Sen. Bernie Sanders: 'We Have to Take on the Billionaire Class'

By Susan Jones | February 10, 2015 | 7:05 AM EST

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (AP Photo)

( - Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Vermont, says he has not decided if he will run for president in 2016, but if he does, the nation's "grotesque" income inequality will be his issue:

"This is where I am right now," Sanders told MSNBC on Monday: "The great moral and economic and political issue of our time is the grotesque level of wealth and income inequality that we are experiencing.

"You know, the American people know that there is something profoundly wrong when you have the top one tenth of 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, and 99 percent of all new income going to the top 1 percent.

"We have got to protect the middle class of this country, we have to take on the billionaire class, and that is what I'm giving thought to doing."

Sanders said if he and Hillary Clinton both run in 2016, "I expect very strongly that you're going to see different points of view, and I hope we can have a sensible, good debate that the American people are crying out for.

"There are so many important issues, and it's income and wealth inequality, it is the Koch brothers taking over the political process," Sanders said.

"Do you think we are a democracy today in the real sense of the word, when you have a multi-billionaire family now prepared to spend as much money as either the Democratic or Republican parties to buy the candidates who represent their extreme right-wing views? How do you deal with that issue? Well, that's an issue has to be debated."

In a speech at the Brookings Institute earlier Monday, Sanders said the U.S. now has "a government of the billionaires, by the billionaires and for the billionaires."

He questioned why Republicans would bring up the Keystone XL Pipeline bill as their first order of business: "Do you really think that a Canadian pipeline, which will provide 35 permanent jobs, is the most important issue facing America, that you would make U.S. Senate one, that's your first bill? Or do you think it may have something to do with the fact that the Koch brothers are major owners of leases in that part of Canada?"

Sanders advocates a major federal jobs program -- rebuilding the nation's infrastructure -- to put Americans back to work; he says human-caused climate change must be addressed by moving toward renewable energy; he advocates "pay equity" and making it easier for workers to join unions; he wants college to be "free," and he says the U.S. must move to a government-run, "Medicare for all," national health care system.

On another topic, Sanders told MSNBC he will not be there in person when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses a joint sessions of Congress next month.

"I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I'm not going." Sanders said he objects to House Republicans inviting Netanyahu so close to an Israeli election, without first telling President Obama.

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