Obama vows to lead economic revival despite crisis
COMBINED NEWS SERVICES
February 25, 2009
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama promised a nation shuddering in economic crisis yesterday that he would lead it from a dire "day of reckoning" to a brighter future.
"The time to take charge of our future is here," Obama declared, delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress.
Striking his most optimistic tone in weeks, the president used the speech to outline how he believed his stimulus plan, bank bailout proposal, housing programs and health care overhaul would work in concert to turn around the nation's struggling economy. And while he bluntly described a country beset by historic economic challenges and continued threats abroad, he said the solution lies in directly confronting - not ignoring - those problems.
"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation," he said. "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."
"Now is the time to jump-start job creation, restart 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," he said.
While he largely avoided partisan rhetoric and did not directly point the finger of blame at his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama did describe an "era" of greed and short-term profit he said the nation was now putting behind it. He stressed he had not created but rather "inherited" the $1 trillion deficit, along with what he called "a financial crisis and a costly recession."
The "day of reckoning has arrived," he declared, warning members of both parties in Congress that they will be forced to sacrifice "worthy priorities" as the crisis continues.
But he made clear he was not prepared to retreat from his own ambitious agenda. He called on Congress to pass a market-based cap on carbon pollution and vowed a renewed effort to provide health care to all Americans. And he urged Americans to attend at least one year of college or vocational training, pledging the country will again lead the world in the proportion of college graduates by 2020.
In a speech short on specifics, however, Obama sought to temper expectations, acknowledging he could not "solve every problem or address every issue." But he promised to deliver a budget tomorrow that will serve as a new "vision for America - as a blueprint for our future."
After weeks of persistent questions about whether he had grown too downcast and pessimistic in describing the ongoing economic crisis, White House officials said Obama was seeking to strike an appropriate balance between hope - the mantra of his campaign - and realism in an era of serious problems.
The speech to Congress was his first major address since he was inaugurated five weeks ago, as well as the first opportunity to offer a coherent narrative for the early weeks of his presidency, during which the economy has shown no signs of stabilizing.
Despite that, and little Republican backing, Obama enjoys strong approval ratings. Yet bad economic news continues to pile up. Some 3.6 million jobs have disappeared so far in the deepening recession. Americans have lost trillions in retirement, college and savings accounts, with the stock market nearly half from its peak of 16 months ago.
The president has pledged to cut the nation's deficit in half by the end of 2012, raising taxes on the wealthy and reducing war spending as the military withdraws from Iraq over the next 18 months. But this puts him on a collision course with many Republican lawmakers, who have already begun to question the wisdom of Obama's approach.
Even before Obama began last night's speech, the GOP made clear their unwillingness to bend to the new president's will. In his official Republican response, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal derided Obama's legislative agenda as big-government ideas that won't succeed in repairing the economy. The governor, considered a likely presidential contender in 2012, called Democrats in Congress "irresponsible" for passing the $787-billion stimulus package Republicans have criticized as excessive and wasteful. "Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need?" he said.
On president's agenda
Here are some of the policy areas covered in President Barack Obama's first address to Congress last night:
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. 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."
"The president gave America the call to action we need. It was an honest confrontation of bad choices in the past and a dramatic change for the future. His vision for creating new energy jobs and ending our dependence on foreign oil was the boldest pronouncement since JFK's call to land Americans on the moon."
- Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington)
"This is a time for bold ideas and decisive action and Congress needs to work with President Obama to achieve our mutual goals of greater economic security by enacting both long and short-term solutions to the issues facing our nation."
- Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola)
"Barack Obama did not shy away from giving a realistic view of the troubles our nation and world face. His thoughtful, comprehensive approach gives people optimism and confidence that, guided by his leadership, we will get through this crisis."
- Sen. Charles Schumer
"Our nation's economic challenges present great opportunity for the people of New York. We can help lead this economic recovery by rebuilding our financial system for the world. In the weeks and months ahead, I will work with President Obama to ensure that New York is helping to lead the way." - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
"It was uplifting in terms of its tone but sober in terms of its assessment of the difficulties the nation faces and visionary in terms of how we begin the process of digging our way out of the enormous hole we have inherited."
- Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton)
"The speech was well delivered and hopeful. My concern is that the president was 45 minutes into his speech until he mentioned the threat of terrorism and then, only in passing. I particularly oppose his statement to close Guantánamo." - Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford)
"Pitch, posture, politics, perfect. I've been to 26. It doesn't get much better than this." - Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights)
At the speech
Lt. Louis Delli-Pizzi. A member of the Army National Guard's 69th Infantry who was a guest of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Delli-Pizzi, 42, a New York City police detective who lives in West Islip, served with the Guard in Afghanistan last year.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Supreme Court justice who returned to the court this week after surgery for pancreatic cancer, received a lengthy embrace from President Barack Obama.
Ty'Sheoma Bethea. An eighth-grader at J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon, S.C., who wrote Congress to ask for help in repairing her school. In her letter, she said, "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."
Richard G. DeCoatsworth. A police officer from Philadelphia who was shot in the face while on the job in September 2007 but maintained his pursuit of the suspect, who was apprehended a short time later. He returned to the police force in June 2008 and has been honored for heroism.
Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.