Office of the Press Secretary
EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY
April 30, 2012
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO
April 30, 2012
As Prepared for Delivery
Hello, everybody! Thank you, Sean, for that introduction. I also want to acknowledge all the other presidents on stage for their leadership. And I want to thank my good friend Tim Kaine who is here.
I also want to extend my condolences to everyone in the building and construction trades on the passing of Mark Ayers. Mark was a tremendous leader, and his commitment to the labor movement and to working people will leave a mark for years to come. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, and I want to congratulate Sean McGarvey and wish him the best of luck as he steps in to fill Mark’s shoes.
Thank you all for having me here today. It’s always an honor to be with folks who get up every day and fight for America’s workers. Together, you represent the latest in a long, proud line of men and women who have built this country from the ground up. It was workers like you who led us westward and pushed us skyward. It was your predecessors who put down the hard hats and helped us defeat fascism. And when that was done, you kept on building – the highways we drive on, the houses we live in, the schools where our children learn, the foundation of what it means to be an American.
Along the way, unions like yours made sure folks everywhere got a fair shake and a fair shot. You believed that prosperity shouldn’t be reserved for a privileged few; it should extend from the boardroom all the way to the factory floor. You stood up for the idea that hard work should pay off and responsibility should be rewarded. And because you did, America became the home of the greatest middle class the world has ever known. You helped make that possible.
American progress has always been driven by American workers. And that’s especially important to remember today.
The last decade has been tough on everyone. But the men and women of the building and construction trades have suffered more than most. Since the housing bubble burst, millions of your brothers and sisters have had to look for a job. Even more have had to struggle to keep the work coming in. And that makes absolutely no sense at a time when there’s so much work to be done.
I don’t have to tell you that we have bridges and roads all over this country in desperate need of repair. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our railroads are no longer the fastest in the world. Our skies are congested and our airports are the busiest on the planet. All of this costs families and businesses billions of dollars a year. And that drags down our entire economy.
And most maddening of all? It is perfectly within our capability to do something about it. I think about what my grandparents’ generation built: the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Interstate Highway System. That kind of unbridled, can-do spirit is what made America an economic superpower. Now it’s up to us to give our businesses access to the best roads and airports and high-speed rail and internet networks. Now it’s up to us to make sure our kids are learning in the best schools. Now it’s our turn to do big things. It’s our turn to do big things.
But here’s the thing: as a share of our economy, Europe invests more than twice what we do in infrastructure; China, about four times as much. Are we really going to sit back and let other countries build the newest airports and fastest railroads and most modern schools? At a time when we’ve got private construction companies all over the country and millions of workers ready and willing to build them right here, right now, in the United States of America?
American workers built this country. Now we need American workers to rebuild this country. It’s time to take some of the money that we spend on wars, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest of it to do some nation-building here at home. There is work to be done; there are workers ready to do it; and you can help lead the way.
Now, the truth is, the only way we can do this on a scale that’s needed is with bold action from Congress. They’re the ones with the funds. That’s why, over the last year, I’ve sent Congress a whole series of jobs bills that would have put your members back to work. But time after time, Republicans have gotten together and said “no.” I sent them a jobs bill that would have put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work repairing our roads, bridges, schools and transit systems, along with saving the jobs of cops, teachers, and firefighters, and creating a new tax cut for businesses. They said “no.” Then, I sent them just the part of that bill that would have created those construction jobs. They said “no.” And we’re seeing it again right now. As we speak, House Republicans are refusing to pass a bipartisan bill that could guarantee work for millions of construction workers. Seeing a pattern here? That makes no sense. Congress should do the right thing and pass this bill right away.
But we can’t wait for Congress to do its job. You can’t afford to wait. And where Congress won’t act, I will. That’s why I’ve taken steps on my own to speed up loans and competitive grants for projects across the country that will support thousands of jobs. And that’s why we’re cutting through red tape and launching several existing projects faster and more efficiently.
Infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Investments in better roads and safer bridges and newer schools have been made by Democrats and Republicans for generations, because they benefit all of us. They lead to strong, durable economic growth. Ronald Reagan once said that rebuilding our infrastructure is “common sense” and “an investment in tomorrow that we must make today.” Ronald Reagan.
And yet, Republicans today seem to have exactly the opposite view. They voted to cut spending on transportation infrastructure by almost 30 percent. That means instead of putting more construction workers back on the job, they want to lay more off. Instead of breaking ground on new projects, they want to let existing projects grind to a halt. Instead of making the investments we need to get ahead, they’re willing to let us all fall further behind.
Now, when you ask them why they’re making all these cuts, they say it’s because we need to pay down our deficit. And that argument might actually fly if they didn’t just vote to spend $4.6 trillion on lower tax rates – that’s trillion with a “T” – on top of the $1 trillion they would spend on tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year. That’s their real priority.
Think about that. Republicans in Congress would rather put fewer of you to work building fewer things than ask millionaires and billionaires to live without massive new tax cuts.
So let me you ask you: what’s a better way to make our economy stronger? Giving another tax break to every millionaire and billionaire in the country? Or building the roads and bridges and broadband networks that will help our businesses sell more goods around the world?
Of course we need to bring down our deficit in the long-term. But if we’re smart about it, we can also afford to make the investments that will help our country and the American people in the short-term.
I think that’s a no-brainer. But apparently Republicans disagree. And what’s more, they’ve also set their sights on dismantling unions like yours. After all you’ve done to build and protect the middle class, they’re saying you’re responsible for the problems facing the middle class. Somehow that makes sense to them.
Well, that’s not what I believe. I believe our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits. I believe all of us are better off when we have broad-based prosperity that grows outward from a strong middle class. And I believe when folks try and take collective bargaining rights away by passing so-called “right to work” laws that might as well be called “the right to work for less and less,” that’s not about economics – it’s about politics.
That’s why we’ve reversed harmful decisions designed to undermine those rights, and passed the Fair Pay Act to help stop pay discrimination. That’s why we’ve supported Davis-Bacon. And that’s why we’ve reversed the ban on Project Labor Agreements.
As long as I serve as your President, I’m going to keep it up. Because the right to organize and negotiate a fair pay for hard work should be the right of every American – from the CEO in the corner office to the worker in the hard hat who built that office.
Everything you’re hearing these days from the other side – whether it’s the idea that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than investing in our future, or the notion that we should pursue anti-worker policies in the hopes that unions will crumble – it’s all part of the same old philosophy that says if you’ve already made it, we’ll protect you; and if you haven’t made it yet, well, tough luck, “you’re on your own.”
But here’s what they don’t understand. The American story has never been about what we can do on our own. It’s about what we can do together. In the construction industry, nobody gets very far by themselves. But if you’ve got enough people with the same goals, pulling in the same direction, then together, you can build something that will stand long after we’re gone.
What’s true for you is true for America. We can’t settle for a country where a few people do really well and everyone else struggles to get by. We need to build an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. We can’t just cut our way to prosperity. We need to fight for an economy that benefits all of us – one built on things like education, energy, manufacturing, and the kind of world-class infrastructure that makes it all possible.
I know we can get there. I know it because here in America, we don’t give up. Yes, times are tough. But we’ve been through tough times before. And we made it through because we didn’t quit. We didn’t throw in the towel. We rolled up our sleeves, fired up our engines, and remembered a fundamental truth about this country: that here in America, we rise and fall together. As one nation. One people. Strong. United. And firing on all cylinders. That’s the America I know. That’s the America we can rebuild together.
Thank you, brothers and sisters. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.