THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION TRADES UNION, AFL-CIO The Washington Hilton
11:53 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Bob. And thank you ladies and gentlemen for that wonderful, wonderful reception.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My hero! (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know about that, but I'm up here fighting for you every day, I'll tell you that. (Applause.)
I like looking out into a big crowd into the faces of people who have worked hard and played by the rules and tried to make this country work again. I thank you for the help you gave me last November when we said together we wanted to change this country; we wanted to break the gridlock in Washington; we wanted to change the priorities and put our people first again; we wanted to develop a high-wage, high-growth economy.
And we knew that do it we'd have to do some very tough things. All of us knew that going in. We knew that these decisions would be difficult and that they wouldn't come overnight and that the country had been going in one direction for more than a decade and you couldn't turn it around overnight. But everyone knew that we had to reduce this awful federal deficit; we had to increase our investment in our people and jobs at the same time; we had to address the health care crisis now. We're spending 15 percent of our national income on health care with 37 million people uninsured, 100,00 people a month losing their health insurance, and more and more money every year going to health care instead of invest in jobs and growth and the economy. We knew we had to make some changes.
I made some commitments to you, and I told you that if you'd vote for me, I'd try to bring fairness and growth and opportunity back to America. I tried to do everything that I said I'd do. I've confronted some different and difficult circumstances, but we are moving ahead.
I have been gratified, frankly, by most of what has happened here in the last two-and-a-half months. Congress passed a resolution endorsing the budget plan I presented to reduce the deficit and increase investment in jobs and education and training in record time. They have never passed a budget plan that fast.
And then I said, well, now I think we ought to have an emergency jobs plan to try to jump-start this economy, to put a half a million more people back to work through direct investment in the public and private sector over the next year and a half because this economy doesn't seem to be creating any jobs, even though everybody tells us we're in a recovery.
And there was broadbased support for that, for creating jobs and using the money to immunize children and to rebuild our community and to rebuild our infrastructure. The bill swept through the House and is supported by a majority of the Senate.
A few weeks ago we had a meeting of business and labor leaders that included Bob Georgine and Lane Kirkland and some of the biggest business people in this country saying we need the jobs bill. And the labor movement has shown real leadership on this issue in working in partnership with business on the concept of investment.
I tried to look hard at this economy and ask what we can do. How can we move this economy forward? How can we do it in the short-term and in the long-term? Over the long-term, we've got to bring the deficit down. That gets interest rates down. You've seen that already. Interest rates have come down since the election. And billions of dollars are being refinanced in homes, in car loans, in commercial loans, in business loans. And that's going to mean more jobs for people like you. But it also means that we have to have some direct investment to create jobs in this economy. We've got to get the economy moving. There are those who say, well, we're in a recovery and things are going fine. Well, I don't know about you, but 16 months of seven percent unemployment or more is not fine with me. I ran because I thought we could do better. (Applause.)
You know, people ask me all the time what is the real difference about being President? Is it really different? And I have to tell you, after just a couple of months, I've got an enormous amount of sympathy with every predecessor I ever had who got out of touch. (Laughter.)
You know, you live in the nicest public housing in America -- (laughter); and somebody drives you around everywhere; and you're always being protected because you are at some risk; and you've got the nicest airplane anybody ever saw -- (laughter); and nobody except your wife and your momma and your nearest family can call you by your first name anymore without violating protocol. Before you know it, you're just walking around in a bubble.
The other day -- this is a true story -- the other day I came down from the upper residence floor of the White House down to the first floor -- the big floor -- and I was going to a meeting, and I didn't know it but my wife had had a meeting with a bunch of other people, and when the elevator door opened I found myself standing in the midst of 20 or 30 people. I didn't know them, and I just shook hands with them, and said hello, and went on and -- to give you an example of how bad it is -- this very nice person working at the White House said: oh, Mr. President, I'm so sorry I let you out in the middle of those people. (Laughter.) And so I looked at him and I said: That's okay young man, I used to be one myself. (Laughter and applause.)
It's so easy for people who make decisions here to forget. You know, everybody that makes a decision here has got a job. Everybody that makes a decision here that affects your life, got a good education. Everybody that makes a decision here has got a good health care plan, and has pretty good security because we keep taking in tax dollars.
And it's important that we think about where other people are. Unemployment in building trades across the board is about 14 percent, about twice the national average. And yet we know we're spending much less of our income investing in building things, in the infrastructure and in construction and things that really make a country rich over the long run than almost all of our competitors.
We also know that every wealthy country in the world is having trouble creating jobs. All the rich countries are. Even Japan's seen its unemployment rate go up some, and theirs is lower than everybody else's because their economy is more closed. But all the wealthy countries -- including Japan, including Germany -- are having difficulty creating jobs. This is not just an American problem. But we need to find the courage and the creativity to solve the problem. We're not like some of those countries who give you your wages for a year and a half and all of your benefits if you lose the job. In America people need to work. And you just think about it, about half our problems would go away overnight if everybody in this country who wanted to work had a job. (Applause.)
There are more than a million fewer jobs in the private sector now than there were before this recession began. Almost -- virtually all the net growth in employment has come in local, state and federal government. And if you will forgive me, that's not a very sound basis for long-term economic recovery, because their bills are all paid by somebody else. The somebody elses need the work. And that's what we're trying to do.
Last year, more businesses failed than at any time in memory. Last month we lost a total of net 22,000 jobs, including 59,000 construction jobs. There are now 16 million Americans who are looking for the wages and dignity of full-time work. There may be more who aren't on the roles who have just given up trying.
I've taken a lot of heat because I have cut government programs that some people in my own party like a lot. I offered a program that had 200 specific budget cuts, a program that will reduce this deficit by about $500 billion over five years. I don't think the government can do everything or should try to do everything. And a lot of what we used to do either doesn't need to be done or must be done by state and local government or the private sector. But I am not willing to say when seven percent of our people are unemployed and have been for 16 months; when millions more are underemployed; when business is under so much pressure that 100,000 Americans a month are losing their health insurance; when city after city after city in this country is full of young people who won't have anything to do this summer and have never had a good job and need to have the experience of working; that we shouldn't do more to create real opportunity and to have the dignity of work and to develop the capacity of our people.
I just think we can do better. I did not ask for this job for the honor, great as it is, of living in the White House and riding around in all the limousines and the airplanes. It is a very great honor to be President, but you can only do honor to the job if you get up every day and try to make things better and change things. (Applause.) That's why I asked you to give me the job. (Applause.)
Now, I need your help today, because I know that the building trades have been willing in the past to endorse builders, whether they were Republicans or Democrats. And you have been willing to endorse people that you thought at the state level -- members of Congress and others at the state level -- who would help you to put people to work. Some of the people you endorsed are now involved in the Senate filibuster of the jobs plan.
Now, this plan will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Is it the answer to all our problems? No. Is it big enough? Probably not, but it's about as big as it can be given the size of the deficit and the fact that we've got to bring that down and keep interest rates down. Will it hurt the economy? No.
We want to put people to work in construction. We also want to rehire thousands of police officers who have lost their jobs so they can do a better job protecting people from crime. You know, there was a fascinating article on Los Angeles the other day before the verdict in the King case, which said that in all neighborhoods without regard to race or income people wanted more police officers. They wanted community policing. They knew it would reduce the possibility of abusive police power if they had enough police on the street so that they knew their neighbors. They worked together to prevent crime as well as to catch criminals. And people felt less tension and more community.
That's what's also in this jobs plan. In your industry, a $450 billion a year industry, we can create about 23,000 to 25,000 jobs directly, quickly -- quickly -- if this bill will pass. We can give 700,000 young people a chance to have a job this summer that will not only be a real job but will require them to do some more work on their education so that they will learn even as they earn.
We will provide some loans to small businesses where most of the new jobs are created. The Republican Party has been a champion of this small business program in the past as they have been of the community development block grants -- Republican mayors all over America supporting my jobs program as the Republican senators say how bad the community development block grant is. They used to trust mayors and governors when they had a Republican in the White House; I don't know what this has got to do with me. (Laughter.) They've still got the same mayors and governors they had before.
It's time to stop playing politics and move forward. Many of the projects funded by this jobs plan have sat on the shelves for years while deficits exploded and investments in the things that make the economy strong and the people strong have been totally neglected.
Now, what are my opponents saying? Why did they say it's okay for the minority to keep the majority from even voting on this bill? They say this bill adds to the deficit. Well, I'll give you four arguments against that. I want you to give it back to them before you leave town.
First, they're more than happy to pay for unemployment benefits to be extended. That is, they say, okay, we'll vote for that in emergency funding. But they won't create any money to put people to work so they don't have to draw unemployment. Now, we tried it their way for 12 years. They always voted to extend unemployment benefits. I'd like to extend employment benefits. That's a lot better than unemployment benefits. (Applause.)
Second thing you need to know is, because of some savings in the defense budget, which have already occurred, we could pass every dollar in this jobs bill and still be below the target for total discretionary federal spending set by these folks in Congress before I ever got here. They never tell you that.
Third thing you need to know, as I said, is that we have proposed 200 specific budget cuts that will more than pay for this modest amount of extra spending. And very often in the past, these same folks have voted to spend money this year and pay for it in the years ahead in a five-year budget plan.
And, finally -- and maybe most importantly, many and perhaps most of the Senators who are blocking consideration of our plan have actually voted for emergency measure after emergency measure after emergency measure -- just like this for 12 years, often in legislation that wasn't paid for. And they didn't have much trouble with it then when their guys were in the White House.
This plan puts people to work. It's paid for. It doesn't shift jobs overseas, it puts jobs on the streets of America. (Applause.) Many of the people who are leading this filibuster voted for a stimulus plan like this under President Reagan back in 1983. We did some quick research over the weekend. It appears that 28 times in the last 12 years many of the same people who are holding this bill up voted to do the same thing I'm asking for to the tune of over $100 billion, often for foreign aid, and for other things that didn't have nearly as much to do with affecting the lives of the American people in Main Street America. And it's time to help Main Street America.
We had an election in November that said stop this gridlock, stop the partisan bickering, compromise, work together, move the country forward, and start by putting the American people back to work. That's what this is all about. (Applause.) Don't listen to those arguments. (Applause.)
So that's it. When they say, oh, we can't add to the deficit, say, well, you guys -- you guys; not the Democrats -- you guys -- you voted for 12 years for these kinds of things, often to help countries, why not help us? One. (Applause.) Two, you've got $500 billion in deficit reduction; it'll cover this real well.
Three, you're still under the spending targets that you adopted before President Clinton ever got to town. And, four, we need this jobs plan. We don't need to fund just unemployment benefits, we want to fund employment benefits. (Applause.)
This whole thing has got to be about enabling people to live up to their potential. I went on these buses all across the country with Hillary and Al and Tipper Gore, and we went into little towns and big cities. Over and over and over again, what I left those encounters with was the sense that Americans were yearning just to be themselves as fully as they could be. And you can't do that if you can't have a job. You can't do that if you can't get a decent education. You can't do that if you think no matter how hard you work you, can't take care of your family if they get sick. You can't do that if you think you can never change jobs without losing your health benefits.
But if you think about it, we live in a world where the power of people is uppermost. We live in a country where, thank God, no one is a dictator. We have to work together. We have to be able to put aside our partisan labels and, sometimes our personal prejudices and think about what it takes to pull people together and give everybody a chance to be the most they can be. That's what the whole purpose of politics is.
And when this bill was held up, I didn't like it, but I offered to compromise -- to take some of the jobs out of it, though it grieves me to try to respond to some of the specific speeches that were given by Republican senators on the floor of the Senate.
And so far what have they said to my good faith offer? Same old thing -- stonewall. This is the deficit; we can't add to the deficit. Folks, this is the crowd that had the government for 12 years. They took the deficit from $1 trillion to $4 trillion. Have they no shame. How can they say this? (Applause.) What is going on? Sometimes I think the secret to success in this town is being able to say the most amazing things with a straight face. (Laughter.)
We're going to get the deficit down. We're going to try to keep interest rates down. But we've got to invest in people, and we've got to try to create jobs. Will this work wonders? No. Will it work some good? Yes, you bet it will. (Applause.) It is an effort -- did I even campaign on this -- no. You endorsed me without asking me to promise an emergency jobs program. I offered this program for the simple reason that I looked at the performance of this economy and its difficulty in creating jobs. Then I looked around the world and I saw all these other countries having the same exact problem we were having, and I thought we've got to try something else. And I'll tell you something, if we get this done and it doesn't work, I'll try something else. (Applause.) We're living in a new and different time where we've got to try. (Applause.)
I ask you, every one of you that ever had a chance to make it because you joined this union, because somebody invested in a project that gave you a chance to work, because you had the opportunity to raise a family and have a house, educate kids. Just take a little time now and ask the people you know in the United States Congress -- who have all made it -- to think about how together we can provide these opportunities for others. The arguments they are using just don't hold water. They don't measure against the facts of what they have done in the past and what the facts of this budget that I have presented are. This is a modest program to give hope and opportunity to people in this country who need it, and to try to get the job engine going in America again.
I have compromised. I have held out my hand. I think it's time for somebody to reach back across the divide of party politics and put the American people first. And you can help get it done today. I hope you will.
Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)
END12:13 P.M. EDT