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Obama vows, ‘We will rebuild’
In the speech, which lasted 52 minutes and was interrupted by applause 65 times, Mr. Obama took a victory lap on the $787 billion economic-stimulus spending bill, which he passed almost exclusively with Democratic votes, and said that was only a beginning to what the government must do to rescue the economy.
He challenged the stock market, which has declined markedly since he took office, saying, “Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem.”
He balanced his pledge with more bank aid with a harsh message for corporate bosses, noting their rescue will come with a short leash.
But he also cast the blanket of blame for the economic situation across government, business and American consumers themselves.
“I say this not to lay blame or 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,” he said.
Two of the applause lines turned into a partisan duel. Republican lawmakers leapt to their feet and applauded when Mr. Obama said the current generation cannot pass on to its children “a debt they cannot pay.” But then the president responded to the sarcastic applause by quickly calling it “the deficit we inherited,” prompting an even louder ovation from the chamber’s much more numerous Democrats.
That list will come Thursday when he delivers his first budget to Congress, in which he will lay out the specifics that will fill out his lofty campaign promises.
He told legislators that along with the new programs that he will call on them to pass, they will have to accept a streamlined federal government. Although, his list of cuts seemed to rehash the same areas presidents of both parties have targeted, only to find resistance in Congress and the federal bureaucracy.
“In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use,” Mr. Obama said.
“We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas,” he said.
Mr. Obama’s speech was not formally a State of the Union address, which is the custom for newly elected presidents, although it had essentially the same trappings, including a packed House chamber.
But some of Mr. Obama’s problems followed him into the chamber. On one side sat Sen. Roland W. Burris, the Illinois Democrat who took his seat but who has come under fire for inconsistencies in his story about his dealings with disgraced former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.
On the Republican side sat Sen. John McCain, who lost last year’s election to Mr. Obama but who applauded the president’s calls for greenhouse gas emissions caps, and Sen. Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who withdrew as Mr. Obama’s commerce secretary nominee.
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