For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 1, 2002
President Reiterates Call for Retirement Security Reform
Remarks by the President on Retirement Savings
The Printer, Inc.
Des Moines, Iowa
Policy in Focus: Retirement Security
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks for that warm welcome. It's nice to be back in Iowa. I spent some quality days here in Iowa. (Laughter.) I used to tell people that Iowa was the friendliest state that I campaigned in, and I want to thank you for the hospitality, coming back as your President.
I appreciate the governor being here. Governor, thanks for taking the time. We had the honor of hosting the governors -- the national governors at the White House last Sunday night. I'd just gotten in from China, rented my tux and had the governors over. (Laughter.) But it was good to see your governor, and thanks for being here. I'm honored you're here.
And I also appreciate so many friends and members of the Iowa House who are here. I see my friend, Mary Kramer. I see the Speaker. I want to thank you both for coming. I want to thank all the members. I hope the governor is doing everything you tell him to do. (Laughter.) That's not the way it's supposed to work.
I appreciate very much Leonard Boswell, the congressman, for being here. And I want to appreciate my friend, Tom Latham, as well, for traveling with me -- two fine members of the United States Congress. Anyway, I thank all the elected officials for coming. I appreciate a chance to say hello.
I also want to thank the Benskins for inviting me here. I didn't realize Bill -- I guess the employees probably didn't realize it either -- he's such a silver-tongued devil. (Laughter.)
But I appreciate so very much the chance to visit with Bill and some of the employees. Let me tell you what my first impression is, is that this is a company that deeply cares about the people who work here. And Bill and Marty understand that if you treat the folks that work with you well, you'll more likely have a good product; that if you care about the future of the people who are doing the work for your company, the company is going to have a culture of success. And I could feel that instantly when I came here. And I want to congratulate the Benskins.
See, small business is the lifeblood of the American economy. Most new jobs are created in small businesses. I'm a big believer in the entrepreneurial spirit. I'm a big believer in understanding that the role of government is not to create wealth, but an environment in which small businesses can flourish. And people like the Benskins can realize their dream and, in turn, provide good, steady, honorable employment for the people who work in this company. So I want to thank you for giving me a chance to come and talk about security.
Before I talk about retirement security, I see people wearing our uniform -- the uniform -- and I've got to talk about national security from a defense perspective. I submitted a budget to the United States Congress that sets this priority: we will defend freedom at any cost. (Applause.)
The budget I submitted says basically this: if you wear the uniform of the United States of America and you're fighting to defend our freedom, you deserve the best equipment, the best training, another pay raise. And Congress best heed that call. We're in for a long and difficult struggle when it comes to fighting terrorists.
It's long and difficult because, unlike other wars, these kind of faceless folks, nameless folks hide and burrow into countries that may be weak. They hide in the caves. These are the kinds of people who send young advocates, young believers to their suicide, and they, themselves, hide.
When they attacked our country, they really didn't understand America. They thought we were soft. They thought we had a culture that was so materialistic that nobody in this land would be willing to sacrifice for something greater than ourselves. And they made a huge mistake.
I made it absolutely clear to the world, a couple of points. One, that if you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist who attacked America and you'll be held accountable. And that's exactly what happened to the Taliban. They wish they'd never heard of America. But our country showed up not as conquerors, but as liberators.
Our United States military liberated a nation from the most barbaric -- one of the most barbaric regimes history has now shown, and now young girls get to go to school and women are free. And I can't tell you how proud I am of the efforts of the United States military in Afghanistan. (Applause.)
I also made it clear to our coalition and our country that this is a new kind of war, that we've got to think about our children's future, that we can't rest until we have routed out terrorists wherever they try to hide, wherever they think they can accumulate and gather to hurt us again.
Listen, we're doing everything we can to protect the homeland of the country. Our law enforcement is on alert, our FBI has got thousands of agents now chasing down every possible lead, every hint. Every opportunity to make the country safe, we're seizing it. We've got a national strategy in place to have a good first-time responders initiative. I know the governor is working on that, along with local law enforcement officials, to make sure that if we're attacked, there is a good response mechanism in place. We're working on a bioterrorism initiative. We're strengthening our borders. We're going to have a better understanding of who's coming in and who's going out of the United States of America. And we've got better intelligence sharing. We're doing everything we can.
But the best way to secure the homeland is to chase down those that would harm us and bring them to justice, and that is precisely what the United States of America is going to do. It doesn't matter how long it takes, it doesn't matter where we have to go. We will protect freedom and this administration will protect the innocent lives of American citizens. (Applause.)
I'm confident the congressional appropriators will not let our military down and will not let the American people down, because the American people are united and patient and strong and prepared to defend freedom. I can't tell you how proud I am of our country, how proud I am of those who understand the task ahead.
I also understand that part of my job is to battle a recession. And I spent a lot of time here in Iowa talking about the need for tax relief. And we passed tax relief right about the right time, because the best way to battle an economic slowdown is to get people your own money back so you can spend it. And as you spend it, it encourages new products and jobs.
There are some in Washington who want to argue that we shouldn't go on with tax relief that we passed. They're reading the wrong economic textbooks. They are mistaken. Tax relief is good for American workers and tax relief is good for the American economy. (Applause.)
I know we need to take care of workers whose lives were affected as a result of the terrorist attacks on America. We need to extend unemployment benefits and we need to help with health care. And I've laid out an initiative to do that. The House of Representatives passed a good bill to do that.
But people want more than an unemployment check in America; they want a paycheck. And what people in Washington ought to be asking is how -- what do we do to create more jobs so people can find work, what does it require? And one of the things that I think needs to happen is we have a stimulus bill, an economic growth bill, a jobs bill that will encourage more investment in plant and equipment. If companies invest more in plant and equipment, companies are more likely to hire more workers. We need a stimulus bill out of Washington, D.C. (Applause.)
And we need a good farm bill to help with jobs. And I'm looking forward to working with Congress to get a good farm bill, one that recognizes a couple of things. One, farming is an incredibly important part of our economy. It's a huge industry in America. And the more vibrant the farm economy is, the more vibrant our national economy will be.
Secondly, we've got to think about value-added processing when it comes to agriculture. I believe in ethanol. I believe ethanol is good for the quality of the air, I believe ethanol is important for the agricultural sector of our economy. I think it makes sense. And we've got to explore additional ways. (Applause.) We've got to have a farm bill that provides a safety net, but doesn't encourage over-production.
And at the same time, we must open up markets for Iowa corn growers and soybean growers. When I was in China, I spent a lot of time talking to the Chinese leadership saying, buy those Iowa soybeans. You said you would do so. Open your markets. Because the more markets are open around the world for food products, the more likely it is American farmers, who happen to be the best at growing food in the world are going to be able to sell their products. We ought to be feeding the world because we're the best at growing food. And so I want a good farm bill, and I expect to get one here pretty quick. And I look forward to signing it.
And also we need an energy bill. Listen, we import over 50 percent of our energy from oversees. And that doesn't make sense. We have to do it. Because we're not conserving enough, nor we are producing enough. For the good of the national security of our country, we ought to encourage more exploration in an environmentally friendly way on American soil. We ought to be less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil. (Applause.)
And I also want to talk about retirement security today. And I came here not only because I wanted to herald the importance of small business in our society, but because this company has a good 401(k) plan. A good 401(k) plan has got some features to it. One, that there is an encouragement for people to save. And Bill was telling me that one of the smart things they did was they put a certain amount of money in everybody's 401(k) plans to begin the process and everybody said, what is a 401(k) plan? It got everybody's attention when they saw they had a little money, something set aside for them.
A good plan is one that where the company says it's to your advantage to put as much money as you can away when you're younger and understand the power of compounding interest rates. In other words, watching that money grow on a tax-free basis makes a lot of sense. And the workers here at The Printer, Inc. understand that.
You see, we're going to have to encourage more savings in America because people are going to live longer lives. I mean, you and I, the baby boomers, if we behave ourselves, will live way beyond the average life span of 20 to 30 years ago. And I don't know about you, but I plan to be active after I've reached the so-called retirement age. And, therefore, it is to our advantage to start putting more money aside early so we've got more money to spend and to live on later on.
And the 401(k) is a great way to encourage savings. And Bill was telling me there's no guarantees, but on bonus years it goes in the 401(k)s, which is a way to encourage workers to pay attention to the plan. He also tells me that there's a web page designed for instant access to your money. This isn't the government's money, by the way. This is your money, this is the workers' money and you ought to be trusted with your own money. And a 401(k) recognizes who owns the money.
And a good company is one that provides the instant access to accounting of your money, so you can see how it's growing. And then you have the option, obviously, within the law, to make investment decisions that you think is important.
Now, one issue that I am concerned about is that a company like right here cannot offer sound investment advice, third party advice to the workers -- because they're afraid to get sued. Now, that doesn't make any sense to me. That if on the one hand a business such as this sets up a 401(k) plan and encourages investment, that they can't bring a third party advisor to sit down with the workers, to give people objective advice as to what's happening in the marketplace or what makes sense, without fear of lawsuits. We've got too many lawsuits in our society, to begin with. And it doesn't make any sense to force workers not to be able to have good advice because somebody is afraid of getting sued.
And so it seems like to me it makes sense for Congress to help reform pension laws by making it easier for people such as Bill to get good advice for the workers -- without fear of some junk lawsuit or some throw-away lawsuit.
And so I'm proud of what's happening here in this company, and I know that we need to do more when it comes to encouraging savings. And we did some good stuff in the tax relief -- the tax cut, tax relief bill I talked about last year. Let me tell you about some of the reforms we made to encourage others to save more.
One, we relaxed the restrictions on how much workers can invest in their individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plans, in other words, made it easier for people to invest.
Two, it allows people over the age of 50 to catch up, to put more money into their retirement fund. And why would that happen? Well, somebody might have been laid off for a while. Or, if you happen to be a woman and you stayed at home for a while to raise your kids and came back into the workplace late, you ought to be allowed to catch up. You ought to be allowed to put more money in to make sure your 401(k) was sound and whole.
We have -- as well, we've reduced the tax burden on small businesses who want to start a 401(k) plan. As Bill will tell you if you were to ask him, it's pretty expensive to start one of these plans. You've got to hire a lawyer, you've got to hire an accountant. There are some start-up costs. And a lot of small businesses take a look at the start-up costs and they say, what the heck do I want to spend money on this for, and therefore don't. And the workers lose out on a fantastic opportunity.
And so it makes sense for the government to make it easier for the small businesses to be able to deduct the cost of such start-ups on the tax credit basis, so that we encourage more 401(k) plans in America, and therefore encourage more savings. The more savings there are, as Americans grow older, the more likely it is we'll have a vibrant society where people are more productive, more happy and more healthy.
I also am deeply concerned about pension plan abuse. I'm worried about what's taking place, what we've seen in the newspapers here in America. First of all, there's such a thing as corporate responsibility. We've seen that here in this company, people responsible for the employees. Corporate America has a responsibility to disclose all the assets and liabilities of their companies.
As well, we need to make sure that workers don't lose everything if their company were to fail. In other words, there needs to be some safeguards in some of these 401(k) plans, particularly as it relates to publicly traded companies. And let me cite some of the reforms I think that Congress ought to pass.
First, workers would be free to sell any stock their company contributes to their retirement plan after participating for three years. In other words, if you've been a three-year employee and your company has used stock as part of your retirement plan -- which, by the way, is a good thing. I hope Congress understands it's a good thing to encourage companies to contribute their own stock to their employees as part of an incentive plan. On the other hand, an employee ought to be able to sell that stock after she or he has worked there for a three-year period of time.
Secondly, they have what they call a blackout period sometimes, when they change a fund manager, for example. And here's what I believe ought to happen. If there's a blackout period in which employees can't conduct transactions, first an executive shouldn't be able to sell if the employee can't sell. What's good for the executive ought to be good for the employees in America. If the boss sells, so should everybody else. And if everybody else can't sell, the boss doesn't get to sell. (Applause.)
There ought to be a guarantee that employees get to see at least quarterly reports on what's taking place in the 401(k) plans. Here, you get a minute-by-minute report. You know, the information flows so freely these days, it seems like it makes sense to give everybody instant access to what's going on in their accounts, and that's what ought to be happening. There ought to be, you know, at least quarterly reporting, as well as I mentioned, to make sure that small businesses have got an incentive to set up a plan, as well as liability protection against those employers who are anxious that there be as much information and as much knowledge passed between advisor and employee.
The whole point is this, we ought to do everything we can in Washington, D.C., to encourage people to own a piece of the future. The more somebody owns something, the more somebody builds up an asset base, the better off America will be. And whether it be in Social Security or 401(k)s, we've got to understand the power of compounding interest, the importance of savings, and the beauty of ownership in the American society. (Applause.)
And what a great society this is. America -- you know, when they hit us, they didn't realize that out of this terrible evil was going to come some good. Nobody, nobody in America wishes what happened on 9/11 would ever occur again, of course. And we're still sad when we think of the events -- at least I am.
But there's going to be some incredible good that comes out of this. The world will be more peaceful if we're strong and patient and resolved, and we will be. But as a result, I think our communities are going to be better. I think the American people have taken a good, hard look at what's important in life. They understand that loving your child, if you happen to be a mother or dad, is the most important job you'll ever have. America knows that.
I like to tell people that, if you're interested in fighting evil and want to join in the war against terror, love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself. It's what I call the gathering momentum of millions of acts of kindness which define America, and which enable America to stand tall in the face of evil. It's all these acts of goodness that take place in our society. Right here in Des Moines, Iowa, somebody walks across the street on a daily basis and says to a shut-in, I love you, what can I do to help you? It's that accumulation of all those acts which define our country.
What a great nation we are. We're a strong nation, we're a proud nation, and we're showing the world we're a deeply compassionate nation as well.
Out of evil will come good. They thought they hit a weak nation, but instead they found a strong, strong group of people, and I'm proud to be your President. God bless.
END 11:10 A.M. CST