July 6, 2000
Sanders' Speech to Sertoma Club
Thank you all for giving me this opportunity to speak before you today. I want especially to thank Tom McCullough for inviting me. I wish he had invited me to your Harley Open House at the Fair Grounds last September, though; I wouldn't have missed that for the world.
As you may guess, I get lots of invitations but few groups are quite as important to me as those who work to "Make Life Worthwhile" - to give of themselves to improve the lives of others. If you look at it like that, Congress and Sertoma aren't much different from one another. Although I'm sure you get a lot more accomplished with a lot less arguing. But that's what I'd like to take a few minutes to talk to you about this morning - not arguing, but Congress; what I think its' role is and how I think I can help.
First, let me tell you a little about myself for those of you who don't know me. Most importantly, I'm a father, a husband, and a teacher. I've been all those things for more than thirty years now - although I stopped counting the exact numbers during the Bush Administration. I served for five years on the Southern York County School Board and I co-founded a public/private partnership in Southern York County to do for our public schools what you so successfully do for those with hearing disorders and Access York, raise money for worthy projects that target real needs in our community.
Serving on the School Board taught me some valuable - and humbling - lessons. First, public service isn't as glamorous as it looks. Second, party labels don't mean a whole lot when everyone has a common goal. Third, responsible leadership means setting lofty goals but being practical about how you achieve them and how close you can get. Like Henry David Thoreau said, "Build your castles in the air. That's where they should be. But build firm foundations under them." I relied on those lessons when we had to work together to build a new elementary school in Shrewsbury. Like many of the projects you work on, we started with a clear community need. Our kids need a good public education in modern, clean, and safe settings. We had to balance that need against our responsibility to keep the millage rate down. What resulted was a state-of-the-art facility - built on time and on budget - and a millage rate that remained in the bottom third of the county. It took compromise on all sides, but we kept a focus on our ultimate goal and we reached it. If you put principle before politics, it's amazing what you can accomplish.
Members of Congress could stand to learn some of those lessons because, as you all well know, things on Capitol Hill do not seem to be working very well, if at all. We need a change. Let me tell you that I am a Democrat, but I am a New Democrat - conservative on some issues, moderate on others, but reasonable on them all. I know that government is not the solution to everyone's problems. You simply can't solve problems by throwing money at them. But you can succeed when you invest in programs that work. What government can and must do is give people the tools they need to succeed on their own.
This Congress, though, isn't giving anyone any tools. Take, for example, the recent bill that funds education and social service programs - the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill. It cut the Safe and Drug Free School Program; decreased funding for shelters for 20,000 battered women and children, and slashed funding for grants to communities to provide mental health care. I believe that Congress can work for working families by focusing on our common goals and investing in them responsibly, within a balanced budget. That's why I support improving our public schools, increasing access to affordable health care, and strengthening Social Security. We can make Congress work for working families - reasonably and responsibly - but we have to put principle before politics to do it.
In closing - before I take a few questions - I want to leave you with a story that helped me decide to run for Congress, that I was the person for this job; One that I'm sure you will understand given the work you do. One day, a man was watching the news and saw story after story about war, and poverty, and disease. A religious man, it was just too much for him and he ran outside and yelled at the sky, "God, why don't you DO something? If you're so powerful and truly love your people, why don't you send someone to stop these meaningless, horrible things from happening!? Why don't you send someone!" God appeared to man and said, "I did. I sent you." Thank you.
What are my three main priorities for my first term in Congress?
- Increasing access to affordable, quality child care for working families and single mothers.
- Allow parents of children enrolled in SCHIP to enroll themselves in the program (the President's "FamilyCare" proposal).
- Create a federal revolving loan fund to modernize public schools so that students have updated classrooms, small class sizes, and access to computers.
What specific issues/policies do I want to focus on in the campaign?
EDUCATION: Early childhood education, K-12 public school modernization, Make it easier for students to pay for higher education.
HEALTH CARE: Expand SCHIP to FamilyCare, Pass the Patient's Bill of Rights.
SECURE RETIREMENT: Strengthen Social Security, Modernize Medicare with a prescription drug benefit, Make long-term care costs tax deductible.
OTHER ISSUES: Expand veterans' benefits, Preserve open spaces and farmland, Make free trade fair.