ED SCHULTZ: Joining us now, Vermont Senator, Independent, Bernie Sanders. You're on the Ed Schultz radio show. Senator, good to have you with us.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you, Ed.
SCHULTZ: Did you expect the Occupy movement to get this big and go this far? What's your pulse on this right now?
SANDERS: Well, I think they're really touching a nerve. And the nerve is that the average American understands that as a result of the greed and the recklessness and the illegal behavior on Wall Street, these guys plunged us into the horrendous recession that we're in right now. You have got 16% real unemployment, millions of people have lost their homes. They've lost their life savings all because of the greed of these guys on Wall Street and meanwhile they are back on Wall Street, back to business as usual.
CEO compensation is at a record high and what I think the demonstrators are doing is just touching a nerve and saying, "Hey, this is crazy." These guys have destroyed the economy. They continue to do phenomenally well while the middle class is really hurting. Something's got to give.
SCHULTZ: You think Congress is paying attention?
SANDERS: No. No, I think the bottom line is the current constitution of Congress is such that Wall Street, Ed, is just enormously powerful. When we talk about Wall Street, it's not just that you have the largest six financial institutions that have assets of over 60% of the GDP of the United States. These guys obviously also have enormous political power, enormous political power, and let's never forget that they spent something like $5 billion over a ten year period to deregulate Wall Street so they could go into their speculator mode and cause the recession. $5 billion.
Since Dodd-Frank, they've been spending a fortune trying to minimize any of the positive achievements of Dodd-Frank, bring us back to where we were, so I have to tell you the bad news is, that I think certainly in the House, what is their mode of operation? They want more deregulation. They want to let Wall Street continue to engage in the speculative-type of activities that led us to where we are right now.
SCHULTZ: So where does this go, Senator? I mean, I'm asking the question to my listeners today here on the program, "All right, you're protesting. Now what?"
SANDERS: Good and I think you are exactly right. I think the protestors deserve, Ed, a lot of credit for focusing the attention on Wall Street.
SCHULTZ: No doubt.
SANDERS: But now we've got to say, focusing attention is one thing but where do we go from here? What's the program? And I think here are several things that I would suggest for a start.
When you have six financial institutions that control so much of the economy, in my view, a) they remain too big to fail and either in the short term or the long term because of their speculation they will be back before Congress and say, "Hey, you better bail us out because if you don't bail us out again, we're going to take down half of the economy."
Second of all when you have so much economic power in the hands of so few people this is not what the American economy, what a competitive economy is supposed to be about. These guys, to a significant degree, control mortgages, they control credit cards, and the solution is fairly obvious. You have to break them up. You've got to break them up. If a bank is too big to fail, Ed, in my view it's too big to exist and I think when you do that you protect the future stability of our economy, no more too big to fail and second of all, you bring more competition to the economy.
I think second of all, you have got to do things like say, hey, it is immoral to have the Bank of America or Wells Fargo charging people 25% or 30% interest rates on their credit cards, that's wrong, you can't do that. We have to put a lid on what they can charge. That will be very good for working people.
Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, I know now this is an issue you've been focusing on and that is the crisis facing small businesses and that is if the Fed, and now we're back to the Fed, if the Fed could provide during the Wall Street crisis a revolving fund of $16 trillion in low-interest loans to every financial institution in America including central banks all over the world and large corporations in the country, why are they not providing low-interest loans to small businesses so they can expand and create jobs?
So, I think what we need to do now is to be very clear on the demands that we want from Congress, understanding that this Congress cannot take on Wall Street. Wall Street is just too powerful for them, but that to elect people who are prepared to say that we are not going to get out of this recession, we are not going to expand the middle class, in fact, unless we very much change the function of Wall Street.
SCHULTZ: That really is the big key right now, is all this protesting that is taking place going to be around for another year before the election because when I ask the question, now what, all right, defining goals, what we want to do, now you got to go out and support candidates that are going to do exactly what you want them to do
SCHULTZ: And so I asked Leo Gerard last night, are these Obama supporters? Who are these folks? Is this the Tea Party on the Left? You know, the definition of it is, they're frustrated, they are being squeezed by the corporate boys. There is social and economic injustice taking place in a country that is supposed to be the land of the free.
SANDERS: I think you're right, Ed. I think that's exactly right. I think the folks who are out there, I think, probably represent a fairly broad segment of our society but I think more importantly there are millions of people back home who are not out demonstrating today who say, yeah these guys are right.
What is going on in a nation where so few people have so much power when their motivation is greed, when their business model is probably fraudulent, when they caused this horrendous recession that led to so much suffering today and yet what is their punishment?
Well, their punishment is they are making more money than they ever made before. Do you think that their business model has changed, that they are not continuing to be into speculation?
We need capital to go into the productive economy. We need small businesses and large businesses to get the help they need to actually produce real products and real services and create real jobs, not to continue the casino-type activities of Wall Street.
SCHULTZ: All of these protests that are taking place across the country, don't they need to be in Washington? I mean, the Tea Partiers, I think they intimidated lawmakers. I think they would get 200 or 300 people out there and get a hell of a lot of media attention. We're seeing thousands upon thousands. Is going to Washington and getting the message to these lawmakers going to do anything and is that where it has to go?
SANDERS: Well, I think you need, the answer is yes, the short answer is yes. I think you need an aroused citizenry, which says we have got to restore the American dream and the American dream is a growing middle class, a decline in poverty, and an economy that works for everybody and not just the very, very wealthy. As I've mentioned on the show before, Ed, we have an economy today where the top 400 wealthiest people own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
SANDERS: It's crazy and it's bad economics because if the people down below don't have the money to buy, they can't stimulate the economy. You're not going to have strong economic activity so I think what these Wall Street protests are about, and I am very glad to see them, is focusing attention on those institutions that we need to take a very hard look at and that is Wall Street.
SCHULTZ: Would President Obama be well-served politically if he were to embrace the Occupy Wall Street protests?
SANDERS: I think he would be well-served to say, you know, and by the way just about an hour ago, Bernanke, Ben Bernanke, was before my committee and I asked him, and I think this is the point that Obama has got to make, he has got to reemphasize what the American people already know, that the people on Wall Street, through their greed and their illegal behavior have caused this recession, and Dodd-Frank was a start, but we have to go a lot further than that and the President has got to say, I hear what you are saying, you're right, we cannot have such an incredible concentration of power on Wall Street. It has got to change; the economy has got to work for everybody.
So I think if the President said, I do hear you, and we are going to work to make a change, I think that would serve him very well.
SCHULTZ: Senator Bernie Sanders, always a pleasure. Thank you.
SANDERS: Thank you, Ed.
SCHULTZ: I appreciate it. You bet.