Pelosi Remarks at Brookings Institution for Conversation on Strengthening the Financial Security of America’s Working Families

Feb 3, 2015
Press Release

Contact: Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks today and participated in a moderated conversation at the Brookings Institution on Democrats’ ongoing efforts to strengthen the financial security of America’s working families.  Below are the Leader’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, E.J. Dionne, for that kind introduction, and for your leadership as the W. Averell Harriman Chair.  It is an honor to address the members and honored guests of the Brookings Institution this morning.  For almost 100 years, Brookings has been the first word in forward-looking public policy.  This institution and your President, Strobe Talbot, have been a strong and steady intellectual resource to public, private and non-profit policy makers across the country.

“Together, we can reach toward greater possibilities for all Americans: an America where every working family has opportunity, prosperity and security.  Beginning this new year, in the first weeks of this new Congress, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to reflect on our progress toward that America, and to refocus and renew our efforts to realize it.

“Reflecting on our progress:

“Six years ago, President Obama stood on the steps of the Capitol to take the oath of office and to issue a call for ‘bold and swift’ action now – ‘not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.’  One week and one day later, the Democratic House passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act – one of the biggest public investments in our history.  The Recovery Act created or saved 3.5 to 4 million jobs; rebuilding our infrastructure, reinvesting in energy innovation, reducing taxes for working families – turning the tide of the worst economic recession since the great Depression.

“60 some days later, the Democratic Congress followed up by passing the President’s budget – a plan for growth and opportunity, built on three pillars: investments in health care, education & innovation, and energy.  Our aims were clear: Create jobs. Reduce the deficit. Invest in a stronger future for every American family.

“Believing that health care must be a right for every American, not a privilege for the few, we passed the Affordable Care Act.  If there were no other reason to pass the Affordable Care Act, if every American were satisfied with his or her health insurance and health care, it was necessary to act because the cost of health care in America was unsustainable – unsustainable to individuals, to families, to businesses large and small, to local, state, and federal governments and therefore, to the economy.

“Importantly, as documented by the Council of Economic Advisors, the Affordable Care Act is helping to drive down health care cost growth to historic lows.  Today, the Affordable Care Act has delivered newfound health security to 16 million Americans – and extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 13 years.

“Recognizing that education has been the indispensable ladder to achieve the American Dream, the Democratic Congress acted to strengthen early education, deepen our commitment to vulnerable students, and dramatically expand access to affordable college education.

“We passed the GI bill for the 21st Century for our veterans and their families, as part of the largest increase in veterans funding in our history – making historic investments in our veterans’ access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities.  In terms of American innovation, we substantially bolstered our investments: fueling basic research and driving forward innovative energy technologies – and I’ll expand on this later. 

“Knowing that our reliance on foreign fossil fuels was unhealthy for our economy, our national security, and the air our children breathe, Democrats acted to make America energy independent by increasing domestic energy production – and we increased energy efficiency and more than doubled clean energy production.

“Solar power is up tenfold; wind power up threefold – in fact, in wind, America is number one in the world.  This progress is critically important as we address the climate crisis. 

“Knowing the only way for the American economy to fully recover, we must recognize that the middle class are the real job creators in America.  In a consumer economy, when workers have the wages and confidence to spend, they generate demand, which in turn creates jobs.  It’s about bigger paychecks.

“This is an important connection about America’s economy: the success of the middle class is the most important engine of our economic growth – and of meaningful deficit reduction.  This understanding is consistent with the ‘Middle Class Economics’ that President Obama articulated during his State of the Union address last month – and the budget he released yesterday.

“Democrats’ commitment to middle class economics stands in sharp contrast to the Republicans’ relentless trickle-down agenda – the agenda that drove our economy into a ditch.  Republicans’ economic agenda included massive, unpaid-for tax-cuts for the rich, two unpaid-for wars, and a doctrine of no regulation, no supervision of Wall Street.  It is this radical agenda that precipitated the financial meltdown and shattered our economy.

“How bad was it? On the night of Thursday, September 18, 2008, the Treasury Secretary came to the Capitol for an emergency meeting with Congressional leaders to inform us of the meltdown.  When I asked the Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, what he thought of what the Treasury Secretary was telling us, he told us if we did not act immediately, we would ‘not have an economy by Monday.’

“In order to stop the meltdown of America’s financial institutions, it was necessary for us to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), supported largely by Democrats. And later, we enacted historic consumer Wall Street reforms with Dodd-Frank legislation.  Far from creating growth, Republicans’ priorities drove an economic catastrophe that destroyed the jobs, the savings and the security of millions and millions of American families

“And now, Republicans want to take us back to those same failed policies, of trickle down and laissez, laissez, laissez-faire – including repealing Dodd-Frank.  In their obsession with trickle-down economics, Republicans fail to see the connection between the purchasing power of the middle class and the success of America’s economy.

“Six years after the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the fruits of Democrats’ efforts on the economy are clear:  11.2 million new private sector jobs, created in 58 months – the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job growth in our history; we provided a lifeline to save the auto industry and more than a million jobs; unemployment rate down from 10 percent to 5.6 percent; deficit cut by 2/3rds: from $1.4 trillion to $483 billion this year; stock market has gone from under 7,000 to above 17,000; manufacturing exports are rising; we've seen reading scores go up, high school graduation rates go up, more young people attending college than ever before; 16 million previously uninsured Americans now have affordable, dependable health coverage; and, we extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund 13 years.

“However, even with all this progress, working families in America are still being squeezed.  The reason our economy has not had a full recovery is because of stagnant wages. It bears repeating that in a consumer economy, it is the middle class that are the job creators.  We must expand the purchasing power of families; ensure that working men and women enjoy the bounty of their unprecedented productivity; bigger paychecks, better infrastructure, more manufacturing in the U.S.  We must focus like a laser on strengthening the financial security of America’s working families.

“Once again, there is a need for bold and swift action to reignite the middle class engine of our prosperity. In order to succeed, we must have a healthy respect for the connection between the public and private sectors.  Private enterprise is the heart of our economy, generating wealth and jobs. However, in order for the private sector to succeed, the public sector must act to secure the conditions in which the private sector can continue to flourish.

“When the public sector is doing its job – investing in strong education, building infrastructure, maintaining the courts, ensuring public safety – it performs tasks that the private sector cannot perform: public sector accomplishments, however, that leave the private sector in infinitely better shape, better equipped to deliver jobs and opportunity to all Americans.

“Congress must grasp the importance of ambitious goals built into a ‘budget for the future’ – a budget which is a statement of our values.  This is the third connection I want to highlight: the undeniable connection between the investments we make today and the success of our country tomorrow.

“Today, I believe we must make big, bold commitments in four areas: research & innovation, education, infrastructure and investments in working families through the tax code.  Innovation is the invigorator of our economy.  Research creates jobs, launches entire new industries, and gives us the miraculous power to cure.

“However, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the United States has dropped to tenth place in national R&D investment as a percentage of GDP.  As the report makes clear, ‘Unless basic research becomes a higher government priority than it has been in recent decades, the potential for fundamental scientific breakthroughs and future technological advances will be severely constrained.’  That report calls for increasing our nations’ total research investments to at least 3.3 percent of GDP.  We must meet that need to reduce the deficit of innovation.  The President and Congress must work together to establish a sustainable growth rate in federal basic research.

“We know to achieve equality of opportunity, we must have equality of education. We will always have an opportunity gap so long as we have an education gap.  Today, it is clear that one of the most important ways to address education inequality – from early childhood to lifetime learning – is with the power of technology, especially broadband.

“Broadband access has more benefits than just enhanced computer skills; it opens the door to a whole host of new teaching applications and tools, enriching the student and supporting the teacher.  As recently as 2012, only 37 percent of our nation’s schools had enough broadband for digital learning – placing 40 million kids on the wrong side of the digital divide.

“We must meet the need to reduce the deficit in opportunity – ensuring that every child, in every zip code has the high-speed broadband they need to learn, to explore, to thrive.  We must act to close the opportunity gap in education – because we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.  Nothing returns more to the Treasury than investments in education.

“The American Society of Civil Engineers’ last assessment of our nation’s infrastructure rated America at a D+.  After years of disrepair and under-investment, we have a $3.6 trillion deficit in America’s infrastructure. What we know is that no maintenance is the most expensive maintenance.

“Modern infrastructure is essential for our country – it promotes commerce, moving products to and from markets; it improves the quality of life, by moving people to and from work and school more quickly; it is good for the quality of our air and our water; it works to connect all our communities to the promise of the internet with broadband.

“We must meet the need to reduce the deficit in infrastructure – and do so in an updated and green way. Over the years, we have proven that policies that leverage private sector capital and expertise with government oversight are successful ways to create better, more sustainable communities.  We should learn from these examples and expand opportunities for public-private partnerships.

“We should be putting people to work building roads, bridges and mass transit, water systems and broadband: achieving bigger paychecks and better infrastructure – and this is a strong priority in the President’s budget.

“In order to fund these investments that will create jobs and reduce the deficit, we must use the tax code, and eliminate special interest tax expenditures that increase the deficit.  As we close special interest loopholes, we can reduce the corporate rate and produce more revenue; we can have tax reform that ensures that all Americans pay their fair share.

“The economic security of America's working families must be our priority.

“Part of these reforms must include making permanent and improving the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit policies that are set to expire in 2017 – initiatives with bipartisan support that strengthen the budgets of working families, as we did working with President Bush.  If these policies are allowed to expire, nearly 16 million Americans (including 8 million children) will be pushed into or deeper into poverty. We must also strengthen the Child Care Development Tax Credit.

“To further help families, the Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen, has placed several bold proposals on the table.  These proposals include the CEO/Employee Paycheck Fairness Act; a saver's bonus to support retirement; repealing the dual-earner penalty; instituting a .1 percent financial transaction fee; and provisions restoring respect for hard work in the tax code.  With tax reform for the middle class, we can put more money into the pockets of working families and ignite the engine of middle class consumer demand that drives growth and opportunity for everyone.

“A strong middle class is the bedrock of our prosperity and the backbone of our democracy.  This is the understanding that animates each of the connections I have outlined today: the connection between public action and private success; the connection between growing paychecks and reducing the deficit; and the connection between our investments today and our strength tomorrow. 

“For us to achieve a bright and durable future for our country, we must embrace the fact that the financial security of our working families is both the measure and the engine of our nation’s success.  It is a simple truth: when the middle class succeeds, America succeeds. Our recognition of that truth guided Democrats’ actions in orchestrating the recovery, and it is a laser focus on the purchasing power of working families that our economy needs today.

“We must achieve bigger paychecks, build better infrastructure, invest in education and innovation, and manufacture more products here in America.  Only by laying a firm foundation for growth, based on ambitious goals for our future, can we secure a vibrant middle class.  Only by focusing on working families can we reignite the American Dream and step into a new era of American prosperity.

“Thank you.”

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