Sanders' Priorities for the New Congress

BURLINGTON, December 30 - Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made the following statement this morning at a news conference in his Burlington office:

"In my view, the next few months will be a pivotal moment in the history of the United States and for much of the world. The Bush administration, perhaps the most reactionary and incompetent that our country has ever seen, is leaving office in 3 weeks. On January 20th Barack Obama will become our president and will begin leading this country in a very different direction than where President Bush has taken us.

"Tragically, when President Obama takes office, the Congress and all Americans must confront a series of problems that are as severe as any our country has faced since the Great Depression of 1929. Let me touch upon just a few of the major domestic concerns:

"Economically, the middle class is continuing its steep decline with unemployment soaring, and millions of people in danger of losing their homes, savings and health insurance. The dream of a college education is fading away for many working families as college costs go up while incomes go down. This year, as a result of the economic downturn, the bailout of Wall Street, ongoing tax breaks for the very rich and the war in Iraq, our nation will have a record-breaking deficit and a huge $10.4 trillion dollar national debt. The United States continues to have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country, as well as the most unequal distribution of wealth and income.

"As a result of Wall Street greed, recklessness and dishonesty, our entire financial system is in danger of collapsing. The taxpayers of this country have seen trillions of their dollars placed at risk in the largest bailout in world history.

"Our incredibly inefficient health care system is disintegrating. Despite spending far more per capita than any other country, 47 million Americans have no health insurance, even more are underinsured and we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

"Despite the incredible dangers inherent in global warming. we have not yet broken our dependency on fossil fuel and foreign oil, and have made only slight advances in moving toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

"Those are just some of our problems. There are solutions. Where do we go from here? How do we finally ensure the U.S. government begins representing the needs of ordinary Americans, and not just the greedy, the wealthy and the powerful?

"As Vermont's senator, here are some of the initiatives that I will be fighting for as soon as the new Congress reconvenes in January:

  • A major economic recovery program which invests at least $400 billion in each of the next two years to create millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our infrastructure and moving us toward energy independence, sustainable energy and energy efficiency. In Vermont and throughout the country our roads and bridges are crumbling, our water systems and wastewater plants need major repair and older schools need to be modernized. Millions of homes and buildings are wasting huge amounts of energy and need to be properly weatherized, and we must be aggressive in improving and expanding our public transportation. Throughout America, there are thousands of communities which still lack cell phone service and the adequate broadband services necessary for 21st century business and education.
  • An investigation as to how the greed and recklessness of Wall Street financiers caused the greatest financial collapse since the 1920s. Those who are responsible for this debacle must be held accountable, and not be allowed to walk away with huge fortunes while the middle class bails them out. Most importantly, we must build a new financial system which discourages short-term and reckless profiteering and reestablishes proper governmental safeguards and regulations.

    As part of that effort we must take a hard look at the ‘too big to fail' doctrine and understand that if an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. That means we have to start breaking up these huge financial institutions so that, never again, do we have to bail them out. Further, we must finally address the growing income inequality which allows the top one-tenth of one percent of individuals to earn more than the bottom 50 percent, and the top one percent to own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. This is not just a moral issue. It is an economic issue. If so few have so much, and so many have so little, I seriously doubt that we are going to have long-term economic stability in our country.
  • Legislation to provide health care to every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship. In addition, we need to greatly expand our primary health care capabilities by educating and sending more doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals into rural areas and other medically underserved parts of our country."