Bernie Versus Bob

Rep. Bernie Sanders (I- Vt.) battles Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin over the IMF bailout of Indonesia.

Tue Feb. 24, 1998 4:00 AM EST

It's nice to see a politician put up his dukes and come out swinging, expecially when it's outspoken Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and his evasive opponent is former Wall Streeter and current Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The following exchange is excerpted from a January 30th House Banking Committee hearing on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout of Asian economies. Refereeing: Committee Chairman Jim Leach (R-Iowa).

LEACH: Well, thank you, Dr. Paul.

And for our last statement, we'll have Mr. Sanders.

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SANDERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing and welcome to our guests.

I have some concerns. I am always amazed at how quickly the United States Congress can move to protect the interests of the largest banks in this country—banks which are enjoying huge profits—and at the same time protect the interests of people like General Suharto, a cruel, authoritarian dictator whose own family is worth between $40 and $50 billion.

Boy, we move pretty quick. And yet, when some of us say—How about building some affordable housing? How about policies to raise the minimum wage—which Mr. Greenspan opposes? How about problems—How about proposals to deal with the fact that 22 percent of our children live in poverty, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world?

My goodness, how slow we are to move.

[The] Bottom line for me [is] that large banks have made billions of dollars investing in corrupt dictatorships like Indonesia—made billions of dollars. Now, they are about to lose some money. And instead of proclaiming that goal of personal responsibility and the virtues of the free enterprise system that we hear so much about, by goodness, these multibillion-dollar institutions are running to the middle-class taxpayers of this country and saying—Bail us out.

Some of us have real concerns about that process.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

LEACH: Well, thank you, Mr. Sanders.

Later, during question and answer period:

LEACH: Thank you.

Mr. Sanders.

SANDERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. What I'd like to do is just ask a few questions and then wait for the responses and mostly what I'd like to do is pick up on a few of the points that folks like Barney Frank and John LaFalce and Maxine Waters and Jack Metcalf made and just maybe carry it a step further and maybe add one or two points from Bernie Sanders as well.

Point number one. General Suharto is a corrupt dictator, who among other things happens to be worth some $30 billion. He has a habit of putting in jail political opponents of his. Including leaders of the trade union movement who have the strange idea that workers have a right to organize and stand up and fight for their rights.

Muchtar Pakpahan, who is the leader of the Indonesia Free Trade Union movement, is now rotting in jail. Several years ago, Barney Frank and I passed legislation which said that the United States must amend from recipient countries and IMF deals. That they guarantee internationally recognized workers' rights.

The Treasury Department has not done that. You have not obeyed the law. So, Mr. Rubin, I'm giving you the opportunity now to tell General Suharto that the people of the United States will not sit back and participate in loans to a corrupt dictatorship unless leaders in their country who are fighting for democracy and for workers' rights, are set free.

Tell the world now that no more IMF money goes to their country, nor goes to Suharto, tell the people of Indonesia that we are on their side.

Free Mr. Pakpahan, tell Mr. Suharto that's what you're going to do. That's question number one.

[...]

RUBIN: [...] I think it is overwhelmingly in the interest of the Indonesian people and overwhelmingly in the interest of American workers to have an IMF program that prevents Indonesia from dissolving into financial instability, and that is what we are about in Indonesia.

Separately from that track, because I do not think we could accomplish the purpose that you very correctly say should be accomplished on this track—very substantial efforts have been made, predominantly through the State Department, to try to accomplish the purpose that you've raised.

Question on—I apologize, I can't read my writing. The workers of these countries bearing the cost of this. I think these countries basically face two possible tracks. One is that they put in place reform programs, they go through a difficult period—inevitably, they will—and then they come back out and they get back into a mode of growth. And if you look at these Asian countries, they have had remarkable rates of growth over the last, say, 20 or 30 years. And with all of the problems that exist in these countries, the average incomes and standards of living in these countries have increased very substantially as a result thereof.

The other possibility is that these problems not be addressed, the confidence not return, in which case the workers of those countries —and also, our own workers—but the workers of those countries will be vastly worse off than they would be if in fact reform and stability are accomplished.

[...]

I may have missed something, but those are the...

SANDERS: Once again, I gather you're not telling General Suharto to free the leader of the union movement who's rotting in jail now, despite the fact that our law requires us to do that. You're not saying that?

RUBIN: I—well, I could repeat what...

SANDERS: You're not saying that.

RUBIN: I am sticking with what I just said.

SANDERS: So, I'm sure the people of Indonesia do not appreciate that.

RUBIN: Well, you know, it's interesting, Congressman Sanders, I think there are very serious issues [that] affect human rights in many places and I think probably—I agree with the fervor with which you deal with them. The people of Indonesia are going to be vastly worse off if we can't, working with the international community, help Indonesia solve the problem that they now face.

SANDERS: The people of Indonesia have the right to stand up and fight for their rights, and their leader is in jail now and you're tolerating that situation.

RUBIN: I certainly agree they have a right to stand up and fight for their rights and I think inappropriately jailing people—and I actually don't want to comment on the particular—of inappropriately jailing people—is something that should—is most reprehensible and we view with the greatest concern.

SANDERS: But we are giving him billions of dollars and not asking to free his political prisoners.

RUBIN: Well, we have not actually—just as a matter of fact, the United States has not disbursed a nickel to Indonesia. The IMF has disbursed some funds and we're trying to accomplish what we can within the context of the IMF program.

I think you've got another issue, which I think—which has gotten enormous attention. I understand that the Secretary of State and others at the State Department have raised this in many fora with Indonesians. I don't think you can effectively accomplish that in this context.

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