U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States will emerge from uncertain
economic times stronger than before. In his first speech to a joint session of
Congress, the president made the case for his economic
It was a night of pure political theatre on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers crammed around the aisles of the House chamber as President Obama slowly made his way to the podium to address Congress and the nation.
"I've come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here," he said.
Mr. Obama tried to strike a delicate balance - talking about the economic problems facing the United States in stark terms, while reassuring a recession-weary American public that better days lie ahead.
He said after a decade of economic recklessness, America's day of reckoning has arrived.
"We have lived 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 and the next election," he added.
But he said the United States can and will rebound, saying the economic crisis, though severe, must not determine the nation's destiny.
"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 will emerge stronger than before," he said.
President Obama said the stimulus plan he signed last week is a first step. But he said it is not enough - citing the need for further action in the areas of health care, energy and education.
He acknowledged money is tight, and tough decisions lie ahead, but he stressed key priorities can be funded, if ineffective programs are cut.
To that end, Mr. Obama said his administration has already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade - from agriculture to defense.
"We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use," he explained.
But the president said his new budget will make an increased investment in military manpower - increasing the number of soldiers and Marines. And while the primary thrust of his speech was the economy, he paused briefly to speak about overcoming a deficit of trust abroad.
He reaffirmed his determination to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said the United States does not torture.
"In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threat to this country alone, but the world cannot meet them without America," he added.
Although the event had all the trappings of a State of the Nation Address, Mr. Obama chose to forgo the detailed status report on policies and programs. Like many new presidents, his first speech before Congress had a more narrow focus and was simply called a speech to the nation.
The Republican response was delivered by Bobby Jindal, the popular young governor of the state of Louisiana. He talked of bipartisanship, but signaled Republicans will only go so far.
"Where we agree, Republicans must be the president's strongest partners," he said. "And where we disagree, Republicans have a responsibility to be candid and offer better ideas for a path forward."
Jindal is considered a rising star in his party and a potential presidential nominee in 2012. He is the son of immigrants from India, and like the president, he is part of a new generation that is literally changing the face of American politics.