STATEMENT BY SEN. BERNARD SANDERS ON DEFICIT REDUCTION

Let me begin by stating that I find it rather appalling that a Wall Street billionaire, Pete Peterson, a man who has more money than he knows how to spend, is hosting a conference today to call for massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs that are of enormous importance to the survival and dignity of millions of our fellow citizens - many of whom are struggling daily just to keep their heads above water..

Billionaires, like Mr. Peterson and others, should not be using their wealth and power to beat up on some of the most vulnerable people in our country.  That is morally grotesque. 

Let's be clear: the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider.  InAmerica today, the richest 400 people own more wealth than the bottom half of America -- 150 million.  The top one percent own over 40% of the wealth in this country - more than the bottom 90 percent combined.  Amazingly, the bottom 60 percent of Americans - the people who will suffer terribly by the proposals advocated by Mr. Peterson, Mr. Boehner, Mr. Ryan and others - own only one percent ofAmerica's wealth.

But, the huge and growing disparities between the rich and everyone else deals not only with wealth, but with income as well.  Today, the top one percent earns more income than the bottom 50 percent.  And, the situation is getting more and more unfair and unequal.  In the latest study available, in 2010, 93 percent of all new income that was generated that year went to the richest one percent.

So, here is my conclusion: before you make drastic cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which will cause devastating pain for tens of millions of Americans who are old, who are sick, who are children, and who are poor, maybe, just maybe, you may want to ask the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations in this country to give up their tax breaks and their subsidies and start paying their fair share of taxes.  Maybe, just maybe, we might want some austerity for the wealthiest people in this country, who are doing phenomenally well, rather than attack senior citizens and working class families who are suffering to survive in this terrible recession. 

Let us not forget: the record-breaking deficit and national debt that all of us are concerned about was not caused by working families or the elderly or the children.  It was caused by two wars - Iraq andAfghanistan that George W. Bush forgot to pay for.  It was caused by huge tax breaks that went to Mr. Peterson and other millionaires and billionaires.  It was caused by excessive military spending - a policy which now has the U.S. spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined.  And, most importantly, it was caused by Mr. Peterson's friends on Wall Street whose greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior caused this terrible recession which has resulted in a significant drop in revenue coming into federal coffers.  In fact, today, as a result of the Wall Street caused recession, revenue as a percentage of GDP is the lowest that it has been in over 50 years - just about 14.8 percent of GDP.   

Now, let me say a word, particularly about Social Security. And let me be loud and clear on this. Despite what you'll hear on television tonight, despite what you'll hear from speakers at this conference, despite what you'll hear from virtually all Republicans and some Democrats: Social Security is not going broke.  Don't believe me.  Simply go to the recent report by the Social Security trustees.  And, this is what you will find: Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus.  It can pay out 100% of all promised benefits for the next 21 years, at which time if Congress does nothing, something that would be unacceptable Social Security can pay out 75% of all owed benefits - which because of COLAs would be more than seniors get today. 

Should we fix Social Security and make it strong not just for the next 21 years, but for the next 75 years?  In my view, we should.  And, that is why I have introduced legislation that now has 10 co-sponsors including the Majority Leader, which interestingly enough, does exactly what candidate Barack Obama proposed in the 2008 campaign.  Right now, a billionaire like Mr. Peterson contributes the same exact amount of money into the Social Security trust fund as does someone making $110,000 because there is a cap on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax.  If we do, as candidate Barack Obama suggested, and lift that cap for all income above $250,000 a year, the Social Security problem is solved for the next 75 years and that is exactly what we should do.    

Further, with regard to Social Security, I find it extremely dishonest that when people talk about the deficit and the national debt, they lump Social Security into that discussion.  As you all know, Social Security is not funded by the general Treasury.  It is funded by the payroll tax, paid by all workers and their employers.  That fund today, as I mentioned earlier, has a $2.7 trillion surplus, and has not contributed one nickel to the deficit or the national debt. 

Let me conclude by saying this.  Poll after poll has made it clear that the American people are concerned about our national debt and our deficit.  But, they want that problem addressed in a way that is fair.  Polls show that a majority of Democrats, a majority of Independents and even a majority of Republicans believe that the wealthiest people in this country should be asked to pay more in taxes.  People all over the country believe we should repeal outrageous tax breaks and subsidies that go to oil companies and other kinds of giant corporations.  And, people also believe that it is high time to look at excessive military spending.