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Transcript: Daschle on 'Middle-Class Squeeze'

The following is a transcript of remarks from Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle at the Democratic National Convention, Tuesday, July 27, 2004:

I thank you, and thank the people of my home state of South Dakota for the honor of representing you in the United States Senate. Over the next few weeks, I will again be driving from town to town, talking to South Dakotans. It is one of my favorite things to do every August. I listen to farmers and ranchers, teachers and tribal leaders, police officers and small business owners, moms and dads, people who are struggling, and others who are doing well. They don't agree on every issue. But the common thread that binds them together is a love for our country.

They understand that we have a moral responsibility to create a better future for our children and grandchildren. And they want a stronger America here at home. South Dakotans reject the defeatist view that we have enough money to rebuild Iraq, but can't afford to take care of our needs here. They wonder how we can build new schools in Iraq, while so many American schools are crumbling. And it doesn't make sense to them that we're paying over $2 for gasoline at home, while American taxpayers are funding nickel-a-gallon gas in Iraq. Americans aren't asking for special deals from Washington. They simply want their government to do right by America.

Doing right by America means we don't just talk about our values — we live them. And we honor the fundamental difference between right and wrong. John Kerry's entire life has been an inspirational example of doing right by America. When our generation was called to serve in Vietnam, he answered that call. He risked his life to save the lives of others, and led his small band of brothers to safety. He didn't talk about patriotism — he lived it.

When he came home from the war, he dedicated his life to public service. He worked first as a prosecutor putting criminals behind bars. As a United States senator, John Kerry has stood up to drug companies and fought to lower prices for seniors. And he has continued to fight for his brothers in arms. I know — we've fought side-by-side. For veterans' health care, justice for victims of Agent Orange, and a full accounting of all of America's POWs and soldiers missing in action.

John Edwards has spent his life fighting for the little guy. He's done his best to make things right when negligence caused terrible harm to children and families. And in the United States Senate, he has dedicated himself to making sure America's families are treated fairly by HMOs and insurance companies. John Kerry and John Edwards both understand that doing right by America means accepting the moral responsibility of making America stronger, smarter, and more secure. And it means changing the way business is done in Washington.

Today, the middle-class squeeze has become a way of life for millions of American families. Family incomes haven't risen in four years, but family expenses are soaring. Gas prices — up 22 percent. College tuition — up 28 percent. Health care premiums — up 36 percent. In the Kerry administration, the needs of regular families will be moved from the back burner to the front burner, boardroom priorities won't crowd out kitchen-table values, and the era of Enron and Halliburton — undermining our common purpose — will come to an end.

John Kerry, John Edwards, and all Democrats will work to expand the circle of opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. We will fix America's tax code to reward companies for keeping good paying jobs here, not shipping them overseas.

We will work to lower the cost of health care. Every American should have the same health care options, at the same price, as members of Congress. And we will work to provide every senior with a real prescription drug benefit that actually lowers costs to seniors, instead of handing billions to the big drug companies and HMOs.

We will invest in the new fuels and technologies that are the key to reducing America's dependence on imported oil. And we will make sure that our troops have the pay, equipment, and health care they deserve, that our allies do their fair share, and that we honor our commitment to America's veterans.

Tonight, thousands of miles from here, brave men and women are serving in Iraq. Many are members of the National Guard and Reserve — from South Dakota and every state in our great nation. We owe them our profound thanks. But words alone are not good enough. Thousands will return home with no health insurance because their jobs don't provide it, or they simply can't afford it. We reject the claim that we can't afford to provide our troops with access to affordable health care. When our soldiers do right by America, we must do right by them. America can do better.

And we will — with President John Kerry and Vice President John Edwards. And I pledge, as the next majority leader of the United States Senate: We will get America back on the right track. On November 2, Democrats will take back the Senate, with Barack Obama, Tony Knowles, Ken Salazar, Inez Tennenbaum, Erskine Bowles, Brad Carson, and all our newly elected Democratic senators. With John Kerry and John Edwards, with our colleagues in the House, and with the support of hard-working, patriotic Americans across our great land, we will answer our country's call. We will do the right thing. And we will do right by America.