January 25, 2011 REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS - History

January 25, 2011 REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS - History


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January 25, 2011


REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.


9:12 P. M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:


Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. (Applause.) And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague -- and our friend -– Gabby Giffords. (Applause.)

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation. (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow. (Applause.)

I believe we can. And I believe we must. That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together. (Applause.)

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more. These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right. The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. (Applause.) No workers -- no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up? ”

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement. ” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. (Applause.) We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. (Applause.) And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living. (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard. Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves. ”

That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money. We’re issuing a challenge. We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. (Applause.) I don’t know if -- I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. (Laughter.) So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all -- and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen. (Applause.)

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. (Applause.) We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money. ”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities. Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado -- located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their families to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it. ” (Applause.) That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders. ” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. (Applause.) We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. (Applause.) And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you. (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. (Applause.) That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. (Applause.) And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college. It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too. As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up. ”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (Applause.)

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. (Applause.) I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. (Applause.)

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information -- from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet. (Applause.)

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D. ”

We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts. (Applause.)

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. (Applause.) This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down. (Laughter and applause.) As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about -- (applause) -- this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change. (Applause.)

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit. It can be done. (Applause.)

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans -- and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible. (Applause.)

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks. (Applause.)

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. (Applause.) But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people. (Applause.) That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century. It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws. It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. (Applause.) And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients. (Applause.)

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law. (Laughter.) So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses. (Applause.)

What I’m not willing to do -- what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition. (Applause.)

I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ -- parents’ coverage. (Applause.)

So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward. (Applause.)

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. (Applause.) Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without. (Applause.)

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. (Applause.) And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact. (Laughter.)

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won’t. (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes. (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits. (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. (Applause.) We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market. (Applause.)

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. (Applause.) Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success. (Applause.)

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. (Applause.) This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them. (Applause.)

So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further. We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient. We can’t win the future with a government of the past. (Applause.)

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV. There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. (Laughter.) I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed. (Applause.)

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done -- put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it. (Applause.)

The 21st century government that’s open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West. No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity. And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. (Applause.) American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept. The Iraq war is coming to an end. (Applause.)

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family. (Applause.)

We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home. (Applause.)


In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe havens are shrinking. And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you. (Applause.)

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists. (Applause.)

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense. We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas. Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it. In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. (Applause.) Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life, ” he said. “Now we want to be free. ” (Applause.)

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country. (Applause.)

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us -- by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. (Applause.) And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation. (Applause.)

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The costs. The details. The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth. (Applause.)

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me. (Laughter and applause.) That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour -- three or four days at a time without any sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. (Applause.) But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged. He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things. ” (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company. ” “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree. ” “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try. ” “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will. ”

We do big things. (Applause.)

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END 10:13 P. EST


January 25, 2011 REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS - History

By Rep. Paul Ryan - January 25, 2011

Good evening. I'm Congressman Paul Ryan from Janesville, Wisconsin - and Chairman here at the House Budget Committee.

President Obama just addressed a Congressional chamber filled with many new faces. One face we did not see tonight was that of our friend and colleague, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. We all miss Gabby and her cheerful spirit and we are praying for her return to the House Chamber.

Earlier this month, President Obama spoke movingly at a memorial event for the six people who died on that violent morning in Tucson. Still, there are no words that can lift the sorrow that now engulfs the families and friends of the fallen.

What we can do is assure them that the nation is praying for them that, in the words of the Psalmist, the Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds and that over time grace will replace grief.

As Gabby continues to make encouraging progress, we must keep her and the others in our thoughts as we attend to the work now before us.

Tonight, the President focused a lot of attention on our economy in general - and on our deficit and debt in particular.

He was right to do so, and some of his words were reassuring. As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, I assure you that we want to work with the President to restrain federal spending.

In one of our first acts in the new majority, House Republicans voted to cut Congress's own budget. And just today, the House voted to restore the spending discipline that Washington sorely needs.

A few years ago, reducing spending was important. Today, it's imperative. Here's why.

We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.

On this current path, when my three children - who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old - are raising their own children, the Federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.

No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.

Frankly, it's one of my greatest concerns as a parent - and I know many of you feel the same way.

Our debt is the product of acts by many presidents and many Congresses over many years. No one person or party is responsible for it.

There is no doubt the President came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation.

Unfortunately, instead of restoring the fundamentals of economic growth, he engaged in a stimulus spending spree that not only failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs, but also plunged us even deeper into debt.

The facts are clear: Since taking office, President Obama has signed into law spending increases of nearly 25% for domestic government agencies - an 84% increase when you include the failed stimulus.

All of this new government spending was sold as "investment." Yet after two years, the unemployment rate remains above 9% and government has added over $3 trillion to our debt.

Then the President and his party made matters even worse, by creating a new open-ended health care entitlement.

What we already know about the President's health care law is this: Costs are going up, premiums are rising, and millions of people will lose the coverage they currently have. Job creation is being stifled by all of its taxes, penalties, mandates and fees.

Businesses and unions from around the country are asking the Obama Administration for waivers from the mandates. Washington should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. The President mentioned the need for regulatory reform to ease the burden on American businesses. We agree - and we think his health care law would be a great place to start.

Last week, House Republicans voted for a full repeal of this law, as we pledged to do, and we will work to replace it with fiscally responsible, patient-centered reforms that actually reduce costs and expand coverage.

Health care spending is driving the explosive growth of our debt. And the President's law is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy.

Our debt is out of control. What was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis.

We cannot deny it instead we must, as Americans, confront it responsibly.

And that is exactly what Republicans pledge to do.

Americans are skeptical of both political parties, and that skepticism is justified - especially when it comes to spending. So hold all of us accountable.

In this very room, the House will produce, debate, and advance a budget. Last year - in an unprecedented failure- Congress chose not to pass, or even propose a budget. The spending spree continued unchecked.
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We owe you a better choice and a different vision.

Our forthcoming budget is our obligation to you - to show you how we intend to do things differently . how we will cut spending to get the debt down. help create jobs and prosperity . and reform government programs. If we act soon, and if we act responsibly, people in and near retirement will be protected.

These budget debates are not just about the programs of government they're also about the purpose of government.

So I'd like to share with you the principles that guide us. They are anchored in the wisdom of the founders in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and in the words of the American Constitution.

They have to do with the importance of limited government and with the blessing of self-government.
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We believe government's role is both vital and limited - to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense . to secure our borders. to protect innocent life. to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights . to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity . and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.

We believe that the government has an important role to create the conditions that promote entrepreneurship, upward mobility, and individual responsibility.

We believe, as our founders did, that "the pursuit of happiness" depends upon individual liberty and individual liberty requires limited government.

Limited government also means effective government. When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn't do any of them very well. It's no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high.

The President and the Democratic Leadership have shown, by their actions, that they believe government needs to increase its size and its reach, its price tag and its power.

Whether sold as "stimulus" or repackaged as "investment," their actions show they want a federal government that controls too much taxes too much and spends too much in order to do too much.

And during the last two years, that is exactly what we have gotten - along with record deficits and debt - to the point where the President is now urging Congress to increase the debt limit.

We believe the days of business as usual must come to an end. We hold to a couple of simple convictions: Endless borrowing is not a strategy spending cuts have to come first.
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Our nation is approaching a tipping point.

We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.

Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked - and it won't work now.

We need to chart a new course.

Speaking candidly, as one citizen to another: We still have time. but not much time. If we continue down our current path, we know what our future will be.

Just take a look at what's happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn't act soon enough and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody.

Their day of reckoning has arrived. Ours is around the corner. That is why we must act now.
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Some people will back away from this challenge. But I see this challenge as an opportunity to rebuild what Lincoln called the "central ideas" of the Republic.

We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy and create millions of new jobs and opportunities for all people, of every background, to succeed and prosper. Under this approach, the spirit of initiative - not political clout - determines who succeeds.

Millions of families have fallen on hard times not because of our ideals of free enterprise - but because our leaders failed to live up to those ideals because of poor decisions made in Washington and Wall Street that caused a financial crisis, squandered our savings, broke our trust, and crippled our economy.

Today, a similar kind of irresponsibility threatens not only our livelihoods but our way of life.
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We need to reclaim our American system of limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and sound money, which has blessed us with unprecedented prosperity. And it has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed. That's the real secret to job creation - not borrowing and spending more money in Washington.

Limited government and free enterprise have helped make America the greatest nation on earth.

These are not easy times, but America is an exceptional nation. In all the chapters of human history, there has never been anything quite like America. The American story has been cherished, advanced, and defended over the centuries.

And it now falls to this generation to pass on to our children a nation that is stronger, more vibrant, more decent, and better than the one we inherited.

Paul Ryan represents Wisconsin's First Congressional District and serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee.


CNN Poll: More than half of speech watchers have very positive reaction

Washington (CNN) - A majority of Americans who watched President Obama's State of the Union address said they had a very positive reaction to his speech, according to a poll of people who viewed Tuesday night's address.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicated that 52 percent of speech watchers had a very positive reaction, with 32 percent saying they had a somewhat positive response and 15 percent with a negative response.

The 52 percent who indicated they had a very positive response is up four points from the 48 percent of speech watchers who felt the same way a year ago about the president's January 27, 2010 State of the Union address.

"Tuesday night's State of the Union audience is more Democratic than the nation as a whole, which is typical for a President Obama speech and indicates that the speech-watchers were predisposed to like what Obama said," noted CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "When George W. Bush was president, his audiences were more Republican than the general public at that time, and his speeches were usually well-received for that same reason."

The sample of speech-watchers in the poll were 39 percent Democratic and 19 percent Republican. Those numbers indicate that the sample is about nine to ten points more Democratic than the population as a whole. The audience for Obama's State of the Union address last year was 38 percent Democratic and 25 percent Republican.

"The poll does not and cannot reflect the views of all Americans. It only represents the views of people who watched the speech," Holland said.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted after Obama's address, with 475 adult Americans who watched the speech. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points.

During his address, the president made a bid for bipartisanship, saying "new laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together or not at all - for the challenges we face are bigger than party and bigger than politics."

The poll indicates people who watched the speech like that message. Sixty-one percent say that the president will succeed in increasing cooperation between the parties. And just over seven in ten say that Obama's address was about right, with 23 percent saying it was too liberal and five percent saying that it was not liberal enough.

Seventy-seven percent say the speech made them more optimistic, with just 19 percent saying it made them more pessimistic.

Sixty-eight percent of speech-watchers who were questioned said the president will succeed in improving the economy, with 61 percent saying Obama will reduce the deficit and 57 percent saying he'll succeed in creating jobs.

The survey also indicated that before the speech, 61 percent of people questioned said they thought Obama's policies will move the country in the right direction. That increased to 77 percent when questioned after the speech.

Nearly nine in ten say it was a good idea for Democratic and Republican lawmakers to sit together during the speech, with just seven percent saying it was a bad idea.

Earlier this month, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado proposed that members of both political parties sit next to each other instead of the normal separate seating for Democrats and Republicans, in a move to reduce the divisive political discourse of recent years. Udall suggested that the traditional choreographed standing and clapping during the State of the Union address would be unbecoming of Congress, especially given the recent shootings in Arizona.

- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report


Meet Congress's 5 biggest aisle hogs

By Steve Kornacki
Published January 25, 2011 1:30PM (EST)

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[Updated below]As congressional theater goes, it doesn't get much better than the entrance of the president for a State of the Union address. You know how it goes: The packed House chamber, filled with members of both the House and Senate, is gaveled to order and the president's arrival is announced, at which point a great cheer goes up from members of both parties. The president then works his way slowly down the center aisle,  pausing occasionally to exchange pleasantries with some of the many members who have stretched their hands out to greet him.

But if you're a longtime State of the Union-watcher, maybe you've noticed what we have: There's a handful of congressmen and -women who always seem to end up perfectly positioned to cross paths with the president -- and to get their own faces on national television -- as he makes his way in. This is no coincidence. Seating for the State of the Union is not assigned senators and House members claim their spots on a first come, first served basis. So when you seen a member of Congress standing along the center aisle as the president enters, chances are good that he or she staked out his or her turf early -- as in hours early. And when you see the same member of Congress standing on the aisle year after year, it's pretty clear that being seen on television with or near the president -- even if it's for a split second -- matters greatly to that member.

With the help of C-Span's video archive, we went back and looked at the last 10 State of the Union speeches, dating back to the end of the Clinton presidency, in an effort to identify the members who have been most persistent when it comes to claiming the best seats in the House. The process, we will admit, was inexact. For most years, we were at the mercy of the camera shots that were shown on C-Span, which do not always capture everyone gathered on the aisle. But we think we've seen enough to crown the five biggest aisle hogs in Congress:

* Dale Kildee (D-Mich.): The 81-year-old Democrat from the Flint has been in the House since 1976. He's pretty easy to spot (he looks vaguely like Dick Clark) and has managed to finagle an aisle spot for every single State of the Union address since at least 2000. Despite his long House tenure, he doesn't have much of a national profile the few seconds of airtime he snags on State of the Union night may be his biggest claim to fame.

* Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas): Elected in 1994, the 61-year-old Jackson Lee has gotten herself in trouble several times thanks to what the Almanac of American Politics delicately called her "regal pretensions." In an infamous 1998 incident, she reportedly threw a tantrum on a Continental Airlines flight when she wasn't served the meal she had requested. "I'm Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee!" she thundered. "Where is my seafood meal? I know it was ordered!"

* Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio): We couldn't find him in every archived State of the Union video, but more often than not, he's found his way into space on the aisle, usually near the back of the chamber, where the president enters.

* Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.): Often overshadowed by his New York colleagues, the 63-year-old Engel has them beat by miles when it comes to getting on television on State of the Union night. The only comparable national exposure he's gotten in his 18 years in the House? His 2006 interview with Stephen Colbert, during which he refused the comedian's request to stroke his mustache -- but allowed Colbert to brush it with a small comb.

* Jesse Jackson Jr.: We found him on the aisle for at least four recent State of the Unions. Maybe he saw it as a chance to increase his visibility in advance of a campaign for U.S. Senate -- something we learned he was very interested in during the Rod Blagojevich saga.

As noted, there are other members of Congress who might qualify for this list (we're looking at you, Rosa DeLauro and Al Green). And as Michele Bachmann demonstrated back in 2007, you don't need to be on the aisle every year to stand out during a State of the Union entrance. Anyway, we've put together a brief video showing our five favorite aisle hogs in action, which is embedded near the top of this post.

Update: If you thought this story might scare the aisle hogs off tonight, you were wrong. Shortly after 9 P.M., President Obama's arrival at the House chamber was announced, and seconds later he was face to face with . Dennis Kucinich. Along his way down the aisle, the president was also greeted by Dale Kildee, Sheila Jackson Lee and Eliot Engel, aisle hogs all. (Engel apparently had spot on the aisle -- on the Republican side, in a nod to the night's unofficial bipartisan civility theme -- by 10:00 this morning.) We should note, though, that Jesse Jackson Jr. appeared to be absent from the aisle, while Al Green and Jean Schmidt -- both of whom narrowly missed the cut when we assembled this list -- were there.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans: Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. And as we mark this occasion, we're also mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague and our friend Gabby Giffords.

It's no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last 2 years. The debates have been contentious we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that's a good thing. That's what a robust democracy demands. That's what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there's a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater, something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people, that we share common hopes and a common creed, that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled. That too is what sets us apart as a nation.

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won't usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.

I believe we can, and I believe we must. That's what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they've determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together or not at all, for the challenges we face are bigger than party and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election. After all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country or somewhere else. It's whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It's whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back, corporate profits are up, the economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people, by the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer, by the prospects of a small-business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise, by the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That's the project the American people want us to work on--together.

Now, we did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans' paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than 1 million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more. These steps we've taken over the last 2 years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we'll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn't always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you'd have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you'd even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I've seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I've heard it in the frustrations of Americans who've seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear, proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They're right. The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work, and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there's an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They're investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world's largest private solar research facility and the world's fastest computer.

So yes, the world is changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn't discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember, for all the hits we've taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We're the home to the world's best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What's more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea: the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That's why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It's why our students don't just memorize equations, but answer questions like: "What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?"

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can't just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us: "The future is not a gift. It is an achievement." Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice and struggle and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it's our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to outinnovate, outeducate, and outbuild the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our Government. That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future. And tonight I'd like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn't know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do--what America does better than anyone else--is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We're the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers, of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It is how we make our living.

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our Government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs--from manufacturing to retail--that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the Moon. The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets, we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the space race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology, an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we're seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard. Today, with the help of a Government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert's words, "We reinvented ourselves."

That's what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we've begun to reinvent our energy policy. We're not just handing out money. We're issuing a challenge. We're telling America's scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we'll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. [Laughter] So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling. So tonight I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources.

Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all, and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America's success. But if we want to win the future, if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas, then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet as many as a quarter of our students aren't even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us, as citizens and as parents, are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It's family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don't meet this test. That's why instead of just pouring money into a system that's not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 States, we said, "If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money."

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 States to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic Governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that's more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids.

You see, we know what's possible from our children when reform isn't just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities. Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado, located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their families to go to college. And after the first year of the school's transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, "Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it." That's what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let's also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child's success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. Here in America, it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who's contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our Nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher. Your country needs you.

Of course, the education race doesn't end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. That's why we've ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further and make permanent our tuition tax credit, worth $10,000 for 4 years of college. It's the right thing to do.

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today's fast-changing economy, we're also revitalizing America's community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she's earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams too. As Kathy said, "I hope it tells them to never give up."

If we take these steps, if we raise expectations for every child and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take, we will reach the goal that I set 2 years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

One last point about education: Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws, and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let's agree to make that effort. And let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this Nation.

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information, from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our Nation's infrastructure, they gave us a D.

We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn't just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last 2 years, we've begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight I'm proposing that we redouble those efforts.

We'll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We'll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on]* what's best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying, without the pat-down. [Laughter] As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next 5 years, we'll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn't just about--this isn't about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small-business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device, a student who can take classes with a digital textbook, or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments--in innovation, education, and infrastructure--will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the Tax Code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.

So tonight I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system, get rid of the loopholes, level the playing field, and use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years without adding to our deficit. It can be done.

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014. Because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs. That's what we did with Korea, and that's what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia-Pacific and global trade talks.

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I've ordered a review of Government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people. That's what we've done in this country for more than a century. It's why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It's why we have speed limits and child labor laws. It's why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. And it's why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law. [Laughter] So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.

What I'm not willing to do--what I'm not willing to do--is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.

I'm not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I'm not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small-businessman from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients'--parents' coverage.

So I say to this Chamber tonight: Instead of refighting the battles of the last 2 years, let's fix what needs fixing, and let's move forward.

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren't buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people's pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our Government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a Government that does the same.

So tonight I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next 5 years. Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we've frozen the salaries of hard-working Federal employees for the next 2 years. I've proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.

Now, I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's make sure that what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you feel the impact. [Laughter]

Now, most of the cuts and savings I've proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won't.

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don't agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it, in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities, without slashing benefits for future generations, and without subjecting Americans' guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It's not a matter of punishing their success, it's about promoting America's success.

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual Tax Code. This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.

So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both Houses of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further. We shouldn't just give our people a Government that's more affordable, we should give them a Government that's more competent and more efficient. We can't win the future with a Government of the past.

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the Government happened in the age of black-and-white TV. There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. [Laughter] I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked. [Laughter]

Now, we've made great strides over the last 2 years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We're selling acres of Federal office space that hasn't been used in years, and we'll cut through redtape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the Federal Government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote, and we will push to get it passed.

In the coming year, we'll also work to rebuild people's faith in the institution of Government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you'll be able to go to a web site and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it.

The 21st-century Government that's open and competent, a government that lives within its means, an economy that's driven by new skills and new ideas--our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West. No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. And America's moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity. And because we've begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America's standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new Government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America's commitment has been kept. The Iraq war is coming to an end.

Of course, as we speak, Al Qaida and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we're disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.

We've also taken the fight to Al Qaida and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny Al Qaida the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan Government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead, and this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.

In Pakistan, Al Qaida's leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe havens are shrinking. And we've sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the new START Treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian Government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.

This is just a part of how we're shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense. We've reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas. Around the globe, we're standing with those who take responsibility, helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power it must also be the purpose behind it. In south Sudan--with our assistance--the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him. "This was a battlefield for most of my life," he said. "Now we want to be free."

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

We must never forget that the things we've struggled for and fought for live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.

Tonight let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our Nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they've served us, by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own Nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country. They're Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one Nation.

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit, none of this will be easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything: the costs, the details, the letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don't have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don't want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn't get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working class kid from Scranton can sit behind me. [Laughter] That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father's Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.

That dream--that American Dream--is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It's what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small-business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment, and Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working 3 or 4 hour--3 or 4 days at a time without any sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded and the miners were rescued. But because he didn't want all of the attention, Brandon wasn't there when the miners emerged. He'd already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, "We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things."

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That's how we win the future.

We're a nation that says, "I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company." "I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree." "I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try." "I'm not sure how we'll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we'll get there. I know we will."

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it's because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our Union is strong.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.


January 25, 2011 REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS - History


For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 29, 2002

President Delivers State of the Union Address
The President's State of the Union Address
The United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests, fellow citizens: As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our Union has never been stronger. (Applause.)

We last met in an hour of shock and suffering. In four short months, our nation has comforted the victims, begun to rebuild New York and the Pentagon, rallied a great coalition, captured, arrested, and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan's terrorist training camps, saved a people from starvation, and freed a country from brutal oppression. (Applause.)

The American flag flies again over our embassy in Kabul. Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay. (Applause.) And terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own. (Applause.)

America and Afghanistan are now allies against terror. We'll be partners in rebuilding that country. And this evening we welcome the distinguished interim leader of a liberated Afghanistan: Chairman Hamid Karzai. (Applause.)

The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan's new government. And we welcome the new Minister of Women's Affairs, Doctor Sima Samar. (Applause.)

Our progress is a tribute to the spirit of the Afghan people, to the resolve of our coalition, and to the might of the United States military. (Applause.) When I called our troops into action, I did so with complete confidence in their courage and skill. And tonight, thanks to them, we are winning the war on terror. (Applause.) The man and women of our Armed Forces have delivered a message now clear to every enemy of the United States: Even 7,000 miles away, across oceans and continents, on mountaintops and in caves -- you will not escape the justice of this nation. (Applause.)

For many Americans, these four months have brought sorrow, and pain that will never completely go away. Every day a retired firefighter returns to Ground Zero, to feel closer to his two sons who died there. At a memorial in New York, a little boy left his football with a note for his lost father: Dear Daddy, please take this to heaven. I don't want to play football until I can play with you again some day.

Last month, at the grave of her husband, Michael, a CIA officer and Marine who died in Mazur-e-Sharif, Shannon Spann said these words of farewell: "Semper Fi, my love." Shannon is with us tonight. (Applause.)

Shannon, I assure you and all who have lost a loved one that our cause is just, and our country will never forget the debt we owe Michael and all who gave their lives for freedom.

Our cause is just, and it continues. Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears, and showed us the true scope of the task ahead. We have seen the depth of our enemies' hatred in videos, where they laugh about the loss of innocent life. And the depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the destruction they design. We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world.

What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning. Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on September the 11th were trained in Afghanistan's camps, and so were tens of thousands of others. Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning.

Thanks to the work of our law enforcement officials and coalition partners, hundreds of terrorists have been arrested. Yet, tens of thousands of trained terrorists are still at large. These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield, and we must pursue them wherever they are. (Applause.) So long as training camps operate, so long as nations harbor terrorists, freedom is at risk. And America and our allies must not, and will not, allow it. (Applause.)

Our nation will continue to be steadfast and patient and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives. First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice. And, second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world. (Applause.)

Our military has put the terror training camps of Afghanistan out of business, yet camps still exist in at least a dozen countries. A terrorist underworld -- including groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-i-Mohammed -- operates in remote jungles and deserts, and hides in the centers of large cities.

While the most visible military action is in Afghanistan, America is acting elsewhere. We now have troops in the Philippines, helping to train that country's armed forces to go after terrorist cells that have executed an American, and still hold hostages. Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy. Our Navy is patrolling the coast of Africa to block the shipment of weapons and the establishment of terrorist camps in Somalia.

My hope is that all nations will heed our call, and eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten their countries and our own. Many nations are acting forcefully. Pakistan is now cracking down on terror, and I admire the strong leadership of President Musharraf. (Applause.)

But some governments will be timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake about it: If they do not act, America will. (Applause.)

Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. (Applause.) And all nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security.

We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons. (Applause.)

Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun. This campaign may not be finished on our watch -- yet it must be and it will be waged on our watch.

We can't stop short. If we stop now -- leaving terror camps intact and terror states unchecked -- our sense of security would be false and temporary. History has called America and our allies to action, and it is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom's fight. (Applause.)

Our first priority must always be the security of our nation, and that will be reflected in the budget I send to Congress. My budget supports three great goals for America: We will win this war we'll protect our homeland and we will revive our economy.

September the 11th brought out the best in America, and the best in this Congress. And I join the American people in applauding your unity and resolve. (Applause.) Now Americans deserve to have this same spirit directed toward addressing problems here at home. I'm a proud member of my party -- yet as we act to win the war, protect our people, and create jobs in America, we must act, first and foremost, not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans. (Applause.)

It costs a lot to fight this war. We have spent more than a billion dollars a month -- over $30 million a day -- and we must be prepared for future operations. Afghanistan proved that expensive precision weapons defeat the enemy and spare innocent lives, and we need more of them. We need to replace aging aircraft and make our military more agile, to put our troops anywhere in the world quickly and safely. Our men and women in uniform deserve the best weapons, the best equipment, the best training -- and they also deserve another pay raise. (Applause.)

My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in two decades -- because while the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high. Whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay. (Applause.)

The next priority of my budget is to do everything possible to protect our citizens and strengthen our nation against the ongoing threat of another attack. Time and distance from the events of September the 11th will not make us safer unless we act on its lessons. America is no longer protected by vast oceans. We are protected from attack only by vigorous action abroad, and increased vigilance at home.

My budget nearly doubles funding for a sustained strategy of homeland security, focused on four key areas: bioterrorism, emergency response, airport and border security, and improved intelligence. We will develop vaccines to fight anthrax and other deadly diseases. We'll increase funding to help states and communities train and equip our heroic police and firefighters. (Applause.) We will improve intelligence collection and sharing, expand patrols at our borders, strengthen the security of air travel, and use technology to track the arrivals and departures of visitors to the United States. (Applause.)

Homeland security will make America not only stronger, but, in many ways, better. Knowledge gained from bioterrorism research will improve public health. Stronger police and fire departments will mean safer neighborhoods. Stricter border enforcement will help combat illegal drugs. (Applause.) And as government works to better secure our homeland, America will continue to depend on the eyes and ears of alert citizens.

A few days before Christmas, an airline flight attendant spotted a passenger lighting a match. The crew and passengers quickly subdued the man, who had been trained by al Qaeda and was armed with explosives. The people on that plane were alert and, as a result, likely saved nearly 200 lives. And tonight we welcome and thank flight attendants Hermis Moutardier and Christina Jones. (Applause.)

Once we have funded our national security and our homeland security, the final great priority of my budget is economic security for the American people. (Applause.) To achieve these great national objectives -- to win the war, protect the homeland, and revitalize our economy -- our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term, so long as Congress restrains spending and acts in a fiscally responsible manner. (Applause.) We have clear priorities and we must act at home with the same purpose and resolve we have shown overseas: We'll prevail in the war, and we will defeat this recession. (Applause.)

Americans who have lost their jobs need our help and I support extending unemployment benefits and direct assistance for health care coverage. (Applause.) Yet, American workers want more than unemployment checks -- they want a steady paycheck. (Applause.) When America works, America prospers, so my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs. (Applause.)

Good jobs begin with good schools, and here we've made a fine start. (Applause.) Republicans and Democrats worked together to achieve historic education reform so that no child is left behind. I was proud to work with members of both parties: Chairman John Boehner and Congressman George Miller. (Applause.) Senator Judd Gregg. (Applause.) And I was so proud of our work, I even had nice things to say about my friend, Ted Kennedy. (Laughter and applause.) I know the folks at the Crawford coffee shop couldn't believe I'd say such a thing -- (laughter) -- but our work on this bill shows what is possible if we set aside posturing and focus on results. (Applause.)

There is more to do. We need to prepare our children to read and succeed in school with improved Head Start and early childhood development programs. (Applause.) We must upgrade our teacher colleges and teacher training and launch a major recruiting drive with a great goal for America: a quality teacher in every classroom. (Applause.)

Good jobs also depend on reliable and affordable energy. This Congress must act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and it must act to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil. (Applause.)

Good jobs depend on expanded trade. Selling into new markets creates new jobs, so I ask Congress to finally approve trade promotion authority. (Applause.) On these two key issues, trade and energy, the House of Representatives has acted to create jobs, and I urge the Senate to pass this legislation. (Applause.)

Good jobs depend on sound tax policy. (Applause.) Last year, some in this hall thought my tax relief plan was too small some thought it was too big. (Applause.) But when the checks arrived in the mail, most Americans thought tax relief was just about right. (Applause.) Congress listened to the people and responded by reducing tax rates, doubling the child credit, and ending the death tax. For the sake of long-term growth and to help Americans plan for the future, let's make these tax cuts permanent. (Applause.)

The way out of this recession, the way to create jobs, is to grow the economy by encouraging investment in factories and equipment, and by speeding up tax relief so people have more money to spend. For the sake of American workers, let's pass a stimulus package. (Applause.)

Good jobs must be the aim of welfare reform. As we reauthorize these important reforms, we must always remember the goal is to reduce dependency on government and offer every American the dignity of a job. (Applause.)

Americans know economic security can vanish in an instant without health security. I ask Congress to join me this year to enact a patients' bill of rights -- (applause) -- to give uninsured workers credits to help buy health coverage -- (applause) -- to approve an historic increase in the spending for veterans' health -- (applause) -- and to give seniors a sound and modern Medicare system that includes coverage for prescription drugs. (Applause.)

A good job should lead to security in retirement. I ask Congress to enact new safeguards for 401K and pension plans. (Applause.) Employees who have worked hard and saved all their lives should not have to risk losing everything if their company fails. (Applause.) Through stricter accounting standards and tougher disclosure requirements, corporate America must be made more accountable to employees and shareholders and held to the highest standards of conduct. (Applause.)

Retirement security also depends upon keeping the commitments of Social Security, and we will. We must make Social Security financially stable and allow personal retirement accounts for younger workers who choose them. (Applause.)

Members, you and I will work together in the months ahead on other issues: productive farm policy -- (applause) -- a cleaner environment -- (applause) -- broader home ownership, especially among minorities -- (applause) -- and ways to encourage the good work of charities and faith-based groups. (Applause.) I ask you to join me on these important domestic issues in the same spirit of cooperation we've applied to our war against terrorism. (Applause.)

During these last few months, I've been humbled and privileged to see the true character of this country in a time of testing. Our enemies believed America was weak and materialistic, that we would splinter in fear and selfishness. They were as wrong as they are evil. (Applause.)

The American people have responded magnificently, with courage and compassion, strength and resolve. As I have met the heroes, hugged the families, and looked into the tired faces of rescuers, I have stood in awe of the American people.

And I hope you will join me -- I hope you will join me in expressing thanks to one American for the strength and calm and comfort she brings to our nation in crisis, our First Lady, Laura Bush. (Applause.)

None of us would ever wish the evil that was done on September the 11th. Yet after America was attacked, it was as if our entire country looked into a mirror and saw our better selves. We were reminded that we are citizens, with obligations to each other, to our country, and to history. We began to think less of the goods we can accumulate, and more about the good we can do.

For too long our culture has said, "If it feels good, do it." Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: "Let's roll." (Applause.) In the sacrifice of soldiers, the fierce brotherhood of firefighters, and the bravery and generosity of ordinary citizens, we have glimpsed what a new culture of responsibility could look like. We want to be a nation that serves goals larger than self. We've been offered a unique opportunity, and we must not let this moment pass. (Applause.)

My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years -- 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime -- to the service of your neighbors and your nation. (Applause.) Many are already serving, and I thank you. If you aren't sure how to help, I've got a good place to start. To sustain and extend the best that has emerged in America, I invite you to join the new USA Freedom Corps. The Freedom Corps will focus on three areas of need: responding in case of crisis at home rebuilding our communities and extending American compassion throughout the world.

One purpose of the USA Freedom Corps will be homeland security. America needs retired doctors and nurses who can be mobilized in major emergencies volunteers to help police and fire departments transportation and utility workers well-trained in spotting danger.

Our country also needs citizens working to rebuild our communities. We need mentors to love children, especially children whose parents are in prison. And we need more talented teachers in troubled schools. USA Freedom Corps will expand and improve the good efforts of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to recruit more than 200,000 new volunteers.

And America needs citizens to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world. So we will renew the promise of the Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years -- (applause) -- and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic world. (Applause.)

This time of adversity offers a unique moment of opportunity -- a moment we must seize to change our culture. Through the gathering momentum of millions of acts of service and decency and kindness, I know we can overcome evil with greater good. (Applause.) And we have a great opportunity during this time of war to lead the world toward the values that will bring lasting peace.

All fathers and mothers, in all societies, want their children to be educated, and live free from poverty and violence. No people on Earth yearn to be oppressed, or aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

If anyone doubts this, let them look to Afghanistan, where the Islamic "street" greeted the fall of tyranny with song and celebration. Let the skeptics look to Islam's own rich history, with its centuries of learning, and tolerance and progress. America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. (Applause.)

No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law limits on the power of the state respect for women private property free speech equal justice and religious tolerance. (Applause.)

America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world, including the Islamic world, because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror.

In this moment of opportunity, a common danger is erasing old rivalries. America is working with Russia and China and India, in ways we have never before, to achieve peace and prosperity. In every region, free markets and free trade and free societies are proving their power to lift lives. Together with friends and allies from Europe to Asia, and Africa to Latin America, we will demonstrate that the forces of terror cannot stop the momentum of freedom. (Applause.)

The last time I spoke here, I expressed the hope that life would return to normal. In some ways, it has. In others, it never will. Those of us who have lived through these challenging times have been changed by them. We've come to know truths that we will never question: evil is real, and it must be opposed. (Applause.) Beyond all differences of race or creed, we are one country, mourning together and facing danger together. Deep in the American character, there is honor, and it is stronger than cynicism. And many have discovered again that even in tragedy -- especially in tragedy -- God is near. (Applause.)

In a single instant, we realized that this will be a decisive decade in the history of liberty, that we've been called to a unique role in human events. Rarely has the world faced a choice more clear or consequential.

Our enemies send other people's children on missions of suicide and murder. They embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a creed. We stand for a different choice, made long ago, on the day of our founding. We affirm it again today. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life. (Applause.)

Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom's price. We have shown freedom's power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom's victory.


Obama Calls for Spending Freeze but Says He’ll Spare Education

In a State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama proposed a five-year freeze in discretionary spending on nondefense programs and vowed to veto any bill containing earmarks. But the president said he would spare education and research from the freeze and spending cuts, calling them vital to the nation’s long-term growth and competitiveness.

“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine,” he said. “It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”

Mr. Obama said his budget for the 2012 fiscal year, due out in February, will call for spending on biomedical research, information technology, and clean-energy technology. He proposed paying for the increases by eliminating tax breaks for oil companies.

College lobbyists, not surprisingly, applauded the president’s remarks.

“We agree with the president that the nation needs to take strong action to reduce budget deficits, and that as we do so, we must continue to direct additional resources toward research and education to ensure America’s economic competitiveness and global leadership,” said Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities. “It is our hope that sustained investment in research and education, even as we reduce deficits, is something Democrats and Republicans can agree on.”

But increased spending could be a hard sell in the Republican-led House of Representatives, where many lawmakers campaigned on a pledge to reduce the deficit. The president’s speech came just hours after House Republicans passed a symbolic resolution calling for cutting nonsecurity discretionary spending to 2008 levels.

The government is operating at spending levels set for the 2010 fiscal year under a continuing resolution that expires on March 4. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is crafting a spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year that he says would make the deepest spending cuts in the nation’s history.

Rich Williams, higher-education advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, says that rolling back federal spending to 2008 levels would have “grave consequences” for the Pell Grant program, resulting in cuts of $1,500 for the neediest students.

As expected, the president focused his remarks on jobs and the economy, calling for bold action to spur job growth. But he also called for passage of legislation like the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship and student aid for undocumented students, and he urged colleges to welcome military recruiters and ROTC back to their campuses in the wake of the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which had barred gay Americans from openly serving in the military. “It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past,” he said. “It is time to move forward as one nation.”

President Obama also touted his success in ending student-loan subsidies to banks, and he called on Congress to make permanent a tuition tax credit worth $10,000 over four years. He also reiterated his goal for the nation to lead the world in college-completion rates by 2020.

At least one college student was on hand for the president’s speech. Daniel Hernandez, a University of Arizona student who administered first aid to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in Tucson this month, sat with the first lady, Michelle Obama, during the address.

The president made no mention of the Education Department’s proposed “gainful employment” rules, which could cut off federal student aid to programs in which students have high debt burdens and low repayment rates. But one major player from that controversial sector still got some airtime last night. The Apollo Group, parent corporation of the University of Phoenix, bought spots on NBC and ABC for time right after the president’s speech to show two ads, one describing the university as an innovator in education and another featuring the university’s teacher-education programs.


A tale of two speeches

On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. Shortly after his speech, a spokesman for the Republican Party will offer a televised rebuttal. And if the evening unfolds as usual, the speeches will be followed with contentious commentary by partisans on the left and the right, and forecasts of gridlock in the new Congress.

But perhaps this year the usual divisions will soften: The recent tragedy in Tucson has brought calls for civility and cooperation.

At many important moments of national challenge, a divided American electorate has devised ways to move forward. Fifty years ago, in January 1961, two historic addresses delivered within 70 hours of each other articulated the ways Americans, despite their differences, could unite around certain ideals.

On Jan. 17, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a historic farewell address, followed on Jan. 20 by President John F. Kennedy’s storied inaugural address. These two speeches, delivered by political opponents, offer obvious contrasts in style and political philosophy. But the addresses converged on key points, namely on questions of citizenship in the modern age and on the belief that the American system of self-government can rise to any challenge.

Both speeches continue to fascinate. Fifty years on, Eisenhower’s famous warnings still seem prophetic. He warned that the American democratic process could be undermined by the “unwarranted acquisition of influence … by a military-industrial complex” and that public policy could fall captive to domination by a scientific-technological elite. In 2011, the threat remains, but the military-industrial complex of which he candidly spoke is relatively smaller (in terms of GDP). And since 1961, the political branches, perhaps heeding his warnings, have retained control over the Pentagon and military policy.

Likewise, Kennedy’s vision of a “peaceful revolution of hope” continues to galvanize efforts to overcome poverty and encourage wise development at home and abroad, as do his memorable words about the social responsibilities inherent in a free and just society. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,” Kennedy declared, “it cannot save the few who are rich.”

These speeches were carefully drafted over a period of time. New documents released at the Eisenhower library, and well-known documents at the Kennedy library, indicate that both were the result of an extraordinary effort to find the exact words and phrases to articulate their respective points of view — in a unifying way — and to communicate their common theme of revitalizing the spirit of citizenship.

Eisenhower’s address was planned for more than 18 months. In 1959, the president mentioned to his advisors his desire to make several speeches, including a farewell address, in which he would discuss “the need for common sense to accommodate the broad range of belief in the political spectrum of America, particularly in an era when the nation may have an executive of one party and Congress of another.”

That had been the case for the final six years of Eisenhower’s presidency, as it often has been in recent administrations. Kennedy’s address too took shape over several years, in his Senate speeches, in his campaign speeches and in several books. Neither speech shied away from controversy.

But what should be of prime interest today are the ways that the outgoing Republican president and the incoming Democratic president affirmed a common creed and a consistent view of citizenship, though offered from distinctive perspectives. Eisenhower’s focus was on the potential obstacles to “active” citizenship that had developed in his time Kennedy’s, with it’s famous “ask not” line, on the possibilities and duties of citizenship. Yet both called on citizens — elected officials and private citizens alike — to contribute toward social betterment, to be informed and to participate in public affairs, and to set high standards in community and political life.

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” Eisenhower said, “can compel the proper meshing of the … machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty can prosper together.”

“In your hands, my fellow citizens,” Kennedy echoed, “rests the final success or failure of our course.”

These speeches affirmed basic points of our civic creed: that Americans may disagree, but over means, not ends that Americans, if threatened, will “pay any price, bear any burden … [and] meet any hardship,” as Kennedy put it, to defend America and American values that Americans, as Eisenhower put it, must be worthy of a free and religious people whose basic purposes are “to foster progress in human achievement. to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations.”

Implicit in both speeches was a traditional American theme of optimism, of faith in a better future, which proved justified in the years to come as the United States prevailed in the Cold War, wrote new chapters in civil rights, and enjoyed ever higher levels of prosperity.

Can Americans restore a style in public affairs that Eisenhower in 1961 envisioned for the world? “Down the long lane of history,” he said toward the close of his farewell remarks, “America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”

The United States in January 2011 cannot afford to become a battlefield of ideology and mistrust. America’s problems and challenges require that Americans find common ground, at least on basics — the message of the Eisenhower and Kennedy speeches 50 years ago. Hasn’t the time come to stop emphasizing differences, to speak and act as citizens, to find the points of agreement, and to set America’s sights on the future? The president’s annual speech before the Congress offers Americans a brand new — and excellent — chance to start.

David Eisenhower is director of the Institute for Public Service at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969.”

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Time to End Obama’s Costly High-Speed Rail Program

Ronald Utt is the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research Fellow.

Abstract: President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail program promises to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in federal and state funds to provide mediocre passenger rail service to an extremely small fraction of travelers. In this time of tight budgets, neither the federal government nor the states can afford such extravagance. Instead of creating a heavily subsidized, underutilized passenger rail system, Congress and the Administration should promptly end the program and use the recovered funds to reduce the federal budget deficit.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama attempted to revive his faltering high-speed rail (HSR) program by doubling down on his commitment to it: “Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.… As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.”[1]

The reality is that the Midwest routes have been cancelled by newly elected governors in Ohio and Wisconsin, who have returned $1.3 billion in federal HSR grants to the U.S. Treasury, and California’s worsening budget crisis will discourage any state investment in its HSR system, which will cost between $42 billion and $80 billion to complete. Despite these setbacks, however, President Obama is now proposing an extravagantly costly system to serve the “urbanized” population (80 percent of the total U.S. population) that resides in the 514 communities and metropolitan areas.

Although the President offers no cost estimate for this ambitious project, which would use immense federal subsidies to undermine the existing private and tax-paying bus and air service to these communities, it would likely be one of the costliest and most underutilized federal programs in American history. As noted, California’s HSR plan to connect Los Angeles with San Francisco could cost up to $80 billion, Amtrak estimates that HSR in the Northeast Corridor would cost $117 billion, and the modest Tampa to Orlando plan will come in at $3 billion or more.

A federal commitment to HSR has been a key component of President Obama’s domestic policy agenda since he took office. In the first month of his Administration, President Obama used the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “stimulus” package) to create a new federal program to build a comprehensive HSR system. Congress agreed to dedicate $8 billion of the $787 billion in stimulus spending to begin developing HSR in the United States. In addition, Obama requested and Congress approved an additional $5 billion over the next five years beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2010. At the same time, then-Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure James Oberstar (D–MN) announced that the next highway reauthorization bill would include an additional $50 billion for HSR.

Shortly thereafter, the many industries benefiting from massive federal spending on HSR formed the US High Speed Rail Association to lobby for the program.[2] Reflecting the excitement that gripped the new Administration, President Obama proclaimed in April 2009:

What we’re talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes…. Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.[3]

Even though the President’s HSR plans have suffered several major setbacks and the federal budget faces a $1.4 trillion deficit, the Administration remains undeterred in its pursuit of this costly scheme. In mid-February, Vice President Joseph Biden provided a few more details on the President’s proposal when he announced plans to spend $57 billion on HSR over the next six years.[4]

The President’s High-Speed Rail Program Unravels

Despite the President’s continued enthusiasm for his HSR proposals, several major setbacks have occurred over the past year, including the realization by most Americans that they preferred to live in the 21st century, not the late 19th. In January 2010, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that it would spend more than half of the $8 billion in the so-called HSR grants on for-profit freight railroads to benefit existing slow-speed Amtrak lines and proposed Amtrak-style service.

At the same time, as citizens of states receiving the money began to inspect the Obama plan’s cost estimates, travel benefits, and long-term subsidy obligations more closely, support for HSR began to wane, and gubernatorial candidates in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida who opposed or were skeptical about HSR won their elections. The new governors of Wisconsin and Ohio have since canceled their states’ programs, and the Florida program, one of only two real HSR programs funded by the FRA, is under review by the new governor. The California program, the only other real HSR proposal, will likely not be built because of its exceptionally high cost and California’s long-term, systemic fiscal crisis.

Despite Congress’s commitment of significant funding to the program and the President’s giddy excitement about an America transformed by an inefficient, inconvenient, and wildly expensive mode of travel, the President’s HSR program is in a state of collapse. The new Congress should put an end to what little life remains in this futile and costly exercise and use any recovered funds for deficit reduction.

Ohio and Wisconsin Reject the Federal Funds. For inexplicable reasons, in January 2010, the FRA awarded $4.5 billion (56 percent) of the HSR funds to existing freight railroads for track improvements that would benefit them and existing and prospective slow-speed Amtrak service that shares the same tracks under contract with the freight railroads that own the tracks on which Amtrak operates. The FRA awarded just $3.5 billion (44 percent) to only two genuine HSR projects, those in California and Florida.[5] Not surprisingly, HSR advocates were disappointed and expressed their concerns accordingly.

Because all of these projects—slow-speed and high-speed—would require substantial state matching funds and perpetual state operating subsidies (since no passenger rail system in the U.S. and only a handful abroad earn a profit or break even), any state accepting the money would also be accepting a significant, long-term financial liability at a time when most states are hard-pressed to meet the core responsibilities of education, law enforcement, and public health.

Consequently, supporting or opposing the President’s rail plan became an issue in several gubernatorial races, particularly in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida, where the winning candidates either opposed or questioned the value of the federal rail grant. In Wisconsin, incoming Governor Scott Walker (R) opposed the plan, and outgoing Governor James Doyle (D) suspended the project in response to the voters’ decision.

In Ohio, gubernatorial candidate John Kasich (R) campaigned against accepting the $450 million HSR grant to provide passenger service between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati, and Governor Kasich canceled the project shortly after he assumed office. A September 2009 study of the Ohio project’s viability concluded that the average speed of the service would not exceed 39 miles per hour when the stops were included and that its cost would be closer to $581 million.

In response to the threatened rejection, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood argued, “If you build it they will come,” and “People like to ride trains.… You don’t build these trains to travel faster, although sometimes you do.”[6] Apparently, Ohio voters were unmoved by Secretary LaHood’s rationalizations and elected Kasich governor.

The FRA has since diverted the $810 million to extend Amtrak’s Hiawatha line from Milwaukee to Madison and the $450 million to be spent in Ohio to other HSR projects, primarily in California and Florida.

California Dreamin’ Meets the Fiscal Nightmare. California’s HSR plan was the most ambitious of the plans that sought FRA funding. The FRA awarded California $2.3 billion to start the project in January 2010 and added $624 million in December 2010, albeit with a set of peculiar restrictions that have further undermined the public’s perception of the President’s HSR program.

As originally proposed and endorsed by referendum in 2008, the state’s HSR plan was to build a main north–south line connecting Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, and San Francisco with planned service expansion to San Luis Obispo, San Diego, Stockton, and Sacramento. Approximately 1,955 miles of track was to be built or upgraded. Building the initial 800-mile core of the system was initially and officially estimated to cost $43 billion.

In January 2010, California received $2.3 billion, by far the largest of the FRA HSR grants, to begin work on its system. By then, however, California’s fiscal situation had deteriorated further, and private investors expressed little interest in investing the estimated $9 billion to make it work. Numerous reports and studies suggested that costs could reach $80 billion and that ridership would be less than projected.[7]

The evidence suggests that California’s HSR project will likely never be built. Indeed, in mid-February, an independent fiscal watchdog group in California estimated that the cost of the first phase of the system has escalated to $63 billion.[8]

Apparently, the FRA felt the same way. When it redirected a portion of the Wisconsin and Ohio money to California, it required California to spend the first $4.3 billion in state and federal funds on a 54-mile line in the San Joaquin Valley to connect the city of Corcoran (population 25,700) with Borden, an unincorporated town in Madera County. As one analyst has concluded, “The segment was adopted under pressure by the United States Department of Transportation, which was interested in ensuring that the line would be usable (have ‘independent utility’) by Amtrak should the high speed rail project be cancelled due to lack of funds.”[9] In effect, the FRA is hedging its bets and salvaging what it can in recognition that California may never build the system.

If this sort of costly bet hedging is what passes for fiscal responsibility in the Obama Administration, then this grant seems ripe for a congressional rescission that would recapture the money for the government and apply it to deficit reduction. Congress would be hard-pressed to find an annual savings of nearly $3 billion from a single unpopular project, and California’s beleaguered budget would also benefit.

Obama and Japan Bribe Florida to Stay with the Plan. With several states rejecting the President’s HSR plan and returning hundreds of millions of dollars in unwanted federal subsidies, and with California unlikely to build its system, the President and Secretary LaHood have turned their attention and the taxpayers’ resources to a costly attempt to keep the faltering Florida program alive. Because the Florida and California systems were the only genuine HSR projects in the President’s plan, failure in Florida would reduce the President’s program to nothing more than a costly and unneeded subsidy for profitable, privately owned freight railroads.

A failure in Florida would also leave many foreign manufacturers and foreign engineering and consulting services without the multibillion-dollar contracts that they had hoped to win and in which they had “invested.”

  • Spain’s Talgo had been actively working the Wisconsin project but will close its Wisconsin plant in 2012 because the state terminated the project,
  • Germany’s Siemens funded an economic analysis of the benefits of HSR for the Orlando– Tampa region,
  • France’s TGV has sponsored HSR conferences in the Midwest,
  • China has been poking around the California project, and
  • Japanese companies and the Japanese government have been looking at opportunities in all of the projects but have since focused on the Florida project as the other opportunities in the U.S. have disappeared or diminished.

During his successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign in Florida, Rick Scott (R) expressed skepticism about the value of the project and promised a careful review of it if he was elected. He promised that concerns for the taxpayer would be paramount in his decision. Governor Scott has since begun that review, and the President and the Global High Speed Rail Industrial Complex are making every effort to ensure that he decides in favor of the project. With the Wisconsin and Ohio projects terminated and California unlikely to build its HSR system, introducing HSR into America now depends entirely upon Florida, and the U.S. and Japanese governments are piling on the subsidies to ensure that this happens before Congress ends the program.

The 84-mile line connecting the Orlando airport with downtown Tampa is projected to cost $2.7 billion.[10] The FRA initially offered to cover $1.25 billion of the cost in the first round of grants awarded in January 2010. Despite growing opposition and skepticism across the nation, Congress appropriated an additional $800 million to the Florida project in October 2010, and the President added $342 million in December from the HSR funds returned by Wisconsin and Ohio. Altogether, the federal government has promised to cover $2.4 billion of the projected $2.7 billion cost, leading one Florida journalist to speculate that “if we hold out a little longer, they’ll come back and give every Floridian an extra $100 and a free puppy.”[11]

Within the month, the Obama Administration proved the journalist’s speculation to be essentially correct, albeit without the puppies. On January 8, 2011, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara visited Governor Scott and suggested that Japan would like to be a financial backer for up to 60 percent of Florida’s share in the system. Given the project’s estimated cost of $2.7 billion and the federal subsidy of $2.4 billion, the Japanese government appears to be committing itself to financing up to $210 million of the project’s cost.

Three days later, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation announced that “it would extend loans to projects not only of developing economies but those of rich countries, as it prepares to finance the JR Tokai consortium’s bid for the $2.7 billion first phase (Orlando–Tampa) of the Florida high-speed rail project.”[12] The JR Tokai consortium consists of 11 Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

In effect, the Obama HSR program is morphing into a jobs-for-Japan program. Early reports indicate that the Japanese financial contribution will be in the form of a loan that will need to be serviced either by the HSR system and its riders or by Florida taxpayers if the system does not make a profit, which only a tiny fraction of HSR systems do.[13]

Despite the huge costs that the system will incur, its performance will be mediocre compared to other systems. As a recent Reason Foundation report reveals, Florida’s proposed HSR system is expected to be more hype than high-speed:

[T]he proposed speeds are substantially below those of state-of-the-art high-speed rail systems in China, Japan and France, which operate from 34 to 70 percent faster on comparable segments. The Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail line speeds are more on a par with Amtrak’s Acela service in the Washington to Boston corridor. Part of the reason for the slower speeds of the Tampa to Orlando line is its operation as a tourist rail shuttle service within the Orlando metropolitan area.[14]

The report estimates that the project could actually cost up to $3 billion more than the estimated $2.7 billion.[15] Although the status of the Florida project remains in limbo as of mid-February, Governor Scott noted in his February 7, 2011, budget proposal:

Florida accepted one-time handouts from the federal government. Those temporary resources allowed state and local governments to spend beyond their means. There was never any reason to think that Florida taxpayers could continue that higher level of spending once the federal handouts are gone. The false expectation by federal hand-outs are the reason we hear about a multi-billion dollar deficit.

As one observer noted, “The words ‘high-speed rail’ and ‘operating subsidies’ were not mentioned, but the implication was clear.”[16]

Given the growing opposition from the public, Members of Congress, and state and local officials to Obama’s HSR program and the uncertain and disappointing prospects for those systems targeted for federal funding, Congress should consider terminating the program or, at a minimum, placing a temporary hold on any spending for it. Once this is done, Congress should use the time to conduct comprehensive hearings on the benefits of these projects and to consider whether an HSR program makes economic sense in any region of the United States.

Learning from Europe’s Mistakes

Advocates for more spending on passenger rail, including HSR, often point to Europe and Japan as role models and aspirational goals for American policy. This Euro-envy manifests itself in the promotional statements of America’s rail hobbyists and the foreign companies that hope to sell billions of dollars of equipment, consulting, project management, and engineering services.

For example, in an April 2009 press conference, President Obama played the envy card, arguing, “Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It has been happening for decades. The problem is that it’s been happening elsewhere, not here.” Obama went on to extol HSR systems in France, Spain, China, and Japan and concluded, “There’s no reason why we can’t do this. This is America. There’s no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders.”[17]

If one’s knowledge of European travel preferences comes from Time, The New York Review of Books, and Pink Panther movies, then the President’s statement would seem to ring true. Sadly, the reality is quite different. European and Asian governments have paid staggering sums to subsidize a mode of travel that only a small and shrinking share of their populations uses.[18]

In its most recent report on European travel patterns, the European Commission noted that passenger rail’s share of the European market (EU-27) declined from 6.6 percent in 1995 to 6.3 percent in 2008, reaching a low of 5.9 percent in 2004. Market shares for autos and buses also fell over the period, while the airlines’ market share jumped. In effect, Europeans are adopting more American modes of travel, despite massive taxpayer subsidies for rail. They are shifting their travel to unsubsidized, taxpaying airlines, which expanded their market share from 6.5 percent in 1995 to 8.6 percent in 2008. Indeed, by 2008, passenger rail’s share of the transportation market was the lowest of all modes, except travel by sea and motorcycles.[19]

Although the total size and scope of European subsidies for passenger rail are not known, a recent report by Amtrak’s Inspector General indicated that they are sizable and likely exceed what the U.S. government pays for highways. One purpose of the review was to address the contention that passenger rail in other countries, especially HSR, operates at a profit (that is, without subsidies).

For 1995–2006, the study found that the governments of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark, and Austria spent “a combined total of $42 billion annually on their national passenger railroads.”[20] These six countries have a combined population of 269 million, and their expenditure of $42 billion on passenger rail in 2006[21] is roughly proportional to the $54.8 billion that the government of the United States (population of 309 million) spent on all forms of transportation, including highways, rail, aviation, water transport, and mass transit.[22]

Data from individual countries reveal the financial catastrophes that the U.S. could confront if it embraces Euro-style passenger rail programs. According to the left-leaning The Economist, passenger rail subsidies reached $8.9 billion in 2008– 2009, and the magazine wondered:

It is not clear why the public should be heavily subsidizing a mode of transport that accounts for a tiny minority of all travel: 8% of the total distance travelled in Britain during 2009, compared with 85% by cars and vans. The relatively few who use railways often are disproportionately well-off: three-fifths of the traffic is concentrated in the wealthy commuting counties of the south-east.[23]

Despite these massive subsidies, rail ticket prices are still comparatively high. At present, two people traveling from Heathrow airport to downtown London can hire a limousine that meets them at the baggage claim and takes them directly to their destination for less than the cost of taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and then taking the Tube or a taxi to their final destination.

Although the U.K. system is mostly low-speed rail, the nation’s one foray into HSR—the Channel Tunnel Link connecting London to Paris and Brussels—has been a costly experience. The infrastructure cost of connecting London’s St. Pancras station with Folkstone (a distance of 67 miles, including 15 miles of tunnels) at the Channel tunnel entrance totaled ₤6.9 billion ($11 billion), including $8.3 billion in loans and $2.7 billion in grants to the original private contractor that built and operated the line. That contractor has since relinquished its ownership of the line, and the U.K. government expects to sell it for $2.4 billion, for a potential loss of $8.6 billion.[24]

Meanwhile the signature Eurostar London–Paris– Brussels service that runs on the line has never exceeded half of what was projected in the project’s feasibility study.

The Real Reason for High-Speed Rail or Any Rail

With all of the evidence indicating that HSR is an exceptionally costly and inefficient means of travel that only a few passengers choose to use, it is difficult to explain the obsession of some, including the President and members of his Cabinet, with this mode of travel. In part, this obsession seems to have little to do with travel per se, but rather with the quality of the travel experience.

Secretary LaHood apparently believes that this is an appropriate federal goal. He has observed, “People like to ride trains.… You don’t build these trains to travel faster, although sometimes you do,” and added that “people could read books, work on their computers, eat and perform other tasks on trains that are difficult or illegal to do while driving.”[25]

Secretary LaHood’s clumsy defense of the costly inefficiency of rail travel was expressed more elegantly, spiritually, and nonsensically by the late British historian Tony Judt:

If we lose the railways we shall not just have lost a valuable practical asset whose replacement or recovery would be intolerably expensive. We shall have acknowledged that we have forgotten how to live collectively. If we throw away the railway stations and the lines leading to them—as we began to do in the 1950s and 1960s—we shall be throwing away our memory of how to live the confident civic life.… If we cannot spend our collective resources on trains and travel contentedly in them it is not because we have joined gated communities and need nothing but private cars to move between them. It will be because we have become gated individuals who don’t know how to share public space to common advantage. The implications of such a loss would far transcend the demise of one system of transport among others. It would mean we had done with modern life.[26]

This, apparently, is a rationale for spending billions of dollars on a travel mode that few people will ride. On the one hand, passenger rail allows people to eat and to play with their computers, but on the other hand, it allows them to share public space to common advantage, retrieve the memory of living the confident civic life, and remember how to live collectively.

While intriguing, exotic, and potentially therapeutic to some lonely souls, retrieving a memory of living the confident civic life does not seem worth the several hundred billion dollars the plan would cost. Congress and the President could do well by identifying higher priorities that better merit federal attention.

Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., is Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research Fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

[1]Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President in State of Union Address,” The White House, January 25, 2011, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address (February 8, 2011).

[2]See US High Speed Rail Association, Web site, at http://www.ushsr.com/ushsr.html (February 4, 2011).

[3]Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President and the Vice President on a Vision for High-Speed Rail in America,” The White House, April 16, 2009, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-and-the-Vice-President-on-High-Speed-Rail/ (February 4, 2011).

[4]Ken Orski, “A $53 Billion High-Speed Rail Program to Nowhere,” Innovation Briefs, Vol. 22, No. 5 (February 8, 2011).

[5]See Ronald D. Utt, “Will Obama’s High-Speed Rail Plan Become a Subsidy for Freight Railroads?” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 2637, October 1, 2009, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/10/Will-Obamas-High-Speed-Rail-Plan-Become-a-Subsidy-for-Freight-Railroads.

[7]Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich, “The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report,” Reason Foundation Policy Study No. 370, September 2008, at http://reason.org/files/1b544eba6f1d5f9e8012a8c36676ea7e.pdf (February 7, 2011).

[8]Wendell Cox, “California High-Speed Rail Costs Escalate 50 percent in 2 Years,” New Geography, February 8, 2011, at http://www.newgeography.com/content/002037-california-high-speed-rail-costs-escalate-50-percent-2-years (February 9, 2011).

[9]Wendell Cox, “Building the Train to Nowhere,” New Geography, December 10, 2010, at http://www.newgeography.com/content/001919-building-train-nowhere (February 7, 2011).

[10]Some reports peg the cost at $3.3 billion, a sum that includes the value of the state-provided right-of-way and stations that will be financed by private interests. The $2.7 billion estimate reflects the additional costs needed to complete the system.

[11]Howard Troxler, “A Note of Skepticism About High-Speed Rail,” St. Petersburg Times, December 11, 2010, at http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/a-note-of-skepticism-about-high-speed-rail/1139521 (February 7, 2011).

[12]Toshio Aritake, “Japan Government Bank to Finance Bids for Fast Rail Projects, Including Florida’s,” Bureau of National Affairs Daily Report for Executives, January 13, 2011.

[13]Gray Rohrer, “Scott Talks Trade with Japanese Foreign Minister,” Sunshine State News, January 8, 2011, at http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/scott-talks-trade-japanese-foreign-minister (February 7, 2011).

[14]Wendell Cox, “The Tampa to Orlando High-Speed Rail Project: Florida Taxpayer Risk Assessment,” Reason Foundation Policy Brief No. 95, January 2011, p. 2, at http://reason.org/files/florida_high_speed_rail_analysis.pdf (February 7, 2011).

[16]Orski, “A $53 Billion High-Speed Rail Program to Nowhere.”

[17]Barack Obama, quoted in Jesse Lee, “A Vision for High-Speed Rail,” The White House, April 16, 2009, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/04/16/a-vision-for-high-speed-rail/ (February 7, 2011).

[18]See Ronald D. Utt, “America’s Coming High-Speed Rail Financial Disaster,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2389, April 13, 2010, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/03/america-s-coming-high-speed-rail-financial-disaster.

[19]European Commission, EU Energy and Transport in Figures, 2010, p. 118, Table 3.3.2, and p. 119, Table 3.3.3, at http://ec.europa.eu/energy/publications/statistics/doc/2010_energy_transport_figures.pdf (February 7, 2011).

[20]Amtrak Office of Inspector General, “Public Funding Levels of European Passenger Railroads,” April 22, 2008, p. 4, at http://www.amtrakoig.gov/sites/default/files/reports/E-08-02-042208.PDF (February 7, 2011).

[21]Randal O’Toole, “High-Speed Rail: The Wrong Road for America,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 625, October 31, 2008, p. 12, Table 2, at http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9753 (February 7, 2011).

[22]U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008), p. 161, Table 8.8, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2009/pdf/hist.pdf (February 7, 2011).

[23]“Rail Fares: After the Deluge, the Pinch,” The Economist, January 1, 2011, p. 46.


Michele Bachmann State of the Union response: where she and Obama may agree

Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke to Tea Party Express activists Tuesday night. Her speech was a lot tougher than the official GOP response to the State of the Union address, yet there were some similarities to Obama's speech.

Did you catch the response by Rep. Michele Bachmann to the State of the Union address Tuesday night? Yes, somebody else delivered the official Republican remarks (Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee), but Representative Bachmann spoke to Tea Party Express activists in a kind of unofficial yet semi-important role.

She was the one with the charts and the hand motions who sounded and looked vaguely like Sarah Palin, but wasn’t Sarah Palin. She was pretty good – crisp, and well practiced in pivoting from point to point. As we’ve noted before, we believe it is possible that Bachmann is positioning herself as a Palin understudy, preparing for a presidential bid if the ex-governor of Alaska decides not to run herself.

As for Bachmann’s speech, it was a lot tougher than Representative Ryan’s. She talked about the “failed” trillion-dollar stimulus and how all it got America was “a bureaucracy that now tells us what light bulbs to buy.” She had a chart that showed how the unemployment rate had spiked after Barack Obama took office. She was unapologetic about getting rid of Mr. Obama’s health-care reform initiatives, as the House has already voted to do.

“Unless we fully repeal Obamacare, the nation that currently enjoys the finest health care in the world might rely on government-run coverage that will have a devastating impact on our national debt for generations to come,” she said.

But here’s the thing we found surprising: There were also things on which it seemed that Bachmann and Obama agree.

First of all, she complained that America has the highest corporate income tax in the world. Obama brought that up, too! Well, kind of. He said taxes on corporations should be lowered as part of comprehensive tax reform.

Second, Bachmann said she believed in American exceptionalism – the United States is No. 1, and so forth. “I believe America is the indispensable nation of the world,” she said.

Obama talked about that, too. US innovation drives the world economy, he said. He hailed the US as the nation of Edison and Facebook and Google.

Third, both Bachmann and Obama think the nation is at a crucial moment. The Minnesota lawmaker said, “We are in the early days of a history-making turn in America.” Obama said we are at a “Sputnik moment” in which the US needs to redouble efforts to teach math and science to its kids.

Of course, Bachmann’s “history-making turn” refers to the tea party movement and its drive to cut US spending and government. Obama’s “Sputnik moment,” meanwhile, argues for more government support for education. So they’re both turning here, but in different directions.

Finally, both asked for God to bless the US at the end of their speeches. But that doesn’t really count as a similarity: Every State of the Union and SOTU response ends that way, pretty much.

Still, there were similarities, we think. Not that Bachmann is suddenly going to end up in Obama’s Cabinet as the secretary of Token Republican Representation. She’s too busy making her second political trip to Iowa in recent weeks for that.

We’ll wrap this up by asking the question that all Washington is chattering about on Wednesday morning: Who is going to play Bachmann on "Saturday Night Live"? Will Tina Fey make an appearance as Ms. Palin so they can have a dueling, northern female, GOP-semipresidential-candidates ski?


Watch the video: The 2011 State of the Union Address