President Obama vows nation's economy 'will recover' during first speech before Congress
BY KENNETH R. BAZINET, RICHARD SISK AND MICHAEL MCAULIFF
NY Daily News
February 25, 2009
WASHINGTON - Come on, people, work with me, President Obama told the nation Tuesday night - using a bleak backdrop of economic suffering to launch a stirring call for unity and decisive action.
"Our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken," Obama said in a ringing speech to a joint session of Congress.
"Though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover," Obama promised to a roar from the packed chamber, striking the kind of upbeat rhetorical note that had been missing from his oratory of late.
"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation," Obama said. "The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach."
Americans have triumphed over adversity throughout their history, he said - "We are not quitters."
Still, Obama offered a sober assessment of the current state of the nation in a 52-minute, State of the Union-like speech, interrupted more than 60 times by applause.
And the President said he inherited a historic $1.3 trillion deficit from an administration that started with a surplus, oversaw a reckless era of deregulation and ducked tough problems.
"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," Obama said
Democrats gloried in the first speech by a Democratic President to a Democratic-led Congress since 1994.
"The President's speech was bold, straightforward and principled - what a difference a year makes," said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn, Queens).
Obama warned there would be more pain when he proposes his budget tomorrow, but in repeating a call for bipartisanship that Republicans so far have ignored, he said the nation must grab its bootstraps and pull together.
"Given these realities, everyone in this chamber - Democrats and Republicans - will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars," Obama said. "And that includes me."
But Obama, who just signed a whopping $787 billion stimulus bill, emphasized his vision of sacrifice doesn't mean diminished government.
"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," Obama declared. He promised bold programs for education, energy independence, health care and saving America's auto industry.
Republicans praised Obama's tone and call to work together, but almost none suggested they'd be willing to follow Obama's prescriptions.
"Some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who delivered the GOP response to the President's speech. "Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina, we have our doubts."
Jindal, 38, the first Indian-American governor in U.S. history, was picked to present a fresh face for the Grand Old Party, but he delivered a familiar message. "The way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians," he said.
'I promise you, I get it'
Obama acknowledged the GOP fear of big government but said doing little would lead to a decade-long recession. And he signaled that even though he is funneling billions to banks and big businesses in his recovery push, he knows Americans are furious at corporate chiefs they blame for excessive greed.
"I promise you, I get it," Obama said. "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."
He insisted cleaning up the big shots' mess was all to help the little guys. "It's not about helping banks - it's about helping people," he said.
The Federal Reserve chairman appointed by former President George W. Bush, Ben Bernanke, suggested in testimony to Congress on Tuesday that Obama's assessments are close to the mark on the economy.
"If actions taken by the administration, the Congress and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability ... there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery," Bernanke said.
Obama's address was dominated by the economy, but he also mentioned foreign policy, reminding the country that he still intends to withdraw from Iraq and is recommitted to the battle in Afghanistan. He reportedly will soon announce an 18-month timetable for a pullout of combat forces in Iraq.
"My concern is that the President was 45 minutes into his speech until he mentioned the threat of terrorism and then only in passing," said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.).