John F. Kerry photo

Remarks at the Detroit Economic Club

September 15, 2004

Thank you. It's great to be back at the Detroit Economic Club. I guess you could say that since I came here last September, I've had a pretty eventful year. My Patriots won another Superbowl, my Red Sox almost won the Pennant, and my Celtics...well, my Celtics made sure they didn't get in the way of a Piston's championship.

During that year, John Edwards and I have made our way across this country we love. And at every stop in our journey, we have witnessed the American spirit and listened to the American story.

I can tell you that the American spirit is strong. While millions are struggling to find work, and millions more are struggling to pay the bills, the folks I've met hold on to an optimism that's both courageous and classically American. They know we can do better. They know our best days lie ahead. And they still believe that America can be a land of opportunity for every American.

But I can also tell you that for too many of these families, the past four years of their American story has been a chapter they'd soon like to forget. I met one of these families just last week. I was talking with some folks in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania about lost jobs, falling wages, and rising health care costs when a woman in the back of the crowd slowly stood up, looked me in the eyes, and said, "You just told our story."

Lori Sheldon and her husband work two jobs to get by. She's at an insurance company, and he's on the ground crew of an airline in Pittsburgh. After years of work, they are about to lose their health coverage. In a few months, Mr. Sheldon may lose his job. This story was hard for Lori to tell, but what she had the courage to say next will stay with me always. With tears in her eyes, she asked, "You see those two young ladies over there? Those are my daughters. I'm tired of saying no to them. We say no all the time."

That's what this election is really about. I want an America where Lori Sheldon and parents like her can start saying yes to her children. An America where people are optimistic about their future, and believe, as we always have, that next generation will do better than that the last. That's what this country has always been built on.

And after four years of hearing no from this President – no, it's not our fault; no, there's nothing wrong; no, we can't do better; no, we haven't made a single mistake – it's time for a president who will start saying yes. Yes to good jobs with higher wages; yes to affordable health care and middle-class tax cuts; yes to a government that lives within a budget and businesses that can out-compete anyone in the world.

Today, I'm here to tell you we can do this with an economic plan based on a simple principle: a stronger America means a growing middle-class where every American has the chance to work and the opportunity to get ahead.

And let me be clear: our plan is pro-worker and pro-business. I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat, and I don't believe you can love jobs but bash the people who create them. I chaired the Small Business Committee for years and I started my own small business. I know that the private sector will always be the engine of good jobs and new ideas. And I also know that the right economic policy can create the conditions for new businesses to grow and succeed. It can also help more businesses say "yes" to investing more in America and "yes" to lifting up middle-class families with good jobs that pay good wages.

The middle class is the moral and economic backbone of this nation. But for four years, the Bush Administration hasn't honored that truth, and it certainly hasn't lived up to it.

George Bush's record speaks for itself. 1.6 million lost jobs. The first president in 72 years to actually lose jobs on his watch. 8 million Americans are now looking for work. 45 million have no health insurance – 5 million more than the day he took office. 4.3 million Americans have slipped into poverty over the last four years – 1.3 million are children. The average family saw their income fall $1,500, while they saw the cost of health care, child care, gasoline, and tuition rise faster than ever before. 220,000 more Americans did not attend college last year for the simple reason that they could not afford it. This President turned a $5.6 trillion surplus into trillions of debt for our children. George Bush accomplished all this in only four years. Imagine what he could do in another four. I want to be clear: I'm not saying that president wanted these consequences. But I am saying that by his judgments, by his priorities, he has caused these things to happen. And he can't see the error of his ways.

At that convention in New York the other week, President Bush talked about his ownership society. Well Mr. President, when it comes to your record, we agree – you own it.

Of course, the President would have us believe that his record is the result of bad luck, not bad decisions. That he's faced the wrong circumstances, not made the wrong choices. In fact, this President has created more excuses than jobs. His is the Excuse Presidency: Never wrong, Never Responsible, Never to Blame. President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops – it's where the blame begins. He's blamed just about everyone but himself and his administration for America's economic problems. And if he's missed you, don't worry – he's still got 48 days left until the election.

He sure has a lot of excuses, but you know what? Of the last eleven presidents – many who faced war and recession – George Bush is the only one to actually lose jobs on his watch.

We know the truth. George Bush's failed record is the result of George Bush's failed policies. And he chose time and again to do nothing to improve our economy or ease the burden on middle class families. In fact, nearly every choice has made it worse. You can even say that George Bush is proud of the fact that not even failure can cause him to change his mind. This is the man who promised his tax cuts would create 6 million new jobs. Today, three tax cuts later, we've lost a million -- seven million jobs short of his prediction. To George Bush, stubborn leadership is steady leadership. But as far as I'm concerned, George Bush's failures are the result of misplaced values and wrong choices that always give more and more to those with the most and tells the middle-class "you are not the priority."

President Bush inherited record employment, record homeownership, record surpluses; an America of higher incomes, less poverty, and more families with health care.

And when the economy faced some rough waters, and we could have put tax cuts into the pockets of families most likely to need the money and spend it, George Bush chose massive tax giveaways for the wealthiest individuals that blew the surplus and did next to nothing to get our economy moving. If anything helped ease the recession, it was the strong income growth of the 90s and historic rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, not George Bush's unaffordable tax cuts. They were the wrong choices, and middle-class families paid the price.

When Republican and Democratic governors all across the country were asking Washington for help so that they didn't have to raise tuition, raise local taxes, take cops off the street, and shut down our schools, George Bush chose more deficits and more tax giveaways to the wealthy instead. That was the wrong choice, and middle-class families paid the price.

When George Bush saw job after job being shipped overseas, he chose to sit back and protect the tax cuts that rewarded companies who were doing so.

When China and Japan were manipulating their currency and violating our trade agreements, and he saw America lose 2.7 million manufacturing jobs, George Bush chose to say and do nothing for workers in Michigan and Ohio and all over the country.

When he saw the cost of energy rising, he chose secret meetings the oil industry and special friendships with the Saudis over an energy independent America.

And when he saw millions lose their health care and millions more struggling with record premiums, he chose a $139 billion giveaway to the drug companies instead.

He chose and he chose and he chose and every single time it was middle-class Americans who paid the price.

If you like that choice, then you're in luck, because George Bush and Dick Cheney are promising four more years of the same. Four more years of the same choices from an administration that says we should celebrate an economy of job loss, says that incentives for outsourcing is good for America, and even tells us that this is the best economy of our lifetime.

John Edwards and I believe that the measure of a strong economy is a growing middle-class where everyone has the chance to work hard and get ahead. And that's why we are determined to set a new direction for America.

Our opponents see an America where power and wealth stay in the hands of a few at the top, while everyone else is left to fend for themselves. We believe in an America where we widen the circle of opportunity for every American. An America where anyone with a good idea who's willing to work hard and take a risk can start a business and build success.

Our opponents see an America where more of the tax burden is paid by those who work the hardest and not those who have the most – where a fireman who works overtime to save lives pays higher tax rates than a billionaire who just inherited a fortune. We believe in an America that rewards work with lower taxes and higher incomes.

Our opponents see an America where the powerful and well-connected are the first priority. We believe in an America where the first priority is the great middle-class and those struggling to join it – to be able to save money, create wealth, create the businesses of tomorrow. We want all Americans to have the chance to be millionaires and billionaires.

These are our values and these are the principles of our economic plan for a stronger America. It's a plan that creates good jobs here in America; a plan that gives relief to middle-class families struggling to pay the bills; and a plan that puts our fiscal house in order and makes our economy more competitive so that we can invest in the high-wage, middle-class jobs of tomorrow.

First, we will create good-paying, middle-class jobs right here in America. Today, if a company is torn between creating jobs in Michigan or Malaysia, we now have a tax code that encourages you to go overseas. George Bush thinks that's right. I believe it's wrong. And as President, I will end it.

I will close the tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. Instead, we're going to use that revenue to reward companies that create and keep good jobs here in the United States of America. Under my plan, we'll cut the corporate tax rate by five percent, giving 99 percent of businesses a tax break.

We value an America that exports products, not jobs – and we believe American workers should never have to subsidize the loss of their own job.

To the small businesses and manufacturers who decide to add more employees to the payroll, we will provide a New Jobs Tax Credit for every person you hire. And to those small business owners who want to hire more employees but cannot afford to insure them, we will give you up to a 50% tax cut on your health care contributions when you cover your workers.

And finally, we will show that a smart trade policy can both open markets and stand up for American workers. We will never succeed in the global economy if we don't open markets and compete in the world. But we'll never get ahead if other countries aren't living up to their part of the bargain. This Administration hasn't enforced our trade deals – I will, because if you give the American worker a fair playing field to compete on, there's nobody in the world the American worker can't compete against.

Second, we will make sure that we reward the hard work of our middle-class families by cutting their taxes and lowering their health care costs -- so they can raise the quality of their lives and get our economy moving.

So to help them cover the rising costs of child care, we'll offer a tax credit of $1,000. To give more young Americans the chance to go to college, we'll offer a tax break on up to $4,000 in tuition for four years of college. And to help middle-class families pay for health care, we'll offer a health plan that will lower premiums up to $1,000 a year.

Spiraling health care costs have been enemy number one for job creation in the United States. They've made our manufacturing sector less competitive and made it that much harder for small businesses to succeed. When the health care costs are so high – up 50 percent in the last four years -- too many businesses have simply decided they can't afford to hire full-time workers with good benefits.

My health care plan gets the waste and the greed out of the system to bring down the cost of health care and make your businesses more competitive. We're going to make you the following deal: if you have a health wellness program, we'll pay for 75 percent of your catastrophic costs. We'll improve technology in the system to bring down premiums. And we'll let you buy into the same health care program that senators and congressmen can.

Under our plan, you will get to pick you own doctors – and doctors and patients, not insurance company bureaucrats will make medical decisions. My plan is not a government plan. It's based on incentives and the marketplace.

To pay for all this, we make sure that 98 percent of all Americans get a tax cut, while rolling back only the tax cuts for those who make more than $200,000 a year. Those Americans will go back to paying the same taxes you paid when Bill Clinton was president. And the rest of America will get a tax cut.

Third, we'll restore America's competitive edge to lift up our economy and invest in the middle-class jobs of tomorrow.

Never has American competitiveness fallen so far and so fast as it has under George W. Bush. We have a $500 billion trade deficit, and we're borrowing money from the same countries we're competing with for good jobs. Our plan stands up for American companies and American workers by lowering the cost of doing business.

But if we want America to thrive in the long run, we must invest more in our people and their ideas so that we can create high-tech, high-wage jobs in industries that are already improving the quality of our lives. We will push the boundaries of science, and never let ideology get in the way of life-saving research or cutting-edge technology. We will offer tax credits to help us seize the possibilities of the Broadband Revolution and make Internet access available to all of America's families. And we will offer tax credits to buy and produce the fuel-efficient cars of the future.

Here in Detroit, you know what we're talking about. We have the opportunity to build these cars right here. And for our energy future, I'd rather depend on your innovation and the ingenuity of America's workers than on the Saudi Royal family. So when I am President, you will have a partner and a champion in your fight to create the cutting-edge manufacturing jobs of the future.

And we will give our workers the education and the job training that the jobs of tomorrow require today. We'll encourage more young women and minorities to enter the fields of math and science so we can close that gap and compete with the rest of the world. And we'll make lifelong learning a reality so that workers can learn new skills for the new jobs of tomorrow.

Finally, our plan is paid for while cutting the deficit in half, because we believe it's time for Washington to live within a budget just like you do.

Four years ago, America's fiscal discipline was the envy of the world. Today, we have to go hat in hand to countries like China and Japan to borrow money because George Bush chose to pass and propose trillions of dollars in spending without paying for a dime of it. Now, his election year promises will add $3 trillion to the already record-breaking deficits he created on his watch. $3 trillion of taxpayer money. This president has added more to the deficit than every president from George Washington to Ronald Reagan combined.

When you are running the type of massive deficits that they are, Bob Rubin and other experts will tell you that you are jeopardizing job creation and putting the stability of our economic future at risk.

Our plan will cut the deficit in half in four years by ending tax giveaways that are nothing more than corporate welfare. We will make government go back to a simple rule: pay as you go. We will cut the waste from our government – cutting 100,000 contractors we don't need, cutting more bureaucrats that have been added over the last four years, and cutting government agencies that have outlived their purposes. And we will impose caps so that spending doesn't go faster than inflation.

I will hold my own priorities to the same standard, because I have always believed that fiscal discipline leads to a strong economic future. That's why when I first came to the Senate, I broke with my own party to support a balanced budget plan, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law.

Since this campaign began, so many Americans have come up to me and said, this is the most important election of our lifetime. If there were ever any doubt that this is true, you only need to look around our country and see for yourself what the last four years have done to middle-class America.

Right now, another factory worker just suffered the indignity of having lifelong loyalty rewarded with a pink slip and a final paycheck that won't cover his family's rent. Right now, another young woman is watching her friends begin the college year without her because she couldn't afford to go. Right now, another boarded-up business is leaving for China, and leaving a community of devastated families behind. And right now, Lori Sheldon is wondering when she'll be able to start saying yes to her daughters.

Everyone in this room and everyone in this country has an interest in building that kind of America. As Henry Ford understood, those who run companies can't prosper unless we raise the incomes and the standard of living for the great middle-class.

We can do this. We can have an America where that factory worker goes back to school and will learn the new skills to build the cars of the future right here in Detroit. We can have an America where that young woman's family can afford to send her to college, keep their health care, and have a little left over at the end of the month. We can have an America where big ideas and bold entrepreneurs fill that community with new jobs and new hope for better days ahead.

That's what America was built on – from Ford Motors and the first Model T to IBM and the first computer. We are a country of innovators and optimists. There are possibilities waiting for us and ideas yet to be imagined -- but only if we make the right choices today. This is our challenge. And it's what this race is all about.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless America.

John F. Kerry, Remarks at the Detroit Economic Club Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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