Photo of Tom Steyer

Remarks on the National Economy in Iowa City, Iowa

December 16, 2019

The other candidates have a big red "X" on their calendars for the caucuses. I had another date on mine … yesterday, December 15th. I spent it at my Aunt Betsy's. She's been in Iowa City most of her life, and she turned 100 years old yesterday.

It's always great to be here in Iowa City. Look, these are uncertain times, for Iowans — and for all Americans. This election is the biggest in our lives. As we round out the year, we Democrats have to take a hard look at ourselves, and ask: how do we win?

Last week, Donald Trump stood before the Israeli-American Council, and said:

And I quote: "You are brutal killers. You are not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me … even if you don't like me – you're going to be my biggest supporters ... because you'll be out of business in 15 minutes if the Democrats get in."

His words were hateful, antisemitic, and his premise is totally false. But beyond the bigotry, his words do reveal his entire 2020 strategy.

To win, Donald Trump will stake his campaign on his so-called strength: the economy. And here's what American voters must understand: despite his racism, his lies, and his impeachable crimes — if Democrats don't nominate someone who can go head-to-head with him on the economy, Donald Trump will win in 2020.

Look, I have a lot of respect for the four leading Democratic candidates in this race. But here's the truth: none of them — not Vice President Biden, not Senator Warren, not Senator Sanders, not Mayor Pete — have built or run a successful, international business. None of them have a private sector track record of creating jobs — none of them have first-hand experience growing wealth and prosperity.

I do. I started my business from scratch, in a one-room office with no windows. For nearly three decades, I grew my company into a multi-billion dollar international enterprise. I spent 30 years studying our economy, and economies around the world — and I know what makes them work.

The Democratic Party — and America — needs a nominee who can go to Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and places all over this country — and credibly talk about growth and prosperity … a nominee who can deliver a compelling narrative that puts people over profits … a nominee who can square up to Donald Trump and actually beat him on the economy.

I believe that my experience and my track record make me the Democrat best prepared to be that nominee.

Let's be clear: In 2016, we nominated the most experienced and qualified candidate in history ... A woman I greatly admire. And Donald Trump still prevailed.

If Democrats want to win in 2020, we need to realize that Donald Trump is a different kind of candidate, who presents different challenges than anyone who has come before him.

Conventional wisdom won't work against Trump. We need new thinking, and new leadership. And we know this will come down to the economy. Presidential elections always do.

So let's start by acknowledging another truth: decades of unchecked capitalism have failed. And while the Trump presidency is making it worse — the answer is not socialism. No, the real answer is to make sure the American people write the rules — not corporations.

The real answer to historic inequality is NOT a government takeover of huge parts of our economy, but rather, direct investment in the American people. We need to put people in the driver's seat, and then let the innovation and competition of the private sector drive growth and prosperity. THAT is how we build prosperity — and opportunity — for all of us, not just the top 1%.

But before we talk about the path forward — we have to talk about how we got here. The state of America's economy isn't Trump's failure alone – it's the result of decades of cruel, anti-worker Republican policies.

Republicans told us that trickle-down economics would grow opportunity for everyone. But they lied. Instead, they've hoarded all the money for themselves — and not a drop has trickled down to the American people. Money might be flowing — but it's siphoned off at the top.

Over the past 40 years, the Republican Party has pursued an aggressive, calculated assault on working families.

Their playbook is simple: cut their own taxes, weaken labor unions, starve education funding, slash healthcare spending, shred environmental protections, and put big business in charge of our democracy. The result? … Historic levels of inequality, with all the gains of the past 40 years going to the wealthiest among us.

In 2020, Democrats have the chance to end this. But as I said: only if we nominate a Democrat who can take the fight to Republicans, and to Donald Trump, on the economy … that's how this election will be won or lost. Trump's only path to victory — his chosen path — is to play an economic shell game long enough to win re-election — and then walk away and let someone else clean up his mess in 2024.

Instead of the failed trickle-down theory of economics — we need a new democratic narrative of how we prosper and thrive, together. As democrats, we have to shake the Republican lie that economic growth must sacrifice economic justice. Because that's just not true. In fact, longterm, fair, and fortified growth DEPENDS on a just economy.

This is the richest country on earth — but fewer and fewer people are able to climb out of poverty and live their American dream. While CEO pay has skyrocketed, workers' pay has stagnated — even while productivity keeps going up.

Yes — the American economy has grown … but that growth is directly tied to more productive American workers, who haven't seen any benefit of their productivity. To the single mom with two jobs, doing more work and having less to show for it — GDP means nothing.

To the young person freelancing in todays' gig economy to pay for health insurance — or the college student burdened by overpriced tuition — GDP means nothing.

The way we measure economic success in this country is broken. The wrong metrics — the averages — mask the truth … and we can't manage what we don't measure. High employment doesn't help if jobs don't pay enough to live on.

Economic growth doesn't matter if there's no wage growth to go along with it. And industry success is not success — when it's poisoning our families, destabilizing the planet, and robbing from our children's futures.

Among other things, we should be measuring economic mobility — the real opportunity for Americans to lift themselves up and improve their own lives. That's the American dream.

We need a nominee who knows how to fight inequality AND how to grow prosperity. As President, here are three key pieces of my plan to do both:

First, to attack inequality, America needs a Wealth Tax. This is where Mike Bloomberg and I disagree. There's been a historic, unjust redistribution of wealth over the last forty years — in the wrong direction. A wealth tax isn't a new burden — it's a long needed fix. And when we put that money to use productively — by investing it in education and research — we can build sustained, shared growth for the entire economy, not just those at the top.

Under my plan, anyone worth 32 million dollars or more will pay 1 cent more on the dollar. At 500 million, that goes up to 1 and a half cents. And at 1 billion dollars, that number hits 2 cents. Over a decade, that's 1.7 trillion dollars in tax revenue — which will go towards things like fixing healthcare, creating new jobs in a clean energy economy, and funding education. I've been calling for a wealth tax long before I was running for president — because it's the right thing to do.

Second, we need to be bold in how we balance the scales — and fix an unfair tax system that favors the wealthy, because the wealthy write the rules. That's why I plan to treat all taxable income the same — paychecks and investment income. I'll close the capital gains giveaway — because it's not right that those who work for a living pay more in taxes than those who make money off of passive investment.

And I'll use the revenue from passive-income tax increases to give a REAL tax break to working Americans … a 10 percent cut to millions of low income and middle class families. That's a tax break for 95 percent of Americans.

And third, I've put forward a "people over profits" economic plan, which calls for investing in the American people, and building upon the innovation and competition of our thriving private sector. That's how we'll spur growth and prosperity for all of us. My plan will create millions of good-paying, union jobs in every part of the country, and invest in education and research to bolster our greatest asset — the American people.

Republicans would have you believe, it's a zero sum game — that the total is fixed, and if you win, then your neighbor has to lose.

That's just not true.

We progressives know that nobody wins unless everybody does. We know that when one person reaches for their dream, it helps others do the same. We know that "We're All in This Together," — is a much better philosophy than "you're on your own."

There's something else I have a track record on: I know what it takes to break the corporate stranglehold on our democracy — the same corporate takeover that keeps us from a government that's truly of, by, and for the people.

For 10 years, I've been organizing and empowering Americans to beat corporations and to take back our power. Every step of the way, organized labor has been my first and best partner. As president, I will defend, uphold, and continue the fight for workers' rights and the rights of all unions.

The Democratic Party needs to recognize that our fight is not just with Donald Trump. We are fighting 40 years of a poisonous republican narrative, a frame that says strong growth and opportunity for all can't coexist. That government is the bad guy, and tax breaks for the rich are somehow good for the middle class.

Just like Donald Trump's promises though — none of it is true.

Donald Trump promised to bring back manufacturing jobs, but passed a tax bill that shipped jobs overseas. His tax break for the wealthy hurts working people. His trade war alone has cost Iowans millions — and Iowa farm bankruptcies are at their highest since 2011.

Trump's pattern of fraud is simple: he's treating the American people, and the American economy, like one of his Atlantic City Casinos … running up the debt, flirting with bankruptcy, sticking us with the bill — and moving on to swindle his next mark.

You know, sometimes people ask me, you're a businessman, just like Donald Trump, … how are you different? Well, I'm here to tell you, that we couldn't be more different.

Donald inherited hundreds of millions from his dad, and lost it … bankruptcies, lost jobs, empty promises … He leaves failure and broken homes in his wake. He takes advantage of the good-willed and hardworking. He does well when others fail.

I am the exact opposite.

I didn't inherit a dime. I spent my life as an investor — and I was good at it. When others put their trust in me — I found shared opportunities, and we shared in success. What America needs is someone who knows how to grow prosperity for all: we need a President who will invest in the American people and put their interests, first … every time.

Look, I want to acknowledge that every democratic candidate shares core values … on fairness, equality, access to opportunity, affordable healthcare, and a living wage as a right, and on and on.

Donald Trump, will continue to embrace racism, misogyny, and hate … that much is clear. His biggest and only play — is to point to his so-called economic success — his fake economic success. We, as a party — cannot, and must not — give him that chance.

He's a conman, and I know I am the most qualified to see through his game. I know I can expose him for the fraud that he is. And, in 2020 — I know I can beat him.

People have asked me, time and time again, why I'm running for President. I'm not a governor, or a congressman, or a senator — I'm not a politician.

I'm not running to be something. I am running to do something.

The potential of the American promise is limitless — but only if we can take back our rights and our freedom. The most heroic version of America, is one where the people — and only the people — write the rules and determine our own destiny.

That's why I'm running — to do everything in my power to defend that promise … to unlock that potential … and to finally restore a government that is truly: of, by, and for the people.

Thank you.

As prepared for delivery.

Tom Steyer, Remarks on the National Economy in Iowa City, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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