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“Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010,” said the president in a passionate and detailed speech to Congress.
Jobs and the economy clearly dominated the address, as it should.
The nation is facing a 10 percent unemployment rate. For African-Americans, the unemployment rate is near 16 percent.
When Obama took office a year ago, he inherited two wars, an economy deep in recession and a financial system in crisis.
Obama reminded the nation that the administration took action through the stimulus bill and the Recovery Act that stabilized the financial industry.
While many criticized the bank bailout and the stimulus plan, most economists would argue that it was necessary to prevent the recession from becoming far worse.
“If we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost,” said Obama.
However, as Wall Street recovered from the brink, Main Street continued to suffer.
Americans continue to lose their jobs and their homes. Many state and local governments are financially strapped and forced to lay off workers and cut social programs.
Americans are understandably anxious and frustrated.
While not admitting it directly, the president appears to now realize that his administration did not focus enough on the economy and jobs in his first year in office.
“People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay,” said the president.
His economic proposal includes using $30 billion in repaid funds from Wall Street and banks to spur small business lending, new investments in green energy, more U.S. exports and more infrastructure spending.
The plan sounds good, but the question will be how strong the president will fight for his economic proposals and a new jobs bill.
The same applies to health care reform.
Obama was right to stand by his attempts to bring about health care reform. He also did a better job in explaining why health care reform was essential for all Americans in holding down cost, increasing coverage and its connection to the nation’s economic growth.
The president sounded tough and determined in his State of the Union address but it is yet to be seen whether he will actually be tough and fight for the issues he cares about.
His efforts at bipartisanship are admirable. But the president cannot afford to waste any more time on Republicans who seek to be obstructionist or wavering Democrats fearing the next election.
In his first year in office, Obama spent too much time trying to please conservatives who had no intention in working with him.
Whether it is health care reform or a new jobs bill, the president cannot simply ask Congress to act.
Obama must lead.
(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)
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