WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley kicked off a new series of “We the People” floor speeches, in which he will go to the floor of the Senate on a regular basis to call attention to issues affecting everyday Americans that are being undermined by powerful special interests.
Those issues will include the economic opportunity for the middle class, the fight against carbon pollution and climate change, and campaign finance reform.
“In order to address the challenges of our time,” Merkley said, “we must recapture the ‘We the People’ spirit; set aside politics in favor of progress; and reform a broken system that favors the interests of the wealthy and well-connected over the interests of the American people.”
He concluded, “The bottom line is we have a choice to make about what kind of country we want to live in. I don’t choose a country in which the rules are made by and for the very few at the top. I choose a country embedded in the first three words of our Constitution – where decisions are made by and for the people of our nation.”
Video of the speech can be found here or by clicking on the image below, and the full text of the speech follows below.
MERKLEY: M. President, I rise today to kick off a series of speeches – where I will come to the floor on a regular basis to address issues affecting Americans and propose ways to solve the challenges we face.
These speeches will cover a variety of topics, but they will all link back to the fundamental theme of our “We the People” democracy.
In the summer of 1787, a group came together of patriots, farmers, scholars— they gathered in Philadelphia.
After four months of fierce debate and enduring comprise, they agreed to a set of ideas and a system of governance. They signed their names to a document, our constitution that has guided our nation’s progress for over two centuries.
With three simple words on parchment—“We the People”—they began that constitution, that key document. With three simple words on parchment, three simple words, “We the People,” and with that they launched our experience in democratic governance.
The founders wrote this phrase in bold, beautiful script, ten times the size of the rest of the document. As if to say: “This is what it is all about.”
This is what America will be about: governance for “We the People.”
They did not say at the start of this document, “We the Titans of Industry.”
They did not say, “We the Titans of Commerce.”
They did not say, “We the rich and powerful.”
But, “We the People.”
As President Lincoln summarized, the genius of our governance is that it is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
With this guiding light, America has been a great nation
Because of our “We the People” principle, we insisted on a better, fairer, and freer nation, for all citizens.
Because “We the People” demanded that all Americans deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
Because “We the People” never stopped reaching for greater prosperity and growth to the benefit of all.
In order to address the challenges of our time, we must recapture the “we the people” spirit; set aside politics in favor of progress; and reform a broken system that favors the interests of the wealthy and well-connected over the interests of the American people.
That is the framework, the theme that my regular floor speeches will be about.
Here in this Senate chamber, our priority should be to build an economy and governance that works for working people. That, as Hubert Humphry argued, a governance that delivers for those: “In the dawn of life…. in the twilight of life…and those in the shadows of life.”
We all know, I think, that our success is not measured by a soaring stock market.
America is succeeding:
When a mom can earn enough to not worry about where her kids’ next meal is coming from.
When schools nurture the mind, character, and creative spirit of every child.
When college is affordable to every family.
When each individual in our nation has peace of mind through access to quality, and affordable health care.
When no American who works full-time lives in poverty.
When our economy creates good paying jobs for American workers, here in America rather than shipping those jobs overseas.
To achieve these ends, we have a lot work to do.
We had after World War II, three golden decades from 1945-1975. The middle class gained enormously in size and prosperity.
During that period, the bottom 90 percent received approximately 70 percent of all income growth.
But from 1975 till now, 2015, we’ve had four decades in which working Americans’ experience has been flat or declining.
What a difference – from the three golden decades where workers fully shared in the prosperity they helped to create, and the last four decades when they have not shared. Indeed, over those decades, they received close to zero percent of all income growth.
Or, to put it differently, 100 percent of income growth went to the top 10 percent of Americans.
We know that our families and our economy will never reach their full potential if growth only benefits those at the very top. If the growth is at best, trickle down, coming from the top down, and not from the middle out.
So let’s commit to changing the direction we’re on – to recreate an economy more similar to those three golden decades after 1945, after the end of World War II.
We can do this by putting people back to work rebuilding America’s crumbling roads and bridges; raising the minimum wage so that anyone who works hard can make ends meet; and keeping a cop on the beat to block predatory schemes preying on the middle class.
We have a lot to do to tackle the greatest challenge facing human civilization: saving our planet from the ravages of climate change.
Today it was announced, as anticipated, the final results are in, and 2015 is the warmest year on record. This warmth and changing weather is having profound consequences on our forestry, on our farming, on our fishing. All of which manifest in my home state of Oregon and virtually every state represented in this chamber.
We have to have a “We the People” movement to take on the oil and coal billionaires, cut carbon pollution and pivot rapidly to a clean energy economy.
We certainly have a lot to do to make sure that folks that work hard all their lives can achieve a dignified, secure retirement – as we watch the pensions of the private workplace slip away, melt through our hands.
We must set our young people up for success and expand the promise of education – ensuring that our schools meet the demands of a new age; and that all students can attend college, without the fear of crushing debt.
Now, to achieve these things through legislation is certainly possible. We can envision the pathway for each and every one of these objectives. But we can’t do it if this chamber is essentially owned by the titans of commerce and industry.
That unfortunately is what happened in 1976 when the Supreme Court under Buckley v. Valeo said that individuals can spend unlimited sums in the public marketplace. They can do so even if they are drowning out the voices of the rest of America.
Certainly a situation when the one percent can drown out the voices of the 99 percent – is not a “We the People” democracy. It is the opposite. It is “We the Titans” democracy.
It is decisions made by, and for, the very best off. Not decisions by, and for, the people of the United States of America.
This misguided 1976 decision sits right on the pivot point between the three golden decades from 1945-1975 and the last four decades of failed economic policy with workers’ incomes being flat or declining.
This decision was double down by the Supreme Court just a few years ago with the Citizens United decision, which said not only individuals but corporations would be treated the same. They could use their combined assets, even if they had never disclosed to the owners of the corporation, the stockholders, how they intended to spend funds. Putting billions of dollars in play with a few people in a board room – completely shielded from any public witness.
So that is why we need to change campaign finance, as a way to reclaim our “We the People” democracy. To reclaim our Constitution. To fend off the titans who are insisting of grabbing everything for the few, not for the benefit of the public, the 90 percent.
We have to continue to look for ways to restore hope for our working families and ensure opportunity for each; to protect the middle class – to empower the middle class – from the forces that threaten to overwhelm it; to build an economy where everybody is sharing in the economic prosperity they are helping to create.
The bottom line is we have a choice to make about what kind of country we want to live in.
I don’t choose a country in which the rules are made by and for the very few at the top.
I choose a country embedded in the first three words of our Constitution – where decisions are made by and for the people of our nation.
I choose a country that honors its founding principles; that comes together to tackle big challenges; and that works not for the 1% or 10% – but for 100% of Americans.
Let us reclaim our “We the People” democracy, our “We the People” vision, and set our nation back on track.