Remarks by Senator John Kerry - 'Fight for our Economic Future'
August 28, 2003
New Hampshire -
As prepared for delivery
I have come here today to set out my vision of America's economic future - with a detailed plan to bring back good paying jobs and fiscal discipline, to reward those who are working hard and doing what's right, and to prepare America to compete and thrive in the new economy of the 21st century.
The decisions we make on the economy define our values as a nation. And I'm not just talking about values that can be counted and measured in dollars and cents, budgets and programs, the bulls and the bears. The decisions we now face go to the heart of questions that are fundamental to our character and our history: Will we have an America with opportunity for all or one where a privileged few call the shots and reap the rewards? Will we honor the values of hard work or reward those who are breaking the rules? Will we have the courage to build the opportunities of the future or will we remain trapped in the economic debates of the past?
These are the questions - these are the stakes - in the election of 2004. Under George Bush's watch, our economy has taken a nose dive. America has lost over three million jobs. Surpluses have disappeared and deficits have soared to record heights.
Business investment in training and in America's future has plummeted. The stock market is down. The gap in pay between those in the corporate suites and those in the cubicles, behind the counter, or on the factory floor has never been so wide. And corporate scandals have shaken our confidence in the economy as corrupt CEOs make out like bandits, looting the earnings their employees created and feathering their nests while costing Americans their nest eggs. It's not hard to see why the American people think that today they're working for the economy, but the economy's not working for them.
But instead of acting to secure prosperity for all or even a measure of basic fairness, George Bush has brought back the days of deficits, debt, and doubt. He has put the interests of his buddies and big shot campaign contributors ahead of the people he passes by in his motorcade. And rain or shine, surplus or deficit, George Bush has one answer for our economy: special interest tax giveaways that are unwarranted, unaffordable, and unfair.
We need action and leadership because we're not just in a temporary downturn. America is in a fight for our economic future. As I travel this country, it is clear to me that the American people know it even if some politicians don't. And they know that America won't win a fight for the future with the worn-out policies of the past.
They're demanding real answers about how we can fight for America's economic future. 2004 can't be just another election where both parties yell past each other - a campaign full of sound and fury, of anger and attacks, thirty second campaign commercials and seven second sound bites. The American people expect more - and with our economy in trouble they deserve more.
I've heard the voices of Americans demanding a new beginning for our economy. I've seen the pain that George Bush's failure on the economy has inflicted on Americans who have done nothing but what has been asked of them. I've met with John Knowles from Hudson who's here today who was laid off from his telecommunications job after more than three years. His wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer - and he's depending on the economy coming back. In Burlington, Iowa, Kevin Johnson, president of his UAW local, told me about the impact that plant closures have on communities there - hopes dashed, opportunity gone. I've looked into the eyes of Boeing workers in Washington State - abandoned by a government that has let foreign governments stack the deck against American workers.
These Americans deserve an election with a real choice: will we follow the voices of the past or will we fight for America's economic future? George Bush's view of the economy isn't just unfair, it's out-of-date. He has cut taxes for those that don't need them and don't deserve them, he's left the hard-working middle class in the lurch, and he's refused to invest in building tomorrow's economy.
And Democrats need to tell this to the American people loud and clear. But we also need to offer more that our own set of voices of the past. We shouldn't make it harder for middle class families to make ends meet and we shouldn't turn our backs on making the 21st economy work for all of us. Those are yesterday's ideas - and they've been rejected every time. If Democrats offer up recycled slogans instead of real solutions, we will lose in 2004 - and lose our chance to forge a brighter future for the American people.
I believe that this election isn't just about a new President, its about a new direction. That's why today, I'm unveiling an economic strategy that fights for our jobs, fights for those who are doing what's right, and that fights for America's economic future.
It's based on these principles: that the American economy isn't just built on get mine and get out, but on opportunity and upward mobility. That we should be helping those working to climb the economic ladder not protecting those trying to prevent others from joining them at the top. That our economic future depends on creativity and innovation; that it should be a source of hope, not fear. That real prosperity doesn't come from President Bush's plan for the privileged to get more or some Democrats' determination to make the middle class give more - but on the middle class getting ahead. And that we should never forget the old-fashioned truth that our prosperity should be built on people and products, not privileges and perks.
My plan to fight for the future has five parts. First, I will restore jobs by investing in our economy, providing relief to our struggling states, and help industries under attack. Second, I will more than cut our deficit in half and set us on the path to a balanced budget by streamlining government and eliminating special tax giveaways for the privileged and special interests.
Third, I will make sure our economy rewards hard work with a middle class tax cut and stops rewarding corporations that cut corners or break the law. Fourth, I will make the 21st century economy work for America with a level playing field on trade and by building the industries of the future. And fifth, I will make sure America's workers have the skills and training they need to succeed in the new economy.
Our first step has to be to put jobs back at the top of the national agenda. Unfortunately, for this Administration, "jobs" really is a four letter word. This President said he would create jobs. But all he's created is the worst record on jobs of any President since Herbert Hoover. George Bush is the job-loss President - and only he would give us a jobless recovery. For most people, a jobless recovery is just a fancy term for recession. Let me put it plainly: if Americans aren't working, America's not working. That's why today I'm offering a comprehensive plan to create jobs.
Because of George Bush's mismanagement, states are raising taxes, cutting education, and raising college tuition as much as 40 percent - causing layoffs and undermining economic growth. I will create a new 'State Tax Relief and Education Fund' that will help states reduce tuitions, help restore education funding, and cut these new taxes.
Under the Bush Administration, the number of jobs is falling. But manufacturing jobs are in a freefall. One out of every five manufacturing jobs in New Hampshire has been lost while George Bush has been in the White House. George Bush's only response has been indifference. As President, I will commit this country to turning the tide on manufacturing jobs. And I'll start with a tax incentive to encourage companies to stay in America. I will also give a new jobs credit - that will give manufacturers a break on the payroll taxes for every new worker they hire. And I will restore funds Bush cut to give mid-sized and small manufacturers the help they need to succeed.
My plan for energy independence will also create jobs - more than half a million new jobs - by discovering new clean, domestic sources of energy, developing the vehicles and buildings of the future, ending our reliance on Mideast oil in ten years. The blackout two weeks ago came after a three year blackout on energy policy in Washington. And while we don't know who benefited from Dick Cheney's secret energy meetings, rising gas and heating prices certainly tell us who's paying the price.
Americans shouldn't be out of work when there is so much work to be done in America. I propose to harness the talents and skills of those who need jobs to achieve the homeland security our nation needs. We will help small businesses invest as well - because they are the greatest job-creating engine in the American economy. And we will make health care more affordable for all - because our economy and our families can't continue to carry the enormous weight of swelling health care costs.
For all the billions he gives to special interests, George Bush is against raising the minimum wage even though its purchasing power is at the lowest level in 14 years. I'll increase the minimum wage and make our workplaces safer and healthier. I'll reject George Bush's new overtime rules that force employees to work longer for less. And I will support, defend, and extend the fundamental right to join a union. Employees should be able to sign a card - and when a majority do, employers should be required to get on with the business of negotiating a fair deal.
Second, fighting for our economic future means returning to fiscal discipline. It means respect for future generations. It means saving to ensure the strength of Medicare and Social Security. When he was running for President, George Bush promised to "usher in a responsibility era." It didn't last long. He pushed through the most irresponsible, special interest tax cut in our history. Now, for the first time ever, the federal government is spending one billion dollars more than it takes in each and every day.
I will cut the budget deficit in half in four years and call together a balanced budget summit to get us out of red ink for good.
I'll make the federal government smaller but smarter, more effective and less expensive. I'll crack down on corporate subsidies and tax cheats. And I'll pass new budget rules to stop runaway spending and get us back to pay-as-you-go. I'll provide new investigative powers and tough penalties to come down hard on those guilty of fraud and abuse. I'll streamline government agencies and commissions and reduce out-of-control administrative costs by five percent.
I led the fight to eliminate the infamous mohair subsidy - a two hundred million dollar spending program that was so pointless it had become a punchline. And as President, I'll introduce a new constitutional line-item veto to stop Washington from showering special spending on special interests.
Third, we need to return to the basic American principles that have always built our economic future. When those who break the law or cut corners get special benefits while those who work hard and do what's right get the short end of the stick, it's not just our budget that is out of balance. It means our values are out of whack. And we need to send a clear message to the American people that we favor those who are doing the right thing over those who are doing wrong to their employees, their companies, and their country.
If you are a corporation using loopholes to avoid paying taxes, if you are a foreign nation breaking trade agreements and stealing American jobs, if you are a CEO giving yourself a bonus while your employees get laid-off - with George Bush, you have a friend in the White House. But if I'm President, you're in for a change.
But if you are working hard, raising your kids, trying to build a better future - I'll be there for you every day. While George
Bush has been in the White House, middle class Americans have been forgotten - their main street interests ignored, their mainstream values scorned by an Administration that puts privilege first.
Middle class families feel they can't catch a break. They're getting battered by high taxes, high health care costs, high energy bills, high college tuitions, and a high cost of living that means they are working harder just to stay in place. For all of this President's talk about tax cuts, the lion's share of middle class families - those earning between forty and ninety thousand dollars a year - have seen their share of the tax burden go up, not down.
But some in my own party are so angry at George Bush and his unfair tax cuts that they think the solution is to do the exact opposite. They want to return to rejected old-style policies that eliminate all tax breaks - including those to working people. But repealing all the tax cuts for the middle class would mean that a family of four - with two parents working hard on the job and at home - would have to pay $2,000 more a year in taxes.
This would hurt those who most deserve our help - the hard-working, middle class Americans who have borne the brunt of the Bush bust. Our party needs to hear their voices and be on their side because, after they've had to deal with George Bush, the last thing America's middle class deserve is making it even harder for them make ends meet.
If I am President, I will repeal George Bush's special tax breaks that go to only those earning more than $200,000. I will end corporate welfare as we know it and tax giveaways to special interests. But I will provide working families with a tax cut. Putting real money into the pockets of the hard working middle class is true to our principles as Democrats - and right for the American economy.
As we do more to reward those who are doing the right thing, we also have to set and enforce new standards of corporate accountability and ethics. The Americans who build up businesses, create jobs, and make a profit along the way are a vital national asset. I'll cheer them on - whether they have a stand on the boardwalk or a seat in the boardroom. But in a Kerry Administration, we'll hold corporate criminals in the corner office to the same standard we apply to common criminals on the street corner. The only special access CEO's who cook the books, siphon off retirement funds, and manipulate stocks will find in my Administration - is access to the criminal justice system.
It is also vital to restore the balance between those who run companies and those who work at companies. Corporate responsibility is critical as a matter of defending the free market system and producing jobs and opportunity in America. It is the best way to defend profits and the marketplace.
That is why American companies should live by American values. CEO's shouldn't get bonuses while their employees get left holding the bag. For instance, K-Mart lost 2.1 billion dollars. The result was 300 closed stores, 22,000 laid off workers, creditors scrambling to be paid, and shareholders left with nothing. But that didn't stop the company from giving its CEO a 9.5 million dollar severance package when he left. On the other hand, the people who worked the cash register or stocked the shelves didn't get a single cent in severance. They just got the boot. That's wrong but what makes this even more unfair is that the government gives corporations an unlimited tax allowance for CEO bonuses even if the executives have done nothing to deserve the money. As President, I'll end this giveaway and force corporations to report special perks to the public.
We also have to stop corporations from playing hide and go seek by setting up mailboxes in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes. Tyco used to be based in Exeter. Almost overnight, it was suddenly based in Bermuda. No one had to move, but in a flash 400 million dollars a year in U.S. taxes disappeared into the Bermuda triangle. But that didn't stop the Bush Administration from awarding the company 182 million dollars of lucrative defense and homeland security contracts in a single year.
If I am elected President, dishonest companies won't be allowed to dodge their taxes by setting up mail drops and with shady shell corporations overseas. And in a Kerry Administration, they certainly won't be rewarded with government contracts.
We'll end the deceptive accounting practices of corporations like Enron - which told shareholders they had a 2.3 billion dollar profit but told the IRS they had a three billion dollar loss. It's time to make sure companies tell the truth - the same truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth - to both the government and the public. And I'll repeal the injustices that let CEO's pay lower taxes on dividends than receptionists pay on what they earn and that protect the pensions of corporate executives but not of their employees.
The original tax code was short; it was 14 pages. Today, it is very long - 17,000 pages long. The problem isn't deductions for charity or mortgage interest. It's countless special loopholes - tax breaks you need powerful lobbyists to get and sophisticated accountants to find. To get those pages written into the tax code, corporations are investing their money on lobbying in Washington when they should be investing in new technology and new skills for their workers.
Special interest subsidies and tax breaks will cost about a hundred fifty billion dollars this year. They also cost us jobs by narrowing opportunities for new entrepreneurs and small businesses. They close off open markets and slow economic growth. As President, I will end corporate welfare as we know it.
Each and every special interest provision in those 17,000 pages has a defender. That's why John McCain and I have co-sponsored legislation for a Corporate Subsidy Reform Commission to recommend cuts and submit them to Congress for an up or down vote - with no amendments. As President, I will sign this into law.
Fourth, fighting for our economic future means being active and engaged when it comes to building the 21st century economy. George Bush has done nothing to advance the industries of the future, ensure our trading partners play by the rules they agreed to, or invest in our workers and their skills. But Democrats shouldn't shun the 21st economy, we should shape it. The global economy of the 21st century is here. It's a reality. And either we make it work for us - for our workers and our values - or we will watch our jobs and our prosperity get shipped overseas.
Companies don't relocate just because of cheap labor, but because too often our competitors don't play fair. I believe that with a level playing field, Americans can out compete foreign companies every day of the week and twice on Sunday. And American workers who are the most productive in the world deserve a President who will stand up for them. If countries like China aren't playing by the rules - breaking agreements or devaluing their currency - I will hold them accountable.
As President, I'll order an immediate review of our trade agreements to make sure our trading partners are living up to their obligations. I'll vigorously enforce our trade laws and fight for retraining programs to help displaced workers. And I'll make sure all future agreements include strong and fully enforceable protections for labor and the environment.
If we approach trade the right way, it can be a source of hope, of jobs, and of rising incomes for all Americans. We must make America the global leader in the industries of the future. America has always been on the road to discovery - it has been the source of our prosperity and hope. Today we need more investment in basic science, more young people going into science, new investments in broadband and R&D to pave the way for innovation. And we won't reach the promise of a high-tech future until it's as much a part of the Merrimack Valley as it is of Silicon Valley; not just about better computers and gadgets, but about new technology in car repair shops and the factory floor.
Fifth, in the economy of the 21st century, the more we know, the more we grow. In the end, as always, our greatest asset is the skills, creativity, and inventiveness of the American people. And we're not doing nearly enough to unleash that economic power.
So as President, I will reverse the policies of this Administration - which are the most anti-science in a generation - whether they involve environmental technology or the astounding promise of stem cell research. At a time when we are unlocking the secrets of the human genome, we should not be stopping stem cell research and forcing it to migrate to other countries.
I'll give a tax incentive to encourage small businesses to invest in critical technologies - so that they can create the future and create jobs.
Today, four years of college isn't a luxury. It's a necessity if Americans are going to be ready to seize the challenges of the global economy. I want to make four years of college as universal as a high school education is today. In a Kerry Administration, we will make all four years of college more affordable with a single, easy-to-use "College Opportunity Tax Credit." This new credit will strengthen and combine the existing patchwork of support by providing a credit of $4,000 for each and every year of college. And my "Service for College" initiative will pay for college for students that give two years of service to their country.
When it comes to creating opportunity, restoring fiscal discipline, putting values back into our economy, and preparing for the jobs of the future, George Bush hasn't lifted a finger. I will move mountains.
America's economic strength doesn't just come from captains of industry or corporate leaders on the cover of Fortune. Our economic power flows from the dedication and productivity of millions whose lifestyles aren't rich or famous but who work hard and do what's right. They get up each morning, go to work, raise their children and pay their taxes. They don't boast or brag. They don't want special favors or special recognition. They simply want fairness. An economy where they can succeed and build a better life. A country that rewards what's right. A government that is on their side.
That's not a lot to ask for, but there is a lot of work to do. George Bush hasn't fought for our economic future. I will. He has taken us backwards - fewer jobs, fewer opportunities, bigger deficits, people working harder just to stay put, perks for the powerful and the connected. I will take us forward. I will fight for our economic future. The plan I propose is ambitious and far-reaching. But I believe the party and the country I hope to lead have the courage to do what's right for America's future.