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06 December 2023

America will emerge stronger, assures Obama

Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the Capitol. (AFP)


The US President, Barack Obama, vowed to lead a fearful America through its torment to emerge stronger than ever, declaring a "day of reckoning" after an age of excess ended in economic meltdown.

In an ambitious, policy-heavy speech to Congress, the new president demanded national sacrifice and responsibility to help revive the US economy in a show of confidence meant to restore optimism.

"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," Obama said, triggering riotous cheers from US legislators.

"At this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us, watching to see what we do with this moment, waiting for us to lead."

In a blizzard of programmes and reforms, the president demanded an overhaul of financial regulation and warned he may need more than the $700 billion (Dh2.57trillion) already earmarked to save the debt-riddled finance industry.

He promised to guide the nation to a future powered by renewable fuels and new generation cars, where all Americans get health care and kids no longer drop out of school. Targeting the crippled finance sector, Obama announced a government lending plan to thaw frozen credit markets and fund auto and home purchases.

He assured Americans their savings were safe, and argued that saving banks did not mean shoveling taxpayer cash to greedy executives.

But he warned the price for recovery would be a new economy in which people spent within their means, and turned their backs on a chase for easy wealth and quick profits.

In a sharp critique of former president George W Bush, and even his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, Obama chastised Americans for prizing short-term materialism over long-term security.

"We failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election," Obama said. "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."

Obama also declared a new era of US diplomatic engagement, promising "swift and certain justice" for captured terrorists. However he was light on foreign policy specifics.

In a swift response, Louisiana's Indian-American Governor Bobby Jindal attacked Obama's economic policies as "irresponsible."

"All of us want our economy to recover and our nation to prosper," Jindal, a possible 2012 White House contender, said in the Republican rejoinder.

"Where we agree, Republicans must be the president's strongest partners. And where we disagree, Republicans have a responsibility to be candid and offer better ideas for a path forward."

Obama also said his aides had been scrutinising the federal budget, in line with his vow to halve the deficit - forecast to reach $1.3trn this year – by 2013.

"We have already identified $2trn in savings over the next decade," said Obama, who was due to unveil his first budget today.

"We will eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defence budget so that we are not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we do not use."

The president also vowed to end the Bush administration's practice of keeping the hundreds of billions of dollars in war costs related to Afghanistan and Iraq outside of the main budget, and vowed to increase the number of soldiers and Marines.

Shredding Bush administration reluctance to tackle climate change, Obama called on Congress to fund a chase for "clean, renewable energy," and to approve legislation "that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

In his short time in power, Obama has already driven a $787bn stimulus plan through Congress, unveiled a $275bn home foreclosure prevention plan and tried, so far unsuccessfully, to steady the banking industry. Leading US news media yesterday praised the tone and substance of Obama's speech, describing the US leader as confident.