US President Barack Obama in his first State of the Union address has said that jobs must be the nation’s number one focus.

He said he was setting a new goal to double US exports over the next five years: “an increase that will support two million jobs in America”.

Mr Obama said he stood by his attempts to bring about healthcare reform.

He also said he would try to tackle the budget deficit, announcing a freeze on government spending from 2011.

President Obama was given the traditional warm welcome by all sides of Congress and received several standing ovations.

He opened his address by saying the US had to “answer history’s call” in testing times.

Global warming

On the issue of employment, Mr Obama said: “People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

“Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010.”

On the economy, Mr Obama said he had taken office a year ago “amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt”.

“But the devastation remains,” he said. “One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

“I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They’re not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for president.”

He said he would insist on the new jobs bill.

“The House has passed a jobs bill… as the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same.”

Mr Obama defended the controversial bank bailouts, saying they were necessary to save the economy.

“When I ran for president, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary,” he said.

“If we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.”

But he said the budget deficit had to be tackled.

“Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years,” he said.

The president also talked about global warming, urging the Senate to “advance” work in climate change, while acknowledging deep disagreement on a bill to cap carbon emissions.

On healthcare, Mr Obama said he took his share of the blame for not explaining the situation better.

But he said many Americans were losing their insurance, adding: “I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.”

On security, Mr Obama said that the war in Iraq was ending and “all of our troops are coming home”.

Mr Obama also referred to a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start), saying the US and Russia were completing negotiations on the “farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades”.

He also announced he would tackle the controversial law on gays in the military.

He said: “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”

He ended the speech with the words: “We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward and to strengthen our union once more.”

The address follows the Democratic Party’s loss of a key Senate seat in Massachusetts last week which has deprived them of a majority of Senate votes.

The loss puts in danger the president’s sweeping legislative agenda he set out after taking office a year ago.

Source: BBC


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