President Obama opened his first speech to a joint session of Congress by telling the nation "we will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."
Obama urged Americans to “confront boldly the challenges we face,” saying that the answers to the country’s problems “don’t lie beyond our reach.” “They exist in our laboratories and our universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth,” he said. Obama described the nation’s financial woes as a “reckoning” for poor decisions made by both government and individuals. “A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future,” Obama 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.” He said his economic agenda — which includes money to jump-start job-creation and invest in green energy, health care and education — is a first step to turn things around. “Now is the time to act boldly and wisely to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity,” Obama said.
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Transcript of Obama’s remarks
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Obama’s address comes two days before he will submit his budget summary to Congress. The president on Tuesday will say he sees his budget as a “vision for America — as a blueprint for our future,” but not something that will solve every problem or address every issue. Join the conversation with CNN.com and Facebook “It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited — a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession. Given these realities, everyone in this chamber — Democrats and Republicans — will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me,” he will say, according to excerpts released before his speech. Sources say Obama hopes to do what Franklin Roosevelt did with his fireside chats — lay out the country’s problems in plain English, not with lofty rhetoric. Obama is planning to strike a more optimistic tone than he has in recent days by laying out a “game plan” to beat the financial crisis, according to a senior White House official. Obama also is planning to build on Monday’s fiscal responsibility summit to make the case that it’s time to try and tackle a whole series of big challenges, from financial regulatory reform to reshaping Social Security and the health care system. In the words of the senior official, “you never let a serious crisis go to waste” because it affords an opportunity to try and accomplish big things. Watch lawmakers meet with Obama on the economy » “It’s time to own up rather than kick the can,” the senior official said. “The way to deal with these short-term problems is to jump in to the long-term” problems. The senior official said there will only be a brief discussion of foreign policy, with mentions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other threats around the world. Instead, the speech will be dominated by four issues that all relate to the president’s broader economic message: financial stability and responsibility, education, energy independence and health care. The official said that unlike the more formal State of the Union speeches delivered later in a presidency, Obama will not go into great detail on questions such as whether large banks will be nationalized. “The American people want to know there’s a game plan, not every move on the field,” the senior official said. “We have a plan for winning.” iReport.com: How are you coping with the economy Because Obama’s presidency is a month old, the speech is not technically considered a State of the Union address. The annual State of the Union speech is delivered in the House of Representatives before members of both the House and the Senate as well as the justices of the Supreme Court, the president’s Cabinet and international dignitaries. A president’s first speech before a joint session of Congress is often referred to as an “annual message” or a message on a particular topic, such as an “economic message.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will deliver the Republican response to Obama’s speech. Watch what Jindal has to say » Jindal is expected to say that Republicans are ready to work with Obama for the good of the country. “So where we agree, Republicans must be the president’s strongest partners. And where we disagree, Republicans have a responsibility to be candid and offer better ideas for a path forward,” he will say, according to excerpts of his address. Jindal also is expected to criticize the stimulus legislation, saying Democrats passed a bill that is “irresponsible” and “no way to strengthen our economy.” Despite the challenges ahead, the official said top aides believe Obama is in a stronger position than any of his recent predecessors because he has a “different set of wins under his belt” this early in his presidency. iReport.com: What do you want to hear from Obama The official noted that when Clinton delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress he had only passed the Family and Medical Leave Act and was struggling politically because of the gays in the military flap. President Reagan, the official recalled, did not get his economic agenda passed until the summer of 1981. In contrast, Obama already has signed into law the sweeping economic plan, an expansion of children’s health insurance coverage and pay equity legislation. The senior official boasted that Obama has “gotten more done in 30 days … than any modern president.” Obama’s speech also comes as a new poll indicates that nearly three out of four Americans are scared about the way things are going in the country. While Obama’s approval ratings are high, Americans are less hopeful about his stimulus plan. Read more about the poll
Tuesday night will be Obama’s chance to narrow the gap between voters’ confidence in him and their confidence in his plans, said James Carville, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor. “He’s been in office for a month. They want to see more; that’s understandable,” he said. “But right now, people are not feeling very good, and they’re kind of pessimistic about their future. While they have a lot of trust in the president, they want to hear more, and I think they’ll hear a lot more.”