WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama struck a balance between grim economic reality and a more hopeful outlook on Tuesday to try to reassure worried Americans their country will emerge from crisis “stronger than before.”
Riding high in opinion polls, Obama was careful to include a sober assessment of the economic emergency in his first speech to Congress, seeking to temper expectations that his administration’s rescue efforts would yield quick fixes.
But the politician whose memoir was called “The Audacity of Hope” and who won the White House in last November’s election amid chants of “yes, we can” was also back in stride, telling recession-weary Americans to expect better days ahead.
“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,” Obama said in the televised speech.
“And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before,” he told a chamber packed with lawmakers, cabinet members and invited guests.
The Democratic president also leveled a barrage of indirect criticism at his Republican predecessor George W. Bush for the country’s economic plight and bloated debt, warning that the “day of reckoning” had arrived.
Five weeks after taking office, Obama pressed the case for his economic plans while laying out a broad agenda, including a much-anticipated push for a healthcare overhaul and energy independence, to help build momentum for his young presidency.
The primetime State of the Union-style address to a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives came against a backdrop of growing anxiety across the country in the face of the worst financial meltdown in decades.
While his public support is strong, Wall Street remains skeptical of his economic remedies.
Jittery investors sent U.S. stocks to a 12-year low on Monday, but the markets rallied on Tuesday on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s assurances that the country’s troubled banks should be able to weather the downturn without being nationalized.
Trying to show he would make good on his promise of fiscal responsibility, Obama said he had identified $2 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade.
Obama, who rolls out his first budget proposal on Thursday, has vowed to halve the annual deficit by the end of his term.
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