REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT THE MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. MEMORIAL DEDICATION
The National Mall
11:51 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Please be seated.
An earthquake and a hurricane may have delayed this day, but this is a day that would not be denied.
For this day, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s return to the National Mall. In this place, he will stand for all time, among monuments to those who fathered this nation and those who defended it; a black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals, a man who stirred our conscience and thereby helped make our union more perfect.
And Dr. King would be the first to remind us that this memorial is not for him alone. The movement of which he was a part depended on an entire generation of leaders. Many are here today, and for their service and their sacrifice, we owe them our everlasting gratitude. This is a monument to your collective achievement. (Applause.)
Some giants of the civil rights movement –- like Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height, Benjamin Hooks, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth –- they’ve been taken from us these past few years. This monument attests to their strength and their courage, and while we miss them dearly, we know they rest in a better place.
And finally, there are the multitudes of men and women whose names never appear in the history books –- those who marched and those who sang, those who sat in and those who stood firm, those who organized and those who mobilized –- all those men and women who through countless acts of quiet heroism helped bring about changes few thought were even possible. “By the thousands,” said Dr. King, “faceless, anonymous, relentless young people, black and white…have taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” To those men and women, to those foot soldiers for justice, know that this monument is yours, as well.
Nearly half a century has passed since that historic March on Washington, a day when thousands upon thousands gathered for jobs and for freedom. That is what our schoolchildren remember best when they think of Dr. King -– his booming voice across this Mall, calling on America to make freedom a reality for all of God’s children, prophesizing of a day when the jangling discord of our nation would be transformed into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
It is right that we honor that march, that we lift up Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech –- for without that shining moment, without Dr. King’s glorious words, we might not have had the courage to come as far as we have. Because of that hopeful vision, because of Dr. King’s moral imagination, barricades began to fall and bigotry began to fade. New doors of opportunity swung open for an entire generation. Yes, laws changed, but hearts and minds changed, as well.
Look at the faces here around you, and you see an America that is more fair and more free and more just than the one Dr. King addressed that day. We are right to savor that slow but certain progress -– progress that’s expressed itself in a million ways, large and small, across this nation every single day, as people of all colors and creeds live together, and work together, and fight alongside one another, and learn together, and build together, and love one another.
So it is right for us to celebrate today Dr. King’s dream and his vision of unity. And yet it is also important on this day to remind ourselves that such progress did not come easily; that Dr. King’s faith was hard-won; that it sprung out of a harsh reality and some bitter disappointments.
It is right for us to celebrate Dr. King’s marvelous oratory, but it is worth remembering that progress did not come from words alone. Progress was hard. Progress was purchased through enduring the smack of billy clubs and the blast of fire hoses. It was bought with days in jail cells and nights of bomb threats. For every victory during the height of the civil rights movement, there were setbacks and there were defeats.
We forget now, but during his life, Dr. King wasn’t always considered a unifying figure. Even after rising to prominence, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was vilified by many, denounced as a rabble rouser and an agitator, a communist and a radical. He was even attacked by his own people, by those who felt he was going too fast or those who felt he was going too slow; by those who felt he shouldn’t meddle in issues like the Vietnam War or the rights of union workers. We know from his own testimony the doubts and the pain this caused him, and that the controversy that would swirl around his actions would last until the fateful day he died.
I raise all this because nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our work, Dr. King’s work, is not yet complete. We gather here at a moment of great challenge and great change. In the first decade of this new century, we have been tested by war and by tragedy; by an economic crisis and its aftermath that has left millions out of work, and poverty on the rise, and millions more just struggling to get by. Indeed, even before this crisis struck, we had endured a decade of rising inequality and stagnant wages. In too many troubled neighborhoods across the country, the conditions of our poorest citizens appear little changed from what existed 50 years ago -– neighborhoods with underfunded schools and broken-down slums, inadequate health care, constant violence, neighborhoods in which too many young people grow up with little hope and few prospects for the future.
Our work is not done. And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles. First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination. It took a full decade before the moral guidance of Brown v. Board of Education was translated into the enforcement measures of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but those 10 long years did not lead Dr. King to give up. He kept on pushing, he kept on speaking, he kept on marching until change finally came. (Applause.)
And then when, even after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed, African Americans still found themselves trapped in pockets of poverty across the country, Dr. King didn’t say those laws were a failure; he didn’t say this is too hard; he didn’t say, let’s settle for what we got and go home. Instead he said, let’s take those victories and broaden our mission to achieve not just civil and political equality but also economic justice; let’s fight for a living wage and better schools and jobs for all who are willing to work. In other words, when met with hardship, when confronting disappointment, Dr. King refused to accept what he called the “isness” of today. He kept pushing towards the “oughtness” of tomorrow.
And so, as we think about all the work that we must do –- rebuilding an economy that can compete on a global stage, and fixing our schools so that every child — not just some, but every child — gets a world-class education, and making sure that our health care system is affordable and accessible to all, and that our economic system is one in which everybody gets a fair shake and everybody does their fair share, let us not be trapped by what is. (Applause.) We can’t be discouraged by what is. We’ve got to keep pushing for what ought to be, the America we ought to leave to our children, mindful that the hardships we face are nothing compared to those Dr. King and his fellow marchers faced 50 years ago, and that if we maintain our faith, in ourselves and in the possibilities of this nation, there is no challenge we cannot surmount.
And just as we draw strength from Dr. King’s struggles, so must we draw inspiration from his constant insistence on the oneness of man; the belief in his words that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” It was that insistence, rooted in his Christian faith, that led him to tell a group of angry young protesters, “I love you as I love my own children,” even as one threw a rock that glanced off his neck.
It was that insistence, that belief that God resides in each of us, from the high to the low, in the oppressor and the oppressed, that convinced him that people and systems could change. It fortified his belief in non-violence. It permitted him to place his faith in a government that had fallen short of its ideals. It led him to see his charge not only as freeing black America from the shackles of discrimination, but also freeing many Americans from their own prejudices, and freeing Americans of every color from the depredations of poverty.
And so at this moment, when our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of Dr. King’s teachings. He calls on us to stand in the other person’s shoes; to see through their eyes; to understand their pain. He tells us that we have a duty to fight against poverty, even if we are well off; to care about the child in the decrepit school even if our own children are doing fine; to show compassion toward the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of us are only a few generations removed from similar hardships. (Applause.)
To say that we are bound together as one people, and must constantly strive to see ourselves in one another, is not to argue for a false unity that papers over our differences and ratifies an unjust status quo. As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as “divisive.” They’ll say any challenge to the existing arrangements are unwise and destabilizing. Dr. King understood that peace without justice was no peace at all; that aligning our reality with our ideals often requires the speaking of uncomfortable truths and the creative tension of non-violent protest.
But he also understood that to bring about true and lasting change, there must be the possibility of reconciliation; that any social movement has to channel this tension through the spirit of love and mutuality.
If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain. He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country — (applause) — with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.
In the end, that’s what I hope my daughters take away from this monument. I want them to come away from here with a faith in what they can accomplish when they are determined and working for a righteous cause. I want them to come away from here with a faith in other people and a faith in a benevolent God. This sculpture, massive and iconic as it is, will remind them of Dr. King’s strength, but to see him only as larger than life would do a disservice to what he taught us about ourselves. He would want them to know that he had setbacks, because they will have setbacks. He would want them to know that he had doubts, because they will have doubts. He would want them to know that he was flawed, because all of us have flaws.
It is precisely because Dr. King was a man of flesh and blood and not a figure of stone that he inspires us so. His life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don’t give up. He would not give up, no matter how long it took, because in the smallest hamlets and the darkest slums, he had witnessed the highest reaches of the human spirit; because in those moments when the struggle seemed most hopeless, he had seen men and women and children conquer their fear; because he had seen hills and mountains made low and rough places made plain, and the crooked places made straight and God make a way out of no way.
And that is why we honor this man –- because he had faith in us. And that is why he belongs on this Mall -– because he saw what we might become. That is why Dr. King was so quintessentially American — because for all the hardships we’ve endured, for all our sometimes tragic history, ours is a story of optimism and achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this Earth. And that is why the rest of the world still looks to us to lead. This is a country where ordinary people find in their hearts the courage to do extraordinary things; the courage to stand up in the face of the fiercest resistance and despair and say this is wrong, and this is right; we will not settle for what the cynics tell us we have to accept and we will reach again and again, no matter the odds, for what we know is possible.
That is the conviction we must carry now in our hearts. (Applause.) As tough as times may be, I know we will overcome. I know there are better days ahead. I know this because of the man towering over us. I know this because all he and his generation endured — we are here today in a country that dedicated a monument to that legacy.
And so with our eyes on the horizon and our faith squarely placed in one another, let us keep striving; let us keep struggling; let us keep climbing toward that promised land of a nation and a world that is more fair, and more just, and more equal for every single child of God.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
Statement by the President on the Attack on the United Nations in Abuja, Nigeria
I strongly condemn today’s horrific and cowardly attack on the United Nations headquarters building in Abuja, Nigeria, which killed and wounded many innocent civilians from Nigeria and around the world. I extend the deepest sympathies of the American people to the victims and their families, colleagues, and friends, whom we will keep in our thoughts and prayers.
The people who serve the United Nations do so with a simple purpose: to try to improve the lives of their neighbors and promote the values on which the UN was founded — dignity, freedom, security, and peace. The UN has been working in partnership with the people of Nigeria for more than five decades. An attack on Nigerian and international public servants demonstrates the bankruptcy of the ideology that led to this heinous action.
BREAKING NEWS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama to GOP: “Congress Should Refrain From Playing Reckless Political Games With Our Economy!”
Statement from the Press Secretary
The President and Vice President met with Speaker Boehner, Leader Pelosi, Leader Reid and Leader McConnell in the Cabinet Room to discuss options for ensuring that the debt ceiling is raised and the United States does not default on its obligations for the first time in its history.
The President restated his opposition to a short-term extension of the debt ceiling, explaining that a short-term extension could cause our country’s credit rating to be downgraded, causing harm to our economy and causing every American to pay higher credit cards rates and more for home and car loans.
As the current situation makes clear, it would be irresponsible to put our country and economy at risk again in just a few short months with another battle over raising the debt ceiling.
Congress should refrain from playing reckless political games with our economy. Instead, it should be responsible and do its job, avoiding default and cutting the deficit.
The meeting lasted approximately one hour. The leaders agreed to return to Capitol Hill to talk to their members and discuss a way forward, and conversations will continue throughout the day.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 6:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. I wanted to give you an update on the current situation around the debt ceiling. I just got a call about a half hour ago from Speaker Boehner who indicated that he was going to be walking away from the negotiations that we’ve been engaged in here at the White House for a big deficit reduction and debt reduction package. And I thought it would be useful for me to just give you some insight into where we were and why I think that we should have moved forward with a big deal. Essentially what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense.
We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. We believed that it was possible to shape those in a way that preserved the integrity of the system, made them available for the next generation, and did not affect current beneficiaries in an adverse way.
In addition, what we sought was revenues that were actually less than what the Gang of Six signed off on. So you had a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans who are in leadership in the Senate, calling for what effectively was about $2 trillion above the Republican baseline that they’ve been working off of. What we said was give us $1.2 trillion in additional revenues, which could be accomplished without hiking taxes — tax rates, but could simply be accomplished by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process that could have lowered rates generally while broadening the base.
So let me reiterate what we were offering. We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed. And we were calling for modifications to entitlement programs, would have saved just as much over the 10-year window.
In other words, this was an extraordinarily fair deal. If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue. But in the interest of being serious about deficit reduction, I was willing to take a lot of heat from my party — and I spoke to Democratic leaders yesterday, and although they didn’t sign off on a plan, they were willing to engage in serious negotiations, despite a lot of heat from a lot of interest groups around the country, in order to make sure that we actually dealt with this problem.
It is hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal. And, frankly, if you look at commentary out there, there are a lot of Republicans that are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done. In fact, there are a lot of Republican voters out there who are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done. Because the fact of the matter is the vast majority of the American people believe we should have a balanced approach.
Now, if you do not have any revenues, as the most recent Republican plan that’s been put forward both in the House and the Senate proposed, if you have no revenues at all, what that means is more of a burden on seniors, more drastic cuts to education, more drastic cuts to research, a bigger burden on services that are going to middle-class families all across the country. And it essentially asks nothing of corporate jet owners, it asks nothing of oil and gas companies, it asks nothing from folks like me who’ve done extremely well and can afford to do a little bit more.
In other words, if you don’t have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families. And the majority of Americans don’t agree on that approach. So here’s what we’re going to do. We have now run out of time. I told Speaker Boehner, I’ve told Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, I’ve told Harry Reid, and I’ve told Mitch McConnell I want them here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. We have run out of time. And they are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default. And they can come up with any plans that they want and bring them up here and we will work on them.
The only bottom line that I have is that we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election, into 2013. And the reason for it is we’ve now seen how difficult it is to get any kind of deal done. The economy is already weakened. And the notion that five or six or eight months from now we’ll be in a better position to try to solve this problem makes no sense. In addition, if we can’t come up with a serious plan for actual deficit and debt reduction, and all we’re doing is extending the debt ceiling for another six, seven, eight months, then the probabilities of downgrading U.S. credit are increased, and that will be an additional cloud over the economy and make it more difficult for us and more difficult for businesses to create jobs that the American people so desperately need.
So they will come down here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. I expect them to have an answer in terms of how they intend to get this thing done over the course of the next week. The American people expect action. I continue to believe that a package that is balanced and actually has serious debt and deficit reduction is the right way to go. And the American people I think are fed up with political posturing and an inability for politicians to take responsible action as opposed to dodge their responsibilities.
With that, I’m going to take some questions. Ben.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said you want the leaders back here at 11:00 a.m. to give you an answer about the path forward. What is your answer about the path forward? What path do you prefer, given what’s just happened? And also, sir, quickly, what does this say about your relationship with Speaker Boehner?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, with respect to my relationship with Speaker Boehner, we’ve always had a cordial relationship. We had very intense negotiations — I’m going to have my team brief you exactly on how these negotiations proceeded. Up until sometime early today when I couldn’t get a phone call returned, my expectation was that Speaker Boehner was going to be willing to go to his caucus and ask them to do the tough thing but the right thing. I think it has proven difficult for Speaker Boehner to do that. I’ve been left at the altar now a couple of times. And I think that one of the questions that the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is can they say yes to anything? Can they say yes to anything? I mean, keep in mind it’s the Republican Party that has said that the single most important thing facing our country is deficits and debts. We’ve now put forward a package that would significantly cut deficits and debt. It would be the biggest debt reduction package that we’ve seen in a very long time. And it’s accomplished without raising individual tax rates. It’s accomplished in a way that’s compatible with the “no tax” pledge that a whole bunch of these folks signed on to — because we were mindful that they had boxed themselves in and we tried to find a way for them to generate revenues in a way that did not put them in a bad spot. And so the question is, what can you say yes to? Now, if their only answer is what they’ve presented, which is a package that would effectively require massive cuts to Social Security, to Medicare, to domestic spending, with no revenues whatsoever, not asking anything from the wealthiest in this country or corporations that have been making record profits — if that’s their only answer, then it’s going to be pretty difficult for us to figure out where to go. Because the fact of the matter is that’s what the American people are looking for, is some compromise, some willingness to put partisanship aside, some willingness to ignore talk radio or ignore activists in our respective bases, and do the right thing. And to their credit, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the Democratic leadership, they sure did not like the plan that we are proposing to Boehner, but they were at least willing to engage in a conversation because they understood how important it is for us to actually solve this problem. And so far I have not seen the capacity of the House Republicans in particular to make those tough decisions. And so then the question becomes, where’s the leadership? Or, alternatively, how serious are you actually about debt and deficit reduction? Or do you simply want it as a campaign ploy going into the next election? Now, in terms of where we go next, here’s the one thing that we’ve got to do. At minimum, we’ve got to increase the debt ceiling. At minimum. I think we need to do more than that. But as I’ve said before, Republican Leader McConnell in the Senate put forward a plan that said he’s going to go ahead and give me the responsibility to raise the debt ceiling. That way folks in Congress can vote against it, but at least it gets done. I’m willing to take the responsibility. That’s my job. So if they want to give me the responsibility to do it, I’m happy to do it. But what we’re not going to do is to continue to play games and string this along for another eight, nine months, and then have to go through this whole exercise all over again. That we’re not going to do. Jessica Yellin.
Q Standing here tonight, Mr. President, can you assure the American people that they will get their Social Security checks on August 3rd? And if not, who’s to blame?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, when it comes to all the checks, not just Social Security — veterans, people with disabilities — about 70 million checks are sent out each month — if we default then we’re going to have to make adjustments. And I’m already consulting with Secretary Geithner in terms of what the consequences would be. We should not even be in that kind of scenario. And if Congress — and in particular, the House Republicans — are not willing to make sure that we avoid default, then I think it’s fair to say that they would have to take responsibility for whatever problems arise in those payments. Because, let me repeat, I’m not interested in finger-pointing and I’m not interested in blame, but I just want the facts to speak for themselves. We have put forward a plan that is more generous to Republican concerns than a bipartisan plan that was supported by a number of Republican senators, including at least one that is in Republican leadership in the Senate. Now, I’ll leave it up to the American people to make a determination as to how fair that is. And if the leadership cannot come to an agreement in terms of how we move forward, then I think they will hold all of us accountable. But that shouldn’t even be an option. That should not be an option. I’m getting letters from people who write me and say, at the end of every month I have to skip meals. Senior citizens on Social Security who are just hanging on by a thread. Folks who have severe disabilities who are desperate every single month to try to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet. But it’s not just those folks. You’ve got business contractors who are providing services to the federal government, who have to wonder are they going to be able to get paid and what does that do in terms of their payrolls. You’ve got just a huge number of people who, in one way or another, interact with the federal government. And even if you don’t, even if you’re not a recipient of Social Security, even if you don’t get veterans’ benefits or disabilities, imagine what that does to the economy when suddenly 70 million checks are put at risk. I mean, if you’re a business out there, that is not going to be good for economic growth. And that’s the number one concern of the American people. So we’ve got to get it done. It is not an option not to do it.
Q And your degree of confidence?
THE PRESIDENT: I am confident simply because I cannot believe that Congress would end up being that irresponsible that they would not send a package that avoids a self-inflicted wound to the economy at a time when things are so difficult. Scott Horsley.
Q Mr. President, can you explain why you were offering a deal that was more generous than the Gang of Six, which you seemed to be embracing on Tuesday when you were here?
THE PRESIDENT: Because what had become apparent was that Speaker Boehner had some difficulty in his caucus. There are a group of his caucus that actually think default would be okay and have said that they would not vote for increasing the debt ceiling under any circumstances. And so I understand how they get themselves stirred up and the sharp ideological lines that they’ve drawn. And ultimately, my responsibility is to make sure that we avoid extraordinary difficulties to American people and American businesses. And so, unfortunately, when you’re in these negotiations you don’t get 100 percent of what you want. You may not even get 60 or 70 percent of what you want. But I was willing to try to persuade Democratic leadership as well as Democratic members of Congress that even a deal that is not as balanced as I think it should be is better than no deal at all. And I was willing to persuade Democrats that getting a handle on debt and deficit reduction is important to Democrats just as much as it’s important to Republicans — and, frankly, a lot of Democrats are persuaded by that. As I said in the last press conference, if you’re a progressive you should want to get our fiscal house in order, because once we do, it allows us to then have a serious conversation about the investments that we need to make — like infrastructure, like rebuilding our roads and our bridges and airports, like investing more in college education, like making sure that we’re focused on the kinds of research and technology that’s going to help us win the future. It’s a lot easier to do that when we’ve got our fiscal house in order. And that was an argument that I was willing to go out and make to a lot of skeptical Democrats, as you saw yesterday. But ultimately, that’s what we should expect from our leaders. If this was easy it would have already been done. And I think what a lot of the American people are so disappointed by is this sense that all the talk about responsibility, all the talk about the next generation, all the talk about making sacrifices, that when it comes to actually doing something difficult folks walk away. Last point I’ll make here. I mean, I’ve gone out of my way to say that both parties have to make compromises. I think this whole episode has indicated the degree to which at least a Democratic President has been willing to make some tough compromises. So when you guys go out there and write your stories, this is not a situation where somehow this was the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans. A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically. So we’ve shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue that Republicans ran on. Norah.
Q Mr. President, there seems to be an extraordinary breakdown of trust involved here. And I wonder if you could address what we’re hearing from Republicans, which is that there was a framework and a deal that was agreed with your chief of staff, with the Treasury Secretary, about a certain number of revenues, that the Republicans had agreed to that. And then after you brought that to your party and the discussion of that, the goal line was moved. Is this an example of where the goal line has moved and that that’s what has led to this breakdown in trust?
THE PRESIDENT: Norah, what I’ll do is we’ll do a tick-tock, we’ll go through all the paper. We’ll walk you through this process. What this came down to was that there doesn’t seem to be a capacity for them to say yes. Now, what is absolutely true is we wanted more revenue than they had initially offered. But as you’ll see, the spending cuts that we were prepared to engage in were at least as significant as the spending cuts that you’ve seen in a whole range of bipartisan proposals, and we had basically agreed within $10 billion, $20 billion — we were within that range. So that wasn’t the reason this thing broke down. We were consistent in saying that it was going to be important for us to have at least enough revenue that we could protect current beneficiaries of Social Security, for example, or current beneficiaries of Medicare; that we weren’t slashing Medicaid so sharply that states suddenly were going to have to throw people off the health care rolls. And we were consistent in that. So I want to be clear. I’m not suggesting that we had an agreement that was signed, sealed and delivered. The parties were still apart as recently as yesterday. But when you look at the overall package, there’s no changing of the goalposts here. There has been a consistency on our part in saying we’re willing to make the tough cuts and we’re willing to take on the heat for those difficult cuts, but that there’s got to be some balance in the process. What I’ve said publicly is the same thing that I’ve said privately. And I’ve done that consistently throughout this process. Now, with respect to this breakdown in trust, I think that we have operated aboveboard consistently. There haven’t been any surprises. I think the challenge really has to do with the seeming inability, particularly in the House of Representatives, to arrive at any kind of position that compromises any of their ideological preferences. None. And you’ve heard it. I mean, I’m not making this up. I think a number of members of that caucus have been very clear about that.
Q But they were willing to move on some revenues, apparently.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. But what you saw — and, again, you’ll see this from the description of the deal — essentially what they had agreed to give on is to get back to a baseline — this starts getting technical, but there were about $800 billion in revenue that were going to be available. And what we said was when you’ve got a ratio of $4 in cuts for every $1 of revenue, that’s pretty hard to stomach. And we think it’s important to make sure that whatever additional revenue is in there covers the amount of money that’s being taken out of entitlement programs. That’s only fair. If I’m saying to future recipients of Social Security or Medicare that you’re going to have to make some adjustments, it’s important that we’re also willing to make some adjustments when it comes to corporate jet owners, or oil and gas producers, or people who are making millions or billions of dollars. Wendell. Where’s Wendell? Wendell is not here. Lesley. Is Lesley here?
Q Yes, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: There you are.
Q Thank you. You’ve said that your bottom line has been the big deal; that’s not going to happen. Are you going to be willing to go back to just raising the debt ceiling still?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I’ve been consistently saying here in this press room and everywhere that it is very important for us to raise the debt ceiling. We don’t have an option on that. So if that’s the best that Congress can do, then I will sign a extension of the debt ceiling that takes us through 2013. I don’t think that’s enough. I think we should do more. That’s the bare minimum; that’s the floor of what the American people expect us to do. So I’d like to see us do more. And when I meet with the leadership tomorrow I’m going to say let’s do more. But if they tell me that’s the best they can do, then I will sign an extension that goes to 2013, and I will make the case to the American people that we’ve got to continue going out there and solving this problem. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s time to do it. We can’t keep on putting it off.
Q You suggested that Speaker Boehner didn’t return phone calls this afternoon. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I’m less concerned about me having to wait for my phone call returned than I am the message that I received when I actually got the phone call. I’m going to make this the last question. Go ahead.
Q Yes, the markets are closed right now, obviously. What assurances can you give people on Wall Street? Are you going to be reaching out to some people on Wall Street so that when Monday comes we don’t see a reaction to the news that’s developing right now?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s very important that the leadership understands that Wall Street will be opening on Monday, and we better have some answers during the course of the next several days.
Q What can you say to people who are watching who work on Wall Street who might find this news a bit alarming, perhaps?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think what you should say — well, here’s what I’d say: I remain confident that we will get an extension of the debt limit and we will not default. I am confident of that. I am less confident at this point that people are willing to step up to the plate and actually deal with the underlying problem of debt and deficits. That requires tough choices. That’s what we were sent here to do. I mean, the debt ceiling, that’s a formality. Historically, this has not even been an issue. It’s an unpleasant vote but it’s been a routine vote that Congress does periodically. It was raised 18 times when Ronald Reagan was President. Ronald Reagan said default is not an option, that it would be hugely damaging to the prestige of the United States and we shouldn’t even consider it. So that’s the easy part. We should have done that six months ago. The hard part is actually dealing with the underlying debt and deficits, and doing it in a way that’s fair. That’s all the American people are looking for — some fairness. I can’t tell you how many letters and emails I get, including from Republican voters, who say, look, we know that neither party is blameless when it comes to how this deft and deficit developed — there’s been a lot of blame to spread around — but we sure hope you don’t just balance the budget on the backs of seniors. We sure hope that we’re not slashing our commitment to make sure kids can go to college. We sure hope that we’re not suddenly throwing a bunch of poor kids off the Medicaid rolls so they can’t get basic preventative services that keep them out of the emergency room. That’s all they’re looking for, is some fairness. Now, what you’re going to hear, I suspect, is, well, if you — if the Senate is prepared to pass the cap, cut and balance bill, the Republican plan, then somehow we can solve this problem — that’s serious debt reduction. It turns out, actually, that the plan that Speaker Boehner and I were talking about was comparable in terms of deficit reduction. The difference was that we didn’t put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves, who don’t have lobbyists in this town, who don’t have lawyers working on the tax code for them — working stiffs out there, ordinary folks who are struggling every day. And they know they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re mad at everybody about it. They’re mad at Democrats and they’re mad at Republicans, because they know somehow, no matter how hard they work, they don’t seem to be able to keep up. And what they’re looking for is somebody who’s willing to look out for them. That’s all they’re looking for. And for us not to be keeping those folks in mind every single day when we’re up here, for us to be more worried about what some funder says, or some talk radio show host says, or what some columnist says, or what pledge we signed back when we were trying to run, or worrying about having a primary fight — for us to be thinking in those terms instead of thinking about those folks is inexcusable. I mean, the American people are just desperate for folks who are willing to put aside politics just for a minute and try to get some stuff done. So when Norah asked or somebody else asked why was I willing to go along with a deal that wasn’t optimal from my perspective, it was because even if I didn’t think the deal was perfect, at least it would show that this place is serious, that we’re willing to take on our responsibilities even when it’s tough, that we’re willing to step up even when the folks who helped get us elected may disagree.
And at some point, I think if you want to be a leader, then you got to lead.
Thank you very much.
OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFERS ADDITIONAL MORTGAGE RELIEF TO UNEMPLOYED HOMEOWNERS
Adjustments to FHA and MHA requirements to allow 12-month Forbearances
(Washington, DC)- Today, the Obama Administration announced adjustments to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) requirements that will require servicers to extend the forbearance period for unemployed homeowners to 12 months. The Administration also intends to require servicers participating in the Making Home Affordable Program (MHA) to extend the minimum forbearance period to 12 months wherever possible under regulator and investor guidelines. These adjustments will provide much needed assistance for unemployed homeowners trying to stay in their homes while seeking re-employment. These changes are intended to set a standard for the mortgage industry to provide more robust assistance to unemployed homeowners in the economic downturn.
The changes to FHA’s Special Forbearance Program announced today will require servicers to extend the forbearance period for FHA borrowers who qualify for the program from four months to 12 months and remove upfront hurdles to make it easier for unemployed borrowers to qualify.
“The current unemployment forbearance programs have mandatory periods that are inadequate for the majority of unemployed borrowers,” U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said. “Today, 60 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than three months and 45 percent have been out of work for more than six. Providing the option for a year of forbearance will give struggling homeowners a substantially greater chance of finding employment before they lose their home.”
Changes to MHA’s Home Affordable Unemployment Program (UP) will require participating servicers to extend the minimum forbearance period from 3 months to 12 months for eligible unemployed homeowners, whenever possible subject to investor and regulator guidance for each mortgage loan. Additionally, forbearance under UP will become available to borrowers who are seriously delinquent.
All FHA-approved servicers must participate in FHA’s Loss Mitigation Program, which includes the Special Forbearance program. In addition to extending the forbearance period and removing the up-front hurdles for borrowers, the FHA also reemphasized its requirement that servicers conduct a review at the end of the forbearance period to evaluate the borrower for all additional, applicable foreclosure assistance programs and notify the borrower in writing whether or not he/she qualifies for any other available option. If the borrower does not qualify for any foreclosure assistance option, the servicer must provide the borrower with the reason for denial and allow the borrower at least seven calendar days to submit additional information that may impact the servicer’s evaluation.
These reforms build on successful Administration initiatives to support unemployed borrowers through the $7.6 billion Hardest Hit Fund and the $1 billion Emergency Homeowner Loan Program (EHLP). The Hardest Hit Fund, first announced in February 2010, provides support to 18 states and the District of Columbia, which represent the areas hardest hit by steep home price declines and unemployment, to design and implement programs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. Participating states have dedicated approximately seventy percent of program funds toward programs to help homeowners struggling with unemployment or underemployment. As of this month, each participating state is accepting applications from borrowers and providing direct mortgage assistance to those that qualify.
The EHLP program complements the Hardest Hit Fund, by serving the remaining 32 states and Puerto Rico. Congress provided $1 billion dollars to HUD, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to implement the recently launched program. EHLP assists homeowners who have experienced a reduction in income and are at risk of foreclosure due to involuntary unemployment, underemployment due to economic conditions or a medical condition. EHLP is expected to aid up to 30,000 distressed borrowers, with an average loan of approximately $35,000.
BREAKING NEWS: PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA ON WITHDRAWING TROOPS FROM AFGHANISTAN: “TIME TO FOCUS ON NATION BUILDING AT HOME”
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
On the Way Forward in Afghanistan
June 22, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery—
Good evening. Nearly ten years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor. This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security – one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives.
In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, our focus shifted. A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there. By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda, and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.
Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11. One soldier summed it up well. “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”
The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain. Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda has been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that have been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam – thereby draining more widespread support. Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.
In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds. Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country. Afghan Security Forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we have already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people. In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.
Of course, huge challenges remain. This is the beginning – but not the end – of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we drawdown our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government. And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.
We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement. So as we strengthen the Afghan government and Security Forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. Our position on these talks is clear: they must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution. But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.
The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies. We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people; and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace. What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures – one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.
Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan. No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.
My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country. We have learned anew the profound cost of war — a cost that has been paid by the nearly 4500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1500 who have done so in Afghanistan – men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended. Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the field of battle, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.
Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We have ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.
As they do, we must learn their lessons. Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world. Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America over-extend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.
We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force – but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action, which we are doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their destiny.
In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power – it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep and no horizon is beyond our reach.
America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf. To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care, and benefits, and opportunity that you deserve.
I met some of those patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell. A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden. Standing in front of a model of bin Laden’s compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost – brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten. This officer – like so many others I have met with on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital – spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one – depending on each other, and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril.
That’s a lesson worth remembering – that we are all a part of one American family. Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish. Now, let us finish the work at hand. Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story. With confidence in our cause; with faith in our fellow citizens; and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America – for this generation, and the next. May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.
FACT SHEET: “A Moment of Opportunity” in the Middle East and North Africa
“So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
President Barack Obama
May 19, 2011 Washington, DC
Today, recognizing the irreversible changes that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, President Obama announced a new approach to promoting democratic reform, economic development, and peace and security across the region.
Aligning Our Interests and Our Values: The President reaffirmed his commitment to a set of core principles that have guided the U.S. response to events in the Middle East and North Africa for the past six months. First, the United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. Second, we support a set of universal rights including free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; equality for men and women under the rule of law; the right to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination; and the right to choose your own leaders through democratic elections. Third, we support political and economic change in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the people throughout the region.
Our support for these principles is a top priority and central to the pursuit of other interests in the region. The U.S. will marshal all our diplomatic, economic, and strategic tools to support these principles. The status quo is not fair, nor stable. And it can no longer secure the core interests of the United States. Ultimately, our values and our interests will be better advanced by a region that is more democratic and prosperous.
Promoting Democratic Reform: It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy. Real and durable democratic change in Tunisia and Egypt could have a transformative effect on the region and beyond. We will support free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society,basic rights to speak your mind and access information, and strong democratic institutions in both nations. We will empower women as drivers of peace and prosperity, supporting their right to run for office and meaningfully participate in decision-making because, around the world, history shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are more empowered. And we will deliver an economic program that reinforces our strong support for the transitions that are now underway.
The United States will also stand up for human rights and democracy in those countries where transitions have yet to take place. We will make the case to our partners that reform is in our shared interest. We will be a strong voice for democratic reform – a message we will deliver consistently, at high-levels, and across the U.S. government. We will strengthen and protect advocates for reform. Our message to governments in the region will be simple and clear: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the support and partnership of the United States.
A New Chapter of American Diplomacy: As the U.S. continues to work with governments, we will broaden and elevate our engagement with the people of the region. Building on our efforts since Cairo, our engagement will reach beyond elites and extend beyond capitals, cultivating reformist voices both inside and outside government. We will engage with and listen to those that will shape the future, particularly young people and women. Across the region, we will provide assistance to legitimate and independent groups, including some not officially recognized by governments. And we will expand and deepen our ties with entrepreneurs, and our cooperation on science and technology. We will engage, too, with all groups that reject violence, support democratic practices, and respect the rights of minorities, even if we don’t agree with them. Using the same connective technologies that helped power the protests, we will connect and listen to the people of the region and factor the concerns of all these individuals and groups into our policy choices.
Making this strategic shift in our own approach will not always be easy. It demands that we renew and reshape our partnerships with governments in the region, and forge a deeper connection to a new generation that is desperate for a new beginning. President Obama will issue a Presidential Directive in the coming weeks to direct his Cabinet and national security team to put this new approach into action.
The United States is already putting this approach into practice across the region:
- Bahrain: The United States is committed to Bahrain’s security. However, we believe that reform is the only path to enduring stability in Bahrain and that both sides must compromise to forge a just future for all Bahrainis. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
- Egypt: The United States supports an orderly, peaceful, and legitimate transition to a representative and responsive government committed to democratic principles in Egypt. It is important to empower positive models, and Egypt is critical as the largest Arab country and an enduring partner of the United States. We are encouraged by some of the steps that the interim government has taken on the political front, and we support a fully transparent and inclusive process moving forward. The U.S. is working with the international community to identify ways to stabilize Egypt’s economy in the short-term and promote economic policies for the medium and long-term that will help ensure economic prosperity accompanies the transition.
- Jordan: The United States is committed to our long-standing partnership with Jordan – a regional leader on political and economic reform. We recognize the government’s efforts to respond to the legitimate demands of citizens through the National Dialogue Committee, and urge Jordan’s leadership to seize this opportunity to advance meaningful reforms. U.S economic assistance supports Jordan’s economic growth and development and promotes political, economic, and social reforms though programs in judicial reform, education, public health, job creation, and youth empowerment. We are also working with non-governmental partners is Jordan to cultivate a vibrant civil society. The United States also remains committed to Jordan’s security and continues to provide security assistance aimed at, among other things, modernizing the Jordanian military and enhancing border security.
- Libya: The United States led an international effort to intervene in Libya to stop a massacre – joining with with our allies at the UN Security Council to pass a historic resolution that authorized a no-fly zone and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people. At the start of the air campaign, the President pledged to the American people that U.S. military action would be limited in duration and scope and that we would ultimately transition from a U.S. to a coalition lead. The President has made good on that pledge. Now that we have transitioned to a NATO lead, we will continue to play an important role in the international community’s effort to put pressure on Col. Qaddafi and to protect innocent civilians that his regime continues to attack. The President has made clear, Qaddafi has lost the confidence of the Libyan people and he must go. At the same time, the United States is engaging and assisting the Transitional National Council, a legitimate and credible interlocutor, which is committed to an inclusive, democratic political transition in Libya. We are also working to address humanitarian needs in Libya and along its borders.
- Morocco: The United States supports Morocco’s efforts to promote ongoing democratic development through constitutional, judicial, and political reforms. We recognize the Moroccan government’s efforts to respond the demands of its citizens and we urge the government to implement these crucial reforms. We are working with the people and the government of Morocco to support their efforts to consolidate the rule of law, protect human rights, improve governance, empower youth, and works towards meaningful constitutional reform. This includes a robust dialogue on human rights and political freedom.
- Syria: The United States condemns the Syrian government’s murder and mass arrests of its people. We have imposed additional sanctions on the regime, including on President Assad and his inner circle. We stand by the Syrian people who have shown their courage in demanding dignity and a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.
- Tunisia: The United States is committed to supporting the Tunisian people as they build the stronger democratic foundations needed for long-term stability and broad-based economic growth. We welcome the significant steps that have been taken to advance the democratic transition, and will support Tunisians inside and outside of government as they hold democratic elections, craft a new constitution, and implement a broad-based reform agenda. We will support a new partnership between Tunisian civil society groups and technology companies in order to get more information, communications capacity available broadly throughout society.
- Yemen: The United States supports the aspirations of the Yemeni people for a more stable, unified, and prosperous nation, and we are committed to assisting them in this courageous pursuit. We are also committed to assisting Yemen to eradicate the security threat from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. We support a peaceful and orderly transfer of power that begins immediately.
Supporting Economic Development: To ensure that democratic change is reinforced by increasing economic opportunity, the President laid out a new economic vision for the region to support nations that commit to transition to democracy. We will also focus on rooting out corruption and other barriers to progress. Our efforts will create incentives for nations to pursue a path to democracy and modern economies and will also help tap the enormous potential of the region’s young people. Our approach is based around four key pillars – support for economic policy formulation, support for economic stability, support for economic modernization, and the development of a framework for trade integration and investment.
- Support for Better Economic Management: We will offer concrete support to foster improved economic policy formulation and management alongside our democratization efforts. We will focus not only on promoting economic fundamentals, but also transparency and the prevention of corruption. We will use our bilateral programs to support economic reform preparations, including outreach and technical assistance from our governments, universities, and think tanks to regional governments that have embraced reform, individuals, and NGOs. We will mobilize the knowledge and expertise of international financial institutions to support home grown reforms that increase accountability.
- Support for Economic Stability: Egypt and Tunisia have begun their transitions. Their economic outlooks were positive before recent events, but they are now facing a series of economic dislocations.
o Galvanizing Financial Support: We are galvanizing financial support from international financial institutions and Egypt and Tunisia’s regional partners to help meet near term financial needs.
o Turning the Debts of the Past Into Investments in the Future: The United States will relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt by designing a debt swap arrangement, and swap it in a way that allows Egypt to invest these resources in creating jobs and fostering entrepreneurship.
- Support for Economic Modernization: We realize that the modernization of the economies in Middle East and North Africa will require a stronger private sector. To address that, we are committed to working with our international counterparts to support a reorientation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support countries in the region. The Bank played a crucial role in supporting democratization and economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe and can make a great contribution in Middle East and North Africa as well. We also seek to establish Egyptian-American and Tunisian-American Enterprise Funds to stimulate private sector investment, to promote projects and procedures that support competitive markets, and to encourage public/private partnerships. And as Secretary Clinton announced in Cairo, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will provide up to $2 billion dollars in financial support for private sectors throughout the MENA region.
- Develop a Framework for Trade Integration and Investment: The United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. We will work with the European Union as we launch step-by-step initiatives that will facilitate more robust trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote greater integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.
(For more detail, see the Economic Support for the Middle East and North Africa Fact Sheet, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/18/factsheet-economic-support-middle-east-and-north-africa)
Promoting Peace and Security: Even as we change our policy approach in response to political and economic changes in region, the United States maintains its commitment to pursue peace and stability in the region. We remain committed to our non-proliferation agenda in the region and worldwide and continue to demand that Iran meets its international obligation to halt its nuclear weapons program. Our counterterrorism agenda is as robust as ever, as evidenced by the recent takedown of Osama bin Laden. We will continue to take the fight to al Qa`ida and its affiliates wherever they are.
The Broad Outlines of Middle East Peace: The President seeks to shape an environment in which negotiations can restart when the parties are ready. He intends to do this laying out principles on territorial borders and security.
On territory, the boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. On security the Palestinian state must be non-militarized, and the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces would be geared to the ability of Palestinian security forces and other arrangements as agreed to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; stop the infiltration of weapons; and provide effective border security. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and may vary for different areas like borders. But it must be sufficient to demonstrate the effectiveness and credibility of security arrangements. Once Palestinians can be confident in the outlines of their state, and Israelis are confident that the new Palestinian state will not imperil its security, the parties will be in a position to grapple with the core issues of refugees and Jerusalem.
Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
Ending the Combat Mission in Iraq, Building a Strategic Partnership: President Obama kept his commitment to responsibly end our combat mission in Iraq, bringing home 100,000 troops and transitioning to a full Iraqi lead for security in the country. Consistent with the 2008 Security Agreement, the United States intends to withdraw our remaining troops by the end of the year, while our civilians strengthen an enduring partnership with the Iraqi people and government in economic, diplomatic, cultural, and security fields.
Surged in Afghanistan: The strategy in Afghanistan is working. With the addition of 30,000 U.S. forces, nearly 10,000 coalition forces, and almost 1000 civilians, the surge is achieving its intended effect. We have arrested the Taliban’s momentum and placed the insurgency under significant military pressure. Increasingly, our collective efforts are focused intensely on providing trainers and funding for Afghan National Security Forces to support their assuming lead security responsibility, significantly growing the Afghan Security Forces to nearly 300,000. Even as we begin to reduce our U.S. combat forces this July, and increasingly focus on advising and assisting the Afghan security forces, we are working toward completion of a renewed partnership agreement with the Afghans that will affirm our enduring commitment to stability in Afghanistan. Finally, we are equally committed to an Afghan-led political process toward a peaceful resolution.
Focused on Al Qa`ida: We have applied unprecedented pressure to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qa`ida and its adherents. We have disrupted plots at home, and increased military, intelligence, and diplomatic support to expand the capacity of our partners from Pakistan to Yemen; from Southeast Asia to Somalia. Over half of Al Qa`ida’s top leadership has been killed or captured, including, most recently, Al Qa`ida’s leader, Osama bin Laden. As the President noted in announcing Bin Laden’s death to the American people, his demise does not mark the end of our effort, as al-Qa`ida remains intent on and capable of striking the United States and our partners.
Political Change in the Middle East and North Africa: The United States has demonstrated with its response to the political change in the Middle East and North Africa that promoting representative, responsive governance is a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy and directly contributes to our counterterrorism goals. Governments that place the will of their people first and encourage peaceful change through their policies, systems, and actions directly contradict the al-Qa`ida ideology, which at its core advocates for violent change and dismisses the right of the people to choose how they will be governed. Effective governance reduces the traction and space for al-Qa`ida, limiting its resonance and contributing to what it most fears—irrelevance.
Standing Up for Universal Rights in Iran: The Administration has strongly condemned Iran’s violent repression at home and will continue to call on the government of Iran to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble and communicate. Just as we hold Iran accountable for its defiance of its international obligations on the nuclear program, we will continue to take actions to hold the Iranian government accountable for its gross human rights violations, including by designating Iranian officials and entities engaged in such violations. We will continue to provide capacity building training and new media tools to help Iranian citizens and civil society make their voices heard in calling for greater freedoms, transparency, and rule of law from their government.
When President Barack Obama announced to the world late Sunday that Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid of his compound in Abbottadad, Pakistan, an air of suspicion was born. The doubters and conspiracy theorists have concocted full narratives as to the ‘true’ story of the demise of Bin Laden. Some say Osama Bin Laden died in 2007 from complications of kidney failure. Others say he was killed around 2006. Still, several days after DNA confirmation, a small but growing segment of Americans and world watchers alike are doubtful of the U.S. government’s proclamation that Bin Laden is dead and was buried at sea. They want evidence. Photographic proof.
It appears that the Obama White House is caving in to the pressure to release death photos of Osama Bin Laden. CIA Director Leon Panetta said that the administration knows that it has to “reveal to the rest of the world” photographic documentation of Osama Bin Laden in death. However, sources note that Osama Bin Laden was shot in the head, near the left eye with a powerful, technologically advanced firearm. What does that mean? That perhaps the whole side of Bin Laden’s head was obliterated?
Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the administration is “taking into consideration” the release of the Bin Laden death photos even though these could be “inflammatory.” Carney also admitted that the photos are “gruesome” and that “there are sensitivities here in the terms of the appropriateness of releasing photos of Osama Bin Laden after the fire fight and the sensitivities involved.”
However, the press is hot on the trail of those death pictures. If these are as “gruesome” as the White House would have the public believe, why is there an outcry to see them? Maybe it is the craving for senastionalism that the media has nurtured in the minds of the public. The desire to feed off of violence is thoroughly ingrained in the psyche of Americans due to insidious, horrifically violent movies thick with grotesque killings and murders. Prime time tv is filled to the brim with CSI dramas and programming about rogue medical examiners. And this is not the “Quincy” or “Kojak” type of fare either. Crime on television shows have gone high tech and very graphic. There are scenes of dead bodies, decomposing in the alley or the park. Television crime is more visual than ever before. Local news stations are notorious for the adoption of the mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” five and six o’clock daily news broadcasts. YouTube, cable news websites, and blogs all feature uncanny fascination stories about the dead. Such as the story about a Puerto Rican man standing at his own funeral. Or video surveillance of a man being shot to death outside a neighborhood store while talking on his cell phone. Crime sites awash with fresh spilled blood on the sidewalk or floor of a home, splattered blood on a terrorist bombed bus, the video cam operator can not resist. Or is it really the appetite of the public?
With this in mind, is it really a stretch of the imagination that the world and the press want to see a dead Osama Bin Laden in all his blown out head glory? If the White House concedes that the death photos are “gruesome,” will the pictures be subjected to photo-shopping? If the decision of photo-shopping or cropping is done, won’t that affect the authenticity of the death shot that the public and Al Qaeda want to view? Will those who scream ‘conspiracy!’ or ‘Osama is alive!’ be satisfied with the release of the death photo of Bin Laden? Will Al Qaeda throw its’ hands up and scatter like rats into a hole, giving up on their murderous philosophy because their leader was killed? Probably not. So why should the White House even consider releasing these pictures? Why did the White House consider and release President Obama’s long form birth certificate only to have the President admit that the whole matter was “silly” to begin with?
The Washington Review and Commentary will not be among those blogs and news outlets who will run the death pictures of Osama Bin Laden. That is, if the Obama administration decides to release these photos. There is too much hatred, anger, and all around hostility in the world today against America for the justification of publishing such “gruesome” pictures. Also, what earthly good will publishing pictures of a dead Osama Bin Laden with a huge, gapping hole in his head, possibly no face or eyes, do for the media and the public? For the press and the media in general, high ratings and millions of hits for blogs and websites. For the public? A freak show, free for all frenzy to gaze upon death without emotion or understanding causing an even more intense case of desensitizing. No matter how it is viewed through the prism of ethics, politics, religion, and morality, the decision to release the death pictures of Osama Bin Laden, or not, should be a no brainer.
If the Obama administration concedes to this demand, like it conceded to Donald Trump with the release of President Obama’s long form birth certificate, what does that really say? That the Obama White House can be bullied into more “silliness” and has become a part of the “side show” that it claims to detest.
Late Sunday evening, President Barack Obama announced to the nation and the world that U.S. forces discovered the hiding place of known world terrorist Osama Bin Laden and that he had been killed. The President remarked in his dramatic statement that at his direction “the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
President Obama was notified in September of last year by the CIA of the possible location of Osama Bin Laden. By mid-February, special operation forces had solid intelligence that confirmed Bin Laden was residing at a unique mansion compound thirty-five miles north of Islamabad. President Obama authorized the compound raid on Friday. The compound where Bin Laden was hiding was built in 2005 on a secluded plot of land. The mansion was eight times larger than any of the homes in the neighborhood and featured 12 – 18 foot walls with barbed wire. To provide extra privacy and security, the main structure of the compound mansion had internal walls that seperated different parts of the homes, two security gates, very few windows and a seven foot wall located outside of the terrace on the third floor. The compound, is said to be worth a million dollars, however there were no signs of a telephone, Internet service, or wealth. The compound was obviously “custom built to hide someone of significance,” White House officials acknowledge.
Living at the compound were various members of the Bin Laden family, including two of Osama Bin Laden’s brothers, and his youngest wife. Sunday afternoon, Navy Seals conducted a helicopter raid on the Bin Laden compound. The raid on the compound lasted for forty minutes and three men were killed in addition to Bin Laden, who was shot in the head. Two are believed to be couriers and the third was Bin Laden’s son. Two women were injured and one was killed when she was used as a human shield. Children were also found living at the compound.
Senior administration officials noted early Monday morning that the U.S. did not share the intelligence on Osama Bin Laden with any other country because “we believed it was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel. In fact, only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance.”
Osama Bin Laden was the leader of Al Qaeda, a militant extremist Islamic organization responsible for murderous terrorist activities throughout the world. Al Qaeda unleashed a horrific attack upon the United States on September 11, 2001 when 19 Al Qaeda members hijacked several airplanes, crashing two into the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed into a rural field near Pennsylvania. There were a total of 2,996 deaths as a result. 246 victims from the plane crashes, 2,606 in the Twin Towers and emergency rescue workers, and 125 deaths at the Pentagon. To date, the identity of 1,629 victims of the attack have been identified.
Osama Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea. U.S. officials remarked solemnly that “we are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. This is something that we take very seriously. And so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.”
Senior administration officials told reporters that the raid was a “kill mission” not a capture mission. “There’s also no doubt that the death of Osama bin Laden marks the single greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda. It is a major and essential step in bringing about al Qaeda’s eventual destruction,” the White House stated Monday via teleconference.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON OSAMA BIN LADEN
11:35 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.
And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.
On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.
We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda — an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.
Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort. We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.
Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.
And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.
Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.
For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.
So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.
Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.
Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.
And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.
The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
WEEKLY ADDRESS: “Reducing Spending While Still Investing in the Future is Just Common Sense”
WASHINGTON – In his weekly address, President Obama praised the agreement reached to avert a government shutdown, which will invest in the country’s future while making the largest annual spending cut in history. Just as both parties were able to find common ground on the tax cuts the President signed into law a few months ago, they worked through their differences on this budget. Politicians in Washington have the responsibility to continue to come together as they face the many difficult challenges that lie ahead – from creating jobs and growing our economy to educating our children and reducing our long-term deficits.
The audio of the address is and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, April 9, 2011.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Last night, after weeks of long and difficult negotiations over our national budget, leaders of both parties came together to avert a government shutdown, cut spending, and invest in our future.
This is good news for the American people. It means that small businesses can get the loans they need, our families can get the mortgages they applied for, folks can visit our national parks and museums, and hundreds of thousands of Americans will get their paychecks on time – including our brave men and women in uniform.
This is an agreement to invest in our country’s future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. Like any compromise, this required everyone to give ground on issues that were important to them. I certainly did. Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful – programs people rely on will be cut back; needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances. But we also prevented this important debate from being overtaken by politics and unrelated disagreements on social issues. And beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect the investments that will help America compete for new jobs – investments in our kids’ education and student loans; in clean energy and life-saving medical research.
Reducing spending while still investing in the future is just common sense. That’s what families do in tough times. They sacrifice where they can, even if it’s hard, to afford what’s really important.
A few months ago, I was able to sign a tax cut for American families because both parties worked through their differences and found common ground. Now, the same cooperation has made it possible for us to move forward with the biggest annual spending cut in history. And it’s my sincere hope that we can continue to come together as we face the many difficult challenges that lie ahead – from creating jobs and growing our economy to educating our children and reducing our long-term deficits.
That’s our responsibility. That’s what the American people expect us to do. And it’s what the American people deserve.
Statement by the President on the 17th Anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda
Seventeen years ago today, the world watched as an unimaginable slaughter began to unfold in Rwanda. One hundred horrific days later, more than 800,000 innocent people—men, women, and children—lay dead in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Today, we join the Rwandan people in honoring the memory of the loved ones they lost so senselessly, and we reaffirm the lessons of that tragic chapter in history. For just as the Rwandan genocide exposed man’s capacity for evil, it also revealed man’s capacity for good—courageous Rwandans who risked their lives to save friends and neighbors from the massacre. As an international community, we must summon the same courage to ensure that such mass atrocities and genocides never happen again.
Today we also reflect on Rwanda’s progress. Out of the ruins of genocide, Rwandans have welcomed home refugees and former combatants and worked to build a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic society for all it citizens. And as a leading contributor to peacekeeping missions around the world, Rwanda reminds us of our obligations to each other as fellow human beings, and our shared responsibility to prevent attacks on innocent civilians, as the international community is doing today in Libya. As they reflect on this painful day, Rwandans must know that the United States will be their partner in pursuit of the secure and peaceful future that they and their children deserve.
BREAKING NEWS: REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON BUDGET TALKS: “WE HAVE MADE SOME PROGRESS TODAY; GOING TO BE WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK TO CLOSE A DEAL”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON BUDGET TALKS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
9:33 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I just completed another meeting with Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid, and I wanted to report again to the American people that we made some additional progress this evening. I think the staffs of both the House and the Senate, as well as the White House staff, have been working very hard to try to narrow the differences. We made some progress today. Those differences have been narrowed. And so once again the staff is going to be working tonight around the clock in order to see if we can finally close a deal.
But there is still a few issues that are outstanding. They’re difficult issues. They’re important to both sides. And so I’m not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday.
I want to reiterate to people why this is so important. We’re now less than 30 hours away from the government shutting down. That means, first of all, 800,000 families — our neighbors, our friends, who are working hard all across the country in a whole variety of functions — they suddenly are not allowed to come to work. It also means that they’re not getting a paycheck. That obviously has a tremendous impact.
You then have millions more people who end up being impacted because they’re not getting the services from the federal government that are important to them. So small businesses aren’t seeing their loans processed. Folks who want to get a mortgage through the FHA may not be able to get it, and obviously that’s not good as weak as this housing market is. You’ve got people who are trying to get a passport for a trip that they’ve been planning for a long time — they may not be able to do that. So millions more people will be significantly inconvenienced; in some ways, they may end up actually seeing money lost or opportunities lost because of a government shutdown.
And then finally, there’s going to be an effect on the economy overall. Earlier today one of our nation’s top economists said — and I’m quoting here — “The economic damage from a government shutdown would mount very quickly. And the longer it dragged on, the greater the odds of a renewed recession.”
We’ve been working very hard over the last two years to get this economy back on its feet. We’ve now seen 13 months of job growth; a hundred — 1.8 million new jobs. We had the best report, jobs report, that we’d seen in a very long time just this past Friday. For us to go backwards because Washington couldn’t get its act together is unacceptable.
So, again: 800,000 federal workers and their families impacted; millions of people who are reliant on government services not getting those services — businesses, farmers, veterans; and finally, overall impact on the economy that could end up severely hampering our recovery and our ability to put people back to work.
That’s what’s at stake. That’s why it’s important to the American people. That’s why I’m expecting that as a consequence of the good work that’s done by our staffs tonight, that we can reach an agreement tomorrow.
But let me just point out one last thing. What I’ve said to the Speaker and what I’ve said to Harry Reid is because the machinery of the shutdown is necessarily starting to move, I expect an answer in the morning. And my hope is, is that I’ll be able to announce to the American people sometime relatively early in the day that a shutdown has been averted, that a deal has been completed that has very meaningful cuts in a wide variety of categories, that helps us move in the direction of living within our means, but preserves our investments in things like education and innovation, research, that are going to be important for our long-term competitiveness.
That’s what I hope to be able to announce tomorrow. There’s no certainty yet, but I expect an answer sometime early in the day.
All right. Thank you very much, everybody.
Today, we are filing papers to launch our 2012 campaign.
We’re doing this now because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you—with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends. And that kind of campaign takes time to build.
So even though I’m focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today.
We’ve always known that lasting change wouldn’t come quickly or easily. It never does. But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we’ve made—and make more—we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest.
As we take this step, I’d like to share a video that features some folks like you who are helping to lead the way on this journey. Please take a moment to watch the video.
In the coming days, supporters like you will begin forging a new organization that we’ll build together in cities and towns across the country. And I’ll need you to help shape our plan as we create a campaign that’s farther reaching, more focused, and more innovative than anything we’ve built before.
We’ll start by doing something unprecedented: coordinating millions of one-on-one conversations between supporters across every single state, reconnecting old friends, inspiring new ones to join the cause, and readying ourselves for next year’s fight.
This will be my final campaign, at least as a candidate. But the cause of making a lasting difference for our families, our communities, and our country has never been about one person. And it will succeed only if we work together.
There will be much more to come as the race unfolds. Today, simply let us know you’re in to help us begin, and then spread the word.
Statement by the President on the Violence in Afghanistan
Today, the American people honor those who were lost in the attack on the United Nations in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and to the people of the nations that they came from. The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity. No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act. Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the UN workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan.
Readout of the President’s Meeting on Egypt
At 1:00 pm today, the President convened a meeting of his national security team at the White House. Participants included Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan, National Security Advisor to the Vice President Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, Senior Director for the Central Region Dennis Ross, Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro, Chief of Staff Bill Daley, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and Senior Advisor David Plouffe. The meeting lasted just over an hour. The President was updated on the situation in Egypt. He reiterated our focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights; and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform within Egypt.
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
State of the Union Address
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery—
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. And as we mark this occasion, we are also mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber, and pray for the health of our colleague – and our friend – Gabby Giffords.
It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.
But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference.
We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.
That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.
Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.
I believe we can. I believe we must. That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.
At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.
We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.
But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.
That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of the new investments they make this year. These steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.
But we have more work to do. The steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession – but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.
Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck, good benefits, and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.
That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts of once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear – proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.
They’re right. The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an internet connection.
Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.
So yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember – for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We are home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any other place on Earth.
What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.
Now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.
The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.
None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.
Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.
Just think of all the good jobs – from manufacturing to retail – that have come from those breakthroughs.
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
Already, we are seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.
Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”
That’s what Americans have done for over two hundred years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money. We’re issuing a challenge. We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.
At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.
Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us – as citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.
That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.
Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all fifty states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”
Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than one percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. These standards were developed, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.
You see, we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities.
Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado; located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their family to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said “Thank you, Mrs. Waters, for showing… that we are smart and we can make it.”
Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.
Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within reach of every American. That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit – worth $10,000 for four years of college.
Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we are also revitalizing America’s community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams too. As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”
If we take these steps – if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they’re born until the last job they take – we will reach the goal I set two years ago: by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.
Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.
The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information – from high-speed rail to high-speed internet.
Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”
We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and constructed the interstate highway system. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.
Over the last two years, we have begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. Tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble these efforts.
We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians.
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.
Within the next five years, we will make it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans. This isn’t just about a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.
All these investments – in innovation, education, and infrastructure – will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.
Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.
So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.
To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 – because the more we export, the more jobs we create at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor; Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.
Before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers, and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia, and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.
To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people. That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century. It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws. It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.
Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.
What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition. I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business owner from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their parents’ coverage. So instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.
Now, the final step – a critical step – in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.
We are living with a legacy of deficit-spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.
But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.
So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.
I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.
Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12% of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won’t.
The bipartisan Fiscal Commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it – in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.
This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. Health insurance reform will slow these rising costs, which is part of why nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.
To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. And we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.
And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.
It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.
In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.
So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.
Let me take this one step further. We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.
We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.
Now, we have made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote – and we will push to get it passed.
In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.
A 21st century government that’s open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that’s driven by new skills and ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.
Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West; no one rival superpower is aligned against us.
And so we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity. And because we have begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.
Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.
We have also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.
In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe-havens are shrinking. And we have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.
American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START Treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.
This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility – helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.
Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power – it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan – with our assistance – the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we want to be free.”
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.
We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.
Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.
We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools; changing the way we use energy; reducing our deficit – none of this is easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every law.
Of course, some countries don’t have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they get a railroad – no matter how many homes are bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.
And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.
We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything’s possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.
That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working class kid from Scranton can stand behind me. That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.
That dream – that American Dream – is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.
Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. One day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.
But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left for Chile.
Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000 foot hole into the ground, working three or four days at a time with no sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged. He had already gone home, back to work on his next project.
Later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”
We do big things.
From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.
We are a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company. I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree. I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try. I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will.”
We do big things.
The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.
Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America.