February 9th, 2009
08:09 PM ET
7 years ago

Obama: This is the 'winter of our hardship'

President Obama's opening remarks at this evening's prime-time press conference, as released by the White House:

Good evening. Before I take your questions tonight, I’d like to speak briefly about the state of our economy and why I believe we need to put this recovery plan in motion as soon as possible.

I took a trip to Elkhart, Indiana today. Elkhart is a place that has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America. In one year, the unemployment rate went from 4.7% to 15.3%. Companies that have sustained this community for years are shedding jobs at an alarming speed, and the people who’ve lost them have no idea what to do or who to turn to.

They can’t pay their bills and they’ve stopped spending money. And because they’ve stopped spending money, more businesses have been forced to lay off more workers. Local TV stations have started running public service announcements that tell people where to find food banks, even as the food banks don’t have enough to meet the demand.

As we speak, similar scenes are playing out in cities and towns across the country. Last Monday, more than 1,000 men and women stood in line for 35 firefighter jobs in Miami. Last month, our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine. And if there’s anyone out there who still doesn’t believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from.

That is why the single most important part of this Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is the fact that it will save or create up to 4 million jobs. Because that is what America needs most right now.

It is absolutely true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do.

When passed, this plan will ensure that Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage. We will also provide a $2,500 tax credit to folks who are struggling to pay the cost of their college tuition, and $1000 worth of badly-needed tax relief to working and middle-class families. These steps will put more money in the pockets of those Americans who are most likely to spend it, and that will help break the cycle and get our economy moving.

But as we learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone cannot solve all our economic problems – especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it has only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.

That is why we have come together around a plan that combines hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the middle-class with direct investments in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure – investments that will save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again – now and in the future.

More than 90% of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector. These will not be make-work jobs, but jobs doing the work that America desperately needs done. Jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and repairing our dangerously deficient dams and levees so that we don’t face another Katrina. They will be jobs building the wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars that will lower our dependence on foreign oil, and modernizing a costly health care system that will save us billions of dollars and countless lives. They’ll be jobs creating 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America. And they’ll be the jobs of firefighters, teachers, and police officers that would otherwise be eliminated if we do not provide states with some relief.

After many weeks of debate and discussion, the plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be big enough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challenge we face right now. It is a plan that is already supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America; by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It contains input, ideas, and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans. It also contains an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability, so that every American will be able to go online and see where and how we’re spending every dime. What it does not contain, however, is a single pet project, and it has been stripped of the projects members of both parties found most objectionable.

Despite all of this, the plan is not perfect. No plan is. I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing too little or nothing at all will result in an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence. That is a deficit that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe. And I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this country back to work.

I want to thank the members of Congress who’ve worked so hard to move this plan forward, but I also want to urge all members of Congress to act without delay in the coming week to resolve their differences and pass this plan.

We find ourselves in a rare moment where the citizens of our country and all countries are watching and waiting for us to lead. It is a responsibility that this generation did not ask for, but one that we must accept for the sake of our future and our children’s. The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. That is the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship, and it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead. After a day of speaking with and listening to the fundamentally decent men and women who call this nation home, I have full faith and confidence that we can. And with that, I’ll take your questions.

Filed under: Obama press conference
soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. Eric Grose

    To the members of Congress and the Senate,would you IDIOTS,please do SOMETHING,you are playing with millions of lives here!!!!!!!!!!

    February 9, 2009 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  2. Texas Teacher

    That statement said it all.... we have an uphill climb... but at least it looks like it is going up now.. instead of continuing to go down hill! And that is all the Republicans can do!

    And, Justified Cynic.... BS... we can't go any deeper down than we are thanks to you Republicans! Pffft.... Get a grip on reality... your party put us here... and now we do have hard times ahead.. but at least we have a chance now of improvement! You must be one of those Fat Cat Republicans who believe that if they aren't getting rich the country is doomed... to hell with the little man struggling to make a living!

    February 9, 2009 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  3. An old Sage

    I have lived through the Great Depression and 15 presidencies, starting with Republican Calvin Coolidge, famous for saying "When a great number of people are out of work, unemployment is the result."

    Harding then Hoover, who had served well in suffering Europe after WW1 with his Hoover Commission, but hadn't the leadership ability to cope with the '29 crash and resulting great depression.

    Then thank God for charismatic FDR! and his daring policies.

    Be happy you have a BRILLIANT and charismatic Democrat in the White House at this time. The fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans is DEMOCRATS CARE ABOUT PEOPLE, while Republicans care about the bottom line – THEIRS.

    Remember "Heck of a job, Brownie" when finally dismissed during Katrina with bloated corpses still floating around in New Orleans,
    He said, "I think I'll go home and get a martini and a big steak."

    February 10, 2009 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  4. Bill

    I am going to trust that a guy as well-educated as Barack Obama knows more than anybody on here. If you are not backing him up, please tell us what your solution is and where the hell you got your education.

    February 10, 2009 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  5. DrFrann in CA

    We need job creation. T Boone Pickens is talking about developing the energy market. Go to his site (PickensPlan) and read about lessening our dependence on foreign oil while creating work here:
    * Create millions of new jobs by building out the capacity to generate up to 22 percent of our electricity from wind. And adding to that with additional solar capacity;
    * Building a 21st century backbone electrical grid;
    * Providing incentives for homeowners and the owners of commercial buildings to upgrade their insulation and other energy saving options; and
    * Using America's natural gas to replace imported oil as a transportation fuel.
    It's a win/win in a new sector that can employ America to work for America.

    February 10, 2009 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  6. Deb

    The politics of FEAR. That is what he is trying to do, scare us into accepting his plans for our economy.
    The same tactics were used in 1930s Germany to scare the populace, and get them to accept the Leaders' decrees. Obama wants us to stop disagreeing with him, and go along quietly.

    February 10, 2009 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  7. Vic

    Oh lord, a cat crossed the street and got hit. And former Prez Clinton is to blame. I don't know alot about the economy but I know that Clinton didn't make this mess by himself. Crap, does anything thats gone on in the last 8 yrs mr bushy's fault. Its always clinton's , libs and anybody in the world but the conservatives fault for what goes on in this world. And if u believe that , I got some land down in Cuba that I would like sell u.

    February 10, 2009 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  8. Roy Curtis

    Those who believe the Democrats are going in the wrong direction right now are going to be in for a surprise. The Bush administration put us in this situation we are now facing. President Bush never listened to the people of our great Nation. He was the most arrogant, self centered President I have seen in all my years and I am now 74 years old. This stimulas package may not do what everyone hopes it will do, but had the Republican party not put us in this position, we could be spending more time on much more important things that have needed to be addressed for many years. Give it time and give President Obama time, the outcome will be better than most think it will.

    February 10, 2009 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  9. Joseph Worland

    First, let me say to those not from this country commenting on this board that you don't live in a country that has been more prevalent – for better or worse – in this world. Your country and your politicians don't know what it feels like to be responsible for what happens in countries other than the one within your own border. The world has depended on America for money, jobs, and other kinds of support. When America's economies failed then so did the world's. To the American's commenting on this board, Democrats have had control since 2007. I know that isn't a long time, but if I remember the economy wasn't as terrible then as it is now. I am not saying Republicans are faultless or the Democrats are the only ones to blame, but we have to wake up as a country. There are less than 540 directly elected national officials running this country of over 250 million. Even if you say that half of those 250 million are under the legal voting age you are still left with 125 million electing the 540 politicians in our national government. What would happen if we stopped electing the non-effectual? What would happen if we started voting those that listened to the problems of America instead of the problems of their pockets? We are a powerful people and an extremely powerful nation when we are together united. For example: we have fought for the creation a nation, we fought for the rights of all men, we fought for the livelihood of the world twice with other brave countries, and we have for better or worse tried to protect the innocents of the world. I know we haven't been a perfect nation. I know we have harmed the innocent in our struggle to protect our own. We have suffered and therefore we have caused others to suffer. I can't condone either one, but I will say that I won't argue with someone that rightfully struggles for their life and chance to be happy. We need to stop arguing about whose fault it is that we are in this situation and begin taking responsibility as a nation for those we have elected that led us to here. President Obama has been elected to a time where he can't be a mediocre President. He will either be a hero or a villain. It is terrible that he is given those two options, but we are at a time where we have few choices. He can either lead us through this catastrophe or he can lead us deeper in. He can't be a President that says he has done what he cans and leave it up to time to decide. We don't have the luxury of waiting for time. We are at a point that requires drastic action. While I don't like him being President, I have no other choice but to work with this man. I will work with him through my state elected politicians and through my voice. I have failed myself and the country by not voting often enough in the past and by being quiet. Too long have we allowed the few be the voice of the many. We need to stand up and be reckoned with as a nation. I will let my voice be heard and unburden myself, but that won't be enough by itself. We need an unburdening of the nation. We need an accounting of actions throughout the nation. Republican and Democrat have to be present at the rebuilding of our nation.

    February 10, 2009 01:31 am at 1:31 am |
  10. Fred Kyalo

    Let obama do what he has to do. lets discuss the aftermath.at least he is doing it with clear concience.

    February 10, 2009 03:27 am at 3:27 am |
  11. Kent

    With all the naysayers here spouting their doom and gloom, I have yet to see a viable alternative suggested. At this point do we have any choice but to throw a huge amount of money at this downward spiral. This bill may not reverse the loss, but it should put the brakes on the meltdown. The naysayers need to understand that we are not through with the spiral. If we do nothing and find five or six million additional unemployed by year's end, will that convince the minority party that it is time to act?

    Just doing a little nit-picking here, Mr President. The Shakespeare line "Now is the winter of our discontent" actually describes the end of troubled times. I'm certain that is not what the President was trying to suggest when he borrowed the famous line from Richard III.

    February 10, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
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