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Mr. President: Enough is Enough

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Editor's Note: This speech was delivered on the floor of the Senate on Monday, June 27.

Mr. President, this is a pivotal moment in the history of our country. In the coming days and weeks, decisions will be made about our national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American in this country for decades to come. The time is now for the American people to become significantly involved in that debate and not leave it to a small number of people here in Washington.

At a time when the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in our country are doing phenomenally well and in many cases have never had it so good, while the middle class is disappearing and poverty is increasing, it is absolutely imperative that any deficit-reduction package that passes this Congress not include the horrendous cuts, the cruel cuts in programs that working people desperately need that are utilized every day by the elderly, by the sick, by our children, and by the lowest income people in our country, that the Republicans in Congress, dominated by their extreme rightwing, are demanding.

America is not about giving tax breaks to billionaires and attacking the most vulnerable people in our country. We must not allow that to happen.

In my view, the President of the United States needs to stand with the vast majority of the American people and say no to the Republican leadership and make it clear that enough is enough. No, we will not balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country -- on our children, on our seniors and the sick. No, we will not do that. Working families in this country have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost homes, lost pensions. The working families of this country are hurting right now. Enough is enough.

Now is the time to say to the millionaires and the billionaires in this country and to the largest corporations that in many ways have never had it so good that they must participate in deficit reduction, that there must be shared sacrifice, that deficit reduction cannot be based on cutting back on the needs of working families and the middle class but that the rich and large corporations have also got to participate in this process.

Furthermore, it is absolutely necessary, if we are talking about a sensible deficit-reduction package, that we take a hard look at unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon.

Let's make it very clear that we will not be blackmailed again by the Republican leadership in Washington that is threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government so that, for the very first time in our Nation's history, we might not pay the bills we owe. That is their threat. We will destroy the record of always paying our bills, never failing to do that, unless they get everything they want.

Instead of yielding to the incessant, extreme Republican demands, as the President in many respects did in last December's tax-cut agreement and this year's spending negotiations, the President has to get out of the beltway. He has to connect with the needs of working families and ordinary Americans and rally the overwhelming majority of our people who believe that deficit reduction must be based on shared sacrifice, that the wealthy and the powerful and the large corporations cannot continue to get everything they want while we wage a cruel and unprecedented attack on the most vulnerable people in this country. It is time for President Obama to stand with the millions who have already lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings, instead of the millionaires, who in many cases have never had it so good.

Unless the American people in huge numbers tell the President not to yield 1 inch to Republican demands to destroy Medicare and Medicaid while continuing to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and the powerful, unless the American people rise up and say enough is enough, I am afraid that what will happen is the President will yield once again and the wealthy and the powerful will laugh all the way to the bank, while working people will be devastated.

Today, I am asking the American people that if you believe deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice; if you believe the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations should be asked to pay their fair share as part of deficit reduction; if you believe that, at a time when military spending has almost tripled since 1997, we must begin to take a hard look at our defense budget; and if you believe the middle-class and working families have already sacrificed enough, I urge you to make sure the President hears your voice, and he needs to hear it now. I urge the American people to go to my Web site, sanders.senate.gov, and sign a letter to the President letting him know that enough is enough. I also urge the American people to contact the White House directly through their Web sites and leave a message for the President there.

As you know, this country faces enormous challenges. In fact, we have not suffered through such a difficult moment since the Great Depression of the 1930s. We do not talk about it very much, but the reality is that the middle class in this country is disappearing while at the same time poverty is increasing.

When we talk about the state of our economy, it is important to talk about it within the context of deficit reduction because when you understand what is going on in the economy, you know you cannot get blood out of a stone. You cannot keep attacking people who have been devastated in the last few years in terms of unemployment, in terms of losses of pension, in terms of losses of health care.

When we talk about the economy, we have to understand that the situation is in many cases even worse than official statistics indicate. For example, we read in the papers that the official unemployment rate is now 9.1 percent. But the truth is -- and no economist disagrees with this -- that official statistic ignores the number of people who have given up looking for work and people who are working part time when they want to work full time. If you add all of that together, you are looking at a real unemployment rate in this country of about 16 percent.

Are those really the people whom we should go to for deficit reduction? Are they not suffering enough right now? Young people graduating college who can't find a job, let's hit them hard. Older people who have lost their jobs and can't find a new one or are working for half the wages they previously worked at, let's go after those people. Fifty million people have no health insurance. Let's attack them. Working mothers and fathers cannot find affordable childcare. Let's go after them.

We must understand that when we look at the economy, the middle class is hurting and hurting badly. Over the last 10 years, on top of the high unemployment rates, the median family income in this country has declined by over $2,500. Do you know why working families are angry? That is why they are angry. They are working longer hours for lower wages. Are those really the people you want to ask to balance the budget? I don't think so. I think any sense of fairness, any sense of morality that one might have suggests you do not beat up on people who are already suffering. You don't try to get blood out of a stone.

As a result of the greed and the recklessness and the illegal behavior on Wall Street which caused this terrible recession, millions more Americans have lost their homes, they have lost their pensions, and they have lost their retirement savings. We hear it every day in calls that come to our offices.

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)

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