Remarks by the President at House Democratic Issues Conference
Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay
10:43 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, guys. (Applause.) Thank you. Everybody, have a seat. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Well, it is good to see you. Joe, thank you for the wonderful introduction. Let me be the first to say, Happy Valentine’s Day to our fearless leader, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) Paul will hopefully get you more than just a thank-you.
To Steny, to Jim, Xavier, Steve Israel -- who’s doing an extraordinary job under very difficult circumstances -- (applause) -- Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who is putting in more miles than just about anybody I know -- (applause) -- and all of you. It’s great to see you.
We just saw each other at the White House fairly recently, so I'm not going to give a long speech here. I want to spend most of my time answering some more questions. But let me just make a couple observations since we saw each other. First of all, I stated in our State of the Union that the single most important thing we have to do -- not just as a party, but as a country -- is make sure that there’s opportunity for every single person; that we are focused every single day in this town -- or in Washington -- on making sure that if you're willing to work hard, if you're willing to take responsibility, that you can get ahead. It doesn’t matter where you live, what circumstances you were born into, what you look like, who you love, you should be able to make it here in America.
And as I said at the State of the Union, I want to work with Congress to make that happen, but I'm not going to wait, because there’s too much to do. (Applause.) And America does not believe in standing still. America insists on moving forward.
We laid out some very specific ways that we can move the country forward, breaking them down into a few categories: Number one, creating more good jobs that pay good wages. Number two, making sure that folks are trained to fill those good jobs. Number three, making sure that our kids have the best education in the world. And number four, making sure that hard work pays off, that people aren’t poor if they’re working full-time, that they have some semblance of retirement security, that they can count on health care if, heaven forbid, something happens to them.
And already, just in the last couple of weeks, we’ve put forward a range of executive actions that are going to make a difference. So, yesterday, for example, I had a chance to be with a group of minimum wage workers for federal contractors -- these are folks who are washing dishes, or cleaning clothes on military bases or facilities -- and sometimes the debates on Capitol Hill get so abstract, and to be next to folks -- the average age, by the way, 35. These aren’t teenagers, these are folks who are looking after families and trying to raise kids. And to see what it would mean to them for us to have a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, and how much relief that would give them, and how committed they were to the American Dream and getting ahead and just hoping that somebody was standing up for them -- it reminded me of why I'm a Democrat. (Applause.) and it reminded me of why I'm so proud of this caucus, because you're standing up on behalf of them.
And so we signed the executive order -- these folks are going to get a raise. And what I said yesterday is that now it's time for Congress to act because America deserves a raise. (Applause.)
I pointed out yesterday, as I pointed out at the State of the Union, that the majority of low-wage workers are women, which is why we're going to keep on pushing to make sure that we have equal pay for equal work -- (applause) -- and we have sensible family policies. Because as I said at the State of the Union, when women succeed America succeeds. I still believe that. (Applause.)
We've traveled to manufacturing plants up in Wisconsin to talk about how we can continue to accelerate advanced manufacturing and technology in this country. And we've got some great possibilities to create hubs that keep us on the cutting-edge. We've signed executive orders to advance the kind of job training that is going to help people train for the jobs that actually exist and link up businesses with our community colleges.
We've already through executive action set up a new retirement account, MyRA, that allows folks to get a starter retirement, because a whole lot of people don’t have 401(k)s to save.
Across the board, we’re moving. But as I said at the State of the Union, and I want to repeat today, we can get a whole lot more done if we’ve got Congress working with us. And this caucus has shown time and time again under the most difficult circumstances the kind of courage and unity and discipline that has made me very, very proud.
And I was just talking to Nancy before I came out here. The fact that we are no longer going to see, I believe, anybody try to hold our government hostage and threaten the full faith and credit of the United States of America in order to contract policy concessions, the fact that we were able to pass a clean debt limit is just one example of why when you guys are unified, you guys stick together, this country is better off. And I could not be more thankful and more appreciative and prouder of what you’re doing. (Applause.)
Just a couple of more points. Number one, you’ve seen reports over the last couple of days that we actually slightly exceeded our targets for ACA signups and enrollments this past month, in the month of January. (Applause.) We now have well over 3.5 million people who have signed up and are getting insurance through the marketplaces for the first time. That does not count the close to 7 million folks who have signed up for Medicaid because of the law that you passed, or the 3 million young people who are staying on their parents’ plans. We’re starting to see data already that the uninsured rate is coming down. We are going to keep on pushing on this to make sure that here in America, everybody can enjoy the kind of financial security and peace of mind that good quality health insurance provides. (Applause.)
And I just want to say thank you for all of you hanging in there tough on an issue that I think 10 years from now, five years from now, we’re going to look back and say this was a monumental achievement that could not have happened had it not been for this caucus.
And, finally, there are some big things that we have to do that I cannot do through executive action where we have to get Congress and where the American people are on our side. A federal minimum wage law is one of them. Another, though, is making sure that we’ve got a smart immigration policy in this country that grows our economy -- (applause) -- gets people out of the shadows, makes sure that our businesses are thriving. That’s got to be a top priority. We’re going to have to keep on working on that.
And I believe, frankly, that there are folks on the other side of the aisle who genuinely want to see this done, but they’re worried and they’re scared about the political blowback. And, look, everybody here is an elected official and we can all appreciate the maneuverings that take place, particularly in an election year. But when it comes to immigration reform, we have to remind ourselves that there are people behind the statistics, that there are lives that are being impacted -- that punting and putting things off for another year, another two years, another three years, it hurts people. It hurts our economy. It hurts families.
And part of what I’d like to think makes us Democrats is not simply some abstract ideological set of beliefs, but the fact that we’re reminded every single day that we’re here to help a whole bunch of folks out there -- our neighbors, our friends, our communities -- who are struggling still and need our help. And they’re counting on us. The good thing is they’ve got some outstanding members of Congress who are willing to fight for them regardless of the political cost, starting with your leader Nancy Pelosi.
I’m grateful for you. And I’m looking forward to making sure that this year we keep on making progress even if we continue to get a little resistance from the other side. The American people know that we could be breaking out if Washington gets its act together, and it’s important for us to lead that process.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
11:02 A.M. EST