Chief of Staff Denis McDonough Discusses President Obama's Plan to Grow the Economy and Build a Strong Middle Class

This morning, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough addressed the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Meeting in Washington, D.C. and discussed the President’s plan to grow the economy and build a strong middle class. McDonough underscored the importance of continuing the progress we are seeing in our economy and providing certainty for businesses across the country, and warned that we should avoid self-inflicted wounds from Washington that only set that progress back. 

Please find Mr. McDonough’s remarks below, as prepared for delivery:

Good morning.  Thank you, Tom for your introduction.   And to the whole board for having me here today.  It’s been a busy year – but the President wanted to make sure I introduced myself to all the neighbors.

I’m delighted to join you today to echo what President Obama has always said when he’s had the privilege to address the Chamber and other business organizations.  And that’s to reaffirm that it’s companies like yours and those that the Chamber represents that helped us wrestle the economy from painful recession to the progress of recovery.  And it’s companies like yours that will help lead the way from here.

Today, I want to talk about how we can advance that agenda together.

From the day he first walked through the door of the Oval Office, President Obama’s top priority has been growing our economy, creating good jobs, and rebuilding middle class security.  And we know that can’t happen unless you have all the ingredients necessary for growing, investing, innovating, and hiring.  Your success is critical to America’s success. 

And thanks to the resilience of the American people and the American economy, businesses like yours have created more than seven and a half million new jobs over the past three and a half years.  Our housing market is healing.  Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years.  We produce more of our own energy, and depend less on foreign oil.  And just last week, the Treasury confirmed that since President Obama took office, we’ve cut our deficits by more than half.

So, we’ve made progress.  But one thing the President hammers into his staff every day is that we’re not where we need to be.  We’ve got a lot more work to do on behalf of the people he was elected to serve.  Some of your companies are making record profits, and that’s good.  But we need to create more jobs faster, and get Americans who have been unemployed for too long back on the job.  We need to lift the incomes of the middle-class workers who buy your goods and services and drive this economy.  And we need to keep working together to better prepare workers with the skills they need and you demand in the 21st century. 

That’s what the President is focused on.  And it’s what he hopes the rest of Washington will focus on as well. 

But that work will be harder if we allow the constant cycle of manufactured crises and self-inflicted wounds to keep churning.  The government shutdown last month cost our economy about $5 billion, and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors predicts it will slow GDP growth by a quarter of a percentage point this quarter.  I doubt it boosted any of your bottom lines, or helped you plan for the future with any certainty.  This kind of ideological brinksmanship has done more than anything else to undermine our economy over the past few years. 

So we were all happy to hear Senator McConnell say that his party won’t pursue another shutdown or threaten default on our debt.  Because as the President said over the weekend, “We shouldn’t be injuring ourselves every few months – we should be investing in ourselves.” 

And the President has spoken frequently in recent days about two places we should start – two priorities that would help businesses like yours right now – and those are fixing our broken immigration system, and crafting a sound federal budget.

Just yesterday, he met with several CEOs at the White House, and they talked about how the immigration system we have today doesn’t help our economy grow like we know it should.  We invite the brightest minds from around the world to study here, but then send them home to start new businesses that compete against ours.  We look the other way while some businesses exploit workers in a shadow economy as most businesses play by the rules.  We know we can do better – and the American people know it, too.

The Senate has already passed a bill by a wide, bipartisan majority that would go a long way toward fixing these problems.  It would build on the work we’ve done to secure our borders.  It would level the playing field for businesses by holding employers accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers.  It would modernize our legal immigration system, making it easier to attract top talent.  And it would make sure everyone plays by the same rules, providing a pathway to earned citizenship that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying back taxes and a penalty, and getting in line behind people doing it the right way.

Economists estimate that if the Senate bill became law, our economy would be 5% larger two decades from now.  That’s $1.4 trillion in economic growth.  And a recent CBO report said that same bill would reduce the deficit by nearly $1 trillion more over the same timeframe.  Beyond that, we know that commonsense immigration reform will help shore up Social Security and pump much-needed capital into our housing market.  As business leaders, you know better than anyone that we can’t afford to walk away from a deal that good, and I hope you’ll make sure Congress knows that, too.  

The other piece of business Congress is addressing right now is the federal budget.  The President has laid out his balanced approach to a budget that would grow our economy faster, and shrink our long-term deficits further.  The budget he put forward earlier this year includes the investments required to make America a magnet for good jobs, and make sure it remains the best place in the world for companies like yours to do business.  They’re investments that would make sure you’ve got the best-educated, highest-skilled workers in the world; the most cutting-edge research and technology in the world; the fastest transportation and communication networks in the world.  And as Republicans and Democrats sit down to craft a budget, we urge them to pursue the same kinds of investments.  Because we know they make sense for the American people and American businesses.

For example, we know that our economy is only as strong as the preparation we give our children and our workers for the competition they’ll face in a global economy.  That’s why the President’s budget encourages investment in education from the youngest age, with access to high-quality preschool for all; and for those who are young at heart, with critical job training services to arm workers with the skills they need for high-tech jobs.  It’s why he launched a bold new plan to make college more affordable for working families, and it’s why he’s been promoting high schools that teach kids the skills that prepare them for college or lead directly to a career.  Like P-TECH High School in Brooklyn, which the President visited just a couple weeks ago.  IBM is partnering with P-TECH to make sure students are getting the math and science education they need to get ahead, and even fill jobs at IBM after graduation.  Imagine what it would mean for your company, and our global competitiveness, if you were making similar partnerships in neighborhoods around the country, preparing young people to keep American business one step ahead.

Now, like most things in Washington, some of this requires Congress to set the right priorities in the budget, and some of it the President can do on his own.  But all of it is what’s required not only for your success, but the success of the middle class.

The President has also said time and again that he is committed to a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  He agrees that we should cut wasteful, inefficient, and outdated spending we don’t need, and close tax loopholes that don’t create jobs, so that we free up the room necessary to make those investments that do help us grow.  We spend less than we did a few years ago.  Our deficits are shrinking, not growing.  So this should be easier than it has been in the past few go-rounds.  We just need to make sure we’re not cutting just for the sake of cutting.  From my meetings with them, I know that Democrats and even many Republicans will tell you that we’ve already cut discretionary spending about as far as it can go without badly hurting ourselves. 

As anyone who lived through the 1990s knows, nothing shrinks our deficits faster than a growing economy.  That’s why the President has championed a plan that simplifies the tax code for businesses like yours and brings overseas profits back home at a one-time low rate, so we can permanently lower rates for companies creating jobs here in America and at the same time modernize our infrastructure and build new high-tech manufacturing hubs.  It’s why he’s working on concluding ambitious agreements with our trade partners to boost job-creating exports.  If Congress can pass critical trade promotion authority, then we’re looking at the potential for huge gains that will benefit your companies, workers, suppliers, and customers.  And it’s why the President is so committed to bringing more and more foreign companies to our shores through SelectUSA.  Because he’ll do everything he can to ensure that America remains the best place on Earth to do business,

We know what we’ve got to do to kickstart this economy and put America on the path to fiscal security.  It’s building new roads, and bridges, and schools, and airports.  It’s educating our kids and our workers for a global economy.  It’s investing in scientific research and technology.  It’s making sure we make smart choices to build American business for the long term.

President Obama is willing and eager to tackle the tough choices that passing a budget p

resents.  And he is serious about finding common ground to further reduce the deficit.  He expects that members of the House and Senate meeting in the budget conference will make real progress on honoring these priorities and making responsible decisions to help the American people.

And if there’s anyone who doubts the President’s sincerity in his commitment to cut the deficit and tackle our long-term challenges, they ought to take a closer look at his record.

For instance, consider that the three years since he signed the Affordable Care Act into law are shaping up to have the three slowest rates of health care spending growth on record.  You’ve heard by now that we’re working hard on our new product launch… Now, we always knew that change would be difficult, and we will get the website fixed.  But what’s also true is that health care reform is enacting critical changes right now that will slow the rise in our health care costs and help set companies on a path to swifter growth. 

Employer-based health costs are growing at about one-third the rate they were a decade ago.  Next year, virtually every small business in the country will have new, more affordable health care options for their employees.  The CBO says that the law will cut our deficits by more than $100 billion in the next decade, and by more than a trillion in the decade after that.  And once we get the Marketplace working as it’s supposed to, uninsured Americans will get covered, and underinsured Americans will be able to sign up for better health insurance plans, often at less cost than they’re paying now.

This is exactly the kind of policy that demonstrates President Obama’s commitment to funding our priorities in a way that keeps our long-term goals in full focus.  Careful budgeting and pay-fors are important, but we have to remember that they are only the means to reach our end: an economy that is growing and prosperous and full of opportunity for generations to come. 

That’s the America that President Obama is fighting for.  And that’s what will keep our businesses and entrepreneurs and innovators the envy of the world.  So, let’s keep up this work together.  Let’s make sure we’re investing in our competitiveness today, and our long-term potential tomorrow and in the years to come.  Because together we can make sure this country remains the place where everyone has the freedom to take risks, dream big, and believe in their own shot at success.

Thank you.

Amy Brundage is a Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary.
Related Topics: Economy, Urban Policy
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