READOUT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S MEETING WITH THE CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS
This afternoon, President Obama met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the economy, job creation and the need to pass health care reform. President Obama acknowledged the progress that has been made on the economy while also expressing his concern for long-term unemployment. He requested that Members provide specific recommendations to the challenges concerning job creation.
After remarks by Chairwoman Lee discussing the impact of the economy in economically distressed communities and the need for additional assistance in these areas, Members presented their concerns and solutions for broadening the impact of the recovery effort.
The meeting participants agreed there are a number of things that can be done to impact unemployment immediately and in the long term including summer youth employment, job training tied to apprenticeships, a review of Recovery Act contracting to ensure access to these opportunities is fair and equitable, and an appreciation for the jobs that can be generated through weatherization programs and the passage of health care reform.
The meeting concluded with Congressman Lewis calling for a victory for the American people with the passage of health care reform.
Statement by the President on Today’s Meetings on Immigration Reform
Today I met with Senators Schumer and Graham and was pleased to learn of their progress in forging a proposal to fix our broken immigration system. I look forward to reviewing their promising framework, and every American should applaud their efforts to reach across party lines and find commonsense answers to one of our most vexing problems. I also heard from a diverse group of grassroots leaders from around the country about the growing coalition that is working to build momentum for this critical issue. I am optimistic that their efforts will contribute to a favorable climate for moving forward. I told both the Senators and the community leaders that my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I will continue to be their partner in this important effort.
The President Donates Nobel Prize Money to Charity
WASHINGTON – President Obama today announced the charities that will receive a portion of the $1.4 million award that comes with the Nobel peace prize.
“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”
List of Charities
$250,000 to Fisher House
Fisher House is a national non-profit organization that provides housing for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers.
$200,000 to the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund
In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, President Obama asked former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to create the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund to raise funds for long-term relief efforts in Haiti.
$125,000 to College Summit
College Summit is a national non-profit organization that partners with elementary and middle schools and school districts to strengthen college-going culture and increase college enrollment rates, so that all students graduate from high school career and college-ready.
$125,000 to the Posse Foundation
The Posse Foundation is a national non-profit organization that identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Posse’s college and university partners award Posse Scholars four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships. The scholars graduate at a rate of 90 percent.
$125,000 to the United Negro College Fund
The United Negro College Fund plays a critical role in enabling more than 60,000 students each year to attend college through scholarship and internship programs.
$125,000 to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund
The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) is the nation’s leading Hispanic scholarship organization, providing the Hispanic community more college scholarships and educational outreach support than any other organization in the country. In its 34 year history, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has awarded close to $280M in scholarships to more than 90,000 students in need.
$125,000 to the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation
A non-profit organization funded by foundations and companies, ALEF supports and enables young men and women from Appalachia to pursue higher education though scholarship and leadership curriculum.
$125,000 to the American Indian College Fund
The American Indian College Fund transforms Indian higher education by funding and creating awareness of the unique, community-based accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities, offering students access to knowledge, skills, and cultural values which enhance their communities and the country as a whole. The Fund disburses approximately 6,000 scholarships annually for American Indian students seeking to better their lives through higher education. The Fund also provides support for tribal college needs, ranging from capital support to cultural preservation curricula.
$100,000 to AfriCare
AfriCare was founded in 1970 and has more projects in Africa than any other U.S. based charity, reaching communities in 25 countries, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its programs address needs in three principal areas: health and HIV/AIDS; food security and agriculture; and water resource development.
$100,000 to the Central Asia Institute
The Central Asia Institute promotes and supports community-based education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Institute’s co-founder, Greg Mortenson, was also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee this year, whose book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time, recounts his attempt to successfully establish dozens of schools and promote girls’ education in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
National Export Initiative
March 11, 2010
Thank you, John, for that generous introduction, and congratulations to you, Fabienne and Luis for the recognition your companies deserve. Thank you to the Chairman of the Export-Import Bank, Fred Hochberg, for having me here; and for all the important work the Ex-Im Bank is doing to help American businesses sell their ideas to the world. I also want to recognize the Secretary General of the OECD, Angel Gurría, for his leadership at that institution.
Let me also acknowledge some members of my economic team who are here today – my Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, who’s just returned from a trip to Brazil; and our United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk. And I want to thank them for doing a great job in the work of moving this country forward in tough times.
That’s been our most pressing priority over the first year of my administration. Guiding the American economy through its most serious crisis since the Great Depression. To do that required difficult, sometimes unpopular steps to rescue our financial system and jumpstart an economic recovery. But we took those steps. And because we did, we can stand here just over a year later, and say that we prevented another depression, we broke the back of the recession, and the economy that was shrinking a year ago is growing today.
What’s also clear is that we have a long way to go. More than eight million Americans have lost their jobs since the start of the recession. Millions more remain underemployed; including those doing part-time work or odd jobs. And middle-class families across this country have felt their economic security eroding for longer than they care to remember. That’s why we continue to do everything we can to foster private sector job creation and to restore some of that security.
But the fact is, if we want to once again approach full employment; if we want to create broad, shared, and lasting wealth for our workers and our families; if we want an America that is ready to compete on the global playing field of the 21st century – then we cannot slide back into an economy where we borrow too much and put off tough challenges. We cannot return to an economy where too much of our prosperity is based on fleeting bubbles and rampant speculation. We have to rebuild our economy on a new, stronger, more balanced foundation for the future – a foundation that will advance the American people’s prosperity at home, and support American leadership in the world.
That is precisely what we’ve begun to do. We’re catalyzing a new clean energy industry that has the potential to employ millions of workers in good jobs. We’re investing in the skills and education of our workers; and reforming our education system with a goal to once again lead the world in the proportion of college graduates by the end of this decade. We’re building a better health care system that works for our people, our businesses, and our government alike. We’re establishing clear, commonsense rules of the road for Wall Street that encourage innovation and creativity over recklessness or irresponsibility; rules that prevent firms from taking risks that threaten the entire economy.
And we are rebuilding an economy where we generate more American jobs in more American industries by producing and exporting more goods and services to other nations. In my State of the Union Address, I set a goal of doubling America’s exports over the next five years – an increase that will support two million American jobs. And I’ve come to the Export-Import Bank Conference today to discuss the initial steps we’re taking to achieve that goal.
Now, I know the issue of exports and imports; the issue of trade and globalization; have long evoked the passions of a lot of people in this country. I know there are differences of opinion between Democrats and Republicans; business and labor; about the right approach.
But I also know we’re at a moment where necessity has tempered the old debates. Those who would once support every trade agreement now see that other countries have to play fair and agreements have to be enforced. Those who once would once oppose any trade agreement now understand that there are new markets and new sectors out there we need to break into if we want our workers to get ahead.
Meanwhile, if you ask the average American what trade has offered them, they won’t say that their televisions are cheaper, or productivity is higher. They’d say they’ve seen the plant across town shut down, jobs dry up, and communities deteriorate. And you can’t blame them for feeling that way. Other countries haven’t always played by the same set of rules. America hasn’t always enforced our trade rights, or made sure that the benefits of trade are broadly shared. And we haven’t always done enough to help our workers adapt to a changing world.
There’s no question that as we compete in that global marketplace, we’ve got to look out for our workers. But to look out for our workers, we’ve got to compete in the global marketplace. Because it’s never been as important an opportunity for America.
In a time when millions of Americans are out of work, boosting our exports is a short-term imperative. Our exports support millions of American jobs. In 2008, we exported more than one trillion dollars of manufactured goods, supporting more than one in five manufacturing jobs – jobs that pay about 15 percent more than average. We led the world in services exports, which supported 2.8 million jobs. We exported nearly $100 billion in agricultural goods. And every $1 billion increase in exports supports more than 6,000 additional jobs.
It’s also critical for our long-term prosperity. Ninety-five percent of the world’s customers and the world’s fastest-growing markets are outside our borders. We need to compete for those customers. Because other nations are.
They’re investing in the skills and education of their people. They’re investing in the high-demand industries of the future. They’ve benefited from American consumers, made themselves into export-based economies, and positioned themselves for those jobs. They’re pursuing trade agreements with growing markets – agreements that would give their companies access to those markets and put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage.
If we stand on the sidelines while they go after those customers, we’ll lose out on the chance to create the good jobs our workers need right here in America. But standing on the sidelines is not what we do. We still have the most innovative economy in the world. We have the most productive workers in the world. We have the finest universities in the world. We have the most dynamic and competitive markets in the world.
And we remain the number one exporter of goods and services in the world. But we shouldn’t be satisfied with being number one. We shouldn’t assume our leadership is guaranteed. When other markets are growing, and other nations are competing, we need to get even better. We need to secure our companies a level playing field. We need to guarantee American workers a fair shake. We need to up our game.
That’s why, for the first time, the United States of America is launching a single, comprehensive strategy to promote American exports. It’s called the National Export Initiative; and it’s an ambitious effort to marshal the full resources of the United States government behind American businesses that sell their goods and services abroad.
This morning, I signed an Executive Order instructing the federal government to use every available federal resource in support of that mission. That order has created an Export Promotion Cabinet, made up of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce and Labor, along with our U.S. Trade Representative, Small Business Administrator, the Export-Import Bank President, and other senior U.S. officials whose work impacts exports. That cabinet will convene its first meeting next month. I’ve also re-launched the President’s Export Council; the principal national advisory committee on international trade. I’ve named Jim McNerney, the President and CEO of Boeing, as its chair; and Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox, as vice chair; and I look forward to their recommendations.
Let me talk a bit about what the National Export Initiative will do. First, we’ll substantially increase access to trade financing for businesses that want to export their goods but just need a boost – especially small businesses and medium-sized businesses.
Some of the biggest factors limiting a firm’s decision to export are the high upfront cost of establishing a foothold in a new market, and the ability of the customers in that market to finance the purchase of their products.
During the financial crisis, as trade finance dried up, the Ex-Im Bank lived up to its mission, stepping in to fill the void. In fiscal year 2009, as part of a broader effort of G20 nations to mobilize trade finance worldwide, this institution authorized $21 billion in loans in support of American exports – an increase of nearly 50 percent over the previous year. I applaud Fred Hochberg’s efforts to increase that pace with the authorization of about $10 billion more in the first quarter of this year alone. And under the National Export Initiative, we’ll continue to increase the amount of trade financing Ex-Im offers, including a new $2 billion per year effort to increase support for our small and medium-sized businesses.
Another obstacle our exporters face is that the federal government just hasn’t done a good enough job advocating for them abroad. That’s why, as the second part of the National Export Initiative, the United States of America will go to bat for our businesses and our workers.
As an example, last week, I signed the Travel Promotion Act; a law that will establish active promotion and marketing efforts to encourage foreign citizens to come visit the most dynamic cities, the most entertaining destinations, and the most beautiful natural resources in the world. Well, the same principle applies for our businesses. We’ve got some of the most innovative companies in the world – and we should be advocating on their behalf to boost local economies and create jobs here.
This is an effort that I will personally lead as President. Next week, I will take my second trip to the Asia Pacific – a region that will be fundamental to America’s ability to create jobs and to thrive in the 21st century. We cannot be on the sidelines – we have to lead, and our engagement must extend to governments, business, and peoples across the Pacific. While I’m there, I plan on visiting Indonesia and Australia, two vibrant economies and democracies that will be critical partners for the United States. In both countries, I will highlight the role that American business plays there, and underscore how strong economic partnerships can create jobs on both sides of the Pacific while advancing regional – and global – prosperity. And going forward, I will be a strong and steady advocate for our workers and companies abroad.
This effort will extend throughout my Administration. Secretary Locke is issuing guidance to all senior government officials who have foreign counterparts on how they can best promote our exporters. Secretary Clinton is mobilizing a commercial diplomacy strategy, directing every one of our embassies to create a Senior Visitor Business Liaison who will manage our export advocacy efforts locally, and when our ambassadors return stateside, we’ll ask them to travel the United States to discuss export opportunities in their countries of assignment. We’re also announcing more than 40 trade and reverse trade missions are scheduled for this year. The Department of Commerce, for example, has sent a trade mission to India this week; and Secretary Vilsack is off to Japan on April 15th.
Third, we’ll unleash a battery of comprehensive and coordinated efforts to promote new markets and new opportunities for American exporters.
Many businesses want to export their products, but just don’t have the resources required to identify new markets or to set up shop overseas. That’s where we can help. We’ll bring together the Ex-Im Bank, the SBA, the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, and the Trade Development Agency to set up one-stop-shops across the country and in our 250 embassies and consulates abroad, to help American businesses gain a foothold in the fastest-growing markets with the most demand. And we’ll provide a comprehensive toolkit of services – from financing to counseling to promotion – to help potential exporters grow and expand.
We’ll create public-private partnerships to help firms break into new markets with the help of those who have been there – shipping and supply-chain companies, for example.
And we’ll increase funding for existing promotion efforts. We’ll increase funding for the International Trade Administration at the Department of Commerce, and strengthen the USDA’s ability to connect farmers with new customers overseas.
So we’re increasing financing, advocacy, and assistance for American businesses to locate, set up shop, and win in new markets. Those are the first three aims of the National Export Initiative.
The fourth focuses on making sure American companies have free and fair access to those markets. And that begins by enforcing trade agreements we already have on the books.
When I ran for President, I promised that when the United States of America puts its name to an agreement, that agreement will be as good for workers as it is for businesses, and include strong labor and environmental protections that we’ll enforce. My administration is living up to that promise. Ambassador Kirk has been doing a fantastic job as our United States Trade Representative, working to knock down barriers that unfairly keep American companies from markets we belong in, hold our trade partners to their labor and environmental obligations, and crack down on practices that blatantly harm our companies.
The United States offers some of the world’s lowest barriers to trade. That’s why we can often get more out of a trade deal – our borders are largely open. And when we give other countries the privilege of that free and fair access, we can expect it in return. That’s the spirit in which we’ll move forward. We’ll continue to work towards an ambitious and balanced Doha agreement – not just for the sake of any agreement, but for one that enhances market access for American agriculture, goods, and services. We’ll strengthen relations with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, with the goal of moving forward with existing agreements in a way that upholds our values. And we will pursue negotiations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership we launched last year with some of the most dynamic economies in Asia – negotiations that I believe will result in a new standard for 21st century trade agreements that aren’t just good for workers, businesses, and farmers; but consistent with our most cherished values.
What’s more, we’ll aggressively protect our intellectual property. Our single greatest asset is the innovation, ingenuity, and creativity of the American people. It’s essential to our prosperity. But it’s only a competitive advantage if our companies know that someone else can’t just steal that idea and duplicate it with cheaper inputs and labor. There’s nothing wrong with other people using our technologies – we just want to make sure that it’s licensed, and that American businesses are getting paid appropriately. And that’s why USTR is using the full arsenal of tools available to crack down on practices that blatantly harm our businesses, including negotiating proper protection, enforcing our existing agreements, and moving forward on new agreements, including a proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
We’ll also work within the G20 to continue global recovery and growth. Last year, when the G20 met to coordinate the international response to our global economic crisis, we agreed that in order for that growth to continue, we needed to rebalance our economies. For too long, America served as the consumer engine for the entire world. But we are rebalancing. We’re saving more. We all need to rebalance. Countries with external deficits need to save and export more. Countries with external surpluses need to boost consumption and domestic demand. And as I’ve said before, China moving to a more market-oriented exchange rate would make an essential contribution to that global rebalancing effort. I want to commend Secretary Geithner for his extraordinary work and tremendous leadership throughout his work with the G20, and I know he’ll keep working to encourage a rebalancing of global demand – efforts that will be good for our exports and for our job growth.
Finally, we’re working to reform our Export Control System for our strategic, high-tech industries, which will strengthen our national security. We’ll concentrate our efforts on enforcing controls on the export of our most critical technologies, making America safer while enhancing the competitiveness of key American industries. We’ve conducted a broad review of the Export Control System, and Secretary Gates will outline our reform proposal within the next couple weeks. But today, I’d like to announce two steps that we’re prepared to take.
First, we’ll streamline the process certain companies need to go through to get their products to market – products with encryption capabilities like cell phone and network storage devices. Currently, they endure a technical review that can take between 30 to 60 days – putting that company at a distinct disadvantage to foreign competitors who don’t face those delays. A new one-time online process will shorten that review time from 30 days to 30 minutes, making it quicker and easier for our businesses to compete while meeting our national security requirements.
Second, we will eliminate unnecessary obstacles for exporting products to companies with dual-national and third-country-national employees. Currently, our exporters and foreign consumers of these goods have to comply with two different, conflicting sets of standards. They’re running on two tracks, when they could be running on one. So we’re moving toward harmonizing those standards, making it easier for American and foreign companies to comply with our requirements without diminishing our security. I look forward to consulting with Congress on these reforms, as well as our broader export control reform effort.
So that’s how we’ll help double our exports, open up new markets, and level the playing field for American workers and businesses. And I have every confidence that we can and will succeed in this endeavor.
This is a difficult time for our country. And in times like these, questions have always arisen about whether or not America’s best days are behind us. There have always been naysayers and skeptics. There have always been those who waxed fatalistic, fearing that we lacked the capacity to succeed – at times even to survive – in a changing world.
But what makes America great – what makes America the envy of our competitors; what makes this a place where people come not just to invest but to start lives and businesses and families – is something that has been inexorable and enduring, especially in times of great challenge and great change. It’s that spirit of adventurousness and entrepreneurship that has for generations turned wild-eyed tinkerers into world-changing entrepreneurs; that led us to look westward and then skyward; that led to roads and railways cutting through wilderness; and ships and planes and fiber optic lines carrying American goods and services around the world. It’s the spirit that has advanced America’s leadership in the world and held aloft the American Dream for generations. And it is, ultimately, this spirit that has given us the tools and the toughness to overcome every obstacle and adapt to every circumstance – especially today.
It hasn’t always been easy. And our success is my by no means guaranteed. But if we summon a sense of national purpose equal to the seriousness of these times; if we combine our creativity, our innovation, and our eternal optimism; if we come together in common cause as we have so many times before – then we will succeed. We will define our destiny once again. And we will make this century another American century. Thank you.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT GRASSROOTS FUNDRAISING RECEPTION FOR SENATOR MCCASKILL
Renaissance Grand Hotel
St. Louis, Missouri
7:25 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: What’s going on, St. Louis? (Applause.) Thank you! (Applause.) It is good to be back in Missouri. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama! Obama!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, guys. Thank you. I got the same reception when I went to the Republican caucus. (Laughter.) They were chanting and cheering. (Laughter.) You don’t remember that?
Give it up for Governor Jay Nixon, one of the finest governors in the country. (Applause.) Give it up for Mayor Francis Slay, who’s in the house. (Applause.) He’s around here somewhere. There he is over there.
And give it up for my dear, dear friend, Claire McCaskill. (Applause.) I love Claire McCaskill. Love, love Claire McCaskill. Now, Claire and I both agree it’s nice to get out of Washington once in a while. (Laughter.) Now, don’t –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Come more often!
THE PRESIDENT: I’m going to. (Laughter.) Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of nice things about Washington. I like the monuments –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How is the house?
THE PRESIDENT: House is okay. (Laughter.) It’s got a bowling alley. What?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How’s your bowling?
THE PRESIDENT: My bowling has not gotten any better. (Laughter.) But here’s the thing about Washington –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Laughter.) I love you back. (Applause.)
But here’s the thing about Washington. Look, it’s a town where everybody is spending all their time worrying about staying reelected, what’s good for their poll numbers, instead of thinking about what’s right. (Applause.) I mean, they are just — you walk into — you walk in somebody’s office and they got, like, five TVs — CNN, MSNBC, FOX News –
THE PRESIDENT: I’m just saying. (Laughter.)
SENATOR McCASKILL: Smart crowd, smart crowd.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, they’ve got all the tabloids, the little gossip — you know — papers in Washington. So it’s like a hall of mirrors. But folks don’t spend enough time thinking about what’s right and what’s going on outside of Washington. (Applause.)
Now, this is not a new phenomenon. Harry Truman said something to the same effect. He had an interview, he said, “Washington is a very easy city to forget where you come from and why you got there in the first place.” (Laughter.)
Let me tell you something. Claire McCaskill doesn’t forget where she came from. (Applause.) And she doesn’t forget why she got to Washington. She got to Washington to serve you, to fight for you, to fight for families all across America. That’s why you’re here tonight, because you know Claire McCaskill is on your side. (Applause.)
You’ve known that ever since she was a prosecutor. You’ve seen her as a state auditor, just pinching pennies, just looking through — (laughter) — making sure folks aren’t wasting your money. She’s turned into one of the finest senators Missouri has ever had. (Applause.) She’s following in Harry Truman’s footsteps.
She’s a standout because she speaks truth to power. She’s not afraid of anybody. Speaks her mind. Sometimes she tells me things. (Laughter.) And I’m the President. (Applause.) But that’s — that’s what you need, is somebody who’s got the courage of their convictions. They’re not a weathervane, putting their fingers out to the wind, seeing, well, is that thing popular, is that going to win, is that good for me? She’s thinking about, is it good for you. She’s focused on solving problems.
No matter what party, she’ll work with anybody if she thinks it’s going to solve a problem. She’s willing to challenge old assumptions and worn-out ideas. And she’s a great role model for that.
I’ll just give you an example. Some of you remember the — Harry Truman made his name with the Truman Committee that went after waste and abuse during World War II, saving taxpayer dollars and lives. Well, Claire is doing the same thing, fighting for transparency and accountability in government. She understands that the money we spend doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to you. It belongs to the American people, so it’s got to be spent responsibly. (Applause.)
So just today, just today, I announced a plan that Claire proposed, pushed through Congress, that’s going to be coming online — it’s a database where Americans can track spending on contracts: who’s getting it, are they doing it on time, are they doing it on budget. (Applause.) If companies aren’t doing it on budget, then they stop getting contracts.
But that’s an example of the kind of work she’s been doing since she got there, the same way Harry Truman saw it. You don’t govern by the polls; you govern by principles. You don’t put your finger to the wind; you put your shoulder to the wheel. (Applause.) Because Claire assumes that if she’s doing what’s right the politics will sort itself out.
See, I’ve got the same philosophy. I have so much faith in the American people that — I have so much faith in the American people that I figure, you know what, if I do the right thing, then the politics will work itself out. (Applause.)
Now, that’s puzzling to Washington. So they’ve been writing over the last couple months, “Oh, my goodness, look at Obama. His poll numbers have dropped. Oh, the sky is falling!” (Laughter.) No, I mean, you see articles, you know, “Can you imagine what’s happened? What a catastrophe.” I’m looking around, and I feel okay. (Laughter.) I feel pretty good. (Applause.)
And the reason I feel pretty good is because I wake up every day trying to figure out what’s going to help — what’s going to help American families have some control over their lives? What’s going to help them be able to save a little more for their retirement? What’s going to help them be able to find a job? What’s going to help them deal with a health care crisis in their lives? What are we going to do to make sure young people can afford to go to college? (Applause.)
Now, sometimes the decisions we make in the short term are not going to be popular, and the folks in Washington don’t understand that I know they’re not going to be popular. They can’t believe I’m doing them. See, they just think I’m an idiot — (laughter) — because I’m doing something that’s not immediately popular. But I’ve got pollsters. I’ve got very good pollsters. They send me the polls. They say, you know what, shoring up the financial system, not popular. (Laughter.) Helping out the auto industry, not popular. Passing the Recovery Act, not popular.
That’s okay. Because my job is not being popular. (Applause.) My job is solving problems for the American people. I’ve got a greater responsibility. I’ve got a deeper mission. (Applause.) I’m looking at 10 years from now, will you look back and say that what he did made sense for the American people; not whether tomorrow people are going to be looking and saying, that made him popular. (Applause.)
So, today — listen, you remember — you remember a year ago, everybody was saying — we had only been there for two months. (Laughter.) They said, “Oh, his financial plan is a disaster.” Stock market had dropped. Remember that? Everybody is like, his presidency is over; he’s been in three months. (Laughter.)
Now, suddenly you look up, financial system is stabilized. (Applause.) People said, “Oh, you know what, why is he getting involved in this auto thing? Big mistake.” Now, suddenly General Motors is hiring again. (Applause.) They said, “Well, I don’t know about this Recovery Act.” Except all over Missouri and all across the nation, roads are being repaved and bridges are being repaired and waterways are being rebuilt. And we’re putting Americans back to work. We’re laying the foundation for tomorrow. And instead of the economy contracting 6 percent it’s now growing 6 percent. (Applause.)
So I think about what’s right and then figure out — whether the politics will work out or not, I’m confident in the American people. (Applause.)
Now, look, here’s the bottom line — Claire and I know this — as much progress as we’ve made, there are still millions of Americans, and too many all across Missouri, who are out of work; too many people who are still stretched to the limits on their mortgages, their credit cards, their student loans. So we’re on the road to recovery, but we’re not there. We will not be there until folks who want to find a job can get a job; not until people feel some sense of security again.
We are fighting every day, Claire and I, for an America where every single person can compete and win. If they’re willing to work hard, if they’re willing to apply themselves, then they’ve got a shot at the American Dream. (Applause.) We’re fighting for an economy where entrepreneurship and hard work and some sweat can result in success, and that we can rebuild this middle class that has been the backbone not just of our economy but also our democracy.
So we’re going to have some more fights. We’ve won some fights. People don’t — people tend to forget — we won them so fast those first six months, everybody’s forgotten about it. (Laughter.) We banned tobacco advertising to kids. We passed credit card legislation to make sure that the worst abuses no longer happen. (Applause.) We passed housing fraud laws that will crack down on predatory lending. We passed equal pay laws so that women are getting paid the same for doing the same work as men. (Applause.) We expanded health care to 4 million children. We passed national service legislation. We are bringing our troops home from Iraq. (Applause.) We have delivered on our promises. (Applause.)
But we’ve got work left to do. The country that educates its children the best will compete the best in the 21st century — (applause) — and that’s why we’re going to keep on pushing to reform our education system, make sure that college is affordable.
Because the nation that leads in clean energy will also lead in the 21st century economy, we’re going to keep on pushing — (applause) — for solar and wind and biodiesel and create millions of jobs in the process.
And, yes, because we know that this economy cannot work if we’ve got a broken health care system, we are going to get health care reform done this year, right now. (Applause.)
Everybody remembers that person yelling to Harry, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” But folks don’t remember Harry’s response, which was “I’m going to tell the truth and they’ll think it’s hell.” (Laughter.) So let me tell you the truth about health care reform. The system is broken. Out in California, one of the biggest insurers there just raised rates up to 39 percent on millions of people. Right across the river, in Illinois, 60 percent hikes in some of the individual markets. It’s not sustainable and everybody knows it.
So what have we done? There’s nothing radical about what we’ve proposed. We have said, look, some countries have a government-run system; that’s not going to work for here in the United States. Some people — most of my Republican colleagues in Washington — seem to think that the best health care plan is just to let ‘er rip when it comes to the insurance companies, deregulate further, and that that’s somehow going to give you more of a break. This is the “foxes guarding the chicken coop” theory of health care reform.
What I’ve said is, look, we don’t need government or insurance bureaucrats controlling your health care. We’re going to put you in control. And we’re going to do that in three simple ways: Number one, we’re going to have the toughest insurance reforms in history. (Applause.) A patient’s bill of right on steroids, so they can’t deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition; so that they’ve got to cover young people up to the age of 26; so they don’t have fine print that will prevent you from getting the care that you need or allow them to drop you when you get sick. (Applause.) Insurance reform.
Number two, what we’re saying is, you know what, members of Congress have a pretty good deal on health care. You know why? Because they’re members of a big pool of federal employees. They’ve got millions of people in their pool, so like any big company, they can negotiate for the best rates. What about you? (Applause.) What about you? Why shouldn’t you be able to do the same thing that members of Congress can do? So we’re going to create a pool for you that will drive down your premiums so that you’ve got leverage, so that you can get a better deal. (Applause.)
(Lights go out momentarily.)
Whoa! All right, who was — was that Mitch McConnell back there trying to — (laughter.) Yes, see, they don’t like when we start telling the truth. (Laughter.)
So that’s number two. Number three, we’re going to drive down costs. We are going to drive down costs. Now, let me tell you, some of you may have heard of the Congressional Budget Office. This is the office that basically decides, it’s the referee on how many — how much things cost. According to the Congressional Budget Office, our plan passes and folks right now who have to buy insurance in the individual market or small markets because they don’t have a big employer that’s looking out for them — they will save 14 to 20 percent on a comparable plan to what they’re purchasing right now. That’s money out of your pocket. That’s money that right now is going out of your pocket that would go back in if this health care reform passed.
Employers, according to the Business Roundtable, would save up to $3,000 per employee in reduced premium costs if health reform passed. (Applause.) That’s their numbers, according to the Business Roundtable; not my numbers. The deficit over the next two decades will be reduced by a trillion dollars if health care reform passes — (applause) — and that’s why it can’t be “if,” it’s got to be “when.” (Applause.) We are going to get this done and we’re going to get it done soon. (Applause.) And it’s time for an up or down vote in Washington on health care reform. Tired of talking about it; let’s get it done. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
THE PRESIDENT: See, I want every member of Congress to hear this chant –
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
THE PRESIDENT: We got to start this chant up in Congress — because what ends up happening in Washington is that right about now, when it’s time to actually just go ahead and get this done, this is when folks get the most nervous. Oh, there’s just so much noise out there, just the echo chamber. It’s getting people all stressed out.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Stay the course!
THE PRESIDENT: Stay the course, is what I tell them. (Applause.) And you know, we were meeting with some supporters back here, and a couple of them said the same thing. They said, “Don’t let them wear you down.” And I tried to explain I don’t get worn down; I wear them down. (Applause.) I don’t get worn down.
You know why I don’t get worn down? Because of the woman I met in Pennsylvania this past week who found out that her health insurance premium has just gone up a hundred percent; or the mother up in Green Bay who I met last year, who’s got two small kids, breast cancer has metastasized, and instead of just worrying about how she can get well, she’s having to fight off the incredible debt that’s coming because of these limits that are placed on her insurance coverage. She’s got insurance and is still worrying about her family going broke.
Now, if she’s not tired, if she’s still fighting, then I’m fighting. (Applause.) If they’re not getting worn down, then I’m not going to be worn down. And if I’ve got somebody like Claire McCaskill next to me — (applause) — if I’ve got Claire McCaskill in the foxhole with me — (applause) — if I’ve got somebody like Claire McCaskill in the Senate bucking people up and telling them, we don’t give up, we don’t get worn down, then I guarantee you we’re not just going to pass health care; we are going to do what is required to make sure that the middle class here in America once again has the ability to control its own destiny. (Applause.)
We don’t shirk from a challenge, we don’t shrink from responsibilities; we embrace them — for our children and the next generation. We don’t worry about the next election; we worry about a longer term. And that’s why you’re here. That’s why you supported me in this campaign. That’s why you supported Claire McCaskill. Don’t give up on me now. We’re just getting started.
Thank you, St. Louis. God bless you. (Applause.)
Statement by the President on Senate Vote on Tax Extenders and Unemployment Aid
Investing in our nation’s small businesses, cutting taxes for America’s businesses, and bringing relief to families hard hit by the economic crisis are key to our economic recovery and long-term growth. This bill helps small businesses get the loans they need to grow and hire, provides tax relief that companies need to support new research and development jobs of the future, and extends relief to Americans looking for work. Jobs are priority number one for my administration, and I won’t rest until every American who wants a good job has one. And I am grateful to Senators in both parties who took one more step forward today in getting our nation back on a solid economic footing.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM
St. Charles High School
St. Charles, Missouri
3:58 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Missouri! (Applause.) It is good to see you. I know you guys have been a little bit here; it’s a little bit warm in here — you’re all fanning yourself off, whoo! It is good to see everybody here today. How’s everybody doing? (Applause.)
I’ve got a couple of acknowledgments I want to make. First of all, Mayor of St. Charles, Patti York — where’s Patti? (Applause.) Thank you, Madam Mayor. Thanks for the great weather.
We also have the St. Charles School District Superintendent, Randy Charles, is here. Where’s Randy? I just saw him — there he is back there. (Applause.)
It is great to be here, great to be back in the Show Me State, great to be back in St. Charles. Some of you may remember that it was from this town that Lewis and Clark began their journey into a harsh and unforgiving landscape. I can relate — (laughter) — because the first time I came here, I was trying to get to Washington, D.C., a harsh and unforgiving landscape. (Laughter.)
A big part of our campaign was about changing the way Washington works. It was about transforming a politics that’s driven by cynicism and a 24-hour news cycle, and the cable chatter, and always focused on the next election instead of the next generation. Our campaign was about meeting the looming challenges — in education and in energy, in our health care system, in our financial system — that helped bring about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And it still threatens our prosperity. It was about making our government actually work for you, the people: a government that lives up to its responsibilities, including the responsibility to live within its means.
Now, there’s been a lot of discussion about government over the last several months — and let’s face it, people have lost faith in government. They had lost faith in government before I ran and it’s been getting worse. You know, President Lincoln said that “the legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not … do at all, or do so well, by themselves.” That pretty much sums up my attitude. You let people do for themselves what they can do for themselves; and then if there are some things that we do better together, we should do them together. And I believe that in everything government does, we’ve got a special responsibility to be wise stewards about how Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars are spent. And I know you agree with that, too. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t like seeing your money wasted — or an independent, don’t like seeing your money wasted.
That’s a responsibility my administration is seeking to fulfill every single day. Over the last year, we’ve gone through the budget line by line looking for places to trim the fat out of government. And we’ve found a lot of fat to trim. I got to admit. Last year, we pushed Congress to cut nearly $20 billion by streamlining or eliminating more than 120 government programs. This year, we put another $20 billion in cuts on the table, targeting dozens of additional programs that were wasteful or duplicative or in some cases just plain ridiculous.
For example, we decided not to fund an office maintained by the Department of Education — in Paris, France. (Laughter.) Now, I’m sure that was nice work if you could get it. (Laughter.) But I didn’t think that was a real good use of our money. We eliminated a decades-old radio navigation system which cost $35 million a year. And some people might say, well, why did you do that? We need that navigation system. Well, the thing is, we got this thing call GPS now, and satellites. (Laughter.) So the whole radio navigation thing wasn’t working so well.
So we’ve been pushing for cuts on things that we don’t need, that government doesn’t do so well. And we’re also reforming the way government contracts are awarded. Think about this, between 2002 and 2008, the amount spent annually on government contracts more than doubled to half a trillion dollars. Those are contracts with private contractors. And the amount spent on no-bid contracts jumped by 129 percent — no-bid contracts. That’s an inexcusable waste of your money. So last March, I ordered federal departments to come up with plans to save as much as $40 billion a year in contracting.
Now, this brings me to the person standing right over here, the lady in pink. (Applause.) You know before Claire was your senator, she was your state auditor. She just pinches pennies. I mean, she’s just — (laughter) — you think I’m — I don’t like waste, but Claire, she just — every dime, she’s — (laughter.)
So thanks to Claire, we’re going to have a new tool to help us meet this goal of eliminating some of these wasteful contracts and no-bid contracts. In the coming weeks we’re going to be rolling out a new online database, which Claire McCaskill proposed and helped pass into law. (Applause.) And we’ll be able to see, before any new contract is awarded, whether a company plays by the rules, how well they’ve performed in the past: Did they finish the job on time? Did the company provide good value? Did the company blow their budget? It’s your money, so you deserve to know how it’s spent and who these contracts are going to.
And that’s an example of the kind of service that Claire McCaskill is providing, not just to the people of Missouri, but people all across the country. And in every way but one, Claire McCaskill is the new Harry Truman — (laughter) — in the United States Senate. (Applause.) The one difference is she’s a she. (Laughter.)
But just as the Truman Commission prevented billions of dollars of wasteful spending during the war and saved lives in the process, through tough and fair-minded oversight of contracting during World War II, Claire has been a relentless force for rooting out scams and making government more efficient. Harry Truman also said in the commission’s final report that in completing the mission, “[w]here necessary, heads must be knocked together.” And let me tell you, Claire loves knocking some heads together. (Laughter.) She’s never been afraid to do that. (Applause.)
As we were driving in, I was saying, boy, it’s just good to be back in the Midwest, this is about as close as I’ve been to home in a while. And part of the reason it’s just good to be back is because Washington is a place where tax dollars are often treated like Monopoly money — they’re bartered and traded, and they’re divvied up among lobbyists and special interests, and where waste — even billions of dollars of waste — is accepted as the price of doing business. When we proposed, by the way, those $20 billion in cuts last year, we were ridiculed by the press, said, “Ah, that’s just a spit in the bucket.” Now, I don’t know about here in St. Charles, $20 billion, that’s real money, isn’t it?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s real money. But Claire doesn’t accept business as usual. I don’t accept business as usual. You don’t accept business as usual. The American people don’t accept business as usual, especially when we’re facing these enormous long-term deficits that threaten to leave our children a mountain of debt.
Now, this brings me to the primary topic I want to talk about today. Nowhere is reform more needed than when it comes to our health care system — nowhere. (Applause.) Nowhere. (Applause.) The health care system has billions of dollars that should go to patient care and they’re lost each and every year to fraud, to abuse, to massive subsidies that line the pockets of the insurance industry.
Let me just give you one example — this is a long recognized but long tolerated problem called “improper payments.” That’s what they call them. Washington always has a name for these things. “Improper payments.” And as is often the case in Washington, the more innocuous the name, the more worried you should be. So these are payments mostly made through Medicare and Medicaid that are sent to the wrong person, sent for the wrong reason, sent in the wrong amount. Sometimes they’re innocent errors. Sometimes they’re because nobody is bothering to check to see where the money is going and they’re abused by scam artists and fly-by-night operations.
(The President coughs.) Look, health care. (Laughter.) This health care debate has been hard on my health, I got to tell you. (Laughter.)
It’s estimated that improper payments cost taxpayers almost $100 billion last year alone. Think about that. That, by the way, just that abuse in improper payments is more than we spend on the Department of Education and the Small Business Administration combined. If we created a “Department of Improper Payments” it would be one of the largest agencies in our government.
Now, for the past few years, there has actually been a pilot program that uses a system of tough audits to recover some of this lost money. And even though these audits, they were just operating mainly in three states, they already found a billion dollars in improper payments. So these results were both disturbing and encouraging. They’re disturbing because it shows you how much waste there is out there in the health care system. But it’s encouraging because we can do something about it.
So earlier today, with Claire looking over my shoulder — one of our auditors-in-chief — I signed an order calling on all federal agencies to launch these kinds of audits all across the country. All across the country. (Applause.) So agencies would hire auditors to scour the books, go through things line by line. Auditors are paid based on how many abuses or errors they uncover. So it’s a win-win. The auditor, if they do a good job they get a small percentage as a reward. And the taxpayer wins by getting huge sums of money that would otherwise be lost that we can then spend to provide care to people who really need it, or we can use to reduce the deficit.
Now, through this effort, we expect to more than double the amounts we would’ve otherwise recovered — a couple of billion dollars over the next few years. And I’m announcing my support for the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act — that’s a mouthful — but this is a bipartisan bill — (applause) — is a bipartisan bill to expand our ability to do these audits, so we can prevent even more fraud and abuse and waste.
Now, the reason I’m bringing all this stuff up is because there’s been a lot of talk about health care lately. And look, I’ll be honest, a lot of people, they’re confused, they’re saying, well, how can you help people get insurance who don’t have it without it adding to our deficit? It’s a legitimate question.
Well, the reason is, is because so much of the money currently in our health care system is being misspent. (Applause.) Look, if you’ve got — if you’ve got a house and the roof is leaking and the windows are all letting through a bunch of draft and you get that cold winter and all the heat seeping out, and if you decide to spend on some new windows and fix your roof, that’s going to spend a little money, but you’d save money in the long run because you don’t have heating expenses, and those leaks aren’t ruining your furniture.
The same thing is true with our health care system. We’ve got leaks everywhere — that you pay for, directly or indirectly. And if we can have a smarter health care system, then yes, we can provide help to middle-class folks who need it, and at the same time actually reduce the burden on taxpayers.
Now, I know that during the health care debate opponents have tried to scare people, especially our seniors, into thinking that we are going after seniors’ Medicare benefits; that’s how Obama is going to pay for his plan.
When you look at the facts, that’s just plain wrong. In fact, by saving billions of dollars of the sort we just talked about — waste and abuse — in Medicare, reining in waste and inefficiencies, we’re going to be able to help ensure Medicare’s solvency for an additional decade. (Applause.) This is just one example that speaks to how we’re going to stop wasting money through the health care system on things that don’t make people healthy — in fact, often take away from the care we receive, and take that money and make it work for the American people. So Medicare will work better, provide better care because of these reforms. Senior citizens who are dealing with the doughnut hole in the prescription drug plan — that plan will be filled in part because we’re not wasting money on stuff that doesn’t work. (Applause.) That’s common sense.
You know, I get a lot of letters from constituents. I get about 40,000 every day, and I don’t read all 40,000 — somebody does — but what I’ve done is I’ve asked my staff to collect a sampling of 10 letters that I read every night. And I will tell you that my staff is very evenhanded, because about half of these letters call me an idiot. (Laughter.)
And at least half of them talk about health care. And when the health care reform debate was really heating up, one of the things that I heard from a lot of seniors was, “Keep your government hands out of my Medicare.” (Laughter.) I heard this from a bunch of seniors. They say, “I don’t want your government-run health care plan, and don’t touch my Medicare.”
And so I’d have to write back and I’d say, “Ma’am,” or “Sir, Medicare is a government program.” (Laughter.) “But we’re not going go weaken it. We’re going to make it stronger.”
But I think those letters tell you something about what sometimes happened in this health care debate, because people have been hit with a lot of bad information. And health care is really important. And so people get worried and they get nervous. But when you get past the divisive and the deceptive rhetoric, it turns out that most Americans are happy that two generations ago we made the decision that seniors and the poor should not be saddled with unaffordable health care costs or forced to go without needed care. That was a decision that we made decades ago. And it was the right decision to make. (Applause.)
And by the way, when we made those decisions, folks were saying the exact same thing about Medicare: “That’s socialized medicine, this is government-run care,” and blah, blah, blah.
Now, today we face a different choice, but it’s a similar choice to the one that previous generations faced, and that is whether we should help middle-class families and business owners that are being pummeled by the rising costs of health care. See, back when the Medicare debate was taking place, seniors were having problems because they were no longer working, and people were getting their health care through their jobs. And so it made sense to help them. It made sense to help the poor who might not be employed. But back then, middle-class folks, they were pretty secure. If you were working, you had health care that was affordable.
But you know what’s happened over the last several decades. What’s happened is, is that more and more businesses are saying, we can’t afford to provide health care to our workers because the costs are skyrocketing. So they just drop health care altogether. A lot of small businesses, they don’t provide health care to their employees anymore. And large businesses, what are they doing? They’re saying to you, we’re going to jack up your premiums, we got to increase your deductibles. If you’re self-employed, you are completely out of luck. If you’ve got a preexisting condition, you are completely out of luck. And by the way, those of us who are lucky enough to have health care today, we don’t know if we’re the ones who are going to lose our job tomorrow, or suddenly it turns out that our child has a preexisting condition. And we’ll be stuck in the exact same situation, even if we’ve got good health insurance. (Applause.)
Now, everything I just said, if you talk to my opponents, they’ll agree. They’ll say, you’re right, the health care system is broken. For too many people it’s getting worse. They will acknowledge that the status quo is unsustainable. But you know what they tell me? We had that big health care summit. I know you guys watched all seven hours of it. (Laughter.) Yes, absolutely. It was scintillating. (Laughter.) But you heard what they said. They said, well, we agree with you that the current system is unsustainable, but this is just not the right time to do it. They said, let’s start over, that’s what they said. We just got to start from scratch.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me tell you something. The insurance industry is not starting over. They just announced a 39 percent rate increase in California and a rate increase of up to 60 percent right across the border in my home state of Illinois — 60 percent in one year. That’s the future. That’s the future if we fail to act.
And by the way, I don’t recall any of these Republicans trying to do anything about insurance companies’ abuses during all the years they were in charge. (Applause.) Do you, Claire? I don’t remember. I don’t remember them doing anything about folks who needed some help when the government was running surpluses.
So I get a sense with some of these folks, it’s just never going to be the right time. But the truth is, we have debated health care in Washington not just this past year, we’ve been debating it for 70 years. You know who was pushing health care reform? Harry Truman. (Applause.) Harry Truman was pushing health care reform. And by the way, you know what they said? They said, he’s pushing socialized medicine. Harry Truman.
And over this past year we’ve been talking about it, every proposal has been put on the table. Every argument has been made and everybody has made it. And I know that people view this as a partisan issue, but the truth is, is that if you set aside the politics of it, and what was good for Election Day, it turns out that parties have plenty of areas where they agree. And the plan that I’ve put forward is a proposal that’s basically somewhere in the middle — one that incorporates the best ideas of Democrats and Republicans, even though the Republicans have a hard time acknowledging it.
Now, there are some folks who wanted to scrap the system of private insurance and replace it with a government-run health care program, like they have in some other countries. (Applause.) We’ve got a couple — some applause here. And look, it works well for those countries. But I’ll just be honest with you: It was not practical or realistic to do here, to completely uproot and change a system where the vast majority of people still get their health care from employer-based plans.
And on the other side of the spectrum there are those who believe that the answer is to simply unleash the insurance industry, and provide less oversight and fewer rules.
THE PRESIDENT: And that somehow that’s going to drive down prices for everybody. This is called the “putting the foxes in charge of the hen house” approach to health care reform. (Applause.) So whatever state regulations were in place, we’d get rid of those and so insurance companies could basically find a state that had the worst regulations and then from there sell insurance everywhere. And that somehow that was going to be helpful to you. All this would do would give insurance companies more leeway to raise premiums and deny care.
So I don’t believe we should give either the government or the insurance companies more control over health care in America. I want to give you more control over health care in America. (Applause.)
So my proposal builds on the current system where most Americans get their health care from their employers. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. But my proposal would change three important things about the current health care system. Now I want everybody to pay attention — I know it’s a little warm in here, but I want you to pay attention, so that when you are talking to your friends and your neighbors and folks at work and they’re wondering what’s going on, I want you to be able to just say, here are the three things Obama is trying to do.
First, it would end the worst practices of insurance companies — and it would begin to do so this year. This year. (Applause.) Thousands of uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions will be able to purchase health insurance for the very first time in their lives or since they got sick. (Applause.) This year. Insurance companies would be banned from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions this year. (Applause.) Insurance companies would be banned from dropping your coverage when you get sick. (Applause.) Insurance companies would no longer be able to arbitrarily and massively raise premiums. They would be subject to review.
Those practices will end as a consequence of health care reform. (Applause.)
All new insurance plans would be required to offer free preventive care to their customers. And if you buy a new plan, there will be no more lifetime limits on the amount of care you receive from your insurance company — (applause) — all that fine print that ends up getting folks into trouble. If you’re a uninsured young adult, you’ll be able to stay on your parents’ insurance policy until you’re 26 years old. (Applause.) So a lot of folks, as they’re transitioning into the workplace, will have insurance. (Applause.) All right, so that’s part one of the plan: insurance reform.
Part two. For the first time, uninsured individuals and small businesses will have the same kind of choice of private health insurance that members of Congress get. (Applause.) If it’s good enough for members of Congress, it’s good enough for the people who pay their salaries. (Applause.)
This should not be a controversial idea. The reason that federal employees usually have pretty good insurance is because they’re part of a pool of millions of people. So what happens is they can negotiate for really good rates because the insurance companies really want those millions of customers. So what we’re talking about is setting up a pool for people who don’t work for the federal government — you, individuals, small businesses; they can be part of this pool. And this is an idea that a lot of Republicans embraced in the past until I said it was a good idea. (Laughter.)
So all this would drive down rates for those individuals and small businesses who aren’t part of a big company that get good rates. And my proposal says if you still can’t afford it, even though now the premiums are lower than you can buy on your own, then we’ll offer you some tax credits to make it affordable. And those tax credits would add up to the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history. (Applause.)
So it’s estimated that this would drive down the costs for folks who don’t work for big companies — so they don’t get as good of a deal — by 14, 20 percent. This is before the subsidies, before the tax credits.
Now, it’s true that this will cost some money. It’s going to cost about a hundred billion dollars per year. That’s real money, that’s a lot of money. But most of that money comes from the nearly $2.5 trillion a year that America already spends on health care that we’re not spending well; that we’re spending badly right now.
So we pay for this proposal by getting at the abuse that we just talked about. We eliminate wasteful taxpayer subsidies that go to the insurance companies. Do you know that through the Medicare program, we are giving insurance companies close to $20 billion a year, about $18 billion every year of taxpayer money through the Medicare system. And we’re saying, well, why do we do that? They’re making a profit on their own. And while some of what we save goes to helping the uninsured, most of it goes back to small businesses and the middle class who right now just aren’t getting a good deal. It doesn’t make sense to me that people who are really poor are able to get Medicaid, but people who are working really hard and just not quite as poor, they don’t get a decent deal. That doesn’t make sense to me. (Applause.)
All right. That’s the second part. First part: insurance reform. Second part: creating this marketplace where small businesses and individuals can get a good deal.
Third part: bringing down the cost of health care for families and businesses and for the federal government. Cost control. Now, when you listen to the other side, they’ll tell you, we want to do more about cost, we want to do more about cost. Well, let me tell you, we’ve incorporated almost every serious idea from across the political spectrum about how to contain rising health care costs. There’s not an idea out there that we have not worked on, that we have not included in this proposal.
And according to the Congressional Budget Office — this is the office that is supposed to be the independent referee for how things cost, it’s not supposed to be Democrat or Republican — according to the Congressional Budget Office, people buying health plans in the individual market right now, they’d see their premiums go down 14 to 20 percent. (Applause.) I already mentioned that.
Now, here’s another thing. A recent study by the Business Roundtable — that’s made up of all these big companies out there, they don’t — they’re nonpartisan, but it’s not like they’re just dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrats, let’s put it that way; these are company CEOs — they commissioned a study and said the reforms could reduce premiums by as much as $3,000 per employee. That’s their study, not mine.
Then the Congressional Budget Office said that the government would save a trillion dollars, reduce the deficit by a trillion dollars. So think about it: You’re saving money, employers are saving money, the federal government is saving money — not according to me, but according to these studies that were done by independent analysts.
So here’s the bottom line, St. Charles. There’s no government takeover, unless you consider reining in insurance companies a government takeover — and I think that’s the right thing to do. (Applause.) There’s no cutting of Medicare benefits. There’s just cutting out fraud and waste in Medicare to make it stronger. (Applause.)
What we’re proposing is a common-sense approach to protecting you from insurance company abuses and saving you money. That’s the proposal, and it is paid for. And I believe that Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote on health care reform. (Applause.) The time for talk is over; it’s time to vote. (Applause.) It’s time to vote. Tired of talking about it. (Applause.)
Now, of course, folks in Washington, they like to talk. And so Washington is doing right now what Washington does. They’re speculating breathlessly, day or night, every columnist, every pundit, every talking head: “Is this proposal going to help the Republicans or is this proposal going to help the Democrats?” “What’s going to happen to the President’s poll numbers if the vote doesn’t go forward?” “If it does go forward?” “What will it mean for November?” “What will it mean for 2012?” “How’s the politics going to play?”
I heard the Republican Leader of the Senate the other day — he’s warning Democrats, you better be careful about voting for this; it could hurt you. I don’t know how sincere the Republican Leader is about the best interests of Democrats. (Laughter.) He’s been very generous with advice. (Laughter.)
You know what, here’s the bottom line, St. Charles. I don’t know how the politics play. I don’t know. This is a hard issue. It’s a complicated issue. There is a lot of information floating around out there. A lot of it is inaccurate. The opponents have spent millions of dollars fighting it. And people during recessionary times, they’re anxious and sort of thinking, gosh, can we really afford to change things right now? Maybe we should just kind of stick with the status quo, even though we know it’s not working for us.
So I don’t know how the politics plays. But here’s what I do know: The American people will be more secure with this reform. Our country will be stronger because of this reform. (Applause.) I don’t know about the politics. But I know it is the right thing to do, and that’s why I’m fighting so hard to get it done. (Applause.)
We’ve seen years — decades — where Washington just puts off dealing with our toughest challenges because it’s too hard, because we don’t know how the politics works. And the will and the capacity to act, to do serious things in this country, starts just getting sucked away. Just gets sacked by partisanship and political gamesmanship and debates about who’s up and who’s down, and how does this play politically — instead of asking what’s right and what’s wrong. And we’ve seen terrible consequences — not just these last two years of turmoil, but a decade of struggle for middle class families. (Applause.)
We can’t accept the status quo. We can’t accept the same old/same old. I won’t accept it. Claire McCaskill won’t accept it. Not when it comes to how we manage taxpayer dollars. Not when it comes to how our health care system works. Not when it comes to meeting the difficult challenges that we face. And that’s why Claire and I are fighting to stop waste and abuse in our government. That’s why Claire and I are fighting to pass these health insurance reforms. (Applause.) Now is the time. Now is the moment. Now is the time for us to leave for the next generation and generations to come a stronger and more prosperous country. We are not backing down. We are not quitting, St. Charles. And we are going to get this done. (Applause.)
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)