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Obama calls for new jobs in State of the Union address Wednesday

In Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address Wednesday, nationally televised before a joint session of Congress, the president hoped to restore plummeting confidence among Americans that Washington can work effectively to produce a cure for the current economic downturn.

Just one week after the surprising victory of Republican Scott Brown in the Mass. Senatorial special election that sent political reverberations across the country, President Obama looked to convey to Americans that he is focused on tackling the economic recession that has left the United States with unemployment hovering over ten percent.

The president told his fellow Democrats to not “run for the hills,” despite increasing resistance to the party’s political agenda from Republicans and lobbyists and rising skepticism amongst the electorate.

Obama admitted that he did not enjoy the much-denigrated bailouts of the financial sector, noting that they “were about as popular as a root canal.” He stated that while the government has recovered most of the money given to banks, he was not yet finished, and pressed for support in his recent campaign to tax the nation’s largest banks to obtain the rest.

In his 71-minute speech, the president also defended the stimulus package, which passed as one of his administration’s first achievements.

“Without it, unemployment could be double what it is today,” said Obama. “It saved more than two million jobs,” he claimed, and stated that it should save another 1.5 million jobs before the end of 2010. The president also pushed Congress to fight unemployment further, stating that he would like “a jobs bill on my desk without delay,” so that America can “lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth.”

Obama’s rhetoric at moments suggested that legislation capping-down on the Wall Street business practices that led to the economic downturn could be in the pipeline. He referred to the 2000s as a “lost decade” whose “prosperity built on a housing bubble and financial speculation,” and noted that the country needs to expand into the emerging green sector to create jobs before other nations beat America to it, including introducing “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants,” along with bio-fuels and other clean energy.

Obama suggested that “there is no reason why Europe or China should be developing high-speed trains” and other green jobs, while the U.S. settles for less, and announced a new high-speed railroad funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“I do not accept second place for the United States of America,” said the President, one of the only instances he elicited full applause from the joint session of Congress.

Despite the bitterly partisan political climate, Obama still attempted to reach across the aisle to Republicans on some issues, including when he enthusiastically stated that he had been able to cut taxes for millions of Americans, noting that “we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.” 

Republicans chose to decline joining the Democrats in clapping for the line, leading Obama to joke briefly with his tough congressional crowd.

“I thought I’d get some applause for that one,” said Obama.

 Nick Bush can be reached nbush@student.umass.edu. 

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