We've gone through the deepest recession since the Great Depression, and folks here have had their lives uprooted by lost jobs and foreclosed homes, shuttered businesses, vanished savings.
Many good, hardworking people who met their responsibilities are now struggling, in part because folks on Wall Street and people in Washington didn't meet their responsibilities.
So when I took office, we knew the first thing we had to do was to break the back of this recession, and sometimes that meant doing some things that weren't easy, doing some things that weren't popular.
Lord knows it wasn't popular to prevent our financial system from collapsing. We had to throw a lifeline to some of the very firms that had helped cause this crisis in the first place. But, it was the right thing to do, because if we hadn't taken those steps, the entire system could have gone down and taken our economy and millions of families and businesses with it.
We couldn't afford that.
Because of the steps we've taken, the markets have now stabilized.
Nobody's worrying about another Great Depression like they were just a year ago, and the worst of the storm has passed.
But I don't need to tell you the devastation remains. Today, one in 10 Americans still can't find work.
That's why jobs has to be our number one focus in 2010, and we're going to start where most new jobs start -- with small businesses.
These are the companies that begin in basements and garages when an entrepreneur takes a chance on his dream, or a worker decides it's time she becomes her own boss.
Now, small businesses have created roughly 65 percent of all new jobs over the past decade and a half. So, we need to make it easier for them to open their doors, to expand their operations, to hire more workers.
That's why I've already proposed a new tax credit for more than 1 million small businesses that hire new workers or raise wages -- and a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment, and while we're at it, we should eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment, so these folks can get the capital they need to grow and create jobs, and when they start making a profit, they can put those profits back into the business.
Now, that's particularly critical right now, because bank lending standards have tightened since the financial crisis and many small businesses are still struggling to get loans, and that's why I'm announcing a proposal to take $30 billion of the money that was repaid by Wall Street banks, now that they're back on their feet, take that $30 billion and use it to create a new Small Business Lending Fund that will provide capital for community banks on Main Street.
It's the small, local banks that work most closely with small businesses. They usually provide them their first loan. They watch them through good times and bad. The more loans these smaller banks provide to creditworthy small businesses, the better deal we’ll give them on capital from this fund that we've set up, and if you combine it with my proposal back in December to continue waiving fees and increasing guarantees for SBA-backed loans, all this will help small banks do even more of what our economy needs -- and that's ensure that small businesses are once again the engine of job growth in America.
Now, I'm convinced we can make that happen. This is just one example of what we’ve been doing to create jobs this past year.
As some of you might remember, last February, we passed the Recovery Act, which had three parts. One-third was tax relief for small businesses and for 95 of you, 95 percent of working families. One-third of the Recovery Act was emergency relief, like increasing unemployment benefits and helping states keep teachers and police officers and firefighters from losing their jobs, and one-third was putting people to work on infrastructure and renewable energy and medical research, and more.
Now, if you hear some of the critics, they'll say, well, the Recovery Act, I don't know if that's really worked, because we still have high unemployment.
But, what they fail to understand is that every economist, from the left and the right, have said because of the Recovery Act, what we've started to see is at least a couple of million jobs that have either been created or would have been lost.
The problem is 7 million jobs were lost during the course of this recession. So, we've still got a big hole to fill.
It's going to be absolutely critical that Congress acts over the next several months to make sure that we don't lose sight of the fact that even though the economy is now growing again -- almost 6 percent last quarter -- people have not started hiring again, and we've got to do everything we can to put people back to work, because we need a sustainable recovery over the long term.
I've got to be honest with you, there's no magic wand that makes the economic problems that were years in the making disappear overnight, and sometimes, it’s easy for politicians to exploit the anger, the pain that people are feeling right now.
I have to point out, though, that some of the very same folks in Congress who opposed the Recovery Act -- and claim that it hasn’t worked -- have been all too happy to claim credit for Recovery Act projects and the jobs those projects have produced. They come to the ribbon cuttings and they found a way to have their cake and vote against it, too.
But, look, we’re making progress, but it can’t come fast enough.
We want to accelerate it, and we know that if we truly want to have long-term economic growth in this country, then we need to start addressing some of the struggles the middle-class families have been dealing with for years, long before this particular recession hit.
This past decade has been one of the toughest our middle class has faced in generations, because folks have seen their paychecks shrink, their housing prices fall, while the cost of everything -- from groceries to health care to college -- keeps going up.
So, a lot of you are working two jobs. Certainly everybody in your household is working. You're working longer hours -- but you feel like you’re treading water and in some cases it’s not adding up.
A lot of people put their kids to bed wondering whether they’ll be able to give them the opportunities in life that they got from their parents.
I told you -- I didn’t run for President to kick these challenges down the road. I didn’t run for President to play it safe. I didn't run just to keep my poll numbers as high as possible for the next election. I ran to solve problems for the next generation.
I ran to get the hard things done. That's why you elected me.
So, I won’t rest until businesses are hiring again, and wages are rising again, and the middle class is thriving again, and we’ve finally got an economy that works for all Americans, not just some Americans.
I won't rest until we do what we know has to be done to secure our leadership in the 21st century. I don't want to cede our future to China and India and European countries. I'm not willing to settle for second place -- not for the United States of America.
But, if we're going to win the race, here's the thing: I can't do this alone. Democrats can't do it alone. The President can't do it alone.
We've got two parties in this country, and that's a good thing. It means we've got heated debates and vigorous disagreements, and as messy as democracy sometimes is, it means bad ideas can be discarded and good ones can be refined and we don't go too far in any one extreme.
That's the genius of American democracy.
So, I was very pleased when the House Republican Caucus graciously invited me to attend their retreat.
We had a good time for more than an hour. For more than an hour, we had a frank exchange about the issues facing our country, and we aired some of our grievances, we shared some ideas.
There were plenty of things on which we didn't agree, but there were also some things on which we did, and even more things that we should agree on, if we could just focus on solving problems instead of scoring political points.
Now, for example, we all agree that education is the key to a 21st century economy.
We all agree that the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. So, why don't we work together to transform our schools, so that every child in America can compete with their counterparts around the world, from Beijing to Bangalore.
Let's work together to upgrade our community colleges, which are the gateway to a career for so many children from so many working families, and I know we've got a lot of young people who are about to head off to college.
In an era when a high school diploma is no longer a guarantee of a good job, let's make college affordable for every qualified student.
As I said at the State of the Union, no graduate should have to pay more than 10 percent of his or her income on student loans each year.
We can see to it that they don't. We've got legislation pending right now that could make this happen.
Republicans and Democrats may not see eye to eye on the threat of global warming -- I happen to think the evidence is overwhelming.
Some disagree. We can have a respectful argument there. But, shouldn't we agree that American homegrown energy is good for our security, and that new clean energy jobs are good for our economy? Can't we all agree that these jobs shouldn't be going to China or Germany or Spain -- they should be right here in United States of America.
So, let's invest in innovation. Let's put people to work on solar panels and wind towers and cutting-edge batteries, because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy, and America has to be that nation.
These are key parts of the foundation we need to build for a better future for our families, for our country.
Another foundation stone is fixing a health insurance system that works better for insurance industry than it does for the American people.
I do not quit. We are going to get that done. We've got to get it done. We have to get it done.
Nobody should be satisfied with a system that allows insurance companies to deny care to folks with preexisting conditions, that allows insurance companies to kick people off their plans when they get too sick.
Nobody should accept a system where small businesses are forced to pay outrageous premiums to get their workers covered, and seniors have big gaps in their Medicare prescription coverage.
Nobody should accept another decade in which health insurance premiums double and millions lose their coverage altogether.
There was just a report the other day that showed even greater numbers of Americans now are having to rely on government insurance, not because of my plan, but because employer-based insurance has declined to an all-time low.
Now, these are the things that I hear about every day in the letters I get -- from families going bankrupt; from small businesses crushed by their health care costs. So, I am not going to walk away from these efforts.
I will not walk away from these people, and Congress shouldn't either. We should keep working to get it done -- Democrats and Republicans together, let's get it done this year.
Now, finally, we should all be able to agree that we've got to do something about our long-term deficits. Now, these deficits won’t just burden our kids and our grandkids decades from now -- they could damage our markets now, they could drive up our interest rates now, they could jeopardize our recovery right now.
Responsible families don’t do their budgets the way the federal government does. Right?
When times are tough, you tighten your belts. You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices.
It’s time your government did the same.
Now, that’s why I continue to insist on making investments for job growth this year, why I continue to insist that we put more money into education; that's why I say we put more money into science and technology for innovation.
That's why I continue to believe that we've got to invest in our infrastructure so that we are building the kind of America that can compete in the 21st century.
Those are smart investments. That's like buying the new boiler -- if it's busted, you got to get a new boiler. If the roof's leaking, you got to fix the roof. There's some things you've got to do.
But, you can put off buying the new curtains, even if it'd be nice to have. You know, that -- remodeling the bathroom, I mean, everything is working. You don't need it right now. I mean, what we've been having are folks who want to buy the curtains but don't want to fix the boiler, and our priorities have to change.
That's why I proposed cutting more than 120 government programs -- consolidating ones that are duplicative, reducing ones that are wasteful, eliminating those that just don't work.
That's why I proposed to cap government spending over the next three years.
Spending related to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and our national security will not be affected. But, all other discretionary government programs will.
That doesn't mean we have to do less. It just means we've got to do more with the money we've got.
That's why I'm grateful that both the House and the Senate have now voted to reinstate what's called the PAYGO rule. It's a very novel concept. It means "pay as you go."
So, the PAYGO rule helped create those record surpluses back in the 1990s. You remember that? That was way back when, instead of the record deficits that we had when I came into office, and the concept here is, as I said, is it's very simple.
You want to start a new program? Go ahead, but you've got to cut another one to pay for it.
That's how we'll make sure we're spending your money wisely.
You want to cut taxes for somebody? That might be a good idea, but you got to find a way to close the revenue hole, so that everything actually adds up.
That's how we'll get our deficit under control. That's something that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree to -- if we could just stop playing politics, get past the Washington game.
Now, let me just give you an example here, because we released the budget, right away the other side says, oh, look at all these trillions of dollars of debt -- absolutely.
I mean, I'm concerned about it very much. It keeps me awake at night, looking at all that red ink.
Most of it is structural and we inherited it. The only way that we are going to fix it is if both parties come together and start making some tough decisions about our long-term priorities.
But last week, the Senate blocked a law that I had supported to create a bipartisan fiscal commission that would come up with a set of recommendations for cutting our deficits in the long term.
This is a difficult thing. It's only going to be solved if we do it together. This law failed by seven votes when seven Republicans who had co-sponsored the bill -- had co-sponsored the idea -- suddenly walked away from their own proposal after I endorsed it.
So, they make a proposal. They sign on to the bill. I say, great, good idea. I turn around -- they're gone. What happened?
Look, it’s one thing to have an honest difference of opinion on something. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can't walk away from your responsibilities to confront the challenges facing the country, because you don't think it’s good short-term politics. We can’t afford that.
The message you all sent when you elected me, the message that was sent this past month -- whether you're Democrat, Republican, independent -- you're out of patience.
You're out of patience with this kind of business as usual. You want us to start worrying less about our jobs and more about your jobs.
You want us to worry less about our election and more about solving your problems. And for once, you’d like a government that reflects a sense of responsibility and decency and generosity, because that's how you try to live your lives.
We need that kind of spirit. We've come through a tough year and a tough decade, but that fundamental decency, that sense of determination, that grit, that willingness to work hard in pursuit of a good idea, the determination to do what's right -- that's been at the core of the American experience, and that should fill us all with optimism about what lies ahead.
So, let’s put aside the small things. Let’s come together. Let's do what's hard. Let's welcome what's hard. Let's welcome the challenge. Let's do what's necessary to help the middle class succeed again; to give our shot -- our kids a shot at their dreams again; and to fulfill the promise of this great country in our time, in our generation.
That's our test. Thank you very much, everybody.
God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you.