The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Prepared Remarks: Chairman Sanders' Opening Statement at Budget Committee Hearing on President Biden's fy2023 Budget

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Wednesday delivered an opening statement at the committee's hearing on President Joe Biden's FY2023 budget proposal.


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Wednesday delivered an opening statement at the committee's hearing on President Joe Biden's FY2023 budget proposal.

The hearing will be livestreamed on the Budget Committee's website and Sanders' social media pages.

Sanders' remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

I call this hearing to order.

Let me thank all of you for being here this morning and Senators who are in attendance virtually.

Let me thank Senator Graham our Ranking Member for the work he is doing.

And let me welcome Shalanda Young, the OMB Director who will be testifying shortly.

Let us be very clear. A Federal budget is much more than just a huge spreadsheet of numbers.

A Federal budget speaks to who we are as a nation and where we want to be in the future. It speaks to whether or not we can go beyond the lobbyists and the wealthy campaign contributors who have so much influence as to what goes on here and whether or not we can address the needs of the millions of middle class working families and low-income people who are struggling today.

So let me take a moment to describe what I believe to be some of the major crises in America today and how the President's budget responds to those crises.

Today in America, while the very rich are getting richer, over half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. Millions of workers are trying to get by on $8, $9, or $10 bucks an hour, which, in my view, is a starvation wage.

In his State of the Union speech, President Biden called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. That is a step forward. I would go further.

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for 13 years.

If the minimum wage had increased at the rate of productivity since 1968 it would not be $7.25 an hour. It would be $23 an hour. All across the country many states, cities, towns and counties are raising the minimum wage. The time is long overdue for Congress to do the same.

Today in America, income and wealth inequality is at its highest level in over 100 years. The two richest men in America now own more wealth than the bottom 42 percent - over 130 million Americans.

During this terrible pandemic, when thousands of essential workers died doing their jobs, over 700 billionaires in America became nearly $2 trillion richer.

While we hear a lot of talk about the need to take on the oligarchs in Russia - something I strongly support - anyone who thinks we don't have an oligarchy right here in our country is sorely mistaken.

Today in America, multi-billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are off taking joy rides on rocket ships to outer space, buying $500 million super-yachts and living in mansions with 25 bathrooms.

In his budget, the President has proposed a 20% minimum tax on those who are worth at least $100 million. That is a step forward. I would go further.

In 2020, I introduced a 60% tax on the obscene wealth gains billionaires made during the pandemic - legislation I will soon be re-introducing and which is enormously popular. The American people know that there is something fundamentally wrong with our economy when so few have so much and so many have so little.

Now, I understand that some of my colleagues believe this is a terrible idea because it would redistribute wealth. But the reality is that over the last 45 years there has been a massive redistribution of wealth in America. The problem is that it has gone in the wrong direction.

According to the RAND Institute, since 1975, $50 trillion in wealth has been redistributed from the bottom 90% to the top 1% - primarily because corporate profits and CEO compensation has grown much faster than the wages of average workers.

But it's not just income and wealth inequality. It is economic and political power. As we discussed at a hearing in this committee last month, 3 Wall Street firms control assets of over $21 trillion which is basically the GDP of the United States, the largest economy on Earth. 3 Wall Street firms.

In terms of health care, over 72 million Americans today are either uninsured or under-insured while more than 60,000 Americans die each and every year because they cannot afford to go to a doctor when they need to.

We remain the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people, and yet we pay the highest prices in the world for health care.

In his budget, the President has proposed substantial investments in mental healthcare, pandemic preparedness, the Indian Health Service and research into finding a cure for cancer and other life-threatening diseases. This is an important step forward. I would go much further.

An overwhelming number of Americans want us to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits. That is exactly what we should do.

Today, in the wealthiest nation on earth, many millions of seniors are unable to afford to go to a dentist, or buy the hearing aids and eye glasses they need. Older Americans should not have teeth rotting in their mouths. That is unacceptable.

Further, as a nation, we should understand what every other major country on earth understands. Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. The function of a rational and humane healthcare system is to guarantee healthcare to every man, woman and child in a cost-effective manner. A rational system is not one designed to provide huge profits to the private insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.

I'm happy to inform the members of the Budget Committee that we will be holding a hearing on Medicare for All bill during the first week in May.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare for All would save the American people and our entire healthcare system $650 billion each and every year, improve the economy and eliminate all out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

But healthcare reform must not only address the private health insurance companies but the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.

Last year alone, while nearly one out of four Americans could not afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors wrote, three of the largest pharmaceutical companies made over $54 billion in profits and the 8 highest-paid executives in the industry made over $350 million in compensation in 2020.

In order to preserve this corrupt and greedy pricing system, the drug companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars and they have hired over 1,500 lobbyists, including former leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, to represent their interests.

In his State of the Union address, the President called on Congress to require Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to lower prices. That is a step in the right direction. That is what we must do.

If Medicare paid the same price for prescription drugs as the VA - which has been negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry for more than 30 years - we would cut the price of prescription drugs under Medicare in half. And poll after poll shows that is precisely what the American people want us to do.

And then there is the existential threat of climate change. With the planet becoming warmer and warmer, with unprecedented forest fires, drought, floods and extreme weather disturbances, and when scientists tell us that we only have a few years to avoid irreparable damage to our country and planet, we must cut carbon emissions and transform our energy systems away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. And when we do all of these things, and more, we create millions of good paying jobs and offer a brighter future for our young people.

Now, I understand that my Republican colleagues want to blame inflation on President Biden and the enormously successful American Rescue Plan, but let's be clear. The problem is not that a low-income worker got a 50 cent raise last week and a $1,400 check from the federal government over a year ago.

To a significant degree, pathetically, large corporations are using the war in Ukraine and the pandemic as an excuse to raise prices significantly to make record-breaking profits. This is taking place at the gas pump, at the grocery store and virtually every other sector of the economy.

This is why we need a windfall profits tax and why this Committee will be holding a hearing on Tuesday of next week on the unprecedented level of corporate greed that is taking place in America today.

This is clearly a very difficult moment in modern American history. The question before us is whether we will stand with the working families of this country and protect their interests or whether we stand with the billionaire class, the large multi-national corporations, the wealthy campaign contributors and the lobbyists to protect the 1%.

Now that the President has done his job and submitted his budget to us, it is now up to Congress to review it, pass the proposals that make sense and improve upon it.

As the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I will be doing everything I can to pass a strong and robust budget reconciliation bill that works for working families, not the top 1 percent.

Let me now recognize Ranking Member Graham for his opening statement.

United States Senator for Vermont

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