SHARED SACRIFICE -- (Senate - March 30, 2011)
Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, I wish to say a few words about the debate over the budget that is currently taking place here in Washington.
I wish to express a viewpoint that I think is shared by the vast majority of the people in our country. That is, No. 1, I think we all recognize the deficit of $1.6 trillion is an enormously serious problem, as is the case with a $14 trillion national debt. I think most Americans and virtually everybody in Congress understands this is an issue we have to deal with. However, at a time when this country is in the midst of severe recession; when real unemployment--not official unemployment--is close to 16 percent; when poverty in America is increasing and when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on Earth; at a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance at all and we are losing about 45,000 Americans every year because they don't get access to a doctor; at a time when many of our people are working longer hours for lower wages, I think what most Americans are saying is: Yes, we have to deal with the deficit, but we have to deal with it in a way that is fair and in a way that requires shared sacrifice.
It is absolutely wrong to be talking about balancing the budget and deficit reduction simply on the backs of working people, the middle class, low-income people, the sick, the elderly, and the most vulnerable people in this country. That is morally wrong and economically unwise. What we must be talking about is shared sacrifice where all segments of our society are participating in the effort to balance the budget and reduce our deficit.
While the middle class in this country is disappearing and while poverty is increasing, there is another reality this Senate must address, and that is that the people on top are doing phenomenally well. Many of my colleagues have seen articles which talk about corporate profits today being at all-time highs. The middle class is collapsing, poverty is increasing, and corporate profits are at an all-time high. Today, the wealthiest people in our country are doing phenomenally well. Our friends on Wall Street, who helped cause the recession we are in through their greed and their recklessness and illegal behavior, are now earning more money than they have ever earned before. Three out of the four largest banks today, before we bailed them out because they were too big to fail, are even bigger. So the guys on Wall Street are making more money than they did before we bailed them out, corporate profits are at record-breaking levels, and the wealthiest people in this country are doing phenomenally well.
In a recent 25-year period, 80 percent of all income went to the top 1 percent, and we now have a situation where the top 1 percent earns about 23 percent of all income in America more than the bottom 50 percent. So that is where we are: corporate profits soaring, wealthiest people doing phenomenally well. Then we have folks who come here and say, Well, we have to balance the budget. We have to move toward deficit reduction. The way we do it is on the backs of those people in the middle class, working class, lower income people who are already being beaten over the head because of the recession.
I would point out that the deficit reduction package passed by our Republican colleagues in the House would cut Head Start by $1.1 billion, throwing over 200,000 little children out of Head Start. There is a major childcare crisis in America today. We have to expand Head Start. They want to throw 200,000 kids off of Head Start.
With 50 million Americans having no health insurance--people can't get to a primary health care doctor; they are getting sick when they shouldn't be sick; they are ending up in the emergency room; they are ending up in the hospital--our Republican friends want to cut $1.3 billion from community health centers, denying 11 million patients access to primary health care. They are balancing the budget on the backs of little kids, low-income kids; balancing the budget on the backs of sick people who have no access to a doctor. College education costs are soaring. Middle-class families can't afford it. Our Republican friends want to reduce the Pell grant program--the major source of Federal funding for moderate and low-income families for sending their kids to college--by 17 percent, which would mean that over 9 million low-income college students would lose some or all of their Pell grants.
The Community Service Block Grant Program would be cut by $405 million, and that is the program that helps the poorest of the poor get by day by day. And on and on it goes.
I wish to introduce another aspect into this discussion. Not only have we given huge tax breaks to the richest people in this country, driving up the deficit--and I hear very little discussion about asking them to pay any more to help us toward deficit reduction--we have another scandal out there. Major corporation after major corporation, many of which have powerful lobbyists right here on Capitol Hill, not only pay nothing in taxes but in many cases get a refund from the IRS. I wish to list the 10 worst corporate tax avoiders: ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the world, made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no Federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to SEC filings. So instead of throwing children off of Head Start or cutting back on community health centers, maybe--maybe--we want to ask ExxonMobil to actually pay taxes rather than get a refund.
Bank of America, No. 2, received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year. Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund, although it made $4.4 billion in profits. Maybe they might want to contribute a little bit more before we cut back, as the Republicans want, on the Social Security Administration.
Over the past 5 years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.
Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.
If you are a working stiff and making $30,000 to $40,000 a year, you are paying taxes, but if you are Chevron and you made $10 billion in profits in 2009, you don't have to pay any taxes; you get a $19 million refund. Yes, let's go after little kids; let's go after the elderly; let's go after the sick; let's go after the most vulnerable; but apparently in the Senate, we can't ask Chevron to pay taxes.
Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year. Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America, with $68 billion in sales last year, received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS.
Goldman Sachs, our good friends on Wall Street, in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes, even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received almost $800 million from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.
Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no Federal income taxes.
ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009 and received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deductions.
Over the past 5 years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its Federal income tax rates dropped during those years to 1.1 percent.
So the point is if you go out and you work for a living, you pay 10, 15 percent of your income in taxes. But if you are on Wall Street, if you are a major oil company and have lobbyists all over this place, not only can you avoid paying any taxes, in many cases you will actually get a tax refund from the IRS.
What is the point? The point is that at a time when we have a $1.6 trillion deficit, maybe we have to reduce that deficit not simply on the backs of working families, low-income people, children, the sick, the elderly; maybe--maybe--we might want to call for shared sacrifice. Maybe ExxonMobil and some of the large oil companies might be asked to pay something in taxes. Maybe General Electric might be asked to pay something in taxes. Maybe the wealthiest people in this country might be asked to pay something in taxes.