Let’s Have True Shared Sacrifice, Not Sacrifice of the Middle Class to the Wealthy

When Republicans are pushing to abolish Medicare, weaken Social Security, shred the social safety net, or eliminate collective bargaining rights, they often try to hide behind the assertion that we all have to sacrifice in order to get our fiscal house back in order.   Senator Bernie Sanders took on this claim in a stemwinder of a speech yesterday in which he explained that the GOP is actually only asking for sacrifice from folks who have already sacrificed.  Meanwhile, the wealthiest individuals and corporations that have taken most of the benefits from economic growth over the past thirty years, received massive tax breaks and subsidies, and then were bailed out when the financial system melted down in 2008, are not being asked to sacrifice at all.

In his speech, Senator Sanders explains that true “shared sacrifice” means recognizing the sacrifices that the middle class, working class, and poor have already made over the past couple of decades in stagnant wages, lower benefits, reduced job security, and government cut backs.  And it means asking those of us who have made out well over the past twenty years and not had to sacrifice to do so now.  In particular, it means ensuring that at least 50 percent of any deficit reduction package comes from ending tax breaks for the wealthy and eliminating tax loopholes for corporations and Wall Street.

Below the fold are excerpts from Sen. Sanders’ speech, the complete text of which can be read here, or watched here. Along with his speech, Senator Sanders has started a petition urging President Obama to stand strong on the fiscal issues being debated in DC right now, and to require actual “shared sacrifice” while resisting harmful cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security,  and the safety net.  Please sign the petition and also write a letter to your local newspaper editor calling for the budget debate in DC to be governed by true “shared sacrifice,” rather than by efforts to further cut spending that benefits our middle class, working class, and poor.

Excerpts from Sen. Sanders June 27, 2011 Shared Sacrifice Speech

Let’s never forget, as we talk about the deficit situation, that in January of 2001, when President Clinton left office, this country had an annual federal budget surplus of $236 billion with projected budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. That was when Clinton left office.

What has happened in the ensuing years? How did we go from huge projected surpluses into horrendous debt? The answer, frankly, is not complicated. The CBO has documented it. There was an interesting article on the front page of the Washington Post on April 30, talking about it as well. Here is what happened.

When we spend over $1 trillion on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and choose not to pay for those wars, we run up a deficit. When we provide over $700 billion in tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country and choose not to pay for those tax breaks, we run up a deficit. When we pass a Medicare Part D prescription drug program written by the drug companies and the insurance companies that does not allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and ends up costing us far more than it should — $400 billion over a 10-year period — and we don’t pay for that, we run up the deficit. When we double military spending since 1997, not including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we don’t pay for that, we drive up the deficit.

Further, Mr. President, the deficit was also driven up by the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, which caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and revenue was significantly reduced as a result.

Mr. President, the end result of all of these unpaid-for policies and actions – year after year of the deficits I just described – is a staggering amount of debt. When President Bush left office, President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion with deficits as far as the eye could see, and the national debt more than doubled from when President Bush took office.

The reality is Mr. President, if we did not go to war in Iraq, if we did not pass huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, who didn’t need them, if we did not pass a prescription drug program with no cost control written by the drug and insurance companies, and if we did not deregulate Wall Street, we would not be in the fiscal mess that we find ourselves in today. It really is that simple.

In other words, the only reason we have to increase our nation’s debt ceiling today is that we are forced to pay the bills that the Republican leadership in Congress and President Bush racked up.

Now, Mr. President, given the decline in the middle class, given the increase in poverty, and given the fact that the wealthy and large corporations have never had it so good, Americans may find it strange that the Republicans in Washington would use this opportunity to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition assistance, and other lifesaving programs, while pushing for even more tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations.

Unfortunately, it is not strange. It is part of their ideology. Republicans in Washington have never believed in Medicare, Medicaid, federal assistance in education, or providing any direct government assistance to those in need. They have always believed that tax breaks for the wealthy and the powerful would somehow miraculously trickle down to every American, despite all history and evidence to the contrary. So, in that sense, it is not strange at all that they would use the deficit crisis we are now in as an opportunity to balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor, and work to dismantle every single successful government program that was ever created.

. . . . . .

Interestingly enough, at a time when the rich are becoming richer, when the effective tax rates for the wealthiest people, at 18 percent, are about the lowest on record, at a time when the wealthiest people have received hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks, at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high and major corporations making billions of dollars pay nothing in taxes, my Republican colleagues, in their approach toward deficit reduction, do not ask the wealthiest people or the largest corporations to contribute one penny more for deficit reduction.

In fact, the Republican budget would keep the good times rolling for those who are already doing phenomenally well – it provides over $1 trillion in tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires by permanently extending all of the Bush income tax cuts; reducing the estate tax for multi-millionaires and billionaires; and lowering the top individual and corporate income tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.

. . . . . . .

But, what we need to understand, what the President needs to understand, is that poll after poll after poll shows that the Republican plan to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and education, while providing even more tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations, is way out of touch with what the American people want.

Let me just read to you a few of these polls.

According to a recent Boston Globe poll of likely voters in New Hampshire, perhaps the most anti-tax state in this country, 73% support raising taxes on people making over $250,000 a year; 78% oppose cutting Medicare; 71% oppose cutting Medicaid; and 76% oppose cutting Social Security.

Now, Mr. President, you may be saying to yourself well, that was just one poll, and it was only polling one state. Clearly, that must have been an aberration.
Wrong. National poll after national poll have almost mirrored what New Hampshire voters are saying.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found the following:
* 81 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to impose a surtax on millionaires to reduce the deficit.
* 74 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to eliminate tax credits for the oil and gas industry.
* 68 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to phase out the Bush tax cuts for families earning over $250,000 a year.
* 76 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to eliminate funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says are not necessary.
* 76 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Medicare to significantly reduce the budget deficit.
* 77 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Social Security to significantly reduce the deficit.
* 67 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Medicaid to significantly reduce the deficit.
* 77 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut funding for K-12 education to significantly reduce the deficit.
* 56 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Head Start.
* 59 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut college student loans.
* And, 65 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut heating assistance to low income families.

And, while the leaders of the Tea Party movement in Washington are fighting to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and getting the vast majority of Republicans in Congress to follow their marching orders, 70% of those who identify themselves with the Tea Party outside of the beltway oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid to reduce the deficit, according to a recent McClatchy Poll.

Mr. President, here is the last poll I would like to highlight. It was done by the Washington Post and ABC News, and here is what it says:

* 72% of Americans support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 to reduce the national debt – including 91% of Democrats; 68% of Independents; and 54% of Republicans.

. . . . . . .

Let me just give a few examples of how we can reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion dollars over the next decade that asks the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share and does not unfairly harm ordinary Americans.

First, if we simply repealed the Bush tax breaks for the top two percent, we could raise at least $700 billion over the next decade. The Republicans claim that repealing these tax breaks would increase unemployment. They are wrong. These tax breaks have been in place for over a decade and they have not led to a single net private sector job. In fact, under the eight years of President Bush, the private sector lost over 600,000 jobs and the deficit exploded. When President Clinton increased taxes on the top two percent, over 22 million jobs were created, and the revenue generated from this policy led to a $236 billion budget surplus.

Secondly, a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires and billionaires would raise more than $383 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Tax Committee. As I said earlier, a millionaire’s surtax has the support of 81 percent of the American people according to NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

Third, Mr. President, the U.S. government is actually rewarding companies that move U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas through loopholes in the tax code known as deferral and foreign source income. This is unacceptable. During the last decade, the U.S. lost about 30% of its manufacturing jobs and over 50,000 factories have been shut down.

If we ended the absurdity of providing tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, the Joint Tax Committee has estimated that we could raise more than $582 billion in revenue over the next ten years. Right now we have a tax policy that says that if you shut down a manufacturing plant in America, and move to China, the IRS will give you a tax break. That may make sense to corporate CEOs. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Fourth, Mr. President, if we ended tax breaks and subsidies for big oil and gas companies, we could reduce the deficit by more than $40 billion over the next ten years. The five largest oil companies in the United States have earned about $1 trillion in profits over the past decade. Meanwhile, in recent years, some of the very largest oil companies in America like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, as I pointed out earlier, have paid absolutely nothing in Federal income taxes. In fact, some of them have actually gotten a rebate from the IRS. That has got to stop.

Fifth, Mr. President, if we prohibited abusive and illegal offshore tax shelters, we could reduce the deficit by up to $1 trillion over the next decade. Each and every year, the United States loses an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues due to offshore tax abuses by the wealthy and large corporations. The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Cayman Islands is now the “home” to more than 18,000 corporations. That is wrong. The wealthy and large corporations should not be allowed to avoid paying taxes by setting up tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas or other tax haven countries.

Sixth, Mr. President, if we established a Wall Street speculation fee of less than one percent on the sale and purchase of credit default swaps, derivatives, stock options and futures, we could reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade. Both the economic crisis and the deficit crisis are a direct result of the greed and recklessness on Wall Street. Establishing a speculation fee would reduce gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy, and significantly reduce the deficit without harming average Americans.

There are a number of precedents for this. The U.S had a similar Wall Street speculation fee from 1914 to 1966. The Revenue Act of 1914 levied a 0.2% tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled that tax to help finance the government during the Great Depression. And today, England has a financial transaction tax of 0.25 percent, a penny on every $4 invested.

Number seven, Mr. President, if we taxed capital gains and dividends, the same way that we tax work, we could raise more than $730 billion over the next decade. Warren Buffet has often said that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. And, today the effective tax rate of the richest 400 Americans, who earn an average of more than $280 million each year, is just 18 percent, lower than most nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers pay. The reason for this is that the wealthy obtain most of their income from capital gains and dividends, which is taxed at a much lower rate than work. Right now, the top marginal income tax for working is 35%, but the tax rate on corporate dividends and capital gains is only 15%. Taxing wealth and work at the same rate could raise more than $730 billion over a ten-year period – and it’s the right thing to do.

Number eight, if we established a progressive estate tax on inherited wealth of more than $3.5 million, we could raise more than $70 billion over 10 years. Last year, I introduced the Responsible Estate Tax Act that would reduce the deficit in a fair way while ensuring that 99.7 percent of Americans who lose a loved one would never have to pay a dime in federal estate taxes.

Number nine, we have got to reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon, which now consumes over half of our discretionary budget. Since 1997, our defense budget has virtually tripled going from $254 billion to $700 billion.

Defense experts such as Lawrence Korb, an Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, has estimated that we could achieve significant savings of around $100 billion a year at the Pentagon while still ensuring that the United States has the strongest and most powerful military in the world.

For example, as a result of four separate investigations that I requested, the GAO has found that the Pentagon has $36.9 billion in spare parts that it does not need and which are collecting dust in government warehouses. We have got to do a much better job than that.

And, much of the huge spending at the Pentagon is devoted to spending money on Cold War weapons programs to fight a Soviet Union that no longer exists. That has got to stop.

Further, we also must end the unnecessary War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan as soon as possible. These wars have gone on long enough. Reducing Pentagon spending by at least $900 billion over 10 years is something that we can and must do.

Number 10, if we required Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, we could save over $157 billion over 10 years. As a result of the Medicare Part D prescription drug legislation signed into law under President George W. Bush, Medicare is prohibited from negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices for seniors. This is wrong. Requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices could save the federal government and seniors over $15 billion a year.

Number 11, if we enacted a robust public option or a Medicare-for-all health insurance program, we would be able to save more than $68 billion over the next decade and provide affordable health insurance coverage for millions of Americans.

Number 12, Mr. President, as almost everyone knows, China is manipulating its currency, giving it an unfair trade advantage over the United States and destroying decent paying manufacturing jobs in the process. If we imposed a currency manipulation fee on China and other low wage countries, the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that we could raise $500 billion over 10 years and create 1 million jobs in the process.

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Mr. President, in many ways, the Republicans in Washington have been acting like school yard bullies. And, as we know, bullying is a serious problem in our schools. Every educator worth his or her salt will tell you that when you’re dealing with a bully, you must not give into their tactics or tolerate their temper tantrums – you have to deal with them sternly and consistently. You cannot allow them to win by dictating the rules of the game and trampling over everyone else if they don’t get their way.

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It’s about time that Washington listened to the American people. Let’s reduce the deficit. But, let’s do it in a fair and responsible way that requires shared sacrifice from the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations.

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