Speech Highlights: Obama Hits Republicans, Pledges to Find Votes for Energy

President Obama is dealing with a lot right now--BP's oil spill in the Gulf, the Gaza/Israel crisis over aid ships--but he came out swinging at his opponents and made some strong statements about the need for clean energy (he pledged to find the Senate votes for reform) in his address today at Carnegie Mellon University, a speech that focused mainly on the U.S. economy.

In some ways, it may have been the first campaign speech of the 2008 (maybe even 2012?) election cycle. Here are some highlights.

We heard him return to the economic narrative he used during parts of the 2008 campaign, about the struggles of working families--not, necessarily, struggles having to do with the crash of September '08:
Over the last decade, these families saw their income decline.  They saw the cost of things like health care and college tuition reach record highs.  They lived through a so-called economic "expansion" that generated slower job growth than at any prior expansion since World War II.  Some people have called the last 10 years "the lost decade."

So the anxiety that's out there today isn't new.  The recession has certainly made it worse, but that feeling of not being in control of your own economic future -- that sense that the American Dream might slowly be slipping away -- that's been around for some time now.  And for better or for worse, our generation of Americans has been buffeted by tremendous forces of economic change.  Long gone are the days when a high school diploma could guarantee a job at a local factory -- not when so many of those factories had moved overseas.  Pittsburgh, a city that once was defined by the steel industry, knows this better than just about anybody.  And today, the ability of jobs and entire industries to relocate where there's skilled workers and an Internet connection has forced America to compete like never before.

Obama hit Republicans hard, taking some tough shots at the economic policies of the last administration and the deficit that grew under it, and painting Republicans as disingenuous in their newfound fiscal conservatism:

Now, some of you may have noticed that we have been building this foundation without much help from our friends in the other party.  From our efforts to rescue the economy, to health insurance reform, to financial reform, most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers.  They said no to tax cuts for small businesses; no to tax credits for college tuition; no to investments in clean energy.  They said no to protecting patients from insurance companies and consumers from big banks.  

And some of this, of course, is just politics.  Before I was even inaugurated, the congressional leaders of the other party got together and made a calculation that if I failed, they'd win. So when I went to meet with them about the need for a Recovery Act, in the midst of crisis, they announced they were against it before I even arrived at the meeting.  Before we even had a health care bill, a Republican senator actually said, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo.  It will break him."  So those weren't very hopeful signs.        

But to be fair, a good deal of the other party's opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about the role of government.  It's a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges.  It's an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face:  more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations...

As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic arguments they've been making for decades.  Fortunately, we don't have to look back too many years to see how their agenda turns out.  For much of the last 10 years we've tried it their way.  They gave us tax cuts that weren't paid for to millionaires who didn't need them.  They gutted regulations and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight.  They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education, in research and technology.  And despite all their current moralizing about the need to curb spending, this is the same crowd who took the record $237 billion surplus that President Clinton left them and turned it into a record $1.3 trillion deficit.

So we know where those ideas lead us.  And now we have a choice as a nation.  We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward.  And I don't know about you, but I want to move forward.  I think America wants to move forward.

And, on energy, Obama said it's time to "aggressively accelerate" the transition to clean energy, stumping for energy reform and pledging to find the votes for it in the Senate:
We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves.  So without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month -- including countries in dangerous and unstable regions...

And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition.  The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.  (Applause.)  Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient.  It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation's fleet of nuclear power plants.  It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.   

But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future -- if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed.  And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.    

No, many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future.  And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust.  But if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction -- if we don't factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs -- we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.

The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate -- a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans -- that would achieve the same goal.  And, Pittsburgh, I want you to know, the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.  (Applause.)  I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can.  (Applause.)  I will work with anyone to get this done -- and we will get it done.