What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
The economy, the federal budget, and the growing national deficit are touchstone issues defining politics in Washington today. Lawmakers are proposing cuts to programs that benefit middle class and working families. In December, President Obama signed into law an extension of tax cuts — including cuts for the very wealthiest Americans. One Independent senator delivered an eight-hour speech on the Senate floor decrying the tax deal and what he believed it symbolized: corporate greed and the collapse of the middle class. U. S Senator Bernie Sanders talks about his appeal for a fundamental change in national priorities.
- Senator Bernie Sanders Independent U. S. Senator from Vermont.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. On December 10th of last year, Bernie Sanders gave a speech on the Senate floor lasting more than eight hours. He condemned the extension of Bush-era tax credits for the wealthiest Americans. But the speech did more than critique a particular piece of legislation. The independent senator from Vermont also attacked corporate greed and said a war is being waged against the disappearing and shrinking middle class.
MS. DIANE REHMThe oration has now been published in book form. It's titled, "The Speech." Senator Bernie Sanders joins me in the studio. I look forward to hearing your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, sir. It's good to have you here.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERSIt's a pleasure to be with you, Diane.
REHMThank you. Before we begin to talk about the speech, tell me your thoughts on what is happening in Libya. We now have CIA people on the ground. It strikes me that that is precisely how Vietnam began.
SANDERSWell, I'll tell you, Diane. This country has a $14 trillion national debt. We have lost many, many thousands of wonderful young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we went into Afghanistan, I don't know that people would have thought that 11 years later we would still be there. We're in Iraq now for eight years. There is no question but that Colonel Gaddafi is a thug and a dictator and a very bad-news guy. The guy has a terrible, terrible history.
SANDERSBut to say the least, I have serious doubts about the wisdom of us getting involved in a third war in the Middle East so I'm not sympathetic to that.
REHMDo you believe we are getting involved in a third war?
SANDERSWell, we will see what happens. But I would hope very much that if our friends in Europe -- if the U.K. feels very strongly about this, if Italy and France feel very strongly about that, that's their right, but I would hope that we dis-involve as soon as possible.
REHMAs an independent, Senator Sanders, do you have the ear of the President?
SANDERSWell, I think as much as any other member of the Democratic caucus. I've been in the White House many, many, many times and we have chatted. And I had the opportunity to tell the president what I think alone, with a group of senators and with larger groups of senators, so yes, we do meet with him and with members of his administration.
REHMWhat do you think of his handling of foreign affairs, thus far?
SANDERSWell, my own view, again, is, again, I think that we should be out of Iraq as quickly as possible. I think we should be out of Afghanistan. I was just there last month. It is an incredibly complicated and difficult situation. One of the facts that amazed me is that when you go to Afghanistan, I don't know how many people know this, that most of the older police there, and this is where this country is through no fault of its own, are illiterate. That one of the achievements that we're bringing about is training police officers in Afghanistan so they have a first grade reading level.
SANDERSIt is a very complicated and difficult situation and I think my hope is that we bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can. It's not going to happen tomorrow. It shouldn't happen tomorrow, but I hope it happens as soon as possible.
REHMOnce more, how do you believe President Obama is doing in foreign affairs?
SANDERSWell I think if you add all of those things together, I mean, I think he is bringing the troops home from Iraq. I wish they would be brought home somewhat further and I think we've got to be more aggressive in bringing the troops home from Afghanistan than the president has indicated.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about economics and the budget negotiations going on right now. Do you believe we'll have a deal by the 8th of April?
SANDERSI suspect we will. But the question is not whether or not we will have a deal, but whether it is a good deal for the American people or an appropriate deal. Now, the reason, Diane, that I was on the floor for eight and a half hours in December was that I thought that at a time when the middle class in this country is, in fact, disappearing, when poverty is increasing and when the gap between the very, very wealthiest people and everybody else is growing wider, I thought it was basically absurd to be extending huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
SANDERSWhat I predicted, if people read the book, is that as a result of that deal, that agreement which extends tax breaks and makes the deficit situation even worse by doing so, the logical conclusion from our Republican friends is in order to move toward a balanced budget and reduce the deficit, what they are going to have to do is go after programs that are vital and of life and death importance to millions and millions of Americans. And that precisely is what has happened.
SANDERSSo right now, where we are is our Republican friends have come forward with HR1, which is the legislation that passed the House and essentially this is what they said. They said that at a time when 50 million people have no health insurance at all -- today, 45,000 people every year die in this country because they don't get to a doctor when they should. They're going to cut back significantly on community health centers so the people do not have access to primary healthcare.
SANDERSAt a time when the cost of a college education is soaring, they're going to cut back on Pell Grants so that 9 million young people will see either the ending of their grants or a lowering of their grants. They're going to cut back on Head Start. Any working family in America knows that we have a major crisis in terms of affordable childcare. It's true in Vermont. It's true all over this country. Their proposal would throw over 200,000 children, low-income children, off of Head Start.
SANDERSThey want to cut back on the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program that is a nutrition program for low-income pregnant women so they don't give birth to low-weight babies. They want to cut back on the Social Security Administration big-time, which means it will be more difficult and timely for people to get the benefits that they're entitled to. They want to slash EPA by 30 percent. EPA. That's the agency that enforces clean air, clean water. They want to cut back on public broadcasting and many, many other programs.
SANDERSSo here's where we are as a nation. On one hand, the rich get richer and we say we're going to give you huge tax breaks. The middle class collapses, poverty increases and we say we're going to cut back on programs that you desperately need. I think that's totally absurd. So we started the process in December that's why I was on the floor. We're continuing that process right now.
SANDERSNow what you notice -- if you listen to this debate, what are you noticing? The debate that is taking place between the Republicans and the White House is how severe should the cuts be? How much do we cut? I have proposed something widely supported in the polls by the American people that maybe instead of just cutting programs that the most vulnerable people in this country need, maybe, maybe, maybe we might want to impose a surtax on families that have -- make a million dollars or more. If you do that, you can bring it up to $50 million, maybe -- just maybe we want to do away with some of the loopholes that enable the large oil companies not to pay any taxes at all.
SANDERSYou do those things and you don't have to make these draconian cuts to programs that low-income and moderate-income people need. But unfortunately, the power of big money is such that we're not hearing a lot of support for those ideas.
REHMSenator Bernie Sanders we're talking about what's happening in Washington, a speech he made on the floor of the Senate in December of last year and the book published after that eight-hour speech. It's titled, "The Speech" and the historic filibuster on corporate greed and the decline of our middle class. Do join us 800-433-8850. Are you saying, Senator Sanders, that if that tax break had not been extended, that these cuts would not have had to be made?
SANDERSIf those tax breaks had not been extended and if we had the courage to go after all kinds of corporate loopholes we provide. Just the other day, Diane, a list of ten major corporations, General Electric, a number of oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Volero, a number of Wall Street firms, Bank of America, Citigroup, these are companies that make huge profits. Do you know how much they pay in taxes?
REHMPretty close to very little.
SANDERSA lot less than the average working stiff. In all of those cases, not only do they not pay any taxes, they have gotten tax refunds from the IRS so you've got a huge scandal there. So what I am saying is that if Congress had the courage and the president had the courage to say to the wealthiest people in this country that we have a serious deficit problem. We have enormous needs all over this country. We need the concept of shared sacrifice. Do you know what I mean by shared sacrifice? What I mean is that you're all in this together. You just don't throw little children off of the Head Start program or college students off of Pell Grants. Yes, if you are a very profitable corporation, if you're GE and you made $25 billion of profit in the last six years, you know what? You should pay something in taxes.
REHMInstead, they got $4 billion in refunds.
REHMYou must, at some level, be disappointed with President Obama on this very issue of the extension of the tax credit.
SANDERSI am very disappointed that the president has, in a significant way, caved in ideologically to the Republican position. And what he is saying is the major problem that we face now is we've to cut and cut not as much as the Republicans want and he is concerned about education. He's concerned about this, that and the other thing. But I think he has surrendered the ideological high ground in saying, well, wait a second. We have got to deal with income disparity in America. We have the most unfair distribution of wealth and income. We have to deal with that issue. The president has not spoken about that.
REHMSenator Bernie Sanders, we're talking about a new book. It's titled, "The Speech," a historic filibuster on corporate greed and the decline of our middle class.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is here. Last December, he stood on the Senate floor for eight hours plus delivering a speech that has now been put into book form. He calls it an historic filibuster on corporate greed and the decline of our middle class. I wanted to have you on this program, Senator Sanders, because I wondered how your message is getting across and who is listening.
SANDERSWell, I'll tell you, Diane, one of the interesting aspects of that speech was the degree to which the social network media just exploded. I'm not much into Twittering, but it turned out to be the most Twitted event of the day worldwide. Our phone lines in our office just literally bounced off the hook, both in Burlington, Vt. and here in Washington. E-mails, just thousands and thousands of e-mails. The -- as I understand it, the server for the House Senate website collapsed because of the number of people who were trying to get on. CSPAN had a very good day.
SANDERSI think people want to hear the message. They know that there is something profoundly wrong in this country. And they are scratching their heads and they're saying, you know, we have all of this technology out there that makes us more productive. Why is it that the middle class is collapsing? Why is it that over a recent 25-year period, Diane, 80 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent?
SANDERSWhat does it mean for the future of this country when, in terms of wealth, not income, you have 400 families that own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans? Okay, 400 families. Now, we don't talk about this as a nation. I'm one of the very few people in the Congress who talks about this issue. And the fact that we don't talk about it in the media or in Congress speaks to the power of big money. This is not an issue that they want to have discussed.
SANDERSBut I think people understand that there is something wrong when their kids are likely to have, if we don't turn this around, a lower standard of living than they do. So these are issues we have got to jump into, we need serious discussion about. And unfortunately, we're not having it. But...
REHMYou're saying the networks aren't talking about this at all.
SANDERSNo, come on. I mean, the -- how often when you turn on -- now, let's exclude FOX, which is the Republican network, but go to the other three major networks, and even go to Public Broadcasting. How often do we have serious discussions about the fact that the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world? We have the highest rate of childhood poverty. We have more and more billionaires while the middle class sinks. You tell me. You follow the media. Is that an issue that is widely discussed?
REHMAll I can tell you is that on public radio, I hear a fair amount of that. On public television, on Jim Lehrer's program, I hear a fair amount of that. But certainly, I'm glad you're here. You're reaching millions of people in this country and around the world. And it is important to talk about, but I'm happy to know that the Twitter population was very much at work. But what about your peers? What about the other people in the Senate? What about your other legislatures? Did they simply not want to listen?
SANDERSWell, it's not a question of not listening. Everybody listens to everybody but, you know, that question is best addressed to other people. But the listeners will have to decide how many people in the United States Congress -- and there are some, believe me, I don't want to suggest for one moment I'm the only one -- how many people in the Congress are talking about the growing income and wealth inequality in America.
SANDERSAnd by the way, Diane, as a result of the Supreme Court decision last year, the citizens united decision, what you have is a very bad campaign finance situation made much worse because right now, every member of the House, every member of the Senate understands every word that they say, every vote that they cast, if it goes against what big money wants, you can have these heads of large corporations now spending zillions of dollars on radio ads, television ads in your state without any disclosure. Unlimited amounts, no disclosure. So that gives the big money and trust even more power than they previously had.
REHMHow many corporations, how many packs, how many corporate donors do you have helping you?
SANDERSI get support -- the method by which I raise money for my campaigns is different than the vast majority of the members of Congress. I expect by the -- I'm running for reelection in 2012. I think that by the time the election comes about, we'll have probably close to 100,000 individual contributors maybe averaging 40 or 50 bucks apiece. Do I get money from labor packs? I do. From environmental packs, I do. From women's organizations, I do. From children's organizations, I do. I do not take any corporate pack money.
SANDERSNo, never have.
SANDERSDon't want it.
REHMAnd why is that?
SANDERSBecause the goals of large corporations are not the goals that I subscribe to, nor do my constituents subscribe to. I think the people in the state of Vermont want a senator who has the willingness to stand up to big money and trust and protect working families. So for me to take money from, you know, large corporations when I don't believe in what their goals are, is -- would be hypocritical on my part. But, by the way, I don't have to worry about it too much. They're not very interested in providing funds.
REHMThey're not interested. If Democrats had passed a budget before the midterm elections, would your speech have been necessary?
SANDERSWell, depending on what that budget would have been. Again, I think that where the Republicans have won a huge victory and where the president has not played a good role is to assume that the only problem facing this country is the need to cut spending. Do I think we should cut spending? Sure, we should. The military budget is too high. There's a lot of waste in a lot of government agencies that I think should be cut. So I'm not here to say that you don't cut spending.
SANDERSOn the other hand, not to look at the revenue side, not to say that you can't give tax breaks to billionaires and millionaires, I mean, that's just absurd. You don't give tax breaks to the very, very rich and then cut back on programs for working families. So the issue of revenue and the need to bring revenue into this discourse is something that is sorely lacking.
REHMWhat would you cut from the budget?
SANDERSWell, I think given -- let's start off with the fact that military spending is now almost three times, including the wars, what it was in 1997. Let's look at the fact that you have a lot of military bases around the world that I think we may not need anymore. Let's look at the fact that we, to some degree, have weapon systems that are still fighting the old Cold War rather than international terrorism, which is our real threat obviously right now.
SANDERSSo I think you can make good cuts in military spending. I think in various areas in agriculture. And there's a lot of waste in bureaucracy throughout government. I was the mayor of the city of Burlington for eight years, and trust me, you can be a progressive and be very conservative about how you spend money.
REHMWhat about Social Security and Medicare?
SANDERSWell, thanks for asking. Those are -- let's talk about this one. One of the other aspects of the agreement in December -- the tax agreement that I spoke against was the so called tax holiday which you may be familiar with. So all over the country people say, wow, isn't it good? I'm seeing a reduction and my FICA tax, it's gone down by 2 percent. I'm getting another 500,000 bucks a year. That's great. But what I wanna say to you folks is that is money that has been diverted from your Social Security retirement fund. That's where it's coming from.
SANDERSNow, the president has said that he will replace that money at the end of one year and I believe him. The problem is, once you break precedent and start diverting money away from the Social Security trust fund into tax relief, my Republican friends will be there to demand that that be continued. So I worry very much that this will not be a one-year agreement.
SANDERSAnd if that happens, then you're talking about diverting billions and billions of dollars away from Social Security. But let me say a word on Social Security, Diane, because there has been a huge amount of misinformation out there about Social Security. When people turn on the TV tonight, they're gonna have some guy up there saying, Social Security is going broke, Social Security is bankrupt. We need major structural changes in Social Security. So let me say as bluntly as I can, those are lies. They are not true.
SANDERSSocial Security today has a $2.6 trillion surplus. Let me repeat. Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus. Social Security can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 26 years. Diane, you will recall back in 1983 Social Security was going broke. An agreement was reached -- they were months away, months away from not being able to pay out all benefits. And what happened is Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan reached an agreement. We are where we are today. Today where we are is a $2.6 trillion surplus.
SANDERSNow, here's the issue about Social Security. The people who want to dismember Social Security by either cutting benefits or raising the retirement age or privatizing it, these are people who never liked Social Security ever. They've never liked it. Many rightwing Republicans have never liked the concept of Social Security because they don't believe in government. And here is a program -- and I want people to hear this clearly.
SANDERSWith all of the volatility in the world's economy, the ups and downs of the economy for so many years, Social Security has paid out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the last 75 years. It's never missed. And it has done that at a minimum administrative cost. It's a pretty efficient program.
REHMSo why do we continue to hear Social Security is broke, we've got to do something about it, it won't be here in 20 years? Why do we keep hearing that?
SANDERSBecause ideologically, we have now a growing rightwing in this country that does not believe the government -- you have people in Congress right now who believe that government should not be involved in healthcare at all. That means the elimination of Medicare, Medicaid. They do not believe -- and let's give them their due. They're honest about it. They say, we do not believe that the United States government should be involved in providing retirement security to the elderly or support for people with disabilities, which Social Security also does, or protecting widows and orphans.
REHMHow did we get here? You know, over and over, I hear from corporate representatives our priority is the shareholder. Our priority is, as a corporation, to make money and to be responsive to our shareholders. How did we get from the new deal when FDR put in place, so many programs to help the elderly, to help the poor and onward, and now here we are?
SANDERSWell, what we have seen, for a lot of reasons, is a very significant drift to the right. And whereas years ago we used to have in this country a center left party, which was called the Democratic Party. Never particularly a very progressive party, but it was a center left party who saw as their mission the need to protect the working class of this country, lower income people.
SANDERSA party that you had somebody like a Harry Truman, who in his day, when he ran for election in '48, he was a moderate Democrat. You remember, many of the progressives didn't like him. If you read Harry Truman's speeches today, very few Democrats would give them. Far more progressive, far more radical and he was considered a southern moderate at the time.
SANDERSSo you had the Democrat Party evolve from a center left party to a center party. You have the Republican Party going from a center right party to a rather extreme right party. Let me throw out something, which I think is hysterically funny. When you read the papers today you see John Boehner is at war with the conservatives of his party, right? What is John Boehner? John was on this show. John -- I know John.
SANDERSJohn is a conservative, but the media can't even define who the rightwing of the Republican Party is. They're rightwing extremists, that's what they are but we can't even say that. So Boehner, Mitch McConnell are proud conservatives, they were on this show. They would say, of course we're conservatives. But they're more moderate than the rightwing. So you have a Republican Party which has now become extreme right.
SANDERSNow, how does that happen? Well, it happens because I think at a certain point -- you know, a lot of debate and I don't know all the answers to this -- but I think at a certain point the big money interests said, you know what? We kinda want to break the social contract. Which means that, you know, you work with unions, you support legislation which protects working people and low income people. And at a certain point 30 years ago or so they said, hey, we want more, we want more. And we're going to go out of our way to break unions.
SANDERSWe're going to de-industrialize America by shipping jobs, pushing free trade agreements, which work for large corporations, but not for working people. We're going to go abroad and do that. We're going to get more actively involved in politics. And, by the way, let's -- this is not just these guys doing this to the Republican Party. When you ask me why this country has moved to the right, so far big money plays a very important role in the Democratic Party as well. I mean, let's be honest about that. I am proud to be an Independent. I work within the Democratic caucus, some great people in the caucus that I work with. But both parties have been heavily influenced by big money.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers. Let me remind you you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go first to Kirtland, Ohio. Good morning, Todd.
TODDGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
TODDI really appreciate the opportunity to speak to this senator. I've always respected his very independent stance and I did hear part of the speech on the Senate floor on CSPAN. Basically I just want to call to ask the Senator how in the heck is he able to continuously fight this good fight and never give up? I'm 60 years old. I started voting back in the late '60s, early '70s. I've always voted progressive, either Independent or Democrat.
TODDI'm proud of that and proud of my position. And I've reached the point now that I've given up. I don't know what else to do. I voted. I've done everything I could. I've demonstrated. I've canvassed people. I don't know what else to do. I'm, you know, shocked at the lies and disingenuous arguments put forth by the Tea Party and the Far Right. I believe they've taken over our country and I don't know what to do, short of retiring to Costa Rica.
SANDERSWell, don't -- Costa Rica's a beautiful country, but don't do that, Todd. And I think, you know, Todd, this country throughout its history has had many ups and downs. And we all know the history of this country from slavery and women not being able to vote and homophobia and all that stuff. And, you know, Martin Luther King and others made the point, the arc of history goes up and it goes down, but you do not have -- Todd, let me just say, thank you for your nice words about me -- but you do not, none of us have the right to give up.
SANDERSThe stakes are too great and it's not just for us. I have four kids and six grandchildren. Don't give up. Keep fighting, keep struggling and you'll -- I mean, for example, I mean, just one of the nice things that happened very recently. The governor of Wisconsin thought that he had the right to break unions. Had nothing to do with the deficit, just he didn't like them politically, he could break them. You know what? The people of Wisconsin fought back.
REHMSenator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. We're talking about a new book. It is a representation of a speech he made on the Senate floor in December. More of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd that is the passionate voice of Senator Bernie Sanders on the floor of the Senate last December and he's here in the studio with me to talk about some of the elements contained in that more than eight hour speech he made on the floor of the Senate. Senator Sanders here's an e-mail from Catherine in Cleveland, Ohio; she says "It seems as though no one's listening in Ohio where I live. The unions are now voted out, republicans don't want NPR and places that talk about these kinds of things. Democrats won't have money for their candidates so the voices of the people who protest are being made to go away. If all government is in the pocket of big money and our elected officials don't listed what can we do?"
SANDERSThrow them out. I mean it, you know. This is a democracy. People have a right to stand up. Put pressure on their elected officials. If their elected officials, whether republicans, democrats, independents or whatever, are not responding to their needs people, you know, should take action and get involved in the political process and get new blood in there. I, you know, I have seen many, many times in this country, and in Vermont, we work very hard on this. To get people at the grass roots level activated. You know, the first call, Todd asked well, how do we – how do you keep going? Well, I just came back from Vermont. I spent the week – I go home every weekend virtually, but we had four town meetings.
SANDERSHundreds and hundreds of people coming out at each meeting and people want to stand up – they're standing up, they're fighting, they're getting involved in the political process. That's what we have to do all over this country.
REHMGarrett of Pembroke, Va., wants to know your opinion of the fact that Jeff Immelt, the CEO of G.E. is an advisor to President Obama.
SANDERSSymbolically I think that was a very, very poor appointment. I think it sent maybe the right message to the big money interests and the business community. It sent the wrong message to working families. I mean, I just mentioned a moment ago; General Electric has made $25 billion in profits over the last five years. They don't pay any taxes. General Electric has been a leader in this country in outsourcing jobs to China and other countries. General Electric has a bad record in terms of its relationship to its unions. Mr. Immelt's a very smart guy and so forth but he is not the guy I would have appointed to that position.
REHMPresident Obama campaigned very passionately for the middle class, for people – ordinary people – in this country. What's happened?
SANDERSDiane, I, you know, I don't want to speculate about President Obama. I think what I can tell you is the caller who just called a moment ago – there are a lot of people who are extremely disappointed. Who want to see this brilliant president, this articulate president, this guy who ran one of the most inspiring campaigns of our lifetimes go back to where he was and stand up and explain to the American people what is happening and be prepared to take on those powerful forces right now – who have so much power – whose greed, in my view, is destroying this country. Is he doing it? No, he's not. So I think you're hearing a lot of disappointment out there but I can't speak for the president. I don't know why he is doing what he's doing but I'm not happy with it.
REHMAll right, to Jim, who's in Bethesda, Md., good morning.
JIMGood morning. Thank you for having me on the air and thank you Senator for your speech back in December, which I got to listen to at a number of points during the day. I'm calling to ask the question that I get from my friends on the right who when I say that we need to tax corporations more and regulate them more they say well, we can't do that. And this world is flat; Tom Freedman globalized economy that it's just not possible; that they'll take their ball and go home. I personally don't believe that's true. I think that shows a lack of creative thinking and – but, perhaps, they might call me naïve. I'll listen to your answer off the air and thank you very much.
SANDERSWell, thanks, Jim. I think the question that you're asking goes beyond just the taxation of corporations. I think it goes to the role of the United States and our policies in the global economy. Here's a fact that we should be chewing on quite a bit. And that is in the last ten years approximately 50,000 factories in this country have been shut down. They've been shut down for a number of reasons but one of the reasons – one of the key reasons – is that we have a trade policy that says to General Electric – that says to every other company in America why do you want to pay workers in this country $20 or $25 an hour, deal with the environment, deal with unions when you can go to China or other developing countries, pay people pennies an hour.
SANDERSYou don't have unions and so forth and so on. And then you can bring your products back into this country. Every place that I go in Vermont and throughout this country people are saying, you know, it's harder and harder to buy products manufactured in the U.S.A.
SANDERSWe have lost millions and millions of good paying manufacturing jobs. That is one of the reasons why, in my view, the middle class is in decline. Tell you, very briefly, a funny story, Diane. I was at the Smithsonian Museum – and I love the Smithsonian, they're great, great museums – their Museum of American History. I went in there gift shopping for Christmas for my grandchildren. And it turns out that the busts – the statuettes of presidents of the United States – were made in China. So we had a discussion with the museum. I think that's going to change. They're going to buy more American products. But that's how endemic the problem is.
SANDERSSo to answer Jim's question, what we need, in my view, Jim, is not only fair taxation where you have a situation – not where corporations are paying less than the average worker after making billions in profits, but also a trade policy which says to corporations look, we want the American people to buy our products.
SANDERSHow about manufacturing those products in this country, as well. Let's rebuild our manufacturing sector. And that is good not just for blue collar people, that's good for engineers, scientists, as well.
REHMHere is an e-mail from Brian in St. Louis who says, "I am sorry. I am part of that upper one percent and, honestly, I will fight tooth and nail to keep my income. My family started our business out of the garage 15 years ago. We've worked really hard to get where we are. If I were to be taxed more I would cut benefits from my employees, turn to technology so I don't have to hire any more employees. I'll cut back on my charitable donations all so my family can enjoy the fruits of our labor."
SANDERSWell, I hear you, Brian. And you do what you want to do and I have to do what I want to do. And I will tell you, Brian, that I will fight to make sure that the United States doesn't have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. Or that 50 million Americans have no health insurance at all. Or that we end the obscenity where the top one percent now earns more income than the bottom 50 percent. So, Brian, I think we all should be proud to be Americans. And being Americans means that we part of the process, that we all work together.
SANDERSThere are some people always going to be rich and that's fine. I don't have any problems – and people are going to be poorer, but to have the kind of income disparity we have right now where you have, as I just mentioned, very, very wealthy people, who are now paying the lowest effective tax rate in decades. They pay, you know, Warren Buffett makes the point that he pays a higher effective tax rate than his secretary does. So, Brian, I understand where you're coming from but you're probably not going to contribute to my campaign.
REHMLet's go to Joe, who's in San Antonio. Good morning, you're on the air.
JOEYes, thank you, Mr. Sanders. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for continuing to fight and be a voice for the powerless in this country. We definitely don't have enough public servants like you. I greatly appreciate it. You're a wonderful inspiration and keep – keep going, man. And we're going to – we're going to back you every step of the way. There's an effort in this country to make socialism into a bad word and the people on the right are guilty of this more than anyone else. It's – there's no honesty out there anymore. And people like you give people like me hope.
REHMThanks for calling.
SANDERSWell, Joe, thank you very much. And I think, you know, when you talk about the issues – and Joe was very kind – you talk – Diane, when you raise issues and you say to the average American, you say, do you think all people should have healthcare as a right. You know what people will say? Yeah, I do. Do you think everybody in our country, regardless of income, should have the opportunity to get a college education? People will say, yeah, I do. Do you think that the people we bailed out on Wall Street should be making more money now than they did before we bailed them out? People will say, no, we don't think that makes a whole lot of sense.
SANDERSSo I think what Joe is saying is, I think people have got to come together around what, I believe, is just an ideology of fairness, which says that we are one great nation. We got to stick together. We got to protect each other rather than so few having so much and so many having so little.
REHMWhat about that word socialism?
SANDERSMy view is I'm a democratic socialist. I am sympathetic to what has gone on in Scandinavia for many, many years, where you have nations where everybody has healthcare as a right, where college education is free or virtually free, where people have very strong retirement benefits, where there are very strong childcare systems. What I think is that in a modern, democratic, civilized society government should play an active role in making sure that all of our people have, at least, a minimal standard of living. And then, on the other hand, what you need is the private sector to create the kind of wealth that we need.
SANDERSBut you go to Scandinavia and people would be embarrassed. Their culture is such that people would be embarrassed at the kind of income disparity that we have in this country. Sure you have rich people but they're part of a culture and a nation which tries to do well for all people.
REHMNumber of e-mailers are asking what you think of the Tea Party.
SANDERSThis is what I think of the Tea Party, and I've met, you know, as I go around my state and go around the country, I see people who are actively involved. I think you have a lot of folks in the Tea Party who are working people, who are small business people, some of whom – I remember meeting a woman in the southern part of Vermont in tears. She said the most difficult thing in my life was I lost my business – well, my business declined. I have to lay off people and she was crying. I think you have a lot of those folks who have gotten sucked into a movement led by big money interests who see these people – working people – as folks who can be the face of the right wing.
SANDERSAnd so you have people like the Koch brothers who are worth – the brothers are worth, I think, about $35 billion – putting a whole lot of money into these types of think tanks and Tea Party organizations trying to say to working people that you don't need healthcare. You don't need the opportunity to send your kids to college. You should not be concerned that your job is going to China. You, who don't have any money at all, should be supporting tax breaks for billionaires. And, obviously, I think, and I hope, that more and more people in that status will see what's going on.
REHMSenator Bernie Sanders, he's new book is titled, "The Speech." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an e-mail from Linda in Kerrville, Texas. She says, "You say we should all share? You think that means that you have the right to take away money others made by working, investing and creating jobs to give it away to people in the form of free programs and entitlements? Everyone in America has the right and privilege to take care of themselves; not to be taken care of by taking from others."
SANDERSWell, I think, Linda, at a time when we have a recession, a severe recession, caused by the greed and recklessness of Wall Street; and when we talk about taking care of people, I would remind Linda, against my vote, that the taxpayers of this country bailed out Wall Street. I would remind Linda that the wealth of this country is not necessarily created by just the people on top but by a whole lot of working people, some of whom are making eight or nine or ten dollars an hour. I would remind Linda, also, that it is simply not true that anybody in this country now has the opportunity to do anything they want.
SANDERSSocial mobility has been significantly declining in recent years. That if you don't have a college education it's pretty hard to do things. So Linda expresses a philosophy, which basically said, look, every person is on their own. Those people who have made it have a right to keep it. They're not really part of a society and I disagree. I think, Linda, what life is about is making sure that the people in our country, all of the people in our country, do well.
SANDERSThere are going to be discrepancies between rich and poor, but, I think, to turn your eye away from kids in your state, in your community, who can't get to a doctor, kids who are going to be dropping out of high school because their schools are inadequate. I think it's shortsighted for this country and I think that it is morally objectionable.
REHMAnd, finally, where are you on immigration reform?
SANDERSWell, I support immigration reform. I think we need comprehensive immigration reform. The one area where I am concerned about, and I've played an active role, is I don't want to see companies utilizing guest worker programs to lower wages for American workers. Sometimes what you see is these companies are bringing people from other countries around the world with really the expressed goal of lowering wages in America. And that concerns me. But, on the other hand, do we have to integrate the people who are in this country into the United States in one way or another sort of path towards citizenship, I do believe that.
REHMHow are you on Arizona's law, Utah's law?
SANDERSWell, I'm against what Arizona has done. I'm less familiar with Utah.
REHMThe whole question of whether to amend the 14th Amendment that gives one birthright when one is born in this country, republicans and some democrats would like to see amended. How do you feel about that?
SANDERSI'm against that.
REHMIt's been a pleasure to talk with you.
SANDERSWell, very nice to be here.
REHMAnd I think many of our listeners have enjoyed hearing you in person. Thank you so much. I hope you'll come back.
SANDERSMy pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.
REHMThe book is titled, "The Speech: An Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of our Middle Class." Senator Bernie Sanders. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is drshow.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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