that the Republican budget includes, even millions more Americans would lose their health coverage. Further, when you make massive cuts in Medicaid, you also cut the nursing home care for seniors, perhaps the most vulnerable and helpless people in our country.
“I’ve talked a little bit about the devastating impact that the House and Senate Republican budgets would have on the American people, but equally important is what these budgets do not do -- the serious problems that they do not address. Poll after poll tells us that the issue that the American people are most concerned about deals with jobs, wages and the economy – and for good reasons.
“Despite a significant improvement in the economy over the last six years, since President Obama has been in office, real unemployment today is not 5.5 percent, it is 11 percent. Youth unemployment is over 17 percent and African-American youth unemployment is much higher than that. What the “American people want, and what the Republican budget ignores, is the need to create millions of decent paying jobs. And the fastest way to do that is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: our roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, airports, dams, levees, and broadband. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest over $3 trillion by the year 2020 just to get our nation’s infrastructure in good repair. And when we make a significant investment in infrastructure, we create millions of decent-paying jobs – which is exactly what we should be doing, which the Republicans ignore.
“At a time when millions of Americans are working for starvation wages and when the federal minimum wage is an abysmal $7.25 an hour, we need a budget that substantially increases wages for low-income and middle-income workers. We also need pay equity in this country so that women do not make 78 cents on the dollar compared to what a man makes for doing the same work. Further, we need to address the overtime scandal in this country in which many of our people are working 50 or 60 hours a week but fail to get time and a half for their efforts. Unfortunately, once again, the Republican budget refuses to address this issue of enormous consequence.
“I can tell you that in Vermont, and I suspect every state in this country, young people and their families are enormously frustrated by the high cost of college education and the horrendously oppressive student debt that many of them leave school with. In fact, student debt today, at $1.2 trillion is the second largest category of debt in this country – more than credit card and auto loan debt.
“Does the Republican budget do anything to lower interest rates on student debt. In fact, their budget would make a bad situation even worse.
“Does the Republican budget support President Obama’s initiative to make two years of community college free or any other initiative to make college affordable? Sadly, it does not. But what it does do is cut $90 billion in Pell Grants over a 10-year period.
“Mr. Chairman, my Republican colleagues are concerned about the deficit, which by the way, has been reduced by more than two-thirds in the last six years. And, we’re also concerned about the deficit. My Republican colleagues are concerned about an $18 trillion national debt which has skyrocketed in recent years largely because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were not paid for, an insurance written Medicare Part D prescription drug program, not paid for. And huge tax breaks for the rich and large corporations, not offset.
“The high national debt is an issue that we are also concerned about. But where we disagree is how you address the deficit and the debt. And, we feel strongly that from a moral perspective and an economic perspective, you do not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor – the most vulnerable people in our society – and ask nothing from the wealthy and large, profitable corporations.
“Today, major corporation after major corporation pays, in a given year, zero, pays nothing in federal income taxes. Profitable corporations like General Electric, Verizon, and Boeing, have not only paid nothing in federal income taxes, they actually got rebates from the IRS.
“According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, each and every year, profitable corporations are avoiding about $100 billion in taxes by stashing their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens.
“In 1952, corporations contributed about 32 percent of all federal revenue. Today, they contribute about 11 percent.
“In terms of individual tax rates, we have a situation where hedge fund managers on Wall Street, who make hundreds of millions of dollars a year, pay an effective tax rate lower than a truck driver or a nurse. How can my Republican colleagues bring forth a budget and not ask for the end of this absurd tax unfairness, that does not ask for at least some sacrifice on behalf of the rich and multi-national corporations.
“The last point that I want to make is that I believe that the best thing we can do in a budget is to move to a full employment economy with jobs that are paying workers a living wage. When we do that, by investing in infrastructure, by investing in education, by investing in research and development, we not only improve the lives of our people, but we also lower our deficits and lower our national debt.
“When people are working at decent-wage jobs they are paying taxes. And, when people are paying taxes we reduce the deficit and the national debt.”