Mar 5, 2021
Bernie Sanders Senate Floor Speech on Minimum Wage Transcript March 5
Senator Bernie Sanders spoke about increasing the minimum wage to $15 on the Senate floor on March 5, 2021. Read the transcript of the full speech remarks here.
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Speaker 2: (01:14)
The Senator from Vermont, Mr. Sanders for himself and others proposes an amendment numbered 972, to amendment number 891. At the end of title to add the following, subtitle M, increasing the federal minimum wage.
Bernie Sanders: (01:29)
Let’s let the entire amendment be read, I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be waived.
Speaker 1: (01:37)
Is there objection? Without objection.
Bernie Sanders: (01:42)
Madam President, I rise today to offer an amendment to increase the federal minimum wage from a starvation wage of $7 and 25 cents an hour to $15 an hour over a five-year period. As I think you know, the Congress has not raised the minimum wage since 2007. And the result of that is that half of our people are now living paycheck to paycheck. And many in fact are working for wages that are much too low in order to take care of their families. So to my mind, the American people in poll after poll, in state after state understand that we’ve got to raise that minimum wage to a living wage of 15 bucks an hour. And I intend to do everything that I can to make that happen. And I will be offering that amendment this morning. But before I do that, let me begin my remarks by explaining why this reconciliation bill, the American Rescue Plan, that we are debating today is so enormously important that it must be passed, and it must be passed as quickly as possible.
Bernie Sanders: (03:15)
In my view, this legislation is the most consequential and significant legislation for working families that Congress has debated for many, many decades. Now, why is that? And the answer is that is I think all Americans know, the last year, last year that we have gone through has been in so many ways, the very worst year in our lifetimes. That’s what it has been. The working families of our country today are hurting in a way that they have not hurt since the Great Depression, and they want their government to hear their pain and come to their aid. And that is not too much to ask. Now, a lot of folks in this country, there are estimates that maybe 30 to 40% of Americans have literally given up on democracy. They are moving toward authoritarianism. They are hurting, their kids are hurting, their parents are hurting. And they look to Washington for help in their democratic society, and they don’t see Washington responding.
Bernie Sanders: (04:43)
What they see year after year are policies which make the very very rich richer, which enable large profitable corporations to not pay a nickel in taxes. But for them, they face eviction, they face hunger. They don’t have healthcare. They can’t afford to send their kids to college. And they are asking, “Does anybody, anybody in Washington care about their lives?” So what today is about in a very profound way is whether or not we stand with the working class of this country. That we say, “Yes, we live in a democratic society. We understand what you are going through, and we’re going to move as aggressively as we can to respond to your pain and improve your lives.” So this is not just a healthcare bill, it is. Not just an economic bill, it is. Not just an educational bill, it is. Perhaps more than that, this is a bill which will answer a profound question. Are we living in a democratic society, where the US Congress will respond to the needs of working families, rather than just the wealthy and large corporations and their lobbyists? That’s what today is about.
Bernie Sanders: (06:16)
It is dealing with the pandemic. It’s dealing with the economy. It’s dealing with education, and so much more. But most importantly, it is dealing with the issue of whether or not we are hearing the pain that is out there, and we are responding to it. During the last year, as everybody knows, over 500,000 Americans have died of COVID, and millions more have been made ill. Unbelievable. Unbelievable what we have gone through in terms of this terrible pandemic. COVID has not only caused massive death and illness, it has resulted in a way we have never experienced social isolation. That means all over this country, you got old people, elderly people in their homes. They can’t interact with their grandchildren, with their own kids, with their friends. You got young people who want to go to school, want to socialize, want to date, want to do things that young people do, and they can’t do it, and have been unable to do that for the last year. And that has resulted in a very sharp increase in mental illness in this country. Something, by the way that this legislation also deals with.
Bernie Sanders: (07:36)
Many Americans, young and old and middle-aged are now dealing with depression, anxiety disorder, addiction, seeing the growth of addictions, and even suicidal ideation. So this has been just an awful year for people in our country and in fact, throughout the world. But this last year has not only been a public health crisis as bad…
Bernie Sanders: (08:03)
… year has not only been a public health crisis, as bad as that has been, the pandemic has led, as we all know, to a terrible economic downturn which has resulted in millions of Americans losing their jobs and their incomes, and the shutting down of something like one out of four small businesses in this country. Just an unbelievable number. Go to any town in America, and you’ll see their main street shuttered now. Thriving businesses no longer exist.
Bernie Sanders: (08:37)
Real unemployment in this country today is now over 10%. Further, countless Americans face the threat of eviction. We have a moratorium on evictions, which is the right thing, but there is going to be a day when that ends. And people are saying, “I’m $5,000, $8,000 in debt. What happens to me when the moratorium ends? How am I going to pay my rent? Am I going to be one of the 500,000 people already sleeping out on the streets?”
Bernie Sanders: (09:12)
Millions more … And we have seen this in Vermont, and I know you’ve probably seen it in Minnesota. It’s all over this country. People lining up in their cars for food. And it is something that none of us ever dreamed. Right in my own community, Burlington, Vermont, hundreds of people lining up in their cars for food, many of them never in a million years would have dreamed that they would be in that position. And today, the level of hunger in America is at the highest level it has been in decades.
Bernie Sanders: (09:42)
And then, on top of all of that, we are in the midst of a pandemic. People are scared to death about coming down with COVID, yet because of our dysfunctional healthcare system, we have over 90 million people who are uninsured or under-insured in the midst of a pandemic.
Bernie Sanders: (10:03)
But it’s not only the public health crisis we worry about. It’s not only the collapse of our economy that we got to worry about. It is what’s happening to our young people, because the pandemic has created massive disruption in our educational system, from childcare through graduate school. The majority of our young people have seen their education disrupted, and think about all of the implications of what that means. And it is likely that hundreds of colleges in America, were struggling before the pandemic, will cease to exist.
Bernie Sanders: (10:46)
So you got a public health crisis, half a million people dead, an economic crisis, real unemployment of 10%, small businesses going out of business, and an educational crisis. Meanwhile, in the midst of all of that, it is important to note that not everybody in this country is hurting. What we are seeing in the midst of massive income and wealth inequality is a moment when, in fact, that gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider. Incredibly, during this pandemic, over 650 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by more than a trillion dollars. The 50, five-zero, richest people in America now own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, some 160 million people.
Bernie Sanders: (11:43)
So the bottom line here is very simple. In this moment of unprecedented crises, the United States Senate must respond to the pain of working families all across this country, and we must respond in an unprecedented way, which is what this legislation is about.
Bernie Sanders: (12:08)
Now, Madam President, I want to say a few words about some of what is in this bill. This is a 600-page bill, and I will not read it all again. I think our clerks have had enough fun reading it last night, but I do want to summarize some of what is in it.
Bernie Sanders: (12:34)
Most importantly, what the American people want is they want to get back to a normal life. They want their kids to go to school. They want to go to work. They want their businesses open. And what the American Rescue Plan does is enable us to aggressively crush this pandemic and enable the American people to return to their jobs and their schools. It will establish a national emergency program to produce the quantity of vaccines that we need and get them into the arms of our people as quickly as possible. Clearly, we are making progress in that area. More and more people are getting vaccinated, but we still have a lot of work to do, and this legislation will enable us to do that.
Bernie Sanders: (13:23)
Madam President, at a time when so many of our people are hurting, this legislation will allow us to provide $1,400 in direct payment to every working class person in this country and to their kids, and this is on top of the $600 that we provided last a month. So, if you’re out there and you are a family of four earning less than $150,000, or an individual earning less than $75,000, you’re going to get that check for $1, 400. And for that family of four, that is $5,600.
Bernie Sanders: (14:05)
Though I know that to somebody with a whole lot of money, you know, 5,600 bucks, ain’t that much, but for a family that is struggling right now, that can’t pay their rent, can’t feed their kids, that $5,600 for a family of four could be the difference between desperation and dignity. Further, at a time when so many of our people are unemployed, this budget reconciliation act will provide $400 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits to over 10 million Americans until the end of August. If you’re unemployed right now, you’re worried, your unemployment check is your only source of income, you’re worried that it’s going to cease, well, it’s not. This legislation will continue that check coming until the end of August. This legislation understands that we have a childcare crisis in America, and we provide the resources to provide childcare out to 875,000 children.
Bernie Sanders: (15:13)
And very importantly, Madam President, we don’t talk about this enough, one of the absolute disgraces of our economy right now is the level of childhood poverty in America, which is one of the highest for any major country on earth. This legislation will go a long way toward cutting childhood poverty. Some studies suggest we’re going to cut it in half by expanding the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000, and $3,600 for kids under the age of six. So, in other words, we are about to cut childhood poverty in half in this country.
Bernie Sanders: (15:55)
This legislation obviously deals with the horror of so many of our people facing hunger. We put in very substantial-
Bernie Sanders: (16:03)
Of our people facing hunger. We put in very substantial amounts of money for nutrition assistance for working families, for kids, for the disabled and the elderly. This legislation will provide rent relief, utility assistance, and mortgage assistance to millions of tenants and homeowners who are in danger of eviction and foreclosure. This legislation will protect the pensions of many millions of workers who are in danger of seeing their retirement benefits cut by as much as 65%.
Bernie Sanders: (16:41)
Madam President, not only is this $1.9 trillion emergency COVID relief package the right thing to do from a moral perspective, it is exactly what the overwhelming majority of the American people want us to do. The American people didn’t want us to give tax breaks to billionaires. The American people did not want, as Republicans fought to do, throw 30 million people off the Affordable Care Act, the American people didn’t want that, but that is what the Republicans tried to do under reconciliation. We have a different idea. Yeah, we’re going to use reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes. We are going to use it, not for tax breaks for the rich, not to throw people off of healthcare, but to provide the help that working class people need all across this country.
Bernie Sanders: (17:39)
Madam President, I am introducing, as I mentioned earlier, legislation and amendment today to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. Because of an unfortunate and, in my view, misguided decision by the parliamentarian, this reconciliation bill does not include an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In my view, it should have, and I think the parliamentarian was dead wrong, but more importantly, it is an absurd process that we allow an unelected staff of somebody who works for the Senate, not elected by anybody, to make a decision as to whether 30 million Americans get a pay raise or not. I don’t care how the parliamentarian rules, no parliamentarian should have that power. If people here want to vote against raising the minimum wage, they have that right. Want to vote for it, and I hope you do, you have that right. But we should not shuffle off that responsibility to what unelected staffer. That’s wrong.
Bernie Sanders: (18:49)
The amendment, which I am offering today, to raise that minimum wage to $15 an hour is co-sponsored by Majority Leader Schumer, and I thank him for his strong support, Senator Patty Murray, who was the Chair of the Health Education Labor Committee, Senator Ron Wyden, who was the Chair of the Finance Committee, and many others in this chamber. In fact, this amendment is similar in many ways to the legislation that I have authored, which is co-sponsored by 38 members of the Senate. And let us not forget, this legislation was passed in the House. And I want to thank my friends and colleagues in the House Progressive Caucus for their extraordinary leadership on this issue.
Bernie Sanders: (19:38)
This amendment is supported by some 300 national organizations, including the AFL-CIO and virtually all of the major unions in our country. And I want to thank, in particular, the SEIU, one of the great unions in America, who have led this effort for years in terms of a fight for 15 where people working in McDonald’s and Burger King have gone out on strike and said, “No, we can’t make it on 10 bucks an hour, 11 bucks an hour. I want to thank the SEIU.
Bernie Sanders: (20:08)
And because this legislation will help workers all across the board, but it will significantly help women who are, unfortunately, forced into low income work more than the general population, more than men, and it will disproportionately help African- Americans and Latinos who disproportionately are forced into low income work, this legislation is supported not only by 300 organizations, but by groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. They understand that if we’re going to improve the standard of living of the African-American community, we’ve got to raise that minimum wage. It is supported by the National Organization for Women because, again, this raising the minimum wage is a women’s issue in a very significant way. Not totally. Believe me, there a lot of men out there who working for 9, 10, 11 bucks an hour, but disproportionately it impacts women. It is supported by Unidos and other Latino organizations, supported by the American Association of University Women, supported by Indivisible, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the National Women’s Law Center. And here is the simple truth. And that is that in the richest country in the history of the world, we can no longer tolerate millions of our workers being unable to feed their families because they are working for starvation wages. And that is not what I say, although I do say it, it’s what the President of the United States does, who very, very strongly supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And I thank him for his support.
Bernie Sanders: (22:02)
You know, when we look at the economy, people look at the stock market, they look at a whole lot of indices out there, but at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves what is going on in the lives of ordinary people. And it is not acceptable to me that half of our people live paycheck to paycheck and millions of people trying to get by on 9, 10, 11 bucks an hour. And you know what? You can’t do that. You can’t do that in Vermont and you can’t do it in California. You can’t do it in Minnesota. You can’t do that. And our job is to make sure that we have an economy that works for all and not just a few. And that in order to do that, we are going to have to raise that minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.
Bernie Sanders: (22:46)
Frankly, it is disgraceful that Congress has not passed an increase in the minimum wage since 2007. Think of all the things that have transpired since then, but Congress has not raised the minimum wage since 2007. And the reality is that the minimum wage has lost over 30% of its purchasing power since 1968. Minimum wage is worth a lot less now than it used to be. When we increase the minimum wage, Madam President, we will be giving over 32 million Americans a much needed pay raise. And let’s be clear. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is an enormously popular idea. More than 60% of the American people in poll after poll support raising the minimum wage since 1998. This is really amazing. You know, I have some friends here who are nervous. “Oh my goodness, how radical can it be? Should we raise the minimum wage? Oh my God. I’m scared of the American Restaurant Association.” Well, since 19-
Bernie Sanders: (24:03)
… American Restaurant Association. Well, since 1998, every time a state has had an initiative on the ballot to raise the minimum wage, it has won in conservative states and progressive states. Put it on the ballot, it wins. Just as one example, just this last November, election time, Joe Biden lost Florida. Donald Trump won Florida by three points. But in that same election, the people of Florida, and I say that to the two senators from Florida, 61% of the people in Florida voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Florida voted for Donald Trump, and voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Eight states over the years, eight states and over 40 cities, have adopted laws to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It’s not a radical idea. And as you know, over just a few days ago, the House of Representatives did the right thing and voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.
Bernie Sanders: (25:11)
This is not a radical idea. People want it. States have done it. The House of Representatives has done it. And now it is our turn to do what the American people want. Now, in the last few days, I have heard some concerns from my colleagues about one part of our amendment, and that is the provision to raise the tip wage, which now stands… I want everybody to hear that. Tip wage for waiters and waitresses and all those people who get tips now stands at $2.13 an hour. No, you did not mishear me. $2.13 an hour. And that is the federal minimum wage for waiters and waitresses, for barbers, for hairstylists, for parking attendants, and others. And that tip minimum wage has not been raised since 1991, 30 years ago. You think maybe it’s time to raise the tip wage from $2.13 cents an hour, passed 30 years ago? I think so.
Bernie Sanders: (26:19)
The proposal in this legislation would raise that tip wage from 2.13 an hour to 14.95 over a seven year period. Now, time and again, our legislation gets misrepresent. People say, “Oh, you’re raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour tomorrow.” No, we are not. Tip wage is going to take seven years. For better or worse, that’s what it is. Now, the National Restaurant Association, very powerful lobbying organization, has suggested to members of Congress that this legislation is opposed by restaurant workers and would be harmful to their interests. This is not true. One Fair Wage, an organization representing service employees, has just delivered to the White House a petition with 140,000 signatures from service workers who are demanding that they receive the same minimum wage as every other worker in their state. Polling among service employees and non-service employees also supports the reality that Americans want our waiters and waitresses and other service employees to get a fair minimum wage. Now, I have heard from some people that those people are working in the service industry are doing really well, and they don’t want an increase in the federal minimum wage. The tips that they are receiving are covering all of their needs. Leave well enough alone, they say. Well, today, 70% of tip workers are women who suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the US workforce. They are not doing so well. They use food stamps at double the rate of the general workforce and suffer, by the way, from the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry, because they must tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to get the incomes that they need. Further, and this is important and I want all of my colleagues to hear this, the idea of moving tip wages to the same level as the overall minimum wage is not a radical idea.
Bernie Sanders: (28:31)
It has been done in state after state. It already exists in seven states in our country, including California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, and Minnesota. And I should point out that all of those states experienced a growth in the number of small businesses and restaurants after they abolished the tip minimum wage. And guess what? Waiters and waitresses in these states received more tips, not less. And let’s be clear, this pandemic has made a bad situation worse for waiters and waitresses. So right now, Madam President, it is absolutely imperative that we raise that minimum wage to a living wage for all of our workers, and that we raise the tip wage as well, which is already law in seven states of the country right now. And I see the Senator from California, Mr. Padilla, and we’re delighted that he is joining us. And his state has been one of the leaders in this country in raising the minimum wage, and I would yield the floor to him for his remarks.