microphone at podium

Democratic Party Response to President Bush's "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union"

January 28, 1992

Rebuttal Delivered by Speaker of the House of Representatives Tom Foley

[The President's speech of which this is a response, can be found by clicking this link.]

My fellow Americans.

Tonight I speak for the Democratic Party. But I also speak for working families and the middle class; for those who worked hard to move ahead, but now find themselves falling behind; for so many of strength and spirit and skill who watch with increasing uncertainty as so many of their hopes have been threatened.

This should be America's high noon.

But instead, after winning both a war in the Persian Gulf a year ago and the historic struggle of the last half century against Communism, we face an ominous, persistent recession which reminds us anew of President Kennedy's warning that "this nation cannot be strong abroad if it is weak at home."

At home in America today, thousands wait on a frozen morning outside a hotel in Chicago for just a chance to apply for a job, no matter what the work or wages.

At home in America today, the largest auto maker in the world, which once seemed to be the most secure of all corporations, announces that it will have to lay off 75,000 people in order to survive. Hammers Average Earnings

At home in America today, the average earnings increase of our workers has declined from first in the world to 10th. This year, millions more of our workers find themselves unemployed and their family's health uninsured. Many state governments are slashing education and other services and raising taxes. The nations whose freedom we protected in the past continue to surpass us in high paying jobs and the industries of the future.

The standard of living of the American people is a first and fundamental measure of the state of the American union.

So the urgent, overriding task of 1992 is to restore growth and jobs. And the great challenge of the 1990's is to reclaim our industrial edge, revive our economic leadership and make America once more the most prosperous and powerful economy on earth.

For too long we were told to wait—that things would get better on their own. There was even an effort to talk us out of the recession—or to tell us that it wasn't really happening at all.

But the truth finally became all too painful—and all too clear. The supply-side, trickle-down decade of the 1980's finally led to an economy in decline, and left us month after month with a national Administration adrift in domestic policy, seemingly without ideas and without apparent commitment or energy to move America ahead.

In the midst of this recession, the Administration even resisted extending unemployment benefits; Congress had to pass it three times last year before the President would sign it. Today, before the President had sent his message, Congress took action to renew that extension, and we now welcome the President's support. A Democratic Tax Cut

For many months, Democrats have set forth an agenda for change. We have proposed a tax cut for the middle class to help lift the consumer demand that fuels our economy. We have demanded policies to bring down the trade barriers that lock American products out of markets from Europe to Asia. We've called for national health insurance to make health care a fundamental right of all Americans.

Here too we will seek common ground with the President—and the Republicans. To achieve all this and more, we will work with him and with them to do what is best for the country.

But we will also stand our ground when basic principles are at stake. We will not agree to do the wrong thing simply for the sake of doing something. In short, we seek a fundamental change from the unsuccessful economic policies of the past 12 years.

When we say a middle-class tax cut, we mean exactly that. Not more of the tax cuts of the 1980's, which gave most of the benefits to the very few and left most of our people actually paying more in taxes.

We will insist that this time, the benefits must go to working families, not to the privileged.

We will insist that a middle-class tax cut be paid for not by taking money that should go to schools and health care, but by calling on the richest of our citizens, at long last, to pay their fair share. Seeds of the Recession

We will oppose any efforts to misuse the present crisis as an excuse to repeat the worst errors of the last decade. Then we sowed the seeds of the recession we are now in; we must not go down that path again.

During the past two Administrations, there have been consistent efforts to undo government protection of public health and safety. Today, the hurt of the unemployed is no excuse to undermine regulatory rules that protect their families and all of us from pollution, deceptive advertising, unsafe food and medicine, workplace injury and death. This is not a way to create jobs or make American business prosperous.

Nor will we accept the kind of capital gains tax cut that will lead largely to accelerated profit-taking, not accelerated investment. One can play a lot of games with statistics, but the bottom line is that two-thirds of all the money from the Administration's capital gains tax cut would go to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers. Instead, we need targeted incentives to reward companies that build and buy now—that hire instead of laying-off.

The President said tonight that when you aim at the well off you usually hit the little guy. The truth is, for 12 years they have been promising to help the little guy and then giving all the breaks to the well off, and it is time that that stopped. As Democrats our purpose is not just to end this recession but to begin a new time of economic growth and progress.

So we will propose a new commitment to civilian technology and research. For half a century American weapons were the best in the world; as we enter the new century, America must build the best consumer and industrial products. Seeking Open Markets

We will pursue a trade policy that opens markets on equal terms so that when we buy from Europe and Asia they will be buying from us as well. We will demand far-reaching changes in education and training so that our students will be the first, not the last, among the industrial nations in science and math—and so our workers will have the skills and the chance to compete successfully with anyone, anywhere.

We will also fight for fundamental change in the area of health care.

Today, millions of Americans have no health insurance at all—and even those who do have no assurance that they're safe. People worry that if they get sick their coverage will be canceled. Premiums and out-of-pocket costs continue to multiply. Workers who lose their jobs suddenly find their children without health insurance.

This issue will be a test of our national character.

Few Americans realize that the United States and South Africa are the only economically advanced nations that do not guarantee the health care of their people.

We will fight to change that in this Congress—and in the next one—as long as it takes—because lives and health are at stake, and so is the financial health of America's families.

It is not enough to make minor changes, to tinker with the edges while tolerating basic flaws. We want to replace the status quo, not protect it. We want to help the middle-class family, not tax its health care benefits.

It is time for national health insurance. It is time to cover every American. It is time to control costs. Because otherwise we will continue to pay more and more for less and less.

And soon the burden will break the budgets of middle-class families, of business and of government at every level.

Health care is one of the great unfinished tasks of our society. Almost 60 years ago America decided that people should age with dignity—and we passed Social Security. Now we must decide that families will live with dignity—and pass national health insurance.

Finally there are other, urgent issues of basic justice that also go to our character as a nation.

So we will oppose any effort from any quarter to widen and exploit racial division—or lessen our commitment to break down the barriers and at long last fulfill the pledge that millions of us make every day, from the schoolhouses of America to the floor of the House of Representatives: that we shall be "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Appeals to race should have no place in our politics or our national life. Civil Rights Promise

We will stand for another civil right of every American—the civil right to be protected from violence and crime.

Election after election, we hear tough talk; this year we will pass tougher laws if the President will ask the Republicans in the Senate to stop filibustering the crime bill that has already been passed by the House of Representatives. We will stand—and we will fight—for a woman's right to choose. If the Supreme Court removes the guarantee of choice from the Constitution of the United States, this Congress will write it into the laws of the United States.

We will stand for day care and family leave, so that workers who take time off to help a sick parent or child will no longer risk their jobs.

In closing, let me reaffirm our essential resolve—which is to make America work again. For when the economy is wrong, nothing else is right.

We cannot undo all the mistakes of the past 12 years in a single year, or in a single Congress. The Administration has waited a long time to act. Over and over we have said we can fight this recession, and we will.

We can change this nation fundamentally, and we have to.

It is true the cold war is over; the old world is past; the ways of thinking and leading will not do.

It is time now to turn our attention to our own land and to our own people, to rebuild its economic strength and standard of life, to master the very different challenges of this new era.

Only a few times have Americans stood at so decisive a turning point. Now, with all of us working together, let's get this nation moving again.

Rebuttal Speech, Democratic Party Response to President Bush's "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/309031

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