Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from a speech Senator Sanders (I-VT) gave in December 2010 on the senate floor to protest President Obama’s proposed tax cut compromise.
As everybody knows, the United States has a record-breaking national debt exceeding $14 trillion at the same time as the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. It is important to first say a word about how the country got to where it is today in terms of the national debt.
Some people think this all began the day President Obama took office. Well, that is not quite the case. When President Clinton left office, the United States was running, in fact, a significant surplus, and that surplus was projected to continue. During the eight years of President Bush’s administration, for a number of reasons—primarily the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in the United States, the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, and the Wall Street bailout, none of which were paid for—the national debt almost doubled. Since President Obama has been in office, government has passed a stimulus package that has also added to the deficit and national debt.
Yet, the solution to the national debt [as laid out in the 2010 tax deal struck between the White House and House Republicans] is to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest, codify a low inheritance tax rate, and undercut funding for the Social Security trust fund.
For me it is unconscionable that my conservative friends and their supporters are driving up this already too high national debt by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need it—and in a number of cases who don’t even want it.
Ironically, two of the wealthiest people in the world—and these are billionaires—Bill Gates of Microsoft and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, both say, it is absurd. We don’t need a tax break. All over the country, you hear a lot of folks who have a lot of money saying, don’t drive up the deficit and force our kids to pay higher taxes to pay off the national debt in order to give tax breaks to the richest people in this country. Americans have been told not to worry too much because the extension of these tax breaks for the wealthy will only last two years. My guess is that two years from now these tax breaks for the wealthiest people will be extended again.
What are the United States’ priorities? Are we going to protect the middle class and working families of our country? Are we going to make sure every young person in America, regardless of income, has the ability to go to college, or are we going to allow college to become unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of bright young people, forcing them to leave school deeply in debt? Are we going to create a health-care system that guarantees health care to all of our people—high-quality health care—or are we going to continue a situation in which 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t have access to a doctor? Are we going to invest in our energy system so we break our dependence on foreign oil? The United States spends about $350 billion a year importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other foreign countries—almost $1 billion a day—which should be used to make this country energy independent, which should be used to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and sustainable energy, technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass.
The most effective way to create jobs, and the most important way, is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure—the roads, bridges, rail system, water system, wastewater plants, our dams, levees, and broadband access, to make sure that every community in America has access to good-quality broadband and cell-phone service. Unfortunately, as best as I can understand, there has not been one nickel appropriated [in the most recent tax deal] that would go to infrastructure improvements.
The United States remains far behind most other industrialized countries in terms of such infrastructure. And China is exploding in areas such as high-speed rail. The United States has to do better. Our airports need work. Our air controllers need updated technology to make our flights safe.
When you invest in infrastructure, you get a bigger bang for the buck. You create more jobs for your investment than, in most instances, giving a variety of tax breaks to the corporate world. When you invest in infrastructure, you are improving the future of this country. You are making us more productive. You don’t just create jobs, you create jobs for very specific purposes, which makes a nation—our nation—more productive and efficient.