OBAMA REMARKS TO CONGRESS – FEBRUARY 24, 2009
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 andwomen in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to themen and women who sent us here.
I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of oureconomy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. Ifyou haven't been personally affected by this recession, you probablyknow 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 oureconomy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It's the worry youwake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It's the job youthought you'd retire from but now have lost; the business you builtyour dreams upon that's now hanging by a thread; the college acceptanceletter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of thisrecession 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 Iwant 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 thisnation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. Theyexist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and ourfactories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride ofthe hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have madeAmerica the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human historywe still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for thiscountry to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, andtake 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 apeople. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because itis only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll beable to lift ourselves out of this predicament.
The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nordid all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or thestock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival dependson finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today thanever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of oursavings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children willcompete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools donot prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, westill managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both asindividuals 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 failedto look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the nextelection. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthyinstead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations weregutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthymarket. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banksand lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while,critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some othertime 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 thiseconomy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now isthe time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest inareas like energy, health care, and education that will grow oureconomy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. Thatis what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that's what I'd liketo 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 arecovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work andput 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'veinherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do sowould have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failureto act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weakeconomic growth for years. That's why I pushed for quick action. Andtonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to saythat the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.
Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 millionjobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobsrebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solarpanels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.
Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobsand educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring forour sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets ofMinneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs theirdepartment was about to make.
Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America willreceive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecksbeginning on April 1st.
Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuitioncosts 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 ableto receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health carecoverage to help them weather this storm.
I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who areskeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism.Here in Washington, we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turninto broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of thisscale 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 havetold each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors acrossthe country that they will be held accountable by me and the Americanpeople for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven andaggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of wasteand fraud. And we have created a new website called recovery.gov sothat every American can find out how and where their money is beingspent.
So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting oureconomy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even ifwe manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unlesswe clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financialsystem.
I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight,because every American should know that it directly affects you andyour family's well-being. You should also know that the money you'vedeposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance issecure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financialsystem. 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. Theability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everythingfrom a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock theirshelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.
But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loansfrom the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too manybanks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are nowfearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, orto each other. When there is no lending, families can't afford to buyhomes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economysuffers even more, and credit dries up even further.
That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressivelyto break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-startlending.
We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lendingfund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide autoloans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers andentrepreneurs who keep this economy running.
Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsiblefamilies facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly paymentsand re-finance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculatorsor that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hopeto afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are strugglingwith declining home values – Americans who will now be able to takeadvantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helpedbring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can savenearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.
Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government toensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enoughconfidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. Andwhen we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will holdaccountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, providethe support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuityof a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and oureconomy.
I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be morecomforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no stringsattached, and that holds nobody accountable for their recklessdecisions. But such an approach won't solve the problem. And our goalis to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American peopleand American business and end this crisis once and for all.
I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistancethey receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate howtaxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. Thistime, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecksor buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.
Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federalgovernment – and yes, probably more than we've already set aside. Butwhile the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the costof inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy thatsputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. Thatwould be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, andworse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.
I understand that when the last administration asked this Congressto provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicansalike 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 governout 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 ofresponsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose ofrewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever ittakes to help the small business that can't pay its workers or thefamily that has saved and still can't get a mortgage.
That's what this is about. It's not about helping banks – it's abouthelping people. Because when credit is available again, that youngfamily can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hireworkers 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, oropen their own business. Investors will return to the market, andAmerican 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 provesnecessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-endedrecession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happensagain, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finallyreform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in placetough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial marketrewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.
The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediatesteps we're taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But theonly way to fully restore America's economic strength is to make thelong-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and arenewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only waythis century will be another American century is if we confront at lastthe 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 debtthey 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 orlaundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it asa vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.
My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address everyissue. It reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited – atrillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.
Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats andRepublicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for whichthere are no dollars. And that includes me.
But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-termchallenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply takecare of themselves; that says government has no role in laying thefoundation for our common prosperity.
For history tells a different story. History reminds us that atevery moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation hasresponded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, welaid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerceand industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came asystem 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 tocollege and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilightstruggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on themoon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.
In each case, government didn't supplant private enterprise; itcatalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousandsof entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.
We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimedopportunity 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 submitwill invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to oureconomic future: energy, health care, and education.
It begins with energy.
We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewableenergy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that haslaunched the largest effort in history to make their economy energyefficient. We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behindcountries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybridsroll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made inKorea.
Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries oftomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don't either. Itis time for America to lead again.
Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply ofrenewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largestinvestment in basic research funding in American history – aninvestment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, butbreakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.
We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that cancarry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we willput Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient sothat we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and saveour planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimatelymake clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I askthis Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap oncarbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy inAmerica. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billiondollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power;advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucksbuilt right here in America.
As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of baddecision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers tothe brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own badpractices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imaginedauto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it.Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation thatinvented the automobile cannot walk away from it.
None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But thisis America. We don't do what's easy. We do what is necessary to movethis 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 thirtyseconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americansto lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown fourtimes faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million moreAmericans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the majorreasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations shipjobs overseas. And it's one of the largest and fastest-growing parts ofour 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 carereform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When itwas days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect healthinsurance for eleven million American children whose parents workfull-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health recordsand new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensureprivacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer adisease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking acure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment everin preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep ourpeople healthy and our costs under control.
This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historiccommitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on theprinciple that we must have quality, affordable health care for everyAmerican. It's a commitment that's paid for in part by efficiencies inour system that are long overdue. And it's a step we must take if wehope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.
Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how toachieve reform, and that is why I'm bringing together businesses andworkers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicansto begin work on this issue next week.
I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will behard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt firstcalled for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down oureconomy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there beno doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it willnot 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 isyour knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway toopportunity – it is a pre-requisite.
Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations requiremore than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of ourcitizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest highschool dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of thestudents who begin college never finish.
This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know thecountries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That iswhy it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that everychild has access to a complete and competitive education – from the daythey are born to the day they begin a career.
Already, we have made an historic investment in education throughthe economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded earlychildhood education and will continue to improve its quality, becausewe know that the most formative learning comes in those first years oflife. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million morestudents. And we have provided the resources necessary to preventpainful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children'sprogress.
But we know that our schools don't just need more resources. Theyneed more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives forteacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success.We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schoolsmeet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand ourcommitment to charter schools.
It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make thissystem work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen toparticipate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to atleast one year or more of higher education or career training. This canbe community college or a four-year school; vocational training or anapprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American willneed to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of highschool is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it'squitting on your country – and this country needs and values thetalents of every American. That is why we will provide the supportnecessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020,America will once again have the highest proportion of collegegraduates in the world.
I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is whyif you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back toyour community or serve your country, we will make sure that you canafford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit ofnational service for this and future generations, I ask this Congressto send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of SenatorOrrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what hecan do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.
These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for ourchildren. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In theend, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother orfather who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help withhomework 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 asa father when I say that responsibility for our children's educationmust 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 thema debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of thecrisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has neverbeen more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do whatit takes to bring this deficit down.
I'm proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and Iwant to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spendreflects only our most important national priorities.
Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficitin half by the end of my first term in office. My administration hasalso begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order toeliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, thisis a process that will take some time. But we're starting with thebiggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars insavings over the next decade.
In this budget, we will end education programs that don't work andend direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them. We'lleliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, andreform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-eraweapons systems we don't use. We will root out the waste, fraud, andabuse in our Medicare program that doesn't make our seniors anyhealthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to ourtax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that shipour jobs overseas.
In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will alsoend the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let meperfectly clear, because I know you'll hear the same old claims thatrolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on theAmerican people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, youwill not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not onesingle dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that'sright, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are onthe way.
To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address thegrowing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive healthcare 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 SocialSecurity, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for allAmericans.
Finally, because we're also suffering from a deficit of trust, I amcommitted to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to ourbudget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts forspending that was left out under the old rules – and for the firsttime, 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 hideits price.
We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I willsoon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people andresponsibly ends this war.
And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new andcomprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaedaand combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plotagainst the American people from safe havens half a world away.
As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watchabroad 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, weare inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. Torelieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of oursoldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those whoserve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expandedhealth care and benefits that they have earned.
To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding thevalues our troops defend – because there is no force in the world morepowerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered theclosing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swiftand certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our valuesdoesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. Andthat is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception orequivocation that the United States of America does not torture.
In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era ofengagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threatsof this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America.We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forcesthat could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with thesense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.
To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israeland her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. Tomeet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclearproliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushingpoverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use allelements of our national power.
And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we areworking with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in ourfinancial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism,and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For theworld depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economydepends on the strength of the world's.
As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people inall nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do withthis moment; waiting for us to lead.
Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern inextraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a greatprivilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations ofAmericans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world forgood 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 unlikelyplaces; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most poweror celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who areanything but ordinary.
I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami whoreportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, andgave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 whoused to work for him. He didn't tell anyone, but when the localnewspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these peoplesince I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."
I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completelydestroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as aglobal example of how clean energy can power an entire community – howit can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks andrubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of