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Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner

Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner


The President:
It is wonderful to be
with all of you tonight. It’s good to be with the
conscience of the Congress. (applause) Thank you, Chairman
Cleaver and brother Payne, for all that you do
each and every day. Thank you, Dr. Elsie Scott,
president and CEO of the CBC Foundation, and all of you for
your outstanding work with your internship program, which
has done so much for so many young people. And I had a chance to meet some
of the young people backstage — an incredible, unbelievably
impressive group. You know, being here
with all of you — with all the outstanding members
of the Congressional Black Caucus — reminds me of a
story that one of our friends, a giant of the civil
rights movement, Reverend Dr. Joseph
Lowery, told one day. Dr. Lowery — I don’t think he
minds me telling that he turns 90 in a couple weeks. (applause) He’s been causing a ruckus
for about 89 of those years. (laughter) A few years back, Dr. Lowery and
I were together at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma. (applause) We’ve got some Selma
folks in the house. (applause) And Dr. Lowery stood up in the
pulpit and told the congregation the story of Shadrach and
Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. You know the story — it’s about
three young men bold enough to stand up for God, even if it
meant being thrown in a furnace. And they survived
because of their faith, and because God showed up
in that furnace with them. Now, Dr. Lowery said that those
three young men were a little bit crazy. But there’s a
difference, he said, between good crazy
and bad crazy. (applause) Those boys, he said,
were “good crazy.” At the time, I was
running for president — it was early in the campaign. Nobody gave me much of a chance. He turned to me from the pulpit,
and indicated that someone like me running for president
— well, that was crazy. (laughter) But he supposed
it was good crazy. He was talking about faith,
the belief in things not seen, the belief that if you persevere
a better day lies ahead. And I suppose the reason I
enjoy coming to the CBC — what this weekend is all
about is, you and me, we’re all a little bit crazy,
but hopefully a good kind of crazy. (applause) We’re a good kind of crazy
because no matter how hard things get, we keep the
faith; we keep fighting; we keep moving forward. And we’ve needed faith over
these last couple years. Times have been hard. It’s been three years since we
faced down a crisis that began on Wall Street and then
spread to Main Street, and hammered working families,
and hammered an already hard-hit black community. The unemployment rate for black
folks went up to nearly 17% — the highest it’s been in almost
three decades; 40%, almost, of African American
children living in poverty; fewer than half convinced
that they can achieve Dr. King’s dream. You’ve got to be a little
crazy to have faith during such hard times. It’s heartbreaking,
and it’s frustrating. And I ran for President, and
the members of the CBC ran for Congress, to help more
Americans reach that dream. (applause) We ran to give every
child a chance, whether he’s born in Chicago, or
she comes from a rural town in the Delta. This crisis has made that job of
giving everybody opportunity a little bit harder. We knew at the outset of my
presidency that the economic calamity we faced wasn’t caused
overnight and wasn’t going to be solved overnight. We knew that long before
the recession hit, the middle class in this country
had been falling behind — wages and incomes
had been stagnant; a sense of financial security
had been slipping away. And since these problems
were not caused overnight, we knew we were going to
have to climb a steep hill. But we got to work. With your help, we started
fighting our way back from the brink. And at every step of the way,
we’ve faced fierce opposition based on an old idea — the idea
that the only way to restore prosperity can’t just be to let
every corporation write its own rules, or give out tax breaks
to the wealthiest and the most fortunate, and to tell everybody
that you’re on their own. There has to be a different
concept of what America’s all about. It has to be based on the idea
that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper,
and we’re in this together. We are in this thing together. (applause) We had a different vision
and so we did what was right, and we fought to extend
unemployment insurance, and we fought to expand the
Earned Income Tax Credit, and we fought to expand
the Child Tax Credit — which benefited nearly half of
all African American children in this country. (applause) And millions of Americans
are better off because of that fight. (applause) Ask the family struggling to
make ends meet if that extra few hundred dollars in their
mother’s paycheck from the payroll tax cut we
passed made a difference. They’ll tell you. Ask them how much that Earned
Income Tax Credit or that Child Tax Credit makes a difference
in paying the bills at the end of the month. When an army of lobbyists and
special interests spent millions to crush Wall Street reform, we
stood up for what was right. We said the time has come
to protect homeowners from predatory mortgage lenders. The time has come to protect
consumers from credit card companies that jacked up
rates without warning. (applause) We signed the strongest consumer
financial protection in history. That’s what we did together. (applause) Remember how many years we
tried to stop big banks from collecting taxpayer subsidies
for student loans while the cost of college kept
slipping out of reach? Together, we put a stop
to that once and for all. We used those savings to make
college more affordable. We invested in early childhood
education and community college and HBCUs. Ask the engineering student at
an HBCU who thought he might have to leave school if
that extra Pell Grant assistance mattered. (applause) We’re attacking the cycle of
poverty that steals the future from too many children — not
just by pouring money into a broken system, but by
building on what works — with Promise Neighborhoods
modeled after the good work up in Harlem; Choice Neighborhoods
rebuilding crumbling public housing into communities of hope
and opportunity; Strong Cities, Strong Communities, our
partnership with local leaders in hard-hit cities like
Cleveland and Detroit. And we overcame years of
inaction to win justice for black farmers because of the
leadership of the CBC and because we had an administration
that was committed to doing the right thing. (applause) And against all
sorts of setbacks, when the opposition fought
us with everything they had, we finally made clear that in
the United States of America nobody should go broke
because they get sick. We are better than that. (applause) And today, insurance companies
can no longer drop or deny your coverage for no good reason. In just a year and a half, about
one million more young adults have health insurance
because of this law. (applause) One million young people. That is an incredible
achievement, and we did it with your
help, with the CBC’s help. (applause) So in these hard years, we’ve
won a lot of fights that needed fighting and we’ve
done a lot of good. But we’ve got more work to do. So many people
are still hurting. So many people are
still barely hanging on. And too many people in this city
are still fighting us every step of the way. So I need your help. We have to do more to put
people to work right now. We’ve got to make that everyone
in this country gets a fair shake, and a fair shot,
and a chance to get ahead. (applause) And I know we won’t get where we
need to go if we don’t travel down this road together. I need you with me. (applause) That starts with getting
this Congress to pass the American Jobs Act. (applause) You heard me talk about this
plan when I visited Congress a few weeks ago and sent the bill
to Congress a few days later. Now I want that
bill back — passed. I’ve got the pens all ready. I am ready to sign it. And I need your help
to make it happen. (applause) Right now we’ve got millions
of construction workers out of a job. So this bill says, let’s put
those men and women back to work in their own communities
rebuilding our roads and our bridges. Let’s give these folks a
job rebuilding our schools. Let’s put these folks to work
rehabilitating foreclosed homes in the hardest-hit neighborhoods
of Detroit and Atlanta and Washington. This is a no-brainer. (applause) Why should we let China
build the newest airports, the fastest railroads? Tell me why our children should
be allowed to study in a school that’s falling apart? I don’t want that for
my kids or your kids. I don’t want that for any kid. You tell me how it makes sense
when we know that education is the most important thing for
success in the 21st century. (applause) Let’s put our people back
to work doing the work America needs done. Let’s pass this jobs bill. (applause) We’ve got millions of unemployed
Americans and young people looking for work but
running out of options. So this jobs bill says,
let’s give them a pathway, a new pathway back to work. Let’s extend unemployment
insurance so that more than six million Americans don’t
lose that lifeline. But let’s also encourage
reforms that help the long-term unemployed keep their
skills sharp and get a foot in the door. Let’s give summer jobs for
low-income youth that don’t just give them their first paycheck
but arm them with the skills they need for life. (applause) Tell me why we don’t want the
unemployed back in the workforce as soon as possible. Let’s pass this jobs bill,
put these folks back to work. (applause) Why are we shortchanging our
children when we could be putting teachers back in
the classroom right now, where they belong? (applause) Laying off teachers,
laying off police officers, laying off firefighters all
across the country because state and local budgets are tough. Why aren’t we helping? We did in the first two years. And then this other crowd came
into Congress and now suddenly they want to stop. Tell me why we shouldn’t give
companies tax credits for hiring the men and women who’ve risked
their lives for this country — our veterans. There is no good
answer for that. They shouldn’t be fighting to
find a job when they come home. (applause) These Republicans in Congress
like to talk about job creators. How about doing something
real for job creators? Pass this jobs bill, and every
small business owner in America, including 100,000 black-owned
businesses, will get a tax cut. (applause) You say you’re the
party of tax cuts. Pass this jobs bill, and
every worker in America, including nearly 20 million
African American workers, will get a tax cut. (applause) Pass this jobs bill, and prove
you’ll fight just as hard for a tax cut for ordinary
folks as you do for all your contributors. (applause) These are questions that
opponents of this jobs plan will have to answer. Because the kinds of ideas in
this plan in the past have been supported by both parties. Suddenly Obama is proposing
it — what happened? (laughter) What happened? You all used to
like to build roads. (laughter) Right? What happened? Reverend, you know
what happened? I don’t know. They used to love
to build some roads. (laughter) Now, I know some of our friends
across the aisle won’t support any new spending
that’s not paid for. I agree that’s important. So last week, I laid out a plan
to pay for the American Jobs Act, and to bring out —
down our debt over time. You say the deficit
is important? Here we go. I’m ready to go. It’s a plan that says if we want
to create jobs and close this deficit, then we’ve got to ask
the folks who have benefited most — the wealthiest Americans, the biggest, most profitable corporations
— to pay their fair share. (applause) We are not asking them to
do anything extraordinary. The reform we’re proposing is
based on a simple principle: Middle-class folks should not
pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. (applause) That’s not crazy —
or it’s good crazy. (laughter) Warren Buffett’s secretary
shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. A teacher or a nurse or a
construction worker making $50,000 a year shouldn’t pay
higher tax rates than somebody making $50 million. That’s just common sense. We’re not doing this
to punish success. This is the land of opportunity. I want you to go out,
start a business, get rich, build something. Out country is based on the
belief that anybody can make it if they put in enough
sweat and enough effort. That is wonderful. God bless you. But part of the American idea is
also that once we’ve done well we should pay our fair share — (applause) — to make sure that those
schools that we were learning in can teach the next generation;
that those roads that we benefited from — that they’re
not crumbling for the next bunch of folks who are
coming behind us; to keep up the nation that
made our success possible. And most wealthy Americans
would agree with that. But you know the Republicans are
already dusting off their old talking points. That’s class warfare, they say. In fact, in the next breath,
they’ll complain that people living in poverty — people who
suffered the most over the past decade — don’t pay
enough in taxes. That’s bad crazy. (laughter and applause) When you start saying, at a time
when the top one-tenth of 1% has seen their incomes go up four
or five times over the last 20 years, and folks at the bottom
have seen their incomes decline — and your response is that
you want poor folks to pay more? Give me a break. If asking a billionaire to pay
the same tax rate as a janitor makes me a warrior
for the working class, I wear that with
a badge of honor. I have no problem with that. (applause) It’s about time. They say it kills jobs — oh,
that’s going to kill jobs. We’re not proposing anything
other than returning to the tax rates for the wealthiest
Americans that existed under Bill Clinton. I played golf with
Bill Clinton today. I was asking him,
how did that go? (laughter) Well, it turns out
we had a lot of jobs. The well-to-do, they
did even better. So did the middle class. We lifted millions
out of poverty. And then we cut taxes
for folks like me, and we went through a
decade of zero job growth. So this isn’t speculation. We’ve tested this out. We tried their
theory; didn’t work. Tried our theory; it worked. We shouldn’t be
confused about this. (applause) This debate is about priorities. If we want to create new jobs
and close the deficit and invest in our future, the money has
got to come from somewhere. And so, should we keep tax
loopholes for big oil companies? Or should we put construction
workers and teachers back on the job? (applause) Should we keep tax breaks for
millionaires and billionaires? Or should we invest in our
children’s education and college aid? Should we ask seniors to be
paying thousands of dollars more for Medicare, as the House
Republicans propose, or take young folks’
health care away? Or should we ask that everybody
pay their fair share? This is about fairness. And this is about who
we are as a country. This is about our commitment
to future generations. When Michelle and I think
about where we came from — a little girl on the
South Side of Chicago, son of a single mom in Hawaii —
mother had to go to school on scholarships, sometimes
got food stamps. Michelle’s parents never owned
their own home until she had already graduated — living
upstairs above the aunt who actually owned the house. We are here today only
because our parents and our grandparents, they broke
their backs to support us. (applause) But they also understood that
they would get a little bit of help from their country. Because they met their
responsibilities, this country would
also be responsible, would also provide
good public schools, would also provide recreation
— parks that were safe, making sure that they could
take the bus without getting beat over the head, making sure
that their kids would be able to go to college even
if they weren’t rich. We’re only here because past
generations struggled and sacrificed for this incredible,
exceptional idea that it does not matter where you come from,
it does not matter where you’re born, doesn’t matter
what you look like — if you’re willing to put in an
effort, you should get a shot. You should get a shot
at the American Dream. (applause) And each night, when we tuck in
our girls at the White House, I think about keeping that dream
alive for them and for all of our children. And that’s now up to us. And that’s hard. This is harder than it’s
been in a long, long time. We’re going through something we
haven’t seen in our lifetimes. And I know at times that
gets folks discouraged. I know. I listen to some of you all. (laughter) I understand that. And nobody feels that
burden more than I do. Because I know how much we have
invested in making sure that we’re able to move
this country forward. But you know, more than a lot
of other folks in this country, we know about hard. The people in this
room know about hard. (applause) And we don’t give in
to discouragement. Throughout our history,
change has often come slowly. Progress often takes time. We take a step forward,
sometimes we take two steps back. Sometimes we get two steps
forward and one step back. But it’s never a straight line. It’s never easy. And I never promised easy. Easy has never been
promised to us. But we’ve had faith. We have had faith. We’ve had that good
kind of crazy that says, you can’t stop marching. (applause) Even when folks are
hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the
hoses on you, you can’t stop. (applause) Even when somebody fires you for
speaking out, you can’t stop. (applause) Even when it looks like there’s
no way, you find a way — you can’t stop. (applause) Through the mud and the muck and
the driving rain, we don’t stop. Because we know the
rightness of our cause — widening the circle
of opportunity, standing up for
everybody’s opportunities, increasing each
other’s prosperity. We know our cause is just. It’s a righteous cause. So in the face of troopers and
teargas, folks stood unafraid. Led somebody like John Lewis to
wake up after getting beaten within an inch of
his life on Sunday — he wakes up on Monday:
We’re going to go march. (applause) Dr. King once said: “Before we
reach the majestic shores of the Promised Land, there is a
frustrating and bewildering wilderness ahead. We must still face prodigious
hilltops of opposition and gigantic mountains
of resistance. But with patient and firm
determination we will press on.” (applause) So I don’t know about you, CBC,
but the future rewards those who press on. (applause) With patient and
firm determination, I am going to press on for jobs. (applause) I’m going to press
on for equality. (applause) I’m going to press on for
the sake of our children. (applause) I’m going to press on for the
sake of all those families who are struggling right now. I don’t have time to
feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I am going to press on. (applause) I expect all of you to
march with me and press on. (applause) Take off your bedroom slippers,
put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. (applause) Stop complaining, stop
grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC. (applause) God bless you, and God bless
the United States of America.

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