Obama Remarks in Pittsburgh

CQ Transcripts
Monday, April 14, 2008; 12:52 PM

[*] (JOINED IN PROGRESS) SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: ... all the homes that had been purchased and all the families that had been fed because of that plant. What I came to understand was that, when a plant shuts down, it's not just the workers who pay a price; it's the entire community. I saw people who felt like their government wasn't looking out for them and who had given up hope. So I worked with those unions and the city government, and we brought the community together to fight for its common future. We gave job training to the jobless and hope to the hopeless and, block by block, we started to turn some of those neighborhoods around.

And more than 20 years later, as I've traveled across Pennsylvania and West Virginia and Ohio and all across this country, I'm still seeing too many places where plants have closed down and where people are feeling like they're not getting a fair shot in life, like their dreams are slipping further and further out of reach.

And that's partly because the same global economic pressures that led steel plants in Chicago to close down in the 1980s, but it's also because George Bush has pursued policies that don't work for working Americans.

In recent years, we've seen more than 3 million high-quality manufacturing jobs disappear. More than 40,000 factories have closed down. And more often than not, the few jobs that are being created pay less than the ones we're losing and come without health care or a pension, which makes it even harder for families to feel secure about the future.

We also know that the problem goes beyond the failures of George Bush, because for decades, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, we've seen the number of American-owned steel companies dwindle down. For decades, our economic policies have been written to pump up the corporate bottom line rather than promote what's right, without any consideration for the burdens we all bear when workers are abused and the environment is destroyed.

It's an outrage. But it's not an...


It's an outrage, but it's not an accident, because corporate lobbyists in Washington are writing our laws and putting their clients' interests ahead of what's fair for the American people.

The men and women you represent haven't been getting a seat at the table when the trade agreements are being negotiated, or tax policies are being written, or health care or pension laws are being designed, because the special interests have bought every chair around that table.


That is not the America I believe in. That's not the way our democracy is supposed to work. That's not the America you believe in. And that's why, when I'm president, we're going to make sure that Washington serves nobody's interests but the people's interests. That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America.


You know, there's been a lot of talk in this campaign over the last few days about who's in touch with the workers in Pennsylvania. Senator Clinton and Senator McCain seem to be singing from the same hymnbook, saying I'm out of touch, I'm an elitist because I said a lot of folks are bitter about their economic circumstances.

Now, it may be that I chose my words badly. It's not the first time; it won't be the last. But when I hear my opponents, both of whom spent decades in Washington, saying I'm out of touch, it's time to cut through the rhetoric and look at the reality.


It's time to cut through the rhetoric. Let's take a look at the reality. After all, you've heard this kind of rhetoric before. Around election time, candidates, they just can't do enough. They'll promise you anything. They'll give you a long list of proposals. They'll even come around with TV crews in tow and throw back a shot and a beer.

But if those same candidates are taking millions of dollars in contributions from the PACs and the lobbyists, ask yourself: Who are they going to be toasting once the election's over?


I am the only candidate in this race who doesn't take money from corporate PACs and doesn't take it from federal lobbyists. I'm here to tell you that you can count on me to stand up for you in this election, just as I've been standing up for workers all of my life. That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America.


At the beginning of this campaign, people asked, "How are you going to be able to run a campaign if you don't take PAC money, don't take lobbyists' money?" I said, "Because I trust in the American people." And 15 months later, that trust has been repaid, because I'm raising money in $25 increments and $50 increments all across this country from working people.

Lobbyists haven't funded my campaign; that means they won't run our White House; and they will not drown out the voice of the American people when I'm president of the United States of America.

Now, Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are questioning my respect for the workers of Pennsylvania. Let me tell you how I think you demonstrate your respect: You do it by telling the truth and keeping your word so folks can know where you stand today is where you'll stand tomorrow.

The truth is trade is here to stay. We live in a global economy. For America's future to be as bright as our past, we have to compete. We have to win. And to win, we have to understand some hard realities. Not every job that's left is coming back. If somebody tells you they are, they're not telling you the truth. Not every job has been lost due to trade. Automation has made plants more efficient, so they can make the same amount of steel with fewer workers. Those are realities.

What's also true -- I want to make sure that I'm speaking straight with you -- is I don't oppose all trade deals. I voted for two of them, because they had the worker and environmental agreements that I believe in. Some of you disagreed with me on this, but I did what I thought was right. That's the truth.

But let me tell you what else I believe in. For America to win, American workers have to win, too. If CEO pay keeps rising while the standard of living for their workers continues to decline, something's wrong with that.


When you've got CEOs making more in one day than ordinary workers are making in an entire year, and George Bush gives the CEO a tax break and the worker gets nothing, and when the company goes belly-up, you've got a golden parachute for the worker -- or for the CEO, and the worker is losing his pension, something's wrong. That's not an America that I believe in.


That's not an America that you believe in. That's not how we're going to win. That's not how we're going to compete on the global stage.

That's why I opposed NAFTA. That's why I opposed CAFTA. That's why I said any trade agreement I would support had to contain real, enforceable standards for workers. That's why I believe the permanent normalized trade agreement with China didn't do enough to ensure fairness and compliance.

Now, you can have a debate about whether my position is wrong or right, but here's what you can't do. You can't spend the better part of two decades campaigning for NAFTA and PNTR for China and then come here to Pennsylvania and tell the workers that you've been with them all along. That's what you can't do.


You can have a debate with me about whether I'm right or wrong. But what you can't do is say you're opposed to the Colombia trade deal while your key strategist is working for the Colombian government to get that same trade deal passed. That's something you can't do.

That's not respect. That's just more of the same, old Washington politics, and we can't afford the same. We need real change. And that's what I'm offering.

I'm offering a new, more transparent, more inclusive path on trade, so we can help promote an integrated global economy where the costs and benefits are distributed fairly. And it starts with a principle I've always believed in, that trade should work not just for some Americans, but for all Americans, not just for Wall Street, but for Main Street.

That's why we finally need to confront the issue of trade with China. As I've said before, America and the world can benefit from trade with China, but trade with China will only be good for you if China itself plays by the rules and acts as a positive force for balanced world growth.

You know, seeing...


... seeing the living standards of the Chinese people improve is a good thing, good because we want a stable China, good because China can be a powerful market for American exports. But all too often, China's been competing in a way that's tilting the playing field and is unfair to U.S. workers.

It's not just that China is following the path taken by so many other countries before it and dumping goods into our market while not opening our own market -- their own markets, something that I've spoken out against. It's not just that they're violating intellectual property rights.

They're also grossly undervaluing their currency and giving their goods yet another unfair advantage. Each year...


Each year they've had the chance, the Bush administration has failed to do anything about it. And that's unacceptable. That's why I co-sponsored the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act. And that's why as president I'll use all the diplomatic avenues open to me to insist that China stop manipulating its currency, because it's not fair to American manufacturers, it's not fair to you, and we are going to change it when I'm president of the United States of America.


We also have to make sure that whatever goods we're importing are safe for our families. We all saw the harm that was caused by lead toys from China that were reaching our store shelves.

A few months ago, when I called for a ban on any toys that have more than a trace amount of lead, an official at China's foreign ministry said I was being, quote, "unobjective, unreasonable, and unfair." But I don't think protecting our children is unreasonable, unobjective, or unfair. I think it's in our obligation as parents and as Americans, and I intend to keep on doing the same thing when I'm president of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE) When it comes to trade, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. If countries are committed to reciprocity, if they're abiding by basic rules of the road, then we should welcome trade. Many poor countries need access to our markets and pose no threat to our workers, and we always want to access the markets abroad.

But what all trade agreements I negotiate as president will have in common is that they will all put American workers first. They will put the American people first.

We won't ignore violence against union organizers in Colombia. We won't ignore...


We won't ignore the non-tariff barriers that keep U.S. cars out of South Korea. If they can sell cars here, we should be able to sell cars there. That's a pretty straightforward principle. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

We won't just negotiate fair trade agreements; we'll make sure they're being fully enforced.

George Bush has been far too slow to press American rights. That's an outrage.

When our trading partners sign an agreement with the Obama administration, you can trust that we'll actually enforce those agreements. We won't, with a wink and a nod, look the other way.

Now, if we're serious about standing up for American workers around the world, let's face it, we also have to stand up for American workers right here at home.


And that means passing universal health care...


... because people are being overburdened, and unions are having to spend all their time negotiating to keep health care benefits that they've already won instead of negotiating to improve their wages and benefits for the future. That's wrong; that's going to change.

And we've got to have a system where every single American can get health care that is at least as good as the health care I have as a member of Congress. You pay my salaries; I shouldn't have better health care than you.


So what I've already said is we're going to work with employers who are doing the right thing by their workers to lower premiums by up to $2,500 a year. If you don't have health care, and we are going to make sure that you have health care that's as good as the health care I have as a member of Congress.

We are going to emphasize prevention, so that we have an actual health care system instead of a disease care system.


And we can set up a system that not only helps people with their health care costs and their lives, but also helps employers and makes them more competitive. And we're not going to wait 20 years from now to do it or 10 years from now to do it. We are going to do it by the end of my first term as president of the United States of America.

We've got to make sure that every American has insurance that you can take with you even if you lose your job and a college degree is within reach for every young person in America, even if you're not rich, because all of our children should have the skills to compete in the global economy.


And looking after our workers also means protecting their rights. It's time we had a president who didn't choke on the word "union."


We need to strengthen our unions by letting them do what they do best: organize workers. If a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union, no matter what, whether they're full-time or part- time or contract workers, and that's what I will fight for and why I intend to sign the Employee Free Choice Act when it hits my desk and I'm in the White House.


And here's what else I'll do. We'll pass the employer -- what I call the Patriot Employer Act. It's a pretty simple concept. I've been working on it since I got to the Senate.

We should stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and we should save those tax breaks for companies that are investing in plants and equipment here in the United States of America, and are looking after their workers here in the United States of America, and are providing health care benefits and pension benefits for workers right here in the United States of America.


And to those who think that the decline in American manufacturing is inevitable, that manufacturing has no place in the 21st-century economy, we say right here and right now that the fight for manufacturing's future is a fight for America's future.

And that's why we're going to modernize the steel industry, to strengthen our entire manufacturing base, and we're going to actually have an industrial policy and a manufacturing policy to move this country forward and open as many markets as we can to American manufactured goods when I'm president.

And we're going to make the necessary long-term investments in job growth. Back in the 1950s, Americans were put to work building the interstate highway system that helped expand the middle class in this country. We need to show that same kind of leadership today.

That's why I've called for a national infrastructure reinvestment bank that will invest $60 billion and generate millions of new jobs in infrastructure. We can't keep standing by...



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