THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Cannon Falls! Hello, Minnesota! Well, what a spectacular setting. Let’s get the grill going.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Fishing!
THE PRESIDENT: And do a little fishing? It is wonderful to see all of you here today. Thank you for showing up, and what a incredible setting. Everybody, feel free to have a seat; we’re going to be here for a while. (Laughter.)
A couple introductions I want to make real quick, although these folks don’t need any introduction. The outstanding governor of Minnesota Mark Dayton is in the house. (Applause.) Two of the finest senators in the country, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are here. (Applause.) From your congressional delegation, Tim Waltz -- (applause) -- Keith Ellison. (Applause.) We’ve got the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack is here. And I want to thank the mayor of Cannon Falls, Minnesota, for organizing perfect weather -- Ravi Robinson is here. (Applause.)
So I am very pleased to be out of Washington -- (applause) -- and it is great to be here. What I’m going to do is I’m just going to say a few things at the top, and then what I want to do is just open it up for questions and comments, and I want to hear from you guys. That’s the reason that we’re on this bus tour.
Obviously America has gone through extraordinary challenges over the last two and a half years. We’ve gone through the worst recession since the Great Depression, dating all the way back to 2007, 2008. But here’s the interesting thing: If you ask people around the world, people would still tell you America has got the best universities, we’ve got the best scientists, we’ve got the best entrepreneurs -- we’ve got so much going for us that folks would gladly trade places with us. (Applause.) Around the world, people still understand the extraordinary power, but also the extraordinary hope that America represents.
So there is nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed; what’s broken is our politics. (Applause.) Think about it: Over the last six months, we’ve had a string of bad luck -- there have been some things that we could not control. You had an Arab Spring in the Middle East that promises more democracy and more human rights for people, but it also drove up gas prices -- tough for the economy, a lot of uncertainty. And then you have the situation in Europe, where they’re dealing with all sorts of debt challenges, and that washes up on our shores. And you had a tsunami in Japan, and that broke supply chains and created difficulties for the economy all across the globe.
So there were a bunch of things taking place over the last six months that were not within our control. But here’s the thing -- the question is, how do we handle these challenges? Do we rise to the occasion? Do we pull together? Do we make smart decisions? And what’s been happening over the last six months -- and a little bit longer than that if we’re honest with ourselves -- is that we have a political culture that doesn’t seem willing to make the tough choices to move America forward.
We’ve got a willingness to play partisan games and engage in brinksmanship that not only costs us in terms of the economy now, but also is going to place a burden on future generations. And the question is, can we break out of that pattern? Can we break out of that pattern? Think about it: We just went through this debacle with the debt ceiling -- an entirely self-inflicted wound. It wasn’t something that was necessary. We had put forward a plan that would have stabilized our debt and our deficits for years to come. But because we’ve got a politics in which some folks in Congress -- not the folks who are here -- but some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than America win, we ended up creating more uncertainty and more damage to an economy that was already weak.
Now, we can’t have patience with that kind of behavior anymore. I know you’re frustrated, and I’m frustrated, too. We’ve got to focus on growing this economy, putting people back to work, and making sure that the American Dream is there not just for this generation but for the next generation. (Applause.)
Another way of putting this is, we expect our political representatives to show the same level of responsibility that all of you show. I don’t know most of you, but I can guess that you’re all working hard. You’re managing your budgets. You’re putting something away for your kids’ college education, maybe for your retirement. You’re at the local church, working in the food pantry or doing something to help out your community, coaching Little League. You are following through on your responsibilities, and that’s true all across the country. People are doing the right thing.
Well, if you can do the right thing, then folks in Washington have to do the right thing. (Applause.) And if we do that, there is not a problem that we face that we cannot solve.
Think about it. Our biggest challenge right now is putting people to work. Biggest challenge is getting the economy growing as rapidly as it needs to grow. It’s been growing. We’ve been able to reverse the recession. We’ve added over 2 million jobs in the private sector over the last 17 months. (Applause.)
But we’re not growing it as fast as we need to to drive down the unemployment rate in a significant way and to give people confidence.
So here are some things that we could do right now, what I’ve been talking about now for months. We could renew the payroll tax cut that we gave you in December that put $1,000 in the pocket of a typical family so that you’ve got more money in your pockets to spend to meet your obligations. It also means businesses have more customers. And it means they might hire a few more folks as a consequence. All we need to do is renew it. It’s already in place. If we have certainty next year that that same tax cut is going to be in place, then that’s going to help businesses make decisions to hire people and open up and make investments. That’s something we could do right now. Congress can do that right now. (Applause.)
Congress right now could start putting folks to work rebuilding America. One of the biggest things that caused this recession was the housing bubble, and all those subprime loans that were going out that were getting packaged in Wall Street and folks were making millions and billions of dollars off them, and then the whole thing came crashing down. And no one has been hit harder than construction workers.
And so for us to say at a time when interest rates are low, contractors are begging for work, construction workers are lining up to find jobs -- let’s rebuild America. We could be rebuilding roads and bridges and schools and parks all across America right now. (Applause.) Could put hundreds of thousands of folks to work right now.
There’s a bill sitting in Congress right now that would set up an infrastructure bank to get that moving, attracting private sector dollars, not just public dollars. Congress needs to move.
Right now we’ve got our veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, who’ve taken their place among the greatest of generations, have made extraordinary sacrifices. I meet these young people -- (applause) -- I meet young people, 23, 24 years old, they’re in charge of platoons, making life or death decisions. They’re in charge of millions, tens of millions, a hundred million dollars’ worth of equipment, and they’re coming home and they can’t find work. So we’ve said, let’s give tax credits to companies that are hiring our veterans, and let’s put them back to work and let’s let them use their skills to get this country moving again. (Applause.) Congress could do that right now.
Trade deals. You know, trade deals haven’t always been good for America. There have been times where we haven’t gotten a fair deal out of our trade deals. But we’ve put together a package that is going to allow us to start selling some Chevys and some Fords to Korea so that -- we don’t mind having Hyundais and Kias here, but we want some “Made in America” stuff in other countries. (Applause.) That’s something that Congress could do right now.
Patent reform is something that a lot of folks don’t talk about, but our entrepreneurs, when they come up with a good idea, if we could reform how that system works and cut some of the red tape, we could have entrepreneurs creating businesses like Google and Microsoft right now, all across the country. But we’ve got to make this investment, and Congress could make that decision to make it happen.
So there is no shortage of ideas to put people to work right now. What is needed is action on the part of Congress, a willingness to put the partisan games aside and say, we’re going to do what’s right for the country, not what we think is going to score some political points for the next election. (Applause.)
Now, we also need to do this in a way that allows government to live within its means. Like I said, everybody here, you make responsible choices about what you can afford and what you can’t afford. America needs to do and can do the exact same thing. There are some programs that don’t work; we should stop funding them. There is some red tape that needs to be cut; we should cut it. But the fact of the matter is that solving our debt and deficit problems simply requires all of us to share in a little bit of sacrifice, all of us to be willing to do a little bit more to get this country back on track. (Applause.) And that’s not too much to ask.
Basically what we need to do is we need to cut about $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Now, that sounds like a big number -- it is a big number. But if we were able to, as I proposed, cut about $2 trillion in spending, if folks who could best afford it -- millionaires and billionaires -- were willing to eliminate some of the loopholes that they take advantage of in the tax code and do a little bit more, and if we were willing to take on some of the long-term costs that we have on health care -- if we do those things, we could solve this problem tomorrow. I put a deal before the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, that would have solved this problem. And he walked away because his belief was we can’t ask anything of millionaires and billionaires and big corporations in order to close our deficit.
Now, Warren Buffett had an op-ed that he wrote today, where he said, “We’ve got to stop coddling billionaires like me.” (Applause.) That’s what Warren Buffett said. He pointed out that he pays a lower tax rate than anybody in his office, including the secretary. He figured out that his tax bill, he paid about 17 percent. And the reason is because most of his wealth comes from capital gains. You don’t get those tax breaks. You’re paying more than that. And -- now, I may be wrong, but I think you’re a little less wealthy than Warren Buffett. That’s just a guess. (Laughter.)