Much attention has been given to President Obama's persistent use of "I" when giving speeches to sell his administration's agenda. Is he taking responsibility -- or, as his critics say, is he still in campaign mode? FoxNews.com is tracking the president's speeches all this month and will report back after each to see whether The "I's" Have It.
Today's Speech: Opening remarks at the Senate Democrats' annual issues retreat in Washington, D.C.
Subject: The Democratic legislative agenda
Speech Length: 2,449 words
Number of "I" References: 49
The following is a transcript of Obama's remarks:
Thank you, guys. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Everybody please have a seat. Thank you.
Listen, you guys had to listen to me at the State of the Union -- or at least pretend to listen to me. (Laughter.) So I'll try to keep it relatively brief, some opening remarks and then open it up for questions.
First of all, I just want to thank Harry Reid. (Applause.) I recently said he's got one of the toughest jobs in Washington -- managing an institution that by its very nature is, let's face it, you guys are a little difficult to manage. I've been a part of this caucus. I really don't think anybody could have done a better job under more trying circumstances than Harry Reid. And I think he deserves a huge round of applause. (Applause.)
Now, let me start by saying we always knew this was going to be a difficult year to govern -- an extraordinarily difficult year to govern. We began 2009 with a financial system on the brink of collapse, an economy bleeding nearly 700,000 jobs per month, a $1.3 trillion deficit, and two wars that were costly in every sense of the word. We knew that solutions wouldn't come easily or come quickly. We knew that the right decisions would be tough and sometimes they would be unpopular. And we knew that we might have to make them sometimes without any help from our friends on the other side of the aisle.
But we made those decisions. We led. Those actions prevented another Great Depression; they broke the back of a severe recession. The economy that was shrinking by 6 percent a year ago is now growing at nearly 6 percent one year later. (Applause.) That's because of the work that you did.
Harry listed some of the work that you did on behalf of the American people, even under these difficult circumstances: extending health insurance to 4 million children, protecting consumers from getting ripped off by their credit card companies, and kids being targeted by big tobacco. Some things that weren't noted or didn't get a lot of attention: You reformed defense spending by eliminating waste, and saved taxpayers billions while keeping us safe at the same time. You gave billions of dollars of tax relief to small businesses and 95 percent of working families here in America.
You did all this despite facing enormous procedural obstacles that are unprecedented. You may have looked at these statistics. You had to cast more votes to break filibusters last year than in the entire 1950s and '60s combined. That's 20 years of obstruction packed into just one. But you didn't let it stop you.
As Harry mentioned, though, our mission is far from accomplished, because while the worst of the storm has passed, far too many Americans are still hurting in its wake. I know you've seen it back home in the shuttered businesses, the foreclosed homes; you've heard it from constituents who are desperate for work; and we've seen it in the burdens that families have been grappling with long since this recession hit -- issues that we've been talking about now for years: the burden of working harder and longer for less, of being unable to save enough to retire or to help kids with college expenses, the extraordinarily constant rising costs of health care.
Those problems haven't gone away. It's still our responsibility to address them. All that's changed in the last two weeks is that our party has gone from having the largest Senate majority in a generation to the second largest Senate majority in a generation. And we've got to remember that. There was apparently a headline after the Massachusetts election; the Village Voice announced that Republicans win a 41-59 majority. (Laughter.) It's worth thinking about. We still have to lead.
Saving and creating jobs have to continue to be our focus in 2010. Last year, we gave small business -- the engines of job creation -- tax relief, and expanded lending through the SBA. I don't know if you are aware that SBA loans have gone up 70, 80 percent, which, by the way, indicates the degree to which there is still huge demand among small businesses. Some of the banks are saying, well, we're not lending because there's not as much demand out there. There are a lot of small businesses that are hungry for loans out there right now. And we've made progress but they're still struggling. So I've proposed additional ideas to help small businesses start up and hire, to raise wages and expand, and to get the credit they need to stay afloat.
You've made some of these same proposals, as well. We should put them into action without delay. (Applause.)
We've invested in America's infrastructure, rebuilding roads and bridges, and ports and railways, and putting people to work strengthening our communities and our country. And as you know, the Recovery Act was designed so that a lot of that work is going to be taking place this year, not just last year. Many of the projects you funded come online in the next six months. But we can do more, and we should do so without delay.
Through the investments you made in clean energy startups, we've not only helped put Americans to work, we're on track to double our nation's capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years. I've proposed additional tax credits that will promote private sector hiring and energy conservation. We should do that without delay.
I think ideas like this should be pretty palatable to the other party. They seem pretty common sense, pretty centrist. We should be able to hear their ideas as well. That's why I spoke to the Republican caucus last Friday. I think it was to the country's benefit that we had an open and frank discussion about the challenges facing the American people and our ideas to solve them. (Applause.) I got to admit, I had a little fun at that caucus. (Laughter.)
Now, obviously, on some issues, we didn't agree. But on some, we did. And I'm reminded that when it came to health insurance reform in particular, I sought out and supported Republican ideas from the start -- so did you. Max Baucus -- where's Max? I think he can testify to spending a little time listening to Republican ideas. So can Chris Dodd and Tom Harkin. You considered hundreds of Republican amendments, and incorporated many of their ideas into the legislation that passed the Senate. So when I start hearing that we should accept Republican ideas, let's be clear -- we have. What hasn't happened is the other side accepting our ideas.
And I told them, I want to work together when we can, and I meant it. I believe that's the best way to get things done for the American people. But I also made it clear that we'll call them out when they say they want to work with us and we extend a hand and get a fist in return.
Last week, for example, you put up for a vote a bill I supported -- Conrad-Gregg fiscal commission. We were sure this was going to be bipartisan, only to see seven Republicans who co-sponsored the idea in the first place suddenly decide to vote against it.
Now, I'm open to honest differences of opinion. But what I'm not open to is changing positions solely because it's good short-term politics. And what I'm not open to is a decision to stay on the sidelines and then assign blame. I've little patience for the kinds of political calculation that says the cost of blocking everything is less than the cost of passing nothing; that basically says "If they lose, I win." That's been the politics in Washington for too long, and the problem is it leaves the American people out of the equation.
So I would just suggest to this caucus, if anybody is searching for a lesson from Massachusetts, I promise you the answer is not to do nothing. The American people are out of patience with business as usual. They're fed up with a Washington that has become so absorbed with who's up and who's down that we've lost sight of how they're doing. They want us to start worrying less about keeping our jobs and more about helping them keep their jobs.
And they want to see their business done in an open and transparent way. When we took back the Senate in 2007, we did so in part because we made a case that we'd be better on ethics and transparency. And we backed that up by passing the most sweeping ethics reforms since Watergate and by beginning to address earmark abuse. We should be proud of those accomplishments. But if we're going to erase that deficit of trust that I mentioned at the State of the Union, we're still going to have to do more.
That's why I've proposed that we work together to make all earmark requests public, on one central Web site, before they come up for a vote; and to require lobbyists to discuss details of their contacts on behalf of their clients with the administration or with Congress. That's why, working with people like Dick Durbin, who's been vocal on this for a long time, we've got to confront the gaping loophole that the Supreme Court recently opened in our campaign finance laws that allowed special interests to spend without limit to influence American elections.
We've also got to get back to fiscal responsibility. And I spoke about this at the State of the Union. Just 10 years ago, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. Remember, people were worried about what might happen with all these surpluses, and whether it would create problems in the financial markets. That was just a decade ago.
After two wars, two tax cuts, prescription drug program -- none of which were paid for -- we faced a deficit of over $1 trillion, a debt over the next decade of $8 trillion, before my administration spent a single dollar.
Now, we can't change the past, but we can change the future. That's why I'm asking you to adopt a freeze in non-security discretionary spending for the next three years, starting next year. We're still having a tough time right now, given the economy is just starting to pick up steam -- but starting next year.
That's why I'm grateful that all of you restored the PAYGO rules that worked so well in the 1990s. I already mentioned the fiscal commission. We may not have been able to get the votes for a statutory commission, but we're going to -- I am going to appoint a commission by executive order, because it's important for us to take these issues seriously -- not just for us but for our children and our grandchildren.
Let me just wrap up by saying this. I know these are tough times to hold public office. I'm there in the arena with you. The need is great. The anger and the anguish are intense. The economy is massive and so, as a consequence, no matter what levers and buttons we press, sometimes it doesn't move as quickly as is needed to provide relief to so many of our constituents. In that kind of circumstance, I think the natural political instinct is to tread lightly, keep your head down, and to play it safe.
I've said this before to this caucus; I just want to say it again. For me, it is constantly important to remind myself why I got into this business in the first place; why I'm willing to be away from my family for big stretches at a time; the financial sacrifices that so many of you have made; being subject to criticism constantly. You don't get in this for the fame. You don't get in it for the title. You get in it because somewhere in your background, at some point in time, you decided there was an issue that was so important that you were willing to stand up and be counted. You were going to fight for something. And you decided you were going to run as a Democrat because there was a core set of values within the Democratic Party about making sure that everybody had a fair shot, making sure that middle-class folks were treated fairly in our economy, making sure that those who were on the outside had a way in that led you to get involved in public service.
And that's what we have to remind ourselves, especially when it's hard -- especially when it's hard. You look at an issue right now like health care. So many of us campaigned on the idea that we were going to change this health care system. So many of us looked people in the eye who had been denied because of a preexisting condition, or just didn't have health insurance at all, or small business owners in our communities who told us that their premiums had gone up 25 percent or 30 percent. And we said we were going to change it.
Well, here we are with a chance to change it. And all of you put extraordinary work last year into making serious changes that would not only reform the insurance industry, not only cover 30 million Americans, but would also bend the cost curve, and save a trillion dollars on our deficits, according to the Congressional Budget Office. There's a direct link between the work that you guys did on that and the reason that you got into public office in the first place.
And so as we think about moving forward, I hope we don't lose sight of why we're here. We've got to finish the job on health care. (Applause.) We've got to finish the job on financial regulatory reform. (Applause.) We've got to finish the job even though it's hard.
And I'm absolutely confident that if we do so in an open way, in a transparent way, in a spirit that says to our political opponents that we welcome their ideas, we are open to compromise, but what we're not willing to do is to give up on the basic notion that this government can be responsive to ordinary people and help give them a hand up so they can achieve their American Dream -- we will not give up that ideal. (Applause.) If that's where we go, I'm confident that politics in 2010 will take care of themselves.
Harry, thank you very much. I'm going to turn it over to questions. Thank you. (Applause.)