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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

America Votes 2006: War on the Middle Class

Aired October 18, 2006 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: LOU DOBBS TONIGHT presents a "CNN America Votes 2006 Special: War on the Middle Class." Live from Kansas City, Missouri, Lou Dobbs.
(APPLAUSE)

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening everybody. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

DOBBS: Good evening and welcome to Kansas City, Missouri. We're here tonight to talk with some of the people who make up this country's middle class, the people who in point of fact are the foundation of this great nation.

Most Americans consider themselves to be middle class, all but the very rich and the very poor. In this next hour, you'll be meeting working men and women and their families, all struggling to hold on to the American dream. We're coming to you from what is the historical uptown theater here in Kansas City. This theater was built almost 80 years ago in what was then a working class neighborhood. To make plays, films and shows accessible to working people, not just the rich and the privileged.

The uptown is an appropriate venue for our town hall meeting tonight and our special report, "War on the Middle Class." Nothing less than the future of the American dream is at stake.

We also have with us tonight three extraordinary families; all three are on the front lines of the war on the middle class. We'll be meeting and talking with the Clem (ph), Hicks, and Curtis families about their struggle to survive and to maintain and hold on to the American dream.

We begin tonight with a complete failure of Congress to represent the interests of the largest group of constituents in the country, middle class Americans. Republicans and Democrats alike have been putting their own partisan interests ahead of the concerns of working American families, the common good and the national interest. But incredibly, in just these last few weeks leading into the midterm elections, both the Democrats and Republicans are claiming that they are strong defenders of the very people they've ignored for years.

John King reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The middle class it turns out has a starring role in the closing days of the midterm election season. More often than not it is courtesy of Democrats like Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill to claim the Republican White House and Republican Congress care more about the rich than middle and working class Americans.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI SENATE CANDIDATE: It's been about them needing somebody who will fight for them and stand up for them instead of what's going on in Washington.

KING: Democrats say Republicans should be held accountable for failing to act on working and middle class priorities like raising the minimum wage, helping with college costs and making health care more affordable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She'll stand up for health care for the hard working families in our state who have earned it. Isn't that the change we need?

KING: Ohio Senate race is another example.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you get that big tax break Mike DeWine has been bragging about? There may be a reason why. "The Columbus Dispatch" said DeWine's tax cuts overwhelmingly favored the wealthy. Sherrod Brown voted for middle class tax cuts instead.

KING: Republicans incumbents like incumbent Senator Jim Talent of Missouri say McCaskill and others Democrats ignore Republican policies he says strengthen pension protections, help ease energy costs, and saved a family of four making $40,000 more than $2,000 in taxes this year.

SEN. JIM TALENT (R), MISSOURI: The economy has done pretty well; we passed a good strong pro growth energy bill. And look I mean you know she's the one who opposes the tax cuts. She's the one who opposed the energy bill.

KING: It is the president who is hitting the closing Republican theme the hardest suggesting middle class families should think twice about helping the Democrats take control of Congress.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we win, we'll keep your taxes low, and make no mistake about it, the Democrats will raise your taxes. It's a fundamental difference in this campaign...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now some might find it surprising, others might say cynical, these issues are now front and center in the final weeks of the campaign, but Lou, the bigger question is what happens after the election, especially if the Democrats take control of one, perhaps both chambers of Congress.

They promise if they do that to advance their priorities like raising the minimum wage, like more affordable health care, but remember we will have a Republican president for two more years. The interesting question is will there be a spirit of compromise and bipartisanship or will we have more continued partisan divide -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, John King. And we're in a state that is a bellwether for politics in this country so we're going to learn a lot just by being in Missouri. Joining me now are two of the country's very brightest political strategists, one Republican, one Democrat, but they're still good people. Republican strategist Ed Rollins -- he's former White House political director -- and good to have you here with us.

And Democrat strategist Robert Zimmerman -- thank you, as well. And we've also as you've probably noticed got a lot of folks in this room, and we want to hear from them tonight. We want the middle class tonight to have something it often doesn't have in this country, certainly not in Washington, D.C., but tonight here tonight in Kansas City, Missouri they're going to have a voice and we want to hear from the folks in this room and if you would, your questions? Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, first of all, I want to thank you guys for coming tonight and giving us a chance to ask some questions and voice our concerns and thanks for coming to Kansas City.

DOBBS: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Doug Washington (ph) and I'm a small business owner here in Kansas City. And the main question I have is we've seen things happen over the past couple of years, what comes to mind is a $12 billion tax giveaway to one of the most profitable industries, the oil industry...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... so that's what we've seen from one side. It looks like in a couple of week, the other side is going to get control of the Congress of the House and Senate and maybe -- either/or or maybe both. My question is, is anything going to change? Are we, as small business owners, as middle class folks, are we going to get representation in Washington? And if so, how is that going to happen? How are we going to get a voice?

DOBBS: You know I'm going to turn to the experts first. Ed Rollins, I give you the first shot at that.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The critical thing -- the vast majority of businesses in America are small businesses. And obviously we haven't created an environment that they're working. There's more and more bankruptcies every year. When I ran President Reagan's campaign in 1984, our coalition was built around small businesses. And I think unfortunately in the last dozen years or so, we've become more interested in corporate America than we have in small businesses. And we have to be looking...

DOBBS: Right. ROLLINS: ... day in, day out for how do we create an environment that you can grow and prosper and that you can have a business with 10 people or 12 people and you can provide health insurance and you aren't burdened by Social Security taxes and what have you that you can stay in business.

DOBBS: Robert?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Your question really is the key to our economic growth and our economic future. And I think what is most critical because your question is so important, we ask, what -- will anything be different to the Democrats win control.

I think it's important to remember if the Democrats don't make changes, they won't be in control much longer, but the other point that's so critical is you look at the Democratic platform which is standing up for the tax -- standing up to protect tax cuts from middle income families, from middle income businesses.

For example, the Congress went out of session without renewing the tax cut for research and development opportunities for small businesses, without protecting the tax cuts for senior citizens for their savings, without protecting tax cuts for college tuition, and so these are the critical tax issues the Democrats are campaigning on to protect the middle class because right now the deficit that we're inheriting from this Bush White House, you're going to inherit, our children are going to inherit is the result of tax cuts that went to the very rich and sacrificed in many ways middle income futures.

DOBBS: Gentlemen, it sounds like we're just about at the peak of a campaign here with those...

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: ... remarks. You know I've got to ask you, it's Doug, right? Doug, do you belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by any chance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm active here in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

DOBBS: Right. Because one of the interesting things is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the biggest lobbying organization in the country as you know. And there's a dichotomy in the National Association of Manufacturers representing business, but the fact is all of that money that's going for dues for membership, you know those are the two biggest lobbyists for big business, and while corporate America has great sway over our political system, almost complete dominance, I don't know if you'll agree with me, but that's my fervent belief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would agree.

DOBBS: They only create 20 percent of the jobs. Small business people like you create 80 percent of them. I salute you, we all thank you. I hope we can all find some solutions. Other questions... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Good evening.

DOBBS: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Edward Odyssey (ph). I'm also a small business owner here in Kansas City. We spend in excess of $400 million a year overseas to bring democracy in Iraq. All the while our education and health care systems domestically remain wanting; we have opportunities that are significant, particularly in our urban corps. My question becomes beyond campaign contribution limitations, what can we do to better balance the role of big business and religious groups in American politics?

ROLLINS: You've got to find it in two weeks. I think we're going to have a watershed election. I think -- you know Americans are divided geographically and politically and intellectually and probably as polarized an environment as I've ever seen and we're going to have an election that I think is going to make a big difference whether Democrats win or Republicans win.

What you're going to do is the system is going to get shaken up, and what's happened up until this point in time is we thought we had an election proof environment in which incumbents didn't get defeated and there's going to be some Republicans who are going to get defeated.

And as Robert said, if his party happens to win two weeks from now, they're going to sit there with their finger to the wind and look out to where the public is because they know they can get defeat two years later, so I think you're going to find a far more receptive environment and I think that's going to be very important.

ZIMMERMAN: And I think one of the reasons we have such a receptive environment is because the middle class is really besieged and because the middle class has not listened to by this Congress. You know one of my great frustrations in our government, and it really doesn't matter what party you're in, but the system of checks and balances, having a Congress that can ask the tough questions, that can provide the checks and balances on the White House is an inherit important constitutional responsibility.

And this Republican Congress by their own admission has not been asking the tough questions. This Republican Congress has been giving this White House a blank check. I think the most important aspect of this election is restoring the checks and balances by having a Democratic Congress that's going to hold the hearings, ask the tough questions and stand up when they think the White House is wrong.

DOBBS: Thank you very much. Robert, Ed, we're going to be back with Ed Rollins, Robert Zimmerman here throughout the broadcast. We again thank you gentlemen for being here. We thank you for your questions. We appreciate it. We're going to have a lot more from the folks here in Kansas City.

And as I said, we're going to meet three families from all over the country who are right in the midst of the war on our middle class. Up next, public education, it's failing an entire generation of Americans. The costs of higher education are hurting middle class families like never before. And tonight, we'll introduce you to one family on the front lines of this war on the middle class, a family like so many others in this country, struggling to plan and to provide for their children's futures. All of that and more as we continue our town hall meeting, "War on the Middle Class" from Kansas City.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The founding fathers of this nation considered public education to be the great equalizer of a nation founded on the principle of equality. But today our public education system is failing an entire generation of Americans. More than a third of our high school students are dropping out in this country. Test scores are not reflecting achievement but rather failure. Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ten-year-old Kelsey (ph) Hicks loves animals and wants to be a zookeeper when she grows up. Her brother Dalton is 12 and a budding entrepreneur. Both want to go to college but their parents don't know how they'll pay for it, the biggest obstacle, dad's own tuition bills.

DAVID HICKS, MIDDLE CLASS AMERICAN: I still have my education debt to repay. And somehow I have to try to save for their college at the same time I'm not doing so right now. I'm not able to.

TUCKER: David and his wife Kimberly are working off the cost of David's 1995 bachelor's degree; he was the first in his family to graduate from college. And Kimberly worked long hours on a factory floor to help pay the bills.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what you guys want for dinner.

TUCKER: They're making progress on his loans, though they've had to skip payments for expenses such as schoolbooks and medical care.

HICKS: When you're struggling to get by with the rising cost of living and student loan payment that's more than your mortgage can be troubling. You just do what you can.

TUCKER: David has steady job as a program manager for an aerospace manufacturer but his salary isn't keeping up with their costs.

HICKS: So I am a middle American, middle class income level, but I'm barely able to maintain the middle class status because of the education debt that I'm having to repay.

TUCKER: The Hicks may have to refinance their home to borrow money for the kids' tuition. For Kimberly, who never went to college...

KIMBERLY HICKS, MIDDLE CLASS AMERICAN: We'll do whatever we can do. And whatever it takes. But I just want them to go to school to do what they want to do and be happy with what they do.

TUCKER: Bill Tucker, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: And joining us now two men who dedicated their lives and their careers to education. First meet Truett Abbott, he is the principal who took a failing school in rural Georgia and then transformed it into one of that state's very best schools. And Tom Loveless -- Tom is with the Brookings Institution. He's been working on education and education reform for years. We thank you guys for being here.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to be here.

DOBBS: We want to, obviously to look at this for more than -- from the standpoint of administrator and an educator's viewpoint, that's why we've got a lot of folks here. And also with us tonight we've got the Hicks family, David and Kimberly are here with their two young children, Dalton and Kelsey. We enjoyed meeting you and delighted to have you with us here. Thank you.

I know a number of you have a lot of questions, probably there's a lot of frustrations as well with public education. And we would like to turn to you first for questions. Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Andrea Flinders (ph) and I've been a teacher in the Kansas City School District for about 30 years. My concern has to do with "No Child Left Behind". This year our school did not meet adequate yearly progress for the first time.

And as you know, the goals get higher until by 2014 every child must score at a proficient level in both communication, arts and in math. Do you think that these requirements of "No Child Left Behind" are realistic? And -- or do you think that this is just an act that's designed to promote charter schools at the expense of public schools?

DOBBS: Well I'm one of those people who has a little problem with school choice. I have a problem with charter schools. I have a problem with vouchers because I happen to believe first and fundamentally that public education in this country belongs in our neighborhood and our community and that their only choice should be that we provide -- that we have only one choice and that is provide the highest excellence in education for our young people and I don't think it should have to be a special effort. I think it should be the right of every kid born in this country to the best education, but I'm going to turn if I may first to you, Tom. And your thoughts -- it's a terrific question.

TOM LOVELESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Yes. Well I -- "No Child Left Behind", the one hallmark of the act and the thing that's very important is that it does focus our schools on what is important and that is academic progress, academic achievement, learning how to read, learning how to do math.

But there are problems with the act and teachers have been frustrated with it. Next year, it comes up for reauthorization in Congress. I think they're going it take a look at whether or not this goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is realistic. It may not be.

The problem when you have a goal of less or lower than 100 percent proficiency is who do you leave out? And how -- once you start lowering that bar, how far down do you lower it? So that's one problem.

The second problem is currently the way schools are judged is by how many kids are proficient as opposed -- we were just discussing this over here in the bleachers -- as opposed to the games that kids make. All children come to schools with different capacities and abilities; they learn things before they come to school. So I have a hunch when Congress reauthorizes you're going see gain scores be a more central metric verse judging schools than you know just getting over the proficiency bar.

DOBBS: Truett, your school -- and those of you who do not know this, Truett, you took a school that was deficient in just about every way in terms of its performance, what the kids were able to do, and he turned around a school, we've got a huge issue in this country in terms of the racial gaps in education. But you managed to make it work in your school. And you did so -- what was the minority, what is the minority enrollment there?

PRINCIPAL TRUETT ABBOTT, WARREN CO. MIDDLE SCHOOL: We're 92 percent African American.

DOBBS: And how many are poor?

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: I know you've got fancy words for it, let me just say how many are poor?

ABBOTT: Our school qualifies for 100 percent free and reduced lunch...

DOBBS: Right.

ABBOTT: ... based on having 85 percent of the families qualify...

DOBBS: I know educators don't like to talk in terms of poor. But as a kid who grew up poor, I don't apologize for it -- as a matter of fact I'm kind of proud of it, so and I suspect a lot of folks and those kids are as well. So what's the secret?

ABBOTT: Well, you have to have a board of education and a superintendent that are supportive of the teachers and supportive of the education process. We happen to have that. Some of these schools that are failing don't have that. And my recommendation would be that those superintendents who have a clause in their contract that these schools have to perform in order for them to have their contract renewed.

On the No Child Left Behind Act, I believe that we do need some funding for in the schools where we have so much of the student support teamwork and documentation. We do need some funding for someone to do that work instead of adding it to the teacher's load, which is what we are doing now. But I do think that we need to keep the standards high and keep the demands high and just all try to meet those goals.

DOBBS: You know there's another element to this as well. And that is, of course, the idea that higher education costs so much that in this country, what should be state funded education, both in the secondary and then of course in higher education, sometimes it doesn't work out that way, and we're going to talk with some folks who've felt that burden right after this. We're going to be talking to them.

Coming up next, the exporting of American manufacturing jobs to cheap overseas labor markets is part of the war on the middle class and we'll meet a Kentucky family with two generation facing job insecurity and the reality that their quality of life, their standard of living and their standing as middle class Americans is under threat. Stay with us.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Welcome back. And with us tonight, the Clem family, they live in Louisville, Kentucky. Two generations of the Clem family have depended on the Louisville Ford Motor Truck plant. But now their future is uncertain. Production cuts at that plant have cut deeply into their incomes and there are no assurances that those jobs will even be there in the future.

Joining us are Wayne Clem -- Wayne, good to have you here -- and your wife Jeanette -- Jeanette, good to have you here and their son Michael and daughter Tammy. Thank you all.

Let me start with you. I mean how do you feel about what's going on with exporting American jobs overseas, off shoring production? How do you feel about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm really concerned about it for my kids especially.

DOBBS: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I'm taking a buy-out and so I'm all right. I'll be all right. November 1, I'm leaving for retirement.

DOBBS: You've been there what, more than 40 years, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty-three.

DOBBS: Forty-three years. Michael, you're not even that old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No...

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: What are you going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they're going to offer buy-out for the younger folks; I've only got seven years in. So my best option would be to take that rather than face the layoff.

DOBBS: The layoffs, the production cuts. How do you look at what's happening in manufacturing in this country and you're sitting there next to your dad, he's raised a wonderful family, provided for them, that doesn't look like an option, does it, for a lot of folks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I hoped it did. You know seven years ago, before I started with Ford, I was a truck driver and he had talked to me and asked me if I wanted to come out to the plant and work. And so they hired for another crew. And I took it thinking that I'd probably be there for, you knows 30, 40 years, like he had. But the way it looks, you know with the closing as many plants as they are, that I don't see that happening. So you know my best option would be to look for something else.

DOBBS: Retraining, more education?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

DOBBS: That's what we're told it takes, they just never tell us what it's -- what it is we're supposed to be getting trained in or educated about. Any questions here in the audience? Are we -- anybody got a question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

DOBBS: You bet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Jim McCullough (ph). I'm with UAW Local 249. We build the F-150 pickup truck and the Ford Escape.

DOBBS: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question for you is, is that the unbalanced trade agreements in America have caused the loss of many jobs and middle income and a new pre-trade agreement with Thailand could lead to the loss of many more jobs.

DOBBS: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My U.S. senator, who is up for re-election told a group of us back in Washington in February of this year that given the choice between a bad trade agreement and no trade agreement, he would vote for the bad trade agreement, unless we had a better trade agreement to offer -- we being us in the room.

DOBBS: Well what's the name of that senator?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That senator is Jim Talent. My question is and I want to get this right -- you know I don't have that great a memory. Why do our representatives only negotiate admittedly bad trade agreements that cause the loss of American jobs instead of working to get a fair trade agreement that would not threaten American jobs?

DOBBS: You know, this is where I say thank you for that question.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: You know, we sit here and we laugh about it, but the fact is we've lost better than four million jobs, manufacturing jobs. Three million jobs have been outsourced over the course of the last five years. We are -- we talked about dependency on oil in this country and energy, and we are.

But we're also far more dependent on foreign producers for electronics, consumer electronics, our computers. Now, you remember everybody tells us when we talk about a manufacturing job not to worry about that because we're a technology economy. We have a trade deficit in technology.

We have -- all the clothing of everybody in this room, you know, the fact is, if we have to depend on American manufacturing and garment workers, you know, all but four percent of us would be nudists. And it's remarkable. The American people can't even clothe themselves. Ninety-six percent of our of clothing is imported.

I've always recommended and strongly believe that we've got to have free and fair trade, and what people are calling free trade is so expensive that it's mind boggling, $5 trillion in trade debt run up over the last six years. And what this country doesn't need is another deficit or more debt, combining that with $9 trillion in the national debt, it is extraordinary, it is painful.

And we've had 30 consecutive years of trade deficits. It's time for people to look at that nonpartisan reality and the costs that we're paying. And I couldn't agree with you more. It's unconscionable. Thank you for the question. We want to thank the Clem family for being here with us here tonight.

Up next, millions of Americans -- more than 40 million of us -- don't have health insurance, but having a job and health insurance doesn't mean you won't be a casualty in the war on the middle class.

Next, you'll meet a family pushed to bankruptcy because of tremendous medical costs and facing the devastating burden of illness. They're certainly not alone, but luckily there is help. We're also bringing you some solutions. We continue live here in Kansas City. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: LOU DOBBS TONIGHT presents a "CNN America Votes 2006 Special: War On The Middle Class." Live from Kansas City, Missouri, here again Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: At one time in this country, having a good paying job and health insurance meant you were a member in good standing of the middle class. That's not so anymore. Severe illness and medical emergencies are enough to send any middle class family into financial disaster and bankruptcy.

Katharine Barrett reports tonight from Parkland, Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LENDELL CURTIS, FATHER: Perfect, perfect.

KATHARINE BARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most autumn afternoons, Lendell Curtis helps coach his son's football team while his wife, Kienyisha, strolls the sidelines with baby Lendell, Jr., and watches their daughters at cheerleading practice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you! Yay.

BARRETT: A loving family, yes, but when the Curtises called their son a million dollar baby, it's no idle boast. That's about what it's cost to keep this child alive for his short 18 months.

KIENYISHA CURTIS, MOTHER: He didn't have the pulmonary valve, he had two holes in his heart, his lungs was disconnected and his arteries was undeveloped.

BARRETT (on camera): Lendell Curtis, Jr. had his first open heart surgery here when he was just 9 days old. The Curtis family said before that operation, hospital staff took them aside to tell them their insurance wouldn't be enough.

(voice-over): And yet, this union carpenter, a homeowner earning $50,000 a year, was told he made too much to be easily granted aid.

K. CURTIS, MOTHER: My mom came down and helped out with some money and his mom helped out with some money, and churches helped out with some money and jobs helped out with money.

BARRETT: Even the American Heart Association chipped in $10,000. Still the medical bills were more.

L. CURTIS: It was like pay the mortgage or eat? Or pay the car note or eat? We had to let the mortgage get behind, the car note get behind.

BARRETT: Frustrated, frightened, embarrassed, the Curtises filed for bankruptcy a year ago. K. CURTIS: I'm mad at the system, that you know, like when you really need them, you pay into this insurance and stuff and then when you really need them they're not there.

L. CURTIS: Go to sleep.

BARRETT: The family finally qualified for supplemental state insurance, and the children have grown up fast.

Katharine Barrett for CNN, Parkland, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: The Curtis family, they are able to join us here tonight. We're delighted to have them with us here in Kansas City, Lendell and his wife Kienyisha, and Lendell, Jr.

Also joining us tonight, next to Kienyisha, is Ron Pollack. Ron, by the way, is part of the solution. Ron is the founding executive director of Families USA. We're delighted to have you here. And Ron is going to help us with a few thoughts about families in need of help and what they can do about it.

Let me turn to you first, Lendell. I mean, you have a good paying job, a great craft, health insurance and yet pushed into bankruptcy. What goes through your mind?

L. CURTIS: A lot of things. You know, but when you got a sick kid, finances is one of those things that you don't really expect to be shoved in your face, but ...

DOBBS: And you've got four other kids, bright, beautiful kids, healthy.

Kienyisha, what must it be like for you to have to contend with the financial -- the crushing financial burden that you guys have gone through?

K. CURTIS: It's a struggle everyday. We just take one day at a time and just hope that there's some resources out there that will help us with some of the financial bills of his surgery.

DOBBS: And let me tell you, folks, I had the opportunity to meet Lendell, Jr. earlier and know, he's worth -- you know, you put a million dollars, Lendell, when he smiles at you, you know, let's take it to a billion.

You know, it's wonderful. And it's so wonderful that we've got medical care. I mean, there's so much life in his eyes and, you know, you guys -- you know, my heart goes out to you and to Lendell. You're great people putting up with it, the burden. I know how much frustration you have to feel, just the sense of it.

Ron, you work with this every day. Good people, facing tough times. What -- gives us a solution? What can the Curtis family do here? RON POLLACK, FAMILIES USA: Well, unfortunately, we're seeing so many families enter bankruptcy even if they're -- even if they have health insurance. And health cost is the No. 1 cause that's causing bankruptcies.

Now, for the Curtises, one of the things that can happen is that we can expand health coverage for children. There are nine million children in the country who are uninsured. Next year in 2007, Congress will be considering the so-called state children's health insurance program.

And if Congress so chooses and if we get leadership finally from Congress and the president, we can make sure that every child gets good coverage, not the kind of coverage they had that put a cap on what will be spent on their behalf.

DOBBS: Well, Ron with Families USA, we thank you for trying to help. We know you're going to do more and we all appreciate that.

And Kienyisha, we thank you very much. Lendell, we thank you and Lendell Jr., sleeping away here. Thanks for being here, partner.

For information on how you can help families just like the Curtis family and the hundreds of thousands all over the country -- if you're one of those family whose need help as well, please go to the Families USA Web site. That's familiesusa.org, familiesusa.org. Or you can even go to our Web site and we'll help you get hooked up over there, LouDobbs.com.

And we've set up a fund for the Curtis family. And if you'd like to contribute to it, here's is the contact information that's called the Lendell Curtis Jr. fund. We thought that would be a very clever title for that. Nothing like the creative imagination of television journalists. Qualstar Credit Union, that's P.O. Box 96730, Bellevue, Washington. Again, that will be on our Web site. And just to be clear, we'll be donating as well. We don't ever ask anybody to do anything we don't do here.

When we continue, our panel of experts and members of this audience on how the middle class can fight back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Welcome back to Kansas City. We have a truly distinguished panel here tonight to address some of the issues and your concern about the war on the middle class. Let's open it up the audience. Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, my name is Phyllis and I'm a senior citizen and a small business owner. And my question has to do with the plight of senior citizens who really can't afford to live on Social Security these days, and who really must work in addition to living on Social Security in order to be able to afford to live at all.

And my question is just how long -- I mean we've been small business owners for 20 years and have never managed to put away a large enough nest egg to be able to retire. So my question is just how long are we going to have to work? And secondly, what happens to us if god forbid we have a catastrophic illness and lose our income altogether?

DOBBS: It is a fear, of course, that grips every middle class family in this country. Nearly every family in this country. Remarkably, just about half of us have not saved $50,000 for our retirement, those of us over 50. And it scares the dickens out of you. I don't know what the political parties are going to do. I don't know what, we talk about help for the middle class. Robert Zimmerman, any help for the middle class? And don't say it's on the way.

ZIMMERMAN: You know something? The most frightening aspect of this forum is how frustrated everyone is and the despair in their questions and for that matter, the polling data we have seen shows a complete sense of despair and lack of confidence in the system.

You bet help is on the way, but it doesn't come from the political parties, it comes from our voting and participating because there are choices in this election and certainly the fact that one of the best examples is the plight of the senior citizen in our country today.

The prescription drug plan is really a pharmaceutical give away, and that's got to be renegotiated so that Medicare can go out and bid for the lowest possible price for drugs.

DOBBS: Questions? Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Mr. Dobbs, my name is Dave Mecklenburg (ph). My concern is illegal immigration and the effect it has on the middle class. It uses up the benefit well, it endangers our security and I'm just concerned about what we can do about this.

There seems to be a total indifference by our government as to illegal immigration. There's 12 million people here that are putting a burden on our health care system, on our welfare system. What do we do about it?

DOBBS: Well, I don't think you turn first to the president of the United States or the Democrats in the United States Senate. We have a straightforward crisis facing this country. The financial burdens of illegal immigration affect every state, nearly every state in the union.

In California, 80 hospitals closing as reported in the "New England Journal of Medicine" this spring, 23 other hospitals simply because of the indigent care that they have to provide to illegal aliens.

This is not to say that illegal aliens are bad people. The fact is they're simply here illegally and the employers who are exploiting them are deriving all the benefits from that employment, profiting from it, exploiting them, while taxpayers are paying for their health care, often their housing, social services.

Yet the leadership in Washington again, it is an absolute disconnect between the political leadership of this country, both Democrat and Republican, frankly, that is reflected in so many other areas, between the vast majority of Americans working men and women in this country and the people who are supposedly there to represent them.

Ed Rollins, how important an issue do you think this will be?

ROLLINS: It's a critical issue. We're a nation of 300 million people. If we don't do anything, we're going to continue to grow at a million, million and a half illegal immigrants a year. It's burdening every element from education to the prison systems. I'm a Californian, I was very involved in the '86 immigration when we legalized five million illegals, and that was going to solve the entire problem. Unfortunately it didn't.

A guy by the name of Alan Simpson was a senator from Wyoming, who I had many arguments with, and I said there aren't very many illegals in Wyoming, there are a lot of in California. And he said no, this is going to solve the problem. Well, it didn't. And now we live to regret it.

DOBBS: Right.

ROLLINS: My sense today is we've got to do something short-term to stop the problem. But as we sit here today, my feeling is that no matter what happens in this election, there's not going to be big enough margins on either side to move the Congress in any way, shape or form to solve these critical problems.

And I would hope that the two parties do something they haven't been able do for the last dozen years, and that's sit down and say, all right, neither of us can move or address any of these issues. And why can't we come together and why can't we face up to some of these very significant issues, like Social Security, like education, like health care and come up with a compromise?

Because Democrats aren't going to have enough votes, even if they win back the Congress, and Republicans certainly aren't going to have enough votes if they win the Congress. And we can't have another two years or four years of this chaos.

DOBBS: And thank you very much.

Up next, straight from the heartland. How middle class Americans can work and take action to take their country back. Stay with us.

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DOBBS: Well, one way the middle class can exercise its political power, of course, is to vote on November 7th. Let's open up this discussion for our audience, first the people who count.

Your question, sir? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm Bill Shoal (ph). As a husband and father of five children, I'm very concerned about policies that affect my family's life, economically. But also as a Catholic, I'm concerned about certain moral issues, moral principles. For instance, now matter how much a candidate's good for my pocketbook, if that candidate supports abortion, or gay marriage, or embryonic stem cell research, I don't feel I can support that person anymore than if they were trying to bring back slavery.

DOBBS: Bill Schneider?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's the division in American politics. That's what Americans are really bothered about. That's where the red/blue division of America comes in. I don't think you're ever going to reach compromise on those issues because they're deeply religious and deeply moral. You have to find ways of agreeing on what can be done, rather than disagreeing on those principles.

DOBBS: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Chester Thompson (ph). I'm president of the Black Economic Union in Kansas City. My question is centered around the fact that education is basically the foundation to many of the areas that we discussed here tonight.

And we need to find some way that the people in Washington understand that we're in a global economy and our education system is not going to allow us to compete with education systems outside of this country. And we need to focus, one, directly on what we need do in terms of education all through K-12 levels and get this country competitive.

DOBBS: Tom, have you got a quick answer on that?

LOVELESS: I agree with the statement. The way the United States performs internationally, at the fourth grade level we do pretty well. At the eighth grade level, we do not so well. And then by the time kids are seniors in high school, we really do very poorly.

DOBBS: We do poorly, we've got to do better because we can't afford to give up another generation of Americans and we've got a lot of atoning to do for what we have not provided our young people, far too many of them dropping out of high school. Thank you.

Still ahead, more from Kansas City. Stay with us.

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DOBBS: We thank you for being with us tonight. We also want to thank Clem, Curtis, and his family for joining us here. Lendell, Jr., by the way, has just, just about awakened. We wish all of them, all working Americans, and all their families, the very best.

We thank you, all you good people, here in Kansas City, the staff of the Uptown Theater for making us feel so welcome in this great city. For all of us in Kansas City, let's win this war.

Good night.

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