Transcript: Thom Hartmann - Brunch with Bernie August 26, 2011

Thom Hartmann: And greetings my friends, patriots, lovers of democracy, truth and justice, believers in peace, freedom and the American way, Thom Hartmann here with you. By the way, oh our telephone number: 866-987-THOM, special greetings and welcomes to our newest radio station affiliate, WACC in Enfield Connecticut, 107.7 FM, and great to have you with us and greetings. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the fed gave a speech this morning at 10 o’clock in which, in my opinion I’ll share more of that with you later on in the day, he gave the republicans a bit of a spanking, particularly towards the end of the speech. And in fact the economist Richard Wolff will be with us at the top of the next hour to talk about that topic.

And yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders, or I was reporting anyway, I’m not sure exactly which day, introduced legislation to make social security solvent forever. So given all the economic news and everything that’s going on, what better time than to have brunch with Bernie. It’s Friday, it’s brunch with Bernie time. Senator Bernie Sanders on the line with us from Vermont. I think of him as America’s senator although Vermonters very proudly call him Vermont’s senator. Bernie, welcome.

Bernie Sanders: Good to be with you Thom.

Thom Hartmann: Great to have you with us. Your thoughts, well I think I set it up for you. Let me just toss it to you.

Bernie Sanders: You did set it up for me. And here’s the story. I get very, very, very disturbed when I see folks in the congress or on TV telling us social security is going bankrupt, we’re going to have to cut benefits, we’re going to have to raise the retirement age, we’re going to have to do all of these things. That is totally unmitigated nonsense. So here’s just a few facts. Number one: social security today has a 2.5 trillion dollar surplus. Can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 25 years. This is not Bernie Sanders talking, this is just a report that came out a few weeks ago from the Congressional Budget Office. Furthermore and most importantly social security has not contributed one nickel to the deficit to the national debt because it is not funded by the treasury, it is funded by the payroll tax. Something that every worker contributes into. So I get very, very annoyed when I hear people saying well we’re going to have to do this and that. It is just not true.

Now one of the things that every American should be watching, Thom, is that this so-called super committee that is going to start work in a couple of weeks had everything on the table including social security, medicare and medicaid. One of the ideas that a lot of people have been talking about unfortunately including the president, is to move towards a so-called chained CPI. And what that means, and this will be laughable to those seniors and disabled vets who are listening to this program. That there are people in Washington that think that he COLA now is too generous.

Thom Hartmann: The Cost of Living Adjustment.

Bernie Sanders: Too extravagant, right. This is the Cost of Living Adjustment. Seniors, despite rising costs of prescription drug sand healthcare, haven’t gotten a COLA in the last two years, nothing, not a penny. Yet there are some in Washington who think the current COLA is too generous and they want to move to a different formulation which will mean that if you’re 65 now in ten years you’ll get $560 less than you otherwise would have gotten and in 20 years when you’re 85 you’ll get a thousand dollars a year less. So this is fairly Draconian given the fact that many seniors on social security are getting back on 15, 16,000 dollars a year. Okay that’s number one.

Number two: how do we make social security solvent and strong, not just for 25 years, which is currently the case, but for 75 years, which is what actuaries like to look into. And the answer is pretty simple and actually Barack Obama when he was running for president gave us the answer. And that is right now if you’re making a million dollars a year you contribute the same amount into social security as does somebody who makes 106 thousand. Because there’s a ceiling. So the people on top of 106 thousand stop paying into it at a certain period. If you lift the cap on people who are making more than 250 thousand a year, which is what Obama talked about during the campaign, the problem is solved for 75 years. And in our line of business, you know, that’s the equivalent of forever. So that is what we are proposing. We’re going to introduce that legislation as soon as congress reconvenes. So that’s one issue that we want to be focusing on, point is social security is not in crisis, it hasn’t contributed to the deficit and there is a reasonable solution to the problem.

Number three. When we talk about social security, when we’re talking about deficit reduction, let us not forget that the most important problem facing this country is we are in the midst of a severe recession. And whether people call it a recession or not doesn’t matter. The reality is that 16% of our people today are unemployed or under employed. There are people out there who are employed who are working the jobs which pay them substantially less than used to be the case. And we have got to deal with the economy. And what makes it a little bit easier is that there is an enormous amount of work that has to be done. I mean you’re looking at an infrastructure which is crumbling. We can put millions of people back to work developing the kind of rail system that we need, the kinds of roads, bridges, tunnels, culverts, water systems that we need according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need over two trillion dollars worth of work in the next five years. Plenty of work to be done. We need to transform our energy system, this is real work, this is not make work. We’re spending 350 billion dollars a year on foreign oil. Let’s become energy independent. Let’s combat global warming. Let’s deal with air pollution. Let’s move to energy efficiency. That means there are homes in my state of Vermont all over this country which are just wasting an enormous amount of energy. I talked to an expert a couple of weeks ago here in Vermont ad we’re doing a pretty good job in Vermont but we have a long way to go. There are tens of thousands of homes that could cut their fuel bill by 20 or 30% to a good weatherization program. When you do that and you’re putting people to work making the weatherization products, doing the actual work on the homes. And then if you’re moving toward solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, you can also create a whole lot of jobs. And one of the things that bothers me very, very much is we’re seeing China exploding in terms of sustainable energy, wind and solar. We have got to get that market back. Many of these technologies were developed in the United States of America. But we should be investing in that, creating significant numbers of jobs.

The third issue that I want to just keep people focused on is trade policy. And that is do we want to continue our trade policies such as NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China. Well there’s three more coming down the pipe. Panama Columbia and South Korea. I think they’re not good policies. I think they work for corporate America who want cheap labor abroad. They do not work for working people. So we’re working on ideas about how we demand create a situation where corporate America starts investing in America not in China. You know, there are all kinds of studies out there, a lot of these corporations say well we’re creating a lot of jobs. They are but they’re creating them in China or Vietnam or elsewhere. They’re not creating them here in the United States. Then you talk about jobs in healthcare. We’ve got 50 million people without health insurance. We should be greatly expanding primary healthcare, dental care, putting people to work doing meaningful work, improving the lives of fellow Americans. So you know, Thom I think that is an area that we have got to focus on in a bold way. And not only because it is life and death for the middle class in this country and for our young people and the need to create these good paying jobs. If you’re serious about deficit reduction, it’s not about cutting medicaid or education or the EPA it’s about putting people to work so they’re paying taxes so we’re getting the revenue that we need. Full employment economy will deal very effectively with our deficit. So those are some of the issues that we’re going to be focused on as soon as congress reconvenes.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. And that’s going to be when?

Bernie Sanders: After labor day.

Thom Hartmann: So about a week and a half.

Bernie Sanders: Yeah.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, okay, good. That’s a spectacular list and it’s going to be a lot of fodder for future programs. It’s our brunch with Bernie hour, Senator Bernie Sanders on the line with us. He will be taking your calls, our national town hall meeting on whatever question you may have for the senator, our telephone number 866-987-THOM.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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From Screwed:
"Hartmann speaks with the straight talking clarity and brilliance of a modern day Tom Paine as he exposes the intentional and systematic destruction of America’s middle class by an alliance of political con artists and outlines a program to restore it. This is Hartmann at his best. Essential reading for those interested in restoring the institution that made America the envy of the world."
David C. Korten, author of The Great Turning and When Corporations Rule the World
From Screwed:
"If we are going to live in a Democracy, we need to have a healthy middle class. Thom Hartmann shows us how the ‘cons’ have wronged this country, and tells us what needs to be done to reclaim what it is to be American."
Eric Utne, Founder, Utne magazine
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"In an age rife with media-inspired confusion and political cowardice, we yearn for a decent, caring, deeply human soul whose grasp of the problems confronting us provides a light by which we can make our way through the quagmire of lies, distortions, pandering, and hollow self-puffery that strips the American Dream of its promise. How lucky we are, then, to have access to the wit, wisdom, and willingness of Thom Hartmann, who shares with us here that very light, grown out of his own life experience."
Mike Farrell, actor, political activist, and author of Just Call Me Mike and Of Mule and Man