Remarks by the President on Middle-Class Economics -- Boise, ID
Boise State University
3:05 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Boise State! (Applause.) Oh, it's good to be back! (Applause.) Can everybody please give Camille a big round of applause for that introduction? (Applause.) I love young people who are doing science. And I especially love seeing young women in sciences. And so, a great job that Camille is doing. (Applause.)
A couple other people I want to mention. Your Mayor, Mayor Bieter, is here. (Applause.) Where is he? Where is he? There he is. Flew back with me on Air Force One. (Applause.) And he didn’t break anything. (Laughter.) It was amazing, though. When we were coming back he was telling me the story about his grandfather, an immigrant from the Basque Region, coming here and how he would herd sheep. And for five years, he would be up in the mountains and the hills, and then come down to town for like two months a year, and the rest of the time he was up there. And I figured his dad was a pretty tough guy, because I'll bet it gets kind of cold up in the hills. (Laughter.)
Another person I want to mention -- this is somebody who I actually have known for a really long time. He was the lieutenant governor in Illinois, now is your outstanding president here at Boise State -- President Kustra. Give him a big round of applause. (Applause.) There he is. It’s good to see Illinoisans do something with their lives. (Laughter.) We're proud of them.
Thanks to all the Broncos for having me. (Applause.) And thanks for the balmy weather. I thought it was going to be a little colder around here. (Laughter.)
So, last night, I gave my State of the Union address. (Applause.) Today, I'm going to be shorter. I won't be too short, just a little shorter. (Laughter.) And I focused last night on what we can do, together, to make sure middle-class economics helps more Americans get ahead in the new economy. And I said that I’d take these ideas across the country. And I wanted my first stop to be right here in Boise, Idaho. (Applause.)
Now, there are a couple reasons for this. The first is because, last year, Michelle and I got a very polite letter from a young girl named Bella Williams -- who is here today. Where’s Bella? There she is right there. Wave, Bella. (Applause.) Bella is 13 now, but she was 12 at the time. So she wrote me a letter and she said, “I know what you’re thinking -- Wow, what’s it like in Boise, Idaho?” (Laughter.) So she invited me to come visit. And she also invited me to learn how to ski or snowboard with her. (Applause.) Now, as somebody who was born in Hawaii, where there’s not a lot of snow -- let me put it this way -- you do not want to see me ski. (Laughter.) Or at least the Secret Service does not want to see me ski. (Laughter.)
But what I do know about Boise is that it’s beautiful. I know that because I’ve been here before. I campaigned here in 2008. (Applause.) It was really fun. And the truth is, because of the incredible work that was done here in Idaho, it helped us win the primary. And I might not be President if it weren't for the good people of Idaho. (Applause.) Of course, in the general election I got whupped. (Laughter.) I got whupped twice, in fact. But that’s okay -- I’ve got no hard feelings. (Laughter.)
In fact, that’s exactly why I’ve come back. Because I ended my speech last night with something that I talked about in Boston just over a decade ago, and that is there is not a liberal America or a conservative America, but a United States of America. (Applause.)
And today, I know it can seem like our politics are more divided than ever. And in places like Idaho, the only “blue” turf is on your field. (Applause.) And the pundits in Washington hold up these divisions in our existing politics and they show, well, this is proof that any kind of hopeful politics, that's just naïve. But as I told you last night, I still believe what I said back then. I still believe that, as Americans, we have more in common than not. (Applause.)
I mean, we have an entire industry that's designed to sort us out. Our media is all segmented now so that instead of just watching three stations, we got 600. And everything is market-segmented, and you got the conservative station and the liberal stations. So everybody is only listening to what they already agree with. And then you’ve got political gerrymandering that sorts things out so that every district is either one thing or the other. And so there are a lot of institutional forces that make it seem like we have nothing in common.
But one of the great things about being President is you travel all across the country and I've seen too much of the good and generous and big-hearted optimism of people, young and old -- folks like Bella. I've seen how deep down there’s just a core decency and desire to make progress together among the American people. (Applause.) That's what I believe.
So I've got two years left and I am not going to stop trying -- trying to make our politics work better. That’s what you deserve. That’s how we move the country forward. (Applause.) And, Idaho, we’ve got big things to do together. I may be in the fourth quarter of my presidency, but here, at the home of the team with the most famous “Statue of Liberty” play in history -- (applause) -- I don’t need to remind you that big things happen late in the fourth quarter. (Applause.)
So here’s where we're starting in 2015. Our economy is growing. Our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our deficits have been cut by two-thirds. Our energy production is booming. Our troops are coming home. (Applause.) We have risen from recession better positioned, freer to write our own future than any other country on Earth.
But as I said last night, now we’ve got to choose what future we want. Are we going to accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?
THE PRESIDENT: Or can we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and opportunities for everybody who’s willing to try hard? (Applause.)
For six years, we’ve been working to rebuild our economy on a new foundation. And what I want people to know is, thanks to your hard work and your resilience, America is coming back. And you’ll recall, when we were in the midst of the recession, right after I came into office, there was some arguments about the steps we were taking. There were questions about whether we were doing the right thing. But we believed we could reverse the tide of outsourcing, and draw new jobs back to America. And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs. (Applause.)
We believed that with smart energy policies, we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. Today, America is number one in oil production and gas production and wind production. (Applause.) And every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. (Applause.) And meanwhile, thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the average family this year should save about 750 bucks at the pump. (Applause.)
We believed we could do better when it came to educating our kids for a competitive world. And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. More young people like folks right here at Boise State are finishing college than ever before. (Applause.)
We figured sensible regulations could encourage fair competition and shield families from ruin, and prevent the kind of crises that we saw in 2007, 2008. And today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts. And in the past year alone, about 10 million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage, including right here in Idaho. (Applause.)
Now, sometimes you’d think folks have short memories, because at every step of the way, we were told that these goals were too misguided, or they were too ambitious, or they’d crush jobs, or they’d explode deficits, or they’d destroy the economy. You remember those, right? Every step we took, this is going to be terrible. And instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade. And we’ve seen the deficits, as I said, go down by two-thirds. And people’s 401[k]s are stronger now because the stock market has doubled. And health care inflation is at the lowest rate in 50 years. (Applause.) Lowest rate in 50 years.
Here in Boise, your unemployment rate has fallen below 4 percent -- and that's almost two-thirds from its peak five years ago. (Applause.)
So the verdict is clear. The ruling on the field stands. (Laughter.) Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. These policies will keep on working, as long as politics in Washington doesn’t get in the way of our progress. (Applause.) We can’t suddenly put the security of families back at risk by taking away their health insurance. We can't risk another meltdown on Wall Street by unraveling the new rules on Wall Street. I'm going to stand between working families and any attempt to roll back that progress. (Applause.)
Because today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives. Wages are finally starting to go up. More small business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007. So we need to keep on going. Let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and opportunity for every single American. (Applause.) That's our job. That's our job. Let’s make sure all our people have the tools and the support that they need to go as far as their dreams and their effort will take them.
That's what middle-class economics is -- the idea that this country does best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules. We don’t want to just make sure that everybody shares in America’s success -- we actually think that everybody can contribute to America’s success. (Applause.) And when everybody is participating and given a shot, there’s nothing we cannot do. (Applause.)
So here’s what middle-class economics requires in this new economy. Number one, it means helping working families feel more secure in a constantly changing economy. It means helping folks afford child care, and college, and paid leave at work, and health care, and retirement. (Applause.) And I’m sending Congress a plan that’s going to help families with all of these issues -- lowering the taxes of working families, putting thousands of dollars back into your pockets each year. (Applause.) Giving you some help.
Number two, middle-class economics means that we’re going to make sure that folks keep earning higher wages down the road, and that means we’ve got to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills. And that's what all of you are doing right here at Boise State. You heard Camille’s story -- she’s a Mechanical Engineering major. She’s a great example of why we’re encouraging more women and more minorities to study in high-paying fields that traditionally they haven't always participated in -- in math and science and engineering and technology. (Applause.) Camille has done research for NASA. She’s gotten real job experience with industry partners. She’s the leader of your Microgravity Team. And, by the way, she’s a sophomore. (Applause.) So by the time she’s done -- she might invent time travel by the time she’s done here at Boise. (Laughter.)
But the point is, I want every American to have the kinds of chances that Camille has. Because when we've got everybody on the field, that's when you win games. I mean, think about if we had as many young girls focused and aspiring to be scientists and astronauts and engineers. That's a whole slew of talent that we want to make sure is on the field. (Applause.)
So we’ve been working to help more young people have access to and afford college, with grants and loans that go farther than before. And when I came into office, we took action to help millions of students cap payments on their loans at 10 percent of their income -- (applause) -- so that they could afford to, let’s say, take a research job after graduation and not be overburdened by debt. That’s why I want to work with Congress to make sure every student already burdened with loans can reduce your monthly payments by refinancing. (Applause.)
But there are a lot of Americans who don’t always have the opportunity to study someplace like Boise State. They need something that’s local; they need something that’s more flexible. You’ve got older workers looking for a better job. Or you got veterans coming back and trying to figure out how they can get into the civilian workforce. You got parents who are trying to transition back into the job market, but they’ve got to work and pay the rent and look after their kids, but they still want to make something of themselves. So they can't always go full-time at a four-year institution. And that’s why I’m sending Congress a bold, new plan to lower the cost of community college to zero. (Applause.) To zero.
The idea is, in the new economy, we need to make two years of college as free and as universal in America as high school is today. Because that was part of our huge advantage back in the 20th century. We were the first out of the gate to democratize education and put in place public high schools. And so our workforce was better educated than any other country in the world. The thing is, other countries caught up. They figured it out. They looked at America and said, why is America being so successful? Their workers are better educated. We were on the cutting-edge then; now we've got to be pushing the boundaries for the 21st century.
And just like we pick up a tool to build something new, we can pick up a skill to do something new. And that’s something that you’re doing right here at Boise. Every year, you sponsor HackFort -- (applause) -- which is, for those of you who are not aware, this is a tech festival that brings the community together to share knowledge and new skills with one another. And I know we’ve got some folks from some of Boise’s dozen or so tech “meetups” here today.
Here at Boise State innovation is a culture that you're building. And you're also partnering with companies to do two things -- you help students graduate with skills that employers are looking for, and you help employees pick up the skills they need to advance on the job. So you're working together. And you're seeing progress, and it's contributing to the economic development of the city and the state, as well as being good for the students.
And that's why my administration is connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, or robotics, as well as traditional fields like nursing. And today, we’re partnering with business across the country to “Upskill America” -- to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs, even if they don’t have a higher education. We want to recruit more companies to help provide apprenticeships and other pathways so that people can upgrade their skills. We're all going to have to do that in this new economy. But it's hard to do it on your own, especially if you're already working and supporting a family.
Now, as we better train our workers, we need the new economy to keep churning out high-wage jobs for those workers to fill. And that's why the third part of middle-class economics is about building the most competitive economy in the world. We want good jobs being created right here in the United States of America, not someplace else. (Applause.)
And we’ve got everything it takes to do it. Just to go back to Bella’s question -- “Wow, what’s it like in Boise, Idaho” -- well, one of the answers is, you’re the cutting-edge of innovation.
I had a chance to tour your New Product Development lab, and I've got to say this was not the stuff I was doing in college. (Laughter.) So one group was showing me how they 3D-printed a custom handle that a local student with developmental disabilities could access his locker independently, without anybody’s help. (Applause.) But this whole 3D-printing concept was creating prototypes, so that if you have a good idea you don't have to have a huge amount of money. You can come and students and faculty are going to work with you to develop a prototype that you may then be able to sell as a product at much lower cost.
Another group is working with a local company, Rekluse, to manufacture parts for high-performance motorcycles. Now, that excites Vice President Biden. (Laughter. I might bring him with me the next time I come to Boise. (Applause.) Some of your faculty and students are working with next-generation materials like graphene, which is a material that’s thinner than paper and stronger than steel. It's amazing.
And the work you do here is one of the reasons why Boise is one of our top cities for tech startups. (Applause.) And that means we shouldn’t just be celebrating your work, we should be investing in it. We should make sure our businesses have everything they need to innovate, expand in this 21st century economy.
The research dollars that leads to new inventions. The manufacturers who can make those inventions here in America. The best infrastructure to ship products, and the chance to sell those products in growing markets overseas. A free and open Internet that reaches every classroom, and every community -- (applause) -- so this young generation of innovators and entrepreneurs can keep on remaking our world.
Now, those of you who were watching last night know that I made these arguments before Congress. Most of these are ideas that traditionally were bipartisan. I was talking to Bob. Bob was a Republican lieutenant governor, but I'm not sure he’d survive now in a primary. (Laughter.) But the ideas I just talked about, those are things that traditionally all of us could agree to. I mean, after all, the state we come from, Illinois, that's the “land of Lincoln,” and Lincoln was the first Republican President. And he started land-grant colleges, and he built railroads and invested in the National Science Foundation. And he understood that this is what it takes for us to grow together.
But watching last night, some of you may have noticed, Republicans were not applauding for many of these ideas. (Laughter.) They were kind of quiet. But when it comes to issues like infrastructure and research, I think when you talk to them privately, when they’re not on camera -- (laughter) -- they generally agree that it's important. Educating our young people, creating good jobs, being competitive, those things shouldn’t be controversial. But where too often we run onto the rocks, where the debate starts getting difficult, is how do we pay for these investments. Because it requires dollars. The labs here and the infrastructure that we need, those things don't just pop up for free.
And the private sector, which is the heartbeat of our economy, it doesn’t build roads; it doesn’t create ports; it doesn’t lay down all the Internet lines -- or the broadband lines that are required to reach remote communities. So we have to make some investments; we've got to figure out how to pay for it.
And as Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does. (Applause.) Where we get frustrated is when we know that lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes, so you’ve got some corporations paying nothing while others are paying full freight. You’ve got the super rich getting giveaways they don’t need, and middle-class families not getting the breaks that they do need. (Applause.)
So what I said last night to Congress is we need to make these investments, we need to help families, we need to build middle-class economics. And here’s how we can pay for it. Let’s close those loopholes. Let’s stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad; let’s reward companies that are investing here in America. (Applause.)
Let’s close the loopholes that let the top 1 or .1 or .01 percent avoid paying certain taxes, and use that money to help more Americans pay for college and child care. The idea is, let’s have a tax code that truly helps working Americans, the vast majority of Americans, get a leg up in the new economy. (Applause.)
That’s what I believe in. That's what I believe in. I believe in helping hardworking families make ends meet. And I believe in giving all of us the tools we need so that if we work hard we can get good-paying jobs in this new economy. And I believe in making sure that our businesses are strong and competitive and making the investments that are required.
That’s where America needs to go. And I believe that's where Americans want America to go. (Applause.) And if we do these things, it will make our economy stronger -- not just a year from now, or 10 years from now, but deep into the next century.
Now, I know there are Republicans who disagree with my approach. I could see that from their body language yesterday. (Laughter.) And if they do disagree with me, then I look forward to hearing from them how they want to pay for things like R&D and infrastructure that we need to grow. (Applause.) They should put forward some alternative proposals.
I want to hear specifically from them how they intend to help kids pay for college. (Applause.) It is perfectly fair for them to say, we've got a better way of meeting these national priorities. But if they do, then they’ve got to show us what those ideas are. (Applause.) And what you can’t do is just pretend that things like child care or student debt or infrastructure or basic research are not important. And you can't pretend there’s nothing we can do to help middle-class families get ahead. There’s a lot we can do. (Applause.)
Some of the commentators last night said, well, that was a pretty good speech, but none of this can pass this Congress. But my job is to put forward what I think is best for America. The job of Congress, then, is to put forward alternative ideas, but they’ve got to be specific. They can't just be, no. (Laughter and applause.) I'm happy to start a conversation. Tell me how we're going to do the things that need to be done. Tell me how we get to yes. (Applause.)
I want to get to yes on more young people being able to afford college. I want to get to yes on more research and development funding. I want to get to yes for first-class infrastructure to help our businesses succeed. I want to get to yes! (Applause.) But you’ve got to tell me, work with me here. (Applause.) Work with me! Come on! Don't just say no! (Applause.) You can't just say no.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Si, se puede!
THE PRESIDENT: Si, se puede! Yes, we can! (Applause.)
Look, we may disagree on politics sometimes. Not “may” -- often. All the time disagree. That's the nature of a democracy But we don't have to be divided as a people. We're on the same team. (Applause.) When the football team divides up into offense and defense, they probably go at it pretty hard during practice, but they understand, well, we're part of the same team. We're supposed to be rooting for each other. If a quarterback controversy arises and there’s a competition, I'm going to be fighting real hard to get that starting spot. But if I don't get it, I'm going to be rooting for the team. (Applause.)
Whoever we are -- whether we are Republican, or Democrat, or independent, or young or old, or black, white, gay, straight -- we all share a common vision for our future. (Applause.) We want a better country for your generation, and for your kids’ generation. And I want this country to be one that shows the world what we still know to be true -- that we are not just a collection of red states and blue states; we are still the United States of America. (Applause.) That's what we're fighting for. That's what we're pushing for.
And if you agree with me, then join me, and let’s get to work. We've got a lot of stuff to do in this new century.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
3:38 P.M. CST