Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner


The President:
Hello, CBC! (applause) Well, it is wonderful to
be back with all of you. I want to acknowledge, first
of all, chair of the CBC, Barbara Lee, for the outstanding
work that she has done this year. (applause) Somebody who not only is a
passionate defender of our domestic agenda, but also
somebody who knows more about our foreign policy than just
about anybody on the Hill, the chair of the CBC
Foundation, Donald Payne. Thank you. (applause) Our ALC Conference co-chairs,
Elijah Cummings and Diane Watson — thank you. (applause) Dr. Elsie Scott, president and
CEO of the CBC Foundation, thank you for your
outstanding work. We’ve got a couple of very
special guests here today. I want to give a shout
out to my friend, somebody who all of us
rely on for his wisdom, his steadiness — the House Majority Whip, Jim Clyburn. (applause) A couple of folks who are
working tirelessly in my Cabinet — the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, is in the house. (applause) The woman who is charged with
implementing health care reform — HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is here. (applause) Our United States
Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk is here. (applause) And obviously it is a great
honor to have been able to speak backstage to this year’s Phoenix
Award honorees, Judith Jamison, Harry Belafonte, Sheila
Oliver, and Simeon Booker. Thank you for everything that
you’ve done for America. (applause) I know you’ve spent a good deal
of time during CBC weekend talking about a whole
range of issues, and talking about what the
future holds not just for the African American community,
but for the United States of America. I’ve been spending some time
thinking about that, too. (laughter) And at this time
of great challenge, one source of inspiration is the
story behind the founding of the Congressional Black Caucus. I want us to all take a moment
and remember what was happening 40 years ago when 13 black
members of Congress decided to come together and
form this caucus. It was 1969. More than a decade had passed
since the Supreme Court decided Brown versus Board of Education. It had been years since
Selma and Montgomery, since Dr. King had told
America of his dream — all of it culminating in the
passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The founders of this caucus
could look back and feel pride in the progress
that had been made. They could feel confident that
America was finally moving in the right direction. But they knew they couldn’t
afford to rest on their laurels. They couldn’t be complacent. There were still too many
inequalities to be eliminated. Too many injustices
to be overturned. Too many wrongs to be righted. That’s why the CBC was formed — to right wrongs; to be the conscience of the Congress. And at the very
first CBC dinner, the great actor and
activist, Ossie Davis, told the audience America
was at a crossroad. And although his speech was
magnificent and eloquent, he boiled his message down to a
nice little phrase when it came to how America
would move forward. He said, “It’s not the
man, it’s the plan.” It’s not the man, it’s the plan. That was true 40 years ago. It is true today. (applause) We all understood that
during my campaign. This wasn’t just about
electing a black President. This was about a plan
to rescue our economy, and rebuild it on
a new foundation. (applause) Statistics just came out this
week: From 2001 to 2009, the income of middle-class
families in this country went down 5%. Think about that. People’s incomes
during that period, when the economy was
growing, went down 5%. That’s what our
agenda was about — making sure that we were
changing that pattern. It was about giving every
hardworking American a chance to join a growing and
vibrant middle class — and giving people ladders
and steps to success. It was about putting the
American Dream within the reach of all Americans — not just some — no matter who you are, no
matter what you look like, no matter where you come from,
everybody would have access to the America Dream. (applause) I don’t have to tell
you we’re not there yet. This historic recession,
the worst since the Great Depression, has taken a
devastating toll on all sectors of our economy. It’s hit Americans of all races
and all regions and all walks of life. But as has been true
often in our history, as has been true in
other recessions, this one came down with a
particular vengeance on the African American community. It added to problems that a lot
of neighborhoods had been facing long before the storm
of this recession. Long before this recession,
there were black men and women throughout our cities and towns
who’d given up looking for a job, kids standing around on the
corners without any prospects for the future. Long before this recession,
there were blocks full of shuttered stores that hadn’t
been open in generations. So, yes, this recession
made matters much worse, but the African American
community has been struggling for quite some time. It’s been a decade in which
progress has stalled. And we know that
repairing the damage, climbing our way out
of this recession, we understand it will take time. It’s not going to
happen overnight. But what I want to say to all of
you tonight is that we’ve begun the hard work of moving
this country forward. We are moving in
the right direction. (applause) When I took office, our economy
was on the brink of collapse. So we acted immediately, and
the CBC acted immediately, and we took steps to stop the
financial meltdown and our economic freefall. And now our economy
is growing again. The month I was sworn in
we had lost 750,000 jobs. We’ve now seen eight months in a
row in which we’ve added private sector jobs. (applause) We’re in a different place
than we were a year ago — or 18 months ago. And let’s face it, taking some
of these steps wasn’t easy. There were a lot of naysayers,
a lot of skepticism. There was a lot of skepticism
about whether we could get GM and Chrysler back on their feet. There were folks who
wanted to walk away, potentially see another
million jobs lost. But we said we’ve got to try. And now U.S. auto industries are profitable again and hiring again, back on their feet
again, on the move again. (applause) There were folks who were
wondering whether we could hold the banks accountable for what
they had done to taxpayers; or were skeptical about whether
we could make infrastructure investments and investments in
clean energy and investments in education, and hold ourselves
accountable for how that money was spent. There was a lot of skepticism
about what we were trying to do. And a lot of it was unpopular. But I want to remind
everybody here, you did not elect me
to do what was popular. You elected me to
do what was right. (applause) That’s what we’ve been
fighting together for — to do what’s right. (applause) We don’t have our finger out to
the wind to know what’s right. That’s why we passed health
insurance reform that will make it illegal for insurance
companies to deny you coverage because of a
preexisting condition. (applause) Historic reforms that will give over 30 million Americans the chance to finally obtain quality care, tackles the disparities in the health care system, puts a cap on the amount you can be charged in out-of-pocket expenses. Because nobody should go broke
because they got sick in a country like the United
States of America. Not here. (applause) That’s why we passed
Wall Street reform, to finally crack down on the
predatory practices of some of the banks and
mortgage companies — so we can protect hardworking
families from abusive fees or unjustified rates every time
they use a credit card, or make a mortgage payment, or
go to a payday loan operation, or take out a student loan, or
overdraw on their account at an ATM. Laws that will help put an
end to the days of government bailouts so Main Street never
again has to pay for Wall Street’s mistakes. (applause) That’s why we made historic
investments in education, including our HBCUs — (applause) — and shifted tens of billions of dollars that were going to subsidize banks, and made sure
that money was giving millions of more children the chance to
go to college and have a better future. That’s what we’ve been doing. (applause) That’s why we’re keeping the
promises I made on the campaign trail. We passed tax cuts for
95% of working families. We expanded national service
from AmeriCorps to the Peace Corps. We recommitted our Justice
Department to the enforcement of civil rights laws. We changed sentencing
disparities as a consequence of the hard work of
many in the CBC. We started closing tax breaks
for companies that ship jobs overseas so we can give those
tax breaks to companies that invest right here in the
United States of America. (applause) We ended our combat
mission in Iraq, and welcomed nearly
100,000 troops home. (applause) In Afghanistan, we’re breaking
the momentum of the Taliban and training Afghan forces
so that, next summer, we can begin the transition
to Afghan responsibility. (applause) And in the meantime, we’re
making sure we take care of our veterans as well as they
have taken care of us. We don’t just talk
about our veterans, give speeches
about our veterans; we actually put the money in to
make sure we’re taking care of our veterans. (applause) And even as we manage these
national security priorities, we are partnering with
developing countries to feed and educate and house their people. We’re helping Haiti rebuild,
following an unprecedented response from the United States
government and the United States military in the wake of
the devastation there. (applause) In Sudan, we’re committed
to doing our part — and we call on the parties
there to do their part — to fully implement the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and ensure a lasting peace and
accountability in Darfur. (applause) As I said in Ghana, it is in
America’s strategic interest to be a stronger partner with the
nations throughout Africa. That’s not just good for
them; that’s good for us. (applause) That’s what we’ve been doing,
CBC, at home and abroad. It’s been an important time. We’ve had a historic
legislative session. We could have been just keeping
things quiet and peaceful around here — because change is hard. But we decided to do what was
hard and necessary to move this country forward. Members of the CBC have helped
deliver some of the most significant progress
in a generation — (applause) — laws that will help strengthen America’s middle class and give more pathways for men and women to climb out of poverty. But we still got a
long way to go — too many people
still out of work; too many families still
facing foreclosure; too many businesses and
neighborhoods still struggling to rebound. During the course
of this recession, poverty has gone up
to a 15-year high. So it’s not surprising, given
the hardships we’re seeing all across the land, that a lot of
people may not be feeling very energized, very
engaged right now. A lot of folks may be feeling
like politics is something that they get involved with every
four years when there’s a presidential election, but they
don’t see why they should bother the rest of the time — which brings me back to Ossie Davis. Ossie Davis understood — it’s not the man, it’s the plan. And the plan is
still unfinished. (applause) For all the strides we’ve
made in our economy, we need to finish our plan
for a stronger economy. Our middle class
is still shaken, and too many folks are
still locked in poverty. For all the progress
on education, too many students aren’t
graduating ready for college and a career. We still have schools where
half the kids are dropping out. We’ve got to finish our plan to
give all of our children the best education the
world has to offer. We’ve still got to implement
health care reform so that it brings down costs and improves
access for all people. And we’ve got to make sure that
we are putting people to work rebuilding America’s roads
and railways and runways and schools. We’ve got more work to do. We’ve got a plan to finish. Now, remember, the other
side has a plan, too. It’s a plan to turn back the
clock on every bit of progress we’ve made. To paraphrase my
friend, Deval Patrick, the last election was a
changing of the guard — now we’ve got to
guard the change. (applause) Because everything that we are
for our opponents have spent two years fighting against. They said no to
unemployment insurance; no to tax cuts for
ordinary working families; no for small business loans;
no to providing additional assistance to students who
desperately want to go to school. That’s their motto:
No, we can’t. (laughter) Can you imagine having that
on your bumper sticker? (laughter) It’s not very inspiring. In fact, the only agenda they’ve
got is to go back to the same old policies that got us into
this mess in the first place. I’ll give you an example. They want to borrow
$700 billion — keep in mind, we don’t
have $700 billion — they want to borrow
$700 billion — from the Chinese or the Saudis
or whoever is lending — and use it on tax cuts, more
tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Average tax cut, $100,000 for
people making a million dollars or more. Now, the next few years are
going to be tough budget years, which is why I’ve called for a
freeze on some discretionary spending. If we are spending $700 billion,
we’re borrowing $700 billion, not paying for it, it’s
got to come from somewhere. Where do you think it’s
going to come from? Who do you think is going to pay for these $100,000 checks going to millionaires? Our seniors? Our children? Hardworking families all across
America that are already struggling? We shouldn’t be passing tax
cuts for millionaires and billionaires right now. That’s not what we
should be doing. We should be helping
the middle class grow. We should be providing
pathways out of poverty. And yet, the man with the plan
to be Speaker of the House, John Boehner, attacked us for
closing corporate tax loopholes and using the money to keep
hundreds of thousands of essential personnel on the
jobs all across the states. He called these jobs — and I quote — “government jobs,” suggested
they weren’t worth saving. Teacher jobs, police officer
jobs, firefighter jobs. Ask your sister who’s a teacher
if her job is worth saving. Ask your uncle who’s a
firefighter if his job was worth saving. Ask your cousin who’s a police
officer if her job was worth saving. Ask your neighbors if their
jobs were worth saving. (applause) Because I think a job is worth
saving if it’s keeping Americans working and keeping
America strong and secure. That’s what I believe. That’s what’s at stake in this. (applause) They want to hand Washington
back over to special interests. We’re fighting on behalf
of the American people. They want to take us backwards. We want to move forward. Their main strategy is they’re
betting you’ll come down with a case of amnesia, that you’ll
forget what happened between 2001 and 2009, what that agenda
did to this country when they were in charge. And they spent almost a decade
driving the economy into the ditch. And now we’ve been down in that
ditch, put on our boots — it’s hot down there — we’ve been pushing the car, shoving it — (laughter) — sweating. They’re standing on the
sidelines, sipping a Slurpee — (laughter) — watching us, saying, “You’re not pushing fast enough. You’re not pushing hard enough.” (laughter) Finally we get the
car out of the ditch, it’s back on the road. They tap us on the shoulder. They say, “We want
the keys back.” We tell them, you can’t
have the keys back. You don’t know how to drive. (applause) You can’t have it back. (applause) That’s right. You can’t give them the keys. (laughter) Now, I just want to point out,
if you want your car to go forward, what do you do? You put it in “D.” You want to go backwards,
what do you do? (applause) That’s all I’m saying. That’s not a coincidence. (applause) That’s not a coincidence. All right, we’ve got to
move this program along. (laughter) There are those who want
to turn back the clock. They want to do what’s
right politically, instead of what’s right — period. They think about
the next election. We’re thinking about
the next generation. (applause) We can’t think short term when
so many people are out of work, not when so many families
are still hurting. We need to finish the plan you
elected me to put in place. (applause) And I need you. I need you because this
isn’t going to be easy. And I didn’t promise you easy. I said back on the campaign that
change was going to be hard. Sometimes it’s going to be
slower than some folks would like. I said sometimes we’d be making
some compromises and people would be frustrated. I said I could not do it alone. This wasn’t just a matter
of getting me elected, and suddenly, I was going to
snap my fingers and all our problems would go away. It was a matter of all
of us getting involved, all of us staying committed, all
of us sticking with our plan for a better future until
it was complete. (applause) That’s how we’ve always
moved this country forward. Each and every time
we’ve made epic change — from this country’s
founding to emancipation, to women’s suffrage,
to workers’ rights — it has not come from a man. It has come from a plan. It has come from a grassroots
movement rallying around a cause. That’s what the civil rights
movement made possible — foot soldiers like
so many of you, sitting down at lunch counters,
standing up for freedom; what made it possible for
me to be here today — Americans throughout our history
making our union more equal, making our union more just,
making our union more perfect, one step at a time. That’s what we need again. I need everybody here to go
back to your neighborhoods, to go back to your workplaces,
to go to churches and go to the barbershops and got
to the beauty shops, and tell them we’ve
got more work to do. Tell them we can’t
wait to organize. Tell them that the
time for action is now, and that if each and every
person in this country who knows what is at stake
steps up to the plate, if we are willing to rise to
this moment like we’ve always done, then together we will
write our own destiny once more. Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless
the United States of America. (applause)

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