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Town Hall
En Espanol

Remarks by Vice President Al Gore
Progress Now for the American People
Monday, July 10, 2000

For the past month, I've been traveling all across this country, carrying a message about the big choices we have to make to secure prosperity and progress for a new American century.

Today, I want to focus on a single choice that is fundamental to our promise as a nation:

Will we stand up for the people, or serve the powerful?

Will we rise up and demand that America's leaders put the American people first? Or will we allow entrenched interests to dig in their heels even deeper; to put their own interests ahead of the public good; to take over the Presidency as well as the Congress?

I'm running for President because I want to fight for you. I want to fight for the people, not the powerful.

For all my public service, I've stood up to the big drug companies, the big oil companies, the insurance companies and the HMO's. That's what I'm doing now in this campaign - and that's exactly what I'll do as President of the United States.

But I am here today to tell you: we don't have to wait until election day.

For the past eight years, we've shown that we can put progress ahead of partisanship, to make gains that were once unimaginable: the first budget surpluses in a generation. Twenty-two million new jobs. Targeted tax cuts to pay for college and job training. The welfare rolls cut in half. The smallest national government since John Kennedy sat in the Oval Office.

Now, because of all we've achieved, we can set our sights even higher. Now, building on a strong foundation, we can reach for the best America.

Imagine an America that closes out not just its material debts, but its moral debts as well: where no parent or grandparent ever has to choose between medicine and food and rent; where we honor the bonds between the generations, and keep Social Security and Medicare strong.

Imagine an America that transforms education -- so that there is a qualified teacher in every classroom, and all our children have a chance to learn more and lift themselves higher.

Imagine an America where we invoke all the wonders of science and discovery - to cure cancer, ease the pain of disease, and let all our children breathe air free of pollution and smog.

Here's the good news: we can now take major steps toward the best America. And we can take some of these steps right now - in this session of Congress - simply by passing legislation that has been before the Congress for months, or even years.

And this is not just the Democratic agenda. There is broad, bipartisan support for health reform, education investment, and measures like a prescription drug benefit for seniors - not just across the land, but across the aisles of Congress itself.

But here's the reality of the Republican leadership in this Congress: instead of taking bipartisan action for prosperity and progress, they have chosen a different course:

Do nothing for the people; pass nothing that offends the special interests; serve the powerful, not the people.

I say to you today: that must change, and it must change now - even before the election.

It is time for Congress to start listening to the voices of the people, instead of hearing and heeding the demands of big oil and the pharmaceutical interests.

This do-nothing-for-the-people Republican Congress should finally do something for our children, and pay down the national debt -- so they can reach for their dreams, instead of paying for the cost overruns of ours.

The leadership in Congress should stop trying to pass massive tax breaks for the special interests, because we don't want to go back to the era of deficit, recession, and high interest rates.

This do-nothing-for-the-people Republican Congress should finally do something for our parents and grandparents, and strengthen Social Security and Medicare. Yes, both houses of Congress have passed legislation to put Medicare in an iron-clad lock-box, where the politicians can't touch it. But you know what the Republican leaders are doing with that legislation? They're keeping it in a legislative lock-box, so it can never become law.

This do-nothing-for-the-people Republican Congress should finally do something to invest more in education - to hire new teachers, reduce class size, and help our children learn. Instead, they even tried to repeal our plan for 100,000 new well-trained teachers.

This do-nothing-for-the-people Republican Congress should finally do something for every family in America, and that is: pass a real, bipartisan Patients' Bill of Rights, to make sure you get the best health care, and not just the cheapest. To cover up their inaction, the Republican leadership has offered fig-leaf legislation to protect insurance company profits, not your health and well-being. Here is how Republican Congressman Charlie Norwood, the co-author of the bipartisan bill, describes his own party's do-nothing bill: "not worth the paper it's printed on."

Instead of counting the big drug company donations that are rolling in, it's time for Congress to pass a real prescription drug benefit for all seniors on Medicare. But the do-nothing Republican leadership won't even let the House of Representatives vote on that, because they are afraid it would pass.

Instead of counting the oil company donations that are gushing in, it is time for Congress to take decisive action to protect our environment, to reduce our dependence on big oil and foreign oil, and to clean up contaminated brownfields.

Unless this Congress starts doing its job now, this will be remembered in history as the Congress that blocked progress for the people all across the board. What is their record to date?

Nothing to close the gun show loophole. Don't they agree that we should stop criminals from buying guns without a background check?

Nothing to raise the minimum wage. Don't they agree that for the hardest-pressed families, work should always pay more than welfare?

Nothing to guarantee basic paycheck fairness for women. Don't they agree with us that there should be an equal day's pay for an equal day's work?

Don't just take it from me; as one Republican staff member in the Senate just admitted, "you couldn't get a Mother's Day resolution through [Congress] right now."

Let's face it: never has so little been done, in so much time, to benefit so few.

This is the do-nothing Congress of the 21st Century - and the reason they do nothing is that the Republican leaders keep asking what they can do for the special interests.

It's not just a coincidence that they have blocked meaningful campaign finance reform. They may want John McCain to speak at their convention, but they filibustered the McCain-Feingold bill. And we all know why:

The HMO's and insurance companies have lavished almost $9 million on the Republican Party in the past few years. No wonder the Republican leaders' phony Patients' Bill of Rights leaves out 135 million Americans; leaves out a real guarantee of the right to see a specialist; and leaves out any assurance that you can go to the nearest emergency room, not just the one that is miles away.

A phony coalition called "Citizens for Better Medicare" has given more than $7 million to the Republican Party in the past few years. You know who the citizens are? More than 30 big drug companies. And the Republican leaders in Congress have joined with them to protect drug industry price-gouging and tell seniors to go beg the HMO's and the insurance companies for help with prescription drugs.

Now the so-called "Citizens for Better Medicare" is polluting the public airwaves with television ads designed to defend the position taken by the Republican leaders. At least there ought to be a little truth in advertising. They ought to call it "Citizens for Bad Medicare."

Governor Bush, who is now the head of the Republican Party, says nothing about this, and his silence aids and abets the do-nothing Republican Congress - and the same special interests who are contributing so much to his own campaign: the HMO's, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the oil companies and the big polluters.

Many of us are concerned about the problem of partisanship in Washington. That problem is real - and with your help, as President, I will work to heal the divisions. But that's not the problem here. How can it be, when a real Patients' Bill of Rights has been co-authored by a Republican, has wide Republican support in Congress, and is supported by most Republicans in America?

How can this be about partisanship when dozens of Republicans in the House and the Senate have joined with Democrats, to fight for a real prescription drug benefit for seniors - a bill that a majority of Republicans across this nation want to see passed into law?

The real problem here isn't gridlock; it's the special-interest lock that's creating the do-nothing Congress. That's why the Republican leadership won't let Republicans and Democrats alike join together, to do what's right for America.

I say to you today: it is time for Congress to listen to the people, and not the powerful.

I have heard from people like Dylan and Christine Malone of Everett, Washington. Their six-month-old son Ian is severely disabled, and their HMO advised them to put him up for adoption, to avoid paying for his care. For them, and for millions like them, I will stand up and fight for a real Patients' Bill of Rights.

I have heard from people like Shirley Kindle - not far from here in East Hartford, Connecticut. She pays more for prescription drugs each month than she receives in Social Security. For Shirley, and for millions like her, I will stand up and fight until all seniors on Medicare have all the help they need to purchase the prescription medicines they cannot live without.

I have heard from people like Laura Barrett of Philadelphia. She had to go on welfare when she was pregnant, just to get health coverage and qualify for pre-natal care. For Laura, and for millions like her, I will stand up and fight for the affordable coverage she needs.

A few weeks from now, the Republican and Democratic parties will gather for their national conventions - to formally choose their nominees, and to begin this fall's election contest. I know that it will be a hard-fought contest; it already is.

But the campaign is no excuse for a Congress that continues to do nothing. Instead of just making promises in a platform, it's time for the Republican leaders to let Republicans and Democrats join together in Congress to pass the people's legislation.

We can do it now. The Democratic Party is ready. Many Republicans have pledged their votes as well. We are just six votes away from raising the minimum wage. Just one vote away from a real Patients' Bill of Rights.

I have talked with Congressman Gephardt and Senator Daschle, and they are ready to work with the Republicans to get this Congress moving now. So is President Clinton, and so am I.

There is one other voice, the voice of George W. Bush, that can move the Republican leaders in Congress, and prove that a newly-proclaimed moderation is real, and not just rhetoric.

Let Governor Bush speak up on prescription drugs; on a Patients' Bill of Rights; on raising the minimum wage; on 100,000 new teachers for our schools.

Let Governor Bush pick up the phone, call the leaders of his own party, and ask them to pass legislation instead of blocking it.

This is the time of testing - when we show whose side we are truly on.

If hard-working families can't count on Governor Bush today, then what would happen if the results in November were a Bush White House, and a Republican Congress led by Lott, Armey, and Delay - all beholden to the same special interests?

The do-nothing Congress could then become the "do-the-wrong-thing" Congress. Massive tax breaks for the powerful and the comfortable -- instead of new investment in education. More protection for the big drug companies - instead of prescription drugs for seniors. More excuses for the HMO's and the insurance companies - and too many children and too many families left without any health care at all.

There is a real choice - not only in this election, but in the weeks ahead. It is time to move America forward.

This nation has done well in the past eight years. But I believe America's best days are still to come.

So if you believe, as I do, that we can have a new era of prosperity and progress for America; if you believe America can do better than a do-nothing Congress - then join with me.

Let's demand action from this Congress today. And let's elect a Congress that will stand up for the American people every day.

If you believe, as I do, that we can make the future work for the hard-working families that are the soul and strength of our country, then join with me.

Let's insist that all our leaders take a stand, and show us whose side they are on.

If you believe, as I do, that we can break the special-interest stalemate - if you believe we can make our schools better, our nation healthier, and our families stronger -- then join with me.

Let's challenge ourselves and all our people, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, to do our best for America - and let's do it now. Thank you.



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