Rebuilding our human infrastructure

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Source: Berniesanders.com

There is a fierce debate now taking place in Congress which will determine the future direction of our country. And it has everything to do with how we define the word “infrastructure.” So let me tell you what I think, and ask for your help.

Yes. We need to rebuild our crumbling physical infrastructure — our roads, bridges, railroads, water systems and wastewater plants. And when we do that, we can create millions of good-paying jobs.

Yes. It is also increasingly obvious that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels towards energy efficiency and renewable energy in order to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. And that investment will also create millions of good-paying jobs.

But, in my view, there is a second type of infrastructure crisis that we must address, one that goes beyond bricks and mortar and that has been ignored for too many years. And that is our crumbling and inadequate human infrastructure.

This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. We must not continue to prop up a grossly unjust economy in which the very rich get much richer while millions of working families struggle to acquire the most basic necessities of life. We cannot continue to fall further and further behind other major industrialized countries in the provision of health care, nutrition, education, child care, retirement security, housing and the other basic needs that must be fulfilled if people are to live with dignity and security.

The American Rescue Plan was a major step forward in addressing the emergency situations facing our country as a result of the pandemic. Now, we must address the long-term structural crises that we face — our human infrastructure.

As Congress begins work on a second major piece of legislation to address the unprecedented crises facing our country I will, as Chairman of the Budget Committee, not only work to ensure that we provide the necessary resources to rebuild our physical infrastructure, but that we also address our long-neglected human infrastructure.

But I cannot do this alone. It is going to require all of us, which is why I am asking you directly:

Please sign my petition — tell Congress that any infrastructure legislation must include investing in our nation’s human infrastructure. It is time to make this country work for all of our people, and not just a handful of billionaires. 

So let me be clear.

Infrastructure means making certain that low-income and working families have the safe and affordable housing that they need. That means building and retrofitting millions of units of housing.

Infrastructure means that when mom and dad go to work, their children have high quality child care at a cost working families can afford. That means moving toward universal pre-K education.

Infrastructure means that in a competitive global economy we need to have the best educated workforce in the world and that all of our young people, regardless of their income, have the right to a higher education. That means making public colleges and universities tuition-free and ending student debt.

Infrastructure means that in the United States, when you get sick, you have the right to go to a doctor and get the prescription drugs you need. We cannot continue having up to 68,000 people a year die needlessly because they can’t afford health care and, in the richest country on earth, rank 39th in life expectancy. That means understanding that health care is a human right, not a privilege, and moving to universal health care.

Infrastructure means that we can no longer be the only major country on earth not to have paid family and medical leave. It is inconceivable that in the aftermath of a pandemic we would still insist that people go to work sick, and not have the ability to take care of their families when they become seriously ill.

Infrastructure means respecting our seniors, the generation that raised us. It is unacceptable that many millions of older Americans today have teeth in their mouths that are rotting, and cannot adequately see or hear. That is why we must expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses and lower the age of Medicare eligibility to 55.

Rebuilding our physical and human infrastructure, and creating millions of good-paying jobs, is an expensive proposition. But, at a time of massive and growing income and wealth inequality and a regressive and unfair federal tax system, we must demand that the wealthy and large profitable corporations start paying their fair share of taxes as we rebuild America. We must also end the hundreds of billions we provide in corporate welfare.

Here are just a few ideas that can raise trillions in new revenue without asking the middle class or working families to pay a nickel more in federal taxes:

First, we can no longer tolerate the pharmaceutical industry ripping off U.S. taxpayers, the elderly and the sick by charging the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. It is way past time for Medicare and the federal government to do what every major country on earth does: negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs. And when we do that, we can save at least $500 billion over the next decade and lower the cost of prescription drugs for everyone.

Second, we must end the absurdity of large corporations like Nike, Federal Express and Dish Network making billions in profits, but paying nothing in federal income taxes. We must repeal the Trump tax breaks for large corporations, restore the corporate tax rate to 35%, crack down on offshore tax shelters and close corporate tax loopholes — all of which would generate at least $2.3 trillion in revenue.

Third, we must make sure that the wealthiest people in America who inherit massive fortunes pay their fair share of taxes. Enacting a progressive estate tax rate starting at 45% on inherited wealth of more than $3.5 million could raise over $1 trillion in new revenue from the families of just 657 billionaires, while the taxes of 99.5 percent of Americans would not go up by one penny.

Fourth, at a time when the largest banks in America are making record-breaking profits, we need to establish a tax on Wall Street speculators — the people who nearly destroyed the economy back in 2008. A modest financial transaction tax could raise up to $2.4 trillion.

Fifth, if we are going to make sure that our planet is healthy and habitable for future generations, we cannot continue to hand out corporate welfare to the fossil fuel industry. By abolishing dozens of tax loopholes, subsidies and other special interest giveaways to big oil, coal and gas companies, we can save taxpayers up to $150 billion over the next decade.

Now is the time for us to think big, not small — but the truth is that the path forward will not be easy. We will be taking on some of the most powerful special interests in this country, which is why it is important that we show we are united on this issue.

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