Obama Proclaims Big-Ticket Reforms Provide Path For Economy To Recover

President Obama said Tuesday night that the economic crisis that has shaken the confidence of the country will not define it.


"We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," Obama said in his first address to a joint session of Congress. He laid out a broad, aggressive agenda, focusing on investing in what he called "three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future -- energy, health care and education."


He stopped short of discussing the total cost of those initiatives and gave only one general hint of how he would help pay for the programs at the same time that he is calling for slashing the federal deficit -- by raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year.


The spending and the call for tax increases left openings for Republican criticism. "This is exactly the wrong time to be raising taxes on anyone ... The president's proposed tax increase will undoubtedly and regrettably prolong the recession," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.


In the official Republican rebuttal speech, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said: "To solve our current problems, Washington must lead. But the way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in the hands of Washington politicians."


Still, Obama promised to "act boldly and wisely" to get the country out of the current mess, and said the country would emerge "stronger than before."


But he also warned that the journey would not be easy and sacrifices would be necessary to "confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."


Obama used a section of his speech devoted to energy to declare that while the government is not responsible for problems that threaten the U.S. automobile industry, "I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."


He also called for Congress to approve legislation to address global warming and spur production of renewable energy sources so the nation can end its dependence on foreign oil. He added that his budget would invest $15 billion in wind and solar power, clean coal and better fuel efficiency for U.S.-made vehicles.


On health care, Obama said his budget would include "a historic commitment" to comprehensive reform, which would be partly paid for by making the existing system more efficient.


"Healthcare reform cannot wait, it must not wait and it will not wait another year," Obama said.


While offering a roadmap out of the economic mess, Obama also made it clear he believes responsibility lies with the administration that preceded him, four times saying the problems were "inherited" and offering a stinging indictment of the policies of former President George W. Bush without mentioning his name.


"We have lived," he said, "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.


He said the administration and Congress must work together "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." But to get there, he said, everyone "will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me."


Aware that Republicans would focus on spending, Obama said his administration already found about $2 trillion in savings that can be realized by cutting "education programs that don't work," agricultural subsidies and no-bid contracts for Defense programs.


Obama touched briefly on foreign policy in the 51-minute address, which was interrupted 63 times by applause.

Presented by

Cyra Master

Cyra Master is a W.E.B. Du Bois fellow at the Atlantic. Previously, she was an editor at the nonprofit Center for Law and Social Policy and was a reporter for the New Hampshire Eagle Tribune. She is a graduate of Emerson College.

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