Good morning. Earlier this week, the newly elected members of the House and the Senate took their oaths of office and became part of the 110th Congress. I congratulate them all, and I look forward to working with them over the next two years.
Since the November elections, I've had a number of productive meetings with the new leaders in Congress, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. I was encouraged by our discussions, and I'm confident that we can find common ground in our efforts to serve our fellow citizens and to move our country forward.
One area where we are already finding agreement is in our effort to spend the people's money wisely. This week, I announced that I will submit a five-year budget proposal that will balance the federal budget by 2012, while making the tax relief we passed permanent. Some Democrats have indicated that balancing the budget is a top priority for them as well. By holding the line on spending and continuing our pro-growth policies, we can balance the budget and address the most urgent needs of our Nation, which are winning the war on terror and maintaining a strong national defense, keeping our economy growing, and creating jobs.
We also see bipartisan agreement emerging on reforming the earmark process in Congress. Earmarks are spending provisions that are often slipped into bills at the last minute -- so they rarely get debated or discussed. Many earmarks divert precious funds away from vital priorities like national defense and education to wasteful pork- barrel projects. I appreciate Democratic leaders who have pledged to maintain our current levels of spending without additional earmarks this year. And I support the temporary moratorium on all new earmarks announced by the Democrats.
This is a good start, but I believe we can do more. This week, I proposed my own earmark reforms, which would make the earmark process more transparent, end the practice of concealing earmarks in so-called report language never included in legislation, and cut the number and costs of earmarks by at least half. These common-sense reforms will help prevent billions of taxpayers' dollars from being spent on unnecessary earmarks.
Another area where Democrats and Republicans can work together is in the effort to improve our schools. We have done so before. In my first year as President, Democrats and Republicans saw that our schools were failing too many students, so we worked together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. This good law gave our schools new resources -- and in return, we asked them to show results. By setting high standards and measuring student progress, we're holding schools accountable for teaching every student to read, write, add, and subtract.
Since No Child Left Behind was passed, we have seen major improvements in student achievement all across America. In reading, nine-year-olds have made larger gains in the last five years of the test than in the previous 28 years. In math, nine-year-olds and 13- year-olds earned the highest scores in the history of the test. And in both reading and math, African-American and Hispanic students are scoring higher and starting to close the achievement gap.
This year the No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization. I'm confident that both parties can work together to help our Nation's students. By reauthorizing this important legislation, we can help make our schools a gateway to opportunity for every child.
With this new Congress and new year, Democrats and Republicans will have many opportunities to serve the American people. We must rise to meet those opportunities and build a stronger and more compassionate Nation for generations to come.
Thank you for listening.