The economy will recover and the nation will rebuild, President Obama declared Tuesday in his first address to Congress as he tried to assure the country that the end of the recession is in sight.
The president struck a more optimistic tone than in recent speeches, balancing honesty about the challenges of the economic crisis with confidence in the ability of Americans to confront the recession and emerge stronger from it.
He warned about the danger of an "open-ended recession," but also urged lawmakers to join him in doing whatever is necessary to prevent it.
"I refuse to let that happen," Obama said about the possibility of the economy sputtering along for years. He said investments not only in the financial system but energy, health care and education will ensure a sustained recovery.
"You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day," Obama said. "But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken -- though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."
Obama faced a mostly tame Congress on Tuesday but won both cheers and boos when he said returning the country to fiscal responsibility will require slashing waste on earmarks and more streamlined defense spending. Obama repeated his goal of cutting the deficit in half by the end of his first term, despite the massive commitments in spending made by his administration in just the first 30 days.
Obama, in promoting his administration's proposals, said the economic crisis "will not determine the destiny of this nation."
He said the solutions to current problems already exist in laboratories, universities and factories across the country.
"What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more," Obama said, adding that, "It is time for America to lead again."
He focused almost entirely on the economy in the hour-long address. The speech to the joint session of Congress was not a formal State of the Union address but served as the new president's first full status report to lawmakers on the opening of his term.
Obama delivered the report after sealing a major victory a month into his term, the passage of a $787 billion stimulus package. However, the president frequently has invoked words like "crisis" and "catastrophe" as he sold Americans on the need for the plan, and some, including former President Clinton, had urged Obama to bring back the hopeful rhetoric he employed so effectively during the campaign.
Advisers rejected that criticism, but Obama still kept his assessments uplifting as he discussed the country's future on Tuesday -- even as he placed responsibility for the current quagmire on the excesses of economic high times.
He said years of extravagant spending and deregulation led to a "day of reckoning," but that Americans must "take charge" of the future.
Obama, following a week of historic lows on the stock market, sought to assure Americans that their investments are safe. "The money you've deposited in banks across the country is safe, your insurance is secure, you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That's not the source of concern," he said.
Rather, Obama said the key challenge continues to be the credit crisis, and he urged support for his plans to try to address this by shoring up the financial system and reversing the mortgage meltdown.
Shortly after the address, Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave the GOP response. In it, Jindal decried Democrats for supporting what he called an "irresponsible" stimulus bill that would only grow government and "saddle future generations with debt."
But Obama appealed to lawmakers for their help going forward. He said the stimulus only marks the first peg in the overall economic recovery plan, and that the government must make long-term investments to grow jobs and industries. He said health care reform, investment in education and investment in alternative energy is key.
The speech comes as Obama continues to roll out his administration's multitrillion dollar plans to lift up Wall Street. This has led to recent concern about whether the government is considering nationalizing banks.
While the White House claims nationalization is not the preferred course, Obama said he hears the frustration from taxpayers about increasing the government's stake in banks that were in some cases irresponsible.
"I promise you -- I get it," Obama said. "But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job -- our job -- is to solve the problem. ... It's not about helping banks -- it's about helping people."