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Obama’s First State of the Union—Full Remarks

Posted on Jan 27, 2010
White House / Pete Souza

(Page 3)

Now, this year, we’ve broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools.  And the idea here is simple:  Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.  Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform—reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city.  In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.  (Applause.)  And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all 50 states.  Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job.  That’s why I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.  (Applause.)

To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans.  (Applause.)  Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.  (Applause.)  And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years –- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.  (Applause.)

And by the way, it’s time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs -– (applause)—because they, too, have a responsibility to help solve this problem.


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Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle class.  That’s why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on middle-class families.  That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving access to every worker a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg.  That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment –- their home.  The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments.   

This year, we will step up refinancing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages.  (Applause.)  And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.  (Applause.)  Yes, we do.  (Applause.)

Now, let’s clear a few things up.  (Laughter.)  I didn’t choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt.  And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.  (Laughter.)  I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; families—even those with insurance—who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying—Democratic administrations, Republican administrations—we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans.  The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.  It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market.  It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.

And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier. (Applause.)  Thank you.  She gets embarrassed.  (Laughter.)

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.  It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office—the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress—our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.  (Applause.)

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became.  I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.  And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, “What’s in it for me?”

But I also know this problem is not going away.  By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance.  Millions will lose it this year.  Our deficit will grow.  Premiums will go up.  Patients will be denied the care they need.  Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether.  I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.  (Applause.)

So, as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.  There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo.  But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.  (Applause.)  Let me know.  Let me know.  (Applause.)  I’m eager to see it.

Here’s what I ask Congress, though:  Don’t walk away from reform.  Not now.  Not when we are so close.  Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.  (Applause.)  Let’s get it done.  Let’s get it done.  (Applause.)

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves.  It’s a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political posturing.  So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight.

At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion.  (Applause.)  By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade.  Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program.  On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget.  All this was before I walked in the door.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now—just stating the facts.  Now, if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit.  But we took office amid a crisis.  And our efforts to prevent a second depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.  That, too, is a fact.

I’m absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do.  But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions.  The federal government should do the same.  (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the trillion dollars that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years.  (Applause.)  Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected.  But all other discretionary government programs will.  Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t.  And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.  (Applause.) 

We will continue to go through the budget, line by line, page by page, to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work.  We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year.  To help working families, we’ll extend our middle-class tax cuts.  But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, for investment fund managers, and for those making over $250,000 a year.  We just can’t afford it.  (Applause.)

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we’ll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office.  More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket.  That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad.  (Applause.)  This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem.  The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.

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By Leila, February 11, 2010 at 12:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

He promises to veto spending except on social and health care programs… And
national security. Why can we not let go of our stupid let’s make more weapons

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By TAO Walker, January 29, 2010 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

JDmysticDJ is right about theamericanpeople and nativeamericanpeople being in pretty much the same desparate straits, depending on the deree of “individual”-ization they’re stuck in.  Us surviving free wild Turtle Island Natives, however, have stayed out of that trap….which is why we might offer some help to our more-or-less tame Sisters and Brothers who will do the Ceremonies needed to get out of it.

“Off-the-grid” is good as far as it goes, but screamingpalm will need to get together with others of the same persuasion if s/he hopes to stay there.

Good luck, All.


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By screamingpalm, January 28, 2010 at 7:28 pm Link to this comment

Super Lou, Hammond Eggs:

Boy did I get the wrong idea, I retract my wish that he upholds that promise! Thanks for the link- clearly the purpose is not to ensure solvency and get rid of fraud like I had thought.

Wise words a usual TAO Walker, though I don’t pretend that the Tiyoshpaye Way would ever be realistically possible (for me). A dream perhaps. I think you had said previously that the way to do this is [simply] gather one’s neighbors and just do it? I try to remain as “off the grid” as possible though.

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By JDmysticDJ, January 28, 2010 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment

Tao Walker

There is more than a “simulacrum” between theamericanpeople and nativeamericanpeople, we’re all in this together. Doom is no respecter of peoples.

Thanks for the trip to the dictionary; are your semantics a CONstruction?

The Tiyoshpaye way looks better, and better, every day.


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By TAO Walker, January 28, 2010 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

Barack Obama sure does give good talking-head, alright.  Funny, though, it seems to be only those among theamericanpeople who elected him to office (NOT, CONtrary to all the media misrepresentation, “power”), who have yet to catch-on that he’s filling the reality (as distinguished from the textbook idealized simulacrum) of the post about as well as can be.

Your doom, as “individuals,” is sealed, tame Sisters and Brothers.  Your ‘options’ now are limited to resignation or escape.

For the latter, go The Tiyoshpaye Way.


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By Hammond Eggs, January 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm Link to this comment

By screamingpalm, January 28 at 3:23 am #

The strongest language in the speech was the threat to veto spending and promise to issue an executive order to create a commission to look at Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. A promise I hope he actually keeps.

This so-called an ominously named “bipartisan” commission will actually exist to destroy Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Knowing Obama to be the reactionary Democrat that he is, it is a promise he will most assuredly keep.

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By rico, suave, January 28, 2010 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

“He may be the most popular politician in the U.S.”

That’s like saying herpes is the most popular venerial disease.

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By Blackspeare, January 28, 2010 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

Obama may be able to get a law passed that overturns the recent SCOTUS ruling on business/union politicking, but with the present make-up of SCOTUS it would eventually be ruled unconstitutional, but it would momentarily stop such political contributions.

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By gerard, January 28, 2010 at 10:39 am Link to this comment

“American Exceptonalism” is killing us.  Because of such silly national conceit we cannot even admit our mistakes, let alone learn from them. 
  My heart sunk to the pit last night when (in view of all the lack of creativity and courage, came the sudden change to sanctimonious tone and the trite pandering to our national glory.  Enough to make you cry—especially in times like these when we desperately need a bold vision and action for the future of our children and the world.

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By JDmysticDJ, January 28, 2010 at 10:23 am Link to this comment

I like Obama. I have since the early days of the primary, but I wonder why? Maybe it’s because of his ground breaking election, seeing as how I considered myself a member of the rainbow coalition back in the 80’s. There is something about the guy that is likable; his popularity exceeds that of Congressional Democrats and Republicans. He may be the most popular politician in the U.S.

Obama may not be the best President we’ve ever had, but clearly he is one of the best motivational speakers we’ve had as a President. His “State of the Union” address was nothing more than a glorified “Pep Rally.” His belief in American exceptionalism seems to be very appealing to Americans, “Rah rah, zis boom bah, be true to your school.” Since when are Jingoism and extreme Nationalism not considered to be vices? Apparently they’re not vices, when they are American Jingoism and extreme Nationalism.

Somehow being 2nd doesn’t seem all that bad to me; it beats 39th, or last. We are 1st in several categories though. Need I list them? Our military spending equals that of every other nation on this planet combined, for starters. Oh well, sometimes perceptions are more important than reality.

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By Super Lou, January 28, 2010 at 9:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The “Commission” to look at Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is a tool designed to deflect blame from Obama instituting Right Wing “reforms.”  Once again, going after the weakest and most politically defenseless members of society.

Read this, and you might change your opinion about the “Commish” being a promise you hope he actually keeps:

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By rico, suave, January 28, 2010 at 6:58 am Link to this comment


I’m not sure you can compare czarist Russia with the US.

Of course, most of the Russian proletariat agreed with Tolstoy and overthrew the Czar. And we all know what a great improvement that turned out to be.

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By Not One More!, January 28, 2010 at 12:11 am Link to this comment

I remember last year he said in a speech that Guantanamo would be shut down in a year. Lot’s of ‘liberals’ bought that and great cheer and hope. It is now a year and on to new promises and hope.

Support Republicans
Vote for a Democrat

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By thebeerdoctor, January 27, 2010 at 11:57 pm Link to this comment

“The greater the state, the more wrong and cruel its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded.”

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By Rob, January 27, 2010 at 11:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here’s a tag cloud of Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address:

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By screamingpalm, January 27, 2010 at 11:23 pm Link to this comment

Well, I think there can be little doubt that the President is abandoning progressives. As David Brooks said on the “News Hour”, this was a very moderate speech and contained many things you’d expect to hear from Republicans.

On one hand he talks about job creation, and then on the other he wants to extend the reach of the WTO with Doha. The strongest language in the speech was the threat to veto spending and promise to issue an executive order to create a commission to look at Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. A promise I hope he actually keeps.

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