The Obscenity of Student Debt

Can't think of a more bizarre policy than to tell our best and our brightest to get an education to make them more productive workers and better citizens, but then tell them that the price is a lifetime of slavery to student loans? At graduation this spring, the total of our student loans reached One Trillion Two Hundred Billion Dollars! Loans that our graduates cannot refinance, they will never likely pay back, and which will prevent them from ever owning a house, getting married, or starting a family. Enough of this madness! We need to make higher education free to every qualified student and we need to refinance, reform and reduce the loan burden for people who have already graduated. A mind is a terrible thing to waste . . . and to enslave to needless debt.

Social Security

We are going to expand it, not cut it. There are powerful special interests who want to severely cut this bedrock program that is a part of America. We are going to stop them from doing that and expand it, not cut it.

Why do you support Bernie Sanders for president?

I support Bernie Sanders because he has demonstrated unconditional support for working people since he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont 34 years ago. He tells the truth.

Wall Street Reform, taxes and restrictions

How is it that after all of the fraud, corruption and greed, nobody from Wall Street went to jail? They held our country hostage for nearly a trillion dollar bailout in 2008 and threw us into the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Bernie Sanders is absolutely right, too big to fail is too big to exist! These giant Wall Street firms are casinos where the executives always win and the consumers and taxpayers always lose. These are not bankers, they are banksters aka gangsters. We need to break up the big banks and bring back Glass Steagall. As a United States Senator, I look forward to working with President Sanders’s to re-enact Glass Steagall and break up the big banks.

Wall Street cannot continue to be an island unto itself, gambling trillions in risky financial instruments while expecting the public to bail it out.

It is time to break up the largest financial institutions in the country. The six largest financial institutions in this country today hold assets equal to about 60% of the nation’s gross domestic product. These six banks issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards and over 35 percent of all mortgages. They control 95 percent of all derivatives and hold more than 40 percent of all bank deposits in the United States.

We must break up too-big-to-fail financial institutions. Those institutions received a $700 billion bailout from the US taxpayer, and more than $16 trillion in virtually zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve. Despite that, financial institutions made over $152 billion in profit in 2014 – the most profitable year on record, and three of the four largest financial institutions are 80 percent bigger today than they were before we bailed them out. ‎

Our banking system must be part of the productive, job-creating economy. The Federal Reserve, a government entity which serves as the engine of the banking industry, must eliminate its internal conflicts of interest, provide stricter oversight, and insist that the banks it supports serve the economy in a way that works for everyone, not just a few.

Why do you swear off PAC money?

Because whoever underwrites your campaign, owns you. And as the Bible says, you cannot serve two masters. You cannot take money from corporate PACs and then serve working people. If I or anyone else running for public office wants to stand with working people, they cannot owe anything to the corporate PACs.

Prescription Drug Cost Reform

Companies that develop new drugs need to recover their costs and make a profit so that they can develop the next lifesaving drug. But after they have made enormous profits and their patents have expired, drug companies are now running a scam where they pay generic drug makers to NOT sell their drugs in America. Generic drugs are often one-tenth the cost of name brand drugs according to Bernie Sanders. Medicare and Medicaid should be able to negotiate with drug companies on their prices like the VA does. Chuck Grassley and I disagree on this point. He was the prime sponsor of legislation preventing the government agencies from negotiating to get the lowest drug prices for consumers and taxpayers. It has cost us billions upon billions of dollars. And it has forced a lot of seniors to choose between groceries and their prescriptions. Over 35 million prescriptions went unfilled last year because the patients could not afford the cost. Chuck Grassley has been generously rewarded with big campaign contributions by the drug companies for his work. In fact, the drug companies are second only to Wall Street as Chuck Grassley’s biggest campaign contributors. I agree with Bernie Sanders. We should be able to legally import drugs from Canada. Medicare and Medicaid need to be able to negotiate for lower drug prices. And we need more transparency about the cost to develop new drugs. I look forward to working with President Bernie Sanders to lower the cost of prescription drugs for all Americans and to rein in the excessive profits of drug companies.

Finally, the $250 million spent by big drug companies to lobby/bribe Congress in 2014 with legal but immoral campaign contributions is just another example of how the cesspool of political money is killing the American Dream and impoverishing working people. We need to end legalized bribery of politicians and pass campaign finance reform and public funding of elections.

Overturn Citizens United

This Supreme Court ruling stands as one of the most destructive to the process of our democracy working for all of us. It allows the billionaire class to make unlimited donations to candidates, and in essence purchase them. Bernie Sanders is right. This toxic decision needs to be overturned.

Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government. Oil companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, Wall Street bankers and other powerful special interests have poured money into our political system for years. In 2010, a bad situation turned worse. In a 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporations and the wealthy to spend unlimited and undisclosed amounts of money to buy our elected officials. Citizens United also allows 501(c) entities, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the largest overall spender in the 2014 congressional elections), the freedom to donate funds to a political campaign without disclosing the source of that funding. The Supreme Court essentially declared that corporations have the same rights as natural-born human beings.

Our democracy is under fierce attack. Transparency in both the amounts and the sources of campaign financing is critical to the process of electing government officials to represent the people they serve. Billionaire families are now able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the candidates of their choice. These people own most of the economy. Now they want to own our government as well.

Concerns for Iowa and for the USA

My biggest concerns for Iowa and the country are: the need to address childhood hunger (One in five of our children in America is food insecure); the need to democratize and decentralize our food production in order to grow, process and market more healthy local fresh food (and revitalize local economies); and to clean up our water, by reducing and ultimately banning ag poisons like Roundup and Enlist herbicides. The number of cancer deaths in Iowa has increased over the last 40 years, despite tremendous medical advances, in large part because of the ag poisons in our drinking water.

I am also concerned about the downward economic spiral of working people, lopsided trade agreements, the ruthless big banksters aka gangsters like JPMorgan Chase, which dominate our economy and politics. I am equally concerned about the lack of access and affordability of health care and prescription drugs for Americans, and the $1.2 trillion student loan debt which is preventing our young people from getting married, buying a home or starting a family.

Finally, I want to end the practice of Congress selling tax breaks in return for political contributions. This area of politics ALONE cries out for campaign finance reform. If I could single out just one, it is the provision that allows U.S. Corporations to earn income abroad and not pay tax on that profit until they bring it back into this country. The estimate at the start of 2015 was that there was over $3 trillion in U.S. Corporate profits stashed in tax havens like the Cayman Islands. If that income had been taxed when earned, like domestically earned profits, the Federal government would end the fiscal year ending September 30, 2015 with a $400 billion surplus, instead of a $600 billion deficit.

What is the small-farm revolution?

It is part of the “back to the land” movement by young people to have a connection with their food. It is part of the local food movement which has spawned the farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture. From my perspective, it is the way back for Rural America. The next step is to have institutions like schools, hospitals and universities locally source their food. If I am at the table in the Senate during the drafting and passage of the next Farm Bill there will be a paradigm shift from supporting GMO/chemical mono industrial agriculture to supporting/promoting/subsidizing local healthy fresh sustainable food production.

Income Inequality

There is something profoundly wrong when we have a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages and we have the highest childhood poverty rate of any developed country on earth. America now has more wealth and income inequality than any major developed country on earth, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the 1920s. The reality is that since the mid-1980s there has been an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the wealthiest people in this country. That is the Robin Hood principle in reverse. That is unacceptable. It must be changed.

Climate Change

The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change, if we are to make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, and we need to greatly accelerate technological progress in wind and solar power generation.

Unless we take bold action to address climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn’t the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community told us would surely come?

Our Veterans

While serious people can have legitimate differences about when our country should go to war, there should never be a debate as to whether we fulfill the promises made to the men and women who served this country in the military. As a nation, we have a moral obligation to provide the best quality care to those who have put their lives on the line to defend us.

Just as planes, tanks and guns are a cost of war, so is taking care of the men and women who we sent off to fight the war. It includes caring for the spouses and children who have to rebuild their lives after the loss of a loved one. It includes caring for the hundreds of thousands of veterans with multiple amputations or loss of eyesight, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. It includes veterans who are having difficulty keeping jobs in order to pay their bills, and it includes the terrible tragedy of veterans committing suicide. 

 Sometimes war is necessary, but it should be the last - not first - option.