Just this week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) discusses the middle wage at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing. Although this clip primarily discusses minimum wage – and the abolishment of minimum wage, which Lamar Alexander, ranking Republican on the committee, admitted that he wanted to abolish – Sen. Sanders made a statement that every US citizen who is above the poverty line should be ashamed about.
Today we have almost as many people living in poverty—and that’s around 46 million—as any time in the last 60 years. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country, and that’s somewhere around 22%. We have more income and wealth inequality than any major country ON EARTH. And astoundingly, between the last study I’ve seen between 2009 and 2011, all of the new income—ALL OF THE NEW INCOME—created in this country went to the top 1%.
One of the wealthiest countries in the world. One of the most advanced countries in the world in regards to science, health care, and education. There is no reason why our poverty level should be this high. No reason at all. But it is. We have become a country of “mine, mine, mine, gimme, gimme, gimme” and “eff you’s.” The almighty dollar and power associated with it rules and those who have the ability to to drop our poverty rate choose not to purely for profit.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I, VT.): Today we have almost as many people living in poverty—and that’s around 46 million—as any time in the last 60 years. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country, and that’s somewhere around 22%. We have more income and wealth inequality than any major country ON EARTH. And astoundingly, between the last study I’ve seen between 2009 and 2011, all of the new income—ALL OF THE NEW INCOME—created in this country went to the top 1%.
Meanwhile, as Dr. Reich implied, many of the new jobs being created are low wage jobs—service industry jobs. That’s the problem.
Now, I would just mention for the record, my state has the third highest minimum wage in the country and that is $8.60 per hour. We also have the 4th lowest unemployment rate in the country. And I would just say for the record that I have not heard anyone suggest that we raise the minimum wage to that what we have in Vermont as an impediment to our economy, which is doing reasonably well.
I think Bishop Lara, a while ago, spoke and in his remarks made a very important point having to do with the dignity of work and the appreciation of work. And that if somebody is going to work that person has got to receive AT LEAST a wage that they can go out and live with dignity on. That’s an extremely important point.
And when we don’t have that… I would like to point to Detroit Michigan, talking to African American kids a couple weeks ago… there are kids there that are desperately trying to do the right thing. You know what the jobs are that they can get after high school graduation—even with some college? It’s working in a fast food restaurant at $7.25 per hour. They can’t even get 40 hours per week. They’re getting 20 hours per week. They’re getting 30 hours per week. They are desperately trying to bring themselves out of poverty. They’re going nowhere in a hurry.
Now, if I understand Mr. Sherk’s remark, and correct me if I’m not, one of the points that you made was by raising the minimum wage people are going to lose certain government benefits which provide them with a higher standard of living.
If minimum wage goes up you are going to lose food stamps. You may lose part of the earned income tax credit. You may lose affordable housing. You may lose Medicaid and at the end of the day, one is worse off than one would have been, if we raise the minimum wage. Am I understanding you correctly?
JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Um… more or less. You basically got two effects. Some people lose their job. Some people don’t lose it but they see most of their benefits rolled back. They don’t come out ahead.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I am reading what is a standard quote from The Heritage Foundation. It says, and I quote: “Food Stamps is an expensive old-style program that rewards idleness.”
Now this hearing in the House, what we are seeing in the House, are massive cuts to Medicaid, massive cuts to Food Stamps, transforming Medicare from what we know it, cuts in the Pell Grant program. I would assume, based on what you’ve told me, that The Heritage Foundation would be opposed to all these disastrous Republican cuts in social programs. Am I correct in assuming that?
JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: The problem that we have with the social programs is that they deny the low-income workers the fruits of their labor. I believe that context for that quote was in the need for work requirement.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Alright, let me ask… let me be more direct… Your argument is if that people make more money that they’ll lose programs. One rational solution to that is to increase programming. So, are you in favor of substantially increasing the Food Stamp program and Medicaid benefits. Is that the Heritage Foundation’s position?
JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, first of all, I’m not here officially representing The Heritage Foundation. Just as Dr. Reich here is not officially representing his college—or his school. My argument is that we remove the incentive to work… that if you take a look at families below the poverty line 2/3 don’t have any adults working at all…
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Remove the incentive to work by having adequate social programs… so you’re opposed to that… but on the other hand you are opposed to raising the minimum wage so that somebody can earn a decent living to go out and buy the food and shelter that they need. I don’t quite understand it. Right? I don’t quite understand it. You’re for one or the other.
You’re saying that you want people to have a minimal standard of living and not raise the minimum wage. You have to compensate for low wages by having decent social programs.
JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I’m saying what we should do is restructure the social programs so that the benefit phase-out rates don’t overlap at the same time.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: At the end of the day… I don’t understand how… You seem to be a smart guy but you’re arguing two absolutely contradictory points. You can argue that raising the minimum wage would result in lower benefits. Bad thing. Good point. Then the answer is that we provide more benefits. Or you can argue, forget the benefits, let’s make sure everyone in America makes at least $15-18 per hour. We don’t have to worry about the benefits. What point do you think?
JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: If… Part of the benefits is that they create these phase-out rates, the high marginal tax rates that are close to 100% that come from the existence of the benefits phasing out. And so, Senator Harkins—State of Iowa—the reason that a hypothetical single mother with one child would come out that much behind is because, basically, the massive child care subsidies that they have in Iowa.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Do you think the Federal government should address it?
JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: So the issue would be that by providing fewer benefits you reduce the effective phase-out rate. Or by… even if you’re spending the same amount to coordinate the benefit phase-outs so that they’re not all happening at the same time over the same income level.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: So, to be clear, you do not believe in the concept of minimum wage? In other words, if the economy is such that I could offer you $3.00 per hour
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R, TN.): Let me jump in. I don’t believe in it.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: You do not?
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R, TN.): I do not.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: So we have a ranking member… Alright here we go!
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R, TN.): As long as you’re going to interrupt the Chairman… and let them ask their own questions.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: So you do not believe in the concept of the minimum wage?
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R, TN.): That’s correct.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: You would abolish the minimum wage?
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R, TN.): Correct.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: So if somebody would have to work for $2.00 per hour, they’d have to work for $2.00 per hour?
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R, TN.): No, I would go for a much more targeted approach. I’ve been around long enough to remember Pat Moynihan and the negative income tax.
The question I would want to ask, if we are interested in social justice, and in work is, if people… if we want to honor work instead of getting a welfare check then wouldn’t a more efficient way to help people in poverty be to increase the earned income tax credit rather than to do what we always do here which is come up with a big idea to send the bill to somebody else. What we’re doing is coming up with a big idea to send the bill to the employer. Just like we come up with the big idea about Medicaid and send the bill to the government. We come up with a big idea about storm sewers and and it to the Mayor in Burlington. Why don’t we just pay for the big ideas that we come up with and we want to create a standard of living for people that’s much higher than we have today… Let’s attach the dollars to the job and everybody pay for it.
I don’t want to do that, but if we are going to do that then that’s the way I think we should do it.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: That’s a very interesting discussion for another time. I just want to ask Mr. Sherk… you heard what Senator Alexander said… If Senator Alexander brought forth a bill to abolish the minimum wage what would you recommend?
JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well… again… the minimum wage hurts its intended beneficiaries. And… uh… I think… uh… it’s not… uh… I do not support the concept of minimum wage.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I appreciate your honesty. Thank you.
The Everlasting GOP Stoppers:
WATCH Bernie Sanders Wrangle With The Heritage Foundation And Lamar Alexander As He Defends A Higher Minimum Wage
Right Wing Watch: The Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation Website
Politicus USA: Bernie Sanders Gets Republican Leader To Admit He Wants To Abolish The Minimum Wage