by Senator Bernie Sanders
March 14, 2011
The rich are getting richer. The middle class and poor are getting poorer. What is the Republican solution to the deficit crisis? More tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Savage cuts in programs that are desperately needed by working families.
There is another approach, which is why I've just introduced legislation imposing a surtax on those households earning a million dollars or more and the elimination of tax loopholes which the big oil companies take advantage of.
Everyone agrees that this country has a major deficit crisis, but few discuss how we got there. When George W. Bush inherited the White House from Bill Clinton we had a significant surplus. Now we have a $1.5 trillion deficit. How did that happen?
First, against my vote, Bush and Congress launched a war in Iraq. By the time we take care of our last veteran that war will end up costing us some $3 trillion. When the war drums were beating do you recall any of our Republican friends wanting to know how that unnecessary war was going to be paid for? I don't.
Second, Republicans for years have pushed for huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people. I didn't hear them ask how that was going to be paid for.
Third, under President Bush and a Republican-run House, Congress passed a $400 billion-plus Medicare prescription drug program. Written by the insurance companies and the drug companies, it barred the government from negotiating better prices. It drove up drug costs, padded pharmaceutical company profits and added to the deficit.
Fourth, again over my objection, Congress voted for a massive bailout of Wall Street. I didn't hear too many people talking about how we would pay for that $700 billion to bail out Wall Street. I didn't hear them worrying that it would drive up the deficit. Wall Street, having destroyed the economy through their reckless and illegal behavior, needed a welfare check and Congress provided it. End of story.
Those are some of the reasons we now have a deficit crisis, reasons Republicans don't talk much about when they provide soaring rhetoric about the dangers of large deficits.
The corporate media have been very lax in describing the devastating and unprecedented pain that the Republican House passed budget bill, HR 1, would bring about for low and moderate income families. Let me briefly mention just a very few of their cuts.
The Republicans want to decimate the Head Start Program. Every working family in America knows how hard it is today to find affordable childcare or early childhood education. At a time when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, the Republican solution is to slash Head Start by 20 percent, throw 218,000 children off the program and lay off 55,000 Head Start instructors.
The cost of college education today is so high that many young people are giving up their dream of going to college, while many others are graduating deeply in debt. The Republican solution? Make a bad situation much worse by slashing Pell grants by $5.7 billion and reducing or eliminating Pell grants for 9.4 million low-income college students.
Social Security is another target. We get calls in my office every week from senior citizens, people with disabilities, widows who are having a hard time getting a timely response to their Social Security claims. It takes much too long to process the paperwork today. What is the Republican solution? They want to slash the Social Security Administration, the people who administer Social Security, by $1.7 billion. That means half a million Americans who are legally entitled to Social Security benefits will have to wait significantly longer to receive them. (Become a citizen member of the Defending Social Security Caucus)
When it comes to health care, we have 50 million Americans with no insurance today, and 45,000 Americans die each year because they don't get to a doctor in time. Last year, as part of health care reform, I worked very hard to expand community health centers so that more and more low-and moderate-income people could walk into a doctor's office, get health care, dental care, low-cost prescription drugs, mental health counseling. What is the Republican response to the health care crisis? They want to drastically cut-back funding for community health centers and deny primary health care to 11 million Americans.
For the poorest of the poor in our country, the Community Services Block Grants provide the infrastructure, the mechanism to get out emergency help for food, heat, housing and other very basic necessities of life. With homelessness and poverty increasing, the Republicans want to slash $405 million from the Community Services Block Grant Program.
In cold weather states like Vermont, where the weather can get to 20 below zero, home heating assistance is critically important. In fact it is a life and death issue. At a time when home heating oil costs are soaring, the Republicans want to cut $400 million from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
After decades of progress cleaning up our air and water, and preventing much illness, the Republicans want to slash the EPA by 30 percent and undercut enforcement of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Republicans also want to cut the WIC program, which provides supplemental nutrition for women, infants, and children. They want to cut that by $750 million.
Everybody understands we have problems with education right now, including large dropout rates. At a time when states are laying off hundreds of thousands of teachers, Republicans want to cut $5 billion from the Department of Education.
On and on and on it goes.
In my view, we do need to boldly address our deficit crisis, but we need to do it in a way that is fair -- that is not on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor. In other words, we need shared sacrifice. The wealthiest people in this country, who are now doing phenomenally well, are also going to have to help us with deficit reduction. That is why I introduced legislation which would place a 5.4 percent emergency surtax on income over $1 million. The revenue would go into an Emergency Deficit Reduction Fund. Just doing that - asking millionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes after all the huge tax breaks they have received -- will bring in up to $50 billion a year.
I think that is a good idea, but it is not just me. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll recently asked the American people about the best ways to go forward on deficit reduction? Eighty-one percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to impose a surtax on millionaires to reduce the deficit. My legislation also would eliminate tax loopholes that enable the big oil companies from avoiding their fair share of taxes.
The American people get it. They understand that we cannot move toward deficit reduction just by cutting programs that working families, the middle class, and low-income people desperately need. They understand that serious, responsible deficit reduction requires shared sacrifice. They know that at a time when the top 1 percent earn more income than the bottom 50 percent, that when the effective tax rate for the rich is now lower than at any time in recent history, that it is absurd not to ask the wealthiest people in this country to provide additional revenue to help us lower the deficit.
The federal budget is not just a bunch of big numbers. It is the document that speaks to the values of our country, our national priorities and our hopes for the future. At a time when the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, it is a moral abomination to give more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, while cutting programs for the most vulnerable people in our society -- the children, the elderly, the sick and the hungry. The Republican budget proposal must be defeated.