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Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais (pool)

'Day of reckoning'

Politics | President Obama delivers an address to Congress and to the world, outlining a way out of the sour economy

Before members of Congress, his Cabinet, Supreme Court justices, his wife, millions of Americans, and people around the world, President Obama delivered a speech Tuesday at the Capitol. Under glaring lights and the glare of global attention, he addressed the gloom of the economic crisis.

Though the president said the "day of reckoning has arrived," he assured Americans, "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

About 16 international news outlets covered the speech, 20 percent of the press in attendance, indicating how significant Obama's words were to the rest of the world. French, Italian, even Turkish conversations filtered through the press gallery.

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Having painted a dire economic picture, Obama again tried to appeal for bipartisanship in Congress: "Given these realities, everyone in this chamber-Democrats and Republicans-will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me."

When Obama said Americans have a responsibility to not pass on debt to their children, Republicans cheered. The next sentence Obama began, "With the deficit we inherited, . . ." and Democrats cheered.

"I know we can get some consensus here," Obama quipped. He said he plans to cut the national deficit in half, and that his administration has identified $2 trillion in savings over the next decade, cutting education programs, agriculture subsidies, tax breaks to wealthy Americans, and spending in Iraq.

The president named health care, energy independence, and education reform as his priorities for economic recovery. He delivered the bad news that banks will need more federal help than the $700 billion Congress provided in the fall, and promised more accountability for any money spent.

"This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet," Obama said. "Those days are over."

On education the president said he would expand charter schools, adding, "Dropping out of high school is no longer an option." For those involved in volunteering or community service, he said, "We will make sure that you can afford a higher education."

Obama closed his speech by calling on Americans to do "something worthy to be remembered."

Afterward, in a media melee outside the House chamber, Republicans generally said the speech was eloquent. But on the substance of Obama's economic solutions, many shrugged.

"The era of big government is back," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

"It's especially difficult to reduce the deficit when you're spending without constraint," said Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.

Democrats, visibly excited during the president's speech, were ecstatic after.

"The big guy hit it out of the park," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi glided through knots of reporters, tossing her head back in delight about the speech.

"It was fabulous!" she said.

One Republican had good things to say about the president.

"I think he reached out, and we have to reach out as well," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. The stimulus, he said, "set a bad tone."

Rising Republican star, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, delivered the Republican response on television. He showed deference to the president but criticized any plans to "put more money and power in the hands of Washington politicians."

The president's speech had other stars: US Airways hero-pilot Chesley Sullenberger attended and was received with cheers and a standing ovation. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also appeared, despite her recent surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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