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Obama: 'We are not quitters'

Barack Obama tonight painted a dire picture of the nation's economy while offering his vision of the best way to steer the nation out of its financial crisis.

In his address to a joint session of Congress, Obama excoriated Bush administration policy on the economy and other domestic issues, and promised that when his federal government helps the nation's struggling banks, the assistance will come with demands for transparency.

"This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks, buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet," Obama said. "Those days are over."

Obama's speech focused almost entirely on domestic affairs: the economy, health care, education and energy. But Obama did revisit his campaign pledges to end the Iraq war, defeat warlords in Afghanistan and count the wars' cost in the nation's budget, which the Bush administration did not.

"For seven years we've been a nation at war," he said. "No longer will we hide its price."

Obama sounded dour on the state of the economy while striking an optimistic tone about how his policies will help the nation's problems. He told Congress that the nation has reached a difficult "day of reckoning" that will require a coherent economic strategy to overcome.

"Tonight I want every American to know this," Obama said. "We will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

The speech, a sort of unofficial State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, marks the latest in Obama's media blitz to push the economic initiatives of his five-week-old administration.

Obama reiterated his professed desire for bipartisanship, asking both major political parties to sacrifice pet programs and find goals on which Democrats and Republicans can agree, including schools, expanded health care coverage and tougher environmental standards.

Despite Obama's pleas for bipartisanship, no House Republican backed his $778 billion economic stimulus package. Only three GOP senators favored it.

Obama reminded Americans that the current economic crisis is one he inherited from former President George W. Bush.

"My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue," he said in his prepared remarks. "It reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited -- a trillion-dollar deficit, a financial crisis and a costly recession."

He also spoke of fabled American staples that rose from past crises -- like Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal projects and the interstate highway system that grew in the war-stained 1960s -- and said today's economic crisis would do the same for energy and education.

Obama also pledged to expand health insurance to all Americans, a staple issue of the prolonged Democratic presidential primary campaign last year. "Health care reform cannot wait, it will not wait and it must not wait another year," he said.

On education, Obama urged students in high school and college to continue their courses through graduation. He also called for all people without college degrees to commit to one year of continuing education.

Dropping out of school, he said, is "not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country. And this country needs the help and talents of every American."

While he called for Congress to pass laws to help companies that produce devices that capture solar and other renewable energy, Obama said he would back the major Detroit automakers. Detroit, he said, supports "scores of communities" and millions of jobs.

"We should not and will not protect them from their own bad practices," he said. "But I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."

Obama concluded his speech, as has become the style in State of the Union addresses, by speaking about individual Americans who represent his message. He introduced an eighth-grade girl from Dillon, S.C., who sent a letter to Obama asking for help at her middle school, which suffers from a leaky roof and sits adjacent to noisy railroad tracks.

"We," he quoted the girl as writing, "are not quitters."

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