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Speech: Sanders Presents Vision to "Do-Nothing" Senate to Solve Unprecedented Crises

 


WASHINGTON – Today, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) outlined his policy vision to tackle the unprecedented crises of mass unemployment, a deadly pandemic, and systemic police brutality, as he lambasted a lack of Congressional action under Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The following are his prepared remarks, which can be viewed in full here:

"Mr. President, as everyone knows, this country faces an extraordinary set of crises – unprecedented in the modern history of this country. Over the last several weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country have rightly taken to the streets to demand an end to police murder and brutality and to rethink the nature of policing in America.

"And, in the midst of that, we continue to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed over 110,000 Americans and infected over two million of our people. And, on top of all of that, we are experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression with over 32 million Americans having lost their jobs.

"Mr. President, in the midst of the struggle for racial justice. In the midst of this horrific healthcare crisis. In the midst of this horrific economic meltdown, the American people are asking what the Republican leadership in the Senate is doing. And, tragically, the answer is nothing. Nothing.

"Historians have suggested that in the year 64 A.D. while Rome was burning, the emperor Nero played his fiddle. At least he did something. He provided entertainment to his court.

"But here in the Senate, Republican Leader McConnell and his leadership team are doing nothing. Sadly, this is the worst Do Nothing Senate in modern American history and every member of this body should be deeply ashamed.

"Mr. President, enough is enough. The United States Senate must respond to the pain and suffering of the American people. Let us quickly wrap up debate over the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and begin work on the unprecedented crises facing America.

Police brutality

"Mr. President, if there is anything that the torture and murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has taught us it is that we have to rethink the nature of policing in America and reform our broken and racist criminal justice system.

"Let’s be clear. The murder of George Floyd is not just an isolated incident. It is the latest in an endless series of police killings of African-Americans including: Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott and so many others.

"Mr. President, the American people are rightly demanding justice and an end to police brutality and murder.

"The Senate has got to act and it must act now. Here are just a few suggestions that I believe must be implemented into law.

"In my view, every police officer involved in a killing must be held accountable, and those found guilty must be punished with the full force of the law. That includes officers who stand by while these brutal acts take place.

"Every single killing of a person by police or while in police custody must be investigated by the Department of Justice. We must create a process by which police departments look like the communities they serve.

"Police departments must look like the communities they serve and be part of those communities, not be seen as invading, heavily-armed occupying forces.

"We need to abolish ‘qualified immunity,’ so police officers are held civilly liable for abuses.

"We need to prohibit the transfer of offensive military equipment to police departments.

"We need to strip federal funds from departments that violate civil rights.

"We need to provide funding to states and municipalities to create a civilian corps of unarmed first responders to supplement law enforcement. For too long we have asked police departments to do things which they are not trained or prepared to do and have criminalized societal problems like addiction and homelessness and mental illness. These are not problems that are solved by incarceration.

"We need to make records of police misconduct publicly available, so that an officer with a record of misconduct cannot simply move two towns over and start again.

"We need to require all jurisdictions that receive federal grant funding to establish independent police conduct review boards that are broadly representative of the community and that have the authority to refer deaths that occur at the hands of police or in police custody to federal authorities for investigation.

"We need to ban the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on protestors. And we need to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the police.

The Pandemic

"Mr. President, New Zealand, a small country of 5 million people, listened to the scientists, acted boldly at the start of the pandemic, and had political leadership trusted by their citizens. The result is, the other day, New Zealand was able to announce that the virus was virtually eliminated in their country and that they could reopen their economy safely.

"In the United States, under President Trump, we have a president who downplayed the crisis, ignored or attacked scientists and who, most people recognize, is a pathological liar not to be trusted.

"Mr. President, in New Zealand and many other countries bold and intelligent action saved lives. In our country, tragically, incompetent leadership cost us lives.

"Well, we cannot bring back those who have unnecessarily died or who have become ill. But what we can do is take action now to do everything possible to minimize unnecessary death and illness in the future.

"First and foremost we need a national protocol to address this pandemic which is based on science, not 50 states or hundreds of communities going forward in different directions.

"What we are talking about is the need for increased testing, and how we best utilize that testing as we talk about opening businesses and schools. We need, through the Defense Production Act, and any other approach, to make certain that all medical personnel have the necessary Personal Protective Equipment that they need. Even today, months after the pandemic erupted, doctors and nurses still lack the equipment they need to protect themselves. We need to produce hundreds of millions of the most effective masks that we can so as to protect all Americans above and beyond medical personnel. Working with the international community we need to make sure that a safe vaccine is produced as quickly as possible and that it is distributed to every American for free. Now is not the time for profiteering. Now is not the time for drug companies to make billions of dollars in profits off of this vaccine.

"What we are talking about is that workers who are on the frontlines whether they are medical professionals or workers in transportation, grocery stores, drug stores, meatpacking plants or warehouses must receive hazard pay for the dangerous work that they do.

"We can no longer allow multi-billion dollar corporations like Amazon, Walmart and Tyson Foods to treat essential workers like expendable workers, like sacrificial workers.

"We can no longer allow multi-billion dollar corporations to run advertisements calling their workers heroes, while paying them starvation wages and treating them with contempt.

Economic Crisis

"And, Mr. President, not only do we need to act boldly and aggressively to address this horrific pandemic, we must respond with a fierce sense of urgency in regards to the worst economic crisis in the modern history of our country.

"All over this country, tens of millions of Americans are going hungry. They have seen their credit scores deteriorate. And they are scared to death that they will soon be evicted from their apartments or will lose their homes to foreclosure.

"We cannot let that happen. The United States of America is the richest country in the history of the world.

"No, Senator McConnell, the American people cannot afford to wait. They need our help right now, not a month from now.

"No, President Trump, this is not the time to take a victory lap. The real unemployment rate is over 20 percent – the highest it has been since the Great Depression. Unless we get our act together, over half of small business owners in America will be forced to close their doors for good within the next 6 months.

"We need to respond vigorously to the enormous economic pain, suffering and anxiety of the American people.

"What does that mean?

"It means that the government must guarantee 100 percent of the paychecks and benefits of American workers – up to $90,000 a year - through the Paycheck Security Act that I introduced with Senators Warner, Jones and Blumenthal.

"Countries in Europe that have taken this approach have not experienced the skyrocketing levels of unemployment we have seen in the U.S.

"According to a recent study from the University of California-Berkeley, if we had adopted a paycheck guarantee program similar to the one in Germany 24 million more Americans would have a job today.

"Let me repeat that. If we had adopted a program to subsidize the paychecks of workers – similar to what Germany has done – we could have prevented the loss of 24 million jobs in the United States of America.

"24 million Americans would still be receiving their paycheck.

"24 million Americans would not have to fear being thrown off of their health insurance because it was tied to their job.

"24 million Americans would not have to worry about how they were going to cobble together enough income to pay for the basic necessities of life.

"Instead, Senator McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate are doing nothing, while President Trump is taking an absurd victory lap. How pathetic is that?

"Mr. President, as a result of the economic downturn, we know that over 16 million Americans have already lost their health insurance. Further, there are estimates that that number could go as high as 43 million people. And that is on top of the 87 million Americans who were already uninsured or under-insured before the pandemic.

"Responding with a fierce sense of urgency to the economic crisis means that, in the midst of this horrific pandemic, everyone in America must receive the health care they need regardless of income. And the solution to this crisis is not to give away hundreds of billions of taxpayer money to health insurance corporations through the COBRA program.

"In my view, Medicare must be empowered to pay all of the health care bills of the uninsured and under-insured until this crisis is over. And that is why I have introduced the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act with a half dozen of my colleagues.

"If this crisis has taught us anything it is that we are only as safe as the least insured among us.

"Responding with a fierce sense of urgency means providing every working-class person in America with a $2,000 emergency payment each and every month until this crisis is over so that they can pay the rent, feed their families and make ends meet. These emergency $2,000 monthly payments will also serve as a major stimulus in reviving the economy.

"Mr. President, the one-time $1,200 check that Americans have received is not nearly enough to make up for the income they have lost during this pandemic. We have got to do a lot better than that.

"Responding with a fierce sense of urgency means making sure that no one in the United States of America is allowed to go hungry. That means we have got to substantially expand the Meals on Wheels program, the school meals programs, and SNAP benefits.

"Responding with a fierce sense of urgency means making sure that the Postal Service receives the emergency funding that it desperately needs.

"Mr. President, now more than ever, our country needs the Postal Service to ensure the timely delivery of medical supplies, to ensure that everyone in America can exercise their right to vote safely through a vote-by-mail system, and to ensure that people in rural America and inner-cities receive the packages they need to survive on a daily basis.

"If we could bail out large corporations, if we could provide over a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy and the powerful, please do not tell me that we cannot save and strengthen the Postal Service – the most popular government agency in America with a 91% approval rating.

"We cannot let President Trump and the Republican Party use the crisis we are in as an opportunity to privatize the Postal Service and destroy over 600,000 good-paying jobs in the process.

"Acting with a fierce sense of urgency means extending the $600 a week in expanded unemployment benefits that expires in July. Failure to extend these benefits would slash the incomes of millions of Americans by 50, 60, even 70 percent.

"So, Mr. President here we are. We are in the midst of the worst public health crisis in over 100 years.

"And the Senate is doing nothing.

"We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"And the Senate is doing nothing.

"We continue to see African Americans brutally murdered and tortured by racist police officers.

"And the Senate is doing nothing.

"Now, I understand that not everyone is hurting in America. Not everyone needs the Senate to act.

"While over 32 million Americans have lost jobs, during this horrific pandemic 630 billionaires in this country have seen their wealth go up by $565 billion.

"Let me repeat that. Over the first two months of this horrific pandemic, America’s 630 billionaires have seen their wealth go up by $565 billion.

"The billionaire class does not need the Senate to act. They have the Federal Reserve – which is working overtime to prop up the stock market by providing trillions of dollars in financial assistance to Wall Street, large corporations, and even the junk bond market.

"As a result, we are witnessing the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the richest people and most profitable corporations in this country.

"That is immoral. That is unconscionable. That is unacceptable. That is un-American. We have got to do a lot better than that.

"It is time for the Senate to act on behalf of the working class who are hurting like they have never hurt before, not the billionaire class who are doing phenomenally well and have never had it so good.

"I yield the floor."

 

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