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When Bernie Sanders responded to the candidate questionnaire of the American Federation of Teachers,.
To those on this blog who are adamantly opposed to the Senate’s “Every Child Achieves Act,” please note that Bernie voted for it and sees it as an improvement over the current high-stakes testing environment.
His views are similar to those of the Network for Public Education. We support the ECAA with qualifications because we oppose annual testing and federal support for charter schools.
The American Federation of Teachers invited all candidates to respond to their questionnaire. Three responded: Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders.
Candidate questionnaire: Bernie Sanders
Today, almost 50 million students attend our nation’s public schools. Along with their parents, communities, teachers, paraprofessionals and other school employees, these students have been forced to live under test—and-punish policies that include sanctions and school closings, high-stakes assessments, and federalized teacher evaluations that are counterproductive and have taken the joy out of teaching and learning.
Q. What is your view of the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also
known as the No Child Left Behind Act)? What changes, if any, would you make to the law, and
why? Please include positions on:
• The federal government’s role in ensuring equity and access to resources for all children;
• The role of standards, assessments and accountability in public education;
• Ensuring that all students have access to a broad curriculum that includes art and music,
as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM);
• Professional development for school staff; and
• Community schools.
BS: I voted against No Child Left Behind in 2001, and continue to oppose the bill’s reliance on high-stakes standardized testing to direct draconian interventions. In my view, No Child Left Behind ignores several important factors in a student’s academic performance, specifically the impact of poverty, access to adequate health care, mental health, nutrition, and a wide variety of supports that children in poverty should have access to. By placing so much emphasis on standardized testing, No Child Left Behind ignores many of the skills and qualities that are vitally important in our 21st century economy, like problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, in favor of test preparation that provides no benefit to students after they leave school.
In my home state of Vermont, almost every school is identified as “failing” under the requirements of No Child Left Behind, despite the fact that we have one of the highest graduation rates in the country, and students from Vermont continually score among the highest in the country on annual NAEP assessments.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, I have worked to reform No Child Left Behind. My top priorities during the most recent iteration of the bill have been:
• Reducing the high-stakes nature of standardized tests by basing accountability on multiple measures of a school’s effectiveness.
• Including a pilot program that allows states to implement innovative systems of assessment that do not rely on standardized tests. Instead, new innovative assessments will empower educators by providing actionable information during the school year that can inform instructional practice.
• Maintaining federal support for afterschool programs provided through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.
• The inclusion of wrap-around support services like health, mental health, nutrition and family supports.
I believe guaranteeing resource equity is a core tenet of the federal government’s role in education policy, and if elected, I will work reduce the resource disparities that currently exist between schools in wealthy and low-income areas.
In addition, I strongly support increased emphasis on a well-rounded curriculum. No Child Left Behind’s narrow focus on math and literacy has deprived children, especially low-income children, from critical opportunities in the arts, music, physical education, civics and STEM fields.
I also believe that not enough emphasis has been placed on effective professional development for educators and school leaders. Districts and schools must provide more time and support for educators to pursue highly effective professional development. We should be encouraging innovation in professional development, and ensuring that teachers will be able to incorporate professional development into their classroom practice. Finally, we must provide the resources necessary to provide effective professional development for all teachers, and have consistently supported efforts to increase Title II funding.
Q. Do you support any of the current reauthorization proposals under consideration in the 114th
BS: I believe the Alexander-Murray compromise on No Child Left Behind reauthorization represents a step in the right direction, and voted for the bill in Committee. While this legislation could go much further to provide adequate resources to our lowest-income students, I believe it is an important step forward. I strongly oppose the Student Success Act because it would gut the core provisions of federal law that direct education funding toward the low-income students who need it most.
Q. What role do you think the federal government can play in providing access to early childhood education? What specific policy proposals would your administration pursue?
BS: Every child in the United States should have access to high quality early childhood education programs, and that the federal government has a critical role to play. If elected, I would pursue a federal program to guarantee access for every child, and ensure early-childhood educators receive compensation that is commensurate with elementary school teachers.
Q. What are your views on private school vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter school accountability and transparency?
BS: I am strongly opposed to any voucher system that would re-direct public education dollars to private schools, including through the use of tax credits. In addition, I believe charter schools should be held to the same standards of transparency as public schools, and that these standards should also apply to the non-profit and for-profit entities that organize charter schools.
Q. Escalating tuition and fees are leading to a growing number of students leaving college with overwhelming debt from student loans. This burden of rising costs and rising debt makes access to higher education increasingly difficult for many students and their families. What is the role of the federal government in ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible?
BS: Skyrocketing college tuition has left college out of reach for hundreds of thousands of students, and left millions more deeply in debt. In an increasingly global economy, I believe it is unfair and bad economic policy to force our young people to compete with workers from other countries who can pursue a higher education at little or no cost. This is why I introduced the College for All Act which would create a federal-state partnership to eliminate undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities. In addition, this legislation would slash student loan interest rates, and allow borrowers to refinance their loans. If elected, I would continue my work to eliminate tuition at public colleges and to alleviate the burden of student debt.
Q. There has been a nationwide pattern of disinvestment in public higher education such that per-student funding dropped 26.1 percent between 1990 and 2010. What would your administration do to remedy this?
BS: State disinvestment has unquestionably been a prime driver of skyrocketing tuition costs. I strongly support the creation of a federal-state partnership that will incentivize states to re-invest in their public higher education systems.
Q. Career and technical education programs help ensure that postsecondary credentials and skills are accessible to all—a necessity in today’s economy. In your view, what is the role of the federal government in supporting high-quality CTE programs?
BS: Career and Technical Education programs are vital pathways to middle-class, family-supporting jobs. I believe it is in our national and economic interest to ensure quality CTE programs are available to every American, and effectively aligned with the needs of the 21st century workforce. Accordingly, I strongly support fully-funding the Perkins CTE program. In addition, if elected, I would work to revolutionize our nation’s approach to workforce development and technical education to build effective, attainable pathways for young people to pursue middle class careers.
Q. What is the federal government’s role in requiring appropriate transparency and accountability of for-profit institutions?
BS: In my view, for-profit colleges and career programs have perpetrated a massive fraud at the expense of American taxpayers, and hundreds of thousands of students who are now saddled with worthless degrees and massive amounts of student debt. As the gatekeeper to financial aid programs, the federal government must be far more vigilant, and do a much more effective job in protecting students and taxpayers from low-quality and fraudulent programs. I support efforts to implement gainful employment regulations, and regulations requiring that no institution receives more than 85% of its revenue from federal sources. In addition, I support efforts to increase transparency in the sector, so students and policymakers have a clearer understanding of institutions’ activities and quality.
Q. What are your views of the Affordable Care Act? What changes would you make, if any, to the ACA, including the excise tax on high-cost plans and the provisions on shared responsibility for employers?
BS: I start my approach to healthcare from a very basic point: healthcare should be a right and not a privilege. Our healthcare system is broken, and the Affordable Care Act was an important first step. It has done a lot of good things that have improved the health and economic security of millions of Americans, including closing the prescription drug “donut hole” for seniors, allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans, and preventing insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions. But the ACA was not perfect, and there are some improvements we can make. Although millions more Americans have insurance now, the ACA will still leave some 30 million Americans without health coverage. Families will still face plans that have high deductibles and copays, or do not cover the medications or doctors they need.
Beyond those larger improvements, any specific changes to the ACA must be done thoughtfully and with a few key principles in mind–namely, the impact any changes will have on the rest of the healthcare system. Changes to the employer shared responsibility provision should not be done in a way that leads to higher premiums for employees or reduced revenues for the government. As for the excise tax on high-cost health plans, it is important to preserve the savings Congress intended from that provision, but I want to be certain that workers who have traded lower wages for better benefits over the years are not penalized.
Q. Do you support initiatives designed to move health insurance coverage away from an employer-based model? If so, what would you propose as an alternative to the current system for covering working adults?
BS: As I said above, the Affordable Care Act was a good first step towards fixing our broken healthcare system–but it also heavily relies on continuing the employer-based model of health coverage. There is no reason employers should be in the insurance business, unless they actually happen to run an insurance company! I believe the best strategy is to move to universal coverage under a Medicare-for-all single payer system. Your health coverage and your level of benefits should not depend on your employer.
Q. Many licensed healthcare professionals, particularly RNs, are leaving hospital service because of difficult working conditions, including excessive and unsafe workloads, understaffing and mandatory overtime. What would you do to address these problems and to improve recruitment and retention of nurses and other healthcare professionals?
BS: I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege and every American should have access to the health care services they need, regardless of their income. I also believe improved access to primary care will keep people healthier and reduce reliance on emergency rooms as a first site of care. These changes in our health care system will improve the lives of patients but also of health care providers, including RNs working in hospitals, who are often the ones who bear the brunt of our flawed system. Until these types of changes can be made, we need to protect this critical workforce by ensuring they have the equipment and resources they need to provide world class health care without risking personal injury. I have long supported programs and policies, including the National Health Service Corps, designed to encourage caring and dedicated individuals to go into the health care field and serve in areas of greatest need.
Q. Merger and acquisition activity continues to consolidate the U.S. healthcare system into the hands of a few corporations, many of which are for-profit. What would you do to ensure competition in the healthcare industry is fair and protects the American consumer?
BS: Consolidation and concentration of power is occurring throughout every sector of our economy and it must stop. We must not allow a few companies and a few families to control every industry in this country. This is a problem in the health care industry where only a select number companies control the system and focus more on their shareholders’ profits than the health of their customers. For example, prescription medications in this country are not only made by a limited number of companies but are distributed by only a few companies with the ability to set prices however they want and can limit the supply however they choose. America desperately needs a reinvigorated anti-trust system aimed at dismantling the growing concentration in many sectors of our economy.
Q. What would you do to ensure that communities have access to public health services?
BS: Access to public health services has been a substantial focus of my time in Congress. As Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the Senate I worked tirelessly to make sure that every eligible veteran in this country had access to high-quality, timely care through the VA. And as Chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pension’s subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging I led the efforts to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which helps guarantee access to critical health programs for seniors throughout the country and fought hard to extend funding for three key public service programs: Federally Qualified Health Centers, Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education, and the National Health Service Corps. I am a huge supporter of community health centers as I believe they help all Americans, regardless of income, access the preventive care that keeps them healthy and well. I would like to expand these centers, making sure even more Americans can benefit. I have also fought hard to include dental care in more public health programs so more Americans aren’t forced to ignore dangerous, even life-threatening oral health problems because they don’t have coverage.
Q. What are your priorities for revitalizing the economy, strengthening the middle class, creating jobs and ensuring fair taxation? How would your plan help restore funding for education, healthcare, transportation, public safety and many other services provided to our citizens?
BS:. Creating Millions of jobs. If we are truly serious about reversing the decline of the middle class and putting millions of people back to work, we need a major federal jobs program. The most effective way to do that is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation which would invest $1 trillion over 5 years to modernize our country’s physical infrastructure. My bill would create and maintain at least 13 million good-paying jobs, while making our country more productive, efficient and safe.
Raising Wages and Benefits. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. The minimum wage must become a living wage — which means raising it to $15 an hour over the next few years. My goal is to ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. We must also bring about pay equity. It’s unconscionable for women to earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men who perform the same work. Overtime protections must be strengthened for millions of workers. It is absurd that “supervisors” earning $25,000 a year — and who may in fact supervise no one — are currently forced to work 50 or 60 hours a week with no overtime pay. We also need paid sick leave and vacation time for all.
Progressive Taxation. In order to reverse the massive transfer of wealth and income from the middle class to the very rich we’ve seen in recent years, we need real tax reform which makes wealthy individuals and profitable corporations begin to pay their fair share of taxes. It is fiscally irresponsible for the U.S. Treasury to lose about $100 billion a year because corporations and the rich stash their profits in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other tax havens. I have introduced legislation which would end this legalized tax fraud.
College for All. The United States must join Germany and many other countries in understanding that investing in our young people’s education is investing in the future of our nation. I have introduced legislation to make tuition in public colleges and universities free, as well as substantially lower interest rates on student loans.
Tax on Wall Street Speculation. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, at a time when trillions of dollars in wealth have left the pockets of the middle class and have gone to the top one-tenth of one percent, at a time when the wealthiest people in this country have made huge amounts of money from risky derivative transactions and the soaring value of the stock market, I would impose a speculation fee on Wall Street investment houses and hedge funds.
Medicare for All. The United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care for all as a right. Despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act, 35million Americans continue to lack health insurance and many more are under-insured. Yet, we continue paying far more per capita for health care than any other nation. The United States must move toward a Medicare-for-All single-payer system.
Q. The United States has a $3.2 trillion infrastructure deficit according to the American Society of Civil Engineers—and that’s just for repairs. What are the mechanisms (e.g., public, private, infrastructure bank) through which we can fund the rebuilding of this country, including the necessary renovation and modernization of our public schools, hospitals and public buildings?
BS:. For years, we have significantly underfunded the maintenance and improvement of the physical infrastructure on which our economy depends. That has to change, and that is why I have introduced the Rebuild America Act, which would invest $1 trillion over five years to modernize our infrastructure. I introduced a similar, but scaled down $476 billion measure as a floor amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution. Both efforts would be paid for by closing tax loopholes that allow profitable American corporations to stash their profits in tax haven countries like the Cayman Islands.
The Rebuild America would go a long way toward closing the national infrastructure deficit identified by the American Society of Civil Engineers. In fact, I worked closely with ASCE in drafting the Rebuild America, and I am proud they endorsed the bill and participated in its rollout.
The Rebuild America Act would invest in roads, bridges and transit; intercity passenger and freight rail; airports; seaports and inland waterways; drinking water and waste water plants; dams and levees; electric transmission and distribution; and broadband.
Importantly, at a time when the real unemployment is more than 11%, the Rebuild America Act would create 13 million jobs that can’t be outsources or off-shored.
In terms of 21′ century infrastructure technology, the Rebuild America Act would make a $25 billion investment in broadband technology over five years. There is no question this investment is needed: the U.S. ranks 16th in the world in terms of broadband access (OECD) and 12th in the world for broadband speed (Akamai). It simply isn’t acceptable that businesses, schools and families in Bucharest, Romania have access to much faster internet than most of the United States.
Q. What would your administration do to build and strengthen retirement security for all working men and women, including protecting employees’ pensions? What is your plan for sustaining and strengthening Social Security and Medicare?
BS: Expand Social Security. Today, we have a retirement crisis in this country. Only one in five American workers have a defined benefit pension plan that guarantees income in retirement. Over half of the American people have less than $10,000 in savings and have no idea how they will ever be able to retire in dignity. More than one-third of senior citizens depend on Social Security for virtually all of their income. And, twenty percent of the elderly are trying to live on an average income of just $7,600 a year.
Given this reality, our job is not to cut Social Security, our job is to expand Social Security.
In the Senate, I have proposed legislation to increase Social Security benefits by an average of $65 a month; expand cost-of-living-adjustments so that seniors can afford the increased prices of prescription drugs and other healthcare expenses; and lift millions of seniors out of poverty by expanding the minimum Social Security benefits that seniors receive in retirement.
This legislation would be paid for by eliminating the cap on taxable income subject to the Social Security payroll tax. Right now, a Wall Street CEO making $20 million a year pays the same amount of money into the Social Security system as someone making $118,500. That is unfair. My legislation would change that.
If we scrapped the cap, and applied the Social Security payroll tax on all income above $250,000, not only would we be able to expand benefits, we would also ensure that Social Security can pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 50 years.
Stop Pension Cuts. I would reverse the provision included in last year’s appropriations bill that allows the pensions of millions of workers and retirees in multi-employer pension plans to be slashed.
Expand Unions. The most important thing we can do to both preserve and expand defined benefit pension plans is to make it easier for workers to join unions. One of the most significant reasons for the decline in defined benefit pension plans is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined.
Today, corporate executives are routinely negotiating obscenely high compensation packages for themselves, but then they deny their own employees the ability to bargain for a better life. That is wrong. We have got to turn this around.
That’s why I support allowing workers to join unions when a majority sign valid authorization cards stating that they want a union as their bargaining representative.
Today, about 68 percent of union workers have a guaranteed pension through a defined benefit plan; while less than 14 percent of nonunion workers do. Expanding union membership in this country would be the best way to protect and expand defined benefit pensions.
Q. What are your views on the privatization and contracting out of public services, including school services and state and local government services?
BS: I am strongly opposed to the outsourcing and privatization of public services. The reality is that many private contractors provide jobs with low pay and no benefits with little or no training. It is not a surprise that initially these private contractors out-bid their government competitors because the federal government provides better pay, health care, pension benefits and quality training to their employees. But, in the long-term, in most instances, privatization leads to poor service, high turnover, and an overall increase in taxpayer dollars.
For example, on the state government level, the State of New Jersey thought they were going to save taxpayer dollars by privatizing their vehicle inspection program. What happened? According to a 2002 report, this program turned into a “mammoth boondoggle” that ended up costing taxpayers $247 million more than it would have cost if it were run by the state.
As President, I would do everything I could to reverse the privatization of public services and support the creation of more good-paying public sector jobs.
Q. Current federal laws and policies encourage and promote collective bargaining through the National Labor Relations Act. What are your views on collective bargaining for the private and public sectors? What is your view regarding agency fee and so-called right-to-work laws?
BS: I am strongly supportive of collective bargaining for private and public sector workers. I am strongly opposed to agency fee and right-to-work laws.
I will fight to make sure that workers are allowed to join unions when a majority sign valid authorization cards stating that they want a union as their bargaining representative. This is not a radical idea. Card check recognition was the law of the land from 1941-1966.
Today, we have more wealth and income inequality in our country than at any time since 1928. There are lots of reasons for this.
The failure to raise the minimum wage is an obvious example. Unfettered free trade that forces American workers to compete against desperate workers in China, Mexico, and Vietnam is another.
But perhaps one of the most significant reasons for the decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined. That will change under my Administration.
Q. As president, what would you do to: (a) prevent employers from intimidating and harassing workers who support union representation, (b) ensure that workers are free to organize and bargain in the workplace, and (c) protect the rights of American workers?
BS: I would strongly penalize employers that illegally fire or discriminate against workers for their union activity during an organizing or first contract drive.
Perhaps most importantly, we have got to make it easier for workers who win union elections to negotiate a first contract.
We also need to address the overtime scandal in this country in which millions of Americans are working 50 or 60 hours a week but fail to get time-and-a-half for their efforts. Four decades ago, more than 65 percent of the workforce qualified for time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Today, that figure is down to just 11 percent. The threshold for overtime pay is now so low that it fails to cover middle class employees. Only workers who earn $23,660 a year currently qualify for overtime, which is below the poverty line for a family of four.
I would make sure that all workers who make up to $1,090 a week are allowed to receive time-and-a-half pay for working overtime. This would increase the take-home pay of millions of workers who are now making less than $57,000 a year.
Further, we need pay equity in this country so that women do not make 78 cents on the dollar compared to what a man makes for doing the same work. I am a proud co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act that would close the pay gap by empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, eliminate loopholes courts have created in the law, and create strong incentives for employers to obey the laws.
Q. The federal government has direct responsibility for setting labor standards. There has been a growing call for changes to those standards, including paid sick days, paid family leave and higher minimum wages. What changes, if any, would you prioritize?
BS: I would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a period of years and index it to inflation. I would fight for paid sick leave, paid family leave, and paid sick days.
It is unacceptable that the out of 185 countries, the U.S. is one of only three that does not grant paid maternity leave.
It is unacceptable that the U.S. is one out of only 13 countries in the entire world that does not guarantee paid vacation.
That would change if I was elected President.
Q. More than 8 million public employees in 25 states currently have no OSHA protection or entitlement to a safe and healthful workplace. Do you support universal OSHA coverage for all public employees?
BS: Of course, I support universal OSHA coverage for all public employees. Every workers should have the right to a safe and healthy work environment. It is a disgrace that millions of public sector employees do not have these fundamental rights in 25 states.
Q. What policies would your administration pursue to ensure that all people—regardless of who they are, where they live or where they come from—are able to climb the ladder of opportunity and participate fully in our economy and democracy?
BS: We need to make a 4-year education at every public college and university in this country free. If Germany, Sweden and Denmark can afford to do this, then so can we.
We need to make health care a basic right in our society, and we need to move beyond the rhetoric about growth and prosperity and recommit to the principles of the Full Employment Act of 1946.
If we are going to rely on an economy that requires people to work in order to survive, then we must make certain that work is available to every American who needs a job. By guaranteeing the right to employment, we can ensure a minimum level of economic security to all.
This is an ambitious program that would lift millions of families out of poverty and provide a pathway to greater economic security for all Americans. Free college, free health care and a guaranteed right to employment. It will not heal all wounds or relieve all tensions, but it would go beyond anything we have tried before, and it would send a clear signal that the lives of all Americans matter.
Q. In your opinion, what are the elements of comprehensive immigration reform? How would your administration’s stance on immigration reform fight back against inequality, promote economic justice and increase wages for all workers?
BS: Our immigration system is broken, and it is long past time to fit it. Comprehensive immigration reform must begin with implementing a responsible path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. They should be given the opportunity to come out of the shadows, have the full protection of the law — including workplace safety and wage and hours protections — pay into Social Security and Medicare, and contribute to the American economy.
Comprehensive immigration must hold unscrupulous employers accountable that exploit immigrant workers. Immigration reform must not be structured such that an employer has the effective power to have a person’s legal status revoked. This has the potential to lead to too many abuses.
At a time when the real unemployment rate exceeds 11%, it makes little sense to increase temporary work visas in high skill fields like science, technology, engineering and math. More often than not, these visas are used to lower wages and cover the fact that we are doing too little to education and retrain workers — both native born and immigrant alike — who already here.
We must pass the DREAM Act. If young people who were brought to the U.S. as children are willing serve in our armed forces, earn a U.S. high school diploma or attend college, and if they do not have a criminal record, I believe they should be eligible for permanent residency.
Instead of demonizing unaccompanied minors from Central America, we must make sure these children are humanely cared for while in U.S. custody. And, we must address the root causes of the crisis, including the fact that these children are fleeing economic despair, criminal violence, and false rumors of amnesty spread by the very people who profit by trafficking children.
We must provide adequate federal support for schools and communities that have large immigrant populations, by significantly increasing funding for Title III language instruction for limited English proficient and immigrant students. And we must reward and support communities that have agreed to resettle refugees, by significantly increasing funding for the HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement grant programs.
Comprehensive immigration reform will be very complex, and yes, it will have to address border security. But my top priorities will be focusing on reducing income inequality by increasing wages and legal protections for all workers.
Q. What are your views on campaign finance reform? Do you support a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision?
BS: In my view, Citizens United is one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history, and I have introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn it. We need to fix our broken campaign finance system by placing limits on contributions and expenditures, requiring more stringent disclosure, and eventually instituting a system of public financing. We cannot allow billionaires and millionaires to buy our elections.
Q. What would your administration do to ensure that voting in elections is free, fair and available to all Americans? Do you oppose policies that restrict access to voting and voter registration?
BS: We must be doing everything we can to make it easier, not harder, for people to vote. Instead, what is happening now is that Republican governors and Republican legislators are going out of their way to put up barriers to voting. They are using unfounded scare tactics and unproven cases of voter fraud to keep people from the polls. Over two years ago, I asked the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into voter fraud and the effects of voter ID laws. The GAO found that while there were very few, if any, cases of voter fraud, the ID laws were working to suppress legitimate voters. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court turned back the clock on equality when it struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil rights law. But the Court also challenged Congress to act, and even though this law was reauthorized unanimously only nine years ago, we still have not managed to fix this incredibly important law.
Last March, I, with many others, traveled to Selma to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic march that lead to the Voting Rights Act. Those incredibly brave men and women literally put their lives on the line and stood up for what they believed in, that all Americans, regardless of color, should have the right to vote. We must honor their legacy and continue their fight.
I have introduced legislation to make Election Day a national holiday. Although this is not a cure-all, it is a first step to show that participating in elections is an important part of Americans society. At a time when less than 40 percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls in November 2014, we must do everything we can to emphasize the importance of participating in democracy.
Q. What do you think this nation’s priorities should be during the next decade? How would your presidency advance those priorities?
BS: 1. Reversing Income and Wealth Inequality
The great moral, economic and political issue of our time is the growing level of income and wealth inequality in our nation. It goes against everything this country is supposed to stand for when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and when 95 percent of all new income generated since the Wall Street crash goes to the top 1 percent. Addressing income and wealth inequality would be my top priority, and would include:
• Ending corporate tax loopholes that allow profitable corporations and the wealthy to stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens.
• Demanding that the wealthy and special interests begin paying their fair share of taxes. It is a disgrace that the top 25 hedge managers last year not only made more than the nation’s 158,000 kindergarten teachers combined, but also that they generally pay a lower effective tax rate than most of those teachers.
• Improving and investing in early childhood education as well as K-12, by hiring more teachers and giving them the resources they need to succeed.
• Addressing the crisis of college affordability by expanding Pell grants, allowing high school juniors and seniors to take college-level classes and earn credit, letting college graduates refinance their loans, capping student loan payments, and making community colleges free.
• Rejecting austerity policies that hurt the elderly, children, the poor and working families.
• Strengthening Social Security and Medicare: When the average Social Security benefit is $1,328 a month, and more than one-third of our senior citizens rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income, our job is to expand benefits, not cut them
• Raising the minimum wage to $15 to put more money into the pockets of workers in underpaid jobs and strengthen the economy.
• Creating 13 million new jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure (roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, rail, airports, and schools), by investing $1 trillion over five years.
• Supporting working women and families by expanding affordable childcare and promoting pay equity.
• Developing a new policy on trade, rather than continue with the free trade agreements that have been unrelentingly bad for American workers and are a major reason why 60,000 American factories have closed and 4.7 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared since 2001.
These are some, but certainly not all of the components of a comprehensive approach to addressing income and wealth inequality.
2. Overturning Citizens United, campaign finance reform and reviving democracy
Another priority would be campaign finance reform. If we don’t do this, we will have no hope at implementing any of the items I just listed above.
In particular, we must reverse two disastrous Supreme Court decisions that have opened the floodgates of almost unrestricted campaign spending: the 2010 Citizens United decision and the more recent McCutcheon decision. These decisions hinge on the absurd notion that giving large sums of money to a politician in exchange for influence and access does not constitute corruption.
These decisions undermine the democratic foundations of our country and have shifted political power to huge corporations and the wealthiest people in the United States. According to recent reports, the billionaire Koch brothers plan to spend $889 million in the 2016 elections, twice what their network spent in 2012, and nearly the amount spent by Obama and Romney. When one family can raise and spend as much as a major party candidate for president, the system is
broken. That is oligarchy, not democracy.
We must overturn these Supreme Court decisions, to make it clear that the ability to make campaign contributions and expenditures – just like the right to vote – belongs only to real people. We must also move toward publicly funded elections.
I recently had the honor of joining Rep. John Lewis and other civil rights leaders on the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma. While that historic march led to the Voting Rights Act — which for decades protected voters from discrimination — the Supreme Court two years ago invalidated a key portion of the landmark law. We must undo that misguided court decision. What happened on that bridge that day was a huge step forward for democracy in America. But what is happening right now — not just in the South but all over this country — are voter suppression efforts by Republican governors and Republican legislatures to make it harder for African-Americans, for low-income people and for senior citizens to vote.
Lastly, we must do everything possible to make it easier for people to participate in the political process, including making Election Day a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote. While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy.
In last November’s election, turnout was only 37 percent, and turnout was even lower among minorities and young people. Voters 18- to 29-years-old made up only 13 percent of those who went to the polls, according to exit polls. The same survey found that only 8 percent of Tuesday’s voters were Latinos, far less than the Latino share of the population.
3. Dealing with Climate Change
Climate change is perhaps the single greatest threat facing our planet. We are already seeing its effects, including more super storms, severe droughts, forest fires, flooding, and rising sea
levels. Virtually the entire scientific community agrees that human activity is a significant driver of global warming, and that if we don’t drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will get much worse by mid-century— including crop failures, increasing hunger and illness, and more extreme weather.
We need a bold vision to address climate change, and that begins with dramatically reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. That is why in last Congress, I introduced the Climate Protection Act, which would have taxed carbon and methane emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas production, and used the revenue to make historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. It would have also tripled funding for advanced energy research,
and made huge investments in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, plug-in electric vehicles and other clean technologies.
There are many other steps we must take right now to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including using existing authority under the Clean Air Act to significantly improve fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, and reducing harmful pollution from power plants and industrial facilities.
As we accelerate investments in energy efficiency and make the transition to clean energy, I believe we can create millions of decent paying jobs. I was one of the authors of the Green Jobs Act, which created a green jobs workforce training program through the economic stimulus
bill. Moreover, the Climate Protection Act alone would weatherize one million homes every year, reducing family energy bills and creating millions of good-paying jobs. Replacing old power plants with new solar, wind and other sustainable energy facilities will also create hundreds of thousands of “green” jobs.
Unless we take bold action to reverse climate change, our children and grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask: “Where were they? Why didn’t they listen to the scientists when they had a chance? Why did they allow this planet to become so damaged?” We have a short window of opportunity. We must act now.
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