John F. Kerry photo

Remarks in Tampa, Florida

October 18, 2004

We face a fundamental choice in this election – the choice of a lifetime – and a choice that couldn't be more clear. And now the time has come for the American people to make that choice. I believe that we need a President who defends America and fights for the middle class.

For the last four years, that has not been the case.

Just today, we learned that the top U.S. Commander in Iraq had to plead with the Pentagon for critical supplies to counter the growing insurgency. Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez argued that without increased supplies, "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations." The day after General Sanchez wrote his letter, George Bush went out and told the American people our troops were properly equipped.

Despite the President's arrogant boasting that he's done everything right in Iraq and that he's made no mistakes, the truth is beginning to catch up with him.

Just last week, General Tommy Franks admitted that disbanding the Iraqi army last year was a mistake and created a dangerous security vacuum. Ambassador Paul Bremer now admits the President didn't have enough troops on the ground to secure Iraq and that the White House ignored his warnings. Then when General Shinseki said we didn't have enough troops to get the job done, he was sent packing. Republican Senators, Lugar, Hagel and McCain, have all complained about the mismanagement and incompetence of the President and his team. And now Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorism.

But despite all these facts, the President still clings to the idea that we're making progress, that things are getting better in Iraq and that his policy is working. Mr. President, when it comes to the war in Iraq, it's time to come clean and acknowledge what your military leaders have been telling you privately. Mr. President, you can choose to ignore the facts, but in the end you can't hide the truth from the American people. The bottom line, Mr. President: your mismanagement of the war has made Iraq and America less safe and less secure than they could have and should have been today.

As president, I will never rush to war without a plan to win the peace. I will never send our soldiers into harms way without the best training and equipment in the world. I will never allow our policy to be hijacked by ideologues at the expense of the best advice from our best military commanders.

Most of all, I will always level with the American people. Our troops deserve the truth, the American people deserve the truth, and we deserve a fresh start in Iraq.

As president, I will never take my eye off the real enemy: Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other terrorists that threaten America and our allies. I will fight a tougher war on terror. We will hunt down, capture, and kill the terrorists no matter where they are. But we will conduct the critical diplomacy this administration has failed to do. We will bring allies to our side because that's how you make America strongest. Just because President Bush couldn't do it doesn't mean it can't be done.

But a President must be able to do more than one thing at a time. And today, I want to talk about one of the great issues that matter to middle-class families all across America.

Today is the first day you can vote here in Florida. Today, health care is on the ballot.

In a message sent to Congress nearly sixty years ago, President Harry Truman said, "We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way...of health shall be removed; that the health of all citizens deserves the help of all the nation."

Sixty years later, for the millions of middle-class families struggling to keep up with their medical bills, the concern has never been greater, the barriers have never been higher, and the need for a solution to the crisis of rising health care costs is a defining issue for America.

Today, I'm here to tell you that this solution is finally within our reach.

We can and will get the cost of health care under control.

We can and will cover all children in America.

We can and will give families access to the same private health insurance that members of Congress give themselves.

We can and will put medical decisions in the hands of the doctors and patients – not insurance company bureaucrats.

We can have a fresh start on health care in America, and when I am President, we will.

When I am President, health care will be the very first proposal I send to the United States Congress. I will work with Republicans and Democrats on this health care plan, and we will pass it.

It's time to help families sitting around the kitchen table, worrying, how will we pay that hospital bill? How did our premiums go up again? Should we drop our coverage and hope nothing happens? But what about the kids?

These worries are real, and they're happening all across America.

In Erie, Pennsylvania, I met a man named Albert Barker, who wonders how he'll pay thousands of dollars in medical bills. After he suffered a heart attack and underwent surgery, his employer stopped his health coverage because it was too expensive. Now his wife says she just hopes and prays nothing else happens. That's wrong, and we have to change it.

In Council Bluffs, Iowa, I met a woman named Myrtle Walck, who doesn't know what she'll do if the price of her medicine rises any higher. As it is, she pays a good chunk of her Social Security check – her only source of income – to the drugstore every month just to cover the cost of her two daily prescriptions. That's wrong, and we have to change it.

And right here in Florida, up in Jacksonville, I met Renee Harris, who owned a school bus company that was in her family for over fifty years. But recently, she was forced to sell it because she could no longer afford to insure her workers or herself. That's wrong, and we have to change it.

Millions of middle-class families like these are working hard and trying to get ahead, but they just can't keep up with health care costs that are out of control. Employers are being forced to cut benefits or cut jobs. And a study due out tomorrow will find that significant numbers of uninsured veterans don't have access to health care.

Just think about the last four years. Health care costs up 64%. Prescription drug co-pays up 50%. Medicare up 56%. Average family premiums are up over $3,500 a year. 5 million more Americans have no health care, bringing the total to 45 million with no coverage at all.

And what does the President of the United States have to say about these out-of-control health care costs that are killing job creation and hurting middle-class families? In the debate the other night, he called these problems "a litany of complaints."

There you have it folks. George Bush's answer to our health care problems is to tell the American people: stop whining. That's George Bush, isn't it?

Lower wages and a higher share of the tax burden for the middle-class? Stop whining, everything's fine.

45 million Americans with no health insurance at all? Stop whining, everything's fine.

Tens of millions of American families who can barely hold on to their health insurance and who face higher co-pays and deductibles every year? Stop whining, everything's fine.

Mr. President, the struggles facing middle-class families are not complaints to be dismissed, they are realities to be dealt with. And when I am President, that's what I'll do.

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to say that George Bush has done nothing about the high cost of health care – he's actually made it worse. And if given the chance, he'll make it much worse. That's because this President isn't just out of touch with middle-class Americans. George Bush is in touch with the big drug companies, the insurance industry and the HMOs.

It's wrong to run for president promising you'll do something about the cost of prescription drugs only to force through a Medicare bill four years later that gives a windfall profit of $139 billion to the big drug companies, and raises the cost of medicine for seniors.

It's wrong to make it illegal to import less expensive prescription drugs from Canada.

It's wrong to make it illegal for Medicare to negotiate with the drug companies for lower prices.

It's wrong to tie up $1 billion in funding for children's health care and deny coverage to 750,000 kids.

And it's wrong to offer a phony health care plan – the Bush plan -- that would raise premiums on four out of every five small businesses.

My friends, when it comes to health care, George Bush just doesn't get it. And if there was any doubt before, his response to the shortage of flu vaccines put it to rest. With senior citizens standing in line for hours and mothers frantic about how to protect their children, the President gave the public his solution: don't get a flu shot. And just today we learned that a town in New Jersey is being forced to use a lottery system to decide who will get a flu shot. So now, George Bush is telling us you have to get lucky to get health care.

Ladies and Gentlemen, here's the Bush Health Care Plan: Don't get a flu shot, don't import less expensive drugs, don't negotiate for lower prices, and most of all, don't get sick.

And so there's only one way to avoid another four years of hearing "don't" from this President when it comes to health care: Don't vote for George W. Bush.

He isn't just out of touch with middle-class Americans, he's more than in touch with the big drug companies, the insurance industry and the HMOs. And we're paying the price.

So now it is time to choose.

Do we want four more years of a President who stands with the HMOs and the drug companies and tells the struggling middle-class that everything's just fine? Or do we want a President who will honor middle-class values and fight for middle-class families?

I believe we need a fresh start on health care in America. I believe we need a President who will fight for the great middle-class and those struggling to join it. And with your help, I will be that kind of President.

Here is exactly what we'll do to make health care affordable and available for all Americans:

First, we'll bring down the costs. We'll cut prescription drug prices by allowing people to buy safe drugs from Canada. We'll allow Medicare to negotiate with the drug companies to get lower prices. We'll cut the waste in the health care system and cut the cost of health insurance for families. And we'll cut the costs for small businesses by providing them with a tax credit when they cover their employees.

Second, we'll make sure that everyone can get more affordable health insurance. We'll do it by giving families and small businesses access to the same health coverage that members of Congress give themselves. Families will be able to choose from dozens of different private insurance plans. It's time for middle-class families to have that choice, because your health care is just as important as any politician's in Washington DC. We'll also make sure that Americans with disabilities have access to affordable health care that fits their needs. We'll protect the programs they count on and we'll ensure that these Americans can make choices about the kind of care they receive and where they will receive it.

Third, we'll cover every child in America by automatically signing them up for health care – for example, the first time they go to a hospital, or the first day of school. The idea that in the richest country on Earth, there are children who have to go to the Emergency Room whenever they're sick in the slightest way, is a failure of our value system. It is immoral, and it will end when I am President. When I'm president, you won't need to win the lottery to get health care.

Fourth, we will pass a Patients Bill of Rights to make sure that doctors and patients – not insurance company or government officials – make the medical decisions our health depends on.

Finally, I will offer real Presidential leadership to protect the health and safety of the American public so we don't face another crisis like the one we have today with flu vaccines. The administration was warned about the shortage flu vaccines three years ago, and they didn't act. Here's what we'll do: We'll crack down on the price-gouging that's putting vaccines out of reach for people who need them today. We'll provide incentives to manufacturers to ensure that we have enough suppliers and enough vaccines to protect the American public. And we'll encourage more research to discover more efficient ways to produce better vaccines.

Now, I know that George Bush is out there distorting my health care plan because he can't talk about his own. But here's the truth: My plan is based on incentives and the marketplace. It is not a government plan. It offers more choice, and guarantees that you can pick your own doctor. And every single dime of it is paid for by rolling back the unaffordable Bush tax giveaways for only those making over $200,000. The rest of America will get a tax cut, and Americans will get affordable health care.

We can do this. After four years of a President who always gave the powerful and well-connected a handout instead of giving middle-class families a hand-up, I believe America is ready for a fresh start on health care. I believe we're ready to leave the failed policies of the past behind, and look toward the future with the hope that America will finally fulfill the promise that Harry Truman first dared to dream sixty years ago – the promise that in the richest country on Earth, health care is not a privilege for the elected, connected, or the wealthy, it is a right for all Americans.

This can be our future. We just need to come together as One America and believe in ourselves. We can bring back that mighty dream.

Remember, Florida has a head start in this election -- early voting starts today. This is a great opportunity. You can vote right now or any day between today and November 2nd. So please go to a location in your community as soon as you can. I need your help and I need your vote, so that together we can build an America that's stronger at home and respected in the world. You have my pledge: You get to the polls – we'll make sure that this time, every vote counts and every vote is counted.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

John F. Kerry, Remarks in Tampa, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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