US President Barack Obama, in his first speech to a joint session of Congress, promised Americans fearful about the deepening economic crisis that he would lead the country from its dire “day of reckoning” to a brighter future.
Addressing a nationwide TV audience on Tuesday night, Obama balanced a somber assessment of the US’ economic woes with a revival of the words of hope that were the trademark of his presidential campaign.
“While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before,” Obama said.
To deal with the deepening recession, Obama said more money would be needed to rescue troubled banks beyond the US$700 billion already committed last year. He said that though bank bailouts are unpopular, they were the only way to get credit moving again to households and businesses, the lifeblood of the economy.
Along with aid for banks, he also called on Congress to move quickly to overhaul regulations on US financial markets.
“I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary,” Obama said. “Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession.”
With US automakers struggling for survival, Obama also said he would allow neither their demise nor “their own bad practices” to be rewarded.
Obama said both political parties must give up favored programs while uniting behind his campaign promises to help the millions without health insurance and build better schools.
Obama urged lawmakers to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by creating a cap-and-trade system of limits and allowances.
He said the budget he was sending to Congress today would call for US$15 billion a year in federal spending to spur development of environmentally friendly but so far cost-ineffective options such as wind and solar energy, biofuels, clean coal and fuel-efficient cars.
The speech had the trappings of a State of the Union address, the annual presidential policy presentation to Congress. Obama was speaking to both chambers of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet and special guests.
Obama touched on his intention to chart new strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan and forge a new image for the US around the world even as he keeps up the fight against terrorism.
“Living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger,” he said. “And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.”