Remarks of President Barack Obama at Shaker Heights High School, Cleveland, OH

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Shaker Heights High School, Cleveland, OH
January 4, 2012

As Prepared for Delivery —

Hello, Cleveland! It’s great to be back in Ohio. And it’s great to be here at Shaker Heights, home of the Red Raiders. I want to thank your mayor, Earl Leiken, for hosting us today. I also want to thank your superintendent, Mark Freeman, and your principal, Mike Griffith, for everything they do. I heard you have some pretty good basketball teams this season – boys and girls. It makes me wish I had some eligibility left.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year. One of my resolutions is to make sure I get out of Washington enough and spend more time with people like you. Because folks here in Ohio and across the country – you’re the reason why I ran for this office in the first place. And on days like today, you remind me what we’re still fighting for. An America where hard work and responsibility pays off. An America where anyone who puts in the effort and plays by the rules can get ahead.

That’s the America you deserve. That’s the America we’re working to build. And that’s why I told Congress they couldn’t leave for vacation last month until we made sure 160 million working Americans wouldn’t get hit by a tax hike on January 1st. It wasn’t easy. And it should have been. But in the end, we got members of both parties to come together and make sure that you could keep more money in your paychecks this month. You’re keeping that extra $40 in every paycheck. That means more security for your families, and a boost for our economy at a time when we need to do everything we can to keep it growing. More money spent by more Americans means more businesses hiring more workers. And when Congress returns, I urge them to extend this tax cut for all of 2012, without drama or delay. It’s the right thing to do. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s get it done. Pass these tax cuts.

But we still need to do more. So today, we’re taking another important step – one that will bring us closer to an economy where everyone plays by the same rules. And to help us do that, I’m joined by someone you might recognize: Richard Cordray.

Today I’m appointing Richard as America’s consumer watchdog. That means he’ll be in charge of one thing: looking out for the best interests of American consumers. His job will be to protect families like yours from the abuses of the financial industry. His job will be to make sure you’ve got all the information you need to make important financial decisions. Right away, he’ll start working to make sure millions of Americans are treated fairly by mortgage brokers, payday lenders and debt collectors. In fact, just this week, his agency is opening up a simple, 1-800 number you can call to make sure you’re getting a fair deal on your mortgage, and hold banks and brokers accountable if you’re not.

I nominated Richard for this job last summer. And yet, for almost half a year, Republicans in the Senate have blocked his confirmation. They’ve refused to even give Richard and up-or-down vote. It’s not because he’s unqualified. There is no question that Richard is the right person for this job. He’s got support from Democrats and Republicans. A majority of Attorneys General from both parties across the country have called for Richard to be confirmed. Your local Members of Congress who are here today – they support him. He has the support of a majority in the Senate. Everyone agrees that he’s more than qualified.

The only reason Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard is because they don’t agree with the law setting up the consumer watchdog. They want to weaken it. Well that makes no sense at all. Does anyone think the reason we got in such a financial mess was because of too much oversight? Of course not. We shouldn’t be weakening oversight and accountability. We should be strengthening it – especially when it comes to looking out for families like yours. Financial firms have armies of lobbyists in Washington looking out for their interests. It’s time someone fought for you, too.

This is a fight that Richard has been waging here in Ohio for the better part of two decades. As your Attorney General, he helped recover billions of dollars in things like pension funds on behalf of retirees, and protected consumers from dishonest lending practices. Before that, Richard was the State Treasurer, where he earned a reputation for working with folks from across the spectrum – Democrats, Republicans; bankers and consumer advocates.

Cleveland, you’ve seen the difference that Richard can make for consumers. I have too. And that’s why I want Richard to keep standing up for you – not just here in Ohio, but all across the country.

Every day that Richard waited to be confirmed was another day when millions of Americans are left unprotected. Without a Director in place, the consumer watchdog agency we’ve set up is left without the tools it needs to prevent dishonest mortgage brokers, payday lenders and debt collectors from taking advantage of consumers. That’s inexcusable. It’s wrong. And I refuse to take “no” for an answer.

I’ve said before that I will continue to look for every opportunity to work with Congress to move this country forward and create jobs. That means putting construction workers back on the job repairing our roads and bridges. That means keeping teachers in the classrooms and cops and firefighters on the streets. That means helping small businesses get ahead. These are ideas that have support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents. And I want to work with Congress to get them done.

But when Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them. I have an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for the middle class.

For too long, we’ve had a financial system that stacked the deck against ordinary Americans. Banks on Wall Street played by different rules than businesses on Main Street – or a lot of community banks. Hidden fees and fine print led consumers to make financial decisions they didn’t always understand. And all that risky behavior led to an economic crisis that we’re still digging ourselves out of.

That’s why, last year, we put in place new rules of the road to make sure that a few bad apples in the financial sector can’t break the law, cheat consumers, and put our entire economy in danger. Many of these provisions are already starting to make a difference. And for the first time in history, we put in place a consumer watchdog – someone whose only job is to look out for the interests of everyday Americans.

Richard is the right man for this job. If you’re a student, his job will be to protect you from dishonest lending practices and make sure you have all the information you need on student loans. If you’re a veteran, he’ll help make sure you aren’t taken advantage of when you come home from serving our country. And if you’re a senior, he’ll help make sure you don’t lose your home or your retirement because someone saw you as an easy target.

Earlier today, I met Endia and William Eason. Endia is 91 years old, and she’s known for making some of the best pies in Cleveland. William is a former Marine who now lives in a nursing home nearby. Ten years ago, the Easons were approached by a broker who offered to help them take out loans and make some much-needed repairs to their house. The broker made everything sound easy, so the Easons agreed. But before they knew it, the broker had disappeared with their money – leaving the Easons almost $80,000 in debt and in danger of losing their home.

Endia and William Eason are good people. They worked hard, they saved their money, and they earned the right to retire with dignity. They shouldn’t have to worry about being tricked by someone trying to make a quick buck.

The Easons need someone who will stand up for them. Millions of Americans need someone who will look out for their interests. They need someone like Richard.

We know what would happen if Republicans in Congress were allowed to keep holding Richard’s nomination hostage. More of our loved ones could be tricked into making bad financial decisions. More dishonest lenders could take advantage of the most vulnerable among us. And the vast majority of financial firms who do the right thing could be undercut by those who don’t.

We can’t let that happen. Now is not the time to play politics while people’s livelihoods are at stake. Now is the time to do everything we can to protect consumers and prevent a financial crisis like the one we’ve been through from ever happening again. And that starts with letting Richard Cordray do his job.

Cleveland, I know you’re hearing a lot of promises from a lot of politicians lately. But today, you’re only going to hear one from me. As long as I have the privilege of serving as your president, I promise to do everything I can, every day, to make this country a place where hard work and responsibility mean something – where everyone can get ahead, not just those at the very top or those who know how to work the system. That’s what America has always been about. That’s what today is all about. And with the help of people like Richard, that’s the country I believe we can be once again.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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