Saturday, December 12, 2009
The President explains that while he continues to focus on jobs, it is also profoundly important to address the problems that created this economic mess in the first place. He commends the House of Representatives for passing reforms to our financial system, including a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and blasts Republican Leaders and financial industry lobbyists for their joint pep rally to defeat it. December 12, 2009.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The White House released President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Here's the full text:
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:
I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations -- that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.
And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.) In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women -- some known, some obscure to all but those they help -- to be far more deserving of this honor than I.
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.
Still, we are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict -- filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease -- the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.
And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.
Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of "just war" was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations -- total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it's hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.
In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations -- an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize -- America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.
In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.
And yet, a decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.
Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states -- all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.
I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.
But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.
So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." A gradual evolution of human institutions.
What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?
To begin with, I believe that all nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't.
The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.
Furthermore, America -- in fact, no nation -- can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified.
And this becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.
I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.
America's commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.
The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries, and other friends and allies, demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they've shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That's why NATO continues to be indispensable. That's why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That's why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali -- we honor them not as makers of war, but of wagers -- but as wagers of peace.
Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant -- the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.
Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor -- we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.
I have spoken at some length to the question that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me now turn to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.
First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior -- for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.
One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I'm working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.
But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.
The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma -- there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy -- but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.
This brings me to a second point -- the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.
It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.
And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists -- a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.
I reject these choices. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the denial of human aspirations.
So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements -- these movements of hope and history -- they have us on their side.
Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.
In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There's no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.
Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.
It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can't aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.
And that's why helping farmers feed their own people -- or nations educate their children and care for the sick -- is not mere charity. It's also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement -- all of which will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and environmental activists who call for swift and forceful action -- it's military leaders in my own country and others who understand our common security hangs in the balance.
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.
As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we're all basically seeking the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.
And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. For we are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best of intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.
But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached -- their fundamental faith in human progress -- that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.
For if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.
Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present condition makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."
Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. (Applause.)
Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.
Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.
Thank you very much.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
For no other reason, than for Professor Warren's answer to Keith's first question.
OLBERMANN: The president said today, and let me quote it directly, “As galling as the assistance to banks may have been, it indisputably helped prevent a collapse of the entire financial system.” This is a theme of his. But there are two obvious questions that are raised by this statement. The first of them being—is that true?
OLBERMANN: The president said today, and let me quote it directly, “As galling as the assistance to banks may have been, it indisputably helped prevent a collapse of the entire financial system.” This is a theme of his. But there are two obvious questions that are raised by this statement. The first of them being—is that true?
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Following the best jobs numbers since 2007, the President recognizes that such trends are cold comfort to those who are struggling and pledges to continue pushing forward towards positive job growth. He looks back at the Jobs Forum he hosted days before and looks ahead to further action. He emphatically restates why he ran for President in the first place: “to fight for a country where responsibility is still rewarded, and hard-working people can get ahead
Christy Romer, tapped to head the Council of Economic Advisers, and Larry Summers, who I’d chosen to head the National Economic Council, described an imminent downturn comparable in its severity to almost nothing since the 1930s. Tim Geithner, my incoming Treasury Secretary, reported that the financial system, shaken by the subprime crisis, had halted almost all lending, which in turn threatened to pull the broader economy into a downward spiral. And Peter Orszag, my incoming Budget Director, closed out the proceedings with an entirely dismal report on the fiscal health of the country, with growing deficits and debt stretching to the horizon. Having concluded that it was too late to request a recount, I tasked my team with mapping out a plan to tackle the crisis on all fronts.
It was not long after that meeting, as we shaped this economic plan, that we began to see these forecasts materialize. Over the previous year, it was obvious that folks were facing hard times. As I traveled across the country during a long campaign, I often met men and women bearing the brunt of not only a deepening recession, but also years – even decades – of growing strains on middle class families. But now the country was experiencing something far worse. Our Gross Domestic Product – the sum total of all that our economy produces – fell at the fastest rate in a quarter century. $5 trillion of Americans’ household wealth evaporated in just twelve weeks as stocks, pensions, and home values plummeted. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs each month, equivalent to the population of the state of Vermont. The fear among economists across the political spectrum was that we were rapidly plummeting toward a second Great Depression.
So, in the weeks and months that followed, we undertook a series of difficult steps to prevent that outcome. And we were forced to take those steps largely without the help of an opposition party which, unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that led to the crisis, decided to hand it over to others to solve.
We acted to get lending flowing again so businesses could get loans to buy equipment and ordinary Americans could get financing to buy homes and cars, to go to college, and to start or run businesses. We enacted measures to stem the tide of foreclosures in our housing market, helping responsible homeowners stay in their homes and helping to stop the broader decline in home values which was eating away at what tends to be a family’s largest asset. To achieve this, and to prevent an economic collapse, we were forced to extend assistance to some of the very banks and financial institutions whose actions had helped precipitate the turmoil. We also took steps to prevent the rapid dissolution of the American auto industry, which faced a crisis partly of its own making, to prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs during an already fragile time. These were not decisions that were popular or satisfying; these were decisions that were necessary.
Now, even as we worked to address the crises in our banking sector, in our housing market, and in our auto industry, we also began attacking our economic crisis on a broader front. Less than one month after taking office we enacted the most sweeping economic recovery package in history: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Recovery Act was divided into three parts. One-third went for tax relief for small businesses and 95 percent of working families.
Another third was for emergency relief to help folks who’ve borne the brunt of this recession. We extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 17 million Americans; made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families relying on COBRA; and for state and local governments facing historic budget shortfalls as demand for services went up and tax revenues went down, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and public school workers, firefighters and police officers.
The last third is for investments to put Americans to work doing the work America needs done: doubling our capacity in renewable energy like wind and solar; computerizing medical records to save money and lives; providing the largest boost to medical research in history; renovating classrooms and school laboratories; and upgrading roads and railways as part of the largest investment in infrastructure since the creation of the Interstate Highway System half a century ago.
And even as the Recovery Act has created jobs and spurred growth, we have not let up in our efforts to take every responsible action to get the economy growing and America working. This fall, I signed into law more than $30 billion in tax cuts for struggling businesses, extended an effective tax credit for homebuyers, and provided additional unemployment insurance for one million Americans. And the Treasury is continuing to adapt our financial stability plan, helping to facilitate the flow of credit to small businesses and families. In addition, we are working to break down barriers and open overseas markets so our companies can better compete globally, creating jobs in America by exporting our products around the world.
Partly as a result of these and other steps, we’re in a very different place today than we were a year ago. We can safely say that we are no longer facing the potential collapse of our financial system and we’ve avoided the depression many feared. Our economy is growing for the first time in a year – and the swing from contraction to expansion since the beginning of the year is the largest in nearly three decades. Finally, we are no longer seeing the severe deterioration in the job market we once were; in fact we learned on Friday that the unemployment rate fell slightly last month. This is welcome news, and news made possible in part by the up to 1.6 million jobs that the Recovery Act has already created and saved according to the Congressional Budget Office.
But our work is far from done. For even though we have reduced the deluge of job losses to a relative trickle, we are not yet creating jobs at a pace to help all those families who have been swept up in the flood. There are more than seven million fewer Americans with jobs today than when this recession began. That’s a staggering figure and one that reflects not only the depths of the hole from which we must ascend, but also a continuing human tragedy. And it speaks to an urgent need to accelerate job growth in the short term while laying a new foundation for lasting economic growth.
My economic team has been considering a full range of additional ideas to help accelerate the pace of private sector hiring. We held a jobs forum at the White House that brought together small business owners, CEOs, union members, economists, folks from non-profits, and state and local officials to talk about job creation. And I’ve asked people to lead forums in their own communities – sending the results to me – so we are hearing as many voices as possible as we refine our proposals. We’ve already heard a number of good ideas, and I know we’ll learn of many more.
Today, I want to outline some of the broader steps that I believe should be at the heart of our efforts to accelerate job growth – those areas that will generate the greatest number of jobs while generating the greatest value for our economy.
First, we’re proposing a series of steps to help small businesses grow and hire new staff. Over the past fifteen years, small businesses have created roughly 65 percent of all new jobs in America. These are companies formed around kitchen tables in family meetings, formed when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, formed when a worker decides its time she became her own boss. These are also companies that drive innovation, producing thirteen times more patents per employee than large companies. And, it’s worth remembering, every once in a while a small business becomes a big business – and changes the world.
That’s why it is so important that we help small business struggling to open, or stay open, during these difficult times. Building on the tax cuts in the Recovery Act, we’re proposing a complete elimination of capital gains taxes on small business investment along with an extension of write-offs to encourage small businesses to expand in the coming year. And I believe it’s worthwhile to create a tax incentive to encourage small businesses to add and keep employees and I’m going to work with Congress to pass one.
These steps will help, but we also have to address the continuing struggle of small businesses to get the loans they need to start up and grow. To that end, we’re proposing to waive fees and increase the guarantees for SBA-backed loans. And I am asking my Treasury Secretary to continue mobilizing the remaining TARP funds to facilitate lending to small businesses.
Second, we’re proposing a boost in investment in the nation’s infrastructure beyond what was included in the Recovery Act, to continue modernizing our transportation and communications networks. These are needed public works that engage private sector companies, spurring hiring across the country. Already, more than 10,000 of these projects have been funded through the Recovery Act. And by design, Recovery Act work on roads, bridges, water systems, Superfund sites, broadband networks, and clean energy projects will all be ramping up in the months ahead. It was planned this way for two reasons: so the impact would be felt over a two year period; and, more importantly, because we wanted to do this right. The potential for abuse in a program of this magnitude, while operating at such a fast pace, was enormous. So I asked Vice President Biden and others to make sure – to the extent humanly possible – that the investments were sound, the projects worthy, and the execution efficient. What this means is that we’re going to see even more work – and workers – on Recovery projects in the next six months than we saw in the last six months.
Even so, there are many more worthy projects than there were dollars to fund them. I recognize that by their nature these projects often take time, and will therefore create jobs over time. But the need for jobs will also last beyond next year and the benefits of these investments will last years beyond that. So adding to this initiative to rebuild America’s infrastructure is the right thing to do.
Third, I’m calling on Congress to consider a new program to provide incentives for consumers who retrofit their homes to become more energy efficient, which we know creates jobs, saves money for families, and reduces the pollution that threatens our environment. And I’m proposing that we expand select Recovery Act initiatives to promote energy efficiency and clean energy jobs which have proven particularly popular and effective. It’s a positive sign that many of these programs drew so many applicants for funding that a lot of strong proposals – proposals that will leverage private capital and create jobs quickly – did not make the cut. With additional resources, in areas like advanced manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, we can help turn good ideas into good private-sector jobs.
Finally, as we are moving forward in these areas, we should also extend the relief in the Recovery Act, including emergency assistance to seniors, unemployment insurance benefits, COBRA, and relief to states and localities to prevent layoffs. This will help folks weathering these storms while boosting consumer spending and promoting jobs.
Of course, there is only so much government can do. Job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators: businesses across America. But government can help lay the groundwork on which the private sector can better generate jobs, growth, and innovation. After all, small business tax relief is not a substitute for the ingenuity and industriousness of our entrepreneurs; but it can help those with good ideas to grow and expand. Incentives to promote energy efficiency and clean energy manufacturing do not automatically create jobs or lower carbon emissions; but these steps provide a framework in which companies can compete and innovate to create those jobs and reduce energy consumption. And while modernizing the physical and virtual networks that connect us will create private-sector jobs, they’ll do so while making it possible for companies to more easily and effectively move their products across this country and around the world.
Given the challenge of accelerating the pace of hiring in the private sector, these targeted initiatives are right and they are needed. But with a fiscal crisis to match our economic crisis, we also must be prudent about how we fund it. So to help support these efforts, we’re going to wind down the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP – the fund created to stabilize the financial system so banks would lend again.
There has rarely been a less loved or more necessary emergency program than TARP, which – as galling as the assistance to banks may have been – indisputably helped prevent a collapse of the entire financial system. Launched hastily under the last administration, the TARP program was flawed, and we have worked hard to correct those flaws and manage it properly. And today, TARP has served its original purpose and at a much lower cost than we expected.
In fact, because of our stewardship of this program, and the transparency and accountability we put in place, TARP is expected to cost the taxpayer at least $200 billion less than what was anticipated just this summer. And the assistance to banks, once thought to cost the taxpayers untold billions, is on track to actually reap billions in profit for the taxpaying public. This gives us a chance to pay down the deficit faster than we thought possible and to shift funds that would have gone to help the banks on Wall Street to help create jobs on Main Street.
Small business, infrastructure, clean energy: these are areas in which we can put Americans to work while putting our nation on a sturdier economic footing. That foundation for sustained economic growth must be our continuing focus and our ultimate goal. For even before this period crisis, much of our growth had been fueled by unsustainable consumer debt and reckless financial speculation, while we ignored the fundamental challenges that hold the key to our economic prosperity. We cannot simply go back to the way things used to be. We cannot go back to an economy that yielded cycle after cycle of speculative booms and painful busts. We cannot continue to accept an education system in which our students trail their peers in other countries, and a health care system in which exploding costs put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage. And we cannot continue to ignore the clean energy challenge or cede global leadership in the emerging industries of the 21st century. That’s why, as we strive to meet the crisis of the moment, we are laying a new foundation for the future.
Because an educated workforce is essential in a 21st century global economy, we’ve launched a competitive Race to the Top fund through the Recovery Act to reform our schools and raise achievement, especially in math and science. And we’ve made college more affordable, proposed an historic set of reforms and investments in community college, and set a goal of once again leading the world in producing college graduates by 2020.
Because even the best trained workers in the world can’t compete if our businesses are saddled with rapidly increasing health care costs, we’re fighting to do what we have discussed in this country for generations: finally reforming our nation’s broken health insurance system and relieving this unsustainable burden.
Because our economic future depends on a financial system that encourages sound investments, honest dealings, and long-term growth, we’ve proposed the most ambitious financial reforms since the Great Depression. We’ll set and enforce clear rules of the road, close loopholes in oversight, charge a new agency with protecting consumers, and address the dangerous, systemic risks that brought us to the brink of disaster. These reforms are moving through Congress, we’re working to keep those reforms strong, and I look forward to signing them into law.
And because our economic future depends on our leadership in the industries of the future, we are investing in basic and applied research, and working to create the incentives to build a new clean energy economy. For we know the nation that leads in clean energy will be the nation that leads the world. I want America to be that nation. I want America’s prosperity to be powered by what we invent and pioneer – not just what we borrow and consume. And I know that we can and will be that nation, if we are willing to do what it takes to get there.
There are those who claim we have to choose between paying down our deficits on the one hand, and investing in job creation and economic growth on the other. But this is a false choice. Ensuring that economic growth and job creation are strong and sustained is critical to ensuring that we are increasing revenues and decreasing spending on things like unemployment so that our deficits will start coming down. At the same time, instilling confidence in our commitment to being fiscally prudent gives the private sector the confidence to make long-term investments in our people and on our shores.
One of the central goals of this administration is restoring fiscal responsibility. Even as we have had to spend our way out of this recession in the near term, we have begun to make the hard choices necessary to get our country on a more stable fiscal footing in the long run. Despite what some have claimed, the cost of the Recovery Act is only a very small part of our current budget imbalance. In reality, the deficit had been building dramatically over the previous eight years. Folks passed tax cuts and expensive entitlement programs without paying for any of it – even as health care costs kept rising, year after year. As a result, the deficit had reached $1.3 trillion when we walked into the White House. And I’d note: these budget busting tax cuts and spending programs were approved by many of the same people who are now waxing political about fiscal responsibility while opposing our efforts to reduce deficits by getting health care costs under control. It’s a sight to see.
The fact is, we have refused to go along with business as usual; we’re taking responsibility for every dollar we spend. We’ve done what some said was impossible: preventing wasteful spending on outdated weapons systems that even the Pentagon said it didn’t want. We’ve combed the budget, cutting waste and excess wherever we could. I’m still committed to halving the deficit we inherited by the end of my first term. And I made clear from day one that I would not sign a health insurance reform bill if it raised the deficit by one dime – and neither the House nor Senate bill does. We have begun to not only change policies but also to change the culture in Washington.
In the end, the economic crisis of the past year was not just the result of weaknesses in our economy. It was also the result of weaknesses in our political system. For decades, too many in Washington put off hard decisions. For decades, we’ve watched as efforts to solve tough problems have fallen prey to the bitterness of partisanship, to the prosaic concerns of politics, to ever-quickening news cycles, and to endless campaigns focused on scoring points instead of meeting our common challenges.
We have seen the consequences of this failure of responsibility. The American people have paid a heavy price. And the question we’ll have to answer now is if we are going to learn from our past, or if – even in the aftermath of disaster – we are going to repeat it. As the alarm bells fade, and the din of Washington rises, as the forces of the status quo marshal their resources, we can be sure that answering this question will be a fight to the finish. But I have every hope and expectation that we can rise to this moment, that we can transcend the failures of the past, that we can once again take responsibility for our future.
Almost every night, I read letters and emails sent to me from folks across America – people who share their hopes and their hardships, their faith in this country and their frustrations with what’s happened in this economy. I hear from small business owners worried about making payroll and keeping their doors open. I hear from mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who have seen one or two or more family members out of work. The toughest letters are in children’s handwriting: kids who can’t just be kids because they’re worried after mom had her hours cut or dad lost his job and with it the family’s health insurance. These folks aren’t looking for a hand out. They’re not looking for a bail out. They’re hoping for a chance to make their own way, to work, to succeed using their talents and skills. All they’re looking for from Washington is a seriousness of purpose that matches the reality of their struggle.
Everywhere I’ve gone, every stop I’ve made, there are people like this, men and women who have faced misfortune, but who stand ready to build a better future. There are students ready to learn. Workers eager to work. Scientists on the brink of discovery. There are entrepreneurs seeking the chance to open a small business. And once-shuttered factories just waiting to whir back to life in burgeoning industries. There is a nation ready to meet the challenges of this new age and to lead the world in this new century. And as we look back on the progress of the past year, and look forward to the work ahead, I have every confidence that we will do exactly that.
These have been a tough two years. And there will no doubt be difficult months ahead. But the storms of the past are receding. The skies are brightening. And the horizon is beckoning once more.