Continuing Appropriationsby Senator Bernard Sanders
Posted on 2013-09-30
SANDERS. Madam President, I wish to say a few words to try to
reflect what I think tens of millions of Americans are feeling at 11:25
tonight with the threat of a government shutdown in 35 minutes.
What I want to say is that this discussion is not about ObamaCare at all. What this discussion, debate, and conflict is about is that our Republican friends in the House are trying to annul the elections that took place last November. Some of them were shocked that Obama won and that he won by 5 million votes. They haven't gotten over it. They were shocked they lost two seats in the Senate. They haven't gotten over that. They were shocked they lost some seats in the House.
What they are saying to the American people tonight is: Maybe we lost the Presidential election. Maybe we lost seats in the Senate and in the House. It doesn't matter. We can now bring the government to a shutdown, throw some 800,000 hard-working Americans out on the street, and we are going to get our way no matter what.
I think that is a horrendous precedent to be established for this body. Let's be clear. If we surrendered to that hostage-taking tonight, without a shadow of a doubt these guys would be back 2 weeks from today. At that point they would say to us: Here is our laundry list of demands. If you don't give us what we want, we are going to bring down the financial system of the United States of America, bring down the world financial system, and if it leads to a worldwide recession, well, that is the way it goes. But what is most important is we get our way and we don't care about the repercussions.
Next year I can see these same guys coming to the floor of the House and saying: You know what. We want to abolish Social Security. We think Social Security is a bad idea, and if you don't allow us to do that, we are going to stop the government again. And on and on it goes.
Ultimately, what we are dealing with tonight is an extraordinarily antidemocratic act. Every Member of the Senate has strong feelings. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. But when they are in the minority--they do not control the White House, they do not control the Senate--they cannot force the American people to give them what they want.
The irony is that because we have folks in the Republican Party in the House who believe we should abolish Social Security, end Medicare as we know it, privatize the VA, eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency--they do not believe that the function of government is to protect the interests of the vast majority of the people. So these guys are sitting and saying: My God. The government may shut down. What a great idea.
If you don't believe the EPA should protect us from pollution, then isn't it a good idea that we not have an EPA starting tomorrow? If you don't believe in veterans health care, isn't it a good idea that we should slow down the processing of veterans' claims? So for these guys who do not believe that in a democratic, civilized society we should have a government which represents the people, then from their point of view what is happening is, in fact, quite good.
What particularly angers me, and why the American people have such contempt for what we are doing in Washington is as we speak--everybody knows this--the middle class in this country is disappearing. The Census Bureau study came out last week--if you can believe this--median family income, that family right in the middle of American society, is earning less money today than it earned 24 years ago. All of the increases in technology and productivity doesn't mean anything.
Poverty is at 46.5 million, and that is highest on record. Youth unemployment is 20 percent. Real unemployment is 14 percent. What do the American people want us to be doing? Everybody knows what they want us to do. Every poll gives us the answer.
They want us to start creating the millions of jobs this economy desperately needs. They want us to raise the minimum wage because they know millions of people in this country cannot make it on $8 or $9 an hour. They [[Page S7051]] want us to improve our crumbling infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, and our wastewater plants. They want us to bring about real tax reform. One out of four major corporations today is not paying a nickel in taxes, and they want us to change that as well.
In my view, for the future of this country, we cannot allow a handful of rightwing extremists to hold this Nation hostage. The American people have to stand tall and tell them that, yes, in a democratic society, people have differences of opinion. Yes, we can make improvements in ObamaCare. But we don't go forward by trying to destroy or bring the U.S. Government to a halt.
I think it is important for the American people now to stand and demand democracy here in Washington, and tell a handful of rightwing extremists they cannot get their way by holding this government in a hijacked manner.
With that, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.