State Dining Room
2:40 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Earlier today, I — I visited a restaurant here in town, Las — I’m going to mispronounce it — Las Geme- — Las Gelameas [Gemelas]. And — which is a pilot program for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and an important piece of the American Rescue Plan.
One of my goals with the American Rescue Plan is to make sure that we get this law’s benefits quickly and directly to the American people.
So before I say a bit more about what we’re doing to support our nation’s restaurants, let me provide an update on what is happening through the American Rescue Plan right now, as I speak.
First is providing checks in pockets and shots in arms. More than 163 million Rescue payments have already gone out. These are checks — direct payments of up to $1,400 — that, for a typical family of four making about $110,000, means a $5,600 check you’ll get. By the time all of the money is distributed, more than 85 percent of American households will have received a check.
The Rescue Plan is also funding vaccine administration and distribution. It’s a big reason why we were able to administer over 220 million shots in my first 100 days — a pace unmatched by any other nation in the world or in prior mass vaccinations in all of American history.
You know, it’s helped schools reopen safely. It’s helping childcare centers stay in business. It’s helping families pay for childcare.
The Rescue Plan is delivering food and nutrition assistance to millions of Americans facing hunger. And hunger is already sharply down in the United States.
It’s also providing rental assistance to keep people from being evicted from their homes, it’s making healthcare more affordable, it’s cutting child poverty in this country in half, and the list goes on. And the message is clear: Help is here.
And the bottom line is this: The American Rescue Plan is working. America is getting vaccinated. Job creation is soaring. The economy is growing. And our country is on the move again.
But some of the parts of the — of our economy need special help. At the top of that list is our nation’s restaurants. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, our nation’s restaurants were some of the first hit and the worst hit. In 2020, more than 2,300 — excuse me — 2 million — 2.3 million restaurant’s jobs disappeared — 2.3 million restaurant jobs disappeared.
Restaurants are more than a major driver of our economy; they’re woven into the fabric of our communities. And so, for many families, restaurants are the gateway to opportunity — a key part of the American story.
There are families of all races, all ethnic backgrounds, all nationalities in this country who have built their American Dream around a family- — a family-owned restaurant. And for more workers, their own story of economic progress starts in a restaurant.
In the restaurant I just visited, Rogelio Martinez, who immigrated to this country 17 years ago, started working as a meatpacker. Now he’s the restaurant’s lead butcher and one of its owners.
For nearly one in three Americans, a rest- — this is hard to believe — but for one in three Americans, a restaurant provided their first job. More than half of all Americans have worked in a restaurant at some point in their lives.
Before the pandemic, restaurants and bars employed 12 percent — 12 percent — of all the workers in our country. This is an industry that provided more opportunity for minority managers than any other industry in America. This is an industry where the staff feels like family and often is family.
When the pandemic hit, restaurant owners and operators were resilient, creative, and generous. Almost overnight, restaurants put in place safety measures to protect their employees and to protect us.
They stepped up to feed our frontline workers. They changed their menus. They transitioned to takeout and delivery so they could be serving people who depended on them. But when — but even with the changes, many had to furlough or lay off workers, or close entirely.
The restaurant I visited today went from 55 employees to just 7 before it started to bounce back. Now, as we vaccinate Americans, customers are coming back.
And the vaccinat- — our vaccination progress and our economic recovery is going hand in hand. As that happens, we want to make sure that our restaurants, bars, and other dining establishments can staff back up and they can come back as well.
Right now, only about a quarter of the restaurant owners expect to return to normal operations in the next six months. We can do much better than that with the American Rescue Plan.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund — that’s what it’s called, “the Revitalization Fund” — will provide direct relief to restaurants and to hard-hit food establishments: bars, bakeries, food stands, food trucks, and caterers.
Businesses that get grants can use it to cover payroll, rent, utilities, supplies, everything they need to start — to stay open and to reopen. We are — we’re opening the doors of this program for — so that restaurants all over the country can open their doors again.
We start accepting app- — we started accepting applications on Monday. Today is Wednesday. We made it quick and easy to apply. Within the first two days, there were 186,200 applications from all 50 states for help. That’s a staggering number.
Ninety-seven thou- — ninety-seven thousand six hundred of those applications came from businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
Now, the applications — they hav- — all haven’t been processed yet. But, right now, it looks like we’ll be able to provide help to about 100,000 restaurants and other eligible businesses.
When we passed the American Rescue Plan — we did that — some people said it wasn’t needed. This response proves them wrong; it’s badly needed.
About a year ago, when the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program opened up, a lot of the smallest firms saw the doors shut in their face. The law was written so that as we process these applications — the new one — that we focus first on those who were left behind by the other relief programs.
And to make sure that relief is distributed fairly, we also set aside funds for the smallest restaurants — bars, food trucks, and many family-owned restaurants — that haven’t gotten any help to date, and they need it. That way, they don’t have to compete above their “weight class” for these grants.
Sixty-one thousand — sorry for all the numbers, but they’re important — sixty-one thousand seven hundred applications have come — come from the smaller bars and restaurants already.
And I want to thank the Small Business Administrator, Isabel Guzman, for the work that she and her team are doing to make sure we get help quickly and fairly to the businesses that need it the most.
As I said, I’ve spoken to dozens of restaurants’ owners about the challenges they face. But I’ve also received letters from people who want to tell me about the restaurant owners in their communities. I received one letter from a man who asked me to look out for a pair of local restaurant owners who he described as, quote, “the hardest-working people I’ve ever met,” end of quote.
Another letter was from a woman who wanted to tell me about how important the couple that ran the restaurant in her town near her was. She said they are, quote, the “strong, consistent foundation of our community,” end of quote.
Whether it’s our economy or our sense of community, we’re relying on restaurants to play a big role in our recovery. If we want our economy to recover in a way that deals everyone in, then our restaurants need a seat at the table — no pun intended. That’s what we’re giving them. That’s what this program is about: a seat at the table.
This is another example of how we’re putting the American Rescue Plan to work quickly and effectively, and showing the American people that their government can deliver — can deliver for them again and do it without waste; that we can vaccinate this nation; that we can get our kids safely back in school; that we can get our economy back on track by helping hundreds of thousands of small businesses reopen and stay open; that we can give the people of this nation a fighting chance again. That’s what this is all about.
God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. Thank you.
Q President Biden, are you going to back the waiver of the U- — at the WTO? Are you going to back that? Is the U.S. government going to back that?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I’m going to talk about that later today. Yes.
Q President Biden, you said earlier you “don’t understand Republicans.”
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.)
Q What does it — what does it say about them if they oust Liz Cheney from leadership for telling the truth about the election?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, it seems as though the Republican Party is trying to identify what it stands for. And they’re in the midst of a significant, sort of, mini-revolution going on in the Republican Party.
I’ve been a Democrat for a long time. We’ve gone through periods where we’ve had internal fights and disagreements. I don’t ever remember any like this.
And so, as one of you said — and I’m not embarrassed by identifying them — as one of you said on national television last night, we badly need a Republican Party. We need a two-party system. It’s not healthy to have a one-party system.
And I think the Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point.
Q Mr. President, Mitch McConnell said that he is 100 percent focused on stopping this administration. You’ve spoken about your relationship with him in the past. Do you still think you can work with him when he says things like that?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, he said that in our last administration with Barack — he was going to stop everything — and I was able to get a lot done with him.
Again — look, everything I’m proposing that be done to generate economic growth, employment, and put us in a position where we can outcompete any other country in the world with research and development and moving ahead, I pay for. We talk about “I love…” We talk about how, “This is going to cost so much money; I’m not paying for it.”
The bottom line is this: My Republican friends had no problem voting to pass a tax proposal that expires in 2025, that cost $2 trillion — none of it paid for — increased the deficit by $2 trillion; gave the overwhelming percentage of those tax breaks to people who didn’t need it: the top one tenth of 1 percent. They didn’t need it.
And it was argued that what it would do is generate this great economic surge and growth. It would increase productivity. It would pay for itself. It would generate a sense of growth in America we hadn’t seen ever before. Well, everyone from the Heritage Foundation on has pointed out it hadn’t done that — hadn’t done that.
Now, I come along and the proposals that I’m suggesting are tried-and-true things — like when you rebuild bridges, things get better; and you rebuild highways when you don’t have to — you know, you — airports, ports — it all matters. It increases productivity.
And the programs that relate to people are programs that are the things that also generate economic growth. And I view them as, for example, tax cuts for middle-class — upper-middle class, middle-class, and working-class people.
And so you eliminate a few of the — just have the super wealthy begin to pay their fair share. For example, you have — you know, you have — I think it’s 35 or 30 corporations didn’t pay a single solitary penny last year, and they’re Fortune 500 companies. They made $400 billion. They paid no taxes.
How can that make any sense? Especially since these corporations — and I come from the corporate capital of the world; more corporations are incorporated in my state than all the rest of the country combined.
If you notice, corporations aren’t investing any money in research and development. Somewhere — what’s most of it going to? Buying back their own stock; stock dividends, which makes sense — leaving, by some studies, less than 10 percent for research, development, pay raises, et cetera.
Used to be that, not too long ago — for example, during the Bush administration, the tax rate for the very wealthy — making well over millions of dollars — was 39.6 percent. It’s now 37 percent. Just raise it back to what it was before.
It raises enough money from that savings to put every single person in community college who wants to go. Now, what’s going to grow America more? What’s going to help you and your security more: the super wealthy having to pay 3.- — yeah, 3.9 percent less tax or have an entire generation of Americans having associate degrees? That’s why all the economists, even on Wall Street, are pointing it out. Guess what? It grows the economy. Benefits everybody. Hurts nobody.
But now, it’s — talk to the — the Wall Street Journal (inaudible) talk about it: a welfare program. It’s about growth. And so, you know, the idea that — it’s just amazing.
I mean, corporate taxes, they were 36 percent. Our administration — the last administration said, “We should lower it.” We suggested it to be lowered to 28 percent. Well, it’s got lowered to 20 percent, or 21 percent.
Show me something that’s benefited. What’s happened? Show me where the growth is. What’s it being invested in?
Q Mr. President, on the corporate tax rate, have you talked to CEOs about that? And have you —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q — have you — are you open to, say, 25 percent?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m open to compromising, yes. It doesn’t have to be exactly what I say, but to suggest that, which some of the folks are suggesting — and I’m going to meet with Republicans next week when they come back, and seriously meet with them. I’m willing to compromise. But I’m not willing to not pay for what we’re talking about. I’m not willing to deficit spend. They already have us $2 trillion in the hole.
So — and, by the way, you saw — you know, the — the last five leaders of the Fed coming out and saying — what’d they say? They said, “Biden’s plan is going to grow the economy.” You have Moody’s talking about increasing it up to — I don’t know what the most recent one is — 16 million new jobs. It’s about growth, not stunting growth.
Like I said, not too long ago — I guess it was back in the 2000 range, there about — don’t hold me to the exact year; I’ll get — I’ll have my staff come back with the exact date — the average CEO of the Fortune 500 companies makes like 36 times what the average employee of that corporation made. It’s over 450 times as much now.
And, as my mother would say, “Who died and left them boss?” No, seriously. What rationale? Tell me what benefit flows from that. We’re not going to deprive any of these executives their — that second or third home; travel privately by jet. Th- — it’s not going to affect their standard of living at all, not a little tiny bit.
But I can affect the standard of living of the people I grew up with — if they have a job, I can expect to make (inaudible) standard of living of people I grew up with — if they have childcare and can afford it so 20 million women can be back in the workforce. This is just not — makes no sense to me.
But it’s going to — I’m going to have to be able to explain this, and I’m going to keep banging at it. I think — I’m not being solicitous and I’m not trying to ruin your reputation. I think most of you understand what I’m sa- — whether you agree with me or not, I think you understand what I’m saying. It’s fair to say this is about making the average multimillionaire pay just a fair share. It’s not going to affect their standard of living a little bit.
Thank you all very much.
3:00 P.M. EDT