Jul 7, 2022
President Biden Delivers Remarks on Historic American Rescue Plan Pension Relief 7/06/22 Transcript
President Biden delivers remarks announcing the final rule implementing the American Rescue Plan’s Special Financial Assistance program. Read the transcript here.
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Bill DeVito: (00:02)
They say they want us to be really upbeat. I would like anyone to come to an Iron Worker’s Local 17 meeting. Talk about upbeat. It’s more than that. I’ll guarantee you.
Bill DeVito: (00:19)
Good afternoon. My name’s Bill DeVito. I’m a retired iron worker out of local 17 Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll get some flack for this one. I joined the iron workers in 1973 and worked in the trade for nearly 40 years. Been retired from about 2012. I get teased about that.
Bill DeVito: (00:51)
At that time, our pension plan was in trouble in 1912, things were having problems. Local 17 funds were barely surviving the last recession. And just like a lot of people, we were struggling. Our pension plan was failing and if we didn’t take action, funds would be expected to run dry within the next handful of years. Members of Local 17 came together and made some very tough decisions and we voted to take significant cuts to our monthly benefits.
Bill DeVito: (01:30)
This was tough. In order to prolong along the life of the plan. No one expected the cuts to be 20 to 40%. This was devastating. Anybody that was married with kids trying to help out college. Retirement dreams gone, but we could save the plan, not just for ourselves, but for the younger iron workers coming up behind us. We took the cut. So that’s what we did. We kept the fund afloat, but we sank the retirement plan.
Bill DeVito: (02:15)
And that, with so many of our union brothers and sisters had dreamed about, our retirement. But we never stopped fighting. So with the lives disrupted, we needed to pass the Butch Lewis Act and to restore the retirement of the hardworking people like me, even when people said it was impossible, we never gave up hope. And neither did the friends like Sherrod Brown, Marcy Kaptur, Marty Walsh, Joe Biden. I just about shook their hands off when they were back there. And we won against all odds. We won a president and a Congress that believes in keeping promises to working people. As president, Joe Biden has done more for unions than any president that I can recall and I’ve been around a long time. Just look at this gray hair.
Bill DeVito: (03:41)
Workers like me and unions like Iron Workers Local 17 have been promised quite a bit over the years, but no other administration has done anything to help our pension funds regardless of any promises that they’ve made. The American Rescue Act is important for working families, just like mine. Here in Cleveland and across the country, we work hard for every dollar we earn, but some days it feels like the odds are stacked against us.
Bill DeVito: (04:22)
Even in retirement, we hear about banks, big corporations getting huge tax cuts and breaks or collecting a bailout when they get into any kind of trouble. But the blue collar guy like me, people in this room, we don’t get breaks like that. It’s pretty incredible that it’s not something you heard about such a happy ending with the act that had been passed.
Bill DeVito: (05:04)
I am a recipient of ARPA support for multi-employer pension plans. And I may be the front man here today, but so many people, our President, Joe Biden, Senator Sherrod Brown, Representative Marcy Kaptor, they’re the force behind this. Thank you. Thank you. And the hardworking men and women of the American labor movement have worked for so many years. They are the real heroes.
Bill DeVito: (05:53)
And now it’s my great honor to introduce the man who made this day possible. Many politicians promised, dangled and delayed pension rescue; Joe Biden delivered life changing aid, so many people like me, please welcome to the stage true friend of labor, let’s hear it Cleveland, Joe Biden.
Joe Biden: (07:51)
Hello Cleveland. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to the orchestra. Thank you very much. Well, let me start off by saying I’d get in trouble with my mother were she here if I didn’t say it, excuse my back when I’m speaking. I apologize. Number one. You have my…
Joe Biden: (08:14)
Hello Cleveland. Before I begin though, I want to make one serious comment about the shooting and death of Jayland Walker. The Justice Department and Civil Rights Division of the FBI field office in Akron, Ohio, and the local US Attorney’s office are closely monitoring and reviewing what happened. And the FBI continues to coordinate with state and local partners to provide resources and specialized skill. If the evidence reveals potential violations of federal criminal statutes, the Justice Department will take the appropriate action and I just want you to know what’s going to happen.
Joe Biden: (08:51)
Now for today’s program. Thank you Bill for that introduction and for the welcome on behalf of the Iron Workers Local 17 here in Cleveland. Iron workers.
Bill DeVito: (09:03)
We have the iron workers, Local 17 here in Cleveland. Iron workers were with me the first time I ran 29-year-old kid in the Senate, and you’re all crazy. You got a guy named Tommy Shrank was the president of the local in Delaware. And he said, “Let’s go out and meet some of the guys and women.” We went out to a building construction site. We went up a makeshift elevator. We went up to 13 floors. They’re sitting on 18-inch beams eating their lunch. I’m thinking myself, my God, these guys are supporting me. But they’re the guys I grew up with.
Bill DeVito: (09:35)
You know, the people you heard speak earlier today, and I apologize, I’m going to repeat some of what they said. But you know, we all come from the neighborhood. We all come from… No, I mean it. I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was a union town, mostly coal mine, union town, a lot more. My great-grandfather was a, was worked in the mines was a mining engineer. And everybody there, there was only one word you heard most often in my family, not a joke, most important word wasn’t unions, it was dignity. Dignity. Everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity.
Bill DeVito: (10:17)
My dad, then we moved to a little town. When coal died, we moved to a town called Claymont, Delaware, just across the line from Pennsylvania where the Delaware River bends. And you know, used to have over 6,000 steel workers. We’re steal. It’s all gone, now. All of it gone. Used to be a company town, literally. The Hills were all company stores, company buildings, but it’s gone. And the union movement began to just crumble in Delaware and in Claymont.
Bill DeVito: (10:56)
And my dad never belonged to a union, but I say this to the front end, my dad was a salesperson and he came down from Scranton, when coal died, he wasn’t a coal miner, but he worked in sales up there. And I’ll never forget. We lived in a three bedroom split level home, like a lot of suburban areas developing in the early ’50s, mid ’50s. And there were I think 38, 40 homes. And we had four kids in the family and a grandpa living with us and mom and dad. And the walls were thin. And my dad, one night I could tell he was really restless. I could hear him and sort of not banging, but leaning up against the wall, in the room, in my room. Next morning, I asked… My dad had an expression. He said, “Joey, you never complained and never explain. Just get up. Just get up.” And I was wondering what was wrong. And asked my mom. She said, the company says, “No pensions.” No pensions.
Bill DeVito: (11:54)
And so, a lot of you come from families like mine. A lot of the people stood behind me. Richie Neal from the state of Massachusetts. He is, as my uncle would say, Richie is, he is union from belt buckle to shoe sole, man. But all the folks you heard speak today, care about it. Because we know what it’s like to be deprived of your dignity. We know what it’s like to have a father or a mother have to put their head down, and know they can’t afford a thing for their kid that they need, whether it’s a prescription or whether it’s just plain being able to go off to school.
Bill DeVito: (12:32)
And to a point I want to make is this. We all understand this. And when I ran for office this time and I’ve been a union supporter for my whole career, but I made a promise. I mean it sincerely, and Marty knows this. I guaranteed when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed and back in the ’30s and Roosevelt came along, it didn’t say unions were okay. It says we should encourage unions. Encourage unions. Because when unions do well, everybody does well. Everybody does well. Not a joke. Not a joke.
Bill DeVito: (13:15)
So here’s the deal. The deal was quite simple. When I ran, I was criticized for the basis upon which I ran. I said, I’m running for three reasons. One to restore the soul of America, the decency and honor of this country. And two to rebuild the backbone of the country. The backbone of the country are the working women and men, the middle class, and you know, there’s a middle class for one reason, American unions. That’s the only reason there’s a middle class. Not a joke. That’s a fact, not a joke. And when the middle class does well, everybody does well. People have a way up and the wealthy still do very well. And so folks in the third reason I ran was to unify the country. To unify. That’s been the harder part of it right now. No, I’m serious because we’ve become so divided. So divided in this. But one thing we were divided on when we ran and I want to thank Mayor Bibb for the passport of the city, but we were divided on the question we’re celebrating today.
Bill DeVito: (14:24)
And folks, how about actually having a union guy as Secretary of Labor. Isn’t that something. Thank you, Marty. And I know we have a fantastic Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Cleveland’s own Marsha Fudge. She wish she going to be here. I’m also honored to be here with Senator Sherrod Brown, a great champion of working folks. He really is. He really is. And thank you also for the incredible democratic members of Congress here, Marcy Kaptur. God love you, Marcy. You are the best. She does it all, unions and foreign policy. You think I’m joking. I’m not joking. She really knows more about foreign policy. She’s forgotten more than most members of Congress know. And Shontel Brown can just remembered me when you’re president. Okay. All right. Congratulations.
Bill DeVito: (15:20)
Look. And Richie Neil is not only a strong, strong union supporter and been a great supporter of this legislation, but he’s chairman of the most powerful committee in the United States Congress, the House of Ways and Means Committee, the guys with the money. The guys and the money. And he’s led on labor issues for decades. While they couldn’t be here, I also want to thank Senator Tim Ryan, future Senator Tim Ryan, and Senator Patty Murray, the state of Washington for their incredible work on this legislation. With everyone’s leadership and with their votes, and most of all, with the unrelenting commitment of labor and all of you this historic day is made possible. And it really is historic. This was $90 billion, okay? But it’s small in comparison to the bailouts of businesses and major corporations and banks.
Bill DeVito: (16:20)
And folks, I’m here today to talk about the issue that affects every single American in their retirement. People around the country, wake up every day, wondering whether they’ve saved enough to provide for themselves and their families before they stop working. Working a job that provides basic dignity, a good middle class job. You can raise a family on a job that provides a dignified retirement and will give you peace of mind.
Bill DeVito: (16:46)
Think of all the people. And many of you went to bed at night, putting your head in the pillow and saying, am I going to be all right? Is my family going to be all right? Is my wife or my husband or my child, they going to be okay? It’s a dignified retirement with your spouse or the home and your community, you worked and lived for your whole life. But the reality is for so many people, the goal post keep moving. Unfortunately, that’s probably Trump calling me. [inaudible 00:17:19] I hear that sound there.
Bill DeVito: (17:24)
Unfortunately, this happens to people who need it most, working people in this country. A lot of politicians like to talk about how they’re going to do something about it. Well, I’m here today to say we’ve done something about it. And I’ve kept a promise. I campaigned to restore the backbone of this country, the middle class in unions, because I know this, the middle class built American, unions built the middle class, and today I’m keeping a promise. One of the most significant achievement union workers in retirees have received in over 50 years. And that’s not hyperbole.
Bill DeVito: (18:02)
… Over 50 years and that’s not hyperbole. For years and years, union workers have been driving trucks from factories to stores, bagging your groceries, constructing the buildings, bridges, roads we need and so much more. The iron workers, brick layers, carpenters, laborers, plumbers, truck, drivers, musicians. I might add food workers and so much more. And with each paycheck you earn, their employers, putting money into their pension plans. These workers work hard today to secure retirement for tomorrow. That’s what it’s all about. Now, a lot of businesses aren’t able or willing to run their own pension plans. And some industries workers are employed by several different employers over the course of a year or longer. For example, we see that in transportation, construction, and entertainment. So working with a union that represents their employees, businesses in the same industry often come together to form what’s called a Mueller employer union.
Bill DeVito: (19:01)
I know you know this, but people listening to this on television, may not know this. Pension plans that serve 11 million Americans across the country. And to make sure these pensions are managed responsibly and to protect the participating workers and retirees, the federal government oversees, then ensures the plans. But we’ve seen the risk that millions of workers face as they watch their hard earned pensions turn into broken promises. We saw it before the pandemic and the economic crisis that followed. Millions of retirees were at risk of losing their retirement security through no fault of their own, based on conditions and unrelenting attacks on unions that were taking place. Two hundred Mueller employee pension plants for two to 3 million workers and retirees were going in solvent. What that means to those two or 3 million workers, they faced painful cuts to the benefits they had counted on and for the dignified security retirement. You just heard from Bill what it’s like.
Bill DeVito: (20:08)
Work 30, 40, 50 years, working hard every single day, doing everything to provide for your family, track every dollar on that paycheck for groceries, mortgage, and hopefully for family vacation, maybe one day. And knowing when it’s time to retire, your pension you earn will be there. Knowing that together with your social security benefits that pension will continue a good middle class life for you in retirement. For some, my dad would say, “Just a little peace of mind.” But for folks at home, imagine losing 50 or 60% of that pension through absolutely no fault of your own. Imagine what it does financially and emotionally, what it does to your dignity. Also here is David Grubbs, retired Teamster, truck driver from North Carolina, who faced nearly 70% cutting his pension. And now, also joining me today as Rita Lewis. Where are you Rita? Rita’s here somewhere. I’m told she stepped out. I don’t blame her.
Bill DeVito: (21:19)
No, she’s Butch’s widow. Their anniversary is coming up in a couple days. Childhood sweethearts. Butch was a ball player drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school, but he enlisted the United States Army instead. Special Forces, Army ranger, served in Vietnam. Earned, like my son, the Bronze Star. My son did not earn the Purple Heart, but earned the Purple Heart. Came back home to [inaudible 00:21:45] settle in Cincinnati. Became a trucker represented by the Teamsters, and then president of his local. Known as an honorable, honest and decent labor leader, Butch faced severe cuts in his pension and he became a fierce advocate of protecting the pensions of those fellow workers. Butch died more than six years ago, and Rita has carried on his legacy ever since.
Bill DeVito: (22:11)
And with… And Democrats in Congress, I might add, and Marty Walsh’s leadership, we brought the Butch… We fought for the Butch Lewis Act to protect pensions for millions of workers and retirees. As candidate for president, I argued for its passage and promised when it passed I would sign it. And that’s the promise I’ve kept when I included the Butch Lewis Act in the American rescue plan. Now, Mueller employee plans will remain solvent for decades and come at least until, guaranteed till 2051. These retirees, those retirees that have lost their benefits will have them restored retroactively. We turned a promise broken into a promise kept. It matters to workers. It matters to their families. It matters to the country. You all remember what the economy was like when I was elected. A country in a pandemic with no real plans how to get out of it. Millions of people out of their jobs, families in cars, remember? Backed up for literally miles, waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk. Just a box of food to be put in their trunk because they didn’t have enough to eat.
Bill DeVito: (23:31)
Previous administration lost more jobs in its watch than any administration since Herbert Hoover. That’s a fact. All based on failed trickle down economics that benefit the wealthiest Americans, and hit the middle class and working people the hardest. But we came in with a fundamentally different economic vision. An economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out is good for everyone because when the middle class does well, the poor have a ladder up and the wealthy still do very well. And that’s why we designed the American Rescue Plan based on the belief that a recovery should help all Americans prosper. A belief that working, building power and unions are good for workers and for the economy, a plan that led to the most jobs created in the first period of a presidency than any time, and over… In all American history. Now we’ve seen in the past how economic crisis can leave so many Americans in tough straits for years, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Economists call it the scarring effect. A lasting bad effects of economic hardship, including folks unemployed for a long time. Remember when we started this, a lot of people were equally as qualified, but they’d been an unemployed for 8, 10, 12 months. They wouldn’t even be considered. Two people put in an application. The person may be more qualified, been employed… Out of work for longer. It’s called the scarring effect. People not able to get back to work, period. But we changed that. And young people who have faced a weak labor market, they’re back. Losing a big part of your income late in life, that’s a scar though that doesn’t heal well. Not this time. Long term unemployment, youth unemployment dropped at a record pace. With today’s actions, millions of workers will have the dignified retirement they earned and they deserve. And folks, let’s be honest.
Bill DeVito: (25:39)
I’d love to tell you, everyone here, that this policy that honors hard work and ensures dignified retirement was universally supported regardless of political party. But this is an important point. And this really matters. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Not one single Republican. Not… No. This is just, I mean, this is what I’m talking about. Not one single solitary Republican voted for the Butch Lewis Act or this legislation. And folks, I can tell you those of us in the, were… I was in the Congress a long time, and the people that are still in the Congress. There’s ones who wanted to, but they’re afraid to afraid to. Because the Trumpers would literally take them out. Not a joke.
Bill DeVito: (26:27)
That’s how bad it’s gotten. We’ve got to change it. We’ve got to change it. In fact, when this bill was moving through Congress, Republicans called it, called these pensions quote, “rat holes.” That was their… No, that was the phrase on the floor. Rat holes. Who do they think they are? Who do they think you are, for God’s sake? And my predecessor had a chance to act, but he didn’t have a commitment to you or the courage to stand up to his own party, to get things done, dismissing and ignoring the forgotten people he promised to help.
Bill DeVito: (27:00)
Remember how he was going to help working class folks? But tax-
Bill DeVito: (27:03)
… promise to help. Remember how it’s going to help working class folks. But tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, he had no trouble passing that. They passed a $2 trillion tax cut, not a penny of which was paid for, increased the debt by $2 trillion. The vast majority of people making the top 1% of income, the biggest corporations and their biggest cheerleaders in that $2 trillion tax cut. Again, disproportionately benefited the wealthiest Americans. Protecting the system in which, for example, the 55 of the largest Fortune 500 companies in America pay zero in taxes. Zero. They made $40 billion, didn’t pay a single penny. The party that chose to make life more comfortable for the already comfortable, disparage and oppose retirement security for working people. And now when Republicans actually do offer a plan, they finally…
Bill DeVito: (27:59)
I’m not joking. Ask yourself this question. What is the Republican platform going into this campaign? No, I’m being deadly earnest. I’m not trying to be… Just a fact. Well, they have a guy, Rick Scott from Florida, who heads up the Republican Campaign Committee. He put out the plan. What does the plan do? It makes the tax system less fair by wanting to tax everybody making under a 100 thousand dollars significantly more on average, a lot more money. It actually raises taxes on those working families, because he thinks you don’t pay enough in taxes already. No, not a joke. I should have brought along the actual copy of the plan. You can go online and get… No, for real. It’s been published. They published it.
Bill DeVito: (28:48)
They think we’re freeloaders. But he’s got a problem with the tax code that allows billionaires… Not at all, no problem. Billionaires in America, there’s 789 or thereabouts. You know what the average federal income tax they pay? 8%. Every one of you that have a job pays more than 8%. Every single one of you. If you’re a cop, a teacher, a firefighter, a union worker, you probably pay two to three times that. Now after refusing to protect your pension, they’re going after your Social Security. Look. I would’ve thought, had I not seen it on paper and heard them talk about it, that I was making this up. Not a joke. There’s big idea is to put Social Security in the chopping block every five years. That is, every five years, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have to be reauthorized, or they go out of existence.
Bill DeVito: (29:40)
Social Security you paid in from the day you started working. It’s your other pension. You paid it in every single paycheck. You earned it. It’s your money, just like your pension. And he adds in Medicare and Medicaid for the chopping block every five years. Unless Congress explicitly votes to extend those programs, they go away. You know how they work the rules in the Senate. The ability to slow this up and keep that from happening is real. You know how hard it is to get anything done in Congress. Imagine what it would mean if Republicans had their way.
Bill DeVito: (30:15)
Look, the ultra-MAGA Republicans. Congress is deciding every five years, whether your promise of your hard earned Medicare, Social Security would be continued or discontinued, or slashed. It’s shameful, but Rick Scott’s not alone. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is talking…
Bill DeVito: (30:35)
No. He has a proposal to cut Social Security. And by the way, I might note, parenthetically, as president… The first year I was as president, I cut the federal deficit by 350 billion dollars. And you know how much I cut it this year? By the end of September, I will have cut the federal budget by 1 trillion, 400 billion dollars. Cut the deficit.
Bill DeVito: (31:08)
So they start talking about you being big spenders, there’s a point to that. But here’s the point. Republicans are talking about privatizing Social Security. No, this is not a joke. We used to hear this stuff and think they didn’t mean it, but they’ve written it down. The Senator of Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, promised again that if they regained power, they’re going to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. What does that mean? It means that any of you having a preexisting condition will automatically lose insurance, because the insurance company won’t be able to… Right now, because of the Affordable Care Act, no one can be denied insurance because they have a preexisting condition. By the way, we’re talking 90 million people with preexisting conditions, gone. Gone. They tried to do it about 17 times under Trump. We were able to stop them. But folks, this is a different world. I don’t know where they live. No, I’m not joking. That’s why elections have consequences. That’s why they matter. And that’s why what we’re doing here is so important.
Bill DeVito: (32:19)
Let me close with this. We made incredible progress on the economy from where we were a year and a half ago. We got a long way to go because of inflation, because of… I call it, the Putin Tax increase. Because of gasoline and all that grain he’s keeping from being able to get to the market. Now I’m fighting like hell to lower costs on things that you talk about around your kitchen table. My dad used to say, “At the end of the day, it’s just when you sit at that table, do you have enough money to pay for everything you need? Not a lot over. Do you have enough money to pay for everything you need?”
Bill DeVito: (32:55)
Well, Republicans do nothing to obstruct our efforts to lower your gas taxes. I’ve proposed that. I’ve asked the Congress to eliminate the Federal Gas Tax as long as this crisis goes on. Lower food prices, lower healthcare costs, hopefully, soon, lower your prescription drug cost.
Bill DeVito: (33:12)
By the way, you got a Republican leader of the United States Senate. I was able to work out something with Intel. They’re going to provide for over 7,000 jobs in this state, out of Columbus, making computer chips. Well, there’s another bill that if we get it passed, and my guys are working like hell to pass it, it’ll create another hundred million dollars in investments in Ohio, creating more jobs.
Bill DeVito: (33:51)
But you know what the Republican leader is saying? If in fact we pass the law that says Medicare can negotiate drug prices like they can for the military. If in fact we pass the plan that says, “We’re going to raise taxes on multimillionaires, so as they start paying their fair share,” that he’s going to block the passage of the legislation that will provide for another a hundred billion dollars invested in this state.
Bill DeVito: (34:23)
Folks, this is not right. And that’s why this election is going to be so darn important. The key is that we just have to remember who built this country. I know I remember. Tomorrow, I’ll be awarding the highest honor that can be given to a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom to our dear friend, the late Rich Trumka, who fought so damn hard for the protection of these pensions. He once said, “We do America’s work. Unions do America’s work.” This 4th of July, let’s remember who is the backbone of this country. It’s you, the American worker. I promised you I’d be the most pro-labor, pro-union, pro worker president of our history, and that’s another promise I’m going to be keeping as well. So let me tell you something. There’s no other place I want to be than right here with the workers in this room and the workers that build America. I see you. I hear you. And I’ll always have your back, I promise. God bless you, and may God protect our troops. Thank you.