Cutting Costs and Covering America: A 21st Century Health Care System

University of Iowa | May 29, 2007

I want to thank the University of Iowa for having us here, and I want to give a special thanks to Amy and Lane for joining me today to tell their story.

A few hours north of here, Amy and Lane run a small business that offers internet service to their community. They were the very first company to provide broadband access in their remote corner of northeastern Iowa, and every day, hundreds of people count on the services they provide to do their jobs and live their lives.

But today they are on the brink of bankruptcy - a bankruptcy that has nothing to do with any poor business decision they made or slump in the economy they weren't prepared for.

Lane was diagnosed with cancer when he was twenty-one years old. He lost a lung, a leg bone and part of a hip. Seventeen years later, he is cancer-free, but the cost of health insurance for him, his wife and his three kids is now over $1,000 per month. Their family's premiums keep rising hundreds of dollars every year, and as hard as they look, they simply cannot find another provider that will insure them.

Amy and Lane are now paying forty percent of their annual income in health care premiums. They have no retirement plan and nothing saved. They can no longer afford to buy new clothes or fill up their cars with gas, they have racked up more credit card debt then they know what to do with, and Amy wrote to us and said that the day she heard the loan officer say the word "bankruptcy" was one of the worst in her life.

"My heart was in pain," she said. "This is not who we are. We have done everything right. We have done everything we were supposed to do. This is not who we are."

Amy is right. This is not who we are. We are not a country that rewards hard work and perseverance with bankruptcies and foreclosures. We are not a country that allows major challenges to go unsolved and unaddressed while our people suffer needlessly. In the richest nation on Earth, it is simply not right that the skyrocketing profits of the drug and insurance industries are paid for by the skyrocketing premiums that come from the pockets of the American people.

This is not who we are. And this is not who we have to be.

In the past few months, I've heard stories like Amy's at town halls we've held in New Hampshire, and here in Iowa, and all across the country. Stories from people who are hanging on by a thread because of the stack of medical bills they can't pay. People who don't know where else to turn for help, but who do know that when it comes to health care, we have talked, tinkered, and let this crisis fester for decades. People who watch as every year, candidates offer up detailed health care plans with great fanfare and promise, only to see them crushed under the weight of Washington politics and drug and insurance industry lobbying once the campaign is over.

Well this cannot be one of those years. We have reached a point in this country where the rising cost of health care has put too many families and businesses on a collision course with financial ruin and left too many without coverage at all; a course that Democrats and Republicans, small business owners and CEOs have all come to agree is not sustainable or acceptable any longer.

We often hear the statistic that there are 45 million uninsured Americans. But the biggest reason why they don't have insurance is the same reason why those who do have it are struggling to pay their medical bills - it's just too expensive.

Health care premiums have risen nearly 90% in the past six years. That's four times faster than wages have gone up. Like Ami and Lane's family, nearly half of all Iowans have said that they've had to cut back on food and heating expenses because of high health care costs. 11 million insured Americans spent more than a quarter of their salary on health care last year. And over half of all personal bankruptcies are now caused by medical bills.

Businesses aren't faring much better. Over half of all small businesses can no longer afford to insure their workers, and so many others have responded to rising costs by laying off workers or shutting their doors for good. Some of the biggest corporations in America, giants of industry like GM and Ford, are watching foreign competitors based in countries with universal health care run circles around them, with a GM car containing seven times as much health care cost as a Japanese car.

This cost crisis is trapping us in a vicious cycle. As premiums rise, more employers drop coverage, and more Americans become uninsured. Every time those uninsured walk into an emergency room and receive care that's more expensive because they have nowhere else to turn, there is a hidden tax for the rest of us as premiums go up by an extra $922 per family. And as premiums keep rising, more families and businesses drop their coverage and become uninsured.

It would be one thing if all this money we spend on premiums and co-payments and deductibles went directly towards making us healthier and improving the quality of our care.

But it doesn't. One out of every four dollars we spend on health care is swallowed up by administrative costs - on needless paperwork and antiquated record-keeping that belongs in the last century. This failure to update the way our doctors and hospitals store and share information also leads to costly errors. Each year, 100,000 Americans die due to medical errors and we lose $100 billion because of prescription drug errors alone.

We also spend far more on treating illnesses and conditions that could've been prevented or managed for far less. Our health care system is turning into a disease care system, where too many plans and providers don't offer or encourage check-ups and tests and screenings that could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars down the road.

Of course, the biggest obstacle in the way of reforming this skewed system of needless waste and spiraling costs are those who profit most from the status quo - the drug and insurance companies who pocket a growing chunk of the medical bills that people like Amy and Lane are going bankrupt trying to pay.

Since President Bush took office, the single fastest growing component of health care spending has been administrative costs and profits for insurance companies. Coming in a close second is the amount we spend on prescription drugs. In 2006, five of the biggest drug and insurance companies were among the fifty most profitable businesses in the nation. One insurance company CEO received a $125 million salary that same year, and has been given stock options worth over $1 billion. As an added perk, he and his wife get free private health care for as long as they live.

Now, making this kind of money costs money, which is why the drug and insurance industries have also spent more than $1 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions over the last ten years to block the kind of reform we need. They've been pretty good at it too, preventing the sale of cheaper prescription drugs and defeating attempts to make it harder for insurance companies to deny coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition.

Look, it's perfectly understandable for a business to try and make a profit, and every American has the right to make their case to the people who represent us in Washington.

But I also believe that every American has the right to affordable health care. I believe that the millions of Americans who can't take their children to a doctor when they get sick have that right. I believe that people like Amy and Lane who are on the brink of losing everything they own have that right. And I believe that no amount of industry profiteering and lobbying should stand in the way of that right any longer.

That's not who we are.

We now face an opportunity - and an obligation - to turn the page on the failed politics of yesterday's health care debates. It's time to bring together businesses, the medical community, and members of both parties around a comprehensive solution to this crisis, and it's time to let the drug and insurance industries know that while they'll get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair.

We can do this. The climate is far different than it was the last time we tried this in the early nineties. Since then, rising costs have caused many more businesses to back reform, and in states from Massachusetts to California, Democratic and Republican governors and legislatures have been way ahead of Washington in passing increasingly bolder initiatives to cover the uninsured and cut costs.

We've had some success in Illinois as well. As a state senator, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to pass legislation insuring 20,000 more children and 65,000 more parents. I authored and passed a bill cracking down on hospital price gouging of uninsured patients, and helped expand coverage for routine mammograms for women on Medicaid. We created hospital report cards, so that every consumer could see things like the ratio of nurses to patients, the number of annual medical errors, and the quality of care they could expect at each hospital. And I passed a law that put Illinois on a path to universal coverage.

It's a goal I believe we can achieve on a national level with the health care plan I'm outlining today. The very first promise I made on this campaign was that as president, I will sign a universal health care plan into law by the end of my first term in office. Today I want to lay out the details of that plan - a plan that not only guarantees coverage for every American, but also brings down the cost of health care and reduces every family's premiums by as much as $2500. This second part is important because, in the end, coverage without cost containment will only shift our burdens, not relieve them. So we will take steps to remove the waste and inefficiency from the system so we can bring down costs and improve the quality of our care while we're at it.

My plan begins by covering every American.

If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less.

If you are one of the 45 million Americans who don't have health insurance, you will have it after this plan becomes law. No one will be turned away because of a preexisting condition or illness. Everyone will be able buy into a new health insurance plan that's similar to the one that every federal employee - from a postal worker in Iowa to a Congressman in Washington - currently has for themselves. It will cover all essential medical services, including preventive, maternity, disease management, and mental health care. And it will also include high standards for quality and efficiency.

If you cannot afford this insurance, you will receive a subsidy to pay for it. If you have children, they will be covered. If you change jobs, your insurance will go with you. If you need to see a doctor, you will not have to wait in long lines for one. If you want more choices, you will also have the option of purchasing a number of affordable private plans that have similar benefits and standards for quality and efficiency.

To help pay for this, we will ask all but the smallest businesses who don't make a meaningful contribution today to the health coverage of their employees to do so by supporting this new plan. And we will allow the temporary Bush tax cut for the wealthiest Americans to expire.

But we also have to demand greater efficiencies from our health care system. Today, we pay almost twice as much for health care per person than other industrialized nations, and too much of it has nothing to do with patient care.

That's why the second part of my health care plan includes five, long-overdue steps we will take to bring down costs and bring our health care system into the 21st century - steps that will save each American family up to $2500 on their premiums.

First, we will reduce costs for business and their workers by picking up the tab for some of the most expensive illnesses and conditions.

Right now, two out of every ten patients account for more than eighty percent of all health care costs. These are patients with serious illnesses like cancer or heart disease who require the most expensive surgeries and treatments. Insurance companies end up spending a lion's share of their expenses on these patients, and not surprisingly, they pass those expenses on to the rest of us in the form of higher premiums. Under my proposal, the federal government will pay for part of these catastrophic cases, which means that your premiums will go down.

Second, we will finally begin focusing our health care system on preventing costly, debilitating conditions in the first place.

We all know the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But today we're nowhere close to that ounce. We spend less than four cents of every health care dollar on prevention and public health even though eighty percent of the risk factors involved in the leading causes of death are behavior-related and thus preventable.

The problem is, there's currently no financial incentive for health care providers to offer services that will encourage patients to eat right or exercise or go for annual check-ups and screenings that can help detect diseases early. The real profit today is made in treating diseases, not preventing them. That's wrong, which is why in our new national health care plan and other participating plans, we will require coverage of evidence-based, preventive care services, and make sure they are paid for.

But in the end, prevention only works if we take responsibility for our own health and make the right decisions in our own lives - if we eat the right foods, and stay active, and listen to our wives when they tell us to stop smoking.

Third, we will reduce the cost of our health care by improving the quality of our health care.

It's estimated that poor quality care currently costs us up to $100 billion a year. One study found that in Pennsylvania, Medicare spent $1 billion a year just on treating infections that patients contracted while at the hospital - infections that could have easily been prevented by hospitals. This study led hospitals across the state to take action, and today some have completely eliminated infections that used to take hundreds of lives and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

Much like the hospital report cards we passed in Illinois, my health care proposal will ask hospitals and providers to collect, track, and publicly report measures of health care quality. We'll provide the public with information about preventable medical errors, nurse-to-patient ratios, and hospital-acquired infections. We'll also start measuring what's effective and what's not when it comes to different drugs and procedures, so that patients can finally start making informed choices about the care that's best for them. And instead of rewarding providers and physicians only by the sheer quantity of services and procedures they prescribe, we'll start rewarding them for the quality of the outcomes for their patients.

Fourth, we will reduce waste and inefficiency by moving from a 20th century health care industry based on pen and paper to a 21st century industry based on the latest information technology.

Almost every other industry in the world has saved billions on administrative costs by computerizing all of their records and information. Every transaction you make at a bank now costs less than a dollar. Even at the Veterans Administration, where it used to cost nine dollars to pull up your medical record, new technology means you can call up the same record on the internet for next to nothing.

But because we haven't updated technology in the rest of the health care industry, a single transaction still costs up to twenty-five dollars.

This reform is long overdue. By moving to electronic medical records, we can give doctors and nurses easy access to all the necessary information about their patients, so if they type-in a certain prescription, a patient's allergies will pop right up on the screen. This will reduce deadly medical errors, and it will also shorten the length of hospital stays, ensure that nurses can spend less time on paperwork and more time with patients, and save billions and billions of dollars in the process.

Finally, we will break the stranglehold that a few big drug and insurance companies have on the health care market.

We all value the medical cures and innovations that the pharmaceutical industry has developed over the years, but it's become clear that some of these companies are dramatically overcharging Americans for what they offer. They'll sell the same exact drugs here in America for double the price of what they charge in Europe and Canada. They'll push expensive products on doctors by showering them with gifts, spend more to market and advertise their drugs than to research and develop them, and when a generic drug maker comes along and wants to sell the same product for cheaper, the brand-name manufacturers will actually payoff the generic ones so they can preserve their monopolies and keep charging the rest of us high prices.

We don't have to stand for that anymore. Under my plan, we will make generic drugs more available to consumers and we will tell the drug companies that their days of forcing affordable prescription drugs out of the market are over.

And it's not just the drug industry that's manipulating the market. In the last ten years, there have been over four hundred health insurance mergers. Right here in Iowa, just three companies control more than three-quarters of the health insurance market. These changes were supposed to increase efficiency in the industry. But what's really increased is the amount of money we're paying them.

This is wrong, and when I'm President, we're going to make drug and insurance companies compete for their customers just like every other business in America. We'll investigate and prosecute the monopolization of the insurance industry. And where we do find places where insurance companies aren't competitive, we will make them pay a reasonable share of their profits on the patients they should be caring for in the first place. Because that's what's right.

We are a country that looks at the thousands of stories just like Amy and Lane's - stories we have heard and told for decades - and realizes that our American story calls on us to write them a hopeful, happier ending. After all, that's what we've done before.

Half a century ago, America found itself in the midst of another health care crisis. For millions of elderly Americans, the single greatest cause of poverty and hardship was the crippling cost of their health care. A third of all elderly Americans lived in poverty, and nearly half had no health insurance.

As health care and hospital costs continued to rise, more and more private insurers simply refused to insure our elderly, believing they were too great of a risk to care for.

The resistance to action was fierce. Proponents of health care reform were opposed by well-financed, well-connected interest groups who spared no expense in telling the American people that these efforts were "dangerous" and "un-American," "revolutionary" and even "deadly."

And yet the reformers marched on. They testified before Congress and they took their case to the country and they introduced dozens of different proposals but always, always they stood firm on their goal to provide affordable health care for every American senior. And finally, after years of advocacy and negotiation and plenty of setbacks, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law on July 30th of 1965.

The signing ceremony was held in Missouri, in a town called Independence, with the man who issued the call for universal health care during his own presidency - Harry Truman.

And as he stood with Truman by his side and signed what would become one of the most successful government programs in history - a program that had seemed impossible for so long - President Johnson looked out at the crowd and said, "History shapes men, but it is a necessary faith of leadership that men can help shape history."

Never forget that we have it within our power to shape history in this country. It is not in our character to sit idly by as victims of fate or circumstance, for we are a people of action and innovation, forever pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

Now is the time to push those boundaries once more. We have come so far in the debate on health care in this country, but now we must finally answer the call issued by Truman, advanced by Johnson, and pushed along by the simple power of stories like the one told by Amy and Lane. The time has come for affordable, universal health care in America. And I look forward to working with all of you to meet this challenge in the weeks and months to come. Thank you.

Remarks at Southern New Hampshire University Commencement

Southern New Hampshire University | May 19, 2007

Good morning, President LeBlanc, the Board of Trustees, faculty, parents, family, friends, and the Class of 2007. Congratulations on your graduation, and thank you for allowing me the honor to be a part of it.

I also want to thank Southern New Hampshire University for this honorary doctor of laws degree. I ended up paying for my first law degree for years and years, so for all of you with visions of law school, I'd consider running for President and then waiting for a commencement invite instead - it's much cheaper.

There is a verse from the Bible that is sometimes read or recited during rites of passage like this. Corinthians 13:11: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things."

I bring this up because there's often an assumption on days like today that growing up is purely a function of age; that becoming an adult is an inevitable progression that can be measured by a series of milestones - college graduation or your first job or the first time you throw a party that actually has food too.

And yet, maturity does not come from any one occasion - it emerges as a quality of character. Because the fact is, I know a whole lot of thirty and forty and fifty year olds who have not yet put away childish things - who continually struggle to rise above the selfish or the petty or the small.

We see this reflected in our country today.

We see it in a politics that's become more concerned about who's up and who's down than who's working to solve the real challenges facing our generation; a politics where debates over war and peace are reduced to 60-second soundbites and 30-second attack ads.

We see it in a media culture that sensationalizes the trivial and trivializes the profound - in a 24-hour news network bonanza that never fails to keep us posted on how many days Paris Hilton will spend in jail but often fails to update us on the continuing genocide in Darfur or the recovery effort in New Orleans or the poverty that plagues too many American streets.

And as we're fed this steady diet of cynicism, it's easy to start buying into it and put off hard decisions. We become tempted to turn inward, suspicious that change is really possible, doubtful that one person really can make a difference.

That's where the true test of growing up occurs. That's where you come in.

No matter where you go from here - whether it's into public service or the business world; whether it's law school or medical school; whether you become scientists or artists or entertainers - you will face a choice. Do you want to be passive observers of the way world is or active citizens in shaping the way the world ought to be? In both your own life and the life of your country, will you strive to put away childish things?

It is a constant struggle, this quest for maturity, and as my wife will certainly tell you, I haven't always been on the winning side in my own life. But through my own tests and failings, I have learned a few lessons here and there about growing up, and there's three I'd like to leave you with today.

The first lesson came during my first year in college.

Back then I had a tendency, in my mother's words, to act a bit casual about my future. I rebelled, angry in the way that many young men in general, and young black men in particular, are angry, thinking that responsibility and hard work were old-fashioned conventions that didn't apply to me. I partied a little too much and studied just enough to get by.

And once, after a particularly long night of partying, we had spilled a little too much beer, broke a few too many bottles, and trashed a little too much of the dorm. And the next day, the mess was so bad that when one of the cleaning ladies saw it, she began to tear up.

And when a girlfriend of mine heard about this, she said to me, "That woman could've been my grandmother, Barack. She spent her days cleaning up after somebody else's mess."

Which drove home for me the first lesson of growing up:

The world doesn't just revolve around you.

There's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.

As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier. There's no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You'll be free to live in neighborhoods with people who are exactly like yourself, and send your kids to the same schools, and narrow your concerns to what's going in your own little circle.

Not only that - we live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principle goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained. A culture where those in power too often encourage these selfish impulses.

They will tell you that the Americans who sleep in the streets and beg for food got there because they're all lazy or weak of spirit. That the inner-city children who are trapped in dilapidated schools can't learn and won't learn and so we should just give up on them entirely. That the innocent people being slaughtered and expelled from their homes half a world away are somebody else's problem to take care of.

I hope you don't listen to this. I hope you choose to broaden, and not contract, your ambit of concern. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt.

It's because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. And because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential - and become full-grown.

The second lesson I learned after college, when I had this crazy idea that I wanted to be a community organizer and work in low-income neighborhoods.

My mother and grandparents thought I should go to law school. My friends had applied for jobs on Wall Street. But I went ahead and wrote letters to every organization in the country that I could think of. And finally, this small group of churches on the south side of Chicago wrote back and gave me a job organizing neighborhoods devastated by steel-plant closings in the early 80s.

The churches didn't have much money - so they offered me a grand sum of $12,000 a year plus $1,000 to buy a car. And I got ready to move to Chicago - a place I had never been and where I didn't know a living soul.

Even people who didn't know me were skeptical of my decision. I remember having a conversation with an older man I had met before I arrived in Chicago. I told him about my plans, and he looked at me and said, "Let me tell something. You look like a nice clean-cut young man, and you've got a nice voice. So let me give you a piece of advice - forget this community organizing business. You can't change the world, and people won't appreciate you trying. What you should do is go into television broadcasting. I'm telling you, you've got a future."

I could've taken my mother's advice and I could've taken my grandparents advice. I could've taken the path my friends traveled. And objectively speaking, that older man had a point about the TV thing.

But I knew there was something in me that wanted to try for something bigger.

So the second lesson is this: Challenge yourself. Take some risks in your life.

This isn't easy. In a few minutes, you can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and go chasing after the big house and the large salary and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy.

But I hope you don't. Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. And it will leave you unfulfilled.

So don't let people talk you into doing what's easy or comfortable. Listen to what's inside of you and decide what it is that you care about so much that you're willing to risk it all.

The third lesson is one that I learned once I got to Chicago.

I had spent weeks organizing our very first community meeting around the issue of gang violence. We invited the police; we made phone calls, went to churches, and passed out flyers.

I had been warned of the turf battles and bad politics between certain community leaders, but I ignored them, confident that I knew what I was doing.

The night of the meeting we arranged rows and rows of chairs in anticipation of the crowd. And we waited. And we waited. And finally, a group of older people walk in to the hall. And they sit down. And this little old lady raises her hand and asks, "Is this where the bingo game is?"

Thirteen people showed up that night. The police never came. And the meeting was a complete disaster.

Later, the volunteers I worked with told me they were quitting - that they had been doing this for two years and had nothing to show for it.

I was tired too. But at that point, I looked outside and saw some young boys playing in a vacant lot across the street, tossing stones at boarded-up apartment building. And I turned to the volunteers, and I asked them, "Before you quit, I want you to answer one question. What's gonna happen to those boys? Who will fight for them if not us? Who will give them a fair shot if we leave?"

And at that moment, we were all reminded of a third lesson in growing up:


Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it's not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won't. It's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

After my little speech that day, one by one, the volunteers decided not to quit. We went back to those neighborhoods, and we kept at it, sustaining ourselves with the small victories. Eventually, over time, a community changed. And so had we.

Cultivating empathy, challenging yourself, persevering in the face of adversity - these are qualities that dare us to put away childish things. They are qualities that help us grow.

They are qualities that one graduate today knows especially well.

Richard Komi was born thousands of miles from here in Southern Nigeria. He'd probably still be there today, if he hadn't been forced to flee when his tribe came under attack. Eventually, he made it to the United States, worked his way through factories and retail jobs, and came here to SNHU, to complete the education he began in Africa. And now, with a wife and kids and lots of responsibility, he's even taking the time to give back to his new country by volunteering on this campaign.

Richard Komi may be graduating today, but it's clear that he grew up a long time ago. We celebrate with him because his journey is a testament to the powerful idea that in the face of impossible odds, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

At a time when America finds itself at a crossroads, facing challenges we haven't seen in decades, we need to hold on to this idea more than ever.

A lot is riding on the decisions that are made and the leadership that is provided by this generation. We are counting on you to help fix a health care system that's leaving too many Americans sick or bankrupt or both. We are counting on you to bring this planet back from the brink by solving this crisis of global climate change. We are counting on you to help stop a genocide in Darfur that's taking the lives of innocents as we speak here today. And we're counting on you to restore the image of America around the world that has led so many like Richard Komi to find liberty, and opportunity, and hope on our doorstep.

There are some who are betting against you - who say that you don't pay attention, that you don't show up to vote, that you're too concerned with your own lives and your own problems.

Well that's not what I believe and it's not what I've seen. Instead I've seen rallies filled with crowds that stretch far into the horizon; thousands upon thousands signing up to organize online; scores who are coming to the very first political event of their lifetime. And just a few hours before this commencement, I got the opportunity to send off hundreds of people who have chosen to take time out of their busy lives and spend an entire Saturday knocking on doors here in New Hampshire. Because they're not content to sit back and watch anymore. Because they believe they can help this country grow.

And whenever the doubt creeps in and I find myself wondering if change is really possible, I end up thinking about the young Americans - teenagers and college kids not much older than you - who watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold before them on television sets all across the country.

I imagine that they would've seen the marchers and heard the speeches, but they also probably saw the dogs and the fire hoses, or the footage of innocent people being beaten within an inch of their lives; or heard the news the day those four little girls died when someone threw a bomb into their church.

Instinctively, they knew that it was safer and smarter to stay at home; to watch the movement from afar. But they also understood that these people in Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi were their brothers and sisters; that what was happening was wrong; and that they had an obligation to make it right. When the buses pulled up for a Freedom Ride down South, they got on. They took a risk. And they changed the world.

Now it's your turn. You will be tested by the challenges of this new century, and at times you will fail. But know that you have it within your power to try. That generations who have come before you faced these same fears and uncertainties in their own time. And that if we're willing to shoulder each other's burdens, to take great risks, and to persevere through trial, America will continue its journey towards that distant horizon, and a better day.

Thank you, and congratulations on your graduation.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the Detroit Economic Club

Detroit, MI | May 07, 2007

America is a country that hasn't come easily. In our brief history, we have been tested by revolution and slavery, war and depression, and great movements for social, civil, and equal rights.

We have emerged from each challenge stronger, more prosperous, and ever closer to the ideals of liberty and opportunity that lay at the heart of the American experiment.

And yet, the price of our progress has always been borne by the struggle and sacrifice of our people - by leaders who have asked ordinary Americans to do extraordinary things; and by generations of men and women who've had the courage to answer that call.

It was the greatest of all generations that took up this charge in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Almost overnight, they were asked to transform a peacetime economy that was still climbing out from the depths of depression into an Arsenal of Democracy that could wage war across three continents. If you weren't heading overseas, you were heading into the factories - factories that had to be immediately retooled and reorganized to produce the world's greatest fighting machine.

Many doubted whether this could be achieved in time, or even at all. President Franklin Roosevelt's own advisors told him that his goals for wartime production were unrealistic and impossible to meet. But the President simply waved them off, saying, believe me, "the production people can do it if they really try."

And so the nation turned here, to Detroit, with the hope that the Motor City could lead the way in using its assembly lines to mass produce arms instead of automobiles. At first, the industry was skeptical about whether this was technologically possible or even profitable in the long run. But after repeated assurances from Roosevelt and some help from the federal government, the arsenal began to churn.

In an astonishingly short period of time, the auto industry and its workers became one of the nation's most important contributors to the war effort, manufacturing more planes, tanks, bombs and weapons than the world had ever seen. The New York Times declared that the automakers had achieved a "production miracle," and it labeled Detroit "the Miraculous City."

It was a miracle that was distinctly American - the idea that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can rise to meet its greatest challenges.

It's the kind of American miracle we need today.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the country that faced down the tyranny of fascism and communism is now called to challenge the tyranny of oil. For the very resource that has fueled our way of life over the last hundred years now threatens to destroy it if our generation does not act now and act boldly.

We know what the dangers are here. We know that our oil addiction is jeopardizing our national security - that we fuel our energy needs by sending $800 million a day to countries that include some of the most despotic, volatile regimes in the world. We know that oil money funds everything from the madrassas that plant the seeds of terror in young minds to the Sunni insurgents that attack our troops in Iraq. It corrupts budding democracies, and gives dictators from Venezuela to Iran the power to freely defy and threaten the international community. It even presents a target for Osama bin Laden, who has told al Qaeda to, "focus your operations on oil, especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause [the Americans] to die off on their own."

We know that our oil dependency is jeopardizing our planet as well - that the fossil fuels we burn are setting off a chain of dangerous weather patterns that could condemn future generations to global catastrophe. We see the effects of global climate change in our communities and around the world in record drought, famine, and forest fires. Hurricanes and typhoons are growing in intensity, and rapidly melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland could raise global sea levels high enough to swallow up large portions of every coastal city and town.

And this city knows better than any what our oil addiction is doing to our economy. We are held hostage to the spot oil market - forced to watch our fortunes rise and fall with the changing price of every barrel. Gas prices have risen to record levels, and could hit $4 a gallon in some cities this summer. Here in Detroit, three giants of American industry are hemorrhaging jobs and profits as foreign competitors answer the rising global demand for fuel-efficient cars.

America simply cannot continue on this path. The need to drastically change our energy policy is no longer a debatable proposition. It is not a question of whether, but how; not a question of if, but when. For the sake of our security, our economy, our jobs and our planet, the age of oil must end in our time.

This is a challenge that has not been solved for a lack of talking. Every single President since Richard Nixon has spoken in soaring rhetoric about the need to reduce America's energy dependence, and many have offered plans and policies to do so.

And yet, every year, that dependence keeps on growing. Good ideas are crushed under the weight of typical Washington politics. Politicians are afraid to ask the oil and auto industries to do their part, and those industries hire armies of lobbyists to make sure it stays that way. Autoworkers, understandably fearful of losing jobs, and wise to the tendency of having to pay the price of management's mistakes, join in the resistance to change. The rest of us whip ourselves into a frenzy whenever gas prices skyrocket or a crisis like Katrina takes oil off the market, but once the headlines recede, so does our motivation to act.

There's a reason for this.

A clean, secure energy future will take another American miracle. It will require a historic effort on the scale of what we saw in those factories during World War II. It will require tough choices by our government, sacrifice from our businesses, innovation from our brightest minds, and the sustained commitment of the American people.

It will also take leadership willing to turn the page on the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even try politics of the past. Leadership willing to face down the doubters and the cynics and simply say, "Believe me, we can do it if we really try."

I will be that kind of President - a President who believes again in America that can. A President who believes that when it comes to energy, the challenge may be great and the road may be long, but the time to act is now; who knows that we have the technology, we have the resources, and we are at a rare moment of growing consensus among Democrats and Republicans, unions and CEOs, evangelical Christians and military experts who understand that this must be our generation's next great task.

A comprehensive energy plan will require bold action on many fronts. To fully combat global climate change, we'll need a stringent cap on all carbon emissions and the creation of a global market that would make the development of low-carbon technologies profitable and create thousands of new jobs. We'll also need to find a way to use coal - America's most abundant fossil fuel - without adding harmful greenhouse gases to the environment.

I have already endorsed a cap-and-trade system that would achieve real near-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and return America to a position of leadership so that we can secure an effective and equitable global solution to this crisis. It would invest substantial revenue generated by auctioning off emissions credits into the development of carbon sequestration, advanced biofuels, and energy efficiency.

We'll also need new ideas on energy efficiency and the ability to harness renewable sources of energy, because there is absolutely no reason we shouldn't be able to get at least 20% of our energy from clean and renewable sources by 2020.

I will be laying out more detailed proposals on each of these areas in the months to come. But here in Detroit, I want to focus on a few proposals that would drastically reduce our oil dependence and our carbon emissions by focusing on two of their major causes - the cars we drive and the fuels we use. By 2020, these proposals would save us 2.5 million barrels of oil per day - the equivalent of ending all oil imports from the Middle East and removing 50 million cars' worth of pollution off the road.

It starts with our cars - because if we truly hope to end the tyranny of oil, the nation must once again turn to Detroit for another great transformation.

I know these are difficult times for automakers, and I know that not all of the industry's problems are of its own making.

But we have to be honest about how we arrived at this point.

For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars. And whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby furiously against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could've saved their industry. Even as they've shed thousands of jobs and billions in profits over the last few years, they've continued to reward failure with lucrative bonuses for CEOs.

The consequences of these choices are now clear. While our fuel standards haven't moved from 27.5 miles per gallon in two decades, both China and Japan have surpassed us, with Japanese cars now getting an average of 45 miles to the gallon. And as the global demand for fuel-efficient and hybrid cars have skyrocketed, it's foreign competitors who are filling the orders. Just the other week, we learned that for the first time since 1931, Toyota has surpassed General Motors as the world's best-selling automaker.

At the dawn of the Internet Age, it was famously said that there are two kinds of businesses - those that use email and those that will. Today, there are two kinds of car companies - those that mass produce fuel-efficient cars and those that will.

The American auto industry can no longer afford to be one of those that will. What's more, America can't afford it. When the auto industry accounts for one in ten American jobs, we all have a stake in saving those jobs. When our economy, our security, and the safety of our planet depend on our ability to make cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars, every American has a responsibility to make sure that happens.

Automakers still refuse to make the transition to fuel-efficient production because they say it's too expensive at a time when they're losing profits and struggling under the weight of massive health care costs.

This time, they're actually right. The auto industry's refusal to act for so long has left it mired in a predicament for which there is no easy way out.

But expensive is no longer an excuse for inaction. The auto industry is on a path that is unacceptable and unsustainable - for their business, for their workers, and for America. And America must take action to make it right.

That's why my first proposal will require automakers to meet higher fuel standards and produce more fuel-efficient cars while providing them the flexibility and assistance to do it.

This is a proposal that's already brought together Republicans and Democrats, those who've long-advocated increases in our fuel standards, and those who have opposed those increases for years. It enjoys the support of corporate leaders like Fred Smith of Federal Express who understand that our economy is at risk if we fail to act and military leaders like General P.X. Kelley who know all to well the human cost of our nation's addiction to oil.

It's a proposal that answers the concerns that many have previously had with raising fuel standards - that it's too expensive, or unsafe, or not achievable. And it's an approach that asks our government, our businesses, and our people to invest in a secure energy future - that recognizes we can make great cars and protect American jobs if we transform the auto industry so that our autoworkers can compete with world once more.

It begins by gradually raising our fuel economy standards by four percent - approximately one mile per gallon - each year. The National Academy of Sciences has already determined that we can begin to achieve this rate of improvement today, using existing technology and without changing a vehicle's weight or performance. And so the only way that automakers can avoid meeting this goal is if the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration can prove that the increase is not safe, not cost-effective, or not technologically possible.

This proposal provides additional flexibility to manufacturers as well. Currently, domestic automakers are disadvantaged by the requirement that their fleets have to meet the same overall fuel standard as foreign manufacturers even though U.S. companies sell a much broader array of vehicles. My approach would establish different fuel standards for different types of cars. This reform will level the playing field by requiring all car makers to achieve a similar rate of progress regardless of their vehicle mix. It will also allow manufacturers to get credit if they increase the fuel-efficiency in one particular car beyond what the fuel economy standards require.

We also know that, absent some assistance, the significant costs associated with retooling parts and assembly plants could be prohibitive for companies that are already struggling and shedding workers. Our goal is not to destroy the industry, but to help bring it into the 21st century. So if the auto industry is prepared to step up to its responsibilities, we should be prepared to help.

That's why my proposal would provide generous tax incentives to help automakers upgrade their existing plants in order to accommodate the demands of producing more fuel-efficient vehicles.

This approach would also strike a bargain with the auto industry on one of the biggest costs they face. We've heard for years that the spiraling cost of health care for retired autoworkers constrains manufacturers from investing in more fuel-efficient technology. We all know the statistic - health care costs currently account for $1,500 of every GM Car. So here's the deal. We'll help to partially defray those health care costs, but only if the manufacturers are willing to invest the savings right back into the production of more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

Finally, we should make it easier for the American people to buy more fuel-efficient cars by providing more tax credits to more consumers for the purchase of hybrid and ultra-efficient vehicles. But we should also realize that the more choices we have as consumers, the more responsibility we have to buy these cars - to realize that a few hundred extra dollars for a hybrid is the price we pay as citizens committed to a cause bigger than ourselves.

For too long, we've been either too afraid to ask our automakers to meet higher fuel standards or unwilling to help them do it. But the truth is, if we hope for another miracle out of Detroit, we have to do both. We must demand that they revamp their production, we must assist that transition, and we must make the choice to buy these cars when we have the option. All of us have a responsibility here, and all of us are required to act.

Now it's not enough to only build cars that use less oil - we also have to start moving away from that dirty, dwindling fossil fuel altogether. That's why my second proposal will create a market for clean-burning, home-grown biofuels like ethanol that can replace the oil we use and begin to slow the damage caused by global climate change.

The potential for biofuels in this country is vast. Farmers who grow them know that. Entrepreneurs and fueling station owners who want to sell them know that. Scientists and environmentalists who study the atmosphere know it too.

It's time we produced, sold, and used biofuels all across America - it's time we made them as commonly available as gasoline is now.

I've already done some of this work in the U.S. Senate by helping to provide tax credits to those who want to sell a mix of ethanol and gasoline known as E85 at their fueling stations. And since it only costs $100 per vehicle to install a flexible-fuel tank that can run on biofuels, I've also proposed that we help pay for this transition.

Government should lead the way here. I showed up at this event in a government vehicle that does not have a flexible-fuel tank. When I'm President, I will make sure that every vehicle purchased by the federal government does.

Of course, to truly overcome the lack of a biofuel infrastructure in this country, we need to create a market for the production of more biofuels.

Like the auto industry, the oil industry has generally been resistant to making the transition from petroleum to biofuels - with some even trying to block the installation of E85 pumps at fueling stations.

To overcome this resistance and create this infrastructure, I've introduced a proposal known as a National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, based on the one introduced by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California just a few months ago. Like raising our fuel-efficiency standards, this approach simultaneously reduces our dependence on oil and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea behind the standard is simple.

Beginning in 2010, we will require petroleum makers to reduce the carbon content of their fuel mix one percent per year by selling more clean, alternative fuels in its place. This proposal will spur greater production and availability of renewable fuels like cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, and it will even create an incentive for the production of more flexible-fuel and plug-in hybrid vehicles that can use these clean fuels or charge up with renewable electricity.

This approach will also allow the market, not the government, to determine which fuels are used by fuel distributors to meet the standard. It's gradual, so it gives these companies time to meet the requirements. And if you're a fuel producer that's having trouble meeting the standard, it allows you to pay for a credit from a company that is.

The low-carbon fuel standard also provides a greater incentive for private sector investment in the cleanest biofuels possible. Corn-based ethanol has led the way here, and now we need to expand the universe of biofuels to include cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass or forest waste that can reduce our carbon footprint even further.

In the end, the two major proposals I outlined today - higher fuel-efficiency standards and a National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard - will not end our oil dependence entirely.

But the transformation of the cars we drive and the fuels we use would be the most ambitious energy project in decades, with results that would last for generations to come: 2.5 million fewer barrels of oil per day; 50 million cars' worth of pollution off the road by 2020. The direct consumer savings at the pump in that year would be over $50 billion, not to mention the great economic benefits of a rejuvenated and fiercely competitive domestic auto industry.

Some will say that the goals are too large; that the ask is too great; and that the political reality is too difficult for this to work.

To that I'd say that we've heard it all before, and we still believe we can do it if we really try. Because that's who we are as Americans. Because that's who we've always been.

In the days and months after September 11th, Americans were waiting to be called to something larger than themselves. Just like their parents and grandparents of the Greatest Generation, so many of us were willing to serve and defend our country - not only on the fields of war, but on the homefront too.

This is our generation's chance to answer that call. Meeting the challenge posed by our oil dependence won't require us to build the massive war machine that Franklin Roosevelt called for so many years ago, but it will require the same sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility from all of us - not just the auto industry and its workers here in Detroit, but oil companies in Texas, power plants from New Jersey to California, legislators in Washington, and consumers in every American city and town. It's time for all of us to head back into the factories and universities; to the boardrooms and the halls of Congress so we can roll up our sleeves and find a way to get this done. I am ready and willing to lead us there as your next President, and I hope you are willing to join me in the journey toward that next great American miracle. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the National Conference of Black Mayors

Baton Rouge, LA | May 05, 2007

It is an honor to be here at Southern University. It is a privilege to stand with so many of our leading mayors from across this country. Whether it's a small town or a big city, the government that's closest to the people is the one the people count on the most.

Our mayors are on the frontlines when it comes to housing, education, job creation, and finding new ways to strengthen our families and communities. They are some of the hardest working people in America and when a disaster strikes: a Katrina, a shooting, or a six alarm blaze -- it's city hall we lean on. It's city hall we call first. And it's city hall we depend on to get us through the tough times.

Last weekend, I attended a service to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the LA Riots. After a jury acquitted 4 police officers of beating Rodney King -- a beating that was filmed and flashed around the world -- Los Angeles erupted. I remember the sense of despair and powerlessness in watching one of America's greatest cities engulfed in flames.

But I want to start today with an inspiring story from that tragic event -- a story about a baby who was born into this world with a bullet in its arm.

We learned about this child from a doctor named Andy Moosa. He was working the afternoon shift on April 30 at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood as the second day of violence was exploding in the streets.

He told us about a pregnant woman who had been wearing a white dress. She was in Compton and on her way to the supermarket. Where the bullet came from nobody knew. Her sister-in-law noticed a red spot in the middle of her white dress and said that I think you've been shot. The bullet had gone in, but it had not exited. The doctor described the ultrasound and how he realized that the bullet was in the baby. The doctor said, "We could tell it was lodged in one of the upper limbs. We needed to get this baby out so we were in the delivery room."

And here's the thing: the baby looked great. Except for the swelling in the right elbow in the fleshy part, it hadn't even fractured a bone. The bullet had lodged in the soft tissue in the muscle. The baby was fine. It was breathing and crying and kicking. They removed the bullet, stitched up the baby's arm, and everything was fine. The doctor went on to say that there's always going to be a scar to remind that child how quickly she came into the world in very unusual circumstances.

Let's think about that story. There's always going to be a scar there, that doesn't go away. You take the bullet out. You stitch up the wound and 15 years later, there's still going to be a scar.

Many of the students in this room were just learning to read and write when the riot started and tragedy struck the corner of Florence and Normandy. Most of the mayors here know that those riots didn't erupt over night; there had been a "quiet riot" building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years.

If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Selma or Trenton or Arcola, Mississippi -- you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without prospects, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge -- the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.

Those "quiet riots" that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better. You tell yourself, my school will always crumble. There will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. There will never be a place that I can be proud of and I can afford to call my home. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, "Not guilty" -- or a hurricane hits -- and that despair is revealed for the world to see.

Much of what we saw on our television screens 15 years ago was Los Angeles expressing a lingering, ongoing, pervasive legacy -- a tragic legacy out of the tragic history this country has never fully come to terms with. This is not to excuse the violence of bashing in a man's head or destroying someone's store and their life's work. That kind of violence is inexcusable and self-defeating. It does, however, describe the reality of many communities around this country.

And it made me think about our cities and communities all around this country, how not only do we still have scars from that riot and the "quiet riots" that happen every day -- but how in too many places we haven't even taken the bullet out.

Look at what happened in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast when Katrina hit. People ask me whether I thought race was the reason the response was so slow. I said, "No. This Administration was colorblind in its incompetence." But everyone here knows the disaster and the poverty happened long before that hurricane hit. All the hurricane did was make bare what we ignore each and every day which is that there are whole sets of communities that are impoverished, that don't have meaningful opportunity, that don't have hope and they are forgotten. This disaster was a powerful metaphor for what's gone on for generations.

In New Orleans, the murder rate was one of the highest in the country -- ten times the national average -- well before the hurricane hit. Young men died far more frequently from gunshot wounds than they did from anything else. The schools were failing long before the levees broke. The city's poverty rate was twice the national average. There was a reason why the evacuation failed and so many people were stranded on their roof tops. The folks who were making the plans assumed that people had cars that they could fill up with gas, put some Perrier in the back, drive to a hotel, and check in with a credit card for a week.

Of course, the federal response after Katrina was similar to the response after the riots in Los Angeles. People in Washington wake up and are surprised that there's poverty in our midst, and that others were frustrated and angry. Then there are panels and there are hearings. There are commissions. There are reports. Aid dollars are approved but they can't seem to get to the people. And then nothing really changes except the news coverage quiets down.

This isn't to diminish the extraordinary generosity of the American people at the time. I want to thank the faculty and students here at Southern University for turning your field house and dorms into shelters for so many in the aftermath of Katrina. That act of kindness -- the light in that storm -- will never be forgotten. I want to thank the National Conference of Black Mayors for their efforts: securing more $125 million in New Market Tax credits to assist with redevelopment, and creating your own disaster relief fund that helped 5,000 families in 54 Gulf Coast communities.

But despite this extraordinary generosity, here we are 19 months later -- or15 years later in the case of LA -- and the homes haven't been built, the businesses haven't returned, and those same communities are still drowning and smoldering under the same hopelessness as before the tragedy hit.

It is time for us to come together and take the bullet out.

If we have more black men in prison than are in our colleges and universities, then it's time to take the bullet out. If we have almost 2 million people going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma that costs us half a billion dollars; it's time to take the bullet out. If one out of every nine kids doesn't have health insurance; it's time to take the bullet out. If we keep sending our kids to dilapidated school buildings, if we keep fighting this war in Iraq, a war that never should have been authorized and waged, a war that's costing us $275 million dollars a day and the sacrifice of so many innocent lives -- if we have all these challenges and nothing's changing, then every mayor in America needs to come together -- form our own surgery teams -- and take the bullets out.

Let's start with education.

We know what works. We know that if we put a dollar into early childhood education that we get seven dollars back in reduced drop out rates, reduced delinquency, reduced prison rates, more young people can go to college and get good jobs.

We know they work. An important study about an old program called Abecedarian, in which children from low-income families, almost all of them black, received full-time educational child care from infancy through age 5, said kids were three times more likely to go to college. They were half as likely to become a teen parent and smoke marijuana. In another study about another effective program at the Perry Preschool, which served low-income black children in Michigan, kids needed special education less often, and they were three times as likely to own their own home and half as likely to go on welfare. That early childhood program even helped the next generation.

So we know what it takes to improve our schools. We know that if children are learning in dilapidated buildings with teachers that are underpaid and textbooks that are 20 years old, they will not learn.

To change this, we need to fundamentally reform No Child Left Behind. The slogan is right, but how the law has been implemented is wrong. The slogan is good, but how they left the money behind is wrong. Let's get serious.

Let's finally make a quality education accessible to every American child so that every student can graduate from high school ready for college and work in a knowledge-based economy.

To begin the great transformation in our schools, we need to invest in the most important part of a child's education: the man or woman standing at the head of the classroom. As President, I will recruit hundreds of thousands of new teachers and principals. For what it costs us to fund the Iraq war for 30 days, we can recruit a new army of teachers and principals.

As President, I will recruit a new generation of science and technology leaders to teach our children the skills they will need to be competitive. We need to expand summer learning opportunities for our children emphasizing math and science. And students, who live in poverty, suffer from a learning disability or who don't speak English at home, should get the extra help they need and their schools need the resources to help their students reach their full potential.

I want to support teachers at all stages of their careers by increasing salaries across the board, improving incentives to get the best teachers to work in our rural areas and our most challenging cities, providing more resources so that teachers have more security and control over their classrooms, and by providing more opportunities for professional development.

There are models of excellence in many communities that show when you put a great teacher in a classroom, students can learn. There's Murphy High School in Mobile Alabama and Rufus King in Milwaukee Wisconsin. There's no shortage of great ideas; we just need to scale them up. We need to get past the old style of politics that only talks about education and start actually educating our kids for the 21st century.

And while we're at it, let's do something for the young people ready for college. Here at Southern University in Baton Rouge, I'm sure that this won't come as a surprise when I say that college tuition rates are rising almost 10 percent a year. Those increases have priced out more than 200,000 students in 2004. And for what it costs to fund the Iraq War for three weeks, we could provide each student with four years at a public college or university.

We all know how important education is. It's a passport to a better life. But millions of children are not given an equal chance to realize their own potential. And for too long, our kids -- not "those kids," but our kids -- have been asked to settle for mediocrity simply because of their zip code, the color of their skin, and how much their parents earn.

This is wrong. We must change. We must take this bullet out if America is to remain the leading force for good and creativity and innovation in this world.

But we can't stop at education if we want stronger communities. We need to provide economic opportunity in every corner of our country if we want to take the bullet out.

We know what it takes to develop our communities economically. Right now, the Iraq War is set to cost us $2 trillion dollars -- that's more than enough to lay broadband lines from " Columbia South Carolina to Portland Oregon." What good is the Information Super Highway when too many towns and cities are still riding around in dial-up. We must connect the disconnected so economic opportunity is there for everyone -- not just everyone who can afford it. It might not stop certain jobs from being outsourced to India, but this national effort would create jobs over 60,000 jobs a year over the next two decades and improve our country's competitiveness.

We know that we have to invest in transitional jobs too. When there are people who are homeless, veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder from this war in Iraq, and thousands of children aging out of foster care, we can't expect them to have all the skills they need for work. They may need help with basic skills -- how to show up to work on time, wear the right clothes, and act appropriately in an office. We have to help them get there.

That's why I have called for $50 million to begin innovative new job training and workforce development programs. This plan will also provide mentoring opportunities and let case workers help men and women make difficult transitions. It will coordinate with local employers, community colleges, and community organizations so that job training programs are actually connected to good paying jobs with the opportunity for career growth. This would help lift more people out of poverty and into the middle class.

There are models all across this country for how for how we can rebuild our cities and communities. There's a new idea coming for the Gulf Coast and the New Orleans area. Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Emanuel Cleaver, the former mayor of Kansas City and head of the National Conference of Black Mayors, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus will soon introduce legislation that creates a Gulf Coast recovery and empowerment initiative. It will employ people who fled the region to rebuild the region: the houses, the businesses, roads and bridges. It will give people an incentive to move back home and put them back to work. That's the kind of leadership we need to take the bullet out.

If we want to create more jobs in our communities, let's stop sending $800 million a day to some of the most hostile nations on the planet and end our dependence on foreign oil. We don't have an energy policy right now. That's why we're funding both sides of the war on terror, melting the polar ice caps, and letting the old style of politics make sure that Detroit doesn't produce more fuel efficient cars. And if we don't do something soon, more Katrina's are going to happen and we know which communities will bear the brunt of those storms.

When it comes to global climate change and developing the fuels for the 21st century, America must lead. I want our farmers to grow the renewable fuels and produce biofuels. I want us to lead the way on low carbon fuels. I want our young people to imagine and build the next great inventions. If we finally have a president who deals with this challenge, we could not only make our country safer, we could save the planet and create jobs throughout all our communities. We must meet this challenge. We must take the bullet out that's stopped our progress for all these years and bring more economic opportunities to every community. We can do this.

But while we're at it, what good is an education and a job, if there are only million dollar mansions and quarter million dollar condos and you can't afford a place to live? When our children are being priced out of the neighborhoods and towns they grew up in and when families cannot find safe places to live near their job, that's a bullet that's got to come out too.

We have to invest in housing again. In too many communities low-income families are priced out of the housing market. In fact, there is not a single metropolitan area in the country where a family earning minimum wage can afford decent housing.

We need to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that would create as much as 112,000 new affordable units in mixed income neighborhoods. We need to fully fund the Community Development Block Grant initiative. As a former community organizer on the south side of Chicago, I know how critical those grants are and we have to do more to strengthen the partnership between the federal and local governments when it relates to housing programs like Section 202 for all those seniors who lost their apartments when the hurricane hit. We can do this.

We must also do more to protect homeowners in this country. A recent report found that the housing market experienced its worst sales-month in 18 years and foreclosures are up 47% compared to last year. Right now, too many people are caught in a nightmare caused by mortgage fraud and predatory lending.

That is why my "Stop Fraud" proposals require mortgage professionals to report suspected fraudulent activity and support state and local law enforcement in their efforts to fight fraud. It addresses abuses in the subprime loan market where 2 million homeowners may be at risk of foreclosure. And it provides $25 million for housing counseling to tenants, homeowners, and other consumers so they get the advice and guidance they need before buying a house and support if they get in to trouble down the road.

Even if we succeed in making housing and homeownership affordable for all, if we don't help strengthen the families that live inside those homes, then those bullets will make the American house crumble from the inside out. We have to do more to help families balance work and take care of one another. Let's help 17 million children by extending the child tax credit to low-income workers. Let's stop spending $275 million a day in Iraq and pass some tax cuts that people actually need.

If we want stronger families in America, then we have to confront the tough issues. When too many fathers think that responsibility ends at conception -- when they have not yet realized that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one, we know that our families are in crisis. That's a self-inflicted wound we all have to help heal.

Now there are ways that the government can help. That's why I introduced the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act. It provides fathers with innovative job training services and increases access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It calls for an increase in child support enforcement by almost $5 billion over 10 years, resulting in nearly $20 billion in collection. That money will go directly to children and their mothers. But let's be honest, government alone can't solve the breakdown of our families. This is something we have to look to ourselves so that fathers become parents too.

We know what the challenges are in small towns and big cities across this country. We know what those bullets are. We've talked about them for years. What's stopped us from meeting these challenges and taking these bullets out is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership and absence of urgency and a belief that if we ignore our problems like discrimination and poverty that they will someone how go away.

For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.

That kind of politics has to stop. That kind of quackery has to stop. We don't need anymore faith healers and snake oil salesmen. We need some doctors to take the bullets out.

Before we can start that work, we need to end this war in Iraq, which has cost our country and our people so much. I opposed it from the very start, back in 2002 when it wasn't popular to be against this war. I opposed it because I believed strongly that it could lead to the disaster we find ourselves in today, with our brave young service men and women mired in the middle of a civil war.

This war never should have been authorized by Congress and it never should have been waged. And it's time, once and for all, to bring our troops home. It's time to recognize that American soldiers can't solve Iraq's political differences or ethnic rivalries.

That's why I introduced a plan in January that would have begun withdrawing our combat forces on May 1st-five days ago-and would have brought them home by March 31st, while forcing the Iraqi government to meet its obligations.

And this is basically the plan the President vetoed this week, defying not just a majority of Congress but the will of the American people. But rest assured, his veto was not the last word. If the President continues to stubbornly ignore the realities of Iraq, we intend to force our colleagues in the Senate and House to take vote after vote until we overcome his veto or he finally understands that we have to change course.

We need 16 Republican votes in the Senate to override a veto. There's a Republican right here in Louisiana who needs to vote to end the war. Tomorrow I'll be in Iowa and there's a senator there whose vote we need. I need the mayors and the students here to call their senators and congressman too. This is the only chance we have to truly end the war. It's not symbolic; this is real. Sixteen votes and we can turn the page on this war. Sixteen votes and we can start bringing our men and women home.

Let me just close by saying this. We can only meet these challenges together. We can only take these bullets out together. We can only strengthen our cities and towns and in turn transform our nation, together.

We know how the doctors do it. We watch some of these TV shows like ER and Gray's Anatomy. The doctors are in the operating room. One's got the scalpel, but others are watching the monitors and administering the IV. The nurses are on the job. The orderlies are on the job. There was a team that got the bullet out of that baby girl 15 years ago. She's got a scar on her arm, always will, but she survived.

America is going to survive. We won't forget where we came from. We won't forget what happened 19 months ago, 15 years ago, 200 years ago. We're going to pull out bullet after bullet. We're going to stitch up arm after arm. We're going to wear those scars for justice. We're going to usher in a new America the way that newborn child was ushered in.

We're never going to forget there is always hope -- there is always light in the midst of desperate days -- that a baby can be born even with a bullet in her arm. And we can come together as one people and transform this nation.