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A Conversation on Rebuilding the Economy at the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Convention

Cecilia Muñoz discusses the Obama Administration's steadfast commitment to promoting access and removing barriers for Hispanic-owned small businesses to start, grow, and create jobs, because they’re vital to rebuilding our economy.

This morning, I had the pleasure of addressing business leaders from across the country at the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Annual Convention in Los Angeles, California, and to meet with USHCC officials and other business leaders.  In those conversations and in my remarks I discussed the Administration’s steadfast commitment to our nation’s small businesses and the President’s strong commitment to promoting access and removing barriers for Hispanic-owned small businesses to start, grow, and create jobs, because they’re vital to rebuilding our economy. With more than 1.1 million Hispanic veterans across our country, I also highlighted how proud I am that the Chamber has answered the President’s call by announcing an important commitment to those serving in our Armed Forces, promising to improve support for employees who serve and encouraging members to hire our service members and veterans. 

My remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.

Hello, everybody.  Buenos días.  It is such a pleasure to be back with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this morning.  There are so many familiar faces in the crowd.  It’s great to see you!

Thank you, Javier, for your vision and your leadership of the Chamber and for inviting me to speak.  And thank you to everyone for making it to an early speech and, more importantly, for the incredible work you do to promote the Hispanic business community, and the community overall.

You have so much to be proud of and so much to celebrate at this year’s convention.  Latino-owned businesses are the fastest growing in the nation.  Hispanic entrepreneurs are creating jobs and renewing local economies across the country.  And I am especially proud that the Chamber has answered the President’s call by announcing an important commitment to those serving in our Armed Forces, promising to improve support for employees who serve and encouraging members to hire our service members and veterans.  So, felicidades on a year of remarkable achievements.

What I so admire is that while you’re busy with all this, starting businesses and running companies of all sizes, you play another, equally important role.  You are also community leaders.  You are respected voices in your neighborhoods and coalitions.  Every day, you are witnessing the great struggles that Americans, especially Latinos, continue to face as we recover from the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes.  And now, you have the opportunity to chart a course that will take this country forward to a brighter future, and I know you take that responsibility very seriously.

I’m here this morning because this is a critical time for our families, our communities, and our businesses. You know that as well as anyone else.

And I want to share with you the distinct vision that President Obama has to take us through these challenges and on to a more robust recovery.  The vision that has guided the President’s leadership on the economy since the day he took office. 

It’s a simple but powerful belief: that in order to create strong, sustained growth, it is critical that we take a balanced approach to promoting job creation, revising the tax code, investing in our future, and cutting the deficit.

We don’t have a choice about whether we pay down our deficit.  But we do have a choice about how we pay down our deficit.  We do have a choice about what we can do without, and where our priorities lie. 

Some have suggested that we go back to the tired economics of the past that got us into this mess in the first place, like making budget-busting tax cuts, turning record surpluses into record debts, and squandering assets abroad instead of investing in nation building here at home.

But that is not how we move forward.  President Obama has made an unequivocal statement –  America prospers when we’re all in it together; when everyone gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same set of rules.

Because the only way for us to emerge from the mess we inherited stronger than before is for all of us to commit to rebuilding an economy where everyone who works hard can succeed.

Where the student who studies hard can afford to go to school and train for the jobs that businesses need to fill.  Where the Latina entrepreneur who takes a chance on a new idea has access to capital to launch her company.  Where the newly-naturalized scientist who is leading technological breakthroughs can afford to keep pushing the limits of our knowledge.  An economy where you, our business leaders, are creating new jobs and charting new paths for expansion and innovation.

That is the way forward.

And President Obama has made significant progress in realizing that vision, especially with respect to supporting the Latino community.

For example, consider the Administration’s steadfast commitment to our nation’s small businesses. In this country, we believe that if you want to take a risk on a new idea, you should have the chance to succeed.  And the President knows that small businesses and entrepreneurs are the engines of job growth in our communities. 

His record speaks to that.  Under President Obama, Hispanic-owned businesses are the fastest growing small businesses.  We’ve cut their taxes eighteen times.  We’ve expanded the role of the Small Business Administration, which extended over $4.3 billion in SBA-backed loans to more than 11,000 Hispanic-owned small businesses in 2011 alone. And our coordination is continuing.  Just this morning, the Chamber and the SBA announced a partnership to help train and fund Hispanic entrepreneurs so they can grow their businesses and create more jobs.

We’re also taking steps to help small businesses save time and money.  For example, the Administration is working to speed up payments to small business contractors.  So, last year, we implemented the “Quick Pay” policy, which means one thing: as federal contractors, you get paid sooner.  This July, the President significantly expanded that initiative, directing agencies to meet the same accelerated pay schedule for all contractors, so that the big firms can turn around and meet their commitments to smaller contractors, including many of you.

Beyond reliable financials, we know that businesses are only as strong as the people who work at them.  And that’s why the President has championed cost-saving healthcare reform and promoted critical education policy. 

Three years ago, President Obama came before this organization and presented his plan to ensure a complete and comprehensive education for all our young people.  It says a lot that he presented it here – education is such an important issue for our community.  And his commitment has not wavered.  The President knows what we know – that getting a good education is not only the ticket to the middle class, but also the underlying advantage of every American business. We have always prided ourselves on having the brightest, most innovative minds on the planet, and we can’t let that slip away now. 

That’s why President Obama has devoted unprecedented funding to our community colleges, encouraging local businesses to partner with them so that graduates, including so many Hispanic Americans, are trained for the jobs that need to be filled today.  That’s why the President expanded Pell Grants – which will give an additional 150,000 young Latinos a chance to go to college.

Of course, we have a lot more to do.  We need to put more good teachers in our classrooms, and get colleges and universities to bring down the cost of tuition.  Instead of just talking a big game about “job creators,” we should give small business owners a tax break for hiring more workers and paying them higher wages.  Instead of rewarding companies that ship jobs overseas, we should take that money and use it to cover moving expenses for companies who are bringing jobs back to our shores.

And President Obama is ready to take these steps to keep moving us forward.  He’s been ready!  But I’ll be honest with you: he hasn’t been getting cooperation from Republicans in Congress.  I have been in Washington nearly 25 years, and the lack of collaboration in the last three has been breathtaking.

Last September, President Obama sent Congress a jobs bill full of the kinds of bipartisan ideas that could have put over a million Americans back to work and helped bolster our economy against outside shocks.  He sent them a plan for a balanced approach to reducing our deficit by $4 trillion.

And Congress has passed a few parts of that jobs bill.  But a whole year has passed, and on most of the ideas that would create jobs and grow our economy – all of which have had bipartisan support – Republicans in Congress haven’t lifted a finger. 

In fact, they have put forward a budget that guts key investments in our future and hollows out our competitiveness. 

It slashes funding for things like education, basic research, and new sources of energy to unprecedented lows that endanger our students, our children, and our own economic stability.  Then, it uses the savings from those cuts to give huge tax breaks to Americans who don’t need them at a time when we can’t afford them. 

And to top it all off, the plan doesn’t even result in meaningful deficit reduction.  The math just doesn’t add up.  The idea that we can cut our way to prosperity and stability is just wrong, and it undermines the firm footing that you need to continue to grow your businesses.

In order for America to remain the greatest place on Earth to do business, in order for your companies to benefit from a booming middle class able to buy your products, we can’t cut critical education and support programs that benefit those same working families. 

Republicans in Congress and their allies are so busy peddling their upside-down economics that they haven’t made time to pass the President’s balanced, bipartisan plan for job creation and economic growth.  So, the gridlock in Washington continues to hold us back. 

And that’s true for almost every proposal the President has made to boost our economy, including immigration reform, which I have worked on for my entire career.  Let me be clear: this President has been ready for a real immigration debate for more than three years.  He is committed to ensuring that the United States remains proudly a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.  So, he has a proposal – what he doesn’t have is a single Republican partner. 

Until recently, this has always been a bipartisan issue – just ask the Senate Republicans who voted, along with the President, for an immigration bill in 2006.   Some of them were original sponsors of the DREAM Act, but then wouldn’t even vote for it when it came to the floor in 2010.  So, the bottom has dropped out of cooperation on this issue. 

But this Administration is doing what it can with the tools it has.  As you know, the border is more secure today than ever before.  And the Department of Homeland Security has lifted the shadow of deportation for young people who have grown up in America.  But Republicans in Congress have held up further progress on the DREAM Act, and they’ve stalled the President’s proposals for comprehensive immigration reform.

We can’t afford this obstructionism.  Fixing the broken immigration system isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also important to America’s growth.  The President calls it an economic imperative.  And he is doing his part to break the logjam.  But President Obama can’t do it alone; he needs every voice and every pair of hands if we are going to put this issue successfully back on the table.   

When it comes to this and other weighty issues of our time, we need your help.

President Obama will be the first to tell you that government is not the answer to all of our problems. It can and must be a part of the solution, but we’re not in this fight alone.

As business leaders and concerned citizens, you’ve got to speak out.  You have the power to help create certainty in our business environment.  Congress will be debating vital issues at the end of this year, and your voices are critical to shaping those debates.

You are the kind of people who engage to make things better.  That’s why you’re here.   You are the kind of leaders who understand why it’s important for this community to have a voice in our economy and in our policymaking process.   That’s why you’re here.   You are the kind of leaders who know that we need people on both sides of the aisle, from every walk of life to engage in the work of making sure we build the kind of economy that works for everyone – for businesses and communities all across this country.  That’s why you’re here.

So, thank you for your leadership.   Thank you for being engaged.   And thank you for the work that we will do together to build the thriving, competitive economy of the future.  

Muchisimas gracias.

Cecilia Muñoz is Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House