Vice President's Remarks on the Economy
Harley-Davidson Manufacturing Plant
Kansas City, Missouri
11:05 A.M. CST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Thank you. I'm a little hobbled up today. I don't ordinarily carry a cane like that, but Don Rumsfeld has been chewing on my ankles. (Laughter.)
But I'm delighted to be here. And I want to thank Jim for his kind words and thank all of you for allowing me to stop by today. I also want to acknowledge the presence of Senators Pat Roberts and Jim Talent, as well as Representatives Sam Graves and Paul Ryun who are with us here today, as well.
I know they all agree that it's always good to get out of Washington, D.C. and visit the real world. I want to say it's a pleasure to visit Kansas City, and to bring the men and women of the great American company, Harley-Davidson, the best wishes of the President of the United States, President George W. Bush.
I want to thank Harley-Davidson and both the executives and union leadership for hosting me today. I've just had a tour of this facility, had a good look at the product line. The Harley-Davidson brand -- and its hogs and its "Fat Boys" -- is known around the world as a symbol of the American values of freedom and independence. And this facility is a testament to the tremendous success of your company. The Harleys are looking better than ever. I'm thinking about taking one for a ride back out to Air Force Two. (Laughter and applause.) So far I haven't been able to get the Secret Service to agree, but maybe we'll put them on Harleys, too. (Laughter.)
This is my first visit back to the heartland this New Year. And I appreciate the warm welcome. I've come to this place of innovation, teamwork, and excellence to say a few words about our economy and the steps we're taking to make America more competitive and prosperous, even as the world changes all around us. My next stop today will be at Fort Leavenworth, which is our oldest continuously active Army post west of the Mississippi, and the place where many of our fine military officers pass through over the years. (Applause.)
The purpose of my visit today is to thank the men and women of the United States Army for the fantastic job they're doing for all of us. I'm guessing we may have a few veterans in the audience here today. (Applause.) And some members of the Guard and Reserve, as well. And I want to thank you for serving our country. I hope you won't mind if I start out today with a few comments about our military, and about the fight our nation is waging today.
Just a couple of weeks ago I went to Afghanistan and Iraq, and in both countries I had the chance to spend time with our soldiers, Marines, and Navy corpsmen deployed to that part of the world. As a former Secretary of Defense, I've never been more proud of our armed forces than I am today. Americans are out there every day, hunting down terrorist enemies -- and doing so under extraordinarily difficult conditions: some patrolling in high mountains in the dead of winter in Afghanistan; others, carrying heavy packs the 125-degree heat of the desert for 12, 14, 18 hours a day. They are doing all we have asked, performing with the great skill and honor that we expect of our men and women who wear the nation's uniform.
On occasion our military has received mixed signals in recent days from politicians about whether or not America has what it takes to stay in the fight. I assured them the American people do not support a policy of passivity, resignation, or defeatism in the face of the global terrorist threat. This is a battle for the future of civilization. It is a battle worth fighting. It is a battle we are going to win. (Applause.)
A vast effort like this naturally involves a home front, with a great deal of urgent and difficult work needed here, as well. Four years ago, Congress passed the Patriot Act, to give law enforcement all the tools they need to track down terrorists inside the United States. Lately the Patriot Act has become a victim of partisan politics. It was filibustered in the Senate last month, and Harry Reid boasted that he and his colleagues had "killed the Patriot Act." We managed to get a brief extension passed and it will expire next month -- Congress takes further. I think the security of the United States needs to be above politics. Congress needs to renew the Patriot Act. (Applause.)
The latest controversy in Washington involves the President's decision to permit the National Security Agency to intercept terrorist-related international communications. Let me emphasize that. There's been a lot of press comments that this is a "domestic surveillance program." Remember, what's being surveilled here are international communications, one end of which we have reason to believe is related to al Qaeda or to terrorist networks.
A spirited debate is now underway, and our message to the American people is clear and straightforward: These actions are within the President's authority under the Constitution and the laws, and these actions are vital to the security of the nation. This is a wartime measure, limited in scope to surveillance associated with terrorists, conducted in the way that safeguards the civil liberties of the American people. All citizens can be absolutely certain that our administration will continue to defend the nation to the best of our ability.
As we get farther and farther away from September 11th, 2001, some in Washington are yielding to the temptation to downplay the continuing threat to our country, and to back away from the business at hand. I think this is a very dangerous mindset. We're all grateful that the nation has gone four years and four months without another 9/11. Obviously, no one can guarantee that we won't be hit again. But getting through four years of wartime without an attack on the homeland took a lot more than just luck. We've been protected by sensible policy decisions, by decisive action at home and abroad, by round-the-clock efforts on the part of our people in the military, in law enforcement, and intelligence, and homeland security.
The enemy that struck us on 9/11 and killed 3,000 of our fellow citizens that morning is weakened. It's fractured, yet it's still lethal and still determined to hit us again. We have faced, and we are facing today, enemies who hate us, who hate our country, and who hate the liberties for which we stand. They dwell in the shadows, wear no uniform, and have no regard for the laws of warfare, and are unconstrained by any standard of morality. We've never had a fight like this -- and there is hard work ahead. Either we are serious about fighting this war on terror or we are not. And the enemies of America need to know: We are serious, and this nation will not let down its guard. (Applause.)
When I went to the Middle East last month, I had actually planned to make some other stops in the region besides Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. But I was called back to Washington because it looked like the Senate was headed for a very close vote on the deficit reduction package, and it seemed I might be needed to break the tie. Since breaking ties is about the only real job given me by the Constitution, I decided I needed to get back. (Laughter.) And it was worth it because my vote did turn out to be necessary. It was a tie vote. And the great thing about it is -- every time I vote, our side wins. (Laughter.)
The vote was important to the country because it showed our willingness to make hard choices about restraining the growth and the size of the federal government. The Senate bill reduced mandatory spending by some $40 billion, and included what would be the first reduction in entitlement spending in nearly a decade. And the action was well timed. With the New Year beginning, soon people will start receiving their W-2 forms in the mail. It's always a bit of a shock to see how big a piece the federal government took off the top of your earnings over the past year. It's a reminder that the dollar we spend in Washington is a dollar somebody had to earn and take out of their budget. The President and I believe the government has a duty to spend that dollar wisely, or not spend it at all.
Spending discipline is a fundamental responsibility of government, and it's been part of an economic agenda that has produced real results for this nation in recent years. The President's objective for our country is a healthy, growing economy, one that continues to generate good-paying jobs for workers all across the country. And we believe we've made significant progress.
If you consider the early years of this new century, it's amazing to think about all that's happened to our economy. In the year 2000, the stock market began a long slide -- and by the time we took office early in '01, the country had started -- recession. Then we had the attacks of 9/11. Within a few months of that terrible day our economy lost 1 million jobs. America in the last several years has also been hit by corporate scandals, higher energy costs, and natural disasters, and one of the biggest hurricanes ever to hit the United States.
We had all of these challenges, one after another, and yet the real story of the last few years is the incredible resilience of our economy and of the American people, the strength of the free enterprise system, the productive genius of American entrepreneurs, and above all, the skill and the pride of the American worker.
Government has a role to play in promoting growth, and generating jobs, and helping our citizens find greater security in their working lives and retirement. President Bush and I understand that government does not create prosperity, and nobody in Washington can wave a wand and create jobs. What government can do, and must do, is help create an environment in which entrepreneurs want to invest and hire new employees, in which companies can expand and create more jobs. At the same time, government should help Americans find more and better options for health care and retirement, and adequate training for the jobs in the 21st century.
And we need policies that keep the wheels of industry turning, with affordable sources of energy, and a confident, fair-minded strategy for global trade.
We start with the basic principle that government should leave as many resources as possible in the hands of those who earn it. That's why, at the very beginning, President Bush went to the Congress and asked for major tax relief across the board, to reduce the burden on every person who works and pays income taxes.
Congress followed through with the most significant tax relief in a generation. We increased the child tax credit to help parents raise their children. We encouraged investment by reducing taxes on dividends and capital gains. We gave new incentives to small businesses to expand, and we put the unfair death tax on the road to extinction.
Some in Washington said these tax cuts would not work. But with over 4.6 million new jobs created since May 2003 -- in less than three years, we've added over 4.6 million new jobs -- and jobless claims hitting an all-time, five-year low, -- the unemployment rate today down 4.9 percent -- it's getting pretty hard for the critics to make the case that somehow these tax cuts weren't good for the economy.
The President's strategy of cutting taxes delivered the pro-growth results we expected. Homeownership in America is at record levels. Real disposable income is up. New orders for durable goods, like machinery, have risen sharply, and shipments of manufactured goods are up, as well. The manufacturing sector has grown for 31 straight months. Productivity has grown at some of the fastest rates since the 1960s. Small businesses are thriving all across America. Federal revenues are up -- and we're on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. The American economy is on the move -- and that is because we did not listen to the pessimists. The tax cuts were right for America, and millions of Americans are working because of them.
Our job now is to maintain the momentum of the economy, and to keep confidence high. And we can start on the tax front. When the tax relief became law, Congress set an expiration date, which would cause taxes to go back up a few years from now. But the President and I have no intention of letting the big spenders in Washington take a bigger share out of the paycheck. For the sake of the economy, and for the people who make it go, Congress must not raise taxes, and we need to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. (Applause.)
To keep the economy vibrant, we also need to help more of our citizens build a better future for themselves and for their families. We've proposed significant reforms to remove red-tape from federal job training programs.
Our administration is also advancing a comprehensive health care agenda, to bring the system into line with the realities of the 21st Century. And this year, for the first time -- at long last -- seniors have prescription drug coverage under the Medicare program.
We've established Health Savings Accounts, so a person can save money for medical expenses tax free, and keep the money even if they move to a different job. We've helped low-income Americans by funding more than 800 new or expanded community health centers. And we're asking Congress to enact association health plans, so small businesses can join to get the same health care for their employees at the same discounts as big companies. We're working to reform medical liability, so that good, honest doctors aren't forced out of practice by trial lawyers and frivolous lawsuits.
All of our citizens deserve to know that their hard work will always be rewarded, and that the institutions they depend on will always hold up their end of the bargain. Even though our economy is changing, a great many Americans still rely on traditional pensions for security in their retirement years. In some cases, those promises have not been kept, and retirees have found themselves with a lot less money in old age than they expected. Unfortunately, some companies technically follow the pension rules, without actually funding the pledges they'd made. The President asked Congress to fix the problem with strong, reasonable reforms. Some have said that the President's reforms are too tough -- and instead they propose to actually weaken the funding rules. Congress will soon finalize pension legislation, and that legislation must be strengthened before it goes to the President for his signature. The President will not sign a bill that weakens pension funding for American workers. Citizens who work a lifetime for their pensions deserve to know that their company will meet those promises, and that their elected representatives are on their side. (Applause.)
To keep the economy vibrant, we must make our nation less dependent on foreign sources of energy. The President has signed a law to encourage energy-conserving technology, to make cleaner and better use of existing resources, and to promote the development of renewable and alternative sources. He has also asked Congress to pass legislation to encourage the building or the expansion of new refineries. With all the energy needs of this massive economy, and with the experience last year of increased gasoline prices, it's incredible that this country has not built a new refinery since the 1970's. We've got a lot of catching up to do, and the sooner we get started, the better things will be for families, factories, truck drivers, farmers -- and everybody who rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. (Laughter.)
To have the experience of visiting this Harley-Davidson plant is to see, collected under one roof, so much of what is best in the American economy: the hard work, the commitment to quality, and the optimism that drives us forward. The United States is a confident, successful trading nation, and to make sure America's workers keep finding new opportunities, we are going to keep the economy open to free and fair trade.
Trade already accounts for about 25 percent of our economy, providing millions of American jobs, and these tend, on average, to be good-paying jobs. Many foreign companies build plants here because they recognize the quality, skill level, and solid work ethic that you find here in the United States. Our administration will work every day to reach good agreements on behalf of the American people -- to get a fair shot at the world markets while we defend the intellectual property of our own businesses here --
Global competition is not always an easy game, as Harley-Davidson workers can testify. There was a time, some years ago, when this company had some rough sailing, and the future was in doubt. But a lot of good people were simply unwilling to give up on a great American brand, and Harley-Davidson came roaring back in the late 1980s. Since then you've celebrated the hundredth anniversary of your company, added many new workers, and attracted thousands of loyal customers both at home and abroad. Entering and competing in new markets has been a big part of the Harley-Davidson resurgence, and each year about 18 percent of your motorcycles are sold overseas. Few in the mid 80's could have imagined that one day Harley-Davidson would be outselling Japanese competitors in their home market, but that's just what you're doing today. (Applause.)
You're competitive because you're talented and tough; because you believe in yourselves and in your product; and maybe also because nothing in this world compares to the sound of the Harley-Davidson V-Twin. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, we have lived through one of the most eventful periods in our nation's history. We have been tested, and tested again -- and with each test, the American people have displayed the true character of our country. We have built ourselves an economy and a standard of living that are the envy of the world. We have faced dangers with courage. And at the start of a New Year, as always, we look to the future with confidence. Let me thank all of you for the role you play in this great story. I'm proud to be here today. I congratulate you on tremendous success -- yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and wish you the -- for years to come.
END 11:20 A.M. CST
Richard B. Cheney, Vice President's Remarks on the Economy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/282392