‘We Can Deliver,’ Obama Says
President Barack Obama, in his first State of the Union address Wednesday night, vowed to make job creation his “No. 1 focus in 2010— and to act aggressively to hold Wall Street accountable and restore trust in government.
Speaking to the public’s concerns, Obama said he is “calling for a new jobs bill tonight— and outlined steps he plans to take in response to widespread worries about rising unemployment and the lack of job creation that continues to dominate the news.
The president kicked off his address with a sober opening that brought no applause for several minutes. He defended the actions he took to counter what he faced when he first took office: “two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse and a government deeply in debt.—
But his administration acted “immediately and aggressively— to stave off a potential second Great Depression by passing the $787 economic stimulus bill, Obama said. He touted efforts to extend unemployment benefits, lower the costs of health insurance through COBRA and cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses — steps that resulted in two million more people having jobs who wouldn’t otherwise be employed.
“A year later, the worst of the storm has passed,— said Obama. “Economists on the left and on the right say that this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster.—
In a nod to small businesses hit hard by the recession, Obama called for taking $30 billion in repaid TARP funds and using it to help community banks give credit lines to small businesses. He also proposed a new small business tax credit and the elimination of all capital gains taxes on small business investments.
Obama drew loud applause by touching on frustrations with Wall Street bailouts — particularly from Democrats — when he proposed putting a fee on large banks. “If there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal,— he said.
The president called for “serious financial reform— as a way to stabilize the economy, though he emphasized that he is “not interested in punishing banks. I’m interested in protecting our economy.— He criticized efforts by lobbyists to kill House-passed legislation aimed at reforming the financial sector, vowing not to let them “win this fight.—
The president also addressed the conundrum of trying to bring down the federal debt while investing in job creation. He highlighted his proposal to freeze nonmilitary, discretionary spending for three years as a way to bring down spending.
Outside of the economy and jobs, Obama vowed to continue staying on the offense in countering al-Qaida and recommitted himself to a laundry list of priority issues to Democrats: climate change, immigration reform, trade agreements, education and health care reform — the latter of which has clogged all activity in Congress for months.
“I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them,— Obama said. “Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job.—
Obama also made a strong case for transparency in government and restoring trust in Washington, D.C.
“We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust: deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years,— Obama said.
He called on Congress to “end the outsized influence of lobbyists, to do our work openly and to give our people the government they deserve.—
The president also called for action in response to last week’s Supreme Court reversal of campaign finance reform laws — a decision that drew fire from Obama and lawmakers from both parties.
Congress should pass legislation to require lobbyists “to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or Congress,— Obama said. In addition, lawmakers should put “strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.—
In the GOP response to the address, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell applauded some of Obama’s actions over the past year but largely bashed the administration for “trying to do too much.—
On the economy, McDonnell called for strengthening the private sector to spur job growth and cautioned against more regulations on businesses. “We must enact policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovation so America can better compete with the world. What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation and litigation that kill jobs and hurt the middle class,— he said.
McDonnell praised Obama’s plan to freeze nonmilitary, discretionary spending for three years. He also said Republicans supported his decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan since “we agree that victory there is a national security imperative.—
But Republicans have “serious concerns— about Obama’s handling of recent terrorist attacks, said McDonnell, referring to the attack at Fort Hood in the fall and the aborted Christmas Day attack on a Northwest airline bound for Detroit.
In addition, McDonnell criticized Democrats for allowing the national debt to reach over $100,000 per household. “This is simply unsustainable,— he said. “The circumstances of our time demand that we reconsider and restore the proper, limited role of government at every level.—