Sanders Op-Ed: Rebuild the middle class

By:  Sen. Bernie Sanders
Burlington Free Press

The United States is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.  Workers in Vermont and throughout the country continue to lose their jobs, homes, pensions and ability to send their children to college.  

The economic pain our country is experiencing did not begin when the financial sector nearly collapsed over a year ago as a result of the greed and recklessness of Wall Street. The decline of the middle class has been going on for many years.  Describing “a lost decade for American workers,” The Washington Post said the past 10 years were the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times. USA Today said incomes of the young and middle-aged “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, there are a number of important steps that I am fighting for and that Congress and the president will have to make.  

We need to fundamentally change the way Wall Street does business so that it invests in the job-creating productive economy, instead of the casino-style gambling that led to the largest taxpayer bailout in history.  Financial institutions that are “too-big-to-fail” need to be broken up.  Big banks that received a taxpayer bailout need to increase lending to small businesses.  And we need to establish a national usury law to stop lenders from ripping off the middle class by charging outrageously high interest rates.
The United States will not succeed in the global economy if our infrastructure continues to crumble.  We can create millions of good-paying jobs by rebuilding our roads, bridges, schools, water systems and creating 21st century public transportation.

Every year, we waste $350 billion by importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other foreign countries.  The United States can create good-paying jobs by moving away from fossil fuels and foreign oil, and into energy efficiency and such sustainable energies as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass.  Vermont is a national leader in energy efficiency.  We must now become a national leader in sustainable energy.  

We also need to fundamentally rewrite our trade policy in order to rebuild our manufacturing capabilities.  As every Vermonter knows, it is increasingly difficult to find products “made in the U.S.A.”  We cannot have a vibrant economy and a strong middle class if we are importing the vast majority of the products that we consume.  

The need to address our health care crisis is more than just a personal issue for the many who are uninsured.  At a time when we spend almost twice as much per capita as any other nation on health care, it is also an economic impediment to businesses that are trying to compete internationally.  

We also must invest in education so that we have the most capable workforce in the world.  It is not acceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young people do not go to college for financial reasons while many others leave college deeply in debt.  

Making these difficult challenges even harder is the reality that we now face record breaking deficits as a result of the Bush administration’s refusal to pay for two wars, tax breaks for millionaires, an expensive prescription drug program and the Wall Street bailout.  As we begin changing our national priorities and investing in the needs of the middle class and our kids, it is imperative that we move toward a more progressive form of taxation and take a very hard look at the waste that exists in every agency of government.