WASHINGTON - Proclaiming to a joint session of Congress and an recession-scarred American people that the “day of reckoning has arrived,” President Obama said Tuesday night that the country must now act “boldly and wisely” to take charge of its future.
In a speech that included dire economic rhetoric but also assurances that America will get back on its feet, the president vowed that the country will be stronger once the current crisis ends.
“The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere,” Mr. Obama said. "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.” (Read the full speech here.)
The speech, which looked very much like a formal State-Of-The Union address, marked a transition from the hard fights of the president’s first month in office to his attempt to sell legislators and the American people on a broad set of initiatives.
“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,” the president said, stressing the importance of investments that will position the United States to compete on the world stage in the long run.
Addressing a gallery that included first lady Michelle Obama, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members and everyday Americans - in addition to nearly every member of Congress - the president spoke for about 50 minutes.
Addresses to joint sessions of Congress are traditionally directed more at the American people than the lawmakers gathered in the chamber. For Mr. Obama, however - who currently holds a 63 percent approval rating - the Republican opposition, which stood in nearly uniform opposition to his $787 billion stimulus package, might have been the more important audience.
Mr. Obama spent much of the speech explaining his actions as opposed to laying out new initiatives; he defended his administration's move to bail out U.S. banks, saying he understands the frustration of taxpayers who saw bailout money spent irresponsibly but that it is essential to get credit flowing.
"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," he said. "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, he boted, his plan "will require significant resources from the federal government - and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside."
The president also suggested that both the previous administration and irresponsible homeowners were to blame for the current crisis.
Americans have lived through an era, he said, in which “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,” he said. “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.”
(AP)Following the speech, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (at left), a leading 2012 presidential contender, will give a Republican response in which he will call the $787 billion stimulus package pushed through by Mr. Obama and the Democrat-lead Congress “irresponsible.” (Read excerpts from Jindal’s address.)
“The way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians,” Jindal will say, according to excerpts released by the Republican Party. “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?”
Mr. Obama, who focused largely on domestic issues, not foreign policy, said that because of the massive deficit and tough economic landscape, his proposed budget will not include every project some might have hoped for.