By Sen. Bernie Sanders
The American people are worried about the economy - and they should be.
Since President Bush has been in office, 5 million Americans have slipped into poverty, median household income for working-age families has declined by almost $2,500, 8.6 million Americans have lost their health insurance and 3 million workers have lost their pensions. In Vermont and across the country, good-paying jobs are going to China and other low-wage countries and many new jobs pay low wages with minimum benefits. In the last few months, the housing bubble has burst, home foreclosures are skyrocketing and many Americans are seeing their major source of wealth, their homes, lose value. In Vermont, with the price of fuel rapidly increasing, most wage increases are now going straight into the fuel tank.
In the midst of this period of economic stress on the middle class, President Bush has sent his 2009 budget to Congress. Frankly, it is a budget so far out of touch with the needs of ordinary Americans that it leaves one wondering what planet this president is living on.
At a time when the United States has the most unequal distribution of income of any major country, with the top 0.1 percent earning more money that the bottom 50 percent, George W. Bush has decided that the very richest people in our country need huge tax breaks. Meanwhile, with poverty increasing and the middle class shrinking, Bush has proposed major cuts in programs which benefit low- and moderate-income people. This is truly Robin Hood in reverse. He takes from the poor and the desperate and gives to the rich and the powerful.
If you're a senior citizen on Social Security and you don't have enough money to keep your home warm in the winter, the president wants to significantly cut back on the heating assistance that you receive. He also wants to cut back on senior housing and nutrition programs. If you're a worker receiving Medicaid, the president wants to cut back on your health care. If you're a person whose home lacks insulation and you're paying much more for heat than you should, the president wants to eliminate the weatherization program. If you're a veteran who has put your life on the line defending this country, Bush wants to make it harder for you to access VA healthcare by substantially increasing your fees. And on and on it goes.
On the other hand, if you're the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame and you're currently worth more than $80 billion dollars, the president wants to provide you with $30 billion in tax relief by eliminating the estate tax. Overall, the repeal would provide $1 trillion in tax breaks for the richest 0.3 percent over a 20-year period.
As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I will do everything I can to see that Bush's budget is rejected, and that we bring forth a new budget that works for the vast majority of Americans, and not just the wealthy few. Let me just touch on a few of the areas that we must address:
With 18,000 Americans dying every year because they lack health insurance, we must move forward to guarantee health care for all. We must also make certain that we have enough doctors and dentists in rural areas.
With the cost of education from child care to graduate school soaring, Congress must make sure that all of our young people, regardless of income, are able to receive a quality education.
With global warming becoming one of the major crises facing our world, we must invest in energy efficiency and sustainable energy and, in the process, create many good-paying jobs.
With many of our roads, bridges, wastewater plants and schools in disrepair, we must rebuild our infrastructure, which will also create good-paying jobs.
The federal budget, how we as a nation prioritize our spending, is ultimately a reflection of our national values: what we stand for, what we believe in. George W. Bush's 2009 budget reflects the culture of greed which has emanated from the White House for the last seven years. Now is the time for Congress to reverse that culture, move our country in a very different direction, and develop a budget which provides hope, dignity and opportunity for all our people, rather than special benefits for the few.
This Op-Ed was published in various newspapers in Vermont.
By Sen. Bernie Sanders
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