Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President, Members of Congress, and my fellow Americans:

Last April, I spoke in this chamber about the immense crises we then faced. The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic emergency since the Great Depression. A violent takeover of this very building aimed at stopping the lawful certification of the electoral count and overturning the will of the voters. 

But I said the opportunities were great, too—and we seized them. We passed the American Rescue Plan, which put money into the hands of families and businesses that were hurting through no fault of their own. It worked. We now have the fastest growth in jobs and income in a generation.

We also went to wartime footing to increase supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine and get shots in arms. When I became president, 1 percent of Americans had been fully vaccinated. Today, nearly 70 percent have been. 

The crises, however, have not disappeared. And new ones have arisen, including mutations of the coronavirus and the highest inflation in decades—inflation that is eating away at the hard-won wage gains of average Americans.

I want to talk tonight about how we can meet these challenges. For they expose how the economy has become rigged against working Americans and the national interest, and what we must do, together, to make things right. 

Let’s begin with the recent surge of inflation. Some speculate that it was caused by the very federal spending that saved the economy. If that were true, long-term interest rates would be soaring—but that isn’t happening. The stronger evidence is that the inflation spike was triggered by the worldwide pandemic, which led to supply chain problems that my administration has been fixing, and labor shortages that are improving as more Americans are going back to work. But the root causes go deeper. 

Consider the price of beef. It’s up more than 20 percent since the fall of 2020. At the same time, the profits of the meat-packing industry are up more than 300 percent. Why? Because the federal government, led by administrations of both parties, allowed the meat industry to consolidate. Four companies now control 55 to 85 percent of the markets for beef, pork, and poultry. They use that monopoly control to jack up prices on consumers. They aren’t passing that revenue along to livestock farmers, who are still hurting. They’re spending it to buy back their own stock. That increases the stock price and, not coincidentally, the compensation of the CEOs who own the stock.

Or consider semiconductors, the mini computers that run so many of the products we use every day. Semiconductor supplies have plummeted because the factories in Asia that produce them have been hammered by the pandemic. That has led to shortages of, and higher prices for, everything from cars to refrigerators. 

But ask yourself: Why are we dependent on Asia for semiconductors? As recently as a decade ago, America was the world’s leader in producing cutting-edge semiconductors, right here at home. But the federal government, led by administrations of both parties, allowed one company—Intel—to buy up or drive out most of its U.S. competitors. Intel then sent offshore or sold off its U.S. manufacturing capacity to reduce costs and boost its stock price. Now, the American people are paying the price in higher inflation.

As you may know, there are not enough trucks and truck drivers to deliver products from our factories and ports to our warehouses and stores. In the recent past, however, many of those goods were delivered by freight rail. Why aren’t those goods now moving on trains? Because the federal government—again, led by administrations of both parties—allowed the railroad industry to monopolize. And the Wall Street hedge funds that control those monopolies demanded that they rip up tracks, mothball rail cars, and lay off seasoned union employees to get costs down and stock prices up. Now our freight rail system doesn’t have the capacity to take up the slack.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

These companies and financiers aren’t doing anything illegal. They’re just playing by the rules of the marketplace Washington has written. Folks, it’s time to tighten the rules. That won’t stop inflation immediately, but we can ensure that it won’t last if we act quickly.

I took the first step in July, when I signed an executive order directing federal agencies to start enforcing our antitrust laws again. Over time, this will not only help reduce inflation, it will also give our entrepreneurs a fairer shot at starting and growing their businesses; our small towns and heartland cities a better chance to build their local economies; and, with more local businesses competing for their talents, a fairer opportunity for American workers to negotiate higher wages—especially if we make it easier for them to join unions. As I said when I signed that order, I’m a proud capitalist. But capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation. 

But I can’t fully address the problem alone. I need Congress’s help. The existing rules didn’t foresee the rise of massive tech monopolies, like Google and Facebook, that buy up or crush their competitors, spy on their customers, and allow foreign disinformation to subvert our elections. Thankfully, lawmakers in both parties have advanced legislation that will allow the government to fight back against these predations. Send me the bill, and I will sign it.

Everyone in this chamber knows that Russia and China pose threats to our democracy, our security, and our economy. While our military must remain vigilant and well funded, the answer is not war. 

The best way to block their incursions is to fortify our alliances in ways that leverage our strengths. Collectively, the economies of the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom account for more than 45 percent of global GDP. Tonight, I am asking Congress to give me fast-track authority to pursue a new U.S.-EU-UK trade alliance based on labor rights, environmental stewardship, anti-monopoly policy, privacy, and other shared values that would raise middle- and working-class wages on both sides of the Atlantic. If China and Russia want access to that market, they will have to change their ways. If not, we will have broadened our sourcing of vital supplies: more from our friends, and less from regimes that might subject us to economic blackmail.

In a troubled world, millions of desperate people flock to our borders. Many seek work but haven’t gone through legal channels. They must be sent back. 

Others have legitimate claims of oppression at home and seek admission as refugees. We cannot admit them all. But how do we decide how many to welcome? 

That authority is vested in the president. But I believe the American people should have a bigger voice. The federal government already thoroughly vets these refugees and consults behind the scenes with state and local officials to determine where they will go. I am issuing an executive order requiring those state and local officials to engage their citizens in that determination. If those communities wish for more refugees—and many do, because refugees have skills, start businesses, and take hard-to-fill jobs—I will send them more.

Violent crime is on the rise in America. But we are not going to defund the police—not on my watch. The people living in the toughest neighborhoods don’t want less policing. They want more, and better, policing. In the 1990s, Democrats and Republicans came together to put 100,000 new officers trained in community policing on the streets, and the crime rate plummeted. My new budget calls for doing the same, but with more emphasis on promising strategies that can de-escalate conflict, like pairing police with social workers trained in handling the problems of mental health, spousal abuse, and drug addiction. 

The American people deserve a government that is on their side. Too often, they see one that fritters away their tax dollars. The single biggest source of waste in government today is the outsourcing of work to so-called service contractors—private companies that do work, often at twice the price and with worse results, that civil servants used to perform. Both parties have allowed this to happen. In the coming days, I will take steps to reverse the practice. 

The new and ongoing crises we face are taking a toll on all of us. It’s hard not knowing when things will get back to normal, or if they’ll get worse. The situation is toughest on our children, who need our reassurance, but sense our fear for their future. 

I understand that fear. It is rooted in justifiable concerns that our institutions are broken; that our leaders put their self-interest above the common good; that they listen more to the rich and powerful than to the people; and that they put partisanship above problem solving.

I share those concerns. I am disappointed that not one Republican in this chamber voted for the American Rescue Plan, which did so much for our economy. I’m saddened that Republicans have not supported our efforts to extend the child tax credit that is easing burdens on working families. Or our work to reverse the structural inequities that disproportionately hurt people of color, such as greater investments in underfunded historically Black and Hispanic colleges and universities, which help their students earn degrees that lead to good-paying jobs. Or our efforts to provide more affordable housing, bring down prescription drug prices, expand national service, combat climate change, and protect a woman’s right to choose. And I’m alarmed that no Republicans—yet—have offered their support for the reasonable legislation cosponsored by Senator Joe Manchin to protect the sanctity of the vote from the Big Lie. 

And yes, there’s blame to go around. We Democrats have spent precious time bickering among ourselves. You may have noticed that.

But when we in Washington truly listen to the American people and work together, we achieve great things. That’s what we did last fall, when Democrats and Republicans passed historic legislation to rebuild this country’s infrastructure. That investment in roads, bridges, and broadband will create not just good jobs for working Americans now, but also a sounder economy and a better life for generations to come.

Flawed as they are, our institutions can work miracles. The same federal government that botched the first year of the pandemic patiently invested, over many years, in medical research that created the breakthroughs that are the basis of the COVID-19 vaccines. And the same pharmaceutical companies that infuriate us by jacking up the price of medications also took that federal research and turned it into billions of vaccine doses that are saving lives here and around the world.

Even with our flaws, we are a great nation. Never bet against the United States of America.

Yes, my fellow Americans, our government is far from perfect. So are its leaders. We are fallen, like all humans, including the Founding Fathers. But the Almighty gave us the power of reason and the capacity for wisdom. If we use those gifts and work together, we can meet our challenges, provide prosperity, and build a more perfect union.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.