Speeches from the 2008 Presidential Campaign
Remarks at the AARP Life@50+ National Expo
September 6, 2008
Hi, everybody. Thank you, Bill, for that warm introduction, and for your friendship and leadership. I want to acknowledge Evelyn Gooden, the Illinois AARP State President, for her years of devoted service to the people of my home state. And congratulations to all of you in the AARP on fifty years of fighting tirelessly to improve the lives of those over fifty.
For generations, we have worked to keep a simple promise in this country - that those who have worked hard their entire lives have the right to retire with dignity and security.
That is the promise my grandparents knew. When my grandfather returned from serving his country in World War II, he was able to go to college on the GI Bill, buy their first house with a loan from the federal government, and set out west from Kansas to build their lives with the confidence that they could reach a secure retirement.
That is the promise that Michelle's parents knew. After her father passed away, her mother was able to live comfortably due in part to his pension as a shiftworker.
That was the promise that FDR made. And it was a promise that Washington kept for decades while folks like my grandparents and Michelle's parents moved through the ups and downs of middle-class life.
But today, that promise feels like it's slowly slipping away. You feel this in your own lives. More Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More have lost their homes and more are watching their home values plummet. You're paying college tuition that's beyond your reach while supporting your aging parents. And as you plan for your future, you're finding it's harder to save and it's harder to retire.
That's because, for eight long years, there's been a very different philosophy in the White House. They call it the Ownership Society, but what it really means is you're on your own. Job shipped overseas? Tough luck. Pension disappeared? That's the breaks. No health care? The emergency room will fix it. You're on your own.
Now, let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. And I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.
And since he's not offering much change, that's why you didn't hear much about his plans for the future this week. You didn't hear much about their health care plan that would actually tax your benefits for the first time ever, or about their plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement, or how they plan to fix the economy they've ruined or help you live comfortably in your later years. Because, in the words of John McCain's campaign manager, this election "isn't about the issues."
Well I'm running for President because I believe this election is all about the issues. It's not about me, or John McCain, it's about you. It's about your lives. It's about your future.
And securing your future starts with protecting Social Security - today, tomorrow and forever. Now, John McCain said that the way Social Security works is, and I quote, "an absolute disgrace." Wrong. For millions of Americans, it's the very difference between a comfortable retirement and falling into poverty. More than half of seniors depend on it for more than half of their income. And as the first baby boomers become eligible for benefits this year, there are steps we can take to secure its future for generations to come.
That doesn't mean embracing George Bush's failed privatization scheme, as John McCain has. Privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George Bush proposed it, and it's a bad idea today. It would take the one rock-solid, guaranteed part of your retirement income and gamble it on the stock market. That's why I stood with AARP against this plan in the Senate, and that's why I won't stand for it as President.
But his campaign has gone even further, suggesting that the best answer to the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments or raise the retirement age. I will not do either. There's another option that is fairer to working men and women without putting the burden on those who have already earned it.
Right now, the Social Security payroll tax is capped. That means most middle-class families pay this tax on every dime they make, while millionaires and billionaires only pay it on a very small percentage of their income. That's why I'll work with members of Congress from both parties to ask people making more than $250,000 a year to contribute a little bit more to keep the system sound. It's a change that would start a decade or more from now, and it won't burden middle-class families. In fact, 99% of Americans will see absolutely no change in their taxes - 99%.
Now, even if we keep Social Security strong for future generations, it's still not enough to help seniors on fixed incomes who are struggling with the rising cost of everything from gas to groceries. That's why I'll make retirement more secure by eliminating income taxes for retirees making less than $50,000 per year. This would completely eliminate income taxes for 7 million seniors. And I will cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families in this country. Now is the time to give the middle-class a break.
Now is the time to finally provide affordable, accessible health care for every single American - because you shouldn't have to worry about being one illness away from bankruptcy. If you like the health care you have, you'll see lower premiums under my plan. If you don't have health care, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.
Now is the time to also strengthen and preserve Medicare, and these reforms will do just that. In addition, I will allow the government to negotiate with drug companies to lower costs for seniors, and we'll allow reimportation of drugs from other countries and ensure their safety, lowering costs for all consumers.
Now is the time to help families care for their aging parents by enacting a real long-term care plan that lowers costs and guarantees that all Americans receive quality care in their later years; to end the outrage of CEOs cashing out while workers watch their pensions disappear; to encourage savings, investment and wealth creation for our younger workers by enacting automatic workplace pensions.
As President, these are the policies I will pursue so that older Americans can continue living the longer, better, more productive lives that they have every right to expect.
AARP, that's how we'll renew Americans' confidence in a secure retirement. That's the change we need. But I need your help to make it happen. So if you're ok with the next four years looking just like the last eight, then I am not your candidate. But if you want change - if you want to restore that fundamental promise we've made from generation to generation, then I ask you to give me your vote on November 4th. And if you do, I promise you - we will change this country together.
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