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Remarks by Senator John Kerry at the Detroit Economic Club

Location: Detroit, MI

September  22,  2003
Detroit, MI -

I am honored to be here today with this renowned group to lay out my plans to restore America's manufacturing base - and the manufacturing jobs Americans depend on.  For nearly 70 years, the Detroit Economic Club has been a place for America's leaders to discuss America's economy.  But to be here today is more appropriate than ever.

Because this city and this state and the industrial heartland are the historic home of our manufacturing sector.  And today, while the entire American economy is hurting, under this President, our manufacturing base is under siege. 

Last month I laid out a comprehensive plan to fight for America's economic future.  At that time, I said I would be speaking
in more depth about the various parts of that agenda.  My first stop to do so is here.  While some see Detroit and Michigan as relics of America's economic past, I believe that you are on the frontlines of America's economic future.  Manufacturing is at the heart of my economic plan because it is at the heart of the hopes and troubles of the 21st century American economy we have entered.  It's a source of prosperity and good paying jobs.  And I am here to share my ideas about how America and American workers can win the fight for that future.

Your great new governor is right: Manufacturing Matters.  And my message today is this: I believe manufacturing in America can come back and shine as never before.  But it won't happen with the failed policies of the past.  We need a President with the courage to fight for our economic future.

My agenda for a thriving manufacturing sector is based on these principles: that we need to invest in 21st century manufacturing - in creating the industries and jobs of the future.  That American workers can compete and win with workers anywhere in the world if they have the skills and training they need and the level playing field they deserve.  That we should never forget the old-fashioned truth that our prosperity should be built on people and products, not privileges and perks.  And that we need national leadership that forges a partnership for our common good between business and labor.  That's why I applaud UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and the heads of the Big Three for the spirit of their recent negotiations.

I am proud to stand with the Michigan congressional delegation and Governor Granholm in demanding this Administration change course and stand up for manufacturing. The economic statistics of George Bush's watch have become part of American lore.  America has three million less jobs and three million more bankruptcies.  We've gone from a nearly $300 billion surplus to a $500 billion deficit.  And we have the weakest economic growth under a President in more than 50 years.  These are the facts - and they speak for themselves.

It's no accident.  This President took office hell-bent on bringing back the failed policies of the past.  Rain or shine, surplus or deficit, George Bush's economic prescription begins and ends with tax breaks for those with special pull and special influence.  It reminds me of that old sign on a country road.  It read: "veterinarian - slash - taxidermist.  Either way you get your dog back."  With George Bush, no matter what the economic question, tax giveaways for the few is the answer.

True conservatives wouldn't run up the kind of deficits these tax policies have produced.  They are a drag on our economy.  They crowd out private investment.  They raise interests rates on those who can least afford it.  We need to bring back fiscal discipline - and I will cut the budget deficit in half in four years.

Along with cuts for those that don't need them, this Administration has cut the investments we do need - in research and development, in workers and their skills.  And the Bush Administration has sat by while foreign competitors break the rules. 

The problem is not just that this President's policies are unfair or that they have driven us back into the days to deficits, debt, and doubt.  The problem is that his policies just haven't worked.  And George Bush isn't facing up to it.

Just this month, on Labor Day, he admitted that America has lost "thousands of jobs in manufacturing."  In fact, it's been millions.  Of the more than three million jobs lost since this Administration took office, two and a half million have been in manufacturing.  In Michigan alone, the toll has been one out of every six manufacturing jobs - vanished without a trace.  Today, manufacturing employment is at a more than fifty year low.

Manufacturing employment has fallen each and every month of the Bush Administration.  Month after month, the job losses roll on - thirty-six straight months of manufacturing job losses - breaking the hopes of those without work - breaking the hearts of families that can't make the mortgage, can't afford braces, that use up college savings for groceries. 

And all the while, George Bush tells them that prosperity is just around the corner.  Last October he came to Michigan to say that "the foundation for growth is strong."  Back in July he went to Livonia and said "we're poised for growth so people can find work."  And just last week, he was back in this state and he said "I'm sure the numbers are beginning to look better."  If he really is sure, he's just about the only person left in America who is.

Craig MacIntyre is here with us today.  He's been a union iron worker doing construction work for 36 years.  He literally helped build our manufacturing base with his own hands.  But he's been out of work since December.  He's living testament to the pain of the manufacturing recession - and he deserves better.  The price we're paying for policies that are out-of-date and out-of-touch is Americans like Craig MacIntyre out of work.

For nearly a thousand days, George Bush stood by as twenty percent of this state's manufacturing jobs disappeared in just three years.  Now, with his reelection campaign around the corner, the Bush Administration has decided that if they're not going to do anything to preserve manufacturing jobs, they should at least look like they're doing something.

So they put together town meetings and Cabinet road trips, studies and whitepapers, and every other substitute for action you could imagine.  And after all that - after the worst job slide since the Great Depression - after two and a half years of inaction - Secretary Evans came to this podium last week to announce their big new idea: a new Assistant Secretary in the Department of Commerce.  A new box on the bureaucratic flow-chart.

On the bright side, at least we could say, the Bush Administration has finally created a new job in the area of manufacturing.  The sad thing is that gives them too much credit.  This manufacturing czar isn't even new.  It's a new title for an old position.  George Bush isn't even reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic - he's just renaming them.

Secretary Evans' speech was a collection of problems in search of a solution and solutions desperately seeking a problem.  He said we need to enforce our trade laws - but this Administration is cutting enforcement.  He said we need incentives for manufacturing - but this Administration wants to strip them away.  He said we need to clamp down on rising health care costs - but this Administration is pushing a prescription drug plan that undercuts companies that are already providing help to retirees.  It's clear George Bush will fight like hell to keep his own job, but he won't lift a finger to help Americans keep theirs. 

I believe that this election isn't just about a new President, it's about a new direction.  Our manufacturing economy can turn around - and it will turn around - but we need to put jobs back at the top of the national agenda. Unfortunately, for this Administration, "jobs" really is a four letter word.  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. 

My goal will be to bring back the 3 million jobs lost under George Bush in my first 500 days.  And as President, I will commit this country to turning the tide on manufacturing jobs. 

For three years, George Bush has said "you're on your own." Some in my party look at the global economy and think we should run and hide.  But that's not a real plan either.  Today, I'm unveiling a manufacturing agenda to fight for our economic future.  I won't pick winners and losers or have the heavy hand of bureaucracy stifle innovation and entrepreneurship - but we do need a national strategy to compete and win in the 21st century economy. 

My manufacturing plan has four parts.  Investing in our jobs.  Committing America to research, science, and discovery to build the industries of the future.  Making trade work for America.  And reining in the skyrocketing health care and pension costs that make it impossible for manufacturers to compete.

Michigan thrived under the policies of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.  We expanded trade, invested in America, brought back fiscal discipline - creating 23 million new jobs while beginning to pay down our debt.  I am going to build on that success - and take action on manufacturing that goes even further.

First we need to encourage manufacturing job creation here at home.  If we're serious about keeping manufacturing jobs from moving overseas, we need to close the tax loopholes that actually encourage companies to leave America to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  It's unpatriotic.  And it costs us jobs.

Instead, let's give incentives to manufacturers who create jobs here at home.  That's why I have supported legislation to provide targeted tax cuts to manufacturers who keep jobs in this country.  That's also why my economic plan provides a new tax incentive to encourage companies to stay in America. I will give a new jobs credit - that will give manufacturers a break on the payroll taxes for every new worker they hire.   And we should encourage new investments in small manufacturing by eliminating the capital gains tax for investments in these small businesses and the jobs they create.

And if we're going to build the jobs of the future, we need to make sure our workers are trained and ready to do them.  In the nineteenth century, a manufacturing worker's knowledge and creativity were thought to just get in the way of the assembly line.  They were seen as nuisances.  Today, they are necessities.  The manufacturing jobs of today require 21st century skills.  I'll make sure America has a cutting edge workforce by helping manufacturing workers with grants to upgrade their skills and retrain for the jobs of the future.  And we will encourage students to study subjects like engineering and computer science by helping them repay their student loans if they put their knowledge to work in the manufacturing sector.

Second, America has been successful because we have always been on the cutting edge.  We can do it again, but we need to build the industries of the future.  That means creating the products of tomorrow - and jobs for the Americans who will build them. 

For more than a century, American innovation and manufacturing have gone forward hand-in-hand.  And the key to producing the manufacturing jobs of the future is pushing the curve of science, experimentation, inventions, and knowledge.  So that businesses can plan and our economy can grow, I will make the research and development tax credit permanent.  The manufacturing jobs of the future depend on discovery - and we need to do more to create them.

I will restore funds to give mid-sized and small manufacturers the help they need to succeed.  The Census Bureau says that clients of Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers have productivity gains four times greater than those of similar firms.  One of those clients is Laurie Moncrieff.  Her business - Schmald Tool and Die in Burton - has been in her family for three generations.  And she will tell you that the Manufacturing Extension Partnership has made all the difference in helping her business get the technology and training needed to compete in today's economy.  With the help of this program, Schmald Tool and Die has survived and last year Laurie was named Michigan's Manufacturer of the Year.  Laurie, will you stand to be recognized? 

Now, George Bush wants to slash the Manufacturing Extension Partnership by almost ninety percent.  I believe we need to be on the side of manufacturers like Laurie Moncrieff.  As President I will restore the funding to this program - and then double it.

As the former Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee, I know our small businesses have a huge impact.  We need to encourage specialized lending by the Small Business Administration for new manufacturing processes.  And we also need a network of Manufacturing Development Centers that will provide seed capital to start-up these efforts.  This is money well spent - and it will pay for itself. 

And I'll put this plainly: I believe that with national leadership energy independence will create more jobs for American workers.  But we need to seize this opportunity and shape this future - not shirk from it.

One way or another, the cars, the trucks, the SUVs, and the buses of the future will be built.  The only open question is
who is going to build them.  Already foreign automakers are building cars that get all the acceleration and go all the distance, but require half the gas.  We need a government that is on the side of our automotive industry - that is active and dedicated to helping this nation prepare for the future.  My plan will provide consumers with a tax credit of up to $2,000 to purchase clean cars.  It will commit the federal government to helping build the infrastructure for using hydrogen and ethanol.  And it invests $1 billion a year to help the auto industry convert to new plants to build more energy-efficient vehicles - to make sure the jobs of the future stay right here in America. 

If we continue to do nothing, the cars of the future be built in Japan or Korea or Europe at the expense of American jobs - and we can't let that happen. 

I believe Michigan - this nation's industrial heart - will lead the way as it has before.  President Bush says that he wants a child born today to have the option of driving a fuel cell vehicle when they're 18.  But he doesn't say who will build that car.  I know who I want to build that car - I want it built in America, in Michigan and by the UAW. But to get there, we need to take bold steps now.   The President wants to wait and hope for a bright and clean future.  I want to work with you to create that future.

This is an issue of jobs for Americans.  But I would be less than frank if I didn't say that this is also an issue of national security.  The dollars we spend at the pump can too easily fund the very terrorists that seek to destroy us. The threats that America faces today don't just come from gun barrels, they come from oil barrels - and we need to disarm that danger. 

Detroit's leadership is crucial if we are going to win a long-term victory in the War on Terror.  After Pearl Harbor, in a cornfield near Ypsilanti, the Willow Run plant was built - churning out hundreds of B-24s a month.  When the final plane rolled off the lines in 1945, it was to be christened the "Henry Ford."  But its namesake wanted it named for the people who built it.  So his name was erased and the workers - many of them women - former teachers and housewives and waitresses - signed their names on the nose.  With all automakers pitching in, this state - the Arsenal of Democracy - with four percent of the American population - led all other states in the production of war materials.

Today, Americans are looking to Detroit for the clean cars of the future.  Detroit is looking to Washington for real leadership and real dollars.  Together, we will get this job done and make this nation less reliant on foreign oil.

Third, if we are going to compete with the world for the products of the future - we need to be able to sell them.  I believe that trade is essential to our economic future - but free trade doesn't mean a free ride for those that break the rules.  I know that some in Michigan think trade is a bad idea.  And with the way the Bush Administration has let foreign countries break the rules and walk all over us, I can't blame them.  But let me put it to you straight: the global economy is here and its here to stay.  Our choice is either to win the race for the jobs of the future or to get run over by our competitors.

And given this Administration's inaction, American manufactures can be excused for feeling like economic roadkill.  China, Japan, Korea, Europe, others use illegal practices and tariffs to keep American products from getting a fair shake. 

Two months after he took office, President Bush was in Kalamazoo.  There he said - quote - "if our trading partners trade unfairly, they'll hear from us."  But for nearly a thousand days, all they've heard is the sound of silence, the quiet of a wink and a nod.  Instead of raising his voice, George Bush has been sitting on his hands.

You heard it here again last week.  Secretary Evans complained about China's promises to stop their trading abuses.  And over and over again, he said, "We're still waiting."  Well how long do we have to wait?  How many jobs do we have to lose until this Administration stops waiting?  How much of our manufacturing base do we have to see whittled away before this Administration uses the laws and tools that are sitting there available?  We need to stop waiting and start acting.

But just this summer, this Administration said they opposed efforts to increase the funds for enforcing China's trade agreements.  They said the money just was "unnecessary."  Sounds like the Cabinet members need to come out here for some more town meetings.

As President, I'll take on the countries that are manipulating their currency to undermine American exports.  These countries are supposed to be playing by the same rules as we do and they'll feel the full force of our trade laws if they don't.  I will open markets in key export areas for manufacturing - like Japan and China.  I will make sure that if we have to lower our tariffs, our competitors have to do the same.  We don't need idle talk - we need action - and we need it now.

I'll order an immediate 120 day review of all existing trade agreements to ensure our trading partners are living up to their labor and environmental obligations - to make sure these agreements are enforceable and to put us on a level playing field.  And I will not sign any new trade agreements until the review is done and its recommendations are in place. 

And I will appoint a U.S. Trade Representative who is an American patriot and who will put American jobs first.

But here's what I won't do, I won't pander and claim that America can retreat from the global economy.  We can't. 
Unfortunately, some in my party - like Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt - are telling people just that.  Anyone who tells voters they're going to build a fence high enough to keep out foreign competition isn't offering an economic strategy - he's selling a bill of goods.

Governor Dean has said repeatedly that America should not trade with countries that haven't reached our own environmental and labor standards.  I will assure strong labor and environmental standards, but his approach would mean we couldn't sell a single car anywhere in the developing world.  One hundred years ago this month, Henry Ford sold his first car overseas - to a businessman in South Africa.  And it wouldn't make much sense if America could trade with Africa in 1903, but not in 2003.  Those markets mean American jobs.

The unfortunate thing is that Howard Dean knows that what he's proposing is just not possible and that it would send our economy into a tailspin.  Manufacturing workers are right to be worried about their jobs and it is wrong to play on their fears instead of offering them hope for a brighter future.  Anger and attacks are all well and good, but when it comes to our jobs we need a President who can build a barn and not just kick it down.  Give American workers a level playing field and they can beat workers anywhere else in the world everyday of the week and twice on Sunday.  As President, I'm going to give them that chance.

The fourth part of my manufacturing agenda is reining in spiraling health care costs that are making it impossible for manufacturers to compete.  Today, what happens in the doctor's office is almost as important for manufacturing as what happens on the factory floor. 

In the year 2000, America spent $1.4 trillion on health care.  In 2010, that number is estimated to be twice as high.  About twelve hundred dollars of the cost of each car produced by GM goes to skyrocketing health care costs.  Michigan's health care costs are among the highest in the nation - and costs have increased by double-digit rates each of the past three years.  Our economy - our country - cannot indefinitely carry that kind of escalating weight on its shoulders.  It makes it harder for our businesses compete and our families to make ends meet.  My plan addresses both health care coverage and health care costs.  Because if you just deal with the plight of the uninsured without reducing the costs of health care for all Americans, you're treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause.  We need to address both - together.  My plan also focuses on helping businesses who do offer coverage because unless we do a far better job of containing costs our companies won't be able to compete.  Holding down costs also makes a big difference for our workers.  Now, instead of securing a raise at the bargaining table, they have to use the leverage of any labor negotiations just to keep the same level of health care.  And they also deserve some relief.

My plan will pick up a portion of the cost of care by making the federal government responsible for the most expensive catastrophic illnesses.  Only four-tenths of one percent of private insurance claims are in excess of $50,000.  But, these claims account for 20 percent of medical expenses for private insurers.  The federal government should pay three-quarters of these costs.  That will mean big savings for employers and insurers - up to one thousand dollars a family.  But we'll insist that they pass those savings along to their employees.  And I have proposed other initiatives to stop spiraling costs and bring savings to the system: making prescription drugs more affordable by cutting greed and waste; cutting out frivolous lawsuits; and generating savings through investments in technology and quality improvements.

I also support adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare - to provide relief for our seniors and relief for the companies struggling to afford retiree benefits.  But I don't support the prescription drug bill now before Congress.  It undermines the employers who are doing what's right and already providing some coverage for their employees and retirees. We also need pension reform that assures a fair rate of contributions.  Companies that provide a strong pension for their workers should be rewarded - not penalized.

Looking at the bleeding of the past few years, some are ready to write off our manufacturing sector.  I believe manufacturing is ready to write its next great chapter.  America is the home of innovation and our workers are the smartest and hardest working in the world.  Manufacturing can win again - if America has a strategy to strive and succeed in the global economy, if we have an Administration ready to take action, if we have a President who believes in the possibilities of our industries. 
This Administration is trapped in the policies of the past - of trickle-down and walk-away.  They can't get away with promising more of the same, but no American believes they will do any different.  I am ready to wage the battle for America's economic future - and I believe manufacturing is ready to win again.

Thank you.

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