"Thank you, Ken [McEldowney]. Congratulations on once again becoming the President of Consumer Federation of America. Im proud to have worked with you over the years. You are a relentless advocate and educator. Your great work has been indispensable to the nation and to my hometown of San Francisco and the entire Bay Area.
"Just one example of Kens work is the Healthy Children Organizing Project, which is designed to address the danger that lead paint presents to our children in our homes, in our schools, and in public playgrounds. Thank you, Ken, for this effort and your many efforts on behalf of American consumers.
"I want to recognize especially my longtime friend, former Senator Howard Metzenbaum, who is an extraordinary leader. Because of you, our nation has the Brady Bill, an effective law that helps prevent gun violence and keeps guns out of the hands of criminals. Because of you, our nation has food labeling laws that educate the consumer. Because of you, American workers and their rights are protected.
"I am honored to be here today to speak to one of the finest public policy organizations in the country. I see in the audience many talented and tireless workers who seek to advance the cause of consumer rights and consumer protection.
"You give voice to all consumers who are not able to speak personally to the policymakers or the regulators or businesses or corporations. For that I say -- thank you.
"Your successes are many. And clearly you are not afraid to take on anyone or anything that gets in your way of fighting for Americas consumers:
- You and your members made pay day lending a national issue by getting legislation introduced in Congress and persuading the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to crack down on banks that were allowing unscrupulous pay day lenders to avoid consumer protection laws in their own states.
- You and your members have gone state by state to help curb predatory lending, which turned the American dream of homeownership into a nightmare for many unsuspecting homeowners who saw their homes stripped of equity and thrust into foreclosure.
- And it is your organization, led by Executive Director Stephen Brobeck who has worked so hard on your 'America Saves' campaign, which is reaching out to low- and moderate-income Americans with innovative ways to save for their dream of owning a home or providing higher education for their children.
"You have met many challenges on behalf of the American consumer.
"We Democrats in Congress have the same mission. Our goal is straightforward: We want to protect the safety and soundness of the American people.
"The first responsibility of elected officials is to protect the American
people. We are working hard to make certain that our first responders -the firefighters,
police officers and other local officials who on are the front lines of our
communities - have the resources they need to protect our nation.
"As we protect our homeland, we must also protect and defend our Constitution and our cherished civil liberties.
"Unfortunately, this Administration has been not willing to provide the necessary resources our first responders need. Democrats in Congress are pressing their case and making every effort possible to get the funding increased.
"Safety and soundness for the American people also applies to the economy.
"Earlier this year, the Democrats put forward an economic stimulus plan that can be summed up in three words: jobs, jobs, jobs.
"The need is clear: when President Bush came to office, he inherited a strong economy with the best-trained workforce in the world, a low unemployment rate and an unprecedented budget surplus. In just two years, he has squandered that into a weak economy -- with 8.3 million Americans out of work and budget deficits as far as the eye can see.
"Last year, President Bush said that his economic program would create jobs. But since he took office, a total of 2.3 million private-sector jobs have been lost. This is the worst record on job creation of any President since the end of World War II.
"His response? A $1.5 trillion dollar tax cut that largely benefits the wealthy that more than 400 economists, including many Nobel Laureates, have said will not create jobs.
"His plan does not address the needs of Americas consumers.
"The Democrats have a better alternative. We recognize that it is imperative that we raise consumer confidence - it has dropped for three straight months and is now at it lowest point in nearly a decade. We can and must do better.
"We recognize that the consumer has been the source of strength and stability through these rocky economic times. While investment collapsed, financial market spiraled downward, and trade deficits mounted, we have relied on the American consumer to keep the economy from slipping to a steep recession.
"Our Democratic plan addresses the needs of Americas consumers. It is fair, fast-acting, fiscally responsible plan to create at least 1 million new jobs this year.
"Strengthening the economy goes hand in hand with protecting the American public. In addition to creating good paying jobs, we need to make sure that consumers are protected.
"That means teaching people to be responsible consumers - to find a way to save money and build wealth so they will be able to share in the American dream.
"It means emphasizing quality, designing safe new products to meet long-standing needs, and maintaining the low prices that come from competitive markets.
"It means fighting for strong food safety laws, consumer credit protections, and a new vigilance to make sure we never again see the corporate scandals of the past year.
"It means a meaningful prescription drug benefit through Medicare - giving seniors the drugs they need, not forcing them off Medicare into HMOs. House Democrats have a plan that will provide affordable prescription drugs for all of our seniors, guaranteed through Medicare.
"It means insisting that we will not end the Medicaid guarantee to cover
all low-income women and children, the disabled, and the elderly poor. The Bush
Administrations recent proposal breaks this commitment, and attempts to
entice states into accepting a federal spending cap in exchange for more flexibility.
We must remain committed to the fundamental guarantee of the federal government to provide care for our most needy citizens.
"The Republicans have a so-called consumer agenda that they propose to move in the next few months - health care, bankruptcy, medical malpractice, and energy policy.
"Is there a difference between the Democrats and the Republicans approach? There certainly is. While Democrats fight to protect consumers, the Republicans put forward the interests of industry at the expense of consumers.
"Your organization is front and center on these issues, which affect the quality of life of every American.
"The safety of our nations food supply is of growing concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that 76 million people get sick and 5,000 people die each year from food-related illnesses.
"The number of incidents is expected to increase by more than 10 percent over the next decade as new and stronger bacteria develop. And there is now a real concern that terrorists could infect the food supply with salmonella or similar toxin in food or beverages.
"We all had hopes that the President, recognizing this, would request
more money in the 2004 budget to improve food safety inspections. But it turned
out to be a false hope. The $120 million increase is only available if Congress
imposes fees on meat inspections. This is the same old budget shell game. It
isnt going to put any more inspectors in the plant. This is unacceptable
- we can and must do better.
"And we must do better than the Republican proposal on bankruptcy. In the midst of our troubled economy, when thousands of Americans lose their jobs every month, the Republican leadership is once again going to introduce a harsh, punitive bankruptcy bill.
"As you know, there are three things that most often force families into bankruptcy: loss of a job, divorce, and illness. Now, with the economy in far worse shape, with many more people out of work, the severe impact of this legislation will be even more widely felt than it would have last year.
"The nations economic troubles give you an opening to educate previous
supporters about the problems with the bill. Unfortunately, there wont
be any way to stop this in the House. They will have the votes. But I am hopeful
our friends in the Senate, led by Senator Schumer, will once again derail this
train before it becomes a train wreck.
"We have all read with horror the story of the young woman in North Carolina who lost her life as a result of a badly mishandled heart-lung transplant. A medical malpractice bill -- identical to the one we faced last year -- will be on the House Floor within two weeks.
"The State of California has had a great deal of experience with this issue, and we learned almost 20 years ago that caps on damages dont work. They dont bring down the cost of premiums that doctors pay -- in fact, the costs go up.
"Caps are not fair to injured children, or seniors, or stay-at-home mothers, or workers who tend to have lower incomes. And they certainly dont do anything to help reduce the problem of medical errors.
"Last year, we had our best vote against the extreme Republican tort reform
agenda on this issue. Our goal this year is to repeat that success, and help
our Senate allies to keep this terrible bill from becoming law.
"Another issue that we must address more effectively is energy: consumers have a right to reliable, affordable, and efficient energy. The President recently announced the new Freedom Fuel Research Initiative to create hydrogen fuel.
"The President wants a hydrogen car in 16 years, but he is unwilling to work for new conservation policies today that could reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
"The House Republican leadership will try to rush through Congress a comprehensive
energy bill that could have disastrous consequences for consumers.
We should never agree to any steps to integrate electricity deregulation into a new energy bill without insisting that federal and state policymakers address the abuse of Californias consumers by Enron and other energy companies during the California electricity crisis. The constant stream of indictments and admissions related to manipulation in the California and national energy markets underscores the need to address energy market abuses.
"Today, both consumers and investors have serious concerns that much of the energy sector is not operating openly for the benefit of all. Already, many states have begun to retreat from plans to deregulate electricity within their borders. Before any attempt is made to restructure the electric utility industry, policymakers must have a clear understanding of past abuses and how they can be prevented in the future.
"I applaud the CFAs involvement in this critical issue, and look forward to having your valuable perspective and leadership as the debate on this issue continues.
"There is much we can do to bring our economy back as well as protect the health and safety of the American consumer.
"As leader of the House Democrats, I pledge to you that we will continue to concentrate on protecting our homeland, creating jobs, providing health care for all Americans, improving education for all, and protecting our environment and natural resources.
"Democrats will address the safety and the soundness of the American people. In doing so, we hope to restore the confidence of the American consumer. I look forward to working with the Consumer Federation of America in the months and years ahead to build on your past record of achievement and to improve the lives of the American people.
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