As the longest serving Independent in the history of the U.S. Congress I want to take this opportunity to tell you about some of the issues I've been focusing on since my re-election. I also want to discuss with you my plans for the future and how we can best work together to address the huge policy and political crises our nation faces. As we go forward, our simple and straightforward demand must be that Congress and the White House start responding to the needs of ordinary Americans -- not the big money interests.
You know as well as I what's going on in our country today. The rich get richer while the middle-class continues to disappear. The multi-national corporations enjoy record-breaking profits, while unemployment remains sky-high and more and more Americans slip into poverty. And, as a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision the billionaire class has gained even more political power while, at the same time, right-wing governors are making it harder for low-income people to vote.
There is only one way we can turn this economic and political disaster around. And that is by helping to create a strong grass-roots movement in all 50 states, and by working hard to elect progressive candidates at the local, state and national level. That is what my leadership PAC , the Progressive Voters of America, is trying to do. There is no shortage of billionaires willing to bankroll extreme right-wing candidates. We have to respond. I am asking now for your help to expand this effort.
It will take a concerted, long-term commitment to bring our message to all corners of the country.
Now, let me tell you about some of the issues I am working on in the Senate. At the same time, let me make it clear that far too often there is a resounding lack of support for these and other efforts which protect the interests of the middle class. That is why we desperately need more progressives , not just in the Senate, but in every level of government.
Social Security: As the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus I have played a leadership role in preventing cuts to Social Security -- the bedrock of our social safety net. Sadly, President Obama has joined virtually every Republican, some Democrats and almost all Wall Street CEOs in support of a so-called "chained CPI" which would make significant reductions in Social Security COLAs for seniors and disabled veterans. In my view, we must not balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our country. We must not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Tax Reform: At a time when the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country, I have introduced and sponsored several pieces of legislation which would ask the rich and corporate America to start paying their fair share of taxes. One bill that I wrote would end the ability of corporate America to stash hundreds of billions of dollars in tax havens in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and elsewhere, and avoid paying taxes on their profits.
Wall Street: I am also a co-sponsor of legislation that would impose a Wall Street financial transaction tax on the sale of derivatives, credit default swaps and large amounts of stock. Wall Street greed, illegal behavior and speculation helped drive this country into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. With Wall Street speculators today making huge profits, while continuing to endanger the stability of the world's financial system, they must begin paying their fair share of taxes. With the six major Wall Street financial institutions larger today than they were before they were bailed out, having assets equivalent to two-thirds of our GDP, I have also introduced legislation to break up these huge financial entities.
Jobs: Despite what you may read in the newspapers, real unemployment today is not 7.6 percent. Counting those people who are working part-time or who have given up looking for work, real unemployment is over 14 percent and even higher for young people and people of color. We need a major jobs program to put our people back to work. As part of the recently passed Immigration Reform Bill I was able to get an amendment included which would create a 2 year jobs program for more than 400,000 young people. This is a start, but much, much more needs to be done. I am actively supporting legislation which would rebuild our crumbling infrastructure -- roads, bridges, rail, water plants, wastewater systems, airports, schools. Investing in our infrastructure would not only make America more productive, it would create millions of jobs.
Global Warming: As a member of both of the environmental and energy committees I am fighting hard to address the planetary crisis of global warming. Along with Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Environmental Committee, I introduced the most sweeping global warming legislation in congressional history. This bill would impose a tax on carbon, make massive investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy and protect those who might be hit with higher fuel bills. This bill, by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel, would also create a significant number of new jobs.
Civil Liberties: As one of the few members of Congress to have consistently voted against the USA Patriot Act, I am going to do everything in my power to end the attacks we have seen against our civil liberties and constitutional rights. In my view it is absurd, and unconstitutional, for the government of the United States to track virtually every phone call made in this country. That is not what "freedom" and "liberty" are about. I have introduced legislation which would amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act to make sure that the intelligence agencies go after those who wish to harm our country, not keep tabs on the 99.99 percent of Americans who have nothing to do with terrorism.
Civil Rights: In recent years we have made some real progress in expanding gay rights. As someone who voted against DOMA when I was a member of the House, I was very pleased that the Supreme Court recently overturned that very bad law. I am proud that Vermont has been a leader on gay rights and I intend to continue fighting for equal rights for all Americans -- regardless of sexual orientation, gender, disability or country of origin. And that includes voting rights!
We must also be mindful that a full-scale attack is underway in a number of conservative states to deny women the right to choose and to defund women's health organizations like Planned Parenthood. Women have fought too hard for too long to see basic rights they have secured taken away from them. Congress must stand tall in defending women's rights.
I have given you a brief overview of some of the issues that I have been working on in the Senate. Now, let me say a few words about politics -- how we get to where we want to be -- and how we can elect people at all levels of government who represent the needs of ordinary Americans, not the top 1 percent.
As you know the Republican Party, once a moderate-conservative party, has become a right-wing extremist party. With the help of the Koch brothers and their other corporate sponsors, Republicans in Congress are now trying to roll back virtually every piece of legislation passed in the last 80 years which protects the needs of working families. Whether it is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition, child care, tax policy, women's rights or workers' rights, the main function of Congressional Republicans is to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful against the middle class. They have also become an anti-science party -- rejecting the research of virtually the entire scientific community regarding the planetary crisis of global warming.
Poll after poll tells us that today's Republican ideology -- tax breaks for billionaires and massive cuts to important social programs -- is way out of touch with what the American people want. And yet, Republicans stand likely to retain control over the U.S. House in 2014, have a chance to become a majority in the U.S. Senate and are doing well in state elections. Why is that? How is it that a party with such an extremist ideology has not been relegated to marginal status in American political life?
All of which brings me to the Democrats. While the Republicans have moved from a center-right party to a right-wing extremist party, the Democrats have also moved to the right -- going from being a center-left party to a centrist party. This means that while they attempt to address the needs of trade unions, seniors, low income Americans, environmentalists, women, students, minorities and the gay community, they also pay a great deal of attention to Wall Street, the wealthy, corporate America and their big campaign contributors. Needless to say, these competing forces have irreconcilable differences.
In my view, the great crisis of American politics today is the demoralization of the American people and their belief that virtually no one in Washington is fighting for the collapsing middle-class. In 2009, after eight disastrous years of George W. Bush as president, the Democrats controlled the White House and had large majorities in the House and Senate. Where was the simple, straight-forward legislation that took on the insurance companies and provided health care to all, that ended Wall Street domination of our economy, that created the many millions of jobs we desperately needed, that made college affordable, that allowed America to become the world leader in reversing global warming? Where was the political offensive which made clear to all Americans that the Democrats were fighting for working families while the Republicans were the party of Wall Street and the big money interests?
Now, in 2013, the Democrats control the White House and the Senate but it appears to many Americans that the Republicans determine the agenda. Why hasn't there been a major effort to overturn Citizens United and move toward public funding of elections? Why has almost all of the recent emphasis been on deficit reduction, rather than creating the millions of jobs we desperately need? Why is anybody in the Democratic Party (least of all the President) talking about cutting Social Security and benefits for disabled veterans? Where is the outrage regarding the massive NSA surveillance practices recently revealed?
Clearly, what is needed right now is a massive grass-roots movement which fights for the needs of working families and which elects progressives at the national, state and local level. We should not accept the conventional wisdom of a red state/blue state America. There is no state in this country which is not heavily populated by working families. And they all need strong and effective representation to stand up to the billionaire class which dominates our economic and political life.
Please help me work with Americans all over this country in helping to build a progressive movement which elects strong candidates, at every level of government, who are prepared to change our national priorities and fight for working people.
Please tell us about progressive candidates in your state or community that we should be working with.
These are tough times for our country. Let's go forward together. Thanks for your continued support.
Senator Bernie Sanders