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Time for a “Strategic Pause” on Corporate Welfare


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Source: Counterpunch

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Wednesday called for a “strategic pause” on corporate welfare to profitable companies during remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate.  Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.

M. President: I look forward to offering two roll call votes on Motions to Instruct Conferees to the so-called “competitiveness” bill based on the assurances given to me by the Majority Leader.

The first motion would instruct the conference committee not to provide $53 billion to the highly profitable micro-chip industry without protections for the American taxpayer.

The second motion would instruct conferees not to provide a $10 billion bailout to Blue Origin – a space company owned by Jeff Bezos, the second wealthiest person in America, who is also the owner of Amazon. Amazon is a company which, in a given year, pays nothing in federal income taxes after making billions in profits. And, by the way, in a given year, Mr. Bezos himself has paid nothing in federal income taxes despite being worth nearly $200 billion.

Let’s be clear. Mr. Bezos has enough money to buy a $500 million yacht – and here it is.

Mr. Bezos has enough money to buy a $23 million mansion with 25 bathrooms in Washington, DC – and here it is.

No. I do not think that tax the taxpayers of this country need to be providing him a $10 billion bailout to Mr. Bezos to fuel his space hobby.

When all is said and done both of these motions touch on an extremely important issue that is rarely discussed in the corporate media or on the floor of the Senate.

And that is how we proceed with industrial policy in this country. Now, let me be clear. I believe in industrial policy. I believe that it makes sense, in certain occasions, for the government and the private sector to work together to address a pressing need in America. Industrial policy to me means cooperation between the government and the private sector. Cooperation. It does not mean the government providing massive amounts of corporate welfare to profitable corporations without getting anything in return.

In other words, will the United States government develop an industrial policy that benefits all of our society, or will we continue to have an industrial policy that benefits the wealthy and the powerful?

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “The problem is that we all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor.”

I am afraid what Dr. King said 54 years ago was accurate back then and it is even more accurate today.

We hear a lot of talk around here about the need to create public-private partnerships – and that all sounds very good. But when the government adopts an industrial policy that socializes all of the risk and privatizes all of the profits – whether it’s handing the micro-chip industry a $53 billion blank check or giving Jeff Bezos a $10 billion bailout to fly to the moon – that’s not a partnership. That is the exact opposite of a partnership. That is corporate welfare. That is crony capitalism.

M. President: Each and every day, I have heard my Republican colleagues and some corporate Democrats blame inflation on runaway government spending.

One of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus has even suggested that we need to take a “strategic pause” when it comes to making urgent federal investments in childcare, healthcare, education, affordable housing, paid family and medical leave and home healthcare – policies that would substantially improve the lives of the American people.

Well, you know what I believe, M. President? I believe that, maybe, just maybe, the time has come to take a strategic pause when it comes to providing tens of billions in corporate welfare to some of the most profitable corporations and wealthiest people on the planet.

And M. President, the American people are increasingly sick and tired of corporations making record-breaking profits, while they struggle to pay outrageously higher prices for gas, rent and food.

They are sick and tired of the high cost of prescription drugs, child care, housing and groceries.

They are sick and tired of CEOs making 350 times more than the average worker, while over half of our people live paycheck to paycheck.

They are sick and tired of the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations not paying their fair share of taxes.

And what does this so-called “competitiveness” bill do?

Instead of addressing any of these issues this bill provides $53 billion in corporate welfare to the micro-chip industry with no protections for the American people and a $10 billion bailout to Mr. Bezos to fly to the moon.

Maybe that makes sense to Mr. Bezos and the CEO of Intel, but it makes zero sense to me.

M. President, in terms of the micro-chip industry, the American people should know the truth.

We are talking about an industry that has shut down over 780 manufacturing plants in the United States and eliminated 150,000 American jobs over the last 20 years while moving most of its production overseas.

In other words, in order to make more profits, these companies shut down plants in America and hired cheap labor abroad. And now, believe it or not, these very same companies are in line to receive $53 billion in corporate welfare to undo the damage that they did.

Some of my colleagues make the point that the microchip industry is enormously important for our economy and that we must become less dependent on foreign nations for micro-chips. I agree. There is no argument about that. But we can and must accomplish that goal without simply throwing money at these companies while the taxpayer gets nothing in return.

M. President, I suspect 5 major semi-conductor companies will likely receive the lion’s share of this taxpayer handout: Intel, Texas Instruments, Micron Technology, Global Foundries, and Samsung.

These 5 companies made over $75 billion in profits last year.

The company that will likely benefit the most from this taxpayer assistance is Intel. I have nothing against Intel. I wish them well. But, let’s be clear. Intel is not a poor company. It is not going broke.

In 2021, Intel made nearly $20 billion in profits.

We’re talking about a company that had enough money to spend $14.2 billion during the pandemic, not on research and development, but on buying back its own stock to reward its executives and wealthy shareholders.

We’re talking about a company that could afford to give its CEO, Pat Gelsinger, a $116 million compensation package last year.

We’re talking about a company that could afford to spend over $100 million on lobbying and campaign contributions over the past 20 years.

Does it sound like this company, and the others, really need corporate welfare?

Another company that will receive taxpayer assistance under this legislation is Texas Instruments.

Last year, Texas Instruments made $7.8 billion in profits. In 2020, this company spent $2.5 billion buying back its own stock while it has outsourced thousands of good-paying American jobs to low-wage countries and spent more than $40 million on lobbying over the past 20 years.

And on and on it goes.

The first amendment that I would like a vote on would instruct the conference committee to prevent microchip companies from receiving taxpayer assistance unless they agree to issue warrants or equity stakes to the Federal Government.

If private companies are going to benefit from over $53 billion in taxpayer subsidies, the financial gains made by these companies must be shared with the American people, not just wealthy shareholders. In other words, all this amendment says is that if these investments turn out to be profitable as a direct result of these federal grants, the taxpayers of this country have a right to get a return on that investment.

M. President. This is not a radical idea. These exact conditions were imposed on corporations that received taxpayer assistance in the bipartisan CARES Act, which passed the Senate 96 to 0.

In other words, every Member of the U.S. Senate has already voted for the conditions that are in this amendment.

In addition, this amendment would also instruct the conference committee to require these highly profitable companies not to buy back their own stock, not to outsource American jobs, not to repeal existing collective bargaining agreements and to remain neutral in any union organizing effort.

Again this is not a radical idea. All of these conditions were imposed on companies that received funding from the CARES Act and passed the Senate by a vote of 96-0.

The second motion that I have introduced touches on an issue that we have rarely discussed on the floor of the Senate.

Unbelievably, the so-called “competition bill” would provide some $10 billion in taxpayer money to Jeff Bezos, the second wealthiest person in America, for his space race with Elon Musk, the wealthiest person in America. This is beyond laughable.

You know, when we were younger and Neil Armstrong made it to the moon, there was incredible joy and pride in this country that the United States of America did something that people forever had thought was impossible.

We sent a man to the moon, an extraordinary accomplishment. And the entire world watched that event with bated breath. It was just an extraordinary accomplishment for all of humanity, not just the United States, but we, of course, took special pride because that was an American project.

M. President, I worry very much that what we are seeing now is not a space race between the United States and other countries as to which nation will return to the moon and perhaps get to Mars, but a space race between Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos, the two wealthiest people in America, as to who will gain control over NASA and future space explorations. In other words, if we are able to accomplish the extraordinary goal of sending a person to Mars I want the flag that will be flying on that planet to be the flag of the United States, not the flag of Space X or Blue Origin.

And, M. President, let’s be clear. The $10 billion in this bill for Jeff Bezos and his space company Blue Origin is just the tip of the iceberg.

The reality is that the space economy – which today mostly consists of private companies using NASA facilities free of charge to launch satellites into orbit – is already very profitable and could become even more so in the future.

Bank of America predicts that by 2030 the space economy will triple in size to $1.4 trillion – that’s trillion with a “t.”

According to the most recent data, private corporations make over $94 billion in profits a year from goods or services that are used in space – profits that could not have been achieved without the assistance of NASA – a government agency funded by the taxpayers of America.

And while today we are talking about the profitability of satellites, sometime in the future – certainly not tomorrow or next month or next year but perhaps in our lifetime – the real money may come to those who figure out how to mine lucrative minerals on asteroids.

In 2015, the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson predicted that, and I quote, “The first trillionaire there will ever be is the person who exploits the natural resources on asteroids … There’s this vast universe of limitless energy and limitless resources. I look at wars fought over access to resources. That could be a thing of the past, once space becomes our backyard.”

M. President, who gets to own the resources discovered by private corporations in space? Well, as a result of the 2015 Space Act that passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent with virtually no floor debate, private corporations are able to own all of these resources. In other words, the taxpayers of this country will get a zero percent return on the investment they made in these private enterprises.

M. President: Is that what we want space exploration to become? Do we really think that it is acceptable for NASA to hand out billions of dollars to some of the wealthiest billionaires in America today to make them even richer?

Or do we want to use space exploration to benefit ordinary Americans and improve lives here on planet earth?

It’s time that we had a serious debate on the future of NASA instead of just handing out $10 billion to Jeff Bezos.

You know, M. President, a few days ago, Amazon workers in Staten Island voted to form the first union in Amazon’s history. Instead of providing Jeff Bezos billions of dollars in taxpayer assistance to fuel his space hobby, maybe, just maybe the Senate should be congratulating the workers at Amazon and pass legislation to make it easier, not harder, for workers to form unions.

Let me be very clear. I believe that space exploration is very exciting. It has the potential to substantially benefit all of humanity. But, if we continue down the path of privatizing space exploration, it also has the potential to make the obscenely rich even richer and more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine today. In my view, we cannot allow that to happen.

I yield the floor.

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