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Public Statements

Town Hall Meeting With President Barack Obama


Location: Peoria, IL

Also Present: Ray Lahood, Secretary Of Transportation; James Owens, Caterpillar

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SEC. LAHOOD: President Obama, thanks for coming to Peoria. This is -- this is the heartland.

I am delighted to have a chance to introduce the CEO of Caterpillar, an extraordinary person, somebody who's spent his whole life trying to create jobs and trying to build a company. And I think he's done a pretty darn good job.

As we were -- as we were coming out to Peoria, I can tell you that Jim Owens cares a lot about the people that work at this company, all over the world, particularly in Peoria.

He's been a good neighbor to many of us, and he cares a lot about this community and is someone who's working very hard to make sure that Caterpillar stays a very, very vibrant company. So it's a privilege for me to introduce the CEO of Caterpillar, Jim Owens. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. OWENS: Thank you very much, Ray. I can't tell you how much I appreciate everything you've done -- and you've done for our community. We are very proud of our first Peorian who's had a Cabinet office, in fact.

And President Obama, we want to congratulate you for a terrific choice. I think not only will Ray serve our country well, but he'll bring a great bipartisan spirit to Washington. And I know that's what you're looking for. (Applause.)

And Dan, I want to just mention that I know you're a relatively new member of team Caterpillar, but I tell you, you're very valued. The work you've done for us has been very much appreciated. It pains all of us greatly to have any layoffs, and we hope that the time comes very soon when we can get our facilities fully utilized and all our employees back to work. So I want to certainly leave you with that message. (Applause.)

And I know all of you know -- and it's good to see so many of my friends and colleagues here in the audience -- how proud we are to be able to welcome the 44th president of the United States, President Barack Obama, to Peoria. (Cheers, applause.) President Obama is here tonight to speak at Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial birthday in Springfield. He's taken this opportunity to come and visit us and see a factory here in the heart of America and where we really have terrific jobs and where our company has been very successful because of the leadership role we've been able to play in the global economy.

President Obama comes to office at a very challenging time, to say the least. He is inheriting a U.S. economy and, in fact, a global economy that's sliding into a very severe recession, and all of our thoughts and prayers are with him as he goes about his task of addressing this economic challenge and downslide and really righting our economy.

I've had just a little exposure to him, but what I have seen, he really came to Washington with his sleeves rolled up ready to go to work. He knows that creating jobs is his number-one job and tackling the economic problems we're currently facing.

I was very proud last week to be asked to be on his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. And he's got a lot of good advice, but he's going to have to make some very big decisions. And we -- all of us here, I know, today want to be very supportive of the initiatives he's about to launch.

So please join me in welcoming our 44th president to Peoria.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Cheers, applause.) Thank you! Thank you, everybody. It's good to be back home. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause continuing.) Thank you. Please, everybody have a seat. Have a seat.

Well, first of all, let me thank Dan Armstrong for his wonderful introduction and participation in this event. And we are going to be thinking about you and your family each and every day in the coming months.

I want to thank Peoria's own Ray LaHood, who is doing outstanding work as my Transportation secretary. (Applause.) You know, Ray comes from a long line of Republicans I love, starting with Bob Michel and -- you know, they're just -- I think there's a common-sense, Midwestern, can-do, bipartisan attitude that Ray represents. And I am so pleased that he's in my Cabinet.

Now, his successor, Congressman Schock -- where is he? He's back here. He's right here. Stand up, Aaron. This is -- (applause). Aaron's still trying to make up his mind about our recovery package.



PRESIDENT OBAMA: So, you know, he has a chance to be in the mold of Bob Michel and Ray LaHood. And so we're -- we know that all of you are going to talk to him --


PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- after our event, because he's a very talented young man. I've got great confidence in him to do the right thing for the people of Peoria.

I also want to thank Jim Owens, who I've gotten to know and is one of the top CEOs that we have in the country and the -- (applause) -- you know, Jim is -- is obviously confronted with some tough choices, like every CEO is right now. But what I'm absolutely confident in is he's thinking about the company's long-term growth, and he cares about his workers, he cares about the long term and not just the short term. And you know, I -- I appreciate him agreeing to serve as one of our economic advisers during this process, and I think this company's going to be in good hands with him at the helm. So thank you very much, Jim, for being a part of this event today. (Applause.)

All right. Well, you notice I've been traveling a little bit. I had to come to Peoria. You had -- you have to see how things are playing in Peoria.

We come together today, as Jim said, at a difficult moment for our country.

You know what? I know I'm already in my speech, but there's one other thing I forgot to do. There's a guy here who I served with in the state senate. He's just a good buddy of mine. I love him to death. Give George Shadid a big round of applause. I just spotted him. (Applause.) Stand up, George.

I like his wife more -- (laughter) -- but George is okay. (Chuckles.)

We come together today at a difficult moment for our country, and for this great American company.

You know, in recent weeks there's been a lot of talk in Washington about how to address our economic crisis, with a lot of back and forth about dollars and numbers. But here's the thing: When we say we've lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began, nearly 600,000 last month alone; when we talk about the 22,000 layoffs announced at Caterpillar, a company that has sustained this community for more than 80 years and that had one of its banner years just last year, then you know this isn't about figures on a balance sheet. It's about families that many of you probably know. It's about folks like Dan all across this state and all across this country, folks who are losing their jobs and their health care and their homes that were their footholds on the American dream.

And it's about the ripple effects across this community, from restaurants with fewer customers because folks can't afford to eat out anymore to shops that can't sell their goods because people can't afford to buy them to the companies that do business with Caterpillar but now find themselves cutting back because Caterpillar's cutting back. So what's happening at this company tells us a larger story about what's happening with our nation's economy, because in many ways you can measure America's bottom line by looking at Caterpillar's bottom line.

Caterpillar builds the equipment that moves the earth. Your machines plow the farms that feed our families, build the towers that shape our skylines, lay the roads that connect our communities, power the trucks that deliver our goods and more. So those 22,000 layoffs aren't just a crisis for those families or for the communities like Peoria and Decatur and Aurora. They are an urgent warning sign for America, because when a company as good and successful and efficient and lean and mean as Caterpillar is cutting back production and shedding jobs, that means we're not building up this country. That means we're not building new homes and offices or rebuilding crumbling schools and failing infrastructure.

In short, it means we're standing still. And in this new global economy standing still is the surest way to end up falling behind. Standing still is not an option. It's not who we are. It's not who we have to be.

Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to act boldly, to turn adversity into opportunity and use this crisis as a chance to transform our economy for the 21st century. That is the driving purpose of the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that I put before Congress, the plan that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, that will ignite spending by businesses and consumers and make the investments necessary for lasting economic growth and prosperity.

Now, these past few weeks we've had a spirited debate in Washington about this plan. And not everybody shares the same view about how we should move forward. At times, our discussions have been contentious. But -- that's a good thing. Diverse viewpoints are the lifeblood of our democracy. Debating them is how we learn from each other's perspectives, we temper each other's excesses, we make better decisions.

But the debate is now coming to an end. Bill has passed the House and it's passed the Senate. It's been reconciled, and now it's going back to those two chambers so it can get on my desk.

It is time for Congress to act. And I hope they act in a bipartisan fashion. But no matter how they act, when they do, when they finally pass our plan, I believe it will be a major step forward on our path to economic recovery.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Yesterday, Jim, the head of Caterpillar, said that if Congress passes our plan this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off. And that's a story I'm confident will be repeated at companies across the country, companies that are currently struggling to borrow money selling their products, struggling to make payroll, but could find themselves in a different position when we start implementing the plan.

Rather than downsizing, they may be able to start growing again. Rather than cutting jobs, they may be able to create them again. That's the goal at the heart of this plan, to create jobs. And not just any jobs, not just make-work jobs, but putting people to work doing the work that America needs done: repairing our infrastructure, modernizing our schools and our hospitals, promoting the clean alternative energy sources that will finally help us declare independence from foreign oil.

So once Congress passes this plan and I sign it into law, a new wave of innovation, activity and construction will be unleashed all across America. We'll put people to work building wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars. We'll upgrade our schools, creating 21st century classrooms and libraries and labs for millions of children across America. We'll computerize our health care system to save billions of dollars and countless lives; lay down broadband Internet lines to connect rural schools and small businesses, so they can compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.

Rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our dangerous dams and levees so we don't face another Katrina -- think about all the work out there to be done. And Caterpillar will be selling the equipment that does the work.

And in addition to saving and creating jobs, we'll also ensure that folks in places like Peoria who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage. Here in Illinois, that'll mean an additional $100 per month to more than 820,000 workers who've lost their jobs. It means extended unemployment benefits for another 145,000 folks who've been laid off, are out there busy looking for work, but haven't found a job yet.

It's not just our moral responsibility to help them; it also makes good economic sense. If you don't have money, you can't spend it. And if people aren't spending, our economy will continue to decline.

For that same reason, the plan will provide badly needed middle- class tax relief, putting money back into the pockets of just about everybody here -- nearly 4.9 million workers and their families here in Illinois -- so you can pay your bills and meet your family's needs during a downturn.

In the end, that's what the recovery plan is about. It's about giving people a way to make a living, support their families and live out their dreams. Americans aren't looking for a handout. They just want to work. They're meeting their responsibilities. You're meeting your responsibilities. But when you start seeing an economic crisis of this magnitude, everybody's got to chip in.

Everybody's got to pull together. Politics has to stop. We've got to get the job done. Passing this plan's an important step, but it's just one step. It's only the beginning of what we're going to have to do to turn around our economy.

So to truly address this crisis, we're also going to need to address the home mortgage crisis. We're going to have to get credit flowing again. We need to reform our financial markets, both to restore trust and ensure that a crisis like this can never happen again. And whether it's rebuilding our schools or reforming our health care system or investing in clean energy, much work remains to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth and fiscal responsibility.

We've got to spend some money now to pull us out of this recession, but as soon as we're out of this recession, we've got to get serious about starting to live within our means, instead of leaving debt for our children and our grandchildren and our great- grandchildren. That's not the responsible way. That's not how folks here in Peoria operate in their own lives. And they should expect the government is equally responsible.

The road ahead is not an easy one. Some of our plans might not always work out exactly the way we'd like. Our recovery will likely be measured in terms of years and not months. But to anyone who might feel doubtful or discouraged, I urge you to think about the history of this company.

As some of you know, about 60 years ago, shortly after the end of World War II, Caterpillar decided to build its new offices somewhere other than East Peoria. But the people of this city had other ideas. They were hard at work rebuilding and modernizing, and they were determined to make East Peoria an ideal home for companies like Caterpillar. The -- Caterpillar's leaders were impressed, and ultimately they changed their minds. They decided to go ahead and build offices right here in East Peoria, to be, as a former chairman of the company put it, no less willing to get in step with the march of progress.

Throughout the 20th century, this company has helped lead that march. From working far beyond capacity during World War II, even with 6,000 workers on military leave, to surviving the recession in the 1980s and emerging stronger and more competitive, to seizing the promise of today's green economy by leading the way with clean, diesel engines, Caterpillar has shaped the American landscape, shown the world what a great American company looks like.

I know the past few months have been hard for this company, but that they -- I also know that they've been among the worst in a generation, but here's what else I know: Here in America, even in our darkest moments, we hold fast to a vision of a better future. We've been willing to work for it and struggle for it and sacrifice for it. That's how it's going to be again.

I have the fullest confidence that if we think boldly and we act quickly and fully devote ourselves to the work ahead, then out of this ordeal will come a better day and a brighter future for our children and our grandchildren. That's the history of this company. That's the history of this city. That's the history of this state. And that's the history that we're going to make, you and me together.

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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