President Barack Obama was in Quincy Illinois today to talk about the economy, small business, rural towns and Wall Street reform.
Here is the prepared text of his remarks:
Hello, Illinois! It is good to be home. I miss you guys. As much as I love being your President, one of the toughest parts is that I don’t get to come home as much anymore and visit with you like I used to. As you may have noticed, it tends to cause a ruckus.
So I appreciate getting to spend some time with you all. We’ve spent a couple days out here, in Iowa, Missouri, and now back home, visiting with workers busy building our clean energy future, and families and small business owners trying to navigate a tough economy.
Because it’s folks like all of you, and towns like this one that give America its heartbeat. It’s towns like this where working men and women built the American Dream with their bare hands. And that dream is shared by every Illinoisan and every American – the chance to make a good living, raise a healthy and secure family, and give our kids opportunities we never had ourselves.
But times are tough in Quincy and towns like it across America. Even though our economy is growing again; our markets are climbing again; and our businesses are beginning to create jobs again; lots of folks don’t feel any recovery in their own lives. I’ve heard their stories across this country. I’ve read them in the letters I get each night. Many of them worry that the dream is slipping out of their reach. Many felt that way even before the economic storm of the past two years. Folks were living up to their responsibilities the best they could, but found themselves hurting in ways they never expected because folks in Washington and Wall Street weren’t living up to theirs.
That’s why I asked to be your President. And that’s why so many of you joined our campaign. Because you believed we had it within our power to change that. You believed we could solve the problems that had been holding us back year after year, and focus on working Americans for once. You believed we could keep the American Dream alive in our time, and for all time. And that’s what I want to talk about today.
When I took office, we were in the midst of an historic financial crisis brought on by reckless and irresponsible speculation on Wall Street. That in turn led to a recession that hammered Main Streets across America with lost jobs, lost homes, lost businesses, and downscaled dreams.
The first thing we had to do was mount an aggressive response – and that required some tough steps to stabilize the financial sector that were as necessary as they were unpopular. But we took them, because the well-being of millions of Americans depended on it. It was the right thing – the only thing – to do.
We took immediate steps to help the American people get back on their feet. We aimed tax relief right at the middle class and the cornerstones of the American Dream, to make them whole again. We cut taxes for small businesses; for first-time homebuyers; for students and parents paying for college; for 95 percent of America’s working families. We extended unemployment benefits and made COBRA cheaper for folks who lost their jobs. We helped states avert massive layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and police officers.
We did what it took to rescue our economy and spark its recovery. And that work goes on. But it’s also time to rebuild our economy on a new foundation for real, sustained growth. It’s time to extend opportunity to every Main Street in America so that young folks never have to feel like the only place to find it is somewhere else. It’s time to create conditions so that Americans who work hard can gain ground again. That’s what’s at the heart of all our efforts.
It’s why we made the biggest investment in clean energy in our history, creating good jobs in Middle America that harness the wind and sun and biofuels and won’t be shipped away.
It’s why we took on the special interests and reformed the student loan system so it works for students, not bankers. That saved tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. And we’re reinvesting that money in making college more affordable, and in upgrading America’s community colleges, so that more middle class Americans can get ahead in the 21st century.
It’s why we finally passed health reform in America – reform that will begin to end some of the worst practices of the insurance industry this year. In a few years, millions of families and small business owners will have more choice, more competition, and finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that come with it. And over the next two decades, this reform will reduce our deficit by more than $1 trillion dollars.
And it is why we need good, commonsense Wall Street reform today. Not next year; not some other time down the road. Now. Let me tell you why that’s important for you.
The crisis we’ve come through together wasn’t part of any normal economic cycle. It began because some on Wall Street took irresponsible risks, making bets that produced big profits and big bonuses, but were built on bad mortgages.
And because we didn’t have commonsense rules in place, those irresponsible practices came perilously close to bringing down our entire economy and millions of dreams along with it. We had a system where some on Wall Street could take wild risks without fear of failure, because they could keep the profits and you had to cover their losses. Heads, they win – tails, you lose.
They failed to consider that behind every dollar they traded or leveraged like Monopoly money, there was a family out here on Main Street looking to buy a house, pay for college, open a business, or save for retirement. That might work just fine for them, but as we’ve all learned all so clearly; it doesn’t work fine for our country. And it’s got to change.
Now, we’re not doing this to punish these firms or begrudge success that’s fairly earned. We don’t want to stop them from fulfilling their responsibility to help grow our economy. As I’ve said many times, including just last week when I went to Wall Street; I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial system. When they are working right, financial institutions help make it possible for families to buy homes, businesses to grow, and ideas to take flight. There are a lot of good people in the financial industry who do things the right way, and it’s in our best interest when their firms are strong and healthy.
But when these institutions operate irresponsibly, they not only threaten themselves; they threaten the whole economy, along with the dreams that millions of Americans worked so hard to build. And we just want them to operate in a way that’s fair, honest, and in the open, so that we never have to endure a crisis like this again. We need to make sure our financial system doesn’t just work for Wall Street, but Main Street, too.
So let me lay out what this reform should look like.
First – and I know this is as important to you as it is to me – we will make sure the American taxpayer is never again on the hook when a Wall Street firm fails. Never again. That’s what this reform does. And yet, some cynically and absurdly claim the opposite: that somehow, this bill institutionalizes bailouts. That’s just false. The fact is this: a vote for reform is a vote to end taxpayer-funded bailouts once and for all. If a crisis like this happens again, financial firms will foot the bill.
Second, we’ll close the loopholes that allowed derivatives deals so large and risky they could threaten our entire economy. And we’ll bring those deals out of the dark alleys of our financial system and into the light of day.
Third, this reform would give you more power by putting in place the strongest consumer financial protections in history. This crisis wasn’t solely the result of decisions made on Wall Street. It was also the result of decisions made on Main Street by folks who took on mortgages and credit cards and auto loans. Some took on obligations they knew they couldn’t afford. But millions of others were deceived or misled by shifting terms, confusing conditions, and forests of fine print. Now, some argue that arming consumers with clear and concise information will somehow stifle competition. I believe the opposite. Instead of competing to see who can offer the most confusing product, companies should compete the old-fashioned way: by offering the best product.
Finally, we’ll give the people who own these companies – investors, pension holders, and shareholders like many of you – more of a say in the way they’re run. At some of these firms, exorbitant salaries and bonuses actually created perverse incentives that encouraged folks to take reckless risks. Well, if you own stock in these companies, you’ll get some say about that. You’ll get to help decide how their managers are paid.
So that’s the reform we’ve put forward. Accountability – no more bailouts. Closing loopholes – no more trading in the shadows. Consumer protections – no more deceptive products. A say on pay – giving shareholders a more powerful voice. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Now, I don’t believe this should be a partisan issue. Everybody – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – were hurt by this crisis. And everybody should want to fix it. So I’m pleased that after a few days of delay, it appears that an agreement may be in hand to allow this debate to move forward on the Senate floor on this critical issue. And I want to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, who wants to pursue these reforms in good faith. But we are going to get this done. We’re going to get it done because you demand it.
It’s been two years since the crisis born on Wall Street slammed into Main Street with its full fury. And while things aren’t nearly back to normal yet out here, they’re getting back to normal pretty quick up there. Some in Washington may think this debate is moving too fast. I don’t. I’ve been calling for better rules on Wall Street since 2007. And I certainly don’t think you would accuse Washington of moving too fast, either.
I don’t think you should have to wait one more day for protection from some of the practices that got us into this mess. And we can’t let the recovery that’s finally beginning to take hold to fall prey to a new round of recklessness on Wall Street. If we don’t learn the lessons of this crisis, we doom ourselves to repeat it. And I refuse to let that happen. The time for reform is now.
Through all the noise and lobbyists and partisanship, this debate comes down to a simple choice: Are we going to keep going down the same road, where the irresponsibility of a few can put millions of families at risk and stick taxpayers with the tab – or are we going to protect consumers, strengthen our financial system, and put rules in place to keep this from happening ever again? Are we going to give in to the special interests, or are we going to score another victory for the American people? Are we going to stick with the status quo that failed us so profoundly, or are we going to remember that we have the power to do something about it?
The will to act. That’s all it comes down to, Illinois. I still believe we can come together and make this happen. Because we are not powerless in the face of our challenges. We do not quit when things get tough. We come together. We move forward. We act. We are Americans. Our destiny is not written for us – it is written by us. And if we remember that; if we summon that spirit and that resolve once again, we can strengthen our economy today and tomorrow. We can restore some security for the middle class. And we can renew the American Dream for families on Main Street all across this country we love.
Thank you very much, Illinois. God Bless You. And God Bless the United States of America.