Pelosi and Daschle Deliver Pre-Buttal to State of the Union Address
Washington, D.C.-House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle today offered a pre-buttal to the President's State of the Union address, and discussed the need to confront the urgent challenges facing our nation at home and abroad. Below are the Leaders' remarks as prepared for delivery:
"A Question of Priorities"
Part 1: Protecting American Security at Home and Abroad
By House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
This weekend, Americans will honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who 40 years ago led the greatest demonstration for justice in American history - the 1963 March on Washington. On that day, Dr. King said that his mission was "to remind America of the fierce urgency of now."
On Tuesday, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address. Today, Senator Daschle and I are here to remind President Bush about "the fierce urgency of now"-the need to confront the urgent challenges facing our nation at home and abroad.
The State of the Union address should offer a vision and goals that unify us as a people, as well as policies that reflect the priorities of all Americans. For inspiration as a country, we need look no further than our remarkable men and women in uniform - active, Guard and Reserve - especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their noble service reminds us of our mission as a nation - to build a future worthy of their courage and their sacrifice.
All Americans should listen closely to the State of the Union address next week to see if the President's reassuring rhetoric matches everyday realities. Sadly, if the past is prologue, the President's speech will be another missed opportunity to offer the leadership worthy of a great nation and an agenda that addresses the urgent priorities of the American people.
Our union is indeed strong. Our strength as a union is due to the spirit of the American people - the creativity, ingenuity, hard work, and faith of everyday Americans and their abiding optimism that tomorrow can be even better than today. But in homes across America, families are uncertain about their future. Americans want good jobs, better access to health care, the best education for their children, a clean environment, and a safe and secure America.
Democrats will fight to expand prosperity and opportunity for all Americans, and will work to ensure the safety and security of the American people.
After three years of reckless Republican rule, the record is clear: President Bush and Republicans in Congress are focused on a different set of priorities - looking out for corporate interests rather than middle-class Americans. Mr. President, America's families are hurting. But you are not helping. In fact, you are making it harder for American families to prosper. Yours is a government of the few, by the few, for the few.
President Bush and the Republicans in Congress are not simply leading America in the wrong direction, they are leading us in a dangerous direction. From our national security to our economic security, we see the dangerous consequences of the President's distorted priorities. And the American people are paying the price. America's children are paying the price. America's workers are paying the price. America's seniors are paying the price. America's veterans are paying the price.
Leader Daschle will speak further about the President's misguided priorities here at home, and I will focus on President Bush's dangerous policies abroad.
AMERICAN POWER AND PRINCIPLES: IRAQ
As elected officials, our first responsibility is set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution - to provide for the common defense. Democrats will never waver in ensuring that America's armed forces remain the best trained, best led, best equipped force for peace the world has ever known.
America's national security is also directly related to America's standing in the world. But never before has a President done so much, so fast to undermine our relations with other nations.
When President Bush disregards allies and international institutions; when he rejects global treaties without debate or alternative; when he makes assertions without evidence-as he did in the State of the Union last year; and when he embraces a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war; then he squanders our international credibility and our moral authority.
As a nation, we must do more than show our strength. We must show our greatness.
While providing for the common defense by ensuring a strong military, Democrats are fighting for a foreign policy that makes America safer by reflecting American priorities - promoting political and economic freedom and human rights; cooperating with allies and friends; respecting international law and institutions; and alleviating the long-term conditions that breed poverty, AIDS, instability and the fury of despair.
In the State of the Union, the President must explain how he plans to restore America's standing in the eyes of the world.
Nowhere do we see the dangerous consequences of the President's distorted priorities more than in our efforts in Iraq. At every stage of this endeavor, the President's policy toward Iraq has been marked by confusion and uncertainty. Uncertainty and changing rationales about why we invaded Iraq. Uncertainty about how to stabilize Iraq after the end of major combat operations. And now, uncertainty and changing plans about how to transition to a stable, democratic Iraqi government. Indeed, Ambassador Bremer is back in Washington again today for what appears to be yet another change in plans.
President Bush's dismissive treatment of our allies has left the United States bearing the heavy burden of stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq virtually alone.
Ten months into our presence in Iraq, we are seeing the price of the President's distorted priorities. American taxpayers are paying almost all the bills - a colossal $120 billion and rising.
Most importantly, American soldiers are enduring almost all the casualties: nearly 500 Americans killed and thousands more wounded. As do many Americans, I believe it is time to honor their sacrifice with a national day of remembrance.
Invading Iraq was a war of choice. But now we have no choice but to succeed in building a secure and stable Iraq. Ambassador Bremer's meeting at the United Nations on Monday is an opportunity. President Bush must work with our allies to gain the necessary manpower and money to succeed in Iraq.
In the State of the Union, the President must explain to the American people how he will ensure that the sacrifices of our military men and women will lead to a stable, democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors and with the world.
WAR ON GLOBAL TERRORISM
As we work to stabilize Iraq, we must never lose sight of the greatest threat to the national security of the United States - the clear and present danger of terrorism. As we saw all too clearly on September 11th, our highest national security priority must be to stop terrorists such as al Qaeda from unleashing their venom on our country.
Here again, we see the dangerous consequences of the President's distorted priorities. Instead of focusing on the war on terrorism, President Bush has overstretched our military and intelligence resources in Iraq. Just this week, a report published by the Army War College confirmed that the Bush Administration took a detour into an "unnecessary" war in Iraq and the Administration's anti-terrorism campaign is "strategically unfocused."
The President has not done an adequate job of dealing directly with the nuclear threat from North Korea, has not done an adequate job to keep weapons of mass destruction and their components out of the hands of terrorists, and has not secured poorly-guarded nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and materials around the world.
It is not enough to hope that we can catch these weapons as they spread across the world or that we can stop them at our borders. We must do everything in our power to stop these weapons at their source.
Democrats propose that the United States lead a global campaign to acquire the existing supply of the world's fissile material and stop its development into deadly weapons.
In the State of the Union, the President must explain to the American people how he will secure these dangerous weapons
and materials before they fall into the hands of terrorists.
As we protect the United States from threats beyond our borders, we must protect Americans within our borders-our homeland. Even when it comes to homeland security, we see the dangerous consequences of the President's distorted priorities.
Today, House Democrats - led by Congressman Jim Turner, Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Committee - are releasing a new report revealing that more than two years after September 11, our borders, our ports, and our airports are still dangerously vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Today, too many firefighters and police officers, our first responders, do not have the equipment they need to communicate in a crisis. Less than 5 percent of cargo on passenger airlines, and only 3 percent of ship containers coming into this country, are ever inspected. Long stretches of our border go unwatched and unprotected. So long as we fail to do all we can to protect our homeland, the orange of a high level alert will continue to be the color of our holidays.
The technology is there to protect our homeland. But under President Bush, the resources are not. Democrats demand 100 percent inspection of cargo that comes into this country by sea, and 100 percent of the cargo carried on domestic and international flights. Democrats demand that our first responders be provided the training and equipment they need to communicate to prevent or respond to a crisis.
In the State of the Union, the President must explain to the American people how he will address these dangerous vulnerabilities in our homeland security.
As we protect and defend the American people from terrorism, Democrats are fighting to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and our civil liberties contained therein. We cannot, and we will not, allow the Constitution to become a casualty in the war on terrorism. Nor should the beacon of freedom that has welcomed millions of immigrants with the promise of opportunity be extinguished by an immigration policy that closes down avenues for citizenship.
TROOPS AND VETERANS
As a nation, we make a solemn pledge to those who serve in uniform - take care of us and we will take care of you. But here again, we see the dangerous consequences of the President's distorted priorities. It is hard to believe, but last year President Bush actually proposed cutting pay for our forces in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush Administration provided no-bid contracts in Iraq for politically-connected corporations such as Halliburton, but did not plan for all our soldiers to have life-saving body armor to survive Iraqi guerilla attacks.
President Bush and Republicans would rather give tax breaks to special interests than end the unfair disabled veterans tax that denies many veterans their full retirement and disability benefits. Recent news reports indicate that the President will propose in his new budget that veterans pay even more for their health care.
Democrats will keep fighting to ensure that this nation keeps faith with our service men and women, their families and our veterans, including ending the disabled veterans tax-for all disabled veterans. And we must change the Military Survivors' Benefit Plan, which unfairly penalizes the survivors, mostly widows, of our veterans.
On the battlefield, our troops pledge to leave no soldier behind. Here at home, we should leave no veteran behind. In the State of the Union, the President must explain to the American people how he will keep our nation's commitment to those who serve and to their families.
'WE ARE NOT AS SECURE AS WE SHOULD BE'
In the final analysis, the question in any State of the Union is not simply whether we are a strong nation or a secure nation. Rather, the question is whether we are as strong as we should be, and as secure as we should be. On this score, the record of the past three years is clear.
We are not as secure as we should be when our military and intelligence resources are overstretched in Iraq instead of focusing on the clear and present danger of terrorism; or when the invasion and occupation of another nation incites resentment in the Muslim world toward America and our allies; or when we fail to stop weapons of mass destruction at their source before they fall into the hands of terrorists; or when we stand alone, isolated from our allies and global institutions; or when our borders and ports and airports are still vulnerable to terrorist attack and when our first responders cannot communicate in a crisis.
And we are not stronger as a nation when we fail to keep faith with our armed forces, their families and our veterans who defend our freedom with their very lives.
These are the dangerous consequences of the President's distorted priorities. And the American people-especially our military men and women-are paying the price.
Forty-three years ago, as a college student standing in the freezing cold outside the Capitol, I heard President Kennedy issue this challenge in his Inaugural Address: "My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man." Mr. President, let this be our clarion call. Let us work together - with each other and with other nations-so that the state of our union is truly strong and that the state of the world is truly safe for the freedom on man.
To discuss the President's misguided priorities here at home, I am pleased to introduce the outstanding Democratic Leader in the United States Senate, Senator Tom Daschle.
Part 2: Priorities at Home
By Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle
In recent weeks, Americans have been riveted by the photos beamed back to us from Mars by a 400-pound rover named "Spirit." The name is appropriate. As we have proven over and over throughout our history, the spirit of America knows no limits. As Spirit was beaming back those photos, another story appeared in the newspaper. It was about the budget the President is expected to propose for 2005. Not only will the President's budget contain the largest deficit in history, it will also attempt to "control the rising cost of housing vouchers for the poor, require some veterans to pay more for health care and merge or eliminate some job training and employment programs."
What a stunning juxtaposition. America has the genius to send a spacecraft 35 million miles to explore the surface of Mars. But the President tells us we cannot write a budget for America without heaping crushing debt on our children and making painful cuts in veterans' health care, in worker training and in affordable housing for America's families. And he believes we can't have economic growth without weakening the laws that protect our air, our water and our most pristine public lands.
America should always pursue great goals, but the American people also deserve a government that helps them achieve their everyday goals.
On Tuesday, the President will talk to Congress and the nation about his accomplishments and his plans for the future. He will speak of great purpose and great progress. The real test, however, is not whether the President's words ring triumphant, but whether they ring true. For a select few Americans - the very wealthy and the well-connected, these last three years have been good years. But for the vast majority of Americans, the President's policies have not worked as advertised.
Nancy talked about how the Administration's priorities and actions on foreign affairs and homeland security fail to adequately address the threats we face. I want to talk about our values and priorities here at home.
JOBS AND THE ECONOMY
We believe in the dignity and value of honest work. The recession we have all lived through since this President took office - the three million jobs lost, the eight and a half million people out of work, the historic reversal in a fiscal situation that took a 9 trillion dollar turn from rosy to red-didn't just happen to us, and they aren't just the result of the war on terrorism. Those things are also the direct result of choices Republican leaders in Washington have made-choices that valued the accumulation of wealth over the dignity of work. In a stunning example of those misplaced priorities, the Administration recently instructed employers on how they can cut workers' pay and avoid paying overtime. When the Administration tells companies how they can game the system, it's Americans who pay the price.
This President's economic philosophy seems to be premised on the belief that if you reduce oversight, let polluters pollute, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and let big businesses avoid taxes entirely by calling an offshore post office box their corporate headquarters, those businesses and individuals will ultimately respond by creating American jobs. Instead, these policies have created an economic flood for a few, while prolonging an economic drought for the many.
Democrats believe that the opportunity to work isn't just the foundation of a strong economy - it's the foundation of a strong society. That is why we proposed an economic plan that independent analysts estimated would create one million new jobs by the end of this year alone. That plan was rejected.
Now we are proposing to strengthen, rebuild, and modernize a critical part of our economy that has been especially hard hit, and that is the manufacturing sector. Under this Administration, 2.6 million manufacturing jobs have been lost -- 8,000 of which came from my home state of South Dakota.
Another way to create American jobs is by increasing demand for American food - the meat that our ranchers raise and the fruits and vegetables that our farmers grow. Country-of-origin labeling is a program that Democrats included in the 2002 Farm Bill, and would give American consumers the ability to "Buy American" at the grocery store. Every American could perform a simple but significant act of patriotism whenever they visit the supermarket. But the Administration and some Congressional leaders have again done the bidding of the powerful meatpacking cartel and are trying to block this important effort to allow consumers a simple choice about the food they feed their families. It would be a welcome change for the Washington Republicans to put the public interest ahead of the special interests. And it would create jobs.
Over the long term, the foundation of a strong economy is a well-educated workforce. We believe that education is the most important investment we can make in our nation's future. We believe that every child deserves the chance to go to a good school and make the most of his or her God-given abilities. And we believe that a college education should be available to everyone who is willing to work for it.
Last week, the President provided the first glimpse of his education budget for next year. Just in Title I, the largest single program in the No Child Left Behind law, the President's budget falls short by 7 billion dollars. The President's refusal to fund his own signature education "reform" is putting pressure on state and local taxpayers and forcing communities to lay off teachers and take other drastic steps.
Under the President's budget, 4.6 million children would be denied the better teachers, smaller classes and extra help in math and science the new law promises. I'm no math whiz. But I know that 4.6 million children left behind is approximately 4.6 million more than no children left behind.
At the same time, the failure of this Administration to invest adequately in higher education is making it harder for many families to send their children to college, community college or vocational school. This year, tuition at state colleges increased an average of nearly $600 nationwide. The 13 percent increase in public college is the biggest annual increase in 3 decades.
Instead of freezing student aid, as Republicans propose, Democrats are proposing a new college guarantee: if a student works hard and does well, he or she won't be priced out of opportunity. As the down payment on that guarantee, we will propose new federal assistance to make college, community college and vocational school more affordable for average Americans.
The American people deserve to know from the President what he will do to make America's schools more successful, and America's colleges more affordable.
HEALTH CARE, MEDICARE AND PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
Americans also deserve to hear from the President how he intends to close the growing health care gap.
America has the best health care in the world. We have mapped the human genome, unlocked the secrets of some of the most dreaded diseases, and in some cases, we've even turned cancer into a treatable condition. Yet, for an increasing number of Americans, that health care is unaffordable.
Since 2001, more than 2.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance. Today, 43.6 million Americans go without any health insurance at all. It is not that these people aren't working - eight out of 10 of them are in working families - it's that America's health care system isn't working.
For those Americans lucky enough to have health insurance, their premium costs went up by a staggering 14 percent last year. That's not an anomaly, it's a trend. The increase in family health insurance premiums that middle-income families have seen over the past three years is three times larger than the four-year tax cut they've been promised. That's tantamount to a tax increase on middle class families.
One of the factors driving up the costs of health care is the rising cost of prescription drugs. Today, one out of every nine health care dollars is spent at the pharmacy, and the rising costs of prescription drugs account for 23 percent of the rise in health care costs. It would seem natural, then, that a President who promised a prescription drug benefit to America's seniors would use the bargaining power of the government to help lower the price of prescription drugs.
Amazingly, the opposite happened. Rather than using the power of 40 million Americans to lower the costs of prescription drugs, the Republican drug law specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating a lower cost. So now the federal government can negotiate lower prices for bullets and butter ad anything else it purchases in bulk-but it cannot negotiate lower prices for Medicare's prescription drugs.
And while supporters of the new law say the drug benefit is voluntary, the reality is that if someone does not sign up in the beginning, their premium will be increased at least 12 percent for each year they do not enroll. So if a senior waited three years, their premium would be almost 40 percent higher. That's what happens when the wishes of pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are put ahead of the needs of America's seniors. And that's why Democrats will be fighting to make sure that Medicare can negotiate lower drug prices.
Democrats believe that affordable, available health care is not a luxury but a cornerstone of a compassionate society. On Tuesday, the American people have the right to ask, "Mr. President, how do you intend to make health care more affordable, and more available?"
Finally, we believe in a retirement of dignity after a lifetime of work.
In recent years, corruption scandals at high-flying corporations and fraud and abuse in the mutual fund industry have cost millions of Americans their retirement savings. The Administration's response has been a combination of "delay and do little." They've delayed cleaning up the scandals and done little to help average Americans save for retirement.
On Tuesday, the President reportedly will call for new tax shelters to make it easier for the wealthiest Americans to accumulate more wealth, and claim this will boost average Americans' retirement security.
Democrats advocate a different plan. We want to crack down on mutual fund abusers and clean up the corporate scandals which have cheated ordinary people our of their retirement savings. We want to help small businesses provide pension coverage for employees, and make sure that companies that change their pension plans don't leave their older workers out in the cold. And we want to make sure that, within companies, whatever retirement system is good enough for the executives is good enough for the workers.
The behavior we have seen from mutual fund companies and the Enrons of the world was disgraceful. Their greed destroyed people's jobs and their life savings. We will fight to protect Americans' investments from corporate misdeeds.
We also believe that Social Security should be a guarantee, not a gamble. We will not allow Social Security to be divided up as spoils to reward Wall Street insiders.
On Tuesday, the American people need to hear from the President how he intends to restore security to America's private and public pension systems.
THE CAUSES ARE HERE, THE SOLUTIONS ARE WITHIN REACH
Two generations ago, my grandfather left his home country for a place that must have seemed as far away to him then as Mars seems to us today. That place was South Dakota. He was drawn to it by the promise of land in exchange for his willingness to work it.
My grandfather and the other immigrants who settled and built America were some of the most self-reliant people in the world. But they also understood that, no matter how hard they worked, there were some essential things they couldn't do by themselves. It took neighbors working together to raise the barns, clear the land and plant the crops. And it took some help from the government to bring electricity to small towns and to build the interstates that connected those towns to the rest of America. They understood that what makes America great is not just the possibility of individual wealth but our commitment to our commonwealth, our belief in things and ideas that are bigger than one person or one group.
Today, our common wealth calls for jobs that provide dignity and decent wages, good schools for all our children, and the chance to go to college or vocational school for every student who is willing to do the work and make the grades. The strength of our union depends on decent, affordable health care for all Americans and a secure retirement, policies that protect us from terrorism without forcing us to give up basic freedoms and a commitment to act as a world leader without alienating old friends and essential allies. Solutions, in short, that reflect and advance America's values rather than undermining them. Those are Americans' priorities. And they are what we will be listening for on Tuesday.
We don't need to go to Mars to find great causes to unify the American people. The causes are right here. And the solutions are within our reach. Thank you.