President Joe Biden speaks in DeForest about economic policy
A day after his 2023 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden visited a labor union training facility in Wisconsin to highlight legislation he signed and rally support for his political agenda.
Here & Now
February 9, 2023 • South Central Region
Hello, hello, hello. [audience cheers and applauds] If you have a seat, take one. If you don't, come on up on stage with me. [audience laughs] Well, thank you very much. You know... [microphone feedback] Got it over here. Hey, folks. How are you? [audience cheers and applauds] Don't jump. Don't jump. Well, hello, Madison, hello, laborers, and hello, hello, hello, Terry O'Sullivan, one of my best buddies in labor in my entire career. [audience cheers and applauds] The thing about Terry is: Whatever he says, he does, even when circumstances change. I love the people that say, "I'll be there with you," and then they say, "Oh, I can't anymore. Things have changed." Whatever he tells you, he does. Whatever he tells you, he does. And we've been working together since he was 12 years old. No, I'm only joking. But, you know, every time I have a problem in Delaware, Gov, I just go across the river to New Jersey and make sure everything got squared away. You think I'm joking. This is the most reliable guy and one of the most reliable guys in labor or business. And I really appreciate it. So, look, I want to thank Sarah for that introduction. And, boy, can she wield a mean hockey stick. I tell you, I was in the back, the reason we were taking a little longer is I have a granddaughter who's a hell of an athlete. She's going to graduate this year from college. But she played lacrosse and field hockey, I mean, excuse me, lacrosse and soccer. All-State in both subjects, in both sports. And she went off to school and she said, "I can't work 40 hours a week on the field and still do well in school." So she decided to stay. I was hoping she'd go pro. But, anyway, you know what I mean. But I was telling, I was telling my introducer she reminds me very much of my granddaughter. She even looks like her. Any rate, Madam Mayor, thanks for the passport into town. Appreciate it. Where is she? [audience cheers and applauds] There you are. And Governor Evers, you're a great partner, man. You've been a great partner all the way back when I was vice president, and even now. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate your leadership. I really, really mean it. Thank you. Thank you. [audience cheers and applauds] And Representative Mark Pocan, a great congressman, a friend, always fighting for working families. And you helped us get so much done for union members in the last couple years. Look, you know, she couldn't be here today, but Tammy Baldwin, Tammy Baldwin, [audience cheers and applauds] fights so damn hard for this state. If I do anything that doesn't start off with the word Wisconsin, I get a note from Tammy. But all kidding aside, she's incredible. Before we get started, I want to take a moment to, on behalf of the American people, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Turkey and Syria. You know, the death toll is rising. It's one of the worst earthquakes in that region in over a hundred years. And we mourn the loss of so many lives, and we offer our deepest condolences. You know, it's amazing watching these people try to pull out from under this rubble and these terrible buildings. But all the earthquake was incredibly powerful, significant aftershocks, and a second quake. But you see dads and moms pulling little babies out from underneath this rubble. So many people dying. And our thoughts are also with the survivors who've been torn apart by this tragedy. As I told President Erdogan when I called him immediately when the first quake hit, that the United States is offering our full support, full support, rescue and recovery teams and our NATO Ally deploying teams, with U.S. Agency of International Development drawing additional resources, including our armed forces in Europe to assist Turkey's teams on the ground. In Syria, the U.S. is supporting humanitarian partners. We're responding with equipment and assistance and have been conducting urgent, urgent search and rescue missions from day one, even in the face of staff members' death and injuries on that first day. The United States is a leading donor, leading donor, across all the areas of Syria, no matter who controls the territory. It's about saving human life. We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting the people of Turkey and Syria in this time of need. Last night, I reported on the state of the Union. It is strong. It is strong. [audience cheers and applauds] And it's strong because of you, because the soul of the nation is strong, the backbone of this nation is strong, and the people of this nation are strong. And I've said so many times, often told the Democrats and Republicans, we can actually work together. We actually work together. All the things we did were bipartisan, all the major initiatives. And besides, I signed over 300 bipartisan bills beyond the big ones. Folks, look, last night I said if we couldn't work together the last, if we could work together last Congress, there's no reason we can't get things done as well this Congress. And I mean that. You know, the people sent us a clear message: Fighting for the sake of fighting gets us nowhere. We are getting things done. [audience cheers and applauds] It's always been my vision for this country. And today I'm here to talk about one part of that vision: the economy that works for working people. This is a blue-collar blue change we're seeing. You know, an economy where we're building, we've built more in the last two years since I've taken office than you can imagine. We've created 12 million new jobs. A half a million jobs just last month. [audience cheers and applauds] And we've now created more jobs in two years, more jobs in two years than any President has created in a single four-year term. Look, the unemployment rate is 3.4%, a 50-year low. Gas prices are down more than $1.50, and we're going to make sure the oil companies start playing their honest role. It's going to go down further. Inflation has fallen six months straight. Inflation is coming down. Take-home pay to workers is going up slightly. Manufacturing is rebounding at the fastest rate in almost 40 years. The economy is growing at a solid clip. Folks, I hate to disappoint them, but the Biden economic plan is working. It's working. [audience cheers and applauds] But that's not news to any of you. The laborers here in Wisconsin, the union workers across the country are seeing it firsthand. Because for the first time in a long time, we're building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, the bottom up and the middle out, with products made in America, with union labor. Not labor. Union labor. [audience cheers and applauds] I mean it. [audience cheers and applauds] My American plan, my economic plan is for the middle- and working-class Americans that get up every morning and go to work and bust their necks just trying to get an honest living. You know, my dad used to have an expression. He wasn't a college guy. He regretted he never got to go to college. But my dad worked like hell. My dad used to say, and I mean this sincerely, and all the kids in the family know it, he'd say, "Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity. It's about respect. It's about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, 'Honey, it's going to be okay,' and mean it." And mean it. [audience cheers and applauds] Look, I've said many times, Wall Street did not build this country; the middle class built the country, and unions built the middle class. [audience cheers and applauds] And that's a fact. And for real, that's the God's truth. And, by the way, and now you're rebuilding the country. I signed a once-in-a-generation investment in putting Americans to work rebuilding our national infrastructure. It was bipartisan. Republicans signed on to it too, not all of them but enough to get it passed. And, by the way, I told them, even those that didn't vote for it call and say, "We need a project in my district." I say, "Okay, good. We'll do it. See you at the groundbreaking."
You know. [audience cheers and applauds] But really, I'm President for all of America. You know, at the Port of Green Bay, we're helping turn an old water plant site into a new port terminal. Going to create thousands of jobs over time. This is big deal. You know, we're just up the road in Columbia County. Just up the road, funds from the infrastructure are going to replace the Wisconsin River Bridge. Here in Madison, the mayor can tell you, we're using the funding to buy 46 electric buses, replacing dirty diesel buses that are bad health for the environment. [audience applauds] Each of these projects means jobs for laborers, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, carpenters, cement masons, iron workers, and so many more. These are good jobs. Jobs you can raise a family on. And most don't require a college degree. Jobs where people don't have to leave home in search of an opportunity. But they do require at least four years of trained apprenticeships, which is one of the reasons the United States has the best-trained workers in the world, like you. [audience cheers and applauds] And, by the way, [audience applauds] the vast majority of Americans don't know that. We ought to tell them, keep telling them. Every time they say, "Why are you so pro labor?" Because you're the best workers in the world. And they say, "How's that?" Nobody decides, I want to be a laborer, I want to be a plumber, or I want to be an electrician. It takes you four years busting your neck, basically going back to school, to be able to become certified. That's why you're the best. You're the best educated in what you do. I really mean it. [audience applauds] I spoke with members of the Business Roundtable, the big business guys, and they asked why am I so pro labor. Because you save them money. What you do lasts. What you do lasts. And through the American Rescue Plan, we're funding workforce development programs, including 128 million here in Wisconsin, dollars in Wisconsin, so American workers are prepared to compete in the economy we're building. This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America. [audience cheers and applauds] And we're also doing something that for years people just talked about. We're going to buy American for everything we build. Last night, [audience cheers and applauds] I announced we're proposing new standards that require all construction materials used on federal infrastructure projects be made in America. [audience cheers and applauds] American lumber, American glass, American drywall, American fiber optics, American roads, bridges, highways made with American products. My first two years in office, we've created 800,000 manufacturing jobs. [audience cheers and applauds] I mean it sincerely, jobs you can live on. Where is it written America can't lead the world in manufacturing again? I didn't see it written anywhere. Our economic agenda has ignited a new manufacturing boom. Just outside of Madison, Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals is going to hire 250 workers at a drug manufacturing facility. Georgia-Pacific has committed to a major expansion of the Green Bay paper production facility, bringing in a hundred new employees and hiring 500 construction workers. For decades, we've imported project, we've imported products from abroad and sent jobs overseas because they thought it was cheaper to have a cheaper labor. Now America's exporting product overseas and creating jobs here at home. [audience cheers and applauds] Look, I didn't come from a poor family. I came from a typical middle-class family: split-level home, four kids, a grandpop living with us. It wasn't so private for my mom and dad, but we thought it was good. But all kidding aside, typical middle-class family. For decades, the backbone of America, the middle class, has been hollowed out. It's been hollowed out. Good-paying manufacturing jobs moved overseas, production, because it was cheaper there. When jobs moved overseas, factories at home closed down. You saw it in Janesville, where Sarah, a woman you just heard from is from. When the last assembly line was shut down at a GM plant two days before Christmas 2008, thousands of people lost their jobs at the plant and the surrounding businesses that the plant kept alive. Look, think about how many moms and dads had to have that conversation with their kids: "Honey, I just lost my job. We've got to move, honey. I'm not sure where. We can't live here anymore. No job." Once-thriving cities and towns became shadows of what they used to be. And when those towns were hollowed out, something else was lost: pride, self-esteem, a sense of self-worth. But now we're going to turn that around. We're building an economy where no one is going to be left behind. My economic plan is about investing in places, people, that have been forgotten. As part of that plan, I talked last night about things we're going to do for families. Just a little more breathing room. Just give them, as my dad would say, "Just a little more breathing room." At the end of the month, when everything is paid, you have just a little more breathing room. We're going to lower the cost of everyday products for y'all. And we're taking on what we call junk fees, those hidden surcharges businesses use to make you pay more. We're making airlines show just how the full price of the ticket costs upfront, not after the fact, and refund your money if your flight is canceled. We've reduced the exportation, excuse me, the exorbitant bank overdraft fees, saving the American taxpayer a billion dollars a year. Just these fees that were exorbitant for an overdraft. We're proposing to cut credit card fees by 75%. Now they average, if you're late on a payment by a day, it's 30 bucks. Guess what? It's going to be $8 now. I heard a commentator on the way flying out here on Air Force One, the television was on, talking about little things, like junk fees. He says, "Why isn't Biden talking about important things, important issues? Well, next thing he's going to be talking about taking in your garbage." Well, let me tell you something: Junk fees may not matter to wealthy people, but they matter to most folks, like the home I grew up in. [audience cheers and applauds] They add hundreds of dollars, [audience applauds] they add hundreds of dollars a month and make it harder to pay your bills or afford that family trip. I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and think they can get away with it. They play us for suckers. And it makes you angry, at least it does me. Frankly, it offends me to think about it. So I'm calling on Congress to pass a Junk Free Prevention Act so we can do more than crack down on these junk fees. For too long, workers have been getting stiffed. You know, 30 million workers, the vast majority of them on an hourly wage, had to sign non-compete agreements when they took their job. 30 million. These aren't trade secrets they're hiding. They are hourly wages. That's when a construction worker on a job site can't cross the street and take a job with another outfit to make a couple more bucks. We're banning these agreements for companies that won't compete so they pay people the fair share. Why in God's name do you tell a worker, an hourly worker, that they have to sign an agreement that they will not take a similar job anywhere in the area? Look, one of my objectives is to restore the dignity of work, to restore it. You know, we've made a lot of progress over the past two years. Many of you have seen we had a spirited debate last night with my Republican friend.
Yeah! [audience applauds] My Republicans friends, [audience applauds] they seemed shocked when I raised the plans of some of their members and their caucus to cut Social Security. And Marjorie Taylor Greene and others stood up and said, "Liar, liar!" It reminds of that "Liar, liar, house on fire." Yeah, well, guess what? [audience laughs] You know, I remind you that Rick Scott from Florida, the guy who ran the U.S. Senate campaign, has a plan. I got his brochure right here. It has a plan. Here's what he says in his plan. Let me open it up here. Sorry. [audience laughs] He says, "All federal legislation sunsets every five years. If the law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again." Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. And, by the way, you have a senator [clears throat] [audience laughs] named Ron Johnson. [audience booing] Ron Johnson, on Social Security and Medicare, quote, "We should transfer everything so we have to consider everything every year." [audience booing] Come on, man. And then we found there was a, you know, there's a senator named Mike Lee, who was also yelling, you know, "Liar, liar, house on fire" kind of stuff last night. Well, I didn't even know this, but they played a video showing him, he said when I said, I didn't say the whole part. I said, "Leading Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare." And so they played last night something I didn't even know existed, a video of him saying, "I'm here right now to tell you one thing you probably never heard from a politician. It'll be my objection to phase out Social Security, pull it up by its roots, get rid of it." Then he added, I'm quoting this now, "Medicare and Medicaid are the same sort. They need to be pulled up." It sounds pretty clear to me. How about you? [audience murmuring] But they sure didn't like me calling them on it. Look, a lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Well, let me just say this: It's your dream, but I'm going to, with my veto pen, make it a nightmare. [audience cheers and applauds] But here's actually the good news. There's a lot of good Republicans. I found it interesting that when I called them out on it last night, it sounded like they agreed to take these cuts off the table. Remember I said, no, I'm serious, remember what I said? I said, "So you're not going to cut it, huh?" "No!" I said, "Okay, we got a deal." [audience applauds] Well, I sure hope that's true. [audience cheers and applauds] I'll believe it when I see it and their budget is laid down with their cuts they're proposing. But it looks like we negotiated a deal last night on the floor of the House of Representatives. [audience laughs] Seriously, you see them all standing up, saying, "We're not going cut anything"? Well, that's good. Because, by the way, we got a lot of good bipartisan stuff done in the previous year. Why can't we do it again? Here's the bottom line: All of you have been paying into the system with every single paycheck you've had since you started working. These benefits belong to you, the American worker. You earned it. And I will not allow anyone to cut them, not today, not tomorrow, not ever, period. [audience cheers and applauds] You know, some Republicans in Congress are even threatening to have America default on its debt if I don't agree to the cuts they want. Democrats have never, ever done that, by the way. Now, let's talk about what our national debt is. Everybody thinks it's like what we spend this year versus last. The national debt is the total debt and interest accumulated over 220 years. You hear me? Over 200 years. Every single year that we went and spent more than we took in, it added up. So the federal debt you're hearing about is not the yearly debt. It's 220 or so years of accumulated debt. Democrats, Republicans, everybody. But here's the deal: Our credit has been good. We've never missed a payment as a nation on the debt we have. Why in God's name would America give up the progress we've made for the chaos they're suggesting? This nation has gone through too much, we've come too far to let that happen. I won't, not on my watch. And while there's more work to do, it's clear our plan is working because of the grit and resolve of the American worker. And I'm not trying to just be nice to you. I've been saying this my whole career. We're going to keep lowering costs for families. We're going to keep putting shovels in the ground to rebuild our infrastructure, our supply chains, and manufacture more here at home. You know, in the communities across the country that were too easily written off for dead, we're going to see not only jobs and economic opportunity return, but a sense of pride. I'm from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I was raised in a little steel town called Claymont, Delaware. There's no more steel being made. Scranton, because of coal, everyone is from Scranton. And just like you're going to see here in Wisconsin, we're going to make sure that what we do is we rebuild these communities. Let me close with this. I've long said it's never been a good bet to bet against America. Not a joke. That's what I've told all, I've been doing foreign policy for a long time. I know every major world leader for the last 35 years. I know them face-to-face. I did it for the previous president, my president, Barack Obama, and I'm doing it now. I can say honestly, as I stand here today, I have never, ever been more optimistic about America's future than I am today. We just have to remember who in God's name we are. We're the United States of America. We're the best-positioned nation in the world to lead the world in the 21st century. There's nothing, nothing beyond our capacity if we work together. And it's my hope we're going to find enough Republicans who want to do that. And God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Thank you. Thank you. [audience cheers and applauds] [bright music]