Remarks of President Barack Obama
Town Hall on the Budget, April 21, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery
Hello, Reno! It is great to be back in the state of Nevada. And it is a pleasure to be here at Electra Therm. I’m told the contraption behind me is known as the Green Machine, and it produces renewable energy from low-temperature heat waste. I have no idea how it works, but I’m glad it does. And I want to congratulate Electra Therm for being a fine example of a clean energy company that’s been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few years.
Now, last week I laid out a plan to get America’s finances in order – a plan for shared prosperity through shared responsibility. And before I take your questions, I’d like to discuss it briefly because it goes to the heart of what’s happening at this company and businesses like it all across America. It’s a plan that does two big things.
First, it cuts spending and brings down the deficit. We all know how important that is. Just like any family on a tight budget, America has to start living within its means.
For a long time, Washington acted like deficits didn’t matter. A lot of folks promised us a free lunch. We had a surplus a decade ago, but we cut taxes and fought two wars and created a new prescription drug program, all without paying for it.
Well, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So we were left with a big deficit, which was made worse by the recession. And if we don’t close that deficit – if we keep spending more than we take in – it will cause serious damage to our economy. Companies might be less likely to set up shop and hire here in America. It could cost more to take out a loan if you want to buy a house or start a business. And we won’t be able to afford investments in education or clean energy that help make companies like Electra Therm possible.
So we have to tackle this challenge. And I believe the right way to do that is to live up to an old fashioned principle: shared responsibility. That means everyone has to do their part.
It begins by combing the budget for savings wherever we can find it. We had a good start a few weeks ago, when both parties came together around a compromise that cut spending and kept the government open. We need to build on those savings, and I’m not going to quit until we’ve found every dime of waste and misspent money. I promise you that. We’re going to look under the couch cushions.
But finding savings in our domestic spending only gets you so far. We also have to find savings in places like the defense budget. As your Commander-in-Chief, I can promise you I won’t cut a penny if it undermines our national security. But over the last two years, the Secretary of Defense has taken on wasteful spending that does little to protect our troops or our nation – like old weapons systems that the Pentagon doesn’t want, but still make it into the budget thanks to well-connected special interests. Secretary Gates has found a lot of waste like this: $400 billion worth. Even in Washington, that’s real money. And I believe we can do that again.
We’ll reduce health care spending, and strengthen Medicare and Medicaid through common-sense reforms that will get rid of wasteful subsidies while actually improving care – like making it easier for folks to get generic drugs and helping providers manage care for the chronically ill more effectively. And we’ll reform the tax code so that it’s fair and simple – so that the amount of taxes you pay doesn’t depend on the kind of accountant you can afford.
We also have to end the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And it’s not because we want to punish success. It’s because if we’re going to ask everyone to sacrifice a little, we can’t just tell millionaires and billionaires that they don’t have to do a thing. Especially when we know that extending these tax cuts would mean asking seniors to pay thousands more for health care, or cutting children from Head Start, or doing away with health insurance for millions of people on Medicaid – seniors in nursing homes, poor kids, and middle class families raising a child with a disability like autism. That’s not a trade-off I’m willing to make. And I don’t believe that’s a trade-off most Americans are willing to make – no matter what party you belong to. That’s not who we are as a country. We’re better than that.
So that’s the first part of the plan: cutting spending in a way that’s fair and asks everyone to share responsibility. But here’s the second part: We’re going to makes sure government lives within its means – but we’re going to do it while still investing in our future, strengthening the middle class, and growing the economy. Yes, we are going to have to save wherever we can, and my proposal makes some tough cuts to worthy programs and services – cuts we wouldn’t make if we weren’t facing these deficits.
But I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to reduce our deficit by gutting our investment in clean energy and medical research and basic science. I refuse to make that choice. America has always been the world’s engine of innovation and discovery. That’s who we are. That’s how we’ve prospered. I don’t want other countries to lead the industries of tomorrow. I want America to lead in these industries. I want new technologies invented here. I want companies like Electra Therm to set up shop in America, and hire American workers, and build American products. That’s the future we deserve.
Think about it. Folks are out there dealing with gas at $4 a gallon. It’s just another hardship – another burden – at a time when things were already pretty tough. Now, whenever this happens, just like clockwork, you see politicians racing to the cameras, waving three-point plans for two dollar gas. The truth is, there’s no silver bullet that can bring down gas prices right away.
But there are a few things we can do. Last month, I asked my Attorney General to look into any cases of price gouging, so we can make sure no one’s being taken advantage of at the pump. Today, we’re going a step further. The Attorney General’s putting together a team whose job it will be to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices – and that includes the role of traders and speculators. We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain.
And while we’re at it, if we’re looking for places to save money, let’s start with the $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies we give to the oil and gas companies each year. Four billion dollars of your money are going to these companies at a time when they’re making record profits and you’re paying near record prices at the pump. It has to stop.
Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy sources, let’s invest in tomorrow’s. Let’s not cut clean energy by 70%, as some in Congress have proposed. Let’s make ourselves less dependent on foreign oil and leave our children a safer planet.
We’re also not going to reduce our deficit by sacrificing investments in our infrastructure. We’re not going to allow our roads to crumble and grow more and more congested while places like China are building new roads, new airports, and thousands of miles of high-speed railroads. If we want businesses to locate in America and create jobs here, we have to make sure America is built to compete. We need to have the best roads, the quickest trains, the fastest broadband networks.
Finally, we’re not going to reduce our deficit by cutting education and eliminating college scholarships, which is another bright idea that some folks in Congress proposed. In a world where our students face tough competition from students in other countries, why would we make it harder for them to win that competition? Why would we make it harder for students to go to college?
We see why this matters here. More than 50,000 college students from Nevada are relying on Pell Grants to help them pay their tuition. How many of those students can afford to pay another $1,000 to go to school? Believe me, I know what it’s like. Scholarships helped make it possible for me to go to college. It’s fair to say I wouldn’t be President if it weren’t for student aid. That’s why I think it would be a mistake to balance the budget on the backs of students, by cutting these scholarships by as much as $1,000, and forcing a lot of students to go without them altogether.
That’s the bottom line. Just as it would undermine our future to ignore our deficits, it would also undermine our future to ignore the potential of our citizens and the promise of their ideas. This is the core of the debate we’re having right now. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that we need to reduce the deficit. In fact, there is general agreement that we need to reduce our deficit by about $4 trillion over the medium term. And when folks in Washington agree on anything, it’s a positive sign. So the debate isn’t about whether we should reduce the deficit. It’s about how we should get there.
My view is, we need to live within our means while still investing the future – cutting where we can while investing in education, innovation, and infrastructure; and strengthening the safety net provided by programs like Medicare so that they are there for future generations. And I believe Democrats and Republicans can come together to get this done. It won’t be easy. They’ll be some strong disagreements. I bet we’ll see some politics being played along the way. And there will be those who say we’re too divided – that we can’t get past the partisanship. But I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful. Both sides have come together before, and I believe we can do it again.
Here’s why this is important. Ultimately, this debate is not just about numbers on a page. It’s about making sure you can make the most of your own lives in a nation that’s prosperous and rich with opportunities for anyone willing to work hard to get ahead. That’s my focus. That’s my guiding light. That’s what I think about when I walk through the doors of the Oval Office each morning.
And that’s why I’m going to need your help. I don’t want you to be bystanders. I want you to get in the game and hold me and everyone in Washington accountable. I hope you’ll hold our feet to the fire. You have a big stake in this fight. So make sure your voices are heard. That’s how we’ll meet this challenge. That’s how we’ll secure our future and make our country stronger and more prosperous than before. And with that, I’d be happy to answer your questions.