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Public Statements

"Making America Work for People Again"

Location: Des Moines, IA

As Prepared for Delivery

January 05, 2004

Des Moines, Iowa -

Remarks by Senator John Kerry

With only two weeks left before Iowans go to vote, everywhere I go people are looking for someone who will stand on their side. I am running for President because I'm going to fight for you - and I am ready to get things done.

As the time for campaigning wraps up and the time for caucusing approaches, we're out there on the trail morning, noon, and night. But a few weeks ago, we decided that even that wasn't enough time to reach out. So we spent a full twenty-four hours straight visiting Iowans in the places they work - on factories and farms, in hospitals and day care centers.

When December turns to January and the caucus draws near, it sometimes seems that ears on politicians have become about as rare ears on corn. So I spent the day doing more listening than talking. No yelling, no pointing. No ranting or raving. I just listened.

What I heard wasn't that surprising, but it was important. People told me about their struggle to make a decent living and to give their children the chance to live out their dreams.

I heard factory workers worry about jobs in Sioux City disappearing to Singapore - about their employers finding cheaper labor in Malaysia than Marshalltown.

I heard mothers and fathers talk about how hard it is these days to be good parents and good workers at the same time.

I heard farmers share their frustration that huge corporate hog lots that are squeezing family farms and shrinking the chance of everyday Iowans to make a living off the land.

I heard nurses talk about patients who battle HMOs for hospital visits, and women working two jobs tell me about their struggles to get by on a minimum wage.

These quiet struggles of everyday Americans are at the heart of what this campaign season should be all about. Too often, they're drowned out by all the political shouting and spinning, but you don't have to listen too carefully to hear them loud and clear. We should never forget that this election is not about the ads or the attacks, the polls or the pundits, or even about the nine of us running for President. It's about all of you, and the opportunity - the responsibility - you have been given to replace George Bush with a President who will wake up every day ready to fight for you - and fight for what's right. And with your help, that's just what I'll do as President of the United States.

But we've got competition in that fight. Today, big corporations and K Street lobbyists trip over themselves to fund the Bush-Cheney campaign. And it's no surprise. In the Bush Administration, you get what you pay for. And if you have the right connections and a fat bank account, you can afford the access to the inner circle and the Oval Office. That's wrong, and when I'm President, we're going to let the American people back in.

We need to end an Administration that lets companies like Halliburton ship their old boss to the White House and get special treatment while they ship American jobs overseas. We need to end an Administration that lets WorldCom bilks Iowa taxpayers out of their jobs and savings and then rewards them by letting them go without paying any taxes of their own. And we need to end an Administration where polluters who contribute to the Republican Party get invited to secret meetings in the White House where they're allowed to rewrite clean air and clean water laws.

It used to be that lobbyists and CEOs slipped in and out of the revolving door between government and corporate America. But in this Administration, they've kicked in the revolving door, torn down the wall between public service and private profit, and stampeded into positions of power all over the White House. Today's cabinet members are yesterday's corporate board members, and former foreign lobbyists are put in charge of the very laws that send American jobs overseas.

If you're a lobbyist looking for a secret task force, you're invited right in. But if you're laid off and looking for unemployment benefits, they'll make you cool your heels in the front hall.

And if you're with big oil, big pharmaceuticals, or big HMOs, you'll get a big time slot for your meeting. But if you're a firefighter trying to get the equipment you need, they'll tell you the calendar's full.

In this White House, if you're a corporate crony calling for another tax giveaway, they'll put you right through. But if you're a middle-class family calling for some tax fairness, you'll have to leave a message,

I'm running for President because the American people are calling for help and it's about time that someone in the White House picked up the phone. Because middle-class families have an agenda too and it's about time someone in the White House held a special meeting for them. Because hardworking Americans who are building this economy want fairness and it's about time someone in the White House cut them a deal. Here's our message for the special interest lobbyists and crooked CEOs who call this White House home: Don't let the door hit you on the way out. We're coming in and we're cleaning house.

That's what this fight is all about. We're fighting for a government that listens to the voices of every American, not just those with the connections and the campaign cash. Where the humble hopes of hardworking families are not smothered by the heavy hand of special interests. We're fighting for an America where the decisions that shape our country's future are made not in the smoky backrooms of K Street, but by citizen activists in the open air of Main Street communities all across our country. We're fighting for a White House that's not the site of a daily reunion by old buddies looking for new favors, but a place for the union of voices with nothing but one fancy word in their title: "American." When I'm President, with your help, these are the fights we're going to win.

I'm ready to wage this fight - and I'm ready to win this fight. I've been there for the tough fights - and I haven't backed down. I've beaten them before - and I'm ready to do it again. I've been there when the doors are closed and the smooth lobbyists get down to business. But I've stood my ground and fought for what's right. I took on corporate polluters when acid rain was threatening our children. I took on the big insurance companies to help make sure people could keep their health care when they moved from job to job. I led the fight to stop drilling in the Alaskan wilderness, and I'm fighting now to stop George Bush from letting special interests with special access rewrite the Clean Air Act. I've taken on the special interests and won.

And as President, I'm going to do it again. And I'm going to keep doing it until we've given everyday Americans the country they deserve. I'm going to stand up to the special interests and stand on the side of ordinary American families. And I won't leave their side until the job is done.

It seems like every campaign season, we're always talking about sharing prosperity and bringing back jobs and making health care affordable. And for hardworking Americans, it always seems like a better life is just beyond their reach.

Just when parents think they've put enough savings away for their kids' college tuition, big corporations lobby Congress to eliminate their overtime pay.

Just when families think they can afford health care, insurance companies get to raise their premiums to a price that's breaks their budget.

Just when children think it's safe to breathe the air and drink the water where they live, corporate polluters get the green light to dump toxic waste in their neighborhood.

Bringing jobs and prosperity to America have been a core commitment of our party since the beginning, and we have stood up for affordable health care ever since Harry Truman first fought for it in the 1940s. But many times, powerful special interests have beat back our efforts at reform. Well this time, we're gonna beat them.

And we're going to start by changing the rules of the road in Washington. In my first 100 days, we will reinstate the five-year ban on lobbying so that government officials cannot cash in by peddling influence. And we'll shine the light on the secret deals in Washington by requiring every meeting with a lobbyist or any special interest deal inserted into a bill by a lobbyist be made public. "We the people" is the first line of our Constitution. And when I'm President, the American people won't be last in line in our country anymore.

And once we've changed the rules of the road, we can start putting America on the road to prosperity, good jobs, and health care that Americans can afford.

You deserve better than a special interest recovery. Last month, the headlines read "Bush Trumpets Economic Recovery," but the only thing certain about that trumpet is that its sound is heard only by a privileged few.

They may be celebrating this so-called recovery in the White House and on Wall Street, but it's not so rosy in places all over Iowa and across America. In an economy that grew at 8 percent last quarter, the average American got to bring home an extra three cents for every hour of work. Three cents. That's the slowest wage growth in 40 years. America has a problem when the workers who help build this economy are pocketing pennies while the few bragging about a recovery are bagging billions.

America can do better than a Bush-league recovery - we can have a real recovery that reaches every American. And as President, we'll fight together to get us there.

In my first 100 days as President, I will fight to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so that we can invest in education and health care. And we will increase the minimum wage so that working families can make ends meet.

We'll beat back the special interest job market. In this economy, corporate profits are up a record 46 percent. But George Bush has lost more jobs than any President since Herbert Hoover. I'm not satisfied with a job-loss recovery, and to put America back to work, we need to put George Bush and Dick Cheney out of work.

When I'm President, we will scour the tax code and close every single loophole for companies that take jobs offshore. We will reward companies that create jobs here in America with a new manufacturing jobs tax credit and by helping with health care costs. And we will give the American people the information they need so that they can choose to support American jobs staying on American soil. A quarter of a million call center jobs have been sent overseas in the past three years. That's why today I'm announcing that if you're doing business over the phone, you have a right to know if the company you're calling is using American labor or sending the calls - and the jobs - overseas. You deserve to know whether your calls are answered by workers in Iowa or India. And when I'm President, you will.

It's bad enough that companies are sending so many jobs overseas, but the last thing we need is to send government jobs overseas. Today, the jobs for taxpayer-funded government services in New Jersey are being filled by offshore labor. When I am President, I'll make sure that if government contracts can be performed by American workers, then they'll get the jobs.

If you need a reminder of what's at stake in this election, consider this: Starting up the country of origin labeling program is going to be delayed for two years - in a vote that's scheduled to occur on January 20th - the day after the Iowa Caucuses. It's no surprise that the Iowa Cattlemen support country of origin labeling even though the National Cattlemen oppose it. And we need a President who will hear the voice of small farmers and everyday Iowans who know we need this important legislation - and need it now.

Finally, we need to beat back the special interest health care system. George Bush promised us action on health care when he ran for President. But every year he's been in office, your premiums have risen by double digits. Every year he's been in office, another million Americans have lost their health insurance. And this President hasn't lifted a finger to help. Instead, he's been fighting for the big insurance companies and HMOs that line his campaign coffers-the same ones that have caused so much of the hurt in the first place.

In my first 100 days as President, I'll offer affordable health care for all Americans by cutting costs and stopping skyrocketing premiums. The average health care cost per person in Iowa is about $4,000. Under my plan, you'll see real savings of up to $1,000 on that bill. No one in this race will fight harder than I will to cover the uninsured and get to universal coverage, but I also think it's time someone in government stood up and fought for the Americans who have health insurance but are getting killed when they try to pay their bills. And I'm going to fight for them.

If you want to see a prime example of Republican's working for powerful interests, just look at this latest Medicare bill. This bill is less about prescription drug benefits and more a prescription to benefit big drug companies. Right here in Iowa, the price of prescription drugs has risen by over 10% in one year! Not surprisingly, the big drug companies and HMO's spent $139 million lobbying Congress and they're going to get $139 billion in return. That's not a bad investment. Say what you want about President Bush, its clear his powerful campaign contributors get what they pay for. But we're getting left with the tab.

But drug companies aren't ready to settle for making millions of off seniors in the free market - they're also pulling every string they know of to stifle competition and create their own special interest market where it's illegal to send back cheaper versions of the same exact drugs from Canada. American seniors would save millions a year on the very same prescriptions that Canadian seniors take, but big drug companies just won't give them a break - and this President stand on their side. I'm going to stand on the side of seniors who need our help.

As your President, I will wake up every day ready to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. That also means standing up for those who hardly ever have someone fighting for them. America's poor and working poor - and Americans with disabilities. I think of my friend Max Cleland - an American hero who overcame these barriers. He left three limbs on the battlefield after serving his country bravely in Vietnam, but never stopped moving when he returned home to America. He moved obstacles that stood in his way, he moved people with his courage and strength, and with a lot of hard work, he eventually moved into the United States Senate. No one in America has done more than Iowa's Tom Harkin to advance the cause of Americans with Disabilities. And when I am President, the voices of the disabled - and the whisper of all those to weak to shout - will reach the White House once more.

Today, as our campaign launches "Women's Voices on the Trail," I also want to say how grateful I am for the support of the many talented and accomplished women who will take their voices on the campaign trail in the coming weeks and months. Women know what it's like to be shut out of this White House just as well as anyone. Their voices have been silenced and their choices threatened by an Administration that welcomes ring-wing special interests and extremist judges with open arms. It's time those voices were heard once again.

The issues that were once consigned to a corner called "women's issues," need to be the concern of all of us. It's time for an equal day's pay for an equal day's work to become a reality and not just a slogan. And whether it is choice or Title Nine or affirmative action - all Americans pay the price when progress is reversed. When I am President, women's voices will not just travel on the campaign trail, they will sound openly from the workplace to the doctor's office, echo in the White House, and ring proudly from positions within my Administration.

I'm running for President because I'm going to fight for Americans who need someone on their side. Unlike George Bush, I believe America's strength doesn't just come from captains of industry or corporate leaders on the cover of Fortune. I believe it 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 ask for special favors or special recognition. They simply want fairness.

A salary that pays the bills. A health care system where a check-up doesn't empty the family checkbook. A workplace that's fair. College tuition that's affordable. And a chance for their children to have a better life than their parents. That's not too much to ask for. And the American people have waited too long for someone to deliver. The time for waiting is over. I'm ready to get it done. And I ask you to join me in this fight.

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