at the Economic Forum Plenary Session
Jones Concert Hall
August 13, 2002
12:05 P.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Dr. Sloan, thanks for having us all. And I want you to
thank all the good folks here at Baylor University for putting on a great show.
I know a lot of people worked hard. (Applause.)
I'm really glad a lot of folks from around the country got to see Baylor. It's
a fantastic University and I want to thank the folks here who came from all
around the country. Welcome to central Texas in the middle of August. (Laughter.)
People here are the people that really make America work: the entrepreneurs
and the visionaries, the carpenters, the union heads, the educators, grandmothers.
We're here to listen to you, to get a report from what I call the front lines
of the American economy. And it's an important report. And the American people
need to hear your report.
My economic team and I heard much of the discussion. We will read the summaries,
we'll think about it and we'll move forward to create jobs for Americans. I
want to thank all those who led the panels. I want to thank our speakers for
doing a fantastic job today.
I am so very grateful for our fellow citizens who are deeply concerned about
the direction of our country. On stage today we're joined by four people who
I mentioned during the radio address over the weekend. I want to thank Xavier
Teixido, who is the chairman of the board of the National Restaurant Association.
Xavier is an entrepreneur who obviously runs a restaurant, and is now head of
a very important association.
Maria Sobrino, who is the founder of Lulu's. I don't know if Maria is going
to be serving us all after lunch, but I certainly hope so, because she does
a great job. Robert Landon, the driver from UPS; Jimmie Morgan, material management
at Boeing. These are four ordinary Americans, as Phyllis called them, who have
got opinions. And we heard their opinions, and they're important opinions.
And so I want to thank the Vice President and members of my administration for
coming down here to listen, to listen to what Americans have to say.
There's no question our economy has been challenged by a recession that was
beginning when we took office. That the terrorist attacks of September the 11th
that Phyllis talked about had a lot to do with our economy and the state of
affairs from today.
And recently we have had to deal with corporate scandals that were long in the
making -- they finally have come to light. Three factors that affected our economy.
One of the things that we heard today is that our economy has strengths that
are greater than the challenges. I mean, after all, our workers and farmers
are the most productive in the world; that our entrepreneurs are incredibly
visionary; that inflation and interest rates are low; that today we saw a report
that consumer spending is still robust. We've had three-quarters of positive
growth after three-quarters of negative growth.
No, the foundations of the American economy are strong. Yet, the only purpose
of a strong foundation is to build on it. And that's what we're discussing today.
And we're determined, this administration is determined to build on the long-term
security of the American people.
Here's the way I put it. If somebody wants to work and can't find a job, we
have a problem. And we need to do something about it here in America. We have
heard from Americans who are concerned, but not discouraged. We've seen problems.
But we're confident in the long-term health of this economy. We share a sense
of optimism about America, because we understand our country.
Too many Americans have lost a large portion of their retirement funds, and
they've lost a sense of security in the process. I know that. Too many Americans
have lost jobs, especially in the high-tech world, in the manufacturing sector.
Too many Americans run into economic and regulatory barriers when they try to
create a business or expand their business. Too many construction projects have
halted because they cannot get terrorism insurance. The goal must be to create
an environment of sustained economic growth. We've got work to do. I know that
-- but we're going to do the work. It starts with listening to our fellow Americans
to find good ideas, and implement them.
Here's one good idea to make sure we continue to grow our economy. And that
is Congress, for the long-term economic security of America, needs to restrain
spending. (Applause.) The session and the cost of war and the cost of homeland
defense have increased our deficits. Yet, I am determined to fund the great
priorities of our government while exercising the spending restraint that will
return America to the path of a balanced budget as soon as possible. More money
spent in Washington means less money in the hands of American families and entrepreneurs;
less money in the hands of risk-takers and job creators.
A limited and focused government is essential to a growing economy. And if the
Congress won't show spending restraint, I intend to enforce spending restraint.
(Applause.) And this work of enforcement on spending continues today. At the
end of the session, the Congress passed an emergency spending bill to strengthen
our military, protect the homeland and to complete the commitment of $20 billion
I made to the citizens of New York. But they also sent along more than $5 billion
in extra spending I didn't ask for. Some of that $5 billion I have endorsed
and will work to secure through amendments to the '03 budget -- like AIDS prevention
money and support for Israel and Palestine.
But a lot of that money has nothing to do with national emergency, and I'll
give you one example: a new facility for storing the government's collection
of bugs and worms. I made my opposition clear. We were pretty plainspoken about
the supplemental. But those who wrote the bill designed it so I have to spend
all $5 of the extra billion dollars or spend none of it. That's how they wrote
the supplemental. Those are the rules they placed upon my administration. I
understand their position, and today they're going to learn mine. We'll spend
none of it. (Applause.)
As I said, for truly pressing needs and priorities -- such as AIDS prevention
and resources for the Middle East -- we'll send to Congress specific amendments
to get these funds quickly. However, we're not going to spend $4 billion we
don't need in order to unlock $1 billion we do. For the good of our economy,
for the good of the people who pay taxes, my administration will spend what
is truly needed and not a dollar more. (Applause.) Spending restraint is just
one of the many responsibilities that we accept.
In order to build on the long-term security for the American people, we must
always think about growth and jobs. I want to get American construction workers
back to work. And that's why we need to have a terrorism insurance policy. I
want those who wear the hard hats, who are willing to take risks by suspending
themselves above the land, by building commercial projects that are significant
in size -- I want them working.
I want to thank Doug McCarron for being here. He wants them working, too. We're
working hand in hand to see to it that Congress finally gets the message that
we need a terrorism insurance bill to get American hard hats back to work. (Applause.)
People say, does it matter? Of course it matters. There's over $8 billion of
commercial construction that has been suspended last year. That means $8 billion
worth of projects in which somebody is going to be able to work and put food
on the table for their family.
And we need an energy policy, too. Listen, energy policy is not only good for
economic security, it's good for national security. We can do a much better
job of harnessing technologies to conserve more energy. We can do a better job
of finding renewable sources of energy. But for the sake of our economic security
and for the sake of our national security, we need to become less dependent
on foreign sources of crude oil and we need to put our people to work by good
solid energy projects here at home. Congress needs to get me an energy bill.
They need to stop talking and they need to start acting by getting a good, sound
energy bill to my desk as soon as they get home. (Applause.)
You've heard a lot about the tax relief plan we passed. Thank goodness we passed
it when we did. We cut taxes in the middle of a recession because we believe
by letting people keep more of their own money it'll cause them to demand a
good or a service, and when they demand a good or a service, somebody will produce
a good or a service. And when somebody produces that good or service, somebody
is more likely to find work.
The tax relief was incredibly important and it's going to be important as time
goes on, because it's phased in. Now, there are some in Washington who want
to stop the tax relief, which is like a tax increase, which would be an unmitigated
disaster given the economic situation in which we find ourselves.
But rather than me talking about let's stop the tax reductions, what Congress
needs to do is to join us in the call to make these tax relief permanent --
(applause) -- permanent so small business -- (applause.) Make it permanent so
we send a signal throughout society that people should be able to plan; send
a signal that we understand job creation is the number one priority of economic
policy out of Washington, D.C.
In order to make sure the economy grows, we must bring the promise of broadband
technology to millions of Americans. My administration is promoting investment
in broadband. We will continue to work to prevent new access taxes on broadband
technology. If you want something to be used more, you don't tax it. And broadband
technology is going to be incredibly important for us to stay on the cutting
edge of innovation here in America. The Federal Communications Commission is
focusing on policies to encourage high-speed Internet service for every home
and every business in America. The private sector will deploy broadband. But
government at all levels should remove hurdles that slow the pace of deployment.
In order to build long-term security we will enforce the rules and laws on the
books. I say as plainly as I can to CEOs: if you break the law, we will hunt
you down, we will arrest you, and we'll prosecute you. We expect the highest
of high standards when it comes to corporate America. I want the books open
and transparent, the numbers need to be real.
The good news for our economy and our society is by far the vast majority of
CEOs are good, honorable people; they care deeply about their shareholders and
their employees. Now that both Republicans and Democrats have come together
to pass a sound corporate responsibility bill, my administration will take the
new law and we will hold those to account who do not uphold the high standards
Americans expect from those of us in positions of responsibility. (Applause.)
I believe -- I believe to build the long-term security of America, we need to
encourage ownership. We want to have an environment and where people feel comfortable
by starting their own business. We want the Curtis McGuires of the world to
flourish. Another way we can promote ownership is to encourage home ownership.
One of the statistics that concerns me deeply and concerns those in my administration
is this: too many minorities do not own a home in America. Under 50 percent
of African Americans and Hispanic Americans own a home. That's just too few,
as far as I'm concerned. You see, owning a home is part of the American experience.
And so I'm promoting policies that will encourage home ownership.
And we've set this goal, by the way, that we want there to be 5.5 million minority
families owning a home over the next 10 years. Which means government ought
to have a policy that helps people with a downpayment. People take a look at
owning a home and they realize the downpayment is a frightening thought. We
ought to have a downpayment assistance program out of Washington, D.C.
We need to make sure we have education programs, so that people understand what
it means to buy a home; so that they're educated in what it takes to own a home.
We need to make sure that we have got money available for home ownership, minority
home ownership. I want to thank Fannie Mae, Franklin Raines for being here.
He is joined with many in the private sector to unlock millions of dollars,
to make it available for the purchase of a home. Listen, when people own a home,
they have a stake in the future of our society. If we're interested in economic
security, we must promote home ownership for all Americans. (Applause.)
And the same for promoting asset ownership for all Americans. One of the most
heartening statistics is more and more Americans are building their balance
sheets through pension plans; they're owning stocks and bonds; they've got a
future other than their income stream. And that's vital and that's important.
But to make sure that those who own their pensions are fully protected, we need
law out of Congress. I proposed a law, the House passed it -- the Senate needs
to act -- which says the following things.
One, people should not be forced to hold a large portion of their accounts in
a company's stock. If you're working for a company and you own that stock, you
should be able to diversify after a three year period of time. Secondly, you
ought to get sound investment advice every quarter, not every year. Thirdly,
as we pass a corporate responsibility bill, if the CEO is able to unload the
stock, so should the employee. What's good for the boss is good for the people
working for the boss. And we need to make sure that all investment advice is
sound investment advice. And these workers have got their money and their future
tied up in these pension plans ought to get the best -- best advice possible.
These are good reforms, and Congress needs to act on these reforms, in order
to encourage what we call an ownership society. In order to make sure that we
continue to grow our economy, we need to be aggressive when it comes to trade
policy. Zoellick mentioned to me, he said they're all looking to me. They may
be looking to me, Zoellick, I'm looking to you. (Laughter.) You're the Trade
Representative, you've now got the tools, go out there and start negotiating
free trade agreements around the world. (Applause.)
We're back at the bargaining table as a result of getting the Trade Promotion
Authority vote out of the United States Congress. It is essential that we move
aggressively, because trade means jobs. More trade means higher incomes for
American workers. Listen, a confident nation is one which opens up markets.
A nation which isn't confident is one that closes its markets, and puts walls
I'm confident. I'm confident in the American entrepreneurs, I'm confident in
our high tech industry, I'm confident in our farmers and ranchers. I'm confident
that when we compete, we're the best in the world, and therefore I want to trade.
I want to open up those markets. I want to level those playing fields. Open
trade is good for American workers and American families. (Applause.)
I agree completely with the health care panel, ably led by Tommy, that health
security is an important part of economic security. There's a lot we need to
do in Washington, but it starts with trusting the American people to make the
right decisions. That's where it starts. There is a fundamental debate in Washington,
D.C. It goes like this -- do you trust -- who do you trust? Do you trust the
American people, do you trust the elderly to make the right decisions for Medicare,
or do you want the government making those decisions?
I know that sounds like a simple formula, but it's true, it's true. The debate
is, is that, there are some in Washington who believe that the federal government
should make all the decisions on behalf of the American people when it comes
to their health care. We don't. We believe the government can right a check,
but we believe that the ultimate decision maker is the people of -- is the person
we're trying to help. That's the ultimate decision maker. We want our seniors
to have more choices. Medicare is a vital program, but it's old and it's stale
and it's tired. Medicine has changed, Medicare hasn't. We need to modernize
Medicare by giving our seniors more viable choices when it comes to meeting
their own specific health care needs. (Applause.)
Health care must be affordable and it must be accessible. And one way to make
it more affordable and more accessible is to have a medical liability reform
at the federal government. Too many lawsuits are driving our doctors out of
practice and are driving up the cost for too many of our citizens. (Applause.)
We have got a serious problem in America when it comes to frivolous lawsuits.
And we need to deal with it. And I hope the members of the Congress are listening
carefully when they get -- when they're back in their districts. They need to
be talking to the people whose lives are being affected by these junk lawsuits.
And for the sake of good medicine and good health care, we need medical liability
reform out of Washington, D.C., as soon as possible. (Applause.)
And finally, I appreciate so very much the panel's discussion about making sure
every child in America gets educated. There is no question we need to set high
standards here in America. If we have low standards, guess what's going to happen.
We will continue to get bad results. If we believe certain children can't learn,
the system will just shuffle them through. The system will quit on them, and
we've got to stop that in America. The best way to make sure that we enforce
high standards is to say that if you receive federal dollars, you the state
must measure. You must show us whether or not every child is learning to read
and write and add and subtract. Prove it, and if not, you've got to change the
system. We cannot have children stuck in schools that won't teach and won't
For the good of our economic security and for good of our children, we must
be willing to challenge the status quo when the children can't read and write
and add and subtract. And the only way to determine if that's the case is to
have strong accountability. And I can assure you, Janet, so long as this administration
is in power, we will insist upon accountability, no matter how long, how loud
the cries of those who believe the status quo works. (Applause.)
This administration believes every child can learn. This administration wants
every child to learn. And you mark my words, by having high standards and holding
people to account, our children are going to learn. And America is going to
be a much better place for it.
We heard a lot of things government can do. And this administration is willing
to work with Congress to do them, restrain spending, pass terrorism insurance,
protect the pensions and promote trade, punish those who lie, cheat or steal.
But there are also things that people in America can do, people right here in
this room must do. It's time for corporate America to earn back our trust. And
that starts with having CEOs lead the way, by having open balance sheets, fair
numbers, by authorizing the numbers that are -- tomorrow, starting tomorrow;
by proving what I know -- that by far the vast majority of those leading corporate
America are good, honorable people. But I'm calling upon you to help earn back
that culture that says we trust what we read, we trust the advice we're getting.
You need to know that I'm incredibly optimistic about America. Oh, I know the
hurdles -- Phyllis talked about hurdles we face. And we do have hurdles. We've
got a war to fight. But it's a war we're going to win. We've got a homeland
to protect. And we're doing everything we can to protect the homeland. And we've
got the economic security of our fellow Americans to worry about.
But I'm confident in America. I'm confident in the skill of our people. I'm
confident in our spirit. I know -- I know -- that we're the greatest nation
on the face of the earth, because we're a land full of people that are caring
and decent, hard-working and compassionate. Oh, there may be some tough times
here in America. But this country has gone through tough times before, and we're
going to do it again. And we're going to show the world how to be a prosperous
and compassionate and decent country.
Thank you all for coming. God bless you all. (Applause.)