Editor’s Note: Below are Speaker John Boehner’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Economic Club of Washington, D.C on Sept. 15, 2011.
President Rubenstein, members of the board, honored guests — thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today to talk about jobs and the state of our nation’s economy.
We all know the economy is stalled, and it’s been stalled. And it’s not because the American people have lost their way. It’s because their government has let them down.
Last week the president put forth a new set of proposals. The House will consider them, as the American people expect. Some of the president’s proposals offer opportunities for common ground.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. The president’s proposals are a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America…the policies that are needed to put America back to work.
If we want job growth, we need to recognize who really creates jobs in America. It’s the private-sector.
This building is named in memory of President Ronald Reagan, who recognized that private sector job creators are the heart of our economy. They always have been.
That was the America I was raised in. My father and grandfather were small businessmen. They ran a tavern in Cincinnati that my grandpa started in the 1930s. I worked in that tavern growing up.
I ran a small business myself. I know what it takes to meet a payroll, hire workers, and create jobs in the private sector.
There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the economy that leads to a lot of bad decisions in Washington, D.C.
The reality is that employers will hire if they have the right incentives, but the incentives have to outweigh the costs. Businesses are not going to hire someone for a $4000 tax credit if government mandates impose long-term costs on them that significantly exceed the temporary credit. In recent years, such mandates have been overwhelming.
Private-sector job creators of all sizes have been pummeled by decisions made in Washington.
They’ve been slammed by uncertainty from the constant threat of new taxes, out-of-control spending, and unnecessary regulation from a government that is always micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating.
They’ve been hurt by a government that offers short-term gimmicks rather than fundamental reforms that will encourage long-term economic growth.
They’ve been hampered by a government that offers confusion to entrepreneurs and job creators when there needs to be clarity.
They’ve been undercut by a government that favors crony capitalism and businesses deemed “too big to fail,” over the small banks and small businesses that make our economy go.
They’ve been antagonized by a government that favors bureaucrats over market-based solutions.
They’ve been demoralized by a government that causes despair when we need it to provide reassurance and inspire confidence.
My worry is that even after all of this, much of the talk in Washington right now is basically about more of the same. More initiatives that seem to have more to do with the next election than the next generation. . .initiatives that seem to be more about micromanaging economic decisions than liberating them.
I think the American people are worried about this too.
I can tell you the American people — private-sector job creators in particular — are rattled by what they’ve seen out of this town over the last few years.
My worry is that for American job creators, all the uncertainty is turning to fear that this toxic environment for job creation is a permanent state.
Job creators in America are essentially on strike.
The problem is not confusion about the policies. . .the problem is the policies.
The anger many Americans have been feeling in recent years is beginning to turn into fear. . .fear of our future.
That bothers me, and it should bother all of us.
America is a land of opportunity. Always has been.
Our economy has always been built on opportunity. . .on entrepreneurs, innovators and risk-takers willing to take a chance — because they’re confident if they work hard, they can succeed.
Over the past few years, government has made people less confident — not more confident — that they can succeed.
More and more Americans are realizing this, and they’re speaking out about it.
I’ve spent the past 4-5 weeks traveling through my district and across this country, listening to the people outside of Washington who are the key to making our economy work.
My message to Washington today on their behalf: this isn’t that hard. We need to liberate our economy from the shackles of Washington. Let our economy grow!
We need to trust in the good judgment of the American people.
The instinct in government, always, is to get bigger, more intrusive, more meddlesome. And that instinct is directly at odds with the things that make the American economy move.
Job creation in America is facing what I would call a triple threat from government. The first aspect of this threat is excessive regulation.
During the Joint Session of Congress last week, I hosted about a dozen job creators from the private sector in as my guests in the House gallery — all of them with a common story: they’re trying to help create more American jobs, but the government is getting in their way.
We all know some regulations are needed. We have a responsibility under the Constitution to regulate interstate commerce.
There are reasonable regulations that protect our children and help keep our environment clean.
And then there are excessive regulations that unnecessarily increase costs for consumers and small businesses.
Those excessive regulations are making it harder for our economy to create jobs.
Over the past couple of months we’ve seen two vivid illustrations.
Last month federal agents raided the Gibson Guitar factories in Tennessee.
Gibson is a well-respected American company that employs thousands of people. The company’s costs as a result of the raid? An estimated $2-3 million. Why? Because Gibson bought wood overseas to make guitars in America. Seriously.
The other example is in South Carolina, where the Boeing company recently completed a plant that will create thousands of new full-time jobs for American workers — only to be sued by a federal agency that wants to shut it down.
Let make sure I have this straight: under current rules, American companies are free to create jobs in China, but they aren’t free to create them in South Carolina?
At this moment, the Executive Branch has 219 new rules in the works that will cost our economy at least $100 million.
That means under the current Washington agenda, our economy is poised to take a hit from the government of at least $100 million — 219 times.
I think it’s reasonable to ask: is it wise to be doing all of this right now?
The current regulatory burden coming out of Washington far exceeds the federal government’s constitutional mandate. And it’s hurting job creation in our country at a time when we can’t afford it.
Government’s threat to job creation has two other components.
One is the current tax code, which is discourages investment and rewards special interests.
It strikes me as odd that at a time when it’s clear that the tax code needs to be fundamentally reformed, the first instinct out of Washington is to come up with a host of new tax credits that make the tax code more complex.
The final aspect of the threat is the spending binge in Washington. It has created a massive debt crisis that poses a direct threat to our country’s ability to create jobs and prosper.
There are some people in this town who still deny this. . .who still deny that the debt is a threat to jobs.
But if you talk to anybody outside of Washington who has to meet a payroll, they’ll tell you that out-of-control spending in Washington is one of the things that concerns them the most about our future.
In New York City back in May, I warned that if we don’t take action soon, the markets will do it for us.
Last month, the markets took action, in the form of a downgrade and the possibility of future downgrades that caused the markets to tumble.
It’s going to keep happening, until we act.
The responsibility for fixing this toxic environment for job creation is a bipartisan one.
The situation was created by Washington’s inability to let our economy work.
It was created by government intrusion and micromanagement.
We have a responsibility to work together in the coming months to remove these barriers and liberate our economy.
This is what the American people are demanding of us.
Everything we do in the weeks and months to come needs to start with asking: are we addressing these problems? Or are we making them worse?
The Budget Control Act of 2011, signed into law last month, establishes a Joint Select Committee of Congress for the purpose of identifying $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.
Many have expressed doubts about the Joint Committee’s chances of success.
The skepticism is understandable. A Joint Select Committee is, after all, no substitute for a president who continues to control most of the arms of government.
But I think the Joint Select Committee has a huge opportunity.
It has a chance to lay the foundation for economic growth, by dealing with some of the obstacles that are standing in the way.
The Joint Committee’s mission is deficit reduction, and that has everything to do with jobs.
As the co-chairman of the Joint Committee, Jeb Hensarling, said last week at the Committee’s first meeting:
“Our debt threatens our jobs. . .Speak to any Fortune 500 CEO or small business person. It is clear that our debt hangs like the Sword of Damocles over their hiring decisions. . .It should be obvious that deficit reduction and a path to fiscal sustainability are themselves a jobs program.”
The Joint Select Committee can tackle tax reform, and it should.
It’s probably not realistic to think the Joint Committee could rewrite the tax code by November 23. But it can certainly lay the groundwork by then for tax reform in the future that will enhance the environment for economic growth.
The Committee can develop principles for broad-based tax reform that will lower rates for individuals and corporations while closing deductions, credits, and special carveouts in our tax code. And I hope it will.
Yes, tax reform should include closing loopholes. Not for purposes of bringing more money to the government. But because it’s the right thing to do.
And if we’re going to tackle tax reform, we should do it all.
Making short-term fixes in exchange for long-term flawed policy is not tax reform.
Tax reform should deal with the whole tax code, both the personal side and the corporate side, and it should result in a code that is simpler and fairer to everyone.
Tax increases, however, are not a viable option for the Joint Committee.
It’s a very simple equation. Tax increases destroy jobs. And the Joint Committee is a jobs committee. Its mission is to reduce the deficit that is threatening job creation in our country.
We should not make its task harder by asking it to do things that will make the environment for job creation in America even worse.
I hope the president will meet this standard when he puts forth his recommendations for the Joint Committee next week.
When it comes to producing savings to reach its $1.5 trillion deficit reduction target, the Joint Select Committee has only one option: spending cuts and entitlement reform.
The Joint Committee can achieve real deficit reduction by reforming entitlements and taking real action to preserve and strengthen Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
There is a myth that spending reforms aren’t “real” unless they happen this year.
That myth is built on a healthy skepticism that spending cuts made today are going to be implemented tomorrow.
But it is a myth nonetheless, and we need to make sure it doesn’t stop us from doing what needs to be done.
Most of the entitlement reforms in the House GOP budget are phased in over time. And that’s the way the Joint Committee should do them as well.
Modest changes in spending programs today can have large effects tomorrow.
Gimmicks, however, are unacceptable. As I told the president’s economic team during the debt limit negotiations: we’re just not doing that anymore.
Deficit reduction shouldn’t just be about quantity; it should be about quality.
A billion dollars in imaginary savings from war spending that was never going to happen is not the same as a billion dollars in savings that strengthens our entitlement programs.
There are plenty of skeptics about the Joint Select Committee’s ability to accomplish its mission, and that’s to be expected.
There are always skeptics.
There were skeptics last spring when I said in New York that we should have spending cuts larger than any debt limit hike we gave the president.
But it happened.
And this can happen, too.
The Joint Committee can succeed, and it must succeed. And with success, it can help to lay the foundation for economic growth and job creation in America.
If the Joint Committee does its work correctly – addressing the structural problems in our entitlement programs that have put us in danger of more job-destroying downgrades, and setting the stage for fundamental tax reform that will help to support private investment – it will have begun to remove some of the biggest barriers to job creation that exist in our country today.
As the Joint Committee does its work, there is a lot of other work in Washington that also needs to be done.
As I mentioned earlier, there are 219 major regulatory actions in the works by the federal bureaucracy right now. We know seven of them will each have an economic impact of $1 billion or more.
The biggest is an EPA rule that could have an impact of as much as $90 billion.
The president acted wisely by halting the implementation of this rule. I would urge the White House to build on it by disclosing to the American people the cost estimates for the remaining 212 “economically significant” rules it has planned.
I would also urge the president to call a Cabinet meeting, and tell every member of his Cabinet: “Until further notice, I don’t want anything that gets in the way of private-sector job creation. And I want you to report back to me in a month with how you’ve done.”
The members of the president’s Cabinet are not doing their jobs if they aren’t constantly focused on removing impediments to job growth.
If they’re not focused on that, they should be fired.
In the House, Majority Leader Cantor has put together a fall legislative schedule that reflects the concerns we’ve heard from job creators across America about unnecessary federal regulations that are hampering job growth.
Earlier I mentioned the situation in South Carolina with Boeing.
Today the House is working on a measure that will prevent the federal government from meddling in that situation, and similar ones.
The Senate needs to follow the House in passing this bill, and we need to send it to the president’s desk.
The NRLB bill is one of a whole series of measures we’re working on this fall to reduce the burden of excessive regulation on job creators.
We’ll pass the REINS Act, which would require congressional review for any new regulation that has a major impact on the economy. House committees have identified dozens of job-crushing regulations that are keeping our economy from producing jobs.
We’ll repeal the “3 percent withholding rule,” which serves as an effective tax increase on those who do business with the government.
We’ll stop excessive federal regulations that inhibit jobs in areas as varied as cement and farm dust.
We’ll work on other reforms such as removing barriers to increased domestic energy production and removing barriers to trade, many of which are in the House GOP jobs agenda at Jobs.GOP.gov.
The United States Senate needs to act, too. The Senate cannot continue to sit idle on jobs and the budget.
The House has passed an array of bills already this year to remove barriers to job creation, and those bills are piling up in the Senate.
The Senate hasn’t produced a budget, either. It must.
There are a few other things I want to mention that we can do in the weeks and months ahead to free our economy and bolster confidence among our job creators.
One is very simple. Both parties can boost confidence and reassure job creators by being clear: there will be no shutdown of the federal government, and we aren’t willing to default on our debt. The United States will meet its obligations to its citizens and to its creditors.
In Congress, I’ve been clear about these goals since the day I was elected Speaker. And we’ve been true to our word.
Another thing we can do is in the area of transportation and infrastructure.
I’m not opposed to responsible spending to repair and improve infrastructure. But if we want to do it in a way that truly supports long-term economic growth and job creation, let’s link the next highway bill to an expansion of American-made energy production.
Removing some of the unnecessary government barriers that prevent our country from utilizing its vast energy resources could create millions of new jobs.
There’s a natural link between the two: as we develop new sources of American energy, we’re going to need modern infrastructure to bring that energy to the market.
We can also boost confidence and reassure job creators by sending a balanced budget amendment to the states.
One of the most important things we did in the Budget Control Act last month — in addition to requiring a vote in both houses of Congress this fall on a balanced budget amendment — was establish caps on future spending.
These caps are designed to hold back the growth of government while our economy expands and creates jobs.
To ensure those spending caps are set in stone, we should ratify a balanced budget amendment.
If the president truly wants to make a difference and change the dynamic in Washington, he should announce his support for a balanced budget amendment and call on the Congress to send one to the states without delay.
And lastly, if we want to create a better environment for job creation, politicians of all stripes can leave the “my way or the highway” philosophy behind.
The all-or-nothing approach is not a workable mindset if we’re serious about getting our economy on its feet again.
Our economy is facing a broad-based, systemic crisis.
As such, it will require everyone coming to the table with their best ideas first and leaving politics at the door, with the courage to listen to each other’s critiques and questions.
It means ending the name-calling, the yelling, and the questioning of others’ motives.
Leadership is about ending that nonsense, buckling down, and getting to work.
Thomas Edison once said that “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
We have an opportunity in front of us. The trick is to recognize it, and believe in it, and act on it.
We know the challenges we face as a nation, and we have a chance to confront them.
If we put election-year politics aside this year and focus on our work, we’ll leave our country in a better place.
Getting it done will require a serious effort by both parties.
There are some in both parties who would rather do nothing.
They’d prefer to sit this one out, waiting to be dealt a better hand down the road, after the next election.
That’s not what I was elected to do.
This is the hand we’ve been dealt.
Instead of ducking from the challenge, we should rise to the occasion, and liberate our economy from the shackles government has placed on it.
I’m ready. And for the sake of our country, and our economy – I hope all of us are ready.
Thank you for listening. I look forward to your questions.
— Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio) is speaker of the House of Representatives.