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Previously: The 2011 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa (September 18, 2011)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)(left) out in the rain at the Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa. photo – Jerry Schmidt, Show Me Progress.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (i) was one of the featured speakers at the annual Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on Sunday. Senator Sanders’ speech:

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont): [applause] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

And let me begin by thanking you, not only for allowing me to be with you for a few minutes, but also for sending Tom Harkin [voice: “Yeah!”] to the United States Senate. [applause] Tom and I serve on the same committee, the Health, Education, Labor, Pension Committee, which he chairs. He has picked up the mantle from Senator [Ted] Kennedy. He is doing an extraordinary job. And I have to tell you, when it comes to the issue of children, when it comes to the issue of labor, when it comes to the issue of the environment your senator, Tom Harkin, is consistently out in front and a real national leader. Tom, thank you very much. [applause]

What I’m going to tell you this afternoon in many ways is what you already know better than I do. And that is that this is a pivotal moment in the history of the United States of America. [voice: “Amen.”] It’s [applause], it’s a pivotal moment because of the work that so many people have done for so many years, so many struggles that have taken place, so many sacrifices by our veterans and others to make this country a great and Democratic country, a country which has been the envy of the entire world. [applause] And now there are forces afoot who want to roll back every victory that has been won by working people over the last eighty years. They, they have a belief that what America is supposed to be about is that every person is in it alone. And you saw a glimpse of it just the other day at the Republican debate. Somebody asked one of the candidates, well, what happens if somebody doesn’t have health insurance and that person becomes terribly ill? What happens to that person? And the answer was, well, too bad, guess he has to die. [voices:  “No.”] That is not our belief. [applause] [voice: “Thank you.”]  What our belief is is that we are a nation, historically and today, which understand that when one child goes hungry, when one senior cannot afford the prescription drugs that she needs, that all of us are in it together to make sure that we address those needs. [applause]…

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) speaking under the big tent at the Harkin Steak Fry. photo – Jerry Schmidt, Show Me Progress.

…And what we understand is that this country is great, not because we have more billionaires than any other country, we are great because we have tens of millions of people who go to work every day, do their jobs, create the wealth that provides for all of us. [applause]

Now let me very briefly tell you what you already know. It’s not a pretty story. But we cannot go forward unless we are honest and straightforward in discussing the realities of today. Not pleasant realities. Let’s get ’em out on the table so that we can begin to address them. First reality, the great middle class, the people who have built this country and made it the envy of the world, that middle class is collapsing. That’s the reality. No hiding it. What do I mean by that? Today unemployment in America is not nine percent. Unemployment in America, real unemployment, is sixteen percent if you include those who have given up looking for work and those who are working part time. Second of all, you have millions of American workers today who are employed, they’re working longer hours at lower wages than they used to work. Third, median family income is plummeting, gone down beyond, below three thousand dollars as what it was ten years ago. What we have in this country today are young people who cannot get work, older people who are working for lower wages, lower wages, and twenty-five million people who have no work at all.

The first issue that [Senator] Tom [Harkin] and I are gonna be working on is a major jobs program [cheers] to put our people back to work. [applause] [cheers]  And let me tell you how we’re gonna do it. [applause]  Let me tell you how we’re gonna do it. In my state, I don’t know about Iowa, but in my state we have major infrastructural problems. Let me tell you what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is that we have roads that are in disrepair, bridges that are crumbling, we have water systems that were built before the Civil War, or rail system is totally inadequate, there are many parts of the state we can’t get good quality broadband or cell phone service, we have got a lot of schools that are not serving our kids well and need to be rebuilt. If we begin addressing the infrastructural needs of this country, if we understand that today we are spending two percent, two point two percent to be exact, of our GDP [gross domestic product] on infrastructure, China is spending nine percent. They’re building high speed rail. They’re building airports. They’re building sustainable energy.  Now is the time for us to rebuild our infrastructure. When you do that, not only do you make us more productive, more internationally competitive, you’re gonna put millions of people back to work. [applause] Let’s rebuild our infrastructure. [applause]

Second of all, we are spending as a nation three hundred and fifty billion dollars every single year importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries. I was in Saudi Arabia some years ago and I can tell you that the royal family of Saudi Arabia is doing just fine. [laughter] They don’t need any more money from the United States of America. Our job is to move to energy independence, to move to energy efficiency, and to move to sustainable energy. [applause] And when we do that we create millions of good paying jobs. [applause][cheers]

Lastly, I want to, in terms of job creation, I want to touch on an issue where there are differences of opinion. There are differences of opinion, but I’ll give you mine. When you talk about the collapse of the middle class, when you’re talking about the loss of millions of good paying jobs in recent years in this country, when you talk about workers’ wages going down what you are talking about to a significant degree is the decline of manufacturing in the United States of America. Now I don’t know about Iowa, though I suspect it’s the same, but in Vermont you go shopping, you go to a store, you go to a mall, you buy a product. You know where that product is made? [voices] It’s made in China. That’s where it is made. In the last ten years alone, if you can believe this, we as a nation have lost fifty thousand factories. [voice” “Augh.”] Vermont has never been a major manufacturing state, but we had a number of jobs. Last seven or eight years my guess is we’ve lost twenty-five percent of our manufacturing jobs. One of the reasons for that in my view is that we have had a trade policy which has worked very, very well for the CEOs of large corporations, not very well for American workers. [voice: “That’s right.”][applause]  I am talking about NAFTA, I’m talking about CAFTA, I’m talking about permanent normal trade relations with China. What these trade agreements are, in my view, by and large they’re saying to American workers we want you to compete against people in the third world who are working for pennies an hour. That’s your competition. And when wages go down and down maybe we’ll ring some of those jobs back. Here is a sad story I’ll tell you, two sad stories reflecting what’s going on in America
today. In Detroit, Michigan where the UAW is strong, new jobs being created, we hope this being changed as a result of the new agreement signed by the UAW, but last year the good news was that Chrysler and the other companies were adding new jobs. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those new jobs were paying workers fifty percent of the wages that the other workers were making from twenty-eight bucks an hour down to fourteen dollars an hour.

There’s another story. Someplace, I can’t remember the state. Good news is that a company, American company, had gone to China, they were coming back to America. Do you know why they were coming back to America? ‘Cause the wages were so bloody low they could make more money paying people seven fifty an hour in the United States than doing business in China and paying the transportation costs. Those are not the options we want to be looking at.

What do we want? Seems to me pretty obvious. Turn on TV tonight and all you’re gonna see is ads telling you, buy this product, buy that car, buy these shoes, buy this, buy that, buy the other thing. If these large corporations want us to buy their products the time is now for them to build those products here in the United States [applause] of America and to rebuild our manufacturing sector.

Now, when [Senator] Tom [Harkin] and I go back to work on Tuesday what we’re gonna be looking at are a series of attacks on programs in the United States of America that have been unbelievably important to the well-being of working people.  Social Security, in my view, is the most successful federal program [applause] in the history of the United States of America. [cheers][applause] And do you know why Republicans hate Social Security? They hate Social Security because Social Security is working the way it was supposed to work. Social Security is successful, which is why they hate it, why they want to privatize it, and why they want to send it to Wall Street. We take programs like Social Security for granted. We shouldn’t. As a result of the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street the crooks on Wall Street, and I use that word advisedly, the crooks on Wall Street led us into this recession. [applause] And when this recession took place not only did millions of people lose their jobs they lost their homes and they lost their life savings. That’s what happened. For seventy-six years Social Security has paid out every nickel owed to every eligible American in good times and in bad. Not one penny has been denied an eligible person. And we’ve done that in a very cost effective administrative way. Furthermore, when you hear people telling you Social Security is going broke, that is a lie. [applause] Social… [applause] the Congressional Budget Office came out with a report a couple of weeks ago, Social Security has a two point five trillion dollar surplus, can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next twenty-seven years. Social Security, and everybody’s got to understand this, yeah, we do have a serious deficit problem, Social Security, however, hasn’t added one nickel to that deficit because it’s paid by the payroll, [applause] payroll tax. So we have got to stand tall and say, no cuts to Social Security. [applause][voice: “Yes.”] In my view if you want Social Security to be strong, not just the next twenty-seven years but for the next seventy-five years, there’s an easy way to do that. And that is, you lift the cap. [voices: “Yeah.”] [applause] And if you do that [applause], and you could start at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, you do that Social Security is strong for the next seventy-five years. And that’s what we should do [applause][cheers] and that’s the legislation that I’ve introduced. [applause]

Now there are some folks out there, our Republican friends, [voice: “Not here.”] they want to voucherize Medicare. [voices: “No.”]  [booing] Here is their brilliant idea. If you’re old, you don’t have a whole lot of money, and if you’re sick, maybe you got cancer, maybe you have some terrible disease, and you’re sixty-eight years old, they’re gonna give you a check for eight thousand dollars. Lotsa luck, that’ll last for at least two days. [laughter] That’s what they want to do. And then there are other people who say, well, maybe we don’t want to go that far, but, you know, we got a serious deficit problem, we want to raise the eligibility level from sixty-five to sixty-seven. [voice: “No.”] Well, you tell me what happens to a sixty-six year old worker when he or she gets sick. We are not going to let them raise the eligibility age [applause] to sixty-seven. [applause]

Then you got Medicaid. We have fifty million people today with no health insurance and many others are under insured, large deductibles and high premiums. And there are some who say, well, let’s cut a few hundred billion dollars off of Medicaid. Brothers and sisters, forty-five thousand of our fellow Americans die every year because they don’t have health insurance and they don’t get to a doctor on time. We are not gonna throw millions of children and working people off of Medicaid. No cuts in Medicaid. [applause]

In terms of health care the sixty-four dollar question that we have got to answer is the following. Why is it that with fifty million people uninsured, with costs soaring, with forty-five thousand Americans dying each year because they don’t get the medical care they need, why is it that we end up spending almost twice as much as do the people of any other country? Why is it that in this great country we are the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care to all of our people? My view is, and I hope, I hope that my small state of Vermont is gonna lead the nation in a new direction. We need a Medicare for all single payer [applause] health care program. {applause][cheers]

The day has got to come [applause], the day has got to come when health care is a right and not a privilege, that people don’t have to stay at a job [applause] only because of health care. That’s what we’ve got to do.

Let me conclude ’cause I promised [Senator] Tom [Harkin] this would not be an eight hour speech. [laughter] [voice: “Why not?”] [voices: ” Go on.”] [voice: “Give ‘eh hell, Bernie.”]

I mentioned before that the middle class is collapsing. I mentioned before, as you all know, that poverty is increasing. I want to say a word about poverty. Poverty is not something we talk a whole lot about in this country. And mostly it’s because, you know, at the political level poor people don’t make major campaign contributions, you know, many poor people don’t even vote. But I want to tell you something, about poverty. When we think about poverty we think, well poverty’s a bad thing, people live in inadequate housing, they don’t have a good car, maybe they don’t go to the movies on Saturday night. We just did, on Tom’s committee, the health committee, we just did a hearing last week. And you know what we discovered, what doctors told us? If you are in the lower twenty percent of income earners you will die six and a half years earlier than if you are in the top twenty percent. In other words, poverty in America is a death sentence. And as a nation we should profoundly embarrassed that in America we have, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. Twenty-one percent of our kids. That is something that has got to end. [applause] Instead of investing in the wars [applause] let’s invest in our children and make them the best educated and the healthiest kids in the world. [applause] [cheers]

Now what’s going on in Washington is you have, as I know you have here in Iowa, you have some extreme right wingers who have taken control of part of our government. And I will tell you from the bottom of my heart that these people do, are a fringe group who represent relatively few Americans. You go out on any street corner in the state of Iowa and in the state of Vermont and you say to people, people who walk by, and you say, do you think it makes sense to give tax breaks to b
illionaires and cut Social Security? Ninety-nine percent of the people will say, that’s crazy. Do you believe it makes sense to have a trade policy which literally gives tax breaks for companies who shut down in America and go abroad. [voice: “No.”] People will say, that makes no sense at all. But what is happening in America is the wealthiest people in this country have developed a new religion. They’re very religious. [laughter] But their religion is not love, it’s not compassion, it’s not concern for their fellow citizens or for the children. Or for the weak. Their religion is greed. [applause] And they want more and more and more. [applause]

In America today we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income. I know that’s not covered on CBS or NBC too often, but that is the fact. You’ve got the top one percent earning more income than the bottom fifty percent. And listen to this, you have the top four hundred wealthiest people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of America, a hundred and fifty million people. And many of these people with their money, what they, and I don’t understand it, I really don’t.  It’s a, it seems to me to be almost a sickness. They can’t control themselves. They want more and more. They’re stashing their money abroad so they don’t have to pay taxes to the United States, shutting down plants in America, moving to China so they can make some more money. That’s what they’re doing.

And that’s what this fight is about. So let me conclude by saying this. They do have the money. They have incredible resources. Citizens United, absurd Supreme Court decision, has decided that a corporation is a person. I know people when I see it. Goldman Sachs is not a person. [applause][cheers] But what the fight is about is whether we developed the kind of organization that you are about, working people from all over this state and my state and the other states, whether we come together  when we get our brothers and our sisters and our cousins and our aunts involved in the political process, making sure they understand how important it is, what happens in Washington or in the state capitols. Those guys do have the money. We have the people. We have justice behind our back. And what this fight is about, it is not just for you or for me, far more importantly it is for our kids and our grandchildren. [voice: “Amen.”] Too many people for too many years have sacrificed and struggled to create the greatest country on earth, the greatest Democracy on earth where everybody has opportunity, where everybody has the right to a decent standard of living. Those people have struggled. We do not have the right to turn our backs on those people or on the needs of our kids and grandchildren. The fight is too important. So I can tell you that the people of Vermont stand with you to fight for a progressive, progressive movement so that government works for all of the people and not just the wealthy and the powerful. [applause] Thank you all very much. [applause][cheers]

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). photos – Jerry Schmidt, Show Me Progress.