SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO AND FULL TEXT OF PREPARED REMARKS
President Obama, in some of the strongest language he's used since the presidential campaign, forcefully pushed his stimulus plan tonight in a speech before House Democrats at their three-day annual retreat at the Kingsmill Resort & Spa in Williamsburg, Va.
And he urged Democrats to reject delaying tactics, accusing the Republicans of helping get the country into the current financial crisis.
"I found this deficit when I showed up," he said in a swipe at the Bush administration. "I found this a national debt double wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office."
And he strongly attacked partisan warfare that has threatened to bog down his stimulus plans this week, saying to loud applause, that Americans had not voted for "false theories of the past and they didn't vote for phony arguments and petty politics."
Departing from the Teleprompter for much of the speech, Obama used a plethora of metaphors to make his points. To express the urgency of the situation, Obama said, "I don't care if you're driving an SUV or a hybrid. If you're heading for a cliff, you've got to change direction."
Afterwards, he took questions from some of the assembled 200 Democrats.
Responding to a question from Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack, Obama said that Gen. David Petraeus and other Pentagon officials are reviewing the military situation in Afghanistan - and that he would emphasize diplomacy with Pakistan and articulate a clear strategy for the U.S. military there.
Among the many hurdles he faces, Obama must referee an emerging divide between the fiscal conservatives in his party and those Democrats who want him to increase federal funding for key domestic priorities like education and health care. Responding to a question from Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah about that balance, Obama said, "We've inherited a mess. It's our job to clean it up."
WATCH VIDEO OF MOST OF THE SPEECH:
Below is the full text of Obama's prepared remarks:
It's great to be here with so many friends. I'm glad to see the House Democratic Caucus is getting by just fine without my Chief of Staff. I want to thank John Larson for inviting me here tonight. This is John's first conference as Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, so we're both new at this.
I want to acknowledge the great Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who has proven to be an extraordinary leader for the American people. I want to thank Nancy, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn and the entire caucus for your hard work in passing an economic recovery plan that is so desperately needed for our country.
You acted with a discipline that matches the urgency and gravity of the crisis we face. Because you know what's at stake. Every weekend you go home to your districts and you see factories that are closing and small businesses shutting their doors. You hear from families losing their homes; students that can't pay tuition; seniors who worry about whether they can retire with dignity, or see their kids and grandkids lead the better life that must be America's promise.
So you went to work, and you did your job. For that, you have my appreciation and admiration. As we meet here tonight, we know there is more work to be done. The Senate is still acting. And after it has its final vote, we will still need to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills. I urge you to complete that work without delay.
Look, I value the constructive criticism and healthy debate that is a foundation of American democracy. I don't think any of us have cornered the market on wisdom, or that good ideas are the province of any party. The American people know that our challenges are great. They're not expecting Democratic solutions or Republican solutions - they want American solutions. And I have said that to those who have criticized the plan.
But what I have also said is - don't come to table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped create this crisis.
We're not going to get relief by turning back to the very same policies that in eight short years doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin. We can't embrace the losing formula that offers more tax cuts as the only answer to every problem we face, while ignoring critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, the soaring cost of health care, failing schools and crumbling bridges, roads and levees. I don't care whether you're driving a hybrid or an SUV - if you're headed for a cliff, you have to change direction.
The American people are watching. They did not send us here to get bogged down with the same old delay and distractions. They did not vote for the false theories of the past. They did not vote for the status quo - they sent us here to bring change, and we owe it to them to act. This is the moment for leadership that matches the great test of our time.
If we do not move swiftly to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, an economy that is in crisis will be faced with catastrophe. Millions more Americans will lose their jobs. Home will be lost. Families will go without health care. Our crippling dependence on foreign oil will continue. That is the price of inaction.
This isn't some abstract debate. Last week, we learned that many of America's largest corporations are planning to layoff tens off tens of thousands of workers. Today, we learned that last week, the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000. And tomorrow, we're expecting another dismal jobs report on top of the 2.6 million jobs we lost last year.
For you, those aren't statistics. They are constituents you know and families that you care about. Now, I believe that legislation of such magnitude deserves the scrutiny that it's received, and you will get another chance to vote for this bill in the days to come. But I urge all of us to not make the perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary. The scale and scope of this plan is right.
So just as past generations of Americans have done in trying times, we can and must turn this moment of challenge into one of opportunity. The plan that you've passed has at its core a simple idea: let's put Americans to work doing the work that America needs done.
This plan will save or create over three million jobs - almost all of them in the private sector.
This plan will put people to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges; our dangerously deficient dams and levees.
This plan will put people to work modernizing our health care system, not only saving us billions of dollars, but countless lives.
This plan will put people to work renovating more than 10,000 schools, giving millions of children the chance to learn in 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs - and to all the scientists in the room today, you know what that means for America's future.
This plan will provide sensible tax relief for the struggling middle-class, unemployment insurance and continued health care coverage for those who've lost their jobs, and it will help prevent our states and local communities from laying off firefighters, teachers, and police.
Finally, this plan will begin to end the tyranny of oil in our time. It doubles our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy like wind, solar, and biofuels in three years. It saves taxpayers billions of dollars by making federal buildings more energy efficient, and it saves the average working family hundreds on their energy bills. After decades of empty rhetoric, that is the down payment that we need on energy independence.
You know, there's a lot about running for President that is difficult - I don't miss sleeping in a different bed every night, or not seeing my kids as much as I'd like. But the best thing about being a candidate is that you get to see the country, and you get to know the character of the American people.
Over the last two years, I visited almost all fifty states. I've been in so many of your districts. I've passed through towns and cities, farms and factories. I know that people are hurting. I've heard their stories, and I've sensed their deep frustration. But I also know that these struggles have not diminished the strength and decency of the American people.
We hold within our hands the capacity to do great things on their behalf. It starts with this economic recovery plan. And soon, we will take on big issues like addressing the foreclosure issue, passing a budget, tackling our fiscal problems, fixing financial regulation and securing our country. We must not approach these challenges as Democrats - we must overcome them as Americans. That is why we must work in a serious, substantive, and civil way to build bipartisan support for action.
I promise you that my door is open, and my Administration will consult closely with you - the peoples' representatives - as we take on pressing priorities like energy and health care; education and infrastructure.
Already, you have made a difference. I'm pleased that in my very first days in office, I signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to make sure that all of our daughters have the same opportunity as our sons. I signed the Children's Health Insurance Program to provide coverage to 11 million children, and to make a down payment on comprehensive health care reform. I know it wasn't easy - it was a long time coming, and I appreciate your hard work over several years on behalf of America's children.
Tonight, I am confident that if we continue to work together, we can fulfill the promise of health care that is affordable for all Americans. We can create that new energy economy. We can provide a world-class education for our kids. We can unleash the talent, and innovation of the American people to compete in the 21st century. We can do all of that.
Now, we have a choice to make. Future generations will look back, and they will ask what we did when we confronted this crisis. What will they say?
Will they say that - once again - we failed to make the tough choices that lead to progress? Or will they say that this was the time that we came together, that we found our stake in one another as Americans, and that we voted for bold and aggressive action?
Together, we hold in our hands enormous responsibility. We also have an enormous opportunity.
We can write that next great chapter in American history. If we stay focused on the big picture; if we never forget the people who we are fighting for; if we represent the strength and dignity of the American people, then I know we can answer's history's call and renew America's promise.
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