Full Text Obama Presidency February 24, 2014: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s Remarks at National Governors’ Association White House Meeting



Remarks by the President and Vice President at NGA Meeting

Source: WH, 2-24-14

State Dining Room

11:15 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Thanks for making the Cabinet stand up for me.  (Laughter.)  I appreciate it.

It’s great to see you all.  And I don’t know about you all, I had a great time last night and got a chance to actually do what we should be doing more of — talking without thinking about politics and figuring how we can solve problems.

You’ve observed by now the reason the President and I like doing this every year is it’s nice dealing with people who know they got to get a job done, and they get a job done.  And I’ve gotten a chance to work directly with an awful lot of you in the days of the Recovery Act, and even when we were working on the gun violence; rebuilding from that super storm Sandy, which hit my state as well, and tornadoes and floods in a number of your states.

But it never ceases to amaze me how you all mobilize.  You just mobilize.  When crises hit your states, you mobilize and you rebuild.  And you rebuild your infrastructure not to the standards that existed before, but to 21st century standards.  You balance your budgets, you save neighborhoods, and you bring back jobs to your communities.

And the other thing I pick up — and I may be wrong.  I’m always labeled as the White House optimist, like I’m the kid who fell off the turnip truck yesterday, but I am the youngest here — (laughter) — and new.  But it always amazes me your sense of optimism.  You’re the one group of folks you go to with all the problems you have that you’re optimistic.  You’re optimistic about it being able to be done, getting things done.  That is not always the mood up in the place where I spent a large portion of my career.

And last night I got to speak to a bunch of you, particularly about the job skills initiative the President asked me to lead, and I had a chance to speak with some of you specifically, and I’m going to ask to — I’m going to get a chance to see more of you this afternoon.  But this is more than just — at least from the President’s perspective and mine — more than just a job skills initiative.  It’s about literally opening the aperture to the middle class.  The middle class has actually shrunk.

And we always have these debates with our economists — is the middle class $49,820 or $52,000.  The middle class to me, and I think to most of you, it’s really a state of mind.  It’s about being able to own your home and not have to rent it.  It’s about being able to send your kid to a park where you know you can send them out, and they’ll come home safely.  It’s about being able to send them to school, that if they do well in the school, they’re going to be able to get to something beyond high school if they want to do that.  And you’re going to be able to pay for it.  And in the meantime, you may be able to take care of your mom and dad who are in tough shape and hope that your kids never have to take care of you.  That’s the middle class.

And before the Great Recession, it was already beginning to shrink.  So together, we got to open — Mary, you and I have talked about this — about opening the aperture here for access to the middle class.  But we’ll be speaking a lot more about that in the next several months.  A couple of you invited me to come out your way, including some of my Republican friends.  And I’m going to be working with all of you.

But today I just want to say thank you.  Thank you for what you always do.  You come to town; you come to town with answers.  You come to town with suggestions.  You come to town to get things done.  And believe me, we need that and the American people are looking for it.

And I want to welcome you back to the White House, and introduce you now to my friend, your President, Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  Please, have a seat.  Thank you so much.

Welcome to the White House.  I know that you’ve already been doing a lot of work, and I’m glad to be able to come here and engage in a dialogue with all of you.  I want to thank Mary and John for their leadership at the NGA.  I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, who is very excited I think about the jobs initiative, and is going to be — the job training initiative, and I think is going to be doing a great job on that.

Michelle and I had a wonderful time hosting you guys last night, and I hope all the spouses enjoyed it.  And I know Alex enjoyed it.  (Laughter.)  One good thing about living here is that you can make all the noise you want and nobody is going to complain.  (Laughter.)  And I enjoyed watching some of you with your eyes on higher office size up the drapes — (laughter) –and each other.

We don’t have a lot of time today, so I want to be very brief, go straight to Q&A and discussion.  We’re at a moment when our economy is growing; our businesses have now created over 8.5 million new jobs over the past four years.  But, as I’ve said several times, the trends that have battered the middle class for a couple of decades now are still there and still have to be addressed.  Those at the top are doing very well.  Ordinary families still feeling squeezed.  Too many Americans are working harder than ever, and just barely getting by.

And reversing these trends are going to require us to work together around what I’m calling an opportunity agenda based on four things.  Number one, more good jobs that pay good wages.  Number two, training more Americans to be able to take the jobs that are out there right now and the jobs that are created.  Number three, guaranteeing access to a world-class education for every American child all across our 50 states and our territories.  And making sure that hard work pays off — with wages that you can live on, savings that you can retire on, health insurance that you can count on.

And all of this is going to take some action.  So far, just in the past few weeks, I’ve acted to lift the wages of workers who work for federal contractors to pay their — make sure their employees are getting paid at least $10.10 an hour.  We’ve ordered an across-the-board reform of our job training programs, much of it aligned with some of the work that Mary has done during her tenure as head of the NGA.  We directed our Treasury to create a new way for Americans to start saving for retirement.  We’ve been able to rally America’s business leaders to help more of the long-term unemployed find work, and to help us make sure that all of our kids have access to high-speed Internet and high-tech learning tools in the classroom.

The point is, this has to be a year of action.  And I’m eager to work with Congress wherever I can.  My hope is, is that despite this being an election year, that there will be occasions where both parties determine that it makes sense to actually get some things done in this town.  But wherever I can work on my own to expand opportunity for more Americans, I’m going to do that.  And I am absolutely convinced that the time is right to partner with the states and governors all across the country on these agendas, because I know that you guys are doing some terrific work in your own states.

There may not be much of an appetite in Congress for doing big jobs bills, but we can still grow SelectUSA.  Secretary Pritzker’s team has put together a terrific formula where we’re attracting investors from all around the world to see America as an outstanding place to invest.  And I mentioned this at the State of the Union:  For the first time last year, what we’re seeing is, is that world investors now see America as the number-one place to do business rather than China.  And it’s a sign of a lot of things converging, both on the energy front, worker productivity, our innovation, our research, ease of doing business.  And a lot of that work is as a consequence of steps we’ve taken not just at the federal level, but also at the state level.  So we’ve got to take advantage of that.

Secretary Pritzker has been helping a Belgian company create jobs in Stillwater, Oklahoma; helping an Austrian company create jobs in Cartersville, Georgia.  So we can do more of this, and we really want to engage with you over the next several months to find ways that we can help market America and your states to businesses all around the world and bring jobs back.

Since I called on Congress to raise the minimum wage last year, six states have gone ahead and done it on their own.  Last month, I asked more business leaders to raise their workers’ wages.  Last week, GAP said it would lift wages for about 65,000 of its employees.  Several of you are trying to boost wages for your workers.  I’m going to do everything I can to support those efforts.

While Congress decides what it’s going to do on making high-quality pre-K available to more kids, there is bipartisan work being done among the folks in this room.  You’ve got governors like Robert Bentley and Jack Markell, Susana Martinez, Deval Patrick — all expanding funding or dedicating funds to make that happen in their states.  And we want to partner with you.  This year, I’ll pull together a coalition of philanthropists, elected officials and business leaders, all of whom are excited and interested in working with you to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K that they need.

And while Congress talks about repealing the Affordable Care Act or doing this or doing that to it, places like California and Kentucky are going gangbusters and enrolling more Americans in quality, affordable health care plans.  You’ve got Republican governors here — I won’t name them in front of the press, because I don’t want to get you all in trouble — who have chosen to cover more people through new options under Medicaid.  And as a result, millions of people are going to get help.

States that don’t expand Medicaid are going to be leaving up to 5.4 million Americans uninsured.  And that doesn’t have to happen.  Work with us to get this done.  We can provide a lot of flexibility.  Folks like Mike Beebe in Arkansas have done some terrific work designing programs that are right for their states but also provide access to care for people who need it.  And I think Kathleen Sebelius, a former governor herself, has shown herself willing to work with all of you to try to find ways to get that done.

On the West Coast, you’ve got Governors Brown, Inslee, Kitzhaber who are working together to combat the effects of climate change on their states.  We’ve set up a taskforce of governors and mayors and tribal leaders to help communities prepare for what we anticipate are going to be intensifying impacts of climate change.  And we’re setting up climate hubs in seven states across the country to help farmers and ranchers adapt their operations to a changing environment.

In the budget that I’ll send to Congress next week, I’m going to propose fundamentally reforming the way federal governments fund wildfire suppression and prevention to make it more stable and secure, and this is an idea that’s supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

And finally, I want to thank those of you who have worked with Michelle and Jill Biden on their Joining Forces initiative to support our military families.  At your meeting here two years ago, they asked for your help to make it easier for servicemembers and their spouses to carry licenses for professions like teaching or nursing from state to state, rather than have to get a new one every time they were reassigned.  At the time, only 12 states had acted to make this easier for spouses; only nine had acted to make it easier for servicemembers.  Today, 42 states have passed legislation to help spouses; 45 states have made it easier for servicemembers.  We’ve got a few states remaining.  Let’s get it done for everybody, because it’s the right thing to do for those men and women who are working every day to make sure we stay free and secure.

The point is, even when there is little appetite in Congress to move on some of these priorities, at the state level you guys are governed by practical considerations.  You want to do right by your people and you see how good policy impacts your citizens, and you see how bad policy impacts your citizens, and that means that there’s less room for posturing and politics, and more room for getting stuff done.

We want to work with you.  And I’m committed to making sure that every single member of my Cabinet, every single person in the White House, every single member of my team will be responsive to you.  We won’t agree on every single issue every single time, but I guarantee you that we will work as hard as we can to make sure that you succeed — because when you succeed, the people in your states succeed and America succeeds, and that’s our goal.

So thank you very much, and I look forward to having a great discussion.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

11:27 A.M. EST

Political Headlines February 25, 2013: President Barack Obama Enlists Governors to Help Get Sequester Deal





Obama Enlists Governors to Help Get Sequester Deal

Source: ABC News Radio, 2-25-13

With less than five days to prevent $85 billion in sweeping, automatic budget cuts, President Obama Monday asked the nation’s governors to help pressure Congress to compromise on a deal to avert the sequester.

“There are always going to be areas where we have some genuine disagreement,” the president told a meeting of the National Governors Association at the White House. “But there are more areas where we can do a lot more cooperating than I think we’ve seen over the last several years.”…READ MORE

Political Headlines February 25, 2013: President Barack Obama Urges Congress to Find Compromise on Budget Cuts





Obama Urges Congress to Find Compromise on Budget Cuts

Source: NYT, 2-25-13

“These cuts do not have to happen,” President Obama told a gathering of the nation’s governors. “Congress can turn them off at any time with just a little bit of compromise.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency February 25, 2013: President Barack Obama & Vice President Joe Biden’s Speeches at Meeting of the National Governors Association — Warns Governors About Sequester



President Obama: I Look Forward to Working with Governors to Reignite America’s Economic Engine

Source: WH, 2-24-13

President Barack Obama has a meeting with the National Governors Association in the White House, Feb. 25, 2013President Barack Obama delivers remarks and participates in a Q&A during a meeting with the National Governors Association (NGA) in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 25, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Remarks by the President and Vice President at Meeting of the National Governors Association

Source: WH, 2- 25-13

State Dining Room

11:18 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you all.  I tell you what, I didn’t know Jack was as good as he is until I heard that rhyme last night.  (Laughter.)  Jack, if you had done that, I’d be introducing you here.  (Laughter.)

Thank you all very, very much.  I’m sorry — you guys are much more disciplined than the place I lived for 36 years, up on the Hill, and you’re running ahead of schedule.  And so the President is with me, and I want to thank you all for being here.
We have a lot to work on.  There’s a lot from fixing a broken immigration system to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, and this new word everybody in America is learning about — “sequester.”

This town, unlike many of your capitals, is I hope temporarily frozen in — not indifference but in sort of an intense partisanship, the likes of which in my career I’ve only see the last couple years.  But you know the American people have moved to a different place.  By the way, thanks for being so nice to my wife last night.  I like you a hell of better.  (Laughter.) We disagreed on some things.

But all kidding aside, I think the American people have moved — Democrats, Republicans, independents.  They know that the possibilities for this country are immense.  They’re no longer traumatized by what was a traumatizing event, the great collapse in 2008.  They’re no longer worried, I think, about our economy being overwhelmed either by Europe writ large, the EU, or China somehow swallowing up every bit of innovation that exists in the world.  They’re no longer, I think, worried about our economy being overwhelmed beyond our shores.

And I don’t think they’re any more — there’s no — there’s very little doubt in any circles out there about America’s ability to be in position to lead the world in the 21st century, not only in terms of our foreign policy, our incredible defense establishment, but economically.  I think the American people are ready to get up.  As a civil rights leader, when I was coming up as a kid, said, they’re just — the American people are tired of being tired.  I think they’re ready to get up and move.  And you guys know that because it’s happening in your states.  You probably feel it in your fingertips more than most of us do here in Washington.

And as I said, I think they know we’re better positioned than any nation in the world to lead the world.  And that’s why I think they’re so frustrated by what they see and don’t see happening here in Washington.  And I think their frustration is turning into a little bit of anger.

I found an interesting dynamic — without ruining any of your reputations and picking out any one of you — but whether it was a Democrat or Republican governor I had been talking to last night and over this past weekend, I heard from several of you, both parties, how do you deal with this going on up here?  How do you deal with the Congress?  No distinction, Democrat or Republican, depending who I was talking to, no distinction about who you’re dealing with — but how do you deal with this?  Because you guys deal and women deal with legislatures that are split.  Some of you represent a minority party as a governor, yet you get on very well with — you accomplish things in your home state.  And as I said, I’ve been here long enough — that’s the way it used to work, and I think we can make it work that way again.

But there’s a number of things we have to do immediately, and we may disagree on how to address them, but I don’t think anybody disagrees on the need for them to be addressed — from implementing the Affordable Care Act.  It’s the law.  You all are grappling with that.  Each of you are making different decisions, but you’re grappling with it.  You’re moving and you’re making your own judgments.

We also have to — I don’t think there’s much disagreement there’s a need for immigration reform.  I’ve not met a governor from the time of implementing the Recovery Act to now who doesn’t think that we have do something about our crumbling infrastructure in order to impact on our productivity here in this country — continue to attract, keep and bring back American business from abroad.

And there’s very little disagreement on the need to build an education system that has such immense possibilities for our people.

But on most of these issues we’re united by more than what divides us.  All these issues intersect at a place — the ones I just mentioned and others — they intersect at a place where both the state and federal governments engage.  So we’re going to have to work together.  They overlap in many cases.

We’ll have our differences, but we all should agree that the United States has to once again have the highest percentage of college graduates of any nation in the world.  I don’t think there’s any disagreement.  Everybody agrees and some of you governors have led the way on early education and the consequences for the prospects of success for our children not only of graduating, but avoiding the criminal justice system.  You’ve all led in knowing that we have to have reform of our high school system so that we — and not only finding a pathway for people who are going to four-year college and community college but go into the trades.

So there’s so much agreement that I think we ought to be able to get a fair amount done.  And we should all agree that to grow our economy we have to invest in manufacturing, clean energy, infrastructure, education.  The question is who invests and how much and how — we’re going to debate that.  But there’s not much disagreement about the need to invest.

And I think we’re all — I’ve never met a Democrat or Republican who’s been a governor who doesn’t think that the American people should have the sense that hard work is going to be rewarded, that there’s a chance that if you work hard, you got an opportunity.  I don’t know of any group of men or women who are a better living example of that than all of you sitting in front of me in your own experiences.

So the question is — we all use the phrase “move forward in a balanced way” — when one man’s balance is another man’s imbalance, but that’s what we got to talk about.  That’s what’s at stake.  But the one thing that I don’t think any of you lack is a vision about how great this country can be now that we’re coming back, that we ought to be able to reassert ourselves in a way that we own the 21st century.  And I know the guy I’m about to introduce believes that as strongly as all of you do.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the President — who’s back with the pastry chef and I’m wondering what he’s doing back there.  (Laughter.)  The President of the United States, my friend, Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)   Thank you.  Thank you, guys.  Please have a seat.  Well, welcome, everybody.  Thanks for being here.

We all have a lot on our plate, everything from our immigration system to our education system.  As Joe talked about, our goal is to make sure that we can be an effective partner with you.

I want to thank the members of my Cabinet who are here, and members of the administration.  I want to thank Jack and Mary for their leadership of the NGA.  And everybody else, I just want to say thanks to you for being on your best behavior last night.  (Laughter.)  I’m told nothing was broken.  No silverware is missing.  (Laughter.)  I didn’t get any calls from the neighbors about the noise — although I can’t speak for Joe’s after-party at the Observatory.  I hear that was wild.  (Laughter.)

Now, I always enjoy this weekend when I have a chance to see the governors.  As leaders, we share responsibility to do whatever we can to help grow our economy and create good middle-class jobs, and open up new doors of opportunity for all of our people.  That’s our true north, our highest priority.  And it’s got to guide every decision that we make at every level.

As I’ve said, we should be asking ourselves three questions every single day:  How do we make America a magnet for good jobs? How do we equip our people with the skills and the training to get those jobs?  And how do we make sure if they get those jobs that their hard work actually pays off?

As governors, you’re the ones who are on the ground, seeing firsthand every single day what works, what doesn’t work, and that’s what makes you so indispensable.  Whatever your party, you ran for office to do everything that you could to make our folks’ lives better.  And one thing I know unites all of us, and all of you — Democrats and Republicans — and that is the last thing you want to see is Washington get in the way of progress.

Unfortunately, in just four days, Congress is poised to allow a series of arbitrary, automatic budget cuts to kick in that will slow our economy, eliminate good jobs, and leave a lot of folks who are already pretty thinly stretched scrambling to figure out what to do.

This morning, you received a report outlining exactly how these cuts will harm middle-class families in your states.  Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off.  Tens of thousands of parents will have to deal with finding child care for their children.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.  Tomorrow, for example, I’ll be in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where workers will sit idle when they should be repairing ships, and a carrier sits idle when it should be deploying to the Persian Gulf.

Now, these impacts will not all be felt on day one.  But rest assured the uncertainty is already having an effect.  Companies are preparing layoff notices.  Families are preparing to cut back on expenses.  And the longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become.

So while you are in town, I hope that you speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake and exactly who is at risk.  Because here’s the thing — these cuts do not have to happen.  Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise. To do so, Democrats like me need to acknowledge that we’re going to have to make modest reforms in Medicare if we want the program there for future generations and if we hope to maintain our ability to invest in critical things like education, research and infrastructure.

I’ve made that commitment.  It’s reflected in proposals I made last year and the year before that, and will be reflected in my budget, and I stand by those commitments to make the reforms for smart spending cuts.

But we also need Republicans to adopt the same approach to tax reform that Speaker Boehner championed just two months ago.  Under our concept of tax reform, nobody’s rates would go up, but we’d be able to reduce the deficit by making some tough, smart spending cuts and getting rid of wasteful tax loopholes that benefit the well-off and the well-connected.

I know that sometimes folks in Congress think that compromise is a bad word.  They figure they’ll pay a higher price at the polls for working with the other side than they will for standing pat or engaging in obstructionism.  But, as governors, some of you with legislators controlled by the other party, you know that compromise is essential to getting things done.  And so is prioritizing, making smart choices.

That’s how Governor O’Malley in Maryland put his state on track to all but eliminate his deficit while keeping tuition down and making Maryland’s public schools among the best in America five years running.  That’s how Governor Haslam balanced his budget last year in Tennessee while still investing in key areas like education for Tennessee’s kids.  Like the rest of us, they know we can’t just cut our way to prosperity.  Cutting alone is not an economic policy.  We’ve got to make the tough, smart choices to cut what we don’t need so that we can invest in the things that we do need.

Let me highlight two examples of what we do need.  The first is infrastructure.  This didn’t used to be a partisan issue. I don’t know when exactly that happened.  It should be a no-brainer.  Businesses are not going to set up shop in places where roads and bridges and ports and schools are falling apart.  They’re going to open their doors wherever they can connect the best transportation and communications networks to their businesses and to their customers.

And that’s why I proposed what we’re calling “fix-it-first” — I talked about this in my State of the Union address — to put people to work right now on urgent repairs like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.  And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the entire burden, I also proposed a partnership to rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most — modern ports to move our goods, modern pipelines to withstand a storm, modern schools that are worthy of our children.

I know that some people in Congress reflexively oppose any idea that I put forward, even if it’s an idea that they once supported, but rebuilding infrastructure is not my idea.  It’s everybody’s idea.  It’s what built this country.  Governor Kitzhaber, a Democrat in Oregon, has made clean-energy infrastructure a top priority.  Governor Brownback of Kansas, a Republican, has been fighting to upgrade water infrastructure there.

And folks who think spending really is our biggest problem should be more concerned than anybody about improving our infrastructure right now.  We’re talking about deferred maintenance here.  We know we’re going to have to spend the money.  And the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.  That is a fact.  I think Matt Mead, a Republican, put it pretty well in Wyoming’s state address.  He said failing to maintain our roads “is not a plan for being fiscally conservative.”  Well, what’s true in Wyoming is true all across the United States.

And we could be putting folks back to work right now.  We know contractors are begging for work.  They’ll come in on time, under budget, which never happens.   And we could make a whole lot of progress right now on things that we know we’re going to have to do at some point.  This is like fixing the roof or repairing a boiler that’s broken.  It will save us money in the long term.

I know that one of the biggest hurdles that you face when it comes to fixing infrastructure is red tape.  And oftentimes, that comes out of Washington with regulations.  In my first term, we started to take some steps to address that.  And we’ve shaved months — in some cases, even years — off the timeline of infrastructure projects across America.

So today, I’m accelerating that effort.  We’re setting up regional teams that will focus on some of the unique needs each of you have in various parts of the country.  We’re going to help the Pacific Northwest move faster on renewable energy projects.  We’re going to help the Northeast Corridor move faster on high-speed rail service.  We’re going to help the Midwest and other states, like Colorado, move faster on projects that help farmers deal with worsening drought.  We’re going to help states like North Dakota and South Dakota and Montana move faster on oil and gas production.  All of these projects will get more Americans back to work faster.  And we can do even more if we can get Congress to act.

The second priority that I want to talk about is education  — and in particular, education that starts at the earliest age. I want to partner with each of you to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.

Now, this is an area where we’ve already seen great bipartisan work at the state level.  I was just in Governor Deal’s state to highlight this issue because Georgia has made it a priority to educate our youngest kids.  And in the school district where I visited in Decatur, Georgia, you’re already seeing closing of the achievement gap.  Kids who are poor are leveling up.  And everybody is seeing real improvement, because it’s high-quality, early childhood education.

Study after study shows that the sooner children begin to learn in these high-quality settings, the better he or she does down the road, and we all end up saving money.  Unfortunately, today fewer than three in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week in additional income for these kinds of preschool programs.  And poor kids, who need it most, lack access.  And that lack of access can shadow them for the rest of their lives.  We all pay a price for that.

Every dollar we invest in early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on — boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing incidents of violent crime.

And again, I’m not the first person to focus on this. Governor Bentley has made this a priority in Alabama.  Governor Snyder is making it a priority in Michigan.  Governor Tomblin has made this a priority in West Virginia.  Even in a time of tight budgets, Republicans and Democrats are focused on high-quality early childhood education.  We want to make sure that we can be an effective partner in that process.

We should be able to do that for every child, everywhere — Democrat, Republican, blue state, red state — it shouldn’t matter.  All of us want our kids to grow up more likely to read and write and do math at grade level, to graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  That will be better for every state.  That will be better for this country.  That’s what high-quality early childhood education can deliver.  And I hope that you’re willing to partner with us to make that happen.

Let me just close with this.  There are always going to be areas where we have some genuine disagreement, here in Washington and in your respective states.  But there are more areas where we can do a lot more cooperating than I think we’ve seen over the last several years.  To do that, though, this town has to get past its obsession with focusing on the next election instead of the next generation.

All of us are elected officials.  All of us are concerned about our politics, both in our own party’s as well as the other party’s.  But at some point, we’ve got to do some governing.  And certainly what we can’t do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.  As I said in the State of the Union, the American people have worked hard and long to dig themselves out of one crisis; they don’t need us creating another one.  And unfortunately, that’s what we’ve been seeing too much out there.

The American people are out there every single day, meeting their responsibilities, giving it their all to provide for their families and their communities.  A lot of you are doing the same things in your respective states.  Well, we need that same kind of attitude here in Washington.  At the very least, the American people have a right to expect that from their representatives.

And so I look forward to working with all of you not just to strengthen our economy for the short term, but also to reignite what has always been the central premise of America’s economic engine, and that is that we build a strong, growing, thriving middle class where if you work hard in this country, no matter who you are, what you look like, you can make it; you can succeed.  That’s our goal, and I know that’s the goal of all of you as well.

So I look forward to our partnering.  And with that, what I want to do is clear out the press so we can take some questions. (Applause.)

11:40 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 27, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech at National Governors Association Meeting Challenges Governors to Invest in Education



President Obama Challenges Governors to Invest in Education

Source: WH, 2-27-12

President Obama meets with NGA (February 27, 2012)
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, President Obama challenged state governors to make sure all students in their schools today get the education and skills they need to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.

A majority of states will spend less on elementary and secondary schools in 2012 than they did last year, and more than 40 states cut higher education spending in 2011 — cuts that lead to higher tuition prices in our public colleges and universities.

But when our economy is struggling, the last place to make cuts is in education. Making sure that every student in our country graduates from high school prepared for college and a successful career is central to rebuilding our economy and securing a brighter future. And when students go on to pursue higher education, we should make sure they are able to pay for it.

“Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state as the decisions you make about where to invest,” President Obama told governors. “Budgets are about choices, so today I’m calling on you to choose to invest more in teachers, invest more in education, and invest more in our children and their future.”

The President’s education blueprint for an economy built to last outlines a series of proposals to support our students and future workers, including:

Investing in K-12 education: Continue funding successful programs like Race to the Top, which makes funds available on a competitive basis to states that implement reforms to improve student success; and Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, which helps expand access to high-quality early education programs. Offer more states flexibility to implement reforms without being hampered by No Child Left Behind mandates (11 states have already applied for and received this flexibility).

Training workers for jobs in industries looking to hire: Establish training programs at community colleges that equip workers for skilled positions in high-growth industries, thereby making sure businesses have the workers they need here in the United States instead of outsourcing those jobs overseas

Helping students and their families pay for college: Prevent student loan rates from doubling, make permanent the tax credit that provides up to $10,000 to help families cover the cost of college, and double the number of work study jobs over the next five years to help students who are working their way through school.

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Remarks by the President at National Governors Association Meeting

State Dining Room

11:30 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Please, everybody have a seat.  Have a seat.

Thank you, Joe, for the outstanding work you’re doing on behalf of the American people every day.  I want to thank all the members of my Cabinet and administration who are here today.  I want to thank Dave Heineman and Jack Markell for the outstanding leadership that they’ve shown as they’ve chaired and co-chaired the NGA.

I’m glad to see that everybody has recovered from the wild time we had last night.  (Laughter.)  It was wonderful to have all of you here.

And I always look forward to this event because governors are at the front line of America’s recovery. You see up close what’s working, what’s not working, and where we can take it.  And the thing that connects all of us — and no matter what part of the country we’re from and certainly no matter what party we belong to — is that we know what it means to govern, what it means to make tough choices during tough times, and hopefully to forge some common ground.  We’ve all felt the weight of big decisions and the impact that those decisions have on the people that we represent.

I first addressed this group three years ago and it was the moment, as Joe mentioned, when the economy was in a freefall.  Some of you were just coming into office at that time as well.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans were losing their jobs or their homes every month.  Businesses were closing their doors at a heartbreaking pace.  Our entire auto industry was on the verge of collapse and, all told, the prospects of us going into a full-blown depression were very real.

Today there’s no doubt that enormous challenges remain.  But the fact of the matter is that over the last two years American businesses have created 3.7 million new jobs.  Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s.  The auto industry is back.  Our recovery is gaining speed and the economy is getting strong.  And we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that we sustain this progress.

That means we’ve got to strengthen American manufacturing so that more and more good jobs and products are made here in America.  It means that we’ve got to develop new sources of American energy so that we’re less dependent on foreign oil and yearly spikes in gas prices.  And it means that we’ve got to make sure that every American is equipped with the skills, with the education that they need to compete for the jobs of tomorrow as well as the jobs of today.  And that’s what I want to talk to these governors a little bit about.

No issue will have a bigger impact on the future performance of our economy than education.  In the long run it’s going to depend — determine whether businesses stay here.  It will determine whether businesses are created here, whether businesses are hiring here.  And it will determine whether there’s going to be an abundance of good middle-class jobs in America.

Today, the unemployment rate for Americans with at least a college degree is about half the national average.  Their incomes are about twice as high as those who only have a high school diploma.  So this is what we should be focused on as a nation.  This is what we should be talking about and debating.  The countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.  That’s a simple fact.  And if we want America to continue to be number one and stay number one, we’ve got some work to do.

Now, in the last three years, the good news is we’ve made some important progress, working together.  We’ve broken through the traditional stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools.  And I think Arne has done an outstanding job of saying we’ve got to get past the old dogmas — whether it’s the dogmas on the liberal side or the conservative side — and figure out what works.  We’ve invested, but we’ve invested in reform.  And for less than one percent of what our nation spends on education each year, almost all of you have agreed to raise standards for teaching and learning.  And that’s the first time that’s happened in a generation.

We’ve also worked with all of you –- Democrats and Republicans –- to try to fix No Child Left Behind.  We said that if you’re willing to set higher, more honest standards then we will give you more flexibility to meet those standards.  Earlier this month I announced the first 11 states to get a waiver from No Child Left Behind, and I hope that we are going to be adding more states soon.

I believe education is an issue that is best addressed at the state level.  And governors are in the best position to have the biggest impact.  I realize that everybody is dealing with limited resources.  Trust me, I know something about trying to deal with tight budgets.  We’ve all faced some stark choices over the past several years.  But that is no excuse to lose sight of what matters most.  And the fact is that too many states are making cuts to education that I believe are simply too big.

Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest.  Budgets are about choices.  So today I’m calling on all of you:  Invest more in education.  Invest more in our children and in our future.  That does not mean you’ve got to invest in things that aren’t working.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense to break some china and move aggressively on reform.  But the fact of the matter is we don’t have to choose between resources and reform; we need resources and reform.

Now, there are two areas in education that demand our immediate focus.  First, we’ve just got to get more teachers into our classrooms.  Over the past four years, school districts across America have lost over 250,000 educators — 250,000 teachers, educators have been lost.  Think about that.  A quarter-million educators, responsible for millions of our students, all laid off when America has never needed them more.

Other countries are doubling down on education and their investment in teachers — and we should, too.  And each of us is here only because at some point in our lives a teacher changed our life trajectory.  The impact is often much bigger than even we realize.  One study found that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.  One teacher, one classroom.  And a great teacher offers potentially an escape for a child who is dreaming beyond his circumstances.  The point is, teachers matter, and all of us have to recognize that, and we’ve got to put our money behind that.

Now, we want to help you everyplace that we can.  At the federal level, we’ve already provided billions of dollars in funding to help keep hundreds of thousands of teachers in the classroom.  And a cornerstone of the jobs plan that I put forward in September — a chunk of which has gotten done, but a chunk of which remains undone — was to provide even more funding, so that you could prevent further layoffs and rehire teachers that had lost their jobs.  And I’d like to thank those of you in this room who voiced support for that effort.

Congress still is in a position to do the right thing.  They can keep more teachers in the classroom, but you’ve got to keep the pressure up on them to get this done.

The second area where we have to bring greater focus is higher education.  The jobs of the future are increasingly going to those with more than a high school degree.  And I have to make a point here.  When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree.  We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment.  And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.

We all want Americans getting those jobs of the future.  So we’re going to have to make sure that they’re getting the education that they need.  It starts, by the way, with just what kinds of expectation and ground rules we’re setting for kids in high school.  Right now, 21 states require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18 — 21 states.  That means 29 don’t.   I believe that’s the right thing to do, for us to make sure to send a message to our young people — you graduate from high school, at a minimum.  And I urge others to follow suit of those 21 states.

Now, for students that are ready for college, we’ve got to make sure that college is affordable.  Today, graduates who take out loans leave college owing an average of $25,000.  That’s a staggering amount for young people.  Americans now owe more in student loan debt than they do in credit card debt.  There’s so many Americans out there with so much to offer who are saddled with debt before they even start out in life.  And the very idea of owing that much money puts college out of reach for far too many families.

So this is a major problem that must be fixed.  I addressed it at the State of the Union.  We have a role to play here.  My grandfather got a chance to go to college because Americans and Congress decided that every returning veteran from World War II should be able to afford it.  My mother was able to raise two kids by herself while still going to college and getting an advanced degree because she was able to get grants and work-study while she was in school.  Michelle and I are only here today because of scholarships and student loans that gave us a good shot at a great education.  And it wasn’t easy to pay off these loans, but it sure wasn’t as hard as it is for a lot of kids today.

So my administration has tried to do our part by making sure that the student loan program puts students before banks, by increasing aid like the Pell grants for millions of students and their families, and by allowing students to cap their monthly loan payments at 10 percent of their income, which means that their repayment schedule is manageable.

Congress still needs to do its part by, first of all, keeping student interest rates low.  Right now, they are scheduled to double at the end of July if Congress does not act.  And that would be a real tragedy for an awful lot of families around the country.  They also need to extend the tuition tax credit for the middle class, protect Pell grants, and expand work-study programs.

But it’s not enough to just focus on student aid.  We can’t just keep on, at the federal level, subsidizing skyrocketing tuition.  If tuition is going up faster than inflation — faster, actually, than healthcare costs — then no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later we are going to run out of money.  So everybody else is going to have to do their part as well.  This is not just a matter of the federal government coming up with more and more money.

That means colleges and universities are going to have to help to make their tuition more affordable.  And I’ve put them on notice — if they are not taking some concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down.  We’ve got to incentivize better practices in terms of keeping costs under control.  And all of you have a role to play by making higher education a higher priority in your budgets.

Over two-thirds of students attend public colleges and universities where, traditionally, tuition has been affordable because of state investments.  And that’s something that every state takes pride in.  That’s the crown jewel, in fact, of our economic system — is, by far, we’ve got the best network of colleges, universities and community colleges in the world.

But more than 40 states have cut funding for higher education over the past year.  And this is just the peak of what has been a long-term trend in reduced state support for higher education.  And state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the past decade.

So my administration can do more, Congress can do more, colleges have to do more.  But unless all of you also do more, this problem will not get solved.  It can be done, though.

Jack O’Malley — where’s Jack — Martin.  Where’s Martin?  Sorry.  I was —

GOVERNOR O’MALLEY:  I thought my son was right here.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Right, right, right.

Martin in Maryland is doing some outstanding work on this front.  He worked with the legislature to keep tuition down by controlling costs and cutting spending on college campuses, and you’re seeing a real impact — from the flagship University of Maryland all the way down.  And a lot of you are starting to experiment with this as well.

We can’t allow higher education to be a luxury in this country.  It’s an economic imperative that every family in America has to be able to afford.  And frankly, I don’t think any of this should be a partisan issue.  All of us should be about giving every American who wants a chance to succeed that chance.  (Applause.)

So let me wrap up by saying a few weeks ago I held, right here in this room and in the adjoining room, one of my favorite events and that is the White House Science Fair.  We invited students from a lot of your states and they showcased projects that covered the full range of scientific discovery.

We had a group of kids from Texas, young Latino women, who came from the poorest section of Texas and yet were winning rocket competitions.  And they were so good because they could only afford one rocket, so they couldn’t test them and they had to get it just right.  (Laughter.)  And their parents ran bake sales just so they could travel to these events.

You had a young woman who was from Long Island, had been studying mussels and wanted to be an oceanographer, and won the Intel Science Award while she was homeless.  Her family had lost their home and she was living out of a car and out of her family’s — on her family’s couch, and yet still was able to stay focused and achieve what was just remarkable.

There was a kid — the kid who actually got the most attention was a young man named Joey Hudy of Arizona.  That’s because Joey let me fire off a extreme marshmallow canon.  (Laughter.)  We did it right here in this room.  We shot it from here.  We pumped it up — it almost hit that light.  (Laughter.)  I thought it was a lot of fun.  (Laughter.)  And while the canon was impressive, Joey left a bigger impression because he had already printed out his own business cards — he was 14-years-old.  And he was handing them out to everybody, including me.  (Laughter.)  He’s on our short list for a Cabinet post.  (Laughter.)

Under his name on each card was a simple motto:  “Don’t be bored, do something.”  Don’t be bored, do something.  Don’t be bored, make something.

All across this country there are kids like Joey who are dreaming big, and are doing things and making things.  And we want them to reach those heights.  They’re willing to work hard.  They are willing to dig deep to achieve.  And we’ve got a responsibility to give them a fair shot.  If we do, then I’m absolutely convinced that our future is going to be as bright as all of us want.

So this is going to be something that I want to collaborate with all of you on.  If you’ve got ideas about how we can make our education system work better, I want to hear them today, and Arne Duncan is going to want to hear them for the rest of the time that he’s Education Secretary and the rest of the time I’m President.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

11:47 A.M. EST

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