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Time to Commit

BY Sen. Bernie Sanders

As the only elected Independent in the U.S. House of Representatives and the longest-serving congressional Independent in American history, I want to take this opportunity to share some thoughts with progressives struggling over which candidate to support for president on Election Day.

First, let me state as clearly as I can that George W. Bush’s reelection would be a disaster. I write this as someone who is not a Democrat and who, as a member of Congress, has differed with John Kerry on a number of important issues. In terms of economic policy, among many other issues, however, the choice is clear. It is absolutely essential that Kerry win November 2.

If Bush is reelected the United States increasingly will resemble an impoverished Third World country in which a few families have incredible wealth while the vast majority struggle to survive.

The middle class is shrinking, the gap between the rich and poor is growing and poverty is increasing: This is the Bush legacy.

He will be the first president since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression to oversee a decline in employment in a single term. Despite huge tax breaks to the rich and large corporations, our country has lost jobs under his reign. Equally important, the jobs being created pay substantially less than those lost. Incredibly, because of outsourcing and disastrous trade policies with China and other countries, in the last three years alone we have lost 2.7 million good-paying manufacturing jobs—16 percent of that sector. We are now on the verge of losing millions of high-tech jobs to India and elsewhere. In the midst of all of this, Bush and Co. support outsourcing and the anti-American actions of their corporate allies.

While corporate America throws American workers out on the street and move their jobs abroad, wages are no longer keeping up with inflation. They fell 1.1 percent in June—the steepest decline in real hourly wages since 1991. In fact, real hourly wages declined in five of the six previous months. Because the middle class is shrinking, the average American employee is working the longest hours in the industrialized world—and 62 percent say their workload has increased over the last six months, a situation about to worsen because of new Bush rules that cut overtime pay for 6 million employees. Poverty also increased by 1.3 million in the last year alone; hunger and homelessness are on the rise.

Yet, the wealthiest people have never had it so good. The gap between the rich and the poor is now wider than at any time since the 1920s, with the richest 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Corporate profits are soaring, and compensation of CEOs of our largest corporations is 500 times greater than their workers.

The United States also remains the only major country that does not guarantee healthcare for all its citizens, and this situation only worsened in the last four years. Five million more Americans lost their health insurance since Bush took office, and today we have a record 45 million without any coverage. As health insurance premiums soar, workers are being asked to contribute more in premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Meanwhile, the administration attempts to privatize Medicare and, just last week, announced the largest premium increase in the Medicare program’s history, raising the monthly expense by $11.60 to $78.20. While the cost of prescription drugs soars Bush has defended the pharmaceutical industry, which heavily funded his campaign, by trying to stop all efforts to end the national disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for their medicine.

President Bush and the Republican leadership have provided hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the richest 1 percent, people with an average income of more than $1 million a year. And in the process have created record-breaking deficits and a $7 trillion national debt—spurring Alan Greenspan and other financial leaders to advocate cuts in Social Security benefits. In fact, all programs that benefit the middle class are now at risk.

Bush has thrown 160,000 veterans off VA healthcare, and his new Veterans budget will substantially raise fees for the men and women who have put their lives on the line defending our nation. In the midst of a major crisis in affordable housing, the president also wants to decimate the Section 8 program.

This campaign isn’t about George Bush and John Kerry. (And it certainly isn’t about Ralph Nader; a progressive vote for Nader is in effect a vote for Bush.) It’s about a corporate class that has gained unprecedented ground in the last four years and, by extension, the territory ceded by the rest of America.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website.

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