By Bernie Sanders
If there was ever a time in the modern history of America that the American people should become engaged in what’s going on here in Washington, now is that time. Decisions are being made that will impact not only our generation but the lives of our children and our grandchildren for decades to come, and I fear very much that the decisions being contemplated are not good decisions, are not fair decisions.
There is increased understanding that that defaulting for the first time in our history on our debts would be a disaster for the American economy and for the world’s economy. We should not do that. There also is increased discussion about long-term deficit reduction and how we address the crisis which we face today of a record-breaking deficit of $1.4 trillion and a $14 trillion-plus national debt.
One of the long-term deficit reduction plans came from the so-called Gang of Six [a bi-partisan group of U.S. senators]. We do not know all of the details of that proposal. In fact, we never will know because a lot of the decisions are booted to committees to work out the details. It is fair to say, however, that Senators Coburn, Crapo and Chambliss deserve congratulations. Clearly, they have won this debate in a very significant way. My guess is that they will probably get 80 percent or 90 percent of what they wanted. In this town, that is quite an achievement, but they have stood firm in their desire to represent the wealthy and the powerful and multinational corporations. They have threatened. They have been smart. They have been determined. And at the end of the day, they will get almost all of what they want. That is their victory, and I congratulate them.
Unfortunately, their victory will be a disaster for working families in this country, for the elderly, for the sick, for the children and for low-income people.
Based on the limited information that we have, I think it is important to highlight some of what is in this so-called Gang of Six proposal that the corporate media, among others, are enthralled about.
Some may remember that for a number of years, leading Democrats said that we will do everything that we can to protect Social Security, that Social Security has been an extraordinary success in our country, that for 75 years, with such volatility in the economy, Social Security has paid out every nickel owed to every eligible American. I heard Democrats say that Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. That is right because Social Security is funded by the payroll tax, not by the US Treasury. Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus today. It can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 25 years. It is an enormously popular program. Poll after poll from the American people says doesn’t cut Social Security. Two and a half years ago when Barack Obama, then a senator from Illinois, ran for president of the United States, he made it very clear if you voted for him there would be no cuts in Social Security.
What Senators Coburn, Crapo and Chambliss have managed to do in the Gang of Six is reach an agreement where there will be major cuts in Social Security. Don’t let anybody kid you about this being some minor thing. It is not. What we are talking about is that Social Security cuts would go into effect virtually immediately. Ten years from now, the typical 75-year-old person will see their Social Security benefits cut by $560 a year. The average 85-year-old will see a cut of $1,000 a year. Now, for some people here in Washington, maybe the big lobbyists who make hundreds of thousands a year, $560 a year or $1,000 a year may not seem like a lot of money, but if you are a senior trying to get by on $14,000, $15,000, $18,000 a year and you’re 85 years old, the end of your life, you’re totally vulnerable, you’re sick – a $1,000 per year cut in what you otherwise would have received is a major, major blow.
So I congratulate Senator Coburn, Senator Crapo, Senator Chambliss for doing what president Obama said would not happen under his watch, what the Democrats have said would not happen under their watch.
But it’s not just Social Security. We have 50 million Americans today who have no health insurance at all. Under the Gang of Six proposals, there will be cuts in Medicare over a 10-year period of almost $300 billion. There will be massive cuts in Medicaid and other health care programs. There will be caps on spending, which mean that there will be major cuts in education. If you are a working-class family, hoping that you’re going to be able to send your kid to college and thinking that you will be eligible for a Pell grant, think twice about that. Pell grants may not be there. If you’re a senior who relies on a nutrition program, that nutrition program may not be there. If you think it’s a good idea that we enforce clean air and clean water provisions so that our kids can be healthy, those provisions may not be there because there will be major cuts in environmental protection.
Definite cuts, vague revenue promises
Some people think that’s not so good, but at least our Republican friends are saying we need revenue and we’re going to get $1 trillion in revenue. But wait a minute. If you read the proposal, there are very, very clear provisions making sure that we are going to make massive cuts in programs for working families, for the elderly, for the children. Those cuts are written in black and white. What about the revenue? Well, it’s kind of vague. The projection is that we would raise over a 10-year period $100 billion in revenue. Where is that going to come? Is it necessarily going to come from the wealthiest people in this economy? Is it going to come from large corporations who are enjoying huge tax breaks? That is not clear at all. I want middle-class families to understand that when we talk about increased revenues, do you know where that comes from? It may come from cutbacks in the home mortgage interest deduction program, which is so very important to millions and millions of families. It may mean that if you have a health care program today, that health care program may be taxed. That’s a way to raise revenue. It may be that there will be increased taxes on your retirement programs, your IRA’s, your 401(k)’s. But we don’t have the details for that. All we have is some kind of vague promise that we’re going to raise $1 trillion over the next 10 years, no enforcement mechanism and no clarity as to where that revenue will come from.
That is why it is so terribly important that the American people become engaged in this debate which will have a huge impact on them, on their parents and on their children. The American people must fight for a fair deal. At a time when the wealthiest people in this country are doing phenomenally well and their effective tax rate is the lowest on record, at a time when the top 400 individuals in this country own more wealth than 150 million Americans, at a time when corporate profits are soaring and in many instances corporations, these same corporations pay nothing in taxes, at a time when we have tripled military spending since 1997, there are fair ways to move toward deficit reduction which do not slash programs that working families and children and the elderly desperately depend upon.
This Senator is going to fight back. I was not elected to the United States Senate to make devastating cuts in Social Security, in Medicare, in Medicaid, in children’s programs, while lowering tax rates for the wealthiest people in this country.