January 24, 2012: President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

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SPEECHES

Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address

Source: WH, 1-24-12

United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.

9:10 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and welcomed home some of our last troops to serve in Iraq.  Together, we offered a final, proud salute to the colors under which more than a million of our fellow citizens fought — and several thousand gave their lives.

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.  (Applause.)  For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.  (Applause.)  For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.  (Applause.)  Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated.  The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.

These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces.  At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations.  They’re not consumed with personal ambition.  They don’t obsess over their differences.  They focus on the mission at hand.  They work together.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.  (Applause.)  Think about the America within our reach:  A country that leads the world in educating its people.  An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs.  A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world.  An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.

We can do this.  I know we can, because we’ve done it before.  At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  My grandfather, a veteran of Patton’s Army, got the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.  My grandmother, who worked on a bomber assembly line, was part of a workforce that turned out the best products on Earth.

The two of them shared the optimism of a nation that had triumphed over a depression and fascism.  They understood they were part of something larger; that they were contributing to a story of success that every American had a chance to share — the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.

The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive.  No challenge is more urgent.  No debate is more important.  We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  (Applause.)  What’s at stake aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values.  And we have to reclaim them.

Let’s remember how we got here.  Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores.  Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete.  Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.

In 2008, the house of cards collapsed.  We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them.  Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money.  Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior.

It was wrong.  It was irresponsible.  And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hardworking Americans holding the bag.  In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly 4 million jobs.  And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect.

Those are the facts.  But so are these:  In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs.  (Applause.)

Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.  American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s.  Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion.  And we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like this never happens again.  (Applause.)

The state of our Union is getting stronger.  And we’ve come too far to turn back now.  As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum.  But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.  (Applause.)

No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits.  Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last -– an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.

Now, this blueprint begins with American manufacturing.

On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse.  Some even said we should let it die.  With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen.  In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility.  We got workers and automakers to settle their differences.  We got the industry to retool and restructure.  Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker.  (Applause.)  Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company.  Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories.  And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.

We bet on American workers.  We bet on American ingenuity.  And tonight, the American auto industry is back.  (Applause.)

What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries.  It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh.  We can’t bring every job back that’s left our shore.  But right now, it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China.  Meanwhile, America is more productive.  A few weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes business sense for him to bring jobs back home.  (Applause.)  Today, for the first time in 15 years, Master Lock’s unionized plant in Milwaukee is running at full capacity.  (Applause.)

So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back.  But we have to seize it.  Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple:  Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.  (Applause.)

We should start with our tax code.  Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas.  Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and everyone knows it.  So let’s change it.

First, if you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it.  (Applause.)  That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home.  (Applause.)

Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas.  (Applause.)  From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax.  And every penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here in America.  (Applause.)

Third, if you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut.  If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making your products here.  And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.  (Applause.)

So my message is simple.  It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America.  Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away.  (Applause.)

We’re also making it easier for American businesses to sell products all over the world.  Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years.  With the bipartisan trade agreements we signed into law, we’re on track to meet that goal ahead of schedule.  (Applause.)  And soon, there will be millions of new customers for American goods in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.  Soon, there will be new cars on the streets of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago.  (Applause.)

I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.  And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules.  We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration –- and it’s made a difference.  (Applause.)  Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires.  But we need to do more.  It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated.  It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.

Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.  (Applause.)  There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders.  And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia.  Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you -– America will always win.  (Applause.)

I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills.  Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job.  Think about that –- openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work.  It’s inexcusable.  And we know how to fix it.

Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic.  Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College.  The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training.  It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.

I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did.  Join me in a national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.  (Applause.)  My administration has already lined up more companies that want to help.  Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, and Orlando, and Louisville are up and running.  Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers -– places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

And I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need.  It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.  (Applause.)

These reforms will help people get jobs that are open today.  But to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier.

For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation.

But challenges remain.  And we know how to solve them.

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers.  We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.  A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.  Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.  Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies — just to make a difference.

Teachers matter.  So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.  Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones.  (Applause.)  And in return, grant schools flexibility:  to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.  That’s a bargain worth making.  (Applause.)

We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.  (Applause.)

When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college.  At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.  (Applause.)

Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves millions of middle-class families thousands of dollars, and give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.  (Applause.)

Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid.  We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money.  States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.  And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.

Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that.  Some schools redesign courses to help students finish more quickly.  Some use better technology.  The point is, it’s possible.  So let me put colleges and universities on notice:  If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.  (Applause.)  Higher education can’t be a luxury -– it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge:  the fact that they aren’t yet American citizens.  Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.

That doesn’t make sense.

I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration.  That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before.  That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office.  The opponents of action are out of excuses.  We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.  (Applause.)

But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country.  Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship.  I will sign it right away.  (Applause.)

You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country.  That means women should earn equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  It means we should support everyone who’s willing to work, and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs.

After all, innovation is what America has always been about.  Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses.  So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed.  Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow.  (Applause.)  Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs.  Both parties agree on these ideas.  So put them in a bill, and get it on my desk this year.  (Applause.)

Innovation also demands basic research.  Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched.  New lightweight vests for cops and soldiers that can stop any bullet.  Don’t gut these investments in our budget.  Don’t let other countries win the race for the future.  Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.

And nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.  Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.  (Applause.)  Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.  That’s right — eight years.  Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.  (Applause.)

But with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough.  This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.  (Applause.)  A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.  (Applause.)  And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.  Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.  And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.  (Applause.)  Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.  (Applause.)  And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock –- reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.  (Applause.)

Now, what’s true for natural gas is just as true for clean energy.  In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries.  Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.

When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried that at 55, no one would give him a second chance.  But he found work at Energetx, a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan.  Before the recession, the factory only made luxury yachts.  Today, it’s hiring workers like Bryan, who said, “I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.”

Our experience with shale gas, our experience with natural gas, shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away.  Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail.  But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.  I will not walk away from workers like Bryan.  (Applause.)  I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.

We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century.  That’s long enough.  (Applause.)  It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.  Pass clean energy tax credits.  Create these jobs.  (Applause.)

We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives.  The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.  But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.  So far, you haven’t acted.  Well, tonight, I will.  I’m directing my administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes.  And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history -– with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.  (Applause.)

Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy.  So here’s a proposal:  Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings.  Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, more jobs for construction workers who need them.  Send me a bill that creates these jobs.  (Applause.)

Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure.  So much of America needs to be rebuilt.  We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge.  After World War II, we connected our states with a system of highways.  Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.

In the next few weeks, I will sign an executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects.  But you need to fund these projects.  Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.  (Applause.)

There’s never been a better time to build, especially since the construction industry was one of the hardest hit when the housing bubble burst.  Of course, construction workers weren’t the only ones who were hurt.  So were millions of innocent Americans who’ve seen their home values decline.  And while government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.

And that’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low rates.  (Applause.)  No more red tape.  No more runaround from the banks.  A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit and will give those banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.  (Applause.)

Let’s never forget:  Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same.  It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom.  No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.  An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.

We’ve all paid the price for lenders who sold mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn’t afford them.  That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.  (Applause.)  Rules to prevent financial fraud or toxic dumping or faulty medical devices — these don’t destroy the free market.  They make the free market work better.

There’s no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly.  In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.  (Applause.)  I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.  We’ve already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years.  We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil.  With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, I’m confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal agency looking over his shoulder.  (Applause.)  Absolutely.  But I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago.  (Applause.)  I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.  I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage, or charge women differently than men.  (Applause.)

And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.  The new rules we passed restore what should be any financial system’s core purpose:  Getting funding to entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and getting loans to responsible families who want to buy a home, or start a business, or send their kids to college.

So if you are a big bank or financial institution, you’re no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers’ deposits.  You’re required to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail –- because the rest of us are not bailing you out ever again.  (Applause.)  And if you’re a mortgage lender or a payday lender or a credit card company, the days of signing people up for products they can’t afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices — those days are over.  Today, American consumers finally have a watchdog in Richard Cordray with one job:  To look out for them.  (Applause.)

We’ll also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments.  Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender.  That’s bad for consumers, and it’s bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals who do the right thing.  So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count.

And tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorney general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.  (Applause.)  This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.

Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy.  But it should also guide us as we look to pay down our debt and invest in our future.

Right now, our most immediate priority is stopping a tax hike on 160 million working Americans while the recovery is still fragile.  (Applause.)  People cannot afford losing $40 out of each paycheck this year.  There are plenty of ways to get this done.  So let’s agree right here, right now:  No side issues.  No drama.  Pass the payroll tax cut without delay.  Let’s get it done.  (Applause.)

When it comes to the deficit, we’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings.  But we need to do more, and that means making choices.  Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households.  Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?  Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else –- like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans?  Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.

The American people know what the right choice is.  So do I.  As I told the Speaker this summer, I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.  (Applause.)

Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule.  If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.  And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right:  Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.  In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions.  On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.  (Applause.)  You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages.  You’re the ones who need relief.

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want.  But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes?  Most Americans would call that common sense.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country.  We admire it.  When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich.  It’s because they understand that when I get a tax break I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference — like a senior on a fixed income, or a student trying to get through school, or a family trying to make ends meet.  That’s not right.  Americans know that’s not right.  They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to the future of their country, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility.  That’s how we’ll reduce our deficit.  That’s an America built to last.  (Applause.)

Now, I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about taxes and debt, energy and health care.  But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right about now:  Nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.

Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?

The greatest blow to our confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control.  It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not.  Who benefited from that fiasco?

I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street.  But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad — and it seems to get worse every year.

Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics.  So together, let’s take some steps to fix that.  Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow.  (Applause.)  Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact.  Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa — an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.

Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days.  A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything -– even routine business –- passed through the Senate.  (Applause.)  Neither party has been blameless in these tactics.  Now both parties should put an end to it.  (Applause.)  For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.  (Applause.)

The executive branch also needs to change.  Too often, it’s inefficient, outdated and remote.  (Applause.)  That’s why I’ve asked this Congress to grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy, so that our government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people.  (Applause.)

Finally, none of this can happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town.  We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common-sense ideas.

I’m a Democrat.  But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed:  That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.  (Applause.)  That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and states.  That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work.  That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program.

On the other hand, even my Republican friends who complain the most about government spending have supported federally financed roads, and clean energy projects, and federal offices for the folks back home.

The point is, we should all want a smarter, more effective government.  And while we may not be able to bridge our biggest philosophical differences this year, we can make real progress.  With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow.  But I can do a whole lot more with your help.  Because when we act together, there’s nothing the United States of America can’t achieve.  (Applause.)  That’s the lesson we’ve learned from our actions abroad over the last few years.

Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies.  From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

From this position of strength, we’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan.  Ten thousand of our troops have come home.  Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer.  This transition to Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against America.  (Applause.)

As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a to Tripoli.  A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators -– a murderer with American blood on his hands.  Today, he is gone.  And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.  (Applause.)

How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain.  But we have a huge stake in the outcome.  And while it’s ultimately up to the people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those values that have served our own country so well.  We will stand against violence and intimidation.  We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings –- men and women; Christians, Muslims and Jews.  We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.

And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests.  Look at Iran.  Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one.  The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.

Let there be no doubt:  America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.  (Applause.)

But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe.  Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever.  Our ties to the Americas are deeper.  Our ironclad commitment — and I mean ironclad — to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.  (Applause.)

We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope. From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back.

Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  (Applause.)

That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us.  That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.  Yes, the world is changing.  No, we can’t control every event.  But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs –- and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.  (Applause.)

That’s why, working with our military leaders, I’ve proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget.  To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I’ve already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing dangers of cyber-threats.  (Applause.)

Above all, our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it.  (Applause.)  As they come home, we must serve them as well as they’ve served us.  That includes giving them the care and the benefits they have earned –- which is why we’ve increased annual VA spending every year I’ve been President.  (Applause.)  And it means enlisting our veterans in the work of rebuilding our nation.

With the bipartisan support of this Congress, we’re providing new tax credits to companies that hire vets.  Michelle and Jill Biden have worked with American businesses to secure a pledge of 135,000 jobs for veterans and their families.  And tonight, I’m proposing a Veterans Jobs Corps that will help our communities hire veterans as cops and firefighters, so that America is as strong as those who defend her.  (Applause.)

Which brings me back to where I began.  Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.  When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight.  When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails.  When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.

One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden.  On it are each of their names.  Some may be Democrats.  Some may be Republicans.  But that doesn’t matter.  Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates — a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary — and Hillary Clinton — a woman who ran against me for president.

All that mattered that day was the mission.  No one thought about politics.  No one thought about themselves.  One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission.  It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job — the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs.  More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other — because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s somebody behind you, watching your back.

So it is with America.  Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes.  No one built this country on their own.  This nation is great because we built it together.  This nation is great because we worked as a team.  This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.  And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard.  As long as we are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

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

END
10:16 P.M. EST

 

January 25, 2011: President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

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REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Remarks by the President in State of Union Address

Source: WH, 1-25-11

United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.

9:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner.  (Applause.)  And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague — and our friend -– Gabby Giffords.  (Applause.)

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years.  The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.  And that’s a good thing.  That’s what a robust democracy demands.  That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.  (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation.  What comes of this moment is up to us.  What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.  (Applause.)

I believe we can.  And I believe we must.  That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us.  With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties.  New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans.  We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election.  At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else.  It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded.  It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone.  We measure progress by the success of our people.  By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer.  By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise.  By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.  (Applause.)

We did that in December.  Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today.  Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year.  And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more.  These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown.  You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors.  If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion.  Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed.  And for many, the change has been painful.  I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right.  The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business.  Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100.  Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science.  They’re investing in research and new technologies.  Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed.  The competition for jobs is real.  But this shouldn’t discourage us.  It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.  (Applause.)  No workers — no workers are more productive than ours.  No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs.  We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.  That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here.  It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?  What would you change about the world?  What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The future is ours to win.  But to get there, we can’t just stand still.  As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift.  It is an achievement.”  Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat.  It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn.  We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time.  We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  (Applause.)  We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.  We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government.  That’s how our people will prosper.  That’s how we’ll win the future.  (Applause.)  And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.
The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.  (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.  But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.  That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet.  That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.  Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon.  The science wasn’t even there yet.  NASA didn’t exist.  But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy.  Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company.  After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon.  But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.  Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country.  In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.  And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.  At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause.)  I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.  (Applause.)

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.  It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  (Applause.)  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility.  When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.  But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.  (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.  Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver.  Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs.  But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma.  Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”  (Applause.)  That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom.  In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.  (Applause.)  We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  (Applause.)  And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.  (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you.  (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  (Applause.)  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.  Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina.  Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town.  One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too.  As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  (Applause.)

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  (Applause.)  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.  (Applause.)

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America.  To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.  (Applause.)

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.  South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do.  Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.  China is building faster trains and newer airports.  Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

We have to do better.  America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System.  The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement.  They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry.  And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.  (Applause.)

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.  (Applause.)  This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.  For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down.  (Laughter and applause.)  As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.  This isn’t just about — (applause) — this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls.  It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.  It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world.  It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.  But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries.  Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all.  But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and it has to change.  (Applause.)

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.  (Applause.)

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.  Already, our exports are up.  Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States.  And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.  This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans — and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.  (Applause.)

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs.  That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.  (Applause.)

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations.  When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.  (Applause.)  But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people.  (Applause.)  That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century.  It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.  It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.  It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis.  (Applause.)  And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.  (Applause.)

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.  (Laughter.)  So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved.  If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.  We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.  (Applause.)

What I’m not willing to do — what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.  (Applause.)

I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered.  I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees.  As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ — parents’ coverage.  (Applause.)

So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward.  (Applause.)

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago.  And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.  That is not sustainable.  Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.  They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.  (Applause.)  Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts.  Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.  The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.  (Applause.)

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without.  But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  (Applause.)  And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight.  Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.  It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.  (Laughter.)

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget.  To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough.  It won’t.  (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear.  I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress.  And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.  (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.  The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit.  Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.  (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  (Applause.)  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.  (Applause.)

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  (Applause.)  Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success.  (Applause.)

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.  (Applause.)  This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.  (Applause.)

So now is the time to act.  Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done.  If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further.  We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.  We can’t win the future with a government of the past.  (Applause.)

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.  There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports.  There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.  Then there’s my favorite example:  The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.  (Laughter.)  I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste.  Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.  We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more.  But we need to think bigger.  In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.  I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.  (Applause.)

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government.  Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history.  Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.  And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this:  If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.  I will veto it.  (Applause.)

The 21st century government that’s open and competent.  A government that lives within its means.  An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas.  Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation.  It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges.  No single wall separates East and West.  No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion.  And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high.  (Applause.)  American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed.  This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.  America’s commitment has been kept.  The Iraq war is coming to an end.  (Applause.)

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.  Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies.  And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.  (Applause.)

We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad.  In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces.  Our purpose is clear:  By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency.  There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance.  But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them.  This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead.  And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.  (Applause.)

In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001.  Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield.  Their safe havens are shrinking.  And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe:  We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.  (Applause.)

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war.  Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.  Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.  (Applause.)

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.  And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)

This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity.  With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense.  We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas.  Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it.  In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war.  (Applause.)  Thousands lined up before dawn.  People danced in the streets.  One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him:  “This was a battlefield for most of my life,” he said.  “Now we want to be free.”  (Applause.)

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.  And tonight, let us be clear:  The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.  (Applause.)

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere.  And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.  (Applause.)

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families.  Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us — by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American.  They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim.  And, yes, we know that some of them are gay.  Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.  (Applause.)  And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.  It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past.  It is time to move forward as one nation.  (Applause.)

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy.  All of it will take time.  And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.  The costs.  The details.  The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem.  If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed.  If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era.  It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future.  And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology.  And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help.  And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B.  His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment.  And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour — three or four days at a time without any sleep.  Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued.  (Applause.)  But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged.  He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”  (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

We do big things.  (Applause.)

The idea of America endures.  Our destiny remains our choice.  And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

 

END

10:13 P.M. EST

 

January 27, 2010: President Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

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REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address

Source: WH, 1-27-10

United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.

9:11 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union.  For 220 years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They’ve done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility.  And they’ve done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable -– that America was always destined to succeed.  But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run, and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt.  When the market crashed on Black Tuesday, and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain.  These were the times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union.  And despite all our divisions and disagreements, our hesitations and our fears, America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people.

Again, we are tested.  And again, we must answer history’s call.

One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by a severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt.  Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression.  So we acted -– immediately and aggressively.  And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

But the devastation remains.  One in 10 Americans still cannot find work.  Many businesses have shuttered.  Home values have declined.  Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard.  And for those who’d already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades –- the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now.  They’re not new.  These struggles are the reason I ran for President.  These struggles are what I’ve witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana; Galesburg, Illinois.  I hear about them in the letters that I read each night.  The toughest to read are those written by children -– asking why they have to move from their home, asking when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough.  Some are frustrated; some are angry.  They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded, but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems.  They’re tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness.  They know we can’t afford it.  Not now.

So we face big and difficult challenges.  And what the American people hope -– what they deserve -– is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.  For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared:  a job that pays the bills; a chance to get ahead; most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share?  They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity.  After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids, starting businesses and going back to school. They’re coaching Little League and helping their neighbors.  One woman wrote to me and said, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”

It’s because of this spirit -– this great decency and great strength -– that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.  (Applause.)  Despite our hardships, our union is strong.  We do not give up.  We do not quit.  We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit.  In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.  (Applause.)
And tonight, tonight I’d like to talk about how together we can deliver on that promise.

It begins with our economy.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis.  It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout.  I hated it — (applause.)  I hated it.  You hated it.  It was about as popular as a root canal.  (Laughter.)

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular -– I would do what was necessary.  And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today.  More businesses would certainly have closed.  More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program.  And when we took that program over, we made it more transparent and more accountable.  And as a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we’ve recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.  (Applause.)  Most but not all.

To recover the rest, I’ve proposed a fee on the biggest banks.  (Applause.)  Now, I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea.  But if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.  (Applause.)

Now, as we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.

That’s why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts.

Now, let me repeat:  We cut taxes.  We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families.  (Applause.)  We cut taxes for small businesses.  We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers.  We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children.  We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.  (Applause.)

I thought I’d get some applause on that one.  (Laughter and applause.)

As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas and food and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers.  And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.  Not a single dime.  (Applause.)

Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.  (Applause.)  Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers.  Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders.  (Applause.)  And we’re on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act.  (Applause.)  That’s right -– the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill.  (Applause.)  Economists on the left and the right say this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster.  But you don’t have to take their word for it.  Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.  Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.  Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

There are stories like this all across America.  And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.  Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value.  Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response.  That is why jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010, and that’s why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight.  (Applause.)

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses.  (Applause.)  But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do –- in small businesses, companies that begin when — (applause) — companies that begin when an entrepreneur — when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides it’s time she became her own boss.  Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and they’re ready to grow.  But when you talk to small businessowners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania, or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they’re mostly lending to bigger companies.  Financing remains difficult for small businessowners across the country, even those that are making a profit.

So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. (Applause.)  I’m also proposing a new small business tax credit
-– one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages.  (Applause.)  While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment, and provide a tax incentive for all large businesses and all small businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.  (Applause.)

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow.  (Applause.)  From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete.  There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act.  (Applause.)  There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation’s goods, services, and information.  (Applause.)

We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities — (applause) — and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.  (Applause.)  And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Now, the House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps.  (Applause.)  As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same, and I know they will.  (Applause.)  They will.  (Applause.)  People are out of work.  They’re hurting.  They need our help.  And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.  (Applause.)

But the truth is, these steps won’t make up for the seven million jobs that we’ve lost over the last two years.  The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years.

We can’t afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from the last decade –- what some call the “lost decade” -– where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.

From the day I took office, I’ve been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious; such an effort would be too contentious.  I’ve been told that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for a while.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question: How long should we wait?  How long should America put its future on hold?  (Applause.)

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse.  Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy.  Germany is not waiting.  India is not waiting.  These nations — they’re not standing still.  These nations aren’t playing for second place.  They’re putting more emphasis on math and science.  They’re rebuilding their infrastructure.  They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.  Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America.  (Applause.)

As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may become, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

Now, one place to start is serious financial reform.  Look, I am not interested in punishing banks.  I’m interested in protecting our economy.  A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes.  But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.

We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions.  (Applause.)  We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.

Now, the House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes.  (Applause.)  And the lobbyists are trying to kill it.  But we cannot let them win this fight.  (Applause.)  And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back until we get it right.  We’ve got to get it right.  (Applause.)

Next, we need to encourage American innovation.  Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history -– (applause) — an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched.  And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.  You can see the results of last year’s investments in clean energy -– in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives.  And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.  (Applause.)  It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.  (Applause.)  It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.  (Applause.)  And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.  (Applause.)

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year.  (Applause.)  And this year I’m eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.  (Applause.)

I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy.  I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.  But here’s the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.  And America must be that nation.  (Applause.)

Third, we need to export more of our goods.  (Applause.)  Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.  (Applause.)  So tonight, we set a new goal:  We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America.  (Applause.)  To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.  (Applause.)

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are.  If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.  (Applause.)  But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules.  (Applause.)  And that’s why we’ll continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.  (Applause.)

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.  (Applause.)

Now, this year, we’ve broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools.  And the idea here is simple:  Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.  Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform — reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city.  In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.  (Applause.)  And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all 50 states.  Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job.  That’s why I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.  (Applause.)

To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans.  (Applause.)  Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.  (Applause.)  And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years –- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.  (Applause.)

And by the way, it’s time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs -– (applause) — because they, too, have a responsibility to help solve this problem.

Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle class.  That’s why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on middle-class families.  That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving access to every worker a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg.  That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment –- their home.  The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments.

This year, we will step up refinancing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages.  (Applause.)  And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.  (Applause.)  Yes, we do.  (Applause.)

Now, let’s clear a few things up.  (Laughter.)  I didn’t choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt.  And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.  (Laughter.)  I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; families –- even those with insurance -– who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying — Democratic administrations, Republican administrations — we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans.  The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.  It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market.  It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.

And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier. (Applause.)  Thank you.  She gets embarrassed.  (Laughter.)

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.  It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office -– the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress –- our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.  (Applause.)

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became.  I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.  And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, “What’s in it for me?”

But I also know this problem is not going away.  By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance.  Millions will lose it this year.  Our deficit will grow.  Premiums will go up.  Patients will be denied the care they need.  Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether.  I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.  (Applause.)

So, as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.  There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo.  But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.  (Applause.)  Let me know.  Let me know.  (Applause.)  I’m eager to see it.

Here’s what I ask Congress, though:  Don’t walk away from reform.  Not now.  Not when we are so close.  Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.  (Applause.)  Let’s get it done.  Let’s get it done.  (Applause.)

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves.  It’s a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political posturing.  So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight.

At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion.  (Applause.)  By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade.  Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program.  On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget.  All this was before I walked in the door.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now — just stating the facts.  Now, if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit.  But we took office amid a crisis.  And our efforts to prevent a second depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.  That, too, is a fact.

I’m absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do.  But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions.  The federal government should do the same.  (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the trillion dollars that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years.  (Applause.)  Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected.  But all other discretionary government programs will.  Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t.  And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.  (Applause.)

We will continue to go through the budget, line by line, page by page, to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work.  We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year.  To help working families, we’ll extend our middle-class tax cuts.  But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, for investment fund managers, and for those making over $250,000 a year.  We just can’t afford it.  (Applause.)

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we’ll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office.  More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket.  That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad.  (Applause.)  This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem.  The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.

Now, yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission.  So I’ll issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.  (Applause.)  And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.  (Applause.)

Now, I know that some in my own party will argue that we can’t address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting.  And I agree — which is why this freeze won’t take effect until next year — (laughter) — when the economy is stronger.  That’s how budgeting works.  (Laughter and applause.)  But understand –- understand if we don’t take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery -– all of which would have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument -– that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts including those for the wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away.  The problem is that’s what we did for eight years.  (Applause.)  That’s what helped us into this crisis.  It’s what helped lead to these deficits.  We can’t do it again.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new.  Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt.  Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here.  Let’s try common sense.  (Laughter.)  A novel concept.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now.  We face a deficit of trust -– deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.  To close that credibility gap we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.  (Applause.)

That’s what I came to Washington to do.  That’s why -– for the first time in history –- my administration posts on our White House visitors online.  That’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there.  It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress.  It’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections.  (Applause.)  I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.  (Applause.)  They should be decided by the American people.  And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform.  Applause.)  Democrats and Republicans.  (Applause.)  Democrats and Republicans.  You’ve trimmed some of this spending, you’ve embraced some meaningful change.  But restoring the public trust demands more.  For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online.  (Applause.)  Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single Web site before there’s a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent. (Applause.)

Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one another.  Now, I’m not naïve.  I never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony — (laughter) — and some post-partisan era.  I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched.  And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, they’ve been taking place for over 200 years.  They’re the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day.  We can’t wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -– a belief that if you lose, I win.  Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.  The confirmation of — (applause) — I’m speaking to both parties now.  The confirmation of well-qualified public servants shouldn’t be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators.  (Applause.)

Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, no matter how malicious, is just part of the game.  But it’s precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people.  Worse yet, it’s sowing further division among our citizens, further distrust in our government.

So, no, I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics.  I know it’s an election year.  And after last week, it’s clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual.  But we still need to govern.

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.  (Applause.)  And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town — a supermajority — then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.  (Applause.)  Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.  We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.  (Applause.)  So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.  (Applause.)

This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans.  I’d like to begin monthly meetings with both Democratic and Republican leadership.  I know you can’t wait.  (Laughter.)

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security.  Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated.  We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I’m not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country.  All of us are committed to its defense.  So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who’s tough.  Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values.  Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future — for America and for the world.  (Applause.)

That’s the work we began last year.  Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation.  We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives.  We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence.  We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula.  And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed — far more than in 2008.

And in Afghanistan, we’re increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.  (Applause.)  We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans — men and women alike.  (Applause.)  We’re joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitments, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose.  There will be difficult days ahead.  But I am absolutely confident we will succeed.

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.  As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President.  We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August.  (Applause.)  We will support the Iraqi government — we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and we will continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.  But make no mistake:  This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.  (Applause.)

Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and around the world –- they have to know that we — that they have our respect, our gratitude, our full support.  And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home.  (Applause.)  That’s why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades — last year.  (Applause.)   That’s why we’re building a 21st century VA.  And that’s why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.  (Applause.)

Now, even as we prosecute two wars, we’re also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people -– the threat of nuclear weapons.  I’ve embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons and seeks a world without them.  To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades.  (Applause.)  And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring 44 nations together here in Washington, D.C. behind a clear goal:  securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.  (Applause.)

Now, these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.  That’s why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions –- sanctions that are being vigorously enforced.  That’s why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated.  And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt:  They, too, will face growing consequences.  That is a promise.  (Applause.)

That’s the leadership that we are providing –- engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We’re working through the G20 to sustain a lasting global recovery.  We’re working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science and education and innovation.  We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We’re helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS.  And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bioterrorism or an infectious disease -– a plan that will counter threats at home and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over 60 years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores.  But we also do it because it is right.  That’s why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild.  (Applause.)  That’s why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.  For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.  (Applause.)  Always.  (Applause.)

Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals.  The same is true at home.  We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution:  the notion that we’re all created equal; that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.

We must continually renew this promise.  My administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination.  (Applause.)  We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate.  (Applause.)  This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.  (Applause.)  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

We’re going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws -– so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.  (Applause.) And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system -– to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.  (Applause.)

In the end, it’s our ideals, our values that built America  — values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still.  Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers.  Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country.  They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit.  These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values that they’re living by; business values or labor values.  They’re American values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -– our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government –- still reflect these same values.  Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper.  But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow.  Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith.  The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there.  No wonder there’s so much disappointment.

I campaigned on the promise of change –- change we can believe in, the slogan went.  And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change –- or that I can deliver it.

But remember this –- I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone.  Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated.  And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy.  That’s just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths and pointing fingers.  We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

But I also know this:  If people had made that decision 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight.  The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved.  But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year.  And what keeps me going -– what keeps me fighting -– is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism, that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people, that lives on.

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong.  We are resilient.  We are American.”

It lives on in the 8-year-old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti.

And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve dropped everything to go someplace they’ve never been and pull people they’ve never known from the rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!  U.S.A!” when another life was saved.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.  We have finished a difficult year.  We have come through a difficult decade.  But a new year has come.  A new decade stretches before us.  We don’t quit.  I don’t quit.  (Applause.)  Let’s seize this moment — to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.  (Applause.)

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END                   10:20 P.M. EST

February 24, 2009: President Barack Obama’s Address to Joint Session of Congress

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Remarks of President Barack Obama — Address to Joint Session of Congress

Source: WH, 2-24-09

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Address to Joint Session of Congress
Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

(en español)

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others.  And rightly so.  If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family.  You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day.  It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights.  It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope.  The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation.  The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach.  They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.  Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure.  What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people.  I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight.  Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank.  We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy.  Yet we import more oil today than ever before.  The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform.  Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for.  And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.  A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.  Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market.  People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway.  And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.  Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down.  That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets.  Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t.  Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am.  I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships.  In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years.  That’s why I pushed for quick action.  And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs.  More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids.  Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick.  There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college.  And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work.  I understand that skepticism.  Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending.  And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe.  I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend.  I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud.  And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track.  But it is just the first step.  Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being.  You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system.  That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy.  The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should.  Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks.  With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other.  When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars.  So businesses are forced to make layoffs.  Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways.  First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages.  It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about.  In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times.  And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions.  But such an approach won’t solve the problem.  And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer.  This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet.  Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside.  But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.  That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation.  And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed.  So were the American taxpayers.  So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions.  I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment.  My job – our job – is to solve the problem.  Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility.  I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about.  It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people.  Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home.  And then some company will hire workers to build it.  And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business.  Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more.  Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary.  Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession.  And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system.  It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term.  But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit.  That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress.  So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs.  I see this document differently.  I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue.  It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars.  And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges.  I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story.  History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas.  In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry.  From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age.  In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history.  And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise.  It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal.  Now we must be that nation again.  That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future:  energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.  And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.  We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.  New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either.  It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.  We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country.  And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.  So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.  And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink.  We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.  But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win.  Millions of jobs depend on it.  Scores of communities depend on it.  And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy.  But this is America.  We don’t do what’s easy.  We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds.  By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes.  In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages.  And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance.  It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas.  And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade.  When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time.  Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives.  It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time.  And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms.  It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.  It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue.  And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process.  It will be hard.  But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough.  So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma.  And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education.  We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation.  And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.  That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan.  We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life.  We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students.  And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources.  They need more reform.  That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success.  We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps.  And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work.  But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it.  And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.  This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.  But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.  And dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.  That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal:  by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education.  And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children.  But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them.  In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child.  I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children.  And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay.  With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office.  My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs.  As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time.  But we’re starting with the biggest lines.  We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them.  We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use.  We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people:  if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime.  I repeat: not one single dime.  In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families.  And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security.  Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come.  And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget.  That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For seven years, we have been a nation at war.  No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism.  Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support.  To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.  And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun.  For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America.  We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm.  We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort.  To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, andspur demand for American goods in markets across the globe.  For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times.  It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans.  For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him.  He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ”I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old.  I didn’t feel right getting the money myself.”

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay.  “The tragedy was terrible,” said one of the men who helped them rebuild.  “But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity.”

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.  She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room.  She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp.  The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world.  We are not quitters.”

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here.  They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration.  Their concerns must be our cause.  And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways.  But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed.  That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done.  That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.”  Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

February 12, 2009: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration

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Remarks by the President at the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration

Source: WH, 2-12-09

For Immediate Release February 12, 2009
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT A LINCOLN BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.
11:47 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. Pease, be seated. Thank you very much. Madam Speaker, Leader Reid, members of Congress, dear friends, former colleagues, it is a great honor to be here — a place where Lincoln served, was inaugurated, and where the nation he saved bid him a last farewell. As we mark the bicentennial of our 16th President’s birth, I cannot claim to know as much about his life and works as many who are also speaking today, but I can say that I feel a special gratitude to this singular figure who in so many ways made my own story possible — and in so many ways made America’s story possible.

It is fitting that we are holding this celebration here at the Capitol, for the life of this building is bound ever so closely to the times of this immortal President. Built by artisans and craftsmen, but also immigrants and slaves — it was here, in the rotunda, that Union soldiers received help from a makeshift hospital; it was downstairs, in the basement, that they were baked bread to give them strength; and it was in the Senate and House chambers where they slept at night and spent some of their days.

What those soldiers saw when they looked on this building was a very different sight than the one we see today, for it remained unfinished until the end of the war. The laborers who built the dome came to work wondering each day whether that would be their last; whether the metal they were using for its frame would be requisitioned for the war and melted down into bullets. But each day went by without any orders to halt construction, and so they kept on working and kept on building.

When President Lincoln was finally told of all the metal being used here, his response was short and clear: That is as it should be. The American people needed to be reminded, he believed, that even in a time of war, the work would go on; the people’s business would continue; that even when the nation itself was in doubt, its future was being secured; and that on that distant day, when the guns fell silent, a national capitol would stand, with a statue of freedom at its peak, as a symbol of unity in a land still mending its divisions.

It is this sense of unity, this ability to plan for a shared future even at a moment where our nation was torn apart, that I reflect on today. And while there are any number of moments that reveal that particular side of this extraordinary man, Abraham Lincoln — that particular aspect of his leadership — there’s one that I’d like to share with you today.

In the war’s final weeks, aboard Grant’s flagship, The River Queen, President Lincoln was asked what was to be done with the rebel armies once General Lee surrendered. With victory at hand, Lincoln could have sought revenge. He could have forced the South to pay a steep price for their rebellion. But despite all the bloodshed and all the misery that each side had exacted upon the other, and despite his absolute certainty in the rightness of the cause of ending slavery, no Confederate soldier was to be punished, Lincoln ordered. They were to be treated, as he put it, “liberally all round.” What Lincoln wanted was for Confederate troops to go back home and return to work on their farms and in their shops. He was even willing, he said, to “let them have their horses to plow and ¼ their guns to shoot crows with.”

That was the only way, Lincoln knew, to repair the rifts that had torn this country apart. It was the only way to begin the healing that our nation so desperately needed. What Lincoln never forgot, not even in the midst of civil war, was that despite all that divides us — north and south, black and white — we were, at heart, one nation and one people, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break.

And so even as we meet here today, in a moment when we are far less divided than in Lincoln’s day, but when we are once again debating the critical issues of our time — and debating them sometimes fiercely — let us remember that we are doing so as servants of the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future. That is the most fitting tribute we can pay — the most lasting monument we can build — to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln. Thank you. (Applause.)

February 9, 2009: President Barack Obama’s First Press Conference

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Press Conference by the President

Source: WH, 2-9-09

Press Conference by the President
East Room
8:01 P.M. EST
February 9, 2009

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. Please be seated.

Before I take your questions tonight, I’d like to speak briefly about the state of our economy and why I believe we need to put this recovery plan in motion as soon as possible.

I took a trip to Elkhart, Indiana today. Elkhart is a place that has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America. In one year, the unemployment rate went from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent. Companies that have sustained this community for years are shedding jobs at an alarming speed, and the people who’ve lost them have no idea what to do or who to turn to. They can’t pay their bills and they’ve stopped spending money. And because they’ve stopped spending money, more businesses have been forced to lay off more workers. In fact, local TV stations have started running public service announcements that tell people where to find food banks, even as the food banks don’t have enough to meet the demand.

As we speak, similar scenes are playing out in cities and towns across America. Last Monday more than a thousand men and women stood in line for 35 firefighter jobs in Miami. Last month our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine. And if there’s anyone out there who still doesn’t believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from.

And that is why the single most important part of this Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is the fact that it will save or create up to 4 million jobs — because that’s what America needs most right now.

It is absolutely true that we can’t depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do.

When passed, this plan will ensure that Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage. We’ll also provide a $2,500 tax credit to folks who are struggling to pay the costs of their college tuition, and $1,000 worth of badly needed tax relief to working and middle class families. These steps will put more money in the pockets of those Americans who are most likely to spend it, and that will help break the cycle and get our economy moving.

But as we’ve learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone can’t solve all of our economic problems — especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it’s only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.

And that’s why we have come together around a plan that combines hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the middle class with direct investment in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure — investments that will save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again, now and in the future.

More than 90 percent of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector. They’re not going to be make-work jobs, but jobs doing the work that America desperately needs done, jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our dangerously deficient dams and levees so that we don’t face another Katrina. They’ll be jobs building the wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars that will lower our dependence on foreign oil, and modernizing our costly health care system that will save us billions of dollars and countless lives.

They’ll be jobs creating the 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America. And they’ll be the jobs of firefighters and teachers and police officers that would otherwise be eliminated if we do not provide states with some relief.

After many weeks of debate and discussion, the plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be big enough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challenges that we face right now. It’s a plan that is already supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America; by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It contains input, ideas, and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans. It also contains an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability, so that every American will be able to go online and see where and how we’re spending every dime. What it does not contain, however, is a single pet project, not a single earmark, and it has been stripped of the projects members of both parties found most objectionable.

Now, despite all of this, the plan is not perfect. No plan is. I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing a little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence. Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe. And I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work.

I want to thank the members of Congress who’ve worked so hard to move this plan forward. But I also want to urge all members of Congress to act without delay in the coming week to resolve their differences and pass this plan.

We find ourselves in a rare moment where the citizens of our country and all countries are watching and waiting for us to lead. It’s a responsibility that this generation did not ask for, but one that we must accept for the future and our children and our grandchildren. And the strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.

That’s the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship. And it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead. After a day of speaking with and listening to the fundamentally decent men and women who call this nation home, I have full faith and confidence that we can do it. But we’re going to have to work together. That’s what I intend to promote in the weeks and days ahead.

And with that, I’ll take some of your questions. And let me go to Jennifer Loven, AP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today in Indiana, you said something striking. You said that this nation could end up in a crisis without action that we would be unable to reverse. Can you talk about what you know or what you’re hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent, when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, no — I think that what I’ve said is what other economists have said across the political spectrum, which is that if you delay acting on an economy of this severity, then you potentially create a negative spiral that becomes much more difficult for us to get out of. We saw this happen in Japan in the 1990s, where they did not act boldly and swiftly enough, and as a consequence they suffered what was called the “lost decade” where essentially for the entire ’90s they did not see any significant economic growth.

So what I’m trying to underscore is what the people in Elkhart already understand: that this is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession. We are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We’ve lost now 3.6 million jobs, but what’s perhaps even more disturbing is that almost half of that job loss has taken place over the last three months, which means that the problems are accelerating instead of getting better.

Now, what I said in Elkhart today is what I repeat this evening, which is, I’m absolutely confident that we can solve this problem, but it’s going to require us to take some significant, important steps.

Step number one: We have to pass an economic recovery and reinvestment plan. And we’ve made progress. There was a vote this evening that moved the process forward in the Senate. We already have a House bill that’s passed. I’m hoping over the next several days that the House and the Senate can reconcile their differences and get that bill on my desk.

There have been criticisms from a bunch of different directions about this bill, so let me just address a few of them. Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. Now, you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And in fact there are several who’ve suggested that FDR was wrong to intervene back in the New Deal. They’re fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.

Most economists, almost unanimously, recognize that even if philosophically you’re wary of government intervening in the economy, when you have the kind of problem we have right now — what started on Wall Street goes to Main Street, suddenly businesses can’t get credit, they start carrying back their investment, they start laying off workers, workers start pulling back in terms of spending — when you have that situation, that government is an important element of introducing some additional demand into the economy. We stand to lose about $1 trillion worth of demand this year and another trillion next year. And what that means is you’ve got this gaping hole in the economy.

That’s why the figure that we initially came up with of approximately $800 billion was put forward. That wasn’t just some random number that I plucked out of a hat. That was Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal economists that I spoke to who indicated that given the magnitude of the crisis and the fact that it’s happening worldwide, it’s important for us to have a bill of sufficient size and scope that we can save or create 4 million jobs. That still means that you’re going to have some net job loss, but at least we can start slowing the trend and moving it in the right direction.

Now, the recovery and reinvestment package is not the only thing we have to do — it’s one leg of the stool. We are still going to have to make sure that we are attracting private capital, get the credit markets flowing again, because that’s the lifeblood of the economy.

And so tomorrow my Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, will be announcing some very clear and specific plans for how we are going to start loosening up credit once again. And that means having some transparency and oversight in the system. It means that we correct some of the mistakes with TARP that were made earlier, the lack of consistency, the lack of clarity in terms of how the program was going to move forward. It means that we condition taxpayer dollars that are being provided to banks on them showing some restraint when it comes to executive compensation, not using the money to charter corporate jets when they’re not necessary. It means that we focus on housing and how are we going to help homeowners that are suffering foreclosure or homeowners who are still making their mortgage payments, but are seeing their property values decline.

So there are going to be a whole range of approaches that we have to take for dealing with the economy. My bottom line is to make sure that we are saving or creating 4 million jobs, we are making sure that the financial system is working again, that homeowners are getting some relief. And I’m happy to get good ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans. What I won’t do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed. And that’s part of what the election in November was all about.

Okay, Caren Bohan of Reuters.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to shift gears to foreign policy. What is your strategy for engaging Iran, and when will you start to implement it? Will your timetable be affected at all by the Iranian elections? And are you getting any indications that Iran is interested in a dialogue with the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world; that their attacks or their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they’ve used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon, or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon — that all those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace. What I’ve also said is that we should take an approach with Iran that employs all of the resources at the United States’ disposal, and that includes diplomacy.

And so my national security team is currently reviewing our existing Iran policy, looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them. And my expectation is in the coming months we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face to face, diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction.

There’s been a lot of mistrust built up over the years, so it’s not going to happen overnight. And it’s important that even as we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country — that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable; that we’re clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing.

So there are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations, but I think that there’s the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress. And I think that if you look at how we’ve approached the Middle East, my designation of George Mitchell as a special envoy to help deal with the Arab-Israeli situation, some of the interviews that I’ve given, it indicates the degree to which we want to do things differently in the region. Now it’s time for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently as well, and recognize that even as it has some rights as a member of the international community, with those rights come responsibilities.

Chip Reid.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You have often said that bipartisanship is extraordinarily important overall, and in the stimulus package. But now when we ask your advisors about the lack of bipartisanship so far — zero votes in the House, three in the Senate — they say, well, it’s not the number of votes that matters, it’s the number of jobs that will be created. Is that a sign that you are moving away, your White House is moving away from this emphasis on bipartisanship? And what went wrong? Did you underestimate how hard it would be to change the way Washington works?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don’t think — I don’t think I underestimated it. I don’t think the — the American people underestimated it. They understand that there have been a lot of bad habits built up here in Washington and it’s going to take time to break down some of those bad habits.

You know, when I made a series of overtures to the Republicans — going over to meet with both Republican caucuses; you know, putting three Republicans in my Cabinet, something that is unprecedented; making sure that they were invited here to the White House to talk about the economic recovery plan — all those were not designed simply to get some short-term votes. They were designed to try to build up some trust over time. And I think that as I continue to make these overtures, over time hopefully that will be reciprocated.

But understand the bottom line that I’ve got right now, which is what’s happening to the people of Elkhart and what’s happening across the country. I can’t afford to see Congress play the usual political games. What we have to do right now is deliver for the American people. So my bottom line when it comes to the recovery package is, send me a bill that creates or saves 4 million jobs. Because everybody has to be possessed with a sense of urgency about putting people back to work, making sure the folks are staying in their homes and that they can send their kids to college.

That doesn’t negate the continuing efforts that I’m going to make to listen and engage with my Republican colleagues, and hopefully the tone that I’ve taken, which has been consistently civil and respectful, will pay some dividends over the long term. There are going to be areas where we disagree, and there are going to be areas where we agree.

As I said, the one concern I’ve got on the stimulus package in terms of the debate and listening to some of what’s been said in Congress is that there seems to be a set of folks who — I don’t doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing. Now, if that’s their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we’re probably not going to make much progress, because I don’t think that’s economically sound and I don’t think that’s what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing.

There are others who recognize that we’ve got to do a significant recovery package, but they’re concerned about the mix of what’s in there. And if they’re sincere about it, then I’m happy to have conversations about this tax cut versus that tax cut, or this infrastructure project versus that infrastructure project. But what I — what I’ve been concerned about is some of the language that’s been used suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth.

First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now, and the economic crisis that we have right now.

Number two is that although there are some programs in there that I think are good policy, some of them aren’t job creators. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say that those programs should be out of this particular recovery package, and we can deal with them later. But when they start characterizing this as pork without acknowledging that there are no earmarks in this package — something again that was pretty rare over the last eight years — then you get a feeling that maybe we’re playing politics instead of actually trying to solve problems for the American people.

So I’m going to keep on engaging. I hope that as we get the Senate and the House bills together, that everybody is willing to give a little bit. I suspect that the package that emerges is not going to be a hundred percent of what I want. But my bottom line is, are we creating 4 million jobs, and are we laying the foundation for long-term economic growth. This is another concern that I’ve had in some of the arguments that I’m hearing.

When people suggest that, what a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy efficient — why would that be a waste of money? We’re creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings, or weatherizing 2 million American’s homes, as was called for in the package. So that right there creates economic stimulus. And we are saving taxpayers when it comes to federal buildings potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets, and we’re reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn’t we want to make that kind of investment?

Now, maybe philosophically you just don’t think that the federal government should be involved in energy policy. I happen to disagree with that. I think that’s the reason why we find ourselves importing more foreign oil now than we did back in the early ’70s when OPEC first formed. And we can have a respectful debate about whether or not we should be involved in energy policymaking, but don’t suggest that somehow that’s wasteful spending. That’s exactly what this country needs.

The same applies when it comes to information technologies in health care. We know that health care is crippling businesses and making us less competitive as well as breaking the banks of families all across America, and part of the reason is we’ve got the most inefficient health care system imaginable. We’re still using paper — we’re still filing things in triplicate. Nurses can’t read the prescriptions that doctors have written out. Why wouldn’t we want to put that on an electronic medical record that will reduce error rates, reduce our long-term cost of health care, and create jobs right now?

Education — yet another example. The suggestion is why should the federal government be involved in school construction. Well, I visited a school down in South Carolina that was built in the 1850s. Kids are still learning in that school, as best they can. When the railroad — it’s right next to a railroad, and when the train runs by, the whole building shakes and the teacher has to stop teaching for a while. The auditorium is completely broken down; they can’t use it. So why wouldn’t we want to build state-of-the-art schools with science labs that are teaching our kids the skills they need for the 21st century, that will enhance our economy and, by the way, right now will create jobs?

So we can differ on some of the particulars, but again, the question I think the American people are asking is, do you just want government to do nothing, or do you want it to do something? If you want it to do something, then we can have a conversation. But doing nothing, that’s not an option from my perspective.

All right. Chuck Todd. Where’s Chuck?

Q Thank you, Mr. President. In your opening remarks, you talked about that if your plan works the way you want it to work, it’s going to increase consumer spending. But isn’t consumer spending or overspending how we got into this mess? And if people get money back into their pockets, do you not want them saving it or paying down debt first before they start spending money into the economy?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that consumer spending got us into this mess. What got us into this mess initially were banks taking exorbitant, wild risks with other people’s monies based on shaky assets. And because of the enormous leverage where they had $1 worth of assets and they were betting $30 on that $1, what we had was a crisis in the financial system. That led to a contraction of credit, which in turn meant businesses couldn’t make payroll or make inventories, which meant that everybody became uncertain about the future of the economy, so people started making decisions accordingly — reducing investment, initiated layoffs — which in turn made things worse.

Now, you are making a legitimate point, Chuck, about the fact that our savings rate has declined and this economy has been driven by consumer spending for a very long time — and that’s not going to be sustainable. You know, if all we’re doing is spending and we’re not making things, then over time other countries are going to get tired of lending us money and eventually the party is going to be over. Well, in fact, the party now is over.

And so the sequence of how we’re approaching this is as follows: Our immediate job is to stop the downward spiral, and that means putting money into consumers’ pockets, it means loosening up credit, it means putting forward investments that not only employ people immediately but also lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth. And that, by the way, is important even if you’re a fiscal conservative, because the biggest problem we’re going to have with our federal budget is if we continue a situation in which there are no tax revenues because economic growth is plummeting at the same time as we’ve got more demands for unemployment insurance, we’ve got more demands for people who’ve lost their health care, more demand for food stamps. That will put enormous strains on the federal budget as well as the state budget.

So the most important thing we can do for our budget crisis right now is to make sure that the economy doesn’t continue to tank. And that’s why passing the economic recovery plan is the right thing to do, even though I recognize that it’s expensive. Look, I would love not to have to spend money right now. This notion that somehow I came in here just ginned up to spend $800 billion, that wasn’t — that wasn’t how I envisioned my presidency beginning. But we have to adapt to existing circumstances.

Now, what we are going to also have to do is to make sure that as soon as the economy stabilizes, investment begins again; we’re no longer contracting but we’re growing; that our mid-term and long-term budget is dealt with. And I think the same is true for individual consumers. Right now they’re just trying to figure out, how do I make sure that if I lose my job, I’m still going to be able to make my mortgage payments. Or they’re worried about how am I going to pay next month’s bills. So they’re not engaging in a lot of long-term financial planning.

Once the economy stabilizes and people are less fearful, then I do think that we’re going to have to start thinking about how do we operate more prudently, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So if you want to get — if you want to buy a house, then putting zero down and buying a house that is probably not affordable for you in case something goes wrong, that’s something that has to be reconsidered.

So we’re going to have to change our bad habits. But right now, the key is making sure that we pull ourselves out of the economic slump that we’re in.

All right, Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Many experts, from Nouriel Roubini to Senator Schumer, have said that it will cost the government more than a trillion dollars to really fix the financial system. During the campaign you promised the American people that you won’t just tell them what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. Won’t the government need far more than the $350 billion that’s remaining in the financial rescue funds to really solve the credit crisis?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the credit crisis is real and it’s not over. We averted catastrophe by passing the TARP legislation. But as I said before, because of a lack of clarity and consistency in how it was applied, a lack of oversight in how the money went out, we didn’t get as big of a bang for the buck as we should have.

My immediate task is making sure that the second half of that money, $350 billion, is spent properly. That’s my first job. Before I even think about what else I’ve got to do, my first task is to make sure that my Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, working with Larry Summers, my National Economic Advisor, and others, are coming up with the best possible plan to use this money wisely — in a way that’s transparent; in a way that provides clear oversight; that we are conditioning any money that we give to banks on them reducing executive compensation to reasonable levels; and to make sure that they’re not wasting that money.

We are going to have to work with the banks in an effective way to clean up their balance sheets so that some trust is restored within the marketplace, because right now part of the problem is that nobody really knows what’s on the banks’ books. Any given bank, they’re not sure what kinds of losses are there. We’ve got to open things up and restore some trust.

We also have to deal with the housing issue in a clear and consistent way. I don’t want to preempt my Secretary of the Treasury; he’s going to be laying out these principles in great detail tomorrow. But my instruction to him has been, let’s get this right, let’s create a template in which we’re restoring market confidence. And the reason that’s so important is because we don’t know yet whether we’re going to need additional money or how much additional money we’ll need until we’ve seen how successful we are at restoring a sense of confidence in the marketplace, that the federal government and the Federal Reserve Bank and the FDIC, working in concert, know what they’re doing. That can make a big difference in terms of whether or not we attract private capital back into the marketplace.

And ultimately, the government cannot substitute for all the private capital that has been withdrawn from the system. We’ve got to restore confidence so that private capital goes back in.

Jake.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. My question follows Julianna’s in content. The American people have seen hundreds of billions of dollars spent already, and still the economy continues to free fall. Beyond avoiding the national catastrophe that you’ve warned about, once all the legs of your stool are in place, how can the American people gauge whether or not your programs are working? Can they — should they be looking at the metric of the stock market, home foreclosures, unemployment? What metric should they use? When? And how will they know if it’s working, or whether or not we need to go to a plan B?

THE PRESIDENT: I think my initial measure of success is creating or saving 4 million jobs. That’s bottom line number one, because if people are working, then they’ve got enough confidence to make purchases, to make investments. Businesses start seeing that consumers are out there with a little more confidence, and they start making investments, which means they start hiring workers. So step number one, job creation.

Step number two: Are we seeing the credit markets operate effectively? I can’t tell you how many businesses that I talk to that are successful businesses, but just can’t get credit. Part of the problem in Elkhart, that I heard about today, was the fact that — this is the RV capital of America. You’ve got a bunch of RV companies that have customers who want to purchase RVs, but even though their credit is good, they can’t get the loan. Now, the businesses also can’t get loans to make payments to their suppliers. But when they have consumers, consumers can’t get the loans that they need. So normalizing the credit markets is I think step number two.

Step number three is going to be housing: Have we stabilized the housing market? Now, the federal government doesn’t have complete control over that, but if our plan is effective, working with the Federal Reserve Bank, working with the FDIC, I think what we can do is stem the rate of foreclosure and we can start stabilizing housing values over time. And the most — the biggest measure of success is whether we stop contracting and shedding jobs, and we start growing again. Now, I don’t have a crystal ball, and as I’ve said, this is an unprecedented crisis. But my hope is that after a difficult year — and this year is going to be a difficult year — that businesses start investing again, they start making decisions that, you know, in fact there’s money to be made out there, customers or consumers start feeling that their jobs are stable and safe, and they start making purchases again. And if we get things right, then starting next year we can start seeing some significant improvement.

Ed Henry. Where’s Ed, CNN? There he is.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You promised to send more troops to Afghanistan. And since you’ve been very clear about a timetable to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, I wonder what’s your timetable to withdraw troops eventually from Afghanistan?

And related to that, there’s a Pentagon policy that bans media coverage of the flag-draped coffins from coming in to Dover Air Force Base. And back in 2004, then-Senator Joe Biden said that it was shameful for dead soldiers to be “snuck back into the country under the cover of night.” You’ve promised unprecedented transparency, openness in your government. Will you overturn that policy so the American people can see the full human cost of war?

THE PRESIDENT: Your question is timely. We got reports that four American servicemembers have been killed in Iraq today, and obviously our thoughts and prayers go out to the families. I’ve said before that — you know, people have asked me when did it hit you that you are now President? And what I told them was the most sobering moment is signing letters to the families of our fallen heroes. It reminds you of the responsibilities that you carry in this office and the consequences of decisions that you make.

Now, with respect to the policy of opening up media to loved ones being brought back home, we are in the process of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense, so I don’t want to give you an answer now before I’ve evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved.

With respect to Afghanistan, this is going to be a big challenge. I think because of the extraordinary work done by our troops, and some very good diplomatic work done by Ambassador Crocker in Iraq, we just saw an election in Iraq that went relatively peacefully. And you get a sense that the political system is now functioning in a meaningful way.

You do not see that yet in Afghanistan. They’ve got elections coming up, but effectively the national government seems very detached from what’s going on in the surrounding community.

In addition, you’ve got the Taliban and al Qaeda operating in the FATA and these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and what we haven’t seen is the kind of concerted effort to root out those safe havens that would ultimately make our mission successful.

So we are undergoing a thorough-going review. Not only is General Petraeus now the head of CENTCOM conducting his own review, he’s now working in concert with the special envoy that I’ve sent over, Richard Holbrooke, one of our top diplomats, to evaluate a regional approach. We are going to need more effective coordination of our military efforts with diplomatic efforts with development efforts with more effective coordination with our allies in order for us to be successful.

The bottom line, though — and I just want to remember [sic] the American people, because this is going to be difficult — is this is a situation in which a region served as the base to launch an attack that killed 3,000 Americans. And this past week, I met with families of those who were lost in 9/11 — a reminder of the costs of allowing those safe havens to exist. My bottom line is that we cannot allow al Qaeda to operate. We cannot have those safe havens in that region. And we’re going to have to work both smartly and effectively, but with consistency, in order to make sure that those safe havens don’t exist. I do not have yet a timetable for how long that’s going to take. What I know is, I’m not going to make — I’m not going to allow al Qaeda or bin Laden to operate with impunity, planning attacks on the U.S. homeland.

All right. Helene Cooper. Where’s Helene? There you are.

Q Thank you, sir. I wanted to ask you on the next bank bailout. Are you going to impose a requirement that the financial institutions use this money to loosen up credit and make new lending? And if not, how do you make the case to the American people that this bailout will work, when the last one didn’t?

THE PRESIDENT: Again, Helene — and I’m trying to avoid preempting my Secretary of the Treasury, I want all of you to show up at his press conference as well; he’s going to be terrific. But — this relates to Jake’s earlier question — one of my bottom lines is whether or not credit is flowing to the people who need it. Is it flowing to banks — excuse me, is it flowing to businesses, large and small? Is it flowing to consumers? Are they able to operate in ways that translate into jobs and economic growth on Main Street? And the package that we’ve put together is designed to help do that.

And beyond that, I’m going to make sure that Tim gets his moment in the sun tomorrow.

All right. Major Garrett. Where’s Major?

Q Mr. President, at a speech Friday that many of us covered, Vice President Biden said the following thing about a conversation the two of you had in the Oval Office, about a subject he didn’t disclose: “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, if we stand up there and we really make the tough decisions, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” Since the Vice President brought it up, can you tell the American people, sir, what you were talking about? And if not, can you at least reassure them it wasn’t the stimulus bill or the bank rescue plan — (laughter) — and if in general, you agree with that ratio of success, 30 percent failure, 70 percent success?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to. (Laughter.) Not surprisingly. But let me try this out. I think what Joe may have been suggesting, although I wouldn’t put numerical — I wouldn’t ascribe any numerical percentage to any of this — is that given the magnitude of the challenges that we have, any single thing that we do is going to be part of the solution, not all of the solution. And as I said in my introductory remarks, not everything we do is going to work out exactly as we intended it to work out.

This is an unprecedented problem. And when you talk to economists, there is some general sense of how we’re going to move forward; there’s some strong consensus about the need for a recovery package of a certain magnitude; there’s a strong consensus that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, all tax cuts or all investment, but that there should be a range of approaches.

But even if we do everything right on that, we’ve still got to deal with what we just talked about, the financial system, and making sure that banks are lending again. We’re still going to have to deal with housing. We’re still going to have to make sure that we’ve got a regulatory structure — a regulatory architecture for the financial system that prevents crises like this from occurring again. Those are all big, complicated tasks. So I don’t know whether Joe was referring to that, but I use that as a launching point to make a general point about these issues.

Q Did you get any promise from them?

THE PRESIDENT: I have no idea, I really don’t.

Michael Fletcher, The Washington Post.

Q Yes, thank you, sir. What is your reaction to Alex Rodriguez’s admission that he used steroids as a member of the Texas Rangers?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s depressing news on top of what’s been a flurry of depressing items when it comes to Major League Baseball. And if you’re a fan of Major League Baseball, I think it — it tarnishes an entire era to some degree. And it’s unfortunate, because I think there are a lot of ballplayers who played it straight. And the thing I’m probably most concerned about is the message that it sends to our kids.

What I’m pleased about is Major League Baseball seems to finally be taking this seriously, to recognize how big of a problem this is for the sport. And that our kids, hopefully, are watching and saying, you know what, there are no shortcuts; that when you try to take shortcuts, you may end up tarnishing your entire career, and that your integrity is not worth it. That’s the message I hope is communicated.

All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. (Laughter.) I’m really excited.

Q Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that Pakistan — there is no doubt that in the FATA region of Pakistan, in the mountainous regions along the border of Afghanistan, that there are safe havens where terrorists are operating. And one of the goals of Ambassador Holbrooke, as he is traveling throughout the region, is to deliver a message to Pakistan that they are endangered as much as we are by the continuation of those operations. And that we’ve got to work in a regional fashion to root out those safe havens. It’s not acceptable for Pakistan or for us to have folks who, with impunity, will kill innocent men, women and children. I believe that the new government of Pakistan and Mr. Zardari cares deeply about getting control of this situation. We want to be effective partners with them on that issue.

Q (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Mr. Holbrooke is there, and that’s exactly why he is being sent there, because I think that we have to make sure that Pakistan is a stalwart ally with us in battling this terrorist threat.

With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don’t want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger. And one of my goals is to prevent nuclear proliferation generally. I think that it’s important for the United States, in concert with Russia, to lead the way on this. And, you know, I’ve mentioned this in conversations with the Russian President, Mr. Medvedev, to let him know that it is important for us to restart the conversations about how we can start reducing our nuclear arsenals in an effective way so that — so that we then have the standing to go to other countries and start stitching back together the nonproliferation treaties that, frankly, have been weakened over the last several years.

Q Why do we have to pick —

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, all right.

Q — on who (inaudible)?

THE PRESIDENT: Sam Stein, Huffington Post — where’s Sam? Here.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Today Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he wants to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush administration. He said that before you turn the page, you have to read the page first. Do you agree with such a proposal, and are you willing to rule out right here and now any prosecution of Bush administration officials?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t seen the proposal, so I don’t want to express an opinion on something that I haven’t seen.

What I have said is that my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture, and that we abide by the Geneva Conventions, and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process, as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm. And I don’t think those are contradictory; I think they are potentially complementary.

My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen; but that generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards. I want to pull everybody together, including, by the way, the — all the members of the intelligence community who have done things the right way and have been working hard to protect America, and I think sometimes are painted with a broad brush without adequate information.

So I will take a look at Senator Leahy’s proposal, but my general orientation is to say, let’s get it right moving forward.

Mara Liasson.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. If it’s this hard to get more than a handful of Republican votes on what is relatively easy — spending tons of money and cutting people’s taxes — when you look down the road at health care and entitlement reform and energy reform, those are really tough choices. You’re going to be asking some people to get less and some people to pay more.

What do you think you’re going to have to do to get more bipartisanship? Are you going to need a new legislative model, bringing in Republicans from the very beginning, getting more involved in the details yourself from the beginning, or using bipartisan commissions? What has this experience with the stimulus led you to think about when you think about these future challenges?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said before, Mara, I think that old habits are hard to break. And we’re coming off an election and I think people want to sort of test the limits of what they can get. There’s a lot of jockeying in this town and a lot of who’s up and who’s down and positioning for the next election.

And what I’ve tried to suggest is that this is one of those times where we’ve got to put that kind of behavior aside, because the American people can’t afford it. The people in Elkhart can’t afford it. The single mom who’s trying to figure out how to keep her house can’t afford it. And whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, surely there’s got to be some capacity for us to work together — not agree on everything, but at least set aside small differences to get things done.

Now, just in terms of the historic record here, the Republicans were brought in early and were consulted. And you’ll remember that when we initially introduced our framework, they were pleasantly surprised and complimentary about the tax cuts that were presented in that framework. Those tax cuts are still in there. I mean, I suppose what I could have done is started off with no tax cuts, knowing that I was going to want some, and then let them take credit for all of them. And maybe that’s the lesson I learned.

But there was consultation. There will continue to be consultation. One thing that I think is important is to recognize that because all these — all these items that you listed are hard, that people have to break out of some of the ideological rigidity and gridlock that we’ve been carrying around for too long.

And let me give you a prime example — when it comes to how we approach the issue of fiscal responsibility. Again, it’s a little hard for me to take criticism from folks about this recovery package after they presided over a doubling of the national debt. I’m not sure they have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

Having said that, I think there are a lot of Republicans who are sincere in recognizing that unless we deal with entitlements in a serious way, the problems we have with this year’s deficit and next year’s deficit pale in comparison to what we’re going to be seeing 10 or 15 years or 20 years down the road.

Both Democrats and Republicans are going to have to think differently in order to come together and solve that problem. I think there are areas like education where some in my party have been too resistant to reform, and have argued only money makes a difference. And there have been others on the Republican side or the conservative side who said no matter how much money you spend, nothing makes a difference, so let’s just blow up the public school systems.

And I think that both sides are going to have to acknowledge we’re going to need more money for new science labs, to pay teachers more effectively, but we’re also going to need more reform, which means that we’ve got to train teachers more effectively, bad teachers need to be fired after being given the opportunity to train effectively, that we should experiment with things like charter schools that are innovating in the classroom, that we should have high standards.

So my whole goal over the next four years is to make sure that whatever arguments are persuasive and backed up by evidence and facts and proof that they can work, that we are pulling people together around that kind of pragmatic agenda. And I think that there was an opportunity to do this with this recovery package because as I said, although there are some politicians who are arguing that we don’t need a stimulus, there are very few economists who are making that argument.

I mean, you’ve got economists who were advising John McCain, economists who were advisors to George Bush — one and two — all suggesting that we actually needed a serious recovery package. And so when I hear people just saying, oh, we don’t need to do anything, this is a spending bill, not a stimulus bill — without acknowledging that by definition, part of any stimulus package would include spending — that’s the point — then what I get a sense of is that there’s some ideological blockage there that needs to be cleared up.

But I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to civility and rational argument. I think that’s what the people of Elkhart and people around America are looking for. And that’s what I’m — that’s the kind of leadership I’m going to try to provide.

All right, thank you, guys.

END                  9:01 P.M. EST

January 29, 2009: President Barack Obama’s Remarks Upon Signing the Lilly Ledbetter Bill

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

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Remarks by the President Upon Signing the Lilly Ledbetter Bill

Source: WH, 1-29-09

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
_________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release

January 29, 2009

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT UPON SIGNING THE LILLY LEDBETTER BILL

East Room

10:20 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: All right. Everybody please have a seat. Well, this is a wonderful day. (Applause.) First of all, it is fitting that the very first bill that I sign — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act — (applause) — that it is upholding one of this nation’s founding principles: that we are all created equal, and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.

It’s also fitting that we’re joined today by the woman after whom this bill is named — someone who Michelle and I have had the privilege to get to know ourselves. And it is fitting that we are joined this morning by the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) It’s appropriate that this is the first bill we do together. We could not have done it without her. Madam Speaker, thank you for your extraordinary work. And to all the sponsors and members of Congress and leadership who helped to make this day possible.

Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job — and she did it well — for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work. Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits — losses that she still feels today.

Now, Lilly could have accepted her lot and moved on. She could have decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and the harassment that would inevitably come with speaking up for what she deserved. But instead, she decided that there was a principle at stake, something worth fighting for. So she set out on a journey that would take more than ten years, take her all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, and lead to this day and this bill which will help others get the justice that she was denied.

Because while this bill bears her name, Lilly knows that this story isn’t just about her. It’s the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn — women of color even less — which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime.

Equal pay is by no means just a women’s issue — it’s a family issue. It’s about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition and child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on; households where one breadwinner is paid less than she deserves; that’s the difference between affording the mortgage — or not; between keeping the heat on, or paying the doctor bills — or not. And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month’s paycheck to simple and plain discrimination.

So signing this bill today is to send a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody; that there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces; and that it’s not just unfair and illegal, it’s bad for business to pay somebody less because of their gender or their age or their race or their ethnicity, religion or disability; and that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook. It’s about how our laws affect the daily lives and the daily realities of people: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.

Ultimately, equal pay isn’t just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it’s a question of who we are — and whether we’re truly living up to our fundamental ideals; whether we’ll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something — to breathe new life into them with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time.

That is what Lilly Ledbetter challenged us to do. And today, I sign this bill not just in her honor, but in the honor of those who came before — women like my grandmother, who worked in a bank all her life, and even after she hit that glass ceiling, kept getting up and giving her best every day, without complaint, because she wanted something better for me and my sister.

And I sign this bill for my daughters, and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.

In the end, that’s why Lilly stayed the course. She knew it was too late for her — that this bill wouldn’t undo the years of injustice she faced or restore the earnings she was denied. But this grandmother from Alabama kept on fighting, because she was thinking about the next generation. It’s what we’ve always done in America — set our sights high for ourselves, but even higher for our children and our grandchildren.

And now it’s up to us to continue this work. This bill is an important step — a simple fix to ensure fundamental fairness for American workers — and I want to thank this remarkable and bipartisan group of legislators who worked so hard to get it passed. And I want to thank all the advocates who are in the audience who worked so hard to get it passed. This is only the beginning. I know that if we stay focused, as Lilly did — and keep standing for what’s right, as Lilly did — we will close that pay gap and we will make sure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedoms to pursue their dreams as our sons.

So thank you, Lilly Ledbetter. (Applause.)

(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)

END 10:27 A.M. EST