"The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank," said the President. "We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before."
President Barack Obama addresses his first joint session of Congress. Behind him are Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (Photo courtesy The White House)
"Now is the time to act boldly and wisely," he said, "to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down."
Obama expressed his gratitude to the members of Congress who passed the $789 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he signed into law on February 17.
"Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs," Obama reiterated. "More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector - jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit."
Those who receive funds from the recovery stimulus package must account for their expenditures, said Obama, adding, "This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over."
Obama met with groups of governors and mayors during the past week and told them that they will be held accountable "for every dollar they spend."
Vice President Joe Biden, left, and President Barack Obama meet with the nation's governors at the White House. February 23, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza courtesy The White House)
He has asked Vice President Joe Biden to lead a "tough, unprecedented oversight effort," because, he told Congress, "Nobody messes with Joe."
In addition, as chairman of the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, the President has appointed Earl Devaney, who has served as Inspector General of the Department of the Interior since 1999. In that position, he exposed the Abramoff scandals and a culture of corruption among Bush officials and appointees.
"I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud," said Obama. "And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent."
President Obama said he will send his first budget to Congress next week.
"Even as it cuts back on the programs we don't need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education," he said. "It begins with energy."
"We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient," the President said. "We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea."
"Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either," Obama declared. "It is time for America to lead again."
Dedicated in May 2008, Iberdrola's Dillon wind farm in Palm Springs generates power for Southern California Edison customers. (Photo by Iberdrola Renewables courtesy NREL)
"Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years," he said. "We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history - an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology," he said, referring to the $3 billion in the stimulus bill for the National Science Foundation.
"We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills," Obama said.
"But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy," he said.
"So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America," said President Obama.
With Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate, the President is likely to get the kind of climate change legislation he asked for.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said after the joint session, "President Obama has it exactly right: we must ‘transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change.' To accomplish those goals, the President has called on us to send him legislation that establishes a market-based cap on carbon emissions. We will work in partnership with the President, and we will answer his call."
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (Photo courtesy Republican National Committee)
The Republican response to the President's speech came from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who criticized the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending," he said. "It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, DC."
"To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down," Jindal said. "All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump - and unless we act now, those prices will return.
"To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation...increase energy efficiency...increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels...increase our use of nuclear power - and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home," said Jindal, who governs a state with a current budget surplus due to royalties from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jindal has announced that he will decline stimulus money targeted at expanding state unemployment insurance coverage, becoming the first governor to officially refuse any part of the federal government’s payout to states.
Many environmentalists were pleased with the President's speech. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "In this speech, President Obama presented a bold, ambitious vision to restore America's economy and move us to a new clean energy future driven by a cap on carbon pollution.
"For the first time in history, a sitting U.S. president called on Congress to pass legislation to limit carbon pollution that will build a sustainable economic recovery by repowering America with clean energy. Investments from a carbon cap can cut our dependence on oil, make us more energy efficient and produce jobs at home," Beinecke said.
"This represents a new era in America's approach to energy that will break our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and push us to develop new technologies," she said. "This is the leadership America needs to transform our energy system, protect our planet and meet the challenges of the 21st century."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.