Barack Obama photo

Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in Potomac, Maryland

May 19, 2014

Thank you, everybody. Everybody, please have a seat. Well, first of all, I just want to thank Jeff and Lora for the incredible hospitality and arranging great weather. And it's just nice to be out with some trees and greenery—[laughter]—and to be with a whole bunch of good friends.

There are a number of people that I want to acknowledge here today. I'm going to start with Chris Van Hollen. Chris did a lot of work on this race—or on this event. But Chris also happens to be one of the most thoughtful and effective Members of Congress that we've ever seen. And I always like working with Chris Van Hollen, and I think everybody else who knows him does too. So just please give Chris a big round of applause.

On the list of thankless jobs, being chair of the DCCC, I think, ranks right up there. [Laughter] Nobody is working harder, more tirelessly and more effectively than Steve Israel. We're glad Steve is here.

We've got the pride of Maryland and one of our most critical leaders on a whole range of issues here as well—Steny Hoyer—thank you, Steny. The outstanding Elijah Cummings is in the house. The fabulous John Delaney is here. DC's own Eleanor Holmes Norton is in the house. Donna Edwards, who's now engaged, is here. Good job, Donna. I don't know if that was public, but you shouldn't have told me. [Laughter] Dutch Ruppersberger is here. Dutch is doing great work on a whole range of issues. And the outstanding John Sarbanes is in the house.

And somebody who—I have said this publicly before, I will say it again—being the Speaker of the House or the Democratic leader of the House caucus is a tough job. And I don't think there's been somebody who's done it more effectively, who's tougher, who is smarter or has more compassion with respect to the people who sent us here than Nancy Pelosi. I want her back as Speaker. I'm very proud of everything that she's done.

Her brother Tommy is here. Tommy is the former mayor of Baltimore. He maintains that he taught Nancy everything she knows, but I don't believe him. [Laughter] And Nancy denies it.

But anyway, because we have a fairly intimate setting, I'm not going to speak long because I want the chance to have a conversation with you and ask questions or have you ask questions or give me advice. [Laughter] But let me pick up off something Jeff said.

First of all, in 5 years, it will no longer be called Obamacare, because when something is working, they're definitely not going to—there will be a whole renaming process similar to National. [Laughter] I don't know if it will be "Reagancare," but it will definitely be—it will be something different.

I'm at the tail end of my fifth year in office, and that gives you some perspective. And so, at times, I think back to what the situation was when I first came into office and the progress that we've made. At a time when we were losing 800,000 jobs a month, we've now created over 9 million new jobs. The unemployment rate is as low as it's been since before the Lehman Brothers crash and the financial crash. We've restored trillions of dollars of wealth to families all across the country: in housing, in 401(k)s.

We produce more energy than we ever have and import less oil than we ever have—or than we have in a very long time—and have doubled clean energy, reduced carbon emissions, doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars.

Our deficits have been cut by more than half. And in part because of the Affordable Care Act, health care inflation has actually gone up at the slowest rate in 50 years. College attendance is higher than it's been in a very long time, and the dropout rate has actually gone down. The Latino dropout rate has been cut in half since the year 2000.

Manufacturing has come roaring back. Not just the auto industry that was on the brink of extinction when I came into office, but manufacturing across the board is starting to pick up for the first time since the 1990s. We're actually adding jobs.

And so when you look at, are you better off now than you were when I came into office? The answer is pretty clear; the answer is yes. Now, despite that, people feel anxious. They feel anxious about their own futures; they feel anxious about their children's futures. And part of it is because what 2007, 2008 taught us is that in this global economy things can happen very fast that cut any kind of sense of stability for a lot of working families. What's also true is, is that the trend lines over the last two decades have rewarded folks at the very top in extraordinary fashion, but the wages and incomes of ordinary folks have barely budged. And so for a country that was built—whose central premise is that if you work hard and you're responsible, you can make it, for too many Americans there remains that sense of maybe that's not true for me, maybe that's not true for my child, maybe that's not true for our future.

And our entire task as a government, regardless of party, should be to focus on, how do we restore for the American people that sense that if I work hard in this country, I can make it; that regardless of where I come from, what I look like, I can make it if I try. And in economic terms, the most important task for us is to restore that sense that the economy grows best when prosperity is broadly shared, when the middle class is growing and there are ladders into the middle class and a sense of upward mobility and a sense of possibility in people's lives.

Now, we know how to do it. There's some long-term trends that are challenging: globalization, technology. There are some jobs that aren't coming back. But we know right now, if we invest in education—early childhood education, making college more affordable—that will make a difference. We know that we're going to have to transition to a clean energy economy. If we're the ones at the forefront of that, that will position us well for the rest of the century. We know it has to happen.

We know that if we invest in research, then not only can we find cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, not only can we find new sources of energy, but we can also create entire new industries. We know it. We know that if we rebuild our infrastructure—we've got $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance right now that at some point is going to have to be rebuilt. Why not now, when there's still so many folks out of work, and that their ripple effects from rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our ports and our air traffic control systems would allow businesses to move products and employees faster and make sure more dynamic and competitive. We know that.

And we know we can do all this without raising the deficit, because the economy would grow faster and because we've got a tax system that too often rewards folks at the very top who don't need it, when in fact we could have a tax system that's made for a more competitive America.

So the problem is not that we lack solutions, tested solutions, ones that if you polled the average economist they say, yes, that's a good idea. The problem we have is very simple. We've got one party in Congress right now that has been captured by ideologues whose core premise is "no"; who fundamentally believe that the problem is government; who don't believe that we as a community, as a country, have any serious role to play in giving people a hand up; whose budget reflects an interest in cutting back commitments to the most vulnerable and freeing the most powerful from any constraints; and whose principal focus at any given point in the day is trying to figure out how can they make people sufficiently cynical, sufficiently angry, sufficiently suspicious that they can win the next election.

I hate to be blunt about it, but that's the play. And by the way, when I say a party has been captured, it's because I actually want an effective, serious, patriotic, capable, sober-minded Republican Party. And we've had that in the past. I come from the Land of Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln thought infrastructure was a pretty good idea. That's part of why we got a intercontinental railroad system. Teddy Roosevelt thought conservation was a pretty smart thing. That's why we got the national parks. Dwight Eisenhower thought it made sense for us to invest in science and education. And that's part of the reason why we produced so many engineers and scientists in the fifties and sixties.

So this is—I constantly try to remind people that what's going on right now is not a debate between traditional Democratic and Republican values. Yes, there are folks who shade more to the conservative side, more to the liberal side. Yes, we can have a legitimate debate about does every Government program work. The answer, by the way, is no. Yes, we could reform Government and streamline it and update it so that it is capable to meet the concerns of the 21st century and it can be more customer friendly. And yes, we do have to worry about issues like long-term debt, although the primary source of long-term debt is health care costs, and if we can help drive those down we'll be just fine.

But that's not the debate that's taking place right now. The debate we're having right now is about, what, Benghazi? Obamacare? And it becomes this endless loop. It's not serious. It's not speaking to the real concerns that people have.

So let me just close by saying this. These midterms are critical. And if you look at where we stand on issues, the public is on our side on almost all of them. That's part of the thing that I know must drive Steve crazy, because he keeps on looking at the polling. Minimum wage, majority of the people agree with us. Comprehensive immigration reform, people agree with us; they know that immigration is going to help drive this economy forward. Equal pay for equal work, there should be no debate about it.

On issue after issue, people believe what we believe. But what they don't really believe at this point is that government can get anything done. And they've been persuaded in part because of how it's presented that it's the fault of both parties: Democrats are just as unreasonable as Republicans, and that must be why nothing works. Well, you know what, when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker, we got a lot done, and it made a big difference to the people, and it helped folks.

And so if we are to push back against the cynicism that is always good for Republicans—because it means folks don't vote—then we've got to win these midterms. And we've got to be serious about it. We have to have the same sense of urgency that we do when Presidential candidates are at the top of the ballot. We turn out during Presidential elections; we don't in midterms. Our voters do not. And that's why an event like this is so important. We know how to turn folks out. We've got to make sure that we've got the resources to do it.

And I have to close by saying this: Despite the current frustrations when it comes to Washington, we've got the best cards when it comes to our future. There's no other country I would rather be. We've got the best workers, the best universities, the best scientists, the most dynamic economy. We're blessed by this incredible, natural bounty. We have got everything it takes to pass on to our children and our grandchildren, an America that is greater than the one we live in now. But we've got to seize the moment, and to do that, we've got to have a Congress that functions. And to have a Congress that functions, we've got to make sure that Democrats are making progress in this midterm.

So thank you for being here. We've got a lot of work to do.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:18 p.m. at the residence of Jeff and Lora Drezner. In his remarks, he referred to former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alessandro III of Baltimore, MD. Audio was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

Barack Obama, Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in Potomac, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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