Sanders Demands Direct Payments for Working Families
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stated today on the Senate floor that given the enormity of the current economic crisis, the Senate must pass a $1,200 direct payment for working class adults and $500 for their children as part of any COVID-19 relief package. He is filing an amendment today to the one-week Continuing Resolution to do just that.
Sanders said that it would be unacceptable for Congress to adjourn for the holidays while turning its back on the economic desperation facing tens of millions of Americans.
In a speech on the floor today, he stated: "When a national emergency occurs the United States government must respond. And we are in an economic emergency today. To get out of Washington, to turn our backs on the suffering of so many of our people would be immoral, would be unconscionable, and cannot be allowed to happen." Sanders' speech can be watched here , and the prepared remarks can be read below:
"Mr. President: This country today faces an unprecedented crisis both in terms of the pandemic and the economic meltdown.
I understand that there are negotiations going on in terms of coming up with an economic package dealing with COVID-19 relief. I applaud the hard work that each of the negotiators are doing. But the truth is that the results up to this point are totally unsatisfactory given the economic desperation facing tens of millions of working families.
Back in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, the United States Congress unanimously - Democrats and Republicans - worked with President Trump to come up with an economic package that went a long way toward preventing absolute misery and destitution for so many of our people. Through no fault of their own, COVID-19 resulted in millions of people losing their jobs and their income. And, in response, Democrats and Republicans in the Congress came together, worked with the President of the United States and, in a very significant way, responded to that crisis.
Mr. President, what I don't understand is that at a time when, in many ways, the crisis is worse today than it was in March, why we are not responding accordingly. In March, we passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act which included a $600 supplement to unemployment benefits for 4 months, and a $1,200 direct payment for every working class adult plus $500 for their kids.
Once again, we did this unanimously and we did it by working with President Trump.
If we could do it together in March, if we could succeed 9 months ago by working together, there is no reason why we cannot do the same thing right now. And that is why I will insist that any agreement in terms of a COVID-19 relief package must include not only strong unemployment benefits, but a $1,200 direct payment for the working families of this country similarly structured to what was included in the CARES package of March.
And I will be introducing an amendment to the 1-week Continuing Resolution to make sure that that occurs - that every working class adult in this country receives another $1,200 direct payment, plus $500 for their kids.
Mr. President, every member of this body wants to get out of Washington to get home to their families for the holiday season. And put me at the top of that list.
But at a time when so many American families are suffering, when so many people don't know how they're going to feed their kids or prevent being evicted from their homes, or how they're going to pay for a doctor's visit, we cannot leave Washington and return to our families unless we address the economic suffering that so many other families are facing.
When a national emergency occurs the United States government must respond. And we are in an economic emergency today. To get out of Washington, to turn our backs on the suffering of so many of our people would be immoral, would be unconscionable, and cannot be allowed to happen.
Again, we must make certain that every working family in this country receives a $1,200 direct payment, plus $500 for their kids.
Mr. President, let me be as clear as I can be. Today, as a result of the horrific pandemic and economic meltdown, the American working-class is hurting like they have never hurt before.
Yesterday alone, over 220,000 Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19 and, tragically, over 3,000 died from this horrific virus.
In other words, more Americans were killed by the coronavirus yesterday than were killed on 9-11.
Further, Mr. President, the working class of this country is in the worst financial shape since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Tens of millions of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs. They have lost their incomes. They have lost their health insurance. They have depleted their life savings. They cannot afford to pay the rent. They cannot afford to put food on the table. And they are scared to death that any day now they will get a knock on the door from the sheriff evicting them from their homes and throwing them and their belongings out on the street.
In America today, over half our workers are living paycheck to paycheck while 1 out of every 4 workers in this country are either unemployed or make a starvation wage of less than $20,000 a year.
During the holiday season over one-third of Americans expect to lose income and are already having a difficult time paying for basic household expenses.
In America today, hunger is at its highest level in decades, more than 500,000 Americans are homeless and over 30 million tenants are on the brink of eviction. While 15 million Americans have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, over 90 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured and cannot afford to go to a doctor when they get sick.
And as bad as the economy has been in general it has been far worse for African Americans and Latinos. During the pandemic, nearly 60% of Latino families and 55% of African American families have either experienced a job loss or a pay cut.
Meanwhile, Mr. President, not everyone is hurting in America. While the middle class is collapsing and poverty is growing, we are witnessing a massive increase in income and wealth inequality. Over the past 9 months, 650 billionaires have seen their wealth go up by over $1 trillion and now own over twice as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of Americans.
That is the state of the economy in America today. The very rich get much, much richer, while tens of millions of Americans get poorer and poorer and face an unprecedented level of economic desperation.
Mr. President. This is the United States of America, the richest country in the history of the world. No one should be going hungry. No one should have to live in fear of becoming homeless. No one should be denied the health care that they need, especially during the worst public health crisis in over a hundred years.
But that is precisely what is going on all over America as we speak.
Mr. President. This is an unprecedented moment in American history and the Senate needs to take unprecedented action now to improve the lives of the American people. If we could act effectively in March through the CARES Act, we can act effectively today as we enter the holiday season.
I very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into the current $908 billion proposal being drafted by a number of Democratic and Republican Senators. But, simply stated, given the horrific extent of the current crisis and the desperation that working families all over this country are experiencing, this proposal does not go anywhere near far enough. In truth, rather than the $3.4 trillion which we Democrats called for in the HEROES Act and passed in the House, this bill only allocates $348 billion in new money. The remaining $560 billion are funds transferred from the CARES Act that have not yet been obligated.
In other words, this bill is allocating roughly 10% of what was passed in the House. That's absurd.
Unlike the CARES Act, which we passed in March, this proposal only provides a $300 supplement for unemployed workers rather than $600 a week. Further, unlike the $1,200 direct payment for every working class individual and $500 for each child, it provides absolutely no direct payment.
Moreover, this proposal does nothing to address the health care crisis impacting tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford medical care and has totally inadequate financial assistance for the most vulnerable.
The American people need help and they need help now.
We have got to make sure that every working class American receives at least $1,200 in direct payments and that we do not provide a liability shield to corporations who break the law.
We cannot continue the status quo of coming in at 5:30pm on Monday and leaving at 2pm on Thursday - while nothing gets done to help millions of Americans living in economic desperation.
We've got to be working 24 hours, 7 days a week until we pass a bill that provides emergency assistance to the American people in their time of need."
"Investing now in nuclear energy is an inefficient route to take to reduce emissions at the scale and pace needed to tackle climate change," said one campaigner.
Climate campaigners scoffed Saturday at a 22-nation pledge to triple nuclear power capacity by mid-century as a way to ward off the increasing damage of warming temperatures, with opponents calling it a costly and "dangerous" distraction from the urgent need for a fossil fuel phaseout alongside a rapid increase in more affordable and scaleable renewable sources such as wind and solar.
The Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy —backed by the United States, Canada, France, the Czech Republic, and others—was announced as part of the Climate Action Summit taking place in Dubai as a part of the two-week U.N. climate talks known as COP28.
While the document claims a "key role" for nuclear energy to keep "a 1.5°C limit on temperature rise within reach" by 2050 and to help attain the so-called "net-zero emissions" goal that governments and the fossil fuel industry deploy to justify the continued burning of coal, oil, and gas, critics say the false solution of atomic power actually harms the effort to reduce emissions by wasting precious time and money that could be spent better and faster elsewhere.
"There is no space for dangerous nuclear power to accelerate the decarbonization needed to achieve the Paris climate goal," said Masayoshi Iyoda, a 350.org campaigner in Japan who cited the 2011 Fukushima disaster as evidence of the inherent dangers of nuclear power.
"There is no space for dangerous nuclear power to accelerate the decarbonization needed to achieve the Paris climate goal."
Nuclear energy, said Iyoda, "is nothing more than a dangerous distraction. The attempt of a 'nuclear renaissance' led by nuclear industries' lobbyists since the 2000s has never been successful—it is simply too costly, too risky, too undemocratic, and too time-consuming. We already have cheaper, safer, democratic, and faster solutions to the climate crisis, and they are renewable energy and energy efficiency."
When word of the multi-nation pledge emerged last month, Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and co-founder of The Solutions Project which offers a roadmap for 100% renewable energy that excludes nuclear energy, called the proposal the "stupidest policy proposal I've ever seen."
Jacobson said the plan to boost nuclear capacity in a manner to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis "will never happen no matter how many goals are set" and added that President Joe Biden was getting "bad advice in the White House" for supporting it.
In comments from Dubai, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said that while he agrees nuclear will be a "sweeping alternative to every other energy source," but claimed that "science and the reality of facts" shows the world cannot "get to net-zero by 2050 with some nuclear."
Numerous studies and blueprints towards a renewable energy future, however, have shown this is not established fact, but rather the position taken by both the nuclear power industry itself and those who would otherwise like to slow the transition to a truly renewable energy system.
Pauline Boyer, energy transition campaign manager with Greenpeace France, said the scientific evidence is clear and it is not in favor of a surge in nuclear power.
"If we wish to maintain a chance of a trajectory of 1.5°C, we must massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming years, but nuclear power is too slow to deploy in the face of the climate emergency," she said.
"The announcement of a tripling of capacities is disconnected from reality," Boyer continued. Citing delays and soaring costs, she said the nuclear industry "is losing ground in the global energy mix every day" in favor of renewable energy options that are cheaper, quicker to deploy, and more accessible to developing countries.
In 2016, researchers at the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Studies showed that "entrenched commitments to nuclear power" were likely "counterproductive" towards achieving renewable energy targets, especially as "better ways to meet climate goals"—namely solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower–were suppressed.
In response to Saturday's announcement, Soraya Fettih, a 350.org campaigner from France, which relies heavily on nuclear power, said it's simply a move in the wrong direction. "Investing now in nuclear energy is an inefficient route to take to reduce emissions at the scale and pace needed to tackle climate change," said Fettih. "Nuclear energy takes much longer than renewable energy to be operational."
Writing on the subject in 2019, Harvard University professor Naomi Orseskes and renowned author and psychohistorian Robert Jay Lifton observed how advocates of nuclear power declare the technology "clean, efficient, economical, and safe" while in reality "it is none of these. It is expensive and poses grave dangers to our physical and psychological well-being."
"There are now more than 450 nuclear reactors throughout the world," they wrote at the time. "If nuclear power is embraced as a rescue technology, there would be many times that number, creating a worldwide chain of nuclear danger zones—a planetary system of potential self-annihilation."
"Voluntary pledges cannot be a substitute for a formal negotiated outcome at COP28 for countries to address the root cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuels."
Hundreds of civil society groups and frontline voices from around the world on Saturday condemned a voluntary pledge heralded by government leaders and fossil fuel giants, calling the "
Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter
" unveiled at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai nothing but a cynical industry-backed smokescreen and greenwashing ploy that will allow for the continuation of massive emissions of carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gases.
"The Oil and Gas Decarbonization Accelerator is a dangerous distraction from the COP28 process," warned David Tong, the global industry campaign manager for Oil Change International , in a statement from Dubai. "We need legal agreements, not voluntary pledges. The science is clear: staying under 1.5ºC global warming requires a full, fast, fair, and funded phase-out of fossil fuels, starting now."
Backed by approximately 50 state-run and private oil and gas companies, the stated aims of the pledge, also being referred to as the Decarbonization Accelerator, is to cut upstream emissions of methane to "near-zero" levels and end "routine flaring"—that is, emissions involved with production but not consumption—by 2030 while aiming for a "net-zero operations" target by 2050.
"Voluntary commitments are a dangerous distraction from what is needed at COP28. Oil and gas companies meeting to sign a pledge that only deals with their operational emissions is like a group of arsonists meeting to promise to light fires more efficiently."
What's key, say the Charter's critics, is both the voluntary nature of the scheme and the glaring fact that it does not include 80-90% of the emissions produced by the industry, namely the downstream consumption of their products—the burning of coal, oil, and fracked gas.
An open letter released by 320 groups on Saturday accuses Sultan al-Jaber, president of COP28 and the chief executive of the host nation's national oil company, of missing a "historic opportunity" by allowing the pledge to grandstand as meaningful progress while the planet experiences its hottest year in 125,000 years.
"The COP28 Presidency appears to have been encouraging fossil fuel companies to make yet another set of hollow voluntary pledges, with no accountability mechanism or guarantee the companies will follow through," the letter states. "Releasing another in the long succession of voluntary industry commitments that end up being breached will not make COP28 a success. Voluntary efforts are insufficient, and are a distraction from the task at hand."
By only aiming to reduce "oil and gas operational emissions without sharp reductions in overall fossil fuel production," the groups argue, the Charter "will fail to achieve the cuts in methane emissions necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."
Citing recent findings from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Climate and Clear Air Coalition released in October, the letter states that the only way to meet the 1.5ºC target established by the 2015 Paris agreement is to phase out fossil fuels completely—and rapidly.
"Cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas supply chain is an important component of near-term emissions reductions—but it is not enough on its own," the letter states.
Alongside the industry-backed Charter, 118 nations on Saturday also pledged a tripling of renewable energy by 2030, but green groups say that while welcome, this kind of effort means so much less if fossil fuels are not phased out during that same period.
"The future will be powered by solar and wind, but it won't happen fast enough unless governments regulate fossil fuels out of the way," said Kaisa Kosonen, leading Greenpeace International's COP28 delegation in Dubai.
Oil Change's Tong also pointed to national promises on renewables in the context of the overall greenwashing effort underway trying to tell the world it can have a renewable energy revolution while also allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue its existence.
"If your company digs stuff up and burns it, you’re the problem. It’s time to wind down your business."
"Bundling up the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter with a renewable energy commitment appears to be a calculated move to distract from the weakness of this industry pledge," Tong said.
"Promising to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency is welcome and indicates momentum for a final agreement at this year's U.N. climate talks," he added, "but voluntary pledges cannot be a substitute for a formal negotiated outcome at COP28 for countries to address the root cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuels."
Journalist and veteran climate organizer Bill McKibben , co-founder of 350.org and now Third Act, said it "isn't hard" to know what needs to be done or to identify who is at fault for the current crisis.
"If your company digs stuff up and burns it, you’re the problem. It’s time to wind down your business. Past time," McKibben said.
The green critics of the Charter are clear that the chief culprits should have little say in the way governments and society at large choose to manage the transition from a dirty energy economy to a more sustainable and clean one.
As the letter from the coalition argues, "Voluntary commitments are a dangerous distraction from what is needed at COP28. Oil and gas companies meeting to sign a pledge that only deals with their operational emissions is like a group of arsonists meeting to promise to light fires more efficiently."
"Despite this small victory, the razor buoys are only a fraction of Gov. Abbott's racist and murderous Operation Lone Star," one group noted.
A federal appellate court panel on Friday delivered a blow to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's anti-migrant regime, ruling 2-1 that the state must remove from the Rio Grande a buoy barrier intended to block people from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Texas and Abbott over the buoys, which are part of the governor's Operation Lone Star , in July. U.S. Judge David A. Ezra of the Western District of Texas, an appointee of former President Ronald Reagan, ordered the state to remove the barrier and prohibited new or additional blockades in September.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit initially blocked Ezra's ruling while it considered the case, but Judges Dana Douglas and Carolyn Dineen King—respectively appointed by President Joe Biden and former President Jimmy Carter—affirmed his decision that the buoys violate federal law on Friday. Judge Don Willett, an appointee of ex-President Donald Trump, dissented.
"I've seen Gov. Abbott's border buoys for myself. They're illegal and dangerous."
The lower court "considered the threat to navigation and federal government operations on the Rio Grande, as well as the potential threat to human life the floating barrier created," Douglas wrote for the majority. "All of the district court's findings of fact were well supported by the record, and its conclusion... was not an abuse of discretion."
American Immigration Council policy director Aaron Reichlin-Melnick
on social media that the case turned out the way it did, even though the 5th Circuit is the
U.S. appeals court, "in part because the panel draw was a very good one for the DOJ."
Abbott said Friday that the decision "is clearly wrong," that he and GOP state Attorney General Ken Paxton "will seek an immediate rehearing by the entire court," and that they will seek intervention from the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court "if needed."'
Despite the governor's determination to continue the legal battle, opponents of 4-foot-wide orange spherical buoys—which span 1,000 feet of the river near Eagle Pass—celebrated the appeals court decision.
"I've seen Gov. Abbott's border buoys for myself. They're illegal and dangerous," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), who led a congressional trip to the barrier and a letter urging the Biden administration to act. "I applaud the Justice Department for today's hard-fought victory in the conservative 5th Circuit and look forward to seeing these death traps removed from the Rio Grande."
The immigrant youth-led group United We Dream also welcomed the "small victory" but stressed that "the razor buoys are only a fraction of Gov. Abbott's racist and murderous Operation Lone Star," pointing to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report .
HRW revealed earlier this week that "dangerous chases of vehicles thought to contain migrants under the Texas government's Operation Lone Star program led to crashes that killed at least 74 people and injured at least another 189 in a 29-month period."
Alison Parker, HRW's deputy U.S. director, declared that the state operation "is maximizing chaos, fear, and human rights abuses against Texans and migrants, which might be a cynical way to win political points but is not a responsible way to run a government."
The report and ruling on Texas' operation come as congressional Republicans
to force through what migrant rights advocates are calling "unconscionable" changes to asylum policy in exchange for funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.