Hi! I’m John Larson, Chairman of the Democratic Caucus—America’s caucus! But first, foremost, and always, I am the eldest son of Ray and Pauline, and one of eight kids. I grew up in Mayberry Village, a federal housing project in East Hartford, Connecticut. My dad worked as a fireman at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, where Connecticut’s skilled workers and the best machinists in the world build the arsenal of our nation’s democracy.
When I’d ask my dad why he worked so hard every day, he’d say, “Got to keep the eagle flying, son.” Keeping the eagle flying was more than a metaphor for building the most dependable aircraft engines in the world—it was about pride. The pride of people who make things here in America. About the dignity of a fair wage for a hard day’s work. About being able to send your kids to college. About getting good medical care and a secure retirement. About building a better future—not just for yourself, but for your country. It’s what FDR called “the warm courage of national unity.”
For more than 40 years, my mother has faced multiple sclerosis and, more recently, congestive heart failure—always with courage, a warm heart, and a congenial spirit. Dad worried a lot about my mother’s health, but knew his pension from Pratt was steadily growing, and that Social Security and Medicare guaranteed that he and my mother could retire with dignity and security. For years, paycheck after paycheck, my dad did his part, and—through his Social Security and Medicare contributions—paid it forward. Sadly, he didn’t live long enough to retire.
Now my mother—facing dementia—requires round-the-clock care. Every cent of my father’s pension, every penny of those social security benefits, goes to help pay her bills. Don’t ever tell me that’s a handout! That’s the insurance they paid for! Whenever we gather at her bedside, my mother tells us that she doesn’t want to be a burden. Mom: you’re not a burden. You’re an inspiration!
My family’s not alone. Millions of Americans rely on Social Security and Medicare. In fact, for half our nation’s seniors, it’s the only thing standing between them and poverty. What Republicans don’t get is that for so many people like my family, this is personal.
Democrats get it. Together with President Obama, we passed health care reform to guarantee that every American has access to affordable care. And by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse, we’ve added years to Medicare’s life. Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the Republicans derisively call that “Obamacare.” Newsflash to the Republicans: Obama does care!
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a different vision. Look at the details. The biggest problem with the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare is obvious: They take away the Medicare, they end the guarantee, hand out vouchers, limit benefits, and force seniors to pay the difference of up to 6,400 dollars out of their own pockets.
Why? The answer is: so they can cut taxes for the richest 1%!
As everyone back home at Augie and Ray’s drive-in knows, that ain’t right. Are we going to let them take us backwards? Back to an America where winners take all and the middle class picks up the tab? Are we going to let them destroy the safety net of Medicare? Just so the Mitt Romneys of the world can wire even more money into their Swiss and Cayman Islands bank accounts?
I know I’m preaching to the choir here tonight, but as the sisters of Notre Dame would say, “It’s the choir that leads the singing, Democrats!” So rise up! Rise up to re-elect a leader who understands the dignity of work. Rise up to re-elect a leader who’ll lead America forward, not back. Rise up to re-elect a leader who will fight to defend and strengthen Medicare. Rise up for President Barack Obama! And if we stand together, with President Obama, not only will the eagle keep flying, it will soar!