Remarks by the President on the Economy -- McLean, VA
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center
11:50 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Everybody have a seat, have a seat, have a seat. Good afternoon. Thank you, Secretary Foxx, for that introduction.
I just got a tour of a lab where automakers and government researchers team up to create new technologies that help cars communicate with the world around them and with each other. They can tell you if an oncoming vehicle is about to run a red light, or if a car is coming around a blind corner, or if a detour would help you save time and gas. And I got to test all this in a simulator. It was sort of like Knight Rider. (Laughter.) I have to say, though, it was a little disorienting -- I haven't driven in about six years. And I'm going down the highway and I think I had a little bit of a lead foot -- I was starting to hit 90. (Laughter.) And then like right next to me, the press pool is standing there, and they’re kind of traveling with me at 90 miles an hour, and it got me a little queasy. (Laughter.) But I've recovered.
Now, as the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new technology that makes driving safer is important to me. And new technology that makes driving smarter is good for the economy. One study shows that Americans spend 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic each year, which costs us $120 billion in wasted time and gas -- that's 800 bucks per commuter. Then you’ve got outdated roads and bridges that mean businesses pay an extra $27 billion in freight costs, which are then passed on to consumers. So, all told, transportation eats up more of the typical family’s household budget than anything except the rent or a mortgage -- which means that the cutting-edge research that all of you are doing here helps save lives and save money, and leads to new jobs and new technologies and new industries. And that’s why America has to invest more in the kind of job-creating research and development that you’re doing right here at the Highway Research Center. (Applause.)
I’m also here today to talk about why America has got to invest more in rebuilding the infrastructure that these cars will drive on -- because it will create better jobs and better position America for the future.
We know that in a 21st century economy businesses will set up shop wherever they find the best roads and bridges, and the fastest rail and Internet, the smartest airports, the smartest power grids. First-class infrastructure attracts first-class jobs. And right now, our investments in transportation are lagging the rest of the world.
If Washington were working the way it’s supposed to, Congress would be fixing that. We’d be investing in the things that help America bring more good jobs to our shores. Instead, here’s what’s going on in Washington. There’s something called the Highway Trust Fund -- I suspect this crew is familiar with it. It helps states support transportation projects. If Congress fails to fund it, it runs out of money. That could put nearly 700,000 jobs at risk, including more than 17,000 right here in Virginia. More than 100,000 active projects across the country -- projects where workers as we speak are paving roads and rebuilding bridges and modernizing our transit systems -- those projects would be slowed or stopped. And some states have already had to put some projects on hold because they don’t trust Congress to get its act together. So remember that the next time you see a job site sitting idle.
Now, the good news is there are bipartisan bills in both the House and the Senate that would help with a short-term fix. And I support that. At the very least, Congress should be keeping people on the job who are already there right now. But all this does is set us up for the same crisis a few months from now.
So Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis when it comes to something as basic as our infrastructure. Instead of barely paying our bills in the present, we should be investing in the future. We should have a plan for how we’re going to make sure that our roads, our bridges, our airports, our power grid, our water systems -- how all those things are going to be funded, and do it in a responsible way so that people can start planning. That also means we can save more money -- because we’re not doing it in stopgap measures.
So that’s why earlier this year I put forward a plan to rebuild our transportation infrastructure in a more responsible way. It would support millions of jobs. It would give cities and states, and private investors the certainty they need to plan ahead and hire more workers. It would help small businesses ship their goods faster. It would help parents get home to their kids faster. It would mean less wear and tear on your car. It would mean less money on gas. It would save people money. It would support cutting-edge research like the work that you’re doing here, which could end up cutting back on the number of traffic fatalities.
And my plan would not add to what is already a rapidly shrinking deficit. We’ve cut our deficit, by the way, by more than half since I came into office. (Applause.) And we wouldn’t be adding to the deficit, because we’d pay for this transportation project in part by closing tax loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
So far, House Republicans have refused to act on this idea -- and they haven’t presented their own idea. And I think that’s wrong. We shouldn’t be protecting tax loopholes for a few companies that shift massive profits overseas; we should be creating jobs rebuilding the roads and bridges that help every business right here in the United States. That is a question of priorities. And what I keep hearing from folks all across the country is that if Congress would just shift its priorities a little closer to working Americans’ priorities, we could help a lot of families right now.
This is not an abstract issue. And it shouldn’t be even a partisan issue. Republicans, Democrats, independents -- everybody uses our roads. After this last winter, you got potholes everywhere wrecking your car. I mean, how many people here have had the experience of you’re driving along and suddenly your car is wrecked? And you pay for that out of pocket. When you are in traffic congestion -- because of poor planning and bad infrastructure -- when you could be at home reading to your kid or catching their ballgame, that's a cost to you. Everybody cares about that. It doesn't matter what your political persuasion is.
After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have created nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months. The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008. We’ve made huge strides in energy independence. For the first time in more than a decade, business leaders around the world are saying the best place to invest isn’t China, the best place to invest is the United States of America. But you’ve still got a lot of middle-class families all across the country who are working harder than ever just to get ahead. They need a break. They need some help. And having better roads and less delays -- that helps.
And meanwhile, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down some of the ideas that would have the biggest impact on middle-class and working families. Not just creating more new construction jobs -- they’ve said no to raising the minimum wage, to equal pay, to fixing our broken immigration system.
Now, I want to work with everybody -- Republicans and Democrats -- to move this country forward. But I can't just stand by while politics threatens all the hard work of millions of Americans because we’ve just got gridlock in Washington. So what I’ve tried to do is take a range of actions this year to help working Americans with my own legal authorities -- from speeding up big infrastructure projects to raising wages. I’m waiting for Congress to act, but in the meantime I’ve got to go ahead and do what I can do.
And in response, their plan so far has not been to join me and say, all right, Mr. President, you’re right, we do need to rebuild our roads; we do need to spruce up our airports. Instead their big idea has been to sue me. That’s what they’re spending time on -- a political stunt that wastes America’s time and taxpayer dollars.
Keep in mind it’s your money that they're going to be spending on these ridiculous pursuits instead of just getting some work done. And I’m not interested in playing political games. I’m interested in making sure the economy grows and we’re creating more jobs, and we’re helping more middle-class families get ahead.
We need to invest in America’s infrastructure. You guys are helping to show us how to do it in a really smart way. We need to invest in American innovation and research and development. We need to invest in American manufacturing. We should be training more of our workers for new and better jobs. We should be preparing every child for a world-class education. We should be making sure that hard work pays off with higher wages, and greater workplace flexibility, and health care and child care. All these things would make a difference in people’s day-to-today lives.
And the point is we could do so much more if we just rallied around a sense of economic patriotism that says, you know what, the parties compete, but every once in a while, we got to actually do some work, instead of worrying about elections, or trying to score points on cable TV. And we can start by investing in our country.
Because historically -- it was Eisenhower who built the Interstate Highway System, working with Democrats and Republicans. This isn’t a partisan issue. And when we treat some basic investments as something that we do as Americans, when we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, things work and nobody can beat us. And that’s the spirit that all of you show here. That’s what I’m going to keep on fighting for every single day.
So I’m proud of you. I want you to keep on doing what you’re doing. We’re going to try to make sure Congress actually does as good of a job at what they’re supposed to be doing as you guys are doing on yours. If we do, then you’re going to have some parents who are getting home a little earlier. You’re going to have folks who aren’t going to have to go to the body shop quite as often. You’re going to be seeing millions of people across the country saving money at the pump. We’re going to see airline delays reduced, so when you plan that Thanksgiving trip, you’re not spending the whole time in the airport. All that can make a huge difference.
But the American people have to demand that folks in Washington do their job. Do something: That’s my big motto for Congress right now. Just do something. And if they don’t like the transportation plan that I put forward, at least come up with your own plan. And then we can compromise. But don’t just sit there and do nothing. We don’t have time. America is on the move.
And part of it’s on the move, thanks to all of you. I really appreciate it. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
12:04 P.M. EDT