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AFL-CIO Working Families Presidential Forum Transcript - Part 1

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Date:
Location: Chicago, IL

AFL-CIO Hosts Working Families Presidential Forum
With the Presidential Candidates:
Carol Moseley Braun; Howard Dean; Senator John Edwards (D-NC); Representative Dick Gephardt (D-MO); Senator Bob Graham (D-FL); Senator John Kerry (D-MA); Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); Senator Joe Lieberman (CT); Reverend Al Sharpton

Introduction By John Sweeney, AFL-CIO
Moderator: Bob Edwards, National Public Radio

Location: Navy Pier, Chicago
Time: 8:02 P.M. EDT
Date: Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Transcription By Federal News Service

JOHN SWEENEY: Good evening, sisters and brothers. I'm John Sweeney, and I'm proud to be president of the AFL-CIO. (Applause. Cheers.) I'm proud to represent 13 million working men and women in America. It's my pleasure to welcome everyone to the AFL-CIO Working Families Presidential Forum. I'm honored to be here with so many leaders of the labor movement and distinguished guests.

I'm also honored to be here with the presidential candidates. I should note that one candidate was invited to speak to our executive council in Chicago this week—Governor—President Bush declined. (Applause. Cheers.)

CROWD: (Chanting.) In 2004, Tell Bush to Go!

MR. SWEENEY: Of course the real honor this evening is to be here with all of you, all 2,500 of you here in the audience tonight, and the many thousands watching on TV or listening on radio. You are the working heroes of our nation. You put the people in politics, and we salute you. (Applause.)

I want to say a special thank you to the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Illinois AFL-CIO, and to all the Chicago local unions that worked so hard to bring this great crowd together. You are terrific. (Applause. Cheers.)

This is going to be different from any other national presidential forum. Tonight it's working people who will ask the questions. They'll bring the issues they talk about at the kitchen table right to the presidential candidates. And together we will hear the candidates' answers to our questions.

As our hero Paul Wellstone used to say, the oil companies and the pharmaceutical companies and the Enrons of this world already have representation in Washington. It's the rest of the people who need it. (Applause.) Tonight we'll see who is standing up for the rest of the people, so that we can get to work to elect a president who will be a real champion for working families.

And now it's my great pleasure to turn this forum over to our moderator, one of the most respected broadcast journalists in America, the host of National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," Bob Edwards. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, John Sweeney. And let me join in welcoming all of you here at Navy Pier, and those of you
who are watching and listening on TV and radio, to the AFL-CIO Working Families Presidential Forum.

And here's how it's going to work—we hope. In each of five subject areas we will present comments and questions to the candidates from workers from around the country. They represent the subjects that are on the minds of the people in this hall and working men and women across America. The questions were taped over the past 10 days. After each pre-taped segment, I will direct questions to the nine candidates here on stage—the currently eight candidates on stage. Candidates will have up to 90 seconds to respond to questions. Responses are being timed, and both the candidates and I will be alerted at 60 seconds, 80 seconds—at which time the candidate should be concluding their remarks.  It's my job to move things along to another candidate or go to the next question after 90 seconds. Our time is short and I'll have to be a tough timekeeper. We're keeping track as we go along of how much time each of the candidates has had to ensure equity of time allocation. At the conclusion of the forum, each candidate will have a minute and a half to make closing remarks in an order determined by lottery.

Our candidates tonight are: Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. (Applause. Cheers.) Former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. (Applause. Cheers.) Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. (Applause.) No relation, for the record.
Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri. (Applause. Cheers.) Senator Bob Graham of the State of Florida. (Applause.) Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. (Applause. Cheers.) Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. (Applause. Cheers.) Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. (Applause. Cheers.) The Reverend Al Sharpton of New York has accepted the invitation to be here, but he is en route from the airport—we hope—and we will be very happy to add him to our panel when he gets here. (Applause.)

Now, while we want and expect a lively exchange of ideas, we would appreciate it if the 2,000 working men and women in our audience would be respectful of all the candidates who have come here this evening, and respect our need to keep this important forum orderly and moving. The first segment will focus on jobs. Let's find out working men and women have been thinking about jobs:

(Begin videoclips.)

CHRIS GLENN (Laid-off Technician, Lynnwood, WA): I've been laid off two and a half months. We've got 25,000 people laid off from the Everett Plant in the Puget Sound region. What are you going to do for us? The economy is really tight. It's an employer's market. It's hard to find a job. We need some help desperately.

GAIL HIGGINS (Residential Consultant, Parkville) : The Bush administration is trying to take away our overtime pay. In lieu of overtime they want to give us comp time. What do you plan to do to help me and my family in this situation?
MIGUEL AGUILAR (Waiter, Los Angeles): I'm one of 30 million immigrants in this country who contribute tremendously to the economy of the United States. And we are still concerned about the poor laws in this country, and also our jobs. So what are you willing to do for us to go out there and vote for you on Election Day.

TESS HARPER (Actress, Beverly Hills, CA): Entertainment is our second largest export, and we've lost thousands of entertainment jobs to other countries. What can you do to bring these jobs back to America?

VICKY BIELAWSKI (Crane Operator, Baltimore): Since President Bush has been in office, 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. I've lost two of them. Can you please tell me what you're going to do to save manufacturing jobs in the United States?

DOUG DENNISON (Product Associate, Monmouth, IL): My question to the politicians, to the candidates, is: What is your position on NAFTA, and if elected president will you repeal NAFTA?

DAVE BEVARD (Process Associate, Galesburg, IL): When Maytag closes this plant, we will lose 3,000 manufacturing jobs in the Yalesburg area of only 35,000 people. This will literally tear the heart out of the community. It will be completely devastating. What we would like to know is: What are you going to do to create jobs with livable wages and benefits?

(End videoclips.) (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Candidates, five of you on this stage voted in Congress for the World Trade Organization; four of you voted for NAFTA, which the Bush administration wants to expand into a [Free] Trade for the Americas region for all of the Western Hemisphere. Senator Kerry, if it were before you now in the U.S. Senate, yea or nay on the fair trade for America?

SEN. KERRY: If it were before me today I would vote against it, because it doesn't have environmental or labor standards protections in it. But let me just make it clear that if we are going to create jobs for Americans, which we all want to do, the
first thing we have to do is make sure that George W. Bush loses his. That is step number one. (Applause. Cheers.)

Number two, we need to stop a series of things from happening. We need to stop the assault on workers that is taking place by the effort to change the overtime act. We need to stop companies like WorldCom that engage in fraud from getting government contractors. We need to make sure—we need to make sure that chief executives of companies like Enron go to jail, which is where they belong for ripping the retirement accounts. (Applause.) And we should not be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in New York City or in Los Angeles or other places. (Applause.)

I want—I want fairness back in our economy, and I want a trade relationship that makes sense. Under Bill Clinton we created 23 million jobs. We had trade, but we began to move towards labor and environment as part of trade. When I'm president of the United States, no trade agreement will ever be signed that has a rush to the bottom. We will have labor, environment standards, and we will fight for the rights of working people in this country to be able to do better.

MR. EDWARDS: Senator, thank you.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Senator Edwards, you voted to admit China to the World Trade Organization. China now enjoys a $100 billion trade surplus with the United States, and I would expect some of those textile jobs in Carolina are now being done in China.

SEN. EDWARDS: Well, first, Bob, let me say I come from a family of textile workers. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina where the mill was the primary source of employment. And when that mill closed, it was devastating in our community. And it is so important for us to have a president who understands that jobs are about a lot more than a paycheck. They are in fact about dignity, self-respect, self-worth. We have so much work to do to deal with the jobs that we've lost, and to protect the jobs that we already have.

First, we need trade agreements that are—we can have free trade, but we need fair trade also—which is, by the way, why I voted against Fast Track, why I voted against the Singapore trade agreement, why I voted against the Chile trade agreement, why I voted against the coal-bed methane trade agreement—because they did not have those protections in place. And we need real protections for workers.

Second, we need to get rid of these tax laws that give businesses and industries the incentive to go offshore. In fact, we ought to reverse it and give tax cuts to people who will keep jobs right here in America. (Applause.)

And, finally—finally—we ought to replace the jobs that we've lost—by creating both tax incentives and venture capital funds for businesses and industries to go to the communities where those jobs have been lost.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, senator. (Applause.)

Ambassador, I've heard economists say that we ought to forget manufacturing—manufacturing is dead in America. Why should we think about making things in America when the rest of the world makes it cheaper?

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: Well, you know, there's an old expression that Democrats give the people peace and prosperity, and Republicans get in and give us depression and war.

The fact of the matter is that manufacturing is vitally important to our country and to our economy. And getting our manufacturing sector moving again, creating product and wealth that we can sell to the rest of the world, is a way that we support families and create industries by reference to it. Manufacturing creates more secondary and tertiary jobs than any other sector of the economy. And so it's vitally important that that be protected.

I think we have to do it by—in the words of my late father, supporting the needy and fighting the greedy. The fact of the matter is that greed has driven the economic policy of this administration. (Applause. Cheers.)

Trickle-down economics does not work, has not worked, is not working. And we have to start off by reversing the trickle-down approaches they've taking, providing tax incentives and incentives for working people to get this economy going, to create whole new industries, to create jobs in new industries as well as protecting the employment in the industries that we have already. (Applause.)

I believe—I believe that if we make the investment in working people, if we make the investment to keep our economic engine going, we will be able to create the kind of jobs that will provide a livable wage for America's families.

MR. EDWARDS: Ambassador, thank you very much. (Applause.)

Congressman Gephardt, why is it difficult to negotiate international trade agreements that don't have protections for workers or the environment? And how would you do it better if you were president?

REP. GEPHARDT: Well, first of all, I led the fight in 1993 to get the Clinton economic program passed that created 22 million new jobs in this country. We didn't get a Republican vote in the House or the Senate. It was the best economic program and the best economy we've had in 50 years. Remember? (Applause. Cheers.) This administration has declared war on the middle class in this country -- 83,000 jobs have been lost a month. This president is the Houdini of economics: three million jobs have disappeared. He's got the worse record since Herbert Hoover. He's got to go for us to get jobs back in this country! (Applause. Cheers.)

And, finally, I am the one who not only voted against but led the fight against incentive and China free trade and Singapore and Chile. (Applause. Cheers.) I appreciate the position that some take here, and I appreciate what they are saying. But I'd just say one thing to you: Check our record. Check who was there when the fat was in the fire and we had to fight against even our own president to beat NAFTA and to beat China. I was the one leading the fight. And when I'm president, you won't have to worry about trade treaties that don't take care of human rights, labor rights and the environment. (Applause. Cheers.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, congressman.

Senator Graham, you have a solid globalization record—NAFTA, WTO, Fast Track, China—how do you reconcile your recent promises on trade policy with your voting record on the issue?

SEN. GRAHAM: I know—I know that what I am about to say may not be popular with everybody in this room, but the fact is that the United States does not have the choice to become a protectionist nation. We are the leader of the world economy. Leading that economy carries with it certain responsibilities. The first responsibility is to the people here at home. Those include—we have got to assure that there is a level playing field upon which that economic competition takes place. As president of the United States, I will assure that all future trade agreements make provision for labor rights, for human rights, and for environmental standards.

We also must assure that those trade agreements are enforced. We set certain standards in terms of how American industry will be treated under trade agreements. This administration has walked away from that enforcement. And we must open up markets around the world.

Like most of us, I've recently come from Iowa. Iowa is concerned about the fact that so much of their agricultural and industrial product can't find a home outside the United States because the barriers are so high.

MR. EDWARDS: Senator—

SEN. GRAHAM: That is what I think a president needs to do in order to maintain our global leadership in fairness to American workers and farmers.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, senator. (Applause.)
Senator Lieberman, yea or nay on Free Trade Area of the Americas?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Probably yea—depends on what the details are when it comes up. You know, we are all very proud of the Clinton-Gore economic record, and we have every reason to be -- 22 million new jobs, almost 8 million people worked their way up from poverty to the middle class. But let's remember, with all respect, that support of free trade and fair trade was a basic part of the Clinton-Gore economic record. And why? President Clinton always had a very simple answer: We only have 4 percent of the people on Earth here in America. We can only make so much and sell so much to one another. If we want our economy to grow, we have got to break down trade barriers across the world so that we can sell things we make here in America to the 96 percent of the other people in the world. But that only works if we are making things here in America.

Dear friends, this Bush administration when it comes to the economy and the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs is just plain clueless. They are sitting back and letting the strength of our economy go. Their do-nothing policy is even worse than trying to go back to an anti-trade policy. We need to break down barriers for goods that are made in America. We need a manufacturing renewal plan. I'm the only candidate on the stage today that has one to support workers, to support American manufacturers, and to oppose unfair trade. Let's crack down on the Chinese when they knock off our patents and our copyrights and produce fake auto parts and airplane parts and entertainment parts. Let's fight them when they manipulate their currency.

I had to laugh recently when President Bush sent three members of his Cabinet on a bus tour around the Midwest to promote the job creation record of the Bush administration. If they really wanted to see where the Bush administration has created jobs, they would have flown that bus to China. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, senator.

Reverend Sharpton, you have arrived in time to answer the overtime question, the Bush administration—

REV. SHARPTON: I had a non-union cab driver. But go ahead. (Laughter.)

MR. EDWARDS: Sir, your time is up. We -- (laughter) --

REV. SHARPTON: Republican moderator, but go ahead.

MR. EDWARDS: The Bush administration is changing rules on overtime. They say it's only going to affect 600,000 or so that are going to lose overtime. Labor says it's millions. Even if you split the difference, that's a lot of people. What would you do?

REV. SHARPTON: First of all, I think that to alter overtime for anyone is to threaten it being adjusted for everyone. We cannot open the door for the administration to start in any way, shape or form gradual ways of dealing with wages earned by workers. And they want to get us in a distracted debate on how many people they are going to hurt rather than the fact they're hurting people. Does it matter if it's 600,000 or a million? (Applause.) It's a bad policy, and it's a policy that we must oppose. (Applause.)

I have said this is a human rights issue. People that are working must be paid for the work they do, and the time in which they work, and it should not be compromised. (Applause. Cheers.) I think it is part of the whole focus of this administration, the union bust. Today we meet in Chicago on the anniversary of the day Ronald Reagan began breaking down the union that was dealing with air traffic control. It's appropriate today we meet on that anniversary to stop the legacy of Reagan and a union-buster disciple of Reagan named George Bush Jr. (Applause. Cheers.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you.

And would President Kucinich roll back those overtime regulations? Or you can have your choice—you can give us your job creations plan.

REP. KUCINICH: Thank you. Well, I think all of us recognize the damage that NAFTA has done—not only to our economy, but the damage it's done to the labor movement; how NAFTA has accelerated not only a race to the bottom but a movement of jobs out of this country.

Since March of 2001, we have lost 2.6 million manufacturing jobs. I've seen areas where the padlocks on manufacturing plants, where grass is growing in the parking lot. And we have a chance here tonight. This could be a very important debate, because we have people on this stage who voted for NAFTA and who voted for the WTO who could tell you, the working men and women of America, what they would do as president. I'm here to tell you that my first act in office will be to cancel NAFTA. My second act will be to cancel the WTO. And I challenge every other candidate on this stage—you have a chance now—you can let the working men and women of America know, for example, my good friend Dick Gephardt, Will you cancel NAFTA? Will you cancel the WTO? -- which you voted for, and which the bill bears your name. Let the people of this country know right now what you'll do. Howard Dean: Will you cancel NAFTA? Will you cancel WTO? Tell America's working men and women. I'm making it clear what I will do. Let's see what other people will do on behalf of labor! (Applause. Cheers.) Answer the question. Find out the answer. Let's find out tonight! We'll go home knowing who is going to cancel NAFTA and the WTO? Let's go home knowing that.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you. And what a pity I didn't ask you first. (Laughter.) And I'm sure they'll all want to answer you in their closing remarks. (Laughter.)

At the moment we are now going to move to health care, a very important subject for all of you. I know each of you has a plan. You are ready to talk about health care. Let's see what workers feel about health care.

(Begin videoclips.)

SAGE JOHNSON (Service Representative, Baltimore): Health care is a very important issue to me. Too many people I know don't have it or in jeopardy of losing it. I want to know what are you going to do to ensure that everyone has health care?

FRANKIE HUBBARD (LPN, Renton, WA) : I don't understand why people have to be on welfare to receive health care. Help us. We need help. This is ridiculous and it's outrageous this is happening in this country.

STEVE OLSON (Banquet Supervisor, Seattle): Our employer right now is expecting us to pay full price for health insurance that we can't afford, because we're making minimum wage.

MARY TAPIA BARTHEL (Cashier, Schaumburg, IL): (Speaks in Spanish.)

ERIC OLSON (Job Foreman, New Lenox, IL): My concern is the high cost of prescription drugs. My parents are working class retirees. They're spending virtually their whole life savings to buy these prescription drugs. I'd like to know what you propose to do about stemming the high cost of health care.

LORRAINE HIGGINS (RN, New York): What I want to know is what are you going to do for the families that face this prescription cost crisis.

(End videoclips.) (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Governor Dean, it's your turn. Your health care plan focuses on extending health insurance to some of the 41 million Americans who are uninsured. What would your plan do to expand and improve the coverage and make it more affordable?

MR. DEAN: I think you can often tell where someone is going to take you by looking where they've been. In our state, 99 percent of our kids under age 18 have health insurance, or are eligible for health insurance -- 96 percent are signed up. A third of our seniors get prescription benefits. Everybody under 150 percent of poverty—almost every low-wage worker—is covered. And if we can do that in a small rural state which is 26th in income in the United States of America, surely we can join in the United States the British and the French and the Germans and the Italians, and the Israelis and the Canadians and the Irish—even the Costa Ricans have health insurance for everybody and we are not—ought not to be second-class citizens of the industrialized world anymore.

And what I want to do—I have two priorities in this race—three. First, have a decent foreign policy where we can be respected again in the world. Secondly, to balance the budget by rescinding the Bush tax cuts which have ruined this economy, and to use that money to create jobs and to give health insurance to every single American. And the way my health insurance plan works is very simple: I want something that will pass—I've got something that passed in my state—and that's what we are going to do in the Congress. We are going to use the system we use in Vermont to cover middle-income and lower-income workers, everybody under 25. And everybody over 25, if they don't have health insurance, can buy it just the same as your congressman has.

And, finally, if a company could give health insurance and it doesn't, then they lose all tax deductibility for senior executive compensation and senior executive benefits. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, governor.

Congressman Gephardt, your health care plan would build on the employer-based health insurance system b providing tax credits to help employers cover the cost of providing insurance to their workers. How much would this plan cost, and how would you pay for it?

REP. GEPHARDT: Bob, my plan requires every employer to offer health care plans to their employees, and it requires that the tax credit be passed to the employee to use to buy the coverage. I will rescind the Bush tax cuts to pay for this plan.
My plan is the only plan that helps people who already have insurance, as well as people who don't have insurance. We can't forget that people that already have it, like union members, have anxiety about losing it. And if you only try to deal with the people that don't have it, employers that are doing it will drop it, and these people will have to go over and get the public plan—so they'll lose the coverage they had.

Now, let me just end with a story. I have a son Matt. When he was two he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctor said he wouldn't live four to six weeks. He lived because we had health insurance and because of the grace of God. We met a lot of parents when he was in the hospital who had kids with cancer and they didn't have insurance. I'll argue to you that my plan is better economics that will stimulate the economy, that will create jobs more than the Bush tax cuts. But I'll also argue to you that this is a moral issue. It's immoral to have anybody without health insurance in this country! (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, congressman.

Ambassador, the Bush administration was successful in getting Congress to pass a prescription drug benefit. And I wonder if the Republican Party doesn't feel that it has stolen away a Democratic issue from you.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: What they've actually stolen away is Medicare. I mean, they are trying to go in the back door to destroy the Medicare system.

But I want to go back to the earlier health care question and ask the audience: Is there any rational reason why health care insurance is tied to employment? If you think about it, there really isn't. And unless we reform health care by having a comprehensive, universal, single-payer system that covers every American -- (applause) -- we can tinker with this broken system until the cows come home, and still have the kind of health care uncertainty, the kind of exorbitant cost and pricing that we see in the current system. As Americans, we right now spend more per capital for health coverage, health insurance, than any other country in the world—almost 15 percent of our GDP goes to a broken system, in which the money is being leeched out in paperwork and profits. We have to fix the system, provide universal coverage for everybody, decouple it from employment, so that everybody who gets health care will wind up having some relationship to paying for it—and bring the costs down. And we can do this at the cost we are presently paying. There's enough money in the system to pay for health care, if we just reform the way that the system works. And so I support a comprehensive change that gives us a single-payer system. I've seen it work in New Zealand, it works for Canada, it works for a number of other countries. And we can do it, and provide our employment sector with a boost, and employees with the health certainty that their health care needs, medications included, from wellness through long-term care, that these matters will be covered and paid for.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, ambassador. (Applause.)

Congressman Kucinich, you too support a single-payer plan. But how do you get the political support for that given what happened when it was proposed before?

REP. KUCINICH: Well any—any—first of all, anyone who desires to be the nominee of this party ought to go forward to the American people and make this a great social and economic cause of universal health care for all. We have to recognize that the private sector has failed. The market has failed to provide for people. The market excludes people from health care.
The market increases premiums and co-pays and deductibles. It raises the price of prescription drugs to where seniors are now splitting their pills to try to make their prescriptions last. We have to go to the American people with a great cause for universal health care.

And frankly, Dick, tax cuts really are not a great moral cause. Tax cuts will still leave workers paying thousands of dollars in premiums and co-pays. And, frankly, Howard, you know, if you are going to balance the budget you are not going to cut the Pentagon—that means you are going to cut social spending. You want universal health care. I'm the candidate. Single-payer, universal health care, Medicare for all, backed by a 7.7 percent tax paid by employers. Right now we are paying $1.4 trillion in our gross domestic product of 14 percent for health care. We are paying for universal health care. We are not getting it, the exact cost of a universal health care program which covers all medically necessary procedures, mental health, dental health, prescription drugs—is $1.4 trillion. We need to call for the courage of the American people in reclaiming our government from the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies, and I'm the man to do it! (Applause. Cheers.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you.

Senator Lieberman, you have proposed creating an American Center for Cures to improve health research in the U.S., but have not yet released a comprehensive plan on [health care]. What specific steps would you take to increase access to and reduce the cost of health care for working families?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Bob, let's talk about the goal. The goal ought to be in the richest country of the world that every American has health insurance and good, affordable health care.

Now, it's great to stand up here and promise the world. But then you have to go out and deliver something to the people today. The Clintons tried early in their administration to do a universal plan or something like it. It didn't work. We've got to pick this off step by step. If we try to do it all at once as some have proposed, we are going to spend this country as much into debt as we say George Bush's tax cuts will take us. And where does that money come from? Out of the Social Security trust fund. And leaves us with nothing to invest in public schools, in child care, in veterans benefits, in homeland security.

I am for a step-by-step health care improvement program. Let's start by expanding the CHIPS program to cover every one of the 9 million kids in America today who doesn't have health insurance. Let's go from that to offer their parents, the working poor, the opportunity to buy health insurance through Medicaid, which is cheaper than in the private market.

And, finally, I have been listening to the workers of America, and here's what I hear is their greatest anxiety: What happens when I lose my job? COBRA costs too much. I don't even get on it for 45 or 60 days.

I'm going to have a plan that I am going to introduce in the next couple of weeks which will guarantee every American worker, if you lose your job, God forbid, you are not going to lose your health insurance.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, senator.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: That's my promise tonight. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Senator Kerry, your health care plan would create a premium-rebate pool to help employer-based health care plans deal with certain high-cost health cases above $50,000. How much of a savings would this actually create for the average worker who relies on employer-provided health insurance?

SEN. KERRY: About $1,000 per family premium that's paid. Let me explain. We have been waiting 40 years for health care
in the United States of America. We have been fighting about this time and again. I believe that America deserves a bigger, bolder, more realistic vision than the one that Joe just described to you. And I have offered a plan that I am proud to say to you has been judged by national journals, an independent group of experts who analyzed all of our plans—my plan was judged to be the most feasible and the best plan, with the most coverage of all of them in achieving the goals of health care in America.

I am going to offer every single American the opportunity and the capacity to be able to buy into the same health care plan that the president and senators and congressmen give themselves, thanks to you. If it's good enough for us, it's good enough for everybody in America. (Applause.)

But, more importantly, the premium plan rebate that we just heard -- 163 million Americans get their health care in the workplace—most of you. But every time you go to the bargaining table our entire wage increase goes to health care. And we need to take that back. I will pay for every catastrophic case in the system $50,000 or more. Your premiums will never again be measured by the most expensive health care cases. The federal government will pay for it by taking back the tax cut George Bush gave the wealthiest Americans. (Applause.) And we will have health care, a $1,000 rebate. We will cover every child in America. We will cover 75 percent of COBRA costs—

MR. EDWARDS: Senator—

SEN. KERRY: -- and we will guarantee that there will be a tax savings 10 times what George Bush gives the average Americans. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, senator.

Reverend Sharpton, even if coverage was extended to more Americans, the rising cost would still be a factor. What does President Sharpton propose to do about that?

REV. SHARPTON: Three things. First of all, we must set a goal that would make health care a right in this country. We have on the right of the political spectrum—they start their moves toward constitutional rights, the right to a gun, the right to prayer in school. We need to have a constitutional amendment that is being proposed now on the House Resolution 29 to make the quality health care of all citizens a constitutional right. (Applause.)

Now, that may sound abstract, but once you have that then all plans and the way big businesses are regulated, or deregulated under Bush, is then put against that amendment, because we have the right to say it interferes with our constitutional right to health care. We should not have a country that has a $15 trillion economy, and we can't take care of our citizens. Where will the money come from? The money is already there. Twenty-five percent of the money we spend in health care is on advertising and administrative overcosts. If we had a national single-payer plan, you wouldn't need advertising. You wouldn't need this. You would need to spend the money that is already there. (Applause.)

I think that we need to have also—I'm the candidate on the platform, and I'm not going to attack my colleagues like I'm hearing them do tonight—I thought we weren't going to get nasty until at least September. (Laughter.) But, anyway, I think that I'm the candidate that can be part of a movement with labor, to pressure the Senate and the Congress that those that will not regulate business, including the pharmaceutical industry, and go for health care with a single-payer plan, as a right that we need to take those people out of office, and we need to make health care the issue of 2004. (Applause. Cheers.)

MR. EDWARDS: We could talk health care all night, but it's time to move on to retirement security, Social Security and corporate accountability. Let's hear from the workers.

(Begin videoclips.)

LOUISE PARRY (Retired Secretary, Seattle): Social Security has a future as it is. It is not going broke. It is such a necessary entitlement.

CLAUDETTE GADSDEN (Residential Consultant, Baltimore): The Bush administration is trying to mess up Social Security with private accounts. I don't want my money invested in the stock market. Do you have a plan to protect Social Security?

DEBBIE KENNY (Textile Worker, Warrenville, SC): Our company has recently filed bankruptcy, which they're trying to eliminate our medical benefits for people who are retiring before age 62. My question for the candidates is: Can our country change our bankruptcy laws to protect the people who work for these greedy corporations?

RON COLLINS (Organizer, Baltimore): My concern is with corporate accountability in this country, how the CEOs make so much money, they take away workers' health care, they take away our overtime. And my question to you is: How are you going to hold the corporations of this country accountable?

(End videoclips.) (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Senator Edwards, the conversion of traditional pension plans, the so-called cash-balance pension plans, has generated a lot of concern among workers, particularly older long-service workers who are at risk of being hurt most by such a change. What would you do to help protect workers against the benefit cuts that can come with a cash-balance conversion?

SEN. EDWARDS: Well, first, if we want to talk about one of the great moral issues of the day, what about the people at the top of big corporations protecting themselves at exactly the same time they're cutting benefits for working people? That's one of the great moral issues of today.

When I was growing up, I watched people putting money aside—putting money aside for their retirement, money going out of their check each month, each pay period. They thought it would be there for purposes of retirement, for Social Security.
All these folks believed that if they did the right thing that their company and their government would do the right thing. We need to get back to those kinds of values in America. We need real corporate reform. We need pension parity, so that people at the top can't protect their own pensions when they're cutting pensions for working people. We need to do something about CEO pay going up at exactly the same time that the value of the company is going down. We need to stop companies from cooking their books, so that we know that the information we're getting is in fact accurate. We ought to democratize boards of directors in this country so that you working people, investors, have a seat at the table, that you know what's going on. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to have a voice in what's being done—what's being done about your future, your pension, your benefits, your rights. These are the values—basic democratic values—that everyone in America believes in. And this is exactly what's been taken away by WorldCom and George W. Bush, which is why we need to make George W. Bush jobless come 2004. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Graham, legislation introduced in the Senate and the House would protect the pensions of workers who are 40 or older and have at least 10 years on the job. By giving them the choice to get benefits from the traditional pension after conversion takes place, do you support that legislation for workers?

SEN. GRAHAM: George W. Bush ran for president to be a unifier, not a divider. He has been anything but. He has divided us by economics. He has divided us by gender. He has divided us by racial—by sexual orientation. And he has divided us by generation.

Friends, the fundamental issue for America today is how does one generation treat with dignity and respect the next, whether it is treating our children so that they can grow up to full promise their life or treating our elderly with the dignity that they have earned?

What we should do is first we should secure the strength of Social Security. We should not allow privatization, throw it into the same category that so many Americans' 401Ks have been in, riding the lottery of the stock market. We should do that by increasing the level of the payroll tax for higher-income Americans.

And we need to provide pension protection. We need to extend to all American pensions the same rights which now the dwindling share of pensions which are defined benefit receive. All Americans' pensions should be guaranteed by the federal government.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator. (Applause.)

Governor Dean, about those high earners, the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has suggested using revenue from the estate tax as a progressive way to help bolster Social Security. Should wealthy Americans be contributing more to Social Security?

MR. DEAN: What wealthy Americans should be doing is paying their fair share of the payroll tax. Social Security cannot survive -- (scattered applause) -- on its present track. And the solution to that is simply to make wage-earners above $85,000 subject to the payroll tax, and that will cure the Social Security ills, if we can change presidents.

Now, you asked about pensions. A few days ago we were in San Francisco talking to the United Food & Commercial Workers. (Scattered cheers.) A gentleman over here named Larry Allen, who is a produce clerk at Wal-Mart in Henderson, Texas, took two days of his vacation to come to San Francisco for the UFCW forum. When he went back, he was fired for violating the no-solicitation clause.

If you want to protect pensions, the way to do that is to organize. And if you want to organize at places like Wal-Mart, we'd better have card check. We'd better ban mandatory compulsory meetings. We'd better fire the National Labor Relations Board, because that's how you protect working people in this country. (Scattered applause.)

And we ought to have independent pension funds that are no longer controlled by corporations. It would solve two problems. First of all, major corporations going out the door would not be raiding the pension funds in order to try to keep their company afloat. That money doesn't belong to the corporations. It belongs to the people in whose trust it was set aside.

And secondly, it would contribute to portable pensions so that if you move from job to job to job, you still get your pension. You don't have to worry about vesting anymore. We need complete pension reform in this country, and we need to start by making unions strong enough to demand it.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Governor. (Applause.)

Congressman Kucinich, how about investing the people's Social Security savings in the stock market?

REP. KUCINICH: I think that money belongs to Main Street, not Wall Street. That's why, when I'm elected president, I'll block any efforts to try to privatize Social Security. And we need to take the retirement age back to 65. The fact of the matter is that workers everywhere—you understand that—because when you work a lifetime, 20, 30, 40 years on a job, people get to 65 years, they can be tired. And they deserve to be able to retire at age 65 at 100 percent benefit.

But some of the candidates up here, though—you know, for example, my good friend Mr. Dean has said that he'd move the retirement age to 68. One time he talked about moving it to 70. This is a night for truth-telling. Which of the candidates here will take the retirement age back to 65? Which of the candidates here will commit to blocking the privatization of Social Security? Which of the candidates here will make sure that workers, when a company goes bankrupt, will be able to stand first in line with the banks to be able to protect their retirement savings? (Scattered applause.) Which of the candidates here?
Social Security is solid through the year 2041 -- through the year 2041, without any changes whatsoever. The Bush administration has been pushing an agenda to scare the American people into trying to accept the privatization of Social Security.

When I'm elected president, it'll be an end of the fear and it'll be the beginning of a new era of being direct with the people of this country, saving their Social Security, protecting their retirement benefits, protecting their health, giving their children an education, protecting jobs and restoring this nation to full economic vitality.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Senator Kerry, last year the average CEO of a major corporation received $10.83 million in total compensation, including stock-option grants. Do you support requiring the expensing of stock options?

SEN. KERRY: Yes, I do, but I'd go further than that. Let me share a couple of stories. At Honeywell, the chief executive was listed a salary of $1.5 million. But he received $25 million or restricted stock, $36 million of a stock option, $3 million of what was called make-whole money, $2 million of bonus, $1 million for expenses for his home, cars, country clubs. And at the same time, the stock value went down 27 percent.

Lucent lost 65,000 jobs, one-half of the entire workforce. They froze the workers' 401(k)s, and in one day those 401(k)s went down 32 percent and people couldn't get out of it. The chief executive got severance pay of $5.5 million. They picked up his mortgage of $4.3 million. They gave him $9,000 a month, with a secretary and an office, to find a job, and an $870,000-a-year pension.

My friends, that's trickle-down economics. And I believe every worker in America is tired of being trickled on by George W. Bush. (Cheers.) We need—

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. KERRY:  When I am president of the United States, I look forward to appointing an attorney general who is not John Ashcroft, who will enforce the law, the anti-trust laws—

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. KERRY: -- and we will protect the rights of working people to be treated fairly in the workplace.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.
Education and the state budget crisis—there's a full evening. Let's find out what workers are thinking about it.

(Begin AFL-CIO videotape.)

JANELLA HINDS (Teacher, Brooklyn): I'm a public school teacher, and we're all very concerned about meeting the standards and having to do much more with much less. As president, what will you do to protect education in our country?

CAROL KENEFICK (Electrical Apprentice, Seattle): You know, I live down the street from a high school which is literally crumbling. You can see the cracks in the school. And to think that they're cutting even more money from that—I mean, what kid is going to want to go to a school that looks like that?

BRYANT BOYD (Security Officer, Chicago): My question would be, what would you do, if you were elected president, to fund more money to states for jobs and more schooling?

DANNY FORTUNA (Firefighter, Chicago): In other cities, firefighters are being laid off. Engine companies are going out of service. Fire houses are being closed. This puts the firefighters and the citizens at high risk. What can you do to help?

STACY LANDRUM (Firefighter, Captain, Rutledge, PA): Since 9/11, there's been a lot of talk about homeland security.
But my question is, how are you going to pay for it? What are you going to do differently to make sure the money is available?

(End of videotape.)

MR. EDWARDS: Senator Graham, you are a former governor. And I'm wondering how much other governors should be looking to Washington to help them out of these horrible deficits that they're running.

SEN. GRAHAM: The first rule of medicine is "Do no harm." What the federal government has been doing to the states is inflicting pain and distress on each of our 50 states. It's come first in the form of passing mandates such as No Child Left Behind, such as homeland security mandates, and then not providing the funds to support those mandates. (Applause.)

It also comes by the federal government undercutting the tax base of states. Example: Today many people buy goods that they used to purchase on Main Street through the Internet, yet the federal government refuses to allow the states to collect the same sales tax on those Internet sales as they would collect when the sales are made by your local retailer. (Scattered applause.)

Friends, I have a plan. It is a plan called Opportunity for All. It is built on four principles: We will stimulate the economy, we will build America, we will balance the budget, we will restore tax fairness. In this plan of building America, we provide full funding for homeland security. We provide funding to rebuild crumbling schools and crumbling transportation systems. And we do it with a plan that will bring us back to a balanced budget in the fifth year of the new president's terms in office.

MR. EDWARDS: Senator, thank you. (Applause.)

Congressman Gephardt, you have emphasized the boost that your health care plan would give to state budgets. What other measures do you propose for helping states deliver needed services during the current budget crisis?

REP. GEPHARDT: First, the Bush economy has bankrupted almost every state budget in this country. Every state that you look at today has a huge deficit. He gives these big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, but states are cutting services that are needed by the American people. And states are raising local taxes, which cancels out any good that the Bush tax cuts could have done.

I have a plan to help state and local government. My health care plan is the only plan that gives $173 billion over three years to state and local government. I'll have the federal government pick up 60 percent of the cost of employee health care at the state and local level.

Now, I see a lot of green shirts out here, AFSCME. (Cheers.) I see a lot of SCIU, purple. These are the state and local employees and their members. If they get this much from the federal government for health care, then they're going to know their health care premiums are not going to go up. They're going to know they're not going to lose their health care.

Finally, I'm for a teacher corps. I say to the young people of this country, if you'll train to be a teacher and teach where we need you for five years, I'd have the federal government pay your college loans. If it's good enough for the Marines, it's good enough for the teachers, don't you think? (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Congressman.

Many of you supported the education reforms proposed by President Bush in the No Child Left Behind Act. Some of the states complain that the money was left behind. (Laughter.) Reverend Sharpton, would you go for full funding of that program?

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