Bernie Sanders: Al, Al thank you very much for that generous introduction and I'll make certain to get you all of the maple syrup you need. Let me begin by thanking the No Labels conference for inviting me and for the important work they are doing and I think the essence of what they are trying to do, what you all are trying to do, is to get beyond the ugliness of contemporary politics, the very bitter personal attacks that we see every single day, and let’s sit down and analyze what the most important problems are that we face as a country and figure out together how we go forward and while, as Al indicated, yeah there are gonna be big disagreements.
Let’s treat each other civilly, let’s treat each other respectfully, and let’s not try to demonize people who may have disagreements with us. In my mind, there is no question but that our country faces some very, very serious challenges, in fact, the challenges that we face today, if you include climate change, may be greater than in any time since the Great Depression and, as the No Labels conference points out, what we need are answers to the problems, not just campaign rhetoric.
Let me start by saying that the bad news, and it is very bad news and it’s an issue that we have got to deal with, is that as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision we now have a campaign system which, and I use the word advisedly, is corrupt and is undermining American democracy and I gotta lay that right out on the table. I do not think that there is anything democratic about the fact that millionaires and billionaires can now spend as much money as they want, and we’re looking at one family spending $900 million in this campaign cycle, in order to elect candidates who represent their interests and not the best interest of the American people.
So let me start this discussion right off at the top by saying that if we really wanna create a vigorous, vibrant, democracy where all people, conservatives, progressives, moderate, can get actively involved, can run for the office, in my view, we have got to overturn Citizens United and, in my view, move to public funding of elections.
When we talk about the economy, and I thank the No Labels conference for focusing on this issue, let us to be clear, real unemployment is not what you read in the newspapers once a month, that’s the official unemployment rate which is now around five percent. Real unemployment, including those people who have given up looking for work, and those people who are working part-time, is about 10 percent and let me touch on something that very few people are talking about and I hope the No Labels people will talk about, and that is youth unemployment. A study recently came out looking at youth unemployment for high school graduates between 17 and 20 years of age and what they found is that for white young people real unemployment was 31 percent, for Hispanic kids it was 36 percent, and African American kids it was 51 percent.
This is a crisis situation and if we are more interested in making sure our kids are in school and have jobs we should be investing in our young people and not simply in jails and incarceration. So real unemployment, and I’m glad you’ve raised that issue about unemployment, it’s an issue that has to be talked about, it is much higher than I think people assume it is, and it is of crisis proportions for young people and again the United States of America, I hope you all agree with me, should not be having more people in jail, 2.2 million people, than any other country on earth, we should be investing in jobs and educations not just jails and incarceration.
Now, when we talk about how we create some 25 million jobs over the next 10 years, there are, in my view, several things that we’ve got to do. First we have got to understand, and I think there is widespread bipartisan agreement on this, we have got to understand that our infrastructure, our roads, bridges, water systems, waste-water plants, our airports, our rail system, our levies, our dams, in many part of this country we have not invested sufficiently in our infrastructure and according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need trillions of dollars of investment because in many ways our infrastructure is crumbling, falling further and further behind many other countries, and that is why I have proposed a one trillion dollar investment over a five-year period in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and that unto itself would create up to 13 million decent paying jobs and at the same time, because we’re improving our infrastructure, make our country more efficient, more productive, and, in fact, safer. So I believe we should have a massive federal jobs program rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, we can create just by doing that, some 13 million decent paying jobs.
When we talk about job creation it is also important to be talking about, not just how we create new jobs, but how we prevent the loss of millions of jobs. Here’s the simple truth. As a result of our disastrous trade policies, policies like NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China, we have lost millions of decent paying jobs because what corporations have done is simply shut down in America, move to low-wage countries abroad, hired people there, and then brought their products back into this country. Since 2001, in America, we have lost about 60 thousand factories, not all of that can be attributed to trade, but a lot of it can be.
So if we are serious about creating jobs, we need trade policies which create jobs in America, not just China or Vietnam, and that is why I not only have voted against NAFTA, CAFTA, or permanent normal trade relations with China I am strongly opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Furthermore, if we’re gonna talk about how we create the millions of jobs we all agree that we need to create, we need a financial system which makes affordable loans to small and medium-sized businesses.
I think we all understand that the economic engine of America is not large corporations, who by and large have been downsizing and moving to other countries, but small and medium-sized businesses. I have very deep concerns about our current financial system in which you have a handful of banks on Wall Street, you have 6 large financial institutions, which have assets equivalent to about 60 percent of the GDP of this United States of America and these financial institutions on Wall Street are not terribly concerned, in my view, about creating jobs on main street or in small towns all over America.
I think their greed, their recklessness, their irresponsibility, is known to all, they caused the financial collapse of 2008. So I think what we have to do is put greater emphasis and support for community banks, for credit unions, financial institutions who are part of the communities they serve, who know the people in the communities, who know the people and wanna buy homes, who know the people who are running small and medium-sized businesses, and lemme be very honest with you, I think when you have, today, three out of the four largest financial institutions, much larger today than they were when we bailed them out because they were too big to fail, you know what, I think it is time to reinstate Glass-Steagall legislation and also to break them up.
You know, if Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, as Al knows, Teddy Roosevelt was a good Republican, if Teddy Roosevelt were alive today I think what he would say, he would be saying, is when you have a small number of huge financial institutions who have so much economic power, so much political power, they are doing a real disservice to our economy and I think he would say, we should break them up, and I agree with him.
When we talk about jobs, what we have also got to appreciate is that while it is absolutely imperative that we create millions of decent paying jobs, it is also equally important that those jobs pay people a living wage. All over this country right now, in Vermont and in New Hampshire, you have folks who are working two or three jobs, they’re working 50 60 hours a week, trying to provide for their families, trying to cobble together some healthcare, and in my view, when we are, when we have today a federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour we have just got to recognize that, that minimum wage is totally inadequate, we have got to raise that minimum wage to a living wage, and I believe that over the next several years, as cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have begun to do, we’ve gotta raise that minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour because I think if somebody works 40 hours a week that person should not be living in poverty.
Now you have also raised the very important issue of Social Security and Medicare and let me briefly touch on them. First, despite some of the rhetoric you may have heard from many politicians, Social Security is not going broke. I know every day on television somebody is saying, Social Security is going broke, we gotta cut Social Security, gotta raise the retirement age, that is simply not accurate.
The truth of the matter is, according to the Social Security Administration, I don't think anybody contest this, Social Security has about $2.8 trillion in its trust fund and can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 19 years. Now, that tells us that we don’t have a major crisis but, frankly, 19 years is still too short a period of time and we have got to figure out how we can extend the life of Social Security a lot longer than that to make sure that our kids and our grandchildren know Social Security will be there for them.
In my view, the fairest way to extend the life of Social Security for the next 50 years is to make sure that the wealthiest people in this country, many of whom are doing phenomenally well, start paying the same percentage of their income into the Social Security system as the middle class and working families of our country currently pay. Right now, as you know, somebody who is making hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars a year pays the same amount of money into the Social Security Trust Fund as somebody who makes $118,500 a year.
In my view, that is wrong. What I would do, and we’ve introduced legislation to do this, what I would do is apply the payroll tax on all income starting at $250 thousand a year and I would use this revenue, not just to extend the life of Social Security and my proposal would extend the life of Social Security to the year 2061, but I would also expand Social Security benefits. And here’s the truth, in my state of Vermont, I mean I’ve talked to too many seniors in Vermont and seniors all over this country, there are seniors and people with disabilities who are trying to get by on horrifically low incomes.
You know, you talk to people who are trying to make it on 10, 11, $12 thousand a year and the truth is you really can’t survive on that level of income and that means not buying the prescription drugs you need, not heating your home in the winter, not buying the food that you adequately need and, in fact, we should be cognizant of the fact that the average Social Security benefit today is just $1,328 a month. So my view is that we should extend Social Security, we should expand Social Security, and we do that by lifting the cap on taxable incomes.
Now you’ve asked a good question about Medicare so let’s talk about Medicare, but when we talk about Medicare, we have to broaden that discussion a little bit to talk about healthcare in America, and here are the simple facts, the United States today spends far more per capita, per person, on healthcare than do the people of any other country.
That’s just the fact and despite the gains of the Affordable Care Act, where some 15 million more Americans now have health insurance, we still have 29 million people in this country who have zero health insurance and many people are underinsured with high deductibles and high co-payments, and, and sometimes they just don’t get to the doctor because they can’t afford to pay for their deductibles. In my view, and I know not everybody agrees with me, but in my view, the United States of America has got to join every other major industrialized country on earth and guarantee healthcare to all people as a right not a privilege.
Now those of us who live in New Hampshire, those of us who live in Vermont, we border on Canada and Canada has managed to provide healthcare to every man, woman, and child in their country in a much more cost-effective way than we do. Germany has a different system. Denmark has a different system, the UK, France. They all have different systems, but the commonality of their systems is everybody has healthcare as a right and all of those systems provide healthcare to their people in a more cost-effective way, and by the way, by the way, the healthcare outcomes for many of those systems is better than ours in terms of longevity, life expectancy, child infant mortality rates, et cetera.
Last point. You asked, how do we balance the budget by the year 2030 and that’s a, clearly, an important issue and the good news is that since President Obama was elected, we have made some pretty significant progress. When President Bush left office, as most of you know, we were running up a record breaking $1.4 trillion federal deficit. Today, while too high, the federal deficit is down to $426 billion. So that is making some progress but, obviously, it is still a large deficit and we have a national debt of over $18 trillion and that is a serious problem. Let me put the issue, if I might, of debt and deficit into a broader context and touch on some issues that I think are not widely discussed.
When we talk about the deficit and the debt, I hope that everybody remembers, that when we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, unfortunately those wars were not paid for, they were put on the credit card, and those wars will end up costing us somewhere between four and six trillion dollars and, I gotta tell you, I have a hard time understanding how some members of Congress can come forward and say, oh we’ve gotta cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and education and nutrition programs for hungry kids, because we have a deficit, oh, but when it comes to war, not a problem, not a problem, we’re just gonna put it on the credit card and I think that, that is very, very wrong.
Second point, when we talk about deficits and debts, it has to put into the broader context of what has been going on economically in America in the last 30 or 40 years and that reality is, as I think most people know, is that there has been a huge transfer of wealth, to the tune of many trillions of dollars, going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of one percent.
In fact, since 1985, the top one-tenth of one percent has seen its share of our nation’s wealth more than double while the middle class has lost trillions of dollars in wealth. So when we talk about deficit reduction, or we talk about government in general, that fundamental reality has got to be understood. The middle class is shrinking, the very rich are becoming much richer, corporations, in many ways, many of them are enjoying record breaking profits.
Today, the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Is that the kind of economy we think America and the middle class deserves today despite people working incredibly long hours? 58 percent of all new income is going to the top one percent. So, in my view, when we talk about investments that have to be made in our country, in terms of education, terms of infrastructure, that reality has always got to be paramount, middle class shrinking, wealthiest people doing phenomenally well.
So, in order to make progress in reducing our deficit and our national debt, we obviously need to make certain that our government is running as efficiently as possible, and all of you know, whether you’re conservatives or progressives, that is not the case. A lot of inefficiency and a lot of waste. All that I would add to that general thought is we also have to take a look at the Department of Defense.
You know, sometimes people say, well, Governor, it’s terrible, it’s inefficient, let’s just throw more money at the Department of Defense. That’s wrong. When we talk about running an efficient government that has got to include the Department of Defense. It also means, in my view, that we need to move aggressively toward real tax reform so that those individuals and corporations, who have the best ability to pay, in fact do so, and lemme just give you a few ideas on that subject.
At a time when we are losing a $100 billion a year in revenue because corporations are stashing their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens, we have got (inaudible) this legalized tax fraud. It is just wrong. It doesn’t make any sense that your profitable corporations, making billions of dollars a year in profit, in some cases, not paying one nickel in federal income tax. At a time when the 15 wealthiest people in this country increased their wealth by a $170 billion in the last two years, I would significantly increase the tax, the estate tax, on inherited wealth of more than $3.5 million.
Furthermore, as Warren Buffett often reminds us, we have a tax system which enables some of the wealthiest people in this country to have an effective, i.e. real tax rate, which is lower than truck drivers or nurses, and that makes no sense to me, nor do I think it makes sense to the American people. So bottom line is, wealthiest people becoming much wealthier, large corporations, in many cases, enjoying huge profits, middle class, in many ways, disappearing. If we’re gonna deal with the deficit and the debt, we have got to have a tax system which asked those people on top, who are doing extraordinarily well, to start paying their fair share of taxes.
Very last point, you raised the important question about making the United States energy secure by 2024 and I agree with you, I wanna see that happen as well, but in all due respect, and I say this respectfully, when we talk about energy, there is, in fact, an even more important issue than just energy independence.
I sit on both the Senate Environmental Committee and the Senate Energy Committee and what I can tell you, without the slightest hesitation, is that the scientific community is virtually unanimous, climate change is real, climate change is caused by human activity, climate change is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world, and what the scientists tell us is if we do not get our act together now and transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy, the planet that we are going to be leaving our, our children, is a planet that will be in a lot worse shape than the planet we enjoy today and that is morally unacceptable.
It is unacceptable to say, well we don’t care about the planet we’re leaving our kids, we’re just gonna go on, same old, same old, more and more fossil fuel. So, yeah, I wanna see us move toward energy independence. The way you do that is aggressively move forward toward energy efficiency, toward a transportation system, which is not just dependent on automobiles, and invest aggressively in wind, solar, geo-thermal, and other sustainable energies.
So let me conclude by thanking the No Labels conference for the good work they do, for trying to get serious discussion on serious issues, for trying to minimize the politics that we see, the personal attacks that we see, I thank you very much for what you’re doing and I look forward to working with you in the future. Thank you all very much.