Full Text Obama Presidency July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Launch of ConnectHome Initiative to connect low-income homes to the internet Transcript



Remarks by the President on Launch of ConnectHome Initiative

Source: WH, 7-15-15

Durant High School
Durant, Oklahoma

6:07 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Oklahoma!  (Applause.)  Halito!

AUDIENCE:  Halito!

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody, please have a seat.  Have a seat.  It’s good to see you.  How is everybody doing?  (Applause.)

First of all, Michelle says hi.  (Laughter.)  And I want to thank all of you for helping to build the terrific partnership that we share with the Choctaw Nation.


THE PRESIDENT:  I love you, too.  (Laughter.)  So I want to first of all thank Chief Gary Batton and the many tribal leaders who are here today.  (Applause.)  I want to thank the extraordinary young people that I just had a chance to meet with.  Give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  They were just exceptional, and gave me all kinds of interesting thoughts and ideas about how young people can lead and thrive, and reshape America.  And I could not be prouder of them.

As many of you know, we’ve held a Tribal Nations Conference each year that I’ve been President.  And just last week, as part of what we call our Generation Indigenous initiative, focused on young people, we hosted our first-ever Tribal Youth Gathering with over 1,000 young leaders from 230 tribes -– including several Choctaw youth.  (Applause.)  You spend time with these young people from all across the country and they will blow you away.  They are smart, and they’re passionate, and they are ready to seize the future.

And Michelle and I believe we’ve got a special obligation to make sure that tribal youth have every opportunity to achieve their potential not just for the benefit of themselves and their communities, but for our entire nation; that all of you young people have a chance to succeed not by leaving your communities, but by coming back and investing in your communities, and that you have a whole range of options that can lift us all up.  And so we are really excited about what you’re doing, and we’re really excited about some of the work that’s going to be done not just here but all across the country.  That’s why I’m here today.

When you step back and look at everything that we’ve done in the past six and a half years to rebuild our economy on a new foundation –- from retooling our industries to rethinking our schools, reforming our health care system –- all of it’s been in pursuit of one goal, and that’s creating opportunity for all people — not just some, but everybody.  (Applause.)

And thanks to the hard work and the resilience of the American people, the work we’ve done is paying off.  So our businesses have created 2.8 12.8 million new jobs over the past 64 months in a row.  That’s the longest streak of private sector job growth on record.  (Applause.)  The housing market is stronger.  The stock market recovered, so people’s 401(k)s and retirement accounts got replenished.  More than 16 million Americans now have the financial security of having health insurance.  (Applause.)  We’ve invested in clean energy.  We’ve made ourselves more independent of foreign oil.  We’ve seen jumps in high school enrollment and college graduation rates.

So across the board, there’s really no economic measure where we’re not doing better than we were when I came into office.  That’s the good news.  But I also made it clear when I came into office that even as we’re trying to make sure the entire economy recovers, we also have to pay attention to those communities that all too often have been neglected and fallen behind.  And as part of that, I said we’re going to do better by our First Americans.  We’re going to do better.  (Applause.)

Now, we can’t reverse centuries of history — broken treaties, broken promises.  But I did believe that we could come together as partners and forge a new path based on trust and respect.  And that’s what we’ve tried to do.  So we strengthened the sovereignty of tribal nations.  We gave more power to tribal courts and police.  We restored hundreds of thousands of acres of tribal trust lands.  We expanded opportunity by permanently reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and helping businesses, and building roads, and moving forward on renewable energy projects in Indian Country.  We untied tribal hands when it came to dealing with domestic violence, which was really important.  (Applause.)

Here in Oklahoma, we designated the Choctaw Nation as one of America’s first Promise Zones -– areas where the federal government is partnering with local communities and businesses to jumpstart economic development and job creation, expand educational opportunities, and increase affordable housing, and improve public safety.  And as a result, you’ve already received federal investments in Early Head Start, to make sure our young people are getting the best possible beginning in life; child care, job training, support for young entrepreneurs.  And I’ve called on Congress to pass a Promise Zone tax credit to encourage employment and private sector investment in places like this.  (Applause.)

So we’ve made a lot of progress not just in Indian Country but in America as a whole.  But we’ve got more work to do.  We’ve got more work to do, especially because the economy around the globe is changing so fast.

So today, I want to focus on one way we can prepare our kids and our workers for an increasingly competitive world, a way that we can help our entrepreneurs sell more goods here at home and overseas, a way where we can get every American ready to seize the opportunities of a 21st century economy.

Today, we’re going to take another step to close the digital divide in America, and make sure everybody in America has access to high-speed broadband Internet.  (Applause.)  We’re taking some initiatives today to make that happen.

Now, I don’t really have to tell you why this is important.  Even old folks like me know it’s important.  In this digital age, when you can apply for a job, take a course, pay your bills, order a pizza, even find a date — (laughter) — by tapping your phone, the Internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.  You cannot connect with today’s economy without having access to the Internet.  Now, that doesn’t mean I want folks on the Internet all the time.  I always tell young people when I meet them, sometimes they just have the phone up, I’m standing right in front of them — (laughter) — and I got to tell them, young man, put down that phone.  Shake the hand of your President.  (Laughter.)  And then after you shake my hand and look me in the eye, and told me your name, then you can maybe go back to taking pictures.  (Laughter.)  So there’s nothing wrong with every once in a while putting the technology aside and actually having a conversation.  This is something I talk to Malia and Sasha about.  We don’t let tose phones at the dinner — but that’s a whole other story.  I went off track.

But if you’re not connected today, then it’s very hard for you to understand what’s happening in our economy.  Now, here’s the problem.  While high-speed Internet access is a given, it’s assumed for millions of Americans, it’s still out of reach for too many people — especially in low-income and rural communities.  More than 90 percent of households headed by a college graduate use the Internet.  Fewer than half of households with less than a high school education are plugged into the Internet.  So, in other words, the people who could benefit the most from the latest technology are the least likely to have it.

So if you’re a student and you don’t have Internet access at home, that means you could be struggling to type papers or do online homework assignments, or learn basic computer skills, or try to get help from your teacher.  You may have to wait in long lines at public libraries or even in parking lots at the local McDonald’s just to try to get digital access.  And what that means is you’re not learning the critical tech skills required to succeed in tomorrow’s economy.

And this has consequences.  A lot of you have heard about the achievement gap, how some kids in certain groups consistently lag behind, and the opportunity gap, where certain groups have a tougher time getting attached to the labor market.  Well, this starts with a “homework gap” for a lot of young people, and an “access to learning” gap, which then can translate into a science gap or a math gap, and eventually becomes an economic gap for our country.  And that’s not what America is about.  America doesn’t guarantee you success.  That’s never been the promise.  But what America does stand for — has to stand for — is if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility, then you can succeed — (applause) — no matter where you start off.

That’s the essential American story.  That’s why we admire stories like Abraham Lincoln’s.  Starts off in a log cabin, teaches himself to read and write, and becomes our greatest President.  That’s what America is supposed to be about.

And in an increasingly competitive global economy, our whole country will fall behind unless we’re got everybody on the field playing.  Obviously, as President, you travel around a lot, and you go to countries like South Korea where a higher percentage of the population has high-speed broadband — and, by the way, they pay their teachers the way they pay their doctors — (applause) — and they consider education to be at the highest rung of the professions.  Well, we will start falling behind those countries — which is unthinkable when we invented the stuff.  It’s American ingenuity that created the Internet, that created all these technologies.  And the notion that now we’d leave some Americans behind in being able to use that, while other countries are raising ahead, that’s a recipe for disaster, and it offends our most deeply held values.

A child’s ability to succeed should not be based on where she lives, how much money her parents make.  That’s not who we are as a country.  We’ve got a different standard.  We’re a people who believe we should be able to go as far as our talents and hard work will take us.  And just because you don’t have money in your household to buy fancy technology, that should not be an obstacle.

We’ve been doing a lot to encourage coding and STEM education — math and science and technology education.  And unfortunately, for too many of our kids, that’s something that’s viewed as out of reach.  Listen, people are not born coders.  It’s not as if suddenly if you’re born in Silicon Valley you can figure out how to code a computer.  That’s not — what happens is kids get exposed to this stuff early, and they learn, they soak it up like sponges.

And somewhere among the millions of young people who don’t have access to the digital world could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, the next Bill Gates.  Some of them might be right here in the Choctaw Nation.  (Applause.)  But only if we make sure you have access and exposure.  If we don’t give these young people the access to what they need to achieve their potential, then it’s our loss, it’s not just their loss.

So that’s why my administration has made it a priority to connect more Americans to the Internet, and close that digital divide that people have been talking about for 20 years now.  We’ve invested so far in more than 100,000 miles of network infrastructure; that’s enough to circle the globe four times.  We’ve laid a lot of line.  We’ve supported community broadband.  We’ve championed net neutrality rules to make sure that the Internet providers treat all web traffic equally.  And then we launched something called ConnectEd, and this was targeted at making sure that every school was connected and classrooms were connected.  And we’re now well on our way to connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband in their classrooms by 2018, and that includes here in Durant.  (Applause.)

So far, 29 million more students in 55,000 schools are on track to have access to high-speed broadband, and 20 million more have Wi-Fi in their classrooms.  And last year, when I visited Standing Rock Nation in North Dakota, I announced that Verizon would connect 10 Native student dorms, Microsoft would donate more tablets to more Native students, including students right here in Oklahoma.  So we’ve been making progress.  We’re chipping away this thing.

But today, we’re going to go further.  I’m announcing a new initiative called ConnectHome.  Now, ConnectEd, the idea was making sure the schools were connected and that you didn’t have a situation where in a classroom, even if it was connected to the Internet, you could only have one student at a time or a couple of computers at a time.  So we had to make sure that the classroom was state of the art.  ConnectHome is designed to make high-speed Internet more affordable to residents in low-income housing units across the country — because young people today, they’re not just learning in the classroom, they’re learning outside the classroom as well.  So my Department of Housing and Urban Development is going to work with 28 communities, from Boston to Durham, from Seattle to Durant.  About 200,000 of our most vulnerable children and their families will soon be able to access affordable Internet in their home.  (Applause.)

Now, I want to give credit where credit is due.  This is not something government does by itself.  I’m proud to say that folks around the country are stepping up to do their part.  So businesses like Cox are providing low-cost Internet and devices.  Best Buy is committing free computer education and technical support so that folks learn how to make the most of the Internet.  Organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs will teach digital literacy so that kids in this community can be just as savvy as kids growing up in Silicon Valley.  You’ve got non-profits like EveryoneOn and U.S. Ignite who are going to help make this work on the ground.  So we’ve got some great businesses and some great non-for-profits who are partnering with us on this.

But most importantly, it really requires all of us to be involved — parents, principals, teachers, neighbors — because we have to demand the best in our schools and for our kids.

These investments are the right thing to do for our communities.  They’re the smart thing to do for the national economy.  And we can’t allow shortsighted cuts to the programs that are going to keep us competitive.

So this is a smart investment.  These are the kinds of investments we need to make.  Sometimes there’s a debate going on in Washington about the size of government and what we should be spending on.  And look, I’ve said before, there are programs in Washington that don’t work, and we don’t want taxpayer money wasted.  But there are some investments that we make in future generations, there are investments we make in things that help all of us that we can’t do by ourselves.  We’re not going to build a road by ourselves; we’ve got to do that together.  We’re not going to invest in basic research to solve Alzheimer’s by ourselves.  At least I don’t have enough money to do that.  We’ve got to do that together.  I’ll pay some tax dollars, we’ll pool our money, and then we all invest in the research because we all stand to benefit at some point.  We don’t know when we might get sick, and it’s good for us to keep that cutting edge of science.

Well, the same thing is true when it comes to schools and investing in our young people, making sure that they’ve got the tools they need to succeed.  So this idea of ConnectHome, just like ConnectEd, this is going to make the difference for a dad who can now — because it’s not just for the kids — now he can learn a new skill and apply for a better job after work, because he’s working a tough shift to pay the rent, but he knows he wants to advance.  He may be able to take an online course because he’s got access to the Internet — and that could make all the difference in his family and his future.  This will make a difference for the young entrepreneur — got a great idea, wants to start a business.  Can start it from her home.  This will make a difference for the student who can now download the resources he needs to study for that exam that’s coming up, and then maybe come up with a new theory that’s going to make a difference in our understanding of the world.

This will make a difference for young people like Kelsey Janway.  Where’s Kelsey?  There’s Kelsey, right here.  (Applause.)  Stand up, Kelsey, so everybody can see you.  All right, Kelsey, I know this is embarrassing, so you can sit down for a second.  (Laughter.)

Kelsey is 16 years old, a proud member of the Choctaw Nation.  This might be a game-changer for her.   When she was younger, her family only got phone reception if they stood on a particular rock in their yard, or on the top window sill in their bathroom.  Is that right?

MS. JANWAY:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  You remember the rock.

MS. JANWAY:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  It was this particular rock.  So today she has spotty, slow Internet service at home.  And at school, service is just as bad — which makes it tough for students like Kelsey to learn the skills they need for success.  Meanwhile, a high school nearby has much better technology; it gives those kids an advantage that she doesn’t have.

Now, even though she’s seen many of her peers get caught up in trouble or lose motivation and maybe drop out of school, Kelsey is keeping on pushing.  She works two jobs, belongs to 11 organizations.  Now, we’re going to need to talk about that.  That’s a lot of organizations.  I don’t know where you’re finding that time.  (Applause.)  She’s leading a youth council where she helps guide some of her peers.  And she says that even the slow Internet that she’s got — probably that buffer and things coming up all the time is getting on her nerves.  Nevertheless, that’s opened her mind and introduced her to views outside of her own.  “I have a sense of a bigger world out there.”  That’s what Kelsey says.

And that glimpse of what’s possible, that can change everything.  So last week, Kelsey represented Choctaw Nation at the White House Tribal Youth Gathering.  Had a chance to hear from Michelle, right?  And she plans to return to the White House one day — as President.  So I’m just keeping the seat warm for her until she gets there.  (Laughter.)  But I wanted to point out Kelsey having to stand on a rock trying to get phone service as an example of what we’re talking about here.

There are amazing young people like Kelsey all across the country.  I meet them every day.  Talented, smart, capable; of every race, of every ethnicity, every faith, every background.  They’ve got big dreams.  They’re just poised to succeed, and they’re willing to work through all kinds of obstacles to make great things happen.  But they’ve got big dreams — we’ve got to have an interest in making sure that they can achieve those dreams.  Kelsey, these young people, young people all across the country — they deserve a country that believes in those dreams, and that invests in those dreams, and that loves them for their dreams.  (Applause.)

And ultimately, that’s what America is about.  You know, I know sometimes folks get discouraged about Washington — I know I do — because the arguments between the parties are just so stark, and all the differences are exaggerated, and what attracts attention and gets on the news on TV is conflict and shouting and hollering.  And as a consequence, everybody kind of goes into their corners and nobody agrees to anything, and nothing gets done, and everybody gets cynical and everybody gets frustrated.

But the thing is that for all our disagreements, for all our debates, we are one family.  And we may squabble just like families do, but we’re one family — from the First Americans to the newest Americans.  We’re one family.  We’re in this together.  We’re bound by a shared commitment to leave a better world for our children.  We’re bound together by a commitment to make sure that that next generation has inherited all the blessings that we inherited from the previous generation.

And that requires work on our part.  It requires sacrifice.  It requires compromise.  And it requires that we invest in that future generation; that we’re thinking not just about taking care of our own kids — because I know Malia and Sasha will be fine — but I want to make sure Kelsey is fine.  I want to make sure every one of these young people are fine.  I want to make sure that some kid stuck in the inner city somewhere, that they’ve got a shot.  I can’t do it for them, but I want to make sure at least that they’ve got a shot.  I want to make sure that somebody down in some little border town in Texas, whose parents maybe never went to college, that they’ve got a dream and they’ve got a shot.

And I’m willing to do something about that.  And we all have to be.  When we make those commitments to all of our children, the great thing about it is the blessings are returned back to us — because you end up having a workforce that is better educated, which means suddenly companies want to locate, which means businesses start booming, which means businesses start hiring, which means everybody does better.

So not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.  That’s our tradition.  It’s not Democratic or Republican; it is the American tradition.  And we forget that sometimes because we’re so caught up in our day-to-day politics, and we listen to a bunch of hooey on TV or talk radio — (laughter) — that doesn’t really tell the truth about what’s going on.  (Applause.)

So I’m proud of Kelsey.  I’m proud of these young people.  I’m proud of Choctaw Nation.  And I surely am proud of these United States of America.  Let’s get to work and make sure we’re leaving the kind of country we want for our kids.

God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

6:37 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency October 3, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Town Hall on Manufacturing at Millennium Steel — Transcript



Remarks by the President at a Town Hall on Manufacturing

Source: WH, 10-3-14 

Millennium Steel
Princeton, Indiana

2:17 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! Hello, Indiana! It’s good to be back close to home. Everybody have a seat, have a seat.

Well, first of all, let me thank Henry and everybody for extending such a warm welcome. It’s good to be back in Indiana. A couple people I just want to acknowledge very quickly: Your Mayor, Bob Hurst. Where did Mayor Hurst go? (Applause.) He was here just a second — there he is right there. Give him a big round of applause. (Applause.) We’ve got your former Congressman, Brad Ellsworth, in the house. Say hi to Brad. (Applause.)

It is great to be back in Indiana. It’s great to be in Princeton. And I want to thank Millennium Steel for hosting us here today. I’m here because you might have heard that today is National Manufacturing Day. You don’t get the day off on National Manufacturing Day. (Laughter.) But factories like this one, all over the country, are opening their doors to give young people a chance to understand what opportunities exist in manufacturing in 21st century in the United States of America. So I figured, what better place to celebrate Manufacturing Day than with a manufacturer?

And instead of giving a long speech, what I want to do today is just have a conversation with folks about what’s happening in the American economy, what’s happening in your lives, what’s happening in manufacturing, and to talk a little bit about how we can continue to build an economy that works for everybody, that gives everybody who’s willing to work hard a chance.

And I wanted to do that here because, in some ways, American manufacturing is powering the American recovery. This morning, we learned that last month, our businesses added more than 236,000 jobs. (Applause.) The unemployment rate fell from 6.1 percent to 5.9 percent. (Applause.) What that means is that the unemployment rate is below 6 percent for the first time in six years. (Applause.) And we’re on pace for the strongest job growth since the 1990s — strongest job growth since the 1990s. Over the past 55 months, our businesses have now created 10.3 million new jobs. (Applause.)

Now, that happens to be the longest uninterrupted stretch of job growth in the private sector in American history. And all told, the United States has put more folks back to work than Europe, Japan, and all other advanced economies combined. All combined, we put more folks back to work right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)

So this progress that we’ve been making, it’s been hard, it goes in fits and starts, it’s not always been perfectly smooth or as fast as we want, but it is real and it is steady and it is happening. And it’s making a difference in economies all across the country. And it’s the direct result of the best workers in the world, the drive and determination of the American people, the resilience of the American people bouncing back from what was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — and it’s also got a little bit to do with some decisions we made pretty early on in my administration.

So, just to take an example, many of you know that the auto industry was really in a bad spot when I came into office. And we decided to help our automakers to rebuild, to retool, and they’re now selling new cars at the fastest rate in about eight years. And they’re great cars, too. (Applause.) And that’s helped a lot of communities all across the Midwest. And that’s just one example of what’s been happening to American manufacturing generally.

About 10, 15 years ago, everybody said American manufacturing is going downhill, everything is moving to China or other countries. And the Midwest got hit a lot harder than a lot of places because we were the backbone of American manufacturing. But because folks invested in new plants and new technologies, and there were hubs that were created between businesses and universities and community colleges so that workers could master and get trained in some of these new technologies, what we’ve now seen is manufacturing driving economic growth in a way we haven’t seen in about 20-25 years.

Because of the efforts that we’ve made, manufacturing as a whole has added about 700,000 new jobs. It’s growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy. New factories are opening their doors. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking to bring jobs back from China. Our businesses are selling more goods overseas than any time in our history. And the reason this is important is not just because of some abstract statistic. Manufacturing jobs have good pay and good benefits.

And they create a ripple effect to the whole economy because everybody who’s working here at Millennium Steel, because you’re getting paid well, because you’ve got decent benefits, that means that the restaurants in the neighborhood are doing better. It means you can afford to make your mortgage payments and buy a new car yourself, and buy some new appliances. And you get a virtuous cycle in which all businesses are doing better.

To most middle-class folks, the last decade was defined by those jobs going overseas. But if we keep up these investments, then we can define this decade as a period, instead of outsourcing, insourcing — bringing jobs back to America. And when you ask business executives around the world, what’s the number-one place to invest their money right now, for a long time it was China. Today they say, the best place to invest money is here in the United States of America. Here in the United States of America. (Applause.)

So there is a lot of good stuff happening in the economy right now. But what we all know is, is that there’s still some challenges — there’s still some challenges — because there are still a lot of families where somebody in the family is out of work, or isn’t getting as many hours as they want. There are still a lot of folks who, at the end of the month, are having trouble paying the bills. And wages and incomes have not moved up as fast as all the gains we’re making in jobs and productivity. Too much of the growth in income and wealth is going to the very top; not enough of it is being spread to the ordinary worker.

And that means that we’ve still got some more work to do to put in place policies that make sure that the economy works not just for the few, but it works for everybody; and that if you work hard you’re going to be able to pay the bills, you’re going to be able to retire with some dignity and some respect, you can send your kids to school without having to worry about it. That’s what we’ve got to be working on — making sure that no matter who you are, where you started, you can make it here in America. That’s what the American Dream is all about. (Applause.)

Now, let me just close by saying a couple of things that I know would make a difference if we were doing them right now to make the economy grow even faster, to bring the unemployment rate down even faster, and if employers are hiring more workers and the labor market gets a little bit tighter, then employers end up paying a little bit more and wages go up a little bit more, and that means people have a little more money in their pockets, and then they’re spending more of it on businesses’ products and services, which means that even more workers get hired. There are some things we could do right now that would make a difference.

We should be investing in roads and bridges and ports and infrastructure all across the country. We’ve got a lot of stuff that was built back in the ‘40s and the ‘50s that needs to be updated. And if we’re putting construction workers back to work, that means they also need some steel. They also need some concrete. It means you need engineers doing the work, and you need suppliers. And all that would give a huge boost to the economy and make it easier for businesses to deliver their products and services around the world. It would be good for our economy. That’s something that we should be doing right now.

And I’ve been putting proposals forward in front of Congress to say let’s go ahead and just start rebuilding all kinds of parts of America that need rebuilding. And nobody disagrees that they need to be rebuilt. The only thing that’s holding us up right now is politics.

We should be raising the minimum wage to make sure that more workers — (applause) — who have been working full-time shouldn’t be living in poverty. And we’ve got legislation going on right now that would call for a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, which would mean that if you work full-time you’re not living in poverty, you can raise a family. And the good news is, is about 13 states and a bunch of cities around the country have gone ahead and done it without Congress. But it would sure help if Congress went ahead and did it as well. Because right now, since I, two years ago, called for a hike in the minimum wage, about 7 million people have seen their incomes go up, but there are still about 21 million people who would stand to benefit if we had a national minimum wage.

And by the way, when you hear folks saying, well, if you raise the minimum wage that’s going to be fewer jobs — it turns out the states that have raised the minimum wage have had faster job growth than the states that haven’t raised the minimum wage. So this is something that would benefit families, but again, if folks have more money in their pockets, they’re working hard, they go out and spend it. And that ends up being good for business, not just for the workers involved.

We should be making sure that women are getting paid the same as men for doing the same work. (Applause.) That’s something, by the way, that should be a no-brainer for men, too, because — (laughter) — I remember when Michelle and I were both working, I was always happy if she got a raise. I wanted to make sure that she was getting paid fairly because it’s all one household, and the more women that get into the workforce, the more families are reliant on two incomes in order to make ends meet. Plus it’s just fair and it’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

So there are a number of steps that we can take to make unemployment go down faster, to make sure that wages are rising faster, and that would benefit everybody. And I’ll just close with this comment. If you look at American history, the times we grow fastest and do best is when we’re growing the economy from the middle out. When middle-class families are growing, when working folks can get their way into the middle class, that’s when the whole economy does well. When you have an economy where just a few are doing well, and a lot of other folks are left, no matter how hard they work, still just scraping to get by, the economy doesn’t get the same kind of momentum.

And if you think about what America is about, what the American Dream is about, it’s always been that everybody should have opportunity. It shouldn’t matter how you started out if you’re willing to work hard, if you have good values, if you take responsibility. And that’s the kind of economy that we want to build. And we can build it, and manufacturing is going to be right smack dab in the middle of that effort, we’ve got to continue to build on the success we have. We’re not going to rest on our laurels. We’re going to keep on going until every single person who wants to find a good job out there can get a good job, and that America is competing against everybody else, so that 21st century is the American Century, just like the 20th century was.

All right? (Applause.)

Here is how we’re going to do this. I’m going to just grab this mic. Anybody who wants to ask a question or make a comment just raise your hand. There are probably some folks with mics in the audience. Wait for the mic so everybody can hear you. Stand up, introduce yourself. Try to make your questions kind of short, and I’ll try to make my answers kind of short. That way we can get more folks in. All right? All right. Who wants to go first? Oh, and I’ll go boy, girl, boy, girl — to make sure everybody — (laughter) — it’s kind of fair, kind of even. All right.

This young man right here.

Q Thank you for coming out today, President Obama. I’m with the University of Southern Indiana Manufacturing Club out here —


Q And my question for you is, can you share some specifics about the Rebuild America Act? I know you talked a little bit about that.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have about $2 trillion in deferred maintenance. I don’t have to tell you because some of you have probably hit some potholes and tried to figure out what the heck is going on, why aren’t we fixing that road? But it’s not just the traditional roads and bridges. It’s also the infrastructure we don’t see — sewer systems, water systems. A lot of them are breaking down. Gas lines that we’ve been seeing in some big cities — those things start wearing out, suddenly they actually pose a threat if they explode because they’re just not in good shape.

There’s a whole bunch of new infrastructure that we should be building. So I’ll give you a good example is our electricity grid. The way we transmit power — if we’ve got old electricity grids, what happens is a lot of the electricity leaks, a lot of the power leaks in the transmission from the power plant to, let’s say, a factory like this one. And the more it leaks, the more that’s driving up prices, because it’s not as efficient as it should be and it’s more vulnerable to blackouts.

And in fact, if we built a smarter power grid — that’s called a smart grid — means that not only is it not leaking power, but it’s also sending power in efficient ways during peak times, so that we end up using less energy, which drives down consumer prices and is good for the environment.

I’ll give you one other example that I know everybody here will appreciate. We have an old, archaic air traffic control system. Some of you heard about what happened in Chicago — some guy got mad he was being transferred to Hawaii. Now, let me tell you, I’ve been to Hawaii. I don’t know why he was mad about that. (Laughter.) He sets fire to some of the facilities there, and suddenly folks couldn’t get in and out of Chicago for a couple of days. In fact, I was in Chicago yesterday — day before yesterday. I had to land in Gary because O’Hare was still somewhat restricted.

But even setting aside that, it turns out that if we revamped our whole air traffic control system, we could reduce the number of delayed flights by about 30 percent. We could reduce the amount of fuel that airlines use by about 30 percent, which means we could lower ticket prices by a whole bunch. It means that you wouldn’t have two-hour waits in the airport. And if you’re flying for business, that’s going to save you time and money. If you’re just trying to get home to see your family, it means time spent with family instead of sitting in an airport, buying stuff that’s really expensive. (Laughter.)

The whole economy would be more efficient if we do it. So the good news is it’s the best time for us to rebuild our infrastructure because there are still a lot of construction workers out of work, a lot of contractors — it’s not like they’ve got so much business, which means they can do the work on time, under budget. Interest rates are low. If we spent, let’s say, the next 10 years just saying we’re just going to rebuild all across America, old infrastructure and new infrastructure, then not only would we give the economy a boost right now, but what we’d also do is lay the foundation for even more economic growth in the future.

It’s a smart investment, and we should be doing it. So what I’ve proposed is let’s close some tax loopholes that exist right now that in some cases are incentivizing companies to send money overseas and profits overseas instead of investing here in the United States of America. Let’s close those loopholes that aren’t good for creating jobs here. Let’s take some of that money, let’s use that to rebuild our infrastructure. Makes good sense.

But Congress hasn’t done it yet — not because it’s not a good idea. Infrastructure is not partisan. That’s not Democratic or Republican, that’s just a common-sense thing. Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. Lincoln — first Republican President — helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. Traditionally, everybody has been in favor of infrastructure because it powers our economy. It’s part of what made us an economic superpower. We’ve got to get back to that kind of mentality.

All right. Young lady right here.

Q Mr. President, you mentioned an increase to the minimum wage. How do you counter an opinion that increasing employee wages would ultimately increase the selling price of goods and services, thus negating any increase to the employee’s standard of living?

THE PRESIDENT: No, it’s a good question. It’s interesting that if you look at the studies that have been done — first of all, most employers pay more than the minimum wage already. Typically, minimum wage are in certain sectors of the economy. They’re disproportionately women who are getting paid the minimum wage. But unlike what people think, the majority of folks getting paid the minimum wage are adults, many of them supporting families. The average age of somebody getting paid the minimum wage is 35 years old. They’re not 16.

So in those states or where you’ve had one state pass a hike in the minimum wage and the state right next door doesn’t, and you kind of look at what’s happening along the border where you think that people would be kind of influenced — maybe they shop where the prices are cheaper, or businesses would move over to the place where there isn’t a minimum wage — it turns out that actually it doesn’t have that much of an impact. It has an impact on the families. It generally does not have a huge impact in terms of prices, and it doesn’t have — another argument that’s made is folks will hire fewer people because salaries are higher. Well, it turns out actually that’s not generally what happens. It’s just that if everybody has to raise the minimum wage, then everybody adjusts. And in some cases, because of competition, they’re not going to be able to raise their prices.

But you’re getting to a larger point that I think has plagued the American economy for some time, and that is that business has learned how to be really profitable and produce a lot of goods with fewer and fewer workers, partly through automation. And sometimes that does drive down prices. The problem is it also drives down wages. And it’s driven wages down faster, in many cases, than prices.

I mean, if what you’re worried about most is low prices, then presumably we could have everything made in low-wage countries overseas. They’d get shipped back here, but it doesn’t do you any good if a pair of sneakers is really cheap and you don’t have a job. So I think the goal here should be prioritizing — number one, making sure people have work, number two, making sure that that work pays well.

And if people have good jobs and they’re getting paid a decent wage, then businesses are the ones who have to compete for your business. They’re still going to have to keep prices down relatively low because they’re going to have to compete against other businesses. If they raise their prices too much, somebody is going to come in and offer a better deal. And consumers have gotten better, partly because of the Internet. They know what prices are there.

So there’s never been greater competition out there. The problem is right now that all that competition is on the back of workers. Businesses’ profits are through the roof. There was a report this week that showed that corporate balance sheets in America are as strong as they’ve been in history. It’s part of the reason why the stock market is doing great. So it’s not as if companies don’t have some room to pay their workers more. They’re just not doing it. And a greater and greater share has been going to the corporate balance sheet, and less and less of a share is going to workers.

So don’t let folks tell you that companies right now can’t afford to provide their workers a raise. The reason they’re not giving their workers a raise is because, frankly, they don’t have to — because the labor market is still somewhat soft, and people are afraid that if I leave this job I may not find something.

The good news is, as the unemployment rate comes down, there are fewer workers looking for jobs, and that means companies have to start bidding up wages a little bit. The market will take care of some of this. But having a minimum wage that is a little bit higher, that’s also going to help.

Last example I’ll give, by the way, Costco –I assume some folks here shopped at Costco before. Costco has the best prices around, right? Starting salary for a cash register operator — $11.50, maybe it’s $11.35. Starting wage. And by the way, even before the Affordable Care Act, Costco gave everybody health care. But they’ve been growing just as fast as folks who don’t pay the minimum wage and don’t provide health care benefits. Their stock has done great. The difference is they’re spreading more of the profits to their workers, which is good for the economy as a whole. And by the way, when you walk into Costco, everybody is pretty cheerful because they’re feeling like they’re getting a fair deal and that the company cares about them.

All right? Yes.

Q I’m the general manager at Millennium Steel. We’re very honored to have you. One of the questions I had is about the health care costs. We are seeing almost a double-digit increase in health care costs every year. So do you think that trend is going to go down? And what can we do to control that trend?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s really interesting. You’re going to have to talk to Henry because — (laughter) — no, no, no, this is serious. The question is whether you guys are shopping effectively enough. Because it turns out that this year, and in fact over the course of the last four years, premiums have gone up at the slowest rate in 50 years. So health care premiums have actually slowed down significantly. And it is having an effect both on businesses and families and the federal debt. Because most of the federal deficit and the federal debt, when folks talk about we’ve got to drive down the debt, we’ve got to do something about the debt — it turns out that most of the federal deficit and the federal debt over the last decade has come from health care costs going up so high, which means Medicare and Medicaid costs start going up. And that’s gobbled up a bigger and bigger share of the federal budget.

Because health care costs are going up much more slowly than expected, so far we anticipate we’re going to save about $188 billion over the next 10 years and reduce health care costs.

So the issue now is what can we do to make sure that you at Millennium are shopping and seeing more competition. Because the only problem with the health care market is sometimes it’s different in different pockets of the country, depending on how many carriers there are. And what we’re trying to do is to make sure that there’s more competition driving down cost when it comes to both the businesses who are trying to buy health care for their employees, but also folks who don’t get health care on the job and are just having to buy it on their own.

That’s part of what the Affordable Care Act is all about. Now, some of you — Affordable Care Act, by the way, is also known as Obamacare. (Applause.) For a while, everybody was saying — sort of using that as kind of an insult. I’m feeling pretty good about it being called Obamacare. I suspect that about five years from now when everybody agrees that it’s working, then they won’t call it Obamacare anymore. (Laughter.) That’s okay.

But part of what we did there is we set up what’s called these marketplaces, these exchanges, where individuals can go online and shop. And as you know, the website was really bad for the first three months. It’s now in really good shape. We’ve signed up 10 million people to get health coverage many times for the first time. And we’re giving them tax credits to help lower the cost even more. But we’re also setting up a network for businesses to be able to shop for health insurance.

And what’s happened — I talked about this yesterday — right now on average across America — so it may not be true in every single market, but across America, on average, premiums have — if it had not been for this drop in health care inflation, premiums would probably be about $1,800 higher per family than they actually have turned out to be. Now, you think about that — $1,800, that’s money that’s in your pocket that otherwise would be going to you paying for your health care premiums. That’s like an $1,800 tax cut for every family that’s got health insurance. And that’s good news. But we’ve got to make sure everybody takes advantage of it.

So I’m going to make sure — are you in charge of buying health care? You are? All right, so what I’m going to do is I’m going to make sure that you talk to some of our health care market folks. I bet we can get you a better deal. All right? We’ll see if we can save you a little money. (Applause.)

All right. Young lady right here in the jacket.

Q Good afternoon. My name is Conner Perry (ph). I’m in the 8th grade at the Lexington School in Lexington, Kentucky.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s so nice to meet you.

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: How old are you — you’re in 8th grade, so you’re just tall and pretty, just like Malia and Sasha. There you go.

Q I was wondering, what are some actions we could take to put people in rural America to work?

THE PRESIDENT: That’s a great question. You know, the rural economy has actually done extremely well compared to the rest of the economy over the last couple of years. The main reason for it — first of all, we’ve got the best farmers in the world and we’re the most productive agricultural system in the world. So we just — our crops are really good and we produce a lot. And the weather has been pretty decent. I just talked to my friend — where is Scates? There he is. Good buddy of mine — the Scates farm over on Illinois side. He said best crops he’s seen in a while — right? Ever. So that’s the good news.

But what’s also helped is that we have increased our agricultural exports, sending our outstanding products overseas at a record pace. And I should introduce, by the way, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is right here. That’s Penny. (Applause.) And one of Penny’s most important jobs is going around the world and trying to open up new markets for agricultural goods. One of our biggest exports.

And so we’ve got to keep on making sure that if we have the best crops, the best products at the lowest price that we can get into these markets. A lot of countries protect their markets and their farmers from competition by closing their markets — even though they’re selling stuff to us. And my general attitude about trade, I’m a big believer in trade, but my attitude is it’s got to be two-way. If we’re going to buy your cars, or we’re going to buy your TV sets, or whatever else you’re selling, then you’ve got to be able to buy American wheat and corn and beans. And Penny has done a terrific job. And that’s part of the reason why we’ve seen record exports. And that helps the agricultural economy.

That’s number one. But number two, we’ve also got to diversify the rural economy so it’s not just dependent on agriculture. And that means, for example, investing in things like biofuels and clean energy. We are at the threshold of being able to create new energy sources out of not just crops that we grow — corn and ethanol — but also stuff that we usually throw away, like the corn stalks instead of the corn. And the more we invest in biofuels, clean energy, that can make a big difference in the rural economy.

So that’s another area where we can make progress. And then the rural economy should — just like here in Princeton, we’ve got to make sure that we are offering up opportunities for manufacturers to come back in to look at some of these rural sites, where you know the people there work hard and quality of life is high, but oftentimes international investors don’t know about some of these rural communities. And so Penny has been helping to advertise. We’ve got a whole program called SelectUSA where we go around and we help towns, mayors, county chairmen, local chambers of commerce invite investors from Japan and Singapore and Germany — come invest here in the United States of America.

Because what you want is an economy that isn’t just relying on one thing, but it has a bunch of different components to it, so that if, say, you have a bad crop one year the whole economy of that area doesn’t just collapse. And that can make a big difference.

But if we’re going to be able to attract investment into rural America, there are at least two things that have to happen. Number one, we’ve got to invest in education to make sure that the young people in rural America have the skills for today’s jobs. And that includes not just K through 12, but also community colleges — which are really a crown jewel — community colleges can be so powerful in just training folks — they may not go to a four-year college, but if they can get some technical training they’re suddenly ready for that job. And that is really attractive to investors. If they know they’ve got good workers in a site, that’s one of the most important things they’re looking for.

And the second thing is the thing I talked about earlier, which is infrastructure. Part of the problem with rural communities is they’re a little more isolated. All the more important, then, that our rail, our roads, our airports, that they all work, and that they’ve got broadband connections and Internet connections in order to make sure that they can access international markets.

All right? Great question. All right, it’s a gentleman’s turn. Right here. Right here in front.

Q Hello, Mr. President. Thank you for coming. I hope I’ve got this right — it is your wedding anniversary today?

THE PRESIDENT: That is correct.

Q So happy anniversary to you and Michelle.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Twenty-two years she’s been putting up with me. (Laughter.) I had a young man, a friend of mine just got married. And I told the bride — wonderful young lady — I said it takes about 10 years to train a man properly. (Laughter.) So you’ve got to be patient with him. Because he’ll screw up a bunch, but eventually we learn. It’s just it takes us a little longer. We’re not as smart. So Michelle has been very patient with me.

Thank you very much. That’s very kind of you. (Applause.) Young lady right here.

Q Hi, President Obama. I’m from Indiana State University. Right here. (Applause.) Representing.

THE PRESIDENT: Yay, Indiana State!

Q I just had a question. Recently on the media, we have been hearing a lot about the EPA system and the war on coal. What are your feelings on that?

THE PRESIDENT: Some of that is — some of it’s hype and politics. And that’s sort of the nature of our politics these days. But there’s a real issue involved. Less and less of our power is coming from coal.

Now, a lot of people think that’s because of environmental regulations. And the truth of the matter is, is that there’s some environmental regulations that have had an impact mainly because what it’s said to the power plant operators is you’ve got to be more efficient and you can’t send as much pollution into the air. So if you’re using coal, you’ve got to figure out how can we get smart coal — smart coal technologies that capture some of the pollution that’s being sent up, put it underground, store it. Some of that technology is developing, but it’s not quite there yet.

But actually the main reason that power plants in America are using less coal is because natural gas is so cheap. So the real war on coal is natural gas, which, because of new technologies, we are now extracting at a rate that is unbelievable. There’s about a hundred years’ supply of natural gas underground here in America. We are now the number-one natural gas producer in the world. And by the way, we’re also producing more oil than we import for the first time in almost two decades. (Applause.)

Some people don’t realize — you know who the number-one oil producer in the world is? It’s us, the United States of America. So we’re producing more oil than ever. We’re producing more natural gas than ever. And natural gas, we’re producing so much that when new power plants get built, it’s cheaper for them to run on natural gas than it is on coal. So that obviously causes some hardship in communities that traditionally relied on coal.

There are two things we need to do. Number one is — and my administration has been hugely supportive — we’ve put a lot of money into developing these new technologies to make sure we can burn coal cleaner than we have. And the second thing that we need to do is make sure that some of the new opportunities in clean energy and in natural gas and other energy-related industries that they locate in places that used to have coal, or used to be primarily coal country.

Because the trend lines are going to be inevitable. Because if you burn coal in a dirty way, that’s going to cause more and more pollution, including pollution that causes climate change. You’re going to see more and more restrictions on the use of coal not just here in the United States, but around the world, which means that we’ve got to get out in front of that and make sure that we’ve got the technologies to use coal cheaply. And we’ve got to be able to send those technologies to other counties that are still burning coal.

Because there are going to be counties like China and India and others that still use coal for years to come. They’re poor, and they’re building a lot of power plants quickly. They don’t have as much natural gas as us, so they’re going to be interested in figuring how can they use their coal supplies and how can they import our coal. But if we’re doing a good job giving them technologies that allow them to burn it cleanly, then it’s a win-win for us. Not only are we able to then sell coal to them, but we’re also selling the technology to help them burn it in the cleanest way possible.

We’ve been making those investments, and we’ve got to keep on making those investments in order for us to get ahead of the curve.

Great question.

Gentleman back there in the tie. There aren’t that many ties in here, so there you go.

Q Hi, Mr. President. I’m with the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association. We’re one of the founding partners of Manufacturing Day, so thank you for your support. (Applause.)


Q I’d like to ask you about R&D. U.S. manufacturers do more R&D than any county in the world. It makes us productive. It makes us innovative. Could you talk about policies and ideas to continue to support R&D activities to promote and accelerate manufacturing? Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: When we think about manufacturing, we always think about the traditional guy with the hard hat and the glasses, and there are sparks flying and it’s noisy. These days you go into a manufacturing plant like this one, first of all, it’s clean, it’s quiet, and so much of it is running on computers and automation and new systems. So if we’re going to stay competitive in manufacturing, we’ve got some terrific advantages.

Energy, by the way, is one of our biggest advantages because we have some of the cheapest energy in the world. That’s part of why a lot of companies want to relocate here in the United States. But we’ve also got to stay ahead of the curve in the new technologies for the new kinds of manufacturing. Every budget I’ve submitted has called for an increase in our R&D budget — our research and development budget. And we’ve specifically been interested in putting more money into research and development in manufacturing.

So, in fact, today I announced the fifth — the proposal for the fifth manufacturing hub that we’re creating. We want to actually create about 15 more of them after this. And what it’s doing is it’s linking manufacturers with universities and researchers to start developing some of the new technologies that we know are going to be key to the future.

So, for example, we already created a manufacturing hub around 3D printing. Everybody know what 3D printing is? It’s actually pretty interesting. So basically the idea is, is that using software you can manufacture just about anything from a remote location just by you send the program to some site and then the machine builds whatever it is that you designed on the computer from scratch. And we know that over time this is going to be more and more incorporated in the manufacturing process. But we want to make sure that all that stuff is done right here in the United States of America. So we created a hub for that.

Today, I’m announcing a $100 million competition to create a new hub around photonics — I had to ask Penny to make sure I pronounced it right. But this is basically the science, the technology around light which is used to transmit data and information, and also is used in the manufacturing process for everything from lasers to some of the stuff that the Department of Defense is doing.

And what these hubs allow us to do is instead of having a slower process where somebody in some lab coat somewhere figures something out and then writes a report on it, and then maybe five years later, some manufacturer says, huh, I wonder if I could tinker around with that and use that in my manufacturing process, you have a system where the businesses and the researchers are working on it at the same time, which speeds up the discovery process and means we’re moving from discovery to application a lot faster.

Now, Germany has about 60 of these manufacturing hubs, and so far I’ve been able to create five of them — or four of them. This is going to be the fifth. And as I said, I want us to make sure we’re doing a lot more than that.

So that’s just one example of why our investment in manufacturing research and development is going to be so critically important. It allows us to keep our lead because America has always been the top innovator in the world. That’s the reason why our economy historically has done so well, is because we invent stuff faster and better than anybody else. And if we lose that lead, we’re going to be in trouble.

Can I just say one last thing about — because I appreciate you working on this National Manufacturers Day. For the young people here, and anybody who is listening, the reason we set up this National Manufacturing Day is because too many young people do not understand the opportunities that exist in manufacturing. Because so many plants were shut down, and so much offshoring was taking place, I think a lot of people just kind of gave up on the idea of working in manufacturing. The problem is that for a lot of young people, manufacturing offers great opportunities.

I was in Wisconsin, somebody told me an amazing statistic, which is the average age of a skilled tool and die operator in Wisconsin is 59 years old. Now, these folks are making 25, 30 bucks an hour, benefits. You are solidly middle class if you have one of these jobs. And the workforce is getting older and older in that area, and the young people aren’t coming to replace them.

So the idea behind National Manufacturing Day, we got 50,000 young people going into factories all across the county and learning about — look at all the jobs that you can get in manufacturing. Engineering jobs, but also jobs on the line, technical jobs. All of them require some skills. All of them require some higher level learning. But not all of them require a four-year degree. You could make a good living. So that’s part of what we’re trying to encourage getting young people to reorient.

And we’re actually also talking to high schools, saying to them, try to encourage young people to think about manufacturing as a career option. Because not everybody wants to sit behind a desk, pushing paper all day long. And different people have different aptitudes and different talents and different interests. And if we can set up a situation where high schools are starting to connect to manufacturing, then a lot of young people can start getting apprenticeships early — realize how interesting some of that work is. Then they have a better idea, if they do end up going to college, it’s a little more focused around the things that they’re actually going to need in order to succeed in manufacturing.

So thank you for participating in that. It’s really important.

We’ve got — how much more time do we have? I just want to make sure. We’ll make it two. We’ll make it two. All right, young lady right there. Yes, right — you, yes. All right, hold on, let’s make sure we got the microphone here.

Q Hi. I am a secondary English education student at USI. And I just want to say thank you for coming here today. It’s such an honor to hear you speak.

Being in the job force in the next couple of years, I am worried about equal pay as a woman. So you’ve talked a little bit about that. How can we get there? What can we do to get equal pay for women?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a great question. Here are the statistics, first of all. Women on average make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Now, what folks will tell you sometimes is you can’t really compare the situation because a lot of women by choice end up working less when they have kids, and decide to stay home, and so it’s not the same thing. But here’s the problem. It turns out that actually in a lot of companies sometimes it’s still the case that women are getting paid less than men for doing the exact same job.

And so one of the first bills I signed was called the Lilly Ledbetter bill. And Lilly, who is a friend of mine, she was doing a job for 25 years and about 20 years into it just happened to find out that for that whole time she had been getting paid less for doing the exact same job that a man had been doing. And when she tried to sue to get her back pay, the court said, well, it’s too late now because the statute of limitations had run out. She said, well, I just found out. That doesn’t matter.

So we changed that law, and that was the first thing that we did. And what we’ve also done is through executive action what I’ve said is any federal contractor who does business with the federal government, you’ve got to allow people to compare their salaries so that they can get information about whether they’re getting paid fairly or not.

There is a fair pay bill that is before Congress, but so far it’s been blocked by the House Republicans. It hasn’t come up for a vote. We need to keep putting pressure on them to get this done. This is just a matter of basic fairness. I don’t think my daughters should be treated any different than somebody else’s sons if they’re doing a good job. They should get paid the same.

But it’s also a matter of economics, as I said before. More and more women are the key breadwinner in their family, and if they’re getting paid less, that whole family suffers. So this is something that we have to take care.

I do want to mention, though, going back to the first argument, people saying that women make different choices when they have children — well, part of the reason they have to make different choices is because we don’t have a good child care system. (Applause.) It’s because we don’t have a good family leave policy. A child gets sick; you need to take care of a sick child. You can get unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. But what if you can’t afford to give up that paycheck that day? Or you’ve got an ailing parent — they have to go to the doctor one day. They don’t drive. You need to drive them. You need a day off. But if you take the day off, now you can’t pay your rent.

So there are family-friendly policies that we could put in place — and some states are doing so — improving child care, especially early childhood education, by the way, which we know every dollar we invest in that makes our kids do better in school the whole way. (Applause.) So it’s good for our education system, but it’s also just good for parents.

Somebody mentioned my wedding anniversary. I can tell you the toughest time when we were married was when our kids were still small and I was working and Michelle was working. And sometimes I’d be out of town, and the babysitter doesn’t show up, and suddenly Michelle is having scramble. And I promise you when I get home, it’s rough. (Laughter.)

But we were actually — we were professionals. We were both lawyers. We were in a better position to get help than most families, but it was still hard. So the more we do on early childhood education, high quality day care, making it affordable for families, family leave, those family-friendly policies that will help make sure that women are able to take care of their families and pursue their professional careers and bring home the kind of paycheck that they deserve — we need to do both. It’s not a choice between one or the other. We have to do all those things.

I got time for one more question. Gentleman, right here in the blue.

Q Mr. President, I would like to thank you also for visiting. My name is Randy Perry, this young lady’s father. I do have a small manufacturing company in rural America. But how do you speak to us small manufacturers that want to raise the minimum wage but we have to compete?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said before, the first thing we need to do is to make sure that the economy as a whole is strong because, remember what I said, when the economy is strong as a whole, there is more demand for workers. That gives workers more leverage to get pay raises. The same is true for businesses. When demand is high for whatever product you’re producing, then you can afford to charge a little bit more.

And the truth of the matter is, is that for a lot of small businesses, there’s going to be more pressure than large businesses when it comes to wages because you just don’t have as much margin for error. But overall, our economy is going to do better, and small businesses do better when there is greater demand out there for products and services. And there’s greater demand for products and services if people have money in their pockets.

And one of the biggest problems we have in our economy right now — and this includes one of the biggest problems for small businesses — is that when a bigger and bigger share goes to folks at the top, a lot of that money, they just don’t spend.

I had lunch with Bill Gates the other day. Now, Bill Gates has ot a lot of money. (Laughter.) And he’s doing great things with it, by the way, doing great charitable work. But the truth of the matter is, is that if Bill Gates gets an extra million dollars, it’s not like he’s going to spend more money on food or go and buy an extra car, or buy a new refrigerator, because he’s already got everything he needs.

But if somebody who is a low-wage worker gets a raise, first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to spend it — maybe on a new backpack for the kids, or finally trade in that old beater, or a new car. And that drives the economy. It picks it up. It boosts it. And when that happens, then more demand exists for services and goods. And that means that all businesses are going to do better, including small businesses. And that, then, gives you the higher profits, which then allows you to pay your workers a little bit more. You get in this virtuous cycle.

And this is part of the argument that I’ve been having with my good friends in the Republican Party for quite some time. If you look at the policies we’ve been pursuing and proposing — investing in research and development, rebuilding our infrastructure, making sure that college is more affordable, improving child care, fair pay legislation, increase the minimum wage — I can point to evidence that shows that that’s going to put more money in the pockets of middle-class families. That’s going to increase growth at a faster pace, and the economy, as a whole is going to do better.

And their main response to me typically is two things. One is they’ll say we got to get rid of regulations. Except the problem is, for example, the last big crisis we had was precisely because we didn’t have enough regulations on Wall Street, and folks were selling a bunch of junk on the market and doing reckless things that ended up costing everybody something.

And then the second argument that they make is we need more tax cuts for folks like me who make a pretty good living, folks at the top. And I’ve got to tell you, there’s no evidence that that’s going to help middle-class families. There’s no evidence for this trickle-down theory that somehow another tax cut for folks who are already making out like bandits over the last 20 years is going to somehow improve the prospects for ordinary families. It just doesn’t exist. They keep on repeating it, but they don’t show that that’s actually going to help the economy. That’s not going to help you. It’s not going to help you. And it’s not going to help Millennium. And it’s not going to help your business.

I made a speech yesterday at Northwestern, and what I just said is just look at the facts. Since I’ve been President, unemployment has gone from — is down from 10 percent down to now 5.9. The deficit has been cut by more than half. Our energy production is higher than it’s ever been. Our health care costs are slowing. More people have insurance. High school dropout rate has gone down. Graduation rate has gone up. College attendance rate has gone up. Our production of clean energy has doubled. Solar energy has gone up tenfold. Wind energy has gone up threefold. Exports — we export more than we ever have in history. Corporate balance sheets are doing great. Stock market, all-time highs. Housing market beginning to recover. There’s almost no economic measure by which the economy as a whole isn’t doing significantly better than it was when I came into office. (Applause.)

Now, those are just facts. You can look them up. I’m not making it up. That’s one thing about being President — if I stand here and say it, all these folks are filming me so they’ll go and check. (Laughter.) So that’s the truth. But what is also true is that wages and incomes have continued to be flat even though the economy is growing and businesses are making more money. So what that tells me is the one thing that’s holding things back, the one thing that people are still concerned about and the one thing that if we could change would really give more confidence to the economy and boost it is if wages and incomes start going up a little bit.

If all the productivity and profits, if we start sharing that a little bit more with more folks, and ordinary families start feeling like they got a little bit of a cushion, that will be good for everybody. Because that’s the one thing that really we haven’t seen as much improvement on as we need. And so what everybody should be asking is how do we increase wages, how do we increase incomes. Because if we do that, things are going to better.

And there are pretty much just a handful of ways to do it. Number one, you make the economy grow even faster so the labor market gets tighter. Number two, you pursue policies like a higher minimum wage, or making sure that families are able to get child care, you’re driving down health care costs, the kinds of things that affect people’s pocketbooks directly. Those are the things that I’ve been pursuing since I’ve been President. And those are the things I’ll continue to pursue as long as I have this great privilege of bring President.

Thank you so much, everybody. God bless you. Appreciate you. (Applause.)


Full Text Obama Presidency October 2, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Economy at Northwestern University — Transcript



Remarks by the President on the Economy — Northwestern University

Source: WH, 10-2-14 

Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois

1:11 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Evanston!  (Applause.)  Hello, Northwestern!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, have a seat.  Have a seat.  It is so good to be here.  Go ‘Cats!  (Applause.)  I want to thank your president, Morty Schapiro, and the dean of the Kellogg Business School, Sally Blount, for having me.  I brought along some guests.  Your Governor, Pat Quinn, is here.  (Applause.)  Your Senator, Dick Durbin, is here.  (Applause.)  Your Congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky, is here.  (Applause.)  We’ve got some who represent the Chicagoland area in Congress and do a great job every day — Danny Davis, Robin Kelly, Mike Quigley, Brad Schneider.  (Applause.)  We’ve got your mayor, Elizabeth Tisdahl.  (Applause.)  Where’s Elizabeth?  There she is.  One of my great friends and former chief of staff — the mild-mannered Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, is here.  (Laughter and applause.)

It is great to be back home.  (Applause.)  It’s great to be back at Northwestern.  Back when I was a senator, I had the honor of delivering the commencement address for the class of 2006.  And as it turns out, I’ve got a bunch of staff who graduated from here, and so they’re constantly lobbying me about stuff.  And so earlier this year, I popped in via video to help kick off the dance marathon.  I figured this time I’d come in person — not only because it’s nice to be so close to home, but it’s also just nice to see old friends, people who helped to form how I think about public service; people who helped me along the way.  Toni Preckwinkle was my alderwoman and was a great supporter.  (Applause.)  Lisa Madigan, your attorney general, was my seatmate.  State Senator Terry Link was my golf buddy.  So you’ve got people here who I’ve just known for years and really not only helped me be where I am today, but helped develop how I think about public service.

And I’m also happy to be here because this is a university that is brimming with the possibilities of a new economy — your research and technology; the ideas and the innovation; the training of doctors and educators, and scientists and entrepreneurs.  But you can’t help but visit a campus like this and feel the promise of the future.

And that’s why I’m here — because it’s going to be young people like you, and universities like this, that will shape the American economy and set the conditions for middle-class growth well into the 21st century.

And obviously, recent months have seen their fair share of turmoil around the globe.  But one thing should be crystal clear:  American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world.  It’s America — our troops, our diplomats — that lead the fight to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

It’s America — our doctors, our scientists, our know-how — that leads the fight to contain and combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

It’s America — our colleges, our graduate schools, our unrivaled private sector — that attracts so many people to our shores to study and start businesses and tackle some of the most challenging problems in the world.

When alarms go off somewhere in the world, whether it’s a disaster that is natural or man-made; when there’s an idea or an invention that can make a difference, this is where things start.  This is who the world calls — America.  They don’t call Moscow.  They don’t call Beijing.  They call us.  And we welcome that responsibility of leadership, because that’s who we are.  That’s what we expect of ourselves.

But what supports our leadership role in the world is ultimately the strength of our economy here at home.  And today, I want to step back from the rush of global events to take a clear-eyed look at our economy, its successes and its shortcomings, and determine what we still need to build for your generation — what you can help us build.

As Americans, we can and should be proud of the progress that our country has made over these past six years.  And here are the facts — because sometimes the noise clutters and I think confuses the nature of the reality out there.  Here are the facts:  When I took office, businesses were laying off 800,000 Americans a month.  Today, our businesses are hiring 200,000 Americans a month.  (Applause.)  The unemployment rate has come down from a high of 10 percent in 2009, to 6.1 percent today.  (Applause.)  Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have created 10 million new jobs; this is the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job creation in our history.  Think about that.  And you don’t have to applaud at — because I’m going to be giving you a lot of good statistics.  (Laughter.)  Right now, there are more job openings than at any time since 2001.  All told, the United States has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and every other advanced economy combined.  I want you to think about that.  We have put more people back to work, here in America, than Europe, Japan, and every other advanced economy combined.

This progress has been hard, but it has been steady and it has been real.  And it’s the direct result of the American people’s drive and their determination and their resilience, and it’s also the result of sound decisions made by my administration.

So it is indisputable that our economy is stronger today than when I took office.  By every economic measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office.  At the same time, it’s also indisputable that millions of Americans don’t yet feel enough of the benefits of a growing economy where it matters most — and that’s in their own lives.

And these truths aren’t incompatible.  Our broader economy in the aggregate has come a long way, but the gains of recovery are not yet broadly shared — or at least not broadly shared enough.  We can see that homes in our communities are selling for more money, and that the stock market has doubled, and maybe the neighbors have new health care or a car fresh off an American assembly line.  And these are all good things.  But the stress that families feel — that’s real, too.  It’s still harder than it should be to pay the bills and to put away some money.  Even when you’re working your tail off, it’s harder than it should be to get ahead.

And this isn’t just a hangover from the Great Recession.  I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, but I also said that our economy wouldn’t be truly healthy until we reverse the much longer and profound erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes.

So here’s our challenge.  We’re creating more jobs at a steady pace.  We’ve got a recovering housing market, a revitalized manufacturing sector — two things that are critical to middle-class success.  We’ve also begun to see some modest wage growth in recent months.  All of that has gotten the economy rolling again, despite the fact that the economies of many other countries around the world are softening.  But as Americans, we measure our success by something more than our GDP, or a jobs report.  We measure it by whether our jobs provide meaningful work that give people a sense of purpose, and whether it allows folks to take care of their families.  And too many families still work too many hours with too little to show for it.  Job growth could be so much faster and wages could be going up faster if we made some better decisions going forward with the help of Congress.  So our task now is to harness the momentum that is real, that does exist, and make sure that we accelerate that momentum, that the economy grows and jobs grow and wages grow.  That’s our challenge.

When the typical family isn’t bringing home any more than it did in 1997, then that means it’s harder for middle-class Americans to climb the ladder of success.  It means that it’s harder for poor Americans to grab hold of the ladder into the middle class.  That’s not what America is supposed to be about.  It offends the very essence of who we are.  Because if being an American means anything, it means we believe that even if we’re born with nothing — regardless of our circumstances, a last name, whether we were wealthy, whether our parents were advantaged — no matter what our circumstances, with hard work we can change our lives, and then our kids can too.

And that’s about more than just fairness.  It’s more than just the idea of what America is about.  When middle-class families can’t afford to buy the goods or services our businesses sell, it actually makes it harder for our economy to grow.  Our economy cannot truly succeed if we’re stuck in a winner-take-all system where a shrinking few do very well while a growing many are struggling to get by.  Historically, our economic greatness rests on a simple principle:  When the middle class thrives, and when people can work hard to get into the middle class, then America thrives.  And when it doesn’t, America doesn’t.

This is going to be a central challenge of our times.  We have to make our economy work for every working American.  And every policy I pursue as President is aimed at answering that challenge.

Over the last decade, we learned the hard way that it wasn’t sustainable to have an economy where too much of the growth was based on inflated home prices and bubbles that burst and a casino mentality on Wall Street; where the recklessness of a few could threaten all of us; where incomes at the top skyrocketed, while working families saw theirs decline.  That was not a formula for sustained growth.  We need an economy that’s built on a rock, and that — a rock that is durable and competitive, and that’s a steady source of good, middle-class jobs.  When that’s happening, everybody does well.

So that’s why on day one, when I took office, with Rahm and Dick Durbin and others who were working with us, I said we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation for growth and prosperity.  And with dedicated, persistent effort, we’ve actually been laying the cornerstones of this foundation every single day since.

So I mentioned earlier that there is not an economic measure by which we’re not better off than when we took official.  But let me break down what we’ve also been doing structurally to make sure that we have a strong foundation for growth going forward.

The first cornerstone is new investments in the energy and technologies that make America a magnet for good, middle-class jobs.

So right off the bat, as soon as I came into office, we upped our investments in American energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and strengthen our own energy security.  And today, the number-one oil and gas producer in the world is no longer Russia or Saudi Arabia.  It’s America.  (Applause.)

For the first time in nearly two decades, we now produce more oil than we buy from other countries.  We’re advancing so fast in this area that two years ago I set a goal to cut our oil imports by half by — in half by 2020, and we’ve actually — we will meet that goal this year, six years ahead of schedule.  (Applause.)

So that’s in the traditional fossil fuel area.  But at the same time, we’ve helped put tens of thousands of people to work manufacturing wind turbines, and installing solar panels on homes and businesses.  We have tripled the electricity that we harness from the wind.  We have increased tenfold what we generate from the sun.  We have brought enough clean energy online to power every home and business in Illinois and Wisconsin, 24/7.  And that’s the kind of progress that we can be proud of and in part accounts for the progress we have also made in reducing carbon emissions that cause climate change.  And I know that here at Northwestern, your researchers are working to convert sunlight into liquid fuel — which sounds impossible, or at least really hard.  (Laughter.)  But the good news is, if you need to get the hard or the impossible done, America and American universities are a pretty good place to start.

Meanwhile, our 100-year supply of natural gas is a big factor in drawing jobs back to our shores.  Many are in manufacturing — which produce the quintessential middle-class job.  During the last decade, it was widely accepted that American manufacturing was in irreversible decline.  And just six years ago, its crown jewel, the American auto industry, could not survive on its own.  With the help of folks like Jan and Dick and Mike Quigley and others, we helped our automakers restructure and retool.  Today, they’re building and selling new cars at the fastest rate in eight years.  We invested in new plants, new technologies, new high-tech hubs like the Digital Manufacturing and Design Institute that Northwestern has partnered with in Chicago.

Today, American manufacturing has added more than 700,000 new jobs.  It’s growing almost twice as fast as the rest of the economy.  And more than half of all manufacturing executives have said they are actively looking at bringing jobs back from China.  To many in the middle class, the last decade was defined by outsourcing good jobs overseas.  If we keep up these investments, we can define this decade by what’s known as “insourcing” — with new factories now opening their doors here in America at the fastest pace in decades.  And in the process, we’ve also worked to grow American exports and open new markets, knock down barriers to trade, because businesses that export tend to have better-paying jobs.  So today, our businesses sell more goods and services made in America to the rest of the world than ever before.  Ever.

And that’s progress we can be proud of.  Now, we also know that many of these manufacturing jobs have changed.  You’re not just punching in and pounding rivets anymore; you’re coding computers and you’re guiding robots.  You’re mastering 3D printing.  And these jobs require some higher education or technical training.  And that’s why the second cornerstone of the new foundation we’ve been building is making sure our children are prepared and our workers are prepared to fill the jobs of the future.

America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free.  We sent a generation to college.  We cultivated the most educated workforce in the world.  But it didn’t take long for other countries to look at our policies and caught on to the secret of our success.  So they set out to educate their kids too, so they could out-compete our kids.  We have to lead the world in education once again.  (Applause.)

That’s why we launched a Race to the Top in our schools, trained thousands of math and science teachers, supported states that raised standards for learning.  Today, teachers in 48 states and D.C. are teaching our kids the knowledge and skills they need to compete and win in the global economy.  Working with parents and educators, we’ve turned around some of the country’s lowest-performing schools.  We’re on our way to connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed Internet, and making sure every child, at every seat, has the best technology for learning.

Look, let’s face it:  Some of these changes are hard.  Sometimes they cause controversy.  And we have a long way to go.  But public education in America is actually improving.  Last year, our elementary and middle school students had the highest math and reading scores on record.  The dropout rates for Latinos and African Americans are down.  (Applause.)  The high school graduation rate — the high school graduation rate is up.  It’s now above 80 percent for the first time in history.  We’ve invested in more than 700 community colleges — which are so often gateways to the middle class — and we’re connecting them with employers to train high school graduates for good jobs in fast-growing fields like high-tech manufacturing and energy and IT and cybersecurity.

Here in Chicago, Rahm just announced that the city will pay community college tuition for more striving high school graduates.  We’ve helped more students afford college with grants and tax credits and loans.  And today, more young people are graduating than ever before.  We’ve sent more veterans to college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill — including several veterans here at Northwestern — and a few of them are in this hall today, and we thank them for their service.  (Applause.)

So we’ve made progress on manufacturing and creating good jobs.  We’ve made progress on education.  Of course, even if you have the right education, for decades, one of the things that made it harder for families to make ends meet and businesses to grow was the high cost of health care.  And so the third cornerstone had to be health care reform.

In the decade before the Affordable Care Act, aka, Obamacare — (laughter and applause) — in the decade before the Affordable Care Act, double-digit premium increases were common.  CEOs called them one of the biggest challenges to their competitiveness.  And if your employer didn’t drop your coverage to avoid these costs, they might pass them on to you and take them out of your wages.

Today, we have seen a dramatic slowdown in the rising cost of health care.  When we passed the Affordable Care Act, the critics were saying, what are you doing about cost.  Well, let me tell you what we’ve done about cost.  If your family gets your health care through your employer, premiums are rising at a rate tied for the lowest on record.  And what this means for the economy is staggering.  If we hadn’t taken this on, and premiums had kept growing at the rate they did in the last decade, the average premium for family coverage today would be $1,800 higher than they are.  Now, most people don’t notice it, but that’s $1,800 you don’t have to pay out of your pocket or see vanish from your paycheck.  That’s like a $1,800 tax cut.  That’s not for folks who signed up for Obamacare.  That’s the consequences of some of the reforms that we’ve made.

And because the insurance marketplaces we created encourage insurers to compete for your business, in many of cities they’ve announced that next year’s premiums — well, something important is happening here — next year’s premiums are actually falling in some of these markets.  One expert said this is “defying the law of physics.”  But we’re getting it done.  And it is progress we can be proud of.

So we’re slowing the cost of health care, and we’re covering more people at the same time.  In just the last year, we reduced the share of uninsured Americans by 26 percent.  That means one in four uninsured Americans — about 10 million people — have gained the financial security of health insurance in less than one year.  And for young entrepreneurs, like many of you here today, the fact that you can compare and buy affordable plans in the marketplace frees you up to strike out on your own, chase that new idea — something I hope will unleash new services and products and enterprises all across the country.  So the job lock that used to exist because you needed health insurance, you’re free from that now.   You can go out and do something on your own and get affordable health care.

And meanwhile, partly because health care prices have been growing at the slowest rate in nearly 50 years, the growth in what health care costs the government is down, also.  I want everybody to listen carefully here, because when we were debating the Affordable Care Act there was a lot of complaining about how we couldn’t afford this.  The independent, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently reported that in 2020, Medicare and Medicaid will cost us $188 billion less than projected just four years ago.  And here’s what that means in layman’s terms:  Health care has long been the single biggest driver of America’s future deficits.  It’s been the single biggest driver of our debt.  Health care is now the single biggest factor driving down those deficits.

And this is a game-changer for the fourth cornerstone of this new foundation — getting our fiscal house in order for the long run, so we can afford to make investments that grow the middle class.

Between a growing economy, some prudent spending cuts, health care reform, and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more on their taxes, over the past five years we’ve cut our deficits by more than half.  When I took office, the deficit was nearly 10 percent of our economy.  Today, it’s approaching 3 percent.  (Applause.)  In other words, we can shore up America’s long-term finances without falling back into the mindless austerity or manufactured crises or trying to find excuses to slash benefits to seniors that dominated Washington budget debates for so long.

And finally, we’ve put in place financial reform to protect consumers and prevent a crisis on Wall Street from hammering Main Street ever again.  We have new tools to prevent “too big to fail,” to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts.  We made it illegal for big banks to gamble with your money.  We established the first-ever consumer watchdog to protect consumers from irresponsible lending or credit card practices.  We secured billions of dollars in relief for consumers who get taken advantage of.  And working with states attorneys general like Lisa Madigan, we’ve seen industry practices changing.

Now, an argument you’ll hear oftentimes from critics is that the way to grow the economy is to just get rid of regulations; free folks up from the oppressive hand of the government.  And you know, it turns out, truth be told, there are still some kind of dopey regulations on the books.  (Laughter.)  There are regulations that are outdated or are no longer serving a useful purpose.  And we have scrubbed the laws out there and identified hundreds that are outdated, that don’t help our economy, that don’t make sense, and we’re saving businesses billions of dollars by gradually eliminating those unnecessary regulations.  But you have to contrast that with rules that discourage a casino-style mentality on Wall Street, or rules that protect the basic safety of workers on the job, or rules that safeguard the air our children breathe and keep mercury or arsenic out of our water supply.  These don’t just have economic benefits, these are rules that save lives and protect families.  And I’ll always stand up for those — and they’re good for our economy.

So here’s the bottom line:  For all the work that remains, for all the citizens that we still need to reach, what I want people to know is that there are some really good things happening in America.  Unemployment down.  Jobs up.  Manufacturing growing.  Deficits cut by more than half.  High school graduation is up.  College enrollment up.  Energy production up.  Clean energy production up.  Financial system more stable.  Health care costs rising at a slower rate.  Across the board, the trend lines have moved in the right direction.

That’s because this new foundation is now in place.  New investments in energy and technologies that create new jobs and new industries.  New investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive.  New reforms to health care that cut costs for families and businesses.  New reforms to our federal budget that will promote smart investments and a stronger economy for future generations.  New rules for our financial system to protect consumers and prevent the kinds of crises that we endured from happening again.

You add it all up, and it’s no surprise that for the first time in more than a decade, business leaders from around the world — these are business surveys.  Kellogg, you’re familiar with these.  (Laughter.)  Business leaders from around the world have said the world’s most attractive place to invest is not India or China, it’s the United States of America.  And that’s because the financial sector is healthier; because manufacturing is healthier; because the housing market is healthier; because health care inflation is at a 50-year low; because our energy boom is at new highs.  Because of all these things, our economy isn’t just primed for steadier, more sustained growth; America is better poised to lead and succeed in the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.  We’ve got the best cards.

And I will not allow anyone to dismantle this foundation.  Because for the first time, we can see real, tangible evidence of what the contours of the new economy will look like.  It’s an economy teeming with new industry and commerce, and humming with new energy and new technologies, and bustling with highly skilled, higher-wage workers.

It’s an America where a student graduating from college has the chance to advance through a vibrant job market, and where an entrepreneur can start a new business and succeed, and where an older worker can retool for that new job.  And to fully realize this vision requires steady, relentless investment in these areas.  We cannot let up and we cannot be complacent.  We have to be hungry as a nation.  We have to compete.  When we do — if we take the necessary steps to build on the foundation that through some really hard work we have laid over the last several years — I promise you, over the next 10 years we’ll build an economy where wage growth is stronger than it was in the past three decades.  It is achievable.

So let me just talk a little more specifically about what we should be doing right now.

First of all, we’ve got to realize that the trends that have battered the middle class for so long aren’t ones that we’re going to reverse overnight.  The facts that I just laid out don’t mean that there aren’t a lot of folks out there who are underpaid, they’re underemployed, they’re working long hours, they’re having trouble making ends meet.  I hear from them every day, I meet with them.  And it’s heartbreaking — because they’re struggling hard.  And there are no silver bullets for job creation or faster wage growth.  Anybody who tells you otherwise is not telling the truth.  But there are policies that would grow jobs and wages faster than we’re doing right now.

If we rebuild roads and bridges — because we’ve got $2 trillion of deferred maintenance on our infrastructure — we won’t just put construction workers and engineers on the job; we will revitalize entire communities, and connect people to jobs, and make it easier for businesses to ship goods around the world.  And we can pay for it with tax reform that actually cuts rates on businesses, but closes wasteful loopholes, making it even more attractive for companies to invest and create jobs here in the United States.  Let’s do this and make our economy stronger.

If we make it easier for first-time homebuyers to get a loan, we won’t just create even more construction jobs and speed up recovery in the housing market; we’ll speed up your efforts to grow a nest egg and start a new company, and send your own kids to college and graduate school someday.  So let’s help more young families buy that first home, make our economy stronger.

If we keep investing in clean energy technology, we won’t just put people to work on the assembly lines, pounding into place the zero-carbon components of a clean energy age; we’ll reduce our carbon emissions and prevent the worst costs of climate change down the road.  Let’s do this — invest in new American energy and make our economy stronger.

If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we’ll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own.  In fact, today, I’m setting a new goal:  By the end of this decade, let’s enroll 6 million children in high-quality preschool.  That is an achievable goal that we know will make our workforce stronger.  (Applause.)

If we redesign our high schools, we’ll graduate more kids with the real-world skills that lead directly to a good job in the new economy.  If we invest more in job training and apprenticeships, we’ll help more workers fill more good jobs that are coming back to this country.  If we make it easier for students to pay off their college loans, we’ll help a whole lot of young people breathe easier and feel freer to take the jobs they really want.  (Applause.)  So look, let’s do this — let’s keep reforming our education system to make sure young people at every level have a shot at success, just like folks at Northwestern do.

If we fix our broken immigration system, we won’t just prevent some of the challenges like the ones that we saw at the border this summer; we’ll encourage the best and brightest from around the world to study here and stay here, and create jobs here.  Independent economists say that a big bipartisan reform bill that the House has now blocked for over a year would grow our economy, shrink our deficits, secure our borders.  Let’s pass that bill.  Let’s make America stronger.  (Applause.)

If we want to make and sell the best products, we have to invest in the best ideas, like you do here at Northwestern.  Your nanotechnology institute doesn’t just conduct groundbreaking research; that research has spun off 20 startups and more than 1,800 products — that means jobs.  (Applause.)

Here’s another example.  Over a decade ago, America led the international effort to sequence the human genome.  One study found that every dollar we invested returned $140 to our economy.  Now, I don’t have an MBA, but that’s sounds like a good return on investment.  (Laughter and applause.)

Today, though, the world’s largest genomics center is in China.  That doesn’t mean America is slipping.  It does mean America isn’t investing.  We can’t let other countries discover the products and businesses that will shape the next century and the century after that.  So we’ve got to invest more in the kinds of basic research that led to Google and GPS, and makes our economy stronger.

If we raise the minimum wage, we won’t just put — (applause) — we won’t just put more money in workers’ pockets; they’ll spend that money at local businesses, who in turn will hire more people.

In the two years since I first asked Congress to raise the national minimum wage, 13 states and D.C. went and raised theirs.  And more business owners are joining them on their own.  It’s on the ballot in five states this November, including Illinois.  (Applause.)  And here’s the thing — recent surveys show that a majority of small business owners support a gradual increase to $10.10 an hour.  A survey just last week showed that nearly two-thirds of employers thought the minimum wage should go up in their state — and more than half of them think it should be at least $10.  So what’s stopping us?  Let’s agree that nobody who works full-time in America should ever have to raise a family in poverty.  Let’s give America a raise.  It will make the economy stronger.  (Applause.)

If we make sure a woman is paid equal to a man for her efforts — (applause) — that is not just giving women a boost.  Gentlemen, you want your wife making that money that she has earned.  (Laughter.)  It gives the entire family a boost and it gives the entire economy a boost.  Women now outpace men in college degrees and graduate degrees, but they often start their careers with lower pay.  And that gap grows over time, and that affects their families.  It’s stupid.  (Laughter and applause.)  Let’s inspire and support more women, especially in fields like science and technology and engineering and math.  (Applause.)  Let’s catch up to 2014, pass a fair pay law, make our economy stronger.

And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the barriers that keep more moms who want to work from entering the workforce.  Let’s do what Dean Blount did here at Kellogg.  She’s been working with us at the White House, helping business and political leaders who recognize that flexibility in the workplace and paid maternity leave are actually good for business.  And let’s offer those deals to dads, too.  (Applause.)  Because we want to make sure that they can participate in child-rearing.  And let’s make sure work pays for parents who are raising young kids.  It’s a good investment.

California adopted paid leave, which boosted work and earnings for moms with young kids.  Let’s follow their lead.  Let’s make our economy stronger.

Now, none of these policies I just mentioned on their own will entirely get us to where we want to be.  But if we do these things systematically, the cumulative impact will be huge.  Unemployment will drop a little faster, which means workers will gain a little more leverage when it comes to wages and salaries, which means consumer confidence will go up, which means families will be able to spend a little more and save a little more, which means our economy grows stronger, and growth will be shared.  More people will feel this recovery, rather than just reading about it in the newspapers.  That’s the truth.

And I’m going to keep making the argument for these policies, because they are right for America.  They are supported by the facts.  And I’m always willing to work with anyone, Democrat or Republican, to get things done.  And every once in a while, we actually see a bill land on my desk from Congress.  (Laughter.)  And we do a bill signing and I look at the members, and I say — I tell them, look how much fun this is.  Let’s do this again.  Let’s do it again.  (Laughter and applause.)

But if gridlock prevails, if cooperation and compromise are no longer valued, but vilified, then I’ll keep doing everything I can on my own if it will make a difference for working Americans.  (Applause.)

I will keep teaming up with governors and mayors and CEOs and philanthropists who want to help.  Here’s an example.  There are 28 million Americans who would benefit from a minimum wage increase — 28 million.  Over the past two years, because we’ve teamed up with cities and states and businesses, and went around Congress, 7 million of them have gotten a raise.  So until Congress chooses to step up and help all of them, I’ll keep fighting to get an extra million here and an extra million there with a raise.  We’ll keep fighting for this.

And let me just say one other thing about the economy — because oftentimes you hear this from the critics:  The notion is that the agenda I’ve just outlined is somehow contrary to pro-business, capitalist, free-market values.  And since we’re here at a business school, I thought it might be useful to point out that Bloomberg, for example, I think came out with an article today saying that corporate balance sheets are the strongest just about that they’ve ever been.  Corporate debt is down.  Profits are up.  Businesses are doing good.

So this idea that somehow any of these policies — like the minimum wage or fair pay or clean energy — are somehow bad for business is simply belied by the facts.  It’s not true.  And if you talk to business leaders, even the ones who really don’t like to admit it because they don’t like me that much — (laughter) — they’ll admit that actually their balance sheets look really strong, and that this economy is doing better than our competitors around the world.  So don’t buy this notion that somehow this is an anti-business agenda.  This is a pro-business agenda.  This is a pro-economic growth agenda.

Now, I am not on the ballot this fall.  Michelle is pretty happy about that.  (Laughter.)  But make no mistake:  These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.  This isn’t some official campaign speech, or political speech, and I’m not going to tell you who to vote for — although I suppose it is kind of implied.  (Laughter and applause.)  But what I have done is laid out my ideas to create more jobs and to grow more wages.  And I’ve also tried to correct the record — because, as I said, there’s a lot of noise out there.  Every item I ticked off, those are the facts.  It’s not conjecture.  It’s not opinion.  It’s not partisan rhetoric.  I laid out facts.

So I laid out what I know has happened over the six years of my presidency so far, and I’ve laid out an agenda for what I think should happen to make us grow even better, grow even faster.  A true opposition party should now have the courage to lay out their agenda, hopefully also grounded in facts.

There’s a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on deficits — it’s because the deficits have come down at almost a record pace, and they’re now manageable.  There’s a reason fewer Republicans you hear them running about Obamacare — because while good, affordable health care might seem like a fanged threat to the freedom of the American people on Fox News — (laughter) — it’s turns out it’s working pretty well in the real world.  (Applause.)

Now, when push came to shove this year, and Republicans in Congress actually had to take a stand on policies that would help the middle class and working Americans — like raising the minimum wage, or enacting fair pay, or refinancing student loans, or extending insurance for the unemployed — the answer was “no.”  But one thing they did vote “yes” on was another massive tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.  In fact, just last month, at least one top Republican in Congress said that tax cuts for those at the top are — and I’m quoting here — “even more pressing now” than they were 30 years ago.  More pressing.  When nearly all the gains of the recovery have gone to the top 1 percent, when income inequality is at as high a rate as we’ve seen in decades, I find that a little hard to swallow that they really desperately need a tax cut right now, it’s urgent.  ]

Why?  (Laughter.)  What are the facts?  What is the empirical data that would justify that position?  Kellogg Business School, you guys are all smart.  You do all this analysis.  You run the numbers.  Has anybody here seen a credible argument that that is what our economy needs right now?  Seriously.  (Laughter.)

But this is the — if you watch the debate, including on some of the business newscasts — (laughter) — and folks are just pontificating about how important this is.  Based on what?  What’s the data?  What’s the proof?  If there were any credible argument that says when those at the top do well and eventually everybody else will do well, it would have borne itself out by now.  We’d see data that that was true.  It’s not.

American economic greatness has never trickled down from the top.  It grows from a rising, thriving middle class and opportunity for working people.  That’s what makes us different.  (Applause.)

So I just want to be clear here — because you guys are going to be business leaders of the future, and you’re going to be making decisions based on logic and reason and facts and data.  And right now you’ve got two starkly different visions for this country.  And I believe, with every bone in my body, that there’s one clear choice here because it’s supported by facts.

And this is our moment to define what the next decade and beyond will look like.  This is our chance to set the conditions for middle-class growth in the 21st century.  The decisions we make this year, and over the next few years, will determine whether or not we set the stage for America’s greatness in this century just like we did in the last one — whether or not we restore the link between hard work and higher wages; whether or not we continue to invest in a skilled, educated citizenry; whether or not we rebuild an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.

And some of that depends on you.  There is a reason why I came to a business school instead of a school of government.  I actually believe that capitalism is the greatest force for prosperity and opportunity the world has ever known.  And I believe in private enterprise — not government, but innovators and risk-takers and makers and doers — driving job creation.

But I also believe in a higher principle, which is we’re all in this together.  (Applause.)  That’s the spirit that made the American economy work.  That’s what made the American economy not just the world’s greatest wealth creator, but the world’s greatest opportunity generator.  And because you’re America’s future business leaders and civic leaders, that makes you the stewards of America’s greatest singlet asset — and that’s our people.

So as you engage in the pursuit of profits, I challenge you to do so with a sense of purpose.  As you chase your own success, I challenge you to cultivate more ways to help more Americans chase their success.

It is the American people who’ve made the progress of the last six years possible.  It is the American people who will make our future progress possible.  It is the American people that make American business successful.  And they should share in that success.  It’s not just for you.  It’s for us.  Because it’s the American people that made the investments over the course of generations to allow you and me to be here and experience this success.  That’s the story of America.  America is a story of progress — sometimes halting, sometimes incomplete, sometimes harshly challenged.  But the story of America is a story of progress.

And it has now been six long years since our economy nearly collapsed.  Despite that shock, through the pain that so many fellow Americans felt; for all the gritty, grueling work required to come back, all the work that’s left to be done — a new foundation is laid.  A new future is yet to be written.  And I am as confident as ever that that future will be led by the United States of America.

Thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.

2:06 P.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Focusing on the Economic Priorities for the Middle Class Nationwide



Weekly Address: Focusing on the Economic Priorities for the Middle Class Nationwide

Source: WH, 6-28-14 

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President discussed his recent trip to Minneapolis where he met a working mother named Rebekah, who wrote the President to share the challenges her family and many middle class Americans are facing where they work hard and sacrifice yet still can’t seem to get ahead. But instead of focusing on growing the middle class and expanding opportunity for all, Republicans in Congress continue to block commonsense economic proposals such as raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance and making college more affordable.  The President will keep fighting his economic priorities in the weeks and months ahead, because he knows the best way to expand opportunity for all hardworking Americans and continue to strengthen the economy is to grow it from the middle-out.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
June 28, 2014

Hi, everybody.  This week, I spent a couple days in Minneapolis, talking with people about their lives – their concerns, their successes, and their hopes for the future.

I went because of a letter I received from a working mother named Rebekah, who shared with me the hardships her young family has faced since the financial crisis.  She and her husband Ben were just newlyweds expecting their first child, Jack, when the housing crash dried up his contracting business.  He took what jobs he could, and Rebekah took out student loans and retrained for a new career.  They sacrificed – for their kids, and for each other.  And five years later, they’ve paid off debt, bought their first home, and had their second son, Henry.

In her letter to me, she wrote, “We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”  And in many ways, that’s America’s story these past five years.  We are a strong, tight-knit family that’s made it through some very tough times.

Today, over the past 51 months, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs.  By measure after measure, our economy is doing better than it was five years ago.

But as Rebekah also wrote in her letter, there are still too many middle-class families like hers who do everything right – who work hard and who sacrifice – but can’t seem to get ahead.  It feels like the odds are stacked against them.  And with just a small change in our priorities, we could fix that.

The problem is, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down almost every serious idea to strengthen the middle class.  This year alone, they’ve said no to raising the minimum wage, no to fair pay, no to student loan reform, no to extending unemployment insurance.  And rather than invest in education that helps working families get ahead, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.

This obstruction keeps the system rigged for those at the top, and rigged against the middle class.  And as long as they insist on doing it, I’ll keep taking actions on my own – like the actions I’ve taken already to attract new jobs, lift workers’ wages, and help students pay off their loans.  I’ll do my job.  And if it makes Republicans in Congress mad that I’m trying to help people out, they can join me, and we’ll do it together.

The point is, we could do so much more as a country – as a strong, tight-knit family – if Republicans in Congress were less interested in stacking the deck for those at the top, and more interested in growing the economy for everybody.

So rather than more tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks to help working families pay for child care or college.  Rather than protect tax loopholes that let big corporations set up tax shelters overseas, let’s put people to work rebuilding roads and bridges right here in America.  Rather than stack the decks in favor of those who’ve already succeeded, let’s realize that we are stronger as a nation when we offer a fair shot to every American.

I’m going to spend some time talking about these very choices in the week ahead.  That’s because we know from our history that our economy doesn’t grow from the top-down, it grows from the middle-out.  We do better when the middle class does better.  That’s the American way.  That’s what I believe in.  And that’s what I’ll keep fighting for.

Have a great Fourth of July, everybody – and good luck to Team USA down in Brazil.


Full Text Obama Presidency June 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Economy in Minneapolis, MN — Attacking GOP for Not Passing Economic Agenda



Remarks by the President on the Economy — Minneapolis, MN

Source: WH, 6-27-14 

Lake Harriet Band Shell
Minneapolis, Minnesota

10:15 A.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Minneapolis!  (Applause.)  How is everybody doing today?  You look good.  (Applause.)  It is good to see all of you.  I miss Minneapolis.  I missed you guys.  Go ahead and have a seat, I’m going to be talking for a while.  (Laughter.)

So we’ve got some wonderful folks here today.  I want to acknowledge a few of them.  First of all, your outstanding Governor, Mark Dayton.  (Applause.)  Your wonderful senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar.  (Applause.)  Congressman Keith Ellison.  (Applause.)  Your Mayor, Betsy Hodges.  (Applause.)  And all of you are here, and that’s special.

I want to thank Rebekah for not just the introduction and for sharing her story, but for letting me hang out with her and her family for the last couple of days.  I really like her.  (Laughter.)  And her husband is like the husband of the year.  Generally, you don’t want your wife to meet Rebekah’s husband, because she’ll be like, well, why don’t you do that?  (Laughter.)  Why aren’t you like that?

I’ve been wanting to visit a place where all the women are strong and the men are good-looking, and the children above average.  (Applause.)  And this clearly is an example of what Minnesota produces.  So yesterday, Rebekah and I had lunch at Matt’s Bar, had a “Jucy Lucy” — (applause) — which was quite tasty.  We had a town hall at Minnehaha Park, although I did not take a kayak over the falls, which seemed dangerous.  (Laughter.)  We got ice cream at Grand Ole Creamery — very good, very tasty.

And then this morning, Al Franken and I and Secretary Tom Perez, our Secretary of Labor who’s here — Tom, stand up — (applause) — we stopped by a community organization that helps with a lot of job programs and job placement programs.  And this program in particular was focused on young moms.  It was really interesting talking to them, because there are teenage mothers, 16 to 18, and it was a great pleasure for me to be able to say to all of them that my mom was a teenage mom, and she was 18 when she had me — and to be able to say to all of them that here in this country, it is possible for the child of a teenage mom, a single mom, to end up being President of the United States.  (Applause.)  And I think that it maybe gave them something to think about.

So you guys have been great hosts, Minnesota.


THE PRESIDENT:  You’re welcome.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Laughter and applause.)

So I want to give you a sense of how this visit came up.  As some of you know, every day we get tens of thousands of correspondence at the White House.  And we have a big correspondence office, and every night the folks who manage the correspondence office select 10 letters for me to read.

And the job of these letters is not to just puff me up — so it’s not like they only send me letters saying, Mr. President, you’re doing great.  (Laughter.)  Sometimes the letters say thank you for something I may have done.  Sometimes the letters say, you are an idiot and the worst President ever.  (Laughter.)  And most of the stories, though, are stories of hardship, or hard-won success, or hopes that haven’t been met yet.  Some appreciate a position that I may have taken; some disagree with what I’m doing.  Some consider policies like the Affordable Care Act to be socialism; some tell stories about the difference that same policy may have made in folks’ lives.

So I’m getting a good sample of what’s happening around the country.  And last month, three young girls wrote to me that boys aren’t fair because they don’t pass the ball in gym class.  (Laughter.)  So there’s a wide spectrum — and I’m going to prepare an executive order on that.

But the letter that Rebekah sent stood out — first of all, because she’s a good writer, and also because she’s a good person.  And the story that she told me reminded Michelle and I of some of our own experiences when we were Rebekah and her husband’s age.  And in many ways, her story for the past five years is our story, it’s the American story.

In early 2009, Rebekah and Ben, her husband, they were newly married, expecting their first son, Jack.  She was waiting tables, he was in construction.  Like millions of middle-class families who got hammered by the Great Recession — the worst recession since the Great Depression — life was about to get pretty hard.  “If only we had known,” she wrote, “what was about to happen to the housing and construction market.”

Ben’s business dried up.  But as a new husband and dad, he did what he had to, so he took whatever jobs he could, even if it forced him to be away from his family for days at a time.  Rebekah realized she needed to think about how her career would unfold, so she took out student loans and enrolled in St. Paul College, and retrained for a new career as an accountant.

And it’s been a long, hard road for them.  They had to pay off debt.  They had to sacrifice for their kids and for one another.  But then last year, they were able to buy their first home, and they’ve got a second son.  And they love where they work, and Ben’s new job lets him be home for dinner each night.  (Applause.)  And so what Rebekah wrote was, “It’s amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to.  We’re a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”

And that describes the American people.  We, too, are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.  And today, over the past 51 months, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs.  Our housing market is rebounding.  Our auto industry is booming.  Our manufacturing sector is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  We’ve made our tax code fairer.  We’ve cut our deficits by more than half.  More than 8 million Americans have signed up for private insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)  So here in Minnesota, you can now say that the women are strong, the men are good-looking, the children are above average, and 95 percent of you are insured.  (Applause.)

And it’s thanks to the hard work of citizens like Rebekah and Ben and so many of you that we’ve come farther, we’ve recovered faster than just about any other advanced economy on Earth.  More and more companies are deciding that the world’s number-one place to create jobs and invest is once again the United States of America.  (Applause.)  That’s the good news.  And you don’t hear it very often.

By every economic measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office.  (Applause.)  You wouldn’t know it, but we are.  We’ve made some enormous strides.  But that’s not the end of the story.  We have more work to do.

It wasn’t the end of Rebekah’s story, because she went on to write in her letter, “We did everything right.  The truth is, in America, where two people have done everything they can to succeed and fight back from the brink of financial ruin -– through job loss and retraining, and kids, and credit card debts that are set up to keep you impoverished forever, and the discipline to stop spending any money on yourselves or take a vacation in five years — it’s virtually impossible to live a simple middle-class life.”  That’s what Rebekah wrote.  Because their income is eaten up by childcare for Jack and Henry that costs more each month than their mortgage.  And as I was telling Rebekah — Michelle and I, when we were their age, we had good jobs and we still had to deal with childcare issues and couldn’t figure out how to some months make ends meet.

They forego vacations so they can afford to pay off student loans and save for retirement.  “Our big splurge,” Rebekah wrote, “is cable TV, so we can follow our beloved Minnesota Wild, and watch Team USA in the Olympics!”  (Applause.)  They go out once a week for pizza or a burger.  But they’re not splurging.  And at the end of the month, things are tight.  And this is like this wonderful young couple, with these wonderful kids, who are really working hard.

And the point is, all across this country, there are people just like that, all in this audience.  You’re working hard, you’re doing everything right.  You believe in the American Dream.  You’re not trying to get fabulously wealthy.  You just want a chance to build a decent life for yourselves and your families, but sometimes it feels like the odds are rigged against you.

And I think sometimes what it takes for somebody like Rebekah to sit down and write one of these letters.  And I believe that even when it’s heartbreaking and it’s hard, every single one of those letters is by definition an act of hope.
Because it’s a hope that the system can listen, that somebody is going to hear you; that even when Washington sometimes seems tone deaf to what’s going on in people’s lives and around kitchen tables, that there’s going to be somebody who’s going to stand up for you and your family.

And that’s why I’m here — because I want to let Rebekah know, and I wanted to let all of you know that — because you don’t see it on TV sometimes.  It’s not what the press and the pundits talk about.  I’m here to tell you I’m listening, because you’re the reason I ran for President.  (Applause.)  Because those stories are stories I’ve lived.  The same way that when I saw those young teenage moms, I thought of my mother.  And when I see Rebekah and Ben, I think of our struggles when Malia and Sasha were young.  And they’re not distant from me and everything we do.

I ran for President because I believe this country is at its best when we’re all in it together and when everybody has a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share.  (Applause.)  And the reason I believe that is because that’s how I came here.  That’s how I got here.  That’s how Michelle and I were able to succeed.  (Applause.)  And I haven’t forgotten.

And so even though you may not read about it or see it on TV all the time, our agenda, what we’re fighting for every day, is designed not to solve every problem, but to help just a little bit.  To create more good jobs that pay good wages — jobs in manufacturing and construction; energy and innovation.  That’s why we’re fighting to train more workers to fill those jobs.  That’s why we’re fighting to guarantee every child a world-class education, including early childhood education and better childcare.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re fighting to make sure hard work pays off with a wage you can live on and savings you can retire on, and making sure that women get paid the same as men for the same job, and folks have flexibility to look after a sick child or a sick parent.  (Applause.)

That’s what we’re fighting for.  We’re fighting so everybody has a chance.  We’re fighting to vindicate the idea that no matter who you are, or what you look like, or how you grew up, or who you love, or who your parents were, or what your last name is, it doesn’t matter — America is a place where if you’re doing the right thing, like Ben and Rebekah are, and you’re being responsible and you’re taking care of your family, that you can make it.

And the fact is, we can do that.  If we do some basic things, if we make some basic changes, we can create more jobs and lift more incomes and strengthen the middle class.  And that’s what we should be doing.  And I know it drives you nuts that Washington isn’t doing it.  And it drives me nuts.  (Applause.)  And the reason it’s not getting done is, today, even basic commonsense ideas can’t get through this Congress.

And sometimes I’m supposed to be politic about how I say things — (laughter) — but I’m finding lately that I just want to say what’s on my mind.  (Applause.)  So let me just be clear — I want you think about this — so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but let me go through the list.  They’ve said no to raising the minimum wage.  They’ve said no to fair pay.  Some of them have denied that there’s even a problem, despite the fact that women are getting paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is getting paid.

They’ve said no to extending unemployment insurance for more than three million Americans who are out there looking every single day for a new job, despite the fact that we know it would be good not just for those families who are working hard to try to get back on their feet, but for the economy as a whole.  Rather than invest in working families getting ahead, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.


THE PRESIDENT:  Don’t boo, by the way.  I want you to vote.  (Laughter and applause.)  I mean, over and over again, they show that they’ll do anything to keep in place systems that really help folks at the top but don’t help you.  And they don’t seem to mind.  And their obstruction is keeping a system that is rigged against families like Ben’s and Rebekah’s.

Now, I’m not saying these are all bad people; they’re not.  When I’m sitting there just talking to them about family, we get along just fine.  Many of them will acknowledge when I talk to them — yes, I know, I wish we could do something more, but I can’t — but they can’t be too friendly towards me because they’d be run out of town by the tea party.  (Laughter.)

But sometimes I get a sense they just don’t know what most folks are going through.  They keep on offering a theory of the economy that time and again failed for the middle class.  They think we should give more tax breaks to those at the top.  They think we should invest less in things like education.  They think we should let big banks, and credit card companies, and polluters, and insurers do only whatever is best for their bottom line without any responsibility to anybody else.  They want to drastically reduce or get rid of the safety net for people trying to work their way into the middle class.
And if we did all these things, they think the economy will thrive and jobs will prosper, and everything will trickle down.

And just because they believe it, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should be believing it — because we’ve tried what they’re peddling, and it doesn’t work.  We know from our history that our economy does not grow from the top down, it grows from the middle out.  We do better when the middle class does better.  We do better when workers are getting a decent salary.  We do better when they’ve got decent benefits.  (Applause.)  We do better when a young family knows that they can get ahead.  And we do better when people who are working hard know that they can count on decent childcare at an affordable cost, and that if they get sick they’re not going to lose their homes.

We do better when if somebody is stuck in a job that is not paying well enough, they know they can go get retrained without taking on huge mountains of debt.  That’s when things hum.  And with just a few changes in priorities, we could get a lot of that done right now if Congress would actually just think about you and not about getting reelected, not about the next election, not about some media sound bite, but just focus on you.  (Applause.)

So that’s why I’ve said, look, I want to work with Democrats and Republicans.  My favorite President, by the way, was the first Republican President — a guy named Abraham Lincoln.  So this is not a statement about partisanship.  This is a statement about America and what we’re fighting for.  And I’m not going to let gridlock and inaction and willful indifference and greed threaten the hard work of families like yours.   And so we can’t afford to wait for Congress right now.  And that’s why I’m going ahead and moving ahead without them wherever I can.  (Applause.)

That’s why I acted to raise more workers’ wages by requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.  (Applause.)  That’s why I acted to help nearly five million Americans make student loan payments cap those payments at 10 percent of their income.  That’s why I made sure more women have the protections they need to fight for fair pay in the workplace.  (Applause.)  That’s why we went ahead and launched new hubs to attract more high-tech manufacturing jobs to America.

And, now, some of you may have read — so we take these actions and then now Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions.  They’re not doing anything, and then they’re mad that I’m doing something.  I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive, but they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job.  I mean, I might have said in the heat of the moment during one of these debates, “I want to raise the minimum wage, so sue me when I do.”  (Laughter.)  But I didn’t think they were going to take it literally.

But giving more working Americans a fair shot is not about simply what I can do — it’s about what we can do together.  So when Congress doesn’t act, not only have I acted, I’ve also tried to rally others to help.  I told CEOs, and governors, and mayors, and state legislatures, for example, they don’t have to wait for Congress to raise the minimum wage.  Go ahead and raise your workers’ wages right now.  And since I first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, 13 states and D.C. have raised theirs, including Minnesota, where more than 450,000 of your neighbors are poised to get a raise.  (Applause.)

When Gap raised wages for its employees, job applications went up through the roof.  It was good for business.  I even got a letter from a proud mom right here in Minneapolis who just wanted me to know that her son starts his employees at $15 an hour, at Aaron’s Green Cleaning here in town.  (Applause.)  There they are!  (Applause.)  So the letter said, “We are very proud of his people-centered business philosophy!  Three cheers for a decent living wage!”

So we don’t have to wait for Congress to do some good stuff.  On Monday, we held the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families, and we heard from a lot of other families like Ben and Rebekah.  They count on policies like paid leave and workplace flexibility to juggle everything.  We had business owners who came and told me they became more profitable when they made family life easier for their employees.

So more companies are deciding that higher wages and workplace flexibility is good for business — it reduces turnover, more productive workers, more loyal workers.  More cities and states are deciding this is good policy for families.  So the only holdout standing in the way of change for tens of millions of Americans are some Republicans in Congress.

Because I just want to be real blunt:  If you watch the news, you just see, okay, Washington is a mess, and the basic attitude is everybody is just crazy up there.  But if you actually read the fine print, it turns out that the things you care about right now Democrats are promoting.  (Applause.)  And we’re just not getting enough help.

And my message to Republicans is:  Join us.  Get on board.  If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, then why don’t you join me and we’ll do it together?  (Applause.)  We’ll do it together.  I’m happy to share the credit.  You’re mad at me for doing some things to raise the minimum wage, let’s pass a law — Republicans and Democrats giving America a raise.

If you’re mad at me for taking executive action to make it easier for women to find out if they’re not getting treated fairly in the workplace, let’s do it together.  You can share the credit.  (Applause.)  You’re worried about me trying to fix a broken immigration system, let’s hold hands and go ahead and make sure that this country continues to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  I want to work with you, but you’ve got to give me something.  You’ve got to try to deliver something — anything.  (Applause.)

They don’t do anything — (laughter) — except block me.  And call me names.  It can’t be that much fun.  (Laughter.)  It’d be so much more fun if they said, you know what, let’s do something together.  If they were more interested in growing the economy for you, and the issues that you’re talking about, instead of trying to mess with me — (laughter) — then we’d be doing a lot better.  That’s what makes this country great, is when we’re all working together.  That’s the American way.

Now more than ever, with the 4th of July next week, Team USA moving on down in Brazil — (applause) — we should try to rally around some economic patriotism that says we rise or fall as one nation and one people.  Let’s rally around the idea that instead of giving tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks for working families to help pay for childcare or college.  (Applause.)

Instead of protecting companies that are shifting profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share, let’s put people to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports.  (Applause.)  Let’s invest in manufacturing startups so that we’re creating good jobs making products here in America, here in Minnesota.  (Applause.)  Rather than stack the deck in favor of those who have already got an awful lot, let’s help folks who have huge talent and potential and ingenuity but just need a little bit of a hand up so that we can tap the potential of every American.

I mean, this isn’t rocket science.  There are some things that are complicated — this isn’t one of them.  Let’s make sure every 4-year-old in America has access to high school — high-quality preschool — (applause) — so that moms like Rebekah and dads like Ben know their kids are getting the best quality care and getting a head start on life.  Let’s redesign our high schools to make sure that our kids are better prepared for the 21st century economy.  Let’s follow the lead of Senator Franken and Secretary Perez and give more apprenticeships that connect young people to rewarding careers.  (Applause.)

Let’s tell every American if they’ve lost their job because it was shipped overseas, we’re going to train you for an even better one.  (Applause.)  Let’s rally around the patriotism that says our country is stronger when every American can count on affordable health insurance and Medicare and Social Security, and women earn pay equal to their efforts, and family can make ends meet if their kid get sick, and when nobody who works full-time is living in poverty.  We can do all these things.

And so let me just — let me wrap up by saying this.  I know sometimes things get kind of discouraging.  And I know that our politics looks profoundly broken, and Washington looks like it’s never going to deliver for you.  It seems like they’re focused on everything but your concerns.  And I know that when I was elected in 2008 and then reelected in 2012, so many of you were hoping that we could get Washington to work differently, and sometimes when I get stymied you’d think, oh, maybe not; maybe it’s just too tough, maybe things won’t change.  And I get that frustration.  And the critics and the cynics in Washington, they’ve written me off more times than I can count.

But I’m here to tell you, don’t get cynical.  Despite all of the frustrations, America is making progress.  Despite the unyielding opposition, there are families who have health insurance now who didn’t have it before.  And there are students in college who couldn’t afford it before.  And there are workers on the job who didn’t have jobs before.  And there are troops home with their families after serving tour after tour.  (Applause.)  Don’t think that we’re not making progress.

So, yes, it’s easy to be cynical; in fact, these days it’s kind of trendy.  Cynicism passes off for wisdom.  But cynicism doesn’t liberate a continent.  Cynicism doesn’t build a transcontinental railroad.  Cynicism doesn’t send a man to the moon.  Cynicism doesn’t invent the Internet.  Cynicism doesn’t give women the right to vote.  Cynicism doesn’t make sure that people are treated equally regardless of race.

Cynicism is a choice, and hope is a better choice.  And every day I’m lucky to receive thousands of acts of hope — every time somebody sits down and picks up a pen, and writes to me and shares their story, just like Rebekah did.  And Rebekah said in her letter — she ended it, she said, “I’m pretty sure this is a silly thing to do to write a letter to the President, but on some level I know that staying silent about what you see and what needs changing, it never makes any difference.  So I’m writing to you to let you know what it’s like for us out here in the middle of the country, and I hope you will listen.”

And I’m here because Rebekah wrote to me and I want her to know I’m listening.  I’m here as President, because I want you all to know that I’m listening.  (Applause.)  I ran for office to make sure that anybody who is working hard to meet their dreams has somebody in Washington that is listening.  And I’m always going to keep listening.  And I’m always going to keep fighting.  (Applause.)

And your cares and your concerns are my own, and your hopes for your kids and your grandkids are my own.  And I’m always going to be working to restore the American Dream for everybody who’s willing to work for it.  (Applause.)  And I am not going to get cynical; I’m staying hopeful, and I hope you do too.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

10:50 A.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Town Hall on the Economy Minneapolis, Minnesota



Remarks by the President in Town Hall

Source: WH, 6-26-14 

Minnehaha Park
Minneapolis, Minnesota

2:24 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Minneapolis!  (Applause.)  Good to see you.  Good to see you.  Everybody have a seat.  It is good to be back in Minnesota.  (Applause.)  Last time I was here it was colder.  (Laughter.)  Here’s just a tip for folks who are not from Minnesota — if you come here and the Minnesotans are complaining about how cold it is it’s really cold.  (Laughter.) Because these are some pretty tough folks.  They don’t get phased with cold.  But it was cold, so it’s nice to be back when it’s a little warmer.

And I have to begin by congratulating our U.S. soccer team, Team USA — (applause) — for advancing to the next round of the World Cup.  (Applause.)




THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.  We were in what’s called the “Group of Death.”  (Laughter.)  And even though we didn’t win today, we were in the toughest grouping and we got through.  And so we’ve still got a chance to win the World Cup.  (Applause.)  And we could not be prouder of them.  They are defying the odds and earned a lot of believers in the process.  And I want everybody on the team to know that all of us back home are really proud of them.

Let me tell you something.  I’ve been really looking forward to getting out of D.C.  (Laughter.)  But I’ve also been looking forward to spending a couple days here in the Twin Cities.  Our agenda is still a little loose.  I might pop in for some ice cream, visit a small business.  I don’t know.  I’m just going to make it up as I go along.  The Secret Service — I always tease them.  I’m like a caged bear, and every once in a while I break loose.  And I’m feeling super loose today.  (Applause.)  So you don’t know what I might do.  You don’t know what I might do.  Who knows?  (Applause.)

But the main reason I wanted to be here is I just wanted to have a chance to talk to folks about their lives and their hopes and their dreams and what they’re going through.  I want to spend some time listening and answering your questions and just having a conversation about what’s going well in your lives and in your neighborhoods and communities right now, but also what kinds of struggles folks are going through, and what things are helping and what things aren’t.

Now, before I do I just want to mention our Governor, Mark Dayton, is here.  (Applause.)  And Mark gave me an update on the flooding that’s been going on all across the state and I know some folks here are probably affected by it as well.  We made sure that FEMA is already on the ground here.  The Army Corps of Engineers is helping to build up a levee up in Warroad.  I told the Governor that we will be there as we get some clarity about the damage and what needs to be done, and you should feel confident that you’re going to have a strong partner in FEMA and the federal government in the process of cleaning up. (Applause.)

And you can also feel confident because if we didn’t help out, then I’d have Mayor Coleman and Mayor Hodges and Congressman Keith Ellison giving me a hard time.  So they’re going to hold me to it.  They do a great job on behalf of their constituents every day.  (Applause.)

I also wanted to mention that up the road there’s a memorial service for a person that many of you knew and loved, and that’s Jim Oberstar, who served so long in Congress.  I had a chance to know Jim; we overlapped before he came back home.  He was a good man.  He was a good public servant.  He was somebody who never forgot the folks in the Iron Range that he was fighting for.  And in a lot of ways, what he represented was a time when folks went to Washington, but they understood that they were working on behalf of hardworking middle-class families and people who were trying to get into the middle class.

And that fight continues.  We’ve made progress.  And the one thing that I always remind people of is by just about every economic measure, we are significantly better off than we were when I came into office.   (Applause.)  Unemployment is down; the deficits have been cut in half; the housing market has improved; 401(k)s have gotten more solid.  The number of people who are uninsured are down.  Our exports are up, our energy production is up.  So, in the aggregate, when you look at the country as a whole, by pretty much every measure, the economy is doing better than it was when I came into office — and in most cases significantly better.

We’ve created now 9.4 million new jobs over the last 51 months.  (Applause.)  The unemployment rate here in Minnesota is the lowest it’s been since 2007.  (Applause.)  But here’s the thing — and I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know.  There are still a lot of folks struggling out there.

We’ve got an economy that, even when it grows and corporate profits are high and the stock market is doing well, we’re still having trouble producing increases in salary and increases in wages for ordinary folks.  So we’ve seen wages and incomes sort of flat-line, even though the costs of food and housing and other things have gone up.  And so there are a lot of people who work really hard, do the right thing, are responsible, but still find at the end of the month that they’re not getting ahead.  And that is the central challenge that drives me every single day when I think about what kinds of policies would help.

So I’ve put forward an opportunity agenda that is a continuation of things I’ve been talking about since I came into the United States Senate and served with Mark and things that I’ve been working on since I became President — making sure that hard work pays off; making sure that if you work hard your kid can go to a good school and end up going to college without a huge amount of debt; that you’re not going to go broke if you get sick; that you’re able to have a home of your own; and that you’re able to retire with some dignity and some respect, maybe a vacation once in a while.  That’s what people are looking for.  And that means that we’ve got to reverse this mindset that somehow if everybody at the top does really well then somehow benefits all automatically trickle down — because that’s not what’s been happening for the last 20, 30 years.

We had — on Monday we had what we called a White House Working Families Summit.  And we just talked about bread-and-butter issues that everybody talks about around the kitchen table but, unfortunately, don’t make it on the nightly news a lot.  So we talked about childcare and the fact that it’s prohibitive for too many young families.  (Applause.)  We talked about paid family leave, so that if a child was sick or a parent was sick, that you could actually go help and take care of them — which is, by the way, what every other developed country does.  We’re the only one that doesn’t have it.

We talked about workplace flexibility, so that if you wanted to go to a parent-teacher conference with your family — or for your kid, or a school play, that you could balance that.  And in fact, those companies we discovered at the summit who provide that kind of flexibility usually have more productive workers, harder-working workers, more loyal workers, lower turnover, and the companies end up being more profitable.

We talked about increasing the minimum wage, which would benefit millions of people all across the country.  (Applause.)  We talked about equal pay for equal work, because I want my daughters getting paid the same as men do.  (Applause.)

All of these things are achievable, but we’ve got to make Washington work for you — not for special interests, not for lobbyists.  We don’t need a politics that’s planned to some — the most fringe elements of politics.  We just need folks who are having a common-sense conversation about what’s happening in your lives and how can we help, and then try to take some concrete actions that makes a difference.

So that’s what I want to talk about.  And I’m hoping that some people in Washington are going to be listening.  Some of them will be and they’ll probably be saying I’m crazy or a socialist or something — (laughter) — but hopefully hearing from you, some of this stuff will sink in.  All right?
So with that, I’m just going to take some questions.  I’ve got my little hot tea here to make sure I don’t lose my voice.  And I think we’ve got microphones in the audience and I’m just going to call on folks.  The only rule I’ve got is when I call on you, you’ve got to wait for the microphone, introduce yourself.  If you keep your question relatively short I’ll try to keep my answers relatively short.  And I’m going to go boy, girl, boy, girl to make sure it’s fair, all right?  (Laughter.)

All right.  Let’s start it off.  All right, who wants to go first?  This young lady right here.  Tell me your name.

Q    Hello, I’m Cheryl Hill.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, Cheryl.

Q    And I admire you so much and your office for the support we’ve received.  I’m the founder of ClearCause.  I work to protect our students abroad.  I support hundreds of students who worked their way up through college — our best and our brightest — are not well-protected by any surveillance or laws. They are robbed, raped, starved, abandoned and killed.  I’m here because of my son, Tyler Hill.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, so this is like an exchange programs?

Q    Study abroad.

THE PRESIDENT:  Study abroad program.  Generally, study abroad programs are coordinated by the universities and colleges that sponsor them.  There should be interaction between those educational institutions and the State Department.  There are obviously some countries that are particularly dangerous, and in those cases, I think making sure that everybody has good information going in is important.

Tragedies happen when folks travel overseas.  Unfortunately, tragedies happen here as well.  But what I’d like to do is — let me find out more about the nature of the coordination that happens between the State Department and study abroad programs and see if there are some things that we can do to tighten them up.  And it sounds like you’ve been thinking about it, so you may have some ideas.  Excellent.

Gentleman in the cool sunglasses there.

Q    Good morning, Mr. President — or afternoon, Mr. President.  My name is Dan Morette (ph).  And my question is — you spoke about tragedies at home — how we can reduce gun violence in this nation and what we can do to team up together and really make a difference.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, on my way over here I was talking to a mom that I had lunch with — who’s wonderful, by the way, and she’s here but I’m not going to embarrass her.  And she’s got a couple of young sons.  And we talked about a whole bunch of issues — the cost of childcare, the fact that wages don’t go up to meet the cost of living.  But one thing she talked about was Newtown.  And I described how the day that Sandy Hook happened was probably the worst day of my presidency, and meeting those families just a couple of days after they lost these beautiful six-year-olds — 20 of them — and then some of the parents — or some of the teachers and administrators who had been affected as well.

I was sure after that happened, there’s no way that Congress isn’t going to do some common-sense stuff.  I thought that the issue of gun safety and common-sense legislation has been controversial for some time, but I thought that was going to be a breakthrough moment.  The fact that it wasn’t was probably the most disappointing moment that I’ve had with Congress.

What we’ve done is we’ve developed 24 executive actions, things that were in our power, to really try to tighten tracking where guns go, making sure that we’re sifting through and separating out responsible gun owners from folks who really shouldn’t be having a weapon.

So we’ve probably made some progress.  We’ve probably saved a few lives.  But I will tell you this is the only advanced country that tolerates something like this.  We have what’s basically a mass shooting, it seems like, happening once every couple weeks — kids on college campuses, kids at home.  And we’re not going to eliminate all of that violence, and there’s a strong tradition of gun ownership and there are wonderful folks who are sportsman and hunters, and I respect all of that.  But we should be able to take some basic common-sense steps that are, by the way, supported by most responsible gun owners — like having background checks so you can’t just walk into a store and buy a semiautomatic — (applause.)

Something I’m going to keep on talking about that I was asked about this a few weeks ago, and I said, honestly, this is not going to change unless the people who want to prevent these kinds of mass shootings from taking place feel at least as passionate and are at least as mobilized and well-funded and organized as the NRS and the gun manufacturers are.  Because the politics in Congress are such where even members of Congress who know better are fearful that if they vote their conscience and support common-sense gun legislation like background checks, they’re worried that they’re going to lose their seat.  And frankly, there’s a number who have because the other side is very well organized.

So I will keep on talking about it.  We’re going to continue to work with law enforcement and community groups and others to try to take steps locally and at the state level.  But if we’re going to do something nationally, then we’re going to have to mobilize ordinary folks — moms, dads, families, responsible gun owners, law enforcement — and they’re going to have to get organized and be able to counter the pressure that’s coming from the other side in a sustained way — not in a one-week or two-week or one-month situation right after a tragedy occurs; it’s going to have to just keep on going for several years before we’re able to make progress.  (Applause.)

All right.  Young lady right there.  The one in the orange — got a mic right next to you.

Q    I’m an educator in a public school, and I have a son in college who’s struggling through college with student loans.  I’ve been an educator for 27-plus years.  (Applause.)  And I know you’re into sports and I hear they generate a lot of money.  We generate a lot of minds.  And it really bothers me that I can’t pay for his education.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m just curious what your son’s circumstances are.  Is he going to a state school?  Is he going to a private school?

Q    He’s going to a community college.

THE PRESIDENT:  He’s going to a community college.

Q    And wants to go to college in New York, in fashion design.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  But he’s in community college here in Minnesota right now?

Q    Correct.

THE PRESIDENT:  And is he eligible for the federal student loans programs?  Or is he finding that because of your income or your family’s income that it’s hard to get some of the lower-interest loans?

Q    Both.  He’s kind of both.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Well, look, this is something we’ve been spending a lot of time on.  There are a couple components to the problem.  And, by the way, this is something near and dear to my heart because I was not born into a wealthy family.  I’m only here because of my education, but the reason I was able to get that education was because grants, loans, work during the summer — all of those things allowed me to pay the bills.

But college costs were lower then when I was going to school.  I know you can’t tell from my gray hair, but I’m getting a little older now.  (Laughter.)  And so I started college in 1979, and when I graduated — I was able to get a four-year college education — I had some debt, but I could pay it off after one year.  Now, the average student that does have debt is seeing $30,000 worth of debt.  And even if they’re able to take out loans, that’s a burden that they’re carrying with them in their first job; it may prevent them from buying their first home; if they’ve got a business idea, that’s money that is going to take them a while before they’re able to start a business, and, as a consequence, it effects the whole economy.

Now, it is really important just to remind everybody a college education is still a great investment as long as you graduate.  (Applause.)  As long as you graduate.  So when you go into college, you’ve got to be determined, “I’m going to graduate.”  It’s a great investment, but it’s not a great investment if you take out $20,0000 worth of debt and you don’t graduate, you don’t get the degree, which is why we’re spending a lot of time talking to colleges about what are you doing to retain students.

But the things that we need to do are, number one, try to keep costs of student loans down.  We’ve been working with colleges and universities, telling them if the federal government is going to help subsidize your universities essentially with the student loan program, you need to show us that you’re informing students ahead of time how much they’re going to owe; that you are describing for them what their repayment plans would be; that you are keeping tuition low and that you’re graduating folks at a high rate.

So we’ve got to work with the colleges and universities to lower costs.  We’ve got to keep the interest rates on student loans low.  Right now, there’s legislation that was presented in the Senate — Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sponsored it — and what it does is it just allows student loans that you already have to be consolidated, and you can refinance them at a lower rate just like you could your mortgage if the rates go down.  Republicans all voted against it — I don’t know why.  You will have to ask them.  But that’s an example of a tool we can use.

We’ve also put in place — this is something that I passed a while back and now I’ve expanded — a program whereby you never have to pay more than 10 percent of your current income to pay back your student loans, so that if you decide you want to go into teaching or you want to go into social work — something that may not be a high-paying profession but a satisfying profession — that the fact that you’ve had some student debt is not going to preclude you from taking that position.

So there are a number of different steps that we’re taking.I will tell you, though, in addition to what we do at the federal level, you’re going to need to talk to your state legislators.  Part of the reason that tuition has gone up is because state legislatures across the country have consistently lowered the support that they provide public universities and community colleges, and then the community colleges and the public universities feel obliged to increase tuition rates.  And that obviously adds the burden to students.

The bottom line is your son is doing the right thing.  The fact that he’s starting at a community college will save him money.  Even if he wants to graduate from a four-year institution eventually, it will still be a good investment.  So he should shop around, get the right information.  We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we keep it as affordable as possible.  And I’m sure he’s going to do wonderfully, and then he’s going to look after his mom.  (Applause.)

Okay, it’s a guy’s turn.  This gentleman right here.

Q    Mr. President, like you, I’m the father of two beautiful, intelligent girls.

THE PRESIDENT:  Can’t beat daughters.  No offense, sons.  (Laughter.)

Q    And they’re both in STEM careers.  I’m wondering what we can do to promote and encourage more girls to go into STEM careers.

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, this is a great question.  (Applause.)  First of all, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

America became an economic superpower in large part because we were the most innovative economy.  We are a nation of inventors and tinkerers, and we expand the boundaries of what’s possible through science.  And that continues to be the case.  We still have the most cutting-edge technology, the most patents.  But if we’re not careful, we’ll lose our lead.  And if things aren’t being invented here, then they’re not being produced here. And if they’re not being produced here, that means the jobs aren’t being created here.  And over time, other countries catch up.

So what do we have to do?  Number one, we’ve got to make sure that we’re investing in basic science.  Sometimes people say, I don’t know what the federal government spends the money on; they’re all just wasting it.  You know, one of the things that the federal government does is it invests in basic research that companies won’t invest in.  And if it wasn’t for the investment in basic research, then things like the Internet, things like GPS that everybody uses every day, things that result in cures for diseases that have touched probably every family that’s represented here in some fashion — that stuff never happens.

You do the basic research and then you move on to commercialize it, and that’s oftentimes when the private sector gets involved.  But they’re not willing or able a lot of times to finance basic research.  So that’s number one.

Number two, we’ve got to make sure that we’re investing in working with companies who are doing, let’s say, advanced manufacturing, the next phases of manufacturing, linking them up with universities so that once we have a good idea, a good invention — whether it’s clean energy or a new way to build a car — that the next phase of production and innovation is done here in the United States.  And we’ve opened up four what we call advanced manufacturing hubs around the country — I actually want 15 — where we link private sector and universities so that they become centers of innovation and jobs get created here in the United States.

But the third thing we need is we need more folks in engineering, math, science, technology, computer science.  (Applause.)  And that means we’ve got to have a school system generally that encourages those subjects.  And, by the way, I was a political science and English major, and you need to know how to communicate, and I loved the liberal arts, so this is no offense, but we’ve got enough lawyers like me.  We need more engineers.  (Applause.)  We need more scientists.

Generally speaking, we’re not doing good enough educating kids and encouraging them into these kinds of careers.  We’re particularly bad when it comes to girls.  And my whole thing is
— somebody said I was a sports fan.  I am.  And one rule of sports is you don’t play as well if you’ve only got half the team.  We don’t have everybody on the field right now if our young women are not being encouraged the same way to get into these fields.  So this starts at an early age.

What we’ve done is I’ve used my Office of Science and Technology to partner with elementary schools to, first of all, train teachers better in STEM,’ then to really focus on populations that are under-represented in STEM — not only young women but also African Americans, Latinos, others — getting them interested early.  In some cases, for example, we know that young girls — I know as a father — they oftentimes do better if they’re in a team and social environment, so making sure that the structure of science classes, for example, have collaboration involved and there’s actual experience doing stuff, as opposed to just it being a classroom exercise.  There are certain things that can end up making it a better experience for them, boosting their confidence, and encouraging them to get into the fields.

So we’re going to continue to really spend a lot of time on this.  I’ll just close by saying every year now I have a science fair at the White House, because my attitude is if I’m bringing the top football and basketball teams to the White House, I should also bring the top scientists.  I want them to feel — (applause) — that they get the spotlight just like athletes do. And these kids are amazing — except they make you feel really stupid.  (Laughter.)

The first student who I met — she’s now — she just graduated.  When she was 12, she was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer.  Fortunately, she had health insurance.  They caught it early enough, she responded to treatment.  Lovely young lady — it didn’t come back.  But by the time she got into high school and she was taking biology and chemistry, she became interested in why was it that I got this thing at 12 years old?

So she talks to her teachers, and she designs a study where she goes to the surgeon who took out the cancer from her liver, takes samples, identifies the genetic profile and the chromosomes that might have led to this particular kind of cancer, writes up the research in Science Magazine, and now has a scholarship to Harvard to pursue her interest in bio-medicine.  And as you might imagine, her parents are pretty proud of her.  (Laughter.)  I was really proud of her.

But it gives you a sense of the possibilities for young people and young women if somebody is sparking that interest in them, and telling them this is something that they can do and they should pursue their interests.  (Applause.)

Young lady right here in the yellow.

Q    Hi, my name is Joelle Stangle.  I’m the University of Minnesota student body president.  And so I have a question about higher education.  And I also have a softball question after this hardball question.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, I love the softball questions.

Q    My first question is, the House Republicans recently released their recommendations for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and so I want to know where you think that Republicans and Democrats can work together and what the top priorities should be for reauthorization.  And my softball question is how do you get a President to be your commencement speaker?  Kids want to know.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, you have to invite me.  (Laughter.)  So that’s always a good start.  I just did my last commencement at UC Irvine.  I have to say, they had a campus-wide letter-writing campaign; I think we ended up getting, like, 10,000 letters, was it, from — something like that.  They also have a very cute mascot.  It’s an anteater.  I guess that’s their sign; that’s supposed to be the anteater.

PARTICIPANT:  We’ve got a gopher.

THE PRESIDENT:  Gophers are cool.  (Laughter.)  Gophers are cool.

But the invitation is a good place to start, and then we’ll work from there.

In terms of the higher education reauthorization act, that’s a big bill, there’s a lot of complexities to it.  I will just focus on an area that I think should be the focus — and we’ve already talked about — and that is student loan costs, and how we can hold schools more accountable for informing young people as they’re starting their education what exactly it’s going to mean for them.

Now, we’ve already started this.  I mentioned a few things. One thing I didn’t mention is the Consumer Finance Protection Board that we set up that, in response to what had happened during the Great Recession, when people were taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford and predatory lenders were getting folks in a whole lot of trouble.  And we said, the same way that you should be protected from a faulty appliance or a faulty car, you should be protected from a faulty financial instrument, make sure it doesn’t explode in your face.  (Applause.)

And one of the goals of CFPB, is what it’s called, was to tackle the student loan issue.  And what we’ve done is created what we call a Know What You Owe program, which pushes colleges and universities not to do the financial counseling on the exit interview where suddenly they hand you a packet and says, here, this is what you’re going to owe — hand it to folks at the beginning, break it down for them.  And that will allow young people I think to make better decisions, and their parents to work with them to make better decisions about what college expenses are going to be.

But as I said before — this is true for education generally — the federal government can help, but states and local governments have to do their part as well.  In public education, the federal government accounts for about 7 percent of total costs.  The rest of it comes from state and local taxes.  And what we’ve tried to do is leverage the little bit of money that the federal government gives to this to modify how — to incentivize reform, and to get folks to experiment with new ways of learning.

For example, can we use online classes more effectively to help keep college costs down?  Can we get more high school students to get transferable college credits while they’re in high school so that they can maybe graduate in three years instead of two?  We’re trying to encourage folks to experiment in those ways.

All of that we hope can get embodied in the higher education act.  I will tell you, sometimes if I’m for it, then the other side is against it even if originally it was their idea.  So I can’t guarantee you that we’ll get bipartisan support for these ideas, but there’s nothing that should prevent us from doing it because this is just about making a college education a better value for families.  And that’s something that should transcend party; it shouldn’t be a Democrat or a Republican issue.

All right.  Gentleman right here in the uniform.

Q    All right, my name is — well, good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.

Q    My name is John Martinez.  I’m a recent EMT graduate from the Freedom House EMS Academy in St. Paul.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, there you go.

Q    Currently I’m teaching at the Academy, and I just got hired at Allina — I applied for St. Paul Fire.  My question is have you considered starting any other organizations such as the Freedom House for law enforcement or fire or other establishments that could get programs like that going for low-income or minorities?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I’ll confess to you I don’t know enough about Freedom House — so I’m considering it right now.  (Laughter.)  But you’ve got to tell me more about it.  Since you’re an instructor there and a graduate from there, why don’t you tell me how it works?

Q    You go through an interviewing process and the leaders — there’s fire chiefs that interview the candidates.  You get paid, but it is an interviewing process.  You wear a unifor;, it’s a strict program.  And it’s a 14-week or a 10-week program, depending on what time of the year.  It’s intensive.  Everything is compacted, all the information that we learn.  And you learn skills — all the skills that you need to be an EMT.  You meet, you network, you meet fire chiefs, police.  I know people that are going into med school.  It started in 1967 in Philadelphia.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it sounds like a great program.

Q    Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  And who’s eligible for it?  Is it young people who have already graduated from high school but haven’t yet gone to college?  If I’m 30 years old and I’m thinking let me try a new career — who is it that can participate?

Q    Anyone from the ages of 17 to 30 is eligible.  You have to meet the income requirements.  And it’s open to anyone who wants to get into EMS or fire.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s a great idea.  See, you just gave me a good idea.  (Laughter.)  So now I’m considering expanding it.  (Applause.)

It’s a good example, though, of a broader issues, which is not everybody is going to go to a four-year university, but everybody is going to need some advanced training.  And so the question is how do we set up systems — whether it’s apprenticeships, whether it’s programs like Freedom House that you just described, whether it’s through the community colleges
— where whatever stage in your life, if you feel as if you’re stuck in your existing occupation, you want to do better, or you lose your job and you’ve got to transition to a new industry, that you are able to get training that fits you.  Understanding that for a lot of folks they may be working at the same time as they are looking after their kids, and so there’s got to be some flexibility.  The programs have to be more compact.  Most importantly, they have to be job-training programs or technical programs that actually produce the skills you need to get jobs that are there.

And so what we’ve been trying to do is to — which seems like common sense but, unfortunately, for a long time wasn’t done — going to the businesses first that are hiring and asking them, well, what exactly are you looking for, and why don’t you work with the community college, or why don’t you work with the nonprofit to help design the actual training program so that you’ll have the benefit of knowing if somebody has gone through the program, they’re prepared for the job.  Conversely, the person who’s gone through the training program, they know if they complete it, that there’s a job at the other end.  And that’s how we’re actually trying to redesign a lot of the job training programs that are out there.

But as I said before, you’ve also got to make sure that you structure it so that a working mom who can’t afford to just quit her job and go to school — maybe she’s a waitress right now — she’s interested in being a nurse’s assistant that has slightly better pay and benefits, and then wants to become a nurse, that she has the opportunity to work around her schedule, make sure that we’ve got the ability to take classes at night, or on weekends, or online.

That’s how — in the future, we’re going to have to redesign a lot of this stuff, getting away from thinking that all the training that’s going to take place is just for 18 and 19-year-olds who’ve got all day and are supported by their parents, because that’s not the model that our economy is going to be in for the foreseeable future.

Young lady.  Yes, in the stripes.

Q    Hi, my name is Erin.  I just left a corporation in Minnesota, a Fortune 500 corporation, where I had my four-year degree, my male counterpart did not, and he was making $3 more an hour than I was.  My question for you is what are we going to do about it so as I grow up and other women grow up we are not experiencing the wage gap anymore?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ve got all kinds of opinions on this.  (Laughter.)

First of all — I told this story at the Working Families Summit — my mom was a single mom.  She worked, went to school, raised two kids with the help of my grandparents.  And I remember what it was like for her — coming home, she’s dead tired, she’s trying to fix a healthy meal for me and my sister, which meant there were only really like five things in the rotation because she didn’t have time to be practicing with a whole bunch of stuff.  And sometimes, because you’re a kid, you’re stupid, so you’re all like, I don’t want to eat that again.  (Laughter.)  And she’s like, really?  (Laughter.)  What did you make?  Eat your food.  (Laughter.)

But I remember the struggles that she would go through when she did finally get her advanced degree, got a job, and she’d experience on-the-job discrimination because of her gender.

My grandmother, she was Rosie the Riveter.  When my grandfather went to fight in World War II, part of Patton’s Army, she stayed home because — my mom was born in Kansas, at Fort Leavenworth, and my grandmother worked at a bomber assembly line. And she was whip smart.  I mean, in another era, she would have ended up running a company.  But at the time, she didn’t even get her college degree — worked as a secretary.  She was smart enough that she worked her way up to be a vice president at the local bank where we lived — which is why sometimes when I watch Mad Men, there’s Peggy and Joan, the two women there, I’m always rooting for them because I imagine them — that’s what it was like for my grandmother, kind of working her way up.

But as smart as she was, she got to a certain point and then she stopped advancing.  And then she would train guys how to do the job and they would end up being her boss.  And it happened three or four times.

So this is something that I care a lot about not just because of my past, but also because of my future.  I’ve got two daughters.  The idea that they would not be paid the same or not have the same opportunities as somebody’s sons is infuriating.  And even if you’re not a dad, those of you who have partners, spouses — men — this is not a women’s issue.  Because if they’re not getting paid, that means they’re not bringing home as much money, which means your family budget is tighter.  (Applause.)  So this is a family issue and not a gender issue.

So what can we do?  First bill I signed was called the Lily Ledbetter Act, that allowed folks to sue if they found out that they had been discriminated against, like you found out.  Back then, Lilly Ledbetter, this wonderful woman, she had been paid less than her male counterparts for the same job for over a decade.  When she finally finds out, she sues, and the Supreme Court says, well, the statute of limitations has run out; you can’t sue for all of that back pay.  She says, well, I just found out — well, that doesn’t matter.  So we reversed that law, allowing people to sue based on when you find out.

Most recently what I did was we made it against the law, at least for federal contractors, to retaliate against employees for sharing job — or salary information.  Because part of the problem — part of the reason that it’s hard to enforce equal pay for equal work is most employers don’t let you talk, or discourage talk about what everybody else is getting paid.  And what we’ve said is women have a right to know what the guy sitting next to them who’s doing the exact same job is getting paid.  So that’s something we were able to do.

But ultimately, we’re going to need Congress to act.  There have been repeated efforts by us to get what we call the Paycheck Fairness Act through Congress and Republicans have blocked it.  Some have denied that it’s a problem.  What they’ve said is, you know what, women make different choices.  That explains the wage gap.  That’s the reason that women on average make 77 cents to every dollar that a man earns — is because they’re making different choices.

Well, first of all, that’s not true in your case because you were doing the same job.  You didn’t make a different choice; you just were getting paid less.  But let’s even unpack this whole idea of making different choices.  What they’re really saying is, because women have to bear children, and a company doesn’t give them enough maternity leave or doesn’t give them enough flexibility, that they should be punished.

And our whole point is that this is a family issue and that if we structure the workplace to actually be family-friendly, which everybody always talks about but we don’t always actually practice, then women won’t have to make different choices.  Then if they’re pregnant and have a child, it’s expected that they’re going to have some time off.  By the way, the dads should, too.  They should have some flexibility in the workplace.  (Applause.) They should be able to take care of a sick kid without getting docked for pay.

And there are some wonderful companies who are doing this.  And as I said before, it turns out that when companies adopt family-friendly policies their productivity goes up, they have lower turnover — which makes sense.  Look, if you have a family emergency, and you go to your boss and you say, can I have a week off, I’ve got to take care of a sick child or a dad — or can I leave early this afternoon because my kid is in a school play and I really think this is important, and they say, of course, nothing is more important than family — how hard are you going to work for that person when you get back on the job?  You’re going to feel invested in them.  You’re going to say to yourself, man, these folks care about me, which means I care about you.  And if I have to take some extra time on a weekend, or I’ve got to do some work late at night when I’m not under an emergency situation, I’m going to do that.

So this makes good business sense.  But the problem is, is that we haven’t done enough to encourage these new models.  And this is part of the reason why we did this Family Summit — we wanted to lift this stuff up, show companies that are doing the right thing, encourage others to adopt the same practices, and maybe get some legislation that incentivizes better policies.

In the meantime, though, if you’re doing the same job you should make the same pay — period; full stop.  (Applause.)  That should be a basic rule.  That shouldn’t be subject to confusion. (Applause.)

Let’s see — this young man back here, right there.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  What’s your name?

Q    My name is Quinn Graham.  I’m an intern with Right Track.

THE PRESIDENT:  What’s Right Track?  Tell me about it.

Q    It’s a youth jobs program through the city of St. Paul.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s great.  Now, what grade are you going into next year?

Q    I’m going to be a senior next year.

THE PRESIDENT:  Fantastic.  How did junior year go?

Q    What?

THE PRESIDENT:  How did junior year go?

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  It was okay?  What do you mean, yeah?  No, how did junior year go?

Q    Oh, it went well.

THE PRESIDENT:  It went well?

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  I just wanted — because Malia is going into her junior year and I hear it’s pretty busy your junior year.

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah?  Well, you look like you survived it.

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  You wanted to get to your question.  Please go ahead.  (Laughter.)

Q    I was wondering how you would propose to address the growing issue of climate change.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as it just so happens — now, this young man was not a plant.  (Laughter.)  But as it just so happens, last year yesterday, I announced my Climate Action Plan. And let me just set the stage by saying that the science here is settled — (applause) — carbon dioxide is released by a whole bunch of manmade activities.

When you release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it traps heat.  We are seeing the highest levels of carbon dioxide, and as a consequence, some of the warmest temperatures that we’ve seen in hundreds of thousands of years.  They’re going up.  And this is not just a problem of polar bears — although I really like polar bears — and the ice caps melting.  What happens is, is that when temperatures on average go up it throws weather patterns into a whole bunch of different directions.

So it may mean that snowcaps on mountains diminish.  And out West, entire states get their water from snowcaps.  If you’re not getting the same amount of water you now have the potential for more severe drought.  Agriculture is impacted, which means your food bills go up.  California is going through the worst drought it’s gone through in a very, very long time.  That raises the price of all the fruits and vegetables that are grown in California, so it hits you in your pocketbook.

Wildfires may increase.  And in fact, we’ve seen record wildfires.  We’re having to spend more money fighting fires now than we ever have.  It makes hurricanes potentially more frequent and potentially more powerful.  So Hurricane Sandy may not be as unusual as it used to be.  You see higher incidents of flooding. Coastal states like Florida, there are neighborhoods where now every time there’s a high tide there’s a flood in these neighborhoods.

And the problem is it’s getting worse.  Because as folks in China and India and other places decide they want to have cars, too, and they want to have electricity and the things that we’ve got, they start building more power plants and they start driving more — all of that adds to more carbon dioxide and it starts compounding.

So this is something we have to deal with.  Now, the good news is there are things we can do.  So we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars.  By the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks are going to go twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s going to save you money in your pocketbook, but it’s also taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  (Applause.)

We’ve invested in clean energy.  Since I came into office we’re producing three times as much energy through wind power and we’re producing about 10 times as much energy through solar power, and we’re creating jobs here in the United States — folks installing wind turbines and solar panels.  So it’s good economics and it’s also good for the environment.

Most recently, what I’ve done is I’ve said — about 40 percent of the carbon that we emit comes from power plants.  So what we’ve said is, through the Environmental Protection Agency, we’re going to set standards.  We set standards for the amount of mercury and arsenic and sulfur that’s pumped out by factories and power plants into our air and our water.  Right now we don’t have a cap on the amount of carbon pollution.  So we said we’re going to cap it.

And we’re going to let states work with their private sector and local governments to come up with what’s going to be best for them.  Not every state is going to do the same thing.  Nevada might emphasize solar power.  South Dakota might emphasize wind power.  Whatever it is that you’re going to do you’ve got to start bringing down your carbon pollution.

Now, this has some controversy.  Oil companies, not wild about it; coal companies, not crazy about it.  These traditional sources of fuel — fossil fuels — we’re going to use for a while, but we can’t just keep on using them forever.  We’ve got to develop new ways of producing energy so that your generation isn’t seeing a planet that is starting to break down, with all the costs associated with it.

Last point I’ll make — one of the benefits of asking power plants to produce energy that’s cleaner is that when they control their carbon dioxide they’re also putting less soot in the air.  They’re also putting less particulates in the air.  And what that means is your child is less likely to get asthma and those with respiratory diseases are less likely to be impacted.  So it has a public health effect that is good as well.

We can have an environment that is cleaner, that is healthy for us, and at the same time, develop entire new industries in clean energy.  But we’re going to have to get started now.  And that’s why, despite some of the pushback from some of the special interests out there, we’re going to just keep on going at this, because we don’t have a choice.  This is something that we’re going to have to tackle during this generation to make sure we’re giving a good future for the next generation.  (Applause.)  Great question.

Last question — last question.  This young lady in the pink, go ahead.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.

Q    My name is Katie Peterson.  And my coworker here and friend, we’ve been working for the federal government for almost 29 years.  And we feel really privileged that we’ve been able to serve that way.

THE PRESIDENT:  Where do you work?

Q    For Defense Contract Management Agency.

THE PRESIDENT:  Excellent.

Q    But it’s been a great career, we love it, but lately, as you know, there’s been a few rough patches with three years of pay freeze and sequestration and furloughs.  And we’re just kind of wondering what you foresee for the next fiscal year for government workers.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me make a couple of points.  First of all, folks in the federal government, the overwhelming majority, they work really hard doing really important stuff.  And I don’t know why it is that — (applause) — I don’t know when it was that somehow working for government — whether the state or local or federal level — somehow became not a real job. When you listen to some of the Republican rhetoric sometimes you think, well, this is really important work that we depend on.

We’ve got floods right here right now.  The federal government is coming in and it’s going to be working with local communities that are overwhelmed to try to make sure that people get help rebuilding.  Those are federal workers.  If they weren’t around after a tornado or a hurricane, communities would be in a world of hurt.

When you check the weather, even on your smartphone, that information didn’t just come from some Silicon Valley office.  That came from the National Weather Service.  We put out the data developed by the federal government to our satellites that are paid for, and then it’s commercialized.  And people use it to set up things like the Weather Channel and Weather.com and websites.

The folks who help our men and women in uniform make sure that they’ve got proper equipment, those are federal workers.  Fighting fires — a lot of times those are federal workers in the Forest Service.

So it frustrates me when I hear people acting as if somebody who’s working for the federal government somehow is less than somebody working on the private sector — if they’re doing a good job and carrying on an important function, we should praise them. (Applause.)

The same is true, by the way, at the local level.  The same is true at the local level.  I don’t know a job more important than teaching.  Those are all government workers.  In fact, one of the biggest problems we had in coming out of this recession, in addition to it being the worst recession since the Great Depression, was that states and local governments were cutting back on their hiring at an unprecedented rate.  We still haven’t seen state and local government hiring get back to where it was back in 2007-2008.  If we had, if we hadn’t lost so many teachers and teachers’ aides in a lot of communities, the unemployment rate would be much lower and the economy would be much stronger.

So I say all this just to make a general point, which is, historically, it’s been the private sector that drove the economy, but it was also a whole bunch of really great work done by agricultural extension workers and engineers at NASA and researchers at our labs that helped to create the platform and the wealth that we enjoy.  And so this whole idea that somehow government is the enemy or the problem is just not true.

Now, are there programs that the government does that are a waste of money or aren’t working as well as they should be?  Of course.  But I tell you, if you work in any company in America, big company, you’ll find some things that they’re doing that aren’t all that efficient either.  Are there some federal workers who do bone-headed things?  Absolutely.  I remember the first week I was on the job I talked to my Defense Secretary, Bob Gates, who’s older and had been there a long time.  I said, do you have advice for me, Bob?  He says, one thing you should know, Mr. President, is that at any given moment, on any given day, somebody in the federal government is screwing up.  (Laughter.)  Which is true, because there are 2 million employees.  Somebody out there — if 99 percent of the folks are doing the right thing and only 1 percent aren’t, that’s still a lot of people.

So my job as President, working with Congress, is to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently.  We shouldn’t be wasting a dime.  And where we see waste, where we see things not working the way they should — like recently, these long waits for folks trying to get in the VA health care program — we’ve got to crack down and we’ve got to reform it.  But we can’t paint in a broad brush and just say somehow stuff is not working — because even in the VA health care system, once people get in, the quality of care, the satisfaction rates for customers are actually better than in private sector health care. (Applause.)  So we can’t generalize like this.

Now, the last point I’ll make — going to your question — federal workers generally have not gotten raises.  And you remember during the government shutdown, they were getting pressed having to pay bills like everybody else, but not having a paycheck coming in.  It’s very disruptive for them.  And what’s called sequestration and furloughs meant that they might only be able to come to work three days a week instead of the full five. And this all put a strain on their budgets.

We’ve been able to stabilize it, but when we go into the budget talks with Republicans next year, we may go through some of the same problems, in part because the other side has said they want to cut funding for education; they’ve said that they want to cut support for vulnerable families; they want to cut Medicaid, which would have an impact on the elderly and families that have folks with disabilities.  And I’ve said no.

I’ve said why would I — by the way, the deficit has come down by more than half since I came into office.  (Applause.)  It hasn’t gone up.  Federal spending has not gone up.  The deficit has gone down.  And if we want to do more to reduce the deficit further, why am I going to take it out on the most vulnerable in our society and programs we need to grow when we’ve got a tax system where you’ve got corporations taking advantage of loopholes — in some cases, they’re paying no taxes, when a teacher or a secretary are paying taxes themselves?  Why wouldn’t I close those loopholes first to generate additional revenues before I started cutting education spending or spending on basic research?  (Applause.)

It will be a tough negotiation just because everything is a tough negotiation in Washington right now — which I guess brings me just to my last point.  I don’t watch TV news generally, or cable shows, but I suspect if you’re out here and going to work, and picking up your kids and taking them to soccer, or at night sitting there paying the bills, and you just turn on the TV, sometimes it must feel kind of discouraging because it doesn’t feel like what’s being talked about in Washington has anything to do with what’s going on in your lives day to day.  And it must feel as if sometimes you’re just forgotten.

And sometimes the news that’s being reported on is really important.  I mean, what’s happening in Iraq is relevant.  We’ve got to pay attention to the threats that are emanating from the chaos in the Middle East.  Although I want to be very clear we’re not sending combat troops into Iraq, because that’s — (applause) — we’ve done that and we’ve given them an opportunity.  And they’re going to have to contribute to solving their own problems here, although we’ll protect our people and we’ll make sure that we’re going after terrorists who could do us harm.

But sometimes the news that’s coming off is just — these are just Washington fights.  They’re fabricated issues.  They’re phony scandals that are generated.  It’s all geared towards the next election or ginning up a base.  It’s not on the level.  And that must feel frustrating, and it makes people cynical and it makes people turned off from the idea that anything can get done.
And if I’ve got one message today, it’s the same message that I gave to that young mom that I mentioned who I had lunch with before I came here, who wrote me a letter just talking about how she had done everything right, her and her husband, and she’s working hard and raising two beautiful kids and she has a great life, but it’s a struggle and wondering if anybody in Washington knows it.  What I told her is the same thing I want to tell all of you, which is:  I know it.  You’re the reason I ran for office.  You’re — (applause) — no, no, I’m not looking for applause.  I want to make this point.  I grew up not in tough circumstances, but I was you guys.  Somebody out here is going through what my mom went through.  Somebody out here is growing through what my grandma went through.  Somebody out here is going through what Michelle and I went through when we were first married and our kids were first born.  It’s not like I forget.

That was just 20 years ago that we were trying to figure out how to buy our first home.  This is 10 years ago when we finished off paying our student loans.

You guys are the reason I ran.  You’re who I’m thinking about every single day.  And just because it’s not reported in the news, I don’t want you to think that I’m not fighting for you.  And I’m not always going to get it done as fast as I want, because right now we’ve got a Congress that’s dysfunctional.  And I’ll be honest with you — you’ve got a party on the other side whose only rationale — motivation seems to be opposing me.

But despite all that, we’re making progress.  Despite all that, some folks have health care that didn’t have it before.  (Applause.)  Despite all that, some students are able to afford their education better.  Despite all that, some folks have jobs that didn’t have it.  Despite all that, the Green Line got built here in Minnesota.  (Applause.)  Despite all that, we can make life a little better for American families who are doing their best, working hard, meeting their responsibilities.

And I don’t want you to ever forget that.  And I don’t want you to be cynical.  Cynicism is popular these days, but hope is better.

Thanks, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

3:36 P.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 13, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration and Economic and Education Initiatives for Tribal Communities



Remarks by the President at the Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration

Source: WH, 6-13-14 

Standing Rock Indian Reservation Cannon Ball, North Dakota

4:58 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello Dakota Nation!  (Applause.)  Hello Lakota Nation!  Chairman Archambault, tribal leaders, people of Standing Rock, people of Indian Country — Michelle and I are honored to be in this sacred and beautiful place.  It’s easy to see why it’s called God’s country.  (Applause.)  And because I’m among friends, I’m going to try something in Lakota.  But I can’t guarantee it’s going to come out perfect.  Háu, mitákuyepi!  (Applause.)  I’m going to practice.  I’m going to be even better next time.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back!  (Applause.)  I want to thank Governor Jack Dalrymple and the members of Congress who are here today:  Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Senator John Hoeven, Congressman Kevin Cramer.  We’re so grateful that you took the time to be here.

And I know that your annual Flag Day powwow officially begins this evening.  So we’re a little early.  But thank you for giving us a sneak peek of the celebration.  And we are grateful for the chance to pay tribute to all the veterans of America’s armed forces who have joined us here today, as well as those who have walked on, and whose flags are proudly displayed here today.  Thank you and to your families for your extraordinary service.  We are very, very grateful.  (Applause.)  I want to acknowledge our outstanding Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel, who’s here.  (Applause.)

This visit holds special meaning for me.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love Michelle, too!

THE PRESIDENT:  Of course you love Michelle.  Who doesn’t love Michelle?  (Laughter and applause.)

When I was first running for President, I had the honor of visiting the Crow Nation in Montana.  And today I’m proud to be making my first trip to Indian Country as President of the United States.  (Applause.)

I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved.  So I promised when I ran to be a President who’d change that — a President who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve.

And today, I’m proud that the government-to-government relationship between Washington and tribal nations is stronger than ever.  Sally Jewell has been doing great work.  Her predecessor, Ken Salazar, did great work to make sure that we were listening to you.  And as head of our new Council on Native American Affairs, she makes sure that the federal government and tribal governments are coordinating with each other at all times.  And Kevin Washburn, my Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is here as well.

You see, my administration is determined to partner with tribes, and it’s not something that just happens once in a while.  It takes place every day, on just about every issue that touches your lives.  And that’s what real nation-to-nation partnerships look like.

We’ve responded and resolved longstanding disputes.  George Keepseagle is here today.  (Applause.)  A few years ago, my administration reached a historic settlement with George and other American Indian farmers and ranchers.  And I signed into law the historic Cobell settlement, leading to the Land Buy-Back Program, a $1.9 billion fund to consolidate individual Indian lands and restore them to tribal trust lands.  (Applause.)

We’ve made major investments to help grow tribal economies — investments in job training and tribal colleges; roads and high-speed Internet; energy, including renewable energy.  And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Native Americans — like all Americans — finally have access to quality, affordable health care.  (Applause.)

But I realize that a powwow isn’t just about celebrating the past.  It’s also about looking to the future.  It’s about keeping sacred traditions alive for the next generation, for these beautiful children.  So here today, I want to focus on the work that lies ahead.  And I think we can follow the lead of Standing Rock’s most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull.  (Applause.)  He said, “Let’s put our minds together to see what we can build for our children.”  (Applause.)

So let’s put our minds together to build more economic opportunity in Indian Country — because every American, including every Native American, deserves the chance to work hard and get ahead, everybody.  (Applause.)  That means creating more jobs and supporting small businesses in places like Standing Rock — because young people should be able to live and work and raise a family right here in the land of your fathers and mothers.  (Applause.)  Let’s put our minds together to advance justice — because like every American, you deserve to be safe in your communities and treated equally under the law.  (Applause.)

My administration has gone further than any in history to strengthen the sovereignty of tribal courts, particularly when it comes to criminal sentencing and prosecuting people who commit violence against women.  And Standing Rock has done a terrific job at building a court system that is open and efficient, and delivers justice to your people.  (Applause.)  So we want to support more tribes as they follow your lead and strengthen justice in our communities.  And that includes protecting important rights like the right to vote, because every Native American deserves a voice in our democracy.  (Applause.)

Let’s put our minds together to improve our schools — because our children deserve a world-class education, too, that prepares them for college and careers.  (Applause.)  And that means returning control of Indian education to tribal nations with additional resources and support so that you can direct your children’s education and reform schools here in Indian Country.  And even as they prepare for a global economy, we want children, like these wonderful young children here, learning about their language and learning about their culture, just like the boys and girls do at Lakota Language Nest here at Standing Rock.  We want to make sure that continues and we build on that success.  (Applause.)

Before we came here, Michelle and I sat with an amazing group of young people.  I love these young people.  I only spent an hour with them.  They feel like my own.  And you should be proud of them — because they’ve overcome a lot, but they’re strong and they’re still standing, and they’re moving forward.  (Applause.)  And they’re proud of their culture.  But they talked about the challenges of living in two worlds and being both “Native” and “American.”  And some bright young people like the ones we met today might look around and sometimes wonder if the United States really is thinking about them and caring about them, and has a place for them, too.

And when we were talking, I said, you know, Michelle and I know what it feels like sometimes to go through tough times.  We grew up at times feeling like we were on the outside looking in.  But thanks to family and friends, and teachers and coaches and neighbors that didn’t give up on us, we didn’t give up on ourselves.  Just like these young people are not giving up on themselves.  And we want every young person in America to have the same chance that we had — and that includes the boys and girls here in Indian Country.  (Applause.)

There’s no denying that for some Americans the deck has been stacked against them, sometimes for generations.  And that’s been the case for many Native Americans.  But if we’re working together, we can make things better.  We’ve got a long way to go.  But if we do our part, I believe that we can turn the corner.  We can break old cycles.  We can give our children a better future.  I know because I’ve talked to these young people.  I know they can succeed.  I know they’ll be leaders not just in Indian Country, but across America.  And we’ve got to invest in them and believe in them and love them, and that starts from the White House all the way down here.  (Applause.)

I understand that the Lakota word for “children” — “wakanyeja” — comes from the word “wakan” — “sacred.”  That’s what young people are — they’re sacred.  They’re sacred to your families and they’re sacred to your tribe, and they’re sacred to this nation.  And every day that I have the honor of serving as your President, I will do everything I can to make sure that you see that our country has a place for everyone, including every single young person here — and all across the Dakotas and all across America, and that you’re getting the support and encouragement you need to go as far as your hard work and your talent will take you.  That is my commitment to you — to every single young person here.  (Applause.)

This community has made extraordinary contributions to the United States.  Just look at all these flags.  So many Native Americans have served our country with honor and with courage.  And now it’s up to us to keep strong what they have built — to keep America the place where no matter who you are and what you look like, or where you come from, you can make it.  And that you don’t have to give up your culture to also be part of the American family.  That’s what I believe.  And coming here today makes me believe it that much more.

Hechetu welo.  Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

                                       END                 5:10 P.M. CDT


Political Musings February 9, 2014: Obama signs and lauds bipartisan farm bill that cuts food stamps program funding





Obama signs and lauds bipartisan farm bill that cuts food stamps program funding

By Bonnie K. Goodman

After Congress was unable to come to an agreement in 2013, President Barack Obama was able to finally sign a new 5-year farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014 on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 in East Lansing, Michigan at…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency February 7, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Signing of the Farm Bill



This is “Not Your Father’s Farm Bill”

Source: WH, 2-7-14
President Barack Obama signs the Farm Bill at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MichiganPresident Barack Obama signs the Farm Bill at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, Feb. 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, in East Lansing Michigan, on the campus of one of our nation’s first land grant colleges, President Obama signed into law the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill, or as Secretary Vilsack likes to call it – the Jobs Bill, the Research Bill, the Food Bill, etc….READ MORE


Remarks by the President at Signing of the Farm Bill — MI

Source: WH, 2-7-14 

Watch the Video

President Obama Speaks on the Farm Bill and the Economy
February 07, 2014 6:53 PM

President Obama Speaks on the Farm Bill and the Economy

Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan

2:16 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Spartans!  (Applause.)  Go, Green!

AUDIENCE:  Go, White!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Everybody have a seat here.

It’s good to be at Michigan State.  Thank you, Ben, for that wonderful introduction.  Give Ben a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  He’s got his beautiful family right here.  How did dad do?  Was he pretty good?  Yes, there he is.  He did good?  I thought he did great.

It is good to be in East Lansing.  It’s good to be with all of you here today.  I’m here because I’ve heard about all the great things that you’re doing.  And I want to thank Mayor Triplett and President Simon for hosting us.

I am also here to do some scouting on my brackets.  (Laughter and applause.)  I just talked to Coach Izzo — Spartans are looking pretty good.  I know things were a little wild for a while, had some injuries.  But the truth is that Coach Izzo, he always paces so that you peak right at the tournament.  (Applause.)  That’s a fact.  Then I got a chance to meet Mark Dantonio.  (Applause.)  So you’ve already got a Rose Bowl victory.  (Applause.)  You guys, you’re greedy.  (Laughter.)  You want to win everything.

But it’s wonderful to be here.  I love coming to Michigan.  Mainly I love coming to Michigan because of the people.  But I also love coming here because there are few places in the country that better symbolize what we’ve been through together over these last four, five years.

The American auto industry has always been the heartbeat of the Michigan economy and the heart of American manufacturing.  So when that heartbeat was flat-lining, we all pulled together, all of us — autoworkers who punched in on the line, management who made tough decisions to restructure, elected officials like Gary Peters and Mark Schauer who believed that — (applause) — folks who believed that rescuing America’s most iconic industry was the right thing to do.

And today, thanks to your grit and your ingenuity and dogged determination, the American auto industry’s engines are roaring again and we are building the best cars in the world again.  And some plants are running three shifts around the clock — something that nobody would have imagined just a few years ago.  (Applause.)

I just had lunch with Detroit’s new Mayor, Mike Duggan.  (Applause.)  He told me if there’s one thing that he wants everybody to know, it’s that Detroit is open for business.  And I have great confidence that he’s going to provide the leadership that we need.  (Applause.)  Really proud of him.  The point is we’ve all had to buckle down.  We’ve all had to work hard.  We’ve had to fight our way back these past five years.  And in a lot of ways, we are now better positioned for the 21st century than any other country on Earth.

This morning, we learned that our businesses in the private sector created more than 140,000 jobs last month, adding up to about 8.5 million new jobs over the past four years.  (Applause.)  Our unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been since before I was first elected.  Companies across the country are saying they intend to hire even more folks in the months ahead.  And that’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.

And I’ve come here today to sign a bill that hopefully means folks in Washington feel the same way — that instead of wasting time creating crises that impede the economy, we’re going to have a Congress that’s ready to spend some time creating new jobs and new opportunities, and positioning us for the future and making sure our young people can take advantage of that future.

And that’s important, because even though our economy has been growing for four years now, even though we’ve been adding jobs for four years now, what’s still true — something that was true before the financial crisis, it’s still true today — is that those at the very top of the economic pyramid are doing better than ever, but the average American’s wages, salaries, incomes haven’t risen in a very long time.  A lot of Americans are working harder and harder just to get by — much less get ahead — and that’s been true since long before the financial crisis and the Great Recession.

And so we’ve got to reverse those trends.  We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just a few.  We’ve got to restore the idea of opportunity for all people — the idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you came from, how you started out, what your last name is, you can make it if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility.  That’s the idea at the heart of this country. That’s what’s at stake right now.  That’s what we’ve got to work on.  (Applause.)

Now, the opportunity agenda I laid out in my State of the Union address is going to help us do that.  It’s an agenda built around four parts.  Number one:  More new jobs in American manufacturing, American energy, American innovation, American technology.  A lot of what you’re doing here at Michigan State helps to spur on that innovation in all sorts of areas that can then be commercialized into new industries and to create new jobs.

Number two:  Training folks with the skills to fill those jobs — something this institution does very well.

Number three:  Guaranteeing access to a world-class education for every child, not just some.  That has to be a priority.  (Applause.)  That means before they even start school, we’re working on pre-K that’s high quality and gets our young people prepared, and then takes them all the way through college so that they can afford it, and beyond.

Number four:  Making sure our economy rewards honest work with wages you can live on, and savings you can retire on, and, yes, health insurance that is there for you when you need it.  (Applause.)

Now, some of this opportunity agenda that I put forward will require congressional action, it’s true.  But as I said at the State of the Union, America does not stand still; neither will I.  And that’s why, over the past two weeks, I’ve taken steps without legislation, without congressional action, to expand opportunity for more families.  We’ve created a new way for workers to start their own retirement savings.  We’ve helped to make sure all of our students have high-speed broadband and high-tech learning tools that they need for this new economy.

But I’ve also said I’m eager to work with Congress wherever I can — because the truth of the matter is, is that America works better when we’re working together.  And Congress controls the purse strings at the federal level and a lot of the things that we need to do require congressional action.

And that is why I could not be prouder of our leaders who are here today.  Debbie in particular, I could not be prouder of your own Debbie Stabenow, who has done just extraordinary work.  (Applause.)  We all love Debbie for a lot of reasons.  She’s been a huge champion of American manufacturing but really shepherded through this farm bill, which was a very challenging piece of business.  She worked with Republican Senator Thad Cochran, who I think was very constructive in this process.  We had Representatives Frank Lucas, a Republican, working with Collin Peterson, a Democrat.  We had a terrific contribution from our own Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who deserves a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

And so Congress passed a bipartisan farm bill that is going to make a big difference in communities all across this country.  And just so they don’t feel left out, I want to recognize one of your congressmen, who’s doing an outstanding job — Dan Kildee.  (Applause.)  And somebody who was just a wonderful mentor to me when I was in the Senate and has been just a great public servant, not just for your state, but for the entire country — Carl Levin.  (Applause.)  He’s always out there, especially when it comes to our men and women in uniform.  We’re very proud of him.  (Applause.)

And while we’re at it, we got a couple of out-of-towners — Pat Leahy from Vermont — there are a lot of dairy farms up there, so he had something to do with it.  (Applause.)  Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota.  (Applause.)  All that cold air is blowing from Minnesota down into — (laughter).

Now, despite its name, the farm bill is not just about helping farmers.  Secretary Vilsack calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill.  It’s like a Swiss Army knife.  (Laughter.)  It’s like Mike Trout — for those of you who know baseball.  (Laughter.)  It’s somebody who’s got a lot of tools.  It multitasks.  It’s creating more good jobs, gives more Americans a shot at opportunity.  And there are two big ways in which it does so.

First, the farm bill lifts up our rural communities.  Over the past five years, thanks to the hard work and know-how of America’s farmers, the best in the world, we’ve had the strongest stretch of farm exports in our history.  And when I’m traveling around the world, I’m promoting American agriculture.  And as a consequence, we are selling more stuff to more people than ever before.  Supports about 1 million American jobs; what we grow here and that we sell is a huge boost to the entire economy, but particularly the rural economy.

Here at Michigan State, by the way, you are helping us to do even more.  So I just got a tour of a facility where you’re working with local businesses to produce renewable fuels.  You’re helping farmers grow crops that are healthier and more resistant to disease.  Some students are even raising their own piglets on an organic farm.  When I was in college, I lived in a pig sty — (laughter) — but I didn’t work in one.  So I’m impressed by that.  (Laughter.)  That’s no joke, by the way.  (Laughter and applause.)  Your hygiene improves as you get older.  (Laughter.)

So we’re seeing some big advances in American agriculture.  And today, by the way, I’m directing my administration to launch a new “Made in Rural America” initiative to help more rural businesses expand and hire and sell more products stamped “Made in the USA” to the rest of the world — because we’ve got great products here that need to be sold and we can do even more to sell around the world.  (Applause.)

But even with all this progress, too many rural Americans are still struggling.  Right now, 85 percent of counties experience what’s called “persistent poverty.”  Those are in rural areas.  Before I was elected President, I represented Illinois, home of a couple of your Big Ten rivals, but also a big farming state.  And over the years, I’ve seen how hard it can be to be a farmer.  There are a lot of big producers who are doing really well, but there are even more small farms, family farms, where folks are just scratching out a living and increasingly vulnerable to difficulties in financing and all the inputs involved — farmers sometimes having to work off the farm, they’ve got a couple of jobs outside the farm just to get health care, just to pay the bills, trying to keep it in the family, and it’s very hard for young farmers to get started.

And in these rural communities, a lot of young people talk about how jobs are so scarce, even before the recession hit, that they feel like they’ve got to leave in order to have opportunity.  They can’t stay at home, they’ve got to leave.

So that’s why this farm bill includes things like crop insurance, so that when a disaster like the record drought that we’re seeing across much of the West hits our farmers, they don’t lose everything they’ve worked so hard to build.  This bill helps rural communities by investing in hospitals and schools, affordable housing, broadband infrastructure — all the things that help attract more businesses and make life easier for working families.

This bill supports businesses working to develop cutting-edge biofuels — like some of the work that’s being done here at Michigan State.  That has the potential to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  It boosts conservation efforts so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy places like the Mississippi River Valley and Chesapeake Bay.

It supports local food by investing in things like farmers markets and organic agriculture — which is making my wife very happy.  And when Michelle is happy, I don’t know about everybody being happy, but I know I’m happy.  (Laughter and applause.)  And so it’s giving smaller producers, local producers, folks like Ben, the opportunity to sell more of their products directly, without a bunch of processing and distributors and middlemen that make it harder for them to achieve.  And it means that people are going to have healthier diets, which is, in turn, going to reduce incidents of childhood obesity and keep us healthier, which saves us all money.

It does all this while reforming our agricultural programs, so this bill helps to clamp down on loopholes that allowed people to receive benefits year after year, whether they were planting crops or not.  And it saves taxpayers hard-earned dollars by making sure that we only support farmers when disaster strikes or prices drop.  It’s not just automatic.

So that’s the first thing this farm bill does — it helps rural communities grow; it gives farmers some certainty; it puts in place important reforms.

The second thing this farm bill does — that is huge — is help make sure America’s children don’t go hungry.  (Applause.)   And this is where Debbie’s work was really important.  One study shows that more than half of all Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives.  Now, for most folks that’s when you’re young and you’re eating ramen all the time.  But for a lot of families, a crisis hits, you lose your job, somebody gets sick, strains on your budget — you have a strong work ethic, but it might take you six months, nine months, a year to find a job.  And in the meantime, you’ve got families to feed.

That’s why, for more than half a century, this country has helped Americans put food on the table when they hit a rough patch, or when they’re working hard but aren’t making enough money to feed their kids.  They’re not looking for a handout, these folks, they’re looking for a hand up — (applause) — a bridge to help get them through some tough times.  (Applause.)

And we sure don’t believe that children should be punished when parents are having a tough time.  As a country, we’re stronger when we help hardworking Americans get back on their feet, make sure that children are getting the nutrition that they need so that they can learn what they need in order to be contributing members of our society.

That’s the idea behind what’s known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.  A large majority of SNAP recipients are children, or the elderly, or Americans with disabilities.  A lot of others are hardworking Americans who need just a little help feeding their families while they look for a job or they’re trying to find a better one.  And in 2012, the SNAP program kept nearly 5 million people — including more than 2 million children — out of poverty.  (Applause.)  Think about that — 5 million people.

That’s why my position has always been that any farm bill I sign must include protections for vulnerable Americans, and thanks to the good work of Debbie and others, this bill does that.  (Applause.)  And by giving Americans more bang for their buck at places like farmers markets, we’re making it easier for working families to eat healthy foods and we’re supporting farmers like Ben who make their living growing it.  So it’s creating new markets for produce farmers, and it means that people have a chance to directly buy from their farmers the kind of food that’s going to keep them healthy.

And the truth is a lot of folks go through tough times at some points in their lives.  That doesn’t mean they should go hungry.  Not in a country like America.  So investing in the communities that grow our food, helping hardworking Americans put that food on the table — that’s what this farm bill does, all while reducing our deficits through smart reforms.

It doesn’t include everything that I’d like to see.  And I know leaders on both sides of the aisle feel the same way.  But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come through with this bill, break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven partisan decision-making, and actually get this stuff done.  (Applause.)  That’s a good sign.

And that’s the way you should expect Washington to work.  That’s the way Washington should continue to work.  Because we’ve got more work to do.  We’ve got more work to do to potentially make sure that unemployment insurance is put in place for a lot of folks out there who need it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got more work to do to pass a minimum wage.  We’ve got more work to do to do immigration reform, which will help farmers like Ben.  (Applause.)

So let’s keep the momentum going here.  And in the weeks ahead, while Congress is deciding what’s next, I’m going to keep doing everything I can to strengthen the middle class, build ladders of opportunity in the middle class.  And I sure hope Congress will join me because I know that’s what you’re looking for out of your elected officials at every level.  (Applause.)

So thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  I’m now going to sign this farm bill.  (Applause.)

Hold on a second, I forgot to mention Marcia Fudge is here.  I wasn’t sure whether she came to the event.  I knew she flew in with me.  She does great work — (applause) — out of the great state of Ohio.

(The bill is signed.)  (Applause.)

2:39 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency January 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Economy, Unemployment Benefits Extension and the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation in North Carolina



North Carolina Is Home to America’s Newest High-Tech Manufacturing Hub

Remarks by the President on the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

Source: WH, 1-15-14

Watch the Video

President Obama Speaks on the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation
January 15, 2014 6:02 PM

President Obama Speaks on the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on manufacturinPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks on manufacturing at the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., Jan. 15, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina

1:14 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Raleigh!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Well, it is good to be back in North Carolina.  (Applause.)  If you have a seat, go ahead and have a seat.  Now, if you don’t have a seat, don’t.  (Laughter.)

It is good to be here at the home of the Wolfpack.  (Applause.)  I want to thank your chancellor, Randy Woodson, for the introduction and the great work that he’s doing on behalf of students all across the system.  I want to recognize my Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz, who is here.  Give him a big round of applause — he’s doing good work.  (Applause.)  Your Governor, Pat McCrory, is here.  (Applause.)  The Mayor of Raleigh, Nancy McFarlane.  (Applause.)  The Mayor of Chapel Hill, Mark Kleinschmidt.  (Applause.)  The Mayor of Durham, Bill Bell.  (Applause.)  And we’ve got Congressman Mike McIntyre doing great work.  (Applause.)  Your Senator, Kay Hagan, couldn’t be here, but I wanted to thank her publicly for the great work she’s doing.  (Applause.)

And I want to thank all the students for coming out.  We’re doing this event nice and early so it doesn’t run up against the Wake game.  (Applause.)  I’ve learned a few things as President, and one of them is not to compete with college basketball down here on Tobacco Road.  You don’t do that.  (Applause.)

Now, this is actually my second stop in Raleigh-Durham.  I just took a tour of a company called Vacon, where workers design the drives that power everything from elevators to the giant fans that help cool buildings like this one — although I think we’re kind of saving money on this — (laughter) — which is the smart thing to do.

So this company is making these engines and these systems more efficient, saving businesses big bucks on energy costs, improving the environment.  Those savings get passed on to customers, puts money in people’s pockets.  And growing companies that need the products that Vacon makes, they’re benefitting enormously.  So it’s a good-news story.  But in a global economy, that company, just like every company in America, has to keep inventing and innovating in order to stay on the cutting edge.  And that’s where all of you come in.

Here at NC State, you know something about innovation.  You’ve got one of the largest undergraduate engineering programs in the country.  That’s worth cheering for.  (Applause.)  I’m a lawyer by training, and that is nice.  But we need more engineers.  (Applause.)

Companies like Cisco and IBM, they come to this school when they’re looking to hire because of the quality of the engineering program.  And over at Centennial Campus — (applause) — some very smart people experiment in state-of-the-art facilities to figure out everything from how to design better fireproof fabrics to how to better protect our computer systems.

So the reason I came here today is because we’ve got to do more to connect universities like NC State with companies like Vacon to make America the number-one place in the world to open new businesses and create new jobs.  We want to do that here in North Carolina, and we want to do this all across America.  (Applause.)

Now, it’s been more than five years since a devastating recession cost this country millions of jobs, and it hurt North Carolina pretty tough.  But everyone here knows that even before the recession hit, the middle class had been hitting — getting hit on the chin for years before that.  Here in North Carolina, factories were shutting their doors, jobs were getting shipped overseas.  Wages and incomes were flat-lining, so even if you had a job you didn’t see your standard of living going up very much. Meanwhile the cost of everything from college tuition to groceries did go up.

So when I took office, we decided to focus on the hard work of rebuilding our economy on a new foundation for growth and prosperity, and to make sure that everybody had a chance to get ahead.  And thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the American people, the good news is the economy is growing stronger.  (Applause.)  Our businesses have now created more than 8 million new jobs since we hit bottom.  Because of an all-of-the-above strategy for American energy, for the first time in nearly two decades we produce more oil here in the United States than we buy from the rest of the world.  That hasn’t happened in a very long time.  (Applause.)  We now generate more renewable energy than ever before, more natural gas than anybody on the planet.  (Applause.)  We’re lowering energy costs, reducing pollution.

Health care costs are growing at their slowest rate in 50 years.  For the first time since the 1990s, health care costs eat up a smaller chunk of our economy, and part of that, yes, has to do with the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)  And so over time, that means bigger paychecks for middle-class families, bigger savings for companies that are looking to hire.  And along with all this, since I took office we’ve cut our deficits by more than half.  (Applause.)

So we’ve made progress.  And that’s what I mean when I say this can be a breakthrough year for America.  The pieces are all there to start bringing back more of the jobs that we’ve lost over the past decade.  A lot of companies around the world are starting to talk about bringing jobs back to the United States, bringing jobs back to places like North Carolina — partly because we got cheap energy costs, we’ve got the best workers in the world, we’ve got the best university systems in the world — (applause) — and we’ve got the largest market in the world.

So the pieces are there to restore some of the ground that the middle class has lost in recent decades, start raising wages for American families.  But it requires us to take action.  This has to be a year of action.

And here in North Carolina, you’re doing your part to create good jobs that pay good wages.  Congress has to do its part, too — because restoring the American Dream of opportunity for everyone who’s willing to work for it is something that should unite the country.  That shouldn’t divide the country.  That’s what we should be aspiring to — that everybody has a shot if they’re willing to work hard and take responsibility.  (Applause.)

So in the short term, one thing Congress could do is listen to the majority of the American people and restore the unemployment insurance for Americans who need it.   (Applause.)  And let me just make an aside here.  North Carolina still has a higher-than-average unemployment rate, so this is important to this state.  Folks aren’t looking for a handout.  They’re not looking for special treatment.  There are a lot of people who are sending our resumes every single day, but the market — the job market is still tough in pockets around the country, and people need support, a little help, so they can look after their families while they’re looking for a new job.  (Applause.)  So Congress should do the right thing and extend this vital lifeline for millions of Americans.

Of course, that’s just short term.  Long term, the challenge of making sure everybody who works hard can get ahead in today’s economy is so important that we can’t wait for Congress to solve it.  Where I can act on my own without Congress, I’m going to do so.

And today, I’m here to act — to help make Raleigh-Durham, and America, a magnet for the good, high-tech manufacturing jobs that a growing middle class requires and that are going to continue to keep this country on the cutting edge.  (Applause.)

So we’ve already got some success to build on.  Manufacturing is a bright spot in this economy.  For decades we’d been losing manufacturing jobs.  But now our manufacturers have added over the last four years more than 550,000 new jobs, including almost 80,000 manufacturing jobs in the last five months alone.  So we want to keep that trend going.  We want to build on the kind of work that’s being done in places like NC State to develop technology that leads to new jobs and entire new industries.

So a little over a year ago, we launched America’s first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.  And what it was is a partnership; it includes companies and colleges.  They came up with a joint plan.  They were focusing on developing 3D printing technology and training workers with the skills required to master that technology.

Now, that was a great start.  We got one going and some of the folks from Youngstown are here today, and we congratulate them on the great work they’re doing.  But here’s the problem:  We created one; in Germany, they’ve already got about 60 of these manufacturing innovation hubs.  So we’ve got some catching up to do.  I don’t want the next big job-creating discovery, the research and technology to be in Germany or China or Japan.  I want it to be right here in the United States of America.  I want it to be right here in North Carolina.  (Applause.)

So what I said was in my State of the Union address last year, I said to Congress, let’s set up a network of at least 15 of these manufacturing hubs all across America, focusing on different opportunities where we can get manufacturing innovation going, create jobs, make sure that the research is tied to businesses that are actually hiring, and those synergies are going to grow the economy regionally and ultimately across the whole country.

And last summer, as part of our push to create middle-class jobs, I said, you know what, let’s not settle on 15, let’s just go ahead and do 45.  Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate introduced bills that would get this going — that’s good.  But they haven’t passed the bills yet.  So I want to encourage them to continue to pass the bills that would create 45 of these manufacturing hubs.  In the meantime, I’m directing my administration to move forward where we can on our own.

So today, after almost a year of competition, I’m pleased to announce America’s newest high-tech manufacturing hub — which is going to be focused on the next generation of power electronics  — is going to be based right here in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Applause.)  That’s good news.  That’s good news.  (Applause.)   That’s good news.  It’s great.  (Applause.)

So just like the hub in Youngstown, what we’re calling the Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute is bringing together leading companies, universities, and federal research all together under one roof.  Folks at this hub are going to develop what are called “wide bandgap semiconductors.”

Now, I was just schooled on all this.  (Laughter.)  I’m not sure that I’m fully qualified to describe the technical elements of this.  Raise your hand if you know what that is.  (Laughter.) See, we’ve got some.  (Laughter.)  For all you non-engineers out there, here’s what it means in the simplest terms.  Semiconductors, obviously, are at the heart of every piece of the electronics that we use every day — your smartphone, your television set, these days everything.  Public research helped develop them decades ago, and then that research allowed commercialization, new products, new services, and obviously not only improved the economy, but greatly enhanced our lives.  So we want companies to run with the ball also, but first we’ve got to make sure that we’re also doing the research and linking it up to those companies.

Wide bandgap semiconductors, they’re special because they lose up to 90 percent less power; they can operate at higher temperatures than normal semiconductors.  So that means they can make everything from cell phones to industrial motors to electric cars smaller, faster, cheaper.  There are going to be still applications for the traditional semiconductors, but these can be focused on certain areas that will vastly improve energy efficiency, vastly improve the quality of our lives.  And the country that figures out how to do this first, and the companies that figure how to do this best, they’re the ones that are going to attract the jobs that come with it.

So this manufacturing hub, right here, focused in North Carolina —


THE PRESIDENT:  GoPack!  (Laughter and applause.)  This hub is going to make it easier for these wide bandgap semiconductors to go from the drawing board to the factory floor to the store shelves — or not necessarily the store shelves, because what I just saw, for example, were these really big pieces of equipment that are attached to utility companies or help windmills translate the power they’re generating actually get transmitted to where they’re going to be finally used.  It’s going to bring together chip designers and manufacturers with companies like Vacon and Delphi that stand to benefit from these new technologies.  And this will help big companies, but it’s also going to help small companies, because they’re going to be able to use equipment they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to test and prototype new products.  And of course, American workers will be able to come right here, to North Carolina, to learn the skills that companies are looking for.  And the next generation of manufacturing will be an American revolution.

So in the coming weeks, we’re going to be launching two more of these innovation hubs; we’ve already got them all planned out. One is going to focus on digital design and manufacturing; another is going to be developing lightweight metals that could transform everything from wind turbines to military vehicles.  And together, they’re going to help build new partnerships in areas that show potential.  They’ll help to lift up our communities.  They’ll help spark the technology and research that will create the new industries, the good jobs required for folks to punch their ticket into the middle class.

And that’s what America is all about.  We have always been about research, innovation, and then commercializing that research and innovation so that everybody can benefit.  And then we start selling our stuff all around the world, we start exporting it.  And we create good jobs, and middle-class families then are able to buy the products that result from this innovation.  And you get a virtuous cycle where everybody is doing better, and nobody is left behind.  And that’s what we can do if we pull together the way those companies and universities have pulled together as part of this bid.

Now, this is going to be a long haul.  We’re not going to turn things around overnight.  A lot of jobs were lost in the textile industry and furniture-making.  But the great news is, is that ultimately, because our people are good and smart and hardworking and willing to take risks, we are going to be able to start bringing those jobs back to America.  And that’s what we do.  (Applause.)  When times get tough, we don’t give up.  We get up.  We innovate.  We adapt.  We keep going.  We look to the future.  (Applause.)

And I want all of you to know, North Carolina, that as long as we keep working together and fighting together and doing what it takes to widen the circle of opportunity for more Americans so nobody is left behind — if you work hard, if you are responsible, then you can go out there, get a skill, train yourself, find a job, support a family.  If we work together, and that’s our focus, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.  (Applause.) There’s no limit to how far we can go.

So congratulations, North Carolina State.  Congratulations, Raleigh.  Let’s get to work.  God bless you.  God bless America. (Applause.)

1:31 P.M. EST

Political Musings November 27, 2013: Obama expresses openness to piecemeal immigration bill during fundraising trip





Obama expresses openness to piecemeal immigration bill during fundraising trip

By Bonnie K. Goodman

During a three-day fundraising trip to West-Coast of the United States, on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 President Barack Obama delivered a speech pushing for immigration reform while at a stop in San Francisco, California. The President was urging…READ MORE

Political Headlines August 23, 2013: President Obama, Vice President Biden Side-By-Side in Scranton, But What About 2016?





Obama, Biden Side-By-Side in Scranton, But What About 2016?

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Ever since President Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared together for a joint network interview in January, it seemed like the president had unofficially made the former Secretary of State his heir apparent.

But on Friday, President Obama stood by Vice President Joe Biden in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., heaping praise on the man who has dutifully been at his side since Obama picked him as his running mate five years ago to the day….READ MORE

Political Headlines August 23, 2013: President Barack Obama Fields Questions on Education at Townhall at Binghamton University





Obama Fields Questions on Education at Townhall


In a rare townhall on the second day of his bus tour, President Obama fielded questions ranging from how to keep Head Start funding intact to the education and civil rights progress made since the March on Washington 50 years ago.

“We don’t have an urgent deficit crisis. The only crisis we have is one that’s manufactured in Washington, and it’s ideological,” President Obama told students, faculty, and parents at Binghamton University, the State University of New York, Friday….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 23, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in Town Hall Meeting on College Affordability, College Cost Cutting Plan at Binghamton University



Remarks by the President in Town Hall at Binghamton University

Source: WH, 8-23-13

Binghamton University
Binghamton, New York

12:48 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Binghamton!  (Applause.)  It is good to see all of you.  Thank you so much.  Now, go ahead and have a seat — I’m going to be here a while.  (Laughter.)

Well, first of all, let me thank the university and your president, Harvey Stenger, for having me here today.  Give your president a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  There he is.    A couple other people I want to recognize — Mayor Matt Ryan is here.  (Applause.)  Two wonderful Congressmen — Richard Hanna and Paul Tonko.  (Applause.)  Your former Representative, Maurice Hinchey, is here as well.  (Applause.)

So, first of all, thank you, because it’s really nice outside, so for you to be willing to come inside, I greatly appreciate.  And I’m not going to do a lot of talking at the top because I want to have a conversation with you about a range of issues, but in particular, something that is personal for me.

A lot of you know that I wasn’t born into a lot of wealth or fame, there wasn’t a long Obama dynasty.  And so the only reason I’m here today, the only reason Michelle and I have been able to accomplish what we accomplished is because we got a great education.  And I think the essence of the American Dream is that anybody who’s willing to work hard is able to get that good education and achieve their dreams.

And central to that is the issue that — you’ve got a big sign there — we try to message effectively — (laughter) — College Affordability — making sure that people can afford to go to college.

I’m on a road trip from New York to Pennsylvania.  Yesterday I was at the University of Buffalo.  I visited students at Syracuse.  Later today, I’m going to meet Joe Biden in Scranton, his hometown.  But I decided to stop here for a couple of reasons.  Number one, I’ve been told that it’s very important for me to get a spiedies while I’m here.  (Laughter and applause.)  So we’re going to pick one up and try it on the road.  Number two, I’m excited because of the great work that SUNY campuses like Binghamton are doing to keep costs down for hardworking students like so many of you.

Chancellor Zimpher is making sure that hundreds of thousands of SUNY students all across the state are getting a world-class higher education but without some of the debt and financial burden that is stopping too many young people from going to college.  And that’s what we want for all of our students and all of our families all across the country.

Over the past month, I’ve been visiting towns throughout America, and I’ve talked about how do we secure a better bargain for the middle class and everybody who’s trying to work their way into the middle class.

We’ve fought our way through a very brutal recession, and now we’re at a point where we’re creating jobs, the economy is growing, budget deficits are falling, health care inflation has been reduced.  And yet there are still a lot of working families out there who are having a tough time in this competitive global economy that we live in.

And the fact is even before this last financial crisis, we had increasingly an economy where folks at the top were doing better and better and better, but the average individual or family was seeing their incomes and their wages flat-lining.  And you start getting a tale of two Americas.  And the whole premise of upward mobility in this country, which is central to who we understand ourselves to be, was being diminished for too many people.  So, from my perspective, reversing that trend should be Washington’s highest priority.  It’s certainly my highest priority.

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in Washington all too often is, instead of focusing on how do we bring good middle-class jobs back to America, how do we make sure the economy is growing robustly and that growth is broad-based, we’ve been spending a lot of time arguing about whether we should be paying our bills that we’ve already accrued.  Or the discussion has been about slashing spending on education and basic research and science — all the things that are going to make sure that we remain competitive for the future.

Most recently, there’s been threats that we would shut down the government unless we agree to roll back the health care reform that’s about to provide millions of Americans with health care coverage for the first time.  And that’s not an economic plan.  That’s not going to grow the economy.  That’s not going to strengthen the middle class and it’s not going to create ladders of opportunity into the middle class.

What we need to do is focus on the pocketbook, bread-and-butter issues that affect all of you — making sure we’ve got good jobs with good wages; a good education; a home of your own; affordable health care; a secure retirement; and a way for people who are currently in poverty to get out of poverty.  That’s what we should be spending our time thinking about when it comes to domestic policy.  That’s what’s always made America great.  And nothing is more important to that process than what we’re doing in terms of K through 12 education and higher education.

Now, here’s the challenge:  At the time when higher education has never been more important — and when I say higher education I mean two-year, four-year, technical colleges — it doesn’t all have to be four-year, traditional bachelor of arts or sciences — at a time when that’s never been more important, college has never been more expensive.

And in fact, what you’ve seen is, is that over the last three decades, the cost of higher education has gone up 260 percent, at a time when family incomes have gone up about 18 percent.  So I’m not a math major — there are probably some here — but if you’ve got one line going up 260 percent and another line going up 16 percent, you start getting a bigger and bigger gap.  And what’s happened as a consequence is that either college has become out of reach for too many people, or young people are being loaded up with more and more debt.

Now, we’ve tried to close that gap.  When I came into office, we reformed our financial aid system, so the student loan programs were being run through banks and banks were making billions of dollars on it, and we said let’s just give the money directly to students, cut out the middleman.  And we then were able to re-funnel billions of dollars to provide more students with more grants and more assistance.  We’ve done our best to keep interest rates on student loans as low as possible.

But even with all the work that we’re doing there, the fact is the average student is still coming out with $26,000 worth of debt when they graduate.  And for a lot of students it’s much more than that.  And particularly, for those young people who are choosing careers where — like teaching, where they may not make a lot of money, if they’re burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, in some cases it’s impossible for them ever to pay it off — or they have to put off buying a home, or starting a business, or starting a family.  And that has a depressive effect on our economy overall.  So it’s not just bad for the students, it’s also bad for the economy as a whole.

The bottom line is this:  We can’t price higher education so prohibitively that ordinary families can’t afford it.  That will ruin our chances to make sure the 21st century is the American Century just like the 20th century was.

So what we’ve done — and I announced this yesterday — is propose three basic reforms to try to shake the system up.

Number one, we want to start rating colleges based on how well they’re doing in providing good value and opportunity for students.  I mean, right now you’ve got a bunch of ranking systems, some of them commercial, and when you look at what’s being rated it’s typically how selective the schools are, how few students they take in, and how expensive they are and what are their facilities like.  And what we want to do is to start looking at factors like how much debt do students leave with, and do they actually graduate, and do they graduate in four years as opposed to six or eight or 10, and do they find a job after they graduate — giving some concrete measures that will allow students and families to gauge if I go to this school, am I going to get a good deal.

And since taxpayers are often providing those families and students assistance, we want to make sure taxpayers are getting a good deal as well.  And that will create an atmosphere in which college presidents and trustees start thinking about affordability and don’t just assume that tuition can keep on going up and up and up.

Now, what we’re also going to be doing is putting pressure on state legislatures to rebalance, because part of the reason so many state universities have had to increase tuition is because state legislative priorities have shifted all across the country — more money into prisons, less money into schools.  That means that costs are passed on to students in the form of higher tuition.  So we’ve got to do something about that.

And we’re also going to ask a little more from students.  What we’re going to say to students is you need to actually finish courses before you take out more loans and more grants.  And we want to say that to students not to be punitive, but instead, to prevent a situation where students end up taking out a lot of debt but never actually getting the degree, which puts them in a deeper financial hole than they otherwise would be.

So that’s point number one.  Second, we want to jumpstart competition among colleges and states to think of more innovative ways to reduce costs.  And there are schools that are doing some terrific work in reducing costs while maintaining high-quality education.  So, for example, there are some schools that are experimenting where you can get credits based on your competency, as opposed to how much time you’re spending in the classroom.

There’s no law that says you have to graduate — that for you to be in school for four years rather than three or three and a half somehow automatically gives you a better education.  And so, schools are experimenting with how can we compress the time and thereby reduce the costs.  Are there ways that we can use online learning to improve the educational quality and, at the same time, make things a little cheaper for students?

So we’re going to work with states, schools, university presidents to see what’s working and what’s not.  And let’s spread best practices all across the country.

And then the third thing we want to do is to is to expand and better advertise a program that we put in place and expanded when I came into office, and that is a program that says for college graduates who do have debt we’re going to cap the monthly payments that you have to make to 10 percent of your income.

And the notion is that that way it’s manageable, and you’re not going to have to make career decisions simply based on how much money can I make to pay off those student loans.  If I want to be a teacher, if I want to be a social worker, if I want to go into public service, then I can do that and I’m still going to be able to act responsibly and pay off my debt.

We already have that program in place, but it’s not as widely known as it needs to be, and not as many young people are eligible for it as we want them to be.  So we’re going to work to improve on that front.

Bottom line is we need to stop taking the same business-as-usual approach when it comes to college education.  Not all the reforms that we’re proposing are going to be popular.  There are some who are benefitting from the status quo.  There will be some resistance.  There’s going to have to be a broad-based conversation, but part of our goal here is to stir a conversation because the current path that we’re on is unsustainable.  And it’s my basic belief and I suspect the belief of most people here, higher education shouldn’t be a luxury.  It’s an economic necessity in this knowledge-based economy.  And we want to make sure that every family in America can afford it.  (Applause.)

So I’m interested if you guys have other ideas — if you have other ideas about things that we should be looking at, we want to hear them.  And that’s part of the purpose of this town hall discussion.  I’m interested in hearing your stories, getting your questions.  And this will be a pretty informal affair — well, as informal as it gets when the President comes — (laughter) — and there are a bunch of cameras everywhere.

So with that, I’d just like to start the discussion.  And what I’m going to do is I’m just going to call on folks.  Just raise your hand.  I would ask you to stand up, introduce yourself.  There are people with mics and they’ll bring the mic to you.  And I’m going to go girl, boy, girl, boy, to make sure that it’s fair.  (Laughter.)  All right?

So we’ll start with this young lady right here in the striped top.

Q    Thank you.  It’s an honor to have you here today.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hold on a second.  I think — here we go.

Q    Thank you.  It’s an honor to have you here today, Mr. President.  I’m from the Decker School of Nursing here, which is an outstanding school of nursing that has excellent outcomes.

My question today is, because advanced practice nurses, primarily nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, have such an outstanding reputation, we have good outcomes.  And the Affordable Care Act is ready to be rolled out soon.  Nurse practitioners and advanced practice nurses are in an excellent position to really serve vulnerable populations and people who don’t have care.  I’m wondering if there’s any provisions within your educational act that would support health care workers and nurse practitioners to create a sustainable workforce that would be able to support caring for people as we roll out the Affordable Care Act.

THE PRESIDENT:  It is a great question.  Now, first of all, let me — without buttering you up — I love nurses.  (Laughter.) Michelle and I have been blessed, we haven’t been sick too much, but — knock on wood.  But every interaction we’ve had at the hospital, the doctors are wonderful and we appreciate them, but I know when Malia and Sasha were being born, we spent 90 percent of the time with the nurses and 10 percent with the OB/GYN.  When my grandmother got sick and was passing away at the end, it was nurses who were caring for her in an incredible compassionate but also professional way.

And you’re absolutely right that one of the keys to reducing our health care costs overall is recognizing the incredible value of advanced practice nurses and giving them more responsibilities because there’s a lot of stuff they can do in a way that, frankly, is cheaper than having a doctor do it, but the outcomes are just as good.

The challenge we have is we still have a nursing shortage in too many parts of the country.  My understanding — you probably know this better than I do — part of the problem is, is that too many professors of nursing or instructors in nursing are getting paid less than actual nurses.  So what ends up happening is we don’t have enough slots in some of the nursing schools.  That may not be true here, but there are parts of the country where that’s true.

So we have to upgrade a little bit the schools of nursing and make sure that they’re properly resourced so that we have enough instructors.  And, in fact, as part of the Affordable Care Act, one of the things that we thought about was how are we going to expand and improve the number of nurses and making sure that they can actually finance their educations.  And so there are some special programs for nurses who are committing themselves — as well as doctors who are committing themselves — to serving in underserved communities.  And we will be happy to get that information to the school of nursing here.

One other element to this that I think is really interesting — we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about making sure that our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are getting the opportunities they need.  So we instituted something called the Post-9/11 GI Bill that provides the same kind of support that my grandfather got when he came back from World War II.

And the young people who have served in our armed forces just do extraordinary work.  One of the problems, though, is, is that they don’t always get credit for the skills that they already possess when they come home.  So one — and we’ve got a gentleman here who’s a veteran.  And one great example actually is in the medical profession — when you get medics coming back who served in the worst possible circumstances, out in theater, having to make life-or-death decisions — I met a young man up in Minnesota.  He had come back, wanted to continue to pursue his career and become a professional nurse, and he was having to start from scratch, taking the equivalent of Nursing 101.

And what we’re trying to do is to make sure that states and institutions of higher learning recognize some of the skills, because as we bring more and more of our veterans home — we’ll be ending the war in Afghanistan by the end of next year — we want to make sure that those folks have the opportunity to succeed here in America.  (Applause.)  Great question, though.

All right.  It’s a guy’s turn.  Right here, yes.  Hold on, let’s get a mic all the way to the back.

Q    Hello, Mr. President.  I’m glad for you to come to Binghamton University.  I’m the director of Rainbow Pride Union here, and it’s the largest LGBT organization on campus.  And my main concern is that I know a lot of stories of people who are LGBT who come out to their parents, and their parents are supporting them financially for college, and when they come out their parents cut out that support.  I was wondering if maybe in the future part of your affordability for college would be able to include LGBT people.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, the programs that we have in place don’t discriminate and shouldn’t discriminate.  And the good news is I think the phenomenon that you just described is likely to happen less and less and less with each successive year.  I mean, think about the incredible changes that have been made just over the last decade,  DOMA is gone.  “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is gone.  But more importantly, people’s hearts and minds have changed.  And I think that’s reflective of parents as well.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still going to be struggles internally, but I think, more and more, what we recognize is, is that just as we judge people on — should judge people on the basis of their character, and not their color or religion or gender, the same is true for their sexual orientation.

So I don’t suspect that we’ll have special laws pertaining to young people who are cut off from support by their parents because their parents hadn’t gotten to the place I think they should be when it comes to loving and supporting their kids regardless of who they are, but we are going to make sure that all young people get the support that they need so that if their parents aren’t willing to provide them support, and they’re functionally independent, that they’re able to still go to college and succeed.  All right?

Right here, in the Obama t-shirt.  (Laughter.)  You know, so if you — here’s a general rule in the presidential town hall:  If you want to get called on, wear the President’s face on your shirt.  (Laughter.)

Q    Good afternoon, President Obama.  I’m a graduate student in the College of Community and Public Affairs.  I study student affairs administration.  With that being said, as we’re all students, we know how vital it is to have a good foundation in our education. How does your administration plan to address the major budget cuts that are happening with Head Start schools around the U.S.?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this is a great question.  And this will be a major topic over the next several months.  First of all, I want to expand early childhood education so that it’s accessible for every young person in America.  (Applause.)

And I talked about this in my State of the Union address.  It is just common sense.  We know, study after study has shown that the biggest bang for the buck that we get when it comes to education is to invest early.

If we get 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds well prepared when they start school that momentum continues.  If they start behind, too often they stay behind.  Kids are resilient and they can make up for some tough stuff early on in life, but it’s a lot harder for them than if we get them young.

In fact, studies have shown that there’s some very smart programs out there where you identify low-income single moms in the maternity ward, and nurses talk to them immediately not just about the health of their child, but also parenting, and create a little packet with some books and some toys, and talk about engagement and expanding vocabulary.  All that can make a difference.  And high-quality early childhood education can continue that process so that by the time the kid starts school, they know their colors, they know their letters.  They’re ready to go.

Now, unfortunately, right now the federal budget generally has been a political football in Washington.  Partly, this came out of the financial crisis.  We had a terrible crisis.  We had to immediately pump money into the system to prevent a great depression.  So we cut taxes for middle-class families.  We initiated programs to rebuild our roads and our bridges.  We helped states so that they wouldn’t have to lay off as many teachers and firefighters and police officers.  And that’s part of the reason why we avoided a depression, although we still had a terrible recession.

But the combination of increased spending and less revenue meant that the deficit went up.  And by the time the Republicans took over the House in 2011, they had made this a major issue.  And, understandably, a lot of families said, well, we’re having to tighten our belts — the federal government should, too.  Although, part of what you want the federal government to do when everybody else is having a hard time is to make sure that you’re providing additional support.

As the economy has improved, the deficit has gone down.  It’s now dropped at the fastest rate in 60 years.  I want to repeat that, because a lot of people think that — if you ask the average person what’s happening with the deficit, they’d tell you it’s going up.  The deficit has been cut in half since 2009 and is on a downward trajectory.  (Applause.)  And it’s gone down faster than any time since World War II.

So we don’t have a problem in terms of spending on education.  We don’t have a problem when it comes to spending on research and development.  We do have a long-term problem that has to do with our health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid.  The good news is, is that in part because of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — costs have actually gone down — health care inflation has gone down to the slowest rate that we’ve seen in a long time.

So we’re starting to get health care costs under control.  We’ll still have to make some modifications when it comes to our long-term entitlement program so that they’re there for young people here when they are ready for retirement.

But we don’t have an urgent deficit crisis.  The only crisis we have is one that’s manufactured in Washington, and it’s ideological.  And the basic notion is, is that we shouldn’t be helping people get health care, and we shouldn’t be helping kids who can’t help themselves and whose parents are under-resourced  — we shouldn’t be helping them get a leg up.  And so some of the proposals we’ve seen now are talking about even deeper cuts in programs like Head Start; even deeper cuts in education support; even deeper cuts in basic science and research.

And that’s like eating your corn seed.  It’s like being pennywise and pound-foolish.  Because if young people aren’t succeeding, if we’re not spending on research and maintaining our technological edge, if we’re not upgrading our roads and our bridges and our transportation systems and our infrastructure — all things that we can afford to do right now and should be doing right now, and would put people to work right now — if we don’t do those things, then 20 years from now, 30 years from now we will have fallen further and further behind.

So when we get back to Washington — when Congress gets back to Washington, this is going to be a major debate.  It’s the same debate we’ve been having for the last two years.  The difference is now deficits are already coming down.  And what we should really be thinking about is how do we grow an economy so that we’re creating a growing, thriving middle class, and we’re creating more ladders of opportunity for people who are willing to work hard to get into the middle class.

And my position is going to be that we can have a budget that is sensible, that doesn’t spend on programs that don’t work, but does spend wisely on those things that are going to help ordinary people succeed.  All right?  Good.

Let’s see.  It is a gentleman’s turn.  This gentleman right here.  He’s had his hand up for a while.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yay!  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that settles it.  You have a little cheering section there.  (Laughter.)

Q    Hello, Mr. President.  I’m a faculty member of the computer science department.  I’m very excited and encouraged by your plan on the affordability reform.  My question is related about the quality of future higher education.  As you know, many universities are trying their best to provide the best value by doing better with less.  But the challenges are real, and they’re getting tougher and tougher as the budget cuts are getting tougher and tougher.  So my question is what your administration will do to ensure the best American universities remain to be the best in the world in the 21st century?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, what’s really important is to make sure that we’re supporting great teachers.  And since you got an applause line, you must be a pretty good one.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t think that there is a conflict between quality and paying attention to costs as it’s affecting students.

Now, I mentioned earlier, one of the big problems that we’ve seen in public universities is a diminished level of support from states, state legislatures.  And part of what we’re going to try to do is to provide more incentives to states to boost the support that they’re giving to colleges and universities.

Traditionally, when you think of the great state university systems, it was because those states understood if we invest in our people we’ll have a better-trained workforce, which means companies will want to locate here, which creates a virtuous cycle and everybody benefits.

But starting, let’s say, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, you saw a trend in which state legislatures who were trying to balance their budgets kept on cutting support to state education.  What happened was that — and I don’t know whether this is true, Mr. President, for SUNY, but around the country, on average, what you’ve seen is a drop from about 46 percent of the revenues of a public college coming from states down to about 25 percent.  It’s almost been cut in half.  And essentially, the only way these schools have figured to make it up is to charge higher tuition.

So states have to do their jobs.  But what is true also, though, is that universities and faculty need to come up with ways to also cut costs while maintaining quality — because that’s what we’re having to do throughout our economy.  And sometimes when I talk to college professors — and, keep in mind, I taught in a law school for 10 years, so I’m very sympathetic to the spirit of inquiry and the importance of not just looking at X’s and O’s and numbers when it comes to measuring colleges.  But what I also know is, is that there are ways we can save money that would not diminish quality.

This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I’m in my second term so I can say it.  (Laughter.)  I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years — because by the third year — in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom.  The third year they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much.  But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student.

Now, the question is can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year.  My suspicion is, is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could.  Now, if that’s true at a graduate level, there are probably some things that we could do at the undergraduate level as well.

That’s not to suggest that there aren’t some real problems. Colleges, for example, they’ve got health care costs like everybody else.  Personnel is one of the most important — it’s the biggest cost you’ve got.  And if health care costs to provide insurance for your employees is going up as fast as it’s been going up, that affects folks.

So our idea is not to just have some cookie-cutter approach that doesn’t take quality into account.  The idea is, understanding we’ve got to maintain high quality, are there ways that we can reorganize schools, use technology, think about what works so that, overall, we’re creating a better value for the student.

And one of the best things that we could do for students is to make sure that they graduate in a more timely fashion.  And unfortunately, too many young people go to schools where they’re not getting the kind of support and advice on the front end that they need and they drift, and four years, five years, six years into it, they’ve got a bunch of credits but it all doesn’t result in actual graduation.  And then they get discouraged.  And that’s an area where we know we can be making improvement as well.

Okay?  And if you’ve got any other ideas, let me know.  (Applause.)

Let’s get a young person in here.  Right there, yes.

Q    Welcome to Binghamton, President Obama.


Q    I’m a doctoral student here as well as a writing instructor at Syracuse University.  And I’m interested in the giving of federal funds to students who are going to for-profit colleges — or colleges I might even call predatory.  And I’m very conflicted about this issue and so I’d like to hear your insight.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you probably know more about it than I do since you’ve written about it.  But let me describe for the audience what the challenge is.

For-profit institutions in a lot of sectors of our lives obviously is the cornerstone of our economy.  And we want to encourage entrepreneurship and new ideas and new approaches and new ways of doing things.  So I’m not against for-profit institutions, generally.  But what you’re absolutely right about is, is that there have been some schools that are notorious for getting students in, getting a bunch of grant money, having those students take out a lot of loans, making big profits, but having really low graduation rates.  Students aren’t getting what they need to be prepared for a particular field.  They get out of these for-profit schools loaded down with enormous debt.  They can’t find a job.  They default.  The taxpayer ends up holding the bag.  Their credit is ruined, and the for-profit institution is making out like a bandit.  That’s a problem.

I was mentioning veterans earlier.  Soldiers and sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsmen, they’ve been preyed upon very badly by some of these for-profit institutions.  And we actually created a special task force inside our consumer advocate protection organization that we set up just to look out for members of the armed forces who were being manipulated.  Because what happened was these for-profit schools saw this Post-9/11 GI Bill, that there was a whole bunch of money that the federal government was committed to making sure that our veterans got a good education, and they started advertising to these young people, signing them up, getting them to take a bunch of loans, but they weren’t delivering a good product.

This goes to, then, the point I made earlier about how we can rate schools.  We’re going to spend some time over the course of the next year talking to everybody — talking to university professors, talking to faculty members, talking to students, talking to families — but if we can define some basic parameters of what’s a good value, then it will allow us more effectively to police schools whether they’re for-profit or non-for-profit — because there are some non-for-profit schools, traditional schools that have higher default rates among their graduates than graduation rates — and be able to say to them, look, either you guys step up and improve, or you’re not going to benefit from federal dollars.  (Applause.)

Because there are a bunch of schools like this one that are doing a good job, and we don’t want money being funneled to schools that aren’t doing a good job.  We want to encourage students to be smart shoppers, to be good consumers.

So there are probably more problems in the for-profit sector on this than there are in the traditional non-for-profit colleges, universities and technical schools, but it’s a problem across the board.  And the way to solve it is to make sure that we’ve got ways to measure what’s happening and we can weed out some of the folks that are engaging in bad practices.

Great question.

All right, this corner of the room has been neglected.  So the gentleman right there, right in the corner there.

Q    Thank you for taking the time to visit Binghamton University.  I’m a sophomore student of Binghamton University.  I am from Turkey and I want to ask something about the international students.  Most of my friends’ families have been facing some hardships to support them financially.  For example, when we consider two Turkish lira equals one American dollar, this situation is getting more important for us.  We think that the most reason of this situation is the high level of payment.  What do you think, and do you have any working about the situation?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, we’re glad you’re here and we hope you’re having a wonderful experience.  One of the great things about American universities is they are magnets for talent from around the world.  And that has enriched us immeasurably.  It enriches us in part because students who come here and study and excel may end up staying here and working and starting businesses, and that’s always been part of the American experience, is smart, striving immigrants coming here and succeeding.  And that makes everybody better off — which is part of the reason why we‘ve got to get immigration reform done so that if we’re taking the time to train a great computer scientist or engineer or entrepreneur, we’re not, then, just sending them back to their country.  Let’s invite them, if they want to stay, to succeed here and start jobs here and create businesses here.  (Applause.)

Now, obviously, when it comes to federal grants, loans, supports, subsidies that we provide, those are for our citizens. And a lot of Americans are having a tough time affording college, as we talked about, so we can’t spread it too thin.  What we can do, though, is to make sure that if tuition is reasonable for all students who enroll, then it makes it easier for international students to come and study here as well.

So all the things that I talked about before apply to foreign students as well as American students.  We need to make sure that college is affordable, that it’s a good value.  The good news is that there are schools out there that are doing a great job already.  And we just need to make sure that we’re duplicating some of those best practices across the country.

All right, who’s next?  Let’s see, it’s a young lady’s turn, isn’t it?  Okay.  Go ahead, right there in the red — or orange.

Q    My name is Anne Bailey, and I am a faculty member in the History and Afrikana Studies department here.  And I teach African American history and African diaspora studies.  And tomorrow, I’m going to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  And I’m going — and I’m going with my son — because I’m here, as you said, because of a good education, and that good education became possible because of that faith-inspired movement that really reached such an important milestone 50 years ago.

And I’m so grateful for the fact that I had that opportunity, and that my son and that these young people will have these opportunities.  But I still kind of wonder where we are now in terms of education and civil rights.  Have we — where do you think we are?  What do we need to do to kind of make sure that it is education for all, including under-represented groups? That’s just my question.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, 50 years after the March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream Speech,” obviously we’ve made enormous strides.  I’m a testament to it.  You’re a testament to it.  The diversity of this room and the students who are here is a testimony to it.  And that impulse towards making sure everybody gets a fair shot is one that found expression in the Civil Rights Movement, but then spread to include Latinos and immigrants and gays and lesbians.

And what’s wonderful to watch is that the younger generation seems — each generation seems wiser in terms of wanting to treat people fairly and do the right thing and not discriminate.  And that’s a great victory that we should all be very proud of.

On the other hand, I think what we’ve also seen is that the legacy of discrimination — slavery, Jim Crow — has meant that some of the institutional barriers for success for a lot of groups still exist.  African American poverty in this country is still significantly higher than other groups.  Same is true for Latinos.  Same is true for Native Americans.

And even if there weren’t active discrimination taking place right now — and obviously, we know that some discrimination still exists, although nothing like what existed 50 years ago — but let’s assume that we eliminated all discrimination magically, with a wand, and everybody had goodness in their heart.  You’d still have a situation in which there are a lot of folks who are poor and whose families have become dysfunctional because of a long legacy of poverty, and live in neighborhoods that are run down and schools that are underfunded and don’t have a strong property tax base.  And it would still be harder for young people born into those communities to succeed than those who were born elsewhere.

So if, in fact, that’s the case — and that is what I believe — then it’s in all of our interests to make sure that we are putting in place smart policies to give those communities a lift, and to create ladders so that young people in those communities can succeed.

Well, what works?  We’ve already talked about what works.   Early childhood education works.  We know that can make a difference.  It’s not going to solve every problem, but it can help level the playing field for kids early in life so that — they’re still going to have to work hard.  Not everybody is going to succeed, but they’ll have a better chance if we put those things in place.

Making college affordable — that makes a difference.  Because we know, in part because of the legacy of discrimination, that communities of color have less wealth.  If they have less wealth, it means that mom and dad have a more difficult time financing college.  Well, we should make sure that every young person, regardless of their color, can access a college education.

I think the biggest challenge we have is not that we don’t know what policies work, it’s getting our politics right.  Because part of what’s happened over the last several decades is, because times have been tough, because wages and incomes for everybody have not been going up, everybody is pretty anxious about what’s happening in their lives and what might happen for their kids, and so they get worried that, well, if we’re helping people in poverty, that must be hurting me somehow, it’s taking something away from me.

And part of what I think we have to understand is that America has always been most successful, we’ve always grown fastest, and everybody’s incomes have gone up fastest when our economic growth is broad-based, not just when a few people are doing well at the top, but when everybody is doing well.

And so if working people and folks who are struggling — whether they’re white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, disabled, LGBT — if working folks join together around common principles and policies that will help lift everybody, then everybody will be better off — including, by the way, the folks at the top.  Because when the economy is growing and people have jobs and people are seeing better incomes, they go out and they shop more.  And that means businesses are doing better.  And you buy a new iPod and Apple is happy, and shareholders are pleased.

But unfortunately, we’ve got politics sometimes that divides instead of bringing people together.  And we’ve seen that over the last couple of years, the tendency to suggest somehow that government is taking something from you and giving it to somebody else, and your problems will be solved if we just ignore them or don’t help them.  And, that, I think is something that we have to constantly struggle against — whether we’re black or white or whatever color we are.

All right?  Thank you.  (Applause.)

How much time do we got?  I want to make sure that I get a couple more questions in here.  Two more.  We’ll make it three.  (Laughter.)  We’ll make it three.  This gentleman right here in the front.  Here, we got a mic right here.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  My name is Adam Flint.  I work currently at Cooperative Extension, but I’ve been connected to this institution since 1966.  And I want to tell you about the Broome Energy Conservation Corps where we are educating, training and also employing Binghamton University graduates and current students to really take the vision that, well, Kennedy and others advanced of service to the problems of the community and to the country.

And at Cooperative Extension, our energy corps students are helping people who could not benefit from energy efficiency, they’re helping getting people employed with local home performance contactors.  And we could do so much more if it were possible for programs like ours across the country to be able to know that we’re going to be here in 2014, which we don’t right now.

And so I guess we’ve been in discussions with Harvey and with many of the people in this room, with Matt Ryan, with many of the senior Binghamton University folks, and we’d really like to see coming out of Washington some good news about funding for the green economy for the future and for our ability to give a future to our children that right now I’m doubtful about.

You have two girls.  I’ve got two girls.  And this is the last century of fossil fuels, so we’ve got to make it happen.  With this energy corps, we could move to food corps and on and on and on.  I’ve said enough.  I’m afraid it’s one of the family business of the professoriate to say too much.  And I’m going to shut up and listen to the wisdom that I hope you will bring to my question.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as you indicated in your remarks, we are going to have to prepare for a different energy future than the one we have right now.

Now, we’re producing traditional energy — fossil fuels — at record levels.  And we’ve actually achieved, or are on the verge of achieving about as close as you can get to energy independence as America is going to see.  I mean, natural gas, oil, all that stuff is going up.

In some cases, what you’ve seen is that, for example, transitional fuels like natural gas have replaced coal, which temporarily are reducing greenhouse gases.  But the bottom line is those are still finite resources.  Climate change is real.  The planet is getting warmer.  And you’ve got several billion Chinese, Indians, Africans and others who also want cars, refrigerators, electricity.  And as they go through their development cycle, the planet cannot sustain the same kinds of energy use as we have right now.  So we’re going to have to make a shift.

That’s why when I came into office, we made record investments in green energy.  And that’s why I think it’s critical for us to invest in research and development around clean energy.  And that’s why it sounds like programs like yours need to take advantage of technologies that already exist.

We’re going to have to invent some new technologies to solve all of our energy problems.  But we know, for example, the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency.  We know that if we design our schools, homes, hospitals more efficiently, that as a country we could probably cut our power usage by 20, 25, 30 percent with existing technologies, and without lowering our standard of living.

And, by the way, we can put a whole bunch of folks to work doing it right now.  We could gather up a whole bunch of young people here in this community, train them for insulation, for energy-efficient construction, and redo a whole bunch of buildings and institutions right here, and eventually it would pay for itself.  So it’s win-win across the board.

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen too often in Congress is that the fossil fuel industries tend to be very influential — let’s put it that way — on the energy committees in Congress.  And they tend not to be particularly sympathetic to alternative energy strategies.  And, in some cases, we’ve actually been criticized that it’s a socialist plot that’s restricting your freedom for us to encourage energy-efficient light bulbs, for example.  I never understood that.  (Laughter.)  But you hear those arguments.  I mean, you can go on the Web, and people will be decrying how simple stuff that we’re doing, like trying to set up regulations to make appliances more energy-efficient — which saves consumers money and is good for our environment — is somehow restricting America’s liberty and violates the Constitution.

So a lot of our job is to educate the public as to why this can be good for them — in a very narrow self-interested way.  This is not pie in the sky.  This is not tree-hugging, sprout-eating university professors.  (Laughter.)  This is a practical, hardheaded, smart, business-savvy approach to how we deal with energy.  And we should be investing it and encouraging it and expanding it.  And so I budgeted for it.  I will fight for it.

But just as I will be advocating and fighting for Head Start or increases in our science and technology funding, the challenge is going to be that my friends in the other party right now in Congress seem less interested in actual governing and taking practical strategies, and seem more interested in trying to placate their base or scoring political points.  Or they’re worried about primaries in the upcoming election.

That can’t be how we run a country.  That’s not responsible leadership.  (Applause.)  And my hope is, is that we’ll see a different attitude when we get back.  But we’ll only see a different attitude if the public pushes folks in a different direction.

Ultimately, what has an impact on politicians is votes.  And that influence is not — it can’t just come from districts that are strongly Democratic.  We need voices in Republican districts to say this is a smart thing to do.  And we can make — and, by the way, businesses can make money doing it, and people can get jobs doing it.  And it’s just sensible.  And it’s good, by the way, for our national security because those countries that control the energy sources of the future, they’re the ones that are going to be in a position to succeed economically.

So, all right.  I’ve got time for a couple more.  Yes, right here.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.  I’m an integrative neuroscience major —

THE PRESIDENT:  That sounds very impressive.  (Laughter.)  What was that again?

Q    Integrative neuroscience.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so tell me about that.  Explain that to me.  It has something to do with the brain and nerves and —

Q    It’s a mix between psychology and biology.


Q    So it’s not as impressive as —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, it’s very impressive.  (Laughter.)  Come on.  Absolutely.  Anyway, what’s the question?

Q    Well, my question today is about financial aid.  Currently, financial aid eligibility is based on — or heavily based on students’ parents’ income.  Now, there are many middle-class families that send their students to state schools like Binghamton, who live in high-cost regions such as New York City. Now, do you think it’s possible for the financial aid formula to include the living costs of the region that applicants live in?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s an interesting question, and sounds like it’s got some sympathy.  What’s absolutely true is that what it means to be middle class in New York is going to be different than what it means to be middle class in Wyoming, just in terms of how far your dollar goes.  And I think it is a relevant question.

It is a challenging problem because if you start getting into calibrating cost of living just in a state like New York, a big state that has such diversity in terms of cost of living, then it might get so complicated that it would be difficult to administer.  But why don’t I just say this:  I think it is a important question, and I’m going to talk to Secretary Arne Duncan about it and find out what kind of research and work we’ve done on that issue to see if we can potentially make a difference.

Now, one way of handling this would not be at the federal level but potentially at the state level.  So you could manage something at the state level, where people may have a better sense of the differences in cost of living in a state, and say, we’ll make some adjustments for students who are coming from higher-cost areas versus lower-cost areas.  That might be easier to do than to try to administer it at the federal level from Washington for all 50 states.

But I’ll check with the Department of Education.  And I’ll make sure my team gets your email so that you get a personal answer from the Secretary.  (Applause.)

I’ve got one last question and I want to make sure it’s a student.  Are you a student?

Q    Maybe.

THE PRESIDENT:  Maybe?  No, that doesn’t count if he said maybe.  (Laughter.)

You are?

Q    I am.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, this young man right here.  (Laughter.)  I just wanted to make sure.  He might have been a young-looking professor.  (Laughter.)

Q    Mr. President, I’m Danny.  I’m from here — I’m a student here.  I’m from the community college.  My question is — you spoke about increasing financial aid for college students.  However, I feel that with the competitive job market, a bachelor’s will not be enough to secure a job.  My question is will any of these funds go towards grad school programs?  Or will it be strictly limited to undergraduate education?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, a good undergraduate education means you are much more employable and you’re much more likely to get a job.  Each additional chunk of education that you get — if done well, if you’re getting good value — is going to enhance your marketability.  And we see that in the statistics.  That’s not just talk.

The fact is that the average American who has more than a college education or greater is a third less likely to be unemployed than somebody who just graduated from high school.  So don’t underestimate the power of an undergraduate education.  It can make a difference.

Now, what’s true is that if you, for example, in computer sciences want to get a master’s in computer science or a Ph.D. in computer science, presumably that will make you even more marketable.  And we want to make sure that financial aid is also available for graduate students.  And the way programs currently exist, that financial aid does exist, although typically you get fewer subsidies and a less favorable interest rate for graduate education.

We’re probably not going to be able to completely solve that, and here’s the reason why.  I got a lot of scholarships and grant money for my undergraduate education, so I didn’t have a lot of debt when I got out.  I then decided to go to law school. And I went to a very good law school that was very expensive.  Most of my debt when I graduated was from law school; I had about $60,000 worth of debt.  But the truth was I was able to — if I wanted to, at least — earn so much money coming out of law school that I really didn’t need a subsidy.  I could pay it back. It took me a little longer to pay it back than some of my friends because I went into public service and I didn’t try to maximize my income.  But if I had been a partner at a law firm pulling down half a million dollars a year, there’s no reason why I should necessarily have gotten a subsidy for that.

The one area where I think we can make a big difference goes back to the very first question that was asked of me when it came to schools of nursing.  Across the board in graduate school, what we want to do is to provide incentives for folks who need specialized education but are willing to give back something to the community, to the country — doctors who are willing to serve in underserved communities, nurses who are willing to serve in underserved communities, lawyers who are willing to work in the State’s Attorney’s Office or as a public defender.

So the more we can do around programs for graduate studies where we say to you, if you’re willing to commit to five years working in a place that doesn’t have a doctor and you’re studying to be a doctor, we’re going to forgive you a bunch of those loans — I’d like to see more programs like that.  And I’ve asked the Secretary of Education to see how we can make those more accessible to more students.

Well, listen, everybody, this has been a great conversation. (Applause.)  And let me just say that you will be hearing more about this debate over the course of the next year.  We will be talking to your university president.  We’ll be talking to the chancellor of the entire system.  We’ll be talking to faculty.  We’ll be talking to students.  If you have ideas or questions that were not somehow addressed, then we’d like to hear from you. And go to whitehouse.gov.  There’s a whole section where we can get comments, ideas.  And I promise you we actually pay attention when you guys raise questions.

And for those of you who are still sorting out student aid  — if you’re still in high school, for example, and you’re thinking about going to college and you don’t know exactly what makes sense for you, we do have a website called studentaid.gov that can be very helpful to you in identifying what you should be thinking about when it comes to financing your college education.

But we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that not only are you able to succeed without being loaded up with debt, but hopefully, you’re going to be able to afford to send your kids to college as well.

Thank you for your great hospitality.  I appreciate it.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

1:55 P.M. EDT

Political Headlines August 23, 2013: President Barack Obama’s College Affordability Bus Tour Roundup





Regional Roundup: College Affordability Bus Tour 

 Source: WH, 8-23-13

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New YorkPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, during the college affordability bus tour in Buffalo, N.Y., Aug. 22, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Yesterday, as part of his plan to deliver a better bargain for the middle class, President Obama kicked off a two-day bus tour across New York and Pennsylvania in which he announced an ambitious agenda to tackle rising college costs, make college more affordable, and improve value for students and families.

In his first stop at the University at Buffalo, the President laid out the three key steps that we need to take to ensure that college remains affordable and a viable ladder of economic opportunity for the middle class and those working to get there. First, connect financial aid to school performance, second support academic innovation and finally, keep the cost of higher education within the reach of all young Americans….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 22, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on College Affordability, College Cost Cutting Plan, Syracuse NY



Remarks by the President on College Affordability, Syracuse NY

Source:  WH, 8-22-13

Henninger High School
Syracuse, New York

6:25 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Syracuse!  (Applause.)  It is good to be in Syracuse!  (Applause.)

Can everybody give Emilio a big round of applause for a great introduction?  (Applause.)  I think Emilio’s parents are probably here.  Where are Emilio’s parents?  Wave your hands.  There they are right there.  He did pretty good, didn’t he?  We’re very proud of him.  We might have to run him for something.

In addition to Emilio, I want to mention a couple other people.  You already heard from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who’s doing a great job every day.  (Applause.)  You’ve got Mayor Stephanie Miner here.  (Applause.)  There she is.  Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is here.  (Applause.)  Your Congressman, Dan Maffei, is here.  (Applause.)  The superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, Sharon Contreras, is here.  (Applause.)  Your principal, Robert DiFlorio, is here.  (Applause.)  And most importantly, a bunch of students are here.  (Applause.)

My understanding is there are students from all five Syracuse high schools here.  You got Corcoran in the house.  (Applause.)  You got Fowler in the house.  (Applause.)  Nottingham.  (Applause.)  The Institute of Technology.  (Applause.)  And our host, Henninger, is here.  (Applause.)  We’re all one family.

Now, I especially want to thank the students because I know that you’re still on summer vacation.  You’ve got a few more days.  So taking the time to be here when you’ve still got a little bit, that last little bit of summer break, that’s a big deal, and I’m very honored to be here with you.

I am on a road trip — by the way, if people have seats, feel free to take a seat.  I’m going to be talking for a while.  If you’ve got no seats, then don’t sit down — (laughter) — because you will fall down.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)

So I’m here on a road trip through New York into  Pennsylvania.  This morning, I was at the University at Buffalo. Tomorrow, I’ll be at Binghamton University and Lackawanna College in Scranton.  But I wanted to come to Syracuse — (applause) — because you’re doing something fantastic here, with programs like “Say Yes” — (applause) — Smart Scholars Early College High School — these are programs that are helping Syracuse kids get ready for college, and making sure that they can afford to go.

And this is a community effort.  All of you are coming together and you have declared that no child in the city of Syracuse should miss out on a college education because they can’t pay for it.  (Applause.)  And so we’re hoping more cities follow your example, because what you’re doing is critical not just to Syracuse’s future, but to America’s future.  And that’s what I want to talk about briefly here today.

Over the past month, I’ve been visiting towns across the country, talking about what we need to do to secure a better bargain for the middle class and everybody who’s working hard to get into the middle class — to make sure everybody who works hard has a chance to succeed in the 21st century economy.

And we all understand that for the past four and a half years, we had to fight our way back from a brutal recession, and millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes and their  savings.  But what the recession also did was it showed this emerging gap in terms of the life prospects of a lot of Americans.

What used to be taken for granted — middle-class security

— has slipped away from too many people.  So, yes, we saved the auto industry.  We took on a broken health care system.  (Applause.)  We reversed our addiction to foreign oil.  We changed our tax code that was tilted too far in favor of the wealthy at the expense of working families.  And so we’ve made progress.  Our businesses have created 7.3 million new jobs over the last 41 months.  (Applause.)  We’ve got more renewable energy than ever.  We are importing less oil than in a very long time.

We sell more goods made in America to the rest of the world than ever before.  Health care costs are growing at the slowest rate in 50 years.  Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.

So there’s good news out there.  And thanks to the grit and the resilience of the American people, we’ve been able to clear away the rubble from the financial crisis, and start laying the foundation for a better economy.  But as any middle-class family will tell you, we are not —

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I hear you.  I got you.


THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no, that’s fine.  Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  We’re okay.  We’re okay.  That’s okay.  Hold on a second.  Hold on.  Hold on.  Hello, everybody, hello.  Hold on.  Hold on a minute.  Hold on a minute.  Hold on.  So, now — hold on a second.  (Applause.)  Can I just say that as hecklers go, that young lady was very polite.  (Laughter.)  She was.  And she brought up an issue of importance, and that’s part of what America is all about.  (Applause.)

But what America is also all about is making sure that middle-class families succeed, and that people who work hard can get into the middle class.  And what I was saying was is that we’re not where we need to be yet.  We’ve still got more work to do.  Because even before the most recent financial crisis, we had gone through a decade where folks at the top were doing better and better; most families were working harder and harder just to get by.  And we’ve seen growing inequality in our society and less upward mobility in our society.

The idea used to be that here in America anybody could make it.  But part of that was because we put these ladders of opportunity for people.  And, unfortunately, what’s happened is it’s gotten tougher for a lot of folks.  So we’ve got to reverse these trends.  This has to be Washington’s highest priority — how do we make sure everybody gets a fair shake.  That’s got to be our priority.  (Applause.)

Unfortunately, you may have noticed that in Washington, rather than focusing on a growing economy and creating good, middle-class jobs, there’s a certain faction of my good friends in the other party who’ve been talking about not paying the bills that they’ve already run up; who’ve been talking about shutting down the government if they can’t take away health care that we’re putting in place for millions of Americans.

Those are not ideas that will grow our economy.  They’re not going to create good jobs.  They’re not going to strengthen the middle class — they’ll weaken the middle class.  So we can’t afford the usual Washington circus of distractions and political posturing.  We don’t need that.  What we’ve got to do is to build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America — a good job, good wages, a good education, a home, affordable health care, a secure retirement.  That’s what we need to focus on.  (Applause.)

And we’ve got to create as many pathways as possible for people to succeed as long as they’re willing to work hard.  That’s what’s always made America great.  We don’t judge ourselves just by how many billionaires we produce.  We’ve got to focus on our ability to make sure that everybody who works hard has a chance to pursue their own measure of happiness.

And in that project, in that work, there aren’t a lot of things that are more important than making sure people get a good education.  That is key to upward mobility.  That is key to a growing economy.  That is key to a strong middle class.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  Love you back.  (Laughter.)

Now, everybody here knows that.  That’s why you’re here.  That’s why a lot of your families are making big sacrifices to send kids to college.  You understand that in the face of global competition, a great education is more important than ever.  A higher education is the single best investment you can make in your future.  (Applause.)  Single best.  And I’m proud of all of the students who are working toward that goal.

And in case any of you are wondering whether it’s a good investment, think about these statistics:  The unemployment rate for Americans with at least a college degree is about a third lower than the national average.  The incomes of people with at least a college degree are more than twice what the incomes are of Americans who don’t have a high school diploma.  So more than ever before, some form of higher education — two year, four year, technical college — that’s the path into the middle class.

But the main reason I’m here is to talk about the fact that we’ve seen a barrier and a burden to too many American families, and that’s the soaring cost of higher education.  (Applause.)  The fact is, college has never been more necessary, but it’s also never been more expensive.

Think about this:  Over the past three decades, the average tuition at a four-year public college has risen by more than 250 percent.  The typical family income has gone up 16 percent.  So I wasn’t a math major, but let’s just think about it — college costs, 250 percent; incomes, 16 percent.  What that means is, is that more and more, it’s getting harder and harder for students to be able to afford that college education.  And families are making bigger and bigger sacrifices — including a lot of parents who are putting off their own retirement, their own savings, because they’re trying to help their kids afford a college education.

In the meantime, over the past few years, you’ve got too many states that have been cutting back on their higher education budgets.  Colleges have not been cutting back on their costs, and so what you end up with is taxpayers putting in more money, students and families picking up the tab, but young people are still ending up with more debt.

The average student who borrows for college now graduates owing more than $26,000.  And a lot of young people owe a lot more than that.  I’ve heard from a lot of these young people, and they’re frustrated because they’re saying to themselves, we’ve done everything our society told us we were supposed to do, but crushing debt is crippling our ability to get started in our lives after we graduate.  It’s crippling our self-reliance and the dreams that we had.

At a time when higher education has never been more important or more expensive, too many students face a choice they should not have to make:  Either they say no to college, or they pay the price of going to college and ending up with debt that they’re not sure will pay off.  And that’s not a choice that we should ask young people to make.  That’s not a choice we should accept.

If you think about what built this country, this is a country that’s always been at the cutting edge of making a good education available to more people.  My grandfather, when he came back from World War II, he went — he had the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.  My mother got through school while raising two kids because she got some help.  (Applause.)

Michelle and I, we didn’t come from rich folks.  We did not come from privileged backgrounds.  So we’re only where we are today because scholarships and student loans gave us a shot at a good education.  And we know a little bit about paying back student loans, because we each graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt.  And even with good jobs, I didn’t pay it off and she didn’t pay off her loans until I was almost a U.S. senator.  I was in my 40s.

So over the past four years, what we’ve done is to try to take some steps to make college more affordable.  First thing we did — we enacted historic reforms to the student loan system.  What was happening was student loans were going through banks; banks were making billions of dollars.  We said why don’t we just give the loans directly to the students, cut out the banks, then we can help more students.  (Applause.)

Then we set up a consumer watchdog that’s already helping families and students sort through all the financial options so they really understand them and they’re not ripped off by shady lenders.  And we’re providing more tools and resources for students and families trying to finance college.  And, by the way, high school seniors, you guys want to start figuring this stuff out — go to studentaid.gov.  That’s a website — studentaid.gov.  And it will give you a sense of what’s available out there.

We took action to cap loan repayments at 10 percent of monthly income for a lot of borrowers who are trying to pay their debt but do so in a responsible way.  (Applause.)

So, overall, we’ve made college more affordable for millions of students and families through tax credits and grants and student loans.  And just a few weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans worked together to keep student loan rates from doubling, and that saves a typical undergraduate more than $1,500 for this year’s loans.  (Applause.)

So, now, that’s all a good start.  But it’s not enough.  The system we have right now is unsustainable, because if it keeps on going up 250 percent a year, your incomes are only going up 16 percent — not 250 percent a year — over a decade — but your incomes are only going up 16 percent, it’s just at a certain point, it will break the bank.  There won’t be enough federal aid to make up for the difference.  And families, at a certain point, aren’t going to be able to send their kids to school.

And state legislatures, they can’t just keep cutting support for public college and universities.  Colleges can’t just keep raising tuition year after year, and pushing these state cutbacks on to students and families, and federal taxpayers are not going to be able to make up all the difference.

Our economy can’t afford the trillion dollars — $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.  Because when young people have that much debt, that means they can’t buy a home.  It means they can’t start the business that maybe they’ve got a great idea for. And we can’t price the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class out of a college education.  (Applause.)    It will put our young generation of workers at a competitive disadvantage for years.

So if a higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America — and it is — then we’ve got to make sure it’s within reach.  We’ve got to make sure that we are improving economic mobility, not making it worse.  Higher education should not be a luxury.  It is a necessity, an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.  (Applause.)

So what are we going to do about it?  Today what I’ve done is propose major new reforms that will shake up the current system.  We want to create better incentives for colleges to do more with less and to deliver better value for our students and their families.

And some of these reforms will require action from Congress, which is always difficult.  (Laughter.)  Some of these changes, though, I can make on my own.  (Applause.)  And we want to work with colleges to keep costs down.  States are going to need to make higher education a higher priority in their budgets.  And by the way, we’re going to ask more from students as well if they’re receiving federal aid.

And some of these reforms won’t be popular for every — with everybody, because some folks are making out just fine under the status quo.   But my concern is not to look out just for the institutions; I want to look out for the students who these institutions exist to serve.  (Applause.)  And I think — I’ve got confidence that our country’s colleges and universities will step up to the plate if they’re given the right incentives.  They, too, should want to do the right thing for students.

So let me be specific.  Here are three things we’re going to do.  Number one, I’m directing my administration to come up with a new ratings system for colleges that will score colleges on opportunity -– whether they’re helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed; and on outcomes — whether students are graduating with manageable debt; whether they’re actually graduating in the first place; whether they have strong career potential when they graduate.  That’s the kind of information that will help students and parents figure out how much value a particular college truly offers.

Right now all these ranking systems, they rank you higher if you charge more and you let in fewer students.  But you should have a better sense of who’s actually graduating students and giving you a good deal.  (Applause.)

So down the road we’re going to use these ratings, we hope by working with Congress, to change how we allocate federal aid for colleges.  And we’re going to deliver on a promise that I made last year — colleges that keep their tuition down are the ones that will see their taxpayer funding go up.  We’ve got to stop subsidizing schools that are not getting good results, start rewarding schools that deliver for the students and deliver for America’s future.  That’s our goal.  (Applause.)

Our second goal:  We want to encourage more colleges to embrace innovation, to try new ways of providing a great education without breaking the bank.  A growing number of colleges across the country are testing some new approaches, so they’re finding new ways, for example, to use online education to save time and money.

Some are trying what you’re doing right here in Syracuse -– creating partnerships between high schools and colleges, so students can get an early jump on their degree.  They can graduate faster.  That means they’re paying less in tuition.  I want to see more schools and states get in the game, so more students can get an education that costs less but still maintains high quality.  And we know it can be done.  It’s just we got to get everybody doing it, not just a few schools or a few cities around the country.  That’s the second goal.  (Applause.)

Somebody screamed, and I thought somebody fell, but they were just excited.  (Laughter.)

Number three:  We’re going to make sure that if you’ve taken on debt to earn your degree that you can manage and afford it.  Nobody wants to take on debt, but even if we do a good job controlling tuition costs, some young people are still going to have to take out some loans.  But we think of that as a good investment because it pays off in time -– as long as it stays manageable, as long as you can pay it back.

And remember, again, Michelle and I, we went through this.  It took us a long time to pay off our student loans.  But we could always manage it.  It didn’t get out of hand.  And I don’t want debt to keep young people — some of who are here today — from going into professions like teaching, for example, that may not pay as much money, but are of huge value to the country.  (Applause.)

And I sure don’t want young people not being able to buy a home, or get married, or start a business because they’re so loaded down with debt.  So what we’ve done is two years ago, I capped loan repayments at 10 percent of a student’s income after college.  We called it “pay as you earn.”  And so far this, along with a few other programs, has helped more than 2.5 million students.

But right now, a lot of current and former students aren’t eligible, so we want to work with Congress to fix that so that we got a lot more people who are eligible for this program.  And then the problem is a lot of young people don’t know this program exists.  So we’re going to do a better job advertising this program so that you will never have to pay more than 10 percent of your yearly income in servicing your debt.

And if you’re involved in public service or non-for-profits, then at some point that debt gets forgiven because you’re giving back to society in other ways.  (Applause.)  So we’re going to launch a campaign to help borrowers learn more about their options.  We want every student to have the chance to pay back their loans in a way that doesn’t stop them from pursuing their dreams.

So if we move forward on these three points — increasing value, making sure that young people and their parents know what they’re getting when they go to college; encouraging innovation so that more colleges are giving better value; and then helping people responsibly manage their debt — then we’re going to help more students afford college.  We’re going to help more students graduate from college.  We’ll help more students get rid of their debt so they can get started on their lives.  (Applause.)

And it’s going to take some hard work.  But the people of Syracuse know something about hard work.  (Applause.)  The American people know something about hard work.  (Applause.)

And we’ve come a long way together over these past four years.  I intend to keep us moving forward on this and every other issue.  We’re going to keep pushing to build a better bargain for the middle class and everybody who’s fighting to join the middle class.  And we’re going to keep fighting to make sure that this country remains a country where hard work and studying and responsibility are rewarded.  We’re going to make sure that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or who you love, or what your last name is — (applause) — in the United States you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)

Thank you, Syracuse!  God bless you, and God bless America.

6:50 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 22, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on College Affordability, College Cost Cutting Plan, Buffalo, NY



Remarks by the President on College Affordability — Buffalo, NY

Source: WH, 8-22-13


State University of New York Buffalo
Buffalo, New York

11:23 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Buffalo!  (Applause.)  Hello, Bulls! (Applause.)  Well, it is good to be back in Buffalo, good to be back in the north.  (Applause.)

I want to begin by making sure we all thank Silvana for the wonderful introduction.  Give her a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  Her mom and dad are here somewhere.  Where are they? I know they’re pretty proud.  There they are right there.  Give mom and dad a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

A number of other people I want to acknowledge here — first of all, our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who’s doing a great job.  (Applause.)  One of the finest governors in the country, your Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is here.  (Applause.)  Your outstanding Mayor, Brian Higgins, is here.  Give him a big round of applause.

AUDIENCE:  Congressman!


AUDIENCE:  The Mayor is Byron Brown!

THE PRESIDENT:  Byron Brown.  That’s — I’m sorry, Byron.  (Applause.)  What I meant was — your Congressman, Brian Higgins, is here.  (Applause.)  Your Mayor, Byron Brown, is here.  (Applause.)  This is what happens when you get to be 52 years old.  (Laughter.)  When I was 51 everything was smooth.  (Laughter.)  But your Congressman and your Mayor are doing outstanding work.  We just rode on the bus over from the airport, and they were telling me that Buffalo is on the move.  That was the story.  (Applause.)

A couple other people I want to acknowledge — SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, is here, doing a great job.  (Applause.)  University president Satish Tripathi is here.  (Applause.)   And we’ve got all the students in the house.  Thank all the students for being here.  (Applause.)

Now, today is a check-in day at the dorms.  So I want to thank all the students for taking a few minutes from setting up your futons and — (laughter) — your mini-fridges just to come out here.  I hear that the last sitting President to speak here was Millard Fillmore.  (Applause.)  And he was actually chancellor of the university at the same time — which sounds fun, but I’ve got enough on my plate.  (Laughter.)

This is our first stop on a two-day road trip through New York and Pennsylvania.  (Applause.)  And after this I head to Syracuse — (applause) — yay, Syracuse — to speak with some high schoolers.  Tomorrow I’m going to visit SUNY Binghamton and Lackawanna College in Scranton.  But I wanted to start here at University at Buffalo.  (Applause.)

And I wanted to do it for a couple reasons.  First, I know you’re focused on the future.  As I said, talking to the Mayor, he was describing a new medical school — (applause) — and new opportunities for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow.  So there’s great work being done at this institution.  I also know that everybody here must be fearless because the football team kicks off against Number 2, Ohio State, next weekend.  (Applause.)  Good luck, guys.  (Laughter.)  It’s going to be a great experience.  (Laughter.)  It’s going to be a great experience.  It could be an upset.  (Applause.)

And third, and most importantly, I know that the young people here are committed to earning your degree, to helping this university to make sure that every one of you “Finishes in Four” — (applause) — makes sure that you’re prepared for whatever comes next.  And that’s what I want to talk about here today.

Over the last month, I’ve been visiting towns across the country, talking about — yes, feel free to sit down.  Get comfortable.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  I love you, too.  (Applause.)

Over the last month I’ve been out there talking about what we need to do as a country to make sure that we’ve got a better bargain for the middle class and everybody who’s working hard to get into the middle class -– a national strategy to make sure that everybody who works hard has a chance to succeed in this 21st century economy.  (Applause.)

Now, I think all of us here know that for the past four and a half years, we’ve been fighting back from a brutal recession that cost millions of Americans their jobs and their homes and their savings.  But what the recession also did was it showed that for too long we’ve seen an erosion of middle-class security.
So, together, we saved the auto industry.  Together, we took on a broken health care system.  (Applause.)  We invested in new technologies.  We started reversing our addiction to foreign oil. We changed a tax code that was tilted to far in favor of the wealthy at the expense of working families.  (Applause.)

And add it all up, today our businesses have created 7.3 million new jobs over the last 41 months.  (Applause.)  We now generate more renewable energy than ever before.  We sell more goods made in America to the rest of the world than ever.  (Applause.)  Health care costs are growing at the slowest rate in 50 years.  Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.  (Applause.)

Here in Buffalo, the Governor and the Mayor were describing over a billion dollars in investment, riverfront being changed, construction booming — signs of progress.  (Applause.)

So thanks to the grit and the resilience of the American people, we’ve cleared away the rubble from the financial crisis. We’ve started to lay the foundation for a stronger, more durable economic growth.

But as any middle-class family will tell you, as folks here in Buffalo will tell you, we’re not where we need to be yet.  Because even before the crisis hit — and it sounds like Buffalo knows something about this — we were living through a decade where a few at the top were doing better and better, most families were working harder and harder just to get by.  Manufacturing was leaving, jobs moving overseas, losing our competitive edge.  And it’s a struggle for a lot of folks.

So reversing this trend should be, must be, Washington’s highest priority.  It’s my highest priority.  (Applause.)  I’ve got to say it’s not always Washington’s highest priority.  Because rather than keeping focus on a growing economy that creates good middle-class jobs, we’ve seen a faction of Republicans in Congress suggest that maybe America shouldn’t pay its bills that have already been run up, that we shut down government if they can’t shut down Obamacare.


THE PRESIDENT:  That won’t grow our economy.  That won’t create jobs.  That won’t help our middle class.  We can’t afford in Washington the usual circus of distractions and political posturing.  We can’t afford that right now.

What we need is to build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America, focus on that — a good job with good wages, a good education, a home of your own, affordable health care, a secure retirement.  (Applause.)  Bread-and-butter, pocketbook issues that you care about every single day; that you’re thinking about every single day.  And we’ve got to create more pathways into the middle class for folks who are willing to work for it.  That’s what’s always made America great.  It’s not just how many billionaires we produce, but our ability to give everybody who works hard the chance to pursue their own measure of happiness.  That’s what America is all about.  (Applause.)

Now, there aren’t many things that are more important to that idea of economic mobility -– the idea that you can make it if you try –- than a good education.  All the students here know that.  That’s why you’re here.  (Applause.)  That’s why your families have made big sacrifices -– because we understand that in the face of greater and greater global competition, in a knowledge-based economy, a great education is more important than ever.

A higher education is the single best investment you can make in your future.  And I’m proud of all the students who are making that investment.  (Applause.)  And that’s not just me saying it.  Look, right now, the unemployment rate for Americans with at least a college degree is about one-third lower than the national average.  The incomes of folks who have at least a college degree are more than twice those of Americans without a high school diploma.  So more than ever before, some form of higher education is the surest path into the middle class.

But what I want to talk about today is what’s become a barrier and a burden for too many American families -– and that is the soaring cost of higher education.  (Applause.)

This is something that everybody knows you need — a college education.  On the other hand, college has never been more expensive.  Over the past three decades, the average tuition at a public four-year college has gone up by more than 250 percent — 250 percent.  Now, a typical family’s income has only gone up 16 percent.  So think about that — tuition has gone up 250 percent; income gone up 16 percent.  That’s a big gap.

Now, it’s true that a lot of universities have tried to provide financial aid and work-study programs.  And so not every student — in fact, most students are probably not paying the sticker price of tuition.  We understand that.  But what we also understand is that if it’s going up 250 [percent] and your incomes are only going up 16 [percent], at some point, families are having to make up some of the difference, or students are having to make up some of the difference with debt.

And meanwhile, over the past few years, states have been cutting back on their higher education budgets.  New York has done better than a lot of states, but the fact is that we’ve been spending more money on prisons, less money on college.  (Applause.)  And meanwhile, not enough colleges have been working to figure out how do we control costs, how do we cut back on costs.  So all this sticks it to students, sticks it to families, but also, taxpayers end up paying a bigger price.

The average student who borrows for college now graduates owing more than $26,000.  Some owe a lot more than that.  And I’ve heard from a lot of these young people who are frustrated that they’ve done everything they’re supposed to do –- got good grades in high school, applied to college, did well in school — but now they come out, they’ve got this crushing debt that’s crippling their sense of self-reliance and their dreams.  It becomes hard to start a family and buy a home if you’re servicing $1,000 worth of debt every month.  It becomes harder to start a business if you are servicing $1,000 worth of debt every month, right?  (Applause.)

And meanwhile, parents, you’re having to make sacrifices, which means you may be dipping into savings that should be going to your retirement to pay for your son or daughter’s — or to help pay for your son or daughter’s education.

So at a time when a higher education has never been more important or more expensive, too many students are facing a choice that they should never have to make:  Either they say no to college and pay the price for not getting a degree — and that’s a price that lasts a lifetime — or you do what it takes to go to college, but then you run the risk that you won’t be able to pay it off because you’ve got so much debt.

Now, that’s a choice we shouldn’t accept.  And, by the way, that’s a choice that previous generations didn’t have to accept. This is a country that early on made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of all who are willing to work for it. And we were ahead of the curve compared to other countries when it came to helping young people go to school.  (Applause.)

The folks in Buffalo understand this.  Mayor Brown was talking about the city of Buffalo and the great work that is being done through the program called “Say Yes,” to make sure that no child in Buffalo has to miss out on a college education because they can’t pay for it.  (Applause.)

But even though there’s a great program in this city, in a lot of places that program doesn’t exist.  But a generation ago, two generations ago, we made a bigger commitment.  This is the country that gave my grandfather the chance to go to college on the GI Bill after he came back from World War II.  (Applause.)  This is the country that helped my mother get through school while raising two kids.  (Applause.)  Michelle and I, we’re only where we are today because scholarships and student loans gave us a shot at a great education.  (Applause.)

And we know a little bit about trying to pay back student loans, too, because we didn’t come from a wealthy family.  So we each graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt.  And even though we got good jobs, we barely finished paying it off just before I was elected to the U.S. Senate.


THE PRESIDENT:  Right?  I mean, I was in my 40s when we finished paying off our debt.  And we should have been saving for Malia and Sasha by that time.  But we were still paying off what we had gotten — and we were luckier because most of the debt was from law school.  Our undergraduate debt was not as great because tuition had not started shooting up as high.

So the bottom line is this — we’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt.  And over the past four years, what we’ve tried to do is to take some steps to make college more affordable.  So we enacted historic reforms to the student loan system, so taxpayer dollars stop padding the pockets of big banks and instead help more kids afford college.  (Applause.)

Because what was happening was the old system, the student loan programs were going through banks; they didn’t have any risk because the federal government guaranteed the loans, but they were still taking billions of dollars out of the program.  We said, well, let’s just give the loans directly to the students and we can put more money to helping students.

Then we set up a consumer watchdog.  And that consumer watchdog is already helping students and families navigate the financial options that are out there to pay for college without getting ripped off by shady lenders.  (Applause.)  And we’re providing more tools and resources for students and families to try to finance college.  And if any of you are still trying to figure out how to finance college, check it out at StudentAid.gov.  StudentAid.gov.

Then, we took action to cap loan repayments at 10 percent of monthly income for many borrowers who are trying to responsibly manage their federal student loan debt.  (Applause.)  So overall, we’ve made college more affordable for millions of students and families through tax credits and grants and student loans that go farther than they did before.  And then, just a few weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans worked together to keep student loan rates from doubling.  (Applause.)  And that saves typical undergraduates more than $1,500 for this year’s loans.

So that’s all a good start, but it’s not enough.  The problem is, is that even if the federal government keeps on putting more and more money in the system, if the cost is going up by 250 percent, tax revenues aren’t going up 250 percent — and so some point, the government will run out of money, which means more and more costs are being loaded on to students and their families.

The system’s current trajectory is not sustainable.  And what that means is state legislatures are going to have to step up.  They can’t just keep cutting support for public colleges and universities.  (Applause.)  That’s just the truth.  Colleges are not going to be able to just keep on increasing tuition year after year, and then passing it on to students and families and taxpayers.  (Applause.)   Our economy can’t afford the trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, much of which may not get repaid because students don’t have the capacity to pay it.  We can’t price the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class out of a college education.  We’re going to have to do things differently.  We can’t go about business as usual.

Because if we do, that will put our younger generation, our workers, our country at a competitive disadvantage for years.  Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America, and if we don’t do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for economic mobility for generations to come.  And that’s not acceptable.  (Applause.)

So whether we’re talking about a two-year program, a four-year program, a technical certificate, bottom line is higher education cannot be a luxury.  It’s an economic imperative:  Every family in America should be able to afford to get it.  (Applause.)

So that’s the problem.  Now, what are we going to do about it?  Today, I’m proposing major new reforms that will shake up the current system, create better incentives for colleges to do more with less, and deliver better value for students and their families.  (Applause.)

And some of these reforms will require action from Congress, so we’re going to have to work on that.  (Laughter.)  Some of these changes I can make on my own.  (Applause.)  We are going to have to — we’re going to be partnering with colleges to do more to keep costs down, and we’re going to work with states to make higher education a higher priority in their budgets.  (Applause.)

And one last thing — we’re going to have to ask more of students who are receiving federal aid, as well.  And I’ve got to tell you ahead of time, these reforms won’t be popular with everybody, especially those who are making out just fine under the current system.  But my main concern is not with those institutions; my main concern is the students those institutions are there to serve -– because this country is only going to be as strong as our next generation.  (Applause.)

And I have confidence that our country’s colleges and universities will step up — just like Chancellor Zimpher and the folks at SUNY are trying to step up — and lead the way to do the right thing for students.

So let me be specific.  My plan comes down to three main goals.  First, we’re going to start rating colleges not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not just by which college has the nicest facilities — you can get all of that on the existing rating systems.  What we want to do is rate them on who’s offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck.  (Applause.)

Number two, we’re going to jumpstart new competition between colleges –- not just on the field or on the court, but in terms of innovation that encourages affordability, and encourages student success, and doesn’t sacrifice educational quality.  (Applause.)  That’s going to be the second component of it.

And the third is, we’re going to make sure that if you have to take on debt to earn your college degree that you have ways to manage and afford it.  (Applause.)

So let me just talk about each of these briefly.

Our first priority is aimed at providing better value for students — making sure that families and taxpayers are getting what we pay for.  Today, I’m directing Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education, to lead an effort to develop a new rating system for America’s colleges before the 2015 college year.  Right now, private rankings like U.S. News and World Report puts out each year their rankings, and it encourages a lot of colleges to focus on ways to — how do we game the numbers, and it actually rewards them, in some cases, for raising costs.  I think we should rate colleges based on opportunity.  Are they helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed — (applause) — and on outcomes, on their value to students and parents.

So that means metrics like:  How much debt does the average student leave with?  How easy it is to pay off?  How many students graduate on time?  How well do those graduates do in the workforce?  Because the answers will help parents and students figure out how much value a college truly offers.

There are schools out there who are terrific values.  But there are also schools out there that have higher default rates than graduation rates.  And taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren’t graduating.  That doesn’t do anybody any good.  (Applause.)

And our ratings will also measure how successful colleges are at enrolling and graduating students who are on Pell grants. And it will be my firm principle that our ratings have to be carefully designed to increase, not decrease, the opportunities for higher education for students who face economic or other disadvantages.  (Applause.)

So this is going to take a little time, but we think this can empower students and families to make good choices.  And it will give any college the chance to show that it’s making serious and consistent improvement.  So a college may not be where it needs to be right now on value, but they’ll have time to try to get better.

And we want all the stakeholders in higher education — students, parents, businesses, college administrators, professors — to work with Secretary Duncan on this process.  And over the next few months, he’s going to host a series of public forums around the country to make sure we get these measures right.  And then, over the next few years, we’re going to work with Congress to use those ratings to change how we allocate federal aid for colleges.  (Applause.)

We are going to deliver on a promise we made last year, which is colleges that keep their tuition down and are providing high-quality education are the ones that are going to see their taxpayer funding go up.  It is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results, and reward schools that deliver for American students and our future.  (Applause.)

And we’re also going to encourage states to follow the same principle.  Right now, most states fund colleges based on how many students they enroll, not based on how well those students do or even if they graduate.  Now, some states are trying a better approach.  You got Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio — they’re offering more funding to colleges that do a better job of preparing students for graduation and a job.  Michigan is rewarding schools that keep tuition increases low.  So they’re changing the incentive structure.

And I’m challenging all states to come up with new and innovative ways to fund their colleges in a way that drives better results.  (Applause.)

Now, for the young people here, I just want to say that just as we’re expecting more from our schools that get funding from taxpayers, we’re going to have to expect more from students who get subsidies and grants from taxpayers.  (Applause.)  So we’re going to make sure students who receive federal financial aid complete their courses before receiving grants for the next semester.  (Applause.)

We’ll make sure to build in flexibility so we’re not penalizing disadvantaged students, or students who are holding down jobs to pay for school.  Things happen.  But the bottom line is we need to make sure that if you’re getting financial aid you’re doing your part to make progress towards a degree.  And, by the way, that’s good for you, too, because if you take out debt and you don’t get that degree, you are not going to be able to pay off that debt and you’ll be in a bind.  (Applause.)

All right, second goal:  We want to encourage more —

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughter.)  Thank you.

The second thing we want to do is to encourage more colleges to embrace innovative new ways to prepare our students for a 21st century economy and maintain a high level of quality without breaking the bank.

So let me talk about some alternatives that are already out there.  Southern New Hampshire University gives course credit based on how well students master the material, not just on how many hours they spend in the classroom.  So the idea would be if you’re learning the material faster, you can finish faster, which means you pay less and you save money.  (Applause.)  The University of Wisconsin is getting ready to do the same thing.

You’ve got Central Missouri University — I went there, and they’ve partnered with local high schools and community colleges so that their students can show up at college and graduate in half the time because they’re already starting to get college credits while they’re in high school or while they’re in a two-year college, so by the time they get to a four-year college they’re saving money.  (Applause.)

Universities like Carnegie Mellon, Arizona State, they’re starting to show that online learning can help students master the same material in less time and often at lower cost.  Georgia Tech, which is a national leader in computer science, just announced it will begin offering an online master’s degree in computer science at a fraction of the cost of a traditional class, but it’s just as rigorous and it’s producing engineers who are just as good.

So a lot of other schools are experimenting with these ideas to keep tuition down.  They’ve got other ways to help students graduate in less time, at less cost, while still maintaining high quality.  The point is it’s possible.  And it’s time for more colleges to step up with even better ways to do it.  And we’re going to provide additional assistance to states and universities that are coming up with good ideas.

Third thing, even as we work to bring down costs for current and future students, we’ve got to offer students who already have debt the chance to actually repay it.  (Applause.)  Nobody wants to take on debt — especially after what we’ve seen and families have gone through during this financial crisis.  But taking on debt in order to earn a college education has always been viewed as something that will pay off over time.  We’ve got to make sure, though, that it’s manageable.

As I said before, even with good jobs, it took Michelle and me a long time to pay off our student loans — while we should have been saving for Malia and Sasha’s college educations, we were still paying off our own.  So we know how important it is to make sure debt is manageable, so that it doesn’t keep you from taking a job that you really care about, or getting married, or buying that first home.

There are some folks who have been talking out there recently about whether the federal student loan program should make or cost the government money.  Here’s the bottom line — government shouldn’t see student loans as a way to make money; it should be a way to help students.  (Applause.)

So we need to ask ourselves:  How much does a federal student loan cost students?  How can we help students manage those costs better?  Our national mission is not to profit off student loans; our national mission must be to profit off having the best-educated workforce in the world.  That should be our focus.  (Applause.)

So, as I mentioned a little bit earlier, two years ago, I capped loan repayments at 10 percent of a student’s post-college income.  We called it Pay-As-You-Earn.  And it, along with some other income-driven repayment plans, have helped more than 2.5 million students so far.

But there are two obstacles that are preventing more students from taking advantage of it.  One is that too many current and former students aren’t eligible, which means we’ve got to get Congress to open up the program for more students.  (Applause.)  And we’re going to be pushing them to do that.

The other obstacle is that a lot of students don’t even know they’re eligible for the program.  So starting this year, we’re going to launch a campaign to help more borrowers learn about their repayment options and we’ll help more student borrowers enroll in Pay-As-You-Earn.  So if you went to college, you took out debt, you want to be a teacher, and starting salary for a teacher is, let’s say, $35,000, well, only 10 percent of that amount is what your loan repayment is.  Now, if you’re making more money, you should be paying more back.  But that way, everybody has a chance to go to college; everybody has a chance to pursue their dreams.

And that program is already in place.  We want more students to take advantage of it.  We’re really going to be advertising it heavily.

Now, if we move forward on these three fronts –- increasing value, encouraging innovation, helping people responsibly manage their debt –- I guarantee you we will help more students afford college.  We’ll help more students graduate from college.  We’ll help more students get rid of that debt so they can a good start in their careers.  (Applause.)

But it’s going to take a lot of hard work.  The good news is, from what I hear, folks in Buffalo know something about hard work.  (Applause.)  Folks in America know something about hard work.  And we’ve come a long way together these past four years. We’re going to keep moving forward on this issue and on every other issue that’s going to help make sure that we continue to have the strongest, most thriving middle class in the world.  We’re going to keep pushing to build a better bargain for everybody in this country who works hard, and everybody who’s trying to get into that middle class.  (Applause.)

And we’re going to keep fighting to make sure that this remains a country where, if you work hard and study hard and are responsible, you are rewarded, so that no matter what you look like and where you come from, what your last name is, here in America you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

11:54 A.M. EDT

Political Headlines July 24, 2013: President Barack Obama Starts Economic Campaign, Accuses GOP of Obstruction





Obama Starts Economic Campaign, Accuses GOP of Obstruction

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Seeking to force the public debate back to the economy, President Obama slammed Republicans on Wednesday for standing in the way of his efforts to boost the middle class, as he launched a campaign to highlight his second-term priorities.

“With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball.  And I am here to say this needs to stop,” the president said in a speech at Knox College, the site of his first economic address on the national stage in 2005….READ MORE

Political Headlines July 24, 2013: President Barack Obama Focuses on Economy, Vowing to Help Middle Class in Knox College Speech





Obama Focuses on Economy, Vowing to Help Middle Class

Source: NYT, 7-24-13

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

President Obama spoke about the economy On Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

President Obama tried to move past months of debate over guns, surveillance and scandal on Wednesday and reorient his administration behind a program to lift a middling economy and help middle-class Americans who are stuck with stagnant incomes and shrinking horizons….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 24, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Economic Policy & Agenda Speech at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois – Transcript



Obama’s Economics Speech at Knox College

Source: NYT, 7-24-13

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

President Obama spoke about the economy On Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

Following is the prepared text of President Obama’s speech in Galesburg, Ill., as provided by the White House.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Eight years ago, I came here to deliver the commencement address for the class of 2005. Things were a little different back then. I didn’t have any gray hair, for example. Or a motorcade. I didn’t even have a teleprompter. It was my first big speech as your newest senator, and I spent my time talking about what a changing economy was doing to the middle class – and what we, as a country, needed to do to give every American a chance to get ahead in the 21st century.

You see, I’d just spent a year traveling this state and listening to your stories – of proud Maytag workers losing their jobs when their plant moved down to Mexico; of teachers whose salaries weren’t keeping up with the rising cost of groceries; of young people who had the drive but not the money to afford a college education.

They were the stories of families who worked hard and believed in the American Dream, but felt that the odds were increasingly stacked against them. And they were right.

In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity. Whether you owned a company, swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain – a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and, above all, to hand down a better life for your kids.

But over time, that engine began to stall. That bargain began to fray. Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sent others overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class. Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the rich and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. The link between higher productivity and people’s wages and salaries was severed – the income of the top 1% nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family’s barely budged.

Towards the end of those three decades, a housing bubble, credit cards, and a churning financial sector kept the economy artificially juiced up. But by the time I took office in 2009, the bubble had burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, and their savings. The decades-long erosion of middle-class security was laid bare for all to see and feel.

Today, five years after the start of that Great Recession, America has fought its way back.

Together, we saved the auto industry, took on a broken health care system, and invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil and double wind and solar power.

Together, we put in place tough new rules on big banks, and protections that cracked down on the worst practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies. We changed a tax code too skewed in favor of the wealthiest at the expense of working families, locking in tax cuts for 98% of Americans, and asking those at the top to pay a little more.

Add it all up, and over the past 40 months, our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs. This year, we are off to our strongest private-sector job growth since 1999. And because we bet on this country, foreign companies are, too. Right now, more of Honda’s cars are made in America than anywhere else. Airbus will build new planes in Alabama. Companies like Ford are replacing outsourcing with insourcing and bringing more jobs home. We sell more products made in America to the rest of the world than ever before. We now produce more natural gas than any country on Earth. We’re about to produce more of our own oil than we buy from abroad for the first time in nearly 20 years. The cost of health care is growing at its slowest rate in 50 years. And our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.

Thanks to the grit and resilience of the American people, we’ve cleared away the rubble from the financial crisis and begun to lay a new foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth. In our personal lives, we tightened our belts, shed debt, and refocused on the things that really matter. As a country, we’ve recovered faster and gone further than most other advanced nations in the world. With new American revolutions in energy, technology, manufacturing, and health care, we are actually poised to reverse the forces that have battered the middle class for so long, and rebuild an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.

But I’m here today to tell you what you already know – we’re not there yet. Even though our businesses are creating new jobs and have broken record profits, nearly all the income gains of the past ten years have continued to flow to the top 1%. The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40% since 2009, but the average American earns less than he or she did in 1999. And companies continue to hold back on hiring those who have been out of work for some time.

Today, more students are earning their degree, but soaring costs saddle them with unsustainable debt. Health care costs are slowing, but many working families haven’t seen the savings yet. And while the stock market rebound has helped families get back much of what they lost in their 401ks, millions of Americans still have no idea how they’ll ever be able to retire. In many ways, the trends that I spoke of here in 2005 – of a winner-take-all economy where a few do better and better, while everybody else just treads water – have been made worse by the recession.

This growing inequality isn’t just morally wrong; it’s bad economics. When middle-class families have less to spend, businesses have fewer customers. When wealth concentrates at the very top, it can inflate unstable bubbles that threaten the economy. When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country.

That’s why reversing these trends must be Washington’s highest priority. It’s certainly my highest priority. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years in particular, Washington hasn’t just ignored the problem; too often, it’s made things worse.

We’ve seen a sizable group of Republican lawmakers suggest they wouldn’t vote to pay the very bills that Congress rang up – a fiasco that harmed a fragile recovery in 2011, and one we can’t afford to repeat. Then, rather than reduce our deficits with a scalpel – by cutting programs we don’t need, fixing ones we do, and making government more efficient – this same group has insisted on leaving in place a meat cleaver called the sequester that has cost jobs, harmed growth, hurt our military, and gutted investments in American education and scientific and medical research that we need to make this country a magnet for good jobs.

Over the last six months, this gridlock has gotten worse. A growing number of Republican Senators are trying to get things done, like an immigration bill that economists say will boost our economy by more than a trillion dollars. But a faction of Republicans in the House won’t even give that bill a vote, and gutted a farm bill that America’s farmers and most vulnerable children depend on.

If you ask some of these Republicans about their economic agenda, or how they’d strengthen the middle class, they’ll shift the topic to “out-of-control” government spending – despite the fact that we have cut the deficit by nearly half as a share of the economy since I took office. Or they’ll talk about government assistance for the poor, despite the fact that they’ve already cut early education for vulnerable kids and insurance for people who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Or they’ll bring up Obamacare, despite the fact that our businesses have created nearly twice as many jobs in this recovery as they had at the same point in the last recovery, when there was no Obamacare.

With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop. Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires. Our focus must be on the basic economic issues that the matter most to you – the people we represent. And as Washington prepares to enter another budget debate, the stakes for our middle class could not be higher. The countries that are passive in the face of a global economy will lose the competition for good jobs and high living standards. That’s why America has to make the investments necessary to promote long-term growth and shared prosperity. Rebuilding our manufacturing base. Educating our workforce. Upgrading our transportation and information networks. That’s what we need to be talking about. That’s what Washington needs to be focused on.

And that’s why, over the next several weeks, in towns across this country, I will engage the American people in this debate. I will lay out my ideas for how we build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America, and what it takes to work your way into the middle class in America. Job security, with good wages and durable industries. A good education. A home to call your own. Affordable health care when you get sick. A secure retirement even if you’re not rich. Reducing poverty and inequality. Growing prosperity and opportunity.

Some of these ideas I’ve talked about before, and some will be new. Some will require Congress, and some I will pursue on my own. Some will benefit folks right away; some will take years to fully implement. But the key is to break through the tendency in Washington to careen from crisis to crisis. What we need isn’t a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan, but a long-term American strategy, based on steady, persistent effort, to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades.

Of course, we’ll keep pressing on other key priorities, like reducing gun violence, rebalancing our fight against al Qaeda, combating climate change, and standing up for civil rights and women’s rights. But if we don’t have a growing, thriving middle class, we won’t have the resources or the resolve; the optimism or sense of unity that we need to solve these other issues.

In this effort, I will look to work with Republicans as well as Democrats wherever I can. I believe there are members of both parties who understand what’s at stake, and I will welcome ideas from anyone, from across the political spectrum. But I will not allow gridlock, inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way. Whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it. Where I can’t act on my own, I’ll pick up the phone and call CEOs, and philanthropists, and college presidents – anybody who can help – and enlist them in our efforts. Because the choices that we, the people, make now will determine whether or not every American will have a fighting chance in the 21st century.

Let me give you a quick preview of what I’ll be fighting for and why.

The first cornerstone of a strong and growing middle class has to be an economy that generates more good jobs in durable, growing industries. Over the past four years, for the first time since the 1990s, the number of American manufacturing jobs hasn’t gone down; they’ve gone up. But we can do more. So I’ll push new initiatives to help more manufacturers bring more jobs back to America. We’ll continue to focus on strategies to create good jobs in wind, solar, and natural gas that are lowering energy costs and dangerous carbon pollution. And I’ll push to open more manufacturing innovation institutes that turn regions left behind by global competition into global centers of cutting-edge jobs. Let’s tell the world that America is open for business – including an old site right here in Galesburg, over on Monmouth Boulevard.

Tomorrow, I’ll also visit the port of Jacksonville, Florida to offer new ideas for doing what America has always done best: building things. We’ve got ports that aren’t ready for the new supertankers that will begin passing through the new Panama Canal in two years’ time. We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare. Businesses depend on our transportation systems, our power grids, our communications networks – and rebuilding them creates good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. And yet, as a share of our economy, we invest less in our infrastructure than we did two decades ago. That’s inefficient at a time when it’s as cheap as it’s been since the 1950s. It’s inexcusable at a time when so many of the workers who do this for a living sit idle. The longer we put this off, the more expensive it will be, and the less competitive we will be. The businesses of tomorrow won’t locate near old roads and outdated ports; they’ll relocate to places with high-speed internet; high-tech schools; systems that move air and auto traffic faster, not to mention get parents home to their kids faster. We can watch that happen in other countries, or we can choose to make it happen right here, in America.

In an age when jobs know no borders, companies will also seek out the country that boasts the most talented citizens, and reward them with good pay. The days when the wages for a worker with a high-school degree could keep pace with the earnings of someone who got some higher education are over. Technology and global competition aren’t going away. So we can either throw up our hands and resign ourselves to diminished living standards, or we can do what America has always done: adapt, pull together, fight back and win.

Which brings me to the second cornerstone of a strong middle class: an education that prepares our children and our workers for the global competition they’ll face.

If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century. If we don’t make this investment, we’ll put our kids, our workers, and our country at a competitive disadvantage for decades. So we must begin in the earliest years. That’s why I’ll keep pushing to make high-quality preschool available to every four year-old in America – not just because we know it works for our kids, but because it provides a vital support system for working parents. I’ll also take action to spur innovation in our schools that don’t require Congress. Today, for example, federal agencies are moving on my plan to connect 99% of America’s students to high-speed internet over the next five years. And we’ve begun meeting with business leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and innovative educators to identify the best ideas for redesigning our high schools so that they teach the skills required for a high-tech economy.

We’ll also keep pushing new efforts to train workers for changing jobs. Here in Galesburg, many of the workers laid off at Maytag chose to enroll in retraining programs like the ones at Carl Sandburg College. And while it didn’t pay off for everyone, many who retrained found jobs that suited them even better and paid even more. That’s why I asked Congress to start a Community College to Career initiative, so that workers can earn the skills that high-tech jobs demand without leaving their hometown. And I’m challenging CEOs from some of America’s best companies to hire more Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been laid off so long no one will give their resume an honest look.

I’m also going to use the power of my office over the next few months to highlight a topic that’s straining the budgets of just about every American family – the soaring cost of higher education.

Three years ago, I worked with Democrats to reform the student loan system so that taxpayer dollars stopped padding the pockets of big banks, and instead helped more kids afford college. I capped loan repayments at 10% of monthly income for responsible borrowers. And this week, we’re working with both parties to reverse the doubling of student loan rates that occurred a few weeks ago because of Congressional inaction.

It’s all a good start – but it isn’t enough. Families and taxpayers can’t just keep paying more and more into an undisciplined system; we’ve got to get more out of what we pay for. Some colleges are testing new approaches to shorten the path to a degree, or blending teaching with online learning to help students master material and earn credits in less time. Some states are testing new ways to fund college based not just on how many students enroll, but how well they do. This afternoon, I’ll visit the University of Central Missouri to highlight their efforts to deliver more bang for the buck. And in the coming months, I will lay out an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs, and improve value for middle-class students and their families.

Now, if a good job and a good education have always been key stepping stones into the middle class, a home of your own has been the clearest expression of middle-class security. That changed during the crisis, when millions of middle-class families saw their home values plummet. Over the past four years, we’ve helped more responsible homeowners stay in their homes, and today, sales are up, prices are up, and fewer Americans see their homes underwater.

But we’re not done yet. The key now is to encourage homeownership that isn’t based on bubbles, but is instead based on a solid foundation, where buyers and lenders play by the same set of rules, rules that are clear, transparent, and fair. Already, I’ve asked Congress to pass a good, bipartisan idea – one that was championed by Mitt Romney’s economic advisor – to give every homeowner the chance to refinance their mortgage and save thousands of dollars a year. I’m also acting on my own to cut red tape for responsible families who want to get a mortgage, but the bank says no. And we’ll work with both parties to turn the page on Fannie and Freddie, and build a housing finance system that’s rock-solid for future generations.

Along with homeownership, the fourth cornerstone of what it means to be middle class in this country is a secure retirement. Unfortunately, over the past decade, too many families watched their retirement recede from their grasp. Today, a rising stock market has millions of retirement balances rising. But we still live with an upside-down system where those at the top get generous tax incentives to save, while tens of millions of hardworking Americans get none at all. As we work to reform our tax code, we should find new ways to make it easier for workers to put money away, and free middle-class families from the fear that they’ll never be able to retire. And if Congress is looking for a bipartisan place to get started, they don’t have to look far: economists show that immigration reform that makes undocumented workers pay their full share of taxes would actually shore up Social Security for years.

Fifth, I will keep focusing on health care, because middle-class families and small business owners deserve the security of knowing that neither illness nor accident should threaten the dreams you’ve worked a lifetime to build.

As we speak, we are well on our way to fully implementing the Affordable Care Act. If you’re one of the 85% of Americans who already have health insurance, you’ve got new benefits and better protections you didn’t have before, like free checkups and mammograms and discounted medicine on Medicare. If you don’t have health insurance, starting October 1st, private plans will actually compete for your business. You can comparison shop in an online marketplace, just like you would for TVs or plane tickets, and buy the one that fits your budget and is right for you. And if you’re in the up to half of all Americans who’ve been sick or have a preexisting condition, this law means that that beginning January 1st, insurance companies finally have to cover you, and at the same rates they charge everybody else.

Now, I know there are folks out there who are actively working to make this law fail. But despite a politically-motivated misinformation campaign, the states that have committed themselves to making this law work are finding that competition and choice are actually pushing costs down. Just last week, New York announced that premiums for consumers who buy their insurance in these online marketplaces will be at least 50% less than what they pay today. That’s right – folks’ premiums in the individual market will drop by 50%. For them, and for the millions of Americans who have been able to cover their sick kids for the first time, or have been able to cover their employees more cheaply, or who will be getting tax breaks to afford insurance for the first time – you will have the security of knowing that everything you’ve worked hard for is no longer one illness away from being wiped out.

Finally, as we work to strengthen these cornerstones of middle-class security, I’m going to make the case for why we need to rebuild ladders of opportunity for all those Americans still trapped in poverty. Here in America, we’ve never guaranteed success. More than some other countries, we expect people to be self-reliant, and we’ve tolerated a little more inequality for the sake of a more dynamic, more adaptable economy. But that’s always been combined with a commitment to upward mobility – the idea that no matter how poor you started, you can make it with hard work and discipline.

Unfortunately, opportunities for upward mobility in America have gotten harder to find over the past 30 years. That’s a betrayal of the American idea. And that’s why we have to do a lot more to give every American the chance to work their way into the middle class.

The best defense against all of these forces – global competition and economic polarization – is the strength of community. We need a new push to rebuild run-down neighborhoods. We need new partnerships with some of the hardest-hit towns in America to get them back on their feet. And because no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. We are not a people who allow chance of birth to decide life’s big winners and losers; and after years in which we’ve seen how easy it can be for any of us to fall on hard times, we cannot turn our backs when bad breaks hit any of our fellow citizens.

Good jobs. A better bargain for the middle class and folks working to join it. An economy that grows from the middle-out. This is where I will focus my energies – not just over the next few months, but for the remainder of my presidency. These are the plans that I will lay out across this country. But I won’t be able to do it alone, and I’ll be calling on all of us to take up this cause.

We’ll need our businesses, the best in the world, to pressure Congress to invest in our future, and set an example by providing decent wages and salaries to their own employees. And I’ll highlight the ones that do just that – companies like Costco, which pays good wages and offers good benefits; or the Container Store, which prides itself on training its workers and on employee satisfaction – because these companies prove that this isn’t just good for their business, it’s good for America.

We’ll need Democrats to question old assumptions, be willing to redesign or get rid of programs that no longer work, and embrace changes to cherished priorities so that they work better in this new age. For if we believe that government can give the middle class a fair shot in this new century, we have an obligation to prove it.

And we’ll need Republicans in Congress to set aside short-term politics and work with me to find common ground. The fact is, there are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on many of the ideas I’ll be proposing, but worry they’ll face swift political retaliation for saying so. Others will dismiss every idea I put forward either because they’re playing to their most strident supporters, or because they have a fundamentally different vision for America – one that says inequality is both inevitable and just; one that says an unfettered free market without any restraints inevitably produces the best outcomes, regardless of the pain and uncertainty imposed on ordinary families.

In either case, I say to these members of Congress: I am laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot. Now it’s time for you to lay out yours. If you’re willing to work with me to strengthen American manufacturing and rebuild this country’s infrastructure, let’s go. If you have better ideas to bring down the cost of college for working families, let’s hear them. If you think you have a better plan for making sure every American has the security of quality, affordable health care, stop taking meaningless repeal votes and share your concrete ideas with the country. If you are serious about a balanced, long-term fiscal plan that replaces the mindless cuts currently in place, or tax reform that closes corporate loopholes and gives working families a better deal, I’m ready to work – but know that I will not accept deals that do not meet the test of strengthening the prospects of hard-working families.

We’ve come a long way since I first took office. As a country, we’re older and we’re wiser. And as long as Congress doesn’t manufacture another crisis – as long as we don’t shut down the government just as the economy is getting traction, or risk a U.S. default over paying bills we’ve already racked up – we can probably muddle along without taking bold action. Our economy will grow, though slower than it should; new businesses will form, and unemployment will keep ticking down. Just by virtue of our size and our natural resources and the talent of our people, America will remain a world power, and the majority of us will figure out how to get by.

But if that’s our choice – if we just stand by and do nothing in the face of immense change – understand that an essential part of our character will be lost. Our founding precept about wide-open opportunity and each generation doing better than the last will be a myth, not reality. The position of the middle class will erode further. Inequality will continue to increase, and money’s power will distort our politics even more. Social tensions will rise, as various groups fight to hold on to what they have, and the fundamental optimism that has always propelled us forward will give way to cynicism or nostalgia.

That’s not the vision I have for this country. That’s not the vision you have for this country. That is not the America we know. That’s not a vision we should settle for, or pass on to our children. I have now run my last campaign. I do not intend to wait until the next one before tackling the issues that matter. I care about one thing and one thing only, and that’s how to use every minute of the 1,276 days remaining in my term to make this country work for working Americans again. Because I believe this is where America needs to go. I believe this is where the American people want to go. It may seem hard today, but if we are willing to take a few bold steps – if Washington will just shake off its complacency and set aside the kind of slash-and-burn partisanship we’ve seen these past few years – our economy will be stronger a year from now. And five years from now. And ten years from now. More Americans will know the pride of that first paycheck; the satisfaction of flipping the sign to “Open” on their own business; the joy of etching a child’s height into the door of their brand new home.

After all, what makes us special has never been our ability to generate incredible wealth for the few, but our ability to give everyone a chance to pursue their own true measure of happiness. We haven’t just wanted success for ourselves – we’ve wanted it for our neighbors, too. That’s why we don’t call it John’s dream or Susie’s dream or Barack’s dream – we call it the American Dream. That’s what makes this country special – the idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from or who you love – you can make it if you try.

One of America’s greatest writers, Carl Sandburg, was born right here in Galesburg over a century ago. He saw the railroad bring the world to the prairie, and the prairie send its bounty to the world. He saw the advent of bustling new industries and technologies; he watched populations shift; he saw fortunes made and lost. He saw how change could be painful – how a new age could unsettle long-settled customs and ways of life. But possessed with a frontier optimism, he saw something more on the horizon. “I speak of new cities and new people,” he wrote. “…The past is a bucket of ashes…yesterday is a wind gone down, a sun dropped in the west…there is…only an ocean of tomorrows, a sky of tomorrows.”

America, we have made it through the worst of yesterday’s winds. And if we find the courage to keep moving forward; if we set our eyes on the horizon, we too will find an ocean of tomorrows, a sky of tomorrows – for America’s people, and for this great country that we love.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Political Headlines July 24, 2013: President Obama Pivots to Economy… Again





Obama Pivots to Economy… Again


President Obama will once again try to refocus the public’s attention and the political debate on the economy this week, delivering what’s being billed as a major economic address in his home state of Illinois.

The White House is trying to drum up support for the speech, but it’s a tough sell, given how often the president has launched similar campaigns in recent years….READ MORE

Political Musings July 24, 2013: President Barack Obama to press economic agenda reset button in Knox College speech





Obama to press economic agenda reset button in Knox College speech (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

United States President Barack Obama will begin a renewed focus on the economy and the middle class in what the White House is billing as a major policy address on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois…

Political Headlines June 6, 2013: President Barack Obama Announces Broadband-for-Schools Project at North Carolina Middle School





Obama Announces Broadband-for-Schools Project at NC Middle School

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-6-13

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Obama on Thursday called for wider access to high-speed Internet in schools, prodding the Federal Communications Commission to work toward an aggressive goal that he first proposed in 2008.

“In a country where we expect free WiFi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?” Obama asked during a visit to Mooresville Middle School outside of Charlotte, N.C….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency May 28, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech in Asbury Park, NJ After Touring the Jersey Shore with Gov Chris Christie



President Barack Obama congratulates New Jersey Governor Chris Christie while playing the “TouchDown Fever” arcade game along the Point Pleasant boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., May 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Remarks by the President in Asbury Park, NJ

Source: WH, 5-28-13 

Asbury Park Convention Hall
Asbury Park, New Jersey

1:26 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, New Jersey!  (Applause.)  It is good to be back in Jersey.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back!  (Applause.)

Let me, first of all, say thank you to Governor Christie for that introduction and the great work he’s done here.  (Applause.) Your Mayor, Ed Johnson, is here as well and has been working tirelessly on your behalf.  (Applause.)  We’ve got three great representatives in Congress from New Jersey — Rush Holt, Frank Pallone, Donald Payne, Jr.  (Applause.)

Now, last week, my advisors asked me — they said, Mr. President, do you want to spend next Tuesday in Washington, or would you rather spend it at the Jersey Shore?  (Applause.)  And I’ve got to say I’ve got to make some tough decisions as President, but this wasn’t one of them.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I appreciate that.  (Applause.)

Governor Christie and I just spent some time on the Point Pleasant boardwalk.  I got a chance to see the world’s tallest sandcastle being built.  We played some Touchdown Fever — I got to say, Christie got it in the tire the first try — (laughter)  — although I did pay for his throws.  (Laughter.)  I played a little Frog Bog, and Governor Christie’s kids taught me the right technique for hitting the hammer to get those frogs in the buckets the way I was supposed to.  (Laughter.)  And, of course, I met with folks who are still rebuilding after Sandy.

Now, we all understand there’s still a lot of work to be done.  There are homes to rebuild.  There are businesses to reopen.  There are landmarks and beaches and boardwalks that aren’t all the way back yet.  But thanks to the hard work of an awful lot of people, we’ve got wonderful shops and restaurants and arcades that are opening their doors.  And I saw what thousands of Americans saw over Memorial Day Weekend:  You are stronger than the storm.  (Applause.)  After all you’ve dealt with, after all you’ve been through, the Jersey Shore is back and it is open for business, and they want all Americans to know that they’re ready to welcome you here.  (Applause.)

And I’ve got to say, if they ever let me have any fun, I’d have some fun here.  (Laughter and applause.)  I was telling my staff on the ride over, I could see being a little younger — (laughter) — and having some fun on the Jersey Shore.  (Applause.)  I can’t do that anymore.  (Laughter.)  Maybe after I leave office.  (Laughter and applause.)

I think a friend of mine from here once put it pretty well:  “Down the shore, everything’s all right.”  (Applause.)  He’s the only guy a President still has to call “The Boss.”  (Laughter.)  Other than the First Lady.  (Laughter.)

But for generations, that’s what this place has been about. Life isn’t always easy.  We’re a people who have to work hard and do what it takes to provide for our families — but when you come here, everything’s all right.  And whether you spend a lifetime here, or a weekend, or a summer, the Shore holds a special place in your heart and a special place in America’s mythology, America’s memory.

When I was here seven months ago, Hurricane Sandy had just hammered communities all across the East Coast, and lives were lost, and homes and businesses were destroyed, and folks were hurting.  And I remember something Chris said back then.  He said, “We cannot permit that sorrow to replace the resilience that I know all New Jerseyans have.”


THE PRESIDENT:  And it didn’t.  You didn’t let it.  You kept going.  Because these towns have a special character — not just in the summer but all year round.  From the moment the hurricane hit, first responders worked around the clock to save lives and property.  And neighbors opened their homes and their hearts to one another.  And you came together as citizens to rebuild.

And we’re not done yet, and I want to make sure everybody understands that, because for somebody who hasn’t seen their home rebuilt yet or is still trying to get their business up and running again, after all those losses, we don’t want them to think that somehow we’ve checked a box and we’ve moved on.  That’s part of the reason I came back, to let people know we’re going to keep on going until we finish.  (Applause.)

But if anybody wondered whether the Shore could ever be all right again, you got your answer this weekend.  (Applause.)  From Sea Bright to Bay Head, from Belmar to Seaside Heights, folks were hanging out on balconies and beaches.  Shows were sold out at the Stone Pony.  (Applause.)  Kids were eating ice cream and going on rides, going and eating some more ice cream.  (Laughter.)  Guys were trying to win those big stuffed animals to impress a special girl.  So like I said, the Jersey Shore is back in business.

The work is not over, though.  Seven months ago, I promised you that your country would have your back.  I told you we would not quit until the job was done, and I meant it.  I meant it.  (Applause.)

Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, he couldn’t be here today, but I want to thank him and his team for their ongoing work.  FEMA was here before Sandy made landfall; they’re still here today.  They’re working with the Governor’s team and with the task force I set up to support families and communities who still need help.  Since the storm hit, we’ve provided billions of dollars to families and state and local governments across the region, and more is on the way.

And even as my team is helping communities recover from the last hurricane season, they’re already starting to prepare for the next hurricane season, which starts this Saturday — because if there’s one thing that we learned last year, it’s that when a storm hits, we’ve got to be ready.  Education, preparation — that’s what makes a difference.  That’s what saves lives.  And anyone who wants to make sure they’re ready — for a hurricane or any other disaster — I want them to visit something — a website called Ready.gov.  Make a plan.  It’s never too early.

We’ve also got to remember that rebuilding efforts like these aren’t measured in weeks or months, but they’re measured in years.  That’s why just this past Thursday, we announced billions of new relief aid for New York and New Jersey transit agencies.  And that’s why the Army Corps of Engineers is working to restore beaches and strengthen the Shore’s natural defenses.  That’s why last year I joined Governor Christie and your representatives, fighting to get a relief package through Congress.  We’re going to keep doing what it takes to rebuild all the way and make it better than it was before, make it stronger than it was before, make it more resilient than it was before.  (Applause.)

So, Jersey, you’ve still got a long road ahead, but when you look out on this beach — this beautiful beach here, even in the rain, it looks good.  You look out over the horizon, you can count on the fact that you won’t be alone.  Your fellow citizens will be there for you — just like we’ll be there for folks in Breezy Point and Staten Island — (applause) — and obviously, we’re going to be there for the folks in Monroe [sic], Oklahoma, after the devastation of last week.  (Applause.)

Part of the reason I wanted to come back here was not just to send a message to New Jersey, but send a message to folks in Oklahoma:  When we make a commitment that we’ve got your back, we mean it — (applause) — and we’re not going to finish until the work is done.  Because that’s who we are.  We help each other as Americans through the bad times, and we sure make the most of the good times.  (Applause.)

So let’s have some good times on the New Jersey Shore this summer.  (Applause.)  And next summer and the summer after that, and all year long, America, bring your family and friends.  Spend a little money on the Jersey Shore.  (Applause.)  You’ll find some of the friendliest folks on Earth, some of the best beaches on Earth.  And you’ll see that even after a tough couple of months, this place is as special as ever, and down the Shore, everything is still all right.  (Applause.)

Thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  (Applause.)  God bless America.  (Applause.)

1:35 P.M. EDT

Political Headlines May 28, 2013: President Barack Obama & NJ Gov Chris Christie Tour Recovery Efforts at Jersey Shore





Obama, Christie Tour Recovery Efforts at Jersey Shore

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-28-13

Office of NJ Gov. Chris Christie/Twitter

Seven months after superstorm Sandy hammered the New Jersey coast, President Obama returned to the Jersey Shore to highlight the state’s recovery and rebuilding efforts, declaring that the “Jersey Shore is back.”

“We’re still rebuilding after Sandy.  Now we all understand that there is still a lot of work to be done,” the president said Tuesday before a crowd of 3,800 at the Asbury Park Convention Hall in Asbury Park, N.J….READ MORE

%d bloggers like this: