My fellow Democrats, thank you for that warm welcome. It is truly a pleasure to be back in Florida.
Nobody fought harder – or longer – for Joe Lieberman and for me in 2000 than you did.
You welcomed us into your hearts and into your homes. Thank you for your faith and thank you for your friendship. Believe me I will never, ever forget it.
But this is not about what might have been. This is about what we can accomplish together for America in the future.
After the last election, I made you a promise – I promised that I would continue to speak out for the American people, especially for those who need burdens lifted and barriers removed, especially for those who feel their voices have not been heard. I intend to keep that pledge—today, tomorrow, and for all the days to come. After all, this is who we are, and this is what we stand for as the Democratic Party.
Those of us here gathered in Orlando today have a vision of the future in which we pull together to build a safer, stronger America. We have a vision that is more open and fair to all Americans.
And that vision is very much at odds with what the Republicans want to do to our country.
I want to talk today about the environment, the economy and our values here at home.
But before I turn to these three areas of domestic policy, there is one issue I touched on in my foreign policy speech earlier this year that I would like to mention today. It is a matter on which all Americans – Republicans and Democrats alike - are united: The war on terrorism.
The brutal attacks against America on September 11th shattered soaring structures that were symbols of our strength and security.
We may have lost our innocence, but from the shadow of those fallen towers has soared a new spirit of American patriotism, a sense of community, and an understanding that we are all in this together.
So let there be no doubt: we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the President and our brave service men and women in defending America from terrorism. We do so as Democrats. We do so as Americans. We do so as patriots.
Here in America, patriotism doesn’t mean keeping quiet. It means speaking up. It means exercising our freedom of speech and debating what we believe is right and what we believe is wrong.
It is in this spirit of patriotism that I appear before you today, to engage in the debate we so vitally need to build a brighter future for our country. The time has come for to speak out boldly -- not only when believe the Administration is right -- but to offer constructive alternatives when we believe what they’re doing is wrong for America.
And they are wrong to vilify honorable men and women who oppose their right-wing domestic agenda and blatantly dishonest budget. They are wrong to imply that those who stand to them are somehow unpatriotic. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In October of 1943, during the terrible days of World War II, Winston Churchill faced an ideological controversy that had the potential to divide the bipartisan coalition that was important to victory. And this is what he said:
“What holds us together is the prosecution of the war. No…man has been asked to give up his convictions. That would be indecent and improper. We are held together by something outside, which rivets our attention. The principle that we work on is, ‘Everything for the war, whether controversial or not, and nothing controversial that is not bona fide for the war.’ That is our position. We must also be careful that a pretext is not made of war needs to introduce far-reaching social or political changes by a side-wind.”
I’m tired of this right-wing side-wind. I’ve had it. America’s economy is suffering unnecessarily. Important American values are being trampled. Special interests are calling the shots. And it sometimes seems as if, in the words of the poet, “The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.“
If you agree with me, then stand up with conviction for what we believe in.
To start with, I want to focus on three issues in particular that are critical to building a brighter future for our country -- three issues where we strongly disagree with the direction that this Administration is taking. These issues are the environment, the economy, and America‘s values.
In each of these areas, this Administration is following the same pattern: Selling out America’s future in return for short-term political gains.
They have returned us to the days of deficits and debt - the days of irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy; the days of loosening environmental safeguards to satisfy the polluters. And they have turned their back on America’s covenant with our nation’s greatest generation, raiding the Social Security and Medicare trust funds without pause, without remorse and without even a thought as to the long term consequences of their actions.
America deserves so much better. And we Democrats will fight for doing right by all our citizens and all our tomorrows yet to come.
We believe in honoring our mothers and fathers, not using their retirement savings to pay for special interest spending sprees.
We believe in investing in people and building for the future.
We believe in celebrating the diversity of race, ethnicity and religion that makes America a strong and tolerant nation that others look up to.
We believe that Americas policies should be decided in the open, not in secret back-room meetings where average citizens get the door slammed in their face while polluters get the welcome mat.
We believe in protecting the environment in which our nation’s children are growing up.
In fact, protecting our environment for future generations is a bedrock principle of this Democratic Party.
This Administration also claims to support the environment, but let’s look at their record. Behind closed-doors, they let special interest lobbyists write America’s environmental policy. Here’s what they came up with:
Endangering the Everglades, allowing sewage to flow into our water, and now - they are brazenly breaking solemn promises given repeatedly to the people of Florida - and moving to allow drilling off of Florida’s coast.
Walking away from the Kyoto Treaty and from real action on climate change.
More corporate subsidies for coal, oil, and nuclear power plants so that the polluters get richer.
Less investment in energy innovation so that we continue to be held hostage to oil imports and tin horn tyrants like Saddam Hussein.
Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for six months worth of oil – a bundle of destruction for a drop in the barrel. And we won’t see a single drop of that oil for at least the next 10 years.
Allowing trucks carrying nuclear waste to roll through our neighborhoods. And this broken promise on Yucca is not just about Nevada. This waste will be trucked through 45 states on the very highways and streets that you use every day to drive your children to school and get to work.
Some domestic security. And all that waste will almost certainly have
to be picked up and trucked through your communities again when
a permanent repository is located.
Trying to convince us our water was too clean and didn’t have enough arsenic.
America’s future is in the balance. And the Republicans are tipping the scales in the wrong direction. Its up to Democrats to set things right again.
Stewardship of our nation’s economy is an immense responsibility. It is in exercising this responsibility that an Administration shows what it believes in and where it is going.
Under Democratic leadership we focused on the future. We put America’s financial house back in order after the crippling deficits of the Reagan-Bush era. We moved this nation from the largest deficits in history to the largest surpluses in history. Even as we did that, we made major investments in education, job training and other areas to strengthen our families and our communities.
When Bill Clinton and I left office, America was looking at trillions of dollars of projected surpluses. Some people were actually worried about paying down the national debt too fast. Worry no longer: In just 15 months under president Bush, that surplus has all but evaporated. Under President Bush, the surplus has evaporated in little over a year.
And where did American's hard-earned tax dollars go? What is the biggest reason the surplus is disappearing? Is it to build a brighter future for our children? Was it to care for our parents in their retirement? Was it at least to increase our spending on national defense at this time of great challenge? No, the largest single factor that eliminated the surplus was the Administration's tax cuts, which disproportionately went to the wealthy.
That’s this Administration’s economic record: The rich get tax cuts, working Americans get peanuts, the balanced budget goes out the window, and America’s people get left holding the bill.
And what has been the result of these misguided priorities?
Well first of all, unemployment is going up.
Second, education has gotten short shrift. We made real investments in education – they were satisfied with making headlines. They bragged about their education reform plan, but now they have decided not to continue funding it.
Their budget actually cuts their own so-called “Leave No Child Behind Act” by $90 million. Ninety million. That sounds like an awful lot of children being left behind to me.
Third, the Administration has no real health care plan, no plan to provide coverage to those who need it, no plan to make health care more affordable. They talk a good game but have done nothing to help seniors who are being forced to choose between their medicine and their mortgage. Bush promised prescription drug coverage for all needy seniors. But now, according to estimates from his White House, his plan will leave behind two thirds of all seniors in need.
At a time when this nation is relying on police officers, fire fighters and other such heroes, this Administration is slashing 1.4 billion dollars of funding for state, local and community law enforcement. Now, how does that make our homeland more secure?
Bottom line: the Republicans want to cut funds for new police, cut funds to stem high school dropout rates, cut back protections for seniors, cut protections for the environment. I may have been using my razor lately, but these guys have been using a meat cleaver.
We need to build a stronger, safer America for the future. We need to restore leadership that is serious about investing in the future. We need new ideas and old-fashioned common sense. We need a new direction. My friends, we need Democrats to lead.
What kind of values lead this administration to dismantle the medical privacy of Americans and allow insurance companies greater access to your private files - while they insist that their OWN right to privacy allows them to hold secret meetings with special interest lobbyists who come into the White House to write their proposals on energy?
Whose values are they following when they permit pharmaceutical companies to market new drugs directly to patients based on information culled from your personal medical files while they defy the courts and the General Accounting Office to keep official files secret from Congress?
Why is it that they tell us that because there’s such a shortage of money they have to cut funds for maternal and child health block grants, and class-size reduction, and emergency medical services for children, newborn and infant hearing screening, hospital services for the uninsured, youth training, mental health programs, substance abuse prevention, and youth-opportunity grants --
-- yet, when the biggest corporate polluters ask for relief from the obligation to clean up their own messes, all of a sudden there’s plenty of room to shift that burden onto the taxpayers?
What all these policies have in common is this: each and every time there is a dispute between the well-heeled and the well-worn, the little guy loses out with this crowd.
At least they are consistent. But they think they are so clever at hiding the ball that they’ll never get caught.
And make no mistake, they are out to dismantle every policy that helps the little guy and paint it as an effort to do him a favor. Let me give you an illustration. Instead of Saving Social Security first, this Administration’s policy has been to Leave Social Security last.
A little over a year ago, the President said that he would stop politicians dipping into the Social security trust fund to pay for more spending. Well, not only has he not stopped the practice, but his own budget will raid the Social Security trust fund by 1.8 trillion over the next ten years.
I won’t say I told you so, but if anyone is in the market for a “never-been-used” lockbox – they should see me afterwards.
This administration isn't just intent on raiding the Social Security trust fund. Under the guise of "reforming" the system, it wants to pass the most radical changes ever proposed. The proposals from the President's so-called "Commission to Protect Social Security," would actually cut Social Security benefit levels and do nothing to put the system on sounder financial footing without large additional infusions of money from American taxpayers.
And remember their proposal to invest Social Security funds in the stock market? We don’t hear much about that anymore.
The differences between our parties have never been sharper. On one key issue after another, the Republicans’ radical agenda is completely at odds with our vision for America, and with the will of the American people.
My fellow Democrats, this year we’re going to show America that our party stands for a fairer America with a brighter future ahead. In the coming months, we’re going to take our agenda to the American people. And we’re going to show them the truth of the Republican record.
Over and over they have turned the clock back on progress. I tell you, it is a good thing they love the past so much, because pretty soon, they’re going to be history.
And if we tell America about our vision, we will win in 2002.
We will make Dick Gephardt Speaker of the House, keep Tom Daschle as Majority Leader, and put Democrats back in charge in Tallahassee.
Senator Bob Graham and Senator Bill Nelson and the entire Florida delegation have been working harder than ever before for you.
And in this coming campaign, I hope you’ll work harder than ever before for them.
Because every time you stand up for a brighter, stronger, safer, better, fairer America, you’re standing up for America itself.
Stand up for an America that ensures civil rights and human rights for all.
Stand up for an America where a woman’s right to choose is never weakened, never abandoned, never taken away.
Stand up an America that honors our fighting men and women overseas by making this nation everything it should be here at home.
Stand up for an America where people know their vote counts because they live in a country that counts every vote.
Never give up on what you believe in. Never give up on your vision for the future. Never give up on fighting for what’s right.
As Churchill also said: Never, never, never, never, never, never give up.
God bless you and God bless the United States of America.