The following remarks were delivered by Vice President Dick Cheney at the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 1, 2007.
As you might have heard, I’ve just been out of the country — which, in some quarters, is considered a good thing. I got back yesterday morning after more than a week overseas, on a trip that took me to several countries. In Japan and Australia I had very good discussions with leaders of two of our great allies — Prime Minister Abe in Japan, and Prime Minister John Howard in Australia. And on the last part of the trip I visited Pakistan and Afghanistan to review progress in the war on terror with Presidents Musharraf and Karzai.
On the journey I also spent time, as I always try to do, with members of the American Armed Forces — on the deck of the carrier USS Kitty Hawk in Tokyo Bay, at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, and at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. I think it’s important to remind the troops that we believe in them, we believe in what they’re doing, and we’re going to back them one hundred percent.
Let me also, on behalf of all of us here tonight, as our host, Dave Keene, to thank his daughter, Lisa, for what she’s done for all of us. She spent the last year in the United States Army serving in Iraq.
So after traveling around the world, it’s good to be home again, and I’m delighted to be part of the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Dave assured me that I was welcome to give a speech even though I’m not running for office. I’m probably the last non-candidate you’ll see this weekend. But I always do appreciate the warm reception I receive at CPAC, and I bring personal greetings to all of you from our President, George W. Bush.
You’ve come to Washington at an eventful time, with a new Congress at work and some very consequential debates underway. With a divided government and strong feelings on both sides of the aisle, getting things done is a bit more of a challenge than it was before. But the American people expect results, and the President and I are committed to working with Congress for the good of the country. What we will not do is abandon the conservative principles we ran on in 2000 and 2004. President Bush’s policies have revived this nation’s economy, improved the quality of the federal courts, and protected the American people from great dangers. None of these outcomes came about by accident. We’ve worked hard for the prosperity and the security of the American people, and we have no intention of letting it slip away.
As conservatives, we believe, as Ronald Reagan did, that government should “work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government,” said President Reagan, “can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.”
That wisdom is the key to creating a healthy, growing economy — and by most any measure, that is what we have today. America has now seen five years of uninterrupted economic growth — in a recovery that has generated nearly 7.5 million new jobs. When people across the world look at America’s economy they see low inflation, low unemployment, and the fastest growth of any major industrialized nation. Wages are rising, too — allowing American families to meet their budgets and build a better future.
We recognize that nobody can sit in an office in Washington, D.C. and decide to make America prosperous. Our job is to preserve the freedoms that gave birth to this nation, to encourage free enterprise, and to give people confidence that their hard work will be rewarded, not punished. And that begins with leaving more money in the hands of those who earn it.
For that reason, at the start of our administration, President Bush asked Congress to pass significant, broad-based tax relief. The House and Senate responded with historic pro-growth legislation. We reduced taxes for every American who pays income taxes. We doubled the child tax credit, reduced the marriage penalty. And in 2003, we accelerated the rate reductions; we created new incentives for small businesses to invest. And in order to lower the cost of capital, and to encourage firms to expand and hire new workers, we reduced the tax rate on capital gains and dividends.
Now the evidence is coming in — and the Bush tax relief has proven to be exactly the right policy for our country. If you think of all that’s happened in the last six years — the recession we inherited, terrorist attacks, corporate scandals, natural disasters, a tripling in the price of oil — it’s remarkable how resilient this economy has been. In fact, since 2001, our GDP has grown by 16 percent. Let me just put it in perspective: In only six years’ time, the American economy has expanded by an amount greater than the entire economy of Canada.
The late Milton Friedman said that “Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie — that one can gain only at the expense of another.” We’ve shown once again that the right policies can make the pie a lot bigger, and that the gains can be widely shared. We’ve also disproved maybe the biggest, most persistent fallacy in Washington — and that’s the idea that pro-growth tax cuts are inconsistent with fiscal responsibility.
The fact is that pro-growth tax cuts once again have helped to drive an economic expansion and generated higher than projected revenues. You might also recall that back in 2004, President Bush set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009. This pledge was greeted with skepticism, to put it mildly. Yet we met that target in 2006, three years ahead of schedule.
All told, federal tax receipts have gone up by more than $520 billion in the last two fiscal years. That’s the largest two-year increase in history. By now it’s time for even the skeptics to admit that a lower federal tax burden is a powerful driver of investment, growth, and new jobs for America’s workers. And that increased economic activity, in turn, generates revenue for the federal government.
Despite the growth in revenues, we still have to hold the line on spending — and on that score there’s still a lot to do. Last month the President submitted a budget that continues reducing the deficit each year, and balances the budget by 2012 without new taxes. To meet that goal, we need to set the right priorities and hold to them. The first priority is to remember that we’re a nation at war, and we must not cut any corners on homeland security or defense.
Setting priorities for the budget also means dealing with the matter of congressional earmarks — those not-so-little items that somehow get slipped into spending bills at the last minute. By one estimate, there were more than ten thousand of them in 2005 alone. And 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House or Senate — they’re simply dropped into the committee reports that aren’t even part of the legislation. Congress did not pass them into law. The President did not sign them into law. Yet somehow they get treated as having the force of law. The time has come to reform the budget process, and to get earmarks under control.
On the revenue side, we’re going to keep working on a low-tax policy that promotes growth and keeps government within its proper limits. Under present law, many of the Bush tax cuts are still set to expire over the next few years. We feel strongly that Congress should make all the tax cuts permanent — and that includes ending the federal death tax.
I know we’ve got some Democrats with big ideas for taxes they want to raise. They ought to realize that no nation has ever taxed its way to prosperity. And if they try that, they’re going to find out what the rest of America already knows — that President Bush is a man of principle and a man of his word.
If the United States is to remain the world’s largest economy, the world’s number one innovator, and the world’s biggest exporter, we also have to make certain this country is always the world’s best place to do business. And one place we can start is health care. Americans are fortunate to have the most advanced and innovative health care system in the world. But health care spending is on the rise — which makes it harder for workers and employers to afford private health insurance, and places a growing burden on taxpayers, because government’s share of health care costs is also growing. Newly released estimates show that, without reform, taxpayers will shoulder nearly half of all health care spending within a decade.
One of the reasons health care is so expensive today is that the tax code penalizes Americans who are not covered at work, and subsidizes people who choose the most expensive plans. So the President is asking Congress to pass tax reform legislation to help make private insurance more affordable and accessible. We’re proposing a standard deduction for every worker who has private health insurance, no matter where they get it. Under the President’s plan, more than 100 million Americans now covered by employer-provided insurance would actually have lower tax bills.
This reform would also level the playing field, so those who buy health insurance on their own get the same tax advantage as those who get health insurance through their jobs. This would be a positive step toward covering millions in our country who aren’t covered at work and struggle to afford it on their own. We believe changing the tax code is absolutely necessary to getting private coverage to more Americans, and to getting a handle on the rising costs of health care, without government trying to run the system.
America’s strength and success have long relied on stable, affordable supplies of energy. As the President told Congress in January, it’s in the country’s vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply. The way forward is through technology, and the President recently proposed to enhance our energy security by setting aggressive goals for renewable fuels and vehicle fuel economy. It’s also very important to increase domestic oil production in environmentally-responsible ways, in places like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and on the shores of willing states.
We’ve been pushing the Congress now to open ANWR for six years now; had they passed legislation when we asked, this nation would be well on its way to receiving up to 1 million barrels per day of new supplies. This would be an enormous quantity of oil, equal to about 10 percent of our current imports, and nearly 20 percent of the nation’s crude production. And we’re asking Congress to double the current capacity of our Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Prompt action is also required when it comes to filling positions on the federal bench. We’ve got a lot of vacancies on the bench, and the elected branches of government have a duty to fill those vacancies. Divided government is no excuse. During President Clinton’s last two years in office, the Republican Senate confirmed dozens of district judges and 15 appellate judges. The current Democratic majority should proceed in that same spirit. The President recognizes his responsibilities, as well. He will continue to submit well qualified, mainstream nominees like Justice Sam Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Finally, as someone who has the honor of working beside the President every day at the White House, I can assure you that he will never relent in his number one obligation as President: to protect the freedom and security of the American people.
The fact that we’ve defeated all attempts to strike the United States again for the last five and a half years does not mean that we won’t be hit in the future. But the record is testimony not just to good luck, but rather to urgent, competent action by a lot of very skilled men and women, and a lot of important decisions by the President. We’ve improved our security arrangements, reorganized our intelligence capabilities, found ways to surveill and to interrogate the enemy, and worked closely with friends and allies across the world.
Above all, we’ve stayed on the offensive — going after terrorists and terror-sponsoring states. We’ve confronted dictatorships that defied the demands of the civilized world. We’ve helped liberate peoples to establish free governments. We’ve stood by those governments in the effort to consolidate democratic gains, to achieve security, and to improve the long-term prospects of freedom and security in the broader Middle East.
We have faced all these challenges with resolve. And we recognize there’s still a great deal of work to be done. In Afghanistan, we’ll continue the reconstruction and security assistance we’ve promised, and this spring U.S. and NATO forces will lead an offensive against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
In Iraq, our goal remains a democratic nation that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror. But for this to happen, Baghdad must be secured. To that end, we’re pursuing a new strategy that brings in reinforcements to help Iraqi forces secure the capital. As we meet tonight, Iraqi and coalition forces are at work in the nine sectors of Baghdad, carrying out joint operations to track down terrorists, insurgents, criminals, and the roaming death squads that have tormented people in that city. It’s a tough enterprise — and it’s absolutely essential to moving that nation forward, turning the political process toward reconciliation, and completing our mission in Iraq.
Recently, the United States Senate, by unanimous vote, confirmed a superb officer to lead the new strategy in Iraq — Army General David Petraeus. At a hearing of the Armed Services Committee, General Petraeus was asked flat-out if he could do his job without the troop reinforcements that have been requested by the President. He said no. Yet some of the very Senators who voted to send him to the Iraqi theater tried to pass a resolution opposing the reinforcements. And the House of Representatives, of course, did pass such a resolution.
The House resolution was nonbinding — just a statement expressing the views of the members. But the fact is that every statement we make has multiple audiences. The American people listen. Our soldiers, airmen, and Marines listen. The enemy listens, and so do the Iraqi people. Friendly governments pay attention, and hostile governments take note as well. And they all wonder about America’s commitment to this cause.
A watching world needs to know that the United States is determined to prevail because we’re a nation that keeps its word — and because we understand the consequences of failure. If our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves, radical factions would battle for dominance. The violence would likely spread throughout the country, and be very difficult to contain. Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look for new missions. Many would head for Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Others would set out for capitals across the Middle East, spreading more discord as they eliminate dissenters and work to undermine moderate governments. Still others would find their targets and victims in other countries, on other continents. Such chaos and mounting danger does not have to occur. It is, however, the enemy’s objective.
In these circumstances it’s worth reminding ourselves that, like it or not, the enemy we face in the war on terror has made Iraq the primary front in that war. To use a popular phrase, this is an inconvenient truth. In bin Laden’s words, and I quote, “Success in Baghdad will be success for the United States. Failure in Iraq is the failure of the United States. Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars.” End quote. That makes one thing, above all, very clear: If you support the war on terror, then it only makes sense to support it where the terrorists are fighting us.
Very soon both Houses of Congress will have to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding — a bill to provide emergency funding for the troops. And I sincerely hope the discussion this time will be about winning in Iraq, not about posturing on Capitol Hill. Anyone can say they support the troops, and we should take them at their word. But the proof will come when it’s time to provide the money and the support. We expect the House and Senate to meet those needs on time, and in full.
Before I leave you, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you again for your commitment — not just to the principles we share, but to the ideal of active citizenship. In the audience tonight we have entrepreneurs, engineers, doctors, writers, and educators. All of you lead busy lives and have many responsibilities of your own. And yet you make the time, here and in your communities, to get involved in the political process and to make your voices heard. Your efforts make a difference. You give strength to our democracy. And the success of CPAC, year after year, is another indicator that conservatism remains the leading intellectual and political movement in the United States. That’s something all of us can be proud of, and it’s a credit to each and every one of you. I am deeply grateful to you, and it’s been an honor to be in your company tonigh