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Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished
guests, and fellow Americans:
Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and welcomed home some of
our last troops to serve in Iraq. Together, we offered a final, proud
salute to the colors under which more than a million of our fellow
citizens fought - and several thousand gave their lives.
We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the
United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first
time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the
first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this
country. Most of al Qaeda's top lieutenants have been defeated. The
Taliban's momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have
begun to come home.
These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness, and
teamwork of America's Armed Forces. At a time when too many of our
institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They're
not consumed with personal ambition. They don't obsess over their
differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example. Think
about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in
educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of
high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we're in
control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren't so
tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where
hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.
We can do this. I know we can, because we've done it before. At the end
of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from
combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has
ever known. My grandfather, a veteran of Patton's Army, got the chance
to go to college on the GI Bill. My grandmother, who worked on a bomber
assembly line, was part of a workforce that turned out the best
products on Earth.
The two of them shared the optimism of a Nation that had triumphed over
a depression and fascism. They understood they were part of something
larger; that they were contributing to a story of success that every
American had a chance to share - the basic American promise that if you
worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home,
send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.
The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No
challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either
settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well,
while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an
economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair
share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What's at stake are
not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We
have to reclaim them.
Let's remember how we got here. Long before the recession, jobs and
manufacturing began leaving our shores. Technology made businesses
more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete. Folks at the top saw
their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans
struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren't, and
personal debt that kept piling up.
In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We learned that mortgages had
been sold to people who couldn't afford or understand them. Banks had
made huge bets and bonuses with other people's money. Regulators had
looked the other way, or didn't have the authority to stop the bad
behavior.
It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a
crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and
left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag. In the six
months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we
lost another four million before our policies were in full effect.
Those are the facts. But so are these. In the last 22 months,
businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they
created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring
again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. Together,
we've agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And we've put
in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like
that never happens again.
The state of our Union is getting stronger. And we've come too far to
turn back now. As long as I'm President, I will work with anyone in
this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight
obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the
very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first
place.
No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad
debt, and phony financial profits. Tonight, I want to speak about how
we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that's built to
last - an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy,
skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.
This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.
On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of
collapse. Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at
stake, I refused to let that happen. In exchange for help, we demanded
responsibility. We got workers and automakers to settle their
differences. We got the industry to retool and restructure. Today,
General Motors is back on top as the world's number one automaker.
Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford
is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the
entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.
We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight,
the American auto industry is back.
What's happening in Detroit can happen in other industries. It can
happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh. We can't bring back
every job that's left our shores. But right now, it's getting more
expensive to do business in places like China. Meanwhile, America is
more productive. A few weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that
it now makes business sense for him to bring jobs back home. Today, for
the first time in fifteen years, Master Lock's unionized plant in
Milwaukee is running at full capacity.
So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing
back. But we have to seize it. Tonight, my message to business leaders
is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your
country, and your country will do everything we can to help you
succeed.
We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks
for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose
to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the
world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it.
So let's change it. First, if you're a business that wants to outsource
jobs, you shouldn't get a tax deduction for doing it. That money should
be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that
decide to bring jobs home.
Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair
share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. From now on, every
multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax. And every
penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to
stay here and hire here.
Third, if you're an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax
cut. If you're a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax
deduction you get for making products here. And if you want to relocate
in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should
get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.
My message is simple. It's time to stop rewarding businesses that ship
jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right
here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I'll sign them right
away.
We're also making it easier for American businesses to sell products
all over the world. Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling U.S.
exports over five years. With the bipartisan trade agreements I signed
into law, we are on track to meet that goal - ahead of schedule. Soon,
there will be millions of new customers for American goods in Panama,
Colombia, and South Korea. Soon, there will be new cars on the streets
of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago.
I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American
products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by
the rules. We've brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the
rate as the last administration - and it's made a difference. Over a
thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in
Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It's not right when another
country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It's not fair
when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they're
heavily subsidized.
Tonight, I'm announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that
will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries
like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or
unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make
sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American
manufacturing when it comes to accessing finance or new markets like
Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the
playing field is level, I promise you - America will always win.
I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United
States but can't find workers with the right skills. Growing industries
in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have
workers who can do the job. Think about that - openings at a time when
millions of Americans are looking for work.
That's inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.
Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from
her job as a mechanic. Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in
Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community
College. The company helped the college design courses in laser and
robotics training. It paid Jackie's tuition, then hired her to help
operate their plant.
I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as
Jackie did. Join me in a national commitment to train two million
Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My
Administration has already lined up more companies that want to help.
Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community
colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and
running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources
they need to become community career centers - places that teach people
skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data
management to high-tech manufacturing.
And I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so
that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and
one place to go for all the information and help they need. It's time
to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts
people to work.
These reforms will help people get jobs that are open today. But to
prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and
education has to start earlier.
For less than one percent of what our Nation spends on education each
year, we've convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their
standards for teaching and learning - the first time that's happened in
a generation.
But challenges remain. And we know how to solve them.
At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight
budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a
good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over
$250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child
who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can
point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most
teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their
own pocket for school supplies - just to make a difference.
Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status
quo, let's offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good
teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools
flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to
the test; and to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn.
We also know that when students aren't allowed to walk away from their
education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So
tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in
high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.
When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of
college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit
card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student
loans from doubling in July. Extend the tuition tax credit we started
that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And give more
young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling
the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.
Of course, it's not enough for us to increase student aid. We can't
just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we'll run out of money.
States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher
priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do
their part by working to keep costs down. Recently, I spoke with a
group of college presidents who've done just that. Some schools
re-design courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better
technology. The point is, it's possible. So let me put colleges and
universities on notice: If you can't stop tuition from going up, the
funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can't be
a luxury - it's an economic imperative that every family in America
should be able to afford.
Let's also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking
students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they
aren't yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children,
are American through and through, yet they live every day with the
threat of deportation. Others came more recently, to study business and
science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send
them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.
That doesn't make sense.
I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal
immigration. That's why my Administration has put more boots on the
border than ever before. That's why there are fewer illegal crossings
than when I took office.
The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on
comprehensive immigration reform right now. But if election-year
politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let's at
least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to
staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me
a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign
it right away.
You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent
and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should
earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone
who's willing to work; and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who
aspires to become the next Steve Jobs.
After all, innovation is what America has always been about. Most new
jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses. So let's pass an
agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent
aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax
relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good
jobs. Both parties agree on these ideas. So put them in a bill, and get
it on my desk this year.
Innovation also demands basic research. Today, the discoveries taking
place in our federally-financed labs and universities could lead to new
treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched. New
lightweight vests for cops and soldiers that can stop any bullet. Don't
gut these investments in our budget. Don't let other countries win the
race for the future. Support the same kind of research and innovation
that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs
and new American industries.
Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made
energy. Over the last three years, we've opened millions of new acres
for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I'm directing my
Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore
oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the
highest that it's been in eight years. That's right - eight years. Not
only that - last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the
past sixteen years.
But with only 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, oil isn't enough.
This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops
every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner,
cheaper, and full of new jobs.
We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one
hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to
safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than
600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I'm requiring all companies
that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.
America will develop this resource without putting the health and
safety of our citizens at risk.
The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and
factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don't have to
choose between our environment and our economy. And by the way, it was
public research dollars, over the course of thirty years, that helped
develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale
rock - reminding us that Government support is critical in helping
businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.
What's true for natural gas is true for clean energy. In three years,
our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America
to be the world's leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because
of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. And
thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.
When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said
he worried that at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he
found work at Energetx, a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan. Before
the recession, the factory only made luxury yachts. Today, it's hiring
workers like Bryan, who said, "I'm proud to be working in the industry
of the future."
Our experience with shale gas shows us that the payoffs on these public
investments don't always come right away. Some technologies don't pan
out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of
clean energy. I will not walk away from workers like Bryan. I will not
cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because
we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil
companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the
taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable,
and double-down on a clean energy industry that's never been more
promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.
We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives. The differences
in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan
to fight climate change. But there's no reason why Congress shouldn't
at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for
innovation. So far, you haven't acted. Well tonight, I will. I'm
directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on
enough public land to power three million homes. And I'm proud to
announce that the Department of Defense, the world's largest consumer
of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in
history - with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter
of a million homes a year.
Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So
here's another proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in
their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their
buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next
decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, and
more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that
creates these jobs.
Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader
agenda to repair America's infrastructure. So much of America needs to
be rebuilt. We've got crumbling roads and bridges. A power grid that
wastes too much energy. An incomplete high-speed broadband network that
prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her
products all over the world.
During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the
Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our States with a
system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested
in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built
them to the businesses that still use them today.
In the next few weeks, I will sign an Executive Order clearing away the
red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need
to fund these projects. Take the money we're no longer spending at war,
use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some
nation-building right here at home.
There's never been a better time to build, especially since the
construction industry was one of the hardest-hit when the housing
bubble burst. Of course, construction workers weren't the only ones
hurt. So were millions of innocent Americans who've seen their home
values decline. And while Government can't fix the problem on its own,
responsible homeowners shouldn't have to sit and wait for the housing
market to hit bottom to get some relief.
That's why I'm sending this Congress a plan that gives every
responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their
mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates. No more
red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest
financial institutions will ensure that it won't add to the deficit,
and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a
deficit of trust.
Let's never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the
rules every day deserve a Government and a financial system that do the
same. It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No
bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts. An America built to last insists
on responsibility from everybody.
We've all paid the price for lenders who sold mortgages to people who
couldn't afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn't afford them.
That's why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.
Rules to prevent financial fraud, or toxic dumping, or faulty medical
devices, don't destroy the free market. They make the free market work
better.
There is no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary,
or too costly. In fact, I've approved fewer regulations in the first
three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.
I've ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don't make
sense. We've already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of
them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the
next five years. We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could
have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that
they could contain a spill - because milk was somehow classified as an
oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled
milk.
I'm confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal
agency looking over his shoulder. But I will not back down from making
sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the
Gulf two years ago. I will not back down from protecting our kids from
mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water
is clean. I will not go back to the days when health insurance
companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage,
or charge women differently from men.
And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play
by its own set of rules. The new rules we passed restore what should be
any financial system's core purpose: Getting funding to entrepreneurs
with the best ideas, and getting loans to responsible families who want
to buy a home, start a business, or send a kid to college.
So if you're a big bank or financial institution, you are no longer
allowed to make risky bets with your customers' deposits. You're
required to write out a "living will" that details exactly how you'll
pay the bills if you fail - because the rest of us aren't bailing you
out ever again. And if you're a mortgage lender or a payday lender or a
credit card company, the days of signing people up for products they
can't afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices are over.
Today, American consumers finally have a watchdog in Richard Cordray
with one job: To look out for them.
We will also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained
investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people's
investments. Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because
there's no real penalty for being a repeat offender. That's bad for
consumers, and it's bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial
service professionals who do the right thing. So pass legislation that
makes the penalties for fraud count.
And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit
of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand
our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky
mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold
accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners,
and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many
Americans.
A return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility
will help us protect our people and our economy. But it should also
guide us as we look to pay down our debt and invest in our future.
Right now, our most immediate priority is stopping a tax hike on 160
million working Americans while the recovery is still fragile. People
cannot afford losing $40 out of each paycheck this year. There are
plenty of ways to get this done. So let's agree right here, right now:
No side issues. No drama. Pass the payroll tax cut without delay.
When it comes to the deficit, we've already agreed to more than $2
trillion in cuts and savings. But we need to do more, and that means
making choices. Right now, we're poised to spend nearly $1 trillion
more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the
wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and
shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax
rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren
Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do
we want to keep our investments in everything else - like education and
medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because
if we're serious about paying down our debt, we can't do both.
The American people know what the right choice is. So do I. As I told
the Speaker this summer, I'm prepared to make more reforms that rein in
the long term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social
Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for
seniors.
But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me,
and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.
Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1
million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And
my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop
subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you're earning a million dollars
a year, you shouldn't get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the
other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of
American families, your taxes shouldn't go up. You're the ones
struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You're the ones who
need relief.
Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a
billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most
Americans would call that common sense.
We don't begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When
Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it's
not because they envy the rich. It's because they understand that when
I get tax breaks I don't need and the country can't afford, it either
adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference -
like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through
school; or a family trying to make ends meet. That's not right.
Americans know it's not right. They know that this generation's success
is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each
other, and to their country's future, and they know our way of life
will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility.
That's how we'll reduce our deficit. That's an America built to last.
I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about
taxes and debt; energy and health care. But no matter what party they
belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right now:
Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year
after that, because Washington is broken.
Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?
The greatest blow to confidence in our economy last year didn't come
from events beyond our control. It came from a debate in Washington
over whether the United States would pay its bills or not. Who
benefited from that fiasco?
I've talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and
Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the
country is at least as bad - and it seems to get worse every year.
Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in
politics. So together, let's take some steps to fix that. Send me a
bill that bans insider trading by Members of Congress, and I will sign
it tomorrow. Let's limit any elected official from owning stocks in
industries they impact. Let's make sure people who bundle campaign
contributions for Congress can't lobby Congress, and vice versa - an
idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.
Some of what's broken has to do with the way Congress does its business
these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything -
even routine business - passed through the Senate. Neither party has
been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to
it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a rule that all judicial and
public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90
days.
The executive branch also needs to change. Too often, it's inefficient,
outdated and remote. That's why I've asked this Congress to grant me
the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy so that our
Government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the
American people.
Finally, none of these reforms can happen unless we also lower the
temperature in this town. We need to end the notion that the two
parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction;
that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building
consensus around common sense ideas.
I'm a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed:
That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by
themselves, and no more. That's why my education reform offers more
competition, and more control for schools and States. That's why we're
getting rid of regulations that don't work. That's why our health care
law relies on a reformed private market, not a Government program.
On the other hand, even my Republican friends who complain the most
about Government spending have supported federally-financed roads, and
clean energy projects, and federal offices for the folks back home.
The point is, we should all want a smarter, more effective Government.
And while we may not be able to bridge our biggest philosophical
differences this year, we can make real progress. With or without this
Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow. But I
can do a whole lot more with your help. Because when we act together,
there is nothing the United States of America can't achieve.
That is the lesson we've learned from our actions abroad over the last
few years.
Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our
enemies. From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are
scrambling, knowing that they can't escape the reach of the United
States of America.
From this position of strength, we've begun to wind down the war in
Afghanistan. Ten thousand of our troops have come home. Twenty-three
thousand more will leave by the end of this summer. This transition to
Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership
with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against
America.
As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the
Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana'a to
Tripoli. A year ago, Qadhafi was one of the world's longest-serving
dictators - a murderer with American blood on his hands. Today, he is
gone. And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon
discover that the forces of change can't be reversed, and that human
dignity can't be denied.
How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain. But we
have a huge stake in the outcome. And while it is ultimately up to the
people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those
values that have served our own country so well. We will stand against
violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of
all human beings - men and women; Christians, Muslims, and Jews. We
will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and
open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.
And we will safeguard America's own security against those who threaten
our citizens, our friends, and our interests. Look at Iran. Through the
power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal
with Iran's nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more
isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling
sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this
pressure will not relent. Let there be no doubt: America is determined
to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no
options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution
of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes
course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of
nations.
The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our
oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to
the Americas are deeper. Our iron-clad commitment to Israel's security
has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in
history. We've made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new
beginning in Burma has lit a new hope. From the coalitions we've built
to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we've led against hunger
and disease; from the blows we've dealt to our enemies; to the enduring
power of our moral example, America is back.
Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in
decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're
talking about. That's not the message we get from leaders around the
world, all of whom are eager to work with us. That's not how people
feel from Tokyo to Berlin; from Cape Town to Rio; where opinions of
America are higher than they've been in years. Yes, the world is
changing; no, we can't control every event. But America remains the one
indispensable nation in world affairs - and as long as I'm President, I
intend to keep it that way.
That's why, working with our military leaders, I have proposed a new
defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the
world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget. To
stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I have already sent this
Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing
danger of cyber-threats.
Above all, our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform
who defend it. As they come home, we must serve them as well as they
served us. That includes giving them the care and benefits they have
earned - which is why we've increased annual VA spending every year
I've been President. And it means enlisting our veterans in the work of
rebuilding our Nation.
With the bipartisan support of this Congress, we are providing new tax
credits to companies that hire vets. Michelle and Jill Biden have
worked with American businesses to secure a pledge of 135,000 jobs for
veterans and their families. And tonight, I'm proposing a Veterans Job
Corps that will help our communities hire veterans as cops and
firefighters, so that America is as strong as those who defend her.
Which brings me back to where I began. Those of us who've been sent
here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on
that uniform, it doesn't matter if you're black or white; Asian or
Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight. When
you're marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you,
or the mission fails. When you're in the thick of the fight, you rise
or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.
One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with
them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names.
Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn't
matter. Just like it didn't matter that day in the Situation Room, when
I sat next to Bob Gates - a man who was George Bush's defense
secretary; and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for
president.
All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about
politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men
involved in the raid later told me that he didn't deserve credit for
the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of
that unit did their job - the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun
out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the
compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the
fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. More than that, the mission
only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other -
because you can't charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger,
unless you know that there's someone behind you, watching your back.
So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I'm reminded that
our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those
thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation
is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we
worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other's
backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial,
there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we're
joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve,
our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our
Union will always be strong.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of
America.
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