Remarks at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you.
Folks, my name is Joe Biden. [Laughter] And I used to be a county councilman. And I ran for the Senate because it was too damn hard being in the council. [Laughter]
It's great to be back with you all. Commissioner Larry Johnson of DeKalb County, Georgia, thank you for your leadership.
I also want to thank all the folks working so hard here at the Washington Hilton to make this conference possible. Thank you all very much.
And if you want to know how seriously I take the role you play on the frontlines in this country, just look at who I asked to come with you. You said you wanted to know what was going on. I sent you the whole damn administration. [Laughter]
Yes, Secretaries—three Secretaries, an Administrator—Regan of the EPA; Gene Sperling leading the Rescue Plan implementation; Mitch Landrieu, who's leading the implementation of the infrastructure law; and you all know Julie Rodriguez, my Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. And along with a number of other key deputies and—leading my economic strategy.
Look, I want to recognize my home county executive, Matt Meyer, so I can go back home. Matt, thank you. Thank you. Matt is doing one heck of a job, and I'm sure he's told you the story, I heard, of the—my time in the county council.
You know, I used to—I don't know about you all, but commissioner, councilman—whichever your title is—you knock on the door and say, "My name is Joe Biden, and I'm a candidate for the county council." And they look at you like, "Okay?" [Laughter] And you're wondering—you're wondering what the county council does, aren't you? [Laughter] Well, it affects their lives more than anybody else's. No, it really does. You're involved in everything.
When a constituent called, that—she said—I represented a—we had—we have one county that has 60 percent of the State's population. And we had six councilmen. So a councilman's district was seven times bigger than a House member and—in the State house—and three time bigger than the State senator.
And I represented a middle class district to a working class district, but there was one very wealthy neighborhood. And I got a call one night; the woman said to me—obviously not of the same persuasion as I was, politically—called me and said, "There's a dead dog on my lawn." [Laughter] And I said, "Yes, ma'am." I said, "Have you called the county?" She said, "Yes, they're not here." And I said, "Well, I'll get them in the morning." She said: "I want it removed now. I pay your salary." [Laughter] So I went over. [Laughter] I picked it up. She said, "I want it out of my front yard." I put it on her doorstep. [Laughter] But I've gotten much better since then.
So I know from personal experience how hard the job you have is. People having to phone or—you know, or not afraid to use that phone. I used to give out my phone number; can't do that anymore. They don't even allow me to have a phone anymore. [Laughter]
But I also know you work often on the basis of what other people—whether they've lost faith, they have faith, they lose faith in government—you're there. You represent the frontlines of public service. It's not hyperbole.
That's why I was elected—one of the first calls I made was to your board of directors. And I reminded Judge Gary Moore, your past president, that this administration includes a President and Vice President who are both former county officials. And I promised I'll always have you as a partner with us. Partnership was critical when we passed American Rescue Plan, the most significant investment in the country's local governments in American history.
And I also inherited a tough situation in 2020. But after an incredibly difficult year, local and State governments have added 448,000 new jobs in 2021, the strongest growth in 20 years.
And you know, it's amazing what you all do. I really mean it. I'm not being solicitous. After a year of disruption for our kids, we were able to add education jobs in 2021, more than—more than any other year on record. You got county law enforcement officers and first responders back on the job so ambulances could arrive on time and communities could be kept safe.
And the big reason why America's recovery has led the world is because of all of you and why, in my first year in office, more jobs were created than ever any time in America history—6.6 million jobs. You.
And, folks, look, we had the strongest economic growth in nearly 40 years, 5.7 percent increase in the GDP. The unemployment rate dropped more than any time—any year in American history. Child poverty dropped by 40 percent, more than any year in American history. And, folks, new business applications grew at a faster rate than any year on record.
The Rescue Plan also was the first major relief bill to get directly to counties, because here is what I learned when I was a county councilman: If you get money for the State, what happens is, it goes through the State legislature. [Laughter] And guess what? [Laughter] Well, I wanted to make sure the money goes directly to the counties. Directly to the counties—[applause]. No, really.
We allocated $350 billion to State and local budgets. We made sure that $1 billion [$100 billion]* of that went straight to the counties and cities.
And look, I know how much it matters. It really matters giving you—giving you the ability, the flexibility, the control to meet both the short-term and long-term challenges you face. Which, by the way, even—and I'm not being critical of the State legislatures or to—or others, but people don't know the full responsibility and—that you all have, even other elected officials. They—I mean, I'm not being solicitous. It's just true.
And by the way, that Rescue Plan is still delivering. I urge all of you to use the flexibility we built into the law and spend those funds wisely, to build a future around working people who make up the communities you run. Put these funds to work to keep people on the job, connect people with better jobs—providing retention bonuses for teachers and bus drivers, like Howard County, Maryland, did; adding health care centers and training new childcare workers, like—I hope I pronounce it—Deschutes County, Oregon. Is that pronounced—where are you, Deschutes County? [Applause]
Well, what you did matters. Helping unemployed parents get back to work by covering childcare costs, like Oakland County, Michigan, did. Reducing gun crime by retaining police officers, like DeKalb County did in Georgia. Expanding community violence intervention programs, like King County did in Washington. Ensuring people get the full benefit of one of the most consequential tax cuts for working families in our history.
We expanded the childcare tax credit and earned income tax credit included in the Rescue Plan. In the past, if you paid taxes and you had a good income, you could deduct $2,000 per child. So if you're making 200 grand a year and you have three kids, you got to deduct 6,000 bucks off your—off the taxes you owed. Well, that's fair.
But guess what? If you were making minimum wage and you had four kids, you didn't get anything. It wasn't refundable. You didn't pay $8,000 in taxes. There wasn't what—you couldn't reduce your taxes. So we made sure it was refundable. Because guess what? It's just as hard for a firefighter or a teacher or a cop who has the benefit of that tax break to raise his kids as for a wealthy person to raise their kid.
No, and by the way, it's not a criticism of the wealthy. It's just to think about it. Think about it. It was well intended originally when—when the childcare tax credit—when the child tax credit existed early on. Because you said, "Well, we've got to give a break for raising kids."
But I remember it used to drive my dad nuts, because we had four kids. It was a lot less. It was less than a thousand—it was 1,000 bucks then. But you know, if you're making what was 12,000 bucks a year—that was like making 40 now or 50—if you're making that kind of money, you didn't have any taxes you could deduct it from, so there wasn't any benefit for your kids.
Look, that's why the American Rescue Plan—we didn't expand the amount—well, we expanded the amount, but I—even if we don't expand the amount—middle class tax cut—we made it refundable. So you get paid back what you would have had to pay, which you got to deduct if you made more money. So the money you—go directly into your pocket, help you with your kids.
That's why I'm so thankful for counties like Salt Lake County and Miami-Dade County—created programs to help lower income folks who typically don't even file taxes because they're below minimum wage or don't have any income to get the assistance they need, but they have to file in order to get the assistance.
You all reached out and said, "Look, you have a benefit coming, but you've got to file taxes." And you helped them do it. You—and I used to have a friend who was a great basketball player back in the days when Providence had great teams—Providence College. [Laughter]
No, I mean, they had some superstars at the time. His name was Pete McLaughlin, and he wasn't the—he passed away. But he wasn't the—he used to say—he wasn't the sharpest academic candle on the table—[laughter]—but he knew what was going on. And he knew how to—he said, you know—he had an expression: "You've got to know how to know." [Laughter] I can take you into the greatest library in the world, the Library of Congress; if you don't know how to read the card catalog, it's useless to you. You've got to know how to know.
So you're helping people know how to know how to get what they need. And it's all about making sure people [who]* have more economic difficulty raising their families can finally get a benefit that wealthier people get in the tax burdens and the child tax credit.
But look, another thing that funding can support, thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is jobs. It's going to create millions—several million jobs. Folks, look, it took a long time and a lot of administration, but we finally passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Everybody—[applause].
And we finally ended "Infrastructure Week." We got something done. [Laughter] Everybody knew America was falling behind in infrastructure. After years of dead ends and broken promises, we came together—Democrats and Republicans—and we did something about it. Not only has Infrastructure Week finally arrived, we can look forward to an infrastructure decade; that's what this is for 10 years.
Just 92 days after I signed the law, it's already making a tangible difference. We announced billions of funding allocations to put people to work in good-paying jobs cleaning up rivers in Ohio, chemical plants in Florida, and dozens of other sites; bolstering the energy grid with a—stronger transmission lines and towers; modernizing bridges like the one I visited in Grafton County up in New Hampshire, where the weight restrictions could force school buses and firetrucks to go 10 miles out of their way to get on the other side of the river; and capping and plugging tens of thousands of orphaned oil wells and gas wells that continue to spew methane, which is a—deadly for the environment. Creating jobs as good as the folks who dug those wells in the first place with the same salaries.
This is only the beginning. Hundreds of billions in new investments are on the way. Now it's time for the counties to get ready. You don't have to wait until the projects start. You can use the resources from the American Rescue Plan now.
You're going to need welders, pipefitters, advanced manufacturers ready to take on those jobs. And it takes training to do those jobs well, and that's why union workers are the best in the world, because they actually get the job done cheaper because they don't waste any time.
But you can start—I know you all know, but you can start those Rescue Plan funds now by building pathways to better jobs through union-based apprentice programs and on-the-job training. Like, you know, Maricopa County in Arizona, where they're using American Rescue Plan funds to help young workers develop in-demand technical skills so you know what the country is going to need. Community colleges are doing it as well.
Boone County, Campbell County, Kenton County, Kentucky, where you're expanding high-speed internet to nearly 100,000 homes and businesses. You know, how many times did you ride by a McDonald's parking lot in the middle of the pandemic and see people out there sitting—a mom and dad—tying into the network so their kids could do their homework remotely? This is the United States of America, for God's sake.
Cook County, Illinois, where you're using Rescue Plan funds to work with the Southland Metals Hub, helping workers prepare to take on manufacturing and infrastructure jobs and strengthening the supply chains in the Heartland.
And Rescue Plan funds we delivered to your counties, they can help each of you build a strong, diverse workforce you'll need to take up and take on these infrastructure jobs so that we're—there are—more families can deal themselves into this booming economy.
The truth is, we have an incredible opportunity ahead of us. And that's not hyperbole; we really do. We still have a lot of work to do to put together what—we've proven that we can get big things done in this country bipartisanly.
And we all know the challenges still remain. We're still fighting a deadly virus. We still need more people to get vaccinated and boosted. But thanks to our—your partnership, we've gone from 2 million people vaccinated, when I got elected, to 215 million people vaccinated.
And again, I'm not being solicitous. You've been critical partners since day one on masking, testing, and vaccinations, standing strong against misinformation, and sometimes even withstanding shameful personal attacks. Through it all, you've led with patriotism and resolve. And you've saved lives.
Another challenge we face is easing the burden on working families. This—there's real inflation. And if you're in a working class family, it hurts. That's why my Build Back Better plan—what it's all about.
Look, families are getting clobbered by the cost of everyday things. You know, I know that gas and food prices are up; we're working to bring them down. And I grew up in a family where the price at the pump was felt in the kitchen. Everybody knew. Everybody felt it. I understand. These are necessities, but they're not the totality of what a family needs.
So, while we work on supply chains and we work on bringing down the costs of the things that we're talking about have gone up so high, we still have other ways we can reduce the burden on working class families.
They still have to pay for childcare. Families can spend as much as $14,000 a year in some parts of the country for childcare. My plan: The cost of childcare for working families will cost 7 percent of your income. No more. And that helps millions of parents, especially women, get back to work. Twenty million of them are not working now.
And by the way, it ends up paying for itself when they're back to work paying taxes. Look, we still pay for—we still have to pay for prescription drugs. You want to benefit a family? Reduce the cost of the prescription drugs they have to pay. In America, we pay the highest price for prescription drugs in the world—of any developed nation in the world, about two to three times what other countries pay.
Let me give you a—I can give you hundreds of examples; I'm giving you one. One anticancer drug to treat leukemia and lymphoma that costs $14,000 a month in the United States—that same exact drug, by the same drug company—the same company—that drug sold in France costs $6,000. Six thousand dollars. Those of you who live on the Canadian border—you know, when you cross the border, you can buy the same drug for a hell of a lot less than you can buy in the United States. Same manufacturer.
Or take insulin: The costs of drug companies to provide insulin—a vial of insulin—costs less than $10 to make. But there are many families, like families I met last week in Culpeper, Virginia, paying $300 per vial for medicine they need every single day for type 1 diabetes. If they have good health care coverage—this family does—but they still have to pay $5,600 for prescriptions before their insurance kicks in.
Think about that: 200,000 American children with type 1 diabetes. Think about being one of those parents. "We don't have insurance." But you know your child, to live, needs that insulin. How do you look that child in the eye when you don't have the income or you don't have—you don't have the insurance? What do you do? Not only do you worry if your child may die, but you're stripped of your dignity. You're stripped of your sense of who you are, not being able to afford that child's needs.
Look, we can cap the cost of insulin to $35 a month. Drug companies will still make money.
Now, let me digress just for a moment. I started the Cancer Moonshot, which I worked very hard on in the administration I served in last. And I held conferences all over the country with literally thousands of people and, at the same time, doing it virtually. And after one of them, I got the 12 largest drug companies in one room. And I said, "If you found a cure for a particular cancer"—and I named a cancer—I said, "What amount of money do you think you should be able to charge for that drug?" They said, "Whatever the market will bear."
And I said: "Well, you know, many places, like Germany, you can get and make sure you make a profit that's 20 to 30 percent—even 40 percent—more than your total investment. But once they set the price, that's the only price you can pay to sell that drug. You still make 30-, 40-percent profit after all your expenses you demonstrate. And the other provision is, you can't increase the price for that drug beyond the cost of inflation unless you've done additional work on the drug to improve it."
Think about where we're going. We're on the verge—thank God—of some significant breakthroughs in health care. But should it be based upon what you can afford to pay? If Congress acts, we could take care of things with the stroke of a pen tomorrow.
We have a generation of so-called "sandwich generation"—many of you are part of it—trying to take care of your children while taking care of your aging mom or dad.
We can help make it work: care for our elderly parents and have someone install a handrail in the shower, make sure they have steps that they can get up and down, someone can pick up their prescriptions while you're working, and allow them to continue to live in the dignity of their home. But guess what? That saves a hell of a lot of money, because the cost of that—and by the way, that's available under Medicare now, except 880,000 people don't—can't get into the program yet. It's a lot cheaper to have mom and dad live at home with minimal expense than have the public pick up the cost of health care—of housing for the elderly. We can do that and still save money so when they put their heads on the pillow at night, they can have peace of mind.
I'm going to work like the devil to bring gas prices down. And we're going to keep working to the strengthen supply chain to bring the cost of every good down, particularly food and automobiles. But you know the best news of all of this? Nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in taxes for any of these services. We can do it without increasing the deficit.
As a matter of fact, last year, we reduced the deficit by $300 billion. But by passing the elements of the Build Back Better plan, which reduced the burden on families, I got a letter from 17 Nobel laureates—came to me to say this plan, my plan, will ease long-term inflationary pressures.
Look, we can tackle these challenges, but only if we keep coming together. The fact is, we can't do it without you. You understand what families are up against. You understand the cost if we fail to act. We need your voices, of the county officials, helping us—folks understand what our communities need.
If we can get this done, there's no limit to what America can achieve. So let's give working people a better chance than they've had, a quality they deserve, by investing in the future of every county. Let's face these challenges head on, but let's keep building back better.
We're the only country in the world where whatever crisis we've gone through, we've ended up on the other side better off than we were before we got into the crisis. We're the only one.
And, folks, let me say one other thing: I had a group of eight major utilities come to see me to tell me they wanted to see the Build Back Better plan put in place, even though they knew they were going to pay higher taxes; corporate taxes could go up to 24 percent.
You know, there are—of the major Fortune 500 companies, there are 52 that made over $40 billion, didn't pay a single penny in tax. Look, I'm a capitalist. I know—I think you should be able to go out and make a million or a billion dollars if you have the capability, but just pay a little bit. Pay your fair share.
No, I'm serious. I'm serious. And that's why we're getting so much support for the things we're doing.
That's why, for example—and it's major corporations coming to us. For example, you ride through some fields in Iowa—I mean, excuse me, Ohio, and it looks like there's nothing there except beautiful land stretched out. Well, guess what? An outfit called Intel came to me and said, "We want to invest $20 billion in those fields, creating 7,600 jobs to build a facility and 3,500 jobs permanent; average salary of those permanent jobs, $135,000 a year."
You know what they're doing? They're going to make computer chips, because our automobile industry—you know, one-third of inflation is a consequence of the cost of automobiles going up. Why are they going up? We invented the computer chip, but we don't make it. We have to get it from everyone from Taiwan to China to other places.
Look, we can do this. We can do this by reasserting who, in God's name, we are: the United States of America. There's nothing—I mean this from the bottom of my heart—there's nothing beyond our capacity. There's nothing we cannot do if we do it together. That's always been who we are.
This is the United States of America. You can make a million bucks and still pay your fair share. And everybody—when have you ever seen—I was talking to somebody. I said, "You know, you go through"—neighboring State of New Jersey, from Delaware—my area is down by the shore. You ride through an intersection where there's a big circle, and there are four or five roads coming off of it. And usually in the middle of that circle, there's plants—you can—you know, you can plant trees and flowers and the like.
I can tell you the communities—and I said this to somebody and then they showed me a study that it was true. I can tell you whether the community has renters or owners. When they're owners, that middle circle is beautiful; it's planted. When they're renters, they're not. Doesn't mean there's anything wrong with renting, but it means engaging in the community.
Look, folks, when middle class folks do well, there's never been a time the wealthy don't do very, very well. So, folks, let's stick to the people we need.
Thank you for listening to me. May God bless you, and may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. in the Ballroom at the Washington Hilton. In his remarks, he referred to Commissioner Larry Johnson of DeKalb County, GA, in his capacity as president of the National Association of Counties, who introduced the President; Secretary of Transportation Peter P.M. Buttigieg; Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack; County Executive Matthew Meyer of New Castle County, DE; and Judge-Executive Gary Moore of Boone County, KY. He also referred to H.R. 5376.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354489