Bernie Sanders: Time to Save the Middle Class

The survival of the American middle class is at stake. If we do not act and organize now, when will we?

Bernie Sanders May 18, 2010

(epicharmus / Flickr)

Now is the time for Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Con­gress to take the bold steps nec­es­sary to reverse our eco­nom­ic decline and to strength­en and expand the strug­gling mid­dle class. As part of this effort, we need to pass a strong finan­cial reform bill and a robust jobs bill that puts Amer­i­cans back to work at decent-pay­ing jobs.

We need to pass a strong financial reform bill and a robust jobs bill that puts Americans back to work at decent-paying jobs.

We must nev­er for­get that this eco­nom­ic cri­sis was caused by the greed, reck­less­ness and ille­gal behav­ior of a hand­ful of exec­u­tives on Wall Street. If we are going to get the econ­o­my back on track, we have to fun­da­men­tal­ly change the way Wall Street does busi­ness (see Roger Bybee’s arti­cle Reg­u­late or Capit­u­late”). Wall Street must invest 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.

Among many oth­er things, a strong finan­cial reform bill should:

Break up too-big-to-fail” finan­cial insti­tu­tions so they no longer pose a threat to the entire econ­o­my. Incred­i­bly, three out of the four largest finan­cial insti­tu­tions are big­ger today than before the finan­cial cri­sis start­ed. Today, the four largest banks in Amer­i­ca issue two-thirds of all cred­it cards and about half of all mort­gages. As a result, Amer­i­cans are pay­ing exor­bi­tant bank fees and cred­it card inter­est rates, and have few­er choic­es. We can­not let this continue.

Estab­lish a nation­al usury law to stop large banks from rip­ping off the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans pay cred­it-card inter­est rates as high as 35 per­cent. Big banks charg­ing these usu­ri­ous cred­it card inter­est rates received the largest tax­pay­er-fund­ed bailout in his­to­ry. It is time for them to stop act­ing like crooked loan sharks.

Audit the Fed­er­al Reserve to make it trans­par­ent. Since March 2008, the Fed has pro­vid­ed more than $2 tril­lion in vir­tu­al­ly zero-inter­est loans to large finan­cial insti­tu­tions. But the cen­tral bank has refused to tell the Amer­i­can pub­lic who received this mon­ey. This mon­ey does not belong to the Fed. It belongs to the Amer­i­can peo­ple and they have a right to know where their tax­pay­er dol­lars are being spent.

In addi­tion to reform­ing Wall Street, we have got to pass a major jobs bill. As part of this leg­is­la­tion, we should put mil­lions of Amer­i­cans back to work rebuild­ing our crum­bling infra­struc­ture through major invest­ments in roads, bridges, dams, schools and sew­ers. A jobs bill should also trans­form our ener­gy sys­tem and break our depen­den­cy on for­eign oil by invest­ing in ener­gy effi­cien­cy and renew­able ener­gy tech­nolo­gies such as wind, solar, geot­her­mal and biomass.

But Con­gress will not do this alone – in fact, it will not act in a pro­gres­sive and vig­or­ous man­ner at all with­out a strong grass­roots move­ment in every state and region of the coun­try to push our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives to act as they should. It is time for pro­gres­sive Amer­i­cans and work­ing fam­i­lies to bring their needs, con­cerns and visions into the polit­i­cal strug­gle. For too long the debate has been dom­i­nat­ed by the cor­po­rate inter­ests from Wall Street, the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex, oil com­pa­nies and those that make bil­lions from our health­care system. 

The sur­vival of the Amer­i­can mid­dle class is at stake. If we do not act and orga­nize now, when will we? 

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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