The United States faces a $15.6 trillion national debt -- a debt that was largely brought about over the last 10 years by Bush Administration policies which included two wars, huge tax breaks for the rich, and a prescription drug program written by the drug companies -- all unpaid for. The national debt also increased as a result of the declining federal tax revenues occurring during the current recession, a severe economic downturn caused by the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street.
The debate now happening in Washington over deficit reduction comes at an unusual moment in American economic history. While the middle class is in rapid decline and poverty is increasing, the wealthiest people in our country and largest corporations are doing phenomenally well. Over the last several decades almost all new income created in this country has gone to the top 1 percent who now earn more income than the bottom 50 percent. Further, the United States now has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any major country, with the top 400 individuals owning more wealth than the bottom 150 million.
Given the reality of record-breaking corporate profits and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, it should surprise no one that every recently published poll suggests that the overwhelming majority of the American people want the deficit to be addressed through shared sacrifice. They believe that the richest people in this country should also contribute toward deficit reduction. They do not believe that the deficit should be reduced solely on the backs of working families, the elderly, children, the sick and the poor -- many of whom are already suffering as a result of the recession. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Republicans have proposed.
The Republican House of Representatives, led by Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, recently released their FY 2013 budget proposal which calls for devastating cuts to Social Security and Medicare as well as cuts to Pell Grants, food stamps, employment training, affordable housing, infrastructure, environmental protection and virtually every program that low and moderate-income Americans depend upon. Amazingly, while the Republican budget writers waged a vicious and unprecedented attack on the needs of working families, they do not ask the wealthiest people in this country, whose effective tax rates are now the lowest in decades, to contribute one dime more for deficit reduction. Quite the contrary: they not only would permanently enshrine the Bush tax cuts for the rich for another decade, they actually add four new major tax cuts for wealthy Americans, worth $4.6 trillion more! Clearly this budget has little to do with deficit reduction. It is nothing more than an acceleration of the right-wing Republican war against the middle class and working families. More tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and savage cuts in programs for struggling middle-class families.
Further, not only do they not ask wealthy families to pay more in taxes, they also ignore the giant loopholes that enable extremely profitable corporations (like General Electric, Bank of America, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and many more) to pay little or no federal income taxes.
While Ryan’s budget cuts low-income programs beyond the severe cuts imposed by last year’s Budget Control Act, it actually goes the other way on defense. Despite the fact that we now spend more on the military than every other country combined, the Republican budget cuts $200 billion less on defense spending over 10 years than the act requires.
The American people are sick and tired of seeing the richest people in this country become much richer while virtually everybody else becomes poorer. They want fairness and justice from Washington. At a time when millions of working families are struggling to keep their heads above water economically, they do not want deficit reduction placed on the backs of the weak and vulnerable.
Together, we must take on the big money interests and their lobbyists and supporters in Congress and demand that the very wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes. Through a strong grass-roots movement we must demand that Congress adopts proposals that they otherwise would like to ignore. The Occupy Movement has played a critical role in exposing the growing income and wealth disparities in our country, as well as the uncontrollable greed on Wall Street. That fight must continue. The American people must stay engaged in this debate.
That is why I have outlined a number of ways that Congress and the President can tackle deficit reduction in a way that protects the needs of working people and the most vulnerable, while at the same time calling for shared sacrifice from the wealthy and large corporations. I hope you will study these proposals and demand that Congress act on them.
Thank you for all that you do. Together we are ensuring that our progressive voice reaches not only the halls of Congress, but every corner of America.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders