Right By America
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Senator Tom Daschle
In just over 100 days, the American people will make an historic and
They will decide whether we stay the course weíre on, or move our country
in a new and better direction.
As Iíve traveled around South Dakota and the nation, Iíve heard a
lot about the hopes and dreams Americans have for their families. Iíve
listened to ranchers and farmers, teachers and mothers, police officers
I am always humbled by the honesty of their message. Families in South
Dakota and across our nation arenít asking for special deals or special
advantage. All they want is a fair opportunity on a level playing field.
They want to know that thereís only one set of rules, and that the
game isnít rigged against them.
Most of all, they want to know that as we make decisions affecting
the future of our country, our first priority is Doing Right by America.
If a policy isnít going to make us stronger and safer, if itís not
going to expand opportunity and put common sense ahead of ideology,
then itís not doing right by America.
Doing Right by America rejects the defeatist view that we have enough
money to rebuild Iraq, but not enough resources to take care of America.
At its heart, Doing Right by America means fulfilling our moral responsibility
Ė together Ė to create a better future for our children and grandchildren.
Itís a simple value that Americans have always lived by, but itís
been pushed aside these last four years. Boardroom priorities have
crowded out kitchen-table needs, and special interests Ė like Enron,
Halliburton, and the giant oil companies Ė have undermined our common
purpose. Years of progress in spreading opportunity for regular Americans
has been turned on its head.
Weíre all proud that America is a place of great wealth and success. But the
genius of America has never been just the ability of the rich to get richer.
The true genius of America has always been the promise that all Americans who
work hard and play by the rules will have the opportunity to succeed.
The promise of opportunity is what inspired my grandparents, and tens of millions
of other immigrants, to start a new life here.
And nearly every day, I hear a new story that reminds me that my
most important responsibility is defending the opportunity of regular
Americans to build a better life for themselves and their children.
Middle-class families deserve an opportunity to compete for good
jobs that reward work.
They deserve an opportunity to send their children to good schools,
and then on to good colleges and universities, without busting the
They deserve an opportunity to purchase health insurance at a reasonable
price so they can see a doctor Ė one they choose Ė when theyíre sick
or injured, and so they can fill a prescription if their doctor writes
They deserve the opportunity to be safe Ė safe in their communities
and safe in their homes.
And, after a lifetime of hard work and years of paying into Social
Security, they deserve the opportunity to retire with dignity and
Thatís not a lot to ask. But in some ways, itís everything. Widening
the circle of opportunity and prosperity Ė year after year, decade
after decade Ė is what makes America great. Itís our heritage, and
it must be our legacy.
But today, those with power often seem to have lost sight of this
fundamental value and the difference between right and wrong.
We saw that a few months ago, when a major telecommunications company
gave one of its executives a severance package worth more than $8
million. This executive had worked there for only seven months, and
he was leaving because he hadnít done his job well.
As the company handed the failed executive his $8 million check,
it handed out something else to 12,000 of its rank-and-file workers:
Thatís not doing right.
Around that same time, a man Iíve known for years called my office.
His name is Brad Besler. Heís 47 and a fourth-generation rancher
in western South Dakota. He and his wife, Fern, have five children
Ė four have graduated from college, and the youngest is still in
Brad called my office because South Dakota is entering its fifth
straight year of drought and heís worried. Two years ago, the drought
was so bad, and trying to survive it was so stressful, that he suffered
a stroke that left him blind in one eye. A few months ago, he had
If the drought is anywhere near as bad this year, he says heíll have
to sell his entire herd of cattle Ė the only income his family has.
If that happens, heíll have to drop his familyís health insurance,
which runs $896 a month.
Heís trying desperately to avoid that because Ė with a blind eye,
a bad back, and a history of strokes Ė he knows that if he loses
his coverage, it will be next to impossible for him to ever get health
Listening to Brad Besler, two things strike you. The first is his
incredible courage and willingness to work hard to support his family.
The second is that Bradís government seems to have forgotten about
Weíre not doing right by Brad Besler. And in my view, weíre not doing
right by America when we hand over millions to a lucky few who already
have so much, while ignoring the real needs of those who are working
so hard and so honestly.
But thatís exactly whatís happening in America today. Thereís an
ever growing list of government policies that reward wealth, not
work. Thatís not an accident; itís a conscious choice.
With Republicans in control of the entire federal government, it often
seems as if their leaders are trying to narrow the circle of opportunity
and prosperity in America. And theyíve put the needs of middle-class
families on the back burner.
We see that even as the economy slowly improves. Corporations reap
most of the benefits, while regular workers continue to struggle.
In fact, during this recovery, corporations have gotten twice their
normal share of the increase in national income, while workers have
received their lowest share in over 50 years.
As the chief economist at Merrill Lynch observed: ďWeíve had a redistribution
of income to the corporate sector.Ē
Or as Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in America, put it:
ďIf thereís class warfare going on, my class is winning.Ē
That isnít good for most American families, and it isnít doing right
We can do better, and we have done better. During the Clinton Administration,
America created 21 million new private-sector jobs. Now, just four
years later, the Bush Administration is on track to have the worst
job-creation record since the Great Depression.
During the first two-and-a-half years of the Bush Administration,
we lost over three million private-sector jobs. And although the economy
has finally started to recover some jobs in recent months, the new
jobs pay, on average, 13 percent less than the jobs theyíre replacing.
As a result, too many average families are losing ground, even as
they work harder and harder. And to make matters worse, the Bush
Administration continues to demand that millions of employees lose
their right to overtime pay.
Since President Bush took office, real weekly earnings for average
Americans have not grown at all Ė but their expenses have soared.
Gas prices have gone up 23%; college tuition has gone up 28%; and
health care premiums have gone up 36%.
And while the middle class is getting squeezed, huge corporations
are growing rich. While consumers are struggling with record gas
prices, Chevron-Texaco is reporting record profits. While family
incomes have stagnated, overall corporate profits have risen by more
A generation ago, the average American CEO made about 50 times more
than the average worker. Now, thanks to bad policies and even worse
values, the average CEO makes 300 times more than the average worker.
Thatís just not right. And unless we change course, itís going to
Instead of fighting to keep good jobs here, Republican leaders in
Washington are using tax breaks to reward companies for shipping
jobs overseas. Businesses are walking jobs out of the country, and
the government is holding the door for them.
A few months ago, President Bushís top economic advisor told us that
sending jobs overseas ďis probably a plus for the economy, in the
long run. The President believes this.Ē
The President also seems to believe itís okay to send millions of
dollars in unemployment pay to former Iraqi soldiers, while denying
help to American workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas.
Thatís doing wrong by America.
As the election nears, the Presidentís economic team has been grasping
for ways to make a bad economy sound good. To deal with the loss
of more than 2 million manufacturing jobs, they floated the idea
of redefining ďmanufacturing jobsĒ to include fast-food workers preparing
Big Macs and Whoppers. Manufacturing once meant building cars or
fabricating steel for good wages Ė now the Bush Administration says
it might mean putting a burger on a bun for minimum wage.
Thatís not being straight with America.
And weíre not doing right by America by running up trillions in new
debt and pretending itís not a problem.
During the Clinton Administration, we turned huge deficits into record
surpluses. Now, just four years later, $5 trillion of expected surpluses
have turned into $3 trillion of new debt.
As a result, we are giving our children something they donít want
and donít deserve: a $25,000 birth tax. Thatís the share of our national
debt owed by every child in America. My two grandchildren both inherited
that debt the moment they were born.
It wasnít long ago that Republicans came to Washington promising
fiscal discipline. Instead of keeping that promise, theyíve taken
us on a four-year fiscal binge that has squandered record budget
surpluses and created record budget deficits.
In 2000, Republican leaders, including President Bush, promised that ď[t]he
Social Security surplus is off-limits, off budget, and will not be touched.Ē
Four years later, theyíve already raided $500 billion from Social Security
to pay for tax cuts, and theyíre planning to take another $2.4 trillion Ė $2.4
trillion Ė over the next 10 years.
Thatís your money. It comes out of your paycheck. Itís supposed to be there
when you retire. Itís not supposed to be used to pay for tax breaks for millionaire
CEOs or to reward companies for shipping American jobs overseas.
Looting Social Security is not doing right by American workers and retirees,
and we canít let it happen.
The Bush Administration is draining trillions from Social Security, borrowing
hundreds of billions from China and Japan to pay our debts, sending billions
of dollars to Iraq for roads and schools, and then planning on cutting billions
here at home for education, environmental protection, medical research, Head
Start, and nutrition programs for pregnant women and children. The Administration
even wants to cut $1 billion from homeland security at the very time itís warning
of likely new terrorist attacks.
Thatís not doing right by America, and it doesnít make any sense.
But this Administration is making a habit of decisions that donít make much
A couple of months ago, the Secretary of Health and Human Services defended
the Administrationís plan to provide health care to all Iraqis, but not to
all Americans. He said, ďEven if you donít have health insurance in America,
you get taken care of. That could be defined as universal coverage.Ē
Try telling that to the nearly 44 million Americans who are uninsured Ė 4 million
more than when George Bush took office Ė and the millions more who are under-insured.
Try telling that to the millions of families who, year after year, are watching
out-of-control health insurance premiums bust the family budget.
Or try telling that to the Lakota woman in South Dakota whose sister died a
few months ago from a stomach cancer that went undetected because the Indian
Health Service didnít have money to refer her to a specialist.
In America today, seniors canít afford the medicine they need and have discovered
that last yearís Medicare law is a sham that provides billions to insurance
and drug companies. Many veterans canít use the VA health system anymore because
of arbitrary, budget-driven barriers to care. And 32,000 National Guard members
and reservists who are serving in Iraq will lose their health coverage when
they come home because the Bush Administration refuses to extend their coverage.
These arenít unintended consequences Ė they are clear choices.
When record debt makes it difficult to repair our crumbling roads and bridges,
fund our childrenís schools, support our police and firefighters, and honor
our commitment to Americaís veterans, thatís the result of bad choices.
When American soldiers are sent into combat without armor in their protective
vests, when theyíre losing limbs and sacrificing their lives because there
arenít enough armored cars, when health services are being cut for veterans,
and when the Bush Administration says that there isnít enough money to let
reservists and Guard members buy into the military health system, thatís the
result of bad choices.
These choices donít do right by America, and we need to change them.
Thereís something else we need to change. In the last four years, weíve seen
more and more secrecy and less and less accountability in the Bush Administration.
During the past few years, a small group of courageous individuals has stepped
forward and said things this Administration didnít want to hear and didnít
want anyone else to know. In every case, their patriotism, honesty, or competence
Senator John McCain found that out. So did the Presidentís former treasury
secretary Paul OíNeill. And so did Medicare actuary Richard Foster, former
Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, and former White House counter-terrorism
advisor Richard Clarke.
When Ambassador Joe Wilson told the truth about the Administrationís misleading
claims about Iraqís nuclear weapon capability, some government officials retaliated
by disclosing that his wife was a deep-cover CIA agent. For nothing more than
political gain, they were willing to endanger the life of one of the people
who protect our national security.
Thatís not doing right by America. Those arenít our morals and they arenít
In the America I know, moms and dads sit at the kitchen table every month and
balance the family checkbook. When the car breaks down or there are unexpected
doctor visits, thereís a pinch. They donít expect the government to bail them
out when that happens, but they want a fair shake. They want their government
to focus on jobs and health care and education, and they donít want their government
to take their Social Security money to pay for tax breaks for millionaires
and big corporations.
They want their government to do right by them, and they have a right to expect
But when they see oil industry interests coming before their interests . .
. and HMO profits coming before the health of seniors ? and special deals for
Halliburton coming before the safety of their sons and daughters in Iraq .
. . they know their government isnít doing right by America.
Iím as frustrated as they are about these choices, but Iím not discouraged
about our ability to fix things Ė we can and we will. We can get America back
on track by doing right by America.
Doing Right by America means putting our common interests ahead of the special
interests. It means paying as much attention to Middle America as we are paying
to the Middle East. And it means bringing common sense back to government.
We should be thinking not just about the people who own Wal-Mart, but about
the millions of Americans who work and shop there.
We should be changing tax polices so corporations have an incentive to keep
jobs here at home, not ship them overseas, and we should aggressively enforce
our trade laws to protect workers from unfair competition.
We should be improving roads and bridges and creating millions of jobs along
the way, and investing in education, training, and technological innovation
so workers whoíve lost jobs can find new ones, and workers who have jobs can
get better ones.
And if we are truly going to do right by American workers, it is long past
time that we increase the minimum wage, and it is absolutely essential that
we stop the Bush Administration from following through with its plan to strip
millions of workers of their right to overtime pay.
Doing Right by America means honestly confronting the health care crisis in
our country, not pretending that it doesnít exist. As a first step, we should
provide every American with the opportunity to choose from the same health
care options, at the same price, as members of Congress have.
If itís good enough for those of us in government, it ought to be
an option for every American who needs health insurance.
Doing Right by America means an honest prescription drug policy that
doesnít funnel billions of dollars in windfalls to drug companies
and HMOs, but instead offers seniors the medications they need at
a fair price Ė without the mind-boggling complexity of the Bush Administrationís
It means properly funding our childrenís schools and giving every
American family a guarantee Ė if your sons and daughters work hard
in school and get good grades, they will have a first-rate and affordable
college education waiting for them the day they graduate from high
And it means putting our nation on the road to energy independence.
The next generation should be able to look forward to a future thatís
not put at risk by unrestrained pollution and a dangerous dependence
on foreign oil.
Finally, Doing Right by America means being honest about performance,
both at home and abroad. Itís not pessimistic to acknowledge the
problems workers have endured over the past four years; itís pessimistic
to think that we canít do better.
And it doesnít endanger our troops to ask questions that might save
their lives. If weíre going to do right by them, we have to stand
up for them, even if that means asking tough questions about the
Administration and its policies. And when our troops return home,
we have to make sure they receive the medical attention they earned.
We owe them more than empty promises.
We will have a clear choice in November.
We can continue on the course weíre on, where special interests come
before common interests, where boardroom issues come before kitchen-table
issues, and where opportunity is reserved for a small, members-only
club. Or we can choose a new and better direction.
Doing Right By America means that our values guide our policies. Our strength
comes from opportunity and responsibility Ė and a commitment to making sure
that our middle-class has a fair chance. It means fixing health care, creating
good jobs again, and making education affordable.
Mr. President, we can do this, and we should do it together. Doing
Right by America shouldnít be an idea we just talk about, it should
be the value that guides all our decisions in Congress.
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Tom Daschle is the
Senate Democratic Leader.