“America does not stand still. We move forward.” -- this was a recurring theme in the President’s speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, harkening back to one of the most sweeping speeches of his presidency.
On April 14th of last year, the President spoke at Georgetown University on his vision to restore the economy not just in the short term, but for generations to come. In the time since then, the economy has turned from hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs, to some of the strongest job growth we’ve seen in years over the past months – although for millions of Americans times are still tough. But in that same time, much progress has also been made on what the President called the “New Foundation” a year ago:
It's a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: Number one, new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation, not reckless risk-taking -- (applause); number two, new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive -- (applause); number three, new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and new industries -- (applause); number four, new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and number five, new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. (Applause.)
The President noted that “for a lot of middle-class families -- for entire communities, in some case -- a sense of economic security has been missing since long before the recession began,” and that this problem is what the New Foundation is meant to address. As such, he chastised the Republican Party for the fact that “most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers” rather than offer real help. He gave a recap of the progress made on each pillar, making clear while some may argue we need to move backward towards the broken status quo, he will continue to push forward:
On Wall Street Reform, which has passed both the House and Senate:
To start with, we can't compete as a nation if the irresponsibility of a few folks on Wall Street can bring our entire economy to its knees. That's why we're on the verge of passing the most sweeping financial reform since the Great Depression. It’s a reform that will help prevent another AIG. It will end taxpayer-funded bank bailouts. It contains the strongest consumer protections in history -- protections that will empower Americans with the clear and concise information they need before signing up for a credit card or taking out a mortgage.
On education, which has remained a consistent top priority of the President’s even as other issues dominated the headlines:
You know, if you’re a family who’s tightening your belt, you will definitely sacrifice going out to dinner, but you’re not going to sacrifice saving for your child’s college education. It’s precisely our investments in education and innovation that will make America more competitive in the 21st century. And we can’t go back; we’ve got to move forward. (Applause.)
That’s why I’ve made education reform a top priority -- because countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. And so we want every citizen to have the skills and training they need in a global economy -- from the day that you’re born through whatever career you may choose.
Last year, we launched a national competition to improve our schools based on a simple idea: Instead of funding the status quo, we will only invest in reform -- reform that raises student achievement, that inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans.
On the deficit, which was put on a disastrous course in previous years, and was made worse by the recession that “put a $3 trillion hole in our budget before I even walked in the door”:
The third component is the belt-tightening steps I’ve already outlined to reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.
Starting in 2011, we will enact a three-year freeze on all discretionary spending outside of national security -- something that was never enacted in the last administration. We will allow the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire. We’ve gone through the budget, line by line, and identified more than 120 programs for elimination. We’ve restored a simple budgeting rule that every family and business understands called pay-as-you-go. And we will charge the largest Wall Street firms a fee to repay the American people for rescuing them during the financial crisis -- a fee that will bring down the deficit by $90 billion -- (applause) -- a fee that will bring down the deficit by $90 billion over the next decade. By the way, that $90 billion represents about one-eighth of the amount these banks will pay out in bonuses over the same time period in time.
On reforming our broken health insurance system, now the law of the land, with new benefits kicking in virtually every month:
We also know we can’t compete in a global economy if our citizens are forced to spend more and more of their income on medical bills; if our businesses are forced to choose between health care and hiring; if state and federal budgets are weighed down with skyrocketing health care costs. That’s why we finally passed health insurance reform.
Now, let’s be clear. The costs of health care are not going to come down overnight just because legislation passed, and in an ever-changing industry like health care, we’re going to continuously need to apply more cost-cutting measures as the years go by. But once this reform is in full effect, middle-class families will pay less for their health care, and the worst practices of the insurance industry will end. People with preexisting medical conditions will no longer be excluded from coverage. People who become seriously ill will no longer be thrown off their coverage for reasons contrived by the insurance company. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay -- in the form of higher premiums -- for trips to the ER by uninsured Americans. Businesses will get help with their health care costs. In fact, small businesses are already learning they’re eligible for tax credits to cover their workers this year. And with less waste and greater efficiency in the system, this reform will do more to bring down the deficit than any step we have taken in more than a decade.
The other party has staked their claim this November on repealing these health insurance reforms instead of making them work. They want to go back. We need to move forward.
The President saved the clean energy economy for last, which got its biggest investment in history from the Recovery Act, but which still lacks a comprehensive energy bill out of the Senate:
Now, this brings me to an issue that’s on everybody’s minds right now -- namely, what kind of energy future can ensure our long-term prosperity. The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error, or of corporations taking dangerous shortcuts to compromise safety, or a combination of both. And I’ve launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened. But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks -- (applause) -- these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren. (Applause.)
We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. So without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month -- including countries in dangerous and unstable regions. In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security. It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.
Now, I understand that we can’t end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight. That’s why I supported a careful plan of offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy. But we can pursue such production only if it’s safe, and only if it’s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.
And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future. (Applause.) Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient. It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants. It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.