President Obama Speaks at a Town Hall on Middle-Class Economics

The President:
Hello, Hoosiers! (applause) Thank you so much. Well, please,
everybody, have a seat. Have a seat. Let me begin by saying thank
you to Mayor Ballard for that introduction, for all
the great work you’re doing for the people
of Indianapolis, and for your service
as a Marine. We are very proud of the
partnership that we’ve had with this city. I also want to
recognize Ivy Tech Chancellor Kathleen Lee
and President Tom Snyder. Where are they? (applause) There
they are over here. Some outstanding members
of Congress — Joe Donnelly,
our Senator. Where’s Joe? There he is. (applause) Congressman
André Carson. (applause) And somebody who has
been a great friend for the people of this state,
the people of this nation, a great friend to me personally,
one of the people who have ensured that America is safe
for so many years — former senator and mayor of
Indianapolis, Dick Lugar. (applause) On the way over here, Dick and
I were reminiscing about the first foreign trip I ever
took was with Dick Lugar. He was the savvy
veteran; I was the green-behind-the-ears
freshman. We went to Russia. We were both interested
in nuclear proliferation. He had really written
the book on it. And Dick Lugar seems like
a kind of relaxed guy, but if you’re on a trip with
him, he will wear you out. (laughter) And then at one point,
we were actually held by a Russian
colonel at the airport for about three hours —
which normally might have made people nervous, but
Dick, he’d been around the block a few times, so
he just took a nap. (laughter) It was fine. It got cleared up. It is great to be
back in Indiana, great to be back close
to my home state. I respect the Pacers. (laughter) But, yes,
I am a Bulls fan. I make no apologies. We’ve had some fierce
rivalries in the past, and I’m looking forward to
Mr. George and others getting back on track so we can have
some more playoff runs. But that’s not all that
I know about this state. One of my first trips as
President was to Elkhart, and I stopped by some of
your manufacturing plants. I played 3-on-3 at a
school up in Kokomo — and my team won,
by the way. (laughter) When it comes to elections,
I’m batting .500. I’m one for two —
which isn’t bad. (applause) The last time — I will
acknowledge the last time I got kind of smoked
here in Indiana. (laughter) But that’s okay. That’s exactly why I
wanted to come back. And I don’t plan to take too
long in the front because I want to make sure that
we’ve got some time for questions. But when I gave my State of
the Union address a couple of weeks ago, I repeated a
vision that I originally laid out in Boston
over a decade ago. And that’s a vision that says
there’s no liberal America or conservative America, there’s
the United States of America. And I know that sometimes
it seems like our politics are more divided than ever;
that in parts of Indiana, the only blue you’ll ever
see is on Colts signs — (laughter) — and in Chicago, the only
red is for the Chicago Bulls. But I still believe
what I said back then, that we actually have so much
more in common than not. It doesn’t always get
focused on in our politics. And I’ve seen so much
of the good, generous, big-hearted optimism of people
across the country these past six years to give in to the
cynicism that sometimes gets peddled as wisdom
around the country. And we’ve come a long way
these past six years since we suffered the worst
financial crisis since the Great Depression. Now, this morning, we found out
that America’s businesses added another 267,000 jobs. (applause) In 2014, our economy
created more than 3.1 million jobs, and that’s the best year
of job growth since the 1990s. (applause) So, all told, over
the past 59 months, the private sector has
added about 11.8 million — so that’s almost 12
million — new jobs. And that’s the longest
streak of private sector job growth
in our history. Meanwhile, our deficits
are shrinking — they’ve gone down by
about two-thirds. Our dropout
rates are down. Our graduation
rates are up. We’re as free of foreign oil
as we’ve been in 30 years. We’ve doubled the
amount of clean energy that we’re producing. A lot of families are saving a
lot of money at the gas pump, which is putting some
smiles on folks’ faces. (laughter) Audience Member: Thank you! The President: You’re welcome. (laughter and applause) Although I was telling
somebody the other day, at some point they’re
going to go back up, so don’t start — (laughter) — going out there and
ignoring the mileage when you’re buying a new car. You’ve got to keep
looking for those savings. And in the single most
hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are
starting to go up again. (applause) So America is poised
for another good year. Indianapolis is poised for
another good year — as long as Washington works to keep
this progress going. And I was struck as I was
listening to the Mayor’s introduction — here in
Indiana, we’ve been able to do some good things because
we haven’t been so worried about Democrat-Republican;
we focused more on trying to get the job done. And that attitude we’re hoping
to kind of infect Washington with, try to adapt that
same attitude when it comes to the problems that we
face going forward. And Dick Lugar was a
great example of that. We have risen from
recession freer to write our own future than
any nation on Earth. But we’ve got to make
some decisions about what that future looks like. Are we going to be a nation
where a few of us do spectacularly well and everybody
else is struggling to get by? Or are we going to have a
country in which everybody has opportunity, everybody
has got a chance to succeed? Last year, I got a letter
from Jyliann Milham, who lives up in Fishers. Where’s Jyliann? There she is right
there, right in front. And Jyliann has got four
kids, ages six through 16 — which means that
she’s busy. (laughter) For 13 years, Jyliann
was a stay-home mom. A few years ago, she was
going through a divorce, had to find a way to
support her family. She didn’t have
a college degree. Most of the jobs that she
could find paid minimum wage. As she put it, “I was
a mom with four kids, and I had everything
coming against me.” So Jyliann came here to Ivy
Tech to invest in herself, learn new skills. She paid her way with the
help of a grant from her country and a grant from
the state of Indiana. She made the Dean’s
list, earned a spot in the radiography
program at IUPUI — (laughter) And that’s a profession
that pays pretty well. And today, she’s a few
months from graduating. She’s ready to get
started on a new career. (applause) Really proud. And in the letter
she wrote, she said, it’s not just the possibility
of financial security and career advancement. She said, it’s also “something
I can show my children.” It’s about pride, and it’s
about being able to point to a brighter future for
the next generation. And that’s who I get up
for every single day. Sometimes people ask
me, Mr. President, your hair is
so gray — (laughter) — folks are always talking
about you not always in the most flattering
way — how do you do it? Well, the reason is
folks like Jyliann, who are out there
all across Indiana, all across the country;
they’re working so hard, doing the right thing,
not asking for a handout. They just want to make sure
that if they are putting in the effort and
they’re meeting their responsibilities that
they can get ahead. And we can’t do it for
them, but we can help. We can create structures of
opportunity like we have here at Ivy Tech. That’s something we
can do for everybody. And that’s what
keeps me going. I want to make sure that
this is a country where hard work is rewarded and you
get a chance to make a decent living. And that’s what I’ve been
calling middle-class economics is all about — the idea
that in this country, everybody does best when
everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody
has got a fair shot, and everybody is playing
by the same set of rules. We live in a time
of constant change. And technology has made
some jobs obsolete, global competition has
shipped some jobs overseas. It’s tougher to afford
economic necessities like child care or
health care. And that’s been true
since long before the financial crisis hit
back in 2007, 2008. And that’s why, at a time when
the economy is finally picking up steam and growing again,
we’ve got to work twice as hard, especially in
Washington, to help more Americans like Jyliann. So this week, I sent Congress
a budget that’s built on this idea of middle-class economics
for the 21st century. It means helping middle-class
families afford child care and health care, make it a little
easier to pay for college without taking on loads of
debt, paid leave at work, helping first-time
homebuyers, helping people save for retirement. And my budget addresses
each of these issues, and it could put thousands of
dollars back in the pockets of hardworking
middle-class families. (applause) Middle-class economics
also means helping more people like Jyliann
upgrade their skills. Because this competitive economy
is not going to get easier. Folks just aren’t going to be
in the same job for 30 years. These young people
who are here today, they’re going to have a
bunch of different jobs, and they’re going to be —
there’s going to be the need for you to continually
upgrade your skills. It’s all about lifelong
learning now, not just a one-time deal. So that’s why my
budget makes two years of community college free for
every responsible student. (applause) Every responsible
student. Because here in America, it
shouldn’t matter how much money your folks make; if you’re
willing to work hard, you should be able to
get that opportunity. And you shouldn’t
necessarily have $100,000 worth of debt
when you leave — (applause) — especially if you’re
going to go into a profession like teaching. And we’re not just working to
make community colleges free, like Ivy Tech; we want to make
our community colleges even better and more
responsive, and more attuned to what’s going
in the marketplace. Right here, at this school —
one of the best in the country, not just in the
state of Indiana — (applause) — you’re finding ways to
raise graduation rates, and partner with
businesses to help provide apprenticeships
and other pathways to careers that pay well
in fields like construction and technology. Middle-class economics also
means that we’re investing in what makes our economy grown —
better roads, faster Internet, cutting-edge research so
that our businesses are creating high-paying jobs. And the good news is we
can actually afford to pay for all this. We don’t have to add to our
deficits if we’ve got some smart spending cuts and if we fix
a tax code that is filled up with special interest
loopholes and kickbacks for folks who don’t
need them. (applause) And in my budget, I
identify some of these. There’s a trust fund loophole
that allows the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, who have
benefitted more over the last 20 years than anybody when the
economy has been growing, but this trust fund loophole
allows the top 1 percent of Americans to avoid
paying taxes on their unearned income. That’s not something
that Jyliann, when she gets her job, is going
to be able to do. The majority of people here
can’t avoid paying taxes. I don’t know why the
folks who are most able to pay them should be
able to avoid it. So we need to fix that. And then we can use the
savings to cut taxes for middle-class families
who really need it. (applause) We know that there are
companies that have stashed about $2 trillion
overseas that haven’t paid U.S. taxes. Let’s close those loopholes and
make it more attractive for businesses to locate here in
the United States of America. Let’s give those
folks a tax break. They’ll create jobs right
here in Indianapolis, right here in Indiana, as
opposed to giving tax breaks to folks that are
shipping jobs overseas or parking money overseas. We can do that. (applause) These are ideas that
are pretty common sense. Now, in Washington, folks saw
the budget and said, well, these are Obama’s plan — some
of them are pretty good ideas, but they’re never going to go
anyplace because the Republicans control Congress and
they’re not going to do it. Well, I’m not pushing
these ideas for my sake; I’m pushing them because
I think this is where America needs to go. And we should have a healthy
debate about how to do the things that are necessary
to help America grow. Republicans and Democrats
won’t agree on everything, and that’s fine. But we should agree on the
stuff we’re talking about now. We should agree that
hardworking families should be able to get child
care that’s not more expensive than sending
a kid to college. (applause) We should agree
that somebody like Jyliann, who wants to better
herself, should be able to go to college without
being loaded up with even more debt. We should be willing to
agree that a great city like Indianapolis needs to keep its
infrastructure in good shape in order to attract new businesses
so they feel confident that they can get their products and
services out to market, and that we’ve got the
best-trained workforce in the world because that’s
what’s going to make companies want to locate here. Those are things
we can agree on. We should agree that the
tax code should be fair, and nobody should be
treated better just because they’ve got better accountants
or better lawyers. So if Republicans disagree with
the way I’m trying to solve these problems, they should
put forward their own plans, and I’m happy to look at it. But what we can’t do is ignore
the problems and pretend that they don’t matter, pretend
that families aren’t out there struggling,
doing their best. And I believe in a crazy
thing Dick Lugar once wrote. Dick said, “The other
party is also patriotic and may have
[some] good ideas.” (laughter and applause) That’s shocking. So I know Mayor Ballard
believes the same thing, and certainly I do. So let’s roll up our
sleeves, work together, and try to get
some stuff down. That’s what all of you elected
us to do — not to turn everything into a
Washington food fight, not to just refight the
old partisan battles. Let’s have a debate that’s
worthy of this country, and build on an economy
that is picking up steam, and make sure that it
is serving everybody, that prosperity is broad-based,
that not only everybody is sharing America’s
success, but everybody is contributing to
America’s success. That’s what we’re
trying to do. So that’s what’s
on my mind. Now, I want to hear
what’s on your mind. All right? So we’re going to start
taking some questions. And the way this is going
to work is really simple. You raise your hand. (laughter) I will call on you. And if you could stand
up, introduce yourself, try to keep your question
relatively short. I’ll try to keep my
answer relatively short. In fact, the only rule I’m
going to impose is I’m going to go girl-boy-girl-boy
to make sure it’s even. (laughter) Make sure it’s fair. All right? Okay, let’s get started. Who wants to go first? This young lady right here. The Press: Hi, I’m
Erica Walsh (ph) with the College
Democrats of Indiana. I was curious how you
think offering two-year free community college
will impact universities with traditional
four-year college? The President: Well, I think
a lot of folks are going to still use the traditional
pathway of going to a four-year university. And if you — if that’s
your best option, God bless you,
that’s great. There’s always going
to be a market for Indiana University
or Notre Dame. It’s not like suddenly
people are going to stop wanting to go there. But what the two years of
free community college potentially does is for
somebody who is cash-strapped, their best option may be let me
go get two years in a community college; I may have already
at that point gotten the training I need to go
out into the workforce and get a
good-paying job. Or if I decide that I want to
continue with my education, I can now transfer to a
four-year institution with those credits, which means that the
amount of tuition I’m paying at the four-year university
is going to be reduced. Either way you
are saving money. And this is part of what we need
to do to be more creative about how do young people get the
skills they need without spending as much money or
taking on as much debt. This isn’t the only kind
of thing we’re looking at. For example — and I think Ivy
Tech is looking at this kind of partnership with high schools —
a number of community colleges now are linking up with high
schools where you can start taking college credits in high
school so that by the time you get to the community college,
you’ve already got some credits, which reduces the amount of
time that you have to spend in the community college. And that will save
you money, too. So the point is, is that we
have this very rigid system. We have this image
in our heads — okay, you go through high school,
and then right away, you go to a four-year
university. And instead, what we should be
thinking about is how do we create from the time you are in
9th grade all the way until the time that you’ve got a job, how
do we make sure you’re able to get the best skills
possible at the cheapest cost. And if there are faster
pathways to do that, let’s use those
faster pathways. If there are cheaper
ways to do that, let’s find ways
to reduce cost. Let’s use technology
in some cases. Online learning is getter
better and better and better. And are there ways in
which — particularly, say, somebody who is a mom and has an
irregular schedule and can’t be on a campus all day —
are there ways that she can get some credits while still
looking after a family, or working part time. So we just have to be much more
creative about these issues. The one thing that in
addition to being creative we have to remember is that
state legislators have a responsibility to make sure
that state institutions are still getting the
support that they need. Because part of
what’s happened — (applause) — part of the reason that
the cost of higher education has gone up so rapidly
is that state support for those institutions
has gone down or not kept up
with inflation. So what happens is then
school administrators have to make up for it
with higher tuition. Now, the school
administrators, they have a responsibility to
be more efficient. And students and parents, we
have a responsibility to be smart consumers. I joke with Malia and Sasha —
because Malia is now at the age where she’s starting to look
at colleges — and I said, these days I hear
everybody is looking for fancy gyms and
gourmet food and — (laughter) — really spiffy dorms. Let me tell you, when
I was at college, we — the college I started
at, Occidental College, it did have a gym, but like
the weight room was — it was like a medicine
ball and you had — (laughter) — I mean, it
wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t state of the art. The cafeteria, I don’t remember
some of the stuff they served there, but I remember it
wasn’t that appetizing. (laughter) I do know there was
something on the menu that we called “roast beast,”
because we couldn’t really tell what kind
of meat it was. (laughter) It was some
sort of meat product. So students and parents
have to be better consumers. The universities have to figure
out how to become more efficient and also give information to
young people ahead of time. Because part of what
happens these days is, in recruiting students, they’ll
say, don’t worry about it, you’ll be able to afford it. Well, it’s true that, in part,
we’ve expanded Pell grants, and we cut out the bank
middleman on student loans so that we could give
more student loans, that a lot of young people
are able to finance college that they
couldn’t do before. But if they don’t know ahead
of time that when you get out you may have a $60,000,
$70,000, $80,000 bill, then that’s a problem. So we’ve got to provide
them better information. But, ultimately, what
also has to happen is state legislators
have to step up. The federal government
will do its part. And we’ve expanded the support
we’re giving to students. But these public institutions
have a special obligation. And it is a good investment,
because the states with the best educational system,
that’s where companies are going to go. It’s true not just
in this country, it’s true all
across the world. (applause) Okay. It’s a gentleman’s turn. This young man right
here, white shirt. I’m not sure we’ve
got a mic back here. How loud are you? Are you able to just shout? No. (laughter) All right. Kind of a soft-spoken guy. Here we go. Male Speaker: Hi. (inaudible) student here
at Ivy Tech. My question is, if community
college does become free, do you feel as if
the value of having an associate’s degree
will begin to drop? The President:
Absolutely not. But I think it’s
a good question. I’ve been asked this
question before. I don’t know where
this is coming from. I’ll tell you a story — or
I’ll give you an example. There is a college in New
York called City Colleges of New York. And back in the
’40s, ’50s, ’60s, the City Colleges of New
York produced as many Nobel laureates as a lot
of Ivy League schools. It was free, but it
was considered one of the best universities
in the country, one of the best college
systems in the country. Nobody thought, well,
because you went to the city colleges and it didn’t
cost you any money, that somehow the
education was devalued. So the issue is not
whether you’re — how much money
you’re paying. The issue is what kind of
education is it providing you. And the reputation of
the school is going to be determined by, when
the graduates come out, do they have the skills
they need to do the job. And if they do, then employers
are going to know it, because employers are hungry
for well-qualified students. I can’t tell you how many
businesses I talk to where they say, our biggest problem is we
can’t find enough workers who are trained in the fields
that we’re searching for. So don’t let anybody think
that paying more means a better education. One thing that we do have to
think about — and this is where community colleges can be an
outstanding bridge — is making sure that we’re reaching out
to businesses and finding out what do they need for
the positions that they’re hiring, and
having those businesses help community colleges
design training programs and departments, to
serve those needs. And we’re seeing a
lot more work done by community colleges
on that front. And Ivy Tech does a great job
also with apprenticeships in partnership with
labor councils. That’s another example
of smart education. It turns out the average
apprentice gets a $50,000 starting
salary once they get out of apprenticeship — on
average across the country. So we’re doing a lot
to encourage schools to expand apprenticeships
and partnerships. But don’t think
paying more is better. Paying less is better. (applause) I’m always
looking for a deal. (laughter) All right, let’s
see — yes, right there. Female Speaker: My name
is Amy Saxton (ph) and my question is, I pay
for my daughter’s college. I’m now saving for my
grandchildren’s college with a 529 plan. Do you see any changes
that might impact me as I go into
retirement? The President: We
initially looked at changing the 529 plan. And the reason is that — I have
529s for both Malia and Sasha. For those who aren’t familiar,
529 is basically a savings account that you can put in
tax-free up to a certain amount for savings for
your child’s college. The problem is when you
looked at the statistics, the folks who used the
most were folks who were a little more
on the high end. A lot of people couldn’t
use them because they just weren’t generating
enough savings to be able to take advantage
of the benefit. And so our thinking was
you could save money by eliminating the 529
and shifting it into some other loan programs that
would be more broadly based. But I think enough people —
and we were going to hold harmless folks like you or me
who already had money in 529s, so it wasn’t as if suddenly
you had to start paying taxes on it. But just going forward we
were going to change it. I’ll be honest with you. There were enough people who
already were utilizing 529s that they started feeling as if well,
changing like this in midstream, even if I’m not affected right
now, I like the program. It wasn’t worth it for
us to eliminate it, the savings weren’t
that great. So we actually, based on
response, changed our mind, and are going to be paying
for the two years of free community college with other
sources, including some of the tax loopholes
that we’re closing. So, short answer to your
question is 529s will not change at this point. (applause) The President: Got a
gentleman here who really has a question,
right here. He was waving
and everything. This is going to
be a good one. Male Speaker: It’s
going to be a good one. The President: I
know that’s right. Male Speaker: My names Eddie
White with the Indiana Pacers. The President: Oh, good
to talk to you, man. (laughter) Male Speaker: Basketball is
really important in this state. You know, we have this saying,
“In 49 states it’s just basketball, but
this is Indiana.” (laughter) Years
ago, on a radio show, you told me that — when I
asked you about your game, you said you were “a poor
man’s Tayshaun Prince.” Where is your game today? And one more thing —
Tamika Catchings says she’s ready, one-on-one
any time you want. (applause) The President: All right. Well, let me make a
couple of points here. (laughter) First of
all, I love Tamika. She refereed the game
we played in Kokomo, so she was a witness to my
domination on the court. (laughter) But when it comes
to me playing her one-on-one, at this point I’m not sure. Because I’ll be honest with
you, my game is a little broke. (laughter) I’ve been a
little busy. And what happens is that
sort of the risk-reward ratio starts shifting. Like the chances of
an Achilles tear or an ACL injury is
increasing each month. And then the
satisfaction I get from playing diminishes
because I’m so bad. (laughter) And so I think golf. (laughter) Likelihood
of injury much lower. But I still love the game. I still love the game. This is a good time for me to
give a shout-out to the NBA. Mayor Ballard mentioned
the work that he’s doing with My
Brother’s Keepers. And this is something that we
initiated in response to all the negative news that we were
hearing about young African American men and Latino men and
their interactions with police. And we said, all right, there
are a whole bunch of issues that we have to deal with on
the criminal justice side, but we have to have an
affirmative agenda to make sure that young people feel hope
and opportunity and pathways. (applause) And so the idea of My Brother’s
Keepers is that we are working with both the private sector
and the public sector, all across the country,
on mentorship programs. The Mayor is talking to folks
about doing a zero-to-three program, because we know that
if you invest early in young people, they are much more
likely to succeed in school. We know that there are certain
points in time where kids are more likely to drop out, or more
likely to get in trouble with the criminal justice system, and
so figuring out interventions. We know that if they’re reading
at grade level in the third grade, then they’re much
more likely to graduate, so making sure that
we’re really concentrating on reading
skills at that level. And the interest and involvement
has surprised even me. People have been really generous
and stepped up to the plate. And the NBA is participating. And some of you who have been
watching the games may have seen some of the ads of some
of the players talking directly to the TV screen
and saying to young people, they matter. And so I just want
to commend them for the great work they’re
doing on that front. Commissioner Silver has
been very good on it. So we appreciate it. All righty, let’s see. Young lady way in the back. Right there. Yes, you. Hold on one second, though. Wait for the mic to come. Female Speaker: I want to
get this right so I’m going to read it off. The President: Okay. Female Speaker: Hi. My name is Isabelle Keller. The President: But you don’t
have to talk that fast. (laughter) Female Speaker: Okay,
I’ll do it slowly. I’m sorry. The President: You’re
just kind of nervous. Female Speaker: Yes. The President: Okay. Female Speaker: A little bit. The President: Yes. Female Speaker: My name
is Isabelle Keller, and I’m the junior class
president at my high school. And I’m co-chairing a
bipartisan event at my school next year to help engage
high school students in our political process. What advice do you have in
helping attract high school students and get them
more engaged to work in our country’s politics? The President: That’s great. See, I love young
leaders like this. (applause) They’re juniors in
high school taking an interest. Make sure one of our
volunteers gets — what’s your name again? Isabelle? Okay, let’s get Isabelle’s
email and maybe I’ll send her a note to kick off
the event next year. (applause) One of the big challenges
that we have in this country is the lack of civic
engagement, the lack of participation. In the last election,
only about a third of people who were
eligible to vote voted. A third! And you have elections that
take place, for example, in Ukraine, where they’re
in the middle of a war, and their participation
rates are 60 percent. And here, with all the
blessings that we’ve got, the notion that only a third
of us would vote that are eligible doesn’t
make any sense. And so it starts at
a young age. And I think the most important
thing in any bipartisan event like that is to help young
people understand that politics is not some
sideshow in Washington, it’s not some cable
chatter yacking, arguing. It’s how we, together,
as a community, make decisions about
our priorities — what do we think
is important. When you’re a junior in high
school, if you’re like Malia, if you decide you and your
friends are going out, you’ve got to make all kinds
of decisions about where we’re going to eat, and what
movie do you want to see, and you guys take votes and
you’re trying to figure out maybe one of your friends
doesn’t have enough money and are we going to chip
in to help make sure she can go, too. Well, the same thing
is true for a country. We’ve got to make priorities. We’ve got to make decisions. Are we going to
invest in schools? Are we going to make sure
that when you graduate you can afford to
go to college? Are we going to make sure that
we’re investing in the research that creates new medicines
that will help cure cancer or Parkinson’s disease? Are we going to make sure that
we’re treating our veterans the way they need to be
treated when they come home? How are we going
to pay for that? Who’s going to
pay for that? Are we going to make sure that
we’re passing on an environment with clean air and clean
water, and how are we going to do that? And how are we going to
balance that with making sure that we’re growing
an economy, so when you graduate from college
there’s a job for you? Those are all the things
that politics determines. So I think, more than anything,
helping young people understand that this stuff matters to
them and that government is not something separate
from you — it is you. In a democracy, it’s you
that makes these decisions. And then making sure you
got good pizza at the event is also important. (laughter) All right. Who’s next? Young man right here. Right here. (laughter) Thank you. Thank you. Male Speaker: Hi, I am Mark. First, I want to say thank you
for all the things you’re doing and the things that you’re
going to do for our nation. (applause) Secondly,
my name is Mark Kelly. I am actually currently the
president of (inaudible.) And my question is,
what is the criteria and the requirements for this
plan that you’re trying to propose? The President: For which plan? Male Speaker: For two
years free college? The President: The idea would
be that you would have to maintain at least
a 2.5 average. (applause) So we’re
not going to — I mean, there’s no such thing as
a completely free lunch. We want to reward people
who are making the effort. Because one of the problems we
have when it comes to college education is that young people
aren’t graduating fast enough, they’re dragging things
out too long, and that just adds costs. And even if they are
taking out loans, so it’s technically they’re
paying for it, the problem is, is that the more
expensive it gets, the less likely it may be
that they can pay it back. So what we’re saying is
you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to have
a 2.5 average. You’ve got to
maintain attendance. You’ve got to stay on a
schedule and have a game plan at the front end so that
you graduate on time. And obviously, there would be
special circumstances like illness or what have
you, but the point is, this is not you get two
years of free goofing off. This is to help you
achieve your goals. But that means that you
have to put in the effort. So that would be
the main criteria. (applause) All right. Yes, right here. Hold on a second,
mic is coming. Female Speaker: My name
is Christylee Vickers. I’m an OIF veteran from the
U.S. Army, and I’m also the President of the
Ivy Tech Collegiate Veterans Organization. (applause) The President: What
branch were you in? Female Speaker: I was in the
Army and I was a mechanic. The President: Army strong! Female Speaker: Hooah! The President: All right. Female Speaker:
Now, my question is, veterans get to
use the GI Bill. They also get VOC rehab
if they are underemployed, or if they use their GI Bill
or if their GI Bill — if they were a Cold War
veteran they never got that. How does this affect a
veteran’s use of education? Because veterans today
are dealing with unemployment rates higher
than other people. They’re dealing with
unemployment altogether. And what’s really important is
getting a veteran who is dealing with post-traumatic stress
or other problems to get an education and have people who
understand the fact that they have issues, but at the same
time they have benefits that they’ve earned and
they’ve paid for through blood and tears? The President: Right. Well, first of all, thank
you for your service. We’re proud of you. (applause) For those who qualify
under the post-9/11 GI Bill, you’re already supposed to
be getting the benefits that you have earned. And so nothing would
change about that program. As you point out, it’s
not just college tuition, though, that is often a
burden on our veterans. So I am very proud of the fact
that I have increased veterans funding more than any
administration since I’ve been in office. (applause) And a lot of it
is focused on some of the challenges that
you talk about. For example, we made it much
easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress
disorder to qualify under disability claims. We expanded
significantly the number of mental health facilities
that were available. We set up, for example, special
programs for women veterans, because they’ve got
different medical needs, through the VA system. Another example that’s really
important is we’ve been working with states and
local governments around issues of licensing. So you said you
were a mechanic. There may be, in
a lot of states, licensing requirements
for you to be a mechanic, or to be an EMS officer,
or to be a nurse. And what we were finding was,
is that — I still remember I had a conversation with
a guy up in Minnesota. This is when I first
came into office. We’re at a little
diner, sitting down. He had just come
back from Iraq. He had two or three
tours in Iraq. And you can imagine what
an emergency medic in Iraq is dealing with
in 2006 or 2007. He decided he wanted to
make a career as a nurse. He was having to come
back and he was having to start with Nursing 101. I mean, he had to
start from scratch, as if he didn’t have
this incredible wealth of experience and skill. And so we set out to work with
state legislators and cities and others that oftentimes are
responsible for licensing to say there’s got to be
transferability and credit for the incredible work that
veterans do on the job so that they don’t have to start all
over again and take a whole bunch of new classes just
to get certified on stuff they already
know how to do. (applause) And that’s been
really helpful, as well. The key now is to get more
employers to recognize the skills of our veterans. So Michelle and Jill Biden,
through their Joining Forces program, have been able to
recruit companies all across the country — major
corporations like Honeywell, smaller companies — to
not just do job fairs, but make concrete commitments
we are going to hire a certain number of veterans, a certain
number of military spouses. And hundreds of thousands
of folks have come through these programs. The challenge that we’ve
still got is that we’ve got to find ways for veterans
to upgrade their skills through this process. And that’s where things like
apprenticeships — so that folks aren’t just getting
hired at the bottom rungs, but have the opportunity
to maybe come in at a higher wage
and a higher salary. So we’ve got tie together
the education process with the hiring process. Female Speaker:
Can I add to that? The President: Sure. Female Speaker: In Indiana,
there’s a bill currently in the House and the Senate
that is trying to give the private sector military
hiring preference, like the government does. Within the government,
you have a point system being a veteran, for
serving, for having a disability rating, for
being a spouse, and so on. And in Indiana, they’re trying
to pass this bill to give hiring preference, saying
if you and a veteran have the same qualifications,
veterans should get the job. I feel like that is somewhat
fair because they put their life on hold for two to 20
years to serve our country, and they’re taking this
job experience that you’ve acknowledged, and they’re
taking that real-world and they’re the fact
that they always show up to work on time,
they’ll pass a drug test. And they’re willing to
put in that extra mile. Do you agree with that bill
that’s trying to get passed? The President: I am always
careful about agreeing with bills that I have not
read because that’s how I get into trouble. (laughter) But if there are
any state legislators here, this young lady is going
to be very interested in talking to you. And the — Female Speaker: (inaudible)
we just passed that bill out of the Senate
Committee this past week. The President:
Well, there you go. (applause) See, so — that’s
your representatives and senators
hard at work. (laughter) But I think the basic
concept of making sure that we are crediting the work
that is done by veterans is really important. The sacrifices that
not just veterans but their families
make are incredible. And I’m proud to say
that we do much better now than we
did in the past. When you read about
the Vietnam era, it’s just heartbreaking
how veterans were treated when they came home. I think we, as a society — and
this has been bipartisan — have really improved,
but we still have a lot more work to do. So the veterans’ health
system, for example, is far better now than
it was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago —
demonstrably better. But as we saw —
remember in Phoenix, there are still situations
where the wait times are too long. Veterans are really satisfied
once they get in the system, but getting the initial
appointment is often too tough. There’s too much
bureaucracy. There’s too much red tape. So we have to just
constantly keep at this and constantly
keep improving it. And as we end — we’ve now
ended both the Iraq War and the Afghan War, we
got millions of people — (applause) — in terms of the combat
role, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of folks who
are coming home, and they’re going to need help
making this transition. And obviously we still have
folks in harm’s way now dealing with ISIL, as well
as helping to train both Iraqi and Afghan armies. And they’re going to
need help, as well. They’re still
on rotations. Their families are
still missing them, and they’re missing
birthdays and soccer games. And it’s a big sacrifice. So thanks for the question
and thanks for your service. All right, we
got a gentleman? Let’s see. This is a good bunch
to choose from. He’s got a veteran’s —
he’s got a veteran’s hat on, which makes me more
biased towards him. (laughter) This is an example of
your — but are you going to ask another
veteran’s question? Male Speaker: No. The President:
Okay, right here. Male Speaker: Mr.
President, thank you for coming and thanks for
taking my question. I am Chris Bowen. I’m the student government
president here, so I represent the students
here in the central region of Indiana for Ivy Tech. The President: That’s great. Male Speaker: And
something we could use right away is a tax
credit for books. The costs on the books
are just running away. We need somebody to do —
some help in that area, and then the same
thing with advisors. We really need some advisors
that know the classes that we need to look at the
skills that we already have in our life and say, hey,
have you thought about looking at an approach
in a different way. And so we really need
some help from the federal government
in those areas. The President: I think
that’s a great point. First of all, I should have
mentioned at the outset, when Michelle and I got
out — when we got married, in addition to the bonds of
love, we had the bonds of debt. (laughter) Our net worth was
negative because we had all these student loans. And basically for the first
10 years of our marriage, we paid more in student
loan repayment than we did on our mortgage. And since we both
went to law school, we both remember well
the cost of books. And for those — and then I
taught in the law school, so I remember having
to assign books. I actually cheated a little
bit and put together these syllabi where I’d Xerox stuff
off, and they could get a packet, and it was a
lot cheaper for folks. (applause) But that’s
not always possible. (laughter) But I will say, nothing
is worse than when a professor assigns
their own book. (laughter) Because then you
know they’re getting over. (laughter) But the book
costs are enormous. They’re real. Now, one of the advantages of
the two year of free college tuition plan — that doesn’t
include room and board and books — but what that does then
is it frees up your ability to use Pell grants or other
programs for books, right? So it would relieve some
of those costs and living expenses and transportation
and all that stuff. So school still wouldn’t
be perfectly free, but you would now have the
budget to manage that. With respect to advisors, I
think this is a great point. We’re actually starting
at the high school level. Michelle just had an event
to celebrate counselors. And she had — Connie
Britton, remember she played a counselor in
“Friday Night Lights”? You all watch that show? That was a good show. (laughter) So she came to speak,
but it was celebrating the role of counselors
in high schools. But the same is true
in community colleges with advisors. A lot of young people have
a general idea of what they want to do, but
don’t always know the path to get there, don’t
know what the requirements are, don’t know what classes
they should be taking. And one of the big problems
that drives up college costs is young people start down
one path, they get about halfway through it, they
realize, actually that’s the thing I’m more
interested in over there. They switch, but all
those credits that they took now are wasted. And they’ve got to
start all over again. And that extends greatly
the amount of time that it takes to graduate. So having more
counselors and investors on the front end, end up
being a good investment for the system overall. Now, I haven’t talked to
your president here about how schools are currently
budgeting advisors, but certainly this is something
that we are interested in. And we’re going to want to
partner with community colleges and public universities, as
well as with high schools to see what more work we
can do on that front. So good suggestions. That’s why you got
elected president. (applause) Absolutely. It’s a young lady’s turn. Right here. Right in the middle. You, yes. Female Speaker: Good
afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Dana Phillips with
(inaudible) Lee & Fairman. And my question is, with
the focus being on two-year community colleges right
now, what focus does your administration have for
historically black colleges and universities for
students outside of Indiana, where they may choose to attend
these institutions with such dire straits that many of
them are facing right now? The President: Well, we
have some outstanding historically black
colleges and universities. We’ve got some universities that
historically serve primarily Latino students, who
do a great job as well. Many of those schools, because
of their critical role in serving underrepresented
communities, under federal legislation get
additional dollars to help with infrastructure and maintain
their faculties and so forth. But many of the problems
that those schools face are also the ones that every
other school faces, which is rising tuition,
students taking out too much debt, graduation
rates that are too low. And so we’re working
with them on this common set of problems. Now, I will say this: There are
some historically black colleges and universities that
are not doing a good job with graduation rates. And so one of the things that
we’re doing is we’re saying to schools of all stripes that
we’re going to develop some measures so that parents
and students can know ahead of time how those schools
are performing so that we can increase
consumer education. Because what I don’t want
to do is to have the federal government pay for a Pell
grant or a student loan, and you go to a school where
they’re taking that money, you’re getting into debt, but
your graduation rate is low — which means you may end up
leaving without a degree. You now are on the hook for
this debt; if you can’t pay it, then taxpayers
have to pay for it. That’s a problem. So what we’re doing is,
those schools that are doing outstanding jobs serving
underrepresented communities, we’re going to give
them some extra help. Schools that are not
doing a good job, we’re saying to them we’re
going to give you the training to get better, but at a
certain point, if you don’t get better, we’re going
to start advertising the fact that your graduation
rates are too low. We’ve got to have
some accountability in this overall process. Gentleman right here. There you go — in that
spiffy gray jacket. Male Speaker: Thank
you, Mr. President. My name is Frank Short (ph). I have a question. You’ve been our leader for six
years, you have two years left. What you be your number-one
priority, and what could we, as hardworking Hoosiers, help
you to do to accomplish that? The President: My number-one
priority is to make sure that the American people’s wages and
incomes are going up — since right now the stock
market has gone up, corporate profits are
at an all-time high, corporate balance sheets have
never been better in history — that’s not according to
me, that’s according to Bloomberg and Fortune
Magazine, not publications that generally are my
big promoters. (laughter) So they’re doing well. And the question now is, how
do the folks who work in those companies, how do we get them
more income and more wages. Now, that can’t happen if
the economy doesn’t grow. So first and foremost, we’ve
got to keep this growth going. And one of the worries that
we’re going to have this year — the economy is doing well. The problem is, overseas, the
economies aren’t doing so well. Europe is not doing well. China is slowing down because
they’re transitioning, and so that’s having some
impact on our exports. So if we want to keep the
progress that’s going on right now, the best thing we can do
is to make the investments that I talked about in the
State of the Union to create more growth and more demand
here in the United States. I’ll be very specific. This is something that you
can help on: Infrastructure. We know that we’ve got about
$2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance we need to do
in this country — bridges that are unsafe, sewer
mains that are bursting, airports that are
out of date. We’ve got an air traffic
control system that doesn’t take advantage
of new technologies. If we put in place a new
state-of-the-art air traffic control system, it’s estimated
that airlines could save 30 percent on their fuel
costs because they wouldn’t be hovering around trying
to wait to land. That means 30 percent
less pollution from fuel. It means we could cut
delays by about 30 percent, which I know everybody
here who has flown lately would really appreciate. It would be good
for business. And the good thing about
infrastructure is you can’t export those jobs. They have to be done
here by American workers. And so then those American
workers have more money in their pocket, and then they
go the restaurant nearby, and then suddenly the
restaurant is doing a little bit better, so they hire
a couple more shifts — and you get this
virtuous cycle. And traditionally, that’s
been a bipartisan issue. So if we can get Republican
representatives and senators and Democratic
representatives and senators here Indiana, if you guys
can push them to say, let’s go ahead and move forward
on an infrastructure program — I know the Mayor wouldn’t mind
doing it — and convince them, that keeps the economy
growing overall. But then there are also
some things that I want to do more directly for
middle-class families, and that has to do
with this tax system. As I mentioned before, there was
a young woman I talked about at the State of the Union
— wonderful family, the Erlers, two little boys;
one of them school age, one of them is still too
young and in preschool. Their child care is more
than tuition at the University of Minnesota
— or at least close. We are the only advanced nation
on Earth that does not provide support to families when
their kids are really young, and doesn’t invest in making
sure that our child care system works the way it should. So I’ve put forward an
initiative that says let’s consolidate and make more
helpful a tax credit for child care. Let’s boost the quality of
child care so that parents have confidence when they’re putting
their kids someplace that teachers there are trained and
they’re getting good early childhood education. Let’s get more slots. That’s something that is
just concretely helping families right now. And, by the way, it’s not
just the poor family that has trouble here. There are a lot of folks who
we’d all consider middle class who have the same problem. I mean, it’s just hard,
especially now that the typical middle-class family, they’ve
got two breadwinners. Folks both have to work
in order to succeed. And we know how
to do this. My grandfather, when
he went away to war, fighting Patton’s
Army in Europe, my grandmother stayed home;
she was Rosie the Riveter. She was working on an
assembly line for bombers, and this country provided
child care because they knew it was a necessity. If you were going to have women
working in the workforce, somebody had to look
after those kids. So it’s not as if we
don’t have any experience doing this. We just don’t do
a good job. Paid sick leave — here’s
another good example. We’ve got 43 million Americans
who don’t have paid sick leave. Think about that. Again, we’re like the only
country in the industrialized world that does not
provide paid sick leave. Well, that’s money out
of people’s pockets. People will get sick. And the idea that in a society
like ours we would force people to choose between
leaving a sick child at home, for example, of giving up
a day’s pay, that doesn’t make any sense. So the way Hoosiers can help,
the way folks all across America can help is
to let your members of Congress know these
things are important. And if, as I said before,
Republicans in Congress — Mitch McConnell and John
Boehner and the leadership there — if they disagree
with how I’m paying for a bigger child care
tax credit, if they disagree with how I plan
to pay for infrastructure, if they don’t want to raise —
or close loopholes on the top 1 percent, or go after some of
these loopholes that send profits overseas — if they
don’t want to do it that way, then they should
show me another way. But your voice letting them
know this is important — not because it’s partisan,
but because it’s the right thing to
do for America. If they hear that
from enough people, then that’s going to
make a difference. But it goes back to what that
young lady asked me about — Isabelle, right? See, I’ve got a good memory. I’m not getting too old. (laughter) It goes back to what
Isabelle was saying — our system only works when
people are involved. When people are involved and
informed and taking the time to ask questions and let
their opinions be known, then ultimately the
government will respond. But if only a third of the
people are saying anything, the government doesn’t
respond, and you get the government that we’ve
seen in Washington lately — which is unresponsive and
is not doing enough. So people have to get involved,
and you’ve got to be informed. And if we are, then I am so
optimistic about this country. The reason we’ve gotten out of
this recession over the last six years is in part — I’m
going to go ahead and brag a little bit — we made
some good decisions. (applause) We made the decision
to save the auto industry. We made the decision to
stabilize the financial system. We made the decision to help
local governments keep their teachers on the payroll
and not lay them off. We made a bunch
of decisions to do infrastructure
spending. And all that helped lift
us out of the recession we were in. But the main reason was
because people worked hard in the private sector
and small businesses, and they tightened their belts
and they made sacrifices, and they paid down debt and they
dug themselves out of holes. The resilience and the
grit and the basic decency of the American people and
our willingness to work hard and our innovation, our
willingness to take risks — it puts us in such
a good position. I travel all
around the world. I know the economies of
every country in the world. I know their problems,
I know their advantages. People talk about China and
they talk about Germany and they talk about India —
nobody has got better cards than we do if we make good
decisions together. And somebody once
said about America, we always end up doing the
right thing after we’ve tried everything else. (laughter) And I’m hoping that we don’t
have to try every other thing before we do the
right thing right now to help middle-class
families get ahead. If we do that, the economy
is going to be stronger, businesses are
going to do better, consumers are going
to be more confident, we’ll sell more good
overseas, our kids will have the kind of future
we want for them. That’s what I’m going
to be working on for the next two years. I hope you help. All right? Thank you, everybody. (applause)

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