LEADERSHIP BEGINS TO SHOW - PART 2 of 2

Remarks by the President at GOP House Issues Conference

Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland
29th January, 2010, 12:10 P.M. EST
Source - White House

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please, everybody be seated. Thank you. Thank you, John, for the gracious introduction. To Mike and Eric, thank you for hosting me. Thank you to all of you for receiving me. It is wonderful to be here. I want to also acknowledge Mark Strand, president of the Congressional Institute. To all the family members who are here and who have to put up with us for an elective office each and every day, thank you, because I know that's tough. (Applause)

I very much am appreciative of not only the tone of your introduction, John, but also the invitation that you extended to me. You know what they say, "Keep your friends close, but visit the Republican Caucus every few months." (Laughter) Part of the reason I accepted your invitation to come here was because I wanted to speak with all of you, and not just to all of you. So I'm looking forward to taking your questions and having a real conversation in a few moments. And I hope that the conversation we begin here doesn't end here; that we can continue our dialogue in the days ahead. It's important to me that we do so. It's important to you, I think, that we do so. But most importantly, it's important to the American people that we do so.

I've said this before, but I'm a big believer not just in the value of a loyal opposition, but in its necessity. Having differences of opinion, having a real debate about matters of domestic policy and national security - and that's not something that's only good for our country, it's absolutely essential. It's only through the process of disagreement and debate that bad ideas get tossed out and good ideas get refined and made better. And that kind of vigorous back and forth - that imperfect but well-founded process, messy as it often is - is at the heart of our democracy. That's what makes us the greatest nation in the world.

So, yes, I want you to challenge my ideas, and I guarantee you that after reading this I may challenge a few of yours. (Laughter) I want you to stand up for your beliefs, and knowing this caucus, I have no doubt that you will. I want us to have a constructive debate. The only thing I don't want - and here I am listening to the American people, and I think they don't want either - is for Washington to continue being so Washington-like. I know folks, when we're in town there, spend a lot of time reading the polls and looking at focus groups and interpreting which party has the upper hand in November and in 2012 and so on and so on and so on. That's their obsession.

And I'm not a pundit. I'm just a President, so take it for what it's worth. But I don't believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security. They want us to focus on their job security. (Applause) I don't think they want more gridlock. I don't think they want more partisanship. I don't think they want more obstruction. They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. That's not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they're grappling with every single day.

And I think your constituents would want to know that despite the fact it doesn't get a lot of attention, you and I have actually worked together on a number of occasions. There have been times where we've acted in a bipartisan fashion. And I want to thank you and your Democratic colleagues for reaching across the aisle. There has been, for example, broad support for putting in the troops necessary in Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda safe haven, to break the Taliban's momentum, and to train Afghan security forces. There's been broad support for disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda. And I know that we're all united in our admiration of our troops. (Applause)

So it may be useful for the international audience right now to understand - and certainly for our enemies to have no doubt - whatever divisions and differences may exist in Washington, the United States of America stands as one to defend our country. (Applause)

It's that same spirit of bipartisanship that made it possible for me to sign a defense contracting reform bill that was cosponsored by Senator McCain and members of Congress here today. We've stood together on behalf of our nation's veterans. Together we passed the largest increase in the VA's budget in more than 30 years and supported essential veterans' health care reforms to provide better access and medical care for those who serve in uniform.

Some of you also joined Democrats in supporting a Credit Card Bill of Rights and in extending unemployment compensation to Americans who are out of work. Some of you joined us in stopping tobacco companies from targeting kids, expanding opportunities for young people to serve our country, and helping responsible homeowners stay in their homes.

So we have a track record of working together. It is possible. But, as John, you mentioned, on some very big things, we've seen party-line votes that, I'm just going to be honest, were disappointing. Let's start with our efforts to jumpstart the economy last winter, when we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. Our financial system teetered on the brink of collapse and the threat of a second Great Depression loomed large. I didn't understand then, and I still don't understand, why we got opposition in this caucus for almost $300 billion in badly needed tax cuts for the American people, or COBRA coverage to help Americans who've lost jobs in this recession to keep the health insurance that they desperately needed, or opposition to putting Americans to work laying broadband and rebuilding roads and bridges and breaking ground on new construction projects.

There was an interesting headline in CNN today: "Americans disapprove of stimulus, but like every policy in it." And there was a poll that showed that if you broke it down into its component parts, 80 percent approved of the tax cuts, 80 percent approved of the infrastructure, 80 percent approved of the assistance to the unemployed.

Well, that's what the Recovery Act was. And let's face it, some of you have been at the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities. Now, I understand some of you had some philosophical differences perhaps on the just the concept of government spending, but, as I recall, opposition was declared before we had a chance to actually meet and exchange ideas. And I saw that as a missed opportunity.

Now, I am happy to report this morning that we saw another sign that our economy is moving in the right direction. The latest GDP numbers show that our economy is growing by almost 6 percent - that's the most since 2003. To put that in perspective, this time last year, we weren't seeing positive job growth; we were seeing the economy shrink by about 6 percent.

So you've seen a 12 percent reversal during the course of this year. This turnaround is the biggest in nearly three decades - and it didn't happen by accident. It happened - as economists, conservative and liberal, will attest - because of some of the steps that we took.

And by the way, you mentioned a Web site out here, John - if you want to look at what's going on, on the Recovery Act, you can look on recovery.gov - a Web site, by the way, that was Eric Cantor's idea.

Now, here's the point. These are serious times, and what's required by all of us - Democrats and Republicans - is to do what's right for our country, even if it's not always what's best for our politics. I know it may be heresy to say this, but there are things more important than good poll numbers. And on this no one can accuse me of not living by my principles. (Laughter)

A middle class that's back on its feet, an economy that lifts everybody up, an America that's ascendant in the world - that's more important than winning an election. Our future shouldn't be shaped by what's best for our politics; our politics should be shaped by what's best for our future.

But no matter what's happened in the past, the important thing for all of us is to move forward together. We have some issues right in front of us on which I believe we should agree, because as successful as we've been in spurring new economic growth, everybody understands that job growth has been lagging. Some of that's predictable. Every economist will say jobs are a lagging indicator, but that's no consolation for the folks who are out there suffering right now. And since 7 million Americans have lost their jobs in this recession, we've got to do everything we can to accelerate it.

So, today, in line with what I stated at the State of the Union, I've proposed a new jobs tax credit for small business. And here's how it would work. Employers would get a tax credit of up to $5,000 for every employee they add in 2010. They'd get a tax break for increases in wages, as well. So, if you raise wages for employees making under $100,000, we'd refund part of your payroll tax for every dollar you increase those wages faster than inflation. It's a simple concept. It's easy to understand. It would cut taxes for more than 1 million small businesses.

So I hope you join me. Let's get this done. I want to eliminate the capital gains tax for small business investment, and take some of the bailout money the Wall Street banks have returned and use it to help community banks start lending to small businesses again. So join me. I am confident that we can do this together for the American people. And there's nothing in that proposal that runs contrary to the ideological predispositions of this caucus. The question is: What's going to keep us from getting this done?

I've proposed a modest fee on the nation's largest banks and financial institutions to fully recover for taxpayers' money that they provided to the financial sector when it was teetering on the brink of collapse. And it's designed to discourage them from taking reckless risks in the future. If you listen to the American people, John, they'll tell you they want their money back. Let's do this together, Republicans and Democrats.

I propose that we close tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping American jobs overseas, and instead give companies greater incentive to create jobs right here at home - right here at home. Surely, that's something that we can do together, Republicans and Democrats.

We know that we've got a major fiscal challenge in reining in deficits that have been growing for a decade, and threaten our future. That's why I've proposed a three-year freeze in discretionary spending other than what we need for national security. That's something we should do together that's consistent with a lot of the talk both in Democratic caucuses and Republican caucuses. We can't blink when it's time to actually do the job.

At this point, we know that the budget surpluses of the '90s occurred in part because of the pay-as-you-go law, which said that, well, you should pay as you go and live within our means, just like families do every day. Twenty-four of you voted for that, and I appreciate it. And we were able to pass it in the Senate yesterday.

But the idea of a bipartisan fiscal commission to confront the deficits in the long term died in the Senate the other day. So I'm going to establish such a commission by executive order and I hope that you participate, fully and genuinely, in that effort, because if we're going to actually deal with our deficit and debt, everybody here knows that we're going to have to do it together, Republican and Democrat. No single party is going to make the tough choices involved on its own. It's going to require all of us doing what's right for the American people.

And as I said in the State of the Union speech, there's not just a deficit of dollars in Washington, there is a deficit of trust. So I hope you'll support my proposal to make all congressional earmarks public before they come to a vote. And let's require lobbyists who exercise such influence to publicly disclose all their contacts on behalf of their clients, whether they are contacts with my administration or contacts with Congress. Let's do the people's business in the bright light of day, together, Republicans and Democrats.

I know how bitter and contentious the issue of health insurance reform has become. And I will eagerly look at the ideas and better solutions on the health care front. If anyone here truly believes our health insurance system is working well for people, I respect your right to say so, but I just don't agree. And neither would millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who can't get coverage today or find out that they lose their insurance just as they're getting seriously ill. That's exactly when you need insurance. And for too many people, they're not getting it. I don't think a system is working when small businesses are gouged and 15,000 Americans are losing coverage every single day; when premiums have doubled and out-of-pocket costs have exploded and they're poised to do so again.

I mean, to be fair, the status quo is working for the insurance industry, but it's not working for the American people. It's not working for our federal budget. It needs to change.

This is a big problem, and all of us are called on to solve it. And that's why, from the start, I sought out and supported ideas from Republicans. I even talked about an issue that has been a holy grail for a lot of you, which was tort reform, and said that I'd be willing to work together as part of a comprehensive package to deal with it. I just didn't get a lot of nibbles.

Creating a high-risk pool for uninsured folks with preexisting conditions, that wasn't my idea, it was Senator McCain's. And I supported it, and it got incorporated into our approach. Allowing insurance companies to sell coverage across state lines to add choice and competition and bring down costs for businesses and consumers - that's an idea that some of you I suspect included in this better solutions; that's an idea that was incorporated into our package. And I support it, provided that we do it hand in hand with broader reforms that protect benefits and protect patients and protect the American people. A number of you have suggested creating pools where self-employed and small businesses could buy insurance. That was a good idea. I embraced it. Some of you supported efforts to provide insurance to children and let kids remain covered on their parents' insurance until they're 25 or 26. I supported that. That's part of our package. I supported a number of other ideas, from incentivizing wellness to creating an affordable catastrophic insurance option for young people that came from Republicans like Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe in the Senate, and I'm sure from some of you as well. So when you say I ought to be willing to accept Republican ideas on health care, let's be clear: I have.

Bipartisanship - not for its own sake but to solve problems - that's what our constituents, the American people, need from us right now. All of us then have a choice to make. We have to choose whether we're going to be politicians first or partners for progress; whether we're going to put success at the polls ahead of the lasting success we can achieve together for America. Just think about it for a while. We don't have to put it up for a vote today.

Let me close by saying this. I was not elected by Democrats or Republicans, but by the American people. That's especially true because the fastest growing group of Americans are independents. That should tell us both something. I'm ready and eager to work with anyone who is willing to proceed in a spirit of goodwill. But understand, if we can't break free from partisan gridlock, if we can't move past a politics of "no," if resistance supplants constructive debate, I still have to meet my responsibilities as President. I've got to act for the greater good - because that, too, is a commitment that I have made. And that's - that, too, is what the American people sent me to Washington to do.

So I am optimistic. I know many of you individually. And the irony, I think, of our political climate right now is that, compared to other countries, the differences between the two major parties on most issues is not as big as it's represented. But we've gotten caught up in the political game in a way that's just not healthy. It's dividing our country in ways that are preventing us from meeting the challenges of the 21st century. I'm hopeful that the conversation we have today can help reverse that. So thank you very much. Thank you, John. (Applause) Now I'd like to open it up for questions.

CONGRESSMAN PENCE: The President has agreed to take questions and members would be encouraged to raise your hand while you remain in your seat. (Laughter) The chair will take the prerogative to make the first remarks.

Mr. President, welcome back to the House Republican Conference.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.

CONGRESSMAN PENCE:< [Off microphone] We are pleased to have you return. (Inaudible) a year ago - House Republicans said then we would make you two promises. Number one, that most of the people in this room and their families would pray for you and your beautiful family just about every day for the next four years. And I want to assure you we're keeping that promise.

THE PRESIDENT:</b> I appreciate that.

CONGRESSMAN PENCE: [off microphone] Number two, our pledge to you, Mr. President, was that door is always open. And we hope the (inaudible) of our invitation that we (inaudible).

Mr. President, several of us in this conference yesterday on the way into Baltimore stopped by the Salvation Army homeless facility here in Baltimore. I met a little boy, an African American boy, in the 8th grade, named David Carter, Jr. When he heard that I would be seeing you today his eyes lit up like I had never seen. And I told him that if he wrote you a letter I'd give it to you, and I have.

But I had a conversation with little David, Jr. and David, Sr. His family has been struggling with the economy. [On microphone.] His dad said words to me, Mr. President, that I'll never forget. About my age and he said - he said, Congressman, it's not like it was when we were coming up. He said, there's just no jobs.

Now, last year about the time you met with us, unemployment was 7.5 percent in this country. Your administration, and your party in Congress, told us that we'd have to borrow more than $700 billion to pay for a so-called stimulus bill. It was a piecemeal list of projects and boutique tax cuts, all of which was - we were told - had to be passed or unemployment would go to 8 percent, as your administration said. Well, unemployment is 10 percent now, as you well know, Mr. President; here in Baltimore it's considerably higher.

Now, Republicans offered a stimulus bill at the same time. It cost half as much as the Democratic proposal in Congress, and using your economic analyst models, it would have created twice the jobs at half the cost. It essentially was across-the-board tax relief, Mr. President.

Now we know you've come to Baltimore today and you've raised this tax credit, which was last promoted by President Jimmy Carter. But the first question I would pose to you, very respectfully, Mr. President, is would you be willing to consider embracing - in the name of little David Carter, Jr. and his dad, in the name of every struggling family in this country - the kind of across-the-board tax relief that Republicans have advocated, that President Kennedy advocated, that President Reagan advocated and that has always been the means of stimulating broad-based economic growth?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, there was a lot packed into that question. (Laughter) First of all, let me say I already promised that I'll be writing back to that young man and his family, and I appreciate you passing on the letter.

Q: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: But let's talk about just the jobs environment generally. You're absolutely right that when I was sworn in the hope was that unemployment would remain around 8 [percent], or in the 8 percent range. That was just based on the estimates made by both conservative and liberal economists, because at that point not all the data had trickled in.

We had lost 650,000 jobs in December. I'm assuming you're not faulting my policies for that. We had lost, it turns out, 700,000 jobs in January, the month I was sworn in. I'm assuming it wasn't my administration's policies that accounted for that. We lost another 650,000 jobs the subsequent month, before any of my policies had gone into effect. So I'm assuming that wasn't as a consequence of our policies; that doesn't reflect the failure of the Recovery Act. The point being that what ended up happening was that the job losses from this recession proved to be much more severe - in the first quarter of last year going into the second quarter of last year - than anybody anticipated.

So I mean, I think we can score political points on the basis of the fact that we underestimated how severe the job losses were going to be. But those job losses took place before any stimulus, whether it was the ones that you guys have proposed or the ones that we proposed, could have ever taken into effect. Now, that's just the fact, Mike, and I don't think anybody would dispute that. You could not find an economist who would dispute that.

Now, at the same time, as I mentioned, most economists - Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative - would say that had it not been for the stimulus package that we passed, things would be much worse. Now, they didn't fill a 7 million hole in the number of people who were unemployed. They probably account for about 2 million, which means we still have 5 million folks in there that we've still got to deal with. That's a lot of people.

The package that we put together at the beginning of the year, the truth is, should have reflected - and I believe reflected what most of you would say are common sense things. This notion that this was a radical package is just not true. A third of them were tax cuts, and they weren't - when you say they were "boutique" tax cuts, Mike, 95 percent of working Americans got tax cuts, small businesses got tax cuts, large businesses got help in terms of their depreciation schedules. I mean, it was a pretty conventional list of tax cuts. A third of it was stabilizing state budgets.

There is not a single person in here who, had it not been for what was in the stimulus package, wouldn't be going home to more teachers laid off, more firefighters laid off, more cops laid off. A big chunk of it was unemployment insurance and COBRA, just making sure that people had some floor beneath them, and, by the way, making sure that there was enough money in their pockets that businesses had some customers.

You take those two things out, that accounts for the majority of the stimulus package. Are there people in this room who think that was a bad idea? A portion of it was dealing with the AMT, the alternative minimum tax - not a proposal of mine; that's not a consequence of my policies that we have a tax system where we keep on putting off a potential tax hike that is embedded in the budget that we have to fix each year. That cost about $70 billion.

And then the last portion of it was infrastructure which, as I said, a lot of you have gone to appear at ribbon-cuttings for the same projects that you voted against.

Now, I say all this not to re-litigate the past, but it's simply to state that the component parts of the Recovery Act are consistent with what many of you say are important things to do rebuilding our infrastructure, tax cuts for families and businesses, and making sure that we were providing states and individuals some support when the roof was caving in. And the notion that I would somehow resist doing something that cost half as much but would produce twice as many jobs - why would I resist that? I wouldn't. I mean, that's my point, is that - I am not an ideologue. I'm not. It doesn't make sense if somebody could tell me you could do this cheaper and get increased results that I wouldn't say, great. The problem is, I couldn't find credible economists who would back up the claims that you just made.

Now, we can - here's what I know going forward, though. I mean, we're talking - we were talking about the past. We can talk about this going forward. I have looked at every idea out there in terms of accelerating job growth to match the economic growth that's already taken place. The jobs credit that I'm discussing right now is one that a lot of people think would be the most cost-effective way for encouraging people to pick up their hiring.

There may be other ideas that you guys have; I am happy to look at them and I'm happy to embrace them. I suspect I will embrace some of them. Some of them I've already embraced.

But the question I think we're going to have to ask ourselves is, as we move forward, are we going to be examining each of these issues based on what's good for the country, what the evidence tells us, or are we going to be trying to position ourselves so that come November we're able to say, "The other party, it's their fault." If we take the latter approach then we're probably not going to get much agreement. If we take the former, I suspect there's going to be a lot of overlap. All right?

Q: Mr. President, will you consider supporting across-the-board tax relief, as President Kennedy did?

THE PRESIDENT: Here's what I'm going to do, Mike. What I'm going to do is I'm going to take a look at what you guys are proposing. And the reason I say this, before you say, "Okay," I think is important to know - what you may consider across-the-board tax cuts could be, for example, greater tax cuts for people who are making a billion dollars. I may not agree to a tax cut for Warren Buffet. You may be calling for an across-the-board tax cut for the banking industry right now. I may not agree to that.

So I think that we've got to look at what specific proposals you're putting forward, and - this is the last point I'll make - if you're calling for just across-the-board tax cuts, and then on the other hand saying that we're somehow going to balance our budget, I'm going to want to take a look at your math and see how that works, because the issue of deficit and debt is another area where there has been a tendency for some inconsistent statements. How's that? All right?

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: Thank you. Mr. President, first off, thanks for agreeing to accept our invitation here. It is a real pleasure and honor to have you with us here today.

THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you. Is this your crew right here, by the way?

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: It is. This is my daughter Liza, my son Charlie and Sam, and this is my wife Janna.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, guys.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: Say hi, everybody. (Laughter) I serve as a ranking member of the budget committee, so I'm going to talk a little budget if you don't mind. The spending bills that you've signed into law, the domestic discretionary spending has been increased by 84 percent. You now want to freeze spending at this elevated beginning next year. This means that total spending in your budget would grow at 3/100ths of 1 percent less than otherwise. I would simply submit that we could do more and start now.

You've also said that you want to take a scalpel to the budget and go through it line by line. We want to give you that scalpel. I have a proposal with my home state senator, Russ Feingold, bipartisan proposal, to create a constitutional version of the line-item veto. (Applause) Problem is, we can't even get a vote on the proposal.

So my question is, why not start freezing spending now, and would you support a line-item veto in helping us get a vote on it in the House?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me respond to the two specific questions, but I want to just push back a little bit on the underlying premise about us increasing spending by 84 percent.

Now, look, I talked to Peter Orszag right before I came here, because I suspected I'd be hearing this - I'd be hearing this argument. The fact of the matter is, is that most of the increases in this year's budget, this past year's budget, were not as a consequence of policies that we initiated but instead were built in as a consequence of the automatic stabilizers that kick in because of this enormous recession.

So the increase in the budget for this past year was actually predicted before I was even sworn into office and had initiated any policies. Whoever was in there, Paul - and I don't think you'll dispute that - whoever was in there would have seen those same increases because of, on the one hand, huge drops in revenue, but at the same time people were hurting and needed help. And a lot of these things happened automatically.

Now, the reason that I'm not proposing the discretionary freeze take into effect this year - we prepared a budget for 2010, it's now going forward - is, again, I am just listening to the consensus among people who know the economy best. And what they will say is that if you either increase taxes or significantly lowered spending when the economy remains somewhat fragile, that that would have a destimulative effect and potentially you'd see a lot of folks losing business, more folks potentially losing jobs. That would be a mistake when the economy has not fully taken off. That's why I've proposed to do it for the next fiscal year. So that's point number two.

Carry on to CONTINUATION ..........

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