Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors
Hello, hello, hello. Thank you. It's good to have you all back in person.
Mr. Mayor, thank you for your leadership. I appreciate it. And I know one thing: We both did marry up. [Laughter] Mayor Bowser, thanks for hosting us. You're the best. You really are. Thank you for everything you do.
I've had the honor of addressing this body many, many times. And I've always had enormous respect for the job you do. Some of you have heard me say it before, but it's the truth: I ran for the United States Senate in 1972 as a 29-year-old kid because I was a local official and it was too hard. [Laughter] They know where you live. [Laughter]
And so—you think I'm kidding. It's not a joke. Mayors carry the quality of the people's lives on your shoulders. Everything you do every day affects their lives more than almost anything anybody else does. And you can make or break a person's day. "Will the bus get me home on time?" It sounds silly, but—"Will the garbage get be picked up?" "Will I be safe walking in the park?" These are the bigger questions: "Can I afford to give my family a good life?" "Will my kids have a chance to get a good job someday?" "How will I rebuild from the fire or the storm?"
You know, all of these questions, they're not partisan, but they're practical. People you [they]* look to are you. They're the people you look—that they look to—are you. For real. You know there's no way to walk into the corner drugstore without being accosted immediately as to what's going on. Right? [Laughter] Well, so you know what it means to solve real problems, to be held accountable for the people you serve.
That's why, when I put together my Cabinet, I called on former mayors—and I mean this sincerely. Take a look. Tom Vilsack was a Governor; he was also a mayor. Marcia Fudge, Governor—I mean, excuse me, a mayor. Marty Walsh a mayor in Boston. Pete Buttigieg, a mayor. And I picked Mitch Landrieu to oversee the implementation of the infrastructure law, which is over a billion, 200 million dollars [$1.2 trillion],* because he knows how mayors get things done. No, I mean it. Not a joke. Because mayors know the measure of success isn't scoring partisan points, it's did you fix the problem. Did you fix—seriously, think about it: Did you fix the problem.
The infrastructure law is a perfect example of what we can achieve when we tackle problems the way mayors do. Everybody in America—everybody in America—knows we've fallen behind in infrastructure. So we came together—Democrats and Republicans—and did something about it. The number of really brave—and I'm not being facetious when I say that brave Republicans stood up and joined us in a bipartisan effort to get it done.
And by the way, I want to thank you all. More than 360 of you signed a letter that was sent to me when we were trying to get this legislation passed. Three hundred and sixty of you. You lobbied Congress to get it done, and it's the reason it got done. Not a joke. It's the reason it got done—because of you.
There were a lot of people who wanted to vote for it, but they had a lot of pressure not to vote for it for political reasons. But because of you, they voted for it; we got it done. Because they know—they know—how it goes in your cities to determine how their States go.
And now, after years of dead-ends and broken promises, not only has "Infrastructure Week" finally arrived—[laughter]—but we can literally, because of you, look forward to an "Infrastructure Decade." That's not hyperbole.
Back in 2009, when President Obama asked me to lead the recovery effort, which was an $800 billion effort—and the first thing I did, I went to the mayors. Not a joke. Now, most of you are too young to have been around in 2008. [Laughter] But look, I spoke to over 200 mayors putting that together. Because of them—because of you—we came through that moment together. That's the same approach that Mitch has taken, having been a former mayor, with all of you.
I know Mitch has spoken to many of you already. And in just 2 months, we've already seen this law start to make a real difference, creating better jobs, transforming our communities in tangible ways.
We've announced billions of dollars for highways, ports, airports, water and sewage systems, high-speed internet; funding to clean up the rivers in Ohio, chemical plants and sites in Florida, polluted lakes in Michigan and dozens of other sites; a new program to cap and plug orphaned oil and gas wells spewing methane into the air, cleaning up the communities that, in fact, they're affecting, while [creating]* good-paying jobs. The folks who dug those wells when we needed them, they got paid well. Well, they're getting paid the same amount to plug those wells. It matters. It matters.
A new initiative to bolster our energy grid with stronger transmission lines and towers to keep the power flowing more reliably and, consequentially, more secure energy supply. You know, I've flown all over the world—all over the country these last—this last year, visiting sites that have been damaged by—as a consequence of environmental changes.
You know, more forest, homes, buildings, and businesses have been burned to the ground than make up—if you're taking the square miles—than the entire State of New Jersey, from New York all the way down to Cape Henlopen. That's how much has burned to the ground, a lot of it because of the lack of resilience in those towers that get blown over and the wires snap.
We've got a lot—so much we can do with this legislation now. Last week, we rolled out a historic investments in our Nation's bridges, like the one I visited in New Hampshire, where restrictions forced school buses and fire trucks to go 10 miles out of their way just to get across a small river.
Or the I-10 bridge I visited in Louisiana, it's 20 years past its planned life. It doesn't have modern safety features. And it's last inspected—the bridge—the bridge is deemed to be in poor condition. And now it has two lanes on the bridge—okay?—that a four-lane interstate feeds into, creating and causing major backups. We're going to upgrade thousands of bridges, creating good-paying jobs, cutting commute times, ensuring that as we build back, no community gets left behind.
Folks, that mayor's view of problem-solving is exactly what we brought to the American Rescue Plan. It's designed so that you'd be able to have the resources and the flexibility to take both the short-term and long-term challenges created by this pandemic. Ten months ago [later],* that law is still carrying the nation forward on vaccines, on boosters, on keeping schools open. And it's still making a difference for communities across the country.
And, I might add, a lot of money in that to keep those schools open. Some States have spent the money well. I've gotten it to you all so you can, in fact, keep those schools open and change the ventilation system and change the busing and all—the whole works. Some States haven't distributed the money.
Everything I've done in my career, when it comes to Federal funding, I've tried to make sure that you don't have to go past "Go" to get it. It goes directly to the mayors. Directly to them. I mean it. It's not a joke.
A major part of the Rescue Plan was the $350 billion we allocated to State and local budgets. And again, because of you, over a million—$100 billion of that went directly to cities and counties, not through anybody. A hundred billion.
It was not easy to get done, but it was important to get done, because you know it's needed. You didn't have to go through your State legislature—they're not bad folks; I don't mean that—[laughter]—or your Governor; good folks—to get the money.
Today communities are still putting those funds to work, keeping people on the job, connecting people to better jobs.
In Seattle, the money is being used to give premium pay to local childcare workers so they can keep childcare centers open and available for folks who need it. I'm not sure that would have happened if not gone directly to the States—I mean, from—gone directly to the States.
You know, in Phoenix, partnering with community colleges, these funds are going to help workers find careers in the region's—in the semiconductor industry, which is a big, big deal.
In Milwaukee, you all are training workers to get help to get rid of lead pipelines. You have 450,000 school—I mean, the idea that we have our kids drinking out of fountains that have lead pipes feeding the fountains. Because everybody deserves clean water—everybody—no matter where you are: city, suburban, urban, or rural areas.
Here in Washington, DC, it's funding the expansion of an Infrastructure Academy, preparing local workers to take the good-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, and utilities that are going to be created as a consequence of the infrastructure law.
Look, I urge every American to take a look at what you all are doing. I urge every mayor in America to follow suit, to use the resources—the Rescue Plan—and the resources that were intended not just to stave off disaster, but to build for a future around the people who make communities run.
Use your funds to cover childcare costs or temporary paid leave to help certain workers dealing with Omicron; build pathways to better jobs through union-based apprenticeships and on-the-job training; to give people in every ZIP Code a chance to deal for themselves and deal them into this booming economy.
That also means building more affordable housing so people can have safe places closer to their jobs. Funding proven programs to help fight violent crime. We shouldn't be cutting funding for police departments. I proposed increasing funding.
Look, you know, we ask cops to do everything, including be psychologists and social workers. Guess what? They need psychologists and social workers. No, I mean it. Not a joke. So they can hire more social workers, folks trained in mental health; so they can partner with trusted community leaders, like the programs the Rescue Plan is funding in Atlanta and Louisville and other cities across the country.
The truth is, we have an incredible opportunity ahead of us this year. We still have a lot of work to do to defeat COVID, to bring down costs for families.
But just look at what we've accomplished together so far, even in the face of those headwinds. In 2021, more jobs were created in America than ever in a single year in American history—more jobs—over 6 million. The unemployment rate dropped more than any year in American history.
Income—incomes for folks working frontline jobs in service industries rose more than any year in history—the folks at the bottom of the economic rung. We lowered child poverty in this country by nearly 40 percent, more than any time in U.S. history.
You all know this: Business applications grew by nearly 30 percent last year, more than any year in history. If they're saying everything is so bad, why are people fighting to open businesses?
More Americans gained health insurance than any year in history.
These are facts.
To confront the climate crisis, we deployed more solar, wind, batteries, and electric vehicles than ever, ever before. And we're teaming up with mayors, labor, and industry to save families and businesses money by improving energy efficiency in our buildings.
And in the battle against the deadly virus, we've gone from putting 2 million shots—vaccinations in people's arms to 210 million Americans fully vaccinated. And you mayors have been critical partners—I'm not trying to be nice to you; it's just a fact—[laughter]—you've been critical partners in that fight from day one, from masking to testing to vaccinations.
We partnered with you. We partnered with you on the Mayors Challenge last summer—115 cities working together to get Americans vaccinated. In Richmond, Mayor Stoney, you created vaccination clinics that doubled the job fair—doubled as job fairs. Get your shot and it's also a job fair, encouraging people to come in.
In Detroit, Mayor Duggan—are you here, Mr. Mayor?—I tell you what: I worked with him for a long time; there's a man who knows what he's doing. [Laughter] Mayor Duggan partnered with solar—saloons [salons]* and barber shops to get shots in peoples' arms.
In St. Louis, Mayor Jones worked with churches and local food programs to reach neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.
All of these efforts—you've saved lives. Not a joke. You've saved lives.
Now, to keep up that fight against Omicron, we've launched dozens of Federal testing sites in New York; Philadelphia; Henderson, Nevada; and elsewhere throughout—sites that we're launching every week. We've devoted Federal medical teams made up of military first responders, National Guard to bring relief to the hardest hit hospitals who need additional personnel just to keep it moving because they're so overrun. We're purchasing and distributing free 1 billion at-home tests so people can test themselves in their communities.
And we still face tremendous challenges though. But together, we've proven that we can get big things done in this country. Last year, with your help, we laid the groundwork. This year, we have to build it. The biggest weapon in our arsenal is the Build Back Better Act. Nothing is going to do more to ease pressure on families. As a—as my friend Jim Clyburn says, it's all about making everything more affordable and more accessible to people.
Every mayor knows, if people can't find and afford childcare, they can't work. Some of your cities, it's 14-, 15,000 bucks a year for childcare. That's why we have nearly 1.2 million extremely qualified women who haven't been able to return to the workforce. We can cut the cost of childcare in half and fix that problem.
Health insurance: We can reduce the cost for families—and we've done for $600 per year.
On climate: Extreme weather disasters cost communities $145 billion last year. That's how much we spent because of weather-related crises—$145 billion. By investing in resilience and clean energy technology, we can do something about that.
To give relief to families, in the American Rescue Plan, we had the childcare tax credit. That did reduce child poverty by 40 percent. There's no reason it shouldn't continue.
And on education, today, about half of the 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in early childhood education. In Germany, France, U.K., Latvia, the number is more than 90 percent. Where the hell are—heck are we? [Laughter] No, I'm serious. We're falling further and further behind the curve. But we can fix that problem. We can do this and more on health care, nutrition, and a host of other issues.
And, folks, here's the point: We can do it without increasing inflation or the deficit. Seventeen Nobel laureates in the—economics wrote a letter to me recently, affirming that this bill would reduce inflationary pressures on the economy, not increase—reduce it. And by the way, it's entirely paid for. Every single penny. And not a single person making less than $400,000 a year will pay a single additional penny in Federal taxes. Not a single penny.
And by the way, I'm a capitalist. I'm not a socialist. If you can make $1 billion or $10 million, good for you. Just begin to pay your fair share. Pay a little bit. We can pay for all this by just making sure that the wealthy—making sure that the wealthy and the biggest corporations pay their fair share.
Case in point: The last 2 years, 55 of the Fortune 500 companies—and I come from the corporate capital of the world: Delaware. [Laughter] Not a joke. More corporations incorporated in my State than every other State in the union. Okay? I get it. And I represented it for 36 years. But guess what? You've got 55 corporations last year that made $40 billion in profits and didn't pay a single penny in taxes. That's not right. That's not right.
Look, we can tackle all these challenges just like we did with the Rescue Plan, the infrastructure law, and the fight against COVID, but we can't do it without you. I'm not trying to be nice to you; we can't do it without you. [Laughter] No, no, really, that's the God's truth.
You understand the challenges people are facing, and you understand the solutions. You know that this isn't—when it gets down to whether the garbage gets collected or someone is safe in the street—this isn't partisan, it's practical.
You understand the cost if we fail to act. We need the voice of mayors telling the stories of what your communities need and the impact we're making on people's lives or not making. If we can get this done—I believe this with every fiber of my being—if we can get this done, there's no limit what Americans can achieve. So let's continue to give working families a fighting chance.
I wasn't kidding when I said—when I announced for President—that I am so tired of the working class and middle class carrying the burden. It's about time we grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. And by the way, when the middle class does well, the wealthy do very, very, very well. I'm not joking.
This isn't about punishing anybody, it's about getting everybody in the game. Raise your hand if you think the present tax structure is fair. [Laughter] And we'll take a picture of you and send it home. [Laughter]
Seriously, guys. [Laughter] You know, the thing I like about mayors is, you're straight. You know what I mean? You just—you shoot from the shoulder. [Laughter]
So let's keep investing in the future of every city and town in America. Let's face these challenges head on and keep building. We can build back better.
Folks, I really believe it: There's not a damn thing we can't do if we set our minds to it. And every single time—[applause]—think about this now—this is not hyperbole: No other country than America has come through every crisis we've faced and ended up stronger than we were before we got into the crisis. Think about that. Think about that.
So don't give up on the American people. You know, I've said many, many times to world leaders, particularly when they ask me about America: It's never been a good bet to bet against the American people. Never, never, never been a good bet to bet against the American people.
And when we stand together, there's not a damn thing we can't do, Democrat and Republican.
Thank you all. May God bless you, and may God protect our troops. Keep it going, folks. We need you badly. We need you badly.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:54 p.m. at the Capital Hilton hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Francis X. Suarez of Miami, FL, in his capacity as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington, DC; and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. He also referred to H.R. 5376.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354212