By Sen. BERNIE SANDERS
Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the Republican Party are now mounting a massive attack against Social Security and other programs. Using “deficit reduction” as their rationale, they are attempting to dismantle every major piece of legislation passed since the 1930s that provides support and security to working families.
They are being aided by at least 23 billionaire families, led by the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, who are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in this campaign as a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Despite paying the lowest effective tax rate in decades, the billionaires want more tax breaks for the very rich. Despite the fact that the elimination of strong regulations caused the Wall Street meltdown and a terrible recession, the billionaires want more deregulation. Despite outsourcing of millions of good-paying American jobs to China and other low-wage countries, the billionaires want more unfettered free trade.
At this pivotal moment in American history, it’s important to note how we got into this deficit crisis, who was responsible and what is the fairest way to address it.
Let us never forget that when Bill Clinton left office in 2001, this country enjoyed a healthy $236 billion surplus.
Under George W. Bush and his fellow “deficit hawks,” we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush and Congress “forgot” to pay for those wars that will end up adding some $3 trillion to our national debt. Where were Paul Ryan and the other “deficit hawks” when we spent trillions on wars and added to the deficit? They voted for those policies.
Under George W. Bush and his fellow “deficit hawks,” we gave huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country, which cost $1 trillion over a decade. Where were Paul Ryan and the other “deficit hawks” when Bush and Congress spent a trillion dollars on tax breaks for the very rich and added to our national debt? They voted for those policies.
Under George W. Bush and his fellow deficit hawks, Congress passed an overly expensive Medicare prescription drug program written by the insurance companies and drug industry. The government was barred from negotiating lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry under the program, which will end up adding $400 billion to our national debt over a 10-year period. Where were Paul Ryan and the other “deficit hawks” when Bush and Congress spent $400 billion for a much too expensive prescription drug program? They voted for those policies.
Now, having run up huge deficits, our born-again “deficit hawks” want to cut every program in sight to save money. In order to cover the costs they incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, they want to cut Social Security. In order to cover the costs of the tax breaks for the rich, they want to cut Medicare and Medicaid. In order to cover the insurance-company-written Medicare prescription drug program, they want to cut education and food stamps.
This approach — balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor — is not only immoral, it is bad economic policy. It is something that must be vigorously opposed.
The $16 trillion national debt and the current $1 trillion deficit are serious problems, but they must be addressed in a fair way that will not cripple our economy, lead to the loss of jobs and punish people who are already hurting.
At a time when the wealthiest people in this country are doing phenomenally well and when their effective tax rate is the lowest in decades, the richest people in this country have got to be asked to pay their fair share of taxes.
At a time when corporate profits are soaring and when about one in four major profitable corporations pays nothing in federal income taxes, we must end corporate loopholes and demand that corporate America starts paying its fair share of taxes.
At a time when this country loses $100 billion every single year because wealthy people and corporations stash money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere, we must crack down on abusive tax cheats.
The United States military budget has virtually tripled since 1997, and we now spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. It is time to take a hard look at military spending.
There are serious and responsible ways to move this country toward deficit reduction. Unfortunately, that’s not what Romney and Ryan are talking about.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the longest-serving independent in congressional history, is a member of the Senate Budget Committee. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.
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