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2009-02-25

"We Will Rebuild": In National Address, Obama Offers Ambitious Pledge on Economic Recovery, Healthcare Reform

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In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama vowed the nation will be able to rebuild and recover from the economic crisis that has left millions unemployed and pushed millions out of their homes. Obama called on Congress to invest in areas like energy, healthcare and education, while admitting that hard decisions need to be made to reduce the federal deficit. President Obama also said he would soon announce a plan to end the war in Iraq and eliminate no-bid contracts to military contractors. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama vowed the nation will be able to rebuild and recover from the economic crisis that’s left millions unemployed and pushed millions out of their homes. Obama called on Congress to invest in areas like energy, healthcare and education, while admitting that hard decisions need to be made to reduce the federal deficit.

During his fifty-two-minute speech, Obama touched on the banking crisis but revealed few details on his administration — how it plans to prevent banks like Citigroup and Bank of America from collapsing. In order to save millions of jobs, President Obama said his administration is committed to retooling and reimagining the auto industry.

President Obama also said he would soon announce a plan to end the war in Iraq and eliminate bid contracts to military contractors. In a moment, we’ll be joined by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, but first we play a part of President Obama’s address last night.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: we will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

    The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach; they exist in our laboratories and our universities, in our fields and our factories, in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history, we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face and take responsibility for our future once more.

    Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long we have not always met these responsibilities — as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or to look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

    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. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of healthcare eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all of these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

    In other words, we have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter or the next election. The surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations — regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

    Well, that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here. Now is the time to act boldly and wisely to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama speaking last night before a joint session of Congress.

To talk more about President Obama’s speech, I’m joined in the firehouse studio by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, professor at Columbia University, former chief economist at the World Bank, and co-author of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Nice to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Your first assessment of the speech last night?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Oh, I thought it was a brilliant speech. I thought he did an excellent job of wending his way through the fine line of trying to say — give confidence about where we’re going, and yet the reality of our economy — country facing a very severe economic downturn. I thought he was good in also giving a vision and saying while we’re doing the short run, here are three very fundamental long-run problems that we have to deal.

The critical question that many Americans are obviously concerned about is the question of what do we do with the banks. And on that, he again was very clear that he recognized the anger that Americans have about the way the banks have taken our taxpayer money and misspent it, but he didn’t give a clear view of what he was going to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the clip last night. During his speech, President Obama acknowledged more bailouts of the nation’s banks would be needed, but didn’t directly say, as Joe Stiglitz was saying, whether the government would move to nationalize Citigroup and Bank of America.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible; force the necessary adjustments; provide the support to clean up their balance sheets; and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

    Now, I understand that on any given day Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives bank bailouts with no strings attached and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we restart lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all. And I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama on Tuesday night.

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