Remarks by President Obama on the American Jobs Act, Oct. 11, 2011

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–(ENEWSPF)–October 11, 2011 – 2:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Have a seat.

It is great to be back in Pittsburgh! (Applause.) And it is wonderful to be here at IBEW Local #5. I had a chance to take a tour of your facilities, where you’re training workers with the skills they need to compete for good jobs. And I see some of the guys that I met on the tour, both the instructors and the students who are here, and it’s an example of how, if we get a good collaboration between business and labor and academia, that there is no reason why we cannot continue to have the best trained workers in the world. (Applause.)

And that’s got to be one of our best priorities. So I’m here to talk about how we can create new jobs — particularly jobs doing what you do best, and that’s rebuilding America. I brought some folks along with me, as well. We’ve got members of my Cabinet and my administration. We’ve got your mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, is here. Where’s Luke? Right here. (Applause.) Your county executive, Dan Onorato, is here. (Applause.) And one of my dearest friends, who I stole from the Steelers to serve as the United States Ambassador to Ireland — Dan Rooney is in the house. (Applause.) And congratulations, Steelers. You guys did a little better than my Bears last night. (Laughter.)

I’ve also brought a group of leaders with a wide range of new ideas about how we can help companies hire and grow, and we call them our White House Jobs Council. They come from some of the most successful businesses in the country — GE, Southwest, Intel. They come from labor — we’ve got Rich Trumka on here from the AFL-CIO. We’ve got universities and people across the board who are intimately involved in growing companies, venture capitalists. Most importantly, they come from outside of Washington.

And I told them, when we formed this council, I want to hear smart, forward-thinking ideas that will help our economy and our workers adapt to changing times. And together, they’ve done some extraordinary work to make those ideas happen. So I just want to personally thank every single one of the Job Council members for the great work that they’re doing. And they issued a jobs report today — we’re implementing a bunch of their ideas; it’s going to make a difference all across the country. So thank you very much. (Applause.)

Well, one of our focuses today was on entrepreneurship. And we did this because the story of America’s success is written by America’s entrepreneurs; men and women who took a chance on a dream and they turned that dream into a business, and somehow changed the world. We just lost one of our greatest entrepreneurs, and a friend, Steve Jobs, last week. And to see the outpouring of support for him and his legacy tells a story about what America’s all about. We like to make things, create things, new products, new services that change people’s lives.

And that’s what people strive to do every day in this country. And most of the time people’s dreams are simple: Start-ups and storefronts on Main Street that let folks earn enough to support their family and make a contribution to their community. And sometimes their dreams take off and those start-ups become companies like Apple or Fed-Ex or Ford; companies that end up hiring and employing hundreds of thousands of Americans and giving rise to entire new industries. And that spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation is how we became the world’s leading economic power, and it’s what constantly rejuvenates our economy.

So entrepreneurship is how we’re going to create new jobs in the future. And I’m proud to say that just last month Pittsburgh won a federal grant to promote entrepreneurship and job creation by expanding your already successful energy and health care industries in under-served parts of this city. So we’re very excited about what Pittsburgh is doing here. (Applause.)

Today, my Job Council laid out new actions we can take together — the private sector and government — to help unleash a new era of entrepreneurship in America that will grow the economy and create jobs, and strengthen our ability to compete with the rest of the world. But even as we help to fuel the next big American industry, we also understand that people are out of work right now. They need help right now. So everything that we talked about with respect to the Job Council is going to help America become more competitive, help entrepreneurs create more jobs, lay the foundation for long-term, sustainable growth.

But right now, our economy needs a jolt. Right now. (Applause.) And today, the Senate of the United States has a chance to do something about jobs right now by voting for the American Jobs Act. (Applause.) Now, this is a moment of truth for the U.S. Senate.

In front of them is a bill, a jobs bill, that independent economists have said would grow this economy and put people back to work. This is not my opinion; it’s not my administration’s opinion. This is people whose job it is for a living to analyze and evaluate what kind of impact certain policies would have. They’ve said this could grow the economy significantly and put significant numbers of Americans back to work. And no other jobs plan has that kind of support from economists — no plan from Congress, no plan from anybody.

It’s a jobs bill with the kind of proposals that Democrats and Republicans have traditionally supported. It’s a jobs bill that is entirely paid for by asking those of us who’ve been most fortunate, who’ve been incredibly blessed here in America, to contribute a little more to the country that contributed so much to our success.
Today is the day when every American will find out exactly where their senator stands on this jobs bill. Republicans say that one of the most important things we can do is cut taxes. Then they should be for this plan. This jobs bill would cut taxes for virtually every worker and small business in America. Every single one. (Applause.)

If you’re a small business owner that hires new workers or raises wages, you will get another tax cut. If you hire a veteran, you get a tax cut. People who have served overseas should not have to fight for a job when they come home. (Applause.) This jobs bill encourages small business owners and entrepreneurs to expand and to hire. The Senate should pass it today.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers have been laid off because of state budget cuts. I’m sure, Luke, you’re seeing it here in Pittsburgh. You’re having to figure out how to we make sure that we keep our teachers in the classroom. The Jobs Council is uniform in believing that the most important thing for our competitiveness, long term, is making sure our education system is producing outstanding young people who are ready to go work. (Applause.)

So this jobs bill that the Senate is debating today would put a lot of these men and women back to work right now, and it will prevent a lot more from losing their jobs.
So folks should ask their senators, why would you consider voting against putting teachers and police officers back to work? Ask them what’s wrong with having folks who have made millions or billions of dollars to pay a little more. Nothing punitive, just going back to the kinds of tax rates that used to exist under President Clinton, so that our kids can get the education they deserve.

There are more than a million laid-off construction workers who could be repairing our roads and bridges, and modernizing our schools right now. Right now. (Applause.) That’s no surprise to you. Pittsburgh has a lot of bridges. (Laughter.) Has about 300 of them. Did you know that more than a quarter of the bridges in this state are rated structurally deficient? Structurally deficient — that’s a fancy way of saying, they need to be fixed. There are nearly 6,000 bridges in Pennsylvania alone that local construction workers could be rebuilding right now. The average age of bridges around Pittsburgh is 54 years old. So we’re still benefiting from the investments, the work that was done by our grandparents, to make this a more successful, more competitive economy.

Here in Pittsburgh, 54 years old, the average age of these bridges — 13 years older than the national average. The Hulton Bridge over in Oakmont was built more than 100 years ago. There are pieces of it that are flaking off. How much longer are we going to wait to put people back to work rebuilding bridges like that? This jobs bill will give local contractors and local construction workers the chance to get back to work rebuilding America. Why would any senator say no to that?

In line with the recommendations of my Jobs Council, my administration is cutting red tape; we’re expediting several major construction projects all across the country to launch them faster and more efficiently. We want to streamline the process, the permitting process, just get those things moving. So we’re doing our job, trying to expedite the process. Now it’s time for Congress to do their job. The Senate should vote for this jobs bill today. It should not wait. It should get it done. (Applause.)

Now, a lot of folks in Congress have said they won’t support any new spending that’s not paid for. And I think that’s important. We’ve got to make sure we’re living within our means so that we can make the vital investments in our future. That’s why I signed into law $1 trillion in spending cuts over the summer. And we’ll find more places to cut those things that we don’t need. We can’t afford everything. We’ve got to make choices; we’ve got to prioritize. Programs that aren’t working, that aren’t giving us a good bang for the buck, that aren’t helping to grow the economy, that aren’t putting people back to work — we’re going to have to trim those back. So we’re willing to make tough choices. The American people, they’re already tightening their belts. They understand what it’s all about to make tough choices.

But if we want to create jobs and close the deficit, then we can’t just cut our way out of the problem. We’re also going to have to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. If they don’t, we only have three other choices: We can either increase the deficit, or we can ask the middle class to pay more at a time when they’re just barely getting by — haven’t seen their wages or incomes go up at all, in fact, have gone down over the last decade — or we can just sit back and do nothing. And I’m not willing to accept any of those three options. (Applause.)

Whenever I talk about revenue, people start complaining about, well, is he engaging in class warfare, or why is he going after the wealthiest. Look, because I’ve been fortunate and people bought a bunch of my books, I’m in that category now. (Laughter.) And in a perfect world with unlimited resources, nobody would have to pay any taxes. That’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where we’ve got to make choices.

So the question we have to ask ourselves as a society, as a country, is, would you rather keep taxes exactly as they are for those of us who benefited most from this country — tax breaks that we don’t need and weren’t even asking for — or do we want construction workers and electrical workers to have jobs rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our schools? Would we rather maintain these tax breaks for the wealthiest few, or should we give tax cuts to the entrepreneurs who might need it to start that business, launch that new idea that they’ve got? Or tax breaks to middle-class families who are likely to spend this money now and get the economy moving again?

This is a matter of priorities. And it’s a matter of shared sacrifice. And, by the way, if you ask most wealthy Americans, they’ll tell you they’re willing to do more. They’re willing to do their fair share to help this country that they love.

So it’s time to build an economy that creates good, middle-class jobs in this country. It’s time to build an economy that honors the values of hard work and responsibility. It’s time to build an economy that lasts. And that’s what this jobs bill will help us do. The proposals in the American Jobs Act aren’t just a bunch of random investments to create make-work jobs. They’re things we have to do if we want to compete with other countries for the best jobs and the newest industries. We have to have the most educated workers.

This week, I’m going to be hosting the President of South Korea. I had lunch with him in Seoul, South Korea. He told me — I said, what’s your biggest problem? He says, “The parents are too demanding. I’m having to import teachers because all our kids want to learn English when they’re in first grade.” So they’re hiring teachers in droves at a time when we’re laying them off? That doesn’t make any sense.

We’ve got to have the best transportation and communications networks in the world. We used to have the best stuff. We used to be the envy of the world. People would come to our countries and they would say, look at — look at the Hoover Dam, look at the Golden Gate Bridge. Now people go to Beijing Airport and they say, I wish we had an airport like that. We can’t compete that way, playing for 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 8th or 15th place.

We’ve got to support new research and new technology — innovative entrepreneurs; the next generation of manufacturing. Any one of the business leaders here today will tell you that’s true. If we want to compete and win in this global economy — if we want this century to be another American Century — we can’t just go back to an economic model that’s based on how much we can borrow, how much debt we can rack up, and how much we can consume. Our prosperity has to be built on what we make and what we sell around the world, and on the skills of our workers and the ingenuity of our business people. (Applause.)

We have to restore the values that have always made this a great country — the idea of hard work and responsibility that’s rewarded; everybody, from Main Street to Wall Street, doing their fair share, playing by the same set of rules.

And so, Pittsburgh, that starts now and I’m going to need your help. Your senators are voting today on this jobs bill. (Applause.) So this is gut-check time. Any senator who votes “no” should have to look you in the eye and tell you what exactly they’re opposed to. These are proposals that have traditionally been bipartisan. Republicans used to want to build roads and bridges. That wasn’t just a Democratic idea. We’ve all believed that education was important. You’ve got to come — if you’re voting no against this bill, look a Pittsburgh teacher in the eye and tell them just why they don’t deserve to get a paycheck again and, more importantly, be able to transmit all those — all that knowledge to their kids. Come tell the students why they don’t deserve their teacher back, so now they’ve got overcrowded classrooms, or arts classes or music classes or science classes have been cut back.

Come and look at a construction worker here in Pittsburgh or an electrical worker in the eye. Tell them why they shouldn’t be out there fixing our bridges or rebuilding our schools and equipping them with the latest science labs or the latest Internet connection. Explain why people should have to keep driving their kids across bridges with pieces falling off.

Or explain to a small business owner or workers in this community why you’d rather defend tax breaks for the wealthiest few than fight for tax cuts for the middle class. I think they’d have a hard time explaining why they voted no on this bill other than the fact that I proposed it. (Applause.)
I realize some Republicans in Washington have said that even if they agreed with the ideas in the American Jobs Act, they’re wary of passing it because it would give me a win. Give me a win? This is not about giving me a win. It’s why folks are fed up with Washington. This is not about giving anybody a win. It’s not about giving Democrats or Republicans a win. It’s about giving the American people who are hurting out there a win — (applause) — about giving small businesses, entrepreneurs, and construction workers a win. (Applause.) It’s about giving the American people — all of us, together — a win.
I was talking to the Jobs Council — by the way, not everybody here has necessarily voted for me. (Laughter.) But they’re patriots and they care about their country. And we were talking about how, in normal times, these are all common-sense ideas. These aren’t radical ideas. These are things that, traditionally, everybody would be for, particularly at a time of emergency like we’re in, where so many people are out of work and businesses want to see more customers. So, for folks outside of Washington, being against something for the sake of politics makes absolutely no sense. (Applause.) It makes absolutely no sense. (Applause.)

And the next election is 13 months away. The American people don’t have the luxury of waiting 13 months. They don’t have the luxury of watching Washington go back and forth in the usual fashion when this economy needs to be strengthened dramatically. A lot of folks are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need action, and they need action now. They want Congress to do what they were elected to do — put country ahead of party; do what’s right for our economy; do what’s right for our people. (Applause.) In other words, they want Congress to do your job. (Applause.)

And I’ve said this to some folks in the other party. I’ve said, I promise you, we’ll still have a lot of stuff to argue about, even if we get this thing done, about the general direction of the country and how we’re going to build it and how we’re going to out-educate and out-innovate and out-build other countries around the world. There will be a lot of time for political debating. But right now, we need to act on behalf of the American people.

So, for those of you who are in the audience, or those of you who are watching, I need you to call, email, tweet, fax, or you can write an old-fashioned letter — I don’t know if people still do that — (laughter) — let Congress know who they work for. Remind them what’s at stake when they cast their vote. Tell them that the time for gridlock and games is over. The time for action is now. And tell them to pass this bill.

If you want construction workers on the job — pass the bill. If you want teachers back in the classrooms — pass the bill. If you want tax cuts for your family and small business owners — pass this bill. If you want our veterans to share in the opportunity that they upheld and they defended — do the right thing, pass this bill. (Applause.) Now is the time to act.

I know that this is a moment where a lot of folks are wondering whether America can move forward together the way it used to. And I’m confident we can. We’re not a people who just sit by and watch things happen to us. We shape our own destiny. That’s what’s always set us apart. We are Americans, and we are tougher than the times we’re in right now. We’ve been through tougher times before. We’re bigger than the politics that has been constraining us. We can write our own story. We can do it again. So let’s meet this moment. Let’s get to work and show the rest of the world just why it is that America is the greatest country on Earth.

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America.

2:39 P.M. EDT