RALEIGH, SC (WIS) - The following are the remarks of President Barack Obama on health care reform as prepared for delivery for a town hall meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina on July 29, 2009:
It is wonderful to be back in Raleigh and back in North Carolina, a community and a state that has been so good to me. And I don't kid myself. I know why. It's because I always travel with one of your home-town boys, my right-hand man, Reggie Love.
It's not only great to be in Raleigh, it's also nice to get out of Washington every once in a while. With all the noise and fussing and fighting that goes on there, it's pretty easy for the voices of everyday people to get lost, and for folks to forget why they're there.
So when I took office in January, I asked to see ten letters from people across the country every day. And most of the letters these days are all about one thing: the economy. So before I take your questions, I want to spend a few minutes talking about where we are and where we need to go.
I don't know whether you've seen the cover of the latest Newsweek magazine on the rack at the grocery store, but the cover says, "The Recession is Over."
I bet you found that news a little startling. I know I did. Now, it's true that we've stopped the freefall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse. We're losing jobs at nearly half the rate we were when I took office six months ago.
So, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession. But that's little comfort if you're one of the folks who have lost their job, and haven't found another. Unemployment in North Carolina is over ten percent today. A lot of small businesses like Sara's are still struggling with falling revenues and rising costs. Health care premiums, for example, are rising twice as fast as wages, and much more for small businesses - something I'll address in a minute.
So, we know the tough times aren't over. But we also know that without the steps we have already taken, our troubled economy - and the pain it's inflicting on North Carolina families - would be much worse.
Let's look at the facts. When my administration came into office, we were facing the worst economy of our lifetimes. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. It was nearly impossible to take out home loans, auto loans, student loans, and loans for small businesses to buy inventory and make payroll. And economists across the ideological spectrum feared a second-coming of the Great Depression.
At the time, there were some who thought doing nothing was somehow an option. But we knew that what was required was action. We knew that ending our immediate economic crisis would require ending the housing crisis where it began. That is why we took unprecedented action to stem the spread of foreclosures by helping responsible homeowners stay in their homes and pay their mortgages.
Ending this immediate crisis also required taking steps to avert the collapse of our financial system, which, as the Fed Chairman said the other day, was a real possibility. I know it didn't seem fair to many Americans to use tax dollars to stabilize banks that took reckless risks. It didn't seem fair to me, either. And even though the bank bailout began under the previous administration, it still was necessary. Because by unlocking frozen credit markets and opening up loans for families and businesses, we helped stop a recession from becoming a depression. And taxpayers are already being paid back - with interest.
We also took steps to help a struggling auto industry emerge from a crisis largely of its own making. There was a strong argument to let General Motors and Chrysler go under, and I know many of you probably shared that view. If you made a series of bad decisions that undermined your company's viability, your company wouldn't be in business, and many folks didn't see why these companies should be treated any differently.
But in the midst of a recession, their collapse would have wreaked havoc across our economy. So I said, if GM and Chrysler were willing to do what was necessary to make themselves competitive; and if taxpayers were repaid every dime they put on the line - it was a process worth supporting. We saved hundreds of thousands of jobs as a result - and expect to get our money back.
Even as we worked to address the crisis in our banking sector, our housing market, and our auto industry, we also began attacking our economic crisis on a broader front. Less than one month after taking office, we enacted the most sweeping economic recovery package in history - and we did so without any of the earmarks that waste tax dollars on pet projects.
Now, there's a lot of misinformation out there about the Recovery Act, so here are the facts. To date, roughly a quarter of the Recovery Act's funding has been committed, over 30,000 projects have been approved, and thousands have been posted online, as part of an effort to uphold the highest standards of transparency and accountability when it comes to our economic recovery.
The Recovery Act is divided into three parts. One-third of the money is for tax relief that is going to families and small businesses. For Americans struggling to pay rising bills with shrinking wages, we have kept a campaign promise to put a middle class tax cut in the pockets of 95 percent of working families - a tax cut that began showing up in paychecks about three months ago. And we also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments they make.
Another third of the money in the Recovery Act is for emergency relief that is helping folks who have borne the brunt of this recession. For Americans who were laid off, we expanded unemployment benefits - a measure that has already made a difference for 12 million Americans, including over 300,000 folks in North Carolina. We are making health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families relying on COBRA while looking for work. And for states facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of teachers and police officers.
The last third of the Recovery Act is for short-term and long-term investments that are putting people back to work and building a stronger economy for the future. And we are already seeing the results of these investments here in Raleigh and across North Carolina. The Beltline is being resurfaced between Wake Forest Road and Wade Avenue. The Raleigh Durham Airport is renovating its runways. The City of Raleigh's transit system is building a new operations and maintenance facility. Over 500 young people are going to work as part of a summer youth work initiative. And water treatment plants are being renovated throughout the Triangle.
These are the kinds of projects being launched across this country to rebuild crumbling roads and highways, bridges and waterways with the largest new investment in our national infrastructure since Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.
Now, I know that some critics in Washington think we've been slow to get these projects started. They are saying we should have broken ground on all our highway projects on the first day. But everyone knows that's impossible, especially because I wanted to be sure we did our homework and invested tax dollars only in those projects that actually created new jobs and jumpstarted our economy. That took time. And we have already eliminated wasteful projects that haven't met this test - because every taxpayer should have an assurance that we are investing their hard-earned tax dollars responsibly.
So it will take time to achieve a complete recovery, and we will not rest until anyone who's looking for work can find a job. But there is little debate that these steps, taken together, have helped stop our economic freefall.
That's the story of the first six months. It has cost some money to do all this, although when I hear critics talk about out-of-control spending, I can't help but remember that those same critics contributed to the $1.3 trillion deficit we inherited when I took office - a debt that is partially a result of two tax cuts that went primarily to the wealthiest few and a Medicare drug program, none of which was paid for.
Now, because of that debt, a lot of people are saying we can't go any further in tackling our problems, and we especially can't do health care. I understand people feel like they have had to cut back, so why do a new government program now?
Well let me explain why the health of America's people and America's economy demand health insurance reform. Let me explain what reform will mean for you.
First of all, no one is talking about some government takeover of health care. Under the reform I've proposed, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. And if you're one of the 46 million Americans who don't have coverage today, you will finally be able to get quality, affordable coverage.
But what a lot of the chatter out there hasn't focused on is the fact that if you're an American who already has health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more stability and security. Because the truth is, we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn't always work well for you. What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms, are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable.
Let me be specific. We will stop insurance companies from denying you coverage because of your medical history. I will never forget watching my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final days, worrying about whether her insurer would claim her illness was a preexisting condition so it could get out of providing coverage. How many of you have worried about the same thing? How many of you have been denied insurance or heard of someone who was denied insurance because they have a pre-existing condition? That will no longer be allowed.
With reform, insurance companies will have to abide by a yearly cap on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because of illness.
We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms, colonoscopies, or eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost not only lives, but money.
No longer will insurance companies be allowed to drop or water down coverage for someone who has become seriously ill. That's not right and it's not fair.
And we will stop insurance companies from placing arbitrary caps on the coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. Whether or not you have health insurance right now, the reforms we seek will bring stability and security that you don't have today - reforms that become more urgent and more urgent with each passing year.
In the end, the debate about reform boils down to a choice between two approaches. The first is projected to double your health costs over the next decade, make millions more Americans uninsured, and bankrupt state and federal governments. Now, I know a lot of you are probably thinking, that plan doesn't sound too good. But that's the status quo. That's the health care system we have right now. So we can either continue with that approach, or we can choose another one - one that will bring down rising costs; provide quality, affordable insurance to every American; and help us get our exploding deficits under control. That's the health care system we can bring about with reform.
Back in Washington, there's been a lot of talk recently about the politics of health care; about who's up and who's down; and what it will mean for my party or this presidency if health insurance reform is passed or defeated. But here in North Carolina, you know this isn't about politics. This is about people's lives. This is about people's businesses. This is about our future.
And when our children and grandchildren look back on this moment, I don't want them to say that we were focused on petty politics when we were called to something better. I don't want them to say that we protected the status quo for special interests when we had a chance to reform health insurance for all Americans. I don't want them to say that we wasted our best chance - and maybe our last - to get health care right. I want my daughters and your sons to say that we seized this moment; that we rose to this challenge; and that, like our parents and grandparents before us, we left the United States of America more prosperous, more secure, and more hopeful than we found it.