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Obama tells Congress nation ‘will recover’

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress Feb. 24, outlining his first budget while telling a nationwide audience that the nation will recover from the current economic crisis.

“[W]hile 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,” Obama said. “… The answers to our 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 added, “Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.”

The large majority of the one-hour speech dealt with the economy and Obama chose not to touch on any hot-button social issues such as abortion or embryonic stem cell research.

Obama told the nationwide TV audience he doesn’t believe in bigger government but that he also rejects the view that “says our problems will simply take care of themselves” and that “government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.” He listed several historical examples when government’s involvement has been widely praised, including the G.I. Bill and the building of the interstate highway system.

“In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise,” Obama said. “It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.”

Obama said his first budget will invest in three main areas: energy, health care and education.

Regarding energy, he asked Congress to send him legislation that “places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.” He also pledged to invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies such as wind and solar power, advanced biofuels, clean coal and more efficient cars and trucks.

Obama said reforming health care won’t be easy but that it can’t “wait another year.” He said his budget “will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives.” He also said the budget will “launch a new effort” to cure cancer. His budget, he said, also will make “the largest investment ever” in preventive care.

On education, Obama said his budget will create new incentives for “for teacher performance, pathways for advancement, and rewards for success.” He also said the budget will expand the government’s “commitment to charter schools.”

“It is our responsibility as lawmakers and as educators to make this [education] system work, but it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it,” he said. “So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be a community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”

He said his goal is that by 2020, “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

“That is a goal we can meet,” he said.

In one line that received bipartisan applause, Obama said, “These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a president, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered the Republicans’ response, saying his party doubts that government spending can fix the ailing economy.

“Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us,” Jindal said. “Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina, we have our doubts.”

Jindal said Washington must lead, but in a different way than Obama proposed.

“[T]he way to lead is not to raise taxes and not to just put more money and power in the hands of Washington politicians,” Jindal said. “The way to lead is by empowering you, the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything. That is why Republicans put forward plans to create jobs by lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses, strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers, and stabilizing home values by creating a new tax credit for homebuyers. These plans would cost less and create more jobs.”
Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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