NOMINATIONS SENT TO THE SENATE:
Michael A. Hughes, of the District of Columbia, to be United States Marshal for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for the term of four years, vice Stephen Thomas Conboy, resigned.
Jacqueline H. Nguyen, of California, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit, vice a new position created by Public Law 110-177, approved January 7, 2008.
Brian C. Wimes, of Missouri, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri, vice Nanette K. Laughrey, retired.
Statement by the President on Zambia’s Elections
On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the people of Zambia on the historic September 20 presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, and I commend you for building on your commitment to multiparty democracy. Zambia’s Electoral Commission, political leaders, civil society, and above all its citizens all contributed to this important accomplishment. The United States looks forward to working with President Michael Sata, members of parliament, and representatives of all of Zambia’s political parties to build on the long-standing partnership between our two nations. I also acknowledge former President Rupiah Banda’s contributions to Zambia’s democratic development, including his three years of distinguished leadership and his admirable acceptance of the will of the Zambian people. The hard work of a living democracy does not end when the votes are tallied and the winners announced; instead it offers the chance to reconcile and to advance greater security and prosperity for its people. Today is a day for Zambia to celebrate their democratic achievement. I hope that all Zambians will find common ground as you address the challenges and seize the opportunities facing your country and our world.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND FLEXIBILITY
10:24 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House, everybody. I see a whole bunch of people who are interested in education, and we are grateful for all the work that you do each and every day.
I want to recognize the person to my right, somebody who I think will end up being considered one of the finest Secretaries of Education we’ve ever had — Arne Duncan. (Applause.) In addition to his passion, probably the finest basketball player ever in the Cabinet. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee for taking the time to be here today, and the great work that he’s doing in Tennessee. I’m especially appreciative because I found that his daughter is getting married, and he is doing the ceremony tomorrow, so we’ve got to get him back on time. (Laughter and applause.) But we really appreciate his presence. Thank you.
And a good friend, somebody who I had the pleasure of serving with during the time that I was in the United States Senate, he is now the Governor of Rhode Island — Lincoln Chafee. It’s wonderful to see Lincoln. (Applause.)
Thank you all for coming. And I do want to acknowledge two guys who’ve just worked tirelessly on behalf of education issues who happen to be in the front row here — from the House, outstanding Congressman, George Miller. (Applause.) And from the Senate, the pride of Iowa, Tom Harkin. (Applause.)
Now, it is an undeniable fact that countries who out-educate us today are going to out-compete us tomorrow. But today, our students are sliding against their peers around the globe. Today, our kids trail too many other countries in math, in science, in reading. And that’s true, by the way, not just in inner-city schools, not just among poor kids; even among what are considered our better-off suburban schools we’re lagging behind where we need to be. Today, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t finishing high school. We have fallen to 16th in the proportion of young people with a college degree, even though we know that 60 percent of new jobs in the coming decade will require more than a high school diploma.
And what this means is if we’re serious about building an economy that lasts –- an economy in which hard work pays off with the opportunity for solid middle-class jobs -– we’ve got to get serious about education. We are going to have to pick up our games and raise our standards.
We’re in the midst of an ongoing enormous economic challenge. And I spend a lot of my time thinking immediately about how we can put folks back to work and how we can stabilize the world financial markets. And those things are all important. But the economic challenges we face now are economic challenges that have been building for decades now, and the most important thing we can do is to make sure that our kids are prepared for this new economy. That’s the single-most important thing we can do. (Applause.) So even as we focus on the near term and what we’ve got to do to put folks back to work, we’ve got to be thinking a little bit ahead and start making the tough decisions now to make sure that our schools are working the way they need to work.
Now, we all now that schools can’t do it alone. As parents, the task begins at home. It begins by turning off the TV and helping with homework, and encouraging a love of learning from the very start of our children’s lives. And I’m speaking from experience now. (Laughter.) Malia and Sasha would often rather be watching American Idol or Sponge Bob, but Michelle and I know that our first job, our first responsibility, is instilling a sense of learning, a sense of a love of learning in our kids. And so there are no shortcuts there; we have to do that job. And we can’t just blame teachers and schools if we’re not instilling that commitment, that dedication to learning, in our kids.
But as a nation, we also have an obligation to make sure that all of our children have the resources they need to learn, because they’re spending a lot of time outside of the household. They’re spending the bulk of their waking hours in school. And that means that we’ve got to make sure we’ve got quality schools, good teachers, the latest textbooks, the right technology. And that, by the way, is something we can do something about right away. That’s why I sent the jobs bill to Congress that would put thousands of teachers back to work all across the country and modernize at least 35,000 schools. (Applause.)
Congress should pass that bill right now. We’ve got too many schools that are under-resourced, too many teachers who want to be in the classroom who aren’t because of budget constraints, not because they can’t do the job.
So parents have a role and schools need more resources. But money alone won’t solve our education problems. I’ve said this before, I will repeat it: Money alone is not enough. We also need reform. We’ve got to make sure that every classroom is a place of high expectations and high performance. And that’s been our vision since taking office. That’s why instead of just pouring money into the system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. And to all 50 states — to governors, to schools districts — we said, show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement; we’ll show you the money. We want to provide you more resources, but there’s also got to be a commitment on your part to make the changes that are necessary so that we can see actual results.
And for less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, Race to the Top, under Arne’s leadership, has led states across the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And, by the way, these standards that we’re talking about — these high standards that we’re talking about were not developed here in Washington. They were developed by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country – essentially as a peer group, a peer review system where everybody traded best practices and said, here’s what seems to work, and let’s hold all of our schools to these high standards. And since that Race to the Top has been launched, we’ve seen what’s possible when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate but the work of local teachers and principals and school boards and communities working together to develop better standards.
This is why, in my State of the Union address this year, I said that Congress should reform the No Child Left Behind law based on the principles that have guided Race to the Top.
And I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that. Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal. And we’ve got to stay focused on those goals. But experience has taught us that, in it’s implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them. Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test. Subjects like history and science have been squeezed out. And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states, perversely, have actually had to lower their standards in a race to the bottom instead of a Race to the Top. They don’t want to get penalized? Let’s make sure that the standards are so low that we’re not going to be seen failing to meet them. That makes no sense.
And these problems have been obvious to parents and educators all over the country for years now. Despite the good intentions of some — two of them are sitting right here, Tom and George — Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far. I’ve urged Congress for a while now, let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this. Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will. Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting. (Applause.)
So starting today, we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards. Keep in mind, the change we’re making is not lowering standards; we’re saying we’re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards. We’re going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee -– but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in.
Let me repeat: This does not mean that states will be able to lower their standards or escape accountability. In fact, the way we’ve structured this, if states want more flexibility, they’re going to have to set higher standards, more honest standards, that prove they’re serious about meeting them.
And already, 44 states –- led by some of the people on this stage –- have set higher standards and proposed new ways to get there — because that’s what’s critical. They know what’s at stake here.
Ricky Hall is the principal of a charter school in Worcester, Massachusetts. Where’s Ricky? Oh, Ricky’s not here. (Laughter.) He was — there he is. Ricky — I wasn’t sure if he was behind me. Good. Thank you. (Applause.) Every single student who graduated from Ricky’s school in the last three years went on to college. Every single one. (Applause.) His school ranks in the top quarter of all schools in Massachusetts — and as you know, Massachusetts’ schools rank very high among the 50 states. But because Ricky’s school did not meet all the technical standards of No Child Left Behind, his school was labeled a failure last year. That’s not right. That needs to change. What we’re doing today will encourage the progress at schools like Ricky’s.
Is John Becker here? He is? All right, here’s John. (Laughter.) I didn’t think you were John. (Laughter.) John teaches at one of the highest-performing middle schools in D.C., and now with these changes we’re making he’s going to be able to focus on teaching his 4th-graders math in a way that improves their performance instead of just teaching to a test. (Applause.)
We have superintendents like David Estrop from Springfield, Ohio — right here. (Applause.) Dave will be able to focus on improving teaching and learning in his district instead of spending all his time on bureaucratic mandates from Washington that don’t actually produce results.
So this isn’t just the right thing to do for our kids -– it’s the right thing to do for our country. We can’t afford to wait for an education system that is not doing everything it needs to do for our kids. We can’t let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn’t have the courage to recognize what doesn’t work, admit it, and replace it with something that does. We’ve got to act now. (Applause.) We’ve got to act now and harness all the good ideas coming out of our states, out of our schools. We can’t be tied up with ideology. We can’t be worrying about partisanship. We just have to make sure that we figure out what works, and we hold ourselves to those high standards. Because now is the time to give our children the skills that they need to compete in this global economy.
We’ve got a couple of students up on stage who are doing outstanding work because somebody in their schools is dedicated and committed every single day to making sure that they’ve got a chance to succeed. But I don’t want them to be the exception. I want them to be the rule. Now is the time to make our education system the best in the world, the envy of the world. (Applause.) It used to be. It is going to be again, thanks to the people in this room.
God bless you. God bless the United States of America.
Thank you. (Applause.)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE AMERICAN JOBS ACT
Hilltop Basic Resources-River Terminal
2:55 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Cincinnati! (Applause.) Well, it is good to see all of you. It is good to be back in Cincinnati. (Applause.) I have to say I drove by the Bengals’ practice — (laughter.) And I was scouting out some plays in case they play the Bears — (laughter.) Did I hear somebody boo the Bears?
AUDIENCE: Booo! (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: We’ve got some folks I just want to make sure are acknowledged here today. First of all, the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, is in the house. Give him a round of applause. (Applause.) We’ve got the mayor of the great city of Cincinnati — Mark Mallory is here. (Applause.) We’ve got the mayor of Covington, Mayor Denny Bowman. (Applause.) Senator Rand Paul is here.
AUDIENCE: Booo –
THE PRESIDENT: Rand is going to be supporting bridges, so we’ve got to — (applause.) And we’ve got Congressman John Yarmuth in the house. (Applause.)
Now, it is good to be back. I was just in Columbus a little while ago, and I figured I couldn’t get away with not giving Cincinnati a little bit of love. (Applause.)
I want to thank the good folks at Hilltop Concrete for having us here today. I especially want to thank Ron for his introduction.
Companies like Hilltop, construction companies, have been hit harder by this economic crisis than almost any other industry in America. And there are millions of construction workers who are still out there looking for a job. They’re ready to work, but things have been a little tough. That doesn’t mean that there is not plenty of construction waiting to get done in this country.
Behind us stands the Brent Spence Bridge. It’s located on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. It sees about 150,000 vehicles every single day. And it’s in such poor condition that it’s been labeled “functionally obsolete.” Think about that — functionally obsolete. That doesn’t sound good, does it?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s safe to –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Kind of like John Boehner. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It’s safe to drive on, but it was not designed to accommodate today’s traffic, which can stretch out for a mile. Shipping companies try to have their trucks avoid the bridge. Of course, that only ends up costing them more money as well.
The thing is there are bridges and roads and highways like that throughout the region. A major bridge that connects Kentucky and Indiana just closed down for safety reasons. Another aging bridge that crosses over the Ohio River in Ironton could be replaced right now. There are rail stations in Cleveland and Toledo in desperate need of repair. And the same is true in cities and towns all across America. It makes your commute longer. It costs our businesses billions of dollars — they could be moving products faster if they had better transportation routes. And in some cases, it’s not safe.
Now, we used to have the best infrastructure in the world here in America. We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad, the Interstate Highway System. (Applause.) We built the Hoover Dam. We built the Grand Central Station. (Applause.) So how can we now sit back and let China build the best railroads? And let Europe build the best highways? And have Singapore build a nicer airport? At a time when we’ve got millions of unemployed construction workers out there just ready to get on the job, ready to do the work to rebuilding America. (Applause.)
So, Cincinnati, we are better than that. We’re smarter than that. And that’s why I sent Congress the American Jobs Act 10 days ago. (Applause.) This bill is not that complicated. It’s a bill that would put people back to work rebuilding America — repairing our roads, repairing our bridges, repairing our schools. It would lead to jobs for concrete workers like the ones here at Hilltop; jobs for construction workers and masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, architects, engineers, ironworkers — put folks back to work. (Applause.)
There is work to be done, and there are workers ready to do it. So let’s tell Congress to pass this jobs bill right away. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Pass this bill! Pass this bill! Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: Pass this bill! (Laughter.) Pass the bill!
Tell them to pass the jobs bill, and not only will we start rebuilding America, but we can also put thousands of teachers back to work. (Applause.)
I was with the President of South Korea — I was up at the United Nations. We were doing a bunch of stuff. And he’s told me in the past — I’ve asked him, I said, what’s your biggest challenge? He says, oh, education. I said, well, what are you dealing with? He said, well, you know what, we’re hiring so many teachers we can barely keep up, because we know that if we’re going to compete in the future we’ve got to have the best teachers. (Applause.) And we’ve got to have our kids in school longer. And we’ve got to make sure that they’re learning math and science.
Well, while they’re hiring teachers in droves, what are we doing? We’re laying off teachers. It makes no sense in this new global economy where our young people’s success is going to depend on the kind of education that they get. So for us to be laying off teachers doesn’t make sense for our kids, it doesn’t make sense for us, it doesn’t make sense for our economy.
Pass this jobs bill and put teachers back in the classroom where they belong. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Pass this bill! Pass this bill! Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: They need to go and pass it.
Tell Congress to pass this jobs bill, and companies will get tax credit for hiring America’s veterans. (Applause.) We’ve been through a decade of war now. Almost 2 million people have served. And think about it. They’re suspending their careers; they’re leaving their families; they’re putting themselves in harm way — all to protect us. The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home. (Applause.) And if we pass this jobs bill it makes it easier for employers to hire those veterans. That’s why we need to tell Congress to do what? To pass the bill.
AUDIENCE: Pass this bill! Pass this bill! Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: The American Jobs Act will cut taxes for the typical working family by $1,500 next year. It will cut taxes for every small business in America. It will give an extra tax cut to every small business owner who either hires more workers or raises those workers’ wages. How many people here would like a raise? (Applause.)
And we know that most small businesses are the creators of new jobs. We’ve got a lot of folks in Congress who love to say how they’re behind America’s job creators. Well, if that’s the case, then you should be passing this bill, because that’s what this bill is all about, is helping small businesses all across America.
Everything in this jobs bill has been supported in the past by Republicans and Democrats. Everything in this jobs bill is paid for. The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by the AFL-CIO, but it’s also supported by the Chamber of Commerce. Those two don’t get along on much, but they agree we should rebuild America. (Applause.)
And, by the way, thanks to the reforms that we’ve put into place, when we start rebuilding America we’re going to change how business is done. No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere. We’re going to cut the red tape that prevents some of these construction projects from getting started as quickly as possible. And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly is a construction project needed, and how much good will it do for the community. Those are the only things we should be thinking about. Not politics. (Applause.) And, by the way, that’s an idea that’s supported by a Massachusetts Democrat and a Texas Republican. It’s a good idea.
So my question is, what’s Congress waiting for? Why is it taking so long? Now, the bridge behind us just happens to connect the state that’s home to the Speaker of the House –
AUDIENCE: Booo –
THE PRESIDENT: — with the home state of the Republican leader in the Senate.
AUDIENCE: Booo –
THE PRESIDENT: Now, that’s just a coincidence. (Laughter.) Purely accidental that that happened. (Laughter.) But part of the reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, those are the two most powerful Republicans in government. They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill. (Applause.) And I know these men care about their states. They care about businesses; they care about workers here. I can’t imagine that the Speaker wants to represent a state where nearly one in four bridges are classified as substandard — one in four. I know that when Senator McConnell visited the closed bridge in Kentucky, he said that, “Roads and bridges are not partisan in Washington.” That’s great. I know that Paul Ryan, the Republican in charge of the budget process, recently said that “you can’t deny that infrastructure does creates jobs.” That’s what he said.
Well, if that’s the case, there’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There’s no reason to stand in the way of more jobs.
Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. (Applause.) Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. (Applause.) Pass this bill.
AUDIENCE: Pass this bill! Pass this bill! Pass this bill! Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: Let’s pass the bill.
AUDIENCE: Pass this bill! Pass this bill! Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: Now, some folks in Congress, they say, well, we don’t like how it’s paid for. Well, it’s paid for as part of my larger plan to pay down our debt. And that’s why I make some additional cuts in spending. We already cut a trillion dollars in spending. This makes an additional hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts in spending, but it also asks the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. (Applause.)
Now, that should not be too much to ask. And by the way, it wouldn’t kick in until 2013. So when you hear folks say, oh, we shouldn’t be raising taxes right now — nobody is talking about raising taxes right now. We’re talking about cutting taxes right now. But it does mean that there’s a long-term plan, and part of it involves everybody doing their fair share. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Now, this isn’t to punish success. What’s great about this country is our belief that anybody can make it. If you’re willing to put in the sweat, if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, if you’re willing to work hard, you’ve got a good idea, you’re out there taking a risk — God bless you. You can make millions, you can make billions of dollars in America. This is the land of opportunity. (Applause.) That’s great. All I’m saying is, if you’ve done well — I’ve done well — then you should do a little something to give something back. (Applause.) You should want to see the country that provided you with this opportunity to be successful, and be able to provide opportunity for the young people who are going to be coming up behind you. (Applause.)
And all I’m saying is that everything should be fair. You know, you learn the idea of fairness when you’re two, three years old. Right? You’re in the sandbox and you don’t want to let somebody play with your truck — (laughter) — and your mom or your daddy go up and they say, “No, hon, that’s not fair, you’ve got to share.” Isn’t that what they say? Things have to be fair. So all I’m saying is that Warren Buffett’s secretary should not be paying a lower [sic] tax rate on her income than Warren Buffett. (Applause.) That doesn’t make any sense. A construction worker who’s making 50 or 60 grand a year shouldn’t be paying higher tax rates than the guy who’s making $50 million a year. (Applause.) And that’s how it’s working right now. Because they get all these loopholes and tax breaks that you don’t get.
So for me to say, let’s close those loopholes, let’s eliminate those tax breaks, and let’s make sure that everybody is paying their fair share — there’s nothing wrong with that. (Applause.)
Now, this is about priorities. It’s about making choices. If we just had all kinds of money and everybody was working, and we hadn’t gone through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, then maybe we wouldn’t have to make choices. But right now we’ve got to make some choices. We’ve got to decide what our priorities are. If we want to pay for this jobs plan, and close the deficit, and invest in our infrastructure, and make sure we’ve got the best education system in the world, the money has got to come from some place. Would you rather that the oil companies get to keep their tax loopholes?
THE PRESIDENT: Or would you rather make sure that we’re hiring thousands of construction workers to rebuild America? (Applause.) Would you rather keep in place special tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires?
THE PRESIDENT: Or would you say, let’s get teachers back in the classroom so our children can learn? (Applause.)
Now, the Republicans, when I talked about this earlier in the week, they said, well, this is class warfare. You know what, if asking a billionaire to pay their fair share of taxes, to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what, I’m a warrior for the middle class. (Applause.) I’m happy to fight for the middle class. I’m happy to fight for working people. (Applause.) Because the only warfare I’ve seen is the battle against the middle class over the last 10, 15 years.
It’s time to build an economy that creates good, middle-class jobs in this country. It’s time to build an economy that honors the values of hard work and responsibility. It’s time to build an economy that lasts. And, Cincinnati, that starts right now. That starts with your help. (Applause.) Maybe some of the people in Congress would rather settle their differences at the ballot box than work together right now. In fact, a while back, Senator McConnell said that his “top priority” — number-one priority — was “to defeat the President.” That was his top priority.
AUDIENCE: Booo –
THE PRESIDENT: Not jobs, not putting people back to work, not rebuilding America. Beating me. Well, I’ve got news for him, and every other member of Congress who feels the same way. The next election is 14 months away, and I’ll be happy to tangle sometime down the road. But the American people right now don’t have the luxury of waiting to solve our problems for another 14 months. (Applause.) A lot of folks are living paycheck to paycheck. A lot of folks are just barely getting by. They need us to get to work right now. They need us to pass this bill. (Applause.)
So I’m asking all of you — I need everybody here to lift your voices — not just in Cincinnati, but anybody who’s watching TV, or anybody who’s within the range of my voice — I want everybody to lift up their voices. I want you to call. I want you to email. I want you to tweet. I want you to fax. I want you to visit. If you want, write a letter — it’s been a while. (Laughter.) I want you to tell your congressperson that the time for gridlock and games-playing is over. Tell them you want to create jobs, so pass this bill. (Applause.)
If you want construction workers rebuilding America — pass this bill. (Applause.) If you want teachers back in the classrooms — pass this bill.
AUDIENCE: Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: If you want to cut taxes for middle-class families — pass this bill.
AUDIENCE: Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: If you want to help small businesses, what do you do?
THE AUDIENCE: Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: If you want veterans to share in the opportunities of this country, what should you do?
THE AUDIENCE: Pass this bill!
THE PRESIDENT: Now is the time to act. Because we are not a people that just sit back and wait for things to happen. We go ahead and make things happen. We’re tougher than the times we live in. We are bigger than the politics that we’ve been seeing these last few months. Let’s meet this moment. Let’s get back to work. Let’s show the world once again why America is the greatest nation on Earth.
God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
Fact Sheet: Global Health Security
“To stop disease that spreads across borders, we must strengthen our systems of public health. We will continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We will focus on the health of mothers and children. And we must come together to prevent, detect, and fight every kind of biological danger – whether it is a pandemic like H1N1, a terrorist threat, or a treatable disease. This week, America signed an agreement with the World Health Organization to affirm our commitment to meet this challenge. Today, I urge all nations to join us in meeting the WHO’s goal of making sure all nations have core capacities to address public health emergencies in place by 2012. That is what our commitment to the health of our people demands.”
–President Obama’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2011
This week President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly and urged the global communitycome together to prevent, detect, and fight every kind of biological danger, whether it is a pandemic, terrorist threat, or treatable disease. The United States is taking a multi-faceted approach to the full spectrum of challenges posed by infectious diseases, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or the result of a deliberate attack. Through fora such as the UN Security Resolution 1540, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States is pursuing a common vision where disease no longer threatens the security and prosperity of nations. The “Global Health Security” policy framework is derived from the common approaches that shape key U.S. strategies and initiatives: the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats, the National Security Strategy, Department of Health and Human Services National Health Security Strategy, and the Global Health Initiative.
Improving capacities to detect, report and respond to infectious diseases quickly and accurately lies at the heart of the global community’s ability to address all infectious disease threats, as reflected in the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR). The United States is committed to assisting countries in developing core capacities to assess, notify, and respond to infectious disease threats and to meet the WHO milestone of having these capacities in place by 2012. Coordinating across its diverse international health programs, the United States is focused on assisting host countries in meeting their IHR obligations.
Commitment to the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations
On September 19th, the United States took an important step by signing an agreement with WHO on “Global Health Security,” affirming our shared commitment to strengthen cooperation on shared health security priorities. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, WHO Director-General Chan and establishes a framework for collaboration on common goals in the area of global health security to ensure that the international community effectively manages public health risks. It outlines a number of areas of cooperation, including: global alert and response systems, the International Health Regulations, public health networks, global health leadership, risk management, and preparedness.
Biological Weapons Convention
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), which entered into force in 1975, is the first treaty to unequivocally ban the development and stockpiling of an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. The United States seeks to use an upcoming December Review Conference to advance the goals set forth in the President Obama’s National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats, promulgating the view that effective BWC implementation requires multinational coordination and collaboration on concrete activities to counter biological proliferation and bioterrorism. The BWC Revcon offers an important opportunity to revitalize international efforts against these threats, helping to build global capacity to combat infectious diseases, prevent biological weapons proliferation and bioterrorism, and bring security, health, and scientific communities together to raise awareness of evolving biological risks and develop practices to manage them.
Global Health Initiative
President Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), launched in May 2009, partners with countries to improve health outcomes through strengthened health systems, increased and integrated investments in maternal and child health, family planning, nutrition and infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases, and through a focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children. One of the key principles of the GHI focuses is strengthening health systems to save lives and achieve sustainable outcomes.
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
IN ADDRESS TO THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
New York, New York
10:12 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: It is a great honor for me to be here today. I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations — the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.
War and conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilizations. But in the first part of the 20th century, the advance of modern weaponry led to death on a staggering scale. It was this killing that compelled the founders of this body to build an institution that was focused not just on ending one war, but on averting others; a union of sovereign states that would seek to prevent conflict, while also addressing its causes.
No American did more to pursue this objective than President Franklin Roosevelt. He knew that a victory in war was not enough. As he said at one of the very first meetings on the founding of the United Nations, “We have got to make, not merely peace, but a peace that will last.”
The men and women who built this institution understood that peace is more than just the absence of war. A lasting peace — for nations and for individuals — depends on a sense of justice and opportunity, of dignity and freedom. It depends on struggle and sacrifice, on compromise, and on a sense of common humanity.
One delegate to the San Francisco Conference that led to the creation of the United Nations put it well: “Many people,” she said, “have talked as if all that has to be done to get peace was to say loudly and frequently that we loved peace and we hated war. Now we have learned that no matter how much we love peace and hate war, we cannot avoid having war brought upon us if there are convulsions in other parts of the world.”
The fact is peace is hard. But our people demand it. Over nearly seven decades, even as the United Nations helped avert a third world war, we still live in a world scarred by conflict and plagued by poverty. Even as we proclaim our love for peace and our hatred of war, there are still convulsions in our world that endanger us all.
I took office at a time of two wars for the United States. Moreover, the violent extremists who drew us into war in the first place — Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda organization — remained at large. Today, we’ve set a new direction.
At the end of this year, America’s military operation in Iraq will be over. We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations. That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq — for its government and for its security forces, for its people and for their aspirations.
As we end the war in Iraq, the United States and our coalition partners have begun a transition in Afghanistan. Between now and 2014, an increasingly capable Afghan government and security forces will step forward to take responsibility for the future of their country. As they do, we are drawing down our own forces, while building an enduring partnership with the Afghan people.
So let there be no doubt: The tide of war is receding. When I took office, roughly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to decline. This is critical for the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also critical to the strength of the United States as we build our nation at home.
Moreover, we are poised to end these wars from a position of strength. Ten years ago, there was an open wound and twisted steel, a broken heart in the center of this city. Today, as a new tower is rising at Ground Zero, it symbolizes New York’s renewal, even as al Qaeda is under more pressure than ever before. Its leadership has been degraded. And Osama bin Laden, a man who murdered thousands of people from dozens of countries, will never endanger the peace of the world again.
So, yes, this has been a difficult decade. But today, we stand at a crossroads of history with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace. To do so, we must return to the wisdom of those who created this institution. The United Nations’ Founding Charter calls upon us, “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” And Article 1 of this General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights.” Those bedrock beliefs — in the responsibility of states, and the rights of men and women — must be our guide.
And in that effort, we have reason to hope. This year has been a time of extraordinary transformation. More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security. And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity.
Think about it: One year ago, when we met here in New York, the prospect of a successful referendum in South Sudan was in doubt. But the international community overcame old divisions to support the agreement that had been negotiated to give South Sudan self-determination. And last summer, as a new flag went up in Juba, former soldiers laid down their arms, men and women wept with joy, and children finally knew the promise of looking to a future that they will shape.
One year ago, the people of Côte D’Ivoire approached a landmark election. And when the incumbent lost, and refused to respect the results, the world refused to look the other way. U.N. peacekeepers were harassed, but they did not leave their posts. The Security Council, led by the United States and Nigeria and France, came together to support the will of the people. And Côte D’Ivoire is now governed by the man who was elected to lead.
One year ago, the hopes of the people of Tunisia were suppressed. But they chose the dignity of peaceful protest over the rule of an iron fist. A vendor lit a spark that took his own life, but he ignited a movement. In a face of a crackdown, students spelled out the word, “freedom.” The balance of fear shifted from the ruler to those that he ruled. And now the people of Tunisia are preparing for elections that will move them one step closer to the democracy that they deserve.
One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years. But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights. We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.
One year ago, the people of Libya were ruled by the world’s longest-serving dictator. But faced with bullets and bombs and a dictator who threatened to hunt them down like rats, they showed relentless bravery. We will never forget the words of the Libyan who stood up in those early days of the revolution and said, “Our words are free now.” It’s a feeling you can’t explain. Day after day, in the face of bullets and bombs, the Libyan people refused to give back that freedom. And when they were threatened by the kind of mass atrocity that often went unchallenged in the last century, the United Nations lived up to its charter. The Security Council authorized all necessary measures to prevent a massacre. The Arab League called for this effort; Arab nations joined a NATO-led coalition that halted Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks.
In the months that followed, the will of the coalition proved unbreakable, and the will of the Libyan people could not be denied. Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free. Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli.
This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights. Now, all of us have a responsibility to support the new Libya — the new Libyan government as they confront the challenge of turning this moment of promise into a just and lasting peace for all Libyans.
So this has been a remarkable year. The Qaddafi regime is over. Gbagbo, Ben Ali, Mubarak are no longer in power. Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him. Something is happening in our world. The way things have been is not the way that they will be. The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open. Dictators are on notice. Technology is putting power into the hands of the people. The youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and rejecting the lie that some races, some peoples, some religions, some ethnicities do not desire democracy. The promise written down on paper — “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” — is closer at hand.
But let us remember: Peace is hard. Peace is hard. Progress can be reversed. Prosperity comes slowly. Societies can split apart. The measure of our success must be whether people can live in sustained freedom, dignity, and security. And the United Nations and its member states must do their part to support those basic aspirations. And we have more work to do.
In Iran, we’ve seen a government that refuses to recognize the rights of its own people. As we meet here today, men and women and children are being tortured, detained and murdered by the Syrian regime. Thousands have been killed, many during the holy time of Ramadan. Thousands more have poured across Syria’s borders. The Syrian people have shown dignity and courage in their pursuit of justice — protesting peacefully, standing silently in the streets, dying for the same values that this institution is supposed to stand for. And the question for us is clear: Will we stand with the Syrian people, or with their oppressors?
Already, the United States has imposed strong sanctions on Syria’s leaders. We supported a transfer of power that is responsive to the Syrian people. And many of our allies have joined in this effort. But for the sake of Syria — and the peace and security of the world — we must speak with one voice. There’s no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.
Throughout the region, we will have to respond to the calls for change. In Yemen, men, women and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system. America supports those aspirations. We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.
In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability. We’re pleased with that, but more is required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. We believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart. It will be hard, but it is possible.
We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically. But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this Assembly. Those rights depend on elections that are free and fair; on governance that is transparent and accountable; respect for the rights of women and minorities; justice that is equal and fair. That is what our people deserve. Those are the elements of peace that can last.
Moreover, the United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy — with greater trade and investment — so that freedom is followed by opportunity. We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press. We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country. And we’ve sanctioned those who trample on human rights abroad. And we will always serve as a voice for those who’ve been silenced.
Now, I know, particularly this week, that for many in this hall, there’s one issue that stands as a test for these principles and a test for American foreign policy, and that is the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May of this year. That basis is clear. It’s well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.
Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us –- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.
Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied. That’s the lesson of Northern Ireland, where ancient antagonists bridged their differences. That’s the lesson of Sudan, where a negotiated settlement led to an independent state. And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties.
We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.
But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.
Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.
The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
That is the truth — each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes. That’s what we should be encouraging. That’s what we should be promoting.
This body — founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide, dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every single person — must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity. And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.
Now, even as we confront these challenges of conflict and revolution, we must also recognize — we must also remind ourselves — that peace is not just the absence of war. True peace depends on creating the opportunity that makes life worth living. And to do that, we must confront the common enemies of humanity: nuclear weapons and poverty, ignorance and disease. These forces corrode the possibility of lasting peace and together we’re called upon to confront them.
To lift the specter of mass destruction, we must come together to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Over the last two years, we’ve begun to walk down that path. Since our Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, nearly 50 nations have taken steps to secure nuclear materials from terrorists and smugglers. Next March, a summit in Seoul will advance our efforts to lock down all of them. The New START Treaty between the United States and Russia will cut our deployed arsenals to the lowest level in half a century, and our nations are pursuing talks on how to achieve even deeper reductions. America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons and the production of fissile material needed to make them.
And so we have begun to move in the right direction. And the United States is committed to meeting our obligations. But even as we meet our obligations, we’ve strengthened the treaties and institutions that help stop the spread of these weapons. And to do so, we must continue to hold accountable those nations that flout them.
The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful. It has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power. North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the South. There’s a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations. But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation. That is what our commitment to peace and security demands.
To bring prosperity to our people, we must promote the growth that creates opportunity. In this effort, let us not forget that we’ve made enormous progress over the last several decades. Closed societies gave way to open markets. Innovation and entrepreneurship has transformed the way we live and the things that we do. Emerging economies from Asia to the Americas have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty. It’s an extraordinary achievement. And yet, three years ago, we were confronted with the worst financial crisis in eight decades. And that crisis proved a fact that has become clearer with each passing year — our fates are interconnected. In a global economy, nations will rise, or fall, together.
And today, we confront the challenges that have followed on the heels of that crisis. Around the world recovery is still fragile. Markets remain volatile. Too many people are out of work. Too many others are struggling just to get by. We acted together to avert a depression in 2009. We must take urgent and coordinated action once more. Here in the United States, I’ve announced a plan to put Americans back to work and jumpstart our economy, at the same time as I’m committed to substantially reducing our deficits over time.
We stand with our European allies as they reshape their institutions and address their own fiscal challenges. For other countries, leaders face a different challenge as they shift their economy towards more self-reliance, boosting domestic demand while slowing inflation. So we will work with emerging economies that have rebounded strongly, so that rising standards of living create new markets that promote global growth. That’s what our commitment to prosperity demands.
To combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right. The United States has made it a focus of our engagement abroad to help people to feed themselves. And today, as drought and conflict have brought famine to the Horn of Africa, our conscience calls on us to act. Together, we must continue to provide assistance, and support organizations that can reach those in need. And together, we must insist on unrestricted humanitarian access so that we can save the lives of thousands of men and women and children. Our common humanity is at stake. Let us show that the life of a child in Somalia is as precious as any other. That is what our commitment to our fellow human beings demand.
To stop disease that spreads across borders, we must strengthen our system of public health. We will continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We will focus on the health of mothers and of children. And we must come together to prevent, and detect, and fight every kind of biological danger — whether it’s a pandemic like H1N1, or a terrorist threat, or a treatable disease.
This week, America signed an agreement with the World Health Organization to affirm our commitment to meet this challenge. And today, I urge all nations to join us in meeting the HWO’s [sic] goal of making sure all nations have core capacities to address public health emergencies in place by 2012. That is what our commitment to the health of our people demands.
To preserve our planet, we must not put off action that climate change demands. We have to tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce. And together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made. Together, we must work to transform the energy that powers our economies, and support others as they move down that path. That is what our commitment to the next generation demands.
And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs. No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer. Together, we must harness the power of open societies and open economies. That’s why we’ve partnered with countries from across the globe to launch a new partnership on open government that helps ensure accountability and helps to empower citizens. No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.
And no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs. This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down the economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. This is what our commitment to human progress demands.
I know there’s no straight line to that progress, no single path to success. We come from different cultures, and carry with us different histories. But let us never forget that even as we gather here as heads of different governments, we represent citizens who share the same basic aspirations — to live with dignity and freedom; to get an education and pursue opportunity; to love our families, and love and worship our God; to live in the kind of peace that makes life worth living.
It is the nature of our imperfect world that we are forced to learn these lessons over and over again. Conflict and repression will endure so long as some people refuse to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Yet that is precisely why we have built institutions like this — to bind our fates together, to help us recognize ourselves in each other — because those who came before us believed that peace is preferable to war, and freedom is preferable to suppression, and prosperity is preferable to poverty. That’s the message that comes not from capitals, but from citizens, from our people.
And when the cornerstone of this very building was put in place, President Truman came here to New York and said, “The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man’s aspirations.” The moral nature of man’s aspirations. As we live in a world that is changing at a breathtaking pace, that’s a lesson that we must never forget.
Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears. Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE FIRST LADY
AT A DNC EVENT
New York, New York
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
8:40 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hi! Thank you all so much. Rest yourselves, because we need you rested because you’re going to have to work really hard. (Laughter.) I want to thank Mayor Booker for that very kind introduction and for his leadership. He has worked closely with me on several of my initiatives. He has been amazing — energy, everything we need in this country.
And thanks to all of you for such a warm welcome. It is great to be in New York. (Applause.) Yay for New York! And it’s great to be here with my husband, because the truth is we rarely get to travel together anymore. They separate us. It’s like you’re over there, you’re over there. So this is sort of like our date night. (Laughter.) Yes. And I would like to thank all of you for planning such a lovely, intimate evening for the two of us. (Laughter.) A little dinner, Alicia Keys. Really nice touch. (Laughter.) Who knows what will happen? (Laughter and applause.)
In all seriousness, it is a pleasure to be here to introduce my husband tonight. I am used to talking about him because when I go out on the road folks always ask me about him. They want to know how is he doing, how is holding up, how is he different after two and a half years as President in the White House, how has he changed. But the only difference that I can think of is that the salt is starting to catch up with the pepper in his hair. (Laughter.) I think it’s quite sexy, but it’s coming.
But other than that — other than that, I have to tell you that so much is constant about my husband. From the time that I first met him back at our law firm in Chicago — we got some Sidley people here tonight I know. (Applause.) You might have heard about our story — this skinny kid with the funny name, who had the audacity to ask his former mentor out on a date. (Laughter.) And then his idea of a date was taking me to a church basement. (Laughter.)
Well, that guy back then was pretty special. And I saw it in him then in that church basement in Chicago, when he was a community organizer, talking with a group of South-Siders about the world as it is and the world as it should be. That was the first thing that touched me about him. I saw the way those folks’ lives mattered to him, all the way back then, and the way he connected with them. That’s what I fell in love with.
I saw it tore him up to see the laid-off workers, the single mothers, the senior citizens who had their communities turned upside down and didn’t know where to turn. And I saw how those stories stuck with him, and how he dedicated his life to fighting for folks like them.
And I have to tell you that I still see that connection, that fire. Every single day it is still there. And I shared this with some of you this afternoon at our gathering. We had a good gathering today, didn’t we, women? (Applause.) Fired up! But I shared then, after a long day in the Oval Office, or after he’s traveled throughout the country, and when the girls have gone to bed, Barack spends most night poring over stacks of letters from people he hears from — from folks from all across the country, and he reads their stories word for word: The woman dying of cancer because her health insurance wouldn’t cover her care. The young person with so much promise and so few opportunities. The man nearing retirement who just lost his job and is struggling to pay his family’s bills.
And I see the concern on Barack’s face, just like in that church basement. And I hear that passion and determination. He tells me, these folks are going through stuff you wouldn’t believe. He says, we have to fix this. We have so much more to do. And when he gets up in the morning, those people’s stories are the first thing on his mind. They’re with him in meetings in the Oval Office, and as he continues to travel throughout the country. They’re with him when he’s fighting to put folks back to work; when he’s working to give our middle class a renewed sense of security; when he is out there pushing Congress to finally pass a jobs bill.
I mean, that is the same connection that brought him back again and again to that church basement. That’s the same man who won me over all those years ago. And that is the same man who so many of you worked so hard to elect as President of the United States.
Now, I want you all to remember that when I first came out on the campaign trail I asked you all for one thing. I personally asked you all — many of you here — I said, if I’m going to let my husband do this crazy this and give him up to the country and to the world, that I’m going to need you to have his back. You promised me that. I said, you have to have his back. Well, tonight, four years later, I’m going to say it again, because the truth is he can’t do this alone. So I have to ask you again: Do you have his back? (Applause.) Do you have his back? Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?
Well, if that’s the case, then I am proud to introduce my husband, the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! Hello, New York! (Applause.) I’m in a New York state of mind. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) What do you think about Michelle Obama? (Applause.) She’s not bad.
Everybody please have a seat. Have a seat. Did you notice how she’s getting cuter? (Laughter.) She is remarkable, and it is the reason that I’ve got remarkable kids. I have improved my gene pool. (Laughter.) And it is true, this is the closest we get to a date — which I’m going to have to fix in about 14 months. (Laughter.)
It is wonderful to see all of you. Thank you, so much, for being here tonight in this spectacular setting. There are a couple of people I want to make sure to acknowledge. First of all, the remarkable Alicia Keys. Thank you, so much, Alicia, for your performance. (Applause.) One of the finest public servants in the country, Mayor Cory Booker. (Applause.) The outstanding former Mayor of New York City, David Dinkins. (Applause.) The New York City public advocate Bill de Blasio. (Applause.) And my dear friend, the DNC Treasurer, Andy Tobias. (Applause.) We love Andy.
Now, the truth is, this is not my idea of a date night. Normally, our dates don’t end with me being before 400 of our closest friends. But it is wonderful to be here. And I’m here because I need your help. I need your help, just like I needed your help in 2008. In fact, I need your help to finish what we started in 2008. (Applause.)
Back then, we started this campaign not because we thought it was a sure thing — I just want to remind everybody of that. The odds were not good. This was not going to be a cakewalk. My name was Barack Hussein Obama. (Laughter.) You didn’t need a poll to know that might be an issue. (Laughter.) But we forged ahead because we had an idea about what this country is, what it has been, and what it can be.
Most of the people in this room, many of our parents, our grandparents — we grew up with a faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off, and if you stepped up, and if you did your job, and if you were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits — you might get a raise. And you had an assurance that life would be better for your kids and your grandkids.
Over the last decade — over the last couple of decades, that faith was shaken. Seemed as if the world’s changed. The deck kept getting stacked against middle-class Americans, and nobody in Washington seemed willing or able to do anything about it. And in 2007, all of this culminated in a once in a lifetime economic crisis, a crisis that’s been much worse and much longer than your average recession — something that most of us have never seen in our lifetimes. And from the time I took office, we knew that because this crisis had been building for years, it was going to take us years to fully recover.
So the question now is not whether people are still hurting — of course, people are still hurting. As Michelle was saying, I read letters and emails every night. I talk to people when I’m out on the road. Their stories are heartbreaking — men and women who’ve poured their lives into a small business, perhaps a business that’s been in their family for generations; suddenly closed. Folks who have to cross off items from the grocery list so that they can pay for gas to get to the job — if they’ve got a job. Parents who postpone retirement so that their children don’t have to drop out of college. Fathers who write to me and say, do you know what it’s like to have to come home and explain to your family that you’ve lost your job, and then spend month after month looking for a job, and those resumes go unanswered, and how you start losing confidence in yourself and you don’t want to look your kids in the eye?
The question is not whether this country is going through hard times. The question is where does this country go next? We can go back to the ideas we tried in the last decade — where corporations got to write their own rules and the most fortunate among us got all of our tax breaks, and jobs got shipped overseas, and incomes and wages flat-lined as the cost of everything went up, and this society became less equal, and opportunity was diminished for too many. Or we can build the America we talked about in 2008 — an America where everybody gets a fair shake, and everybody does their fair share.
And that is what this election is about. That’s what we’ve spent the last two and a half years fighting for. Every decision I’ve made, all the work that we’ve done, has been based on a simple idea. And that is that everybody should have a shot, and burdens should be shared, and opportunities should be shared. And even in the midst of crisis, those were the values that guided us.
So when we wanted to save the auto industry from bankruptcy, there were a lot of Republicans in Congress who fought us tooth and nail, said it was a waste of time and a waste of money. But we did it anyway. And we saved thousands of American jobs. And we made sure taxpayers got their money back. And, today, the American auto industry is stronger than ever, and they’re making fuel-efficient cars stamped with three proud words: Made in America. (Applause.)
When we wanted to pass Wall Street reform to make sure a crisis like this never happens again, lobbyists and special interests spent millions to make sure we didn’t succeed. And we did it anyway. And we passed the toughest reform in history that prevents consumers from getting ripped off by mortgage lenders, or credit card companies — which is why, today, there are no more hidden credit card fees, no more unfair rate hikes, and no more deception from banks.
And most of the Republicans voted against it. (Applause.) But we made it happen. (Applause.) And we were able to cut $60 billion in taxpayer subsidies to big banks, and use those savings to make college more affordable for millions of kids all across this country who want to go to college. (Applause.) And instead of giving more tax breaks to the biggest corporations, we cut taxes for small businesses and middle-class families.
The first law I signed was a bill to make sure that women earn equal pay for equal work — because I’ve got daughters, and I want to make sure they’ve got the same chance as our sons. (Applause.) And, yes, we passed health care reform so that no one in America will go bankrupt because they get sick — because this is the United States of America and we’re better than that. (Applause.)
One other thing we did that is worth mentioning tonight, in particular — I just met backstage with young Americans who were discharged from the military because of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” As of today, that will never happen again. (Applause.) As of today, no one needs to hide who they are to serve the country that they love. As of today. (Applause.)
All of these were tough fights. But they’re making a difference all across the country. And we’ve got more fights that we’ve got to win. We’ve got a long way to go to make sure that everybody in this country gets a fair shake, that the vision that mobilized us in 2008 is realized — making sure that every American has a chance to get ahead. And that’s where I need your help.
We’ve got a lot of work to do. About a week ago, I sent to Congress a bill call the American Jobs Act. Some of you might have heard about this. (Applause.) As I said before a joint session of Congress, every proposal in there has been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past. Everything in it will be paid for. It will put people back to work. It will put more money back in the pockets of working people. And Congress should pass that jobs bill right away. (Applause.)
We’ve got millions of constructions workers who don’t have jobs right now. This bill says, let’s put those men and women to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our highways and our schools. I don’t want the best airports and the fastest railroads being built in China. I want them here in the United States of America. (Applause.) There’s work to be done, workers ready to do it. We’ve got to tell Congress to pass this jobs bill.
Now, in places like South Korea they can’t hire teachers fast enough — call teachers, nation-builders. They know that educating their children is the key to competing in a global economy. Here, we’re laying off teachers in droves. It’s unfair to our kids. It undermines their future. And if we pass this jobs bill, thousands of teachers in every state will be back in the classroom where they belong. That’s why we’ve got to tell Congress to pass this jobs bill. (Applause.)
If we pass this bill, companies will get tax credits for hiring American veterans. (Applause.) We ask these men and women to suspend their careers, leave their families, risk their lives to protect this country. They should not have to beg for a job when they come home. (Applause.)
The jobs act will cut taxes for virtually every worker in America; cut taxes for every small business owner; give an extra tax cut to every small business who hires more workers or gives their workers an increase in wages.
So don’t just talk about America’s job creators; do something for America’s job creators. (Applause.) Don’t make a pledge that you’ll never raise taxes — except when it comes to middle-class taxes, or when Obama proposes a tax cut. Be consistent. Pass this jobs bill. (Applause.)
Now, a lot of folks in Congress have said we’re not going to support any new spending that’s not paid for. I agree. I think that’s important. So yesterday I laid out a plan to pay for the American Jobs Act and that brings down our debt over time. It adds to the $1 trillion in spending cuts that I already signed this summer, makes it one of the biggest spending cuts in history. But it’s phased in so that it doesn’t hurt our recovery now. It’s a plan that says if we want to close this deficit and we want to pay for this jobs plan, then we’ve got to ask the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations to pay their fair share. (Applause.)
Now, the Republicans say they’re in favor of tax reform. Let’s go. Let’s reform this tax code. And let’s reform it based on a very simple principle: Warren Buffett’s secretary should not be paying a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. (Applause.) It’s a simple principle.
In the United States of America a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who makes $50,000 a year, they shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million. It is not fair. It is not right. It has to change. And the vast majority of Americans agree that it has to change. (Applause.)
Nobody wants to punish success — that’s what you here when they try to respond to what should be some pretty obvious logic. Nobody wants to punish success in America. That’s what’s great about America — our belief that anybody can make if you try. Anybody can open a business, have a great idea, go out there and make millions, make billions. This is the land of opportunity. It’s why people came to New York. All I’m saying is that those who have done well, including the majority of people here tonight, we should pay our fair share in taxes. (Applause.) Contribute to the nation that made our success possible. Pass it on — pass on opportunity.
And I think most wealthy Americans would agree if they knew that this would help us grow the economy and deal with the debt that threatens our future, and put people back to work.
See, I got some Amen’s right here.
THE PRESIDENT: This is a completely unbiased sampling. (Laughter.)
Now, you’re already hearing the Republicans in Congress dusting off the old talking points. You can write their press releases. “Class warfare,” they say. You know what, if asking a billionaire to pay the same rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a warrior for the middle class, I wear that charge as a badge of honor. (Applause.) I wear it as a badge of honor. (Applause.) Because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against middle-class folks in this country for a decade now. (Applause.)
Look, this is what it comes down to — this is about priorities. It’s always been about priorities. It’s always been about choices. If we want to pay for this jobs plan, and close the deficit, and invest in our future, the money has to come from somewhere. Don’t tell me that you want good schools, don’t tell me that you want safe roads, don’t tell me that you believe in medical research, and then refuse to pay for it.
We’ve got to make choices. Would you rather keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or do you want to put construction workers and teachers back on the job? Would you rather keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or do you want to invest in new schools, in medical research, in training more engineers? Should we ask seniors to pay thousands of dollars more for Medicare? Or should we ask the biggest corporations to pay their fair share? That’s what this debate is about. It’s what’s at stake right now.
This notion that the only thing that we can do to restore prosperity is to let corporations write their own rules, and give tax breaks to the wealthiest few, and tell everybody else that you’re on your own — this idea that the only way we compete in a global economy in the 21st century is to make sure that we’ve got cheap labor and dirty air — that’s not who we are. We’re better than that. That’s not the story of America. We are rugged individualists. We are self-reliant. It’s been the drive and initiative of our workers and our entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and the envy of the world. But there has always been another that says we’re in this together, we are connected. (Applause.)
There are some things we can only do together, as a nation. (Applause.) And that is not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea; that’s been an American idea. Lincoln believed in that idea, and Eisenhower believed in that idea, and FDR believed in that idea. (Applause.)
That’s why this country gave millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, the chance to go to college on the G.I. Bill. That’s why a place like New York City has enjoyed the incredible vibrancy, because people thought 20, 30, 40 years ahead. Let’s build a park in the middle of this metropolis. It costs money, but it will make this city special. Let’s invest in great universities. It might cost a little bit, but think about all those young minds that are going to be shaped, what wonders they’re going to create.
It’s the reason Michelle and I had the chance to succeed beyond our wildest dreams. Look at where we came from — a little black girl on the South Side of Chicago; a little mixed kid in Honolulu. (Laughter.) A single mom — (applause) — we’re only here because somebody passed on this incredible notion, this exceptional American idea that it doesn’t matter where you come from; it doesn’t matter who you’re born to. If you’re willing to put in the effort, if you’re willing to make sacrifices, you got a shot. You got a chance. (Applause.)
I was on a bus tour, through Iowa and Minnesota and my home state of Illinois, rural country — corn everywhere, beans — (laughter) — small towns. And we’d roll through on that bus, through these little towns, and everybody would be lining up along the road. And these were rural communities, conservative — many of them I probably didn’t get a lot of votes. But everybody was lined up — little kids with the American flags, grandparents out in their lawn chairs, people waving, guys standing out in front of the auto shop, wiping their hands off, waving in their overalls. And we stopped by a high school football game, talked to the coach, went by a public school, met with some of the kids. And for all the venom and all the shouting in Washington, you’ve got this incredible sense of what the core of America is all about. This incredible decency and optimism, and the belief that, no matter how tough things are sometimes, somehow, if we pull together, we’re going to get through it.
And in these little towns, by the way, all across the Midwest, suddenly you’ll see black faces and brown faces. And in the country you can see new waves of immigrants, sort of filling in pockets of towns that previously had been aging, and whole new generations are starting all over again, building this incredible country. And what’s amazing is you come here to Manhattan, and as you’re driving by and you look at the faces, you sense that same spirit, that same striving, hopeful energy. Everybody just thinking, you know what, we’re going to make this happen. We’ve got big dreams. We’re not going to think small.
Those things are connected. This country, as divided as it seems sometimes, that core idea is there. And that’s what we tapped into in 2008. It wasn’t me; it was all of you. It was the country insisting that we can do better than this. And all that “hopey, changey stuff,” as they say — (laughter) — that was real. That wasn’t something worth being cynical about. (Applause.) That was real. You could feel it. You knew it.
It’s still there, even in the midst of this hardship. But it’s hard. When I was in Grant Park that night I warned everybody, this is going to be hard. This is not the end; this is the beginning. And over the last two and a half years we’ve had some tough times. And, understandably, over time, people sometimes, they get discouraged, and they lose sight of what launched us on this thing in the first place. They start feeling discouraged, and the whole poster starts kind of fading. (Laughter.)
But I tell you what. You travel around the country, you talk to the America people — that spirit is still there. It gets knocked around. I get knocked around. But it’s there and it’s worth fighting for. It’s worth fighting for. (Applause.) And that’s why I need your help — because I need everybody out here to be willing to fight for it. I need everybody here to understand that America was not built by any single individual. We built it together. And we always have been one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And we have been a nation of responsibilities to ourselves, but also responsibilities to one another. And we’ve got to meet those responsibilities right now.
So maybe some people in Congress would rather settle these differences at the ballot box. I’m ready to settle them at the ballot box. I intend to win this next election because we’ve got better ideas. (Applause.) We’ve got better ideas. But in the meantime, that’s 14 months away, and the American people don’t have the luxury of waiting that long.
So let’s get to work right now. Let’s act right now. Let’s pass that jobs bill. Let’s reform the tax code. Let’s fix some schools. Let’s rebuild our roads. Let’s put teachers back to work. Let’s invest in our basic research. Let’s invest in America. Let’s rebuild America. Let’s think big. Let’s dream big. Let’s shake off the discouragement and the depression. Let’s get to work. Let’s get busy. (Applause.)
I’m ready to fight. I hope you are, too. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)
OPENING REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
ON OPEN GOVERNMENT PARTNERSHIP
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, New York
2:35 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to this inaugural event of a partnership that’s already transforming how governments serve their citizens in the 21st century.
One year ago, at the U.N. General Assembly, I stated a simple truth — that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and in open governments. And I challenged our countries to come back this year with specific commitments to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to energize civic engagement, and to leverage new technologies so we can strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries.
Today, we’re joined by nations and organizations from around the world that are answering this challenge. In this Open Government Partnership, I’m pleased to be joined by leaders from the seven other founding nations of this initiative. I especially want to commend my friend, President Rousseff of Brazil, for her leadership in open government and for joining the United States as the first co-chairs of this effort.
We’re joined by nearly 40 other nations who’ve also embraced this challenge, with the goal of joining this partnership next year. And we’re joined by civil society organizations from around the world — groups that not only help hold governments accountable, but who partnered with us and who offer new ideas and help us to make better decisions. Put simply, our countries are stronger when we engage citizens beyond the halls of government. So I welcome our civil society representatives — not as spectators, but as equal partners in this initiative.
This, I believe, is how progress will be achieved in the 21st century — meeting global challenges through global cooperation, across all levels of society. And this is exactly the kind of partnership that we need now, as emerging democracies from Latin America to Africa to Asia are all showing how innovations in open government can help make countries more prosperous and more just; as new generations across the Middle East and North Africa assert the old truth that government exists for the benefit of their people; and as young people everywhere, from teeming cities to remote villages, are logging on, and texting, and tweeting and demanding government that is just as fast, just as smart, just as accountable.
This is the moment that we must meet. These are the expectations that we must fulfill. And now we see governments around the world meeting this challenge, including many represented here today. Countries from Mexico to Turkey to Liberia have passed laws guaranteeing citizens the right to information. From Chile to Kenya to the Philippines, civil society groups are giving citizens new tools to report corruption. From Tanzania to Indonesia — and as I saw firsthand during my visit to India — rural villages are organizing and making their voices heard, and getting the public services that they need. Governments from Brazil to South Africa are putting more information online, helping people hold public officials accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars.
Here in the United States, we’ve worked to make government more open and responsive than ever before. We’ve been promoting greater disclosure of government information, empowering citizens with new ways to participate in their democracy. We are releasing more data in usable forms on health and safety and the environment, because information is power, and helping people make informed decisions and entrepreneurs turn data into new products, they create new jobs. We’re also soliciting the best ideas from our people in how to make government work better. And around the world, we’re standing up for freedom to access information, including a free and open Internet.
Today, the eight founding nations of our partnership are going even further — agreeing to an Open Government Declaration rooted in several core principles. We pledge to be more transparent at every level — because more information on government activity should be open, timely, and freely available to the people. We pledge to engage more of our citizens in decision-making — because it makes government more effective and responsive. We pledge to implement the highest standards of integrity — because those in power must serve the people, not themselves. And we pledge to increase access to technology — because in this digital century, access to information is a right that is universal.
Next, to put these principles into practice, every country that seeks to join this partnership will work with civil society groups to develop an action plan of specific commitments. Today, the United States is releasing our plan, which we are posting on the White House website and at OpenGovPartnership.org.
Among our commitments, we’re launching a new online tool — called “We the People” — to allow Americans to directly petition the White House, and we’ll share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same. We’ve develop new tools — called “smart disclosures” — so that the data we make public can help people make health care choices, help small businesses innovate, and help scientists achieve new breakthroughs.
We’ll work to reform and expand protections for whistleblowers who expose government waste, fraud and abuse. And we’re continuing our leadership of the global effort against corruption, by building on legislation that now requires oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose the payments that foreign governments demand of them.
Today, I can announce that the United States will join the global initiative in which these industries, governments and civil society, all work together for greater transparency so that taxpayers receive every dollar they’re due from the extraction of natural resources.
So these are just some of the steps that we’re taking. And today is just the beginning of a partnership that will only grow — as Secretary Clinton leads our effort on behalf of the United States, as these nearly 40 nations develop their own commitments, as we share and learn from each other and build the next generation of tools to empower our citizens and serve them better.
So that’s the purpose of open government. And I believe that’s the essence of democracy. That’s the commitment to which we’re committing ourselves here today. And I thank all of you for joining us as we meet this challenge together.
I want to thank you very much for your participation. And with that, I would like to turn over the chair to my co-chair, President Rousseff.
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts
WASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:
- · Kimberly Owens - Member, Board of Trustees of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation
- · Sima F. Sarrafan – Member, Board of Trustees of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation
- · Jan R. Frye – Member, Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
- · Carol E. Lowman - Member, Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
President Obama said, “These dedicated and accomplished individuals will be valued additions to my Administration as we tackle the important challenges facing America. I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”
President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:
Kimberly Owens, Appointee for Member, Board of Trustees of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation
Kimberly Owens is currently a Realtor with Realty Executives in Phoenix, Arizona. Ms. Owens is also a Governing Council member for the Salt River Project, a board member of the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority, and has been a member of the Tolleson Union High School District Governing Board for eighteen years. In 2011, she was named as the Executive Director for the Dodie Londen Excellence in Public Service Series and she was named Educational Advocate of the Year by the Arizona School Boards Association in 2005. She is a retired Registered Nurse and past Chair of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. Ms. Owens holds an Associates of Arts Degree from Glendale Community College.
Sima F. Sarrafan, Appointee for Member, Board of Trustees of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation
Sima F. Sarrafan is a Senior Attorney in the Office of Legal Compliance at Microsoft. Prior to joining Microsoft, Ms. Sarrafan was a Partner at Yarmuth Wilsdon Calfo. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1994 until 2001, during which time she was detailed as a Trial Attorney to the Office of International Affairs at the Department of Justice. Ms. Sarrafan’s legal experience includes serving as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law. She also served as a Teaching Fellow in Economics at Harvard College, from 1989 to 1991. Ms. Sarrafan serves on the Advisory Board of the Iranian American Bar Association. She graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in Economics and earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School.
Jan R. Frye, Appointee for Member, Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
Jan R. Frye is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Frye is a retired U.S. Army Colonel, after serving on active duty for 30 years. During his Army career, he served in senior acquisition command and staff positions in the United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, Hungary, and the U.S. He also served as the Chief of Contracting at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Contract Management Association. His military decorations include two awards of the Legion of Merit. Mr. Frye graduated from the University of Nebraska-Kearney in 1972 as a Distinguished Military Graduate. He holds an M.S. in National Resource Strategy from National Defense University and an M.S. in Contracting and Acquisition Management from Florida Institute of Technology. He is also a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, Defense Systems Management College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Dr. Carol E. Lowman, Appointee for Member, Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
Dr. Carol E. Lowman is the Deputy Director of the U.S. Army Contracting Command, a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command consisting of over 5,500 military and civilian personnel, and headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. Dr. Lowman’s previous assignments include serving as Acting Director, Mission and Installation Contracting Command in San Antonio, Texas and the Director of the Army Contracting Agency – Southern Region in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Lowman began her Army career as a contracting intern at Fort Ritchie, Maryland. She holds a B.A. from Canisius College, an M.A. from Troy State University, and a Ph.D. in Public Administration from the University of Georgia.
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
AT HIGH-LEVEL MEETING ON LIBYA
New York, New York
11:12 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good morning. Mr. Secretary General, on behalf of us all, thank you for convening this meeting to address a task that must be the work of all of us — supporting the people of Libya as they build a future that is free and democratic and prosperous. And I want to thank President Jalil for his remarks and for all that he and Prime Minister Jibril have done to help Libya reach this moment.
To all the heads of state, to all the countries represented here who have done so much over the past several months to ensure this day could come, I want to say thank you, as well.
Today, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in the life of their nation. After four decades of darkness, they can walk the streets, free from a tyrant. They are making their voices heard — in new newspapers, and on radio and television, in public squares and on personal blogs. They’re launching political parties and civil groups to shape their own destiny and secure their universal rights. And here at the United Nations, the new flag of a free Libya now flies among the community of nations.
Make no mistake — credit for the liberation of Libya belongs to the people of Libya. It was Libyan men and women — and children — who took to the streets in peaceful protest, who faced down the tanks and endured the snipers’ bullets. It was Libyan fighters, often outgunned and outnumbered, who fought pitched battles, town-by-town, block-by-block. It was Libyan activists — in the underground, in chat rooms, in mosques — who kept a revolution alive, even after some of the world had given up hope.
It was Libyan women and girls who hung flags and smuggled weapons to the front. It was Libyans from countries around the world, including my own, who rushed home to help, even though they, too, risked brutality and death. It was Libyan blood that was spilled and Libya’s sons and daughters who gave their lives. And on that August day — after all that sacrifice, after 42 long years — it was Libyans who pushed their dictator from power.
At the same time, Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one. I said at the beginning of this process, we cannot and should not intervene every time there is an injustice in the world. Yet it’s also true that there are times where the world could have and should have summoned the will to prevent the killing of innocents on a horrific scale. And we are forever haunted by the atrocities that we did not prevent, and the lives that we did not save. But this time was different. This time, we, through the United Nations, found the courage and the collective will to act.
When the old regime unleashed a campaign of terror, threatening to roll back the democratic tide sweeping the region, we acted as united nations, and we acted swiftly — broadening sanctions, imposing an arms embargo. The United States led the effort to pass a historic resolution at the Security Council authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan people. And when the civilians of Benghazi were threatened with a massacre, we exercised that authority. Our international coalition stopped the regime in its tracks, and saved countless lives, and gave the Libyan people the time and the space to prevail.
Important, too, is how this effort succeeded — thanks to the leadership and contributions of many countries. The United States was proud to play a decisive role, especially in the early days, and then in a supporting capacity. But let’s remember that it was the Arab League that appealed for action. It was the world’s most effective alliance, NATO, that’s led a military coalition of nearly 20 nations. It’s our European allies — especially the United Kingdom and France and Denmark and Norway — that conducted the vast majority of air strikes protecting rebels on the ground. It was Arab states who joined the coalition, as equal partners. And it’s been the United Nations and neighboring countries — including Tunisia and Egypt — that have cared for the Libyans in the urgent humanitarian effort that continues today.
This is how the international community should work in the 21st century — more nations bearing the responsibility and the costs of meeting global challenges. In fact, this is the very purpose of this United Nations. So every nation represented here today can take pride in the innocent lives we saved and in helping Libyans reclaim their country. It was the right thing to do.
Now, even as we speak, remnants of the old regime continue to fight. Difficult days are still ahead. But one thing is clear — the future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. For just as it was Libyans who tore down the old order, it will be Libyans who build their new nation. And we’ve come here today to say to the people of Libya — just as the world stood by you in your struggle to be free, we will now stand with you in your struggle to realize the peace and prosperity that freedom can bring.
In this effort, you will have a friend and partner in the United States of America. Today, I can announce that our ambassador is on his way back to Tripoli. And this week, the American flag that was lowered before our embassy was attacked will be raised again, over a re-opened American embassy. We will work closely with the new U.N. Support Mission in Libya and with the nations here today to assist the Libyan people in the hard work ahead.
First, and most immediately: security. So long as the Libyan people are being threatened, the NATO-led mission to protect them will continue. And those still holding out must understand — the old regime is over, and it is time to lay down your arms and join the new Libya. As this happens, the world must also support efforts to secure dangerous weapons — conventional and otherwise — and bring fighters under central, civilian control. For without security, democracy and trade and investment cannot flourish.
Second: the humanitarian effort. The Transitional National Council has been working quickly to restore water and electricity and food supplies to Tripoli. But for many Libyans, each day is still a struggle — to recover from their wounds, reunite with their families, and return to their homes. And even after the guns of war fall silent, the ravages of war will continue. So our efforts to assist its victims must continue. In this, the United States — the United Nations will play a key role. And along with our partners, the United States will do our part to help the hungry and the wounded.
Third: a democratic transition that is peaceful, inclusive and just. President Jalil has just reaffirmed the Transitional National Council’s commitment to these principles, and the United Nations will play a central role in coordinating international support for this effort. We all know what is needed — a transition that is timely, new laws and a constitution that uphold the rule of law, political parties and a strong civil society, and, for the first time in Libyan history, free and fair elections.
True democracy, however, must flow from its citizens. So as Libyans rightly seek justice for past crimes, let it be done in a spirit of reconciliation, and not reprisals and violence. As Libyans draw strength from their faith — a religion rooted in peace and tolerance — let there be a rejection of violent extremism, which offers nothing but death and destruction. As Libyans rebuild, let those efforts tap the experience of all those with the skills to contribute, including the many Africans in Libya. And as Libyans forge a society that is truly just, let it enshrine the rights and role of women at all levels of society. For we know that the nations that uphold the human rights of all people, especially their women, are ultimately more successful and more prosperous.
Which brings me to the final area where the world must stand with Libya, and that is restoring prosperity. For too long, Libya’s vast riches were stolen and squandered. Now that wealth must serve its rightful owners — the Libyan people. As sanctions are lifted, as the United States and the international community unfreeze more Libyan assets, and as the country’s oil production is restored, the Libyan people deserve a government that is transparent and accountable. And bound by the Libyan students and entrepreneurs who have forged friendships in the United States, we intend to build new partnerships to help unleash Libya’s extraordinary potential.
Now, none of this will be easy. After decades of iron rule by one man, it will take time to build the institutions needed for a democratic Libya. I’m sure there will be days of frustration; there will be days when progress is slow; there will be days when some begin to wish for the old order and its illusion of stability. And some in the world may ask, can Libya succeed? But if we have learned anything these many months, it is this: Don’t underestimate the aspirations and the will of the Libyan people.
So I want to conclude by speaking directly to the people of Libya. Your task may be new, the journey ahead may be fraught with difficulty, but everything you need to build your future already beats in the heart of your nation. It’s the same courage you summoned on that first February day; the same resilience that brought you back out the next day and the next, even as you lost family and friends; and the same unshakeable determination with which you liberated Benghazi, broke the siege of Misurata, and have fought through the coastal plain and the western mountains.
It’s the same unwavering conviction that said, there’s no turning back; our sons and daughters deserve to be free.
In the days after Tripoli fell, people rejoiced in the streets and pondered the role ahead, and one of those Libyans said, “We have this chance now to do something good for our country, a chance we have dreamed of for so long.” So, to the Libyan people, this is your chance. And today the world is saying, with one unmistakable voice, we will stand with you as you seize this moment of promise, as you reach for the freedom, the dignity, and the opportunity that you deserve.
So, congratulations. And thank you very much. (Applause.)
Fact Sheet: The Open Government Partnership
“In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. And now, we must build on that progress. And when we gather back here next year, we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world.”
–President Obama, September 23, 2010
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2010, President Obama spoke of open economies, open societies, and open governments as the “strongest foundation for human progress.” He recognized that the work of strengthening democratic government requires sustained commitment, and that countries around the world are taking innovative steps to better serve the people they represent. He issued a challenge to the leaders assembled in New York to gather together again in September of 2011 with specific commitments and plans of action to promote transparency, fight corruption, energize civil society, and to leverage new technologies.
Answering the Call
Responding to the President’s challenge, a group of governments and civil society organizations spanning the globe have come together to form the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a new multilateral initiative that supports national efforts to promote transparency, fight corruption, strengthen accountability, and empower citizens. At the core of the Partnership is a commitment from participating countries to undertake meaningful new steps as part of a concrete action plan, developed and implemented in close consultation with their citizens.
Led in its first year by the United States and Brazil, OGP is a unique partnership with a steering committee composed of governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and civil society organizations (Africa Center for Open Governance (Kenya), Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (Brazil), Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (Mexico), International Budget Partnership (international), MKSS (India), National Security Archive (U.S.), Revenue Watch Institute (international), Transparency and Accountability Initiative (international), and Twaweza (Tanzania)).
The Launch of the Open Government Partnership
Today in New York, President Obama and President Rousseff hosted the formal launch of OGP at an event with Heads of State and senior officials from 46 countries. The high-level meeting focused attention on the shared challenge of improving governance, and demonstrated a strong political commitment around the world to the kinds of reforms necessary to enhance transparency, fight corruption, and strengthen mechanisms of democratic accountability.
The eight founding governments embraced an Open Government Declaration in which they pledged to advance the core principles of open government. And each government presented an action plan with concrete commitments to put the principles of the Declaration into practice.
The Partnership also welcomed the commitment of the following 38 governments to join OGP and deliver their own action plans in Brazil in March 2012: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine, and Uruguay.
Each of these countries has already demonstrated a commitment to open government across four key areas – fiscal and budget transparency, freedom of information, asset disclosures for public officials, and citizen engagement – and published a formal letter of intent to participate.
The Open Government Declaration
The Declaration is a high-level political statement by the leaders of the eight founding governments of the value of openness, and their commitment to:
- · Promote openness, because more information about governmental activities should be timely and freely available to people;
- · Engage citizens in decision-making, because this makes government more innovative and responsive;
- · Implement the highest standards of professional integrity, because those in power must serve the people and not themselves; and
- · Increase access to new technologies because of their unprecedented potential to help people realize their aspirations for access to information and a more powerful voice in how they are governed.
Eight Action Plans
Today, as part of the formal launch, the eight founding governments delivered action plans pledging new commitments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness the power of new technologies. Each action plan contains detailed commitments in a wide variety of areas, developed by governments in consultation with citizens. Among the highlights, the action plans include commitments to promote:
- · Effective management of natural resources revenues: The United States will join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as an implementing country – forging a new partnership between government and industry to ensure that taxpayers receive every dollar they are due from the extraction of our natural resources. (You can view the full U.S. National Action Plan here.)
- · Delivering public information: Brazil will develop several activities toward increasing active transparency and open data, including restructuring the Transparency Portal and launching the Brazil Open Data Portal, in order to converge to the appropriate environment for future enactment of the Access to Information Law.
- · Gender equality: Norway will promote gender equality and women’s full participation in civic life, the private sector, public administration and political processes, including by: following up the recommendations of the government white paper on equal pay; launching an effort to have more women apply for top posts in the private sector; and undertaking an initiative to strengthen the role of women in local democracy and develop a gender equality program with all municipalities.
- · Open data: The United Kingdom will promote improvements in outcomes and accountability in the public sector by transforming the rights of citizens to obtain data from public authorities and establishing standards and frameworks to embed a culture of transparency in the UK.
- · Citizen participation: The Philippines will extend participatory budgeting across the government to 12 government departments and 6 government corporations by 2012; establish an empowerment fund to support bottom-up involvement in development planning and budgeting; and institutionalize social audits as a tool for monitoring the implementation of public infrastructure projects.
- · Service delivery: South Africa will enhance the capacity and capabilities of communities to access and claim their socio-economic rights through the roll-out of national public education campaigns and set up “Service Delivery Improvement Forums” in all nine provinces to provide timely citizen report cards on service delivery at the community level.
- · Public integrity: Indonesia will pursue an ambitious effort to bring greater transparency to range of critical areas that have been sources of corruption in the public sector, with commitments to publish basic information and performance data for the police and public prosecution service, the tax court, the immigration office, the customs office, and the land administration office. They will also increase the transparency of civil service recruitment.
- · Government transparency: Mexico will increase the publication of socially useful information in four key areas – budget allocation, security, education, and telecommunications – in order to strengthen public integrity and public participation, and to enhance the oversight of performance in the education sector to improve educational quality.
The Domestic Open Government Initiative
In addition to committing to implement EITI, among the highlights of the U.S. National Action Plan:
- · The White House recently announced the launch of the “We the People” petition platform to give Americans a direct line to voice their concerns to the Administration via online petitions. In addition, the White House plans to publish the source code of the recently announced “We the People” petition platform so that it is available to any government around the world that seeks to solicit and respond to the concerns of the public. This will foster greater participation in government.
- · The Administration will launch a platform called ExpertNet that will enable government officials to better communicate with citizens who have expertise on a pertinent topic. It will give members of the public an opportunity to participate in a public consultation relevant to their areas of interest and knowledge, and allow officials to pose questions to and interact with the public in order to receive useful and relevant feedback. ExpertNet will foster greater collaboration within government.
- · The Administration will continue work on a new civil service personnel category (or job series) for officials who specialize in administering FOIA and other information programs. It is important to recognize the professional nature of the work done by those administering FOIA. In addition, the Administration will expand the use of technology to achieve greater efficiencies in FOIA administration, including utilization of technology to assist in searching for and processing records.
- · Recently, Congress nearly enacted legislation that would eliminate loopholes in existing whistleblower protections, provide protections for employees in the intelligence community, and create pilot programs to explore potential structural reforms in the remedial process. The Administration will continue to work with Congress to enact this legislation. But if Congress remains deadlocked, the Administration will explore options for utilizing executive branch authority to strengthen and expand whistleblower protections.
- · The Administration will launch an initiative that will recommend reforms and require reporting on current records management policies and practices. The initiative will consider changes to existing laws and ask how technology can be leveraged to improve records management while making it cost-effective. The initiative will seek a reformed, digital-era, governmentwide records management framework that promotes accountability and performance.
Brazil 2012 and Beyond
Six months from now, on March 5th and 6th, 2012, Brazil will host the second high-level meeting of OGP. A group of countries – including the 38 who expressed their formal intent to participate today – will endorse the Open Government Declaration and deliver their own action plans to strengthen the pillars of open and accountable government.
The founding governments are committed to continuing the Partnership beyond Brazil, with commitments from the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and Mexico to chair the effort in subsequent years. OGP will work actively to expand the ranks of participating countries, engage civil society and the private sector, and to help countries deliver meaningful reforms that increase government accountability, effectiveness, and efficiency.
Remarks of President Barack Obama in an
Address to a Joint Session of Congress
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and fellow Americans:
Tonight we meet at an urgent time for our country. We continue to face an economic crisis that has left millions of our neighbors jobless, and a political crisis that has made things worse.
This past week, reporters have been asking “What will this speech mean for the President? What will it mean for Congress? How will it affect their polls, and the next election?”
But the millions of Americans who are watching right now: they don’t care about politics. They have real life concerns. Many have spent months looking for work. Others are doing their best just to scrape by – giving up nights out with the family to save on gas or make the mortgage; postponing retirement to send a kid to college.
These men and women grew up with faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off. They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share – where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits; maybe a raise once in awhile. If you did the right thing, you could make it in America.
But for decades now, Americans have watched that compact erode. They have seen the deck too often stacked against them. And they know that Washington hasn’t always put their interests first.
The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meetours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.
Those of us here tonight can’t solve all of our nation’s woes. Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers. But we can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people’s lives.
I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything.
The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away.
Everyone here knows that small businesses are where most new jobs begin. And you know that while corporate profits have come roaring back, smaller companies haven’t. So for everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for “job creators,” this plan is for you.
Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers’ wages. Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year. If you have 50 employees making an average salary, that’s an $80,000 tax cut. And all businesses will be able to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012.
It’s not just Democrats who have supported this kind of proposal. Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that’s in this plan. You should pass it right away.
Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America. Everyone here knows that we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over this country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world.
This is inexcusable. Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?
There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work. There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. A public transit project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of traffic in the country. And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school – and we can give it to them, if we act now.
The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows; installing science labs and high-speed internet in classrooms all across this country. It will rehabilitate homes and businesses in communities hit hardest by foreclosures. It will jumpstart thousands of transportation projects across the country. And to make sure the money is properly spent and for good purposes, we’re building on reforms we’ve already put in place. No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere. We’re cutting the red tape that prevents some of these projects from getting started as quickly as possible. And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the economy.
This idea came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat. The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by America’s largest business organization and America’s largest labor organization. It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike. You should pass it right away.
Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work. These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher. But while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves. It’s unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours. And it has to stop. Pass this jobs bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong.
Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get extra tax credits if they hire America’s veterans. We ask these men and women to leave their careers, leave their families, and risk their lives to fight for our country. The lastthing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home.
Pass this bill, and hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged young people will have the hope and dignity of a summer job next year. And their parents, low-income Americans who desperately want to work, will have more ladders out of poverty.
Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than six months looking for a job. We have to do more to help the long-term unemployed in their search for work. This jobs plan builds on a program in Georgia that several Republican leaders have highlighted, where people who collect unemployment insurance participate in temporary work as a way to build their skills while they look for a permanent job. The plan also extends unemployment insurance for another year. If the millions of unemployed Americans stopped getting this insurance, and stopped using that money for basic necessities, it would be a devastating blow to this economy. Democrats and Republicans in this Chamber have supported unemployment insurance plenty of times in the past. At this time of prolonged hardship, you should pass it again – right away.
Pass this jobs bill, and the typical working family will get a fifteen hundred dollar tax cut next year. Fifteen hundred dollars that would have been taken out of your paycheck will go right into your pocket. This expands on the tax cut that Democrats and Republicans already passed for this year. If we allow that tax cut to expire – if we refuse to act – middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time. We cannot let that happen. I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.
This is the American Jobs Act. It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, teachers, veterans, first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed. It will provide tax credits to companies that hire new workers, tax relief for small business owners, and tax cuts for the middle-class. And here’s the other thing I want the American people to know: the American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for. And here’s how:
The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I’m asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan – a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.
This approach is basically the one I’ve been advocating for months. In addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts I’ve already signed into law, it’s a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts; by making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid; and by reforming our tax code in a way that asks the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share. What’s more, the spending cuts wouldn’t happen so abruptly that they’d be a drag on our economy, or prevent us from helping small business and middle-class families get back on their feet right away.
Now, I realize there are some in my party who don’t think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid, and I understand their concerns. But here’s the truth. Millions of Americans rely on Medicare in their retirement. And millions more will do so in the future. They pay for this benefit during their working years. They earn it. But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. And if we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it.
I’m also well aware that there are many Republicans who don’t believe we should raise taxes on those who are most fortunate and can best afford it. But here is what every American knows. While most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets. Right now, Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary – an outrage he has asked us to fix. We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake, and everybody pays their fair share. And I believe the vast majority of wealthy Americans and CEOs are willing to do just that, if it helps the economy grow and gets our fiscal house in order.
I’ll also offer ideas to reform a corporate tax code that stands as a monument to special interest influence in Washington. By eliminating pages of loopholes and deductions, we can lower one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Our tax code shouldn’t give an advantage to companies that can afford the best-connected lobbyists. It should give an advantage to companies that invest and create jobs here in America.
So we can reduce this deficit, pay down our debt, and pay for this jobs plan in the process. But in order to do this, we have to decide what our priorities are. We have to ask ourselves, “What’s the best way to grow the economy and create jobs?”
Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can’t afford to do both.
This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math. These are real choices that we have to make. And I’m pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It’s not even close. And it’s time for us to do what’s right for our future.
The American Jobs Act answers the urgent need to create jobs right away. But we can’t stop there. As I’ve argued since I ran for this office, we have to look beyond the immediate crisis and start building an economy that lasts into the future – an economy that creates good, middle-class jobs that pay well and offer security. We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere. If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build, out-educate, and out-innovate every other country on Earth.
This task, of making America more competitive for the long haul, is a job for all of us. For government and for private companies. For states and for local communities – and for every American citizen. All of us will have to up our game. All of us will have to change the way we do business.
My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own. For example, if you’re a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we’re going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do now. We’re also planning to cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly-growing start-up companies from raising capital and going public. And to help responsible homeowners, we’re going to work with Federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4% — a step that can put more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocket, and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices.
Other steps will require Congressional action. Today you passed reform that will speed up the outdated patent process, so that entrepreneurs can turn a new idea into a new business as quickly as possible. That’s the kind of action we need. Now it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea – while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition. If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers. I want to see more products sold around the world stamped with three proud words: “Made in America.”
And on all of our efforts to strengthen competitiveness, we need to look for ways to work side-by-side with America’s businesses. That’s why I’ve brought together a Jobs Council of leaders from different industries who are developing a wide range of new ideas to help companies grow and create jobs.
Already, we’ve mobilized business leaders to train 10,000 American engineers a year, by providing company internships and training. Other businesses are covering tuition for workers who learn new skills at community colleges. And we’re going to make sure the next generation of manufacturing takes root not in China or Europe, but right here, in the United States of America. If we provide the right incentives and support – and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules – we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that are sold all over the world. That’s how America can be number one again. That’s how America will be number one again.
Now, I realize that some of you have a different theory on how to grow the economy. Some of you sincerely believe that the only solution to our economic challenges is to simply cut most government spending and eliminate most government regulations.
Well, I agree that we can’t afford wasteful spending, and I will continue to work with Congress to get rid of it. And I agree that there are some rules and regulations that put an unnecessary burden on businesses at a time when they can least afford it. That’s why I ordered a review of all government regulations. So far, we’ve identified over 500 reforms, which will save billions of dollars over the next few years. We should have no more regulation than the health, safety, and security of the American people require. Every rule should meet that common sense test.
But what we can’t do – what I won’t do – is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that’s a race we can win.
In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own – that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.
Yes, we are rugged individualists. Yes, we are strong and self-reliant. And it has been the drive and initiative of our workers and entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and envy of the world.
But there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.
We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. But in the middle of a Civil War, he was also a leader who looked to the future – a Republican president who mobilized government to build the transcontinental railroad; launch the National Academy of Sciences; and set up the first land grant colleges. And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set.
Ask yourselves – where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways and our bridges; our dams and our airports? What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges? Millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, had the opportunity to go to school because of the GI Bill. Where would we be if they hadn’t had that chance?
How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? What kind of country would this be if this Chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? How many Americans would have suffered as a result?
No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. Members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities.
Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight is the kind that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past. Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight will be paid for. And every proposal is designed to meet the urgent needs of our people and our communities.
I know there’s been a lot of skepticism about whether the politics of the moment will allow us to pass this jobs plan – or any jobs plan. Already, we’re seeing the same old press releases and tweets flying back and forth. Already, the media has proclaimed that it’s impossible to bridge our differences. And maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box.
But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here – the people who hired us to work for them – they don’t have the luxury of waiting fourteen months. Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.
I don’t pretend that this plan will solve all our problems. It shouldn’t be, nor will it be, the last plan of action we propose. What’s guided us from the start of this crisis hasn’t been the search for a silver bullet. It’s been a commitment to stay at it – to be persistent – to keep trying every new idea that works, and listen to every good proposal, no matter which party comes up with it.
Regardless of the arguments we’ve had in the past, regardless of the arguments we’ll have in the future, this plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country. I also ask every American who agrees to lift your voice and tell the people who are gathered here tonight that you want action now. Tell Washington that doing nothing is not an option. Remind us that if we act as one nation, and one people, we have it within our power to meet this challenge.
President Kennedy once said, “Our problems are man-made – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.”
These are difficult years for our country. But we are Americans. We are tougher than the times that we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let’s meet the moment. Let’s get to work, and show the world once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.