Obama: For a nation 'firing on all cylinders,' Congress must collaborate

At the annual meeting for the Clinton Global Initiative, U.S. president Barack Obama urged Congress to take a page from the NGO handbook and collaborate to spark growth.

NEW YORK CITY -- U.S. president Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Congress to take a page from the non-governmental organization handbook and collaborate to spark growth.

Speaking to an audience of volunteers, world leaders and industry chiefs at this year's annual meeting for the Clinton Global Initiative, Obama said that much in the way that the CGI works with foreign nations to bring infrastructure, services and prosperity to their citizens, Congress must do the same with its own constituents.

"These things are all tough stuff. But they're solvable if everybody's attitude is that we're working together," he said. "Our future depends on fighting this downturn with everything we've got right now."

A strong theme of the CGI meeting was the need for government, business and the not-for-profit sector to work together to better address problems. Under duress from the global economic downtown, heads of state and corporate chiefs joined to make hundreds of commitments for new initiatives that aim to increase revenues and improve society by taking on the world's most perplexing challenges, from non-communicable diseases to women in the workforce.

"Everybody working together: government, business, the not-for-profit sector," Obama said. "We just need that kind of cooperation in Washington."

Obama attempted to draw a line between his proposed American Jobs bill and CGI initiatives to put people to work improving their nations, arguing that domestic support for jobs in the wake of the 2008 economic downtown causes a ripple effect that helps boost the global economy.

"We have to remember that America is still the biggest economy in the world," he said. "The single biggest thing we can do for the global economy is to get our own economy moving again. When America is growing, the world is more likely to grow."

But a concerted action must be undertaken, right now, to right the ship.

Offering an example, Obama described a conversation he had this week with South Korean prime minister Kim Hwang-Sik at the United Nations General Assembly. The topic: education, and each country's problems grappling with it.

South Korea's problem? Parents are too demanding, Kim said -- insisting that their children learn English in the first grade and forcing educators to import English-speaking teachers at a premium.

"Here, we're laying off teachers in droves," Obama said.

What's more, the current generation of workers are trying to enter the workforce only to find limited opportunities. They become set back -- and the effect lingers for a lifetime, Obama said.

"Keep this in mind: if the economy is not growing, if Americans aren't getting back to work, if becomes that much harder to sustain the critical development, assistance and partnerships [Americans and others] care deeply about."

"Not just the United States," he added. "It's important to the world."

Obama called for Congress to support his bill to upgrade roads, bridges, schools and other critical infrastructure. Catering to his New York audience, Obama asked them to compare nearby LaGuardia Airport with Beijing Airport. As they erupted in laughter at the absurdity of the comparison, Obama let loose a knowing smirk -- then offered a sober assessment of the response.

"We laugh, but that says something," he said. "That's not inevitable. That's a choice we're making."

For example, a next-generation GPS system implemented in air traffic control towers across the country would save 15 percent in fuel consumption, he said. It could lower the cost of a ticket, reduce pollutants in the air -- and "maybe they would start giving us our peanuts again," he added.

Obama admitted that the bill was no "silver bullet." But it's an attempt to put many unemployed Americans back to work when so many things in the country need fixing, he said, and it ought to be far easier to solve than "technically difficult" challenges like climate change.

"A nation firing on all cylinders -- that's the kind of nation we need to work to build again," he said. "I believe we can and we will get there by remembering what made us great."

The American spirit is big, bold and generous, Obama said. It's time to apply that mentality to a vision that's neither Democratic or Republican, but American.

"We are ready to give back. But we've got to be asked," he said. "That's what I'm hoping members of Congress recognize.

"I don't want a small cramped vision of what America can be; I want a big, generous vision of what America can be. I believe America must continue to be a rising nation with rising forces."

More quotes from the session:

  • Clinton on Obama: "In his former life, he was a walking NGO. He's also one of those Americans who believes that climate change is real."
  • Clinton on Obama: "I think he has a brilliant Secretary of State."
  • Obama on Clinton: "To our do-gooder-in-chief, Bill Clinton…you are tireless and we are proud of what you have been doing."
  • Obama on his third visit to CGI: "Last year, I was the warm-up act for Michelle."
  • Obama on CGI's mission: "It's been said that no power on Earth can stop an idea whose time has come."
  • Obama on Clinton's time out of office: "When you're out of Washington, [it] turns out you're just dealing with people who are reasonable all the time."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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