PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans, today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it and did her part to lift America's graduation rate to its highest levels in more than three decades.
An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup and did her part to add to the more than 8 million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years. (Applause.)
An autoworker fine-tuned
some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world and did his part to help
A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.
A rural doctor gave a young
child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford.
(Applause.) A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but
dreaming big dreams for his son. And in tight-knit communities all across
Tonight this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong. (Applause.)
And here are the results of your efforts: the lowest unemployment rate in over five years; a rebounding housing market -- (applause) -- a manufacturing sector that's adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s -- (applause) -- more oil produced -- more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that's happened in nearly twenty years -- (applause) -- our deficits cut by more than half; and for the first time -- (applause) -- for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world's number one place to invest; America is.
(Cheers, applause.) That's
why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for
The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It's an important debate -- one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy -- when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States -- then we are not doing right by the American people. (Cheers, applause.)
Now, as president, I'm
committed to making
But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.
And in the coming months -- (applause) -- in the coming months, let's see where else we can make progress together. Let's make this a year of action. That's what most Americans want, for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all, the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America. (Applause.)
Now, let's face it: That belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.
Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all.
So our job is to reverse these trends.
It won't happen right away, and we won't agree on everything.
But what I offer tonight is
a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle
class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require
congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you. But
As usual, our first lady sets a good example. Michelle's -- (applause) -- well. (Chuckles.) (Cheers, applause.) Yeah. Michelle's Let's Move! partnership with schools, businesses, local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years, and that's an achievement -- (applause) -- that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come. The Joining Forces alliance that Michelle and Jill Biden launched has already encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses. (Applause.)
Taking a page from that playbook, the White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit, where already 150 universities, businesses, nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education and to help every hardworking kid go to college and succeed when they get to campus.
And across the country -- (applause) -- we're partnering with mayors, governors and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.
The point is, there are
millions of Americans outside
Now -- (sustained cheers and applause) -- opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation must be to restore that promise.
We know where to start. The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job. With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year.
And over half of big manufacturers say they're thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad. (Applause.)
So let's make that decision easier for more companies. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let's flip that equation. Let's work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home. (Cheers, applause.)
Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes -- because in today's global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We'll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. (Cheers, applause.) That can happen.
But -- but I'll act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible. (Applause.)
We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. And my administration's launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Youngstown, Ohio, where we've connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies.
Tonight, I'm announcing we'll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So, get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work. (Applause.)
Let's do more to help the
entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in
There are entire industries to be built based on vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria or paper-thin material that's stronger than steel. And let's pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly and needless litigation. (Applause.)
Now, one of the biggest
factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The
"all the above" energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and
One of the reasons why is natural gas. If extracted safely, it's the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. (Applause.) Businesses plan to invest almost a hundred billion dollars in new factories that use natural gas. I'll cut red tape to help states get those factories built and put folks to work, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. (Applause.)
Meanwhile, my administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and jobs growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, our communities. And while we're at it, I'll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations. (Applause.)
Now, it's not just oil and natural gas production that's booming; we're becoming a global leader in solar too.
Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can't be outsourced. Let's continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don't need it so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do. (Cheers, applause.)
And even as we've increased energy production, we've partnered with businesses, builders and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months I'll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.
And taken together, our
energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the
past eight years the
But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That's why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.
The shift -- (applause) -- the shift to a cleaner energy economy won't happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way.
But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. (Applause.) And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did. (Cheers, applause.)
Finally, if we're serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement -- and fix our broken immigration system. (Cheers, applause.) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let's get immigration reform done this year. (Cheers, applause.) Let's get it done. It's time.
The ideas I've outlined so far can speed up growth and create more jobs. But in this rapidly-changing economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.
The good news is, we know
how to do it. Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush
opened up a manufacturing firm in
So tonight, I've asked Vice
President Biden to lead an across- the-board reform of
I'm also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it's more effective in today's economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people. (Cheers, applause.)
Let me tell you why.
Misty DeMars is a mother of two young boys. She'd been steadily employed since she was a teenager, put herself through college. She'd never collected unemployment benefits, but she's been paying taxes.
In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home. A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved. Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter, the kind I get every day. "We are the face of the unemployment crisis," she wrote. "I'm not dependent on the government. Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society, care about our neighbors. I am confident that in time I will find a job, I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love. Please give us this chance."
Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance. (Cheers, applause.) Give them that chance. Give them the chance. They need our help right now, but more important, this country needs them in the game. That's why I've been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at new jobs, a new chance to support their families. And in fact, this week many will come to the White House to make that commitment real.
Tonight I ask every business
Of course, it's not enough to train today's workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow's workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education. (Applause.)
Estiven Rodriguez couldn't
speak a word of English when he moved to
Five years ago we set out to
change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student
loans, and today more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.
Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states
raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from
Now, some of this change is hard.
It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it is worth it -- and it is working.
The problem is we're still not reaching enough kids, and we're not reaching them in time, and that has to change.
Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child's life is high-quality early education. (Applause.) Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.
But in the meantime, 30
states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can't wait. So just
as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year we'll invest in new
partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top
for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it's going to do, I'm
going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and
philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K that
they need. (Applause.) It is right for
Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we've got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit. (Cheers, applause.)
We're working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career. We're shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle- class kid is priced out of a college education. We're offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt. (Applause.)
And I'm reaching out to some
The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won't be complete, and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise, unless we also do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.
You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment.
Women deserve equal pay for equal work. (Cheers, applause.)
You know, she deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. (Cheers, applause.) A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. (Applause.) And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a "Mad Men" episode. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) This year let's all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds. (Cheers, applause.)
Now, women hold a majority
of lower-wage jobs, but they're not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages.
Americans understand that some people will earn more money than others, and we
don't resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success.
In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs.
Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here today with his boss, John Soranno. John's an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. (Laughter.) Only now he makes more of it. (Laughter.) John just gave his employees a raise to 10 bucks an hour, and that's a decision that has eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.
Tonight I ask more of
To every mayor, governor,
state legislator in
Of course, to reach millions more, Congress does need to get on board.
Today the federal minimum
wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first
stood here. And Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting
the minimum wage to $10.10. It's easy to remember: 10.10. This will help
families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It does
not involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say
There are other steps we can
take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing
inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the
Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some
point. Think about that. It helps about half of all parents in
But I agree with Republicans like Senator Rubio that it doesn't do enough for single workers who don't have kids. So let's work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, help more Americans get ahead.
Let's do more to help
Americans save for retirement. Today most workers don't have a pension. A Social
Security check often isn't enough on its own. And while the stock market has
doubled over the last five years, that doesn't help folks who don't have
401(k)s. That's why tomorrow I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for
working Americans to start their own retirement savings:
And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations. (Applause.)
One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven't heard, we're in the process of fixing that. (Scattered laughter, applause.)
Now -- a pre-existing
condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician's assistant
and single mom from
Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents' plans. (Applause.)
More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage -- 9 million. (Applause.)
And here's another number: zero. Because of this law, no American, none, zero, can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a pre-existing condition like asthma or back pain or cancer. (Cheers, applause.) No woman can ever be charged more just because she's a woman. (Cheers, applause.) And we did all this while adding years to Medicare's finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.
Now, I do not expect to
convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. (Laughter.)
(Chuckles.) (Laughter.) But I know that the American people are not interested
in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs,
cover more people, increase choice, tell
(Cheers, applause.) The first 40 were plenty. We all owe it to the American people to say what we're for, not just what we're against.
And if you want to know the
real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of
Steve's right. That's why tonight I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Help them get covered. (Applause.) Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It'll give her some peace of mind, and plus, she'll appreciate hearing from you. (Laughter.)
After all, that -- that's the spirit that has always moved this nation forward.
It's the spirit of citizenship, the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.
Citizenship means standing up for everyone's right to vote. (Applause.) Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened, but conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it. And the bipartisan commission I appointed, chaired by my campaign lawyer and Governor Romney's campaign lawyer, came together and have offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote. Let's support these efforts. It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy. (Cheers, applause.)
Citizenship means standing
up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the
courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country
who say "we are not afraid," and I intend to keep trying, with or without
Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our
movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like
Citizenship demands a sense of common purpose; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.
And I know this chamber
agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the
men and women of the
Tonight, because of the
extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us
After 2014, we will support
If the Afghan government
signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans
could remain in
The fact is that danger
remains. While we've put al-Qaida's core leadership on a path to defeat, the
threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in
different parts of the world. In
We have to remain vigilant.
But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our outstanding military alone. As commander in chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm's way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles -- (applause) -- that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us -- large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.
So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing. (Applause.) That's why I've imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.
That's why, working with
this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of
our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that
privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. (Applause.) And with the
Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining
restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at
You see, in a world of complex threats, our security, our leadership depends on all elements of our power -- including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.
American diplomacy, backed
by the threat of force, is why
As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the state of Israel -- a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side. (Applause.)
And it is American
diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of
It's not installing advanced
centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that
These negotiations will be
difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about
The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. (Applause.) For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.
And finally, let's remember
that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats but by
the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the
globe, to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from
fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those
Our alliance with
And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster, as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, "We will never forget your kindness" and "God bless America."
We do these things because
they help promote our long-term security. And we do them because we believe in
the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or
religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week the world will see one
expression of that commitment when Team
My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them.
No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform. As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We'll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they've earned and our wounded warriors receive the health care -- including the mental health care -- that they need. (Applause.) We'll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home, and we will all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.
Let me tell you about one of those families I've come to know.
I first met Cory Remsburg, a
proud Army Ranger, at
A few months later, on his
10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in
For months, he lay in a coma. And the next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn't speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he's endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.
Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he's learned to speak again and stand again and walk again, and he's working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
"My recovery has not been easy," he says. "Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy."
Cory is here tonight. And
like the Army he loves, like the
My fellow Americans -- my
fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that
But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice and fairness and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.
The America we want for our kids -- a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us -- none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it's within our reach.
God bless you, and God bless