The American people are bitter. They are angry and they are confused. Over the last seven and a half years, since George W. Bush has been president, 6 million Americans have slipped out of the middle class and are in poverty, and today working families are lining up at emergency food shelves in order to get the food they need to feed their families. Since President Bush has been in office, median family income for working-age families has declined by over $2,000. More than seven million Americans have lost their health insurance. Over four million have lost their pensions. Consumer debt has more than doubled. And foreclosures are the highest on record. Meanwhile, the cost of energy, food, health care, college, and other basic necessities has soared.
While the middle class has declined under President Bush’s reckless economic policies, the people on top have never had it so good. For the first seven years of Bush’s tenure, the wealthiest 400 individuals in our country saw a $670 billion increase in their wealth and, at the end of 2007, owned over $1.5 trillion in wealth. That is just 400 families, a $670 billion increase in wealth since Bush has been in office.
In our country today, we have the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on earth, with the top 1 percent earning more income than the bottom 50 percent and the top 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. We are living at a time when we have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the very wealthiest people in this country, when, among others, CEOs of Wall Street firms received unbelievable amounts in bonuses, including $39 billion in bonuses in the year 2007 alone for just the five major investment houses. We have seen the incredible greed of the financial services industry manifested in the hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent on campaign contributions and lobbyists in order to deregulate their industry, so that hedge funds and other unregulated financial institutions could flourish. We have seen them play with trillions and trillions of dollars in esoteric financial instruments, in unregulated industries, which no more than a handful of people even understand. We have seen the financial services industry charge 30 percent interest rates on credit card loans and tack on outrageous late fees and other costs to unsuspecting customers. We have seen them engaged in despicable predatory lending practices, taking advantage of the vulnerable and the uneducated. We have seen them send out billions of deceptive solicitations to almost every mailbox in America.
Most importantly, we have seen the financial services industry lure people into mortgages they could not afford to pay, which is one of the basic reasons why we are here tonight.
In the midst of all of this, we have a bailout package which says to the middle class that you are being asked to place at risk $700 billion, which is $2,200 for every man, woman and child in this country. You’re being asked to do that in order to undo the damage caused by this excessive Wall Street greed. In other words, the “Masters of the Universe,” those brilliant Wall Street insiders who have made more money than the average American can even dream of, have brought our financial system to the brink of collapse. Now, as the American and world financial systems teeter on the edge of a meltdown, these multimillionaires are demanding that the middle class, which has already suffered under Bush’s disastrous economic policies, pick up the pieces that they broke. That is wrong, and that is something that I will not support.
If we are going to bail out Wall Street, it should be those people who have caused the problem, those people who have benefited from Bush’s tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, those people who have taken advantage of deregulation, those people are the people who should pick up the tab, and not ordinary working people. I introduced an amendment which gave the Senate a very clear choice. We can pay for this bailout of Wall Street by asking people all across this country, small businesses on Main Street, homeowners on Maple Street, elderly couples on Oak Street, college students on Campus Avenue, working families on Sunrise Lane, we can ask them to pay for this bailout. That is one way we can go. Or, we can ask the people who have gained the most from the spasm of greed, the people whose incomes have been soaring under President Bush, to pick up the tab.