President Obama Addresses U.S. Chamber of Commerce
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President Obama Addresses U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The President:
Thank you very much, Tom,
for the gracious introduction. I want to make a few
other acknowledgments. To Tom Bell, the
Chamber Board President, thank you for helping
to organize this. There are some members of my
administration I want to make sure are introduced. My Chief of Staff,
Bill Daley, is here. (applause) Senior advisor Valerie Jarrett,
who is interfacing with many of you and has gotten terrific
advice from many of you, is here as well. Secretary Ray LaHood, our
Transportation Secretary. Ambassador Ron Kirk, who is
working hard to get trade deals around the world. Our Small Business
Administration Administrator Karen Mills. My director of the National
Economic Council, Gene Sperling, is here. And I also want to make
mention, Fred Hochberg, our Export-Import Bank Chairman;
Elizabeth Littlefield, the Overseas Private Investment
Corporation President. And I also want to acknowledge
a good friend, Paul Volcker, the outgoing chair of the
President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Thank you all for being here. (applause) Now, Tom, it is good
to be here today at the Chamber of Commerce. I’m here in the interest
of being more neighborly. (laughter) I strolled over from across
the street, and look, maybe if we had brought over a
fruitcake when I first moved in, we would have gotten
off to a better start. (laughter) But I’m going to make up for it. The truth is, this isn’t the
first time I’ve been to the Chamber, or the first time
that we’ve exchanged ideas. Over the last two years, I’ve
sought advice from many of you as we were grappling with
the worst recession most of us have ever known. It’s a recession that led to
some very difficult decisions. For many of you, that meant
restructuring and branch closings and layoffs that I
know were very painful to make. For my administration, it meant
a series of emergency measures that I would not have undertaken
under normal circumstances, but that were necessary to
stop our economy from falling off a cliff. Now, on some issues,
like the Recovery Act, we’ve found common cause. On other issues, we’ve had some
pretty strong disagreements. But I’m here today
because I am convinced, as Tom mentioned in
his introduction, that we can and we
must work together. Whatever differences
we may have, I know that all of
us share a deep, abiding belief in this country,
a belief in our people, a belief in the principles that
have made America’s economy the envy of the world. America’s success
didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t
happen by accident. It happened because [of] the
freedom that has allowed good ideas to flourish, that has
allowed capitalism to thrive; it happened because of the
conviction that in this country hard work should be rewarded and
that opportunity should be there for anybody who’s
willing to reach for it. And because it happened at every
juncture in our history — not just once, not just twice, but
over and over again — we came together to remake ourselves; we
came together as one nation and did what was necessary
to win the future. That is why I am so
confident that we will win the future again. That’s the challenge
that we face today. We still have, by far,
the world’s largest and most vibrant economy. We have the most
productive workers, the finest universities
and the freest markets. The men and women in this room
are living testimony that American industry is still the
source of the most dynamic companies, and the most
ingenious entrepreneurs. But we also know that with the
march of technology over the last few decades, the
competition for jobs and businesses has grown fierce. The globalization of our economy
means that businesses can now open up a shop, employ workers
and produce their goods wherever an Internet connection exists. Tasks that were once done
by 1,000 workers can now be done by 100 or in
some cases even 10. And the truth is, as countries
like China and India and Brazil grow and develop
larger middle classes, it’s profitable for global
companies to aggressively pursue these markets and, at
times, to set up facilities in these countries. These forces are as unstoppable
as they are powerful. But combined with a brutal
and devastating recession, these forces have also shaken
the faith of the American people — in the institutions of
business and government. They see a widening chasm of
wealth and opportunity in this country, and they wonder if the
American Dream is slipping away. They wonder if the middle class,
rather than expanding as it has through our lifetimes,
is in the midst of an inexorable contraction. And we can’t ignore
these concerns. We have to renew people’s faith
in the promise of this country — that this is a place where
you can make it if you try. And we have to do this together:
business and government; workers and CEOs;
Democrats and Republicans. We know what it will take for
America to win the future. We need to out-innovate,
we need to out-educate, we need to out-build
our competitors. We need an economy that’s based
not on what we consume and borrow from other nations, but
what we make and what we sell around the world. We need to make America the best
place on Earth to do business. And this is a job for all of us. As a government, we will help
lay the foundation for you to grow and innovate and succeed. We will upgrade our
transportation and communication networks so you can move goods
and information more quickly and more cheaply. We’ll invest in education so
that you can hire the most skilled, talented
workers in the world. And we’ll work to knock down
barriers that make it harder for you to compete, from the tax
code to the regulatory system. But I want to be clear: Even as
we make America the best place on Earth to do business,
businesses also have a responsibility to America. I understand the
challenges you face. I understand you are under
incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance
of your obligations to your shareholders and the
pressures that are created by quarterly reports. I get it. But as we work with you to make
America a better place to do business, I’m hoping that all of
you are thinking what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do
to hire more American workers, what you can do to support the
American economy and invest in this nation. That’s what I want to talk about
today — the responsibilities we all have — the mutual
responsibilities we have — to secure the future
that we all share. Now, as a country, we have a
responsibility to encourage American innovation. I talked about this quite a
bit at my State of the Union. Companies like yours have always
driven the discovery of new products and new ideas. You do it better than anybody. But what you also know is that
it’s not always profitable to — in the short-term, at
least — for you to invest in basic research. It’s very expensive, and the
payoffs are not always clear and they’re not always localized. And that’s why government has
traditionally helped invest in this kind of science, planting
the seeds that ultimately grew into technologies from the
computer chips to the Internet. That’s why we’re making
investments today in the next generation of big ideas
— in biotechnology, in information technology and
in clean energy technology. We’re reforming our patent
system so innovations can move more quickly to market. Steve Case is heading up a new
partnership called Startup America to help entrepreneurs
turn new ideas into new businesses and new jobs. And I’ve also proposed a bigger,
permanent tax credit for all the research and development your
companies do in this country. I believe that is a priority. We also have a responsibility as
a nation to provide our people with — and our businesses
— with the fastest, most reliable way to move
goods and information. The costs to business from
outdated and inadequate infrastructure is enormous. And that’s what we have
right now — outdated, inadequate infrastructure. And any of you that have been
traveling to other countries, you know it, you see it, and
it affects your bottom lines. That’s why I want to put more
people to work rebuilding crumbling roads,
rebuilding our bridges. That’s why I’ve proposed
connecting 80 percent of the country with high-speed
— to high-speed rail, and making it possible for
companies to put high-speed Internet coverage in the reach
of virtually all Americans. You understand the
importance of this. The fact is, the Chamber of
Commerce and the AFL-CIO don’t agree on a whole lot. Tom Donohue and Richard Trumka
are not Facebook friends. (laughter) Well, maybe — I don’t
think you are anyway. (laughter) I didn’t check on this, but —
but they agree on the need to build a 21st-century
infrastructure. And I want to thank the Chamber
for pushing Congress to make more infrastructure investments,
and to do so in the most cost-effective way possible:
with tax dollars that leverage private capital, and with
projects that are determined not by politics, but by
what’s best for our economy. Third responsibility that we
have as a nation is to invest in the skills and education
of our young people. If we expect companies to do
business and hire in America, America needs a pool of trained,
talented workers that can out-compete anybody
in the world. And that’s why we’re
reforming K-12 education; that’s why we’re training
100,000 new math and science teachers; that’s why we’re
making college more affordable, and revitalizing our
community college system. Recently I visited
GE in Schenectady, which has partnered with
a local community college. And while students train for
jobs available at the nearby GE plant, they earn a
paycheck and they’ve got their tuition covered. And as a result, young
people can find work, GE can fill
high-skill positions, and the entire region has become
more attractive to businesses. It’s a win-win for everybody,
and it’s something we’re trying to duplicate across the country. Now, to make room for these
investments in education, in innovation, in
infrastructure, government also has a
responsibility to cut spending that we
just can’t afford. That’s why I’ve promised to
veto any bill that’s larded up with earmarks. That’s why I’ve proposed that we
freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Understand what this means. This would reduce the deficit by
more than $400 billion over the next decade, and bring
this spending — domestic discretionary spending — down
to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower
was president. That was a long time ago. Now, it’s not
going to be enough. We’re going to have to do more. Because the driving
force on our deficits are entitlements spending. And that’s going to require
both parties to work together, because those are some tough
problems that we’re going to have to solve. And I am eager to work with both
parties and with the Chamber to take additional steps across the
budget to put our nation on a sounder fiscal footing. By stopping spending on
things we don’t need, we can make investments in
the things that we do need, the same way families do. If they’ve got a fiscal problem,
if they’ve got to tighten their belt, they don’t stop paying
for Johnny to go to college. They cut out things
they don’t need, but they still make investments
in the thing that are going to make sure we win the future. And that’s what we have to do
as a country: make some smart choices — tough
choices, but smart ones. Now, in addition to making
government more affordable, we’re also making it
more effective and more consumer-friendly. We’re trying to run the
government a little bit more like you run your business —
with better technology and faster services. So in the coming months, my
administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate
and reorganize the federal government in a way that best
serves the goal of a more competitive America. And we want to start with the
12 different agencies that deal with America’s exports. If we hope to help our
businesses sell more goods around the world, we should
ensure we’re all pulling in the same direction. And frankly, with 12
different agencies in charge, nobody is in charge. So we’re going to fix that as
an example of how we can make a government that’s more
responsive to the American people and to
American businesses. Which brings me to the final
responsibility of government: breaking down some of the
barriers that stand in the way of your success. As far as exports are concerned,
that means seeking new opportunities and opening
new markets for your goods. And I will tell you I will go
anywhere anytime to be a booster for American businesses,
American workers and American products. We recently signed — (applause) — and I don’t
charge a commission. (laughter) We recently signed export deals
with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs
here in the United States. We finalized a trade agreement
with South Korea that will support at least
70,000 American jobs. And by the way, it’s a deal that
has unprecedented support from business and labor,
Democrats and Republicans. That’s the kind of deal that I
will be looking for as we pursue trade agreements with
Panama and Colombia, as we work to bring Russia into
the international trading system. Those are going to be our top
priorities because we believe Americans have the best products
and the best businesses, and if we’re out there selling
and we’re out there hustling, there’s no reason why we can’t
do a lot better than we’re doing right now when it
comes to our exports. Now, another barrier government
can remove — and I hear a lot about this from many of you —
is a burdensome corporate tax code with one of the
highest rates in the world. You know how it goes: because of
various loopholes and carve-outs that have built
up over the years, some industries pay an average
rate that is four or five times higher than others. Companies are taxed heavily for
making investments with equity, yet the tax code actually
pays companies to invest using leverage. As a result, you’ve got too
many companies ending up making decisions based on what their
tax director says instead of what their engineer designs or
what their factories produce. And that puts our entire
economy at a disadvantage. We need something smarter,
something simpler, something fairer. That’s why I want to lower the
corporate rate and eliminate these loopholes to pay for it,
so that it doesn’t add a dime to our deficit. And I’m asking for your
help in this fight. I think it can be done. Which brings me to the last
barriers we’re trying to remove, and those are outdated and
unnecessary regulations. I’ve ordered a
government-wide review, and if there are rules on the
books that are needlessly stifling job creation
and economic growth, we will fix them. Already we’re dramatically
cutting down on the paperwork that saddles businesses with
huge administrative costs. We’re improving the way FDA
evaluates things like medical devices, to get innovative
and lifesaving treatments to market faster. And the EPA, based on the need
for further scientific analysis, delayed the greenhouse gas
permitting rules for biomass. I’ve also ordered agencies to
find ways to make regulations more flexible for
small businesses. And we’ve turned a tangle of
fuel economy regulations and pending lawsuits into a single
standard that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, save
consumers money at the pump and give car companies the certainty
that they need — all negotiated by the various stakeholders
without the need for congressional legislation. But ultimately, winning the
future is not just about what the government can do
for you to succeed. It’s also about what you can
do to help America succeed. So we were just talking
about regulations. Even as we eliminate
burdensome regulations, America’s businesses have a
responsibility as well to recognize that there are
some basic safeguards, some basic standards that
are necessary to protect the American people from
harm or exploitation. Not every regulation is bad. Not every regulation is
burdensome on business. A lot of the regulations that
are out there are things that all of us welcome in our lives. Few of us would want to live in
a society without rules that keep our air and water clean;
that give consumers the confidence to do everything
from investing in financial markets to buying groceries. And the fact is, when standards
like these have been proposed in the past, opponents have often
warned that they would be an assault on business
and free enterprise. We can look at the
history in this country. Early drug companies argued the
bill creating the FDA would “practically destroy the
sale of … remedies in the United States.” That didn’t happen. Auto executives predicted that
having to install seatbelts would bring the downfall
of their industry. It didn’t happen. The President of the American
Bar Association denounced child labor laws as “a communistic
effort to nationalize children.” That’s a quote. None of these
things came to pass. In fact, companies adapt
and standards often spark competition and innovation. I was travelling when I went up
to Penn State to look at some clean energy hubs
that have been set up. I was with Steve Chu,
my Secretary of Energy. And he won a Nobel
Prize in physics, so when you’re in conversations
with him you catch about one out of every four things he says. (laughter) But he started talking about
energy efficiency and about refrigerators, and he pointed
out that the government set modest targets a couple decades
ago to start increasing efficiency over time. They were well thought
through; they weren’t radical. Companies competed
to hit these markers. And they hit them every time,
and then exceeded them. And as a result, a typical
fridge now costs half as much and uses a quarter of the energy
that it once did — and you don’t have to defrost,
chipping at that stuff — (laughter) — and then putting the warm
water inside the freezer and all that stuff. It saves families and
businesses billions of dollars. So regulations didn’t
destroy the industry; it enhanced it and it made our
lives better — if they’re smart, if they’re well designed. And that’s our goal, is to work
with you to think through how do we design necessary regulations
in a smart way and get rid of regulations that have outlived
their usefulness, or don’t work. I also have to point out the
perils of too much regulation are also matched by the
dangers of too little. And we saw that in
the financial crisis, where the absence of
sound rules of the road, that wasn’t good for business. Even if you weren’t in the
financial sector it wasn’t good for business. And that’s why, with the help of
Paul Volcker, who is here today, we passed a set of
common-sense reforms. The same can be said of
health insurance reform. We simply could not continue to
accept a status quo that’s made our entire economy
less competitive, as we’ve paid more per person
for health care than any other nation on Earth. Nobody is even close. And we couldn’t accept a broken
system where insurance companies could drop people
because they got sick, or families went into bankruptcy
because of medical bills. I know that folks here have
concerns about this law. And I understand it. If you’re running a business
right now and you’re seeing these escalating
health care costs, your instinct is if I’ve got
even more laws on top of me, that’s going to increase
my costs even more. I understand that
suspicion, that skepticism. But the non-partisan
congressional watchdogs at the CBO estimate that health care
tax credits will be worth nearly $40 billion for small businesses
over the next decade — $40 billion, directly to small
businesses who are doing the right thing by their employees. And experts — not just
from the government, but also those commissioned
by the Business Roundtable — suggest that health insurance
reform could ultimately save large employers anywhere from
$2,000 to $3,000 per family — your employees and
your bottom line. I’ve said in the State of the
Union and I’ll repeat here today: I am willing and happy to
look at other ideas to improve the law, including incentives
to improve patient safety and medical malpractice reforms. And I want to correct a flaw
that’s already placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden
on too many small businesses, and I appreciate the
Chamber’s help in doing that. But we have to recognize that
some common-sense regulations often will make sense
for your businesses, as well as your families,
as well as your neighbors, as well as your coworkers. Of course, your responsibility
goes beyond recognizing the need for certain standards
and safeguards. If we’re fighting to reform the
tax code and increase exports to help you compete, the benefits
can’t just translate into greater profits and bonuses
for those at the top. They have to be shared
by American workers, who need to know that expanding
trade and opening markets will lift their standards of living
as well as your bottom line. We can’t go back to the kind of
economy and culture that we saw in the years leading
up to the recession, where growth and gains in
productivity just didn’t translate into rising
incomes and opportunity for the middle class. That’s not something
necessarily we can legislate, but it’s something that all of
us have to take responsibility for thinking about. How do we make sure that
everybody’s got a stake in trade, everybody’s got a
stake in increasing exports, everybody’s got a stake
in rising productivity? Because ordinary folks end
up seeing their standards of living rise as well. That’s always been
the American promise. That’s what JFK
meant when he said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Too many boats have been left
behind, stuck in the mud. And if we as a nation are
going to invest in innovation, that innovation should lead
to new jobs and manufacturing on our shores. The end result of tax breaks and
investments can’t simply be that new breakthroughs and
technologies are discovered here in America, but
then the manufacturing takes place overseas. That, too, breaks
the social compact. It makes people feel as if the
game is fixed and they’re not benefiting from the
extraordinary discoveries that take place here. So the key to our success has
never been just developing new ideas; it’s also been
making new products. So Intel pioneers the microchip,
then puts thousands to work building them in Silicon Valley. Henry Ford perfects
the assembly line, and then puts a generation
to work in the factories of Detroit. That’s how we built the largest
middle class in the world. Those folks working
in those plants, they go out and they buy a Ford. They buy a personal computer. And the economy
grows for everyone. And that’s how we’ll create the
base of knowledge and skills that propel the next
inventions and the next ideas. Right now, businesses across
this country are proving that America can compete. Caterpillar is opening a new
plant to build excavators in Texas that used to be
shipped from Japan. In Tennessee, Whirlpool is
opening their first new U.S. factory in more than a decade. Dow is building a new plant
in Michigan to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles. A company called Geomagic,
a software maker, decided to close down its
overseas centers in China and Europe and move their R&D
here to the United States. These companies are bringing
jobs back to our shores. And that’s good for everybody. So if I’ve got one message, my
message is now is the time to invest in America. Now is the time to
invest in America. (applause) Today, American companies have
nearly $2 trillion sitting on their balance sheets. And I know that many of you have
told me that you’re waiting for demand to rise before you get
off the sidelines and expand, and that with millions of
Americans out of work, demand has risen more slowly
than any of us would like. We’re in this together, but
many of your own economists and salespeople are now forecasting
a healthy increase in demand. So I just want to encourage
you to get in the game. As part of the bipartisan
tax deal we negotiated, with the support of the Chamber,
businesses can immediately expense 100 percent of
their capital investments. And as all of you know, it’s
investments made now that will pay off as the economy rebounds. And as you hire, you know that
more Americans working will mean more sales for your companies. It will mean more demand for
your products and services. It will mean higher
profits for your companies. We can create a virtuous circle. And if there’s a reason you
don’t share my confidence, if there’s a reason you don’t
believe that this is the time to get off the sidelines — to
hire and to invest — I want to know about it. I want to fix it. That’s why I’ve asked Jeff
Immelt of GE to lead a new council of business leaders and
outside experts so that we’re getting the best advice on what
you’re facing out there — and we’ll be holding our first
meeting two weeks from now, on the 24th. So you can get your emails
in early, with your ideas, with your thoughts about how we
keep moving forward to create this virtuous cycle. Together, I am confident we can
win the competition for new jobs and industries. And I know you
share my enthusiasm. Here’s one thing I know. For all the disagreements, Tom,
that we may have sometimes on issues, I know you
love this country. I know you want America to
succeed just as badly as I do. So, yes, we’ll have some
disagreements; and, yes, we’ll see things
differently at times. But we’re all Americans. And that spirit of patriotism,
and that sense of mutual regard and common obligation, that has
carried us through far harder times than the ones
we’ve just been through. And I’m reminded, toward
the end of the 1930s, amidst the Depression, the
looming prospect of war, FDR, President Roosevelt, realized
he would need to form a new partnership with business if
we were going to become what he would later call the
“arsenal of democracy.” And as you can imagine,
the relationship between the President and business
leaders during the course of the Depression had
been rocky at times. They’d grown somewhat
fractured by the New Deal. So Roosevelt reached
out to businesses, and business leaders answered
the call to serve their country. After years of working
at cross purposes, the result was one of the most
productive collaborations between the public and private
sectors in American history. Some, like the head of GM,
hadn’t previously known the President, and if anything
had seen him as an adversary. But he gathered his family and
he explained that he was going to head up what would become
the War Production Board. And he said to his family, “This
country has been good to me, and I want to pay it back.” I want to pay it back. And in the years that followed,
automobile factories converted to making planes and tanks. And corset factories
made grenade belts. A toy company made compasses. A pinball machine maker
turned out shells. 1941 would see the greatest
expansion of manufacturing in the history of America. And not only did this
help us win the war; it led to millions of new jobs
and helped produce the great American middle class. So we have faced
hard times before. We have faced moments of
tumult and moments of change. And we know what to do. We know how to succeed. We are Americans, and as we have
done throughout our history, I have every confidence that
once again we will rise to this occasion; that
we can come together, we can adapt and we can thrive
in this changing economy. And we need to look no further
than the innovative companies in this room. If we can harness your potential
and the potential of your people across this country, I think
there’s no stopping us. So thank you, God bless you,
and may God bless the United States of America. (applause)

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