Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

Remarks of
President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

The State of the
Union

Wednesday, January
27, 2010

Washington,
DC

Madame Speaker,
Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow
Americans:

Our Constitution
declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress
information about the state of our union.  For two hundred and twenty years, our
leaders have fulfilled this duty.  They have done so during periods of
prosperity and tranquility.  And they have done so in the midst of war and
depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It’s tempting to
look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that
America was always destined to succeed.  But when the Union was turned back at
Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in
doubt.  When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were
beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain.  These were times
that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union.  And
despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears;
America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one
people. 

Again, we are
tested.  And again, we must answer history’s call.

One year ago, I
took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial
system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt.  Experts from
across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a
second depression.  So we acted – immediately and aggressively.  And one year
later, the worst of the storm has passed.

But the devastation
remains.  One in ten Americans still cannot find work.  Many businesses have
shuttered.  Home values have declined.  Small towns and rural communities have
been hit especially hard.  For those who had already known poverty, life has
become that much harder.

This recession has
also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for
decades – the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to
save enough to retire or help kids with college. 

So I know the
anxieties that are out there right now.  They’re not new.  These struggles are
the reason I ran for President.  These struggles are what I’ve witnessed for
years in places like Elkhart, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois.  I hear about
them in the letters that I read each night.  The toughest to read are those
written by children – asking why they have to move from their home, or when
their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans
and so many others, change has not come fast enough.  Some are frustrated; some
are angry.  They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street
is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been
unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems.  They are tired of the
partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness.  They know we can’t afford it. 
Not now.  

So we face big and
difficult challenges.  And what the American people hope – what they deserve –
is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to
overcome the numbing weight of our politics.  For while the people who sent us
here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the
anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared.  A job
that pays the bills.  A chance to get ahead.  Most of all, the ability to give
their children a better life. 

You know what else
they share?  They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity.  After
one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars
and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school.  They’re
coaching little league and helping their neighbors.  As one woman wrote me, “We
are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.” 

It is because of
this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been
more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.  Despite our hardships,
our union is strong.  We do not give up.  We do not quit.  We do not allow fear
or division to break our spirit.  In this new decade, it’s time the American
people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their
strength.  

And tonight, I’d
like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.   

It begins with our
economy. 

Our most urgent
task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this
crisis.  It was not easy to do.  And 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. 

But when I ran for
President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was
necessary.  And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system,
unemployment might be double what it is today.  More businesses would certainly
have closed.  More homes would have surely been lost. 

So I supported the
last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program.  And when
we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable.  As a
result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money
we spent on the banks. 

To recover the
rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks.  I know Wall Street isn’t keen
on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they
can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time
of need.

As we stabilized
the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save
as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed. 

That’s why we
extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans;
made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through
COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts. 

Let me repeat:  we
cut taxes.  We cut taxes for 95% of working families.  We cut taxes for small
businesses.  We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers.  We cut taxes for parents
trying to care for their children.  We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying
for college.  As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and
food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. 
And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.  Not a
single dime. 

Because of the
steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would
otherwise be unemployed.  200,000 work in construction and clean energy. 
300,000 are teachers and other education workers.  Tens of thousands are cops,
firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders.  And we are on track
to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

The plan that has
made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. 
That’s right – the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill.  Economists on
the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert
disaster.  But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small
business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery
Act.  

Talk to the window
manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery
Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it
created. 

Talk to the single
teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of
school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all. 

There are stories
like this all across America.  And after two years of recession, the economy is
growing again.  Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. 
Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire
again.   

But I realize that
for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up
with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who
send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response.  That is why jobs
must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new
jobs bill tonight. 

Now, the true
engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses.  But
government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire
more workers. 

We should start
where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an
entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became
her own boss. 

Through sheer grit
and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to
grow.  But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown,
Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street
are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies.  But financing
remains difficult for small business owners across the country.

So tonight, I’m
proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid
and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to
stay afloat.  I am also proposing a new small business tax credit – one that
will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise
wages.  While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small
business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and
small, to invest in new plants and equipment.

Next, we can put
Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow.  From the first
railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to
compete.  There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or
the new factories that manufacture clean energy products. 

Tomorrow, I’ll
visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed
railroad funded by the Recovery Act.  There are projects like that all across
this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and
information.  We should put more Americans to work building clean energy
facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy
efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.  And to encourage these and other
businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks
for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies
that create jobs in the United States of America. 

The House has
passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps.  As the first order of
business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same.  People are out of work. 
They are hurting.  They need our help.  And I want a jobs bill on my desk
without delay.   

But the truth is,
these steps still won’t make up for the seven million jobs we’ve lost over the
last two years.  The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new
foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that
America’s families have confronted for years.  

We cannot afford
another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from last decade – what some
call the “lost decade” – where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior
expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the
cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built
on a housing bubble and financial speculation. 

From the day I took
office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious
– that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too
gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile. 

For those who make
these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we
wait?  How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington
has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. 
Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy.  Germany’s not waiting. 
India’s not waiting.  These nations aren’t standing still.  These nations aren’t
playing for second place.  They’re putting more emphasis on math and science.
They’re rebuilding their infrastructure.  They are making serious investments in
clean energy because they want those jobs. 

Well I do not
accept second-place for the United States of America.  As hard as it may be, as
uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it’s time to get serious
about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

One place to start
is serious financial reform.  Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I’m
interested in protecting our economy.  A strong, healthy financial market makes
it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs.  It channels
the savings of families into investments that raise incomes.  But that can only
happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our
entire economy. 

We need to make
sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make
financial decisions.  We can’t allow financial institutions, including those
that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.  

The House has
already passed financial reform with many of these changes.  And the lobbyists
are already trying to kill it.  Well, we cannot let them win this fight.  And if
the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will
send it back.

Next, we need to
encourage American innovation.  Last year, we made the largest investment in
basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s
cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy
ones untouched.  And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.  You
can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North
Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced
batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work
making solar panels.

But to create more
of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more
incentives.  That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power
plants in this country.  It means making tough decisions about opening new
offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in
advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.  And yes, it means passing a
comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make
clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. 

I am grateful to
the House for passing such a bill last year.  This year, I am eager to help
advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.  I know there have been questions
about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that
there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on
climate change.  But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for
energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future –
because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that
leads the global economy.  And America must be that
nation.

Third, we need to
export more of our goods.  Because the more products we make and sell to other
countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.  So tonight, we set a
new goal:  We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that
will support two million jobs in America.  To help meet this goal, we’re
launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small
businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with
national security. 

We have to seek new
markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the
sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to
create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing
those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we
will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why
we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South
Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

Fourth, we need to
invest in the skills and education of our people. 

This year, we have
broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national
competition to improve our schools.  The idea here is simple:  instead of
rewarding failure, we only reward success.  Instead of funding the status quo,
we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires
students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that
steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to
inner-cities.  In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty
programs is a world-class education.  In this country, the success of our
children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential. 

When we renew the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand
these reforms to all fifty states.   Still, in this economy, a high school
diploma no longer guarantees a good job.  I urge the Senate to follow the House
and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career
pathway to the children of so many working families.  To make college more
affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that
go to banks for student loans.  Instead, let’s take that money and give families
a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.  And
let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be
required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of
their debt will be forgiven after twenty years – and forgiven after ten years if
they choose a career in public service.  Because in the United States of
America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.  And it’s
time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs
– because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem. 

Now, the price of
college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class.  That’s why
last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class
Families.  That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and
making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a
retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. 
That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest
investment – their home.  The steps we took last year to shore up the housing
market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an
average of $1,500 on mortgage payments.  This year, we will step up re-financing
so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages.  And it is precisely
to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health
insurance reform.

Now let’s be clear
– I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my
belt.  And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care
because it was good politics.

I took on health
care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing
conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied
coverage; and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness
away from financial ruin.

After nearly a
century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the
lives of so many Americans.  The approach we’ve taken would protect every
American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.  It would give
small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health
care plan in a competitive market.  It would require every insurance plan to
cover preventive care.  And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady,
Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the
epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Our approach would
preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and
their plan.  It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and
businesses.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office – the independent
organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for
Congress – our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion
over the next two decades. 

Still, this is a
complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. 
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. 

But I also know
this problem is not going away.  By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more
Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this
year.  Our deficit will grow.  Premiums will go up.  Patients will be denied the
care they need.  Small business owners will continue to drop coverage
altogether.  I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the
people in this chamber. 

As temperatures
cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.  There’s
a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system
best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo.  But if
anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums,
bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors,
and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.  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 for the American people. 

Now, even as health
care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive
fiscal hole in which we find ourselves.  It’s a challenge that makes all others
that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political
posturing. 

So let me start the
discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the
beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion.
By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and
projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the
result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription
drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion
hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken
office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing
down the deficit.  But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent
a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

I am absolutely
convinced that was the right thing to do.  But families across the country are
tightening their belts and making tough decisions.  The federal government
should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1
trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011,
we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years.  Spending related
to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be
affected. But all other discretionary government programs will.  Like any
cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and
sacrifice what we don’t.  And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I
will. 

We will continue to
go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford
and don’t work.  We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year.
To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts.  But at a
time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies,
investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year.  We just can’t
afford it.

Now, even after
paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we
had when I took office.  More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and
Social Security will continue to skyrocket.  That’s why I’ve called for a
bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg
and Democrat Kent Conrad.  This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that
lets us pretend we solved a problem.  The Commission will have to provide a
specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.  Yesterday, the Senate blocked
a bill that would have created this commission.  So I will issue an executive
order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on
to another generation of Americans.  And when the vote comes tomorrow, the
Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had
record surpluses in the 1990s.

I know that some in
my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government
spending when so many are still hurting.  I agree, which is why this freeze will
not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger.  But understand –
if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our
markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of
which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes. 

From some on the
right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument – that if we just make fewer
investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate
more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will
go away.  The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped
lead us into this crisis.  It’s what helped lead to these deficits.  And we
cannot do it again.

Rather than fight
the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to
try something new.  Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain
of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here.  Let’s
try common sense.

To do that, 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. To close that credibility gap we must take action
on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists;
to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came
to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my
Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve
excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and
commissions.

But we can’t stop
there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on
behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress.  And it’s time to put
strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal
office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the
floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend
without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be
bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. 
They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging
Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on
Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of
this spending and embraced some meaningful change.  But restoring the public
trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark
requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark
requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people
can see how their money is being spent.

Of course, none of
these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one
another. 

Now, I am not
naïve.  I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace,
harmony, and some post-partisan era.  I knew that both parties have fed
divisions that are deeply entrenched.   And on some issues, there are simply
philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways.  These
disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national
priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two
hundred years.  They are the very essence of our
democracy.

But what frustrates
the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day.  We cannot
wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most
embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. 
Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. 
The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to
the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators.  Washington may think
that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of
the game.  But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from
helping the American people.  Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our
citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not
give up on changing the tone of our politics.  I know it’s an election year. 
And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than
usual.  But we still need to govern.  To Democrats, I would remind you that we
still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve
some problems, not run for the hills.  And if the Republican leadership is going
to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all
in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.  Just
saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not
leadership.  We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So
let’s show the American people that we can do it together.  This week, I’ll be
addressing a meeting of the House Republicans.  And I would like to begin
monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership.  I know you
can’t wait. 

Throughout our history, no issue has
united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt
after 9/11 has dissipated.  We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for
this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past.  I know that all of us
love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside
the schoolyard taunts about who is tough.  Let’s reject the false choice between
protecting our people and upholding our values.  Let’s leave behind the fear and
division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful
future – for America and the world.

 

That is the work we began last
year.  Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists
who threaten our nation.  We have made substantial investments in our homeland
security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are
filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better
airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited
torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the
Arabian Peninsula.  And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda’s fighters and
affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed – far
more than in 2008.

 

In Afghanistan, we are increasing
our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the
lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good
governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and
women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own
commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common
purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.

 

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we
are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I
would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President.  We will have all
of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the
Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi
people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake:  this war
is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.  

 

Tonight, all of our men and women in
uniform — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world – must know that they have
our respect, our gratitude, and our full support. And just as they must have the
resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when
they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for
veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA.
And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national
commitment to support military families.

 

Even as we prosecute two wars, we
are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the
threat of nuclear weapons.  I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and
Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and
seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while
ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations
on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at
April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together
behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world
in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

 

These diplomatic efforts have also
strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating
international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.  That is why North Korea
now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions – sanctions that are being
vigorously enforced.  That is why the international community is more united,
and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders
continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will
face growing consequences.

 

That is the leadership that we are
providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all
people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We
are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science,
education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight
against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves,
and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative
that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to
bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at
home, and strengthen public health abroad.

 

As we have for over sixty years,
America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our
shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here
tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people
of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to
go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching
through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by
corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and
human dignity. 

Abroad, America’s
greatest source of strength has always been our ideals.  The same is true at
home.  We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise
enshrined in our Constitution:  the notion that we are all created equal, that
no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should
be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be
treated no different than anyone else.    

We must continually
renew this promise.  My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once
again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination.  We
finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate.  This
year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that
denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who
they are.  We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that
women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.  And we should continue the work of
fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws,
and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy
and enrich our nations. 

In the end, it is
our ideals, our values, that built America – values that allowed us to forge a
nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive
our citizens still.  Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their
families and their employers.  Time and again, they lend a hand to their
neighbors and give back to their country.  They take pride in their labor, and
are generous in spirit.  These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values
they’re living by; business values or labor values.  They are American values.  

Unfortunately, too
many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our
corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same
values.  Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing
important work that helps our country prosper.  But each time a CEO rewards
himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish
gain, people’s doubts grow.  Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians
tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith.  The
more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues
into sound bites, our citizens turn away.  

No wonder there’s
so much cynicism out there. 

No wonder there’s
so much disappointment. 

I campaigned on the
promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went.  And right now, I
know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can
change – or at least, that I can deliver it.. 

But remember this –
I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. 
Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and
complicated.  And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs
passions and controversy.  That’s just how it is.

Those of us in
public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling
hard truths.  We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get
through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation. 

But I also know
this:  if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago
or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight.  The only reason we are
is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do
what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the
dream of this nation alive for their children and
grandchildren.

Our administration
has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved.  But
I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that
families all across this country have faced this year.  And what keeps me going
– what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of
determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at
the core of the American people – lives on.   

It lives on in the
struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he
said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

It lives on in the
woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of
recession, “We are strong.  We are resilient.  We are
American.”

It lives on in the
8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would
give it to the people of Haiti.  And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve
dropped everything to go some place they’ve never been and pull people they’ve
never known from rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when
another life was saved. 

The spirit that has
sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people. 

We have finished a
difficult year.  We have come through a difficult decade.  But a new year has
come.  A new decade stretches before us.  We don’t quit.  I don’t quit.  Let’s
seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen
our union once more. 

Thank you.  God
Bless You.  And God Bless the United States of America. 

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