Remarks by the Vice President at Center for American Progress Gala
Andrew Mellon Auditorium
8:01 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, if anyone needs a break, I think you all need a break. You sounded like you were having a great time before we walked out on this stage.
And I want to thank you, Madam President. And I understand Senator Gillibrand is here, a great senator. Lee Saunders, AFSCME, I was told is going to be here. And Mary Kay Henry of SEIU. (Applause.) And by the way, Mary Kay, will tell you she loves me better than anybody. (Laughter.) My mother said if someone loves you, you've got love them back. That's why she likes me. And Randi is here, as well, I think for the AFT. (Applause.) And my buddy Rich Trumka and Ambassador Murphy.
Look, I want to thank everyone at Generation Progress for everything you've done to stop sexual assault on campuses with It’s On Us. (Applause.) No, that is a big deal. That really is a big, big deal. And we're changing things. We're changing the culture. We really are and we really can. But we have to change the culture.
But look, it’s an honor to be with you tonight. I spoke to this organization when it was founded, 12 years ago, when John Podesta was 20 years old. (Laughter.) And I’ve had the chance to speak with you many, many times. But what I value most about all of you that are here tonight is your deep passion, always driven by the concern for others. And that's what distinguishes you among all the groups here in the city of Washington that have consequence and impact on policy.
Your dedication represents, quite frankly, the fuel that has energized everything the President and I have done and continue to try to do.
And together I think we’ve accomplished extraordinary things -— bringing the economy from crisis to recovery to the cusp of genuine resurgence -- as Neera said, 12 million jobs; 1 million manufacturing jobs; longest private sector growth on record; unemployment cut almost in half from when we took office.
But one of the things I want to make clear that I don't think we Democrats do enough, we got to make clear why the economy recovered, and what -- no, no, I tell you why. Not for credit, for credibility -- for credibility. Republicans I promise you in this election are going to claim the recovery was related to them. I know that sounds bizarre, but they are. (Laughter.)
You heard immediately when the Majority Leader said -- he acknowledged there’s been a genuine recovery. And he said it was because of the anticipation and the expectation of a Republican Congress. Now, you guys make fun of these guys, but guess what, they’ve been better than us in messaging. They’ve been better than us. And if they say it enough, and we don't speak out, it will seep back in.
Because look, the way this recovery is perceived is going to set the terms of the debate for years to come, but particularly for this next year. And the country now faces and will continue to face a stark choice. And it really is stark: A return to the failed policies of the Republican Party, the vision that caused the Great Recession; or we're going to continue on a path that will allow us to really have genuine resurgence and bring the middle class back in the game.
Republicans have learned nothing. They passed a budget -- a congressional budget -- that's essentially the same one they passed six years in a row. But they passed it in both houses this time. It’s important to keep this mind, folks. It’s important to keep this in mind. The budget they passed attempts to do all that you helped get done to bring about this recovery.
They’re doubling down on the failed economic policies that caused the recession in the first place and crushed the middle class.
The FY16 budget they just passed -- I won’t go into any detail -- but it calls for cuts of $5.3 trillion over the next 10 years. It ends Medicare, makes it a voucher program. It cuts $500 billion from Medicaid. It repeals the Affordable Care Act. It requires a $500 billion across-the-board cut on everything from manufacturing to education, to NIH, to job training, to law enforcement, to Head Start. Across the board.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Vote them out!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we got to vote, but you got to convince people to vote them out. Wishing it is not going to happen.
And let me say what I said back to you in 2009 when you invited me to speak after we were elected. I said, we want to make it possible for everyone who aspires to the middle class to have a fighting chance to get in it, and those who are in the middle class to have a fighting chance to stay there. I said that’s the goal of our administration.
That was not hyperbole. When the President asked me to join the administration, to join him in the race, I asked him one question, I mean this sincerely. I know no one doubts what I say. The problem is I sometimes say all that I think. (Laughter and applause.) But I make no damn apology for that. (Applause.)
But I literally asked him, I wanted to know one thing because I’d only worked with him for a couple years. I said, do you mean what you say about the middle class?
Everybody thinks I’m always preoccupied my last -- my entire career with the middle class. And by the way, in this town being referred to as Middle Class Joe is meant as an insult. No, I really mean it. Because you're not sophisticated if you're middle class. Because even among some of our -- we Democrats, we're sophisticated jerks lots of times. No, I really mean it.
Now, here’s the deal, though. The reason why I always talk about the middle class -- the reason why we have been the most stable, political and socially stable country in the world is because we’ve had an aspiring and growing middle class. That's the glue that has held this country together. And that's why it’s so important.
And the middle class was in dire straits, hemorrhaging over 700,000 jobs a month. Foreclosures were rampant. The generation of wealth that middle-class families had built in pensions, savings accounts, home equity —- they were wiped out overnight.
And as the recovery came, as the stock grew from 6,000 to 18,000, they weren’t in on the deal because they had been wiped out. And so, folks, look, we know we had to take some immediate action, and the action we took was really very unpopular -- even among some Democrats it was unpopular.
And we started off with the Recovery Act. The Recovery Act turned out to be over an $800 billion expenditure in less than two years. John Boehner called it “another run-of-the-mill, cumbersome, undisciplined, wasteful Washington spending bill.”
And one of the leading conservative economist Doug Holtz-Eakin said, “If -- even if one believed that countercyclical fiscal policy -- stimulus -- could be executed precisely and had multiplier effects, it’s time to learn by experience that this strategy is not working.”
Well, guess what, I executed it -- we executed it precisely. The GAO found the program was implemented with less than .2 percent of waste. (Applause.) Here’s the deal. Here’s the deal. The Chairman of Oversight, Darrell Issa, a really conservative guy, called it “a proven spending transparency approach.”
The reason why it’s important to remind people of that is what is the mantra of the Republican Party? Government spending is wasteful. We don't know how to do it.
We do. And it worked. (Applause.)
The University of Chicago ran a poll and asked leading economists across the spectrum if they thought the Recovery Act was worth doing; only 12 percent said no. In other words, 88 percent said yes; 93 percent of those economists agreed that it lowered the nation’s unemployment rate.
Michael Grunwald, a leading reporter, well-respected journalist who was skeptical of the act at first and wrote skeptically, but he ended up writing a book called “The New New Deal” in which he said, “The Recovery Act helped ease a lot of pain, and help avert a depression that would have cause immeasurable pain.”
We came along with TARP. Talk about the least popular things for anyone to vote for -- bail out the guys who caused the problem. Ryan called TARP “an ad-hoc, opaque, bailout of a slush fund for large private institutions.”
But guess what, banks are stable. They’re lending again. They paid back everything they owed plus $15 billion more to the Treasury.
Dodd-Frank -- Gingrich -- incredibly unpopular. Gingrich called it -- he said it would kill the banking industry. It was attacked on left because we didn't nationalize. Actual results: transparency, accountability, compliance, renewed confidence in the business community in Wall Street, which they had lost confidence in. It took us a long way toward ensuring that our country is never again going to face a banking crisis that destabilizes the economy and destroys livelihoods.
The auto “bailout” -- I know I get blamed for being the guy who pushed that. I was proud to push it. Romney called it, “crony capitalism on a grand scale.” Six out of 10 Americans and a lot of Democrats opposed it. We were told that we’d never sell more than 13 million automobiles again. Last year we sold 21.6 million automobiles. (Applause.) We saved a million jobs down the supply line, and we added 572,000 new jobs.
Health care. Boehner said, it would ruin the best health care system in the world. It would bankrupt our nation and ruin our economy.
Sixteen million people gained insurance since that law was signed. The lowest inflation rate in increase in health care costs in 50 years. (Applause.) And we settled the fight that I’ve been involved in since I was a 29-year-old kid running for Senate -— health care is now a right not a privilege. It was important. (Applause.)
Taxes. We knew we had to bring back fairness to the tax code to get the middle class back in the game. Because guess what’s happened -- look at all the incentive has gone to the wealthy. They're not bad guys. They're just dealing with the system, man. And so we reward -- we reward unearned income in such a disproportionate way relative to earned income. We’ve never done it since 1922. That's why everything we did from expanding the Earned Income Tax Credits for families with children, cutting the payroll taxes to put more money in the pockets of 160 million people. Now we’re calling for the elimination of over 10 years -- over the next 10 years of $1.1 trillion of tax loopholes that no longer have any productive utility. None. They cannot be defended.
If we do this, it will allow us to give the middle class a break, by tripling child care tax credit for working families, providing a $500 tax credit for two-wage-earner families. It will allow us to strengthen the economy as well as lower the deficit, which we have done by two-thirds.
Look, we’re doing these things not because they're just fair, we're doing it because they provide economic growth for the middle class. You read The New York Times today, look at what Standard & Poor’s said, the greatest threat to the growth of the world economy is the concentration of wealth. (Applause.)
If you make the widgets and no one can buy them, things don't grow. It’s not coming from a liberal, Democratic think tank. No, I’m serious. This is important. We’ve got to change the direction.
Because we know how to grow the economy. It grows from the middle out -- you invest in education, infrastructure, research and development, that's when the country grows.
And we know that in order to continue to lead the world in the 21st century, we need to do two important things -- and by the way, business is coming back to the United States. Look at all of the data. Your generation -- I can see these young people in front of me -- you're not going to hear about outsourcing. It’s going to be about insourcing. I’m serious.
Look at what A.T. Kearney has said. They do a survey every single year for the last I think 17 years. They ask the 300 largest industrialists in the world: Where is the best place in the world to invest? By a margin larger than any time they’ve kept this -- they’ve had this survey, it said the United States in everything from manufacturing to IT to the service industry.
Secondly, you take a look at -- there’s an outfit called the Boston Economic Group [sic] -- that does this survey every year, of every country -- every company invested in China. And they ask the same question every year for the last decade or more: What are your plans for next year? This year 53 percent said they plan on coming home. They're coming home for a simple reason, folks. We have the most agile venture capitalists in the world. We have a transparent system where your intellectual property is protected. We have the lowest energy cost of anyplace in the world because we’ll be the epicenter of energy for the remainder of this century. And we also have the most productive workforce in the world.
But they're not going to keep coming home unless we do two things. We the best-educated workforce on Earth; and the most modern infrastructure. And we lack both now.
That’s why we use the savings from this $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years to invest in providing a fair shot in education -- two years of free community college. Twelve years is no longer enough. It simply is not enough. (Applause.) Maintain the maximum Pell grants; make college affordable for everyone. Americans by extending the $2,500 tax credit; limit the payback to 10 percent of disposable income. This is not doing anybody a favor. This is doing America a favor. This is what we need to do.
We have to make sure we have the most modern infrastructure in the world. Folks, we rank 26th in the world -- the United States of America ranks 26th in the world in transportation infrastructure.
I got criticized for saying La Guardia was like a third-world airport. (Laughter.) Guess what, the governor and everybody else, including The New York Times, calls it a third-world airport. And they're changing it.
We have to invest. Think about it. I really mean it. How can your generation sustain the growth of the United States of America with the infrastructure we now have. So we’re proposing to invest over $500 billion in highways, rail, ports, canals, as well as modernizing the energy infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020. We're not going to get there.
As I said, we rank 28th in the world. This is not acceptable. These critical infrastructure investments do a couple things, though. They immediately provide good jobs for a good purpose. And they start a virtuous cycle. They attract and keep business, which creates other good jobs because it puts communities to work.
We proved that in the Recovery Act. For every dollar we invested, we brought $4 off the sidelines. That's what this is about. Growth -- I don't understand how they don't understand this. (Laughter.) I really don't. I didn't used to be this way, folks. It didn't used to be this way. Up until 15 years ago, the Republicans were all about infrastructure.
Look, folks, we're now in a situation where we can't back up. We can't walk away. I know -- again, I get criticized for being too straightforward, but, damn it, we ought to stand up and say what we believe and stand by it. Defend it. Don't back away from it. (Applause.)
We should run on what we’ve done -- whoever is running should also talk about what the resurgence in place in the future is and talk about in 2016 what we’ve done.
Some say this amounts to a third President -- a third term for the President Obama. I call it sticking with what works and expanding on it to restore the middle class because standing up for the middle class -- (applause) -- look there used to be -- I’ll end with this. There used to be a basic bargain in the country, and I’m not joking about this. Since the ‘30s, there was a basic bargain in country, a view shared by Democrats and Republicans. They differed in degree, but they shared in this view that if you participated in an enterprise where you were part of the reason of the productivity of the enterprise, you got to share in the benefits that flowed from that enterprise.
Today, $4.6 billion over the last five years made by corporate America -- a good thing -- but guess what, 54 percent of it went to buy back their own stock, 37 percent went to pay dividends, leaving 9 percent for everything from salary, expansion, research and development. We cannot sustain. We cannot sustain the economy for everyone or anyone if we keep on this path.
Look, dealing with dealing the middle class back in -- because look, when the middle class does well, the wealth do very well. And the poor have a leg up. They have a chance.
And middle class isn’t a number. I have some leading economists, as John Podesta -- can tell you working for me in the White House. They’ll end to tell you that middle class is a number. Is it $51,900 -- it’s not a number. It’s a value set, guys.
And the value set is to believe that someday you can be able to own your own home and not rent it, send your kid to a park where you know they're going to be safe and come home safe, be able to send them to a high school that if they do well, they can get to college, and if they get to college, you can find a way to get them there because it is the only ticket to the middle class in the 21st century -- be able to take care of your mom when your dad dies, and hope your children never have to take care of you. That's middle class. That's where we mostly come from. That's what this is about.
And guess what, they're losing faith. Go home to your old neighborhoods, to the people who didn't do as well as you've done. Ask them when they look their kids in the eye, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, ask them whether they feel confident they can look their kids in the eye and say, honey, it’s going to be okay. I promise you.
That's what it used to be. That's what it used to be. And that's what we're about. That's why we're in this, aren’t we? Isn’t that who we are as a party? It’s who we are as a people. (Applause.)
Folks, you read probably the same article I did in The New York Times saying the middle class -- the phrase middle class is disappearing from the vocabulary of Democrats. Well, it’s not disappearing from the vocabulary of this Democrat. (Applause.)
I know there’s a view among the “sophisticated” people that the middle class in America, those dreams and aspirations of today just aren’t within striking distance anymore, and that the American people are shorting their dreams. But they may -- it’s not because they don't want those dreams, it’s they're beginning to doubt whether or not they're within their reach.
But I don't buy that they’ve given up on any of this. I don't think the American people have given up on dreaming about being able to restore the place they had or their parents had.
As I said, it’s a value set. It’s not a number. And it matters. It matters. It matters. It matters.
So I just think we have to stop being apologetic -- apologetic for anything we’ve done because what we’ve done has been correct. And if we don't explain to people why this happened, then we are going to lose the bumper sticker war. And we always do lose the bumper sticker war with the Republicans. When you don't think government matters, it’s easy to denigrate it. It’s harder to make the case to build something.
Look, I really -- I am more optimistic -- when I got here as a 29-year-old kid, I was labeled the young idealist and the young optimist. And ironically as John Podesta will tell you, if you notice in the press, when they refer to -- they call me the Optimist in the White House, as if I’m the new kid on the block. I’ve been there longer than all of them, but I am more optimistic today about our chances as a country than I’ve ever been in my life.
We are so much better positioned than any other place in the world. I want to see China grow. I want to see Europe grow. But as they say in my old neighborhood of Claymont, Delaware, they're not a patch on our jeans, guys. They got problems that exceed ours cubed.
God love China. They not only don't have enough energy, they don't have enough water. We got to help them get it. We want them to grow.
But, folks, we are so well-positioned. Just don't get caught up in Washington too much. No, I mean this sincerely -- and not focus on as the economy begins to explode, and it will, we got to deal the middle class back in. I really mean this. You got to deal the middle class back in because it is the social fabric. It is the thing that knits us together as much as sophisticated people make fun of middle-class values.
And so, guys, ordinary people can and have done extraordinary things. Never, never, never, never in the history of this country when we’ve given people an even shot -- ordinary people -- have they ever let the country down. So don't give up on them. Understand their collective strength. And their collective wisdom. They're smarter than we are. They really are.
As I said at a graduation, I said, don't confuse knowledge with wisdom. Don't confuse knowledge with wisdom.
Guys, I just think that all we got to do is make our case, give them a shot, keep fighting. As my grandfather would say -- every time I’d walk out my Grandpop Finnegan’s door, he said, Joey, keep the faith. And my grandmother would yell, no, Joey, spread it. (Laughter.) Go spread the faith.
Thank you all so much for all that you do. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you, see you. (Applause.)
8:25 P.M. EDT