At a time when this country faces a $14 trillion national debt and a huge deficit, Congress must aggressively move toward deficit reduction. However, as we do so, we must be mindful of what caused the deficit in the first place, and make certain that the solution to this crisis includes shared sacrifice—not simply slashing programs which are of enormous importance to working families, the elderly, the sick, children and the most vulnerable members of our society.
Our national debt was built up over the last 10 years because of two wars, tax breaks for the rich, the Wall Street bailout and a prescription drug program. All unpaid for! The deficit also soared as a result of declining tax revenues during a recession brought on by the greed and illegal behavior of Wall Street.
Further, the debate over deficit reduction comes at an unusual moment in American economic history. While the middle class is in rapid decline and poverty is increasing, the gap between the very wealthy and everybody else is growing wider. In fact, over the last several decades almost all new income created in this country has gone to the top 1 percent, who now earn more than the bottom 50 percent. In addition, the United States now has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any major country, with the top 400 individuals owning more wealth than the bottom 150 million.
Given the reality of record-breaking corporate profits and the increasing wealth of the people on top, it should surprise no one that poll after poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans want the deficit to be addressed through shared sacrifice. ??They believe that all sectors of our society should take a hit in order to help us with deficit reduction, not just the weak and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the Republicans have given us an extreme, one-sided budget which makes devastating cuts to programs that tens of millions of Americans depend upon, while asking nothing from the wealthy and large corporations.
The House-passed budget would end Medicare as we know it by giving senior citizens inadequate vouchers to buy health insurance from private companies. Seniors would, on average, see their out-of-pocket expenses double. It would also cut, over 10 years, $770 billion from Medicaid, vastly increasing the number of uninsured Americans, and threatening the long-term care of the elderly who live in nursing homes.?
It also would make savage cuts in education, nutrition, affordable housing, infrastructure, environmental protection and virtually every program that low- and moderate-income Americans depend upon. With all the focus on spending cuts, however, the Republican budget does nothing to reduce unnecessary military spending at a time when defense outlays have more than tripled since 1997 and now consume more than half of the discretionary budget.
And here's the kicker. The House Republican budget does not ask the wealthiest people in this country, whose tax rates are now the lowest on record, to contribute one dime more for deficit reduction. Nor does it propose to do away with any of the loopholes that enable extremely profitable corporations to pay little or no federal income taxes. Quite the contrary! The Republican budget actually provides $1 trillion more in tax breaks over the next 10 years for the very rich.
The Republican House budget is the most radical right-wing extremist budget ever passed in the modern history of our country, and the more the American people learn about it the more they are rejecting it.
The question now arises: Where are the Democrats? Where is President Obama?
Will the president remain strong in his demand that any deficit reduction agreement end Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy? Will he really fight to eliminate corporate tax loopholes? Will he end the absurd policies which allow the rich and large corporations to avoid paying tens of billions in taxes by establishing phony addresses in off-shore tax havens?
As Vermont's senator and a member of the Budget Committee, I will not support a plan to reduce the deficit that does not call for shared sacrifice. At least 50 percent of any deficit reduction plan must come from increased revenue from the wealthy and large corporations.
Instead of ending Medicare as we know it and making savage cuts to community health centers and children's health care programs, we must ask the top 2 percent of income earners, who currently pay the lowest upper-income tax rate on record, to start paying their fair share of taxes. Instead of making it harder for working families to send their kids to college, we must end the foreign tax shelters that enable the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying tens of billions in U.S. taxes. Instead of making major cuts in job programs in infrastructure, public transportation and sustainable energy we must do away with a wide variety of loopholes that allow Wall Street executives, whose profits and compensation packages are soaring, to have a lower tax rate than middle-class workers.
The deficit crisis is real and must be addressed. But it cannot be solved on the backs of the weak and vulnerable. Every segment of our society, including those who have money and power, must contribute and must sacrifice.