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Dave Obey Bob Fest Speech 2011

Dave Obey Bob Fest Speech 2011

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Published by: Cory Mason on Sep 21, 2011
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Congressman Dave Obey (ret.) Which Way the Middle Class?

Bobfest 9/17/2011

America and Wisconsin face a watershed. The choices we make will decide whether we retain our greatness as a nation and our vision as a state. I want to talk to you about those choices and the stakes that are involved. Let's start by affirming that with all of our problems we are still the most consequential country in the world politically, economically and militarily. As the world's leading nation we bear four basic responsibilities. 1) To defend the country 2) To defend and project our democratic values 3) To defend and nurture the planet which sustains us all 4) To build an economy and society that enables the widest possible number of people to achieve a decent standard of living worthy of this planets leading nation.


Each of those responsibilities is worthy of a stand alone speech, but today I want to focus on the latter. It is no accident that today the over arching focus of the country is our economic problems, and the fate of America's middle class and Wisconsin is at the center of that debate.

If last years election proved anything it demonstrated that elections count, that every vote counts, and that those who say that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between the two political parties don't have a clue about anything. Last year's election set in motion a series of events that require us to think long and hard about what kind of country, what kind of state we want this to be. We are faced with the question of what kind of balance we want to see between our individual and our social responsibilities. That question has special meaning for us in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has occupied a special place in the history of this country. Before the tum of the last century, Wisconsin was like almost every other state in the Union.

It was owned lock, stock and barrel by the big business interests - the railroads - the timber companies - the mining companies. But then Robert LaFollette turned Wisconsin politics right side up by putting the people back in charge. He and his Progressive successors produced the progressive income tax Workman's Compensation Unemployment Insurance. And they pursued rigorous oversight of big business to give investors and workers a fair deal in the market place and at the bargaining table. That history explains why it is so jarring to see the assault on economic security and economic justice that we are witnessing today being led by two politicians from Wisconsin. At the national level we see Paul Ryan leading the effort to repeal the 20th Century by pushing his radical new federal budget. At the state level we see Governor Walker doing the same thing.


Ryan has convinced House Republicans to embrace a Budget which he claims is the route to economic and fiscal salvation. He has made some segments of the press and the pundit class swoon by cleverly selling it as our last best shot to achieve fiscal responsibility. His claim to that is based on one simple thing. Over the next twenty years he transfers trillions of dollars in costs of education science research Medicare and Medicaid from government to private citizens. Those editorial writers swoon at that because it lowers costs to government. But they miss the hidden ball trick. To understand that trick you have to remember the shenanigans associated with the 1981 Reagan budget. One of the nice things about being around as long as I have been is that you remember things. You see parallels because of your long experience. And you know what experience is It is that quality that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

In 1981 Reagan's budget, put together by David Stockman, Reagan's budget director, claimed that if we doubled military spending and cut tax rates by 25% that we would generate such phenomenal economic growth that the budget would be balanced. Instead, as you know, it tripled the national debt. The Nation ran up more debt in the eight years of Ronald Reagan than it had rung up under all of the previous presidents from George Washington to Jimmy Carter combined. Stockman later admitted in that famous Atlantic Monthly article that it was all a Trojan horse game in order to divert attention from their main goal which was to bring down the top tax rate for the most well off in this society. That is exactly what the Ryan plan does. The Ryan plan is very easy to understand if you look at ALL of it. First, while the Ryan budget masquerades as an entrepreneurial budget, it really shrinks opportunity for middle class working families who are struggling to find affordable college educations for their sons and daughters. It clobbers student aid programs such as Pell grants. Second, it repeals health care reform - putting insurance

companies back in the driver's seat .. What does that mean? It means that for thirty million uninsured people who were going to be able to walk into the hospital's front door when they needed help, Under Ryan's plan it's back to the back door - the emergency room for them. The expansion of Medicaid and subsidies to help another 16 million more people to afford to purchase private insurance will be gone. It means that the federal guarantee that you can go to an insurance exchange (a fancy word for a web site that will let you compare private insurance plans side by side to see who will give you the best deal) will be gone. Third, And this has received the most attention, the Ryan plan shreds Medicare. It eliminates the guaranteed benefits which Medicare provides today and substitutes an anemic voucher which you can use to shop the private market for coverage. But the value of that voucher shrinks over time. It has been estimated that that little trick will eventually double the cost of Medicare for future senior citizens.

Fourth, it shreds the capacity of Medicaid to buttress the economic security of middle class working families. Republican party political strategists like to dismiss Medicaid as just being a program that helps the poor but that is far from the truth. It is often a key to keeping middle class heads above water. The Ryan plan slashes Federal help to states to maintain Medicaid funding. Medicaid is often used by middle class working families to help pay nursing home costs for grandma and grandpa. By slashing Medicaid funding, working class families will often be pushed into doing what they did in the 1950's. Back then, when grandma had a stroke or Broke a hip they built another room on the house or converted a spare room into another bedroom. The difference is that in the 50's somebody in the family was home to take care of grandma. But today with mom and dad both working outside the home, with most families, nobody is home to take care of grandma. In short, it shifts costs for education, medical research, science, health care, Medicare and Medicaid to private families to save money for the government. But here's the trick.

What does Ryan do with the dollars the government saves by shifting those burdens onto the shoulders of working families? Does he eliminate the deficit? Oh No! Instead he uses a huge part of those so called savings to cut tax rates for corporations and the very wealthiest, paid for by middle class misery.
It is just another Trojan horse maneuver to move trillions

of dollars up the income scale - out of the pockets of people who work for wages into the stock portfolios of the very wealthiest. And let's put this in context. Over the past thirty years we have seen the income of the average middle class American family gradually stall out and even decline when you factor in inflation. In contras; since 1977)the average income ~f ~he wealthiest 100th of 1% skyrocketed from $3.5 million to $35 million - a ten fold increase at the expense of people below them. 42% of the nation's new wealth from 1982 to 2004 went into the pockets of the richest 1% of Americans. As a result the wealthiest 20% now control 85% of America's wealth while the rest of America has had to settle for table scraps.

Now look. Americans want to succeed and they want other Americans to succeed.

They want hard work and risk and imagination to be rewarded, but they recognize there are certain norms of decency. They don't want a tiny lucky few to take all the marbles because the raw "markets" do not provide any checks and balances that give hardworking wage earners any power at all to defend their right to a decent living standard. So the Ryan plan does not just threaten seniors and students. It is an assault on the economic security of families across the board.

And in doing so it attacks the belief of all Americans that we are all in it together and that we are aware of the obligations we have to one another in this society. So that is the House Republican gift to the Nation. And what is their gift to Wisconsin? A mean minded and thuggish parallel performance by Scott Walker. What does Scott Wallker's budget do? It guts state aid to localities.

It guts support for education. It guts the ability of workers to even have a say about how they are to be treated in the workplace and at the bargaining table. It turns hardworking public employees and teachers into scapegoats who are blithely blamed for the economic problems caused by others, including the political class. Walker says he has "No choice" because the state budget is in such dire straits. But there is another choice. Last month I made an inquiry. I asked several State Legislators to check with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and give me the answer to one question. How have Wisconsin income tax rates changed since I left the Legislature in 1969? Here is the answer: The bottom rate has increased by 70%. The top rate - for those earning $210,000 or more - has been cut by 22%. If the only thing the Governor did was to return that top rate to its 1969 level, that action could raise $600 million dollars - cutting by more than half the cuts that the Governor has laid on education. But he won't support that because this issue isn't being pressed by him in Wisconsin and by Ryan in

Washington because of money. It is an intentional and purposeful assault on the moral underpinnings of enlightened capitalism and an assault on democracy itself. Just one example. The claim that the Voter ID bill was necessary to avoid voter fraud is spectacularly more fraudulent than any voter conduct it is meant to inhibit. It is an assault, rooted in a desire for partisan gain, on the most basic right of a citizen in a democracy the right to have his or her vote counted. It is a thuggish, disgraceful and shameful act.

At a time when we need cooperation we instead get abusive confrontation. Why has all this happened? In 1929, before the stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression, a huge gap existed between the income of the economic elite and everyone else. When the collapse came it produced 25% unemployment and threatened societal as well as economic disintegration. That triggered the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Before Franklin Roosevelt saved capitalism by the

intelligent use of government in the 1930's, the national government was largely used as a tool to help expand the country westward and to assist business. Roosevelt widened the deal. He used the tools of government to provide working class families with stronger wages, improved working conditions and a retirement safety net by creating social security and by guaranteeing workers a seat at the bargaining table. Because of those changes, working family's share of national prosperity steadily expanded and the huge gap between the economic elite and everyone else steadily diminished. Those actions produced a golden age in American economic history. But the economic elite hated that. They called Roosevelt a traitor to his class and they dreamed of the day when they could mount a crusade to repeal the New Deal. When Dwight Eisenhower was elected, key sectors of that economic elite were hoping to see the New Deal reversed, but Ike said, "Noway". So the Hard Right worked for years to take over the Republican party and, with the candidacy of Barry Goldwater, they finally succeeded. But he was crushed by Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

It was then that the economic elite - the Scaefes, the Bradleys, the Kochs and others began to pour a steady stream of money into developing right wing think tanks which could be used to produce papers, hold conferences and inexorably change public attitudes on economic . Issues. At the same time the world gradually transitioned to a new global economy with a new set of realities. That combination helped produce public policies which helped push a huge share of income up the income scale. That has been happening for a generation. In the last election the right wing won a huge number of Congressional seats and they think that this is their time to repeal the New Deal and shrink the social contract no matter how deeply that effort would divide the country. If they had their way they would have us abandon almost any semblance of the social contract. What really gets under my skin is that many of them who would have us walk away from our social responsibility to each other simultaneously shout the loudest about God and Christian values. Yet many of these right wing religious tub thumpers are enthusiastically supporting the most anti -Christian


economic policies since the era of the Robber Barons. Where does this all come from? It comes from a zealous fascination with the eccentric, cruel and crackpot philosophy of Ayn Rand. It is amazing to me-and should be to you-that Wisconsin's own Paul Ryan and our new Senator Ron Johnson have publicly embraced Rand as their philosophical patron saint. You-tube has put together a piece that puts Ryan's worship of Rand into perspective. Listen to Ryan's own words about Rand. This is what Ryan said on camera. "Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism. If Ayn Rand were here today, she would do a great job of showing us just how wrong what government is doing is. It's that kind of thinking that is sorely needed right now." Well what exactly does Ayn Rand stand for? Her television interview with Mike Wallace laid it all out in cold blooded fashion. Listen to this exchange. Mike Wallace asked: "You say you don't like the altruism by which we live. You like a certain kind of Ayn Rand selfishness.

Rand replies: "Like is too weak a word. I consider it evil because we are now moving toward complete collectivism or socialism. Weare moving that way only because of our altruistic morality." Wallace then asks: "One of the principal achievements is the gradual growth of social protective legislation based on the principle that we are our brother's keepers." Rand replies: "1 feel it is terrible. You are moving toward destruction unless all these welfare state constructions [read Social Security and Medicare] are being reversed and rejected." Wallace then said: "Y ou are out to destroy almost every edifice in the contemporary American way of life - our ludeoChristian religion, our modified government regulated capitalism, our rule by majority will. It is said that you scorn churches and the concept of God. is that accurate?" Rand's reply: "Yes." Wallace then asks: "Christ and every moral leader has told us we should love one another. Why then is this kind of love, in

your mind, immoral?" Rand's reply: "It is immoral if it is love placed above one's self." Then comes the clincher. Wallace then asks: "And if a man or woman is weak are they then beyond love- then is he beyond love?" Rand replied: "He certainly does not deserve it. He certainly is beyond it." Wallace then sums up: "Then there are very few of us in this world who, by your standards, are worthy of love. Rand's reply: "Unfortunately yes. Very few." This is the philosophy that drives politicians like Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson and Scott Walker, and drives many of the newly minted Tea Party advocates in Congress. They would have us govern on the basis of that soulless philosophy. Is it any wonder that politicians who swoon over the beauty of her philosophy have no problem with their conscience when they try to scale back unemployment compensation or slash education



funding for poor or middle class children and do not flinch at the thought of throwing poor kids off Medicaid or poor seniors out of nursing homes? Do we really believe in a dog- eat- dog Darwinist "Survival of the Fittest" philosophy for America or do we believe that indeed we are our brother's keeper? Make no mistake. We're not just engaged in an academic debate about the economy. We are engaged in a moral struggle the outcome of which will have profound consequences for real living people.

This is a time for choosing. Whose vision for America, Whose vision for Wisconsin do we share? Do we stand for a strong balance between individual and social responsibility in the tradition ofFDR, of Bob La Follette, of Gaylord Nelson or the Koch-WalkerRyan-Rand vision which is utterly devoid of social Responsibility? These are tough times economically and politically. These are especially tough times for the Democratic Party. The November election was a huge set back. Because of that election we are about where we were in 1956 when, as a party, we had nothing.



But two years later, Bill Proxmire was in the US Senate, Gaylord Nelson was Governor John Reynolds was Attorney General and we had taken control of the State Assembly because of an intervening event - the 1958 . recession. Our intervening event has been the Ryan budget and the Walker assault on worker's bargaining rights. Since 1980 virtually every pressure in the economy has exerted a DOWNWARD pressure on worker's wages and on working families living standards. The only force in the economy pushing in the other direction, the only pressure pushing UPWARD has been the right of workers to bargain collectively! More then 90,000 people who showed up on the State Capitol square in Madison showed us that they now understand what the right wing is all about. That is why, with hard work and tenacity, we can turn things around, just as the previous generation did in 1958. That is why the Wisconsin State Senate 14 are heros for demonstrating the courage to stand up to Walker's abusive agenda. That is why Wisconsin voters threw out two Republican State Senators who genuflected to Walker's agenda. \'b

N ow the Wisconsin Republican party tries to claim victory because we did not win a third Senate seat. Well as I count it, they went after our State Senators and defeated none of them. We went after theirs and defeated two of them. The way I see it, so far, the score is 2-0 in our favor! The Republicans hung on to their maj ority by a whisker but the difference between their losing two rather than three seats simply means they experienced a debacle instead of a catastrophe. And make no mistake. This is not so much about Democrats taking two more seats. It is about sending a message to Governor Walker that the time for his naked and abusive partisanship is just about over. Please understand. Our argument with Governor Walker is not just centered on his savage and blatantly political shredding of worker rights. It is far deeper, because Walker and his allies have had a three step program. 1st) He shredded worker's bargaining rights and shredded state support for education and basic health care.

2nd) He attacked the fundamental pillar of democracythe right to have your vote counted. In the process, he has attacked the fundamentals of

democracy by making it more difficult for seniors, students and minorities to have their votes counted under his cynical new Voter ID law. 3rd) He has then used the redistricting process to insulate Republican politicians from retaliation by angry voters - destroying the basic idea of accountability that is at the heart of democracy. Example: In the Roberta Darling seat, the Republican party was not willing to let the voters make the final decision in that recall election. Just in case Senator Darling lost her seat, they wanted to make sure that that decision would not stand. So they redrew the district to remove thousands of Democrats, making the election of a Democrat in the next regular November election virtually impossible. At the Congressional level the Republican Party produced new district lines so unbelievably contorted they would make an old Tammany Hall ward heeler blushall for the purpose of making life easier for new 7th District Congressman Sean Duffy. All they had to do to bring the 7th District's population into compliance was to move about 20,000 people into the 7th District.

Instead, they disrupted over 200,000 people by snaking 3rd District lines all the way up to the Marathon County line in the heart of central Wisconsin in order to strip Portage County and the Wisconsin Rapids area out of the 7th District and attac~ it to the 3rd ,District.

The 3rd District in Southwestern Wisconsin has always been a Mississippi River district, and the 7th District has always included the heart of the Wisconsin River valley. For over 90 years Marathon, Lincoln, Wood and Portage have always been in the same congressional district. Former Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus used to urge us to consider Marathon, Wood and Portage counties as one unified unit. He called it "Ruraplex". That regional community of interest is now obliterated. And Governor Walker and his allies added another wrinkle. The Democratic candidate against 7th District Congressman Sean Duffy is expected to be former State Senator Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls. In another blatant political power play, they carved out southern Chippewa County from the 7th District. When he was confronted about the political maneuver, Congressman Ryan, the architect of the plan, said "Well, we left Kreitlow's house in the district."

That's true. They kept his house in the district because it was too obvious a maneuver to do otherwise, but they cut out the community. This is a clear case of Duffy trying to have it both ways running away from Kreitlow while trying not to get caught at it. So this is the record of partisan maneuver and abuse that has been compiled by the Republicans now running this state. So our case against Walker and his allies is not just that they have done things that we don't like. It is that they have manipulated every major issue for purely political power purposes and have bitterly divided the state at a time that called for cooperation and unity. That is why Walker needs to go. And there is one more reason. Just as the economic vitality of America has been sapped, so too has that happened to Wisconsin. President Obama said last week that for the American middle class to reclaim its fair share of the American dream, we must once again out build, out educate and out innovate our competitors. The same is true for Wisconsin. If we want to put Wisconsin on the path that once again

Gives working families a shot at building a more prosperous future, we need to understand and we need to change what has happened to Wisconsin the last 30 years. When I left the legislature to go to Congress in 1969, Per- person income in Wisconsin was about $1,000 Less than it was in Minnesota. Today that gap is almost 4 times as large. When I left the legislature in 1969 the percentage of Wisconsin citizens who were college graduates was about 1% less than Minnesota. Today that gap is about 4 times as large. I think those two facts are connected. When I left the legislature, over 40% of the operating budget for the University of Wisconsin came from the state general fund. Today it is less then 20%. Wisconsin has been a great place to live for the last century because Bob La Follette and his progressive successors opened up government and pursued policies that were designed to open the doors of opportunity for the broad middle class. They were not afraid to make investments that expanded that opportunity. Scott Walker and his allies have put Wisconsin on a different path. His policies tum their back on the working middle class and promise a more

parched future. His power plays are not just abusive. They are downright dangerous because they make it far more difficult to produce the conditions that will close that growing income, education and opportunity gap between Wisconsin and Minnesota, and between average middle class families, and the fortunate elite. That is why he has to go! Please understand this is not about party. It is far more fundamental. It is about how to govern and what to use government for. Something has happened to the Wisconsin Republican Party in the days since I left the legislature. It has been hijacked by ideological right wind extremists with a zealously partisan agenda. The abuse of Power that we have seen in Madison would not have happened under the Republican Party I worked with when I was in the legislature. At that time Warren Knowles was governor. He was a good man. He knew how to work with both sides of the aisle. He knew how to get things done in a way that made you proud to be a public official. So did his brother, Bob, who was a principled power in the State Senate. They


cared about political institutions. Republicans and Democrats in the legislature had friendships across the aisle. We even would have dinners together and often reduced differences between us over drinks. I do not believe we can get back to that kind of collegial politics with Governor Walker at the helm - a politics that is less ideological and less mean. That is another reason he needs to go so that the healing of Wisconsin's politics and economy can begin ..

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