Remarks by President Biden before meeting with White House Competitiveness Council

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east room

5:09 p.m. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Hello everyone. Please – please sit down. Well it’s good to see everyone. Let’s have a cabinet meeting. (Laughter) Really, thank you for what you all are doing. We have a lot more good things to do.

Back in July, as you all know, I signed an executive order to encourage and build competition – to build an economy that works for all, not just the few. And competition leads to lower prices for families, competition leads to fair wages for workers, and as you all know, competition encourages companies to innovate.

And — but what we’ve seen over the last few decades is less competition and more concentration that’s literally holding the economy back. And in too many industries, a handful of giant companies dominate – they dominate the entire market. And we see it in big farming – I don’t need to tell the Minister of Agriculture that; He’s forgotten more about it than I know – in Big Tech, Big Pharma. The list goes on.

And instead of competing for customers, they consume their competitors. And instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, they’re doing the opposite — they’re having a negative impact.

All told, between higher prices and lower wages, a lack of competition is costing the average American family household — at NYU, $5,000 a year — to the middle-income family, according to a study conducted at NYU.

My executive order changes that, as everyone around this table knows. It contains – it contains 72 specific measures for federal agencies to restore and support competition in our economy. It involves creating a Competitiveness Council — all of you — and — made up of cabinet members and heads of several independent agencies, to coordinate and oversee our progress across the federal government.

So far in the six months since I placed the order, we’ve met every deadline that my – my order requires. And here are just three examples. “The right to repair” sounds kind of silly when you say it that way, but it is – but we call it “the right to repair” – meant literally.

Too many areas if you don’t own a product – sorry, if you own a product, from a smartphone to a tractor, you don’t have the freedom to choose how or where to repair that purchased item.

It’s broken. “Well, what do I do about it?” If it broke, you had to go to the dealer and pay the dealer’s cost – the dealer’s price.

If you tried to fix it – if you tried to fix it yourself, some manufacturers actually voided the warranty when they sold the product to you – or disabled the features of the product they sold you to have.

Denial of the right to repair drives up prices for consumers and means independent repairers can’t compete for your business. And my expe- – my executive order announced this support for the right to repair, rather – right after I issued my order, I was pleased to see that the Federal Trade Commission unanimously announced that they would step up enforcement – unanimously announced that it would step up enforcement against illegal repair restrictions.

That was may [followed] by big companies – or by volunteering to change their repair restrictions.

And — excuse me — what happened was that a lot of these companies said, ‘You’re right. We do this voluntarily. You don’t have to order us to do that.” And said voluntarily: “We’ll do it.”

For example, Apple and Microsoft are changing their policies to allow people to repair their phones and laptops themselves – although I’m not sure I know how to do that. (Laugh.)

Me – if I have a problem with my phone, I call my daughter. (Laugh.)

But it will make it easier for millions of Americans to fix their electronics instead of paying an arm and a leg to fix it or just throwing the device away.

hearing aids. About 48 million people in America have hearing loss – 48 million. But to get a hearing aid, people have to go to a specialist and then get a prescription and then pay thousands of dollars for a pair of hearing aids.

But the big part is just why — it’s a big part of why only one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids actually use one. And so my competition regulation changes that.

In October, the Food and Drug Administration released a new proposed rule that would allow hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter without a prescription.

We anticipate that this will bring the cost of hearing aids down from thousands of dollars to literally hundreds of dollars, saving people hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

And people will pick them up at a local pharmacy, saving time and money and helping the tens of millions of people with hearing loss who don’t now have hearing aids.

Third area: mergers. In too many industries, big companies – big companies can use their power to crowd out smaller competitors, stifle new competition, raise prices, limit customer choice, and exploit their employees.

Well, I’ve said it before: capitalism without competition is – is not capitalism; it is exploitation.

As a result, the Justice Department and other regulators have increased their efforts to review these mergers. This includes challenging or blocking mergers that are bad for the economy and your wallet.

For example, the Justice Department just took action to block a mega-merger that would have resulted in two brokerage firms dominating the insurance industry, resulting in customers having fewer choices, higher prices, and lower-quality services.

Conclusion: This is not just about quick success. It’s about reversing the decades of concentration that have hurt workers, consumers and small businesses. It never happened. It’s been a while now – a long time.

However, this is just the beginning. In the coming weeks and months, Americans can expect more – more protection for farmers and ranchers who sell products like beef, hogs and poultry; more options and better prices for consumers; more clarity about the actual price you will pay for high-speed internet service and airline tickets.

We will also continue to push other priorities and – from my executive order, such as the treatment of non-compete clauses, which affect one in five workers. Every fifth employee has to sign a non-competition clause.

It baffled me how it came about – as Brian will tell you, it really came about – all this competition council. I knew everything that was going on, but when I realized how many people out there with no particular insight into access to patents or anything else had to sign non-compete agreements — people making hourly wages — all of which were aimed at raising prices low – or to keep wages low and prices high.

But one in five workers at some point – giving them, the company, power over their careers.

The bottom line is: Our economy shouldn’t be about people working for capitalism. It should be about making capitalism work for the people, for everyone.

Now I’ll turn this over to Brian so we can start this meeting. But thanks again to each and every one of you here on this Council. I’m serious.

You know, I think even when we decided to hold this council, some of you – you all thought it was a good idea, but I’ll do it – I’d be surprised if some of you didn’t go, “Whoa, I didn’t realize how restrictive some of it was – how restrictive some of it was.” But you will make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people’s lives will make a difference.

Anyway, Brian, the floor is yours.

MISTER. DEESE: Thank you, sir. We’ll leave and give the press corps a moment to exit, and then we’ll begin our meeting.

Q Mr. President, can you give us a brief overview of your call with European leaders about what is happening in Ukraine today?

THE PRESIDENT: The only reason I don’t like that is because you never report why I called a meeting. And that’s really important.

I had a very, very, very good meeting. Total unanimity with all European leaders. We’ll talk about that later.

Thanks very much.

MISTER. THIS: Thank you.

Q Will you send troops to Ukraine sir?

Q Why are you possibly sending 8,500 troops to Ukraine?

Q Will you then answer questions about inflation? Do you think pre-midterm inflation is a political burden?

THE PRESIDENT: No, it is a great advantage. More inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.

5:18 p.m. EST

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