Now, of course we'll keep pressing on other key priorities. I want to get this immigration bill done. We still need to work on reducing gun violence. (Cheers, applause.) We've -- we've got to -- we've got to continue to end the war in Afghanistan, rebalance our fight against al-Qaida. (Cheers, applause.) We need to combat climate change. We've got to stand up for civil rights. We've got to stand up for women's rights. (Cheers, applause.)
So all -- all those issues are important, and we'll be fighting on every one of those issues. But if we don't have a growing, thriving middle class, then we won't have the resources to solve a lot of these problems. We don't have the resolve, the optimism, sense of unity that we need to solve many of these other issues.
Now, in this effort, I will look to work with Republicans as well as Democrats wherever I can. And I -- I sincerely believe that there are members of both parties who understand this moment, understand what's at stake, and I will welcome ideas from anybody across the political spectrum. But I will not allow gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to get in our way. (Cheers, applause.)
That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I'll use it. (Cheers, applause.) Where I can't act on my own and Congress isn't cooperating, I'll pick up the phone, I'll call CEOs, I'll call philanthropists, I'll call college presidents, I'll call labor leaders, I'll call anybody who can help and enlist them in our efforts -- (cheers, applause) -- because the choices that we, the people, make right now will determine whether or not every American has a fighting chance in the 21st century. And it'll -- it'll lay the foundation for our children's future, our grandchildren's future for all Americans.
So let me give you a quick preview of what I'll be fighting for and why. The first cornerstone of a strong, growing middle class has to be, as I said before, an economy that generates more good jobs and durable, growing industries. That's how this area was built. That's how America prospered, because anybody who was willing to work -- they could go out there, and they could find themselves a job, and they could build a life for themselves and their family.
Now, over the past four years, for the first time since the 1990s, the number of American manufacturing jobs has actually gone up instead of down. That's the good news. (Cheers, applause.) But we -- we can do more.
So I'm going to push new initiatives to help more manufacturers bring more jobs back to the United States. We're going to continue to focus -- (applause) -- on strategies to -- to make sure our tax code rewards companies that are not shipping jobs overseas but creating jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.) We want to make sure that we're going to create strategies to make sure that good jobs in wind and solar and natural gas that are lowering costs and at the same time reducing dangerous carbon pollution happen right here in the United States. (Cheers, applause.) And -- and something that Sherri (sp) and I were talking about on the way over here -- I'm going to be pushing to open more manufacturing innovation institutes that turn regions left behind by global competition into global centers of cutting-edge jobs.
So let's tell the world that America is open for business. (Cheers, applause.) I know there is an old site right here in Galesburg, over on Monmouth Boulevard. Let's -- let's put some folks to work. (Cheers, applause.)
Tomorrow I'll also visit the port of Jacksonville, Florida, to offer new ideas for doing what America has always done best, which is building things. You know, Pat and I were talking before I came backstage, Pat Quinn. He was talking about how I came over the Don Moffitt bridge, you know, the -- (cheers, applause) --
But -- but we've got to -- work to do all across the country. We've got ports that aren't ready for the new supertankers that are going to begin passing through the new Panama Canal in two years' time. If we don't get that done, those tankers are going to do someplace else. We've got more than a hundred thousand bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare. (Laughter, applause.) Businesses depend on our transportation systems, on our power grids, on our communications networks, and rebuilding them creates good- paying jobs right now that can't be outsourced. (Applause.)
And -- and -- and by the way, this didn't -- this isn't a Democratic idea. You know, Republicans built a lot of stuff. This is the land of Lincoln. He -- Lincoln was all about building stuff. (Cheers, applause.) First Republican president. And yet, as a share of our economy, we invest less in our infrastructure than we did two decades ago.
And that's inefficient at a time when it's as cheap as it's been since the 1950s to build things. It's inexcusable at a time when so many of the workers who build stuff for a living are sitting at home waiting for a call.
The longer we put this off, the more expensive it will be, and the less competitive we will be. Businesses of tomorrow will not locate near old roads and outdated ports. They'll relocate to places with high-speed Internet and high-tech schools and systems that move air and auto traffic faster and, not to mention, will get parents home quicker from work because we'll be eliminating some of these traffic jams. And we can watch all of that happen in other countries and start falling behind, or we can choose to make it happen right here in the United States. (Cheers, applause.)
In an age when jobs know no borders, companies are also going to seek out the countries that boast the most talented citizens, and they'll reward folks who've had the skills and the talents they need -- they'll reward those folks with good pay. You know, the days when the wages for a worker with a high school degree could keep pace with earnings of somebody who got some sort of higher education -- those days are over. Everybody here knows that. There are a whole bunch of folks where whose dads or grandpas, you know, worked at a plant, might -- didn't need a high school education. You could just go there -- if you were willing to work hard, you might be able to get two jobs.
And you could support your family, have a vacation, own your home. But technology and global competition -- they're not going away. Those old days aren't coming back. So we can either throw up our hands and resign ourselves to diminishing living standards, or we can do what America has always done, which is adapt and pull together and fight back and win. That's what we have to do. (Cheers, applause.)
And that brings me to the second cornerstone of the strong middle class -- and everybody here knows it: an education that prepares our children and our workers for the global competition that they're going to face. (Cheers, applause.) And if you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century. (Applause.)
If we don't make this investment, we're going to put our kids, our workers and our country at a competitive disadvantage for decades. So we have to begin in the earliest years, and that's why I'm going to keep pushing to make high-quality preschool available for every four- year-old in America -- (cheers, applause) -- not just because we know it works for our kids, but because it provides a vital support system for working parents. And I'm going to take action in the education area to spur innovation that don't require Congress.
(Applause.) So today, for example, as we speak -- as we speak, federal agencies are moving on my plan to connect 99 percent of America's students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. (Applause.) We're making that happen right now. We've already begun meeting with business leaders and tech entrepreneurs and innovative educators to identify the best ideas for redesigning our high schools so that they teach the skills required for a high-tech economy.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And we're also going to keep pushing new efforts to train workers for changing jobs. So here in Galesburg, for example, a lot of the workers that were laid off at Maytag chose to enroll in retraining programs like the one at Carl Sandburg College. (Cheers, applause.) And -- and while it didn't pay off for everyone, all lot of the folks who were retrained found jobs that suited them even better and paid even more than the ones they had lost.
And that's why I've asked Congress to start a Community College to Career initiative, so that workers can earn the skills that high- tech jobs demand without leaving their hometown. And I'm going to challenge CEOs -- (applause) -- I'm going to challenge CEOs from some of America's best companies to hire more Americans who've got what it takes to fill that job opening but have been laid off so long nobody's giving their resume an honest look.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: True -- that too.
I'm also going to use the power of my office over the next few months to highlight a topic that's straining the budgets of just about every American family, and that's the soaring cost of higher education. (Cheers, applause.)
Everybody's touched by this, including your president, who had a whole bunch of loans he had to pay off.
Three years ago I worked with Democrats to reform the student loan system so that taxpayer dollars stopped padding the pockets of big banks and instead helped more kids afford college. (Cheers, applause.) Then I capped loan repayments at 10 percent of monthly incomes for responsible borrowers so that if -- if somebody graduated and they decide to take a teaching job, for example, that didn't pay a lot of money, they knew that they were never going to pay more than 10 percent of their income, and they could afford to go into a profession that they loved. That's in place right now. And this week we're working with both parties -- (applause) -- this week we're working with both parties to reverse the doubling of student loan rates that happened a few weeks ago because of congressional inaction. (Cheers, applause.)
So this is all a good start, but it isn't enough. Families and taxpayers can't just keep paying more and more and more into an undisciplined system where costs just keep on going up and up and up. We'll never have enough loan money, we'll never have enough grant money to keep up with costs that are going up five, six, seven percent a year. We've got to get more out of what we pay for.
Now, some colleges are testing new approaches to shorten the path to a degree or blending teaching with online learning to help students master material and earn credits in less time. And some states are testing new ways to fund college based not just on how many students enroll but how many of them graduate, how well do they do.
So this afternoon I'll visit the University of Central Missouri to highlight their efforts to deliver more bang for the buck to their students. And in the coming months, I will lay out an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs and improve value for middle-class students and their families. It is critical that we make sure that college is affordable for every single American who's willing to work for it. (Cheers, sustained applause.)
Now -- so you got a good job. You get a good education. Those have always been the key stepping stones into the middle class. But a home of your own has always been the clearest expression of middle- class security. For most families, that's your biggest asset. For most families, that's where, you know, your life's work has been invested. And that changed during the crisis when we saw millions of middle-class families experience their home values plummeting.
The good news is over the past four years we've helped more responsible homeowners stay in their homes, and today sales are up and prices are up and fewer Americans see their homes underwater. But we're not done yet. The key now is to encourage homeownership that isn't based on unrealistic bubbles but instead is based on a solid foundation, where buyers and lenders play by the same set of rules, rules that are clear and transparent and fair.
So already I've asked Congress to pass a really good bipartisan idea, one that was championed, by the way, by Mitt Romney's economic adviser. And this is the idea to give every homeowner the chance to refinance their mortgage while rates are still low so they can save thousands of dollars a year. (Cheers, applause.) It would be like a tax cut for families who can refinance.
And I'm also acting on my own to cut red tape for responsible families who want to get a mortgage, but the bank's saying no. We'll work with both parties to turn the page on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and build a housing finance system that's rock-solid for future generations. So we've got more work to do to strengthen homeownership in this country.
But along with homeownership, the fourth cornerstone of what it means to be middle-class in this country is a secure retirement. And -- (cheers, applause) -- I hear from too many people across the country, face to face or in letters that they send me, that they feel as if retirement is just receding from their grasp. It's getting farther and farther away. They -- they can't see it.
Now, today a rising stock market has millions of retirement balances going up, and some of the losses that had taken place during the financial crisis have been recovered. But we still live with an upside-down system where those at the top, folks like me, get generous tax incentives to save while tens of millions of hardworking Americans who are struggling -- they get none of those breaks at all.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: So as we work to reform our tax code -- (scattered applause) -- we should find new ways to make it easier for workers to put away money and free middle-class families from the fear that they won't be able to retire. (Cheers, applause.)
And if Congress is looking for a bipartisan place to get started, I should just say, they don't have to look far; we mentioned immigration reform before, the Economist show that immigration reform makes undocumented workers pay their full fare -- share of taxes, and that actually shores up the Social Security system for years. So we should get that done. (Cheers, applause.)
Good job, good education for your kids, home of your own, secure retirement. Fifth, I'm going to keep focusing on health care, because middle-class families and small business owners -- (applause) -- deserve the security of knowing that neither an accident or an illness is going to threaten the dreams that you've worked a lifetime to build.
As we speak, we're well on our way to fully implementing the Affordable Care Act. (Cheers, applause.) We're going to implement it. Now, if you're one of the 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, either through the job or Medicare or Medicaid, you don't have to do anything, but you do have new benefits and better protections than you did before. You may not know it, but you do: free checkups, mammograms, discounted medicines if you're on Medicare. That's what the Affordable Care Act means.
You're already getting a better deal. No lifetime limits.
If you don't have health insurance, then starting on October 1st, private plans will actually compete for your business. And you'll be able to comparison shop online. There will be a marketplace online, just like you'd buy a flat screen TV or plane tickets or anything else you're doing online. And you'll be able to buy an insurance package that fits your budget and is right for you.
And if you're one of the up to half of all Americans who've been sick or have a pre-existing condition -- if you look at this auditorium, about half of you probably have a pre-existing condition that insurance companies could use to not give you insurance if you lost your job or lost your insurance. Well, this law means that beginning January 1st, insurance companies will finally have to cover you and charge you the same rates as everybody else, even if you have a pre-existing condition. (Cheers, applause.) That's what the Affordable Care Act does. (Cheers and applause continuing.) That's what it does.
Now -- (applause continuing). Look, I know -- because I've been living it -- (chuckles) -- that there are folks out there who are actively working to make this law fail. I may -- and I don't always understand exactly what their logic is here, why they think giving insurance to folks who don't have it and making folks with insurance a little more secure -- why they think that's a bad thing. But despite the politically motivated misinformation campaign, the states that have committed themselves to making this law work are finding that competition and choice are actually pushing costs down.
So just last week, New York announced that premiums for consumers who buy their insurance in these online marketplaces will be at least 50 percent lower than what they're paying today. (Applause.) Fifty percent lower.
So folks' premiums in the individual market will drop by 50 percent. And for them and for the millions of Americans who've been able to cover their sick kids for the first time, like this gentleman who just said his daughter's got health insurance, or have been able to cover their employees more cheaply, or are able to have their kids who are younger than -- who are 25 or 26 stay on their parents' plan -- (applause) -- for all those folks -- for all those folks, you'll have the security of knowing that everything you've worked hard for is no longer one illness away from being wiped out. (Applause.)
Now, finally, as we work to strengthen these cornerstones of middle-class security -- good job with decent wages and benefits, a good education, home of your own, retirement security, health care security -- I'm going to make the case for why we've got to rebuild ladders of opportunity for all those Americans who haven't quite made it yet, who are working hard but are still suffering poverty wages -- (applause) -- who are struggling to get full-time work. There are a lot of folks who are still struggling out here, too many people in poverty.
You know, here in America, we've never guaranteed success.
That's not what we do.
More than some other countries, we expect people to be self- reliant. Nobody's going to do something for you. (Applause.) We've tolerated a little more inequality for the sake of a more dynamic, more adaptable economy. That's all for the good. But that idea has always been combined with a commitment to equality of opportunity, to upward mobility -- the idea that no matter how poor you started, if you're willing to work hard and discipline yourself and defer gratification, you can make it too. That's the American idea. (Applause.)
Unfortunately, opportunities for upward mobility in America have gotten harder to find over the past 30 years, and that's a betrayal of the American idea. And that's why we have to do a lot more to give every American the chance to work their way into the middle class. Now, the best defense against all of these forces -- global competition, economic polarization, is the strength of the community. So we need to -- we need a new push to rebuild run-down neighborhoods. We need new partnerships -- (applause) -- we need new partnerships with some of the hardest-hit towns in America to get them back on their feet. (Applause.)
And because no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I am going to keep making the case that we need to raise the minimum wage, because it's lower right now than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. (Cheers, applause.) It's time for the minimum wage to go up. (Cheers, applause.) We're not a people who allow chance of birth to decide life's biggest winners or losers.
And after years in which we've seen how easy it can be for any of us to fall on hard times, folks in Galesburg, folks in the Quad Cities, you know there are good people who work hard -- sometimes they get a bad break. Plant leaves, somebody gets sick, somebody loses a home. We've seen it in our family and our friends and our neighbors. We've seen it happen, and that means we cannot turn our backs when bad breaks hit any of our fellow citizens.
So good jobs, a better bargain for the middle class and the folks who are working to get into the middle class, an economy that grows from the middle out, not the top down -- (applause) -- that's where I will focus my energies. (Cheers, applause.) That's where I'll focus my energies not just for the next few months but for the remainder of my presidency.
These are the plans that I'll lay out across this country. But I won't be able to do it alone, so I'm going to be calling on all of us to take up this cause. We'll need our businesses, who are some of the best in the world, to pressure Congress to invest in our future. And I'll be asking our businesses to set an example by providing decent wages and salaries to their own employees.
And I'm going to highlight the ones -- (applause) -- that do just that. You know, there are companies like -- like Costco, which pays good wages and offers good benefits -- (cheers, applause) -- companies like -- you know, there are companies like The Container Store that -- that prides itself on training its employees and -- and on employee satisfaction, because these companies prove that it's not just good for the employees; it's good for their businesses to treat workers well.
It's good for America. (Applause.)
So I'm going to be -- I'm going to be calling on the private sector to step up. I will be saying to Democrats, we've got to question some of our old assumptions. We've got to be willing to redesign or get rid of programs that don't work as well as they should. (Applause.) We've got to be willing to -- we've got to embrace changes to cherished priorities so that they work better in this new age.
We can't just -- Democrats can't just stand pat and just defend whatever government's doing. If we believe that government can give the middle class a fair shot in this new century -- and I believe that -- we've got an obligation to prove it. And that means that we've got to be open to new ways of doing things. And we'll need Republican -- (audio break) -- Congress to set aside short-term politics and work with me to find common ground. (Cheers, applause.)
Now -- you know, it's interesting. In the run-up to this speech, a lot of reporters say, well, you know, Mr. President, these are all good ideas, but some of them, you've said before, some of them sound great, but you can't get those through Congress; Republicans won't agree with you. And I say, look, the fact is there are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on a lot of the ideas I'll be proposing.
I know because they've said so. But they worry they'll face swift political retaliation for cooperating with me. Now, there are others who will dismiss every idea I put forward -- (laughter) -- either because they're playing to their most strident supporters or, in some cases, because sincerely they have a fundamentally different vision for America -- one that says inequality is both inevitable and just; one that says an unfettered free market without any restraints inevitably produces the best outcomes, regardless of the pain and uncertainty imposed on ordinary families. And government's the problem and we should just shrink it as -- as small as we can.
In either case, I say to these members of Congress: I'm laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot. So now it's time for you to lay out your ideas. (Applause.) You can't just be against something. You got to be for something. (Cheers, applause.) Even if you think I've done everything wrong, the trends I just talked about were happening well before I took office. So it's not enough for you to just oppose me. You got to be for something. What are your ideas?
If you're willing to work with me to strengthen American manufacturing and rebuild this country's infrastructure, let's go. If you've got better ideas to bring down the cost of college for working families, let's hear them.
If the -- if you think you have a better plan for making sure that every American has the security of quality, affordable health care, then stop taking meaningless repeal votes and share your concrete ideas with the country. (Cheers, applause.)
Repealing "Obamacare" and cutting spending is not an economic plan. It's not. If you're serious about a balanced long-term fiscal plan that replaces the mindless cuts currently in place, or if you're interested in tax reform that closes corporate loopholes and gives working families a better deal, I'm ready to work. (Applause.) But you should know that I will not accept deals that don't meet the basic test of strengthening the prospects of hardworking families. This is the agenda we have to be working on. (Cheers, applause.)
We've come a long way since I first took office. (Applause.) You know, as a country -- as a country, we're older and wiser. I don't know if I'm wiser, but I'm certainly older. (Laughter.)
And, you know, as long as Congress doesn't manufacture another crisis -- as long as we don't shut down the government just because I'm for keeping it open -- (laughter); as long as we -- as long as we don't risk a U.S. default over paying bills that we've already racked up, something that we've never done -- we can probably muddle along without taking bold action.
If we stand pat and we don't do any of the things I talked about, our economy will grow, although slower than it should. New businesses will form, and the unemployment rate will probably tick down a little bit. Just by virtue of our size and our natural resources, and most of all because of the talent of our people, America will remain a world power, and the majority of us will figure out how to get by.
But you know, if that's our choice, if we just stand by and do nothing in the face of immense change, understand that -- that part of our character will be lost. Our founding precept about wide-open opportunity, each generation doing better than the last, that will be a myth, not reality. The position of the middle class will erode further. Inequality will continue to increase. Money's power will distort our politics even more. Social tensions will rise as various groups fight to hold on to what they have, or start blaming somebody else for why their position isn't improving. And the fundamental optimism that's always propelled us forward will give way to cynicism or nostalgia.
And that's not the vision I have for this country. It's not the vision you have for this country. That's not the America we know. That's not the vision we should be settling for. That's not a vision we should be passing onto our children.
I have now run my last campaign. I do not intend to wait until the next campaign or the next president before tackling the issues that matter. I care about one thing and one thing only, and that's how to use every minute -- (applause) -- the only thing I care about is how to use every minute of the remaining 1,276 days of my term to make this country work for working Americans again. (Cheers, applause.) That's all I care about. I don't have another election.
Because I'll tell you, Galesburg, that's where I believe America needs to go. I believe that's where the American people want to go. And it may seem hard today, but if we're willing to take a few bold steps, if Washington will just shake off its complacency and set aside the kind of slash-and-burn partisanship that we've just seen for way too long, if we just make some common-sense decisions, our economy will be stronger a year from now. It'll be stronger five years from now. It'll be stronger 10 years from now. (Applause.)
If we focus on what matters, then more Americans will know the pride of that first paycheck. More Americans will have the satisfaction of flipping the sign to "open" on their own business. More Americans will have the joy of -- of, you know, scratching the height of their kid on that door of their brand new home. (Applause.) And -- and -- and -- and in the end, isn't that what makes us special?
It's not the ability to generate incredible wealth for the few, it's our ability to give everybody a chance to pursue their own true measure of happiness. (Applause.) We haven't just wanted success for ourselves; we want it for our neighbors, too. That's why -- (cheers, applause) -- I mean, when we think about our own communities, we're -- we're not a mean people. We're not a selfish people. We're not a people that just looks out for number one. Why should our politics reflect those kinds of values?
That's why we don't call it John's dream or Susie's dream or Barack's dream or Pat's dream. We call it the American Dream. And that's what makes this country special, the idea that no matter who you are or what you look like or where you come from or who you love, you can make it if you try. (Applause.) That's what we're fighting for. (Cheers, applause.)
So, yes, Congress is tough right now. But that's not going to stop me. We're going to do everything we can wherever we can, with or without Congress, to make things happen.
We're going to -- we're going to take -- go on the road and talk to you. And you'll have ideas, and we want to see which ones we can -- we can implement. But we're going to focus on this thing that matters.
You know, one of America's greatest writers, Carl Sandburg, born right here in Galesburg over a century ago -- (applause) -- he saw the railroads bring the world to the prairie, and then the prairie send out its bounty to the world. And he saw the advent of new industries, new technologies. And he watched populations shift. He saw fortunes made and lost. And he saw how change could be painful, how a new age could unsettle long-held customs and ways of life.
But he had that frontier optimism, and so he saw something more on the horizon. And he wrote, I speak of new cities and new people. The past is a bucket of ashes. Yesterday is a wind gone down, a sun dropped in the west. There is only an ocean of tomorrows -- a sky of tomorrows.
Well, America, we've made it through the worst of yesterday's winds. We just have to have the courage to keep moving forward. We've got to set our eyes on the horizon. We will find an ocean of tomorrows. We will find a sky of tomorrows for the American people and for this great country that we love. So thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.