Walz praises Obama speech

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz of the 1st District praised President Barack Obama Tuesday night following the president’s first speech to a joint session of Congress. Walz said the president’s focus was on understanding the seriousness of the economic situation we’re in and added that he laid out the Recovery Reinvestment Act clearly, an act that was signed into law Feb. 17.

“I was very pleased,” Walz said, during a Tuesday night conference call with Minnesota media. “I think he hit on everything we wanted to hear and the people of Southern Minnesota wanted to hear.”

Walz said Obama touched on several key areas that southern Minnesota is well positioned to succeed in, including the need to reinvest in renewable energy and healthcare reform.

Email newsletter signup

Walz cited southern Minnesota’s number of wind farms as an example of the region’s commitment to renewable energy and cited the Mayo Clinic and the Hormel Institute as the region’s commitment to healthcare and cancer research.

Walz also said he agreed with the president’s comments on aiming to have the largest number of college graduates in the world by 2020.

“We’ve got work to do, but we have a very clear path ahead of us,” he said.

Walz was joined at Tuesday night’s speech by Rushford-Peterson Schools Superintendent Chuck Ehler. Walz stated he chose to invite Ehler to highlight not only the jobs that will be saved in the Rushford-Peterson schools because of the Title I and special education recovery funds coming their way, but also because of the potential to create jobs by reconstructing a school that is in a dire state of disrepair.

Walz toured the Rushford-Peterson High School shortly after the 2007 flooding that damaged the already crumbling 1906 structure.

“Obviously it was a great thrill for me and wonderful for me to hear the president talk about some issues that are prevalent today,” Ehler said, about attending Tuesday night’s joint session.

Obama promised Americans fearful about the deepening economic crisis that he would lead the country from its dire “day of reckoning” to a brighter future.

Addressing a nationwide television audience, Obama balanced a somber assessment of the United States’ economic woes with a revival of the words of hope that were the trademark of his presidential campaign.

“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 said.

To deal with the deepening recession, Obama said more money will be needed to rescue troubled banks beyond the $700 billion already committed last year. He said he knows that bank bailouts are unpopular, but insisted that was the only way to get credit moving again to households and businesses, the lifeblood of the American economy.

Along with aid for banks, he also called on Congress to move quickly on legislation to overhaul regulations on U.S. financial markets.

“I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary,” Obama said. “Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession.”

With U.S. automakers struggling for survival, Obama also said he would allow neither their demise nor “their own bad practices” to be rewarded.

Obama said both political parties must give up favored programs while uniting behind his campaign promises to help the millions without health insurance, build better schools and move the nation to more-efficient fuel use.

Obama urged lawmakers to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change by creating a cap-and-trade system of limits and pollution allowances.

He said the budget he is sending to Congress on Thursday will call for $15 billion a year in federal spending to spur development of environmentally friendly but so far cost-ineffective energy sources such as wind and solar, biofuels, clean coal and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century,” he said. “And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.”

But even as Washington pours money into the economic recovery, Obama said the budget deficit, at $1.3 trillion and ballooning, must be brought under control.

He promised he would slash it by half by the end of his term in 2013, mostly by ending U.S. combat in Iraq and eliminating some of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

The speech had the trappings of a State of the Union address, the annual presidential policy presentation to Congress. Technically it was not one, though, because Obama has been in office just five weeks, not long enough to present such a speech.

Still, it was a night for Obama to sketch out his priorities in a setting unmatched for the rest of the year. Obama was speaking to both chambers of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet and special guests.

Cheered robustly as he entered the chamber of the House of Representatives, Obama grinned, shook hands and kissed lawmakers and his former presidential rival, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. It took nearly 15 minutes for him to make his way past lawmakers eager to welcome the first black U.S. president into a Capitol built by slaves. Obama’s 52-minute speech was interrupted 61 times by applause.

Poll numbers show Obama continues to enjoy wide popularity. He has used that political capital — along with strong Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress — to push through a $787 billion economic recovery plan in his first month in office.

However, despite Obama’s expressed desire for bipartisanship, Republican lawmakers were almost unanimously opposed to the stimulus package.

In the Republicans’ televised response to Obama’s speech, Louisiana’s young, charismatic governor, Bobby Jindal exhorted his party colleagues to be Obama’s “strongest partners” when they agree with him. But he signaled that will not happen much, calling Democrats in Congress “irresponsible” for passing the stimulus package.

“The way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in the hands of Washington politicians,” Jindal said.

Jindal, the first Indian-American to lead a state, is considered a likely presidential contender in 2012.

In contrast to many State of the Union addresses by George W. Bush, Obama did not emphasize foreign policy. He touched on his intention to chart new strategies in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to forge a new image for the United States around the world even as he keeps up the fight against terrorism.

“Living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger,” he said. “And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.”

He said the United States was working with the G-20 group of nations “to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe.”

Obama spoke at a time when Americans face a constant stream of bad economic news. Some 3.6 million jobs have disappeared so far in the deepening recession. Americans have lost trillions of dollars in retirement, college and savings accounts, with the stock market falling nearly half from its peak of 16 months ago.

He recalled the recent past, when “short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity” and difficult decisions were put off for another day.

“Well, that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here,” he said.

Among the presidential guests was Ty’Sheoma Bethea, a student at J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon, South Carolina, who was seated next to first lady Michelle Obama.

“We are not quitters,” she wrote in a letter seeking improvements at her rundown school, words that Obama turned to at the conclusion of his speech when he called on Americans to “confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.