“The American people are angry. They are frustrated. They want action,” Senator Bernie Sanders told colleagues. The Senate, he added, could act and should act. Health care reform, for example, could be approved using a time-honored process that takes a simple majority of 51 votes to pass a bill instead of the 60 needed to stop filibusters. “This has been done time after time after time, mostly, in fact, by Republicans,” he added.
All across this country people are wondering about what is going on in Congress. People are using the expression that government is broken and that we seem to be a dysfunctional institution. The reason for the alarm is pretty obvious. The United States today faces the most serious set of crises we have seen since the Great Depression. Today, some 17 percent of our people are either unemployed or underemployed. This is on top of coming out of a decade where the median family income actually declined. So people by the millions are today working longer hours for lower wages. They are wondering what kind of life is going to be available for their kids. They are having a hard time affording childcare. They are having a hard time affording higher education. We have 46 million people who are uninsured. We have 45,000 people who die every single year because they can't get to a doctor. If we don't get a handle on health care, their costs are going to be doubling in the next 8 years. We recently saw Blue Cross in California asking for a 39-percent rate increase for their premiums. It is not unusual. It is going on all over the country.
People are asking what is going on. Is the middle class going to continue to collapse? Is poverty going to continue to increase? Are you guys going to get your act together and begin to do something that benefits working families in this country?
It goes without saying that the American people want -- I want, you want, we all want--bipartisan efforts to solve these problems, but, most importantly, we want to solve these issues. We have to deal with the economy. We have to deal with our friends on Wall Street whose recklessness and illegal behavior has driven this country into this terrible recession. We have to deal with it. We have to deal with health care. We don't have a choice. We have to deal with the $12 trillion national debt. We have to do it.
Unfortunately, I think what the American people are beginning to catch onto is that to have bipartisanship, you need a ``bi,'' you need two sides coming together. What we have here in the Senate is not two sides coming together but one side, our Republican friends who are saying: “No, no, no. If it is good for Obama, it is bad for us. No, no, no.”
We have had a record-breaking number of filibusters, a record-breaking number of other obstructionist tactics. The end result is the American people are becoming very frustrated.
I do a national radio show every week and every week on that program somebody is calling me up and saying, I don't understand it. When the Republicans were in control of the Senate, they were able to bring forth sweeping proposals. They didn't have 60 votes. What is going on? You guys on your side, those who are independents and in the Democratic caucus, you have 59 votes, why aren't you doing it? It is a good question.
More and more people are talking about using the reconciliation process, which is simply a parliamentary procedure which enables us to pass legislation with the end result of saving taxpayers' money and lowering the deficit. The beauty of that approach is you can go forward with 51 votes, not the 60 votes we are having a very difficult time obtaining, because we are not getting much support from the other side. Some people say, “Well, this reconciliation approach is unfair. This is a radical idea. Why are you bringing it forth?” The answer is that this has been done time after time after time, mostly, in fact, by Republicans. So it seems to me if this is a concept the Republicans have used year after year after year for very major pieces of legislation, it is appropriate for the Democratic caucus to do that as well.
Many Americans will remember the Contract With America. That was Newt Gingrich's very big idea. I thought it was a very bad idea, but nonetheless it was a very comprehensive approach. The Contract With America in 1995 was passed in the Senate through reconciliation. This was a broad, comprehensive bill. This is what the Washington Post reported President Clinton saying when he vetoed that legislation, and I am glad he did. This is what Clinton said: “Today I am vetoing the biggest Medicare and Medicaid cuts in history, deep cuts in education, a rollback in environmental protection, and a tax increase on working families.”
That is not the only effort the Republicans mounted through reconciliation. In 1996, Republicans passed legislation to enact welfare reform through reconciliation.
In 1997, Congress used reconciliation to establish new health coverage programs or to substantially expand existing ones, including SCHIP passed through reconciliation.
In 2003, Republicans used reconciliation to push through President Bush's 2003 tax cuts. In 2001, Republicans used reconciliation to pass President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut, much of it going to the wealthiest people in this country.
In 2005, Republicans pushed through reconciliation legislation that reduced spending on Medicaid and raised premiums on upper income Medicare beneficiaries.
What is my point? My point is that it would be the utmost hypocrisy for Republicans to tell us we should not use reconciliation when they have used it time and time and time again.
What has occurred over the last year, year and a half, is an unprecedented level of obstructionism and delaying tactics on the part of our Republican colleagues. The American people are hurting. They want to see this government begin the process of creating millions of decent-paying jobs. They want to see a transformation of our energy system so we can move from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy and jobs doing that. The American people want to see us rebuild our infrastructure which is presently crumbling and we can create jobs doing that. In the short term, the American people want us to do something about the high cost of a college education by expanding Pell grants and by also addressing the very serious problems with childcare and the needs for school construction. We can do that as well.
If the Republicans choose, as is their right, to try to obstruct and try to use the rules to delay action, I think we should do what they have done time after time after time and that is use the reconciliation process.
To watch the senator's floor speech, click here.