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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
January 31, 2008
Vice President's Remarks to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
Charlotte, North Carolina
11:00 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office again. (Laughter.) Almost, almost. (Laughter.) But I want to thank you for the introduction and for the welcome this morning. It's good to be with all of you. In particular I want to thank Congresswoman Sue Myrick -- greeted me when I arrived, and then left because she's about to have another grandchild -- (laughter) -- and she had her priorities straight this morning. (Laughter.)
And also, I've obviously got some other longtime friends here this morning. I know Tom Nelson is with us from National Gypsum. He used to work for me at the Pentagon years ago when I had a real job. (Laughter.) And it's great to be with two of my former House colleagues this morning, Senator Jim Broyhill and Governor Jim Martin. I knew them when they were congressmen and I was the congressman from Wyoming. Wyoming had -- only had one congressman. It was a small delegation, but it was quality. (Laughter.) And I always loved my time in the House with Mr. Broyhill and Mr. Martin, great Americans.
Let me also thank Bob Morgan, Pat Riley, and the members and the staff of the Chamber this morning for arranging my visit. It's a pleasure to be in Queen City, here in Charlotte. You've built one of the most vibrant and diverse local economies in America. In this community, enterprise is encouraged, and hard work is rewarded; optimism is the order of the day. You're a model to others, and you've helped make North Carolina's economy among the fastest growing in the country. I appreciate the chance to pay a visit this morning, and I bring good wishes to all of you from our President, George W. Bush.
As a former Secretary of Defense, I have great admiration for the patriotic spirit of your state, the great hospitality that you've shown to our military personnel and to their families. Your role in the defense of the country is seen every day -- at Seymour Johnson and at Pope Air Force Base, at Camp Lejeune, one of the sturdy pillars of the United States Marine Corps; and of course at Fort Bragg, the largest military base in America. This state truly does appreciate and welcome the men and women of the Armed Forces, and I know that they feel at home here in the Tar Heel State.
I came in this morning from Washington, where I've spent most of my career, going back to the late 1960s. When people ask me what it's like to work every day in the nation's capital, I often think of the advice that Harry Truman offered years ago when he said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." (Laughter.) Just for good measure, I've got two of them. (Laughter.)
But I'm happy to relate that I also have many good friends in Washington, including a number from your own state. And as the President of the Senate, I get to work with Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr on a regular basis, and they're both doing a terrific job for all the people of North Carolina.
When you're Vice President, the only duties you have under the Constitution are to preside over the Senate and to cast tie-breaking votes. In fact, before the Constitution was written, some, including Benjamin Franklin, believed the Vice Presidency was entirely unnecessary. He said that if the office were to be created, anyone who served as Vice President should be addressed as "Your Superfluous Excellency." (Laughter.) That's a lot better than some of the things I've been called. (Laughter.)
It's a great privilege to serve the people of this country in a position first occupied by John Adams. Vice President John Adams not only was able to cast tie-breaking votes, he was also granted the right to participate in floor debates; he was given floor privileges. He could go down into the well of the Senate and actually participate in the debate on the issues of the day. And then he did a couple of times, and they withdrew his floor privileges. (Laughter.) They've never been restored.
President Bush and I have now begun our final year in office, with much yet to do before January 20, 2009. Until that day comes we're going to stay focused on the business of America. We want to come in with a strong finish. And when the last chapter is written, I believe it will be said that we became a stronger, safer nation because George Bush was President of these United States.
Our greatest duties for 2008 are clear. We must take wise and careful steps to revitalize America's economy in a moment of challenge, and we must press on in the fight against enemies who are determined to inflict great harm on this country. In his State of the Union message Monday night, the President set out a confident path forward. Now it's the duty of Congress to act decisively and without delay to ensure the prosperity and the security of the American people.
On the economy, there's not a moment to waste because we've seen indications of a possible economic slowdown. There's no point in making the problem sound worse than it is. There are still many positive signs out there: wages are up; exports are on the rise; orders for big-ticket manufactured goods rebounded strongly last month; we've had 52 consecutive months of job increases. The economy still rests on a solid platform of long-term economic growth, and many experts believe that growth will continue throughout the New Year. The task now is not to resolve an economic crisis, but to prevent or minimize an economic downturn -- and that is exactly what the President intends to do.
In the short term, we simply cannot take growth for granted -- especially in light of a significant housing market downturn, credit market disruptions, the high price of crude oil, and the most recent numbers with respect to economic growth. The President has already led the effort to bolster the housing market, including measures to help struggling families avoid foreclosure and keep their homes. He's asking Congress to pass legislation strengthening oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so we can keep them focused on their mission of expanding home ownership. He is also proposing that we modernize FHA to help more homeowners pass safely through a time of uncertainty.
An economy is also stronger with more private spending which depends on consumers having the money and the confidence to buy more goods and services. And the best way to put more spending power back into the economy is to put more tax money back into the hands that earned it. Supporting consumer spending and rewarding work is a key element of the economic growth plan that our administration worked out last week with the leaders of the House of Representatives.
For workers below certain income thresholds, the plan calls for direct rebates -- up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples filing jointly. Families also will receive an additional $300 credit per child.
Another key element of the President's plan is to give businesses an incentive to increase capital spending before the end of the year. As an incentive to expand and hire more workers, businesses will be allowed to depreciate an additional 50 percent of their investments in equipment and software for 2008. Small firms will also be allowed greater expensing for investments that they make this year.
With major tax relief and strong incentives to invest, this bipartisan growth package, we believe, is good economic policy, for three reasons. First, it's big enough and it amounts to about $150 billion, or 1 percent of GDP. That's large enough to have a healthy effect on the growth of our economy.
Second, the plan is designed to have an immediate impact. As soon as it's passed, the IRS should be able to start sending out checks within 60 days. And if it's passed promptly, we expect the plan would result in an additional 500,000 new jobs for Americans before the end of this year. That's more than just speculation. We actually have experience in this department.
When the President and I took office in 2001, with the economy facing a stiff headwind, we sent millions of rebates to the American people. Economists estimate that taxpayers quickly spent between a third and two-thirds of their money. That translated into higher growth and more jobs, and, eventually, more revenue for the federal government. As a result of the rebate and other pro-growth tax policies, the recession of '01 turned out to be short and shallow. And even after the shock of 9/11, we haven't gone through another recession since.
The third benefit of the growth package is that it's simple and it's temporary -- completely focused on the short-term need for a stimulus. The entire package is tax relief. No one gets a tax increase. There's no wasteful spending to explode the deficit, nor will there be new regulations or economic meddling by the federal government.
The bill has already passed the House. But as the President said the other night, some in Congress will be tempted before final passage to load it with unneeded provisions. That would only slow down the process, or possibly derail the bill altogether. Neither is acceptable. This is not a perfect legislation from the President's perspective, nor do I imagine it's perfect from the perspective of Speaker Pelosi. The fact is we've worked out a sensible, fair, bipartisan agreement; the kind of cooperation Americans want to see in their elected branches of government. And now they expect us to follow through. President Bush is ready to sign the growth package into law and to get rebate checks out to the American people. All that's left is for Congress to act -- and the time for action is now.
After we address the vital economic concerns of the moment, we will still have even more important work to do on tax policy. Without action by Congress, most of the tax relief we've delivered over the past seven years will be taken away. That's all the Bush tax cuts: the income tax reductions that we passed previously, the cut in capital gains and dividends, the thousand-dollar child credit, the phase-out of the death tax. Owing to the fine print in the law, all of those tax cuts will expire in just a few years, and those old rates will come back into force. The effect would be an average increase of $1,800 a year in the tax bills of some 116 million Americans.
A tax hike of that magnitude would pose a fundamental danger to the economy. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 brought this economy out of a recession and have helped yield more than 8.3 million new jobs so far. It would be irresponsible for the federal government to turn away from the very policies that have generated the largest period of sustained job growth in American history.
Aside from the huge risk this tax increase would pose to the economy, there's the larger question of fundamental fairness to the American taxpayer. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be one of the largest government money-grabs in American history, and we must not allow it to happen.
As we limit Washington's claim on people's paychecks, Congress will have to make some tough choices -- and maybe wind up with less money to spend on needless programs or their own pet projects. Working Americans have to set careful priorities and make tradeoffs in their budgets every day. It wouldn't be bad for Congress to do the same. To help matters, next week the President will send up a budget that terminates or substantially reduces 151 wasteful or bloated programs totaling more than $18 billion. The President's budget will enable the government to meet its legitimate responsibilities, but in a responsible way that keeps us on the path to a balanced budget.
The President is also pointing the way to more transparency and accountability in government spending. By now all Americans are familiar with the practice of so-called Congressional earmarks -- the pork barrel special interest projects that are quietly slipped into legislation when nobody notices. A year ago, the President asked Congress to do the right thing, and to cut the number and the cost of earmarks by at least half. He also asked them to stop putting earmarks into committee reports. In other words, they're not part of the bill, they're part of the report on the bill, and that way they're, in effect, never voted on by the Congress.
This time, Congress failed to get the job done on either front. If Congress sends him an appropriations bill now that fails to cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, he will send it back to the Congress with a veto. And on Tuesday, by executive order, just two days ago, he directed federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by the Congress. If Congress is unwilling to vote on a project, we won't feel any special need to spend money on it.
President Bush and I remain hopeful that Congress will do what is right for the sake of growth and jobs for the American people -- from the growth package, to permanent tax relief, to budget integrity, to spending discipline. Important issues invite big debates, and we've had our share. But at our best, we've done hard things and done them well. We passed the initial tax cuts, strengthened private pensions to ensure workers get their promised benefits, passed trade agreements that support high paying jobs, and put good judges on the federal bench. And when it mattered most, we've come together to defend this nation against attack, and to go on offense in the global war on terror.
Waging this war continues to be our most fundamental responsibility, our number one priority. And there's only one acceptable outcome -- and that is victory for the United States, for our friends, and for the cause of freedom.
In two theaters of the war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan, American forces continue the fight against enemies that are as ruthless as they are determined. The ideological struggle that's playing out in the broader Middle East -- the struggle against radical extremists who have declared war on us -- will concern America for the remainder of our administration and well into the future. Our country's great advantages -- which include military strength, the ability to project power over great distances, and the rightness of our cause -- are necessary.
But alone, these advantages are not sufficient to achieving victory. Speaking on the situation in Iraq, our lead commander, General David Petraeus, put it plainly. He said, "Iraq is very, very hard. It's going to remain very hard, and it's going to take determination, persistence, additional resources, additional time and, occasionally, the sheer force of will."
I know the challenge is on all of your minds today, as it is for your fellow citizens. Several hundred soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps deployed to the Middle East at the beginning of this week. Many courageous men and women from North Carolina have served in Iraq and on other fronts, and some of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. We honor their memory, and our whole nation is proud of the men and women who go to work every day to fight the enemies of freedom. The single most consistent, reliable fact of this war is the skill, the bravery and the honor of the United States Armed Forces.
Only a year ago, Iraq was considered by many to be in danger of falling into chaos. Having liberated that country from Saddam Hussein, we have no intention of permitting killers and thugs to destroy the world's newest democracy. So the President sent General Petraeus to carry out a new offensive strategy, backed up by a surge in American forces, to secure that country and to set the conditions for political reconciliation. Now we can see the effects. The new strategy clearly is succeeding. The surge is working. The forces of freedom are winning.
As the President said on Monday night, the enemy is still dangerous and it's still tough. Under the new strategy we worked out, Iraqi forces are there to protect citizens, to seize weapons caches, to strike decisive blows against the enemy inside its strongholds, and to keep the pressure on so they won't regroup elsewhere in Iraq.
For their part, the Iraqis themselves are in the fight as never before. In the past year alone, the Iraqi security forces have grown in size, and improved their capabilities. Just recently, they performed admirably in protecting Shia religious pilgrims in Karbala during one of the largest annual religious processions in the world. They are working closely with our coalition, fighting bravely on behalf of their citizens. In fact, these Iraqi forces have sustained about three times more casualties than we have. Gradually, the Iraqis are shouldering more and more of the burden, and taking the lead in security operations.
At the same time, many tribal leaders, sick of the merciless brutality and mindless violence of the terrorists, have joined in the effort to fight the terrorists and to secure their communities. People across that country are growing in confidence that America's word is good. Their confidence only grows when they meet American soldiers face to face. They know they're dealing with men and women who are decent, upright, and dedicated to the task at hand. And because of that growing trust, more and better intelligence is coming forth from Iraqis -- information on where weapons are kept, when attacks are planned, where the enemy is hiding.
We've also seen increasing cooperation and reconciliation at the local level in Iraq. In the provinces, Shia, Sunni and Kurds are beginning to come together to reclaim their communities. We expect the national government to work in that same spirit -- and here, too, we've seen signs of real progress. They're working on an important oil revenue law and political reforms that we expect to be passed soon. Progress has been difficult, and there have been moments of uncertainty along the way, but Iraq's elected leaders and all the people they serve can no longer doubt the commitment of the United States. We are a good country. We hold true to our principles. We stand by our friends. And we keep our commitments.
Overall, since we instituted the new strategy, high-profile terrorist attacks have decreased dramatically. Civilian deaths and sectarian killings have also gone down. And among American troops -- even though they've had more engagements involving intense, close-in fighting -- our casualty rates have also gone down as well.
Our goal for this year is to expand on the gains of last year, and to move to the next phase of our strategy. Gradually, our forces are making the transition from the role of leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually, Americans in Iraq will have a protective overwatch mission. In the process, an Army brigade combat team and a Marine expeditionary unit have already come home, and will not be replaced in the field. They'll be followed by four additional brigades and two Marine battalions. Under the present plan, more than 20,000 of our troops are set to come home.
Our new strategy in Iraq has succeeded as a result of careful planning, and by close attention to changing conditions on the battlefield. The same will be true of any further draw-down on our troop levels. On behalf of the President, I can assure you that the decision will be based on what's right for our security and what is best for the troops -- without regard to polls, to elite opinion, or the momentary impulses of politicians in Washington, D.C.
We carry on in this mission because the stakes are high. To abandon our cause in Iraq -- especially now that we've seized the initiative -- would dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the war on terror. Those who have stood with America in this war, and counted on our friendship, would be newly vulnerable to an emboldened enemy. And we, the people of the United States, would bear the consequences as well because a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would validate al Qaeda's belief that we lack the stomach for the fight, that we lack the patience to complete a mission even when it's clearly in our national security interest.
Nor should we downplay the consequences of victory in Iraq. These, too, are significant, and will have a direct impact on our future security. The war on terror is a test of our national will, but it does not have to be an endless war. We can prevail by speaking to the best aspirations of mankind. As Americans, we believe that men and women everywhere, regardless of race, religion or culture, want the same good things in life: the right to work, worship, and choose their own leaders, and to live in dignity and peace. And this vision is our own true hope against ideologies of hatred and aggression.
From the beginning, we had confidence that the Iraqi people, like the Afghan people, would, if given the chance, turn out in large numbers to vote, to ratify a constitution, to elect a free government, and to defend their country. They have done exactly that. We stand with them, as we have other young democracies in earlier times, to consolidate hard-won gains. A free, democratic Iraq will be a strategic partner in the heart of the Middle East, helping us fight and win the war on terror. And the men and women who have fought and sacrificed in this cause can be proud of their service for the rest of their lives.
Our administration has asked Congress many times to honor the sacrifice of our troops by supporting their mission, caring for the injured, and providing for our military families and for veterans. Congress has followed through, and we're confident they'll meet all of the President's new budget requests for these important priorities.
On the home front of the war, there is significant unfinished business on the agenda. I'll limit myself to an issue that is, as of today, properly termed an emergency. Last year, Congress passed a critical new law to improve our nation's ability to monitor the communications of our terrorist enemies. As a direct result of this law, called the Protect America Act, our intelligence personnel are much better equipped than ever before to pick up terrorist-related conversations going on outside the United States. Had Congress not acted, we would right now be missing a lot of the information we need to protect the people of this country.
A downside to the law is that Congress put an expiration date on it. The law was going to expire tomorrow, the first of February. Congress has now passed a 15-day extension. And surely six months and 15 days is more than ample time for discussion and debate. The House and the Senate need to act quickly.
If this law should disappear and not be renewed, our intelligence capabilities will begin to degrade, and that result would be intolerable. Many members of Congress are working right now to prevent any such disruption in the flow of intelligence. We're also asking them to give lawsuit protection to companies believed to have assisted in the effort to defend America since September 11, 2001. And we're asking them to act now to make this law permanent. The terrorist threat has not expired in the last six months. It won't expire anytime soon, and Congress should stop writing laws that pretend otherwise.
There is no justification whatsoever for Congress to carry an important issue to the brink, as they've done with the surveillance law. This country has gone nearly six-and-a-half years without another catastrophic attack. But the danger to our country remains very real, and we know the terrorists are still determined to hit us again. They are fanatical in their hatred. And they have tried many times to cause more violence and death in our country.
Nobody can guarantee we won't be hit again. But in a heightened threat environment, with a "persistent and evolving" terrorist adversary, the absence of another 9/11 is not an accident, it's an achievement. And that achievement is the product of some very hard work by great Americans in intelligence, in law enforcement, and in the United States military, and some very bold and wise decisions by the President of the United States.
Not long ago, President Bush said that he "knew full well that if we were successful protecting the country that the lessons of September 11th would become dimmer and dimmer in some people's minds." Then he said, "I just don't have that luxury, nor do the people that work with me to protect America, because we have not forgotten the lessons of 9/11. And I expect, and the American people expect, Congress to give us the tools necessary to protect them."
Most of us understand the war is real, that we need to stay on the offensive, and that we have to proceed on many fronts at the same time. For those of us who work in offices and sit at desks in Washington, D.C., the sacrifices required are pretty small compared to those of Americans serving in the Iraqi desert or the mountains of Afghanistan, or the public servants who work day and night, with little margin for error, to detect a secret enemy and to disrupt their attacks before it's too late.
Nor should any priority, foreign or domestic, come down to a question of mere politics. As the President put it, "Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done." Ours is not the first generation of Americans to face big challenges. With an economy to revive and a war to fight, we can take inspiration from those who came before. And let it be said of us that we, too, found unity in great purposes, and proved ourselves good stewards of the freedom and the security of the United States. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:28 A.M. EST