President Obama on the Economy, Health Care, and Optimism

President Obama at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, November 19th, 2013. 

"I always look forward to an opportunity to speak to some of our top businesses across the country who are hiring people, investing in America, making the economy run," President Barack Obama said in opening his talk on Tuesday for the Wall Street Journal CEO Council at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington, D.C.

Here's my partial transcription from his talk, lightly edited for clarity. 

On I think we probably underestimated the complexities of building out a website that needed to work the way it should.

There is a larger problem that I probably could have identified earlier, and that's the way the federal government does procurement and does IT is just generally not very efficient. There's probably no bigger gap between the private sector and the public sector than in IT.

We've see that, for example, the [Department of Veterans Affairs] trying to deal with electronic medical records for our servicemen as they move into civilian life. Most of that stuff is still done on paper. We have spent billions of dollars -- I'm not saying "we" as in my administration, I mean we've now had about a decade of experimentation, spent billions of dollars -- and it's still not working the way it should.

So what we probably needed to do on the front end was to blow up how we procure IT, especially on a system this complicated. We did not do that successfully. We are getting it fixed, but it would have been better to do it on the front end, rather than the back end.

On health care: Even though the rollout of the new health-care marketplace has been rough, to say the least, about 500,000 Americans are now poised to gain health care coverage beginning Jan. 1. That's after only a month of sign-up. We also have seen health care costs growing at the slowest rate in 50 years. Employer health costs are growing at about one-third of the rate of a decade ago, and that has an impact on your bottom line. ...

This has been a big problem for a very long time, and so it was always going to be challenging not just to pass a law, but also to implement it. There's a reason why, despite a century of talking about it, nobody had been able to successfully try to deal with some of the underlying problems in the health care system.

The good news is that many of the elements of the Affordable Care Act are already in place and working exactly the way they're supposed to. Making sure consumers who have employer-based health insurance are getting a better deal and better protected from the fine print that left them in the lurch when they actually got sick. That's in place. Making sure young people under age 26 can stay on their parents' plan. That's helped 3 million children already. That's making a difference. Helping seniors to get better prescription drug prices. Rebates for people who see insurance companies who are not spending enough on actual care, more on administrative costs or profits -- they're getting rebates. They may not know it's the Affordable Care Act that's giving them rebates, but it's happening. There were a number of things that were already in place over the last three years that got implemented effectively.

The other thing that hasn't been talked about a lot is cost. There was a lot of skepticism when we passed the Affordable Care Act that we were going to be giving a lot of people care but we weren't doing anything about the costs. And, in fact, over the last three years we have seen health-care costs grow at the slowest pace in 50 years. That affects the bottom lines of everybody here.

On optimism: I'm actually a congenital optimist. I have to be -- my name is Barack Obama, and I ran for president. And won, twice. 

On politics: When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more starker and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans -- we're fighting inside the 40-yard line.

People call me a socialist sometimes, but, you've got to meet real socialists. [Go to other countries and] you'll get a sense of what a socialist is. You know, I'm talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health-care reform is based on the private marketplace. The stock market is looking pretty good last time I checked. It is true that I'm concerned about growing inequality in our system, but nobody questions the efficacy of market economies in terms of producing wealth and innovation and keeping us competitive.

Even the tea party, you know, one of my favorite signs during the campaign was folks holding a sign, it said, "Keep government hands off my Medicare." Think about that. I mean, ideologically, they did not like the idea of a federal government. Yet they felt very protective about the basic social safety net that had been structured ...

A lot of [Republicans] believe in basic research, just like I do. A lot of them want to reform entitlements to make sure that they're affordable for the next generation. So do I. A lot of them say they want to reform our tax system. So do I. There are going to be differences on the details. Those details matter, and I'll fight very hard for them, but we shouldn't think that somehow the reason we've got these problems is because our policy differences are so great.

On the economy: In a lot of ways, America is poised for a breakout. We are in a good position to compete around the world in the 21st century. The question is, are we going to realize that potential? And that means that we've still got some more work to do.

Our stock markets and corporate profits are soaring, but we've got to make sure that this remains a country where everyone who works hard can get ahead. That means we've still got to address long-term unemployment. We still have to address stagnant wages and stagnant incomes. And frankly, we have to stop governing by crisis here in this town, because if it weren't for Washington's dysfunction, I think all of us agree we'd be a lot further along.

The shutdown and the threat of default hurt our jobs market. It cost our economy about $5 billion, and economists predict it will slow our GDP growth this quarter. It didn't need to happen. It was self-inflicted. We should not be injuring ourselves every few months. We should be investing in ourselves. And in a sensible world, that starts with a budget that cuts what we don't need, closes wasteful loopholes, and helps us afford to invest in the things that we know will help businesses like yours and the economy as a whole: education, infrastructure, basic research, and development.

We would have a grand bargain for middle-class jobs that combines tax reform with a financing mechanism that lets us create jobs, rebuilding infrastructure that your businesses depend on, but we haven't gotten as much take-up from the other side as we'd like to see so far.

In part two, I'll have the president's comments on taxes, spending, and keeping America competitive.

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Read/Post Comments (31) | Recommend This Article (16)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 12:34 PM, astuber9 wrote:

    Very good speech. I did not vote for this guy either time but I like him more and more every time I hear him speak and defend his actions.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 5:47 PM, remmdawg wrote:

    I didn't vote for Obma but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after his initial election. But he's shown a complete lack of integrity and abused the office of the Presidency.

    He sounds like a good guy but he's a pathological liar. He's the consummate con artist. Does he have even a shred of credibility left? Why even pay any attention to his comments?

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 6:37 PM, mickeypaul wrote:

    Every word that comes out of his mouth is a lie looking for the truth. I pray for him as Thomas Jefferson did for Patrick Henry.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 7:00 PM, cmalek wrote:


    "I like him more and more every time I hear him speak and defend his action"

    Defend his actions or make lame excuses?!

    How do you know a politician is giving you a snow job? His lips are moving.

    Obama is a politician - he will say and/or promise anything to get the votes.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 7:02 PM, katyfcolorado wrote:

    Thanks Morgan for always giving us the best of the best!

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 7:37 PM, TMFMurph wrote:

    Morgan, with all due respect....please stop this series of infomercials for brand Obama....unless you are willing to publish the other side's take on the exact same question....and at he same time.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 7:57 PM, PaintItBlue wrote:

    I can believe the part about IT, procurement, and the US Government, having heard about the efforts to upgrade the computers and software for the air traffic controllers. This has been a problem for years, and way before Obama.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 8:20 PM, hbofbyu wrote:

    Morgan, you left out:

    If you like your insurance, YOU CAN KEEP IT! (applause)

    If you like your doctor, YOU CAN KEEP IT! (applause)

    If you like your hospital, YOU CAN KEEP IT! (applause)

    Rinse and repeat for 18 months. Bald-faced lying to get elected. Usually politicians are more subtle about it.

    And if he wasn't lying then his only excuse is ignorance. Which is worse?

    The single payer system was the only workable solution. This POS that they are pushing on us is the worst of both worlds. Big government PLUS big, bad insurance companies -all skimming billions off the system.

    Why did you write this anyway?

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 8:27 PM, dawsonsmith wrote:

    What a bunch of rubbish!

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 8:34 PM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    I don't think he should be speaking at a CEO conference. He knows very little about business and nothing about IT or technology in general.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 10:16 PM, eddietheinvestor wrote:

    I agree that this is an infomercial--sad to see this on the Fool but not surprised to see this on a website that is becoming more and more left-wing partisan, even if in a subtle way.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 10:28 PM, skypilot2005 wrote:

    I hope the Motley Fool charged the Democratic Party more for this article than they charged Vangaurd for their advertisement on this page.

    This article is nothing more than an advertisement for Obama.

    As the story regarding the history of the selling of Obama Care unfolds, it is clear he knowingly lied to us.

    Why you would want to headline a speech by him is beyond me.

    You guys need to get out of Washington more.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 12:31 AM, jackanthony wrote:

    I question the logic of reelecting Obama. As a general rule America must be uninformed and does not have any sense. He is doing what he said. He said he would transform America. My question to any one if how has the government handled social security and medicare financially. they are bankrupt and that is what will happen to the affordable care act. I have worked my tail off to get to where I am. I pay over 100K in taxes to the federal government and when someone says they are not paying their fair share that makes my blood boil. We are burdened enough and taxes will rise and will crush us. That is the course that we are on if something does not change.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 7:21 AM, SteelyDan wrote:

    This article brought to you by Organizing For Action, with thanks to White House apologist Morgan Housel. As the Fool leans to the left, I turn to reality.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 8:07 AM, pondee619 wrote:

    Several questions:

    Did the President lie to the American Public when he said, in defence of his medical insurance plan, "If you like your current plan, you can keep it"?

    This statement, as it turns out is patently false. We must all ask;

    1. Did the President lie, deliberately in an effort to get his plan passed, knowing that without that statement there would be enough opposition so that his plan would not pass, or

    2. Was the President completely misinformed on the plan the he created and championed?

    In either case, why are we still listening to the President? He is either misinformed or a liar.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 8:31 AM, gem4jewels wrote:

    I'm new here, and I'm surprised that you talk one sided politics here. We already get enough of that in the mainstream media. How about the side who lose their insurance? My office insurance premiums went up 35%, and the insurance covers only up to 80%. Here's to hoping you don't get sick. President Obama is rich, and Obamacare doesn't even apply to him. So why does he care? If it is good enough for my family, it is good enough for the First Family. The only people that will be left with good health care will be those who can pay cash. I am beginning to hate the country that constantly rewards bad behavior and penalizes those who do what is right. I can only assume the Fool staff is rich. I don't have another 35% to pay for healhcare when I have to pay cash for 3 kids colleges without the governments help. We're too "rich" for financial aid and income based scholarships yet too poor to pay cash. That is why my mother always said, "The poor get help, the rich can afford it, and the middle class is stuck."

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 9:16 AM, jvgfool wrote:

    History will treat Obama well, but his opponents...not so much.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 9:19 AM, jvgfool wrote:

    Obama is positive and long on America's future. The Republicans are shorting the country.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 11:03 AM, bluedepth wrote:

    For those of you who see this as being a political piece supporting Obama, I believe that you are mistaking this summary for an editorial.

    Morgan Housel clearly stated that this was a "partial transcription, lightly edited for clarity."

    Read carefully; Mr. Housel did not interject any commentary in this piece. As such this does not meet the definition of opinion-journalism or editorialism. The Fool (rightfully, in my opinion) covered a speech made by POTUS to the Wall Street Journal CEO council. I hope and expect the Fool to provide similar coverage for all future Presidents.

    The *speech* was democratic leaning because it was given by a democratic President to a largely right-of-center crowd. The article was not. Please note the difference.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 11:12 AM, TMFHousel wrote:

    I'll also add that this wasn't even a speech. He was being interviewed by a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 2:12 PM, Seighor wrote:

    Without any question, articles supporting this Fool President do not belong on any MF website. A disservice to the intelligence of all who have worked to acquire the assets that enable them to participate as Motley Fool investors.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 4:08 PM, kyleleeh wrote:

    If you think that acknowledging that Obama is the president of the United States and makes decisions that will effect investers, is the same as supporting Obama. then perhaps it's you who doesn't belong here.

    Any prudent investor should be interested in information on the presidents agenda, no matter who the president is, or weather you agree with them or not.

    It's equivalent to saying you should not post earnings reports from any company I don't like.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 7:14 PM, MartyTheCanuck wrote:

    "You know, I'm talking about lowering the corporate tax rate."

    That's my favorite line in his speech. What is the old saying, "Talk is cheap" ?

    If he was serious in lowering the tax rates, he would have tons of dancing partners across the aisle. How many rates did he lowered, after 5 years in office ? ZERO.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 8:46 PM, TMFHousel wrote:
  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 9:35 PM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    The net effect of his presidency has been higher taxes paid, in spite of what he has said.

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2013, at 6:49 AM, TMFHousel wrote:


    Taxes as a percent of GDP look like this:

    2006: 18.2%

    2007: 18.5%

    2008: 17.6%

    2009: 15.1%

    2010: 15.1%

    2011: 15.4%

    2012: 15.8%

    2013: 16.7%

    2014: (estimate): 17.8%

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2013, at 7:10 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    Thanks for the info. I am fully aware of the budget trends of the federal government. Tax receipts as a % of GDP is one way of looking at the amount of taxes paid (there are a hundred more measures and they can all be manipulated to get a point across). That stat is influenced by not only by taxes (up or down) but also by general economic growth which has been poor during the period 2009 to 2013.

    The data above indicates that the amount of taxes received by the government throughout his presidency: 16.7% in 2013 and 15.8% in 2012 are both greater than 15.1% in 2010. I'm assuming 2010 means the 2010 fiscal year which starts in Oct. 2009 -- his first full budget.

    The point I was trying to make, in spite of all the speeches and campaigning, he has not lowered taxes (in general).

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2013, at 7:34 AM, TMFHousel wrote:

    <That stat is influenced by not only by taxes (up or down) but also by general economic growth which has been poor during the period 2009 to 2013.>>

    Keep in mind this is taxes as a percent of GDP. When economic growth does down, the denominator in this equation goes down, pushing the ratio up.

    <<The point I was trying to make, in spite of all the speeches and campaigning, he has not lowered taxes (in general).>>

    Half of the 2009 stimulus came in the form of tax cuts and credits. The payroll tax cut (that expired this year) was one of the largest tax cuts in history.

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2013, at 7:40 AM, TMFHousel wrote:

    That should say "goes down ..."

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2013, at 7:44 AM, TMFHousel wrote:

    To elaborate, the payroll tax cut reduced taxes by $95 billion in 2011 and $105 billion in 2012.

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2013, at 11:05 PM, SkepikI wrote:

    ^ and raised it by similar amounts in 2013..... selective stats Morgan. Really, beneath you.

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