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We've come a long way since 2008. The President took office in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression; that month 800,000 Americans lost their jobs—more than in any single month in the previous 60 years. On Day One, he took immediate action to stop the free fall and put Americans back to work. In the midst of the crisis, President Obama knew what Democrats have always known: that American workers are tougher than tough times. Since early 2010, the private sector has created 4.5 million jobs, and American manufacturing is growing for the first time since the 1990s.
For too long, we've had a financial system that stacked the deck against ordinary Americans. Banks on Wall Street played by different rules than businesses on Main Street and community banks. Without strong enough regulations, families were enticed, and sometimes tricked, into buying homes they couldn't afford. Banks and investors were allowed to package and sell risky mortgages. Huge reckless bets were made with other people's money on the line.
That behavior not only nearly destroyed the financial system, it cost our economy millions of jobs, hurt middle class and poor families, and left taxpayers holding the bill.
For the past three and a half years, President Obama and Democrats around the country have been fighting to bring the country back from this historic economic crisis. We put in place Wall Street reform with smarter, tougher, commonsense rules that will prevent a crisis like that from ever happening again. We know that the free market only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest.
Mitt Romney and the Republicans would roll back financial reform and let Wall Street write its own rules again. The President put in place government reform that has led to the most open, efficient, and accountable government in history. We know that transparent and effective government makes economic sense.
Republicans would continue to allow lobbyists too much sway over lawmakers, leading to gridlock in Washington, an outdated regulatory system, and a tax code riddled with loopholes. The President put in place unprecedented ethics reforms and we're fighting for campaign finance reform. We know that millions of Americans are struggling to get by, and their voices shouldn't be drowned out by millions of dollars in secret special-interest lobbying and advertising.
Mitt Romney's opposition to commonsense campaign finance is nothing less than support for corporate and special-interest takeovers in our elections.
We believe America prospers when everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street, does their fair share and plays by the same rules. We will not back down from making sure an oil company can't take the same reckless actions that led to the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago. We will not back down from protecting our kids from toxic mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean. We will not back down from ensuring that everyone has a seat at the American table and the opportunity to grab the first rung on the ladder to the middle class.
Immigration. Democrats are strongly committed to enacting comprehensive immigration reform that supports our economic goals and reflects our values as both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. The story of the United States would not be possible without the generations of immigrants who have strengthened our country and contributed to our economy. Our prosperity depends on an immigration system that reflects our values and meets America's needs. But Americans know that today, our immigration system is badly broken—separating families, undermining honest employers and workers, burdening law enforcement, and leaving millions of people working and living in the shadows.
Democrats know there is broad consensus to repair that system and strengthen our economy, and that the country urgently needs comprehensive immigration reform that brings undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and requires them to get right with the law, learn English, and pay taxes in order to get on a path to earn citizenship. We need an immigration reform that creates a system for allocating visas that meets our economic needs, keeps families together, and enforces the law. But instead of promoting the national interest, Republicans have blocked immigration reform in Congress and used the issue as a political wedge.
Despite the obstacles, President Obama has made important progress in implementing immigration policies that reward hard work and demand personal responsibility. Today, the Southwest border is more secure than at any time in the past 20 years. Unlawful crossings are at a 40-year low, and the Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its history. We are continuing to work to hold employers accountable for whom they hire. The Department of Homeland Security is prioritizing the deportation of criminals who endanger our communities over the deportation of immigrants who do not pose a threat, such as children who came here through no fault of their own and are pursuing an education. President Obama's administration has streamlined the process of legal immigration for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, supporting family reunification as a priority, and has enhanced opportunities for English-language learning and immigrant integration. When states sought to interfere with federal immigration law by passing local measures targeting immigrants, this administration challenged them in court.
President Obama and the Democrats fought for the DREAM Act, legislation ensuring that young people who want to contribute fully to our society and serve our country are able to become legal residents and ultimately citizens. Although this bill has a long history of bipartisan support, Republicans decided to play politics with it rather than do the right thing. So the Obama administration provided temporary relief for youth who came to the United States as children, through no fault of their own, grew up as Americans and are poised to make a real contribution to our country.
These are not permanent fixes. Only Congress can provide a permanent, comprehensive solution. But these are steps in the right direction. President Obama and the Democratic Party stand for comprehensive immigration reform that intelligently prioritizes our country's security and economic needs, while Mitt Romney and the Republicans have opposed commonsense reforms and pandered to the far right.
Families. It's time we stop just talking about family values and start pursuing policies that truly value families. The President and Democrats have cut taxes for every working American family, and expanded the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. We believe that all parents and caregivers—regardless of gender—need more flexibility and support in the workplace. We support passing the Healthy Families Act, broadening the Family and Medical Leave Act, and partnering with states to move toward paid leave. We have invested in expanding and reforming Head Start and grants to states to raise standards and improve instruction in their early learning programs, and we support expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. We must protect our most vulnerable children by supporting our foster care system, adoption programs for all caring parents, grandparents, and caregivers, and protecting children from violence and neglect. We recognize that caring for family members and managing a household is real and valuable work.
President Obama's administration has offered men who want to be good fathers extra support. We have bolstered community and faith-based groups focused on fatherhood, partnered with businesses to offer opportunities for fathers to spend time with their kids at the bowling alley or ballpark, and worked to help deployed dads connect with their children. We all have a stake in forging stronger bonds between fathers and their children.
We support parents and their children as they work to lead healthier lives. With prevention and treatment initiatives on obesity and public health, Democrats are leading the way on supporting healthier, more physically active families and healthy children.
Supporting Troops, Military Families, and Veterans. President Obama and the Democratic Party are committed to keeping the sacred trust we have with our troops, military families, and veterans. These brave men and women and their families have borne the burden of war and have always made our military the best in the world. We will not only continue to support them in the field, but we will also continue to prioritize support for wounded warriors, mental health, and the well being of our military families and veterans. We will keep working to give our veterans the health care, benefits, education, and job opportunities that they have earned. That's why the President and the Democratic Party supported the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to provide opportunities for military personnel, veterans, and their families to get a better education. That's why the President is working to ensure returning veterans are able to get good jobs and put their skills to good use at home. That's why the President has launched partnerships with the private sector to help veterans transfer their experience into skilled manufacturing jobs, and why the President has proposed a new Veterans Jobs Corps to put veterans to work as first responders. That's why the President signed an executive order making it harder for for-profit colleges to prey on veterans. That's why we enacted the Returning Heroes Tax Credit and the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit to give companies incentives to hire vets. That's why we have committed to ending veterans' homelessness by 2015, and have launched new partnerships with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development and with veterans' organizations to do just that. That's why, because the traumas of war don't always end when our loved ones return home, this administration is continuing to work to meet the mental health needs of our veterans. That's why we will continue to partner with the nation's Veterans Service Organizations and veterans advocacy groups to ensure that every veteran of every generation receives the care and benefits they've earned. That's why we have made it easier for veterans in rural communities to get the care they need. And it is why we have substantially increased funding for the VA, and directed it to eliminate its backlog of claims, hire additional claims processors, and deploy new systems to improve claims processing times.
Americans with Disabilities. No one should face discrimination based on disability status. President Obama and the Democratic Party will continue to lead efforts to facilitate the access of Americans with disabilities to the middle class, employment opportunities, and the ability to lead full, productive, and satisfying lives. The administration and the Democratic Party are committed to assisting the approximately 50 million people in this country living with disabilities, assuring their full integration into society.
This administration has committed to hiring 100,000 Americans with disabilities within the federal government by 2015, and has proposed new rules to create employment opportunities with federal contractors. We are committed to expanding access to employment for people with disabilities and removing barriers to work. The Affordable Care Act is opening access to health insurance to Americans with disabilities who were previously excluded because of pre-existing conditions, expanding access to Medicaid, and helping Medicaid to support home- and community-based services to keep people in their communities. Further, the President issued an executive order repealing the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and signed into law the Christopher and Dana Reeves Paralysis Act, the first piece of comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis. Democrats are committed to ensuring that Americans with disabilities can exercise their right to vote and have access to the polls. We will continue to oppose all efforts to weaken the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, and we will vigorously enforce laws that prevent discrimination. And the President and the Democratic Party will fiercely oppose the harsh cuts in Medicaid that would inevitably lead to no or significantly less health care for millions of Americans with disabilities, workers with disabilities, and families raising children with autism, Down Syndrome, and other serious disabilities.
Faith. Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires. Faith- based organizations will always be critical allies in meeting the challenges that face our nation and our world—from domestic and global poverty, to climate change and human trafficking. People of faith and religious organizations do amazing work in communities across this country and the world, and we believe in lifting up and valuing that good work, and finding ways to support it where possible. We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests. There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution, and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country.
Rural Communities and Agriculture. We are committed to creating a rural economy built to last—one focused on reclaiming the security of the rural middle class by growing the food, fiber, and fuel that the rest of the world buys and restoring the basic values of hard work and fair play that made our country great. By investing in job creation, clean energy, agriculture, and education, Democrats have built a stronger rural economy where future generations can enjoy the rural way of life.
President Obama and Democrats in Congress have worked to extend credit to a record number of small business owners, boosting economic growth in rural America. We support a clean energy economy that is creating jobs and helping lower energy costs in rural America. U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history. We have made historic investments in renewable fuels and expanded markets for them.
We support strengthening rural water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure to make rural businesses more competitive. We have expanded broadband access to nearly seven million rural Americans, including rural businesses, creating new jobs. We have invested in water and wastewater community infrastructure projects, safeguarding the health of 18 million rural residents and creating even more jobs. Democrats will strengthen the American farm safety net by renewing crop disaster relief, maintaining strong crop insurance programs, and creating a permanent disaster relief program. We will improve access to education and health care, especially for rural veterans, and conserve millions of acres of public lands while supporting rural recreation and tourism.
Our vision for rural America stands in stark contrast to our opponents'. Republicans in Congress have introduced a budget that would gut rural economic programs that invest in education, clean energy, infrastructure, and health care, undermining job growth and economic development in rural America. They would severely weaken the farm safety net for family farmers in times of natural disaster and economic hardship.
Agriculture. An agricultural economy built to last is integral to the affordability of our food, the independence of our energy supply, and the security of America's middle class. Democrats support agriculture from the small farms that feed the community to the large farms that feed the world. Under President Obama, American farmers are seeing record farm income, record agricultural exports, and millions of acres enrolled in conservation programs. President Obama has expanded markets for American goods that help support more than a million agriculture jobs here at home. And in the past few years, agriculture has been one of the fastest-growing parts of our economy, creating one out of every 12 American jobs.
Democrats appreciate agriculture's role in securing America's food security and making our country an ambassador of food aid to countries across the world. That's why Democrats support a strong farm safety net, with increased availability of crop insurance and emergency disaster assistance to help farmers and ranchers keep their farms in business after natural disasters and crop loss. Democrats are also planning for a strong agricultural future, and President Obama has proposed increasing funding for research and development to improve agricultural productivity and continue to pursue global food security.
Tribal Sovereignty. American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are sovereign self-governing communities, with a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States. President Obama and Democrats in Congress, working with tribes, have taken unprecedented steps to resolve long-standing conflicts, finally coming to a resolution on litigation—some dating back nearly 100 years—related to management of Indian trust resources, administration of loan programs, and water rights.
The President worked with Democrats to pass the HEARTH Act to promote greater tribal self- determination and create jobs in Indian Country. The Affordable Care Act permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to improve care for Native Americans. Democrats enacted the Tribal Law and Order Act, support expansion of the Violence Against Women Act to include greater protection for women on tribal lands, and oppose versions of the Violence Against Women Act that do not include these critical provisions. We will continue to honor our treaty and trust obligations and respect cultural rights, including greater support for American Indian and Alaska Native languages. Democrats support maximizing tribal self-governance, including efforts for self-determination and sovereignty of Native Hawaiians.
Puerto Rico. As President Obama said when he became the first President to visit Puerto Rico and address its people in 50 years, Boricuas every day help write the American story. Puerto Ricans have been proud American citizens for almost 100 years. During that time, the people of Puerto Rico have developed strong political, economic, social, and cultural ties to the United States. The political status of Puerto Rico remains an issue of overwhelming importance, but lack of resolution about status has held the island back. It is time for Puerto Rico to take the next step in the history of its status and its relationship to the rest of the United States.
The White House Task Force Report on Puerto Rico has taken important and historic steps regarding status. We commit to moving resolution of the status issue forward with the goal of resolving it expeditiously. If local efforts in Puerto Rico to resolve the status issue do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of clear status options, such as those recommended in the White House Task Force Report on Puerto Rico, which the United States is politically committed to fulfilling.
The economic success of Puerto Rico is intimately linked to a swift resolution of the status question, as well as consistent, focused efforts on improving the lives of the people of Puerto Rico. We have made great progress for Puerto Rico over the past four years, including a sharp, historic increase in Medicaid funding for the people of Puerto Rico and fair and equitable inclusion in the Recovery Act and the Affordable Care Act. Going forward, we will continue working toward fair and equitable participation for Puerto Rico in federal programs. We support increased efforts by the federal government to improve public safety in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, with a particular emphasis on efforts to combat drug trafficking and crime throughout our Caribbean border. In addition, consistent with the task force report, we will continue to work on improving Puerto Rico's economic status by promoting job creation, education, health care, clean energy, and economic development on the Island.
Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. We also recognize and honor the contributions and the sacrifices made in service of our country by the Americans living in the territories of Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. We support full self-government and self- determination for the people of the territories, and their right to decide their future status. We will work as partners to the people of Guam on military matters, and take seriously the unique health care challenges that Pacific Island communities face. For all those who live under our flag, we support strong economic development and will work towards fair and equitable treatment under federal programs.
Arts and Culture. Democrats are proud of our support for arts funding and education. We are committed to continuing the policies and programs that have already done so much for our creative arts industry and economy. Investment in the arts strengthens our communities and contributes to our nation's rich cultural heritage. We will continue to support public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and for programs providing art and music education in primary and secondary schools. The entire nation prospers when we protect and promote the unique and original artistic and cultural contributions of the women and men who create and preserve our nation's heritage.
A strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street. That's why President Obama and Democrats in Congress overcame fierce opposition from the financial industry to pass the most far-reaching Wall Street reform in generations.
The failed policies of the past decade and hands-off approach toward the excesses of the financial industry helped create the deepest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. In the fall of 2008, when the financial system and economy were on the verge of catastrophic collapse, the last administration put in place the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The Obama administration has ensured that big banks repay these loans with interest, and its rigorous stewardship has brought transparency and accountability to the program. We enacted Wall Street reform to end all future taxpayer-funded bank bailouts.
Today Democrats are holding Wall Street accountable, bringing new transparency to financial markets, and ending taxpayer-funded bank bailouts and the era of "too big to fail." President Obama put in place new rules of the road that refocus the financial sector on getting capital to entrepreneurs and small and mid-sized businesses who create jobs and financing to millions of families who want to buy a home or send their kids to college.
We've created a single consumer watchdog agency whose sole job is looking out for working families by protecting them from deceptive and unfair lending practices of mortgage brokers, payday lenders, debt collectors, and other financial institutions. Democrats are not only fighting to protect consumers from practices that can hurt their pocketbooks and add to their debt, but also working to put an end to practices that helped cause the mortgage crisis.
Mitt Romney and his allies in Congress believe that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down—the same approach that benefited a few, but crashed the economy, hurt the middle class, and contributed to soaring income inequality. They would roll back financial reform and let Wall Street write its own rules again.