THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release March 17, 2009
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT
TO THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE
The Corcoran Gallery of Art
8:22 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Governor, thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.) I told the Governor he should have known better than accept the job as party chairman. It is one tough job, but all of you make it possible. I want to -- I will not go through all the acknowledgments again, but with Stetson at the helm, we ought to be in good shape as the finance chair -- and with everybody else here. (Applause.)
Look, hey, guys, I notice more women were introduced than men. I don't want to say anything about that. (Laughter.) But the truth of the matter is when anyone, as you all know, invites you to Washington after all the money and help you've provided and said this is a thank you, you know what's coming next. (Laughter.)
So I might say just as he knows better, you all should know better. But I know one thing: Barack and I would not be here were it not for all of you. And on behalf of President Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, and Jill and me, I just want to say thank you -- thank you very, very much.
Now, look, folks, I was told by my staff I was going to give you a speech. But be prepared, I'm not going to give you a speech. I'm going to make two generic points. The first one is you all worked for change. You wanted to see change. Well, that wasn't a hard thing to try to communicate to the American people. Obviously -- obviously, we needed to change, almost no matter who was running. But what Barack insisted on was he said he wanted to change the dynamic of American politics. He wanted to change -- literally not figuratively -- America's role and place in the world, and restore its respect. And he wanted to change our economic policy, so that when our administration is finished, we can say with a degree of certainty that we actually strengthened and grew the middle class.
Now, he said all those things, and I hope all of you understand that he deeply is committed to all of those things. It's pretty easy, this last time out, these first 59 or whatever days -- and that's all it's been -- it's been truly -- I've served with eight Presidents; this is truly a remarkable guy. No President -- let me say this again -- no President -- no President has gotten off to the start that he's gotten off to. Not merely in terms of his continued popularity, being able to continue to hold the imagination, hopes, dreams, and expectations of the American people, but he's actually -- actually done things that have never been done before.
We started off and fought, since I got involved as a young kid at 29 years old, for equal opportunity for women and equal pay. Well, the Ledbetter case was reversed in the first several weeks that we were in office. (Applause.) I won't go through the litany the Governor mentioned, but the idea -- and I am a great fan of President Bill Clinton, I worked very hard with President Clinton. We tried to pass a stimulus package that was infinitesimally less consequential than this one in the face of overwhelming Republican opposition, to our great chagrin. We were able to, within the first month, pass a stimulus package that was bold.
And by the way, as Barack says, look, I didn't get elected President to want the first time out, after inheriting a $1.2 trillion deficit -- I didn't want to start off by having to turn to the Congress and the American people and ask for over $780 billion in stimulus. I don't want -- I wish I did not have to go out -- and some of you are extremely successful businessmen and women -- to try to get credit moving again in this country. That's not something I looked for, to have to invest tens of billion, hundreds of billions of dollars in trying to get credit flowing again.
But this is a guy who didn't shrink from any of these challenges, and in the process, was able to literally now -- we haven't been there two months -- two months we have not -- been there. And he also -- he made good on his promise to write a tax cut for 95 percent of the American people. (Applause.) It's not much to a lot of us. But let me tell you something, to get $70 to $80 bucks a month more in your paycheck because it's not being withheld makes a difference for a lot of people. (Applause.) Extending unemployment benefits is a matter of life and death for a lot of people. Making sure -- making sure that people have health care is a big, big deal -- and trying like the devil to deal with -- deal with home foreclosures.
Folks, you know -- you do know tens of millions of people out there are in really tough straights. And tens of millions more are worried. They're literally -- friends of yours, as well as people who work an hourly wage. Barack understands that the longest walk a parent ever has to make is up a short flight of stairs to tell his child: "I'm sorry, honey. I'm sorry, but we got to move. You got to change schools. You can't stay on the basketball team. You'll be okay, honey, you'll be okay, but Daddy lost his job, Mommy lost a job, and they're going to take our house."
Folks, this is the real deal. This ain't politics. This is life and death for a lot of people. And what did he do? He started this administration off by, in one fell swoop, reestablishing around the world respect once again for America, saying boldly and straightforwardly, without any equivocation, we will never engage in torture. We will close Guantanamo Bay. We will -- (applause.)
And, folks, I'm telling -- I'm telling you, he's giving me, and I'm flattered -- giving me some significant responsibilities at the front end of this job. And as I travel the world on behalf of the administration -- some of you do have an idea -- but it has a profound impact on our ability to do business around the world.
But, folks, there's a lot left to do. We got to put this last piece in place. We don't have the credit rolling like we should yet. That's a push, but we're on our way. We've got a stimulus package in place that's actually beginning to impact on people's lives. Every major economist in the nation has said that if we did nothing, we'd lose another 4 to 5 million jobs.
This President inherited the most difficult first 100 days of any President, I would argue, including Franklin Roosevelt. Let me explain what I mean about that. It was clear the problem that Roosevelt inherited. This is a more complicated economic calculus. We've never, ever, ever been here before, here or in the world. Never have we been here before -- banks leverage 30 to 1, or us being in a position where derivatives -- we're just trying -- most Americans are trying to figure out what that means.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to do this. We're going to get this straight. And I've watched this guy, with a sense of relish, take on these responsibilities, and take them on head on. But there's one more piece, and we need your help -- we need your help on -- not about money; it's about your influence, it's about your voice. And that's this budget.
Our friends in the right talk about we can't afford this budget. Well, I can say without equivocation, and I speak for Barack Obama when I say we can't afford not to have this budget. There's four pieces in this budget. (Applause.) Let's get it straight. If we do not gain control of health care costs, there is not a single, solitary thing we can do to gain control of our fiscal house.
When you have health care costs rising 53 percent and wages for the middle class 3 percent over the last eight years, it is fundamentally unsustainable. So this is not about -- this is not about a moral imperative; this is about economic stability. Tell me, if anyone believes we can lay a foundation for the 21st century without gaining control of an energy policy -- any possibility? Any? There is none -- none.
And if we don't become, once again, the best educated country in the world -- which we are not -- as my wife is fond of saying, if a country out-educates us, they will out-compete us. (Applause.)
And lastly, if we don't tie in -- if we don't tie into this budget the economic discipline to gain control -- because we pay for everything we ask for; this is the first honest budget in 20 years. We list the cost of the war -- hasn't been done. We list the probable cost of natural disasters, which you know are coming and no President has. We list every single reasonable cost we will incur, and we state forthrightly how we are going to pay for it.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I want to be absolutely clear with you, everybody has to give at the office in this budget. There isn't any easy way out. The American people understand this better than many of us do. They're tougher, as you've heard me say in the campaign, than we give them credit for. They understand what we've inherited, and they know there are no small-bore answers to really significant problems.
But, folks, the last two recoveries, the last two spurts of economic growth have been based on bubbles: the dot.com bubble, unsustainable, as we all learned; and the housing bubble, unsustainable. The kind of growth pattern we need to lay down -- and I'll end with this -- is what happened from 1947 to 1972: We grew and we dominated the world because it was based upon a solid, fundamental foundation that had to do with productivity. And as that bridge as you go over, on Amtrak, into New York, through Newark, says, "Newark makes what the world takes." We ain't making what the world takes.
And so, folks, this is about the change -- and I know some of you are holding your breath with what we're doing -- but this is about the change we meant -- we meant fundamental foundational change. We cannot sustain this nation's prowess in the 21st century without dealing with health, energy, education and fiscal discipline. And they are not inconsistent. This is not about ideology. This is out of economic necessity.
So, please -- please -- you're all really bright people, and I'm not being solicitous to state the obvious -- look at what we're talking about. Turn off the cable news networks; look at what we're talking about. And if you have any ideas that -- how we can not deal with building the 21st century economy on health, education and energy, let me know -- let me know. We don't have any pride of authorship. We absolutely think this is absolutely fundamentally essential, and that we level with the American people.
So we've done it. We've done that. And I want to tell you one last thing, and this is a political point, which I probably shouldn't make with the press here, but I'm going to make it anyway. I said the American people aren't afraid. And look at what they reward. The American people reward hard effort that they think paints a picture of the possibility of success. The Congress' approval rating has doubled since we've been in office. (Applause.) Why? Not merely because we're fairly popular right now. It doubled because they took action. They actually moved and acted. They stepped up and made some hard decisions.
People are smart, and this budget is the last building block to be able to not only change -- as the Governor knows better than I do, being a Governor -- change our economic circumstance medium-term and long-term; it also will change the political climate -- because you will have every single pundit out there, including the ones who are covering this today, saying, you know, these guys not only came up with an idea whether we like it or not, they moved and they passed it.
And we are willing to win or lose -- win or lose -- on the soundness of our judgment. We are not willing, though -- we are willing to compromise in the margins on all these things; there may be a better way to deal with energy, a better way to deal with health, a better way to deal with education. But we will not compromise on the need to invest in all three of those enterprises. Because, folks, without it, there's no way from here to there.
I'll end by saying what I've said to some of you before, and I mean it, and the Gov shares the same view, our wives do as well. It sounds corny, but, you know, when -- I tell the story, but it's absolutely, positively true -- I didn't look for this job. You didn't look to be Chairman and I didn't look for this job. I'm flattered and honored to have it, don't get me wrong. I don't mean to demean it in any way -- I don't. But I didn't look for this job.
But at the convention -- at the convention when, the second night, we were heading out, our little granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, who is 10 years old, lives here -- came up and grabbed me, literally by the coat -- "Pop, Pop, I got to talk to you" -- absolutely true story -- and I said, "Yes, baby, what?" She said, "We need a sleep-over." And I sleep out in the tent with them in the backyard at our place, we're on a little lake. And I said, "Baby, when we get home, Pop will do that." She said, "No, no, no, no, no, Pop." She said, "You know, Sasha is already talking to Bawack" -- (Laughter.) I said, "I beg your pardon, baby?" She said, "We want a sleep-over tonight." She said, "We want a sleep-over where Sasha, Malia, with their cousins, with" -- and we have little Nick, who is a cousin their age, my brother's -- "with Nick, Finnegan" -- excuse me -- "Maisey and me." She said, "Pop, can we clear out a room and take the beds out?"
And so I went to Jill and Jill called Michelle, and Michelle was already on it. Already on it. (Laughter.) They cleared out the -- this sounds corny, but I really mean this, they cleared out the room, put down futons, they had popcorn and stuff. And they're, I don't know, seven, eight, nine little kids in there, black and white. And as I left, the TV was on and they were watching, I don't know, Mermaid or one of those programs -- (laughter) -- that I've watched many times with my grandchildren.
And I look -- and I forget who it was, I looked over -- and my little Maisey is eight years old, her head is in the pillow touching, I think it was Sasha's head, and they're both sitting there staring. I didn't have any doubt after that why the hell I took this job, why I was running. Sounds corny, but I mean it. Because you and I know every single major decision on Barack's plate if left unattended will get worse. That has never happened before that I can think of -- if left unattended will get worse.
So take some real decisions here. And that's what you campaigned for. Remember, and when you begin to doubt, when you wonder, when you're getting heat from your friends of a similar circumstance, remember -- remember what you said: We weren't just talking, we mean it.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I have absolute confidence -- absolute confidence in the American people. I have absolute confidence that if we stay the course and are tough enough -- tough enough to make unpopular decisions, then, in fact, we will leave and I will know that I, in fact, did exactly what I thought I was sent here to do.
Folks, I'll end where I began. Barack Obama says frequently, and I repeat and echo independently: The measure of the success of this administration will be not whether or not you are all able to keep your portfolios -- which is important; and I'm not being facetious, it's important -- it's whether or not at the end of the day we can look back and there is proof positive, there is hard, traceable evidence that the middle class actually grew. Because we are convinced that economic recovery will come, but this time when it occurs it must be laid on a foundation that can last several decades and must, in fact, raise the standard of living for middle class Americans. That's what we are going to do. I promise you we will succeed with your help.
I love you for all you've done. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)
8:41 P.M. EDT