President Barack Obama kicked off the second round of seven major economic policy speeches this summer today at the Amazon Fulfillment centre in
Chattanooga, Tenn.Last week’s big speech came at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., where he framed the debate for the upcoming series of budget battles over the debt ceiling and continuing resolution this fall.
In today’s speech, he announced a plan for a new so-called “grand bargain” — one that aims to cut the corporate tax rate, while using billions of dollars in revenue generated in business tax overhaul to fund a job-creation program.
Republicans have already panned the plan and the speech. In the ongoing battle, Obama again chided the proverbial Washington for “taking its eye of the ball” on the subject of the economy and focusing on “phony scandals.”
“If folks in Washington want a ‘grand bargain,’ how about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs?” Obama said.
Here’s the full text of Obama’s speech, according to prepared remarks from the White House:
Hello, Chattanooga! It’s great to be back in Tennessee, and it’s great to be here at Amazon. Thank you, Lydia, for that introduction and for sharing your story. I just finished getting a tour of a very small part of this massive facility. It’s the size of 28 football fields. Last year, during the busiest day of the Christmas rush, customers around the world ordered more than 300 items from Amazon every second – many of them travelling through this building. So it’s kind of like the North Pole of the South.
Before we start, I want to recognise your general manager, Mike Thomas; my tour guide and your Vice President, Dave Clark; the mayor of Chattanooga, Andy Berke; and Congressman Jim Cooper. Thank you all for being here.
I’ve come here today to talk a little more about something I laid out last week, and that’s what we need to do as a country to secure a better bargain for the middle class – a national strategy to make sure everyone who works hard has a chance to succeed in the 21st century economy.
Over the past four and a half years, we’ve been fighting our way back from a devastating recession that cost millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, and their savings – a recession that laid bare the long erosion of middle-class security.
Together, we took on a broken health care system. We invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil. We changed a tax code that had become tilted in favour of the wealthiest at the expense of working families. We saved the auto industry, and thanks to GM and the UAW working together to bring jobs back to America, 1,800 autoworkers in Spring Hill are on the job today in what was a once-closed plant.
Today, our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs over the last 40 months. This year, we’re off to our best private-sector job growth since 1999. We now sell more products made in America to the rest of the world than ever before. We produce more renewable energy than ever, and more natural gas than anyone. Health care costs are growing at the slowest rate in 50 years. And our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.
Thanks to the grit and resilience of the American people, we’ve cleared away the rubble from the financial crisis, and begun to lay a new foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth – the foundation required to make this century another American century.
But as any middle-class family will tell you, we’re not where we need to be yet. Even before the crisis hit, we were living through a decade where a few at the top were doing better and better, while most families were working harder and harder just to get by.
Reversing this trend must be Washington’s highest priority. It’s certainly mine. But for most of this year, an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals have shifted focus from what we need to do to shore up the middle class. And as Washington heads towards another budget debate, the stakes could not be higher.
That’s why I’m visiting cities and towns like this – to lay out my ideas for how we can build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America. A good job with good wages. A good education. A home to call your own. Affordable health care that’s there for you when you get sick. A secure retirement even if you’re not rich. And more chances for folks to earn their way into the middle class as long as they’re willing to work for it.
I’ve come to Chattanooga today to talk about that first and most important cornerstone of a middle-class life: a good job in a durable, growing industry. But the truth is, each of these cornerstones is about jobs. Preparing our children and our workers for the global competition they’ll face – that’s about jobs. A housing finance system that makes it easier and safer to buy and build new homes – that’s about jobs. Health care that frees you from the fear of starting your own business – that’s about jobs. And retirement benefits speak to the quality of our jobs.
And jobs are about something more than a statistic or a headline. In America, we’ve never just defined having a job as having a paycheck. A job is a source of pride and dignity; the way you support your family; the proof that you’re doing the right thing and meeting your responsibilities and contributing to the fabric of your community.
So we should be doing everything we can as a country to create more good jobs that pay decent wages. Period. And the problem is not a lack of ideas. Plenty of independent economists, business owners, and people from both parties agree on what we have to do to create good jobs. You’ve heard them debated again and again these past few years. I proposed many of these ideas two years ago in the American Jobs Act. Some were passed by Congress. But most of them weren’t, even if they’re ideas that have historically had Republican support.
Putting people back to work rebuilding America. Equipping our kids and our workers with the best skills and education. Leading the world in the scientific research that paves the way for new jobs in new industries. Accelerating our clean energy and natural gas revolutions. Fixing a broken immigration system with reform that independent economists say will boost our economy by more than trillion dollars. If we don’t make these investments and reforms, we might as well throw up the white flag while the rest of the world forges ahead in a global economy. And that does nothing to help the middle class.
So today, I’ve come here to offer a framework that might help break through the political logjam in Washington and get some of these proven ideas moving. But first, let me briefly outline the areas in which we need to focus if we want to create good jobs that pay good wages in durable industries – areas that will fuel our future growth.
Number one: jobs in American manufacturing. Over the past four years, for the first time since the 1990s, the number of manufacturing jobs hasn’t gone down; it’s gone up. Now we have to build on that progress. Let’s offer new tax incentives for manufacturers that bring jobs back to America, and new tax credits so communities hit hardest by plant closures can attract new investment. In my State of the Union Address, I also asked Congress to build on a successful pilot program and create 15 manufacturing innovation institutes that connect businesses, universities, and federal agencies to turn communities left behind by global competition into global centres of high-tech jobs. Today, I’m asking Congress to build on the bipartisan support for this idea and triple that number to 45 – creating a network of these hubs and guaranteeing that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.
Number two: jobs rebuilding our infrastructure. Let’s put more construction workers back on the job doing the work America needs done – vital projects our businesses need, like widening Route 27 here in Chattanooga, or the Jacksonville Port I visited last week; and projects vital to our national pride, like the one we’re breaking ground on this week at the St. Louis Arch. Congress should pass my “Fix-It-First” plan to put people to work immediately on our most urgent repairs, like the 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare. And we should partner with the private sector to upgrade what growing, 21st-century businesses like Amazon need most: modern air traffic control systems to keep planes running on time, modern power grids and pipelines to survive a storm, modern schools to prepare our kids for the jobs of tomorrow.
Number three: we’ll keep creating good jobs in wind, solar, and natural gas that are reducing energy costs, reducing dangerous carbon pollution, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Now is not the time to gut the investments in American technology that have brought us to this point – now is the time to double down on renewables, and biofuels, and electric vehicles, and the research that will shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. And since the cheaper cost of natural gas is a huge boost to our businesses, we should develop even more, as long as we do it in a way that protects our air and water for our children and future generations.
Number four: jobs exporting our goods around the world. One year after I signed a new trade agreement with Korea, our Big Three automakers were selling 18% more cars there. Now we have to help more of our businesses do the same thing. I’m asking Congress for the authority to negotiate the best trade deals possible for our workers along with robust training and assistance measures to make sure our workers have the support and skills they need for good jobs. We’ll also sharpen our competitive edge in the global job marketplace. Two years ago, we created SelectUSA, a coordinated effort to attract foreign companies looking to invest and create jobs. Today I’m directing my Cabinet to expand these efforts, and this October, I’ll bring business leaders from around the world, and connect them with state and local leaders who are ready to prove there’s no better place to do business than right here in America.
Number five: helping the more than four million long-term unemployed Americans. Many lost their jobs in the recession through no fault of their own. And even though they’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, they’ve been out of work so long that employers won’t give their application a fair look. I’m challenging CEOs to do more to help these Americans get back on their feet, and this fall, I’ll bring together the CEOs and companies that are putting in place the best practices for recruiting, training, and hiring workers who’ve been seeking work for too long.
I’ve also called on our businesses to do more for their workers. A good example is what you’re doing at Amazon with your “Career Choice Program” that pays 95% of the tuition for employees who want to earn skills in fields with high demand, like computer-aided design and nursing. Offering training programs, health care and retirement plans, or paying better wages isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s actually good for the bottom line. One recent study shows that when a company makes the list of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America,” its share price outperforms its competitors. And because no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. That means more money in consumers’ pockets, and more business for companies like Amazon.
Like I said – we’re not lacking for ideas. We’re just lacking for action. And for much of the past two years, Washington has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to the middle class. A growing number of Republican Senators are trying to get things done, but rather than keep focus on what should be our priority – a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – we’ve seen a faction of Republicans in Congress hurt a fragile recovery by suggesting they wouldn’t pay the very bills Congress rang up, and threaten to shut down the people’s government if they can’t shut down Obamacare. Then, rather reduce our deficits with a scalpel in a way that promotes growth – by cutting programs we don’t need, fixing ones we do, and making government more efficient – this same group has left in place a meat cleaver called “the sequester” that harms growth, hurts our military, and guts the investments in education, science, and medical research we need to make this country a magnet for good jobs.
Worse, these moves don’t just hurt our economy in the long term; they hurt the middle class right now. The independent Congressional Budget Office estimates that these cuts will cost our economy 750,000 jobs this year, and result in 900,000 fewer jobs in total next year. Many of the jobs at risk are at small businesses that contract with the military and federal agencies. Over the past four years, more than 700,000 workers at the federal, state, and local levels of government have lost their jobs. These are cops, and firefighters, and about half of them are the people who work in our kids’ schools. These are real jobs, too. It doesn’t help a company like Amazon when hundreds of thousands of customers have less money to spend. If those layoffs hadn’t happened – if public sector employment grew like it did after the past two recessions – the unemployment rate would be more than a full per cent lower today, at 6.5%. And our economy would be much better off.
The point is, if Washington spent as much time and energy these past two years figuring out how to grow the economy and the middle class as it spent manufacturing crises in pursuit of a cut-at-all-costs approach to deficits, we’d be much better off. As a share of the economy, we’ve cut the deficit by nearly half since I took office. Half. It’s projected to fall even further the next couple years. And I’ve told Republicans that if they’re serious about a balanced, long-term fiscal plan that replaces the harmful budget cuts that are currently in place, prevents those 900,000 jobs from being lost next year, and helps grow the economy and the middle class, I’m ready to work. But Washington has to stop losing sight of that North Star. We can’t allow an impasse over long-term fiscal challenges to distract us from what the middle class needs right now.
If folks in Washington want a “grand bargain,” how about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs?
If we’re going to break free of the same old arguments, where I propose an idea and Republicans say no just because it’s my idea, let me try offering something that serious people in both parties should be able to support: a deal that simplifies the tax code for our businesses and creates good jobs with good wages for the middle-class folks who work at those businesses.
Right now, our tax code is so riddled with wasteful loopholes that many companies doing the right thing and investing in America pay 35%, while the corporations with the best accountants stash their money abroad and pay little or nothing at all. I’m willing to simplify our tax code in a way that closes those loopholes, ends incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lowers rates for businesses that create jobs right here in America. While we’re at it, let’s provide tax incentives for manufacturers that bring jobs home. And let’s simplify taxes for small business owners and give them incentives to invest, so that they can spend less time filling out complex forms, and more time expanding and hiring.
But if we’re going to give businesses a better deal, we’re going to give workers a better deal, too. We can use some of the money we save by transitioning to a better tax system to create more good construction jobs with the infrastructure initiatives I highlighted. We can build that broader network of high-tech manufacturing hubs that leaders from both parties support. We can help our community colleges arm our workers with the skills that a global economy demands without forcing them to go far from home. All of these things would benefit the middle class right now and in the years to come.
So here’s the bottom line: I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs. That’s the deal.
I am laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot in a 21st-century economy. Now it’s time for Republicans to lay out theirs. If they’ve got a better plan to bring back more manufacturing jobs, or create jobs rebuilding our infrastructure for the long run, or help workers earn the high-tech skills our businesses demand, let’s hear ’em. But gutting protections for our air and water isn’t a jobs plan. Gutting investments in things like education and energy isn’t a jobs plan. Putting all your eggs in the basket of an oil pipeline that may only create about 50 permanent jobs, and wasting the country’s time by taking something like 40 meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare isn’t a jobs plan.
Look, there are no gimmicks that create jobs. There are no simple tricks to grow the economy. What we need is a serious, steady, long-term American strategy that reverses the long erosion of middle class security and gives everyone a fair shot to get ahead. More good jobs that pay decent wages. A better bargain for the middle class. An economy that grows from the middle-out. This isn’t what I’m going to focus on just for the next few months; this is what I’m going to focus on for every one of the 1,270 days left in my presidency. Because this is where I believe America needs to go.
We can do all this if we work together. It won’t be easy, but if we’re willing to take a few bold steps – and if Washington will just end the gridlock and set aside the kind of slash-and-burn partisanship we’ve seen these past few years – our economy will be stronger a year from now. And five years from now. And 10 years from now. And as long as I have the privilege of serving as your President, I’ll spend every minute of every day I have left in this office doing everything I can to build that better bargain for the middle class and make this country a place where everyone who works hard can get ahead.
Thank you, Chattanooga, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
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