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John Edwards: Press Release - Edwards Delivers Major Speech On Lifting Up America's Middle Class
Edwards Proposes Middle Class Rising Agenda; Outlines Bold Vision to Help All Hard-working Families Achieve the American Dream
Ames, Iowa – On day seven of the Main Street Express bus tour, Senator John Edwards delivered a major speech on his bold vision to lift up middle-class families and make sure that all Americans have a fair shot at the American Dream. At this critical time in our nation's history, with the economic divide wider now than at any other time in the last thirty years, Edwards unveiled his Middle Class Rising agenda that will help build One America where the middle class prospers and all hardworking Americans can find good jobs, save for the future, and have guaranteed health care and retirement security.
"America was built on an idea – that all of us are equal," Edwards said in a town hall in Ames. "The idea that how hard you work, and what kind of choices you make will determine the kind of life you build, and what you pass onto your children – but not the circumstances you're born into, never that. The greatness of America is that promise – that every generation will leave its children a better life. That is our social compact with the middle class – the promise that if you work hard and do what's right, you'll be able to build a better life for yourself and your family. But today, that compact is being threatened.
"Here's what's happened," Edwards continued. "Corporate greed and political calculation have taken over our government and sold out the middle class. Our government is selling out their future at the command of lobbyists and their corporate clients and we have to rise up together and stop it.
"We need a president who will take these powers on and fight to get you your voice back, and your government back. We need a president who is going to fight every day to make sure that all Americans can find good jobs, save for the future, and be guaranteed health care and retirement security. We need a president who is going to lift up the middle class."
Because of corporate greed and a broken system in Washington, almost half of all economic growth over the past 20 years has gone to the top one percent of American families. Middle-class incomes have stagnated for the past seven years, the number of Americans living in poverty is growing every year, and families are working longer hours, but finding it harder to get by.
To address this growing inequality and help the middle class rise again, Edwards' Middle Class Rising agenda will:
Create good jobs: Edwards will invest in renewable sources of energy to create new industries and at least 1 million new, good-paying jobs. He will pursue a trade policy that ends tax loopholes for companies that send American jobs overseas, and end the NAFTA trade model. Edwards will also raise the minimum wage, reform our tax code, build career ladders, and strengthen organized labor.
Give middle-class families the tools to build a secure financial future: Edwards will create Universal Retirement Accounts that people can take with them from job to job, and to respond to the mortgage crisis, he will pass a tough new national law to prevent predatory lending abuses. Edwards will also reign in credit card and other abusive lending practices by creating a new consumer watchdog agency.
Remove the burdens that are weighing families down: Edwards will help families afford rising home heating costs, make sure that college is affordable for everyone, so that every child can have a fair shot at the American Dream, help people balance their work and home lives by making sure that workplace policies are keeping up with changes in the economy, through expanding early education programs, providing paid leave, including sick leave, to all workers, and expanding job protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Create universal health care in America: Edwards' top domestic priority will be making sure that every man, woman and child in America is covered with high-quality care.
Edwards was joined in Ames by acclaimed actor Kevin Bacon, who also traveled with the campaign yesterday as part of Edwards' Main Street Express bus tour across the state. During the eight-day tour, Edwards is highlighting his plans to fight for regular families like the ones he grew up with in his small, rural hometown. Later today, Edwards will hold events in Colfax and Ottumwa, and on Monday, he will wrap up the tour with events in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and a finale event in Davenport.
More information on the Main Street Express can be found at http://www.johnedwards.com/Iowa. Attached are excerpts from Edwards' prepared remarks. Also attached is Edwards Middle Class Rising agenda.
Excerpts of prepared remarks by Senator John Edwards
Lifting Up the Middle Class Ames, Iowa December 16, 2007
"America was built on an idea – that all of us are equal. The idea that how hard you work, and what kind of choices you make will determine the kind of life you build, and what you pass onto your children – but not the circumstances you're born into, never that. The greatness of America is that promise – that every generation will leave its children a better life. That is our social compact with the middle class – the promise that if you work hard and do what's right, you'll be able to build a better life for yourself and your family. But today, that compact is being threatened.
"Here's what's happened – corporate greed and political calculation have taken over our government and sold out the middle class. Washington isn't looking out for the middle class because Washington doesn't work for the middle class anymore...That is wrong. It doesn't say life, liberty and the pursuit of endless corporate profit in the Declaration of Independence. America is about opportunity for you... and your families, your children. But our government is selling out their future at the command of lobbyists and their corporate clients and we have to rise up together and stop it. We have to rise up and say, no more. Not on our watch.
"We need a president who will take these powers on and fight to get you your voice back, and your government back. We need a president who is going to fight every day to make sure that all Americans can find good jobs, save for the future, and be guaranteed health care and retirement security. We need a president who is going to lift up the middle class. That is why today, I am proposing my Middle Class Rising agenda, a comprehensive plan to help hardworking families get ahead, and make sure that all Americans have a fair shot at the American Dream.
"None of this is going to be easy. I hear all these candidates talking about how we're going to bring about the big, bold change that America needs. And I hear some people saying that they think we can sit at a table with drug companies, oil companies and insurance companies, and they will give their power away. That is a fantasy. We have a fight in front of us. We have a fight for the future of this country. And the change we need will not happen easily. We need someone who is going to step into that arena on your behalf, someone who is ready for that fight.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have been in this fight my whole life. From the time I was young, until when I was a lawyer. For twenty years, I walked into courtrooms representing families like yours against big corporations and their armies of lawyers. Every time, they looked at me and said, we can win. But they didn't. Because I beat them. I beat them. And I beat them again. And I learned that it may not be easy to beat these powerful interests, but if you're right, and you're willing to stand up, you can win.
"That's what the American people have always done. Every time in our history that the American people have been faced with great challenges, they rose up and met them. They made certain that they left America better than they found it; they left their children a better life than they had. That's what your parents did. It's what your grandparents did. And it's what my parents did for me.
"I take it very personally when I see powerful, well-financed interests taking over this democracy, and taking it away from regular Americans, people like my parents. We have got to reclaim this democracy for them. For you. For your children. For your grandchildren. Because if we don't, we're going to have to look our children in the eye and say, "we're leaving this mess to you." Our parents didn't do that. Our grandparents didn't do it. Twenty generations of Americans who came before us didn't do it. And I'll tell you something: we're not going to do it. We're going to make absolutely certain that America rises again."
Middle Class Rising: A Plan to Strengthen America's Middle Class
The social compact with the middle class is under siege because big corporations and special interests have taken over Washington. That compact says that if you work hard and do what's right, you'll get some security and the chance to build a better life for yourself and your family. But today, middle class families are not rising, and the gap between the haves and everyone else has grown wider than at any time since the great Depression.
The American middle class is struggling. Wages are stagnant even though the economy is growing, while the cost of middle-class essentials like health care and child care continues to grow. The basic American bargain is breaking down.
Our economy is growing only at the top: Forty percent of economic growth over the past 20 years went to the top 1 percent of households. Income inequality is at its highest since the Great Depression. [EPI, 2006; CBPP, 2007]
Families are working longer hours, but finding it harder to get by: Families work 10 more hours a week than they did 20 years ago. But middle-class incomes have stagnated for the past seven years. [DOL, 2007]
Higher costs for the basics: Costs for middle-class essentials – including housing, health care, college, child care and transportation – have all outpaced wage growth. A child born in 2003 will cost middle-class families 15 percent more to raise than a child born in 1960, after adjusting for inflation. [Draut, 2005; USDA, 2003]
Powerful corporate interests have taken control of our government: The number of Washington lobbyists has tripled to 36,000 since 1996, more than 60 for every member of Congress. Their impact can be seen across our society: a broken health care system, reliance on old sources of energy, the neglect of poverty, unfair terms of credit, and subsidies for corporate agribusiness. [Senate Office of Public Records, 2006]
Losing hope for the American dream: More Americans are worried that the next generation will face fewer economic opportunities and less security and mobility. Only 30 percent of Americans think life will be better for the next generation. [Pew, 2006]
Today, John Edwards outlined his Middle Class Rising plan to restore the American dream and meet the moral test passed by 20 generations before us: to leave a better future to our children than we inherited. We must strengthen America's middle class to make sure that all Americans have a fair shot at the American Dream.
Create Good Jobs that Pay Enough to Support a Family
Invest in the Industries of the Future: Renewable sources of energy – including ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar – can create new industries and at least 1 million new jobs. Edwards will establish the New Energy Economy Fund to jumpstart renewable energies with start-up capital and train over 150,000 workers for Green Collar jobs. He will also invest in other sources of innovation such as life sciences, technology and private-sector research.
Enact Smarter Trade Policies: Iowa has seen the results of unfair trade – losing more than 17,000 jobs in the last six years due to growing trading deficits with China. Trade deals need to make sense for American workers, not just corporations. Edwards will reject NAFTA-style trade deals and make sure any new trade agreements include strong labor and environmental standards and will vigorously enforce American workers' rights in existing agreements. He will also expand trade adjustment assistance to do much more for the workers and communities that are hurt by global competition. [EPI, 2007]
Eliminate Tax Incentives to Move Offshore: The U.S. tax code encourages multinational corporations to invest overseas by allowing them to indefinitely defer taxation on their foreign profits. In practice, this means that multinational companies pay little or no tax on their foreign profits. Edwards will eliminate the benefit of deferral in low-tax countries, ensuring that American companies' profits are taxed when earned at either the U.S. rate or a comparable foreign rate, to eliminate any incentive to move overseas.
Make Work Pay by Raising the Minimum Wage: Under Gov. Culver, Iowa has been a leader in raising the minimum wage. But even at its 2008 level of $7.25, the earnings of a single parent with two children will still be $2,000 below the federal poverty line. Edwards will set a national goal of a minimum wage that equals half the average wage. He will raise the minimum wage by 75 cents a year until it reaches $9.50 in 2012 and then set it to rise automatically with average wages, ensuring that all workers share in America's growth. [HHS, 2007]
Reform the Tax Code to Reward Work, Not Wealth: As a result of President Bush's regressive tax policies, the share of the federal tax burden borne by taxpayers in the middle and fourth quintiles is increasing while the share of taxes paid by the top 1 percent fell. Edwards will overhaul the tax code with new tax breaks to strengthen the middle-class pillars of saving, work, and family. He will also ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes by raising the tax rate on capital gains to 28 percent for the most fortunate taxpayers and repealing the Bush income tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 a year. [Tax Policy Center, 2006]
Build Career Ladders: Two of the fields with the largest predicted job growth – health care and education –have both low-end and high-end positions and offer the potential for mobility. Edwards will invest in career ladders in these and other fields, helping low-wage workers to train on the job, gain new skills, and move into better jobs. For example, health care aides could become certified nurse assistants and registered nurses.
Strengthen Workers' Right to Organize: Union families earn up to 30 percent more than non-union families, but union membership has fallen from 30 percent of private-sector workers in 1973 to just 8 percent today. The right to choose a union is poorly enforced, full of loopholes, and routinely violated by employers. Edwards will enact the Employee Free Choice Act, vigorously enforce labor laws, and ban the use of permanent replacements for striking workers. [BLS, 2007; Census Bureau, 2007]
Give Americans the Tools to Build a Secure Retirement
Create Universal Retirement Accounts that Move from Job to Job: Only 27 percent of households within 20 years of retirement have adequate retirement savings. Americans who retire with a pension have nearly twice the annual income of those who depend only on Social Security and personal savings, but too few middle-class families are able to start saving. Edwards will create a new universal retirement account available to all workers without another pension. Workers will be able to build up these savings accounts over the course of their careers, regardless of how many times they change jobs. Edwards will match worker contributions up to dollar-for-dollar on the first $500 with a new Get Ahead tax credit, far more valuable than the 10 percent or 15 percent tax deduction that many workers get today on retirement savings. [EPI, 2006; PRC, 2007; Gale, Gruber and Orszag, 2006]
End the Housing Crisis: Edwards has proposed a comprehensive plan to lead us out of the foreclosure crisis and help families keep their homes, without bailing out irresponsible investors and speculators. He will go further than the Bush-Paulson plan to give every family an opportunity to renegotiate the terms of their mortgage, with counseling and small amounts of aid from a new Home Rescue Fund. He will also let families adjust the terms of their mortgages in bankruptcy, like investors can on their second homes and investment properties. Edwards will prevent future crises by passing a strong national law against predatory lending and creating a new federal regulator for financial services products.
Rein in Credit Card and Other Abusive Lending: Half of Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck – meaning millions of families rely on short-term credit just to pay the bills. Middle-class families are facing a radically transformed credit environment because interest rates were deregulated in 1978, which has led to looser lending standards and higher rates and fees. Edwards will require minimum protections on credit cards, such as restoring a 10-day grace before late fees and applying interest rate increases to future balances only. He will also create a new consumer watchdog agency – the Family Savings and Credit Commission – whose sole purpose will be to crack down on these kinds of predatory practices. [MetLife, 2003; Draut, 2006]
Remove the Burdens that Are Weighing Families Down
Make College More Affordable: The three-quarters of Iowa's graduating college students who have debt owe $23,700, on average -- 25 percent more debt than the national average. Roughly one in five young adults reports that student debt caused them to delay starting a family and forced them to change careers. Edwards will create a national College for Everyone initiative to pay public-college tuition, fees and books for students who work part-time, take a college-prep curriculum in high school, and stay out of trouble. [TICAS, 2007; Nellie Mae, 2003]
Offer Universal Preschool and Expand Affordable Child Care: More than two-thirds of mothers are working, most of them full time, but our workplace practices and public policies have not kept up with this new reality. Child care costs more than a rent for a family with two children. Edwards will create a Great Promise early childhood education program for every four-year-old. For younger children, he will more than double the child care tax credit and create a national Smart Start initiative to work with local nonprofits to make child care higher quality, more available, and more affordable. [BLS, 2005; NACCRRA, 2006]
Create Paid Family and Medical Leave: Edwards will create a $2 billion National Family Trust to offer paid family and medical leave benefits to all workers by 2014, and he will make the federal government a model employer with a generous paid leave benefit. He will also expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover 13 million more workers by reducing the threshold for exemption for the law from 50 workers to 25 workers and help long-term part-time workers. In addition, Edwards will require businesses to offer their workers seven paid sick days a year, with pro-rated leave for part-timers.
Help Families with Rising Home Heating Costs: John Edwards has championed the need to take on big oil and gas companies to halt global warming and build a new energy economy based on efficiency and renewable energy. Edwards has called on Congress to release some of the nation's home heating and oil reserves to bring down prices and finally fully fund the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which could help more than 3 million more families. He has also proposed more than doubling assistance for weatherization programs and called on neighbors to help weatherize the homes of vulnerable seniors this winter. Finally, he has proposed helping states and non-profits offer low- or no-interest emergency loans so that squeezed families do not fall prey to high-cost lenders.
Guarantee True Universal Health Care
Guarantee True Universal Health Care: Forty-seven million Americans live without health insurance. Edwards will take on the big insurance and drug companies and guarantee true universal health care for every man, woman and child in America. Employers will have to help cover their employees, the government will make insurance affordable with new reforms and subsidies, and all Americans will have insurance. His plan offers every American the option of a public plan that could evolve to a single payer system. [Census Bureau, 2007]
Deliver Better Care at Lower Cost: Health care costs have consistently grown faster than wages for almost 50 years. Over the past five years alone, families have seen premiums grow by 90 percent while benefits have been cut. Edwards will take on the insurance and drug companies to cut needless waste in the health care system. He will also take much needed common-sense steps such as emphasizing preventive and primary care, requiring electronic medical records, and identifying and publicizing the most cost-effective treatments. Together these steps will save the average family $2,000 to 2,500 a year. [Kaiser Family Foundation, 2006]
Citation: John Edwards: "Press Release - Edwards Delivers Major Speech On Lifting Up America's Middle Class," December 16, 2007. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=93805.