Vermont senator gives speech about economic reform in Ames


Sen. Bernie Sanders gives a speech during the 2015 Story County Democrats’ Soup Supper on Feb. 21 at the Collegiate Methodist Church.

Makayla Tendall

Bernie Sanders, independent Vermont senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate, stopped in Ames on Feb. 21 as part of his series of “town meetings” around Iowa, and laid out his opinions on platform issues 2016 candidates will tackle.

Though Sanders has not explicitly announced plans to run in the 2016 presidential election, he has traveled to many Iowa towns including Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Johnston to talk about economic reform.

Sanders began his speech to Story County Democrats and about 150 audience members in the basement of Ames’ United Methodist Church by speaking about campaign financing.

“I want to tell you as clearly as I can what I see the major problems facing our country,” Sanders said. “The very first issue that comes to mind when I think about problems in America is the real fear that the foundations of American democracy that men and women have fought for throughout the history of this country is being undermined by this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.”

The 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case against the Federal Election Commission ruled that the First Amendment prohibited the government from telling nonprofit corporations how much they could spend to fund independent political expenditures, expenditures that are not plainly acting in favor of another candidate or their campaign.

“Unless we address money in politics, this country will remain in very difficult straits,” Sanders said. “I don’t’ want any billionaires buying elections.”

Sanders said campaigns for local government in Vermont are run through grassroots efforts, where candidates talk about their stance on issues and “town meetings,” where community members set the agendas for politicians. This is the way politics should run on a national level, Sanders said.

“What Citizens United is doing is undermining all of that,” Sanders said. “It’s telling these large corporations, ‘you can buy elections. It’s not enough that you own most of the economy, you can now own the United States government with unlimited spending.’”

Sanders also talked about his concerns with the Koch brothers themselves, saying his views have increasingly “become the views of the Republican party.” Sanders said David Koch’s views have not changed since he ran for vice president on a set of principles, one of which was abolishing Medicare and Medicaid.

“Have they succeeded so far? No, but look where the Republicans are, look at the budget last year. It ends Medicare as we know it and moves it to a voucher program,” Sanders said.

The Republican Party is also reflecting Koch’s views of wanting to do away with Social Security.

“Republicans want to make significant cuts to social security,” Sanders said. “Right now, the cap on taxing Social Security is around $118,000. We’ve got multi-millionaires paying the same amount as someone making $118,000.”

Sanders said he wants to see the cap lifted to “extend Social Security for decades.”

Economic reform for the middle class in the United States is also a must, Sanders said.

“The great middle class of this country, once the envy of the entire world, is in fact disappearing and that has been going on for the last 40 years,” Sanders said.

Despite significant improvements in technology, he said the American economy remains stagnant and the middle class suffers because of it. Education and job creation is the solution, Sanders said, but large corporations creating jobs is not always the answer.

“Job creators in this country are the working men and women who spend the money buying goods and services, which creates the job. No matter how smart a business person may be, they can’t sell a product if people don’t have the money to buy it,” Sanders said.

Another way to boost the middle class and decrease the power Americans in the top 1 percent of the economy have is through tax reform, he said.

“If we are going to redo our large corporations, they have got to understand they are part of America, and they have to start paying their fair share of taxes,” Sanders said.

Sanders ended by asking Story County Democrats to continue their hard work despite setbacks in recent elections.

“I beg of you do not ever throw up your hands in despair because that’s exactly what our opponents want you to do,” Sanders said.