Under Secretary of Commerce For International Trade Francisco SÁnchez
White House Hispanic Policy Conference
Friday, September 9, 2011
As prepared for delivery
Good afternoon and thank you all for that warm welcome.
It’s always great to be back in my home state of Florida — especially with so many friends and partners. It’s good to see you all.
I know we’re in an age of texting and tweeting — but I’m old fashion. I still believe that the most effective way to make progress is to bring people together in a room — face-to-face — to exchange ideas.
That’s what makes this White House Hispanic Policy Conference such a valuable opportunity. In this room, we have an incredible mix of community, business and government leaders, who can turn today’s discussions into meaningful action tomorrow.
I want to thank Mayor Dyer for his gracious hospitality. Allow me to also recognize my colleagues from the Administration who, like me, are eager and excited to have this conversation with all of you.
I also want to express my deep appreciation to all those who brought us together, especially Stephanie Valencia and Juan Sepulveda. They are doing great work on behalf of President Obama to give the Hispanic community an equal voice at the table.
Our purpose here is simple: We want to hear directly from you about your concerns and ideas. We want to know what you’re seeing on the ground here in Florida, and how you think we can help. Just a frank talk, without any spin. And, it’s going to be a dynamic discussion.
Back in July, I was proud to participate in the inaugural White House Hispanic Policy Conference in Washington, DC. As you can imagine, a lot of topics were discussed. But, in my conversations, the one that came up the most was jobs, jobs, jobs — and understandably so.
The Latino unemployment rate remains far higher than the national rate. And, the recession has taken a big toll on our community. Pew recently found that — from 2005 to 2009 — the median net worth of Latino households fell 66 percent, the most of any group.
But, you and I didn’t need a report to understand the challenges facing the Latino community, and Americans of all backgrounds. We see them every day. We hear about them from our families and friends.
I assure you that President Obama hears about them too, and, since his first day in office, has worked to do something about it. Just yesterday, he proposed The American Jobs Act. I just met with the President and his economic team this morning at the White House, and I can tell you that this plan will make a real difference in getting people back to work.
Outside experts say this plan will lead to the creation of 1.5 million new jobs. That’s 1.5 million of our friends, neighbors and family members put to work in American businesses large and small.
In the next few days, there are going to be a lot of different people making a lot of different claims about The American Jobs Act. In fact, some complained about it before they’d even seen it.
But here are a few actual facts to note about the President’s plan.
One, every single element of this plan has been supported by members of both parties in the past and it won’t add a nickel to the deficit.
Two, this plan would have a tangible impact right now.
And three, we’re asking Congress to pass it right now.
Americans feel a sense of urgency about getting something done to help create jobs. We’re asking Congress to feel the same sense of urgency.
In a moment, I’m going to detail a few aspects of the plan, and explain why it’s so important for Congress to pass it as quickly as possible.
But I want to place it in a broader context, by talking about where we were as an economy just a few years ago.
II. Where We Were
Since President Obama took office, we’ve heard from Americans from every part of the country and every walk of life.
We’ve heard a real nostalgia — not for the economy we had in 2007 — but for the economy of a different time altogether, an economy defined by shared prosperity and shared principles, an economy where we made more and borrowed less.
Competition might have been fierce, but that competition was rooted in values of fairness, community and responsibility. Everyone played by the same set of rules.
When someone succeeded, we celebrated it, knowing that one person’s success meant it was possible for anyone willing to work hard enough.
But, even before the economic crisis of 2008, people felt those values slipping away.
For a decade, middle class wages barely budged. But costs kept going up. Job growth in the 2000s was the lowest of any decade stretching back to the 1940s. And that's true even if you stopped measuring before the recession started.
Meanwhile, there was an increasing sense that we were becoming a society with two sets of rules – one for those who‘ve succeeded and another for those still trying.
Back in 2000, when we had a budget surplus, we could have addressed these concerns by reinvesting in our education system and supporting the research and development that fuels America’s innovation.
But instead of finding new solutions to our problems, we found new lenders to give us money – whether it’s for homes or businesses. Wall Street became dangerously overleveraged.
And in government, members of Congress — from both parties — voted for tax cuts for the wealthy, two wars and a new prescription drug benefit. We borrowed money to pay for all of it.
Then the party stopped in 2008. We all remember what the financial crisis felt like. Many Americans are still living with its consequences.
When the crisis hit, families and businesses here in Orlando did the sensible thing. They found ways to do more with less.
For many Americans, they probably thought their government should immediately do the same.
Not really. In an economic recession, when consumers and businesses stop buying, government has to step in. It has to help create a little demand to help the economy heal.
In essence, this Administration bet on the resiliency of the American people and the American economy. It spent then so consumers and businesses could spend later.
So in the first days of this Administration, we took steps to stabilize the financial system, to keep the American auto industry from going bankrupt, to pass along a tax cut for middle-class families, and to help cities and states so that teachers and policemen could keep their jobs. We stopped the free fall.
Ultimately, the measures we took included passing 17 different tax cuts for small businesses, the largest temporary investment incentive for manufacturers in the history of the United States and a payroll tax cut that put more money in the pockets of millions of Florida workers.
II. Where We Are
Today, we are recovering. There is good news. More than 2.4 million jobs have been created in the last year and a half. We’re seeing a comeback in manufacturing and new strength in the clean energy sector. Household debt is back to where it was before the bubble of the 2000s. Consumer spending is starting to rise. And corporations are making record profits.
The bad news is that that growth hasn’t been as fast as any of us would have liked. There’s still work to do. And even as our economy has worked to recover, we’ve been hit by some headwinds that have slowed things down -- rising oil prices and financial troubles in Europe, for example.
We also created some of those headwinds in Washington with needless debate over raising the debt ceiling. That prolonged and divisive fight produced a bigger dip in consumer confidence than the 9/11 attacks.
The setbacks have left families and businesses uncertain about the future. And not surprisingly, that’s encouraged them to pull back and grow more cautious – not what our economy needs.
III. Where We’re Headed
The American Jobs Act can help change that. It attacks every part of our jobs problem.
First, it would help firms that are reluctant to hire by cutting taxes on business, especially small businesses. The President’s plan would:
- Slash the payroll tax in half for 98 percent of businesses;
- Eliminate the payroll tax for firms that increase their payrolls by adding new employees or increase the wages of their current workers;
- Extend the 100 percent expensing provision into 2012 for capital purchases; and
- Make reforms to improve access to capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Second, the President’s plan would provide aid to localities to avoid laying off teachers, firefighters and cops. It will also help put construction workers back on the job by funding much-needed roads, railway and airport projects that will make America more competitive.
The American Jobs Act would:
- Prevent up to 280,000 teacher layoffs;
- Modernize at least 35,000 public schools; and, among other things
- Put thousands of workers back on the job by creating a National Infrastructure Bank, which will leverage private-sector dollars to fund needed improvements to the vital transportation projects that make commerce possible.
Third, the President’s plan would help put the long-term unemployed back to work by making the most innovative reforms to unemployment insurance in 40 years. It would:
- Extend unemployment insurance, preventing 5 million Americans from losing their benefits;
- Create a $4,000 tax credit for employers who hire the long-term unemployed; and
- Build on and improve an innovative state plan that allows the unemployed to take temporary or voluntary work or pursue on-the-job training without losing their unemployment insurance.
Finally, the American Jobs Act would give more businesses confidence that there will be customers for their products and services by putting more money in the pockets of American workers. The President’s plan would:
- Cut payroll taxes in half for 160 million workers next year, expanding the payroll tax cut passed last year; and,
- Allow more Americans to save more than $2,000 per year by working with regulators to eliminate barriers to folks refinancing their mortgages.
And, what does the American Jobs Act mean for the Latino community? If passed today:
- 1.1 million Hispanics and their families will benefit from the extension of unemployment insurance.
- 25 million Hispanic workers will benefit from the extension of the payroll tax cut; and
- 250,000 Hispanic-owned small businesses will receive tax cut benefits.
And, those are just a few of the outcomes. So, a lot of good would happen.
Still, even if this plan exceeds our wildest dreams, it won’t solve everything.
Ultimately, the American recovery will be powered by the private sector. What the Jobs Act does is give that private sector a lift.
In the meantime, we’re going to continue to streamline regulations, without sacrificing the public’s health or safety. Federal agencies recently submitted plans that included hundreds of initiatives that will reduce costs, and simplify the regulatory system.
So far, over 500 reforms have been identified, which will save billions of dollars over the next few years.
Still, economists will tell you that it typically takes years to recover from the economic problems that follow a major financial crisis.
But that’s no excuse to sit idly by. We can’t just pray the market eventually sorts everything out. Other countries have tried that. Inaction leads to years of stagnation and high joblessness.
We know many Orlando families have already made major sacrifices. It’s important that Congress pass the bipartisan measures in the President’s plan so that they don’t have to make more.
In the long run, we have to get our debt under control. That’s an important policy objective, one the President will address a week from Monday. But our federal spending problems will be best solved by strong economic growth, which means we need to take decisive action.
In addition to the American Jobs Act, Congress can pass the pending trade deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama.
As the President said, if Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, we should see people in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys. We’ve got to have more products around the world that say “Made in America.”
As the head of the International Trade Administration, I want to be clear: increased exports would lead to jobs for American workers, and increased opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Every billion dollars in exports supports more than 5000 jobs. And, these days — in order for a business to achieve its full potential — it’s no longer enough to target markets across town or across the state: You’ve got to access markets across borders and overseas. 95% of the world’s customers live outside of the United States.
The people of Florida understand this. This state led the nation with 62 percent of total merchandise exports generated by small and medium-sized firms in 2008. And, incredibly, we can do so much more.
So, I urge you to make your voice heard, and let Congress know that you want these trade deals passed, because you want more customers so you can grow your businesses, hire more workers and build your local economies.
We cannot wait any longer. The time for action is now.
People have the right to expect a little bit of help from their government. They should be able to expect Congress to put them first. They ought to be able to count on someone betting on them.
And that’s ultimately what everything I’ve described is – a bet on the drive and innovation of the American people.
We know government can’t solve all the problems facing our country. What we can do is help lay a foundation for growth and create smart incentives for businesses in Orlando and around America to build something special on top of that foundation.
It’s time for both parties in Congress to come together to support ideas that have been supported in the past by both Democrats and Republicans. It’s time for everyone to work together and put their country first.
The American Jobs Act would put 1.5 million people to work now. It would put more money in the pockets of workers now. It would repair infrastructure vital to American competiveness now.
So Congress should pass it now.
It’s how we help create more jobs for Americans.
It’s how we help business grow.
It’s how we ensure that American workers and American communities compete and win in the global economy.
Now, I’m sure that the American Jobs Act will be a hot topic during today’s discussion — and that’s a good thing.
We want to engage and work with you to spur Congress to take action — immediately.
These days, we hear a lot of talk about Congress positioning itself for the next election. But, what about families who wonder where their next meal will come from, or how they’ll pay next month’s rent? They can’t wait 14 months till the next election.
They need solutions now. That’s what makes this White House Hispanic Policy Conference so important — together we can urge Congress to take action now.
I look forward to having this conversation with all of you today.
Again, thank you all for coming. Let’s enjoy today, and seize this opportunity to form new partnerships for progress.
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