Jan. 20, 2015:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:
We are fifteen years into this new century.
But tonight, we turn the page.
Where we stand right now, in Washington, D.C., 50 percent of the children are living in poverty. And yet, more than 50% of this legislative body have individual net worth exceeding one million dollars. Inequality is the central reality of the economy that exists in our country and around the world. Right now the 80 wealthiest people in the world control as much wealth, own as much wealth, as the bottom 50 percent of the population of the world, more than 3.5 billion people.
We have a booming stock market not from earnings or wage growth but from pure financial alchemy, with 80% of trades done by high speed computer algorithms running not on price discovery or productive value but on each other's exuberance. This will not end well.
Tonight, for the first time since
America, for all that we've endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has not passed, and the State of the Union is
At this moment – with a
Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well for their brief remaining lifetimes? Or will we commit ourselves to
Will we approach that world, the way we have these past 15 years, fearful and reactive, drugged by mass media, a diseased health service and nutritionally bankrupt national diet until we are dragged unresisting into costly conflicts that strain our military, set back our standing, and squander the little time remaining to arrest climate change? Or will we lead wisely, using all elements of our power to
Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?
In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan. And in the months ahead, I'll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas.
So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.
It begins with our economy.
Lately we seem to be rejoicing over the low price of gasoline and the strong US dollar, but as R. Buckminster Fuller reminds us:
The requisite pressures and heat that must be maintained continuously and steadily over the multimillenia involved in the natural production of liquid fossil fuels, when accounted at the kilowatt-per-hour prices charged to retail customers by the public utilities for that much energy for that vast span of time, amount to well over a million dollars per each gallon of petroleum.
We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world. And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before. All of those achievements take our nation to 36th in the world, the lowest we have been since No Child Left Behind was first uttered in these halls. Our nation is behind Singapore, Korea, Liechtenstein, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Tunisia, Mexico and Vietnam, and yet, or because, it is among the most expensive, social-economically unequal, and computerized in the world. This needs to change and that is why I am proposing we stop injecting religion into our curricula, start assisting the poorest performing schools, and expand Head Start and other proven programs for the youngest and most disadvantaged.
At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we've seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years.
So the verdict is clear.
Today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives. Wages are finally starting to rise again. We know that more small business owners plan to raise their employees' pay than at any time since 2007. But here's the thing – those of us here tonight, we need to set our sights higher than just making sure government doesn't halt the progress we're making.
In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity. We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort
So what does
Here's one example. During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare. In today's economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It's not a nice-to-have – it's a must-have. It's time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. And that's why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America
Here's another example. Today, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I'll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let's put it to a vote right here in Washington. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the
Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That's why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It's 2015. It's time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise. And while we are at it, let us increase the minimum social security benefit to $15,000. The idea that your father and mother should have to live on $3,600 per year because of how little they were paid in their working careers is a scandal.
These ideas won't make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship. That's not the job of government. To give working families a fair shot, we'll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter's earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company's long-term interest. We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice. But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage – these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families. That is a fact. And that's what all of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – were sent here to do.
Second, to make sure folks
America thrived in the 20th century because we were not very far from our roots in the farm, and the life skills that gives a child. To level the playing field between urban and rural, rich and poor, we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best modern workforce in the world.
By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require
That's why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community and vocational colleges – to zero.
Thanks to Vice President Biden's great work to update our job training system, we're connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to
And as a new generation of veterans comes home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend. Already, we've made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care. We're slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need, and we're making it easier for vets to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs.
However, let me stop here and say that in an era when social media connects us all in real time, you and I and everyone around the world shared a tragic event this year. Together, we watched, on TV, a black man, Eric Garner, father of six, who was being polite, and whose only alleged offense was selling cigarettes by the single, rather than by the pack, choked to death by NY police officer Daniel Pantaleo while he said, repeatedly, politely, and with respect in his voice, "I can't breathe." And after we watched him stop breathing, and his body lay unattended in the street until he died of a heart attack in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, we watched the young man who filmed that crime be thrown in jail and we watched the policeman who committed that crime go unpunished, and we learned that that Daniel Pantaleo had a long pattern of misconduct.
In Ferguson, Missouri, violence and chaos erupted after a grand jury elected not to indict a white officer, Darren Wilson, for the killing of Michael Brown, a black teenager.
We also watched, again on TV, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was carrying an airsoft gun that shoots non-lethal plastic pellets, shot repeatedly, and fatally, within 1½ to 2 seconds of officer Timothy Loehmann pulling up in his police cruiser to a WalMart children's play area.
That is why tonight I am proposing that police departments and police academies all across America be excluded from the initiatives we are creating to hire veterans, and that laws be enacted prohibiting veterans from working in any job involving lethal weapons. We trained them to be killers, we subjected them to brutality that scars them still, and we have no business sticking a gun in their hand and sending them out onto the streets of America to attack cigarette vendors, teenagers in hoodies, or children with plastic guns.
Earlier this year I ordered an end to our war on whistleblowers. We dropped all our demands of Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen and we will stop jailing those who reveal high crimes and misdemeanors in government, the military and the workplace. If journalism is not a crime, why are we criminalizing journalists? Is it because we are frightened of their power? Are we like the Saudi kingdom, that feels it necessary to order 1000 lashes for a blogger who challenges authority, or to publicly decapitate women who refuse to wear the veil?
I ask Congress to amend or repeal the Espionage Act so that this kind of abuse can never happen again.
I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world. We need to hear the voices of others around the world, whether it is from Anonymous, YouTube, Netflix, Silk Road, Wikileaks, Al-Jazeera or Russia Today. The Voice of America does not have a corner on the truth — we need to hear all sides. Freedom of speech demands it.
I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs – converting sunlight into liquid fuel; building the next generation of sailing ships;
Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there's bipartisan support in this chamber. Members of both parties have told me so. Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments. As Americans, we don't mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too. But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They've riddled it with giveaways the superrich don't need, denying a break to middle class families who do.
Just before I took office 6 years ago, when the captains of Wall Street ran the country into a ditch, the country chose to bail out the banks in hopes that they would lend more to Main Street. They didn't, and we find ourselves more in debt today, and the giant Ponzi schemes they ran up before the last crash are now ten times larger. No one can bail out anyone when they crash, as surely they will. As James Howard Kunstler has said,
"The collective failure of authority, whether of intention or oversight or mental deficiency boggles the mind. And it leaves us where we are: in a compressive deflationary contraction, a.k.a. the long emergency. This is not a cyclical recession. It's the end of one thing and the beginning of another thing, another phase of history in which people will have to learn to live differently or perish."
This year, we have an opportunity to change that insanity. Let's close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, or buy more yachts and private islands for their top 1 percent, and reward those that invest in America. Let's use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.
Lets revoke the charter of any company found guilty of the kinds of financial fraud we uncovered in 2008. Some people are calling this corporate capital punishment.
Since 2010, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined.
No one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future. But we do know we want some of them here in America. That's why the third part of
21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains, large cargo-carrying sailing ships, and the fastest internet.
21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more quality American products
Let's simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford. And let's close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth and property. We can use that money to help more families
Helping hardworking families make ends meet. Giving them the tools they need for good-paying jobs in this new economy. Maintaining the conditions for growth and competitiveness. This is where America needs to go. I believe it's where the American people want to go. It will make our economy stronger a year from now, fifteen years from now, and deep into the century ahead.
Of course, if there's one thing this new century has taught us, it's that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.
We need to end the threat of nuclear weapons once and for all. We cannot tell others they cannot have these weapons when we possess them ourselves. That is why I am urging Congress to expedite the process of global nuclear disarmament by funding new diplomatic initiative that would eliminate all nuclear weapons and the means to produce them by 2020, the same year we complete our phase-out of nuclear power plants.
My first duty as Commander-in-Chief is to be sure that the men and women we have placed in harms way can safely return home when the airlines no longer have fuel to fly and the ships that sail are too few to transport hundreds of thousands of troops back to home shores. For that reason, I am ordering a gradual drawdown of military forces stationed abroad and a phased closure of our military bases overseas. We will return Kiev to the popular vote of all Ukrainians, without manipulating the election. We will return the Guantánamo Naval Base to Cuba. We will return Okinawa to Japan. We will return Pearl Harbor to the people of Hawai'i. We will divest and boycott Israel and insist on legal proceedings by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and atrocities against Palestinians.
We will release all of those uncharged and unjustly held for 13 years at Guantánamo for nothing more serious than being in the wrong place at the wrong time or having the wrong name, and many of them tortured with no possible justification. Tonight I am asking Congress to provide these victims reparations to establish them in life better than when they were when they were taken to Cuba, with our sincere but always inadequate apologies for what happened to them.
As John Adams said,
"America is a friend of freedom everywhere, but a custodian only of our own."I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership. We lead
First, we stand united with people around the world who have been targeted by terrorists – from a those children at school in Pakistan who were blown up by that Hellfire Missile to the streets of Boston or Paris. We will continue to
In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you're doing doesn't work for fifty years, it's time to try something new. Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo. As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of "small steps." These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba.
Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies –
Third, we're looking beyond the issues that have consumed us in the past to shape the coming century.
In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola – saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease. I couldn't be prouder of them, and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts. But the job is not yet done – and the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.
In the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules – in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief. And no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.
2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn't make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.
I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.
That's why, over the past six years, we've done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That's why we've set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that's why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world's two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we've got.
But to combat climate change at this point in time, after all the years of delay, will require more than cutting emissions. We will need to launch an effort to net sequester more carbon than we emit, but putting it into our soils and returning American soils to some of the most fertile on the planet.
There's one last pillar to our leadership – and that's the example of our values.
As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It's why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It's why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer.
As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice – so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit. Since I've been President, we've worked responsibly to cut the population of GTMO in half. Now it's time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down and give that land back to Cuba. It's not who we are.
As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties – and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks. So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven't. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we'll issue a report on how we're keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.
Looking to the future instead of the past. Making sure we match our power with diplomacy, and use force wisely. Building coalitions to meet new challenges and opportunities. Leading – always – with the example of our values. That's what makes us exceptional. That's what keeps us strong. And that's why we must keep striving to hold ourselves to the highest of standards – our own.
So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother's keeper, and our sister's keeper. And I know they expect those of us who serve here to set a better example.
So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America's hopes. I've served in Congress with many of you. I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn't what you signed up for – arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.
Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.
Understand – a better politics isn't one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.
A better politics is one where we appeal to each other's basic decency instead of our basest fears.
A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than "gotcha" moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people's daily lives.
A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.
If we're going to have arguments, let's have arguments – but let's make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.
We still may not agree on a woman's right to choose, but surely we can agree it's a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.
Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is snatched from her child, and that it's possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it's being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.
We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won't rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves all of us. Am I right, Shirley?
That's a better politics. That's how we start rebuilding trust. That's how we move this country forward. That's what the American people want. That's what they deserve.
I have no more campaigns to run. (applause) My only agenda (laughter) -- I know becuase I won both of them (applause). My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I've had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol – to do what I believe is best for America. If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, join me in the work at hand. If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you'll at least work with me where you do agree. And I commit to every Republican here tonight that I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.
Because I want this chamber, I want this city, to reflect the truth – that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, to help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world.
I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are
I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen – man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native American, gay, straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability. Everybody matters.
I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true: that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America.
"It is amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to...we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times."
My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times. Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America. We've laid a new foundation. A brighter future is ours to write. Let's begin this new chapter – together – and let's start the work right now.
Thank you, God bless you. God bless this country we love. Thank you. (Applause)