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Secretary Raimondo's Remarks on President Biden's Build Back Better Agenda to the City Club of Cleveland


Thank you, Kristen, for that kind introduction.

It’s an honor to be speaking with all of you today at the City Club of Cleveland.

My Deputy Secretary, Don Graves, is Cleveland’s biggest cheerleader, and I owe him a big 'thank you' for letting me speak to you before he does.

My colleague in the cabinet, Marcia Fudge, is also from Ohio, and it's clear to me by now that only the best people come from the Buckeye State.

I want to thank you for allowing me to speak today on such short notice.

As many of you know, the Biden Administration is working intently with Congress to pass the President's Build Back Better Agenda.

As this ambitious proposal has worked its way through the legislative process, it has been encapsulated in two bills – the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the Build Back Better Act.

Before I get into the details of these proposals, I'd like to step back for a minute to remind ourselves of the context in which they were proposed and are being considered in Congress.

President Biden came into office in truly unprecedented times.

Our country was facing a series of crises, most notably COVID, which in turn led to an economic crisis.

These crises further exacerbated the inequity facing many people of color, women, and those living in underserved communities.

Now it's not all bad news.

Despite the Delta variant, we continue to see a strong economic recovery.

In August, the unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent − the lowest it’s been in 18 months.

We’re the only developed country in the world whose economy is now bigger than it was before the pandemic.

And this is largely because of the American rescue package, which the President shepherded through Congress in the first 60 days of being in office.

It provided support for small businesses, direct relief for families, and the largest child tax credit in American history.

The Administration’s vaccination rollout has been excellent and allowed us to progress to the second phase of our agenda: laying the foundation for long-term growth.

And that’s what I’d like to talk to you about today: the investments that the President is proposing in the Build Back Better Agenda and why they are so essential for American businesses and the American economy.

As Commerce Secretary, I spend a significant amount of my time speaking with business leaders about the issues they face, looking for common ground and forging a path forward for the President's ambitious economic agenda.

We were grateful for the business community’s broad support for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which passed the Senate with 69 votes.

It proposes historic investments. $1 trillion to update America's infrastructure, including enough money to provide broadband for every American.

BOTH of Ohio's Senators voted for this package.

My primary message today is that, as historic as that bill is, it is not enough to restore our nation’s competitiveness and lay the groundwork for the next generation of economic prosperity.

The Build Back Better Act will include historic investments in American workers, families, and education system; address the crisis of climate change; and provide tax relief to over 50 million families.

The bottom line is that we simply cannot address the crises we face as a country if we don't pass BOTH the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal AND the Build Back Better Act.

The Build Back Better Act proposes investments that will address many of the issues I hear about from CEOs every day.

I hear: "We need better workforce development programs. We're facing a labor shortage and can't get women back into the workforce. We need employees with better technical skills."

The Business Roundtable released a letter signed by 181 CEOs of America's largest companies, calling for a renewed sense of obligation to our country by creating a stronger workforce and more sustainable climate future, investing in equity, and prioritizing long-term growth.

They also said:

"If companies fail to recognize that the success of our system is dependent on inclusive long-term growth, many will raise legitimate questions about the role of large employers in our society."

This was written in 2019, before COVID and the economic crisis that followed.

Economic inequality in our country was bad then. It’s even worse now.

These CEOs signed that letter because they understood that our country is in serious danger of falling behind, or worse, if we don't address these challenges.

We are at an inflection point.

We need to prove that capitalism and democracy CAN work for everyone — not just the wealthy and the powerful.

If we want the American economy to go from rescue and recovery to resurgence − it’s not enough to go back to where we were before the pandemic.

We agree with the business community that we can’t make these critical investments without paying for them.

That’s exactly what the President proposed.

Economic research suggests that investments in these areas are some of the highest value investments we can make, and studies have shown that direct investments like these will pay for themselves over the long run.

Independent analyses of the President’s economic agenda project it will add more than $4.5 trillion to GDP over the next decade, and 1.9 million jobs per year, on average, over the next ten years.

Investing in our long-term growth isn’t just good for your businesses – it’s good for our nation as a whole.

Too many Americans are being left behind, and our very democracy and system of capitalism are in peril if we don’t address their concerns.

President Biden came into office promising to find common ground to get things done – and he’s delivering on that promise.

But, we need YOU – America's business community to partner with us in that effort.

Our work together starts with developing a skilled 21st century workforce.

In order to maintain our competitive edge, we need to make smart investments in our people.

I spend a lot of time assessing what it is that has made American businesses so competitive for decades, and what we need to maintain that competitive edge.

Without smart investments, we risk losing that edge.

I’ve always believed that if you have the courage to take the risk in getting trained in a new career, then we need to be there for you with high-quality, affordable training programs that LEAD TO A JOB.

The Build Back Better Act includes bold and long-overdue investments in workers that will create profits for businesses large and small.

And it supports training and apprenticeships programs that’ll prepare millions of American workers for high-quality jobs of tomorrow.

Our current workforce challenges aren’t just about skills. We also need to prepare the next generation of workers and make it easier for parents to participate in the workforce.

It’s about giving all American workers an opportunity to participate in our economy in the first place.

It’s about universal pre-K for every 3- and 4-year-old − so parents can go to work and so children have the education that sets them up for success.

It’s about two years of community college − so our workers are prepared for jobs and industries of the future.

It’s about affordable child care, elder care, and expanded paid leave − so no one has to choose between caring for their family or a paycheck.

Companies realize that providing these benefits to their employees is a competitive advantage.

We need to realize, as a country, that not providing these benefits puts us ALL at a competitive DISADVANTAGE.

We need to scale these benefits for people who don’t work at the world’s largest companies.

Every successful business makes these investments because they know the best way to succeed is by investing in their people and their core functions. The same is true for government.

To be blunt, it is simply irresponsible to not make these investments.

We currently spend just one-fifth of the average that other advanced economies spend on workforce training programs.

The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t have paid leave– that’s not right, and it’s hurting our economy.

Enabling American women to fully participate in our workforce would create enough economic growth to account for nearly HALF the Build Back Better Act alone.

We can also support our business community by addressing the climate crisis head on and leading a clean energy transition.

We need America’s business community to step up and support these whole-of government efforts to address a crisis that is affecting new communities every single day.

Today, a third of the country lives in an area where a federal disaster has been declared over the last three weeks.

Last year, we set a record with 22 weather and climate events that cost the U.S. over $96 billion.

Every year, that number gets bigger, and the climate events get deadlier.

Some people ask whether we can afford to spend the money it’s going to take to reverse the climate crisis.

We are already paying for the climate crisis. And it’s getting worse. We cannot afford to sit on our hands any longer.

Making the resiliency investments in the President’s agenda now, prepares us for next year’s hurricanes and wildfires – protecting life, property, and our bottom line.

Making investments in our clean energy transition also means millions of clean energy jobs.

These industries are the future of job creation. That is undeniable. The only open question is whether those jobs will be here, in America, or somewhere else.

We’ll need workers, engineers, electricians, scientists, and manufacturers to invent, create, install, and build clean products for energy-efficient homes, zero emission cars, wind turbines, solar panels, battery storage, and more.

We’ll need to modernize our power grid and build the first-ever national network of electric vehicle chargers so we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And along the way, America’s businesses and families will save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars a year in energy costs.

Although we need these investments, they’re not cheap. But the costs of delaying these investments are even greater.

I know some of you have raised concerns about the size of the bill and proposals to pay for these critical investments with corporate tax reform.

I’d like to address those concerns head on.

Business leaders have often reminded us about the importance of paying for our long-term investments.

President Biden and I couldn’t agree more.

We don’t have a blank check and we need to pay for these investments in a way that strengthens America’s middle class.

We can do it.

But it will require America’s largest corporations and the wealthiest Americans to pay more.

Our proposals aren’t meant to penalize, but they are necessary to generate the revenue we need to make these investments.

Which will increase our nation’s competitiveness and ensure that ALL Americans can benefit.

We are at this point because our corporate tax system is broken.

Right now, the U.S. corporate tax system raises just about one percent of GDP in revenue, compared to an average of three percent in other OECD countries.

The effective tax rate for U.S. multinationals is at an all-time low of just 8%. That’s less than what most middle-class families pay.

Last year, the U.S. tax code allowed 55 extremely profitable, large corporations to pay $0 in federal corporate taxes.

I should be clear: this is because our tax system encourages them to do it.

It’s time to bring that to an end. And it’s time to do so while working with the rest of the globe to end the race to the bottom and level the playing field for all countries.

I hope we can all agree that American companies have a responsibility not just to shareholders, but also to their employees, communities, customers, and country.

A company’s long-term success is determined by the smart investments it makes in innovation, productivity, equity, and sustainability.

Not just the size of a CEO’s paycheck or next quarter’s earnings.

These are not new or radical ideas.

They are the basic capitalist values that form the backbone of our economy.

They are the strategy that many of our most successful and indeed profitable companies have deployed successfully for decades.

President Biden is calling on business leaders to do what is right – to join us in this effort to create a more equitable economy.

That means supporting efforts to raise the corporate income tax rate, strengthen the global minimum tax, eliminating incentives to send jobs and profits overseas, and ramping up enforcement to address tax avoidance.

For many of you, it would also mean finally putting your businesses on an even playing field with multinational or state-sponsored corporations.

Obviously, these proposals haven’t been met with applause from a lot of corporate America.

I get it. We’re asking you to pay more in taxes.

But I’d also suggest that if the business community doesn’t like the pay-fors we’ve proposed, it’s time to come up with some real alternatives that don’t raise taxes on middle class families.

Because the one thing we cannot afford is inaction.

I’d also urge you to think about what you’ll get in return. Both, in the short run and, even more importantly, in the long-term.

Workers who are better equipped to fill roles in your companies.

Fewer extreme weather events and a more resilient infrastructure to address the climate crisis.

A safety net that enables all employees—whether it’s new parents or employees caring for their aging parents—to participate fully in the economy without worrying who will take care of their loved ones at home.

A more stable democracy and a more sustainable capitalist system.

Now is the time for bold investments in America to lay the foundation for better, more equitable, and more competitive economic growth.

We’re making progress.

But we all know government can’t do this alone.

It’s more important now than it has ever been that we work TOGETHER to build a 21st century economy with American businesses and American workers at the forefront.

We’re asking for your help to ensure the economy works for all Americans – blue collar workers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and underserved communities in a way that generates long-term economic growth.

We need industry partners to help us get the job done so that we can stay competitive at home and abroad.

Thank you and let’s get to work.