Full Text: President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address

Delivered in the House chamber on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Jan. 28, 2014, 4:13 p.m.

A tran­script of Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2014 State of the Uni­on ad­dress:

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Mr. Speak­er, Mr. Vice Pres­id­ent, Mem­bers of Con­gress, my fel­low Amer­ic­ans:

Today in Amer­ica, a teach­er spent ex­tra time with a stu­dent who needed it, and did her part to lift Amer­ica’s gradu­ation rate to its highest level in more than three dec­ades.

An en­tre­pren­eur flipped on the lights in her tech star­tup, and did her part to add to the more than eight mil­lion new jobs our busi­nesses have cre­ated over the past four years. 

An auto­work­er fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-ef­fi­cient cars in the world, and did his part to help Amer­ica wean it­self off for­eign oil.

A farm­er pre­pared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm ex­ports in our his­tory.  A rur­al doc­tor gave a young child the first pre­scrip­tion to treat asthma that his moth­er could af­ford.  A man took the bus home from the grave­yard shift, bone-tired but dream­ing big dreams for his son.  And in tight-knit com­munit­ies across Amer­ica, fath­ers and moth­ers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, re­mem­ber fallen com­rades, and give thanks for be­ing home from a war that, after twelve long years, is fi­nally com­ing to an end.

To­night, this cham­ber speaks with one voice to the people we rep­res­ent: it is you, our cit­izens, who make the state of our uni­on strong.

Here are the res­ults of your ef­forts:  The low­est un­em­ploy­ment rate in over five years.  A re­bound­ing hous­ing mar­ket.  A man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  More oil pro­duced at home than we buy from the rest of the world ““ the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.  Our de­fi­cits ““ cut by more than half.  And for the first time in over a dec­ade, busi­ness lead­ers around the world have de­clared that China is no longer the world’s num­ber one place to in­vest; Amer­ica is.

That’s why I be­lieve this can be a break­through year for Amer­ica.  After five years of grit and de­term­ined ef­fort, the United States is bet­ter-po­si­tioned for the 21st cen­tury than any oth­er na­tion on Earth.

The ques­tion for every­one in this cham­ber, run­ning through every de­cision we make this year, is wheth­er we are go­ing to help or hinder this pro­gress.  For sev­er­al years now, this town has been con­sumed by a rancor­ous ar­gu­ment over the prop­er size of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.  It’s an im­port­ant de­bate ““ one that dates back to our very found­ing.  But when that de­bate pre­vents us from car­ry­ing out even the most ba­sic func­tions of our demo­cracy ““ when our dif­fer­ences shut down gov­ern­ment or threaten the full faith and cred­it of the United States ““ then we are not do­ing right by the Amer­ic­an people.

As Pres­id­ent, I’m com­mit­ted to mak­ing Wash­ing­ton work bet­ter, and re­build­ing the trust of the people who sent us here.  I be­lieve most of you are, too.  Last month, thanks to the work of Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans, this Con­gress fi­nally pro­duced a budget that un­does some of last year’s severe cuts to pri­or­it­ies like edu­ca­tion.  Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to in­vest in this coun­try’s fu­ture while bring­ing down our de­fi­cit in a bal­anced way.  But the budget com­prom­ise should leave us freer to fo­cus on cre­at­ing new jobs, not cre­at­ing new crises.

In the com­ing months, let’s see where else we can make pro­gress to­geth­er.  Let’s make this a year of ac­tion.  That’s what most Amer­ic­ans want ““ for all of us in this cham­ber to fo­cus on their lives, their hopes, their as­pir­a­tions.  And what I be­lieve unites the people of this na­tion, re­gard­less of race or re­gion or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, pro­found be­lief in op­por­tun­ity for all ““ the no­tion that if you work hard and take re­spons­ib­il­ity, you can get ahead.

Let’s face it: that be­lief has suffered some ser­i­ous blows.  Over more than three dec­ades, even be­fore the Great Re­ces­sion hit, massive shifts in tech­no­logy and glob­al com­pet­i­tion had elim­in­ated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the eco­nom­ic found­a­tions that fam­il­ies de­pend on.

Today, after four years of eco­nom­ic growth, cor­por­ate profits and stock prices have rarely been high­er, and those at the top have nev­er done bet­ter.  But av­er­age wages have barely budged.  In­equal­ity has deepened.  Up­ward mo­bil­ity has stalled.  The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of re­cov­ery, too many Amer­ic­ans are work­ing more than ever just to get by ““ let alone get ahead.  And too many still aren’t work­ing at all.

Our job is to re­verse these trends.  It won’t hap­pen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.  But what I of­fer to­night is a set of con­crete, prac­tic­al pro­pos­als to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new lad­ders of op­por­tun­ity in­to the middle class.  Some re­quire Con­gres­sion­al ac­tion, and I’m eager to work with all of you.  But Amer­ica does not stand still ““ and neither will I.  So wherever and whenev­er I can take steps without le­gis­la­tion to ex­pand op­por­tun­ity for more Amer­ic­an fam­il­ies, that’s what I’m go­ing to do. 

As usu­al, our First Lady sets a good ex­ample.  Michelle’s Let’s Move part­ner­ship with schools, busi­nesses, and loc­al lead­ers has helped bring down child­hood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years ““ an achieve­ment that will im­prove lives and re­duce health care costs for dec­ades to come.  The Join­ing Forces al­li­ance that Michelle and Jill Biden launched has already en­cour­aged em­ploy­ers to hire or train nearly 400,000 vet­er­ans and mil­it­ary spouses.  Tak­ing a page from that play­book, the White House just or­gan­ized a Col­lege Op­por­tun­ity Sum­mit where already, 150 uni­versit­ies, busi­nesses, and non­profits have made con­crete com­mit­ments to re­duce in­equal­ity in ac­cess to high­er edu­ca­tion ““ and help every hard­work­ing kid go to col­lege and suc­ceed when they get to cam­pus.  Across the coun­try, we’re part­ner­ing with may­ors, gov­ernors, and state le­gis­latures on is­sues from home­less­ness to mar­riage equal­ity.

The point is, there are mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans out­side Wash­ing­ton who are tired of stale polit­ic­al ar­gu­ments, and are mov­ing this coun­try for­ward.  They be­lieve, and I be­lieve, that here in Amer­ica, our suc­cess should de­pend not on ac­ci­dent of birth, but the strength of our work eth­ic and the scope of our dreams.  That’s what drew our fore­bears here.  It’s how the daugh­ter of a fact­ory work­er is CEO of Amer­ica’s largest auto­maker; how the son of a bar­keep­er is Speak­er of the House; how the son of a single mom can be Pres­id­ent of the greatest na­tion on Earth. 

Op­por­tun­ity is who we are.  And the de­fin­ing pro­ject of our gen­er­a­tion is to re­store that prom­ise.

We know where to start: the best meas­ure of op­por­tun­ity is ac­cess to a good job.  With the eco­nomy pick­ing up speed, com­pan­ies say they in­tend to hire more people this year.  And over half of big man­u­fac­tur­ers say they’re think­ing of in­sourcing jobs from abroad.

So let’s make that de­cision easi­er for more com­pan­ies.  Both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans have ar­gued that our tax code is riddled with waste­ful, com­plic­ated loop­holes that pun­ish busi­nesses in­vest­ing here, and re­ward com­pan­ies that keep profits abroad.  Let’s flip that equa­tion.  Let’s work to­geth­er to close those loop­holes, end those in­cent­ives to ship jobs over­seas, and lower tax rates for busi­nesses that cre­ate jobs here at home.

Moreover, we can take the money we save with this trans­ition to tax re­form to cre­ate jobs re­build­ing our roads, up­grad­ing our ports, un­clog­ging our com­mutes ““ be­cause in today’s glob­al eco­nomy, first-class jobs grav­it­ate to first-class in­fra­struc­ture.  We’ll need Con­gress to pro­tect more than three mil­lion jobs by fin­ish­ing trans­port­a­tion and wa­ter­ways bills this sum­mer.  But I will act on my own to slash bur­eau­cracy and stream­line the per­mit­ting pro­cess for key pro­jects, so we can get more con­struc­tion work­ers on the job as fast as pos­sible.

We also have the chance, right now, to beat oth­er coun­tries in the race for the next wave of high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs.  My ad­min­is­tra­tion has launched two hubs for high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing in Raleigh and Young­stown, where we’ve con­nec­ted busi­nesses to re­search uni­versit­ies that can help Amer­ica lead the world in ad­vanced tech­no­lo­gies.  To­night, I’m an­noun­cing we’ll launch six more this year.  Bi­par­tis­an bills in both houses could double the num­ber of these hubs and the jobs they cre­ate.  So get those bills to my desk and put more Amer­ic­ans back to work.

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Let’s do more to help the en­tre­pren­eurs and small busi­ness own­ers who cre­ate most new jobs in Amer­ica.  Over the past five years, my ad­min­is­tra­tion has made more loans to small busi­ness own­ers than any oth­er.  And when ninety-eight per­cent of our ex­port­ers are small busi­nesses, new trade part­ner­ships with Europe and the Asia-Pa­cific will help them cre­ate more jobs.  We need to work to­geth­er on tools like bi­par­tis­an trade pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity to pro­tect our work­ers, pro­tect our en­vir­on­ment, and open new mar­kets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  China and Europe aren’t stand­ing on the side­lines.  Neither should we.

We know that the na­tion that goes all-in on in­nov­a­tion today will own the glob­al eco­nomy to­mor­row.  This is an edge Amer­ica can­not sur­render.  Fed­er­ally-fun­ded re­search helped lead to the ideas and in­ven­tions be­hind Google and smart­phones.  That’s why Con­gress should undo the dam­age done by last year’s cuts to ba­sic re­search so we can un­leash the next great Amer­ic­an dis­cov­ery ““ wheth­er it’s vac­cines that stay ahead of drug-res­ist­ant bac­teria, or pa­per-thin ma­ter­i­al that’s stronger than steel.  And let’s pass a pat­ent re­form bill that al­lows our busi­nesses to stay fo­cused on in­nov­a­tion, not costly, need­less lit­ig­a­tion.

Now, one of the biggest factors in bring­ing more jobs back is our com­mit­ment to Amer­ic­an en­ergy.  The all-of-the-above en­ergy strategy I an­nounced a few years ago is work­ing, and today, Amer­ica is closer to en­ergy in­de­pend­ence than we’ve been in dec­ades.

One of the reas­ons why is nat­ur­al gas ““ if ex­trac­ted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our eco­nomy with less of the car­bon pol­lu­tion that causes cli­mate change.  Busi­nesses plan to in­vest al­most $100 bil­lion in new factor­ies that use nat­ur­al gas.  I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factor­ies built, and this Con­gress can help by put­ting people to work build­ing fuel­ing sta­tions that shift more cars and trucks from for­eign oil to Amer­ic­an nat­ur­al gas.  My ad­min­is­tra­tion will keep work­ing with the in­dustry to sus­tain pro­duc­tion and job growth while strength­en­ing pro­tec­tion of our air, our wa­ter, and our com­munit­ies.  And while we’re at it, I’ll use my au­thor­ity to pro­tect more of our pristine fed­er­al lands for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

It’s not just oil and nat­ur­al gas pro­duc­tion that’s boom­ing; we’re be­com­ing a glob­al lead­er in sol­ar, too.  Every four minutes, an­oth­er Amer­ic­an home or busi­ness goes sol­ar; every pan­el poun­ded in­to place by a work­er whose job can’t be out­sourced.  Let’s con­tin­ue that pro­gress with a smarter tax policy that stops giv­ing $4 bil­lion a year to fossil fuel in­dus­tries that don’t need it, so that we can in­vest more in fuels of the fu­ture that do.

And even as we’ve in­creased en­ergy pro­duc­tion, we’ve partnered with busi­nesses, build­ers, and loc­al com­munit­ies to re­duce the en­ergy we con­sume.  When we res­cued our auto­makers, for ex­ample, we worked with them to set high­er fuel ef­fi­ciency stand­ards for our cars.  In the com­ing months, I’ll build on that suc­cess by set­ting new stand­ards for our trucks, so we can keep driv­ing down oil im­ports and what we pay at the pump.

Taken to­geth­er, our en­ergy policy is cre­at­ing jobs and lead­ing to a clean­er, safer plan­et.  Over the past eight years, the United States has re­duced our total car­bon pol­lu­tion more than any oth­er na­tion on Earth.  But we have to act with more ur­gency ““ be­cause a chan­ging cli­mate is already harm­ing west­ern com­munit­ies strug­gling with drought, and coastal cit­ies deal­ing with floods.  That’s why I dir­ec­ted my ad­min­is­tra­tion to work with states, util­it­ies, and oth­ers to set new stand­ards on the amount of car­bon pol­lu­tion our power plants are al­lowed to dump in­to the air.  The shift to a clean­er en­ergy eco­nomy won’t hap­pen overnight, and it will re­quire tough choices along the way.  But the de­bate is settled.  Cli­mate change is a fact.  And when our chil­dren’s chil­dren look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of en­ergy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

Fi­nally, if we are ser­i­ous about eco­nom­ic growth, it is time to heed the call of busi­ness lead­ers, labor lead­ers, faith lead­ers, and law en­force­ment ““ and fix our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem.  Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats in the Sen­ate have ac­ted.  I know that mem­bers of both parties in the House want to do the same.  In­de­pend­ent eco­nom­ists say im­mig­ra­tion re­form will grow our eco­nomy and shrink our de­fi­cits by al­most $1 tril­lion in the next two dec­ades.  And for good reas­on: when people come here to ful­fill their dreams ““ to study, in­vent, and con­trib­ute to our cul­ture ““ they make our coun­try a more at­tract­ive place for busi­nesses to loc­ate and cre­ate jobs for every­one.  So let’s get im­mig­ra­tion re­form done this year.

The ideas I’ve out­lined so far can speed up growth and cre­ate more jobs.  But in this rap­idly-chan­ging eco­nomy, we have to make sure that every Amer­ic­an has the skills to fill those jobs.

The good news is, we know how to do it.  Two years ago, as the auto in­dustry came roar­ing back, An­dra Rush opened up a man­u­fac­tur­ing firm in De­troit.  She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in Amer­ica, and she knew how to make them.  She just needed the work­force.  So she dialed up what we call an Amer­ic­an Job Cen­ter ““ places where folks can walk in to get the help or train­ing they need to find a new job, or bet­ter job.  She was flooded with new work­ers.  And today, De­troit Man­u­fac­tur­ing Sys­tems has more than 700 em­ploy­ees.

What An­dra and her em­ploy­ees ex­per­i­enced is how it should be for every em­ploy­er ““ and every job seeker.  So to­night, I’ve asked Vice Pres­id­ent Biden to lead an across-the-board re­form of Amer­ica’s train­ing pro­grams to make sure they have one mis­sion: train Amer­ic­ans with the skills em­ploy­ers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.  That means more on-the-job train­ing, and more ap­pren­tice­ships that set a young work­er on an up­ward tra­ject­ory for life.  It means con­nect­ing com­pan­ies to com­munity col­leges that can help design train­ing to fill their spe­cif­ic needs.  And if Con­gress wants to help, you can con­cen­trate fund­ing on proven pro­grams that con­nect more ready-to-work Amer­ic­ans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

I’m also con­vinced we can help Amer­ic­ans re­turn to the work­force faster by re­form­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance so that it’s more ef­fect­ive in today’s eco­nomy.  But first, this Con­gress needs to re­store the un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance you just let ex­pire for 1.6 mil­lion people.

Let me tell you why.

Misty De­Mars is a moth­er of two young boys. She’d been stead­ily em­ployed since she was a teen­ager.  She put her­self through col­lege.  She’d nev­er col­lec­ted un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits.  In May, she and her hus­band used their life sav­ings to buy their first home.  A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved.  Last month, when their un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a let­ter ““ the kind I get every day.  “We are the face of the un­em­ploy­ment crisis,” she wrote.  “I am not de­pend­ent on the gov­ern­ment”¦Our coun­try de­pends on people like us who build ca­reers, con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety”¦care about our neigh­bors”¦I am con­fid­ent that in time I will find a job”¦I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our chil­dren in their own home in the com­munity we love.  Please give us this chance.”

Con­gress, give these hard­work­ing, re­spons­ible Amer­ic­ans that chance.  They need our help, but more im­port­ant, this coun­try needs them in the game.  That’s why I’ve been ask­ing CEOs to give more long-term un­em­ployed work­ers a fair shot at that new job and new chance to sup­port their fam­il­ies; this week, many will come to the White House to make that com­mit­ment real.  To­night, I ask every busi­ness lead­er in Amer­ica to join us and to do the same ““ be­cause we are stronger when Amer­ica fields a full team. 

Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s work­force.  We also have to pre­pare to­mor­row’s work­force, by guar­an­tee­ing every child ac­cess to a world-class edu­ca­tion.

Es­t­iven Rodrig­uez couldn’t speak a word of Eng­lish when he moved to New York City at age nine.  But last month, thanks to the sup­port of great teach­ers and an in­nov­at­ive tu­tor­ing pro­gram, he led a march of his class­mates ““ through a crowd of cheer­ing par­ents and neigh­bors ““ from their high school to the post of­fice, where they mailed off their col­lege ap­plic­a­tions.  And this son of a fact­ory work­er just found out he’s go­ing to col­lege this fall.

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids.  We worked with lenders to re­form stu­dent loans, and today, more young people are earn­ing col­lege de­grees than ever be­fore.  Race to the Top, with the help of gov­ernors from both parties, has helped states raise ex­pect­a­tions and per­form­ance.  Teach­ers and prin­cipals in schools from Ten­ness­ee to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. are mak­ing big strides in pre­par­ing stu­dents with skills for the new eco­nomy ““ prob­lem solv­ing, crit­ic­al think­ing, sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing, and math.  Some of this change is hard.  It re­quires everything from more chal­len­ging cur­riculums and more de­mand­ing par­ents to bet­ter sup­port for teach­ers and new ways to meas­ure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.  But it’s worth it ““ and it’s work­ing. 

The prob­lem is we’re still not reach­ing enough kids, and we’re not reach­ing them in time.  That has to change. 

Re­search shows that one of the best in­vest­ments we can make in a child’s life is high-qual­ity early edu­ca­tion.  Last year, I asked this Con­gress to help states make high-qual­ity pre-K avail­able to every four year-old.  As a par­ent as well as a Pres­id­ent, I re­peat that re­quest to­night. But in the mean­time, thirty states have raised pre-k fund­ing on their own.  They know we can’t wait.  So just as we worked with states to re­form our schools, this year, we’ll in­vest in new part­ner­ships with states and com­munit­ies across the coun­try in a race to the top for our young­est chil­dren.  And as Con­gress de­cides what it’s go­ing to do, I’m go­ing to pull to­geth­er a co­ali­tion of elec­ted of­fi­cials, busi­ness lead­ers, and phil­an­throp­ists will­ing to help more kids ac­cess the high-qual­ity pre-K they need.

Last year, I also pledged to con­nect 99 per­cent of our stu­dents to high-speed broad­band over the next four years.  To­night, I can an­nounce that with the sup­port of the FCC and com­pan­ies like Apple, Mi­crosoft, Sprint, and Ve­r­i­zon, we’ve got a down pay­ment to start con­nect­ing more than 15,000 schools and twenty mil­lion stu­dents over the next two years, without adding a dime to the de­fi­cit. 

We’re work­ing to re­design high schools and part­ner them with col­leges and em­ploy­ers that of­fer the real-world edu­ca­tion and hands-on train­ing that can lead dir­ectly to a job and ca­reer.  We’re shak­ing up our sys­tem of high­er edu­ca­tion to give par­ents more in­form­a­tion, and col­leges more in­cent­ives to of­fer bet­ter value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a col­lege edu­ca­tion.  We’re of­fer­ing mil­lions the op­por­tun­ity to cap their monthly stu­dent loan pay­ments to ten per­cent of their in­come, and I want to work with Con­gress to see how we can help even more Amer­ic­ans who feel trapped by stu­dent loan debt.  And I’m reach­ing out to some of Amer­ica’s lead­ing found­a­tions and cor­por­a­tions on a new ini­ti­at­ive to help more young men of col­or fa­cing tough odds stay on track and reach their full po­ten­tial.

The bot­tom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this coun­try gave us.  But we know our op­por­tun­ity agenda won’t be com­plete ““ and too many young people en­ter­ing the work­force today will see the Amer­ic­an Dream as an empty prom­ise ““ un­less we do more to make sure our eco­nomy hon­ors the dig­nity of work, and hard work pays off for every single Amer­ic­an. 

Today, wo­men make up about half our work­force.  But they still make 77 cents for every dol­lar a man earns.  That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an em­bar­rass­ment. A wo­man de­serves equal pay for equal work.  She de­serves to have a baby without sac­ri­fi­cing her job.  A moth­er de­serves a day off to care for a sick child or sick par­ent without run­ning in­to hard­ship ““ and you know what, a fath­er does, too.  It’s time to do away with work­place policies that be­long in a “Mad Men” epis­ode.  This year, let’s all come to­geth­er ““ Con­gress, the White House, and busi­nesses from Wall Street to Main Street ““ to give every wo­man the op­por­tun­ity she de­serves.  Be­cause I firmly be­lieve when wo­men suc­ceed, Amer­ica suc­ceeds.

Now, wo­men hold a ma­jor­ity of lower-wage jobs ““ but they’re not the only ones stifled by stag­nant wages.  Amer­ic­ans un­der­stand that some people will earn more than oth­ers, and we don’t re­sent those who, by vir­tue of their ef­forts, achieve in­cred­ible suc­cess.  But Amer­ic­ans over­whelm­ingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a fam­ily in poverty.

In the year since I asked this Con­gress to raise the min­im­um wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs.  Many busi­nesses have done it on their own.  Nick Chute is here to­night with his boss, John Sor­an­no.  John’s an own­er of Punch Pizza in Min­neapol­is, and Nick helps make the dough.  Only now he makes more of it: John just gave his em­ploy­ees a raise, to ten bucks an hour ““ a de­cision that eased their fin­an­cial stress and boos­ted their mor­ale.

To­night, I ask more of Amer­ica’s busi­ness lead­ers to fol­low John’s lead and do what you can to raise your em­ploy­ees’ wages.  To every may­or, gov­ernor, and state le­gis­lat­or in Amer­ica, I say, you don’t have to wait for Con­gress to act; Amer­ic­ans will sup­port you if you take this on.  And as a chief ex­ec­ut­ive, I in­tend to lead by ex­ample. Prof­it­able cor­por­a­tions like Costco see high­er wages as the smart way to boost pro­ductiv­ity and re­duce turnover. We should too.  In the com­ing weeks, I will is­sue an Ex­ec­ut­ive Or­der re­quir­ing fed­er­al con­tract­ors to pay their fed­er­ally-fun­ded em­ploy­ees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour ““ be­cause if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.

Of course, to reach mil­lions more, Con­gress needs to get on board. Today, the fed­er­al min­im­um wage is worth about twenty per­cent less than it was when Ron­ald Re­agan first stood here.  Tom Har­kin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lift­ing the min­im­um wage to $10.10.  This will help fam­il­ies.  It will give busi­nesses cus­tom­ers with more money to spend.  It doesn’t in­volve any new bur­eau­crat­ic pro­gram.  So join the rest of the coun­try.  Say yes.  Give Amer­ica a raise.

There are oth­er steps we can take to help fam­il­ies make ends meet, and few are more ef­fect­ive at re­du­cing in­equal­ity and help­ing fam­il­ies pull them­selves up through hard work than the Earned In­come Tax Cred­it.  Right now, it helps about half of all par­ents at some point.  But I agree with Re­pub­lic­ans like Sen­at­or Ru­bio that it doesn’t do enough for single work­ers who don’t have kids.  So let’s work to­geth­er to strengthen the cred­it, re­ward work, and help more Amer­ic­ans get ahead.

Let’s do more to help Amer­ic­ans save for re­tire­ment. Today, most work­ers don’t have a pen­sion.  A So­cial Se­cur­ity check of­ten isn’t enough on its own.  And while the stock mar­ket has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks.  That’s why, to­mor­row, I will dir­ect the Treas­ury to cre­ate a new way for work­ing Amer­ic­ans to start their own re­tire­ment sav­ings: MyRA. It’s a new sav­ings bond that en­cour­ages folks to build a nest egg.  MyRA guar­an­tees a de­cent re­turn with no risk of los­ing what you put in.  And if this Con­gress wants to help, work with me to fix an up­side-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to noth­ing for middle-class Amer­ic­ans.  Of­fer every Amer­ic­an ac­cess to an auto­mat­ic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like every­one in this cham­ber can.  And since the most im­port­ant in­vest­ment many fam­il­ies make is their home, send me le­gis­la­tion that pro­tects tax­pay­ers from foot­ing the bill for a hous­ing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeown­er­ship alive for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Amer­ic­ans.

One last point on fin­an­cial se­cur­ity.  For dec­ades, few things ex­posed hard-work­ing fam­il­ies to eco­nom­ic hard­ship more than a broken health care sys­tem.  And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the pro­cess of fix­ing that.

A pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion used to mean that someone like Aman­da Shel­ley, a phys­i­cian as­sist­ant and single mom from Ari­zona, couldn’t get health in­sur­ance.  But on Janu­ary 1st, she got covered.  On Janu­ary 3rd, she felt a sharp pain.  On Janu­ary 6th, she had emer­gency sur­gery.  Just one week earli­er, Aman­da said, that sur­gery would’ve meant bank­ruptcy.

That’s what health in­sur­ance re­form is all about ““ the peace of mind that if mis­for­tune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything. 

Already, be­cause of the Af­ford­able Care Act, more than three mil­lion Amer­ic­ans un­der age 26 have gained cov­er­age un­der their par­ents’ plans.

More than nine mil­lion Amer­ic­ans have signed up for private health in­sur­ance or Medi­caid cov­er­age.

And here’s an­oth­er num­ber: zero.  Be­cause of this law, no Amer­ic­an can ever again be dropped or denied cov­er­age for a preex­ist­ing con­di­tion like asthma, back pain, or can­cer. No wo­man can ever be charged more just be­cause she’s a wo­man.  And we did all this while adding years to Medi­care’s fin­ances, keep­ing Medi­care premi­ums flat, and lower­ing pre­scrip­tion costs for mil­lions of seni­ors.

Now, I don’t ex­pect to con­vince my Re­pub­lic­an friends on the mer­its of this law.  But I know that the Amer­ic­an people aren’t in­ter­ested in re­fight­ing old battles.  So again, if you have spe­cif­ic plans to cut costs, cov­er more people, and in­crease choice ““ tell Amer­ica what you’d do dif­fer­ently.  Let’s see if the num­bers add up.  But let’s not have an­oth­er forty-something votes to re­peal a law that’s already help­ing mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans like Aman­da.  The first forty were plenty.  We got it.  We all owe it to the Amer­ic­an people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against. 

And if you want to know the real im­pact this law is hav­ing, just talk to Gov­ernor Steve Be­s­hear of Ken­tucky, who’s here to­night.  Ken­tucky’s not the most lib­er­al part of the coun­try, but he’s like a man pos­sessed when it comes to cov­er­ing his com­mon­wealth’s fam­il­ies.  “They are our friends and neigh­bors,” he said.  “They are people we shop and go to church with”¦farm­ers out on the tract­ors”¦gro­cery clerks”¦they are people who go to work every morn­ing pray­ing they don’t get sick.  No one de­serves to live that way.” 

Steve’s right.  That’s why, to­night, I ask every Amer­ic­an who knows someone without health in­sur­ance to help them get covered by March 31st.  Moms, get on your kids to sign up.  Kids, call your mom and walk her through the ap­plic­a­tion.  It will give her some peace of mind ““ plus, she’ll ap­pre­ci­ate hear­ing from you. 

After all, that’s the spir­it that has al­ways moved this na­tion for­ward.  It’s the spir­it of cit­izen­ship ““ the re­cog­ni­tion that through hard work and re­spons­ib­il­ity, we can pur­sue our in­di­vidu­al dreams, but still come to­geth­er as one Amer­ic­an fam­ily to make sure the next gen­er­a­tion can pur­sue its dreams as well.

Cit­izen­ship means stand­ing up for every­one’s right to vote.  Last year, part of the Vot­ing Rights Act was weakened.  But con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans and lib­er­al Demo­crats are work­ing to­geth­er to strengthen it; and the bi­par­tis­an com­mis­sion I ap­poin­ted last year has offered re­forms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote.  Let’s sup­port these ef­forts.  It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank ac­count, that drives our demo­cracy.

Cit­izen­ship means stand­ing up for the lives that gun vi­ol­ence steals from us each day.  I have seen the cour­age of par­ents, stu­dents, pas­tors, and po­lice of­ficers all over this coun­try who say “we are not afraid,” and I in­tend to keep try­ing, with or without Con­gress, to help stop more tra­gedies from vis­it­ing in­no­cent Amer­ic­ans in our movie theat­ers, shop­ping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

Cit­izen­ship de­mands a sense of com­mon cause; par­ti­cip­a­tion in the hard work of self-gov­ern­ment; an ob­lig­a­tion to serve to our com­munit­ies.  And I know this cham­ber agrees that few Amer­ic­ans give more to their coun­try than our dip­lo­mats and the men and wo­men of the United States Armed Forces.

To­night, be­cause of the ex­traordin­ary troops and ci­vil­ians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more se­cure.  When I took of­fice, nearly 180,000 Amer­ic­ans were serving in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan.  Today, all our troops are out of Ir­aq.  More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afgh­anistan.  With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own se­cur­ity, our troops have moved to a sup­port role. To­geth­er with our al­lies, we will com­plete our mis­sion there by the end of this year, and Amer­ica’s longest war will fi­nally be over.

After 2014, we will sup­port a uni­fied Afgh­anistan as it takes re­spons­ib­il­ity for its own fu­ture.  If the Afghan gov­ern­ment signs a se­cur­ity agree­ment that we have ne­go­ti­ated, a small force of Amer­ic­ans could re­main in Afgh­anistan with NATO al­lies to carry out two nar­row mis­sions: train­ing and as­sist­ing Afghan forces, and coun­terter­ror­ism op­er­a­tions to pur­sue any rem­nants of al Qaeda.  For while our re­la­tion­ship with Afgh­anistan will change, one thing will not: our re­solve that ter­ror­ists do not launch at­tacks against our coun­try.

The fact is, that danger re­mains.  While we have put al Qaeda’s core lead­er­ship on a path to de­feat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda af­fil­i­ates and oth­er ex­trem­ists take root in dif­fer­ent parts of the world. In Ye­men, Somalia, Ir­aq, and Mali, we have to keep work­ing with part­ners to dis­rupt and dis­able these net­works. In Syr­ia, we’ll sup­port the op­pos­i­tion that re­jects  the agenda of ter­ror­ist net­works. Here at home, we’ll keep strength­en­ing our de­fenses, and com­bat new threats like cy­ber­at­tacks.  And as we re­form our de­fense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and wo­men in uni­form, and in­vest in the cap­ab­il­it­ies they need to suc­ceed in fu­ture mis­sions.

We have to re­main vi­gil­ant.  But I strongly be­lieve our lead­er­ship and our se­cur­ity can­not de­pend on our mil­it­ary alone. As Com­mand­er-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to pro­tect the Amer­ic­an people, and I will nev­er hes­it­ate to do so as long as I hold this of­fice.  But I will not send our troops in­to harm’s way un­less it’s truly ne­ces­sary; nor will I al­low our sons and daugh­ters to be mired in open-ended con­flicts.  We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that ter­ror­ists prefer from us ““ large-scale de­ploy­ments that drain our strength and may ul­ti­mately feed ex­trem­ism.

So, even as we ag­gress­ively pur­sue ter­ror­ist net­works ““ through more tar­geted ef­forts and by build­ing the ca­pa­city of our for­eign part­ners ““ Amer­ica must move off a per­man­ent war foot­ing.  That’s why I’ve im­posed prudent lim­its on the use of drones ““ for we will not be safer if people abroad be­lieve we strike with­in their coun­tries without re­gard for the con­sequence.  That’s why, work­ing with this Con­gress, I will re­form our sur­veil­lance pro­grams ““ be­cause the vi­tal work of our in­tel­li­gence com­munity de­pends on pub­lic con­fid­ence, here and abroad, that the pri­vacy of or­din­ary people is not be­ing vi­ol­ated.  And with the Afghan war end­ing, this needs to be the year Con­gress lifts the re­main­ing re­stric­tions on de­tain­ee trans­fers and we close the pris­on at Guantanamo Bay ““ be­cause we counter ter­ror­ism not just through in­tel­li­gence and mil­it­ary ac­tion, but by re­main­ing true to our Con­sti­tu­tion­al ideals, and set­ting an ex­ample for the rest of the world.

You see, in a world of com­plex threats, our se­cur­ity and lead­er­ship de­pends on all ele­ments of our power ““ in­clud­ing strong and prin­cipled dip­lomacy.  Amer­ic­an dip­lomacy has ral­lied more than fifty coun­tries to pre­vent nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als from fall­ing in­to the wrong hands, and al­lowed us to re­duce our own re­li­ance on Cold War stock­piles.  Amer­ic­an dip­lomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons are be­ing elim­in­ated, and we will con­tin­ue to work with the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity to ush­er in the fu­ture the Syr­i­an people de­serve ““ a fu­ture free of dic­tat­or­ship, ter­ror and fear. As we speak, Amer­ic­an dip­lomacy is sup­port­ing Is­rael­is and Palestini­ans as they en­gage in dif­fi­cult but ne­ces­sary talks to end the con­flict there; to achieve dig­nity and an in­de­pend­ent state for Palestini­ans, and last­ing peace and se­cur­ity for the State of Is­rael ““ a Jew­ish state that knows Amer­ica will al­ways be at their side.

And it is Amer­ic­an dip­lomacy, backed by pres­sure, that has hal­ted the pro­gress of Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram ““ and rolled parts of that pro­gram back ““ for the very first time in a dec­ade.  As we gath­er here to­night, Ir­an has be­gun to elim­in­ate its stock­pile of high­er levels of en­riched urani­um.  It is not in­stalling ad­vanced cent­ri­fuges.  Un­pre­ced­en­ted in­spec­tions help the world veri­fy, every day, that Ir­an is not build­ing a bomb.  And with our al­lies and part­ners, we’re en­gaged in ne­go­ti­ations to see if we can peace­fully achieve a goal we all share: pre­vent­ing Ir­an from ob­tain­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon.

These ne­go­ti­ations will be dif­fi­cult.  They may not suc­ceed.  We are clear-eyed about Ir­an’s sup­port for ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions like Hezbol­lah, which threaten our al­lies; and the mis­trust between our na­tions can­not be wished away.  But these ne­go­ti­ations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on veri­fi­able ac­tion that con­vinces us and the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity that Ir­an is not build­ing a nuc­le­ar bomb.  If John F. Kennedy and Ron­ald Re­agan could ne­go­ti­ate with the So­viet Uni­on, then surely a strong and con­fid­ent Amer­ica can ne­go­ti­ate with less power­ful ad­versar­ies today.

The sanc­tions that we put in place helped make this op­por­tun­ity pos­sible.  But let me be clear: if this Con­gress sends me a new sanc­tions bill now that threatens to de­rail these talks, I will veto it.  For the sake of our na­tion­al se­cur­ity, we must give dip­lomacy a chance to suc­ceed.  If Ir­an’s lead­ers do not seize this op­por­tun­ity, then I will be the first to call for more sanc­tions, and stand ready to ex­er­cise all op­tions to make sure Ir­an does not build a nuc­le­ar weapon.  But if Ir­an’s lead­ers do seize the chance, then Ir­an could take an im­port­ant step to re­join the com­munity of na­tions, and we will have re­solved one of the lead­ing se­cur­ity chal­lenges of our time without the risks of war.

Fi­nally, let’s re­mem­ber that our lead­er­ship is defined not just by our de­fense against threats, but by the enorm­ous op­por­tun­it­ies to do good and pro­mote un­der­stand­ing around the globe ““ to forge great­er co­oper­a­tion, to ex­pand new mar­kets, to free people from fear and want.  And no one is bet­ter po­si­tioned to take ad­vant­age of those op­por­tun­it­ies than Amer­ica. 

Our al­li­ance with Europe re­mains the strongest the world has ever known.  From Tunisia to Burma, we’re sup­port­ing those who are will­ing to do the hard work of build­ing demo­cracy.  In Ukraine, we stand for the prin­ciple that all people have the right to ex­press them­selves freely and peace­fully, and have a say in their coun­try’s fu­ture.  Across Africa, we’re bring­ing to­geth­er busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments to double ac­cess to elec­tri­city and help end ex­treme poverty.  In the Amer­icas, we are build­ing new ties of com­merce, but we’re also ex­pand­ing cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al ex­changes among young people.  And we will con­tin­ue to fo­cus on the Asia-Pa­cific, where we sup­port our al­lies, shape a fu­ture of great­er se­cur­ity and prosper­ity, and ex­tend a hand to those dev­ast­ated by dis­aster ““ as we did in the Phil­ip­pines, when our Mar­ines and ci­vil­ians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will nev­er for­get your kind­ness” and “God bless Amer­ica!”

We do these things be­cause they help pro­mote our long-term se­cur­ity.  And we do them be­cause we be­lieve in the in­her­ent dig­nity and equal­ity of every hu­man be­ing, re­gard­less of race or re­li­gion, creed or sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion.  And next week, the world will see one ex­pres­sion of that com­mit­ment ““ when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue in­to the Olympic Sta­di­um ““ and brings home the gold.

My fel­low Amer­ic­ans, no oth­er coun­try in the world does what we do.  On every is­sue, the world turns to us, not simply be­cause of the size of our eco­nomy or our mil­it­ary might ““ but be­cause of the ideals we stand for, and the bur­dens we bear to ad­vance them.

No one knows this bet­ter than those who serve in uni­form.  As this time of war draws to a close, a new gen­er­a­tion of her­oes re­turns to ci­vil­ian life.  We’ll keep slash­ing that back­log so our vet­er­ans re­ceive the be­ne­fits they’ve earned, and our wounded war­ri­ors re­ceive the health care ““ in­clud­ing the men­tal health care ““ that they need.  We’ll keep work­ing to help all our vet­er­ans trans­late their skills and lead­er­ship in­to jobs here at home.  And we all con­tin­ue to join forces to hon­or and sup­port our re­mark­able mil­it­ary fam­il­ies.

Let me tell you about one of those fam­il­ies I’ve come to know.

I first met Cory Rems­burg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th an­niversary of D-Day.  Along with some of his fel­low Rangers, he walked me through the pro­gram ““ a strong, im­press­ive young man, with an easy man­ner, sharp as a tack.  We joked around, and took pic­tures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his tenth de­ploy­ment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive road­side bomb in Afgh­anistan. His com­rades found him in a canal, face down, un­der­wa­ter, shrapnel in his brain. 

For months, he lay in a coma.  The next time I met him, in the hos­pit­al, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move.  Over the years, he’s en­dured dozens of sur­ger­ies and pro­ced­ures, and hours of gruel­ing re­hab every day. 

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye.  He still struggles on his left side.  But slowly, stead­ily, with the sup­port of care­givers like his dad Craig, and the com­munity around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again ““ and he’s work­ing to­ward the day when he can serve his coun­try again. 

“My re­cov­ery has not been easy,” he says. “Noth­ing in life that’s worth any­thing is easy.” 

Cory is here to­night.  And like the Army he loves, like the Amer­ica he serves, Ser­geant First Class Cory Rems­burg nev­er gives up, and he does not quit. 

My fel­low Amer­ic­ans, men and wo­men like Cory re­mind us that Amer­ica has nev­er come easy.  Our free­dom, our demo­cracy, has nev­er been easy.  Some­times we stumble; we make mis­takes; we get frus­trated or dis­cour­aged.  But for more than two hun­dred years, we have put those things aside and placed our col­lect­ive shoulder to the wheel of pro­gress ““ to cre­ate and build and ex­pand the pos­sib­il­it­ies of in­di­vidu­al achieve­ment; to free oth­er na­tions from tyranny and fear; to pro­mote justice, and fair­ness, and equal­ity un­der the law, so that the words set to pa­per by our founders are made real for every cit­izen.  The Amer­ica we want for our kids ““ a rising Amer­ica where hon­est work is plen­ti­ful and com­munit­ies are strong; where prosper­ity is widely shared and op­por­tun­ity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us ““ none of it is easy.  But if we work to­geth­er; if we sum­mon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast to­wards to­mor­row ”“ I know it’s with­in our reach. 

Be­lieve it.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of Amer­ica.

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