John F. Kerry photo

Remarks to the National Conference of the American Association of Retired People in Las Vegas

October 14, 2004

Thank you. So did anyone catch the debate last night? I think it went pretty well – I just hope I covered the Vegas odds.

It's great to be here with you at the AARP's National Event. I'm a proud member of your organization – but I hope you won't mind if I hold off on retirement for a few more years. There's this one last job I'm hoping to start in January.

My friends, after three debates, two conventions, and months of campaigning, today we stand at a moment of great possibility and great hope.

Sixty years ago, Franklin Roosevelt used such a moment to launch the greatest expansion of the middle class in history with the GI Bill of Rights. And when many of our parents – and some of you – returned from World War II, America was a place where you had the chance to go to college, find a good job, buy your own home, and provide your children with the best opportunities in life.

Twenty years later, Lyndon Johnson used a similar moment to ensure that a lifetime of hard work was rewarded with a retirement that included health care. And because Americans like AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus fought for Medicare, the middle-class was strengthened once again.

And in the last decade, Bill Clinton seized the moment by restoring an economy that put people first. We created 23 million jobs, lifted 6 million Americans out of poverty, and the average family made $5000 more.

Now it is our moment – our moment to choose what kind of future we want for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren. Do we want four more years of a President who gives more to those with the most and tells a 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 opportunities? Do we want a President who fights for the privileged few or do we want a President who fights for a stronger America for every American?

I believe we need a fresh start in America. I believe we need a President who will fight for the great middle-class and those struggling to join it. And if you give me the chance, I am ready to be that President.

We need a fresh start. Because the truth is, middle-class families can't afford another four years of the Bush economy.

Too many jobs are being shipped overseas, and the ones that replace them often don't pay enough to make ends meet. Our economy is losing high-paying, middle-class jobs and creating more temporary jobs and part-time jobs without benefits. Corporate profits are up, but family income is down, and the cost of everything is through the roof. Health care up 64 percent. College tuition up 35 percent. Medicare premiums up 56 percent. 1.6 million lost jobs, 5 million more Americans without health care, and 220,000 students who couldn't afford college.

But these aren't just statistics – these are the stories of families I've met all across America. The single mother who lies awake worrying that her child's health care might cost more than she makes in a month. Moms and dads who save and save and still come up short when they get a bill for tuition or child care that's higher than they thought. The factory worker whose job was sent overseas and now has to take two jobs just to earn what he used to make.

Everywhere I go, I hear the same concerns. Will I be able to send my kid to college? Will I be able to pay my wife's medical bill? Will Social Security be there for me when I retire? Will my job be there tomorrow? Folks tell me how hard it is just to get by – never mind getting ahead.

George Bush had four years to do something – anything – to make life better for hardworking families. But instead of seizing the moment, he squandered the opportunity. Then he spent his entire campaign trying to make us believe the unbelievable.

Jobs got shipped overseas, and the Bush White House told us outsourcing is good for us.

George Bush became the first President in 72 years -- since Herbert Hoover – to lose jobs on his watch, and they told us it was time to celebrate.

Families got squeezed between prices that are rising and incomes that are falling, they told us hey, don't worry, this is the best economy of our lifetime! And just the other day, the President's Treasury Secretary, his top economic advisor, told us that 1.6 million lost private sector jobs is just a "myth." Mr. President, the millions of Americans who have lost jobs on your watch are not "myths," they are middle class families – and for four years, you've turned your back on them.

The President just doesn't get it. He can spin until he's dizzy, but at the end of the day, who does he think the American people are going to believe? George Bush or their own eyes?

You know, the President was right across town today – of course, he didn't come by to see you. Instead, he launched another false attack on me and he finished it up by saying again, "you can run but you can't hide."

Well, that line comes from the boxer Joe Louis. And it makes me think of another boxing quote: what Muhammad Ali said to George Foreman, after Foreman had thrown some punches. Ali said, "Is that all you got?"

And so, I say to you, Mr. President: after four years of jobs lost, families losing health coverage, and falling incomes, "Is that all you got?" After four years of rising gas prices, rising health care costs, and squeezed families, "Is that all you got?" After a campaign filled with excuses to justify your record and false attacks on mine, "Is that all you got?"

The reason the President doesn't get it is because for the powerful and well-connected friends he's spent four years helping, it really is the best economy of their lifetime. When he handed Halliburton a $7 billion no-bid contract, they really did have reason to celebrate. When he gave tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, it really was good for them. And when his Medicare bill gave the prescription drug companies a $139 billion in windfall profits, well, it doesn't get much better than that.

Now I know that this last issue is one where the AARP and I have disagreed. But I can't just come here and not tell you the truth. George Bush's Medicare bill is full of empty promises and special interest giveaways, and it's a perfect example of what I've been talking about. The AARP tried to work with the President, but in the end, the President was not working for America's seniors. And maybe that's why he wouldn't even show up today to defend his bill.

Today, the costs of prescription drugs are skyrocketing. Co-payments are up 50%, and all across America, seniors are being forced to choose between their meals and their medicine.

George Bush had a chance to do something about this. But instead, he jammed through a Medicare bill that takes $550 billion from your pockets and gives $139 billion to the drug companies and billions more to HMOs. It's a bill that will actually raise costs on seniors, force them into HMOs, and put 3.8 million at risk of losing their drug coverage altogether.

But it gets worse. As I mentioned in the debate last night, George Bush has even made it illegal for our own government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. And for four years, he's been blocking the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. Of course, last night the President said he was hoping to make up the shortage of flu vaccinations by importing them from Canada. And if there still aren't enough flu vaccinations, what's the President's solution? He says, don't get one if you're healthy. Sounds just like his health care plan: hope you don't get sick.

Now they're offering you a so-called discount drug card that's only adding to the confusion and barley doing anything to cut the cost of your prescription drugs. In fact, a study by your own organization even found that some drug companies are raising the prices of medicine to make it appear like you're getting a real discount. That's not the kind of relief Americans need.

The truth is, after doing nothing to lower the cost of prescription drugs for you, the President now tells us that he's solved the problem. Right. And those weapons of mass destruction are gonna turn up any day now.

The problem is, unless we have a fresh start in America, George Bush will do the same thing with Social Security. We've seen the past, so we should not be fooled about the future. On this, the AARP and I are standing and fighting together.

At his Republican convention, George Bush said that one of his major priorities is to privatize Social Security. And no matter what he says now, the truth is in his plan: it's a plan to privatize, and it's a plan that will cut your benefits. And all three options laid out by his own commission say that very same thing. That's not a plan – it's a rip-off, and it will never happen when I am President. No matter which way you slice it, the Congressional Budget Office reports that George Bush's scheme would cut benefits from 23 percent up to 45 percent and cost taxpayers $2 trillion. And yet, big brokerage houses that manage the private Social Security accounts would stand to gain $940 billion in windfall profits.

$940 billion for the powerful and well-connected – lower benefits and a higher tax bill for you. If George Bush doesn't get what's wrong with that, he'll never get it.

If George Bush can't see how shifting the tax burden from the wealthiest to the middle-class hurts folks struggling to get by, he never will. If he can't understand why rewarding companies that send jobs overseas hurts our economy, he'll never stop it. And if he can't understand why the last four years have been so hard on middle-class families, he's bound to give us another four that are just as tough.

The President has proven beyond a doubt that he's out of touch, out of ideas, and unwilling to change course.

The good news is, in just nineteen days, we can leave it all behind.

My friends, George Bush's time is up. Our moment is now. Our future is hopeful. And we're ready for a fresh start in America.

We will seize this moment to bring back hope for millions of hardworking Americans who believe in their hearts that tomorrow can be better than today. We will create the jobs of the future, lift up families of all generations, and give our children the best possible chance in life. And we will restore an America with a strong middle-class where everyone has the chance to work and the opportunity to get ahead.

I know that John Edwards and I have talked a lot about fighting for the middle-class during this campaign, but here is exactly how we plan to make our future work for all of us:

First, we will end the days of rewarding companies for shipping jobs overseas by offering a fresh start on jobs in America. Our plan will create good jobs with decent benefits that pay more so you can keep up with the bills. We'll do this by closing the tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. And we'll take that money and reward companies that create and keep good jobs here in the United States of America. We'll help American business grow by cutting the corporate tax rate by five percent, giving 99 percent of businesses a tax break. And we'll provide a New Jobs Tax Credit for every small business and manufacturer who decide to add more employees to the payroll.

We will have a new trade policy that stands up for American workers and opens markets at the same time. Unlike this Administration, I will enforce our trade deals, because I know that 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.

And we will create the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future by investing more in our people and their ideas. As president, I will push the boundaries of science, and never let ideology get in the way of life-saving research or cutting-edge technology, like stem cell research. When I'm president, I will lift the ban on federal funding on stem cell research – a ban that's tied the hands of our scientists and shut down some of our most promising work on spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other life threatening diseases.

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 give our workers the education and the job training that the jobs of tomorrow require today.

Second, we will end the days of tax giveaways for the wealthy at the expense of tax breaks for the middle-class by offering a fresh start on taxes in America. Our plan will provide middle-class tax cuts that bring down the biggest costs facing parents -- so they can get ahead and spend more time with their children. We'll help parents cover the rising costs of child care by offering a tax credit of $1,000. We'll give more young Americans the chance to go to college by offering a tax break on up to $4,000 in tuition for four years of college. And to pay for this, and to make sure that 98 percent of all Americans will still get a tax cut, we will close corporate loopholes, cut government waste, and roll back only the Bush tax cuts for individuals 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. The rest of America will get a tax cut.

Third, we will end the days of skyrocketing health care costs and drug company giveaways by offering a fresh start on health care in America. Our plan will finally make health care affordable and available to all Americans.

We'll start by getting costs down for families. That means cutting prescription drug prices by finally allowing the re-importation of safe drugs from Canada. It means making it easier to get generic drugs to the market – and having an Attorney General that will enforce our patent laws, so our seniors can get less expensive drugs. And it means doing what this President has refused to do for four years – allowing our own Medicare program to negotiate with the drug companies to get lower prices for seniors.

We'll also give everyone the chance to buy affordable health insurance by allow families and small businesses to buy into the same health care plan that members of Congress give themselves. We'll cover every child in America by letting their parents sign them up for health insurance right at their own school. And we'll finally pass a Patients Bill of Rights to make sure that doctors and patients – not insurance company bureaucrats – will make medical decisions.

Fourth, we will leave behind an energy policy of big oil, by big oil, and for big oil by offering a fresh start on energy independence in America. Our plan will finally make America energy independent of Mideast oil in ten years.

We'll invest in technology and in the cars and SUVs you only have to fill up once a month, not every week. We'll give automakers tax credits up to $5000 for the fuel-efficient cars of the future so they can afford to produce these vehicles, and we'll give consumers tax credits so they can afford to buy them. And finally, we will also make sure that alternative energy sources will account for 20% of our fuel and 20% of our electricity by 2020

I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi Royal Family.

Finally, together with AARP, we will say no to the privatization of Social Security. Our plan will strengthen Social Security, not undermine it. The first step to saving Social Security is getting our fiscal house in order. As president, I will make the tough choices, take on the special interests, and put our country back on the path to fiscal discipline. But I pledge this: I will not privatize Social Security. I will not cut benefits. I will not raise the retirement age. Because when you've worked for a lifetime, America owes you what you've earned.

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. I believe we're ready to leave the failed policies of the past behind, and look toward the future with the hope that America can once again be the land of opportunity for every American.

My friends, this isn't about being a Democrat or a Republican. It's about what it means to be American. It's about the American dream. The dream of mothers and fathers who wake up every morning determined to build a better life for their children and their grandchildren – and go to bed every night praying that they'll be safe and that our nation will be strong. It's about the American dream of liberty and justice for all – and the hope and optimism that says America can always do better. We just need to come together as One America and believe in ourselves. We can bring back that mighty dream. And, with your help, we will.

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

John F. Kerry, Remarks to the National Conference of the American Association of Retired People in Las Vegas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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