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Remarks of Senator Barack Obama (as prepared for delivery)
St. Louis, Missouri
Saturday, October 18, 2008
We meet at a moment of great uncertainty for America. The economic crisis we face is the worst since the Great Depression. As the stock market has plummeted, millions of Americans have opened up their 401(k) statements to see that so much of their hard-earned savings have disappeared.
The credit crisis has left businesses large and small unable to get loans, which means they can’t buy new equipment, or hire new workers, or even make payroll for the workers they have. In households across the country, it’s getting harder and harder to get a loan for that new car or that startup-business or that college you’ve dreamed of attending. Wages are lower than they've been in nearly a decade. You’re paying more for everything from gas to groceries, but your paychecks have flat-lined.
I know these are difficult times. I know folks are worried. But I believe that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis because I believe in this country. Because this is the United States of America. This is a nation that has faced down war and depression; great challenges and great threats. The American story has never been about things coming easy – it’s been about rising to the moment when the moment is hard.
America can meet this moment. We have the most talented, most productive workers of any country on Earth. We’re home to innovation and technology, colleges and universities that are the envy of the world. Some of the biggest ideas in history have come from our small businesses and research facilities. It won’t be easy, but there’s no reason we can’t make this century another American century.
But Missouri, I also know this. It will take a new direction. It will take new leadership in Washington. It will take a real change in the policies and politics of the last eight years. And that’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.
Even as we face the most serious economic crisis of our time; even as you are worried about keeping your jobs or paying your bills or staying in your homes, my opponent’s campaign announced earlier this month that they want to “turn the page” on the discussion about our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead. Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”
Well, Missouri, here’s what my opponent doesn’t seem to understand. With the economy in turmoil and the American Dream at risk, the American people don’t want to hear politicians attack each other – you want to hear about how we’re going to attack the challenges facing middle class families each and every day. You want to hear about the issues that matter in your lives. You want to hear about how we’re going to bring about the change that we desperately need for our country. That’s what the American people want to hear.
So let’s talk about the issues that matter. In the debate this week, my opponent felt the need to inform me that he’s not President Bush. And in fairness, I don’t blame Senator McCain for all of President Bush’s mistakes. After all, he’s only voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time.
But it is fair to say that over the course of three debates and twenty months, Senator McCain still hasn’t offered a single thing that he would do differently from George W. Bush when it comes to the most important economic issues we face today. Not one.
Just look at taxes. My opponent’s been talking a lot about taxes in his campaign. But here’s the truth Missouri – we are both offering tax cuts. The difference is who we’re cutting taxes for.
It comes down to values – in America, do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it? For eight years, we’ve seen what happens when we put the extremely wealthy and well-connected ahead of working people. Now, John McCain thinks that the way to rebuild this economy is to double down on George Bush’s policy of giving more and more tax breaks to those at the very top in the false hope that it will all trickle down. I think it’s time to rebuild the middle class in this country, and that is the choice in this election.
Senator McCain wants to give the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut but absolutely nothing at all to over 100 million Americans. I want to cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95 percent of all workers. And under my plan, if you make less than $250,000 a year – which includes 98 percent of small business owners – you won’t see your taxes increase one single dime. Not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes – nothing. It’s time to give the middle class a break, and that’s what I’ll do as President of the United States.
Lately, Senator McCain has been attacking my middle class tax cut. He actually said it goes to, “those who don’t pay taxes,” even though it only goes to working people who are already getting taxed on their paycheck. That’s right, Missouri – John McCain is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people “welfare.”
The only “welfare” in this campaign is John McCain’s plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America – including $4 billion in tax breaks to big oil companies that ran up record profits under George Bush. That’s who John McCain is fighting for. But we can’t afford four more years like the last eight. George Bush and John McCain are out of ideas, they are out of touch, and if you stand with me in 17 days they will be out of time.
We need new priorities in Washington. I think it’s time to give a tax cut to the teachers and janitors who work in our schools; to the cops and firefighters who keep us safe; to the waitresses working double shifts, the nurses in the ER, and the plumbers fighting for their American Dream. These workers are the backbone of our country. They are the ones that Washington has forgotten. They’re the ones I’ll fight for. And while Senator McCain ignores the payroll taxes you pay to score a few political points, I’ll put a tax cut into the pockets of working people so you can pay the bills, put away some savings, and pass on a brighter future to your children.
So Senator McCain can keep trying to attack me and distract you – but it’s not going to work. Not this time – not now. Because while my opponent thinks this campaign is all about me – the truth is, this campaign is about you. Your jobs. Your health care. Your retirement. Your children’s future. That’s what this election is about. That’s what I’m fighting for. Because I can take 2 more weeks of these attacks from John McCain, but the American people can’t take four more years of the same failed policies and the same divisive politics. That’s why I’m running for President of the United States.
It is time to turn the page on eight years of economic policies that put Wall Street before Main Street but ended up hurting both. We need policies that grow our economy from the bottom-up, so that every American, everywhere, has the chance to get ahead. Not just the person who owns the factory, but the men and women who work on its floor. Because if we’ve learned anything from this economic crisis, it’s that we’re all connected; we’re all in this together; and we will rise or fall as one nation – as one people.
The rescue plan that passed the Congress was a necessary first step to easing this credit crisis, but now we need a rescue plan for the middle class. If we’re going to rebuild this economy from the bottom up, it has to start on Main Street – not just the big banks on Wall Street. That’s why I’ve outlined several steps that we have to take right now to help folks who are struggling.
First, we’ve got to act now to create good paying jobs. We've already lost three-quarters of a million jobs this year. That’s why I’ve proposed a new American jobs tax credit for each new employee that companies hire here in the United States over the next two years. And that’s why I’ll stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas and invest in companies that create good jobs right here in Missouri.
Second, we need to help small businesses get back on their feet. To fuel the real engine of job creation in this country, I’ll eliminate all capital gains taxes on investments in small businesses and start-up companies, and provide an additional tax incentive through next year to encourage new small business investment. And we’ll also make sure that small businesses can access the immediate loans they need to pay their workers and finance their inventory.
Third, we need to provide relief for homeowners. The Treasury must use the authority it’s been granted and move aggressively to help people avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. We don't need a new law or a new $300 billion giveaway to banks like Senator McCain has proposed. We just need to act quickly and decisively. For those responsible homeowners in danger of losing their homes, I’ve proposed a three-month moratorium on foreclosures so that we give people the breathing room they need to get back on their feet.
Finally, we’ve got to help states and local governments that have been squeezed. Today, twenty-one states are facing budget short-falls, and they might be forced to cut services or raise taxes. That’s why I’m going to create a $25 billion fund to help states and local governments pay for health care and education, police and firefighters, without having to raise your taxes. And we’ll save one million jobs by creating a Jobs and Growth Fund that will help states move forward with projects to rebuild and repair our roads, our bridges, and our schools.
These are the steps that we must take – right now – to start getting our economy back on track. But we also need a new set of priorities to grow our economy and create jobs over the long-term.
If I am President, I will invest $15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy to create five million new, green jobs over the next decade – jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced; jobs building solar panels and wind turbines and fuel-efficient cars; jobs that will help us end our dependence on oil from Middle East dictators.
I’ll also put two million more Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools, and bridges – because it is time to build an American infrastructure for the 21st century. And if people ask how we’re going to pay for this, you tell them that if we can spend $10 billion a month in Iraq, we can spend some money to rebuild America.
If I am President, I will finally fix our broken health care system. This issue is personal for me. My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53, and I’ll never forget how she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company because they claimed that her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn’t want to pay for treatment. If I am President, I will make sure those insurance companies can never do that again.
My health care plan will make sure insurance companies can’t discriminate against those who are sick and need care most. If you have health insurance, the only thing that will change under my plan is that we will lower premiums. If you don’t have health insurance, you’ll be able to get the same kind of health insurance that Members of Congress get for themselves. And we’ll invest in preventative care and new technology to finally lower the cost of health care for families, businesses, and the entire economy. That’s the change we need.
Senator McCain has been eager to share some details of his health care plan – but not all. First, we found out that he wants to pay for his plan by taxing your health care benefits for the first time in history, just like George Bush. That was bad enough. But it turns out, Senator McCain would pay for part of his plan by making drastic cuts in Medicare –$882 billion worth. Under his plan, if you count on Medicare, you would have fewer places to get care, and less freedom to choose your doctors. You’ll pay more for your drugs, receive fewer services, and get lower quality care.
I think every single American has a right to affordable accessible health care. We can strengthen Medicare by eliminating wasteful subsidies to big HMOs in Medicare, and making sure seniors can access home-based care, and letting Medicare negotiate with drug companies for better prices. That’s the kind of change we need.
And if I’m President, we’ll give every child, everywhere the skills and the knowledge they need to compete with any worker, anywhere in the world. I will not allow countries to out-teach us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow. It is time to provide every American with a world-class education. That means investing in early childhood education. That means recruiting an army of new teachers, and paying them better, and giving them more support in exchange for higher standards and more accountability.
And it means making a deal with every American who has the drive and the will but not the money to go to college. My opponent’s top economic advisor actually said that they have no plan to invest in college affordability because we can’t have a giveaway to every special interest. Well I don’t think the young people of America are a special interest – they are the future of this country. That’s why I’ll make this deal with you: if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford your tuition. No ifs, ands or buts. You invest in America, America will invest in you, and together, we will move this country forward.
Finally, I will take on the corruption in Washington and on Wall Street to make sure a crisis like this can never, ever happen again. I’ll put in place the common-sense regulations and rules of the road I’ve been calling for since March – rules that will keep our market free, fair, and honest; rules that will restore accountability and responsibility in our corporate boardrooms.
And just as we demand accountability on Wall Street, I will also demand it in Washington. That’s why I’m not going to stand here and simply tell you what I’m going to spend, I’m going to tell you how we’re going to save when I am President.
I’ll do what you do in your own family budgets and make sure we’re spending money wisely. I will go through the entire federal budget, page by page, line by line, and eliminate programs that don’t work and aren’t needed. We’ll start by ending a war in Iraq that’s cost us nearly a trillion dollars. And we’ll save billions more by cutting waste, improving management, and strengthening oversight.
These are the changes and reforms we need. A new era of responsibility and accountability on Wall Street and in Washington. Common-sense regulations to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again. Investments in the technology and innovation that will restore prosperity and lead to new jobs and a new economy for the 21st century. Bottom-up growth that gives every American a fair shot at the American dream. And above all confidence – confidence in America, confidence in our economy, and confidence in ourselves.
I won’t pretend this will be easy or come without cost. We will all need to sacrifice and we will all need to pull our weight because now more than ever, we are all in this together. This country and the dream it represents are being tested in a way that we haven’t seen in nearly a century. And future generations will judge ours by how we respond to this test. Will they say that this was a time when America lost its way and its purpose? When we allowed our own petty differences and broken politics to plunge this country into a dark and painful recession?
Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame? When we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other’s success?
This is one of those moments. I realize you’re cynical and fed up with politics. I understand that you’re disappointed and even angry with your leaders. You have every right to be. But despite all of this, I ask of you what’s been asked of the American people in times of trial and turmoil throughout our history. I ask you to believe – to believe in yourselves, in each other, and in the future we can build together.
Together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Not when there are families who can’t afford to see a doctor, or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves.
We are 17 days away from changing this country. 17 days. But for those who are getting a little cocky, I’ve got two words for you: New Hampshire. That’s where I learned – with the help of my great friend and supporter Hillary Clinton – that you can’t let up or pay too much attention to the polls. We’ve got to keep making our case for change; we’ve got to keep fighting for every vote; we’ve got to keep running through that finish line. This election is too important to take anything for granted. The future that you and I seek for our children is too important to let up now. The time for change has come.
We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can't go to college but my child can; maybe I can't have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.
Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail. And I need you to make it happen. If you want the next four years looking like the last eight, then I am not your candidate. But if you want real change – if you want an economy that rewards work, and that works for Main Street and Wall Street; if you want tax relief for the middle class and millions of new jobs; if you want health care you can afford and education that helps your kids compete; then I ask you to knock on some doors, make some calls, talk to your neighbors, and give me your vote on November 4th. And if you do, I promise you – we will win Missouri, we will win this election, and then you and I – together – will change this country and change this world. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America