The Senate’s Reconcilable Differences

Bernie Sanders

The Unit­ed States is in the midst of the worst eco­nom­ic cri­sis since the 1930s. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans con­tin­ue to lose their jobs, homes, life sav­ings and abil­i­ty to send their chil­dren to college. 

Enough is enough. It's time for Democrats to rebuild the middle class using the same rules Republicans exploited to benefit the wealthy.

Since Decem­ber of 2007, more than 7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have lost their jobs; a stag­ger­ing 17.3 per­cent of the Amer­i­can work­force is either unem­ployed or under-employed; and over 6 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have been out of work for more than six months, the high­est on record. 

In Amer­i­ca today we have the most unequal dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth and income in the indus­tri­al­ized world. With the top 1 per­cent earn­ing more income than the bot­tom 50 per­cent, we have the high­est rate of child­hood pover­ty among major coun­tries. About a quar­ter of our chil­dren are depen­dent on food stamps. Today, as the mid­dle class con­tin­ues its decline, one in nine fam­i­lies can’t make the min­i­mum pay­ment on their cred­it cards, and 120,000 Amer­i­cans are declar­ing bank­rupt­cy every month.

Sad­ly, this eco­nom­ic pain didn’t begin when the finan­cial sec­tor near­ly col­lapsed over a year ago. It has been going on for a decade. As the Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed in Jan­u­ary, The past decade was the worst for the U.S. econ­o­my in mod­ern times … It was, accord­ing to a wide range of data, a lost decade for Amer­i­can work­ers … There has been zero net job cre­ation since Decem­ber 1999 … Mid­dle-income house­holds made less in 2008, when adjust­ed for infla­tion, than they did in 1999 – and the num­ber is sure to have declined fur­ther dur­ing a dif­fi­cult 2009.”

Last Sep­tem­ber, USA Today report­ed that, The incomes of the young and mid­dle-aged – espe­cial­ly men – have fall­en off a cliff since 2000, leav­ing many age groups poor­er than they were even in the 1970s.”

In order to strength­en and expand the col­laps­ing mid­dle class dur­ing these very dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic times, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and Con­gress need to stand up to the big mon­ey inter­ests and take bold steps to pro­tect work­ing fam­i­lies. Among many oth­er initiatives:

We need to fun­da­men­tal­ly change the way Wall Street does busi­ness so that it invests in the job-cre­at­ing pro­duc­tive econ­o­my instead of engag­ing in the casi­no-style risk-tak­ing that led to the largest tax­pay­er bailout in U.S. his­to­ry. Finan­cial insti­tu­tions that are too-big-to-fail” need to be bro­ken up so they no longer pose a threat to the entire econ­o­my. And we need to estab­lish a nation­al usury law to stop banks from rip­ping off the mid­dle class by charg­ing out­ra­geous inter­est rates and exor­bi­tant fees on cred­it cards.

We need to cre­ate mil­lions of good jobs rebuild­ing our crum­bling infra­struc­ture through major invest­ments in roads, bridges, dams, cul­verts, schools and sewers. 

We need to trans­form our ener­gy sys­tem and break our depen­den­cy on for­eign oil by invest­ing in ener­gy effi­cien­cy and such renew­able ener­gy tech­nolo­gies as wind, solar, geot­her­mal and bio­mass. Mak­ing these invest­ments will lead not only to the cre­ation of decent-pay­ing green jobs, save mon­ey on ener­gy bills, and cut green­house gas emis­sions, but also will improve our geo-polit­i­cal posi­tion and keep us out of wars fought for oil. 

We need to fun­da­men­tal­ly rewrite our trade pol­i­cy in order to rebuild our indus­tri­al base. Today, the U.S. employs few­er man­u­fac­tur­ing work­ers than in April 1941, eight months before the attack on Pearl Har­bor. This has got to change. No nation can main­tain a strong econ­o­my if it is depen­dent upon oth­er coun­tries for the prod­ucts it consumes.

We need to join the rest of the indus­tri­al­ized world and make health­care a right of cit­i­zen­ship for every man, woman and child in this coun­try through a Medicare-for-all sin­gle-pay­er pro­gram. It is unac­cept­able that more than 46 mil­lion Amer­i­cans are unin­sured and 45,000 die each year because they don’t get to a doc­tor in time. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, if we are to do any of these things we have got to end the Repub­li­can fil­i­buster in the U.S. Sen­ate, which has forced Democ­rats to get 60 votes to pass any legislation.

Enough is enough. When the Repub­li­cans con­trolled the Sen­ate and George W. Bush was in the White House, they were able to pass two major tax breaks for the wealthy with only 58 votes in 2001 and only 51 votes in 2003 through a process called rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Sim­ply put, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion allows the Sen­ate to pass leg­is­la­tion with a sim­ple 51-vote major­i­ty instead of a 60-vote super majority.

It’s time for the Democ­rats to use these same rec­on­cil­i­a­tion rules – which the Repub­li­cans used to ben­e­fit the wealthy – to rebuild the mid­dle class. 

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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