From NBC's Athena Jones
In a lengthy speech he said would be "prose and not poetry," President Obama set out to explain to the American people what his administration has done to jump-start the economy, and how the policies together would help move the country "from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity."
The president used the roughly 45-minute address not to make news -- but instead to summarize the first three months of his presidency, defend his spending policies, lay out the challenges remaining, and connect all of this with his larger vision for America.
He touted his administration's actions -- from his $787 billion stimulus package and his efforts to help stabilize the financial system and the housing market, to his support of the auto industry -- arguing these steps were starting to generate "signs of economic progress." Still, he tempered his remarks, as he often does, reminding his audience that the hard times were not over and that this year would be a difficult one.
"The severity of this recession will cause more job loss, more foreclosures, and more pain before it ends," Obama said, adding that there was much more work to be done, before reprising the kind of populist "fighter" rhetoric he often employed during the fall campaign. "But all of this also means that you can continue to expect an unrelenting, unyielding, day-by-day effort from this administration to fight for economic recovery on all fronts."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs later drove home the point that the economy was not yet out of the woods. "We are likely to see many more months of hundreds of thousands of jobs lost," Gibbs said during the press briefing. "I don't think anybody is under illusion that -- particularly as it relates to the employment statistics or the employment market -- that we're gonna see an instantaneous turnaround."
The larger vision for America Obama described this morning involved "five pillars," including modernized rules to regulate Wall Street, investments in education, clean energy and health care and "new savings" to reduce the budget deficit over the long term -- all goals he has spoken about frequently since Inauguration Day, most notably in his February address to a joint session of Congress. Today, he called on Congress to deliver a new regulatory framework for the financial industry to his desk this year.
Obama stressed his long-term goals with a biblical reference, discussing the story of two men that Jesus relates in the Sermon on the Mount. "The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was soon destroyed when a storm hit," he began. "But the second is known as the wise man, for when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock."
Obama went on to say the economy could not be rebuilt on the "same pile of sand" but must be rebuilt on a rock.
The president also answered critics of his spending plan, saying the $787 billion package represented just a fraction of the long-term deficit. He pointed to Social Security and health care as two important areas where reform would dramatically lower government spending, again urging action on health care reform this year.
A few hours after the president's speech, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a somewhat more technical progress report on the economy to students at Atlanta's Morehouse College. Calling the crisis one of the most difficult financial and economic episodes in modern history, Bernanke pointed to some positive news.
"Recently, we have seen tentative signs that the sharp decline in economic activity may be slowing, for example, in data on home sales, homebuilding, and consumer spending, including sales of new motor vehicles," he said, explaining that a leveling out of economic activity was the first step toward recovery. "I am fundamentally optimistic about our economy," Bernanke said.
Responding to Obama's Georgetown speech, House Republican Leader John Boehner repeated early criticism about the president's spending plans and said Democrats were only paying lip service to working across party lines.
"The president's trillion-dollar 'stimulus' was loaded with wasteful spending that has nothing to do with job creation, his $410 billion 'omnibus' spending bill was chock full of 9,000 unscrutinized earmarks, and his $3.5 trillion budget paves the way for a bigger and costlier federal government that will not create new jobs, help rebuild Americans' savings, and get our economy moving again," Boehner's statement read in part. "Instead of embracing tough decisions, Democrats have avoided them in favor of saddling our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt that we know they cannot afford."