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Obama's address to Congress: transportation, education, innovation

U.S. president Barack Obama outlined the America Jobs Act to Congress and urged them to solve economic woes by investing in the nation's future. Here are 10 highlights.
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Written by Andrew Nusca, Former editor on

As the global economy continues its prolonged slump, U.S. president Barack Obama addressed Congress during a joint session Thursday night to outline his jobs plan and give a shot in the arm to America's outlook.

The plan, in Obama's own words:

The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services.

Among the topics of his impassioned, nearly 4,000-word speech: transportation infrastructure investment, STEM education and a laser-like focus on innovation at home. Plus, more than 20 separate orders for elected officials to "pass this jobs bill."

Ten highlights:

On infrastructure: "We have badly decaying roads and bridges all over this country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world. This is inexcusable. Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we're going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?"

On education, part one: "There are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school — and we can give it to them, if we act now."

On federal leadership: "No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere. We're cutting the red tape that prevents some of these projects from getting started as quickly as possible. And we'll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the economy."

On education, part two: "Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work. These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher. But while they're adding teachers in places like South Korea, we're laying them off in droves. It's unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours. And it has to stop. Pass this jobs bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong."

On wooing business: "I'll also offer ideas to reform a corporate tax code that stands as a monument to special interest influence in Washington. By eliminating pages of loopholes and deductions, we can lower one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Our tax code shouldn't give an advantage to companies that can afford the best-connected lobbyists. It should give an advantage to companies that invest and create jobs here in America."

On technology and outsourcing: "We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere. If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build, out-educate, and out-innovate every other country on Earth."

On streamlining processes: "My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own. For example, if you're a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we're going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do now. We're also planning to cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly-growing startup companies from raising capital and going public."

On fostering innovation: "Today you passed reform that will speed up the outdated patent process, so that entrepreneurs can turn a new idea into a new business as quickly as possible. That's the kind of action we need. Now it's time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea — while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition. If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers. I want to see more products sold around the world stamped with three proud words: 'Made in America.' "

On manufacturing: "We're going to make sure the next generation of manufacturing takes root, not in China or Europe, but right here, in the United States of America. If we provide the right incentives and support — and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules — we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that are sold all over the world. That's how America can be number one again. That's how America will be number one again."

On strategy: "I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn't be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that's a race we can win."

Obama closed by asking his audience, "How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip?"

The message: solve today's economic woes by enacting policy to facilitate a better tomorrow.

Photo: Chuck Kennedy/White House

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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