PREPARED REMARKS: Sanders Says Inflation Reduction Act Doesn’t Meet Needs of the American People

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Wednesday on the floor of the U.S. Senate gave remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act, calling on his colleagues to study the bill thoroughly and to come up with amendments and suggestions as to how to improve it in order to meet the needs of the American people.

Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watched here.

M. President: My understanding is that the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” may be coming to the floor in the coming days.

There are some people who think this bill is worth supporting. There are others who think that it is not. But, whatever your views on this bill may be, let’s be clear: As currently written, this is an extremely modest bill that does virtually nothing to address the enormous crises facing the working families of our country. It falls far short of what the American people want, what they need, and what they are begging us to do.

Given that this is the last reconciliation bill that we will be considering this year, it is the only opportunity that we have to do something significant for the American people that requires only 50 votes and that cannot be filibustered. This is an opportunity that must not be squandered.

M. President: Let’s take a brief look at what is going on in tis country today and see whether this reconciliation bill adequately addresses the needs of the American people.

Half of our people live paycheck to paycheck and because of inflation are falling even further behind in their desperation. Does this reconciliation bill raise the minimum wage? No.

Does it provide workers the protections they need in order to form unions? No.

M. President: At a time when the United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation on earth, does this bill extend the $300 a month per child tax credit that existed last year? No, it doesn’t.

If you are a parent today paying $15,000 a year for childcare, the average cost in America, does this bill reform our dysfunctional childcare system, make it affordable, and pay childcare workers decent wages? No, it doesn’t.

At a time when over 70 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured, when we pay twice as much for health care as the people of almost any other major nation, when some 60,000 people a year die because they cannot afford to go to a doctor when they need to, does this bill do anything to create a rational, cost-effective health care system which guarantees health care for all – something that exists in almost every other major nation? No, it doesn’t.

At a time when 45 million Americans are struggling to pay student debt and when hundreds of thousands of bright young people every year are unable to afford a higher education, does this bill do anything to help them? No, it doesn’t.

M. President: 55% of senior citizens are trying to survive on an income of $25,000 a year or less. Many of them cannot afford to go to a dentist or buy the hearing aids or eyeglasses that they need, does this bill do anything to expand Medicare to cover their basic healthcare needs? No, it doesn’t.

And when we talk about our seniors and disabled Americans, does this bill do anything to help the millions of them who would prefer to stay in their homes rather than be forced into nursing homes? No, it doesn’t.

Everybody agrees that we have a major housing crisis in this country. Some 600,000 people are homeless sleeping out on streets across the country. In addition, nearly 18 million households are spending an incredible 50 percent of their incomes for housing. Does this bill do anything to address the major housing crisis that we face? No, it doesn’t.

M. President: We don’t talk about it much here in the Senate or in the corporate media, but at this moment in American history, we have more wealth and income inequality than at any time in the last 100 years with 3 people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, with the top 1% owning more wealth than the bottom 92%, with 45% of all new income going to the top one percent, and with CEOs of large corporations making 350 times more than their average workers.

M. President: Today, we have more concentration of ownership than at any time in the modern history of this country. In sector after sector, we have a handful of giant corporations often engaging in price-fixing who control what is produced and how much we pay for it. In fact, unbelievably, 3 Wall Street firms control assets of over $20 trillion and are the major stockholders in 96% of S&P 500 companies. Does this bill do anything to attack this enormous concentration of ownership and maker the economy more competitive? No, it doesn’t. 

Now, M. President, let me say a few words about what is in this legislation, a bill which has some good features, but also some very bad features.

Prescription Drugs

The good news, M. President, is that the reconciliation bill finally begins to address the outrageous price of some of the most expensive prescription drugs under Medicare.

Under this legislation, Medicare, for the first time in history, would be able to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices.

M. President: The bad news is that we will not see the impact of these negotiated prices until 2026 – four years from now. 

The bad news is that, for whatever reason, in 2026, only 10 drugs would be negotiated with more to come in later years.

Moreover, with the possible exception of insulin, this bill does nothing to lower prescription drug prices for anyone who is not on Medicare.

Under this bill, at a time when the pharmaceutical companies are making outrageous profits, the pharmaceutical industry will still be allowed to charge the American people, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

M. President, if we are really serious about reducing the price of prescription drugs, we know exactly how we can do it.

For over 30 years, the VA has been negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry to lower the price of prescription drugs. Moreover, for decades, virtually every major country on Earth has done exactly the same thing for all of their people.

The result: Medicare pays twice as much for the exact same prescription drugs as the VA, and Americans, in some cases, may pay ten times as much for a particular drug as the people of any major country on Earth.

In other words, when it comes to reducing the price of prescription drugs under Medicare – we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

We could simply require Medicare to pay no more for prescription drugs than the VA.

And, M. President, if we did that, we could literally cut the price of prescription drugs under Medicare in half in a matter of months, not years. In February, I introduced legislation with Senator Klobuchar that would accomplish that goal.

Under that legislation, we could save Medicare $900 billion over the next decade. That is nine times more savings than the rather weak negotiation provision in this bill. And, by the way, that money could be used to add comprehensive dental, vision and hearing benefits to every senior in America. It could be used to lower the Medicare eligibility age to at least 60. And it could be used to extend the solvency of Medicare.

And that is why I will be introducing an amendment to make sure that Medicare pays no more for prescription drugs than the VA.

Affordable Care Act

Moreover, M. President, this legislation will extend subsidies for some 13 million Americans who have private health insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act over the next three years. Without this provision, millions of Americans would see their premiums skyrocket and some 3 million Americans could lose their health insurance altogether. This is a good provision, but let’s not fool ourselves. The $64 billion cost of this provision will go directly into the pockets of private health insurance companies that made over $60 billion in profits last year and paid their executives exorbitant compensation packages.

It would also do nothing to help the more than 70 million Americans who are uninsured or under-insured and it would do nothing to reform a dysfunctional healthcare system that is designed not to make people well, but to make the stockholders of private health insurance companies extremely rich.

Climate Change

Now, M. President, this legislation also provides $370 billion over the next decade to combat climate change and to invest in so-called energy security programs.

The good news is that if this legislation is signed into law it would provide far more funding for energy efficiency and sustainable energy than has ever been invested before.

Given the existential crisis that we face this is not enough, but it is a step forward.

It provides serious funding for wind, solar, batteries, heat pumps, electric vehicles, energy efficient appliances and low-income communities that have born the brunt of climate change.

However, M. President, the bad news is that this legislation includes a huge giveaway to the fossil fuel industry – both in the reconciliation bill itself and in a side deal that was just made public the other day.

Under this legislation, the fossil fuel industry will receive billions of dollars in new tax breaks and subsidies over the next 10 years – on top of the $15 billion in tax breaks and corporate welfare that they already receive every year.

In my view, if we are going to make our planet healthy and habitable for future generations, we cannot provide billions of dollars in new tax breaks to fossil fuel companies that are destroying the planet.  On the contrary, we should end all of the massive corporate welfare that the fossil fuel industry already enjoys.

Under this legislation, up to 60 million acres of public waters must be offered up for sale each and every year to the oil and gas industry before the federal government could approve any new offshore wind development.  To put this in perspective, 60 million acres is the size of Michigan.

M. President let me read to you the headline that appeared in a July 29th article in Bloomberg: “Exxon Loves What Manchin Did for Big Oil in $370 Billion Deal.”

According to Bloomberg, the CEO of Exxon Mobil called the reconciliation bill “a step in the right direction” and was “pleased” with the “comprehensive set of solutions” included in the reconciliation bill.

Barrons recently reported that Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum are just a few of the fossil fuel companies that could benefit the most under this bill.

Now, M. President, if the CEO of Exxon Mobil, a company that has done as much as any to destroy this planet, is “pleased” with this bill then I think all of us should have some very deep concerns about what is in this legislation.

Further, under this bill, up to 2 million acres of public lands must be offered up for sale each and every year to the oil and gas industry before leases can move forward for any renewable energy development on public lands.

In total, this bill will offer the fossil fuel industry up to 700 million acres of public lands and waters to oil and gas drilling over the next decade – far more than the oil and gas industry could possibly use.

And, M. President, that’s not all.  The fossil fuel industry will not just benefit from the provisions in the reconciliation bill. A deal has also been reached to make it easier for the fossil fuel industry to receive permits for their oil and gas projects.

This deal would approve the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline – a fracked gas pipeline that would span 303 miles from West Virginia to Virginia, and potentially on to North Carolina.

This is a pipeline that would generate emissions equivalent to that released by 37 coal plants or by over 27 million cars each and every year.

M. President, let me quote from a July 29th letter from over 350 environmental organizations including the Sunrise Movement, Food and Water Watch, 350.ORG and the Climate Justice Alliance addressed to the President and the Senate Majority Leader expressing concerns about this bill:

“Any approval of new fossil fuel projects or fast-tracking of fossil fuel permitting is incompatible with climate leadership. Oil, gas and coal production are the core drivers of the climate and extinction crises. There can be no new fossil fuel leases, exports, or infrastructure if we have any hope of preventing ever-worsening climate crises, catastrophic floods, deadly wildfires, and more–all of which are ripping across the country as we speak. We are out of time. Therefore, we’re calling on you to fulfill your promise to lead on climate, starting with denying approvals for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, rejecting all new federal fossil fuel leases onshore, in the Gulf of Mexico, in Alaska, and everywhere else, and preventing any fast-tracked permits for fossil fuel projects.”

M. President: I ask Unanimous Consent to insert this full letter into the record.

And here is what the Center for Biological Diversity had to say on this bill: “This is a climate suicide pact. It’s self-defeating to handcuff renewable energy development to massive new oil and gas extraction. The new leasing required in this bill will fan the flames of the climate disasters torching our country, and it’s a slap in the face to the communities fighting to protect themselves from filthy fossil fuels.”

In my view, we have got to do everything possible to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry, not give billions of dollars in corporate welfare to an industry that has been destroying our planet.

And, I will be introducing an amendment to do just that.

Tax Reform

Finally, M. President, at a time of massive income and wealth inequality; at a time of soaring corporate profits; and at a time in which we have a broken tax system riddled with all kinds of loopholes for the rich and the powerful, this bill makes a few modest changes to reform the tax code.

Under this bill, corporations will be required to pay a minimum tax of 15%. That is the good news. The American people are sick and tired of companies like AT&T, Federal Express and Nike making billions of dollars in profits and paying nothing in federal income tax. This provision has been estimated to raise $313 billion over the next decade.

Further, under this bill, the IRS will finally begin to receive the funding that it needs to audit wealthy tax cheats. Each and every year, the top 1 percent are able to avoid paying more than $160 billion in taxes that they legally owe because the IRS does not have the resources they need to conduct audits of the extremely wealthy. This bill begins to change that.

This bill would also make very modest changes to the so-called carried interest loophole that has allowed billionaire hedge fund managers on Wall Street to pay a lower tax rate than a nurse, teacher or firefighter.

But the bad news is that this bill does nothing to repeal the Trump tax breaks that went to the very wealthy and large corporations. Trump’s 2017 tax bill provided over a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the top one percent and large corporations.  In fact, 83% of the benefits of the Trump tax law are going to the top 1% – and this bill repeals none of those benefits.

And M. President, let’s not forget. It is very likely that Congress will be doing a so-called tax extenders bill at the end of the year that could provide corporations up to $400 billion over the next decade in new tax breaks. If that occurs that would more than offset the $313 billion in corporate revenue included in this bill.

So that, M. President is where we are today. We have legislation which unlike the original Build Back Better plan ignores the needs of working families in childcare, Pre-K, the expansion of Medicare, affordable housing, home healthcare, higher education, and many other desperate needs.

This is legislation which, at a time of massive profits for the pharmaceutical industry, and when we pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, takes some very modest steps to lower or control the price of medicine.

This is legislation which has some good and important provisions pertaining to energy efficiency and sustainable energy, but, at the same time, provides massive giveaways to the fossil fuel industry whose emissions are destroying the planet.

This is legislation which appropriately ends the absurdity of large, profitable corporations paying nothing in federal income tax but, at the same time, leaves intact virtually all of Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthy and very large corporations.

M. President this more than 700-page bill after months of secret negotiations became public late last week. Now is the time for every member of the Senate to study this bill thoroughly and to come up with amendments and suggestions as to how we can improve it.

I look forward to being part of that process.