John F. Kerry photo

"A Jobs-First Economic Plan": Remarks of John Kerry

March 26, 2004

Before I begin, I couldn't be in this place, on this day, without saying a few words about the passing of a five foot giant named Mille Jeffrey. Her contribution to this school and this state and this country does not need to be recounted. But I think those of us who had the honor to know her – and indeed all Americans who believe in justice and equality for all our people – owe her a huge debt of gratitude. I'll say on a personal note that she showed how riding a Harley is really done. Millie once said, "I didn't want to help people adjust to an unjust world. I wanted to change the world." Millie Jeffrey did just that – and we will miss her.

This election is about a new direction for our country – and a new direction for our economy –where we restore fiscal responsibility, help our workers become competitive, and bring back jobs. In this campaign, I have traveled this nation talking to people who are the backbone of our economy – from computer programmers to auto workers, from nurses to firefighters and police officers, from teachers to small business owners.

Over and over again, I have been reminded of the optimistic, patriotic and entrepreneurial spirit of Americans who passionately believe in the best hopes of America. Yet, talking to them I have also seen a sense of injustice that needs to be reversed. Under this President, more and more of our people have begun to lose confidence that our economy is moving in the right direction. Americans, who in the 1990s never felt more confident, now wonder whether our economy will ever again provide good, middle-class jobs. Whether our leaders are more concerned with special interests and the most fortunate than with ensuring that our trading partners play by the rules or that we have the education and technology we need to compete and win the future. Too many of the people I have spoken with in town meetings, coffee shops and malls across this nation have lost confidence that we have a President who wakes up every morning ready to fight for their jobs, their families and our economic future. With your help, that's the President I intend to be.

The Americans I've met – no matter where they come or what their walk of life – live by a basic set of values. They work hard, pay their bills, and try to do what's right for their children and their communities. But this Administration hasn't honored those values – and it certainly hasn't lived by them.

Instead of giving us an economy that creates jobs and opportunity, our present leadership has given us wedge issues designed to divide Americans. Instead of a real economic plan, they have given us the old politics of negative attacks.

This President doesn't have a record to run on, but a record to run from. A record of negative job growth and stagnant incomes, with long-term unemployment at its highest level in twenty years and manufacturing jobs at a fifty year low. Under President Bush, three million more Americans have slipped into poverty and four million more have lost their health insurance. Families struggle to pay the biggest increase in college tuition in history. Bankruptcies and foreclosures are the highest they have ever been. We've gone from record surpluses to record deficits. America cannot afford a President who's the first to lose jobs since Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression.

When Franklin Roosevelt sought the Presidency, he pledged "bold, persistent experimentation." "Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try something else, but above all, try something." But President Bush took a method and tried it. It failed. But he stubbornly refuses to admit it, and his only answer to failure is more of the same.

He tried tax giveaways for the wealthy and the budget went into deficit and the country lost jobs. So he tried it again, and the budget went deeper into deficit and the country lost more jobs. He tried it a third time, and the country went into record deficit – and all those wasted billions still haven't brought back the jobs America's lost over the last three years. Now his major jobs proposal is tax cuts that won't even take effect until seven years from now.

You know, economic plans aren't just about dollars and decimals. They're about choices. Time after time, this Administration has put ideology first and jobs last. Today, I'm announcing a new economic plan for America that will put jobs first. We will renew American competitiveness, make tough budget choices, and invest in our future. My pledge – and my plan – is for 10 million new jobs in the next four years.

This is a realistic plan. I won't tell you that we can bring back every lost industry or protect every current job. But my plan will enable our economy to create jobs and keep more good jobs here in America. It offers a long-term strategy to win our economic future. We won't do it through government make-work, but by making our economy work so that businesses put Americans back to work.

I will set out the details of this economic plan in the weeks ahead. I'll focus on raising American competitiveness:

-- Spurring the growth of new industries like the broadband technology that will dominate the future.

-- Lowering health care costs that put American businesses at a competitive and price disadvantage.

-- Making sure our children have the education and our workers have the training and skills they need.

-- And lowering energy costs which burden businesses and consumers and creating half a million new jobs in renewable fuels to make America energy independent of Mideast oil in ten years.

I will outline specific steps to restore economic confidence and fiscal discipline by cutting the budget deficit in half in four years – making the federal government smaller but smarter, more effective and less expensive.

So I'm not running just to oppose present failures, but to propose new policies. This Spring, in a series of speeches, I will tell the American people, in specific terms, how we can enable our economy to create those 10 million new jobs. Today, I begin with a proposal for major tax reforms to help our workers compete in the global marketplace.

Our Jobs First economic plan will end laws that encourage companies to export jobs while plowing back every dollar we save into new incentives to help companies create and keep jobs in America.

We now have a tax code that does more to reward companies for moving overseas than it does to reward them for creating jobs here in America. So if I am elected President, I will fight for the most sweeping international tax law reform in forty years – a plan to replace tax incentives to take jobs offshore with new incentives for job creation on our own shores.

Let me explain.

Today in America if a company is trying to choose between locating a factory in Michigan or Malaysia, our tax code has a feature called "deferral" that provides major tax savings if they locate abroad. So companies are driven to take advantage of legal tax incentives that have been on the books for too long and do not serve the economic interests of our nation.

A company with $10 million in profits in Michigan will pay taxes at the standard corporate tax rate; but if that company moves to Malaysia and makes that same $10 million in profits, they can avoid paying US taxes – perhaps forever – as long as they keep the money overseas. They have a special tax incentive to send jobs overseas that may have little or nothing to do with normal market or economic forces.

The reform I'm proposing today is based on a simple principle: Money made by American businesses overseas should be taxed at the same rate as money made by businesses here at home. This won't affect American companies that locate production or serves in a foreign country to sell to consumers in that country. But it will apply to those who use those foreign locations to export products back to the United States or to other nations. If a company is torn between creating jobs here or overseas, we now have a tax code that tells you to go overseas. That's crazy. And if I am President, it will end.

The fact is that, taken together, the companies take advantage of the current tax laws don't pay a dollar in taxes. We actually end up paying them $8 billion a year to send their money and ship our jobs overseas. My proposal offers American companies a reasonable transition to adapt to this sweeping change. I don't want to punish anyone. But I believe it is long past time that we put our jobs first and put tax benefits that discourage jobs in America out of business.

And I also propose to use the money we save from ending this tax giveaway for outsourcing to finance smart tax cuts that will create jobs here in America.

Last August, I proposed a new jobs credit that would give manufacturers a break on the payroll taxes for every new worker they hire. I believe we should expand it to industries outside manufacturing where jobs are endangered by outsourcing – so that we help create more jobs, whether it comes to cars or computer software or call centers.

Second, the savings from ending the tax incentives for outsourcing can also expand jobs tax credit to cover all small businesses and their employees. For most small business owners, that means that if they create jobs, they will pay lower taxes in a Kerry Administration than they do under President Bush.

Third, savings can finance a 25% tax credit for small businesses when they provide health care for their workers. The rise in health care costs under this Administration has hit everyone hard, but no one harder than small business owners and their employees. As the Chair of the Small Business committee in the Senate, I saw again and again how small businesses can be the engine of job creation – and those jobs are the ones most likely to be created here and to stay here.

Fourth, if we are willing to close loopholes and abuses in our tax system, then we can afford to lower taxes in the right way to spur growth and jobs. With the savings I proposed today, we can and should reduce the corporate tax rates by 5% – to improve competitiveness and to narrow the difference between corporate tax rates here and overseas. Some may be surprised to hear a Democrat calling for lower corporate tax rates. The fact is, I don't care about the old debates. I care about getting the job done and about creating jobs in America.

Finally, I won't let America wage the fight for our economic future with one hand tied behind our back. No one should misunderstand me: I am not protectionist – but I am a competitor. American workers are the most competitive in the world – and they deserve a government that's as competitive as they are. We will demand our trading partners play by the rules they've agreed to and show them that America means business when it comes to enforcing our trade agreements. The Bush Administration has refused to enforce our trade agreements. That not only costs jobs; over time, it threatens to erode support for open markets and a growing global economy. And it deprives us of one of the most important tools we have to safeguard our own workers and our environment – and to raise standards internationally.

As President, I'll hold countries like China accountable when they manipulate their currency to inflate their exports and depress ours. Four years ago, in the Senate, we fought for and won a provision to prevent Chinese companies from flooding the American market and destroying American jobs. Three times a bipartisan, independent commission recommended to President Bush that he use this power to aid American workers. And three times, this President has said "no." Just a few months ago, the Administration said they opposed efforts to increase the funds for enforcing trade agreements with China. They said the money just was "unnecessary." I'll tell you what is necessary – a President who understands that open trade is essential for our prosperity, but unfair trade practices can undermine it.

It is time to insist on and enforce real worker and environmental provisions in the core of every trade agreement so that we don't exploit workers in other countries or sell them out here at home. And it's time to break the deadlock in Congress and pass real tax breaks for our manufacturing industries.

For the vast majority of companies in America – 99 percent – our Jobs First plan will cut their taxes and help them create new jobs. Some companies – that benefit from tax loopholes – will fiercely defend the status quo. I know how tough their lobbying will be. But I believe that's why we have elections in America – so that the people can set us on a new course. And I don't believe the course they want is to subsidize the loss of their own jobs. I have fought for my country for 35 years – and I am ready for this fight. With tax reform and tax cuts, with real fiscal responsibility, with new investments in the industries of the future, we can and will create 10 million new jobs for America – and lead our economy in a new direction. Together, let's give America back its prosperity and its future.

John F. Kerry, "A Jobs-First Economic Plan": Remarks of John Kerry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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