TERENCE SMITH: Speaking to AFL- CIO members in New Jersey this morning, Senator John Kerry blamed the Bush administration for damaging the economy.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: More than a million Americans who were working three years ago have lost their jobs. And the new jobs finally being created pay an average of $9,000 less a year. But as wages are going down, guess what?
Your healthcare costs are going up. Your tuitions are going up. Your bills are going up. Gasoline prices are going up. For the last three years in New Jersey, the health care premiums jumped $3,000 and child care costs rose $2,000. And to add insult to injury, your hard-earned tax dollars are actually paying corporations to export your jobs. So more and more of you are working harder, and you're still not getting ahead.
Over the last few years, sure, productivity has risen. Corporate profits have risen. But the wages of working Americans have fallen to the lowest share of national income in our history. In 2003, 1.6 million households filed for bankruptcy. Today, one household goes bankrupt every 19 seconds; 42,000 families filed in New Jersey alone last year.
That's wrong. And we're going to change it this year. (applause) And we all know that the middle class built this country. Franklin Roosevelt understood that. And so did Bill Clinton. But for nearly four years now, Washington has ignored the middle class, putting wealth ahead of work, something-for- nothing ahead of responsibility, and what's right for the few ahead of what's right for America.
I believe in building up our great middle class, respecting their work, honoring their values, and lifting them up in the toughest of times. I'm running for president because I want an economy that strengthens and expands the middle class, not one that squeezes it. So on Nov. 2, let's send a message about the values of this country -- the real values -- not the spoken values, but the lived values of this country.
This reckless deficit will not be put on the backs of veterans, cops, and firefighters; it will not be put on the backs of women and children in need. The price of these deficits will not be paid by the poor. Let me tell you my fundamental value. You don't make America strong by attacking the weak. And we are going to make that clear on November 2nd of this year.
TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, during an appearance with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Bush described the economy as strong. And in a response to his Democratic opponent, Mr. Bush added:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I guess if you want to try to find something to be pessimistic about, you can find it, no matter how hard you look, you know? ( Cheers and applause )
TERENCE SMITH: Yesterday, the president campaigned in Liberty, Missouri, where he urged senior citizens at a town hall meeting to sign up for prescription drug discount cards, a benefit offered in the new Medicare legislation. To explain the benefits, he used as an example Wanda Blackmore, who suffered an infection after breaking her arm. Mr. Bush had accompanied her to a pharmacy earlier in the day.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: She... I was going to say you whipped out your card, but you left your card there before, right? Anyway, they had her card, and she bought some drugs-- that is, a blood thinner, right?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: She got her card. The first time she used it was June 7. On a prescription that usually cost $10, she paid $1.14. That's called savings. It looks like... we kind of did some rough math, didn't we? And it looks like you're going to save about $750 this year. And that's a lot. That's an awful lot for some people in this country. And I'm telling you, this thing is working. And I appreciate you coming to testify.
WOMAN: Yes, sir.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There you go.
TERENCE SMITH: Also on stage with the president was Gladys Cole, another discount drug cardholder who takes blood pressure medication.
GLADYS COLE: Mr. President, I can tell you that your drug card is working.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Okay, why can you say that?
GLADYS COLE: Well, because I went and got my medicine that I had to give $120 for, and when I got through, I gave $20-something for that same medicine. ( Applause ) So there's no doubt in my mind that it is working, and working quite well.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We want our seniors to be able to have the benefits of modern medicine in a way that is best affordable. That's what we're here to talk about. And if you don't believe me, just listen to the two ladies here on the stage. They go to their pharmacies. They put down their money. And they've seen the difference between what they had been charged and what they're paying now. And it's a real savings.
TERENCE SMITH: But President Bush noted that many seniors have encountered difficulty when using the cards.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: One problem is there's misinformation about these cards. Another problem is, is that people... they feel like it may be too complicated. The procedures may be too complicated to get a drug discount card. Some of them say, "well, it's not going to matter anyway." There were political problems before, and a lot of times they follow after you.
TERENCE SMITH: However, the president warned seniors they'd miss out on a good bargain if they chose not to use the cards.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And just because it may seem complicated, that's not a good... I think people should not use that as an excuse to participate, because you're going to find there's good... there's good discounts. There's good savings.
TERENCE SMITH: President Bush campaigns in Florida tomorrow, while Senator Kerry will attend events in Ohio.