Redmond Chamber of Commerce Keynote Address
April 4, 2003
Introduction and War Message
Thank you very much, Sally (Rodgers). I know events like this don't just happen by themselves. I'd like to thank all of the host and sponsor organizations for making this event possible.
It's great to be among so many friends. David Shea, a member of U.S. Chamber board of directors and CEO of Shea Construction in Spokane, is in the room. I appreciate him making the trip across state to be here.
Our strong supporters from Alpha Technologies in Bellingham are also here. The chairman and CEO of that company, Fred Kaiser, also sits on our board of directors.
My good friend Darcy Rezac, managing director of the Vancouver Board of Trade, has led a delegation from his organization here today.
Darcy is one of those people who always mysteriously appears at business events like this one.
He's one of the most skilled networkers I've ever met. In fact, he wrote a book about social networking called "The Frog and the Prince." It's a good read, especially the Foreword, written by none other than yours truly.
Okay, commercial over. It's a pleasure to have this opportunity to update you on what the U.S. Chamber is doing in Washington to strengthen our economy and our businesses.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that what we're doing wouldn't be possible without the support of associations and state, metro, and local chambers like the ones hosting and participating in this event.
You give us the muscle we need to maneuver in Washington, and in the weeks and months ahead, that support will be crucial as Congress tackles the president's jobs and growth package, transportation funding, trade, and other important issues.
These are challenging times for our country, our companies, and our economy.
It's difficult stay focused on the tasks in front of us when our sons and daughters are fighting a war in the Middle East and the country remains on an elevated state of alert for more terrorist attacks.
In times like these, the business community has an obligation to rally the country around the principles and values we hold near and dear.
All of us must show unconditional support for our troops, including those in the National Guard and Reserve who — when they're not defending us — work side by side with us.
The Chamber is working with USA Freedom Corps on a new initiative called "On the Homefront" — an outreach program to the families of deployed troops.
I urge you to do what you can to help these families in meaningful ways so that our fighting forces in the Middle East and those protecting the homeland can focus on their jobs knowing that their loved ones are well cared for.
There's another way we can show support for our country — by continuing to do our jobs, serve our communities, and participate in the economy.
By continuing to go about our normal daily lives, we send a strong message to all agents of terror and hate that they cannot possibly succeed in weakening the American character or destroying our way of life.
Yes, war presents uncertainties that make us uncomfortable and reluctant to make important decisions to travel, buy, invest, expand, and hire.
But if we — as consumers and business leaders — stand still during this conflict, our opponents will achieve a victory of sorts by slowing down the world's strongest economy.
Bolstering our economy by showing confidence and taking bold action is how we at home can fight this war.
A prosperous economy is one of the most potent weapons in our arsenal — it pays the bills for war, homeland security and a strong military, as well as for the education of our kids and health care for our retirees.
That's why the Chamber is moving forward with its very aggressive pro-growth policy agenda. I'd like to share with you some of the key components of that agenda this afternoon.
Jobs and Growth Package
First, we are vigorously pushing the president's jobs and growth package.
Some in Congress, especially those in the Senate, have determined that it is too costly to pass an economic growth package at this time.
The real cost to our economy is in NOT passing the growth package.
We're experiencing a three-year stock market decline, weak business investment, dipping consumer confidence, a stubborn unemployment rate, and heavy losses in some core industries.
With these key indicators showing little improvement and with America at war, some economists are whispering the "r" word – recession.
Now more than ever, businesses and consumers need additional incentives to make spending and investment decisions that will put us back on the path toward a sustained and robust recovery.
The Bush plan will put money in consumers' pockets right away by speeding up tax cuts, reducing the marriage penalty, increasing the child tax credit, and moving more Americans into the lowest tax bracket.
The plan will also spur future growth by dramatically increasing equipment write-offs for small businesses and by ending the unfair double-taxation of dividends.
Let me make a quick comment on the dividends tax cut, because that element of the plan seems to be generating the most controversy.
Simply put, the taxation of dividends boils down to an issue of fairness.
It IS fair to tax a company's profits. It is NOT fair to tax shareholders on the same profits.
The Bush plan to eliminate the tax investors pay on dividend income would draw money into equity markets money businesses need to build and expand plants, buy equipment, and hire more people.
Just as important, it will improve the quality of life for our seniors because they receive more than half of all taxable dividends.
And finally, the president's growth package is expected to create 1.4 million jobs in the first 18 months.
Job creation is a key component of the plan because the economy has shed about a million jobs during the past five quarters — a period during which the economy has been growing, however slowly.
We need to ensure that everyone in this country who wants a job has a job, and the president's plan will go a long way in helping to achieve that goal.
It's a pretty safe bet the president's proposal will not pass in its entirety, but the Chamber will do what it must to ensure the biggest and boldest package possible.
We're on the front lines conducting an integrated lobbying, grassroots and media campaign to convince Congress that if it really wants to contribute to America's economic and national security, it will pass this package in short time.
Another very important item on our agenda is improving and expanding the nation's transportation infrastructure.
A secure, dependable and integrated transportation system shapes our cities and states, forms the foundation of our just-in-time economy, and enables us to enjoy the highest standard of living in the world.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing the decline of that system.
You know the country's transportation challenges as well as anyone.
43 percent of Washington's major roads are in poor, mediocre, or fair condition.
More than a quarter of its bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and nearly a quarter of its urban freeways are congested.
The bottlenecks and breakdowns that occur here – or anywhere – are felt in places all over the country.
The 10-day lockout and strike at 29 West Coast ports last fall — including the ports at Seattle and Tacoma — cost the U.S. economy $20 billion.
And, of course, there was 9/11, when our entire aviation system was paralyzed and our borders barricaded.
Auto factories in the Midwest were forced to close, fuel and heating oil supplies in the Northeast hit dangerously low levels, and Los Angeles was within days of running out of drinkable water.
Without additional, targeted investment in our infrastructure, our system of commerce is impaired; our mobility restricted; our safety threatened; our environment endangered; and our way of life compromised.
The main reason for increased transportation investment is obvious – we need to ensure that our infrastructure can safely handle more vehicles logging more miles on our roads, greater air traffic, and more ships carrying bigger containers of cargo.
But there are other benefits that aren't so obvious. One of those is cleaner air.
Did you know that improving traffic flow at the nation's 167 most congested highway bottlenecks would reduce gasoline and diesel consumption by nearly 20 billion gallons over the next 20 years?
That's a huge savings in fuel costs and a huge benefit to the environment.
Those improvements over the next two decades could reduce carbon dioxide by 71% and smog-producing compounds by 44%.
Another under-appreciated benefit of increased transportation investment is enhanced national security.
Outfitting the nation's border crossing points, airports, railways, and seaports with top-of-the- line technology is critical to our nation's safety and well being. More about that in a minute.
And don't forget that our military depends on a robust transportation system to move equipment and troops for the purpose of protecting freedom and free enterprise all over the world.
Transportation is also a safety issue. Over the next hour, four people will die in traffic accidents.
And in the next year, 15,000 Americans will be killed because of substandard road conditions and roadside hazards.
During the second half of the 1990s, more than 3,000 people died on Washington state highways — most of them on narrow, two-lane roads. This is simply unacceptable.
And finally, increased infrastructure investment has a multiplier effect on the economy unlike most other forms of government spending.
For every $1 billion invested in transportation, the nation's economy generates more than $2 billion in economic activity and 42,000 new jobs.
The Chamber has a comprehensive plan to ensure that the nation's infrastructure receives the funding and improvements it needs.
We are raising public awareness of the deficiencies in our transportation system.
For example, just this week we released the findings of a study on the capacity and efficiency of the nation's ports and associated rail and trucking infrastructure – probably the most under-appreciated component of our transportation system.
The results of that study paint a troubling picture.
Our ports and intermodal terminals are reaching their maximum capacity and are incapable of handling increasing freight loads without additional infrastructure investment.
Incoherent and burdensome regulatory procedures, an aversion to automation and information technology, and failure to move toward a truly integrated "intermodal system" have prevented us from creating a system suitable to meet our growing needs.
Substandard capacity and efficiency levels at our ports are forcing cargo carriers to develop alternative load centers outside the U.S.
Further transportation breakdowns could force U.S. businesses to alter their production strategies or back away altogether from assembling products in the U.S. because of unreliable supply chains.
That means a whole lot of U.S. jobs could be moved overseas if we don't modernize the intermodal system.
Ours won't be just another study that collects dust on the shelf.
It will serve as a valuable tool in our effort to ensure that Congress fully dedicates federal transportation trust fund dollars for their intended purpose of fixing our roads, airports, ports and waterways.
For years, the Highway Trust Fund has been raided for non-surface transportation projects, and this urge will only become exacerbated by the growing budget crunch.
At the same time, we understand that the user fees that are collected in the Trust Fund aren't enough to sustain our growing economy. We must consider alternative sources of revenue.
We're also working to establish a streamlined, environmentally-responsible approval process that doesn't allow the anti-growth crowd to hold projects hostage.
Something is terribly wrong with the system when it takes 15 years to build a single runway, as was the case at San Francisco's airport.
We will engage in an all-out battle to win reauthorization of TEA-21 and AIR-21, legislation on the table this year that will appropriate surface and aviation transportation dollars for the next several years.
This will be a contentious debate, given the new urgency to contain spending.
But with your help we can achieve maximum funding levels, similar to the success we had this year — when Congress maintained the current spending level for surface transportation at $31.6 billion — $528 million of which, by the way, is earmarked for roads and bridges in this state.
Achieving a transportation agenda as aggressive as ours requires a lot of support and organization. That's why nearly two years ago the Chamber organized Americans for Transportation Mobility, or ATM.
ATM is a broad-based coalition of trade associations, transportation users and providers, state and local chambers, like the Redmond Chamber, state and local government officials, and labor unions.
We're at 380 members — and counting. We hope your association or chamber will consider joining the ATM ranks.
Speaking of transportation, the Chamber is leading the national debate on how to achieve the right balance between security and mobility.
The war on terror is unlike any we've ever fought, and it's here to stay. We're dealing with a foe that wants to cripple the spirit of America, and therefore cripple our economy.
There's no better way to hurt us than to shut off or slow down the 11.2 million trucks and 2.2 million rail cars that cross into the U.S. every year carrying products from all over the world
Or the 7,500 foreign flagships that make 51,000 calls in U.S. ports annually, and the one million legal immigrants – and millions more undocumented – who come to the U.S. every year to fill essential jobs.
The business community and government on all levels must work together to ensure that our country — and the global trading system — doesn't surrender to the fear of terrorism.
Domestically, the Chamber is already working very closely with the new Department of Homeland Security to ensure that it acts to protect the economic security of Americans as well as their physical security.
We're also encouraging businesses to take the proper steps to secure the nation's critical infrastructure, 85% of which, by the way, is owned and operated by the private sector.
Internationally, we are reaching out to our trading partners to develop a border security system based on new technologies and commonsense.
There are methods for targeting high-risk cargo and travelers while allowing low-risk shipments and people to move quickly and efficiently.
We have to cooperate with our trading partners to determine which ones are the most cost-effective and the best suited for all parties.
There's no question that cooperation on matters of trade and security have become more complicated by the war in Iraq.
America's political relationship with several of our trading partners has become strained because of our decision to act in that part of the world.
Just yesterday, I gave a speech in Toronto to address this sensitive issue.
That event was not planned in advance. I added it to my schedule at the last minute because I felt it was important to reaffirm the importance of our commercial relationship with Canada while acknowledging the tension that has developed between us.
I spoke in very clear terms to say that though we respect Canada's sovereign right to chart its own foreign policy, we were disappointed that it was not more supportive of its closest neighbor and ally.
I personally was offended by some of the personal attacks on our president by Canadian officials.
At the Chamber, we don't dismiss these concerns or ignore them.
But our goal — and the purpose of my trip to Toronto — was to unite American and Canadian business in a mutual effort to put these disputes in perspective alongside the many positive aspects of our relationship the $1.3 billion dollars in business that crosses our shared border every day the combined $240 billion in investment we share with each other and the 260,000 border crossings that occur annually.
It's up to the business communities in both countries to remind everyone what's at stake in our relationship.
Let's leave the politics to the politicians and focus on what we do best – creating jobs and opportunities by engaging global markets through trade and investment.
The U.S. Chamber is applying this philosophy all over the world.
At the moment, we're working to push free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore through their final stages of approval.
We're also working earnestly to see that the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement meets its 2005 deadline, and that the WTO multilateral trade negotiations in Doha resume quickly after the war.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a time when strong, united business leadership is critical leadership in policy and the economy leadership that rejects fear leadership that puts the country first and transforms this moment of danger and uncertainty into a sustained period of opportunity and prosperity.
Reduce the tax burden
improve the infrastructure
fight the war on terror by protecting both security and mobility
strengthen trade relationships. That's what the Chamber is committed to doing, and with your help, we can get it done.
As a final note, let me reiterate that no amount of policy or legislative success can restore prosperity without decisions by business leaders to take risks, invest capital, and hire new people.
We are a nation of risk-takers of doers. Our ancestors risked everything coming to this country, and they worked hard and made great sacrifices to build and defend it.
Now history calls on us to do the same. We must rise to the occasion, and I'm confident we will.
Thank you very much.