Albert Gore, Jr. photo

Remarks to the American Federation of Teachers

July 05, 2000

Thank you, Sandy, for your friendship and your support. I have often said that teachers have some of the hardest jobs in America -- and you are some of the hardest-working people in America. In Sandy Feldman, you have one of the hardest-working leaders in America.

Sandy makes a difference not only because she cares so deeply about the members of the AFT, now one million strong; she makes a difference not only because she is a tireless organizer, adding nearly 100,000 new members in the past two years alone. Sandy makes a difference because she cares deeply about the future of our children. And let's face it: that's why all of us are here today -- from teachers, to school employees, to the nurses and health professionals who are also a vital driving force of this union today.

Many of you have heard me tell the story of my father, who started teaching in a one-room schoolhouse when he was just eighteen years old.

He'd only had three months of college, but that was enough for his students to call him Professor Gore. Needless to say, teacher standards are a bit higher today?

I was raised on a commitment to teaching. I know what it means to try to change to world, one child at a time.

We know our opponents in this election are on the side of the powerful, not the people — and they have powerful interests lined up against us -- from the big oil companies, to the HMO's, to the big polluters.

But let me tell you: we've got America's teachers on our side. And on behalf of our children -- on behalf of every young mind, striving to learn and to achieve -- we are going to win this fight. We are going to take the White House in November.

For more than three weeks now, I have been talking about the big choices we have to make to secure greater prosperity and progress for a new American century.

All Americans have a right to be proud of the past eight years. We set our hands to a time of recession and doubt, and turned it into a time of pride and plenty: the longest period of economic growth in all of American history.

Our opponents, awestruck by this record, seek to explain it away. They say the credit goes to the hard work of the American people. Well, I agree. But I would remind them that when our opponents were in power, people worked just as hard -- but the government got it wrong, got in the way, and millions who wanted to work were out of work.

President Clinton and I had a different strategy -- one that put government on the side of the American people: balance the budget; pay down the debt; and invest in the best enterprise of all: Americans themselves.

No serious person can doubt the achievements of the 1990's.

But I'm here today to tell you: you ain't seen nothing yet.

We have a chance to build even higher.

So join with me -- to create even more jobs and more high-paying jobs.

Stand with me -- to achieve excellence in all our children's schools.

Lead with me — toward a future where we cure disease and provide health care for all our people.

Today, I want to talk with you not only about the health of America's schools, but about the health of America's families.

You and I both know that our future begins in the classroom. So when I hear politicians trying to tear down America's teachers, I have to wonder:

How long would they survive in a room with 25 fourteen-year-olds?

I say to you today: I have a fundamental commitment -- the very first proposal I made as a candidate for President -- to bring revolutionary improvements to public education. To invest more. To demand more. And to treat teachers like the professionals you are.

The AFT has always been a leader when it comes to high standards; you've supported tough entry-level tests for teachers for decades now.

I believe we need both more investment and more accountability.

And neither will matter if we don't lift up the teaching profession, help teachers meet high standards of excellence, and reward them for the hard work they do.

Here is my commitment to you: as President, I'll put a highly-qualified teacher in every classroom in this nation. We'll recruit one million new teachers, and attract the most talented Americans to careers in the classroom. We'll raise standards, raise teacher salaries, and give you all the training and support you need to do your best in the classroom.

And here is what I will never do: I will never support private school vouchers, which would drain public money away from public education. It's common sense. It's as clear as A,B,C. You cannot save the public schools of America by destroying public schools in America.

I'll oppose vouchers as President. But we have to understand that the issue is also in the hands of our courts. The next President may appoint as many as three or four Supreme Court justices. And one of the great issues that hangs in the balance is the Constitutionality of vouchers. And that's another reason we need to win this fight. We are committed to save and safeguard public education — just as we are committed to save and safeguard a woman's right to choose.

One of the proudest boasts of the AFT is that you not only fight for progress in the classroom — you fight for progress for working families all across the board. One of your top priority issues this year is health care. And that's something else I share with you, because it's one of my top priority issues, too.

All week long -- all across America -- I am pressing the case for quality, affordable health care for all of America's families.

We must use our prosperity for this great purpose. We must take steps, both practical and bold, that move us to universal health coverage for everyone in the United States of America.

Parents should never have to sit up at night, worried about how they will pay the bill if one of their children gets sick. I am committed to bring access to fully affordable health coverage to every child in this nation by the end of the next Presidential term.

And then we should cover the millions of uninsured parents of those children.

This morning, I had a chance to meet with Kenneth and Laura Barrett, from Philadelphia. They have seven children.

Without the children's health coverage we passed three years ago, none of their kids would have health coverage today. They told me what a difference it has made; their one-year-old daughter Pearline has a serious case of asthma, and their six-year-old son Tauron has a genetic disease. Our children's health insurance program has enabled them to get treatment.

But Laura Barrett herself still has no coverage. She had to go on welfare the last time she was pregnant, just to qualify for pre-natal care. Like her daughter, she suffers from asthma -- but she has no way to pay for medical treatment.

When I'm President, Laura will have access to the affordable coverage she needs. And so will every child and every hard-pressed parent in America.

As President, I will fight for health coverage for those who work in small businesses. I'll offer tax breaks to help individuals pay for health insurance. I believe we must move step-by-step toward access to health care for 100 percent of our people. I would rather have targeted tax cuts to help working families pay for health insurance than a massive tax cut that primarily benefits the top ten percent.

But it's not enough to expand coverage; we must ensure that Americans who have coverage get the best care, not just the cheapest care.

I don't want any more life-and-death decisions made by HMO bureaucrats at the other end of a telephone line -- people with no license to practice medicine, and no right to play God.

Earlier this year, I met a couple in Everett, Washington -- Dylan and Christine Malone. Their six-month-old son Ian was born with severe disabilities because of medical mistakes during childbirth. He needs help with life's most basic tasks, such as eating and swallowing. I have seen how much the Malones love Ian, how much they care and hope for him.

But this year, their HMO decided to stop paying for the nurse they needed to keep Ian alive and healthy. The HMO even suggested that the Malones give up their child and put Ian up for adoption — so that another family with more money could pay for the care he needed, at no cost to the HMO. That was outrageous -- it was wrong -- and in Ian's case, we created a media uproar and put a stop to it.

But we know that in other places all across America, where the national media can't pay any attention, something like this happens all the time. Last year, one health plan tried to tell its patients that they had to call the HMO before calling 911. I don't call that a health plan; I call that an unhealthy plan.

There's an emergency in America, alright -- and it's the lack of a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights.

Our opponents try to pretend they have an answer. They even dare to call it the Patients' Bill of Rights. They stole the name — but not the commitment. Because it is really a bill of omissions. It leaves out 110 million Americans. It leaves out a real guarantee of a right to see a specialist. It leaves out a real guarantee that you can go to the nearest emergency room, not just the one, miles away, paid for by the HMO.

This is not a Patients' Bill of Rights; it's a blank check for the insurance industry to keep doing what's wrong.

I have taken on that industry in the past, and I will take it on again as President until we make a real, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights the law of our land — and give medical decisions back to doctors, nurses, and families.

Finally, we must address the health care needs of our mothers and fathers. That begins with a rock-solid commitment to Medicare. We know what the other side really thinks of Medicare. They were so determined to slash it that they shut down the government. But the American people shut them down — and we're never going to let them do that again.

We'll put both Social Security and Medicare in an iron-clad lock-box where the politicians can't tough them. We'll take them both off-budget, so the Social Security and Medicare trust funds can never be used as a piggy bank to pay for other spending.

Let's not just lock Medicare down, let's build it up. Let's update Medicare with a prescription drug benefit for all our seniors — so they can afford the life improving — often life-saving — medicines they depend on.

You know as well as I do: prescription drugs today are not at the margins of health care; they are often the heart of treatment and cure.

I have met seniors who cut their dosages, gambling with their health to save precious pills and dollars. I have met seniors whose monthly prescription drug costs are greater than their monthly Social Security checks.

We know that one part of the problem is drug company price-gouging. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for reasonable profits. But it's a fact that the pharmaceutical industry today has higher profits than just about any other industry in America. And not all of that money is going back into research; in fact, millions of dollars are going into a phony coalition called "Citizens for Better Medicare" — which is polluting the public airwaves with special-interest TV ads designed to deceive the American people about a prescription drug benefit.

You know, at least there ought to be a little truth in advertising; they ought to call it "Citizens for Bad Medicare." And that's what they are promoting — our opponents' plan, which tells seniors to go beg the HMO's and the insurance companies for help with prescription drugs.

Join with me, and we will stand up to the big drug companies, and we will guarantee prescription drugs as a matter of right -- for every senior in America.

You and I know that expanding health coverage and raising its quality will not be easy. It will take real, determined, persistent leadership. It will take a commitment to stand up to entrenched interests, and put the health of our people first.

I say to you today: on behalf of the hard-working people of this country, I want to lead this fight, and I intend to win this fight.

And every step of the way, I ask you to fight alongside me. Consider this fact: there are four million kids who are in our school lunch programs today who don't have any health insurance. And so I'll make you an offer: as President, I'll make sure they are covered -- and then let's work together to make sure they then get enrolled.

We have come a long way together since 1992. America has done well. But America can do better. We can shape a future where a family's health is never again determined by a family's wealth.

If you believe, as I do, that we can give our kids not just the best education, but a healthy start in life -- then join with me and we will cover every child in America.

If you believe, as I do, that medical decisions can be based on medicine, and not on an accountant's spreadsheet -- then join with me, and we will pass a Patients' Bill of Rights.

If you believe, as I do, that our parents and grandparents deserve all the remarkable breakthroughs of medical science, right in their own medicine cabinets -- then join with me and we will secure a prescription drug benefit under Medicare for all our seniors.

If you believe, as I do, that we can be better off still — not just in terms of our affluence, but in terms or our spirit -- four years from this day, then join with me. We will take on the vested interests, we will move toward universal health coverage, and in every area we will give all our people the power to make their own lives better.

And if you allow yourselves to believe, without reservation, that we can do what's right and be the better for it, then we will accomplish what we set our minds to do.

Join forces with me, sisters and brothers of the AFT -- and we will win this election, and we will do the right thing — for education, for health care, and for all the working families of the country. Thank you.

Albert Gore, Jr., Remarks to the American Federation of Teachers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project