Remarks of Senator Barack Obama (Dunedin, FL)
We meet here at a time of great uncertainty for America. The era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington has led us to a financial crisis as serious as any we have faced since the Great Depression. They said they wanted to let the market run free but they let it run wild, and in doing so, they trampled our core values of fairness, balance, and responsibility to one another.
Everywhere you look, the economic news is troubling. But for so many Americans, it isn't really news at all.
600,000 workers have lost their jobs since January. Home values are falling. Your paycheck doesn't go as far as it used to. It's never been harder to save or retire; to buy gas or groceries; and if you put it on a credit card, they've probably raised your rates. In so many cities and towns across America, it feels as if the dream that so many generations have fought for is slowly slipping away.
So I know these are difficult days. But here's what I also know. I know we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. Because that's who we are. Because that's what we've always done as Americans. Our nation has faced difficult times before. And at each of those moments, we've risen to meet the challenge because we've never forgotten that fundamental truth - that here in America, our destiny is not written for us, but by us.
There are many to blame for causing the crisis we are in, and that starts with the speculators on Wall Street who gamed the system and the regulators in Washington who looked the other way. But now that we're here, every American has a stake in solving this crisis and saving our financial system from collapse. Because if we don't act, your jobs, your life savings, and your economic security will be put at risk.
The clock is ticking on this crisis. We have to act swiftly, but we also have to get it right. That means everyone - Republicans and Democrats; the White House and Congress - must work together to come up with a solution that protects American taxpayers and our economy without rewarding those whose greed helped bring us to this point.
So we need to act and act now. This cannot fall victim to the usual partisan politics or special-interest lobbying. But it also can't be negotiated by the Administration with the same my-way-or-the-highway mentality that is all too familiar.
This Administration started off by asking for a blank check to solve this problem. To them, I say no. It is unacceptable to expect the American people to hand this Administration or any Administration a $700 billion check with no conditions and no oversight when a lack of oversight in Washington and on Wall Street is exactly what got us into this mess. If the American people are being asked to pay for the solution to this crisis, then you have a right to make sure that your tax dollars are protected. That's why I've laid out a few a conditions for Washington.
First, we need to set up an independent board, selected by Democrats and Republicans, to provide oversight and accountability for how and where this money is spent at every step of the way.
Second, if American taxpayers are financing this solution, you should be treated like investors. That means that Wall Street and Washington should give you every penny of your money back once this economy recovers.
Third, we cannot and will not simply bailout Wall Street without helping the millions of innocent homeowners who are struggling to stay in their homes. They deserve a plan too.
Finally - and this one is important - the American people should not be spending one dime to reward the same Wall Street CEOs whose greed and irresponsibility got us into this mess. There has been talk that some CEOs may refuse to cooperate with this plan if they have to give up their multi-million-dollar salaries. I cannot imagine a position more selfish and greedy at a time of national crisis. So I would like to speak directly to those CEOs right now: Do not make that mistake. The enormous rewards you have reaped come with serious responsibilities to your workers and the American people, and we expect and demand that you live up to those responsibility. I will not allow this plan to become a welfare program for Wall Street executives.
Now, in the last few days, my opponent has decided to start talking tough about CEO pay. He's suddenly a hard-charging populist. And that's all well and good. But I sure wish he was talking the same way over a year ago, when I introduced a bill that would've helped stop the multi-million-dollar bonus packages that CEOs grab on their way out the door. Because he opposed that idea. I sure wish he joined me when I blew the whistle on the fired CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who tried to walk away with golden parachutes. I sure wish he felt the same outrage about CEO pay when his top economic advisor - who he calls a 'role model' - walked away with a $42 million package after being fired from Hewlett Packard. I sure wish he would change his current plan to give the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut at a time when millions of Americans are struggling to pay their bills. That's what I'd like to hear.
You see, the John McCain you've heard from over the last few days is a lot different than the John McCain who's been in Washington for the last twenty-six years. He talks about getting tough on Wall Street now, but he's been against the common-sense rules and regulations that could've stopped this mess for decades. He says he'll take on the corporate lobbyists, but he put seven of the biggest lobbyists in Washington in charge of his campaign. And if you think those lobbyists are working day and night to elect my opponent just to put themselves out of business, well I've got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska.
The truth is, when my opponent first reacted to this crisis by saying that the fundamentals of our economy are strong, he didn't just make a mistake. He revealed an out-of-touch philosophy he's followed for decades in Washington - the idea that if we give more and more to those with the most, prosperity will trickle down to everyone else; the idea that no harm will be done if we let lobbyists shred consumer protections and fight against every regulation as unwise or unnecessary.
Well what we have seen over the last few weeks is nothing less than the final verdict on this failed philosophy. And I am running for President of the United States because the dreams of the American people cannot be endangered anymore.
We have a different way of measuring the fundamentals of our economy. We know that the fundamentals that we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great -that America is a place where you can make it if you try; that everyone should have the chance to live their dreams.
I know I wouldn't be standing here today without that promise. And I know that's the promise we must keep once more.
When I talk to those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.
In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country.
And when I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep the promise of America alive as President of the United States.
Unlike Senator McCain, it didn't take a crisis on Wall Street for me to understand that folks are hurting out on Main Street.
It was two years ago that I introduced legislation to stop mortgage transactions that promoted fraud, risk or abuse. It was one year ago that I called on our Treasury Secretary and our Fed Chairman to bring every stakeholder together and find a solution to the subprime mortgage meltdown before it got worse. In March, when John McCain was saying "I'm always for less regulation," I called for a new, 21st century regulatory framework to restore accountability, transparency, and trust in our financial markets.
I believe that our free market has been the engine of America's great progress. It's a market that has created a prosperity that is the envy of the world, and rewarded the innovators and risk-takers who have made America a beacon of science, and technology, and discovery. But the American economy has worked in large part because we have guided the market's invisible hand with a higher principle - that America prospers when all Americans can prosper.
That's the change we need right now. And that's the kind of change I'll bring to Washington when I'm President of the United States of America.
Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it. I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. I will eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses and start-ups - that's how we'll grow our economy and create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.
I will cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families. My opponent doesn't want you to know this, but under my plan, tax rates will actually be less than they were under Ronald Reagan. If you make less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increase one single dime. In fact, I offer three times the tax relief for middle-class families as Senator McCain does - because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.
I will finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And I will stop insurance companies from discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.
I will also create the jobs of the future by transforming our energy economy. We'll tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced
And now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. But in exchange, I will ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.
This is the change we need - the kind of bottom up growth and innovation that will advance the American economy by advancing the dreams of all Americans.
Times are hard. I will not pretend that the change we need will come without cost - though I have presented how we can achieve these changes in a fiscally responsible way. I know that we'll have to overcome our doubts and divisions and the determined opposition of powerful special interests before we can truly reform a broken economy and advance opportunity.
But I am running for President because we simply cannot afford four more years of an economic philosophy that works for Wall Street instead of Main Street, and ends up devastating both.
I don't want to wake up in four years to find that more Americans fell out of the middle-class, and more families lost their savings. I don't want to see that our country failed to invest in our ability to compete, our children's future was mortgaged on another mountain of debt, and our financial markets failed to find a firmer footing.
At this defining moment, we have the chance to finally stand up and say: enough is enough!
We can do this because Americans have done this before. Time and again, we've battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other's success. That's why our economy hasn't just been the world's greatest wealth generator - it's bound America together, it's created jobs, and it's made the dream of opportunity a reality for generation after generation of Americans.
Now it falls to us. And I need you to make it happen. If you want the next four years looking just like the last eight, then I am not your candidate. But if you want real change - if you want an economy that rewards work, and that works for Main Street and Wall Street; if you want tax relief for the middle class and millions of new jobs; if you want health care you can afford and education that helps your kids compete; then I ask you to knock on some doors, make some calls, talk to your neighbors, and give me your vote on November 4th. And if you do, I promise you - we will win Florida, we will win this election, and we will change America together.