In a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced his vision for a progressive economic agenda that he says could restore shared prosperity, reinvigorate the middle class, and mitigate a host of social crises that stem from the current system that has created great wealth for a select few while systematically eroding the quality of life for the many.
Detailing twelve economic areas that need immediate attention and major overhauls, Sanders indicated his plan is driven by the neeed to re-establish the status of the middle class as the key indicator of overall economic health.
"The American people must make a fundamental decision," Sanders said. "Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all?"
As outlined by his office, Sanders' economic agenda would:
- Invest in our crumbling infrastructure with a major program to create jobs by rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools.
- Transform energy systems away from fossil fuels to create jobs while beginning to reverse global warming and make the planet habitable for future generations.
- Develop new economic models to support workers in the United States instead of giving tax breaks to corporations which ship jobs to low-wage countries overseas.
- Make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for higher wages and benefits.
- Raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour so no one who works 40 hours a week will live in poverty.
- Provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.
- Reform trade policies that have shuttered more than 60,000 factories and cost more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs.
- Make college affordable and provide affordable child care to restore America’s competitive edge compared to other nations.
- Break up big banks. The six largest banks now have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product, over $9.8 trillion. They underwrite more than half the mortgages in the country and issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards.
- Join the rest of the industrialized world with a Medicare-for-all health care system that provides better care at less cost.
- Expand Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.
- Reform the tax code based on wage earners’ ability to pay and eliminate loopholes that let profitable corporations stash profits overseas and pay no U.S. federal income taxes.
Such an ambitious plan won't be easily accomplished, Sanders acknowledged and said that the largest obstacle would be whether or not Americans can answer this question: "Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?"
Sanders cited figures adjusted for inflation that reveal the median male worker in the United States earned $783 less in 2013 than he made 41 years ago. He also suggested that continued gender disparities persist that should outrage any who believe in equality, with annual earnings for the median female worker in the U.S. declining by $1,337 between 2007 and 2013. Since 1999, Sanders said, household income for the median middle-class family is less than it was a quarter century ago.
In op-ed that mirrored his floor speech on Tuesday, Sanders wrote, "The American people must demand that Congress and the White House start protecting the interests of working families, not just wealthy campaign contributors. We need federal legislation to put the unemployed back to work, to raise wages and make certain that all Americans have the health care and education they need for healthy and productive lives."
This story was originally published on Common Dreams.