The full speech of Barack Obama on the State of the Nation
Mr. President of the House of Representatives, members of Congress, distinguished guests and fellow citizens:
Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner. And on this solemn occasion, we also have in mind the empty seat in this House and we pray for the health of our colleague – and our friend – Gabby Giffords.
It is no secret that we, the people here tonight, have had our disagreements over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our convictions. And this is good. That is what a robust democracy demands. That is what helps distinguish us as a nation.
But there is a reason why the tragedy in Tucson gave us something to think about. Amidst the noise, fervor, and animosity of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that regardless of who we are or where we come from, each of us is part of something superior, something of greater significance than a party or political preference.
We are all part of the American family. We believe that in a country where you can find every race, religion, and point of view, we remain united as a people; that we share hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not different from those of our own children, and that all of them deserve the opportunity to come true.
That is also what distinguishes us as a nation
However, in itself, this simple recognition will not start a new era of cooperation. What emerges from this moment depends on us. What emerges from this moment will not determine whether we can sit together tonight, rather, if we can work together tomorrow.
I think we can. I think we should do it. Those who sent us here expect that from us. With their vote, they have determined that the government will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only be passed with the backing of Democrats and Republicans. We will advance together or we will stagnate, as the challenges we face are more important than a party and more important than politics.
At this moment what is at stake is not who will win the next elections; after all, we just had elections. What is at stake is whether new jobs and industries originate in this country or elsewhere; if the hard work and industriousness of our people are rewarded; if we can maintain the leadership that made the United States not only a point on the map but a light in the world.
We are ready for progress. Two years after the worst recession that most of us have ever known, the stock market has recovered fervently. The profits of corporations are higher. The economy is growing again.
But we have never measured progress with just these indicators. We measure progress according to the success of our people; for the jobs they can find and the quality of life that these jobs offer; for the chances of success of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a prosperous company; for the opportunities of a better life that we bequeath to our children.
It is in this project that the American people want us to work. Together.
We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we approved, US paychecks today have increased. Every company can deduct the total cost of new investments made this year. These measures, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will make the economy grow, and jobs will be added to the more than 1 million jobs generated in the private sector last year.
But we have more work to do. The measures we have taken during the last two years may have ended this recession, but to win the future we need to face challenges that have existed for several decades.
Many of the people who are watching tonight can probably remember times when finding a good job meant coming to a nearby factory or a business downtown. A race was not always necessary, and the competition was practically limited to the neighbors. If you worked hard, you would most likely have a job for the rest of your life, with a decent salary, good benefits, and a promotion from time to time. Maybe he would even have the pride of seeing his children working in the same company.
That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I have seen it in the boarded-up windows of once prosperous factories and the empty showcases of busy main streets. I’ve heard it in the frustration of Americans who have seen their paychecks shrink or jobs disappear; men and women proud of their work who think they changed the rules in the middle of the game.
They are correct. The rules have changed. In a single generation, technological revolutions have transformed our way of living, working and doing business. Steelmakers that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same job with 100. Today, virtually every business can start operations, hire workers and sell their products wherever there is an Internet connection.
Meanwhile, countries like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And then they began to educate their children before and for longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They are investing in research and new technology. Recently, China became the headquarters of the largest private solar research plant in the world and the fastest computer in the world.
So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real but this should not discourage us. It must motivate us. Remember that for all the blows we have suffered in recent years, all fatalists predicted our fall, but the United States still has the largest and most prosperous economy in the world. There are no more productive workers than ours. There is no country with more successful companies or that grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. It is here that we find the best universities and higher education institutions in the world, where more students come to study than anywhere else on the planet.
Moreover, we are the first country that was founded for the benefit of an idea: the idea that each one of us deserves the opportunity to shape his own destiny. That is why, for several centuries, pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. That’s why our students do not simply memorize equations but respond to questions like “What do you think of that idea? What changes would you make in the world? What do you want to do as an adult? ”
It is up to us to win the future or not. But to achieve this, we can not sit idly by. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. Is an achievement”. Keeping the American Dream alive has never been just a matter of stubborn firmness. It has required each generation to sacrifice and fight and comply with what each new era demands.
Now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our times. We need to innovate more, educate better and build more than the rest of the world. We must make the United States the best place in the world to do business. We must take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. This is how our people will prosper. This is how we will win the future. And tonight I would like to talk about how to get there.
The first step to win the future is to encourage innovation in the United States.
None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where new jobs will come from. 30 years ago, we could not have imagined that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do – what the United States does better than anyone – is to encourage the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the country that put cars on the streets and computers in offices; the country of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In the United States, innovation does not simply change our lives. It’s with her that we make a living.
Our system of free enterprise is what drives innovation. But because it has not always been profitable for companies to invest in basic research, over the course of history, our government has provided scientists and inventors with the support they need. That is what planted the seeds of the Internet. That’s what helped make things like computer chips and the global positioning system possible.
Just think of all the well-paying jobs – from industrial production to the retail sector – that have been derived from these advances.
Half a century ago, when the Soviets went ahead of us in space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would get to the moon before them. We still did not have the necessary scientific knowledge. NASA did not even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we not only beat the Soviets, but we also started a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
This is the Sputnik moment of our generation. Two years ago, I said that we should reach a level of research and development that we did not see from the cusp of the space race. In a few weeks, I will send a budget to Congress that will help us meet that goal. We will invest in biomedical research, informatics, and especially clean energy technology; an investment that will increase our security, protect the planet and generate countless new jobs for our people.
We are already seeing the opportunities that renewable energy offers. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who have a small roofing company in Michigan. After September 11, they offered their best workers to help repair the Pentagon. But the recession affected them a lot, and their factory was operating at half capacity. Nowadays, with the help of a government loan, this space is being used to manufacture photovoltaic tiles that are being sold throughout the country. In Robert’s words, “We reinvent ourselves.”
That’s what Americans have done for more than 200 years: they have reinvented themselves. To drive more success stories like the Allen brothers, we have begun to reinvent our energy policy. We are not simply delivering the money. We are launching a challenge. We are telling US scientists and engineers that if they build teams with the best brains in their field if they focus on the most difficult clean energy problems, we will fund the Apollo projects of our era.
At the California Institute of Technology, they are developing a way to convert solar energy and water into fuel for our vehicles. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they are using supercomputers to make our nuclear facilities produce much more energy. With more research and incentives, we can end our dependence on oil, with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles in operation by 2015.
We need to support this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions of dollars of taxpayers that we currently give to oil companies. I do not know if they have noticed, but they are doing very well alone. So, instead of subsidizing the energy of the past, let’s invest in tomorrow’s energy.
Now, advances in clean energy will only become clean energy jobs if companies know there will be a market for what they are selling. Therefore, tonight I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of electricity in the United States will come from clean energy sources. Certain people want wind and solar energy. Others want nuclear energy, clean coal, and natural gas. To achieve this goal, we will need everyone, and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make this happen.
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to the success of the United States. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in the United States and not abroad – then we also have to win the race to educate our children.
Think about it. In the next 10 years, almost half of all new jobs will require higher education, not just secondary studies. However, up to a quarter of our students are not even finishing high school. The quality of our mathematics and science teaching is inferior to that of many other countries. The United States has become the ninth in terms of the proportion of young people with a university degree. So the question is whether we, as citizens and as parents, are willing to do what is necessary to give each child the opportunity to succeed.
That responsibility does not begin in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It is the family that first instills in a child the love of learning. Only parents can make sure that the television is turned off and that homework is done. We need to teach our children that not only the Super Bowl winner deserves their respect, but the winner of the science fair; that success does not depend on fame or public relations, but on hard work and discipline.
Our schools share this responsibility. When a child enters a classroom, it must be a place of high expectations and high performance. But many of our schools do not pass this test. That’s why instead of simply throwing money at a system that is not working, we started a competition called “Race to the Top”. We told all 50 states, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve the quality of teachers and student performance, we will give you the money.”
‘Race to the Top’ is the most significant reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1% of what we spend on education every year has led more than 40 states to increase their teaching and learning standards. These standards were not developed by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the strategy we follow this year to replace the No Child Left Behind program with a law that is more flexible and focuses on what’s best for our children.
Come? We know what is possible for our children when the reform is not an order that comes from above, but the work of teachers and principals, school boards, and local communities.
Consider a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was considered one of the worst schools in Colorado; It was located between the territories of two rival gangs. But in May, 97% of seniors received their diploma. For the most part, they will be the first in their family to go to college. And after the first year of the transformation of the school, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Mrs. Waters, for demonstrating … that we are smart and we can do it.”
Let us also remember that after the parents, the one who has the greatest impact on the success of a child is the man or woman in front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are called “makers of the nation.” Here in the United States, it is time to treat the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop inventing excuses to justify the bad guys. And in the next 10 years, in which many members of the Baby Boom generation will retire from the classroom, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
In fact, to every young person who listens to me tonight and who is considering what career to study: if you want to have an impact on the history of our nation, if you want to have an impact on the life of a child, become a teacher. Your country needs you.
Obviously, the educational career does not end with a high school diploma. To compete, all Americans must have access to higher education. That is why we have eliminated unnecessary subsidies to banks with taxpayers’ money and we use what has been saved to make university studies more accessible to millions of students. And this year I’m asking Congress to go one step further and make our tax credit permanent for university tuition, worth $ 10,000 for four years of studies.
Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s changing economy, we are also revitalizing community colleges in the United States. Last month I saw what these higher education institutions offer like Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students used to work in local factories that have closed. Kathy Proctor, a mother of two, worked in a furniture factory since she was 18 years old. And he told me that he is now studying biotechnology, at age 55, not only because there are no jobs in furniture factories, but because he wants to inspire his children to also pursue their dreams. As Kathy said: “I hope this reminds you not to give up.”
If we take these steps, if we raise expectations for all children and give them the best possible opportunities to receive a good education, from the day they are born to the last job they perform, we will achieve the goal that I set two years ago: that for of this decade, the United States has the highest proportion of university graduates in the world.
One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of outstanding students in our schools who are not US citizens. Some are children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the acts of their parents. They grew up as Americans, they swear allegiance to our flag and, nevertheless, they live every day under the threat of deportation. Others come from abroad to study in our higher institutions and universities. But as soon as they get their title, we send them back to their country to compete against us. It does not make any sense.
Now, I am firmly convinced that we must tackle, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am ready to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and deal with the millions of undocumented workers who now live in hiding. I know that the debate will be difficult and it will take time, but tonight, we agree to make the effort. And let’s stop expelling responsible and talented young people who can work in research laboratories, start new businesses and contribute to the enrichment of this nation.
The third step to win the future is to rebuild the United States. To attract new companies to our coasts, we need the fastest routes to transport people, products, and information, from high-speed trains to high-speed Internet.
Our infrastructure used to be the best, but we are no longer the first. South Korean homes now have better access to the Internet than ours. Russia and countries in Europe invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China builds faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers evaluated our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D”.
We need to improve. The United States is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities and established the interstate highway system. The jobs generated by these projects not only consisted in building roads and laying pavement. They were also jobs in companies that opened near the new train station or the new way out.
In the last two years, we have begun to reconstruct for the 21st century a project that has generated thousands of well-paid jobs in the very affected construction sector. Tonight, I propose to redouble these efforts.
We will put more Americans to work to repair roads and bridges that are falling apart. We will ensure that they are fully funded, that they attract private investment, and we will choose projects based on what is best for the economy, not the politicians.
In the next 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed trains, which will allow them to travel in half the time it takes to do it by car. Some trips will be faster than flying and without security inspection. In these precise moments, in California and the Midwest region of the country, there are already routes under construction.
In the next five years, we will make it possible for companies to deliver the next generation of high-speed wireless technology to 98% of Americans. This is not just the fastest Internet and fewer interrupted calls. It’s about connecting all corners of the United States to the digital age. It means that from a rural community in Iowa or Alabama, workers and small entrepreneurs can sell their products around the world. It means that a firefighter can download the plans of a burning building to a portable device, that a student can take classes with a digital text, that a patient can talk face to face by video with their doctor.
All these investments, in innovation, education, and infrastructure, will make the United States a better place to do business and generate employment. But to contribute to the competitiveness of our companies, we must also eliminate barriers that stand in the way of success.
For many years, an army of lobbyists has made the tax code favor certain companies and industries. If they have accountants or lawyers who manipulate the system, they can end up without paying any taxes. But the rest is affected by one of the highest tax rates for companies in the world. This does not make sense and must change.
So, tonight, I’m asking the Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Eliminate legal breaches. Establish fair conditions. And use the savings to reduce the tax rate of companies for the first time in 25 years, without increasing our deficit.
To help companies sell more products abroad, we have set a goal to double our exports by 2014, because the more we export, the more jobs we create in the country. Our exports have already increased. We recently signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 jobs in the United States. This agreement has the unprecedented support of the business and labor sector; Democrats and Republicans, and I urge this Congress to try it as soon as possible.
Before assuming command, I made it clear that we were going to verify compliance with our trade agreements and that we would only sign pacts that would benefit US workers and promote jobs in the United States. That is what we did with Korea and that is what I intend to do when seeking agreements with Panama and Colombia, and continue our commercial talks with the Pacific region of Asia and the world.
To reduce the barriers to growth and investment, I have ordered an analysis of government regulations. When we find rules that put unnecessary burdens on companies, we will change them. But I will not hesitate to create or ensure compliance with sensible protection measures to protect the American people. That is what we have done in this country for more than a century. That is why we can eat our food or drink the water or breathe the air without risk. That’s why we have speed limits and laws on child labor. That’s why last year we put in place consumer protection measures against hidden fees and penalties from credit card companies and new rules to avoid another financial crisis. And that is why we approved the reform that finally prevents the insurance sector from exploiting patients.
Now, I heard rumors that some of you have some problems with the new health care law. Therefore, let me be the first to say that it is possible to improve everything. If you have ideas on ways to improve this law and make the service better or more economical, I look forward to working with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in this law that has imposed an unnecessary accounting burden on small businesses.
What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurers could deny coverage to someone because of a pre-existing condition. I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a Texas patient with brain cancer, that his treatment may not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business owner in Oregon, that he has to pay $ 5,000 more to offer coverage to his employees. At this time, this law is reducing the price of prescription drugs for the elderly and giving uninsured students the opportunity to stay on their parents’ policy. So, instead of fighting the battles of the past two years, let’s fix what needs to be fixed and move on.
Now, the final step, a crucial step, to win the future is to make sure we do not get overwhelmed by a mountain of debt.
We live with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago. And after the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to continue the flow of credit, preserve jobs and put money in people’s pockets.
But now that the worst of the recession is over, we must face the fact that our government spends more than it collects. That is not sustainable. Every day families are sacrificed to live with what they earn. They deserve a government that does the same.
Therefore, tonight I am proposing that from this year we freeze the annual national expenditure during the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $ 400,000 million in the next decade and reduce discretionary spending to the lowest percentage of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
For this freezing, difficult cuts will be required. We have already frozen the salaries of the careful federal employees during the next two years. I have proposed cuts in areas that are very important to me, such as community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in expenditures that he and his generals consider can be dispensed with.
I recognize that some in this House have already proposed deeper cuts and I am willing to eliminate anything that we can really do without. But let’s make sure not to do so at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure that what we cut is really excessive. Reducing the deficit by annihilating our investments and innovation and education is like relieving a load of an airplane by throwing the engine. In the beginning, we may feel like we are still flying, but we will soon feel the impact.
Now, most of the cuts and savings that I have proposed only have to do with the annual national expenditure, which represents little more than 12% of our budget. To achieve more achievements, we need to stop pretending that cutting back on this type of expense, by itself, will be enough. It is not like this.
The bipartisan Fiscal Commission that I constituted last year made this very clear. I do not agree with all your proposals, but they achieved real achievements. And his conclusion is that the only way to face our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find them: in national spending, defense spending, health care expenses and lower income from cuts and tax loopholes.
This means further reducing the cost of health care, including programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which contribute the most to our long-term deficit. The health insurance reform will make these costs not increase as quickly, which is part of the reason why independent economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a billion dollars to our deficit. Anyway, I’m willing to consider other ideas to reduce costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: the reform of medical liability to reduce frivolous lawsuits.
To make us step on the firm ground, we must also find a bipartisan solution in order to strengthen Social Security for the benefit of future generations. And we must do so without endangering current retirees, the most vulnerable or people with disabilities; without cutting the benefits of future generations, and without submitting guaranteed retirement income for Americans to the vagaries of the stock market.