October 2nd, 2008
10:05 AM ET
15 years ago

ON THE TRAIL: Obama talks economy in Grand Rapids

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/02/art.cnnlive.cnn.jpg caption="Obama's campaigned in Michigan Thursday."]GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (CNN) - Barack Obama held a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan earlier Thursday during which he stressed the nation's ailing economy.

"Everywhere you look, the economic news is troubling. But for so many of you here in Michigan, it isn’t really news at all," he said.

Read Obama's full prepared remarks

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama—as prepared for delivery

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The events of the last few weeks have shown us that the stakes in this election could not be higher.

We are in a financial crisis as serious as any we’ve faced since the Great Depression. In recent weeks, we’ve seen our financial landscape shift before our eyes. We’ve seen a growing credit crunch put new pressures on banks, businesses, and families. And on Monday, we saw the single largest decline of the stock market in two decades – a decline that threatens not just the wealth of Wall Street executives, but the life savings, jobs, and economic security of millions of ordinary Americans.

Everywhere you look, the economic news is troubling. But for so many of you here in Michigan, it isn’t really news at all.

600,000 jobs have been lost since the year began, including about 30,000 in Michigan. The unemployment rate here in Grand Rapids and other parts of this state is nearly double what it is across this country. And a new jobs report is coming out tomorrow that experts predict will show our ninth straight month of job loss.

Nine straight months of job loss! Yet, just the other week, John McCain said the “fundamentals of the economy are strong.” Well, I don’t know what yardstick Senator McCain uses, but where I come from, there’s nothing more fundamental than a job. And when we’re losing jobs month after month after month, when good, hard-working Americans who’ve done everything right watch their dreams slip away, the fundamentals of our economy are not strong, and it’s time we had a President who understands that.

But it’s not just jobs. Home values are falling. Wages are flat-lining. And the cost of everything from gas to groceries is going up and up. These are the quiet storms that our families have been facing for months if not years, and these are the storms that will only grow worse if we do not act – and act now – to pass the rescue plan that’s before Congress. Democrats and Republicans in the House need to do what the Senate did last night and do what’s right for this country.

If the financial markets collapse, and loans are not available, businesses, large and small, will follow. It’s your jobs, your savings, your ability to pursue your dreams for your children that are at risk. That’s why we have to act. That’s why we have to set aside the politics of the moment and exercise something we haven’t seen in Washington lately – responsibility.

Now, let me be perfectly clear. The fact that we are in this mess is an outrage. It’s an outrage because we did not get here by accident. This was not a normal part of the business cycle. This did not happen because of a few bad apples.

This financial crisis is a direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years. It’s the result of speculators who gamed the system, regulators who looked the other way, and lobbyists who bought their way into our government. It’s the result of an economic philosophy that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else; a philosophy that views even the most common-sense regulations as unwise and unnecessary. Well, this crisis is nothing less than a final verdict on this failed philosophy – and it’s a philosophy I’m running for President to end.

That’s what this election is all about.

Because despite my opponent’s best efforts to make you think otherwise, this is the philosophy he’s embraced during his twenty-six years in Washington. Over the past few days, he’s talked a lot about getting tough on Wall Street, but over the past few decades, he’s fought against the very rules of the road that could’ve stopped this mess. He says he’ll take on corporate lobbyists now, but he put seven of the biggest lobbyists in Washington in charge of his campaign. And if you think those lobbyists are working day and night to elect him just to put themselves out of business, well I’ve got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska.

The truth is, my opponent’s philosophy isn’t just wrong-headed, it reveals how out of touch he really is. How else could he offer $200 billion in tax cuts for big corporations at a time like this? How else could he propose giving the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut at a time when millions of Americans are struggling to pay their bills? How else could he come up with an economic plan that leaves out more than 100 million middle class families at the very moment they need help most?

Senator McCain just doesn’t get it. Well, Michigan, you and I do get it. That’s why we’re here today. We know the next four years don’t have to look like the last eight. We know we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. Because that’s who we are. Because this is America. We’re a nation that’s faced down war and depression; great challenges and great threats. And at each and every moment, we’ve risen to meet these challenges because we’ve never forgotten that fundamental truth – that here, in this country, our destiny is not written for us; it’s written by us.

It’s time to take our destiny into our own hands and reclaim our economic future. Part of what that means is passing the rescue plan that’s before Congress. I know many people were outraged when this administration initially asked the American people to sign a blank check to solve this crisis. I was outraged too. That’s why I fought to make sure the rescue plan protects taxpayers, provides oversight and accountability, helps struggling homeowners stay in their homes, and doesn’t reward the Wall Street executives whose greed and irresponsibility led us to this perilous moment.

While these taxpayer protections are now part of the rescue plan, this plan still isn’t perfect. But it’s what we must do to prevent a crisis from turning into a catastrophe. But understand, even with this plan, we may face a long and difficult road to recovery. That is why, if I’m President, passing this rescue plan won’t be the end of what we do to strengthen our economy, it’ll be the beginning. It’ll be the beginning of a long-term rescue plan for our middle class – a plan that will create millions of new jobs; help families keep up with rising costs; relieve the burden of crushing health care costs; and educate the next generation of Americans with the skills and knowledge to compete with any workers, anywhere in the world.

Now, people have asked whether the size of the plan that Congress is voting on, together with the weakening economy, means that the next President will have to scale back his agenda and some of his proposals. And there’s no doubt that some programs or policies that I’ve proposed on the campaign trail may require more time to achieve. But I reject the idea that you can’t build a strong middle class at a time when our economy is weak. I believe that building a strong middle class is the key to making our economy strong.

And that’s what we’ll do when I’m President of the United States.

To create new jobs, we’ll not only invest in rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and our outdated electricity grid – we’ll strengthen the auto industry that built the middle class in this country. A number of auto companies are showing real leadership in building fuel-efficient cars, and I applaud them for it. But I refuse to accept that Washington has to stand idly by while foreign automakers outpace us. I’m running for President to make sure the cars of the future are made in the same place they’ve always been made – right here in Michigan. I’ll be a President who finally keeps the promise that’s made year after year by providing the funding our automakers need to retool their factories and make fuel-efficient and alternative fuel cars and trucks.

And as we fight to reverse the decline in manufacturing over the last eight years, we’ll also bring manufacturing into the 21st century by building an American green energy sector. We’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced. Because the fight for American manufacturing is the fight for America’s future – and I believe that’s a fight this country will win.

I will also reform our tax code so that it doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it. I will eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses and start-ups, so that we can grow our economy and create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. My opponent doesn’t want you to know this, but under my plan, tax rates will actually be less than they were under Ronald Reagan. If you make less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increase one single dime. In fact, I offer three times the tax relief for middle-class families as Senator McCain does – because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

I will reform our health care system so we can relieve families, businesses, and our economy from the crushing cost of health care by investing in new technology and preventative care. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And we’ll reduce costs for business and their workers by picking up the tab for some of the most expensive illnesses and conditions – because that’s how we’ll make our companies more competitive in the 21st century.

And if I am President, I will meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. But in exchange, I will ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Finally, I will modernize our outdated financial regulations and put in place the common-sense rules of the road I’ve been calling for since March – rules that will keep our market free, fair, and honest; rules that will restore accountability and responsibility in the boardroom, and make sure Wall Street can never get away with the stunts that caused this crisis again.

But just as we demand accountability on Wall Street, we must also demand it in Washington. Because we cannot afford another four years of the kind of deficits we’ve seen during the past eight. We cannot afford to mortgage our children’s future on another mountain of debt. That’s why I’m not going to stand here and simply tell you what I’m going to spend, I’m going to tell you how we’re going to save when I am President.

I will go through the entire federal budget, page by page, line by line, and eliminate programs that don’t work and aren’t needed. We’ll start by ending a war in Iraq that’s costing $10 billion a month while the Iraqi government sits on a $79 billion surplus. And we’ll save billions of dollars by shutting the overseas tax havens that let companies avoid paying taxes here in America.

And as for those programs we do need, I’ll make them work better and cost less. We’ll save billions by cutting waste, improving management, and strengthening oversight. And I will finally end the abuse of no-bid contracts once and for all – the days of sweetheart deals for Halliburton will be over when I’m in the White House.

These are the changes and reforms that we need. A new era of responsibility and accountability on Wall Street and in Washington. Common-sense regulations to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again. Investments in the technology and innovation that will restore prosperity and lead to new jobs and a new economy for the 21st century. Bottom-up growth that will create opportunity for every American.

I won’t pretend this will be easy or come without cost. We will all need to sacrifice and we will all need to pull our weight because now more than ever, we are all in this together. What this crisis has taught us is that at the end of the day, there is no real separation between Main Street and Wall Street. There is only the road we’re traveling on as Americans – and we will rise or fall on that journey as one nation; as one people.

This country and the dream it represents are being tested in a way that we haven’t seen in nearly a century. And future generations will judge ours by how we respond to this test. Will they say that this was a time when America lost its way and its purpose? When we allowed our own petty differences and broken politics to plunge this country into a dark and painful recession?

Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame? When we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other’s success?

This is one of those moments. I realize you’re cynical and fed up with politics. I understand that you’re disappointed and even angry with your leaders. You have every right to be. But despite all of this, I ask of you what’s been asked of the American people in times of trial and turmoil throughout our history. I ask you to believe – to believe in yourselves, in each other, and in the future we can build together.

Because together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Not when there are families who can’t afford to see a doctor, or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves.

We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can't go to college but my child can; maybe I can't have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.

Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail. And I need you to make it happen. If you want the next four years looking just like the last eight, then I am not your candidate. But if you want real change – if you want an economy that rewards work, and that works for Main Street and Wall Street; if you want tax relief for the middle class and millions of new jobs; if you want health care you can afford and education that helps your kids compete; then I ask you to knock on some doors, make some calls, talk to your neighbors, and give me your vote on November 4th. And if you do, I promise you – we will win Michigan, we will win this election, and then you and I – together – will change this country and change this world. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.

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