Remarks By The President At A Discussion With Ohio Families On The Economy: “We’re Focusing… On Trying To Figure Out Can We Build More Infrastructure Here In Ohio And All Across The Country That Puts People Back To Work”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT A DISCUSSION WITH OHIO FAMILIES ON THE ECONOMY
10:47 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I am — I’m just thrilled to be here. And I want to thank Joe and Rhonda and the entire family for being such great hosts. And I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be here.
I see the mayor of Columbus is here, a great friend. Somebody who’s going to be running and I hope winning for the U.S. Senate, Lee Fisher is here. And Mary Jo Kilroy is here. We’ve got one of the best senators I believe in the United States Senate in Sherrod Brown — is here. And one of the finest governors in the country, Ted Strickland, is here. So give those folks a big round of applause. (Applause.)
Should we tell them to take off their jackets, too? (Laughter.) Take off your jackets, guys. Lighten up a little bit. Sheesh! (Laughter.)
This is just a great opportunity for me to have a conversation with you. And I don’t want this to be too formal. What I want to do is have a chance to listen to you and also answer your questions. What we’ve tried to do whenever we are in a setting like this is to talk about the things that folks are going through day to day — because, look, I’ll be honest with you, sometimes when you’re in Washington you get caught up with the particular legislative battles or the media spin on certain issues, and sometimes you lose touch in terms of what folks are talking about around the kitchen table.
One of the ways that I stay in touch is through events like this, as well as reading letters from constituents and voters all across the country every night. And obviously what’s on a lot of people’s minds right now is the economy.
We went through the worst recession that we’ve had since the Great Depression. And when I was sworn in about 18 months ago, we had already lost several million jobs and we were about to lose several million more. We lost 800,000 jobs the month I was sworn in. And so we had to act fast and take some emergency steps to prevent the economy from going back into what could have been a Great Depression.
And we were successful in doing so. We stabilized the economy; we stabilized the financial system. We didn’t have a complete meltdown. And whereas we were losing jobs in the private sector when I was first sworn in, we’re now gaining jobs, and we’ve gained jobs seven consecutive months in the private sector. The economy was shrinking about 6 percent; the economy is now growing. So we’ve made progress. But let’s face it, the progress hasn’t been fast enough.
And Joe, Rhonda and I were just talking about the challenges that they’ve had to go through when Rhonda got laid off — and, by the way, also lost her health insurance in the process, at a time when her son was going through some significant medical needs. So, in addition to trying to stop the crisis, what we also wanted to do was make sure that we were helping people get back on their feet. So something that I’m very pleased with is that Rhonda was able to use the provisions that we passed to help her get COBRA so that she had health insurance, could keep her health insurance, at a time when the family was very much in need. And millions of people across the country have been able to keep their health insurance.
We’ve also been trying to help our state and local governments so that they’re not having to lay off as many teachers and firefighters and police officers, and I know that — I think the mayor and the governor would acknowledge that the help that we provided them has really helped to plug some big budget holes.
And, in addition, what we’ve been trying to do is to build infrastructure that puts people back to work but also improves the quality of life in communities like Columbus. So Joe is an architect and he’s now working on a new police station that was funded in part with Recovery Act funds.
So all these things have made a difference. But we still have got a long way to go. And so a couple of things that we’re focused on right now is, number one, making sure that small businesses are getting help, because small businesses like Joe’s architectural firm are really the key to our economy. They create two out of every three jobs. And so we want to make sure that they’re getting financing. We want to make sure that we are cutting their taxes in certain key areas. One of the things that we’ve done, for example, is propose that we eliminate capital gains taxes on small businesses so that when they’re starting up and they don’t have a lot of cash flow, that’s exactly the time when they should get a break and they should get some help.
We’re focusing, as well, on trying to figure out can we build more infrastructure here in Ohio and all across the country that puts people back to work, not just building roads and bridges, but also building things like high-speed rail, or building broadband lines that could connect communities and give people access to the Internet at a time when that’s going to be critical in terms of long-term economic development.
We’re also going to have to look at how do we, over the long term, get control of our deficit. And that’s obviously something that a lot of people have on their minds. The key is to make sure that we do so in a way that doesn’t impede recovery, but rather gives people confidence over the medium and the long term. And I’m going to be happy to talk about what we’re doing in terms of spending.
But overall, the main message that I want to deliver before I start taking questions — and I said this to Joe and Rhonda — is slowly, but surely, we are moving in the right direction. We’re on the right track. The economy is getting stronger, but it really suffered a big trauma. And we’re not going to get all 8 million jobs that were lost back overnight. It’s going to take some time. And businesses are still trying to get more confident out there before they start hiring. And people — consumers — are not going to start spending until they feel a little more confident that the economy is getting stronger.
And so what we’re trying to do is create sort of a virtuous cycle where people start feeling better and better about the economy. And a lot of it is sort of like recovering from an illness; you get a little bit stronger each day and you take a few more steps each day. And that’s where our economy is at right now.
What we can’t afford to do is to start going backwards and doing some of the same things that got us into trouble in the first place. This is why it’s been so important for us, for example, to pass something like Wall Street reform to make sure that we’re not creating the same kinds of financial bubbles and the massive leverage and the reckless risks that helped to create this problem in the first place.
And I am very proud that we’ve got somebody like a Sherrod Brown or a Mary Jo, who worked really tirelessly with us in Congress to make sure that we don’t have a situation where we’ve got to bail out banks that have taken reckless risks; that we are monitoring what’s happening in the financial system a lot more carefully, making sure people aren’t cheated when it comes to their mortgages, or that there are a bunch of hidden fees in their credit cards that helped to create some of the problems that we’ve seen in the financial systems.
We can’t go back to doing things the way we were doing them before. We’ve got to go forward. That’s what we’re trying to do. And hopefully as we continue over the next several months and the next several years, we’re going to see a Columbus and an Ohio and a United States of America that is going to be stronger than it was before this crisis struck. I am absolutely confident of that. But we’ve got more work to do.
All right. So, with that, what I want to do is I just want to open it up and you guys can ask me questions about anything — and just ignore all these cameras who are here. (Laughter.) Pretend they’re not there. The only thing I would ask is introduce yourselves so that I get a chance to know you. Or if you haven’t met one of your neighbors, this is a good chance for you to do so.
Why don’t we start with this gentleman right here. And we’ve got some mics — the only reason — the main reason we’re using mics is so that these folks behind us can hear you. This gentleman right here.
Q Hi, President Obama. I hope I don’t pass out while I’m asking this question, so — my question is actually about health care. My brother is disabled. And he’s definitely what I would consider one of the working poor. He will not mature any more as far as mindset of a 12-year-old. Right now he works washing dishes at a local restaurant and, unfortunately, because the employer does not offer health care insurance, one whole check, which is two weeks’ worth of work, has to actually go towards him just paying for COBRA, which is obviously well out of his budget. But he has to, simply because of various illnesses that he suffers from.
My question is, unfortunately, I’m not able to sit down and read a 2,000-page bill or law that — with all the reform that happened with health care. With the present reforms that went into place, how will that help him? And if it doesn’t, then how will — I know that you’re not done with health care — how will your — the latest changes that you want to happen with health care, how will that help him?
And thank you for doing such a wonderful job.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Here’s how specifically health reform should help your brother. Number one, it gives an incentive to his employer to provide health insurance — because one of the key components of health care reform was providing employers a 35 percent tax break on the premiums they pay for their employees, all right? So basically it’s cutting his potential costs — the employer’s potential costs for providing your brother with health insurance, it’s cutting it by a third. That’s step number one.
And there are going to be companies out there that say, you know what, we want to provide health insurance, but we just couldn’t afford to do it, but now that it’s costing us up to a third less, saving us thousands of dollars, maybe we should go ahead and provide coverage for that. Okay, so that is step number one.
Step number two is if the employer still doesn’t provide coverage, over the next couple of years your brother is going to be able to join a pool — what we’re calling an exchange — where he can basically buy the same kind of insurance that these members of Congress are buying. And the advantage that he’s going to have is that now he’s part of a pool of millions of people who are buying it all at the same time, which means they’ve got leverage. The same way big companies are able to lower their costs per employee because the insurance company really wants their business, well, now your brother could be part of the same pool that these guys are and that’s going to give leverage, which will lower his rates.
And the final part of it is, if even with these lower rates, this better deal, he still can’t afford it, then we’re going to provide some subsidies to help him. So all those things combined should help make sure that your brother is getting health insurance.
Now, one of the things that I think people may not be aware of is that although this exchange isn’t going to be set up until 2014 — because it takes a while, we’ve got to set it up right — there’s some immediate things that are helping right now. If your child has a preexisting condition, insurance companies, starting this year, will not be able to deny those children coverage. And that’s a big deal for a lot of folks whose children may have diabetes or some other illness and right now can’t get insurance. Insurance companies are going to have to provide them insurance. That’s number one.
Number two, how many people here have kids who are college-age, about to go to college? All right. Well, one of the things you’re going to be able to do is when those kids get out of college, if they don’t get insurance right away, they’re going to be able to stay on your insurance until they’re 26 years old. That’s a big deal because a lot of times that first job or those first couple of jobs out of college are the ones that don’t provide health insurance.
So there are a number of changes that are being made right now that will make those of you who have health insurance more secure with the insurance they have. We’re eliminating lifetime limits. There’s a bunch of fine print on the insurance forms that sometimes have ended up creating real problems for people. Your insurance company decides to drop you right when you get sick, just when you need it most. Those kinds of practices are over now.
And the final aspect of health reform that’s important is, is that by changing the incentives for how doctors get paid under Medicare and under Medicaid, we’re actually encouraging doctors to become more efficient so that over time health care costs actually start leveling out a little bit instead of skyrocketing each and every year. Because everybody here who’s got health insurance, what’s been happening? Your premiums have been going up; co-payments, deductibles, all that stuff has been going up. So we’ve got to actually try to control the costs of it, and part of it is just a matter of making sure that we get a better bang for our health care dollar.
So, for example, when you go to a doctor, we’re still filling out forms in triplicate on paper. It’s the only business there is where you still have a whole bunch of paperwork. And what we’re trying to do is to encourage information technologies so that when you go into a doctor, they can already pull down your medical records electronically. If you take a test, then it’s sent to all the specialists who are involved so you don’t end up having to take four or five tests, and pay for four or five tests, when all you needed was just one.
Those are the kinds of things that will take a little bit longer to actually take into effect, but hopefully over time they’re actually going to lower cost.
All right. I’m going to go boy, girl here to make sure it’s fair. (Laughter.) Right here. Absolutely.
Q Mr. President, I’m concerned about the furor lately that’s been — it’s similar to what’s happened in the past but it’s reemerging, mostly from the Republican Party, but some Democrats — that Social Security needs to be privatized because it’s losing money, and we’re all going to — and it’s going to go broke, and that sort of thing. How would you comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT: I have been adamant in saying that Social Security should not be privatized and it will not be privatized as long as I’m President. (Applause.) And here’s the reason. I was opposed to it before the financial crisis. And what I said was the purpose of Social Security is to have that floor, that solid — rock-solid security, so that no matter what else happens you’ve always got some income to support you in your retirement. And I’ve got no problem with people investing in their 401(k)s, and we want to encourage people to invest in private savings accounts. But Social Security has to be separate from that.
Now, imagine if Social Security, if a portion of that had been in the stock market back in 2006 and 2007. I mean, you saw what happened with your 401(k)s — you lost 20, 30, 40 percent of it. Now, we’ve recovered — in part because of the policies that we put into place to stabilize the situation, the stock market has recovered 60-70 percent of its value from its peak. But if you were really in need last year or the year before, and suddenly you see your assets drop by 40 percent, and that’s all you’re relying on, it would have been a disaster.
So here’s the thing. Social Security is not in crisis. What is happening is, is that the population is getting older, which means we’ve got more retirees per worker than we used to. We’re going to have to make some modest adjustments in order to strengthen it. There are some fairly modest changes that could be made without resorting to any newfangled schemes that would continue Social Security for another 75 years, where everybody would get the benefits that they deserve. And what we’ve done is we’ve created a fiscal commission of Democrats and Republicans to come up with what would be the best combination to help stabilize Social Security for not just this generation, but the next generation.
I’m absolutely convinced it can be done. And as I said, I want to encourage people to save more on their own, but I don’t want them taking money out of Social Security so that people are putting that into the stock market. There are other ways of doing this.
For example, it turns out that if you set up a system with your employer where the employer automatically deducts some of your paycheck and puts it into your 401(k) account, unless you say you don’t want it done, it turns out people save more just naturally. I mean, it’s just kind of a psychological thing. If they take it out of your paycheck, and they automatically take it out, unless you affirmatively say, don’t take it out, you’ll save more than if they ask you, do you want to save, and then you say, nah, I’m going to keep the money. And then you save less.
So that’s just a small change. It’s voluntary, but that in and of itself could end up boosting savings rates significantly. So there are a bunch of ways that we can do — make sure that retirement is more secure. But we’ve got to make sure that Social Security is there not just for this generation but for the next one. Okay?
All right, gentleman’s turn. And by the way, I know that some folks may be hot, and if they are, you guys can always move into the shade.
Q Mr. President, sir, I was born and raised in a good blue-collar town in Toledo, Ohio. I grew up in a union family and I work now for a significant number of pension assets in the labor union market with an investment firm. I think the question I have that most bothers me is what’s important to my people out there that I talk to, and those two things are, the first, what’s going to happen with their pensions, especially those, as you know, in the red and the yellow. The PPA has not exactly been that favorable to them. And the PBGC is not a very good option. My father had to take early retirement. He’s not receiving the maximum amount after decades of hard work and service that he had anticipated.
The second part is I’m not naïve enough to think that just the pensions alone can help save workers. We’ve got 9.5 percent unemployment in this country, at least at last release, and I’m sure as you know, that’s even more — it’s larger than that for the manufacturing industry and us in the Rust Belt — Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland. Obviously we need to put those guys back to work; they need to have man-hours out there. How can we create a sustainable, competitive product at an advantage to make us another leader in the manufacturing and labor force industry going forward, not just to get them back to work for a year or two, sir, but to get to work for the long term so they can grow the market on their own with their own product and their own work?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, this is a great question and it goes to the heart of what our economic strategy has to be. And Senator Brown and Congresswoman Kilroy and others, I know this is their number one concern each and every day. And certainly this is your governor’s number one concern each and every day, is how do we make sure that we’re creating a competitive America in which we aren’t just buying things from other countries, we’re selling things to other countries, and we’re making things here in the United States of America.
Let me give you a couple of examples of areas that I think have enormous promise. Number one is the whole clean energy industry — and Toledo actually is becoming a leader in this, creating good jobs, in areas like solar — building solar panels, wind turbines, advanced battery manufacturing. There is a whole series of huge potential manufacturing industries in which we end up being world leaders and, as a bonus, end up creating a more energy-efficient economy that is also good for the environment.
Now, we made, at the beginning of my term, the largest investment in clean energy in our history. And so there are plants that are opening up all across the country, creating products made in America that are now being shipped overseas. I’ll give you one example, and that’s the advanced battery manufacturing industry. These are the batteries that go into electric cars, or the batteries that are ending up helping to make sure that if you get solar power or wind power, that it can be transmitted in an efficient way.
We have 2 percent of the entire market — 2 percent. By 2015, in five years, we’re going to have 40 percent of that market because of the investments that we made. So one of the advanced battery manufacturing plants that we helped get going with some key loans and support and tax breaks, they’re now putting those batteries into the Chevy Volt. And you combine it then with an entire new U.S. auto industry that is cleaner and smarter and has better designs and is making better products — those are potentially thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of manufacturing jobs. And the Midwest is really poised to get a lot of those jobs. In a town like Toledo where you’ve still got a lot of skilled workers, they are poised to be able to take off on that. But we’ve got to continue to support it.
The other area that I’ve already mentioned is infrastructure. We’ve got about $2 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements that need to be made all across the country — roads, bridges, sewer lines, water mains. It’s crumbling. The previous generation made all these investments that not only put people to work right away but also laid the foundation then for economic growth in the future.
And we used to always have the best infrastructure worldwide. Now, if it comes to rail, we certainly don’t have the best rail system in the world. Our roads in a lot of places aren’t the best. Our airports aren’t the best. Somebody is laughing — they just got — obviously, went through an airport. So we’ve got a lot of work to do on infrastructure. And this is an area where I hope we can get some bipartisan agreement.
It’s hard to get bipartisan agreement these days. But I think the notion that we can put people to work rebuilding America, investing in making stuff here in the United States that — by the way, every time you build a road, that’s not just putting people to work on the actual construction; all those supplies that go into road building, all those supplies that go into a bridge, all those supplies that go into rail, that’s creating a ripple effect all throughout the economy. So I think that’s a second area of great potential.
Last point you made was — had to do with pensions. Look, the truth be told, the way we were handling pensions both in private companies and among public employees, a lot of it wasn’t that different from some of the stuff that was going on in Wall Street, because what happened was — is that these pensions weren’t adequately funded. Some of these companies would underfund it, and then say, well, we’re going to get an 8 percent return or 10 percent return on our pension funds, to make it look like they were adequately funded when they weren’t. That contributed to pension funds chasing a lot of risky investments that promised these high returns that, in fact, were built on a house of cards. So you’re going to see a number of pensions in a number of companies that are under-funded.
Now, we’ve got a mechanism at the federal level that provides a certain percentage backup or guarantee for these pension funds if they fail. But we’re going to have to, I think, work with these private sector companies so that — right now, they’ve become very profitable. Companies are making money right now. We were talking earlier about the economy and how it’s moving slow. Well, corporate profits are doing just fine. They’re holding onto a whole bunch of cash — they’re kind of sitting on it, waiting to see if they can make more money and more opportunity, but they haven’t started hiring yet. One of the things they need to be doing with some of this cash is shoring up their pension funds that are currently under-funded.
It’s a girl’s turn. Yes, right there.
Q Mr. President, tied in with the jobs situation I think is the education system. And it seems to be in a crisis now, and people are not being educated to take these jobs that are going to be created. And I wondered what sort of plans you might have for that.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s a great question. Are you in education?
THE PRESIDENT: No?
Q I’m a nurse.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s important, too.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for the care you give to people all day long. I’m a big fan of nurses.
The thing that will probably most determine our success in the 21st century is going to be our education system. I’ll just give you a quick statistic. A generation ago, we ranked number one in the number of college graduates. We’ve now slipped to number 12 in the number of college graduates. That’s just in one generation. That is putting us at a huge competitive disadvantage. Because, look, companies these days, they can locate anywhere. You’ve got an Internet line, you can set your company up in India, you can set up your company in the Czech Republic — it doesn’t really matter where you are.
And so what that means is a lot of companies are going to look for where can they find the best workforce. And we have to make sure that that is in Columbus, Ohio. We’ve got to make sure that that’s in Toledo. We’ve got to make sure that that’s in the United States of America.
Now, we still have the best universities and the best colleges on Earth. But there are a couple of problems that have come up. First of all, our education starts at K-12. And we’re not doing a good enough job at the K-12 level making sure that all our kids are proficient in math, in science, in reading and writing.
And what we’ve done is we’ve set up something called the Race to the Top, where, although a lot of federal money still flows to schools just based on a formula and based on need, we’ve taken a certain amount of money and we’ve said, you know what, you’ve got to compete for this money. And you’ve got to show us that you’ve got a plan to improve the education system, to fix low-performing schools, to improve how you train teachers — because teachers are the single most important ingredient in the education system — to collect data to show that you’re improving how these kids are learning.
And what’s happened is, is that states all across the country have actually responded really well, and we’ve seen the majority of states change their laws to start doing this bottom-up, grassroots reform of the K-12 system. That’s critical. That’s number one.
The second thing that we’ve got to solve is that college became unaffordable for a lot of people. And Joe and Rhonda, we were just talking — we’re about the same age and we got married I think the same year. Our kids are about the same age. So we’ve kind of gone through the same stuff. And Michelle and I — I don’t know about you guys — we didn’t talk about this — but Michelle and I, we had a lot of debt when we finished school. It was really expensive. And neither of us came from wealthy families, so we just had to take out a bunch of student loans. It took us about 10 years to pay off our student loans. It was actually higher than our mortgage for most of the time.
And I don’t want that burden to be placed on kids right now. Because a lot of them, as a consequence, maybe they decide not to go to college, or, if they do, they end up getting off to a really tough start because their pay just is not going to support the amount of debt that they’ve got.
So here’s what we did. Working with Sherrod, working with Mary Jo, Democrats in Congress — this didn’t get a lot of attention, but we actually completely transformed how the government student loan program works. Originally what was happening was all those loans were going through banks and financial intermediaries. And even though the loans were guaranteed by the government so the banks weren’t taking any risks, they were skimming off billions of dollars in profits.
And we said, well, that doesn’t make any sense. If we’re guaranteeing it, why don’t we just give the loans directly to the students, and we’ll take all that extra billions of dollars that were going to the banks as profits, and we’ll give more loans. And as a consequence, what we’ve been able to do is to provide millions more students additional loans and make college more affordable over time. That’s the second thing.
Third thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to focus on community colleges, which are a wonderful asset. Not everybody is going to go to a four-year college. And even if you go to a four-year college, you may need to go back and retrain two years — for a year or two, even while you’re working, to keep up, keep pace with new technologies and new developments in your industry. So what we’ve really tried to do is to partner with community colleges, figure out how we can strengthen them, put more resources into them, and link them up to businesses who are actually hiring so that they’re training people for the jobs that exist, as opposed to the jobs that don’t.
One of the problems we’ve had for a lot of young people is they go to college, training for a job, thinking that their job — or thinking there’s a job out there, and actually the economy has moved on. And what we need to do is tailor people’s education so that they are linked up with businesses who say, we need this many engineers, or we need this kind of technical training, and we’ll help design what that training is — so that when that person goes to college and they’re taking out some of those loans to go to college, they know at the end of the road there’s actually going to be a job available to them.
Last thing — math, science, we’ve really got to emphasize those. That’s an area where we’ve really fallen far behind, and our technological competitiveness is going to depend on how well we do in math and science.
Okay. Yes, sir.
Q Mr. President, I am a proud firefighter for the great city of Columbus here in Ohio. (Applause.) Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Joe, did you use to play for Ohio State, man?
Q I must correct you. I was actually part of the National Championship team for Eastern Kentucky University.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, okay, all right.
Q For the national champion, no less. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there you go, okay. But you look like you could — we could put you on the line right now.
Q Oh, that’s what they all say. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Anyway.
Q But, Mr. President, I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things as it pertains to the safety and security of our firefighters. I want to share with you some good news as it pertains to the stimulus and the SAFER Act for which you championed and signed off on.
Locally and from the state standpoint, we had some firefighter jobs that were in jeopardy, up in the hundreds. The stimulus package — I know the state was strapped with its commitment and what it had to with those monies. Some of those areas we weren’t able to be supported in. But because of your administration signing off on the SAFER Act, which is staffing adequate fire and emergency response, you provided over $300 million last year and upped that to over $400 million this year — that had allowed for the jobs in Ohio to come back — the firefighters rather who had jobs to come back and get their jobs back.
In addition to that, the fire act has provided safer equipment for us. We — don’t want to sound cliché, but I’m just your average Joe. But what we do as firefighters, we want to make a significant difference to our citizens here in our community, as well as our lives. That SAFER Act and that fire act has provided us significant equipment — money, funding rather for significant equipment — face pieces, self-contained breathing apparatus, things of those nature. So we come to say how proud we are to be able to afford that opportunity to secure our firefighters.
The international president has sent a appreciative thank you and we would hope that you would find — I know your busy schedule — somewhere around this country — Cincinnati, Akron, Elyria, Niles — have brought back firefighters because of the SAFER Act. And if anywhere along your schedule you have the opportunity, as a symbolic gesture of support, to stop in to those stations, thank those firefighters, we would greatly appreciate that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. And as I said, you guys put your lives on the line each and every day. We wanted to make sure that public safety was not being threatened as a consequence of the recession. We’ve done that. We’ve helped to support not just firefighters but also police officers, teachers, other vital services. We’re going to continue to support you. And again, we’re very grateful for everything you do.
And if this is your lovely wife here, we’re grateful to her too because she’s got to — she’s got to put up with you — (laughter) — running off into fires and putting yourself in danger. And I’m sure that makes her a little bit stressed once in a while, but I’m sure she’s very proud of you.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Anybody else? Yes, go ahead. Here, we’ve got a microphone.
Q Hi, Mr. President. I was actually recently laid off of a position working at our local community college, helping dislocated workers get back and get retrained. But the position was funded on workforce investment dollars and the funding ended. As I look for a new position in social services, one of my concerns is I’m having trouble finding a position that pays enough so that I can pay my bills and also send my daughter to quality childcare. So I was wondering if there’s anything that’s been done to reduce childcare costs.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have a childcare credit in place. We’d like to make it stronger. This is one of those back-and-forths we’ve been having with the Republicans, because we actually think it is a good idea and they don’t. But I think that giving families support who have to work each and every day is absolutely critical.
Now, there’s some companies that are starting to get smart about providing childcare on site for their employees, which makes a huge difference. It’s a huge relief. But those are usually bigger companies. And some of the smaller companies or small businesses don’t have that capacity.
Bottom line is we just got to make sure that we’re providing you more support, primarily through a tax credit mechanism. This is something that we have incorporated in the past in our budget; we haven’t got everything that we’d like done on it. It will be something that we continue to try to work on a bipartisan basis to get the cost of childcare down. There’s another component of this, though, and that’s also boosting the quality of childcare.
Kids learn more from the age of zero to three than they do probably for the rest of their lives — and this goes to the earlier question about education. We want to get them off to a good start knowing their colors and their numbers and their letters and just knowing how to sit still. And a high quality childcare environment can help on that front. But that means that childcare workers, for example, have to be paid a decent wage and get decent training.
And we’ve been working — we set up actually a task force that is trying to lift up the best practices, who is really doing a great job in creating high quality health care — or childcare at an affordable rate, and then trying to teach other states and other cities and other communities how to replicate some of that great progress that’s been made. There are some terrific programs out there, but they’re still too far and few between.
All right, I’ve got time for two more questions. Yes, sir, right here.
Q I work for a company who is benefiting from some stimulus money here in Columbus. And it’s keeping me and my crews afloat for a while. But what we really need is a stronger housing market here in Columbus. We need to be building new roads and making houses affordable for people. They need to get out there buying. They need to be able to get the loans. And what’s up with that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, remember I told you that it’s going to take some time for this economy to come back. One of the reasons it’s going to take time for this economy to come back is the housing market is still a big drag on the economy as a whole. And the reason the housing market is still a big drag on the economy as a whole is we built a lot of homes over the previous five, seven, 10 years. Every year, about 1.4 million families are formed that are ready to buy a new house, or need some place to live.
And what happened over the previous four, five, seven years during this housing bubble was we were building 2 million homes a year when only 1.4 [million] were being absorbed. And then the bubble burst, and now we’re only building 400,000.
And all that inventory that happened during the housing bubble, it’s still out there. So some states are worse than others. You go to places like Nevada or Arizona or Florida, California, their inventory of unsold homes was so high that it is just going to take a whole bunch of years to absorb all that housing stock.
Now, what we can do is to help people who are currently in their homes stay in their homes. We can strengthen the economy overall so that that new family that just formed, they feel confident enough to say, you know what, it’s time, honey, for us to go out and take the plunge and start looking. And right now they’re kind of holding back, the way a lot of people are still holding back, because there’s uncertainty in the market. And we’ve initiated, through the Treasury Department, a number of programs like that to help support the housing market generally.
But I want to be honest with you. It is going to take some time for us to absorb this inventory that was just too high. And there’s no really quick way to do it, because we’re talking about a $5 trillion market. And we can’t plug that big hole in terms of all the housing that needs to be absorbed. We’re not going to be able subsidize all that over-capacity right now.
What we can do is just stabilize it and then improve the economy overall. What we’re going to do is get back to the point where we’re building 1.4 million homes a year, instead of 400,000 — and that’s a huge difference. So the industry is going to come back. The question is can we just nudge it a little bit more. And the most important thing we can do now is to improve the economy overall so that people start feeling a little more confidence.
All right? I’ve got time for one more? You’ve got a question? Here you can use mine.
Q Thank you. I’m the practice manager at an ophthalmology practice at the Eye Center of Columbus, downtown. It is a great facility that the city of Columbus helped us get in place. There are over 30 ophthalmologists providing specialty care in separate practices, a state-of-the-art ambulatory surgery center. We see tens of thousands of patients a year. And I think we do a very efficient job of providing quality care, over 300 people employed. So I’m kind of on both sides of health care.
And when I started working for this practice 25 years ago, we are now getting reimbursed one-third of what we got paid for — I’m just going to pick cataract surgery — yet our operating costs continue to go up. My boss is kind enough to provide health care costs entirely for all of his employees. How does he continue to do that when Medicare continues to reduce what they’re paying, and there’s the threat of more cuts coming and the private insurance companies follow suit?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a great question. And let me talk about Medicare generally. Medicare I think is one of the cornerstones of our social safety net. The basic idea is, you’ve been working all your life, you retire; just like you’ve got Social Security that you can count on, you’ve also got health care that you can count on and you’re not going to go bankrupt just because you get sick.
But in the same way that Social Security has to be tweaked because the population is getting older, we’ve got to refresh and renew Medicare to make sure that it’s going to be there for the next generation, as well. And the key problems are not just that more people as they retire are going to be part of Medicare. The big problem is just health care inflation generally. The costs of health care keep on skyrocketing.
Now, the way we’ve been dealing with it, which I think is the wrong way to deal with, is basically under-reimbursing our providers. The right way to deal with it is to work with the providers to figure out how can we make the system less wasteful, more efficient overall. And that way we’re paying — your boss, if he’s spending a dollar on care, he’s getting reimbursed a dollar. But we’re also making sure that the care he’s providing is exactly what the person needs, and high quality for a better price.
And that’s part of what health care reform was all about. I’ll just give you a couple examples. One of the things that we were doing in Medicare was we were giving tens of billions of dollars of subsidies to insurance companies under the Medicare Advantage plan, even though that plan wasn’t shown to make seniors any healthier than regular old Medicare.
So we said, all right, we’re not going to end Medicare Advantage, but we are going to have some competitive bidding and we’re going to force the insurance companies to show us, well, what exactly — what value are you adding? How are you helping to make these seniors healthier? And if you’re not helping, then you shouldn’t be getting paid. We should be giving that money to the doctor and the nurse and the other people who are actually providing care, not the insurance companies.
Well, there was a lot of hue and cry about this, but it was absolutely the right thing to do — because now we just found out — the actuaries for Medicare said the changes we’ve already made have extended the life of the Medicare trust fund for another 12 years — which is, by the way, the longest it’s ever been extended as a consequence of a reform effort.
So we’ve made Medicare stronger just with some of the changes that we’ve already made. But you’re absolutely right that we’re going to have to keep on making these changes to continue to make it stronger. And that will affect not just Medicare; it will affect the entire health care system.
Because there’s no doctor out there who doesn’t see Medicare as the $800 gorilla. If Medicare is saying you’ve got to improve your quality and efficiency, then they will because they’ve got a lot of Medicare patients. But they also have a lot of regular patients. So hospitals, doctors, everybody starts getting more efficient as Medicare gets more efficient. The key is making sure that we’re not just cutting benefits.
And, frankly, this is an argument that I have with my friends in the Republican Party sometimes. One big change that some of them have advocated is to voucherize the Medicare system. You basically — instead of once you have Medicare, you knowing that you can take that and go get care anywhere you want, we would just give you — all right, here is whatever it is, $6,000 or $7,000 or whatever. You go shop and figure out what kind of best deal you can get.
The problem is, is that if Medicare costs — if health care costs keep on going up but your voucher doesn’t keep on going up, you’re going to be in trouble. And suddenly, you’ve got seniors who find themselves way short of what they need in terms of providing care.
We’ve got to change how the health care system actually operates. And that means more prevention — more preventive care. It means better — that we reimburse people for checkups. It means we reimburse doctors when they’re consulting with people on things like smoking cessation and weight control and exercise.
There are a whole bunch of things that can make us healthier, reduce our costs overall. But unfortunately, the system doesn’t incentivize them right now. We need to change that.
Anybody have any last burning question? That was technically the last question. But this has to be like one that you’re just, man, I really need an answer for.
Q I’ve got a very general question.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, go ahead.
Q It’s a very general question, here. I work on Wall Street. I was wondering what kind of changes we can expect to see in the reform in the next couple years.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, here’s the essential components of Wall Street reform that we set up. Number one is that we got a — we had a system in which there was huge amounts of leverage that banks could take. And what leverage means is, if they got a dollar in deposits, they were making a $40 bet using that one dollar — which when times are good means you’re making a lot of money, right? You’re putting one dollar down of your own money, and you got $40, and when the market is going up, you’re making out like a bandit. But when the market goes down, when it starts de-leveraging, you’re in trouble. And that’s basically what happened with Lehman’s and a lot of these other companies.
So one thing that we’ve said is that we’ve got to have — for big firms that are what we call “systemic,” that if they go down, the whole system could go down with them — we’ve got to have a better check and say, you know what, you’ve got to control a little bit how you work in terms of leverage. You’ve got to have enough capital, actual money, to cover the bets that you’re placing so that you’re not putting the whole system at risk. That’s number one.
Number two, there’s a whole derivatives market out there, which, frankly, even the bankers don’t completely understand. But you’ve got trillions of dollars — and if you work on Wall Street you’re familiar obviously with the derivatives market. I mean, you’ve got trillions of dollars that are basically outside of the regulated banking system, and people didn’t know who’s making bets on what. And what we said was that derivatives market, it needs — it can continue, but it’s got to be in an open, transparent marketplace so that everybody knows who is betting on what.
And we’re very clear about who the various parties are in these complex derivatives transactions. That means the regulators can follow it a little more closely. That’s number two.
The third thing that we did is we made sure that we don’t have taxpayer bailouts again. So we’ve set up a system whereby if a big firm gets in trouble, we’re able to essentially quarantine it, separate it out from the rest of the pack, liquidate it without it spilling over into the system as a whole. That’s the third thing.
And the fourth thing is having a consumer financial protection agency that is really going to do a good job making sure that consumers know what they’re getting when it comes to financial products. I mean, when you buy a toaster, there has been some assurance provided that that toaster will not explode in your face — right? There are a whole bunch of laws in there, people have to do tests on the toasters to make sure that nothing happens. But if you buy a mortgage that explodes in your face because you didn’t know what was going on, everybody acts like, well, that’s your problem.
Well, no, it’s actually all of our problem, because part of the reason we had this financial crisis was because people did not always understand the financial instruments that they were purchasing. A lot of these subprime loans that were being given out, a lot of these no-interest — you can buy your house, you don’t put any money down, you don’t pay any interest, you got this beautiful house — and naturally people were thinking, well, this sounds great. But what they weren’t looking at was, okay, there’s a balloon payment five years down. This is only going to work if your housing — the value of your house keeps on appreciating. And if it stops appreciating, suddenly it’s not going to work anymore. People hadn’t thought through all those ramifications. And that had an effect on the whole system.
So what we’ve said is we’re going to have a strong consumer finance protection agency whose only job is to look after you when it comes to financial products. And Joe and Rhonda and I were just talking about how it was only seven, eight years ago when Michelle and I were trying to figure out our student loans, how were we going to invest for the kids’ college education. We had — at the end of the month, I’d be getting my credit card bills, and I’m a pretty smart guy, but you open up some of those credit card bills — you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t read all that fine print. You just look at the statement.
Well, as an example of the kinds of things that this new agency are going to be enforcing, we’ve already passed a law — thanks again to Mary Jo and Sherrod — we’ve already passed a law that says a credit card company can’t raise the interest rates on existing balances. So it can’t attract you with a zero percent interest, you run up a $3,000 balance, and then suddenly they send you your next statement and it says, oh, your interest went up to 29 percent. You can’t do that. I mean, they’ll still be able to say, we’re going to raise your interest rate to 29 percent, but that can only be the balances going forward. It can’t be on the money that you borrowed where you thought it was a zero percent.
Well, that’s an example of straightforward, honest dealing that we’re going to be expecting. We think the financial markets will still make money, the banks can still make money, but they got to make money the old-fashioned way, which is loan money to small businesses who are providing services to the community. Loan money to Joe for his architectural firm, and he’s going to make sure you pay him back. Loan people for mortgages, but make sure that you’ve done the due diligence so that you’re not tricking them into something they can’t afford. Make sure that it’s something that you can afford — right?
They’re just a bunch of basic, common-sense reforms that we’re putting in place that will allow the market to function. Because the free market is the best system ever devised for creating wealth, but there have got to be some rules in the road so that you’re making money not by gaming the system, but by providing a better product or a better service. All right?
Well, listen, I want to thank all of you for spending the time. I know it got a little warm, and you guys just hung in there like troopers. I want to make sure that I thank, once again, Ted Strickland, Sherrod Brown, Mayor Michael Coleman, your lieutenant governor, and I believe the next United States senator, Lee Fisher, and Mary Jo Kilroy for being here. And obviously, I want to thank Joe and Rhonda Weithman and the whole Weithman family for sharing their backyard.
And we’re going to have to make sure that we’re helping their lawn here. It got trampled on a little bit. I hope you guys are not stepping in the corn. (Laughter.) Michelle, by the way, would be very proud to see that you’ve got the vegetable garden working. All right? Give them a big round of applause, everybody. (Applause.)
Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
Oh, and by the way, I just want you to know that the Weithmans made me the “O” in O-h-i-o. It’s on tape. It’s on tape somewhere. (Applause.)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AFTER ROUNDTABLE WITH LOCAL BUSINESS LEADERS
Grand Central Bakery
12:20 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: All right. Hello, everybody. I just sat down here at Grand Central Bakery with the Secretary of Commerce and the former governor of this great state, Gary Locke; the wonderful senior senator from the great state of Washington, Patty Murray; as well as these three terrific small business owners for a good discussion about the challenges that our small businesses face in this very tough economy.
And I have to say before we start, I also had a sandwich, a turkey sandwich here that was outstanding. So if you guys need to eat before we leave, try it out.
Gillian Allen-White and the founders of this bakery like to say that they built this business just like they bake everything –- from scratch. What began as a little sandwich shop right here in this building nearly 40 years ago is today eight cafés in Seattle and Portland that employ 250 people, and they are going to open their ninth café on Friday, which we’re very excited about.
Tiffany Turner and her husband Brady gave up their careers in teaching and insurance to open their own inn on the coast. And despite the recession, business has been good. They’re even looking to expand and hire new employees. For a time, their community bank couldn’t give them the loan they needed to grow, but recently that changed. In fact, many banks like theirs have begun to open the flow of credit to small businesses for the first time in four years, and that’s good news.
Joe — I’m going to make sure I get this right — Fugere –
MR. FUGERE: Fugere.
THE PRESIDENT: Fugere — see, I thought I had it right — put everything on the line -– his savings, his 401(k), even a second mortgage -– to open his first pizzeria. With a little hard work, it succeeded. And he opened two more. After the crisis hit, he sought a loan to open a fourth because business was good. But at bank after bank, Joe heard “no.” The same big banks whose reckless actions nearly brought down the economy told Joe that loaning money to a restaurant -– even one as successful as his -– was “too risky.” Finally, a community bank invested in Joe, and his fourth restaurant has been his most successful opening yet. And recently, an SBA loan under the Recovery Act helped him to improve his cash flow.
Stories like this are at the core of the American experience. This has always been a country where anyone with a good idea and the guts to see it through can succeed. It’s what gives a worker the courage to leave her job to become her own boss, or somebody with a dream to risk it all on a great idea. But these are tough times for a lot of small business owners. The financial crisis has made it particularly difficult for them to get the loans they need to grow. The recession has meant that folks are spending less. And across the country, many small businesses that were once the beating heart of the community are now empty storefronts haunting our main streets.
So we’ve all got a stake in helping our small businesses succeed. And because small businesses create two out of every three new jobs in this country, our economic recovery depends on it.
And that’s why, when I took office, we put in place an economic plan to help small businesses. And Patty Murray was there every step of the way in us putting forward these initiatives. At its heart was a simple idea: While government can’t guarantee their success, government can knock down the barriers that stand in the way and help create the conditions to help small businesses grow and to hire.
And that’s why we’ve passed eight tax cuts for America’s small businesses. Tax cuts for hiring unemployed workers. Tax cuts for investing in new equipment. As part of health insurance reform, 4 million small business owners recently received a postcard in their mailboxes telling them that they could be eligible for a health care tax credit worth perhaps tens of thousands of dollars. And I know that Tiffany and her husband are looking now about the possibility, because of these incentives, to be able to maybe provide health insurance to their workers. Under the Recovery Act, we supported nearly 700 — nearly 70,000 new loans to small businesses like Joe’s, and we waived fees on new SBA loans so people like Joe save money — up to $20,000 with the SBA arrangement that Joe had.
These steps and others are making some difference. But when you listen to these three business owners and you talk to small business owners across the country, it’s clear that we’ve got to do more. And that’s why I’m urging the Senate once again to approve a jobs bill that will do two big things for small businesses: cut more taxes and make available more loans. That’s what folks like the three people standing behind me say would be helpful. That’s what I’ve heard from small business owners across America.
Joe and Tiffany could tell you firsthand just how critical community banks are to helping small businesses grow and create jobs. Well, this bill will help those banks access more capital so they can offer more small businesses the loans that they need. It will make sure we continue to waive some of the fees for SBA-backed loans. It will increase deductions small businesses can take for new equipment and other expenses. And it will finally do what I’ve championed since I ran for President, and that’s eliminate capital gains taxes on investments in small businesses.
The bottom line is this: America’s small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of our communities. The folks who own them work hard, meet their responsibilities — as Gillian pointed out, nobody here is getting too fat and happy; everybody here is operating on very lean margins, and they are constantly thinking about their employees and their obligations and responsibilities to them. So in the same way that they’re looking out for their employees, we need to be looking out for these small businesses. They are who this bill is for. They will see the positive benefits right away.
Now, unfortunately, a partisan minority in the Senate has been standing in the way of giving our small businesspeople a simple up-or-down vote on this bill. They won’t even let it go to vote. And every day this obstruction goes on is another day a small business somewhere in the country can’t get a loan or can’t get the tax cuts that it needs to grow and to hire.
I think Patty would agree with me when I say there will be plenty of time between now and November to play politics, but the small business owners beside me and around the country don’t have time for political games. They’re not interested in what’s best for a political party. They’re interested in what’s best for their employees and their communities and for the country.
So when Congress reconvenes, this jobs bill will be the first business out of the gate, and I ask Senate Republicans to drop their efforts to block it. I believe we can work together to get this done for the folks standing beside me, and for small businesses, their employees, and communities that depend on them all across the country.
Thank you very much, everybody.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON CLEAN ENERGY MANUFACTURING
ZBB Corporation Manufacturing Facility
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
11:08 A.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Everybody, please have a seat. Thank you very much. It is wonderful to be at ZBB Energy. And thanks for your hospitality, and thanks for helping to build a future.
I’ve got a couple of people I want to acknowledge. First of all, your wonderful Governor and First Lady, Jim and Jessica Doyle are here. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) We’ve got somebody who is fighting on behalf of Wisconsin families each and every day — Russ Feingold, your wonderful U.S. senator. (Applause.) A great friend and somebody who has been really doing great work over her first couple of years in Congress — Congresswoman Gwen Moore. Please give her a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And thank you, Eric, for the wonderful tour that you provided to us. Please give Eric Apfelbach a big round of applause — CEO of ZBB. (Applause.)
It is great to be here. I just had a chance to see some of the batteries that you’re manufacturing and talk to a few of the men and women who are building them. And the reason I’m here today is because at this plant you’re doing more than just making high-tech batteries. You’re pointing the country towards a brighter economic future.
Now, that’s not easy. We’ve been through a terrible recession -– the worst that we’ve seen since the Great Depression. And this recession was the culmination of a decade that fell like a sledgehammer on middle-class families. For the better part of 10 years, people were seeing stagnant incomes and sluggish growth and skyrocketing health care costs and skyrocketing tuition bills, and people were feeling less secure economically.
And few parts of the economy were hit harder than manufacturing. Over the last 10 years, the number of people working in manufacturing shrank by a third. And that left millions of skilled, hardworking Americans sitting idle, just like the plants were sitting idle. That was before the recession hit. Obviously once the recession took hold, millions more were struggling in ways that they never imagined. And there’s nobody here who hasn’t been touched in some way by this recession. And certainly a state like Wisconsin or my home state of Illinois can tell a lot of stories about how badly hit manufacturing was, particularly in the Midwest.
Now, there’s some who suggest this decline is inevitable. But I don’t see it that way -– and I know neither do you. Yes, times are tough. But we’ve been through tough times before. And we’ve made it through because we are resilient — Americans are resilient. We don’t give in to pessimism; we don’t give in to cynicism. We fight for our future. We work to shape our own destiny as a country.
And that’s what we’ve been trying to do since I took office. We’ve been fighting on all fronts -– inch by inch, foot by foot, mile by mile -– to get this country moving forward again, and going after every single job we can create right here in the United States of America.
So we’re investing in 21st century infrastructure — roads and bridges, faster Internet access, high-speed railroads — projects that will lead to hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs, but will also lay the groundwork so that our kids and our grandkids can keep prospering.
We’ve cut taxes for small businesses that hire unemployed workers. In fact, I’ve signed seven other small business tax cuts so that entrepreneurs can help expand and buy new equipment and add more employees. We’ve taken emergency steps to prevent layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers, and other critical public servants in our communities. And I think that Governor Doyle will testify that we have made progress in part because everybody has pulled together. There was a great danger of even greater layoffs all across this state for vital services that would affect our kids and our families. These folks would have otherwise lost their jobs because of state and local budget cuts.
And at the same time what we’ve been trying to do — and that’s why I’m here at ZBB — is to jumpstart a homegrown, clean energy industry –- building on the good work of your governor and others in this state. That’s why I’m here today. Because of the steps we’ve taken to strengthen the economy, ZBB received a loan that’s helping to fund an expansion of your operations. Already, it’s allowed ZBB to retain nearly a dozen workers. And over time, the company expects to hire about 80 new workers. This is leading to new business for your suppliers, including MGS Plastics and other manufacturer here in Wisconsin.
And ZBB is also planning to take advantage of a special tax credit to build another factory in southeastern Wisconsin, so we can create even more jobs and more opportunity. And Eric is confident that you can expand because you’re seeing rising demand for advanced batteries. And all this is part of steps we’ve taken in clean energy -– steps that have led to jobs manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels, building hybrid and electric vehicles, modernizing our electric grid so that we have more sources of renewable energy but we can also use it more effectively.
We expect our commitment to clean energy to lead to more than 800,000 jobs by 2012. And that’s not just creating work in the short term, that’s going to help lay the foundation for lasting economic growth. I just want everybody to understand –just a few years ago, American businesses could only make 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles — 2 percent. In just a few years, we’ll have up to 40 percent of the world’s capacity.
Here at ZBB, you’re building batteries to store electricity from solar cells and wind turbines. And you’ve been able to export batteries around the globe, and that’s helping lead this new industry. For years, we’ve heard about manufacturing jobs disappearing overseas. Well, companies like this are showing us how manufacturing can come back right here in the United States of America, right back here to Wisconsin. (Applause.)
Now, obviously, we’ve got a lot more work to do. The damage that was done by this recession was enormous. Eight million people lost their job; 750,000 lost jobs the month I was sworn into office; 3 million had lost their jobs by the time we took office, and several more million in those first few months of 2009. So too many of our family members and our friends and our neighbors are still having a tough time finding work. And some of them have been out of work a long time.
And I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, my administration will not rest till every American who is willing to work can find a job, and a job that pays decent wages and decent benefits to support a family.
But what’s clear is that we’re headed in the right direction. A year and a half ago, this economy was shrinking rapidly. The economy is now growing. A year and a half ago, we were losing jobs every month in the private sector. We’ve now added private sector jobs for seven months in a row. And that means the worst mistake we could make is to go back to doing what we were doing that got us into the mess that we were in. We can’t turn back. We’ve got to keep going forward. We’ve got to keep going forward. (Applause.)
Now, I’ll be honest with you, there’s going to be a big debate about where we go. There are folks in Washington right now who think we should abandon our efforts to support clean energy. They’ve made the political calculation that it’s better to stand on the sidelines than work as a team to help American businesses and American workers.
So they said no to the small business tax cuts I talked about. They said no to rebuilding infrastructure. And they said no to clean energy projects. They even voted against getting rid of tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas so we could give those tax breaks to companies that are investing right here in Wisconsin.
And my answer to people who have playing politics the past year and a half is, they should come to this plant. They should go to any of the dozen new battery factories, or the new electrical vehicle manufacturers, or the new wind turbine makers, or the solar plants that are popping up all over this country, and they should have to explain why they think these clean energy jobs are better off being made in Germany or China or Spain, instead of right here in the United States.
See, when folks lift up the hoods on the cars of the future, I want them to see engines stamped “Made in America.” When new batteries to store solar power come off the line, I want to see printed on the side, “Made in America.” When new technologies are developed and new industries are formed, I want them made right here in America. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s what this is about. (Applause.)
So, ZBB, you’re part of that process. You guys are at the cutting edge. You’re how we’re going to strengthen this economy.
These have been a couple of very hard years for America. And we’re not completely out of the woods yet. There are going to be some more tough days ahead. It would be a mistake to pretend otherwise. But we are headed in the right direction. You’re pointing us in the right direction. And I am confident about our future, because of what I have seen at this plant and what I see when I talk to workers like all of you, what I have seen all across this country. When the chips are down, it’s always a mistake to bet against the American worker. It’s a mistake to bet against American businesses. It’s a mistake to bet against the American people.
This is the home to the most skilled, hardworking people on Earth. There’s nothing we cannot achieve when we set our minds to it. All we’ve got to do is harness the potential that’s always been central to our success. That’s not just how we’re going to come through the storms we’ve been in recently. That’s how we’re going to emerge even stronger than before.
So I want to say thank you to Eric. I want to thank ZBB for hosting us. More importantly, I want to thank all of you for setting a model for how we’re going to create the kind of lasting economy that’s going to be good not just for this generation, but for the next generation.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. Thank you. (Applause.)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON GULF COAST RECOVERY
U.S. Coast Guard Panama City District Office
Panama City, Florida
12:00 P.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. It is a privilege to be here in Panama City Beach with the men and women of the United States Coast Guard. I wanted to come here personally and express my gratitude to you for the effort that you’ve waged in response to the BP oil spill. And I know Michelle wanted to do the same, so we’re looking forward to having a chance to shake hands with you and thank you personally for this great work that you’ve been doing day in, day out.
Michelle, just last month, was down in Mississippi, where she met folks from the Coast Guard about the spill, and she had the chance to christen the new cutter — the Stratton.
The Coast Guard was the first on the scene, immediately launching a search-and-rescue operation for the missing. And you were the first to recognize that we were potentially looking at a massive spill even before the rig collapsed and the oil began to leak from the seafloor. And a day and a half later, in a meeting with Thad Allen and others, I instructed the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies to treat this response as their number-one priority. And that’s exactly what all of you have done.
Under the leadership of Admiral Allen, the Coast Guard, along with other federal agencies and state and local governments, has directed the largest response to an environmental disaster in American history. The response has included more than 7,000 vessels, and more than 47,000 people on the ground. And I know that two cutters — the Aspen and the Juniper — are here in port this week, after tours skimming and performing other recovery work. As I said before, many of the folks here have toiled day and night, spending weeks, even months, away from their families to stop the leak, remove the oil, and protect waters and coastline. So I want to thank all those who continue to participate in this effort.
I also want to make mention and thank Dr. Stephen Chu and our team of scientists assembled from across federal agencies, around the country and all over the world, who have been working nonstop to kill the well once and for all. This has not only been the biggest oil spill in our history; it’s also been the most technologically complex. It pushed the boundaries of our scientific know-how, as engineers wrestled with a massive and unpredictable leak — and faced setbacks, faced complications, all in pitch-black waters nearly a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf.
Well, today the well is capped. Oil is no longer flowing into the Gulf. It has not been flowing for a month. And I’m here to tell you that our job is not finished and we are not going anywhere until it is. That’s the message that I wanted to come here and deliver directly to the people along the Gulf Coast — because it’s the men and women of this region who have felt the burden of this disaster. They watched with anger and dismay as their livelihoods and their way of life was threatened these past few months. And that’s why I made a commitment in my visits here that I was going to stand with you not just until the well was closed, not just until the oil was cleaned up, but until you had fully recovered from the damage that’s been done. And that is a commitment that my administration is going to keep.
That’s also why my Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, is here. A former governor of Mississippi, a son of the Gulf, he has been traveling all across this region, gathering up information and data to make sure that we are following through on our commitments for rebuilding.
And I reiterated this just now when I met with a few small business owners from the Panama City area, along with Governor Charlie Crist and not only the mayors of this region, but also some of the business owners who are affected — folks like Captain Gary Jarvis, a charter boat operator from Destin. Gary started fishing as a deckhand back in 1978, and he’s been captain for the past three decades, making his living on the water. He’s lost fully half of his business because of the spill, though he’s been able to use his boat as a vessel of opportunity in the past few months. And he’s extraordinarily knowledgeable about these waters, being both a charter fisherman and a commercial fisherman. And he had some terrific suggestions about how, working with scientists from NOAA and other federal agencies, we can do even more to make sure that we are monitoring and maintaining and improving the fishing off the coast of Florida and across the Gulf.
I also had a chance to speak to Lee Ann Leonard, general manager of By the Sea Resorts. She’s seen a big decline in tourism. June wasn’t too bad, but July was tough. And she’s now hoping that August, September and October can help them rebound from what have been significant losses.
I met with Carolyn Holman, who’s got two commercial fishing boats and owns the Captain’s Table Fish House in Panama City Beach with her husband. And I appreciated the chance to sit down with them to hear firsthand what they’ve been going through and to make clear that we’re going to keep standing by them. Part of the concern that Carolyn expressed was the issue of seafood and our testing and making sure that it’s safe. And we are all over that and monitoring that carefully each and every day, hopefully continuing to deliver good news as the days go on. And I mentioned to her that we already had some seafood in the White House. When the New Orleans Saints came up, we had a couple of po’boys. So right now we’re feeling pretty good.
I also want to recognize that Mayor Gayle Oberst and Mayor Scott Clemons had some terrific suggestions about how we might help to diversify the economies down here so that they’re in a better position to — if we ever had a crisis again — manage it, but more importantly, to provide more jobs and opportunity in this extraordinary and beautiful region.
Now, I want to go over a couple steps that we are going to be focused on over the next several weeks. First and foremost, we’re going to continue to monitor and remove any oil that reaches the surface and clean up any oil that hits the shore. As I mentioned, Gary has been offering up his ship as a vessel of opportunity and he confirms what you’ve been seeing in the news reports, which is there aren’t a lot of patches out there that are visible right now. But we’ve got to constantly anticipate that at any given time you might see a patch of oil that starts coming in, and we’ve got to be able to capture that before it hits these beautiful beaches around here.
As a result of the massive cleanup operation that’s already taken place, a recent report by our top scientists found that the majority of oil has now evaporated or dispersed, or it’s been burned, skimmed, or recovered from the wellhead. And the dispersed oil is in the process of degrading. But I will not be satisfied until the environment has been restored, no matter how long it takes.
I also want to point out that as a result of the cleanup effort, beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean, they are safe, and they are open for business. That’s one of the reasons Michelle, Sasha, and I are here. The Governor and the mayors and others invited us down to enjoy the beach and the water — to let our fellow Americans know that they should come on down here. It is spectacular. Not just to support the region; come down here because it’s just a beautiful place to visit.
Next we’re going to continue testing fisheries and we’ll be reopening more areas for fishing as tests show that the waters are safe. Already, more than 26,000 square miles were reopened at the end of July, and another 5,000 were reopened earlier this week. I know this takes some time, and it’s been incredibly hard on the people who earn their living on the water. Carolyn’s boats, for example, have had to find different areas to fish that are further away and require more fuel, so she’s been having to make some decisions, maybe I don’t send out my boat this time out. But their livelihoods, not to mention the health of the people across this country, obviously depends on making sure that folks can trust the seafood coming from the Gulf, trust that it’s safe, as it always has been.
And as I told Carolyn, we’ve already been enjoying Gulf seafood, but we are going to keep on monitoring this to make sure that everybody’s favorite seafood from the Gulf and favorite recipes are going to be treated — are going to be just fine.
The third thing we’re focused on is claims. When I came down to the Gulf previously, I heard a lot of frustration about the way BP was handling claims. So in June I met with BP’s executives, and in that meeting they agreed to put aside $20 billion in a special fund to pay damages. It’s being run by an independent overseer so that people can trust that they’ll get a fair shake. Now we need to make sure claims are processed quickly, because many who have lost their only source of income, they don’t have a lot of leeway; they don’t have months to wait to be compensated. The folks we just met with — Lee Ann, Gary, Carolyn — they’ve all got outstanding claims. So I want to be clear about this. Any delay by BP or those managing the new funds are unacceptable. And I will keep pushing to get these claims expedited.
Finally, I have charged, as I mentioned earlier, Ray Mabus to develop a long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan as soon as possible. That plan needs to come from the people in the Gulf, which is why he’s been meeting with folks from across the region to develop this plan of action. That’s how we can ensure that we do everything in our power to restore the environment and reverse the economic damage caused by the spill.
So, with the closure of the well we mark an important milestone. But this is not the end of the journey. And in completing the work ahead I’m reminded of what I heard when I was in Louisiana back in June. I spent time with folks on Grand Isle, meeting with fishermen and small business owners, and the town’s mayor, David Camardelle. And he told me what his friends and neighbors were going through. He talked about how hard things had been. But he also explained the way folks rallied to support one another, and said, the people in this community may not have a lot of money, but that didn’t matter. “We help each other,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
That’s what folks do for one another in the Gulf. That’s what the Coast Guard has been doing for folks in need. That’s what we do as Americans. And my job is to make sure that we live up to this responsibility, that we keep up our efforts until the environment is clean, polluters are held accountable, businesses and communities are made whole, and the people of the Gulf Coast are back on their feet.
So to the men and women of the Coast Guard, thank you again for your extraordinary service. To the people here in the Gulf, we are going to be standing by your side. And to Americans all across the country, come on down and visit.
Statement by NSC Spokesman Mike Hammer on National Elections in Rwanda
We congratulate the people of Rwanda on their national election on August 9. We note reports from the National Electoral Commission that official results have been tallied and President Paul Kagame won reelection with roughly 93% of the vote.
We remain concerned, however, about a series of disturbing events prior to the election, including the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists.
Democracy is about more than holding elections. A democracy reflects the will of the people, where minority voices are heard and respected, where opposition candidates run on the issues without threat or intimidation, where freedom of expression and freedom of the press are protected.
No one should underestimate the enormous challenges born of the genocide in 1994. Rwanda’s progress in the face of these challenges has been remarkable, and is a testament to the people of Rwanda. Rwanda’s stability and growing prosperity, however, will be difficult to sustain in the absence of broad political debate and open political participation.
We have expressed our concerns to the Government of Rwanda, and we hope the leadership will take steps toward more democratic governance, increased respect for minority and opposition views, and continued peace.
We recognize the responsibility of the electoral commission to handle any election complaints fairly and promptly and we look forward to their resolution.
Remarks By President Obama At Iftar Dinner: ” I Believe That Muslims Have The Same Right To Practice Their Religion As Everyone Else In This Country”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT IFTAR DINNER
State Dining Room
8:37 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Please, have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem.
I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison. So welcome, all of you.
Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and seders and Diwali celebrations. And these events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.
These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the Virginia Act of Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since.
Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose -– including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious -– a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere around the globe.
Now, that’s not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.
But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. (Applause.) And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -– from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -– and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
So that’s who we’re fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms -– it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us –- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.
In my inaugural address I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus —- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And that diversity can bring difficult debates. This is not unique to our time. Past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be -– and will be -– today.
And tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan —- making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. (Applause.)
Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories. They helped lay the railroads. They helped to build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America —- still in use today —- is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities —- including mosques in all 50 states —- also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.
These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend on, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected -– our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability slowly but surely to perfect our union.
For in the end, we remain “one nation, under God, indivisible.” And we can only achieve “liberty and justice for all” if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam —- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
So thank you all for being here. I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let us eat. (Applause.)
WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Promises to Protect Social Security from Republican Plans to Privatize It
WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Promises to Protect Social Security from Republican Plans to Privatize It
WASHINGTON – On the 75th anniversary of Social Security being signed into law, President Obama promised that he would protect it from the Republican leaders in Congress who have made privatization a key part of their agenda. Despite the financial crisis, they still believe that gambling Social Security on Wall Street is a good idea. This President will not let that happen. For several generations, Social Security has been a promise to America’s seniors – that they will have the chance to retire with dignity – and he will safeguard that promise.
The audio and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 am ET, Saturday, August 14, 2010.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
August 14, 2010
Seventy-five years ago today, in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, laying a cornerstone in the foundation of America’s middle class, and assuring generations of America’s seniors that after a lifetime of hard work, they’d have a chance to retire with dignity. We have an obligation to keep that promise; to safeguard Social Security for our seniors, people with disabilities, and all Americans – today, tomorrow, and forever.
Now, we’ve been talking for a long time about how to do that; about how to make sure Social Security is healthy enough to cover the higher costs that are kicking in now that baby boomers are retiring. And I’m committed to working with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who wants to strengthen Social Security. I’m also encouraged by the reports of serious bipartisan work being done on this and other issues in the fiscal commission that I set up several months ago.
One thing we can’t afford to do though is privatize Social Security – an ill-conceived idea that would add trillions of dollars to our budget deficit while tying your benefits to the whims of Wall Street traders and the ups and downs of the stock market.
A few years ago, we had a debate about privatizing Social Security. And I’d have thought that debate would’ve been put to rest once and for all by the financial crisis we’ve just experienced. I’d have thought, after being reminded how quickly the stock market can tumble, after seeing the wealth people worked a lifetime to earn wiped out in a matter of days, that no one would want to place bets with Social Security on Wall Street; that everyone would understand why we need to be prudent about investing the retirement money of tens of millions of Americans.
But some Republican leaders in Congress don’t seem to have learned any lessons from the past few years. They’re pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall. It’s right up there on their to-do list with repealing some of the Medicare benefits and reforms that are adding at least a dozen years to the fiscal health of Medicare – the single longest extension in history.
That agenda is wrong for seniors, it’s wrong for America, and I won’t let it happen. Not while I’m President. I’ll fight with everything I’ve got to stop those who would gamble your Social Security on Wall Street. Because you shouldn’t be worried that a sudden downturn in the stock market will put all you’ve worked so hard for – all you’ve earned – at risk. You should have the peace of mind of knowing that after meeting your responsibilities and paying into the system all your lives, you’ll get the benefits you deserve.
Seventy-five years ago today, Franklin Roosevelt made a promise. He promised that from that day forward, we’d offer – quote – “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against…poverty-stricken old age.” That’s a promise each generation of Americans has kept. And it’s a promise America will continue to keep so long as I have the honor of serving as President. Thanks for listening. Thanks for watching. And have a nice weekend.
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
University of Texas at Austin
August 9, 2010
As Prepared for Delivery—
Hello Austin! Hello Longhorns! It’s wonderful to be back. I love this town. I remember paying you all a visit during the campaign. I toured the stadium with Mack Brown. Got a photo with the Heisman. Even rubbed the locker room’s longhorns for good luck. Just saying, might’ve had something to do with how the election turned out.
I also remember the first time I came to Austin on the campaign. It was just two weeks after I announced my candidacy, back in February 2007. My hair wasn’t as gray then. And few folks thought I had much of a shot at the White House. A lot of people couldn’t even pronounce my name.
Then I came to Austin. It was a drizzly day – the kind of day that usually dampens turnout. But when I got to where the rally was, over at Auditorium Shores, there was a huge crowd of around 20,000 people – people of all ages, races, and walks of life.
And as I said that day, I knew you weren’t there just for me. You were there because you were hungry for change. Because you believed in an America where all of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from, can reach for our dreams, and make of our lives what we will.
That’s what we’ve been fighting for over the past eighteen months. I said we’d end the Iraq war as swiftly and responsibly as possible – and that’s a promise we’re keeping. I said we’d make health insurance more affordable and give you more control over your health care – and that’s a promise we’re keeping.
And I said we would build an economy that can compete in the 21st century. An economy that puts the American people back to work. An economy that’s built around three simple words: Made in America. Because we are not a country that plays for second place. We are the United States of America, and we play for first.
The way to do that is to recognize that in today’s world, we are being pushed as never before. From Beijing to Bangalore, Seoul to San Paolo, new industries and innovations are flourishing. Our competition is growing fiercer. And while our ultimate success has and always will depend on the industriousness of the American worker, the ingenuity of American businesses, and the power of our markets, we also know that we, as a nation, must do what it takes to make sure America remains number one.
That’s why I’ve set some ambitious goals for this country. I’ve called for doubling our exports within the next five years. Doubling our nation’s capacity to generate renewable energy by 2012. And producing 8 million more college graduates by 2020 so we can have a higher share of graduates than any other nation on earth.
In a single generation, we’ve fallen from first to twelfth in college graduation rates for young adults. That’s unacceptable, but not irreversible. We need to retake the lead. If we’re serious about making sure America’s workers – and America itself – succeed in the 21st century, the single most important step we can take is to offer all our kids – here in Austin, here in Texas, and across this country – the best education the world has to offer.
Now, I know some folks argue that as we emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression, my administration should focus solely on economic issues. But as I said the other week to the National Urban League, education is an economic issue. It may be the economic issue of our time. It’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have. It’s an economic issue when nearly eight in ten new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade. It’s an economic issue when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.
So, we know how important an education is in the 21st century – it’s a prerequisite for prosperity. And in fact, we know what we need to do to offer our kids the best education possible. Because we can’t afford to let our kids waste their most formative years, we need to set up an early learning fund to challenge our states to make sure our kids are entering kindergarten ready for success. Because we can’t accept anything but the best in America’s classrooms, we’ve launched an initiative called Race to the Top. We’re challenging states to strengthen their commitment to excellence; to outstanding teaching and superior schools, to higher standards and better assessments. And we’re already seeing powerful results across the country.
But we also know that in the coming decades, a person’s success in life will depend more and more not on a high school diploma, but on a college degree, on workforce training, on a higher education. And so, today, I’d like to talk about the higher education strategy we’re pursuing not only to lead the world once more in college graduation rates, but to make sure our graduates are ready for a career; ready to meet the challenges of a 21st century economy.
The first part of our strategy has been making college more affordable. I don’t have to tell you why this is so important – many of you are living each day with worries about how you’re going to pay off your student loans. We all know why. Even as family incomes have essentially flat-lined over the past thirty years, college costs have grown higher and higher. Over the past decade, they’ve shot up faster than housing, faster than transportation, even faster than health care costs. No wonder the amount student borrowers owe has risen almost 25 percent over the past five years.
This isn’t some abstract policy matter to me; I understand it personally. Michelle and I had big loans to pay off when we graduated – and I remember what that burden felt like. That’s why I’m absolutely committed to making sure that here, in America, no one is denied a chance to go to college, no one is denied a chance to pursue their dreams, no one is denied a chance to make the most of their lives because they can’t afford it. We are a better country than that, and we need to act like it.
Now, part of the responsibility for controlling these costs falls on our colleges and universities. And some of them are stepping up. Public institutions like the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina, and private institutions like Cornell are finding ways to combat rising tuition without compromising quality. But too many others aren’t doing enough, and I want to challenge them to get a handle on spiraling costs.
So, yes, college and university administrators need to do more to make college affordable. But we, as a nation, need to do more as well. That’s why we fought so hard to win a battle that has been raging in Washington for years, and that is, how best to administer federal student loans. Under the old system, we’d pay banks and financial companies billions of dollars in subsidies to act as middlemen – a deal that was very lucrative for them, but wholly unnecessary and wasteful. And because these special interests were so powerful, this boondoggle survived, year after year, Congress after Congress.
But this year, we said, enough is enough. We simply could not afford to continue subsidizing special interests to the tune of billions of dollars a year at the expense of taxpayers and students. So, we went to battle against the lobbyists and a minority party united in their support of an outrageous status quo. And we won.
As a result, instead of handing over $60 billion in unwarranted subsidies to big banks and financial institutions over the next decade, we’re redirecting that money to make college more affordable for nearly 8 million students and families and upgrade America’s essential community college system.
We’re tripling how much we’re investing in the largest college tax credit for our middle class families. Thanks to Austin’s own Congressman, Lloyd Doggett, it’s now worth $2,500 a year for two years of college. And we want to make it permanent so it’s worth $10,000 over four years of college. Because the value of Pell Grants has fallen as the cost of college has risen, we’re not only raising the cap on how much Pell Grants are worth by over $800, we’re offering more support for the future so its value doesn’t erode with inflation. And we’re also making loan repayments more manageable for over one million more students in the coming years, so students at UT-Austin, and across this country don’t graduate with massive loan payments each month.
And by the way, we’re also making information more widely available about college costs and completion rates so students and families can make the best decisions about where to go. And we’re simplifying financial aid forms by eliminating dozens of unnecessary questions – because it shouldn’t take a PhD to apply for financial aid.
If you’re married, you no longer need to answer questions about how much money your parents have. If you’ve lived in the same place for at least five years, you no longer need to answer questions about your place of residency. And soon, you’ll no longer need to submit information you’ve already provided on your taxes. That’s part of the reason we’ve seen a 20 percent jump in financial aid applications.
So, college affordability is the first part of the strategy we’re pursuing. The second part is making sure the education that’s being offered to our college students – and in particular, our community college students – is preparing them to graduate ready for a career. Institutions like the University of Texas are essential to our future. But so, too are our community colleges – a great, under-appreciated asset that we should value and support.
That’s why we’re upgrading our community colleges by tying the skills taught in our classrooms to the needs of local businesses in growing sectors of our economy, not only giving companies an assurance that the workers they hire will be up to the job, and not only giving students their best chance to thrive and prosper, but giving America its best chance to thrive and prosper. And that’s also why we’re reinvesting in our HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions – like Huston-Tillotson, and St. Edwards.
The third part of our higher education strategy is making sure every student completes their course of studies. Over a third of America’s college students, and over half our minority students, don’t earn a degree, even after six years. So, we don’t just need to open the doors of college to more Americans; we need to make sure they stick with it through graduation. Community colleges like Tennessee’s Cleveland State are redesigning remedial math courses, boosting not only student achievement, but graduation rates. And we ought to make a significant investment to help other states do the same.
Lifting graduation rates. Preparing our graduates to succeed in this economy. Making college affordable. That’s how we’ll put a higher education within reach for anyone who wants it. That’s how we’ll reach our goal of once again leading the world in college graduation rates by the end of this decade. That’s how we’ll lead the global economy in this century, as we did in the last.
At each and every juncture throughout our history, we’ve recognized that essential truth – that the way to move forward, in our own lives, and as a nation, is to put education first. It’s what led Thomas Jefferson to leave as his legacy not only a Declaration of Independence, but a university in Virginia. It’s what led a nation torn apart by civil war to set aside acreage for the land-grant institutions to prepare farmers and factory workers to seize the promise of an industrial age. It’s what led our parents and grandparents to put a generation of returning GIs through college, and open the doors of our schools and universities to people of all races, broadening opportunity, growing our middle class, and producing a half century of prosperity.
And that recognition – that here, in this country, education and opportunity go hand in hand – is what led the first President of the University of Texas to say, as he dedicated the cornerstone of the original Main Building:
“Smite the rocks with the rod of knowledge, and fountains of unstinted wealth will gush forth.”
That’s the promise at the heart of UT-Austin, at the heart of our colleges and universities, and at the heart of our country – the promise of a better life, the promise that our children will climb higher than we did. That promise, I suspect, is why so many of you sought out a college degree in the first place; why so many of your families scrimped and saved to pay for your education.
And I know that as we make our way through this economic storm, some of you may be worried about what your college degree will be worth when you graduate; about how you’ll fare in this economy; about what the future holds. But here’s what I want you to know. When I look out at all of you – when I look into the faces of America’s young men and women – I see America’s future, and it reaffirms my sense of hope. It reaffirms my sense of possibility. It reaffirms my belief that we will emerge from this storm and find brighter days ahead.
Because I’m absolutely confident that if you keep pouring yourselves into your own education; and if we, as a nation, offer all our children the best education possible from the cradle through a career; then not only will America’s workers compete and succeed, and not only will America compete and succeed, but we’ll complete the improbable journey that so many of you took up over three years ago, and build an America where each of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from, can reach for our dreams and make of our lives what we will. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Statement by the President on the Passage of the Southwest Border Security Bill
I have made securing our Southwest Border a top priority since I came to office. That is why my administration has dedicated unprecedented resources and personnel to combating the transnational criminal organizations that traffic in drugs, weapons, and money, and smuggle people across the border with Mexico. Today’s action by Congress answers my call to bolster the essential work of federal law enforcement officials and improve their ability to partner with state, local, and tribal law enforcement. The resources made available through this legislation will build upon our successful efforts to protect communities along the Southwest border and across the country. And this new law will also strengthen our partnership with Mexico in targeting the gangs and criminal organizations that operate on both sides of our shared border. So these steps will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system.
Fact Sheet on the President’s Strategic and Integrated Southwest Border Security Strategy:
The President will sign into law a comprehensive plan to secure the Southwest border, including $600 million in supplemental funds for enhanced border protection and law enforcement activities, offset by cancelling $100 million from the SBInet program within DHS. Though not specifically provided in this bill, the President has also authorized the deployment of up to an additional, requirements-based 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, a deployment that has already begun.
$600 Million in Additional Resources
The Administration has secured $600 million in supplemental funds which will be utilized to enhance technology at the border, share information and support with state, local, and tribal law enforcement, and increase DOJ and DHS presence and law enforcement activities at the border, to include increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money. The supplemental is fully offset by cancelling $100 million from the SBInet program within DHS and from a temporary increase to the fraud prevention and detection fees for some employers seeking high skilled foreign workers.
Department of Homeland Security
· The supplemental provides $394 million for the Department of Homeland Security. The bill includes $244 million to hire new and maintain existing levels of Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection Officers, $32 million for two new unmanned aerial detection systems, $6 million for forward operating bases for Border Patrol agents, $14 million for tactical communications to support enforcement activities, and $80 million for new ICE agents and supporting investments along the border, and $8 million to train new law enforcement staff.
Department of Justice
The supplemental provides $196 million for the Department of Justice to surge federal law enforcement officers in the Southwest border region and the temporary deployment of personnel to high crime areas. Location of assignments will be operationally dependent. Specifically, Justice funding would increase the presence of federal law enforcement in the Southwest border districts by adding seven (7) ATF Gunrunner Teams, five (5) FBI Hybrid Task Forces, additional DEA agents, equipment, operational support, and additional attorneys including over thirty (30) prosecutors and immigration judges. It also would provide additional funds for detention and incarceration of criminal aliens in coordination with Department of Homeland Security enforcement activities.
The supplemental request would also provide funding to support Mexican law enforcement operations with ballistic analysis, DNA analysis, information sharing, technical capabilities, and technical assistance, including over twenty (20) Deputy US Marshals dedicated to the Mexican Investigative Liaison Program and the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) to address cross-border investigations.
Additional National Guard Deployment
The President has also authorized the deployment of up to an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to the border to provide intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance support; and immediate support to counternarcotics enforcement until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.
Unprecedented Resources Already Being Dedicated
The Obama Administration has dedicated an unprecedented amount of resources to securing the border and combating the flows of drugs, weapons, and cash on the borders. During the past year, since the Southwest Border Initiative was launched, the Administration has:
Doubled the personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces by deploying additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents;
Tripled the number of ICE intelligence analysts focused on cartel violence along the Southwest border;
Quintupled deployments of ICE Border Liaison Officers.
Begun screening, for the first time, 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for illegal weapons, drugs, and cash;
Deployed thousands of technology assets along the Southwest Border and currently has 150 operational aerial assets along the Southwest border.
Deployed two new DEA SWB enforcement groups in El Paso and Phoenix, and added 25 new DEA intelligence analysts;
Deployed two new FBI Border Corruption Task Forces in Del Rio and Houston.
Added 200 new U.S. Marshal service positions including Deputy U.S. Marshals and Asset Forfeiture Criminal Investigators at the Southwest Border to increase fugitive apprehension and cross border violent crime response; to identify and seize the financial assets of the cartels; to increase court security and prisoner operations; and to investigate and mitigate security threats and improve security awareness for judiciary and other court personnel;
Surged ATF agents to Arizona to target gun trafficking to Mexico.
Hired nearly 50 additional Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys to prosecute drug and arms trafficking and bulk cash smuggling by the Mexican cartels, and added five DOJ attorneys to focus exclusively on extradition requests from Mexico. There were 107 extraditions from Mexico to the United States in 2009, a record, compared to 12 in 2000;
Increased cooperation with U.S. and Mexican law enforcement to target money laundering and bulk-cash smuggling, including $50 million in DOJ grants to federal, state, and local law enforcement, a 120-day multifaceted ICE operation, and the hiring of a DOJ prosecutor dedicated exclusively to targeting money laundering cases in and to Mexico;
Resumed DOJ asset-sharing of forfeited proceeds with the Mexican government as a result of successful bi-lateral criminal investigations;
Trained 5,462 Mexican prosecutors and investigators at the state and federal level and in the executive and judicial branches, on target to reach 9,261 trained by the end of 2010;
Planned the expansion of El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) to include additional staffing to collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence and support law enforcement operations against a broad array of transnational threats; and
· Repositioned $80 million of existing resources in the Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology account to higher priority replacement and repair of fences to enhance physical infrastructure along the Southwest border.
These strategic initiatives are producing meaningful results. The Administration has:
Seized, through the combined efforts of CBP and ICE, more than $103 million in illegal currency, more than 1.7 million kilograms of drugs and more than 1,400 firearms – increases of more than $47 million, more than 450,000 kilograms of drugs and more than 300 firearms compared to 2008.
Seized, through the combined efforts of CBP and ICE, more than $39.2 million in southbound illegal currency – an increase of more than $29.4 million compared to 2008.
DOJ-led multi-agency law enforcement investigations (which may include DEA, FBI, ATF, ICE, CBP, and others) “Project Deliverance” resulted in more than 2,200 arrests, seizure of approximately 74 tons of drugs and $154 million in U.S. currency; “Project Coronado” resulted in the arrest of 303 individuals in 19 states and seizure of $3.4 million in U.S. currency, 729 pounds of methamphetamine, 62 kilograms of cocaine, 967 pounds of marijuana, 144 weapons and 109 vehicles; “Operation Xcellerator” resulted in the arrest of more than 750 individuals on narcotics-related charges and the seizure of more than 23 tons of narcotics and more than $59 million in cash;
Additionally, the San Diego DHS Maritime Unified Command, composed of U.S. Coast Guard, CBP, ICE, DEA and other law enforcement partners, saw a more than six-fold increase in maritime drug interdictions in the Pacific waters extending from the Southwest border—seizing 57,437 pounds of drugs in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 compared to 8,884 pounds seized in FY 2008. Already in FY 2010, the Coast Guard has seized 11,500 pounds of drugs across the San Diego sector.
Statistics reflect a significant reduction in the number of people attempting to cross U.S. borders illegally. CBP statistics show that illegal immigration into the United States is down, with apprehensions between points of entry having dropped as a result.
Since 2004, the Border Patrol has doubled in size to over 20,000 Border Patrol agents.
Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 5872 and H.R. 5981
On Wednesday, August 11, 2010, the President signed into law:
H.R. 5872, the “General and Special Risk Insurance Funds Availability Act of 2010,” which provides the Department of Housing and Urban Development with an additional $5 billion in commitment authority to guarantee loans that are obligations of the General and Special Risk Insurance Funds and
H.R. 5981, which allows the Department of Housing and Urban Development increased flexibility in charging and establishing mortgage insurance premiums for certain loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT THE SIGNING OF THE MANUFACTURING ENHANCEMENT ACT OF 2010
3:07 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Everybody please have a seat.
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the White House. From the day I took office, my administration’s highest priority has been to rescue our economy from crisis, rebuild it on a new foundation for lasting growth, and do everything we can, every single day, to help the American people whose lives have been upended by a brutal recession.
Now, we knew from the beginning that reversing the damage done by the worst financial crisis and the deepest recession in generations would take some time — more time than anyone would like. And we knew that it would require an ongoing effort across all fronts.
Now, the challenges we face have been confirmed not just by the economic data that we’ve seen since last spring, when events in Europe roiled the markets and created headwinds for our economic recovery. They’re also confirmed every day in the conversations that I have with folks around the country, and in the letters that I read at night — stories of Americans who are still looking for work, and the men and women who are still struggling to grow their businesses and hire in these challenging times.
So while we have fought back from the worst of this recession, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve still got a long way to go. And I’m more determined than ever to do every single thing we can to hasten our economic recovery and get our people back to work. So that’s why I’m pleased today to sign into law a bill that will strengthen American manufacturing and American jobs. And as I do, I’m joined by two members of my economic team — Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who’s been a tireless advocate for America’s manufacturers; and Ambassador Ron Kirk, who’s been doing a great job and putting in a lot of miles as our U.S. Trade Representative.
Few areas of our economy have been as hard-hit as manufacturing — not just in recent years, but in recent decades. Throughout the 20th century, manufacturing was the ticket to a better life for generations of American workers. It was the furnace that forged our middle class. But over time, the jobs dried up. Companies learned to do more with less, and outsourced whatever they could. Other nations didn’t always live up to trade agreements and we didn’t always enforce them. And over the last decade, the manufacturing workforce shrank by 33 percent, leaving millions of skilled, hardworking Americans sitting as idle as the plants that they once worked in. This was before the recent recession left them and millions more struggling in ways they never imagined.
Now, some suggest this decline is inevitable, that the only way for America to get ahead is to leave manufacturing communities and their workers behind. I do not see it that way. The answer isn’t to stop building things, to stop making things; the answer is to build things better, make things better, right here in the United States. We will rebuild this economy stronger than before and at its heart will be three powerful words: Made in America.
For too long, we’ve been buying too much from the rest of the world, when we should be selling more to the rest of the world. That’s why, in my State of the Union address, I set an ambitious goal for this country. Over the next five years, we are going to double our exports of goods and services, an increase that will grow our economy and support millions of American jobs. We’ve got a lot of work to do to reach this goal. Our economy has fallen into the habit of buying from overseas and not selling the way it needs to. But it is vitally important that we reverse that trend. After all, 95 percent of the world’s customers and the world’s fastest-growing markets are beyond our borders. And when the playing field is even, American workers can compete with anybody. And we’re going to compete aggressively for every job, for every industry, and every market out there.
That’s why we fought for and passed tax breaks for companies that are investing here in the United States rather than companies that are keeping profits offshore. That’s why we closed loopholes that encourage corporations to ship American jobs overseas. That’s why we’re enforcing our trade laws — in some cases, for the very first time. That’s why we told America’s automakers that if they made the tough decisions required to compete in the future, that America would stand by them. And that’s why we’re investing in a clean energy industry and the jobs that come with it -– jobs that pay well and carry America to a cleaner, more secure and more energy-independent future.
Now, already we’re beginning to see some of these investments pay off. I’ve seen it myself in factories where American workers are now manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels, components for the advanced batteries of tomorrow.
I’ve seen it in retooled auto plants where American workers are building high-quality, fuel-efficient cars and trucks that can go toe to toe with any in the world. In fact, for the first time in more than five years, the Big Three are operating at a profit, and the auto industry has added 76,000 jobs since last June -– that’s the strongest period of job growth in more than 10 years.
So overall, the manufacturing sector has actually added 183,000 jobs so far this year. That’s the strongest seven months of manufacturing job growth in more than a decade. Instead of plants leaving America to set up shop overseas, we’ve actually begun to see the opposite -– a growing number of firms setting up shop and hiring here at home.
So we’re not yet where we need to be, but there are some good trends out there. And we can’t let up. We’ve got to keep moving forward. That’s why today, I’m signing a bill into law that will make it cheaper and easier for American manufacturers and American workers to do what they do best: build great products and sell them around the world.
The Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010 will create jobs, help American companies compete, and strengthen manufacturing as a key driver of our economic recovery. And here’s how it works. To make their products, manufacturers — some of whom are represented here today — often have to import certain materials from other countries and pay tariffs on those materials. This legislation will reduce or eliminate some of those tariffs, which will significantly lower costs for American companies across the manufacturing landscape -– from cars to chemicals; medical devices to sporting goods. And that will boost output, support good jobs here at home, and lower prices for American consumers.
This bill passed both houses of Congress on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, and I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for coming together on behalf of America’s businesses and workers. And before I sign it into law, I want to take this opportunity to encourage that same kind of bipartisan spirit on another step that will create jobs and move America forward.
The extraordinary growth we’ve seen in the clean energy sector is due first and foremost to the entrepreneurial drive of our businesses and our workers. But it’s also due to the fact that we invested in them. One of these investments came in the form of clean energy manufacturing tax credits. What we said to clean energy firms was, if you’re willing to put up 70 percent of the capital for a worthy endeavor, we’ll put up the other 30 percent. That means that for every dollar we invest, we leverage more than two private sector dollars.
The only problem we have is, these credits worked so well, there weren’t enough to go around. More than 180 clean energy projects in over 40 states received $2.3 billion in tax credits, but the program was such a success that we received 500 qualified applications for $8 billion in tax credits.
I believe that if an American company wants to innovate, grow, and create jobs right here in the United States, we should give them the support they need to do it. That’s why I’m urging Congress, once again, to invest $5 billion in these clean energy manufacturing tax credits. It’s an investment that will generate $12 billion or more in private sector investment and tens of thousands of new jobs.
And as I’ve said before, the nation that wins the race for the clean energy economy will lead the 21st century economy. Other nations know this. They’ve been investing heavily in that future. They want those jobs. But the United States of America doesn’t play for second place. We compete to win. And we will win this if we move forward free of politics, focused on just what it takes to get the job done.
This is an idea that already has bipartisan support, but it’s been delayed for months. So my simple message is, don’t let politics get in the way of doing what’s right for our economy and for our future. And don’t bet against the American worker or lose faith in American industry. This is a nation that has always been proud of what it builds, and it is that spirit that’s going to lead our recovery forward.
We’ve been through tough times before, and it is precisely in those times that we rebuilt, we retooled, we recaptured the ingenuity and resilience that makes this nation so great. That’s how our predecessors built the first American century. That’s how we’ll build the next. And it’s in that spirit that I will now sign this bill into law. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.)
Statement by the President on the Occasion of Ramadan
On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I want to extend our best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.
Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God. This is a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared. But Ramadan is also a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and pray during the night; when Muslims provide support to others to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere. For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities.
These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings. Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality. And here in the United States, Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America and that American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country. And today, I want to extend my best wishes to the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – and your families and friends – as you welcome the beginning of Ramadan.
I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.
May God’s peace be upon you.