Monday, September 19, 2011

The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, by Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders (Vermont) delivered an eight hour speech to the Senate on December 10th, 2010.   A vote was coming up on a tax agreement.   Senator Sanders was very much in opposition, more on why in a moment.   He ended up publishing his speech as this book.

The book itself is considerably redundant, as the Senator points out in his introduction, because he wanted to ensure that folks who'd intermittently tune in to listen to him would get the key points.    It is still very readable.   In fact, being a speech aimed at the US Senate, it features clear speaking and is a very fast read.

So what was the reason for Senator Sanders' consternation?   I'll quote some statistics from his book which he asserts come from credible US government sources.   First though, what was in the bill that was so objectionable?   It was these items and that they are funded by increasing the already high deficit:   (a) Income tax breaks for the top two percent of US tax payers;  (b) continuation of the 15% tax on capital gains and dividends;  (c) continuation of the $10 million exemption on estate tax for couples and limit of 35% on the tax itself.   And a few other items.

What bugs the Senator?   Through President Bush's eight years in office the wealthiest 400 Americans increased their wealth by more than $380 billion.   Nearly a billion each.   So why give them more tax breaks?  "I would say to my colleagues in the Senate, we do not have to worry about these guys.  They are doing just fine.  They do not need an extension of tax breaks."   Also that, "President Bush gave our $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.  Where was the offset?  There was none.  He gave them tax breaks.  That is it.  It adds to the national debt."

Also that in 2009 Exxon Mobil made $19 billion but paid no federal income taxes.   That "Bank of America got a huge payout from the American taxpayer, paying their executives all kinds of fancy, huge compensation packages -- got a refund check from the IRS according to their SEC filings."

And to juxtapose this with the notion that "Oh, my word, in order to deal with our deficit, we are going to have to cut back on Medicare and Medicaid and education."

That you can't have jobs without an educated work force.  But we have "...more people in jail than China and more people in jail than any other country.  So what we end up doing, which seems to be not terribly bright, is spending perhaps $50,000 a year keeping people in jail because they dropped out of school.  They never found a job.  They got hooked on drugs or whatever.  We pay to put them in jail rather than investing in childcare, in education, in sustaining their families."

On this notion, the Senator points out the elimination of the Pell grant (which makes a big difference in helping folks fund college) as a major league counter productive move.   Given that this is done in order to pay for the revenue hit on the tax breaks.   "... the few thousand people in this country--or few tens of thousands, I don't know how many who make more than $1 million a year--are not going to lift this country out of a recession.  It is going to be the middle class.  And if we don't help them get ahead, if we don't help them get training, this recession will go on for a long time."

Senator Sanders also points to what seems a break in common sense, when firms like GE are focused on outsourcing as much as they possibly can to China, costing thousands of US jobs, yet get a $16 billion bail out from US taxpayers.   His implication: they can outsource if they want, but then why coming whining to American taxpayers; why didn't they get a bailout from China?

There was a bit of singling out of specific business leaders whose firms received taxpayer funded bailouts.   "Jamie Dimon... [JP Morgan Chase] ... got a $29 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve, will receive a $1.1 million tax break.  Trust me, Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase is doing just fine.  Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, the bank that got a $50 billion bailout, would received $785,000 in tax breaks.  Ken Lewis, the former CEO of Bank of America-- ...$45 billion bailout... would receive a $713,000 tax break. ...The CEO of Morgan Stanley, John Mack ... $10 billion bailout, would receive a $926,000 a year tax break."

He contrasts this to his failure, earlier in December 2010, to get the Senate to approve a one-time payment of $250 to seniors on Social Security and disabled vets.   "People making $14,000, $15,000 a year desperately need a little bit of help.  We couldn't get one Republican vote.  But when it comes to the CEO of a major bank who is already a multimillionaire--we are talking $6 million, $7 million, $8 million a year in tax breaks--that is not what we should be doing as a nation."


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