"Reclaiming the American Dream"
A Speech at Georgetown University, Thursday October 16, 2003
Remarks Prepared for Presentation by
The American people have two basic expectations of our Presidents — one is to manage the affairs of our nation in the world and the other is to manage our economy.
I’ve spoken a lot in this campaign about our failures abroad, and I’ve laid out my vision for a foreign policy that aims to restore America’s leadership as an idealistic force in the world.
Today I plan to talk about the failure of this President’s economic leadership and about my plans for reclaiming the American Dream for our nation’s working families.
Our founders built America on the principle that power should rest in the hands of the people. Political power and economic power. Our system of free enterprise has always upheld the notion that the interests of the people should never be subservient to those of the privileged few. That the democratic power of the people should never be subservient to the power of capital.
Our nation’s economic strength has rested on a healthy partnership between the public and private sectors and on everyone having the fair chance to compete. But when the balance of power in Washington shifts and private interests control the common good — American capitalism has been betrayed.
Over the last 30 years, we have allowed multinational corporations and other special interests to use our nation’s government to undermine our nation’s promise. They have bought access to power with their campaign contributions and their lobbyists. And they’ve used that access to ensure that the laws — and most importantly the tax code — benefit them.
That’s why we don’t have health care for every American today. That’s why the tax burden on individuals and working families goes up while corporations get tax breaks for moving jobs overseas.
The Bush presidency is the realization of our founding fathers’ fear — that one day economic power would seize political power. Enron epitomizes this fear, corporate power run amok. The executives at Enron misled the public and their employees to line their pockets with millions of dollars while employees lost their jobs, lost their health insurance and lost their pensions.
President Bush has brought the Enron model from Texas to Washington. He’s implemented an economic plan for the country with reckless tax cuts based on false economic assumptions that benefit the wealthiest in our society at the expense of ordinary working Americans. The President’s economics are Enron economics.
He’s piled on massive amounts of debt.
The effect of this president's policies is to saddle a family of four with $52,000 in national debt over the next six years alone.
And let’s be clear what American middle class families actually received. In 2003, 60 percent of Americans will get an average of $307; the top one percent of all households received an average of over $26,000.
What George Bush is basically doing is borrowing $1000 in your name and handing you $250 of it.
That is why I say, unlike some of my rivals, that we need to repeal all of the president’s tax cuts. These tax cuts weren’t written for the majority of America. These tax cuts weren’t written to return economic power back to the people. These tax cuts, like Enron’s finances, are a scheme to make the rich richer, to starve Social Security and Medicare and to put our nation’s financial strength at risk by creating the largest debt in history.
And they are an effort to shift the tax base in this country from wealth to labor. Under the President’s program, working people’s wages make up a higher and higher portion of total tax revenue while all the income you don’t have to earn — estates, dividends and capital gains — is exempted further from taxation.
The effect of Enron Economics on our economy has been disastrous. In three short years, the budget is unrecognizable. George Bush has turned the largest surplus in history into the largest deficit. When Bill Clinton left office the Congressional Budget Office was projecting $3.1 trillion in surpluses in the decade from 2002 to 2011. Today, we have a deficit of over $400 billion and face deficits totaling at least $3.8 trillion in the next decade.
What does this mean to the individual American household? Over ten years, rather than a surplus of $28,000 per household, they now each hold an astounding additional debt of $35,000. A debt our children and grandchildren will now have to pay off.
Now, I am not against tax cuts. I believe in cutting taxes when the cuts make sense for the good of all the people. In Vermont, I cut taxes so that businesses would come back to the state and bring job opportunities with them. It worked. But I am opposed to the kinds of tax cuts President Bush has pushed which hinder our ability to grow the economy, invest in our future, and ensure that our children do not pay the cost of our fiscal recklessness.
Look at the results of Enron Economics for the American people.
3.3 million private sector jobs lost. 1.3 million more Americans are living below the poverty line. 1.5 million filed for bankruptcy last year. Home foreclosures are at a record level.
And all of this has been particularly hard on communities that were already struggling to get on their feet — communities of color and of disadvantage. African American unemployment has reached 11.2 percent. One out of three young African-Americans is unemployed. Unemployment among Latinos is up 30 percent since the start of the administration.
America’s working families deserve the truth. This is no ordinary downturn. This isn’t simply a normal business cycle downturn. We are the victims of Enron Economics. We’ve been sold a bill of goods and like the Enron shareholders, we’re the ones left holding the bag.
We were promised fiscal responsibility. We’ve gotten an $8 trillion increase in the nation’s debt over ten years.
We were told that tax cuts would reduce the deficit, but the government’s chief auditor — a Republican — calls that assertion “flat false.”
We were told there wasn’t enough money to fix up our nation’s electric grid, but there has seems to be plenty to contract with Halliburton to fix up Iraq’s.
Like Enron, the administration hasn’t simply misled, it’s hidden the truth. When the Treasury Secretary commissioned a report on the long-term liabilities created by Social Security, Medicare, and the tax cuts, the report was suppressed.
When its statisticians discovered that 1.3 million more Americans were living in poverty, it tried to find a way to make the problem go away by redefining poverty.
When its military leadership warned of the real costs of the war in Iraq, they were muzzled and ignored.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As President, my fundamental and abiding economic pledge is that our federal budget will once again serve the needs of our country, not the ideology and narrow financial interests of a powerful few.
My campaign is about empowering people. My economic plan is no different — it is about empowering all Americans to participate in their economy again. It’s about giving ordinary Americans the opportunity to reclaim the American Dream — by putting America back to work, restoring fiscal discipline, addressing the economic stress facing working families, and restoring fairness to economic policy at home and abroad.
My first goal is to put America back to work by creating more and better jobs.
We’ll start by creating a Fund to Restore America — a two-year, $100 billion fund designed to add at least one million new jobs to the economy.
The Fund will be distributed to states and localities for use in creating jobs in such areas as education, health care and homeland security.
To further support states and localities, we’ll undo Washington mandates like No Child Left Behind and fully fund others like special education. We’ll be providing additional funding through Medicaid through my health care plan and there will be money through this Fund for homeland security, school construction and renewable energy development.
Assistance from the Fund will be targeted to areas worst hit by the economic downturn — particularly poor and minority communities. States will have to certify that all activities supported by the Fund will create new jobs.
Next, we’ll provide capital to small business through the creation of a national Small Business Capital Corporation that will expand the secondary market for small business loans. It will be modeled after the housing finance system that has helped to make owning a home affordable for millions of middle class Americans.
Small business is truly the engine of the American economy, creating 7 out over every 10 new jobs. Not only do small businesses create new jobs, but they keep those jobs in their communities and don’t move offshore — and increased access to capital means increased job creation.
And, we can’t talk about jobs without acknowledging that two and a half million Americans have lost their well-paying manufacturing jobs — and that one factor has been the flight of good jobs overseas to countries without strong labor or environmental protections.
This is not a question of being for or against trade. The question is under what rules trade should be conducted, for whose benefit those rules should be drawn, and how those rules should be enforced.
Fair trade can help ensure the continued growth and health of the middle class both in America and in the developing world. And middle-class democracies are in our interest because they don’t go war against one another, they don’t harbor terrorists, and they provide growing markets for American exports.
All of our trade agreements should include strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards in the body of the agreements. And stemming job losses means vigorously enforcing the terms of those agreements once they’re in place. The Bush Administration concludes a trade agreement, holds a press conference, and moves on to the next one. They have brought only seven trade cases before the WTO, while the Clinton Administration filed twenty-seven WTO actions in its last three years in office.
A Dean Administration will ensure tough and effective enforcement of U.S. unfair trade laws against foreign countries and foreign companies that dump and subsidize exports to the U.S. and we’ll oppose any legislation that encourages US corporations to move overseas.
Creating jobs in areas hardest hit by these job losses will require targeted assistance to encourage the development of new industries and education, training and health care portability for displaced workers to help them prepare for these new jobs. A real and effective strategy for generating jobs in these areas will be a first task for the new White House office of Economic Growth.
In addition, the federal government spends about $30 billion a year on economic development through bewildering array of programs that rarely talk to each other and don’t work well together. With White House leadership, we’ll work with governors and mayors to create regional growth strategies and to cut through bureaucratic logjams so existing federal funds can be used effectively to create jobs.
And I want to be sure that federal research and development funds are focused on the growth industries of the 21st century. This country will grow and prosper only if it stays on the cutting edge in fields like biotech and renewable energy, and communications. The federal government must play a leadership role, convening academic centers, American companies and other levels of government to keep us on the forefront of new technologies and new economic opportunities.
The second component of my economic plan is to restore fiscal discipline and to balance the budget as quickly as possible.
With the depth of the problem that Enron Economics has created, it will take real discipline, leadership and hard choices to get the country back on track to a balanced budget. We’ll have to be honest with the American people that it’s going to take years and some sacrifice to dig out.
I pledge to the American people that a Dean administration in Washington will do what the Dean administration did in Vermont: we will balance the budget.
In Vermont — the only state in the country whose constitution doesn’t require a balanced budget, I balanced the budget for eleven straight years. We even set aside a rainy day fund for use in the bad years. And now — Vermont is one of the few states that’s not cutting back services or raising taxes.
Balanced budgets matter. They should matter not just to economists who say they lead to economic growth. They should matter to social progressives who should be fiscal conservatives, because only fiscal responsibility guarantees that the American people will have the government they need when they truly need it.
Repealing the Bush tax cuts is a good first step in restoring fiscal responsibility. But we can’t bring the budget into balance without controlling government spending. Under this president, non-defense spending has skyrocketed by over 20%. To restore fiscal discipline, I’ll work to bring back the pay-as-you-go rule that forces Washington to pay for new spending rather than borrowing for it. And we’ll root out waste and inefficiency in the way that the federal bureaucracy does business by re-instituting the National Performance Review that Al Gore started and which saved over $20 billion a year.
Once we have repealed the President’s reckless tax cuts, we will set about making the tax system fairer and simpler. We’ll end corporate welfare as we know it, eliminating up to $100 billion dollars in tax breaks and subsidies that benefit special interests and large contributors to both political parties.
And we’ll crack down on tax shelters that allow American companies to hide their profits offshore and not pay any taxes while enjoying all of the benefits that the American taxpayer provides to them.
Consider this — from the 1930s through the 1960s, corporations paid 30 to 40 percent of the taxes, and the rest of us paid 6070. Today, corporations pay about 13 percent of taxes. It’s time to move the balance back and take some of the burden off the individual taxpayer who’s trying to make ends meet.
And as a final goal, we’ll simplify the tax system so that a majority of Americans can pay their income taxes without wasting hours filling out forms.
The third part of my economic program will be based on fairness — putting the interests of working Americans ahead of the special interests and their lobbyists in Washington.
Our country’s founders proclaimed that all of us are created equal, without regard to economic status, social standing or political influence. But for the last two and a half years, biased tax cuts, corporate scandals, dishonest accounting practices, and the awarding of favors to political contributors and cronies have jolted our inherent American sense of fairness.
My campaign is based on empowering millions of ordinary Americans — not simply the privileged few. In American life, that role has long been played by the union movement which has helped reduce disparities between rich and poor and contributed to the rise of our vibrant middle class.
In giving voice to the interests of working Americans, I favor strengthening collective bargaining rights, raising the minimum wage as we have in Vermont where it will be $7.00 by January 2005 — and protecting overtime pay. I will press for expanded unemployment insurance coverage for part-time workers and for those unemployed as a result of sexual harassment, loss of childcare, or domestic violence. And I will seek stronger enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act and of worker safety, including the restoration of ergonomics standards.
But fairness also means reforming ineffective corporate laws and ending unethical corporate practices. Catastrophic failures at WorldCom, Enron, and Global Crossing have focused public attention on the abuses of particular companies and the people who ran them. But the prosecution of the executives who committed crimes and cost employees their hard-earned pensions to the fullest extent of the law isn’t enough. We have to address the shocking lack of oversight that allowed such abuses to take place.
As President, I will support rules to bolster the independence of corporate boards of directors and auditors and greater rewards for whistleblowers who expose corporate wrongdoing.
And I’ll support efforts to restrain runaway executive pay and to deny corporations the benefits of conducting their operations in the U.S. if they maintain fictitious offshore “citizenship.”
Fairness also means ensuring equal pay for equal work and women’s rights in the work place. One of the first things President Bush did was to disband the Equal Pay Initiative that President Clinton established. One of the first things I will do is restore the program and aggressively pursue companies that practice sex discrimination in their pay policies.
Lastly, my economic plan is helping America’s working families deal with the stress of trying to make ends meet.
America is an extraordinary country. It is a place where we have all been raised to believe that through hard work, every one of us could build a better life for ourselves and our families. That is the American Dream.
The American reality, however, is that we are all working longer hours, and carrying more debt than at any time in our history. The wages of middle-income Americans are stagnating. In 70 percent of families with children under 18, both parents work. Twenty percent of children under six with a working mother have no adult supervision after school. Parents have 22 hours a week fewer to spend with their children than they had 35 years ago.
This is not the dream we were raised to believe in. Indeed, realizing the American dream is becoming harder every day.
Even in the good times, America’s working families face daunting challenges: holding their jobs, paying the bills, saving for retirement and educating their children. And some of them just aren’t making it.
Under my economic plan, we’ll put an end to Enron Economics so we can help American families reclaim the American Dream.
Instead of tax cuts for those who don’t need it, we’ll create a health care system that covers everyone — and takes away the chronic worry facing tens of millions of Americans about finding and paying for health insurance for them and their family.
Instead of tax cuts for those who don’t need it, we’ll give working families more help in paying for their child care — and we’ll create a new program for financing college education that ensures every child has the money they need for higher education, and no one has to graduate with unmanageable debt.
And we’ll do everything we need to do to ensure that our seniors and those worried about their retirement know that Social Security and Medicare will be there for them — because we won’t be borrowing the money from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for a reckless tax cut.
The greatest political lie that people like me tell people like you is, “Elect me, and I’ll solve all your problems.” But the truth is, only the American people themselves have the power to take back their destiny.
The power to rid Washington of the politics of money and to restore fiscal sanity rests in your hands.
The power to end the insanity of Enron Economics and to restart the great job-creating machine that is the American economy.
Together, we have the power to join together and be a force for change, proving that economic power and political corruption are no match for the people standing up to take back their country.
Together, we are going to not only change Presidents but change this country — and reclaim the American Dream.