OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
- January 13, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on January 13, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on January 6, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 29, 2014
Source: WH, 12-19-14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:53 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. We’ve really got a full house today, huh? Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions. (Laughter.) But first let me say a little bit about this year.
In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America. And it has been. Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated. We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many. But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.
The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s. All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs. Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions. Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries. And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.
Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s. America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas. We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas. And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over. We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005. And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year. Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period. The uninsured rate is at a near record low. Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years. And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.
Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading. We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners. We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries. We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people.
And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way. And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.
The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part. But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy. Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real. We are better off.
I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors. Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined. We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come.
To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices. We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans. And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter. We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen. And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.
In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans. Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid. We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time. A new future is ready to be written. We’ve set the stage for this American moment. And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.
My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter. And I’m looking forward to it. But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout. I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family. So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year. I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.
And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions. And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico. There you go, Carrie.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today. What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack? And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie? Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me address the second question first. Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector. Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place. When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks. We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done. We’re not even close to where we need to be.
And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.
But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too. Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors. All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage.
We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.
So that’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks. Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks. Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?
So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues. We already have. We will continue to do so. But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this. They’re going to be costly. They’re going to be serious. We take them with the utmost seriousness. But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm. So let’s not get into that way of doing business.
Q Can you just say what the response would be to this attack? Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —
THE PRESIDENT: I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching. (Laughter.)
Q Will this be one of them?
THE PRESIDENT: I never release my full movie list.
But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know. The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack. I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco]. (Laughter.) I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.
They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.
More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates. Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West. And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage. That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.
Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need. Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.
And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe. Where you going to be?
THE PRESIDENT: Brussels.
Q Yes. Helping Politico start a new publication.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, congratulations.
Q I’ve been covering you since the beginning.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think —
Q It’s been a long road for the both of us.
THE PRESIDENT: I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico. (Laughter.)
Q I’ll take that as an endorsement.
THE PRESIDENT: The waffles are delicious there, by the way.
Cheryl Bolen. You’ve been naughty. (Laughter.) Cheryl, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform. And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year? Will you be putting out a new proposal? Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there? And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?
THE PRESIDENT: I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform. But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done. The tax area is one area where we can get things done. And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.
I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see. I’d like to see more simplicity in the system. I’d like to see more fairness in the system. With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers. That’s not fair.
There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance. We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States. In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes. I think that needs to be fixed.
So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important.
Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share. How we do that — the devil is in the details. And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward. I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.
One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years. (Audience member sneezes.) Bless you. We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems. We are way behind.
And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built. I’d like to see us work on that issue as well. Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system? When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform. Why not do the same with Cuba?
And if I could just follow up on North Korea. Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?
THE PRESIDENT: We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.
With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.
I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.
And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before. It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before. It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before. It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.
And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people.
I think it will happen in fits and starts. But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.
Q Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be. But change is going to come to Cuba. It has to. They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work. They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela. Those can’t be sustained. And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change.
But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific. It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen. And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I had a number of questions on Cuba as well. Appreciate that. I wanted to —
THE PRESIDENT: Do I have to write all these down? How many are there? (Laughter.) “A number” sounded intimidating.
Q As quick as I can. As quick as I can. I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.
THE PRESIDENT: Meaning? Be specific. What do you mean?
Q When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes. They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, so just general provocative activity.
Q Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them. I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks? When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up? Or did you ask about him? How he’s doing? People haven’t seen him in a while. Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?
THE PRESIDENT: All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here. (Laughter.) This is taking up a lot of time.
Q Okay, all right.
THE PRESIDENT: All right. So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration. It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place. I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.
I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations. So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy. And that could put significant strains on the relationship. But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy. And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not.
So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem. And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong. But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.
The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important.
My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time. And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man. Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood. He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight. (Laughter.)
And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine. (Laughter.) And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family. But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had.
I sort of forgot all the other questions. (Laughter.)
Q I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —
THE PRESIDENT: With respect to Congress? We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo. That’s codified in the Libertad Act. And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it. There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach. People will see how the actions we take unfold. And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress.
And I will certainly weigh in. I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in. But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away. I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.
Q I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana? Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that? And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea? Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?
THE PRESIDENT: I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options. They will be presented to me. I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.
With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards. I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years. I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people. But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.
Colleen McCain Nelson.
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: There you are.
Q You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change. But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda. And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively. Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda? Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?
THE PRESIDENT: I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress. As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done. I think the American people would like to see us get some things done. The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree. I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree.
If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me. If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no. And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions. But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done.
I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive. There’s no evidence of that. So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it. And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.
Immigration is the classic example. I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill. And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you. Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.
And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is: Pass bills. And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills.
Because both sides are going to have to compromise. On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off. And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.
All right. I think this is going to be our last question. Juliet Eilperin. There you go.
Q Thanks so much. So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project. I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers. And also, what do you see as the benefits? And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits. At issue in Keystone is not American oil. It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada. That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf. Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world.
So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through. And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here. And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States. It’s not. There’s a global oil market. It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers. It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.
Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs. Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens. There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf. Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project. But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.
And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless. If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that.
And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore. That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.
So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate. Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision.
But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.
In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices. But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market. And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.
Q And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll see what they do. We’ll take that up in the New Year.
Q Any New Year’s resolutions?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll ask — April, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Last question, I guess. (Laughter.) Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.” You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity. We’re ending 2014. What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?
THE PRESIDENT: Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office. The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American. They’re better off than they were.
The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists. And we’ve got more work to do on that front. I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery. That’s not an excuse for black folks. And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse. They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college. But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.
And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college. If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.
And we’ve seen some progress. The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results. We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time. We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college. In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population. But we’ve still got more work to go.
Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion.
The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.
And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them. Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action. Some of them will require congressional action. Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions.
But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had. These are not new phenomenon. The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations. And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.
In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly. One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts. We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms. And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.
The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people. I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith. And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions. Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should. Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around. But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems. It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying. I think that troubles everybody. So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.
And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times. It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping. And I understand that. But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better. The economy has gotten better. Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better. We know more about how to educate our kids. We solved problems. Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it. You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed.
And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence. America knows how to solve problems. And when we work together, we can’t be stopped.
And now I’m going to go on vacation. Mele Kalikimaka, everybody. (Laughter.) Mahalo. Thank you, everybody.
2:45 P.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 19, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 13, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 11, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 7, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 7, 2014
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Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 4, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 27, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 12, 2014
Source: WH, 10-11-14
WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President made the case for why it’s past time to raise the minimum wage. Increasing the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would benefit 28 million Americans, and make our economy stronger. While Republicans in Congress have blocked this commonsense proposal, a large and growing coalition of state and local leaders and owners of businesses large and small have answered the President’s call and raised wages for their residents and employees. This progress is important, but there is more that can be done. No American who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty. That’s why the President will continue to push Congress to take action and give America its well-deserved raise.
The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, October 11, 2014.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
The White House
October 11, 2014
Hi, everybody. For the first time in more than 6 years, the unemployment rate is below 6%. Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have created more than 10 million new jobs. That’s the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job creation in our history.
But while our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since the ‘90s, the typical family hasn’t seen a raise since the ‘90s also. Folks are feeling as squeezed as ever. That’s why I’m going to keep pushing policies that will create more jobs faster and raise wages faster – policies like rebuilding our infrastructure, making sure women are paid fairly, and making it easier for young people to pay off their student loans.
But one of the simplest and fastest ways to start helping folks get ahead is by raising the minimum wage.
Ask yourself: could you live on $14,500 a year? That’s what someone working full-time on the minimum wage makes. If they’re raising kids, that’s below the poverty line. And that’s not right. A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.
Right now, a worker on the federal minimum wage earns $7.25 an hour. It’s time to raise that to $10.10 an hour.
Raising the federal minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents an hour, or ten-ten, would benefit 28 million American workers. 28 million. And these aren’t just high schoolers on their first job. The average worker who would benefit is 35 years old. Most low-wage workers are women. And that extra money would help them pay the bills and provide for their families. It also means they’ll have more money to spend at local businesses – which grows the economy for everyone.
But Congress hasn’t voted to raise the minimum wage in seven years. Seven years. And when it got a vote earlier this year, Republicans flat-out voted “no.” That’s why, since the first time I asked Congress to give America a raise, 13 states, 21 cities and D.C. have gone around Congress to raise their workers’ wages. Five more states have minimum wage initiatives on the ballot next month. More companies are choosing to raise their workers’ wages. A recent survey shows that a majority of small business owners support a gradual increase to ten-ten an hour, too. And I’ve done what I can on my own by requiring federal contractors to pay their workers at least ten-ten an hour.
On Friday, a coalition of citizens – including business leaders, working moms, labor unions, and more than 65 mayors – told Republicans in Congress to stop blocking a raise for millions of hard-working Americans. Because we believe that in America, nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. And I’m going to keep up this fight until we win. Because America deserves a raise right now. And America should forever be a place where your hard work is rewarded.
Thanks, and have a great weekend.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 11, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 6, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 5, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 5, 2014
Source: WH, 10-3-14
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 —
THE PRESIDENT: Excellent.
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.
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.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
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.)
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 3, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 6, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 3, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 24, 2014
Source: WH, 8-1-14
2:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday. I thought I’d take some questions, but first, let me say a few words about the economy.
This morning, we learned that our economy created over 200,000 new jobs in July. That’s on top of about 300,000 new jobs in June. So we are now in a six-month streak with at least 200,000 new jobs each month. That’s the first time that has happened since 1997. Over the past year, we’ve added more jobs than any year since 2006. And all told, our businesses have created 9.9 million new jobs over the past 53 months. That’s the longest streak of private sector job creation in our history.
And as we saw on Wednesday, the economy grew at a strong pace in the spring. Companies are investing. Consumers are spending. American manufacturing, energy, technology, autos — all are booming. And thanks to the decisions that we’ve made, and the grit and resilience of the American people, we’ve recovered faster and come farther from the recession than almost any other advanced country on Earth.
So the good news is the economy clearly is getting stronger. Things are getting better. Our engines are revving a little bit louder. And the decisions that we make right now can sustain and keep that growth and momentum going.
Unfortunately, there are a series of steps that we could be taking to maintain momentum, and perhaps even accelerate it; there are steps that we could be taking that would result in more job growth, higher wages, higher incomes, more relief for middle-class families. And so far, at least, in Congress, we have not seen them willing or able to take those steps.
I’ve been pushing for common-sense ideas like rebuilding our infrastructure in ways that are sustained over many years and support millions of good jobs and help businesses compete. I’ve been advocating on behalf of raising the minimum wage, making it easier for working folks to pay off their student loans; fair pay, paid leave. All these policies have two things in common: All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure, and all of them so far have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress. That’s why my administration keeps taking whatever actions we can take on our own to help working families.
Now, it’s good that Congress was able to pass legislation to strengthen the VA. And I want to thank the chairmen and ranking members who were involved in that. It’s good that Congress was able to at least fund transportation projects for a few more months before leaving town — although it falls far short of the kind of infrastructure effort that we need that would actually accelerate the economy. But for the most part, the big-ticket items, the things that would really make a difference in the lives of middle-class families, those things just are not getting done.
Let’s just take a recent example: Immigration. We all agree that there’s a problem that needs to be solved in a portion of our southern border. And we even agree on most of the solutions. But instead of working together — instead of focusing on the 80 percent where there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans, between the administration and Congress — House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can’t pass the Senate and that if it were to pass the Senate I would veto. They know it.
They’re not even trying to actually solve the problem. This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today — just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month. And this is on an issue that they all insisted had to be a top priority.
Now, our efforts administratively so far have helped to slow the tide of child migrants trying to come to our country. But without additional resources and help from Congress, we’re just not going to have the resources we need to fully solve the problem. That means while they’re out on vacation I’m going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge — with or without Congress.
And yesterday, even though they’ve been sitting on a bipartisan immigration bill for over a year, House Republicans suggested that since they don’t expect to actually pass a bill that I can sign, that I actually should go ahead and act on my own to solve the problem. Keep in mind that just a few days earlier, they voted to sue me for acting on my own. And then when they couldn’t pass a bill yesterday, they put out a statement suggesting I should act on my own because they couldn’t pass a bill.
So immigration has not gotten done. A student loan bill that would help folks who have student loan debt consolidate and refinance at lower rates — that didn’t pass. The transportation bill that they did pass just gets us through the spring, when we should actually be planning years in advance. States and businesses are raising the minimum wage for their workers because this Congress is failing to do so.
Even basic things like approving career diplomats for critical ambassadorial posts aren’t getting done. Last night, for purely political reasons, Senate Republicans, for a certain period of time, blocked our new ambassador to Russia. It raised such an uproar that finally they went ahead and let our Russian ambassador pass — at a time when we are dealing every day with the crisis in Ukraine.
They’re still blocking our ambassador to Sierra Leone, where there’s currently an Ebola outbreak. They’re blocking our ambassador to Guatemala, even as they demand that we do more to stop the flow of unaccompanied children from Guatemala. There are a lot of things that we could be arguing about on policy — that’s what we should be doing as a democracy — but we shouldn’t be having an argument about placing career diplomats with bipartisan support in countries around the world where we have to have a presence.
So the bottom line is this: We have come a long way over the last five and a half years. Our challenges are nowhere near as daunting as they were when I first came into office. But the American people demand and deserve a strong and focused effort on the part of all of us to keep moving the country forward and to focus on their concerns. And the fact is we could be much further along and we could be doing even better, and the economy could be even stronger, and more jobs could be created if Congress would do the job that the people sent them here to do.
And I will not stop trying to work with both parties to get things moving faster for middle-class families and those trying to get into the middle class. When Congress returns next month, my hope is, is that instead of simply trying to pass partisan message bills on party lines that don’t actually solve problems, they’re going to be willing to come together to at least focus on some key areas where there’s broad agreement. After all that we’ve had to overcome, our Congress should stop standing in the way of our country’s success.
So with that, let me take a couple of questions. And I will start with Roberta Rampton of Reuters.
Q Thanks. I want to ask about the situation in the Middle East. And why do you think Israel should embrace a cease-fire in Gaza when one of its soldiers appears to have been abducted and when Hamas continues to use its network of tunnels to launch attacks? And also, have you seen Israel act at all on your call to do more to protect civilians?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to note that we have — and I have — unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third almost minutes after a cease-fire had been announced. And the U.N. has condemned them as well.
And I want to make sure that they are listening: If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible.
I have been very clear throughout this crisis that Israel has a right to defend itself. No country can tolerate missiles raining down on its cities and people having to rush to bomb shelters every 20 minutes or half hour. No country can or would tolerate tunnels being dug under their land that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.
And so, not only have we been supportive of Israel in its right to defend itself, but in very concrete terms — for example, in support for the Iron Dome program that has intercepted rockets that are firing down on Israeli cities — we’ve been trying to cooperate as much as we can to make sure that Israel is able to protect its citizens.
Now, at the same time, we’ve also been clear that innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them. A cease-fire was one way in which we could stop the killing, to step back and to try to resolve some of the underlying issues that have been building up over quite some time. Israel committed to that 72-hour cease-fire, and it was violated. And trying to put that back together is going to be challenging, but we will continue to make those efforts.
And let me take this opportunity, by the way, to give Secretary John Kerry credit. He has been persistent. He has worked very hard. He has endured on many occasions really unfair criticism simply to try to get to the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza can be addressed.
We’re going to keep working towards that. It’s going to take some time. I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment.
And it’s not particularly relevant whether a particular leader in Hamas ordered this abduction. The point is, is that when they sign onto a cease-fire they’re claiming to speak for all the Palestinian factions. And if they don’t have control of them, and just moments after a cease-fire is signed you have Israeli soldiers being killed and captured, then it’s hard for the Israelis to feel confident that a cease-fire can actually be honored.
I’m in constant consultation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Our national security team is in constant communication with the Israel military. I want to see everything possible done to make sure that Palestinian civilians are not being killed. And it is heartbreaking to see what’s happening there, and I think many of us recognize the dilemma we have. On the one hand, Israel has a right to defend itself and it’s got to be able to get at those rockets and those tunnel networks. On the other hand, because of the incredibly irresponsible actions on the part of Hamas to oftentimes house these rocket launchers right in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, we end up seeing people who had nothing to do with these rockets ending up being hurt.
Part of the reason why we’ve been pushing so hard for a cease-fire is precisely because it’s hard to reconcile Israel’s legitimate need to defend itself with our concern with those civilians. And if we can pause the fighting, then it’s possible that we may be able to arrive at a formula that spares lives and also ensures Israel’s security. But it’s difficult. And I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.
Q Mr. President, like that cease-fire, you’ve called for diplomatic solutions not only in Israel and Gaza but also in Ukraine, in Iraq, to very little effect so far. Has the United States of America lost its influence in the world? Have you lost yours?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, this is a common theme that folks bring up. Apparently people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on Earth, still does not control everything around the world. And so our diplomatic efforts often take time. They often will see progress and then a step backwards. That’s been true in the Middle East. That’s been true in Europe. That’s been true in Asia. That’s the nature of world affairs. It’s not neat, and it’s not smooth.
But if you look at, for example, Ukraine, we have made progress in delivering on what we said we would do. We can’t control how Mr. Putin thinks. But what we can do is say to Mr. Putin, if you continue on the path of arming separatists with heavy armaments that the evidence suggests may have resulted in 300 innocent people on a jet dying, and that violates international law and undermines the integrity — territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, then you’re going to face consequences that will hurt your country.
And there was a lot of skepticism about our ability to coordinate with Europeans for a strong series of sanctions. And each time we have done what we said we would do, including this week, when we put in place sanctions that have an impact on key sectors of the Russian economy — their energy, their defense, their financial systems.
It hasn’t resolved the problem yet. I spoke to Mr. Putin this morning, and I indicated to him, just as we will do what we say we do in terms of sanctions, we’ll also do what we say we do in terms of wanting to resolve this issue diplomatically if he takes a different position. If he respects and honors the right of Ukrainians to determine their own destiny, then it’s possible to make sure that Russian interests are addressed that are legitimate, and that Ukrainians are able to make their own decisions, and we can resolve this conflict and end some of the bloodshed.
But the point is, though, Bill, that if you look at the 20th century and the early part of this century, there are a lot of conflicts that America doesn’t resolve. That’s always been true. That doesn’t mean we stop trying. And it’s not a measure of American influence on any given day or at any given moment that there are conflicts around the world that are difficult. The conflict in Northern Ireland raged for a very, very long time until finally something broke, where the parties decided that it wasn’t worth killing each other.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on even longer than you’ve been reporting. (Laughter.) And I don’t think at any point was there a suggestion somehow that America didn’t have influence just because we weren’t able to finalize an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
You will recall that situations like Kosovo and Bosnia raged on for quite some time, and there was a lot more death and bloodshed than there has been so far in the Ukrainian situation before it ultimately did get resolved.
And so I recognize with so many different issues popping up around the world, sometimes it may seem as if this is an aberration or it’s unusual. But the truth of the matter is, is that there’s a big world out there, and that as indispensable as we are to try to lead it, there’s still going to be tragedies out there and there are going to be conflicts. And our job is to just make sure that we continue to project what’s right, what’s just, and that we’re building coalitions of like-minded countries and partners in order to advance not only our core security interests but also the interests of the world as a whole.
Q Do you think you could have done more?
THE PRESIDENT: On which one?
Q On any of them? Ukraine?
THE PRESIDENT: Well look, I think, Bill, that the nature of being President is that you’re always asking yourself what more can you do. But with respect to, let’s say, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, this administration invested an enormous amount to try to bring the parties together around a framework for peace and a two-state solution. John Kerry invested an enormous amount of time. In the end, it’s up to the two parties to make a decision. We can lead them to resolve some of the technical issues and to show them a path, but they’ve got to want it.
With respect to Ukraine, I think that we have done everything that we can to support the Ukrainian government and to deter Russia from moving further into Ukraine. But short of going to war, there are going to be some constraints in terms of what we can do if President Putin and Russia are ignoring what should be their long-term interests.
Right now, what we’ve done is impose sufficient costs on Russia that, objectively speaking, they should — President Putin should want to resolve this diplomatically, get these sanctions lifted, get their economy growing again, and have good relations with Ukraine. But sometimes people don’t always act rationally, and they don’t always act based on their medium- or long-term interests. That can’t deter us, though. We’ve just got to stay at it.
Q Mr. President, Republicans point to some of your executive orders as reason, they say, that they can’t trust you to implement legislation that they pass. Even if you don’t buy that argument, do you hold yourself totally blameless in the inability it appears to reach agreement with the Republican-led House?
THE PRESIDENT: Wendell, let’s just take the recent example of immigration. A bipartisan bill passed out of the Senate, co-sponsored by not just Democrats but some very conservative Republicans who recognize that the system currently is broken and if, in fact we put more resources on the border, provide a path in which those undocumented workers who’ve been living here for a long time and may have ties here are coming out of the shadows, paying their taxes, paying a fine, learning English — if we fix the legal immigration system so it’s more efficient, if we are attracting young people who may have studied here to stay here and create jobs here, that that all is going to be good for the economy, it’s going to reduce the deficit, it might have forestalled some of the problems that we’re seeing now in the Rio Grande Valley with these unaccompanied children.
And so we have a bipartisan bill, Wendell, bipartisan agreement supported by everybody from labor to the evangelical community to law enforcement. So the argument isn’t between me and the House Republicans. It’s between the House Republicans and Senate Republicans, and House Republicans and the business community, and House Republicans and the evangelical community. I’m just one of the people they seem to disagree with on this issue.
So that’s on the comprehensive bill. So now we have a short-term crisis with respect to the Rio Grande Valley. They say we need more resources, we need tougher border security in this area where these unaccompanied children are showing up. We agree. So we put forward a supplemental to give us the additional resources and funding to do exactly what they say we should be doing, and they can’t pass the bill. They can’t even pass their own version of the bill. So that’s not a disagreement between me and the House Republicans; that’s a disagreement between the House Republicans and the House Republicans.
The point is that on a range of these issues, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s reducing the deficit, whether it’s rebuilding our infrastructure, we have consistently put forward proposals that in previous years and previous administrations would not have been considered radical or left wing; they would have been considered pretty sensible, mainstream approaches to solving problems.
I include under that, by the way, the Affordable Care Act. That’s a whole other conversation.
And in circumstances where even basic, common-sense, plain, vanilla legislation can’t pass because House Republicans consider it somehow a compromise of their principles, or giving Obama a victory, then we’ve got to take action. Otherwise, we’re not going to be making progress on the things that the American people care about.
Q On the border supplemental — can you act alone?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to have to act alone because we don’t have enough resources. We’ve already been very clear — we’ve run out of money. And we are going to have to reallocate resources in order to just make sure that some of the basic functions that have to take place down there — whether it’s making sure that these children are properly housed, or making sure we’ve got enough immigration judges to process their cases — that those things get done. We’re going to have to reallocate some resources.
But the broader point, Wendell, is that if, in fact, House Republicans are concerned about me acting independently of Congress — despite the fact that I’ve taken fewer executive actions than my Republican predecessor or my Democratic predecessor before that, or the Republican predecessor before that — then the easiest way to solve it is passing legislation. Get things done.
On the supplemental, we agreed on 80 percent of the issues. There were 20 percent of the issues that perhaps there were disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. As I said to one Republican colleague who was down here that I was briefing about some national security issues, why wouldn’t we just go ahead and pass the 80 percent that we agree on and we’ll try to work to resolve the differences on the other 20 percent? Why wouldn’t we do that? And he didn’t really have a good answer for it.
So there’s no doubt that I can always do better on everything, including making additional calls to Speaker Boehner, and having more conversations with some of the House Republican leadership. But in the end, the challenge I have right now is that they are not able to act even on what they say their priorities are, and they’re not able to work and compromise even with Senate Republicans on certain issues. And they consider what have been traditionally Republican-supported initiatives, they consider those as somehow a betrayal of the cause.
Take the example of the Export-Import Bank. This is an interesting thing that’s happened. This is a program in which we help to provide financing to sell American goods and products around the world. Every country does this. It’s traditionally been championed by Republicans. For some reason, right now the House Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t do this — which means that when American companies go overseas and they’re trying to close a sale on selling Boeing planes, for example, or a GE turbine, or some other American product, that has all kinds of subcontractors behind it and is creating all kinds of jobs, and all sorts of small businesses depend on that sale, and that American company is going up against a German company or a Chinese company, and the Chinese and the German company are providing financing and the American company isn’t, we may lose that sale.
When did that become something that Republicans opposed? It would be like me having a car dealership for Ford, and the Toyota dealership offers somebody financing and I don’t. We will lose business and we’ll lose jobs if we don’t pass it.
So there’s some big issues where I understand why we have differences. On taxes, Republicans want to maintain some corporate loopholes I think need to be closed because I think that we should be giving tax breaks to families that are struggling with child care or trying to save for a college education. On health care, obviously their view is, is that we should not be helping folks get health care, even though it’s through the private marketplace. My view is, is that in a country as wealthy as ours, we can afford to make sure that everybody has access to affordable care.
Those are legitimate policy arguments. But getting our ambassadors confirmed? These are career diplomats, not political types. Making sure that we pass legislation to strengthen our borders and put more folks down there? Those shouldn’t be controversial. And I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of where I wouldn’t welcome some reasonable efforts to actually get a bill passed out of Congress that I could sign.
Last question, Michelle Kosinski.
Q You made the point that in certain difficult conflicts in the past, both sides had to reach a point where they were tired of the bloodshed. Do you think that we are actually far from that point right now? And is it realistic to try to broker a cease-fire right now when there are still tunnel operations allowed to continue? Is that going to cause a change of approach from this point forward?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind that the cease-fire that had been agreed to would have given Israel the capability to continue to dismantle these tunnel networks, but the Israelis can dismantle these tunnel networks without going into major population centers in Gaza. So I think the Israelis are entirely right that these tunnel networks need to be dismantled. There is a way of doing that while still reducing the bloodshed.
You are right that in past conflicts, sometimes people have to feel deeply the costs. Anybody who has been watching some of these images I’d like to think should recognize the costs. You have children who are getting killed. You have women, defenseless, who are getting killed. You have Israelis whose lives are disrupted constantly and living in fear. And those are costs that are avoidable if we’re able to get a cease-fire that preserves Israel’s ability to defend itself and gives it the capacity to have an assurance that they’re not going to be constantly threatened by rocket fire in the future, and, conversely, an agreement that recognizes the Palestinian need to be able to make a living and the average Palestinian’s capacity to live a decent life.
But it’s hard. It’s going to be hard to get there. I think that there’s a lot of anger and there’s a lot of despair, and that’s a volatile mix. But we have to keep trying.
And it is — Bill asked earlier about American leadership. Part of the reason why America remains indispensable, part of the essential ingredient in American leadership is that we’re willing to plunge in and try, where other countries don’t bother trying. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that in all these crises that have been mentioned, there may be some tangential risks to the United States. In some cases, as in Iraq and ISIS, those are dangers that have to be addressed right now, and we have to take them very seriously. But for the most part, these are not — the rockets aren’t being fired into the United States. The reason we are concerned is because we recognize we’ve got some special responsibilities.
We have to have some humility about what we can and can’t accomplish. We have to recognize that our resources are finite, and we’re coming out of a decade of war and our military has been stretched very hard, as has our budget. Nevertheless, we try. We go in there and we make an effort.
And when I see John Kerry going out there and trying to broker a cease-fire, we should all be supporting him. There shouldn’t be a bunch of complaints and second-guessing about, well, it hasn’t happened yet, or nitpicking before he’s had a chance to complete his efforts. Because, I tell you what, there isn’t any other country that’s going in there and making those efforts.
And more often than not, as a consequence of our involvement, we get better outcomes — not perfect outcomes, not immediate outcomes, but we get better outcomes. And that’s going to be true with respect to the Middle East. That’s going to be true with respect to Ukraine. That’s going to be certainly true with respect to Iraq.
And I think it’s useful for me to end by just reminding folks that, in my first term, if I had a press conference like this, typically, everybody would want to ask about the economy and how come jobs weren’t being created, and how come the housing market is still bad, and why isn’t it working. Well, you know what, what we did worked. And the economy is better. And when I say that we’ve just had six months of more than 200,000 jobs that hasn’t happened in 17 years that shows you the power of persistence. It shows you that if you stay at it, eventually we make some progress. All right?
Q What about John Brennan?
Q The Africa summit — Ebola?
THE PRESIDENT: I thought that you guys were going to ask me how I was going to spend my birthday. What happened to the happy birthday thing?
Q Happy birthday.
Q What about John Brennan?
Q Africa summit?
THE PRESIDENT: I will address two points. I’ll address —
Q And Flight 17?
THE PRESIDENT: Hold on, guys. Come on. There’s just —
Q And Africa.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re not that pent up. I’ve been giving you questions lately.
On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.
I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.
With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.
I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.
But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.
And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.
Q Mr. President —
THE PRESIDENT: Now, I gave you a question.
Q All right.
Q The summit — the U.S.-Africa —
THE PRESIDENT: We’ve got a U.S.-Africa Summit coming up next week. It is going to be an unprecedented gathering of African leaders. The importance of this for America needs to be understood. Africa is one of the fastest-growing continents in the world. You’ve got six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in Africa. You have all sorts of other countries like China and Brazil and India deeply interested in working with Africa — not to extract natural resources alone, which traditionally has been the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world — but now because Africa is growing and you’ve got thriving markets and you’ve got entrepreneurs and extraordinary talent among the people there.
And Africa also happens to be one of the continents where America is most popular and people feel a real affinity for our way of life. And we’ve made enormous progress over the last several years in not just providing traditional aid to Africa, helping countries that are suffering from malnutrition or helping countries that are suffering from AIDS, but rather partnering and thinking about how can we trade more and how can we do business together. And that’s the kind of relationship that Africa is looking for.
And I’ve had conversations over the last several months with U.S. businesses — some of the biggest U.S. businesses in the world — and they say, Africa, that’s one of our top priorities; we want to do business with those folks, and we think that we can create U.S. jobs and send U.S. exports to Africa. But we’ve got to be engaged, and so this gives us a chance to do that. It also gives us a chance to talk to Africa about security issues — because, as we’ve seen, terrorist networks try to find places where governance is weak and security structures are weak. And if we want to keep ourselves safe over the long term, then one of the things that we can do is make sure that we are partnering with some countries that really have pretty effective security forces and have been deploying themselves in peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts in Africa. And that, ultimately, can save us and our troops and our military a lot of money if we’ve got strong partners who are able to deal with conflicts in these regions.
So it’s going to be a terrific conference. I won’t lie to you, traffic will be bad here in Washington. (Laughter.) I know that everybody has been warned about that, but we are really looking forward to this and I think it’s going to be a great success.
Now, the last thing I’m going to say about this, because I know that it’s been on people’s minds, is the issue of Ebola. This is something that we take very seriously. As soon as there’s an outbreak anywhere in the world of any disease that could have significant effects, the CDC is in communication with the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies to try to make sure that we’ve got an appropriate response.
This has been a more aggressive Ebola outbreak than we’ve seen in the past. But keep in mind that it is still affecting parts of three countries, and we’ve got some 50 countries represented at this summit. We are doing two things with respect to the summit itself. We’re taking the appropriate precautions. Folks who are coming from these countries that have even a marginal risk or an infinitesimal risk of having been exposed in some fashion, we’re making sure we’re doing screening on that end — as they leave the country. We’ll do additional screening when they’re here. We feel confident that the procedures that we’ve put in place are appropriate.
More broadly, the CDC and our various health agencies are going to be working very intently with the World Health Organization and some of our partner countries to make sure that we can surge some resources down there and organization to these countries that are pretty poor and don’t have a strong public health infrastructure so that we can start containing the problem.
Keep in mind that Ebola is not something that is easily transmitted. That’s why, generally, outbreaks dissipate. But the key is identifying, quarantining, isolating those who contract it and making sure that practices are in place that avoid transmission. And it can be done, but it’s got to be done in an organized, systematic way, and that means that we’re going to have to help these countries accomplish that.
All right? Okay.
Q Happy Birthday, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: There you go, April. (Laughter.) That’s what I was talking about — somebody finally wished me happy birthday — although it isn’t until Monday, you’re right.
Thank you so much.
END 3:34 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 1, 2014