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Weekly remarks: Obama still clearing wreckage; Cantor asks, where are the jobs?

July 11, 2009 |  3:00 am

Obama White House at Dawn

This week's weekly remarks open with President Obama in Africa opening on foreign affairs. But by the second paragraph out of 20, he gets to what he really wants -- needs -- to talk about: domestic business in general and the economy specifically.

His polls numbers have slipped, especially among seniors and even independents. People still like him a lot (though they now like his wife better).

But they're increasingly worried about some of his programs and these numbers with more digits than civilian calculators can display -- all the spending and unemployment still growing, reform of healthcare that some 70% of Americans are satisfied with now.

You can tell what White House polling has told them by the subjects ticked off in Obama's remarks: We inherited this mess, the economic stimulus bill so urgently pushed in February wasn't really designed to fix the economy, and the switching of terms about jobs. It used to be about creating and/or preserving jobs. Now, preserving jobs comes first, which, like murders not committed, is difficult to prove or disprove without numbers. Which is the point.

Be patient, Obama urges, more spending will kick in this summer. I promise healthcare reforms won't add to the deficit. We're cutting waste. We need clean energy. Etc.

The Republican remarks, provided this week by Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, are in many ways the mirror image.

They see their own poll numbers. It's been six months; the economy belongs to Obama now. Where are the promised jobs? Unemployment at 9.5% is already higher than the 8.5% the administration promised as max. The stimulus bill was larded with pork. We can't afford all this spending and borrowing. The federal government this year alone has borrowed $10Gs for economic stimulus from every American family. Do you feel better knowing that?

This is an argument we will all hear in varying forms from now until next year's midterm elections, when the White House party historically takes a hit in Congress.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Weekly remarks of President Obama, July 11, 2009

This week, we’ve made important progress toward the goal of bringing about change abroad and change at home. During my visit to Russia, we began the process of resetting relations so that we can address key national priorities like the threat of nuclear weapons and extremism. At the G-8 summit, leaders from nearly 30 nations met to discuss how we will collectively confront the urgent challenges of our time, from managing the global recession to fighting global warming to addressing global hunger and poverty. And in Ghana [see arrival photo below], I laid out my agenda for supporting democracy and development in Africa and around the world.

But even as we make progress on these challenges abroad, my thoughts are on the state of our economy at home. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. 

We came into office facing the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. At the time, we were losing, on average, 700,000 jobs a month. And many feared that our financial system was on the verge of collapse. 

As a result of the swift and aggressive action we took in the first few months of this year, we’ve been able to pull our financial system and our economy back from the brink. We took steps to restart . . .

. . . lending to families and businesses, stabilize our major financial institutions and help homeowners stay in their homes and pay their mortgages. We also passed the largest and most sweeping economic recovery plan in our nation’s history.

The Recovery Act wasn’t designed to restore the economy to full health on its own, but to provide the boost necessary to stop the free fall. It was designed to spur demand and get people spending again and cushion those who had borne the brunt of the crisis. And it was designed to save jobs and create new ones. 

In a little over 100 days, this Recovery Act has worked as intended. It has already extended unemployment insurance and health insurance to those who have lost their jobs in this recession. It has delivered $43 billion in tax relief to American working families and businesses. Without the help the Recovery Act has provided to struggling states, it's estimated that state deficits would be nearly twice as large as they are now, resulting in tens of thousands of additional layoffs -- layoffs that would affect police officers, teachers and firefighters. 

The Recovery Act has allowed small businesses and clean energy companies to hire new workers or scrap their plans for eliminating current jobs. And it’s led to new jobs building roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects, thousands of which are only beginning now. In the months to come, thousands more projects will begin, leading to additional jobs.  

the Obama family arrives in Accra Ghana for a brief visit

Now, I realize that when we passed this Recovery Act, there were those who felt that doing nothing was somehow an answer. Today, some of those same critics are already judging the effort a failure although they have yet to offer a plausible alternative. Others believed that the recovery plan should have been even larger, and are already calling for a second recovery plan. 

But, as I made clear at the time it was passed, the Recovery Act was not designed to work in four months -- it was designed to work over two years. We also knew that it would take some time for the money to get out the door, because we are committed to spending it in a way that is effective and transparent. Crucially, this is a plan that will also accelerate greatly throughout the summer and the fall. We must let it work the way it’s supposed to, with the understanding that in any recession, unemployment tends to recover more slowly than other measures of economic activity. 

I am confident that the United States of America will weather this economic storm. But once we clear away the wreckage, the real question is what we will build in its place. Even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, I have insisted that we must rebuild it better than before.

Without serious reforms, we are destined to either see more crises, or suffer stagnant growth rates for the foreseeable future, or a combination of the two. That’s a future I absolutely reject. And that’s why we’re laying a new foundation that’s not only strong enough to withstand the challenges of the 21st century, but one that will allow us to thrive and compete in a global economy. That means investing in the jobs of the future, training our workers to compete for those jobs, and controlling the healthcare costs that are driving us into debt.  

Through the clean energy investments we’ve made in the Recovery Act, we’re already seeing start-ups and small businesses make plans to create thousands of new jobs. In California, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant. In Michigan, investment in wind turbines and wind technology is expected to create over 2,600 jobs. And a few weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed historic legislation that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy, leading to whole new industries and jobs that can’t be outsourced.

To give our workers the skills and education they need to compete for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future, we’re working on reforms that will close achievement gaps, ensure that our schools meet high standards, reward our teachers for performance and give them new pathways to advancement.

Finally, we have made important progress in the last few weeks on healthcare reform that will finally control the costs that are driving our families, our businesses and our government into debt. Both the Senate and the House have now produced legislation that will bring down costs, provide better care for patients, and curb the worst practices of insurance companies, so that they can no longer deny Americans coverage based on a preexisting medical condition. 

It’s a plan that would also allow Americans to keep their health insurance if they lose their job or if they change their job.  And it would set up a health insurance exchange: a marketplace that will allow families and small businesses to access one-stop shopping for quality, affordable coverage, and help them compare prices and choose the plan that best suits their needs. One such choice would be a public option that would make healthcare more affordable through competition that keeps the insurance companies honest.

One other point. Part of what makes our current economic situation so challenging is that we already had massive deficits as the recession gathered force. And although the Recovery Act represents just a small fraction of our long-term debt, people have legitimate questions as to whether we can afford reform without making our deficits much worse.

So let me be clear; I have been firm in insisting that both healthcare reform and clean energy legislation cannot add to our deficit. And I intend to continue the work of reducing waste, eliminating programs that don’t work, and reforming our entitlement programs to ensure that our long-term deficits are brought under control.

I said when I took office that it would take many months to move our economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity. We are not there yet, and I continue to believe that even one American out of work is one too many. But we are moving in the right direction. We are cleaning up the wreckage of this storm. And we are laying a firmer, stronger foundation so that we may better weather whatever future storms may come. This year has been and will continue to be a year of rescuing our economy from disaster.

But just as important will be the work of rebuilding a long-term engine for economic growth. It won’t be easy, and there will continue to be those who argue that we have to put off hard decisions that we have already deferred for far too long. But earlier generations of Americans didn’t build this great country by fearing the future and shrinking our dreams.

This generation -- our generation -- has to show that same courage and determination. I believe we will. Thanks for listening.   ###

Weekly Republican remarks by Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia

Hello. I’m House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and I have the great privilege of representing the hardworking people of Virginia’s 7th District. 

American families and small businesses today are struggling.

Republicans have put forth thoughtful, serious and comprehensive plans of action that put jobs first. We offered an economic recovery plan that would have revitalized struggling small businesses and helped middle-class families by putting Americans back to work. 

Yet, the president, in tandem with Democrats in Congress, have pushed through a $787-billion bill full of pork barrel spending, government waste and massive borrowing cleverly called ‘stimulus.’

There is no doubt that our nation faces many challenges, but the plain truth is that President Obama’s economic decisions have not produced jobs, have not produced prosperity and have not worked.

President Obama has already asked you to borrow trillions, and so far nearly 3 million jobs have been lost this year alone. 

Remember the promises? They promised you if you paid for their stimulus, jobs would be created immediately. In fact, they said that unemployment would stay under 8%.

Yet just months later, they are telling us to brace for unemployment to climb over 10%. They promised jobs created. Now, they scramble to find a way to play games with government numbers by claiming jobs saved.

Simply put, this is now President Obama’s economy and the American people are beginning to question whether his policies are working. 

But that doesn’t mean we are out of options. Together, we can bring about a strong and real recovery. We can create an environment that empowers small businesses and American workers to thrive. We must focus on job creation and restoring the financial and retirement security lost by millions. 

Republican Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia

And for the sake of our children and our long-term fiscal viability, Washington must stop spending money that it doesn’t have. 

That’s why every day, my Republican colleagues are fighting to enact policies that will stabilize our economy, create jobs and ignite prosperity. You and your family deserve no less. 

Since January, we have offered alternatives to the out-of-control, big government, Democrat agenda that unfortunately became law and has completely failed to create jobs. Our plan is simple and smart -- and its strength is that it doesn’t invest in Washington, it invests in the American people.

We believe Washington should stop its war on the middle class and reduce tax rates so every hardworking, taxpaying family in America will see an immediate increase in their income. A prosperous middle class is critical for our entire nation’s well-being.

We believe Washington must stop targeting America’s small businesses and instead should empower them by allowing employers to take a tax deduction to free up funds to retain and hire new employees.

Our history proves that it is the small businessmen and women who will reignite our economy by putting people back to work. Washington should get out of the way and encourage small-business employers to start or grow a business.

Lastly, we believe Washington must be responsible for every taxpayer dollar that it spends. Washington must live within its means. We will not support tax hikes to pay for even more so-called stimulus spending.

The overwhelming majority of Americans are working hard and are playing by the rules. They are providing for their families and doing their part to return America to the pinnacle of prosperity.

Their reward? Trillions more in debt. 

For the "stimulus" alone, Washington borrowed nearly $10,000 from every American household. Let me ask you: Do you feel $10,000 richer today?  Do you feel $10,000 better off? If you don’t, please know most people agree.

That is why we continue our fight because during these tough economic times, it often seems that Washington is offering you few choices except for spend and borrow. I’m here today to let you know there are alternatives: common-sense tax relief, smart and necessary reductions in spending, and intelligent policies that do not bankrupt our nation.

That is why I’m asking you to join our fight for accountability and common sense. We can do better and we will do better, but first we have to come together to change what is going on. The time is critical; the choice is yours. I’m Eric Cantor, and on behalf of my Republican colleagues, join with us to get Washington working for you once again. Thank you for listening.    ###

Photo credits: Ron Edmonds / Associated Press; Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images; office of Rep. Cantor.