Tag Archives: speech

The State of the Union Speech President Obama Can’t Give. Alas.

Fantasy state-of-the-union-speech.Tomorrow evening, January 28, 2014, President Barack Obama will stand before a special joint session of Congress to present the Constitutionally mandated State of the Union Address. As President Obama is a wise and circumspect orator, a skilled politician and a naturally conciliatory person, he will probably not give the kind of speech millions of progressives, liberals and Democrats would love to hear him give.

Barack ObamaWe will certainly hear a speech that will thrill us at times with ardent, engaging calls for tolerance, cooperation, hope and determination in confronting the many daunting challenges our nation faces in this turbulent age of promise and peril.

According to all the pre-speech hype from the TV talking heads, we are led to expect a “feisty” President to lay out an agenda that relies more on executive action than Congressional legislation. Confronted by historic levels of obstruction and inaction by the opposition party, particularly by the Republican majority in the House, Obama has little choice than to try to make progress on his own this year. Yet, I don’t expect him to be completely candid about why he has encountered so much Republican resistance.

In fact, there will be some large elephants in the room that will likely go unaddressed.

esq-obama-truman-2012-xlgThat’s because, as our country’s first black President, while Obama may be allowed to strike a “feisty” note, he can’t afford to appear angry or defiant – though his opponents will surely label him such (and worse) regardless of his actual demeanor. There’s too large, vocal and virulent a sector of the U.S. electorate (and political class) that can’t tolerate the mixed-race son of a black African father and a white American mother bluntly lashing out against a “do-nothing Congress” as President “Give ‘Em Hell” Harry Truman famously did.

Southern blacks were forced to appear humble and deferential in the presence of whites in the Jim Crow South. And now, despite all the progress we’ve made since the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s, a black Leader of the Free World is still not free to get righteously indignant and tell it like it is.

OB-UI781_ChrisC_G_20120828232704Everyone – even many liberal wise men – agree that President Obama can’t appear to be an angry black man. (Of course, you can’t be an angry woman, either.) But the same politicos and pundits admire tough-talking, shoot-from-the-hip, white public officials from Governor Chris Christie to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It’s a clear, shameful double standard.

10121657-largeNow, let me be clear. Racial animus isn’t the only reason I don’t expect President Obama to give ‘em hell in his State of the Union speech. It’s clear by now that he’s a natural bridge-builder and consensus-seeker. Obama’s not the kind of populist firebrand that some on the left hoped he might be in 2008 when they heard the soaring rhetoric of his inspirational Hope and Change campaign. I believe he’s sincere about trying to encourage a less divisive political atmosphere.

But Obama can’t clap with one hand — and the GOP refuses to extend theirs.

alg-signing-jpgSo, mindful of the complex reasons that President Obama can’t give the speech I’d love to hear, please indulge me in a bit of political fantasy.

Just imagine that an impassioned Barack Obama wrote the following words in an off-the-top-of-his-head, get-it-off-his-chest first draft. Then, after reading it back to himself, the calm and cautious peacemaker President was about to get out his red pen and start to temper his words – when I got someone to distract him so I could steal this draft off his desk…

TEXT OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S 2014 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

FIRST DRAFT

obama-2013-state-union-address_0Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans – including all you assault rifle-toting, Bible thumping, intolerant, government-hating folks and those of you who are still unable to get over the fact that I’m only half as white as the 43 Presidents who preceded me.

The state of our nation is nowhere near as good as it would be if my Republican opposition in Congress would actually do their job and work for the benefit of all Americans – instead of misleading their less educated, bigoted and utterly confused “low information” supporters into voting against their own economic interests by flogging hot button social issues like abortion and gay marriage while pursuing economic policies that favor corporations and the wealthiest one percent over the interests of the vast majority of middle class and working class Americans – let alone the neediest among us.

obama-state-of-union-preview-2013-620x432In the Gospels, Jesus talked a lot about how “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” And he was always trying to help the poor and the sick and those oppressed. Somehow, I don’t think that Jesus would be trying to balance the budget by kicking needy families with children off food stamps – or denying unemployment insurance to working families during a hard, cold winter. Yet that’s what these supposedly Jesus-loving conservatives in the GOP – especially that wacko Tea Party bunch – are always pushing us to do.

In order to avoid a second, economy-damaging government shutdown, Democrats in Congress – and this President – were forced to ignore the explicit teachings of Jesus and take food out of the mouths of babies and deny much-needed help to workers who find themselves out of a job through no fault of their own. (And folks, these unemployed workers PAID into the system for years to make sure they were insured against an economic downturn.)

President-congressional-GOP-square-off-4GSSNDD-x-largeI want to particularly acknowledge the hard, flinty heart of Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. If there’s a working man or woman in Kenosha, Racine or Walworth Counties who is still supporting Paul Ryan, I have no idea why. Wake up, folks! Look at the guy’s record. He’s all about corporations getting all the breaks, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer – and the middle class footing the bill.

And what’s with that hair? Is he an Eddie Munster fan or what?

Sorry, Paul, just kidding — about the hair. The rest is, as Sergeant Joe Friday used to say, “just the facts.” You don’t remember Dragnet, Paul? It was on TV around the same time as The Munsters.

Now, I wish I didn’t have to talk like this. I’m a nice guy by nature. I encourage people to get along, and I think we can best solve our problems and meet the challenges we face through consensus building and common effort.

U.S. President Barack Obama Delivers State Of The Union AddressBut I’ve tried bipartisanship and compromise – and Republicans just won’t take “yes” for an answer. Let’s take Health Reform, for instance. Many in my party are in favor of the type of government-run, single-payer health care system that’s been successful throughout Europe and Canada. Barring that, many progressives hoped for at least a so-called “public option” – but what did I do?

What did the President that conservatives and Tea Baggers openly excoriate as everything from Stalin to Hitler to Mao — and as both a communist and a fascist do? Did I propose the Big Government system that the majority of my party wanted? No, I didn’t. Instead, I compromised by adopting an idea that was the brainchild of conservatives: the individual mandate. I took a huge political hit within my progressive base to seek a deal that would extend affordable health care to millions of uninsured Americans. And I did it by promoting a Republican idea.

21fd5639-6c8d-41a2-89ae-86f494ae73cbSo, how did Republicans respond to my bipartisan approach? Did they appreciate the political courage it took to disappoint so many Democrats and progressive independents in the pursuit of the greater good?

In the words of House Speaker John Boehner — “Hell no!”

My reward from the opposition party – that’s you, you Republicans and Tea Baggers — has been nothing but a constant shit storm of misinformation, vilification and obstruction – including that needless government shutdown.

And please don’t tell me that Democrats and Republicans play the game the same way — because the level of obstruction I’ve endured at the hands of the right wing in Congress is historic.

The truth is that there’s no historical precedent for the number of cabinet-level nominees that have been blocked or delayed by Republicans during my administration. Let me emphasize, my fellow Americans: this has never happened before.

chuck_hagelRepublicans in the Senate even filibustered my nomination of a Republican Vietnam War hero and former Senator, Chuck Hagel. In fact, Chuck was the first Defense Secretary candidate ever filibustered. Again, I reached out in a nonpartisan way – and got smacked in the face for doing it. But it’s not that I was hurt – it’s that America suffered from a needlessly slow and combative process in filling a job that’s vital to our national security.

Lately, Republicans have filibustered nearly every one of my Cabinet appointments. Guys, this is my team we’re taking about. A President gets to name his own team. Advise and consent. That’s your job, Senators. And, frankly, I’ve had enough of the “advise” and not enough “consent”.

2013-02-13-08_p021213ps1100sotuMy judicial nominees are also getting the shaft. They’re waiting exceptionally long periods to be confirmed. The average wait for circuit and district judges while I’ve been in the White House has been 227 days, compared with 175 days under President Bush. I’ve got one appellate judge who waited a year for her nomination to be voted on.

There have always been filibusters in the U.S. Senate, but they were rare.  Before 1960, there were only four times in U.S. history when Senators of one party had to muster a 60-vote super majority to end a filibuster. My so-called “loyal opposition” has used the tactic far more than ever before. Since 2007, the Senate Historical Office has recorded that Democrats have had to end Republican filibusters more than 360 times — an all-time record of which nobody should be proud.

This is not business as usual, my fellow Americans.

Mitch McConnell, John Thune, John BarrassoDuring the legislative fights to pass the landmark Civil Rights bills of the early 1960′s, the filibuster became a weapon used by the bigots opposed to ending segregation. Still, even in those charged and turbulent times, filibusters were rare — and the Senators had to take the floor and keep the floor by talking hour after hour. Today, Mitch McConnell (that turtle-looking guy with the grumpy face sitting on the Republican side of the aisle) just tells the Democratic Majority Leader that no GOP Senators are willing to allow a vote – or even a debate – on an issue. It’s filibuster by default.

Lately, Majority Leader Harry Reid has implemented some reforms that have unclogged the Congressional constipation regarding my nominees. Thanks, Harry. What the hell took you so long?

budget-battle.jpeg35-1280x960I know you were trying to be collegial. I understand. I’ve tried to be that guy, too. But enough’s enough, right? Glad you finally gave ’em hell, Harry.

So, why is it that Republicans aren’t willing to cooperate at all with my administration? Why did Majority Leader McConnell, the senior Senator from Kentucky, announce early in my tenure that his number one priority was to make me a one-term President?

why_mitch_mcconnell_is_worse_than_charles_rangel-1280x960Why wasn’t this eminent Republican leader’s first priority to improve the economy, repair our nation’s failing, outdated infrastructure and improve the lives of working Americans? Why was I his target?

I know I’m not supposed to say it – but sometimes I’ve got to wonder if that good old Southern boy just can’t allow himself to work side by side with a black President. Is that the problem, Mitch?

I’m just sayin’…

130212_obama_state_of_union_speaking_ap_605Look, America. This nation is not going backward. And I’m not going to give up. The arc of history bends toward freedom and tolerance – and the GOP must get on board and help us move forward into this new century – dealing with the problems of poverty and the obscene disparity of wealth in our nation, our global environmental crisis, the scourge of gun violence, malfeasance and amorality on Wall Street, and all the other issues that must be dealt with in order for America – and the world – to survive and grow in peace and prosperity.

But if my Republican friends continue to be the party of obstruction, intolerance and willful ignorance, they will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Starting with the mid-term elections later this year.

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union AddressI’m angry, America. I’m pissed. I’ve lost faith in the possibility of my Republican friends putting aside partisanship and idealogical extremism in favor of the general welfare. But I haven’t lost faith in you, my fellow Americans. I believe in the wisdom and goodness and tolerance of the vast majority of the American people who truly embrace the ideals our nation was founded on: freedom, equality and justice for all.

As President Abraham Lincoln said in his first Inaugural Address, at one of the gravest moments in our nation’s history:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

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

Even you, Mitch.

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An Election Night to Remember.

When newly re-elected President Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Nov. 7, 2012 at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, my daughter Emilia was there to witness history from the front row.

Little did we know that she was about to become the right girl in the right place at the right time.

A senior at Northwestern University, Emilia had worked all summer as an unpaid Obama-Biden Campaign Fellow, helping to set up volunteer phone banks all over Chicago’s north side, as well as canvassing in the battleground states of Iowa and Wisconsin. Emilia had paid her campaign dues, and cast her first-ever vote for Obama. On election night, she was anxious but hopeful.

I must admit that I was less anxious. I had been a faithful adherent of Nate Silver’s 538 blog and had been checking the Talking Points Memo poll averages everyday. Unless math and the law of averages no longer mattered, the odds were long for Mitt Romney. However, as an Ohio boy born and raised, I feared for the kind of voter suppression and voting machine shenanigans that probably cost John Kerry the White House in 2004. But if Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa held strong for Obama – I knew that Florida wouldn’t even matter. (Which, as it turned out, was a good thing.)

As the polls closed across the country on the evening of November 6, Emilia and a group of our closest friends drove from Evanston to the south end of downtown Chicago – hoping to celebrate the election victory they had all worked so hard to make happen. Our enterprising buddies JoAnn Loulan and Ronny Crawford, who had worked hard for Obama in California, managed to wangle ID and passes that would get them all very close to the presidential action in McCormick Place, the largest convention center in America.

Back in Woodland Hills, the rest of our family and more of our close friends gathered in front of our television to enjoy a big pot of chili, an endless parade of desserts – and President Obama’s steady Electoral College march to victory.One by one, the bellwether states came in for Obama: Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan – and, halleluiah! – Ohio. I knew Obama had won.We were switching from station to station when Fox News called the election for the President. It felt freaking great. Everybody jumped to their feet in our crowded den — cheering and laughing and celebrating the Democratic Party’s triumph over Tea Party lunacy and Mitt Romney lies.

But there were even more thrills in store.

We were watching MSNBC when President Obama strode onto the stage at McCormick Place to acknowledge his defeated foe, thank his supporters, claim his victory – and eloquently lay out his vision for America’s next four years.

Emilia, as I mentioned earlier, had a front row view of Obama as he spoke. Her enraptured face caught the attention of the photographers covering this historic moment.

At one point early in the President’s speech, the camera cut away to the crowd – and our beaming daughter Emilia filled our TV screen. Needless to say, our delirious corner of Woodland Hills got even louder at that moment.

What follows is the transcript of President Obama’s speech that night, illustrated with the photos that were taken of Emilia as he spoke.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward.

It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.

Our friend Suzy Crawford is just to Emilia’s right.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election — whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time.

By the way, we have to fix that.

Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone — whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight. In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.

And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s first lady.

Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you’re growing up to become two strong, smart beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I’m so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough.

To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the life-long appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley. You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you put in.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity.

You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.

Our friends Bea & Steve Rashid appear in this photo, peeking up from the left of the woman in he center of the shot.

You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse whose working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small — it’s big. It’s important.

Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t.

These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today. 

The marvelous Sydney Crawford is the lovely platinum blonde on Emilia’s left.

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers: a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation — with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.

We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this — this world has ever known.

But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being. We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.

To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president — that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go — forward. 

That’s where we need to go.

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.

By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.

Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over. And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.

Shelly Goldstein keeps count of Obama’s Electoral College victory.

But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth: the belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

I am hopeful tonight because I’ve seen the spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job. I’ve seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back. I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm.

And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care. I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own. And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.

And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

The author and his wife, Victoria, seal the victory with a kiss.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America. And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.

Note: After President Obama’s speech, the news media went into action across the Internet, relaying the news of Obama’s victory across the world. And, quite often, our daughter found herself the face of that glorious, victorious night.

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President Obama: The 100th Post

Since this site was launched in January of 2010, I’ve posted 99 articles on this blog. This is the 100th post. And for the first time I’m devoting a post to the words of someone other than me: President Barack Obama.

President Obama’s speech on budgets, deficits and taxation yesterday went well beyond numbers crunching. He touched on truths that progressives have been shouting at their TV sets and arguing over water coolers ever since Reagan took office and began to dismantle The American Dream for workers and the middle class.  This was a President sounding like a Democrat and embracing the role of our government to do good things for the people it represents. This was a President rejecting voodoo economics and government of, by, and for the top one percent.

I’m sure there will be compromises in the battles that loom ahead with the GOP and its Teahadist , but this time the President we elected to bring Hope and Change stood tall and spoke the truth, calmly but forcefully. The right-wingers have been throwing fits ever since Obama finished making this speech. That’s how you know it’s the truth.

And now, for the 100th post in the history of this blog, I proudly present to you the 44th President of the United States, Barak Obama…

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

“The Country We Believe In”

The George Washington University

Washington, D.C.

April 13, 2011

As Prepared for Delivery—

Good afternoon.  It’s great to be back at GW.  I want you to know that one of the reasons I kept the government open was so I could be here today with all of you.  I wanted to make sure you had one more excuse to skip class.  You’re welcome.

Of course, what we’ve been debating here in Washington for the last few weeks will affect your lives in ways that are potentially profound.  This debate over budgets and deficits is about more than just numbers on a page, more than just cutting and spending.  It’s about the kind of future we want.  It’s about the kind of country we believe in.  And that’s what I want to talk about today.

From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity.  More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.

But there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.  We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.  And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens.  We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce.  We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries.  Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us.  “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities.  We are a better country because of these commitments.  I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.

For much of the last century, our nation found a way to afford these investments and priorities with the taxes paid by its citizens.  As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally born a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate.  This is not because we begrudge those who’ve done well – we rightly celebrate their success.  Rather, it is a basic reflection of our belief that those who have benefitted most from our way of life can afford to give a bit more back.  Moreover, this belief has not hindered the success of those at the top of the income scale, who continue to do better and better with each passing year.

Now, at certain times – particularly during periods of war or recession – our nation has had to borrow money to pay for some of our priorities.  And as most families understand, a little credit card debt isn’t going to hurt if it’s temporary.

But as far back as the 1980s, America started amassing debt at more alarming levels, and our leaders began to realize that a larger challenge was on the horizon.  They knew that eventually, the Baby Boom generation would retire, which meant a much bigger portion of our citizens would be relying on programs like Medicare, Social Security, and possibly Medicaid.  Like parents with young children who know they have to start saving for the college years, America had to start borrowing less and saving more to prepare for the retirement of an entire generation.

To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation’s deficit.  They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush and President Clinton; by Democratic Congresses and a Republican Congress.  All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice, but they largely protected the middle class, our commitments to seniors, and key investments in our future.

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus.  America was actually on track to becoming completely debt-free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed.  We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program – but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending.  Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts – tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.

To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our national checkbook, consider this:  in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.

Of course, that’s not what happened.  And so, by the time I took office, we once again found ourselves deeply in debt and unprepared for a Baby Boom retirement that is now starting to take place.  When I took office, our projected deficit was more than $1 trillion.  On top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession that, like most recessions, led us to temporarily borrow even more.  In this case, we took a series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs, kept credit flowing, and provided working families extra money in their pockets.  It was the right thing to do, but these steps were expensive, and added to our deficits in the short term.

So that’s how our fiscal challenge was created.  This is how we got here.  And now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s.  We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt.  And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and win the future.

Now, before I get into how we can achieve this goal, some of you might be wondering, “Why is this so important?  Why does this matter to me?”

Here’s why.  Even after our economy recovers, our government will still be on track to spend more money than it takes in throughout this decade and beyond.  That means we’ll have to keep borrowing more from countries like China.  And that means more of your tax dollars will go toward paying off the interest on all the loans we keep taking out.  By the end of this decade, the interest we owe on our debt could rise to nearly $1 trillion.  Just the interest payments.

Then, as the Baby Boomers start to retire and health care costs continue to rise, the situation will get even worse.  By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs, Social Security, and the interest we owe on our debt.  That’s it.  Every other national priority – education, transportation, even national security – will have to be paid for with borrowed money.

Ultimately, all this rising debt will cost us jobs and damage our economy.  It will prevent us from making the investments we need to win the future.  We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads and bridges – all the things that will create new jobs and businesses here in America.  Businesses will be less likely to invest and open up shop in a country that seems unwilling or unable to balance its books.  And if our creditors start worrying that we may be unable to pay back our debts, it could drive up interest rates for everyone who borrows money – making it harder for businesses to expand and hire, or families to take out a mortgage.

The good news is, this doesn’t have to be our future.  This doesn’t have to be the country we leave to our children.  We can solve this problem.  We came together as Democrats and Republicans to meet this challenge before, and we can do it again.

But that starts by being honest about what’s causing our deficit.  You see, most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but they like the stuff it buys.  Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense.  Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research.  Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare.  And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political skills tell me that almost no one believes they should be paying higher taxes.

Because all this spending is popular with both Republicans and Democrats alike, and because nobody wants to pay higher taxes, politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse –that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices.  Or they suggest that we can somehow close our entire deficit by eliminating things like foreign aid, even though foreign aid makes up about 1% of our entire budget.

So here’s the truth.  Around two-thirds of our budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security.  Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20%.  What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That’s 12 percent for all of our other national priorities like education and clean energy; medical research and transportation; food safety and keeping our air and water clean.

Up until now, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington have focused almost exclusively on that 12%.  But cuts to that 12% alone won’t solve the problem.  So any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget.  A serious plan doesn’t require us to balance our budget overnight – in fact, economists think that with the economy just starting to grow again, we will need a phased-in approach – but it does require tough decisions and support from leaders in both parties.  And above all, it will require us to choose a vision of the America we want to see five and ten and twenty years down the road.

One vision has been championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates.  It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that.

Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve.  But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.

A 70% cut to clean energy.  A 25% cut in education.  A 30% cut in transportation.  Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year.  That’s what they’re proposing.  These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget.  These aren’t the kind of cuts that Republicans and Democrats on the Fiscal Commission proposed.  These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in.  And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic.

It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them.  If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them.  Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities.  South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science.  Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels.  And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors.  It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today.  It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher.  And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck – you’re on your own.  Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

This is a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit.  And who are those 50 million Americans?  Many are someone’s grandparents who wouldn’t be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid.  Many are poor children.  Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome.  Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care.  These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.

Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy.  Think about it.  In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined.  The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each.  And that’s who needs to pay less taxes?  They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs?   That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.  As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan.  There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.  And this is not a vision of the America I know.

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism.  We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share.  We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness.  We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare.  We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

This is who we are.  This is the America I know.  We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country.  To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms.  We will all need to make sacrifices.  But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in.  And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

Today, I’m proposing a more balanced approach to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over twelve years.  It’s an approach that borrows from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission I appointed last year, and builds on the roughly $1 trillion in deficit reduction I already proposed in my 2012 budget.  It’s an approach that puts every kind of spending on the table, but one that protects the middle-class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future.

The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week – a step that will save us about $750 billion over twelve years.  We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs I care about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs.  We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology.  We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access.  We will invest in education and job training.  We will do what we need to compete and we will win the future.

The second step in our approach is to find additional savings in our defense budget.  As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world.  But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt.

Just as we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense.   Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending.  I believe we can do that again.  We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.  I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete.

The third step in our approach is to further reduce health care spending in our budget.  Here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer:  their plan lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead.  Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.

Already, the reforms we passed in the health care law will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.  My approach would build on these reforms.  We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments.  We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency and speed generic brands of medicine onto the market.  We will work with governors of both parties to demand more efficiency and accountability from Medicaid.  We will change the way we pay for health care – not by procedure or the number of days spent in a hospital, but with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results.  And we will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services seniors need.

Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional one trillion dollars in the decade after that.  And if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, this approach will give the independent commission the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare.

But let me be absolutely clear:  I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society.  I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs.  I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves.  We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.

That includes, by the way, our commitment to Social Security.  While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that is growing older.  As I said in the State of the Union, both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  But 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.

The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code.  In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans.  But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society.  And I refuse to renew them again.

Beyond that, the tax code is also loaded up with spending on things like itemized deductions.  And while I agree with the goals of many of these deductions, like homeownership or charitable giving, we cannot ignore the fact that they provide millionaires an average tax break of $75,000 while doing nothing for the typical middle-class family that doesn’t itemize.

My budget calls for limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2% of Americans – a reform that would reduce the deficit by $320 billion over ten years.  But to reduce the deficit, I believe we should go further.  That’s why I’m calling on Congress to reform our individual tax code so that it is fair and simple – so that the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.  I believe reform should protect the middle class, promote economic growth, and build on the Fiscal Commission’s model of reducing tax expenditures so that there is enough savings to both lower rates and lower the deficit.  And as I called for in the State of the Union, we should reform our corporate tax code as well, to make our businesses and our economy more competitive.

This is my approach to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next twelve years.  It’s an approach that achieves about $2 trillion in spending cuts across the budget.  It will lower our interest payments on the debt by $1 trillion. It calls for tax reform to cut about $1 trillion in spending from the tax code.  And it achieves these goals while protecting the middle class, our commitment to seniors, and our investments in the future.

In the coming years, if the recovery speeds up and our economy grows faster than our current projections, we can make even greater progress than I have pledged here.  But just to hold Washington – and me – accountable and make sure that the debt burden continues to decline, my plan includes a debt failsafe.  If, by 2014, our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy – or if Congress has failed to act – my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code.  That should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road.

So this is our vision for America – a vision where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and rising opportunity for our children.

Of course, there will be those who disagree with my approach.  Some will argue we shouldn’t even consider raising taxes, even if only on the wealthiest Americans.  It’s just an article of faith for them.  I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more.  I don’t need another tax cut.  Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut.  Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare.  Or by cutting kids from Head Start.  Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn’t be here without.  That some of you wouldn’t be here without.  And I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me.  They want to give back to the country that’s done so much for them.  Washington just hasn’t asked them to.

Others will say that we shouldn’t even talk about cutting spending until the economy is fully recovered.  I’m sympathetic to this view, which is one of the reasons I supported the payroll tax cuts we passed in December.  It’s also why we have to use a scalpel and not a machete to reduce the deficit – so that we can keep making the investments that create jobs.  But doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option.  Our debt has grown so large that we could do real damage to the economy if we don’t begin a process now to get our fiscal house in order.

Finally, there are those who believe we shouldn’t make any reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security out of a fear that any talk of change to these programs will usher in the sort of radical steps that House Republicans have proposed.  I understand these fears.  But I guarantee that if we don’t make any changes at all, we won’t be able to keep our commitments to a retiring generation that will live longer and face higher health care costs than those who came before.

Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments.  If we believe that government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works – by making government smarter, leaner and more effective.

Of course, there are those who will simply say that there’s no way we can come together and agree on a solution to this challenge.  They’ll say the politics of this city are just too broken; that the choices are just too hard; that the parties are just too far apart.  And after a few years in this job, I certainly have some sympathy for this view.

But I also know that we’ve come together and met big challenges before.  Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill came together to save Social Security for future generations.  The first President Bush and a Democratic Congress came together to reduce the deficit.  President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously and still found a way to balance the budget.  In the last few months, both parties have come together to pass historic tax relief and spending cuts.  And I know there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to see a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

I believe we can and must come together again.  This morning, I met with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to discuss the approach I laid out today.  And in early May, the Vice President will begin regular meetings with leaders in both parties with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit by the end of June.

I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today.  I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.  And though I’m sure the criticism of what I’ve said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all bridge our differences, and find common ground.

This larger debate we’re having, about the size and role of government, has been with us since our founding days.  And during moments of great challenge and change, like the one we’re living through now, the debate gets sharper and more vigorous.  That’s a good thing.  As a country that prizes both our individual freedom and our obligations to one another, this is one of the most important debates we can have.

But no matter what we argue or where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans.  We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves.  We have to think about the country that made those liberties possible.  We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community.  And we have to think about what’s required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.

This sense of responsibility – to each other and to our country – this isn’t a partisan feeling.  It isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea.  It’s patriotism.

The other day I received a letter from a man in Florida.  He started off by telling me he didn’t vote for me and he hasn’t always agreed with me.  But even though he’s worried about our economy and the state of our politics, he said,

“I still believe.  I believe in that great country that my grandfather told me about.   I believe that somewhere lost in this quagmire of petty bickering on every news station, the ‘American Dream’ is still alive…

We need to use our dollars here rebuilding, refurbishing and restoring all that our ancestors struggled to create and maintain…We as a people must do this together, no matter the color of the state one comes from or the side of the aisle one might sit on.”

I still believe as well.  And I know that if we can come together, and uphold our responsibilities to one another and to this larger enterprise that is America, we will keep the dream of our founding alive in our time, and pass on to our children the country we believe in.  Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

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