Remarks at a Meeting of the White House Competition Council
The President. Ready? You guys all set? Okay. Well, I thank the team for being here. I know a few folks who are unable to join us today because of Rosh Hashanah. And I'd like to wish a happy holiday to all those who are celebrating.
And, folks, we meet at a moment, to state the obvious, of global uncertainty and—in countries around the world grappling with elevated inflation and an ongoing war in Ukraine is presenting challenges as well.
But amidst all of that, here's what I want the American people to know: Because of their resilience—the American people's resilience—and because of the economic strategy we pursued, the United States of America is in a stronger position than any other country to navigate these global challenges, period.
Jobs are up, incomes are up, people are back to work, and American manufacturing is roaring back.
[At this point, the President cleared his throat.]
Excuse me for the cold.
We're taking inflation very seriously by enacting policies to bring down costs for people. And I have to admit to you, my focus is primarily on working class and middle class folks. They're the ones that get hurt the most, in my view.
We now pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world. And we're going to bring those costs down, make it easier for people to pay their bills by allowing Medicare to negotiate their drug prices. And we've passed that already, but they're not going to see it immediately; it's going to take a moment.
But by January, no one is going to pay more than $2,000 a year, if they're on Medicare, for their prescription drugs, negotiating prices across the board for an awful lot of other medicines as well. And so it's going to be a real gamechanger. The bottom line for the people on Medicare, they're going to have less inflation; they're not going to be paying as much money out.
And you know, the—in addition to that, a big part of how we're going to keep making progress is by increasing competition in the economy. That's why we've got the Competition Council here. And it starts with energy prices.
We've made historic progress. We've made historic progress with the price of gas down $1.30 since the beginning of the summer. In some few States, it's below 3 bucks. It's, you know, in the low threes in most places, although there are some fires and some other problems that had to do with refining capacity in the far west, in the middle west. But we're going to deal with that as well.
And last month, the price of oil worldwide is down, just last month, in fact, lower than any price since Putin invaded Ukraine. And we're working off of that, as opposed to anything else.
We haven't seen the lower prices reflected at the pump though. Meanwhile, oil and gas companies are still making record profits, billions of dollars in profits. But guess what? The price of oil comes down. Guess how long—don't you think the price at the pump should come down? The price of a gallon of gasoline. But it takes a long time for that to happen in relative terms. And they're making a lot of profit, and the public is paying as part of the inflation.
And—but look, my message is simple. To the companies running gas stations and setting those prices at the pump: Bring down the prices you're charging at the pump to reflect the cost you pay for the product. Do it now. Do it now. Not a month from now—do it now. And it's going to save people a lot of money.
A little over a year ago, I signed an Executive order to promote competition with a goal of lowering prices for consumers and raising the wages of workers and encouraging innovation in the economy. We made some real progress.
When companies have to compete—it's a simple proposition. When they have to compete, they sell—they make better products and—guess what?—the price goes down. It doesn't go up when there's competition.
And we've gotten a lot done already. Today I'm charging everyone at this table to go even further than we've gone so far. I'm directing members of the Council to sharpen their focus—sharpen their focus—in lowering the costs for families. Because what's inflation? Inflation is, at the end of the month, do you have less money from your paycheck or more money in your paycheck?
I mean, the way that people—is how it's calculated by the vast majority of American people. And so we've got to lower costs for families. And this isn't some—just some abstract goal, because the problem isn't just theoretical. Like many of you, I grew up in a family where when the price of gasoline went up, it was a conversation at the breakfast table. It was a conversation that they—for real.
And families all across America, at the end of the month, are trying to figure out how they are going to pay their monthly bills. And they're not going to have anything left over. As my dad would say, "Is there going to be any breathing room when it was all over?"
And what we're talking about today is something that's weighing down family budgets: unnecessary hidden fees—unnecessary hidden fees—known in the parlance as "junk fees," are hitting families at a time when they can't afford it. They shouldn't be paying it anyway, in my view—but at a time when they can't afford it.
And let me give you an example. It hits middle and working class families especially hard. Things like overdraft or—on your checking account or your credit card is fee late or the huge termination fees where they're going to stop you from switching from a cell phone—you have one cell phone, you want to go to another cell phone—you want to go to another provider.
Well, guess what? There's an incredible fee you have to pay to terminate your, I mean—to terminate, you've got to pay a fee to go to somebody else for a better deal.
This Council is going to come back to me—"God willing and the creek not rising," as the old saying goes—[laughter]—with a plan for eliminating and reducing fees.
Families shouldn't have to pay these fees. No one is sneaking surprise charges into bills, like finding out you have to pay a $50 processing fee for a hotel room that you're trying to book—a processing fee. You find out later. Now, no more hiding the price that you—that you're paying and not letting you know what the hidden fees are.
And all—it's all taking money out of the pockets of average Americans. And thanks to our efforts so far, three-quarters of the country's 20 largest banks are getting rid of fees for bounced checks. The average fee for a bounced check was 50 bucks. They're getting rid of them. And that matters.
And if we do all this, we're on track to lower overdraft fees—catch this. I know the right departments know this. But lower overdraft fees by 50—or, excuse me, by $3 billion a year—$3 billion a year—for primarily middle class and lower middle class families who are paying, because they're the ones usually—are the ones in a position that bounce on a check.
My administration is also cracking down on the airlines. Last month, if your flight was canceled or delayed, no top airline explicitly guaranteed to cover your meals if you were away from home and only one guaranteed free rebooking, even though—even when the delay and cancellation was totally their fault.
I joke now, you know, for the first time in a long time, a plane doesn't leave until I get there—because it's Air Force One. [Laughter] But all kidding aside, you're taking your families somewhere and you're in a situation where, you know, you—they cancel on you, and you have to pay a fee to rebook. Come on, man. [Laughter] No, really. It's just—it's just simply not fair. It's not fair.
Secretary Buttigieg called them out, and guess what happened? Now 9 airlines cover hotels and meals when you're away from home, and 10 rebook for free. You know, it could have cost you up to $200 to have to rebook a flight, and that's $200 you can pay your monthly bills or your electric bill or whatever for it with. And that's progress.
And today the Department of Transportation is releasing new rules to require airlines and search websites to disclose these fees up front, so you have a choice to go to the airline that doesn't charge the fee to change—that doesn't have the fee. That's competition.
Fees for things like sitting next to your child on an air flight or checking bags or changing your ticket. By the way, most people would help pay your fee if you'd sit the child somewhere else. [Laughter] But all kidding aside, think about it. Think about it. What—I mean, that—anyway. I don't want to get started.
But that's competition. Fees for things like sitting next to your child, checking your bag, et cetera. You should know the full cost of your ticket right when you're comparison shopping to begin with where you're—what airline you're going to fly with so you can pick the ticket that actually is the best deal for you.
Federal Communications Commission is doing the same thing for fees for internet companies charge.
And the Department of Agriculture is taking steps today to promote competition in the meat and poultry markets, which the Secretary of Agriculture was explaining to me over a year and a half ago. And that is, they're basically—you know, you heard me say it before, there are basically four—[inaudible]—there are four major meat processing companies and—processing chickens as well.
There are middlemen who buy the livestock from the ranchers and then sell the meat to the grocery stores. And because four of them control 80 percent of the market, they control the price. So they make more, and their ranches and consumers get less. The rancher gets less for his product, and the consumer gets less for what they're buying.
Several months ago, I directed the administration to take action on this issue. And today, we're following through on that commitment by providing grants to small meat processors so they can compete with the big four and ultimately help provide competition to lower the cost at grocery stores. And I'm expecting this Council to build on this momentum and deliver more concrete results by the next time we meet.
I've said it before—it's—before: Capitalism without competition isn't capitalism; it's exploitation. Capitalism without competition is not capitalism, it's exploitation. And we're building an economy that works for everyone. That's what we're about at this table.
And thank everyone here for the work you've done on these issues, and I look forward to the progress for our next meeting report. And now let's get down to business. I'm going to turn it over to Brian so you can start the meeting and keep us going. Thank you all very much.
Q. Are you concerned about——
Q. How serious is the threat of Russia using a nuclear weapon?
[Several reporters began asking questions at once.]
Q. Mr. President, Mr. President—what do you think——
Q. How serious is the threat of Russia using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine?
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia; and National Economic Council Director Brian C. Deese.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at a Meeting of the White House Competition Council Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/358093