John F. Kerry photo

Remarks in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

October 19, 2004

Thank you – it's great to be back in Wilkes-Barre.

We face a fundamental choice in this election – the choice of a lifetime – and a choice that couldn't be clearer.

I believe that we need a President who defends America and fights for the middle class.

When I am President, we will make a fresh start in Iraq to bring in our allies and train Iraqis so that we can succeed and bring our troops home. I will fight a tougher, smarter, more effective war on terror. We will hunt down, capture, and kill the terrorists wherever they are.

But a President has to 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 – saving Social Security.

Seventy-two years ago today, another candidate for President by the name of Franklin Roosevelt came here to Pennsylvania to discuss how we could restore America's prosperity and America's future.

At that time, this nation was in the depths of the Great Depression.

The incumbent president then, Herbert Hoover, had actually lost jobs on his watch – and so has George W. Bush – the first president in 11 presidents to do so.

He failed to restore our economic prosperity – and so has George W. Bush.

And as Roosevelt said, President Hoover's policies had jeopardized, "the welfare of our people and the credit of our country" – and so has George W. Bush's.

Seventy-two years later, it's Deja vu all over again.

George W. Bush has become the first President since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs on his watch. He has become the first president in more than 70 years to have the incomes of American families decline in each year of his presidency. He has become the first President to turn a record surplus into the largest deficit in history. And he has become the first President to launch an all-out assault on Social Security since Franklin Roosevelt first signed the program into law.

What George Bush still doesn't understand is that his four year spending spree on tax giveaways for millionaires has undermined the hopes of middle-class families and put Social Security on a dangerous road. Now he's asking for another four years to privatize the program, and undo the sacred compact we've made with our seniors.

Well I'm here to tell you that even though this is George Bush's plan, it doesn't have to be our future. And now is our moment to choose. 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?

I believe that we can protect Social Security for our seniors, lift up middle-class families, and keep America's promise to our children and our grandchildren. And when I'm President, that's exactly what we'll do.

We need a fresh start in America. Because the truth is, middle-class families can't afford another four years of the Bush economy – four more years of policies that have weakened America.

It's time to stop rewarding companies for shipping jobs overseas.

It's time to create good jobs in America again instead of jobs that pay $9000 less than the ones they replaced.

And it's time to save Social Security instead of raiding it and privatizing it.

Because George Bush has spent his way into the largest deficits in American history, the retirement of millions and the future of our children are now at risk. A child born today will inherit a $20,000 debt – a "Birth Tax" that he or she had no part in creating. And middle-class Americans who have worked a lifetime may be forced to choose between a retirement of more hard work or hard times. That's wrong, that's a betrayal of the middle-class, and we can't let it happen in our America.

Social Security is part of the promise of America. It's a sacred compact between generations. If you work hard and contribute to your country, you can retire with a level of decency and dignity. Imagine if that was taken away? Imagine if your parents or your grandparents had to work on the factory floor long into their 70s – into their 80s? Imagine if they had to sell the house you grew up in to pay for their food or their medicine? This is wrong, this is devastating, this is the reckless course on which George Bush has placed this nation, and we have to change it. As president, I will set a new direction for America – a new direction for America's middle class.

On November 2nd, Social Security is on the ballot. A choice between one candidate who will save Social Security – and another who will undermine it.

When this President took office, he inherited the largest surplus in American history -- $5.6 trillion that could have saved Social Security for generations.

As my friend President Clinton likes to say, if you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know it didn't get there by itself. The surplus was the culmination of a 15-year, bipartisan battle to get federal spending and the federal budget under control. Back in the 1980's, I broke with my party and joined with reformers like Warren Rudman, a Republican from New Hampshire, to push for deficit reduction. It wasn't a popular position, but I believed then – as I do now – that it was the right thing to do.

In the 1990s, we finished the job. We brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass a historic bipartisan balanced budget agreement. We not only balanced the budget for the first time in decades, we created the opportunity to save Social Security for generations to come. It didn't matter whether you were a Republican or Democrat – it only mattered that we were doing the right thing for our children, our seniors, and the millions of middle-class families struggling to get ahead.

This President had a historic bipartisan opportunity to protect Social Security. Instead, George Bush squandered that moment and raided the Social Security trust fund for tax breaks that gave the most to those who needed it least.

Not once, not twice, but three times, he spent billions and billions on tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations He even proposed to use your Social Security money to give Enron a $254 million tax rebate. In fact, the money he spent on tax cuts for those with an average income of over $1 million a year could have saved Social Security for 75 years.

In 2000, George Bush promised the American people that he would never touch the money in the Social Security Trust Fund. Within months of taking office, he broke that promise. All told, he has taken more than $500 billion of your Social Security. Today, the surplus is gone, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve says that the only way to pay for George Bush's reckless tax cuts is to cut Social Security. Well let me say it loud and clear – when I am President, that's not going to happen.

Just today, America's seniors got some more bad news. For a typical senior, nearly half of this year's Social Security cost of living adjustment is going to be eaten away by the record rise in Medicare premiums. And for 2 million seniors, their entire cost of living increase will be completely wiped out by the higher Medicare premiums. That leaves less money for food, medicine, and even an occasional gift for a grandchild. That's wrong and when I'm president, I'm going to change it.

George Bush now says he has a plan for Social Security. And it's even worse than what he's already done. For the millions of middle-class families who wonder whether Social Security will be there when they retire, George Bush's answer, in his own words, is this: "I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in with...privatizing of Social Security." Mr. President, that's one January surprise we can all live without.

George Bush wants to finish the job he started in his first term. He wants to be the first President in history to put the greatest retirement program in American history at risk – a program built by generations of sacrifice and hard work. This is what the President must mean when he talks about his "ownership society": when it comes to your retirement, you're on your own.

This is no secret – this is his plan – and it's out there for anyone who wants to see it. He even hand-picked a commission to recommend privatizing Social Security.

According to the President's own Council of Economic Advisors, the plan laid out by that commission would blow a $2 trillion hole in the Social Security trust fund.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Bush privatization plan would cut Social Security benefits. It will cut them by 23 to 45 percent.

And of course, while the President doesn't seem to understand the pain his privatization plan will cause middle-class families, he certainly knows the pleasure it will provide financial institutions – who will earn a $940 billion windfall for managing these private accounts.

$940 billion for the investment houses – lower benefits for seniors, and a higher tax bill for you.

If George Bush can't see how spending away our children's future on tax cuts for those who don't need them, he never will. If he can't understand why raiding the Social Security trust fund means risking our future, he'll keep on doing it. And if he doesn't get why sacrificing the retirement of millions of middle-class families to reward the powerful and well-connected is wrong, well then, he has proven beyond a doubt that he's out of touch. His only new ideas are bad ideas.

But the good news is, we now have the chance to leave all this behind.

My friends, it's time to Save Social Security. And that means George Bush's time is up. We're ready for a fresh start in America.

John Edwards and I have a real plan to cut the budget deficit in half and protect Social Security. It will take some tough choices – cutting corporate welfare, streamlining government, and finding ways to pay for every program we propose -- but that's what leadership is about – and that's the leadership I will provide as the President of the United States.

First, I will not privatize of Social Security. I will not cut benefits. I will not raise the retirement age. Because when you've worked hard for a lifetime, America owes you what you've earned.

Second, every budget I send to Congress will detail how we intend to pay for every proposal. And we'll restore the simple rule that George W. Bush opposes: pay-as-you-go.

That's what we have done in this campaign. Every proposal I have made details how we plan to pay for it.

And we're going to go further – we'll go after wasteful government spending and bloated government contracts – because you deserve a government that works better and costs less.

Third, I will ask Congress for constitutionally-permissible line item veto to slice the pork out of the federal budget.

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, this year's budget includes more than 10,000 pork-barrel projects – more than double the number of pork barrel projects when George Bush came into office. And this president has never once vetoed one bill; the first president in a hundred years not to do that.

Give me that line item veto pen, and I will cut the fat out of the budget.

Fourth, John Edwards and I will fight for automatic spending cuts if Congress can't keep spending in check.

This President not only ignored the spending caps we had in place since the 1990's --he got rid of them.

He got rid of these rules, I will restore them.

Finally, I will implement the McCain-Kerry proposal to end corporate welfare as we know it.

It's time to stop asking taxpayers to subsidize loopholes and giveaways to make rich corporations richer. Today, there are more than 100 corporate welfare programs in the budget that cost you more than $65 billion a year.

The McCain-Kerry proposal crosses party lines.

So far, John can't get anyone in the Bush White House to listen to it. Well I'll tell you what -- when I'm President, John McCain will get the first pen when I sign this bill into law.

My friends, this isn't about being a Democrat or a Republican. It's about what's right for America.

The hope for a better future is one that has sustained our nation through its best moments and its darkest days.

When Franklin Roosevelt came to Pennsylvania 72 years ago today, that hope seemed almost lost.

But the American people rose up and they forged a new future.

FDR believed, as you do, and I do, that America's an optimistic country – that the American dream belongs to each and every one of us...that there's nothing we can't do if we just believe in ourselves.

We simply can't risk destroying our fundamental compact between generations -- when you work hard and play by the rules, America should work hard to take care of you when you retire. That was Franklin Roosevelt's essential promise when he created Social Security and it's been the sacred obligation one generation has passed on to the next. I believe we're all in this together. George Bush believes you're out there on your own.

We can't afford to undermine our sacred compact between generations. We can't afford four more years of George Bush. We need a fresh start.

FDR's words from seven decades ago still have a powerful meaning today. He said here in Pennsylvania: "I am as certain as mortal man can be certain...that from the moment that we set our hands openly and frankly and courageously to this problem, we shall have reached the end of our long, hard ... road ...."

On November 2nd, we will reach the end of this "long, hard" road ... and together we will take America in a new direction.

So I ask you to stand up on November 2nd. I ask for your vote and your help so we can give our country back its future.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

John F. Kerry, Remarks in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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