America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) represents a small state, but has drawn large crowds since he announced his candidacy for president this spring. Former Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton has a huge lead over Sanders in national polls. Yet Sanders has done very well in straw polls in several states. His position has been consistent over the decades: A champion of the poor and middle class and a critic of corporate and political greed. Whether that will resonate with enough voters or move other candidates to adopt more progressive positions remains to be seen. But for now, Sanders is a contender. He sits down with us to talk about his run for the White House.
On yesterday’s show, I raised the issue of dual citizenship with Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders. This is an issue that has come up over the years in American politics. One of our listeners suggested via our Facebook page that I ask Senator Sanders about Internet speculation that he has dual citizenship with Israel.
But instead of asking it as a question I stated it as fact. That was wrong. He does NOT have dual citizenship and Senator Sanders immediately corrected me. I should have explained to him and to you why I felt this was a relevant question and something he might like to address. I apologize to Senator Sanders and to you for having made an erroneous statement. However, I am glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.
“No president … is going to be able to accomplish what the middle class needs unless there is a mass movement,” U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders said of the Affordable Care Act and changes in health care.
“I want to make sure that women have that choice” to get an abortion, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders says.
U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders weighs in on U.S. strategy against ISIS and more broadly in the Middle East, and what he would do (or not) to change it.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) responds to a caller asking about his stance on immigration.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Bernie Sanders is beloved by the left, vilified by the right and viewed with caution by mainstream Democrats. The US senator Vermont is an Independent, but he caucuses with Democrats and describes himself as a socialist. In late May, he officially launched his campaign for president. The overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton.
MS. DIANE REHMSenator Bernie Sanders joins me from an NPR studio to talk about how he differs from Secretary Clinton and what policies he would pursue if elected president. And by the way, we are inviting all candidates who enter the 2016 presidential race to be on this program. Right now, you can call us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to you, Senator Sanders. It's good to have you on the program.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERSIt's good to be with you, Diane.
REHMThank you. You know, I am very aware that you are concerned about the middle class. You're concerned about so much of the shift in wealth going to the 1 percent. But tell me, as a presidential candidate, what will you promise that you think you could actually accomplish if elected? And I am assuming with that question that a Republican Congress remains in power.
SANDERSWell, Diane, I think the main tenet -- one of the main tenets of my campaign is the understanding that corporate America, the billionaire class, Wall Street, has so much power right now over what goes on in Washington that nothing significant will be done unless we build a strong grass roots mass movement in this country which says, enough is enough. The billionaire class can't get 99 percent of all new income, which is now going to the top 1 percent.
SANDERSWe cannot continue to have the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality. The government has got to start working for the middle class and the working class in the country. So to answer your question, one of the first things that I would do as president, and what I am doing right now in this campaign, is to put together a strong, unprecedented grass roots movement, which tells Congress that they've got to start representing ordinary people and not just the people on top.
SANDERSAnd what that means is we need real tax reform, which says to large corporations they've got to start paying their fair share of taxes, says to the wealthiest people in this country, you cannot have an effective tax rate lower than nurses or truck drivers, makes it clear that the United States has got to join every other country, major country, on Earth with a healthcare program guaranteeing healthcare to all people, that tuition at our public colleges and universities should be free, that we need a strong childcare system, that we got to expand Social Security, not cut it.
SANDERSAnd I think that agenda, Diane, is resonating with the American people who understand that we cannot sustain a disappearing middle class.
REHMAnd where do you think you differ most from frontrunner Hillary Clinton?
SANDERSWell, you know, I have been, throughout my political career, as mayor of the city of Burlington, as a member of the House, as a member of the United States Senate, in one capacity or another, taken on all of the powerful special interests. I have taken on Wall Street and demanded and fought and introduced legislation to break up the large financial institutions, have taken on private insurance companies in fighting for a single pay and national healthcare system, taken on the military industrial complex.
SANDERSI was the first member of Congress to take people over the Canadian border to get lower cost prescription drugs and have taken on the pharmaceutical industry. That is my record and the voters will have to decide whether, in fact, Hillary Clinton's record is one in which she has prepared to stand up to powerful special interests. An example, I happen to believe that our series of trade policies, from NAFTA, CAFTA to permanent normal trade relations with China have been a disaster, resulted in the loss of millions of decent paying jobs as corporations in this country shut down and moved to low wage countries.
SANDERSI am firmly opposed to the TTP, helping to lead the effort against it. Hillary Clinton has not yet voiced her opinion on it. I voted against the war in Iraq. I had the same information as Hillary Clinton did, but I understood the enormous destabilization that would take place. In fact, if you go to YouTube and look at a speech that I gave in opposition to that war, sadly enough, much of what I said turned out to be true. I am one of the leaders in the Congress in fighting to transform our energy system because I believe that climate change is the great planetary crisis that we face.
SANDERSI believe in what the scientists are telling us. I lead the effort against the Keystone Pipeline. Hillary Clinton has not yet voiced an opinion on that. I voted against the USA Patriot Act because while I understand that terrorism is serious and a real threat, I believe that we can protect the American people without undermining our constitutional rights or our privacy rights.
REHMAnd, of course, Hillary Clinton is doing a lot more listening than talking these days. Why do you think that is?
SANDERSWell, it's, obviously good to listen and I've been out on the campaign trail and listening to many, many thousands of people who've come out to our meetings. But at the end of the day, you have to have an opinion on the basic issues facing America. We, as a nation, have got to address the reality that for 40 years, the great middle class of this country is disappearing and that today almost all new income and new wealth is going to the top 1 percent. That is...
REHMAnd yet, she continues to be at the top in national polls, even though she has slipped somewhat. She is still out there listening rather than talking. So what do you make of that?
SANDERSWell, I what I make of it, Diane, is I am a United States senator from a very small state way up in New England, very beautiful state, want you to come up and visit us.
SANDERSBut, you know, we have about 620,000 people and while known by about 95 percent of the -- 100 percent of the people in my own state and got 71 percent of the vote last time, you know what, I am not terribly well known in many other parts of the country. Hillary Clinton may well be the best known woman in the entire world, enormous name recognition so we are very early in a campaign, but I want to tell you, that even in terms of polling, if you look at the polls, my numbers have jumped very, very significantly.
SANDERSI think the last poll I saw, we were at 18 percent in New Hampshire or 15, 16 percent in Iowa. You know, we got a long way to go. We are the underdog.
SANDERSBut I think we're making progress.
REHMYesterday, on Facebook, we asked our audience if they had questions for you. We got more than 100 responses and they're still coming in. Here's one. Fred asks, "how can Bernie Sanders compete with all the billions pouring into campaigns?"
SANDERSWell, Diane, Fred asks a very profound question, but it's not just about Bernie Sanders. It goes a lot deeper than that. What Fred is really asking, is, as a result of this disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, which allowed the Koch brothers and other billionaires to spend unlimited sums of money and literally buy elections and buy candidates, can any candidate who represents the middle class and working families who is not beholden to the wealthiest people in this country, win an election?
SANDERSAnd that is a very fair question. And you know what, Fred, I don't know the answer. But I do know that we're gonna do everything we can to, in fact, win this election, that on...
REHMYou are -- go ahead.
SANDERSI'm sorry, Diane. On my website, BernieSanders.com, we have received now something like 180,000 individual contributions, Diane. Not from millionaires or billionaires, but from ordinary people with an average contribution of about 40 bucks. And what Fred is asking is, can ordinary people making small, modest contributions defeat the billionaire class? We're gonna try as hard as we can to make that happen, Fred.
REHMAll right. And you are a registered independent. You call yourself a Democratic Socialist and you caucus with Democrats. So what does all that mean? I find it confusing.
SANDERSOkay. First, I'm not a registered Independent. In Vermont, we don't register. You go in and you vote on primary (word?) the Democrat or Republicans and I go into the Democratic primary and vote for candidates within that primary. It is true. I always win in Vermont as an Independent, but I have been in the Democratic caucus in the House and the Senate from the first day that I was -- took office and will abide by all of the rules and regulation of secretaries of state around this country in the Democratic party and intend to be in on the ballot in 50 states and intend to do everything I can to win this election.
REHMBut the question becomes, is it somewhat confusing? What happens if you don't win the nomination? Will you then run as an independent?
SANDERSNo. No. The answer is absolutely not. I am in the Democratic caucus and primary process. We're gonna work very hard to win it. I'll be in Iowa. We have five or six events in Iowa this weekend. Just came back from New Hampshire. We had 1,000 people out in (word?), New Hampshire. We're gonna go around the country. No, I'm in the Democratic primary and caucus process and I will not run if I do not -- outside of that if I do not win. You also asked me about Democratic socialism and let me just say this, Diane.
REHMLet me stop you right there.
REHMAnd ask you to hold that thought until we come back after a short break. You're listening to Senator Bernie Sanders who represents the state of Vermont as an independent. He is a candidate for the nomination of president.
REHMAnd joining us for this hour is Democratic presidential candidate, Senate Bernie Sanders. He joins us from an NPR studio near Capitol Hill. And Bernie Sanders, just before the break you were about to define yourself as a democratic socialist.
SANDERSDiane, this country faces enormous crisis, and we have got to have the courage to look deep into what is going on in this country and to start coming up with some real solutions. As I mentioned earlier, for 40 years the middle class of this country, despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, is declining.
SANDERSMillions of people are working longer hours for low wages. We are the only major country on Earth that doesn't guarantee health care to all people as a right. We don't have paid family leave. We don't have paid sick leave. We don't have paid vacation. Our preschool and child care system is a disaster for working families, unaffordable, and often the quality is not good.
SANDERSAll right, that is the reality, and almost all new income is going to the top one percent. So what we have got to do as a nation is start looking around the world and see what other countries are doing things better than we are.
SANDERSSuch as Denmark and Norway and Sweden and Finland. Take a hard look. Yes, they are smaller countries than we are, no question they're more homogenous than we are. Our problems are different. But if those countries, for example, think that it is a good investment to make sure that all of their young people, regardless of income, can get free college and free university education because it will help their economy and their society, we can learn something about that.
SANDERSAnd if they can run health care systems that are far more cost-effective than ours and are universal, maybe we can learn something about that. And if they can provide paid vacation time for their workers and paid sick leave and paid family leave, maybe we can learn something from that.
REHMSo does that, all of that make you a democratic socialist?
SANDERSWell, it's part of what being a democratic socialist is about. What being a democratic socialist is about is saying, you know, we need a government, maybe, I know it's a radical idea, Diane, maybe our government should represent ordinary people and not just large campaign contributors and lobbyists and the billionaire class.
REHMAll right, and here's a tweet. Bernie, what will you do to reach out to your strongest supporters, who are millennials? Will you reach out in social media?
SANDERSOh, we have, Diane, a very, very active social media campaign. On my Senate side, we have, I believe, far more people on Facebook, and that’s sanders.senate.gov, than any other member of the Senate or I think any member of the Congress. And on my campaign site, which is berniesanders.com, we have hired Revolution, which is a digital company that originally worked for Barack Obama back in 2008, and they're doing a great job for us. So the answer to that question is absolutely, social media will be a very, very important part of our campaign.
REHMAnd here's another tweet. How will Bernie Sanders save Social Security?
SANDERSDiane, I am stunned, I really am, that at a time when so many elderly people in this country are trying to get by on $12,000, $13,000, $14,000 a year, so many disabled veterans in this country trying to get by on a minimal amount of money, that we have Republican candidates like Jeb Bush, Christ Christie, Rick Perry, they're talking about cutting Social Security. And you're hearing a lot of untruths about Social Security out there. So let me, as the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus in the Senate, let me just tell you what's going on.
SANDERSNumber one, Social Security is not going broke. There's two and a half trillion dollars in its trust fund. It can pay out every benefit owed to eligible American for the next 18 years. Number two, Social Security obviously doesn't add to the deficit because it's funded independently by the payroll tax. What do we have to do? In my view, I will fight as hard as I can to resist any cuts to Social Security, but furthermore we have to expand Social Security benefits because many seniors and disabled people can't make it on $12,000, $13,000, $14,000 a year.
SANDERSHow do you do that? Very simply. Right now, multimillionaires are paying the same amount of money into the Social Security Trust Fund as somebody making $118,000. If you lift the cap, and you don't have to start at $119, you begin at $250,000. If you do that, Social Security will be solvent until 2061, and we can expand benefits.
REHMAll right, and what are your thoughts on the Affordable Care Act? You had Vermont recently abandoning plans for universal health care, finding it too costly. As president, would you push for a single-payer plan nationally? And once again, with a Republican Congress in power, how would or could you make that happen?
SANDERSIn my view, if you look at our dysfunctional health care system, what you understand is despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act, which I voted for, we still have 35 million people without any health insurance. We have more who are underinsured, and we end up spending almost twice as much per capita as do the people of any other country. Clearly this is a not a system that is working well.
SANDERSSo I do believe in Medicare-for-all, single-payer program, administered at the statewide level.
REHMBut how would you do it? How would you get that through?
SANDERSOkay, Diane, the main point that I've been making in this campaign is that no president, not Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, not anybody, is going to accomplish what the middle class of this country needs, unless there is a mass movement of people who say enough is enough, government has got to start representing us. When we raise public consciousness, when we educate, when we organize so that when we bring a bill on the floor to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, millions of people are on the telephone telling their Republican representatives they better vote for that, or there's going to be a very short term, and they're going to be out of office.
SANDERSWhen we talk about pay equity for women workers, and millions of people say sorry, we have got to end the discrimination against women workers, that's how change comes about. That's what the civil rights movement is about, it's what the women's movement is about, that's what the gay movement is about. So it's not just sitting in a room negotiating with Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. That ain't going to accomplish it.
SANDERSBarack Obama, it took Obama many years to learn that. I think he finally learned that. I know that.
REHMWhat's your position on what's happened recently in Texas and Wisconsin on abortion?
SANDERSI have a lifetime pro-choice, 100-percent pro-choice voting rights -- or record. I think, you know, I understand that people disagree on this issue, but I believe that it is a woman's decision. It's a difficult decision, but it's a decision between her and her physician. And I will do everything that I can in 50 states of this country to make sure that women have that choice.
REHMAnd on another very controversial issue, in which I have been involved, California just became the latest state to advance right-to-die legislation. What is your position on aid-in-dying laws?
SANDERSAgain a very painful and difficult decision, and I'm not as knowledgeable about it as I should be, Diane, but I think what California is moving in the right direction.
REHMDo you believe that there should be a national law, or should that again be left to states?
SANDERSDiane, I'm going to have to beg off that one because that just - one of those issues that I haven't researched enough. So I can't give you an intelligent opinion at this point.
REHMAll right, let's turn to foreign policy. President Obama is about to send 500 additional advisors to Iraq to help combat ISIS. What do you think of the administration's strategy toward ISIS?
SANDERSWell, number one, I think everybody understands that ISIS is a barbaric organization and that they must be defeated. Number two, I would hope that most people understand that the war in Iraq was, from our perspective, a disaster in terms of lost lives, 500,000 people coming home with various type of injuries and wounds, and huge cost and that at the end of the day, and Diane, this is what I believe sincerely, I do not believe the United States can or should lead the effort in that part of the world.
SANDERSWhat is taking place now is a war for the soul of Islam. Saudi Arabia, it turns out, has the third-largest military budget in the world. You got Turkey there, you got Jordan there, you got the UAE there. You have -- countries are going to have to step up to the plate and lead the effort with the support of the United States and other Western countries. But here is my nightmare, and I see it moving forward every day. You've got a lot of Republicans there who apparently did not learn anything from the never-ending war in Afghanistan, learned nothing from what happened in Iraq and want us in a perpetual warfare in the Middle East.
SANDERSI am strongly opposed to that.
REHMHow would you deal with Syria now?
SANDERSI think what has got to happen, and I know the president -- look, this is tough stuff, and Diane, if I had a magic solution to it...
SANDERSYou would be the first to learn about it. I don't have a magic solution. I'm not sure anybody does. But what has to happen is the Muslim countries in that area, there has got to be a strong coalition. They're going to have to get their hands dirty. They can't sit aside and wait for the United States of America, our soldiers, our taxpayers, to carry the ball for them. They're going to have to lead the effort.
REHMSenator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.
SANDERSWell, no, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I'm an -- I don't know where that questioning came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I'm an American citizen, period.
REHMI understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list. Forgive me if that is...
SANDERSNow that's some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet, but that is absolutely not true.
REHMInteresting. Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship, or is that part of the fable?
SANDERSI honestly don't know, but I have read that on the Internet. You know, my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket, loved this country. I am, you know, I get offended a little bit by that comment, and I know it's been on the Internet. I am an American -- obviously an American citizen, and I do not have any dual citizenship.
REHMAll right, tell me your feeling about whether there should be a two-state solution. Should Palestine be given statehood?
SANDERSAbsolutely. What you have in that part of the world is an unspeakable tragedy, and it seems like it's never ending, and it seems like every year it gets worse and worse and more killing and more bombings and everything else. And again, Diane, if I had the magical solution to that problem, I would be in the president's office today giving it. I don't have it. But clearly the goals are twofold. Number one, the Palestinian people, in my view, deserve a state of their own. They deserve an economy of their own. They deserve economic support from the people of our country.
SANDERSAnd Israel needs to be able to live in security, without terrorist attacks. And those are the goals, I think, of any sensible foreign policy in that region.
REHMHow do you believe President Obama's relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu has affected our relationship with Israel?
SANDERSWell, I've got to tell you, I'm not a great fan of President Netanyahu. I did not attend the speech that he joint -- the speech that he gave between the -- before the joint session of Congress. I think it was opportunistic. I think he was using it as part of his campaign for re-election. I think he was being used or did use the Republicans to go behind the president's back. And, you know, I think in that region, sadly on both sides, I don't think we have the kind of leadership that we need.
SANDERSAnd so, you know, I think the president is trying to do the best that he can in an enormously difficult circumstance.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We're going to open the phones now, phone number is 800-433-8850. Let's go now to Francisco, who's in Austin, Texas. You're on the air.
FRANCISCOHey, Diane, how are you this morning?
REHMI'm fine, thank you, sir. Go right ahead.
FRANCISCOGreat. Well, let me tell you a little bit about my background. I'm actually an illegal immigrant that came to this country with a tourist visa. Unfortunately, I had to leave my country due to the turmoil that happened back in the day. I own a company, I -- where I hire American -- I have provided American jobs. And unfortunately due to my circumstances legally, I haven't been able to get any type of legal status for me to keep on living my life. What is your take on illegal immigration and especially a lot of people pointing out a finger on immigrants as, you know, rapists or...
FRANCISCOOr terrorists or lazy people that are just hanging on the...
REHMAll right, thank you.
SANDERSWell, I think I would trust that most people know that many of the immigrants that have come from Mexico and Latin America are certainly not lazy. They're some of the hardest-working people in this country and doing very, very difficult, menial jobs in many cases. Francisco, I support comprehensive immigration reform. I am disappointed that after the Senate put together a bipartisan piece of legislation that the House has not even been willing to take up this enormously important issue.
SANDERSBottom line is we need a path towards citizenship. We've got to take people out of the shadows. People are living in fear right now. I think the president has made some good efforts forward through executive orders, but we need legislation, it should be comprehensive, and I support that.
REHMAll right, and to Robert in Cape Coral, Florida. You're on the air.
ROBERTMy question is, it looks like Mr. Sanders, or Senator Sanders, is up against a rather high mountain of problems ahead as far as his candidacy, and I believe in what he has said, I support him, but, you know, when George Bush was -- he was asked, you know, what is it about the Republican Party and their inconsistencies in what they say, and he basically said, well, if you repeat something often enough, people believe it.
ROBERTAnd it takes a lot of money to do that. You have to have a lot of money to repeat something in order for people to begin to believe it. And you can have disinformation and...
REHMGot to get to your question quickly, sir, we're almost out of time.
ROBERTMy question is how does he plan to deal with Republican opposition.
SANDERSRobert, you're right in saying -- in implying, I think, that the American people do not know what the Republican Party really stands for. I'm the ranking member on the Budget Committee. I do know what the Republican Party stands for. In the budget that they passed last month, they called for massive tax breaks for billionaires and terrible cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition programs. And by the way, they raised taxes on lower-income people. I will help lead the effort against that totally reactionary agenda, and I will explain it to the American people.
REHMAll right, Senator Bernie Sanders. He is running for president as a Democrat. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. US Senator Bernie Sanders is my guest. He is running for President and has shown strong support in states around the country. I have two emails that really go together, Senator. The first from David. He says, thanks for having Bernie on the show. And giving him some room to talk. I wish he would talk about race, about black lives matter, and don't shoot. Movements that come out of the Ferguson police shooting. And the second, a tweet. What is Bernie Sanders' position on gun laws and open carry?
SANDERSOkay, well, David, thank you very much for asking a question about an enormously important issue, that is on the minds of millions of millions of people. Not just African Americans, but I think almost everybody in our country. The bad news is that for decades now, we have known that police officers have treated people who they have captured in shameful manners, in some cases, murdered them. The good news is that that type of behavior is not being seen on television, it is being seen on cell phone video.
SANDERSAnd we're seeing more of it. And I think the American people are saying, enough is enough. And I think it clear to me, clear to the American people that we need a change in police culture, in terms of how quickly people are using lethal force. I was a mayor for eight years. I worked very closely with our police department. We reformed the police department. We made it into, to a larger degree, to a community policing. Where the police officers are kind of located in the communities, are part of the communities, are not perceived as oppressive forces.
SANDERSWhich is what I believe we need to do all over this country. It is not acceptable, to me, and I think the overwhelming majority of Americans, to have African American young men walk down the street and be scared to death about what might happen when a police officer appears. So, we need, A, radical training, radical change in culture, where we minimize force, not go to the gun quite as quickly as has been the case for so many years. Number two, we have to demilitarize many of the police departments in this country.
SANDERSIt, you know, when you see some of these pictures on TV with tanks and this very heavy duty military equipment, it doesn't look like a local police department. It looks like an occupying force. And C, I think we have to move this country toward community policing, where people feel comfortable, they know their local cop on the beat. Who has, by the way, a very, very difficult job. No one should think being a police officer is easy. The vast majority of police officers do good work. Some don't.
SANDERSAnd when a police officer does something that is legal, like shooting someone in the back, or beating up people, that police officer has got to be held accountable.
REHMSo, what is your position on gun laws and open carry?
SANDERSWell, I come from a state which has virtually no gun control. And in Vermont, guns are seen as something people use for hunting, target shooting, antique gun shows. But I realize, and Vermont has realized, that guns in Detroit and Los Angeles are used to shoot at police officers and to commit terrible crimes. So, I believe that we have to do everything we can to make sure that guns do not fall into the hands of people who should not have them. Period.
REHMAll right. To Richard in Haverhill, Massachusetts. You're on the air.
RICHARDThank you, Diane. Bernie, right up to the early 70s, unions were very strong, we had a strong middle class. While our Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell didn't like all that, he urged the Chamber of Commerce and corporations to really get involved and counter attacking liberals in the unions. During that whole period, this is all under the radar, the right wing media started, Fox News, Washington Times, et cetera. The right wing think tanks supported by them.
RICHARDAnd (unintelligible) also was started in 1973. And what they couldn't get done in Washington, the figured the Republicans of the right wing, we could do it in the states by supporting (unintelligible) , and from then on down, the wages have gone down and it's hardly, on six percent of private industry is unions. Thank you Bernie, for your comments, too.
SANDERSAll right, Richard. Thanks for your analysis. I think a lot of what you're saying is true. What I would do is, picking up on what you said, go back to David Koch, 1980 Libertarian Party candidate for Vice President of the United States. Read his agenda. And his agenda called for ending Social Security, ending Medicare, ending Medicaid, ending public education. More tax breaks for the rich, ending the Environmental Protection Agency, doing away with all campaign finance limitations.
SANDERSSo that billionaires, like the Koch brothers, could literally give money directly to their candidates. Sadly enough, the Republican Party has moved very far to the right, adopted, and is adopting many of those basic ideas. And one of them, of course, is to destroy the trade union movement. Richard, as you may know, I probably have the strongest pro-union voting record of -- over the last 25 years of any member of Congress. I think it's 100 percent or close to it. And I think your analysis is quite right.
SANDERSIf we do not have a strong union movement, a collectively bargained wages, then not only union members, but the whole society suffers, because corporate America just sticks it to the worker. And that is one of the reasons, the decline of the union movement, is certainly one of the reasons that our middle class is disappearing.
REHMAnd for those of you who just joined us, US Senator Bernie Sanders is with me. We have, indeed, invited all the Presidential candidates to come on the program and hope to hear from them soon. Here's a question, an email from Rosemary. How do you feel about a flat tax?
SANDERSRosemary, I think that is a disastrous idea that is pushed by the economists representing the wealthiest people in this country. What we have right now is massive income and wealth inequality. We have the top one tenth of one percent owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. And in the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in this country, so their wealth increased by 157 billion dollars, that is more wealth combined than the bottom 130 million people.
SANDERSSo, when you have this kind of level of massive income and wealth inequality, what you need is progressive taxation. Progressive taxation. And I am in favor of doing away with all of these loopholes that allow corporations to stash their money in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. And not pay anything in federal taxes. I am in favor of substantially raising taxes for the wealthiest people in this country so we can bring in the revenue we need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and make public education affordable.
SANDERSIn this public colleges and tuitions, that public colleges and universities tuition free and address many of the other unmet needs of -- in this country. But the flat tax is a regressive type of taxation, which I oppose.
REHMAll right. To George in Bristol, Tennessee. You're on the air. Good morning to you both. My question is simple. I've heard the Senator repeat several times, the phrase enough is enough. And earlier, he responded to the question about illegal immigration by saying that he believed the path to citizenship is appropriate. My question, on behalf of those of those of us who also agree enough is enough, why forgive illegals, because that's what they are, forgive their crime, when they should be made to atone for it or sent back?
SANDERSWell, let me back that one up a little bit, George. You know, when you talk about crime, my guess is that a lot of the illegal immigration in this country came because a lot of employers in this country, with a wink and a nod from state and federal government, said hey, we want cheap labor coming in from abroad. We can exploit these workers. I was in Florida talking to tomato workers, people who pick the tomatoes in this country. People who are undocumented, exploited, ruthlessly, as a matter of fact.
SANDERSSo, I think the fact is that people are here right now, the vast majority of them, are working hard or they're paying taxes, vast majority of them are law abiding. And if the alternative is to say we're throw out 11 million people in this country, it ain't gonna happen, it shouldn't happen. I don't believe it should happen. I believe that we need a path toward citizenship. It's not overnight. It's a path toward citizenship for those folks who are law abiding and that is what I believe.
REHMLet's go now to Arnold, Maryland. Rich, you're on the air.
RICHYes, hi. I'm a retired individual. I'm getting social security. I (unintelligible) invested in social security program, by law, for the past 40 years. Now I find that the Congress has been borrowing from Social Security, to find that, for instance, the 678 million they borrowed in 2008. And they're taking my money, that I've invested in there, and are using it for non-Social Security uses. And I understand, Senator, that you support the Financial Transaction Tax. If you do, I hope that you will do it because that's where we could repay it.
RICHI consider that they've taken from a social security tax, the social security fund, as wrong. It's time to call in the loan, make them pay it back, and pay it back now.
SANDERSAll right, Richard, I understand where you're coming from, but I don't quite agree with your analysis. What ended up happening is under LBJ's rule, in order to disguise the cost of the war in Vietnam, they merged the funds. But, the fact is, and I know again, on the internet, there's a lot of misleading information, the fact is there is such a thing called the Social Security Trust Fund. It has every dollar that you invested in it is in there, along with every other American. It has over 2.5 trillion dollars that is guaranteed by the faith and credit of the United States of America.
SANDERSWhich has never failed. It can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 18 years. So, the money, you know, and I know a lot of right wing people who say, oh, Social Security's going broke. It's a Ponzi scheme, there's nothing, anything there. That's just an effort for -- an attempt to make the American people lose faith in what is one of the strongest, most important and most popular programs. So Richard, your money is in there. You're going to get your benefits.
SANDERSWhat my job is and the job of other members of the Congress is to extend the life of Social Security well beyond the 18 years it currently has, and to expand benefits. And we do that by lifting the cap on taxable income.
REHMAll right, to Walter in Providence, Rhode Island. You're on the air.
WALTERHi. Thanks for taking my call.
WALTERI just wanted to say that Senator Sanders, one of the things I really appreciate about you is your honesty. When I hear you answer questions, I never get the sense that you're trying to tailor it to the person who's asking it. Or to make us believe something that we think you really stand for. You're honest and you're straight forward in all your responses. So, on that topic, I wanted to ask you about your comment about ISIS. You said they were barbaric and I don't hear that talked about very much.
WALTERAnd I believe you're right. It's barbarism. So, I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about that big problem we have in the Middle East.
SANDERSWell, look, when you have people who want to take their part of the world back a thousand years, who treat women, not as second class citizens, but as third, fourth class citizens, who don't believe that girls should get an education. Who think that people who have a different religion, you know, in fact, should be killed because they don't hold the same tenants as some of these guys in ISIS. That's barbarism. I mean, that is just going back a thousand years or more in human history.
SANDERSBut what I think, as I mentioned earlier, that this war against these people is not going to be won by a Western power, Christian nation coming in to that region. It has got to be won by the people in that area themselves. And this is tough stuff. I'm not here to tell you I have a magical solution. This is really tough stuff, you know, just like the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy. This is all tough stuff. But at the end of the day, when you have billionaire families in the region, like, you know, Saudi families, Saudi Arabian family that runs Saudi Arabia.
SANDERSIt's one of the wealthiest families in the world, you know? They have the third largest military budget. They have got to get their people, their troops on the ground. They're far more powerful, militarily, than ISIS. Turkey is sitting in that region. Other countries are in that region. They have got to lead the effort, with the support of the United States to defeat ISIS. But we can't do it alone.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now, finally, to Fort Worth, Texas. Peshman, you're on the air.
PESHMANHi Diane. And Senator Sanders. I'm an Iranian American. And I wanted to ask your positions about the nuclear negotiations with the Iranian government. I want to know if, as President, you would keep what President Obama started and kind of, you know, avoid war.
SANDERSPeshman, thanks for that very important question. I think the President is trying very, very hard to reach an agreement, not just with Iran, but with the major countries around the world. Germany, France, other countries, that say to Iran, sorry, you cannot have a nuclear weapon. And I think that's the right approach. And I think what the President is doing, this is, again, complicated stuff. I think John Kerry is doing a great job. Secretary of Energy, Secretary Moniz is doing a great job, is to try to bring about that result.
SANDERSWithout a war. And it astounds me, it astounds me how flippant members of Congress are about, you know, talking about war with Iran. And what the repercussions, and ignoring what the repercussions of another war would be. So, I think the President is trying hard, I was deeply offended by the members of the Senate who wrote to Iran, trying to undermine that effort. And so, to answer your question, yes, I support what the President is doing.
REHMWhat do you think about what Senator McCain is saying week after week on television programs that we need to do something more militaristic.
SANDERSI strongly disagree, you know? You know, again, here's an example. We were told Diane, you will remember, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, we were told by Rumsfeld and Bush and Cheney, this is nothing. Small little country, we'll defeat them in six months, they'll have democracy, our troops will come home. Everything will be wonderful. You know, it didn't quite happen that way, and I would hope that some of the Senators and some of the members of the House who keep talking about more war.
SANDERSYou know, it's not their kids who are going to fight that war, by the way. And when we pay for the war on the credit card, they're going to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid to pay for those wars. But not understanding the unintended consequences of these wars is, to me, just beyond belief.
REHMSenator Bernie Sanders. He is a candidate for the 2016 Presidential election. Senator, thank you so much for joining us. Good to talk with you.
SANDERSThank you very much, Diane.
REHMAnd as I've said, we have invited all of the presidential candidates to be on the program. I hope they will respond as forthrightly as has Senator Sanders. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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