[Congressional Record Volume 159, Number 22 (Tuesday, February 12, 2013)]
[House]
[Pages H443-H449]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                              {time}  2040
JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS PURSUANT TO HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 11 TO 
                  RECEIVE A MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT

  The recess having expired, the House was called to order by the 
Speaker at 8 o'clock and 40 minutes p.m.
  The Deputy Sergeant at Arms, Mrs. Kerri Hanley, announced the Vice 
President and Members of the U.S. Senate, who entered the Hall of the 
House of Representatives, the Vice President taking the chair at the 
right of the Speaker, and the Members of the Senate the seats reserved 
for them.
  The SPEAKER. The joint session will come to order.
  The Chair appoints as members of the committee on the part of the 
House to escort the President of the United States into the Chamber:
  The gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Cantor);
  The gentleman from California (Mr. McCarthy);
  The gentlewoman from Washington (Mrs. McMorris Rodgers);
  The gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Walden);
  The gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Lankford);
  The gentlewoman from Kansas (Ms. Jenkins);
  The gentlewoman from North Carolina (Ms. Foxx);
  The gentlewoman from California (Ms. Pelosi);
  The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer);
  The gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Clyburn);
  The gentleman from California (Mr. Becerra);
  The gentleman from New York (Mr. Crowley);
  The gentleman from New York (Mr. Israel); and
  The gentlewoman from Illinois (Ms. Duckworth).
  The VICE PRESIDENT. The President of the Senate, at the direction of 
that body, appoints the following Senators as members of the committee 
on the part of the Senate to escort the President of the United States 
into the House Chamber:
  The Senator from Nevada (Mr. Reid);
  The Senator from Vermont (Mr. Leahy);

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  The Senator from Illinois (Mr. Durbin);
  The Senator from New York (Mr. Schumer);
  The Senator from Washington (Mrs. Murray);
  The Senator from Colorado (Mr. Bennet);
  The Senator from Michigan (Ms. Stabenow);
  The Senator from Alaska (Mr. Begich);
  The Senator from Kentucky (Mr. McConnell);
  The Senator from Texas (Mr. Cornyn);
  The Senator from South Dakota (Mr. Thune);
  The Senator from Missouri (Mr. Blunt);
  The Senator from Wyoming (Mr. Barrasso); and
  The Senator from Kansas (Mr. Moran).
  The Deputy Sergeant at Arms announced the Dean of the Diplomatic 
Corps, His Excellency Roble Olhaye, the Ambassador of the Republic of 
Djibouti.
  The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps entered the Hall of the House of 
Representatives and took the seat reserved for him.
  The Deputy Sergeant at Arms announced the Chief Justice of the United 
States and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.
  The Chief Justice of the United States and the Associate Justices of 
the Supreme Court entered the Hall of the House of Representatives and 
took the seats reserved for them in front of the Speaker's rostrum.
  The Deputy Sergeant at Arms announced the Cabinet of the President of 
the United States.
  The members of the Cabinet of the President of the United States 
entered the Hall of the House of Representatives and took the seats 
reserved for them in front of the Speaker's rostrum.
  At 9 o'clock and 9 minutes p.m., the Sergeant at Arms, the Honorable 
Paul D. Irving, announced the President of the United States.
  The President of the United States, escorted by the committee of 
Senators and Representatives, entered the Hall of the House of 
Representatives and stood at the Clerk's desk.
  (Applause, the Members rising.)
  The SPEAKER. Members of the Congress, I have the high privilege and 
the distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United 
States.
  (Applause, the Members rising.)
  The PRESIDENT. Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, 
fellow Americans:
  Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that 
``the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for 
progress . . . It is my task,'' he said, ``to report the State of the 
Union--to improve it is the task of us all.''
  Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, 
there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our 
brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling 
recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs. We buy 
more Americans cars than we have in 5 years, and less foreign oil than 
we have in 20. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is 
rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger 
protections than ever before.
  So together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can 
say with renewed confidence that the state of our Union is stronger.
  But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose 
hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is 
adding jobs--but too many people still can't find full-time employment. 
Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs--but for more than 
a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged. It is our generation's 
task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth--a 
rising, thriving middle class.
  It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built 
this country--the idea that if you work hard and meet your 
responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no 
matter what you look like, or whom you love.
  It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on 
behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free 
enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of 
opportunity to every child across this great Nation.
  The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. 
They don't expect those of us in this Chamber to agree on every issue. 
But they do expect us to put the Nation's interests before party. They 
do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can, for they know 
that America moves forward only when we do so together, and that the 
responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.
  Now, our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our 
budget, decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our 
recovery.
  Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce 
the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion, mostly through spending cuts 
but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. 
As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion 
in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our 
finances.
  Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?
  In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn't 
agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars' 
worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. 
These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military 
readiness. They'd devastate priorities like education and energy and 
medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery and cost us 
hundreds of thousands of jobs. And that's why Democrats, Republicans, 
business leaders and economists have already said that these cuts, 
known here in Washington as ``the sequester,'' are a really bad idea.
  Now, some in Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts 
by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, 
Medicare and Social Security benefits.
  That idea is even worse. Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term 
debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And 
those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace 
the need for modest reforms, otherwise our retirement programs will 
crowd out the investments we need for our children and jeopardize the 
promise of a secure retirement for future generations.
  But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the 
entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the 
wealthiest and the most powerful. We won't grow the middle class simply 
by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are 
already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers 
and more cops and more firefighters.
  Most Americans--Democrats, Republicans and Independents--understand 
that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-
based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit 
reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing 
their fair share. And that's the approach I offer tonight.
  On Medicare, I'm prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same 
amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as 
the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. 
Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of 
health care costs. And the reforms I'm proposing go even further.
  We'll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and 
ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We'll bring down costs by 
changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical 
bills shouldn't be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent 
in the hospital; they should be based on the quality of care that our 
seniors receive.
  And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as 
they don't violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government 
shouldn't make promises we cannot keep, but we must keep the promises 
we've already made.
  To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what 
leaders in both parties have already suggested and save hundreds of 
billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for 
the well-off and the well-

[[Page H445]]

connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to 
education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? 
How's that fair?
  Why is it that deficit reduction is a big emergency, justifying 
making cuts in Social Security benefits but not closing some loopholes? 
How does that promote growth?
  Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that 
encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. We can get 
this done.
  The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses 
spend less time filling out complicated forms and more time expanding 
and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered 
accountants can't work the system and pay a lower rate than their 
hardworking secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs 
overseas and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that are 
creating jobs right here in the United States of America. That's what 
tax reform can deliver. That's what we can do together.
  I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform will not be easy. 
The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 
percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt 
our economy, visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So 
let's set party interests aside and work to pass a budget that replaces 
reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. 
And let's do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and 
scares off investors.
  The greatest Nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by 
drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. We can't do it. 
Let's agree right here, right now, to keep the people's government open 
and pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit 
of the United States of America. The American people have worked too 
hard for too long rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected 
officials cause another.
  Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part 
of our agenda. But let's be clear: Deficit reduction alone is not an 
economic plan. A growing economy that creates good middle-class jobs--
that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we 
should ask ourselves three questions as a Nation: How do we attract 
more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills 
they need to get those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work 
leads to a decent living?
  A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that 
independent economists said would create more than 1 million new jobs, 
and I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda. I urge 
this Congress to pass the rest. Tonight, I'll lay out additional 
proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget 
framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat: 
Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single 
dime. It's not a bigger government we need but a smarter government 
that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth. That's what we 
should be looking for.
  Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and 
manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our 
manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. 
Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs 
back from Mexico. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in 
America again. There are things we can do right now to accelerate this 
trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation 
institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a 
state-of-the-art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing 
that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost 
everything. There's no reason this can't happen in other towns.
  So, tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these 
manufacturing hubs where businesses will partner with the Departments 
of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into 
global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help 
create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next 
revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America. We can get 
that done.
  Now, if we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in 
the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome 
returned $140 to our economy--every dollar. Today, our scientists are 
mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's. They're 
developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs. Devising new materials 
to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut 
these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the 
time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the 
height of the space race. We need to make those investments. Today, no 
area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.
  After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our 
own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 
years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas 
and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind 
and solar--with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it. 
We produce more natural gas than ever before, and nearly everyone's 
energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last 4 years, our 
emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet 
have actually fallen. But for the sake of our children and our future, 
we must do more to combat climate change.
  Now, it's true that no single event makes a trend, but the fact is 
the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat 
waves, droughts, wildfires, floods--all are now more frequent and more 
intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy and the most 
severe drought in decades and the worst wildfires some States have ever 
seen were all just a freak coincidence or we can choose to believe in 
the overwhelming judgment of science--and act before it's too late.
  The good news is we can make meaningful progress on this issue while 
driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together 
and pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change like 
the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years 
ago. But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I 
will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can 
take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities 
for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to 
more sustainable sources of energy.
  Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and 
the jobs that came with it. We've begun to change that. Last year, wind 
energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America, so let's 
generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let's drive 
down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going 
all-in on clean energy, so must we.
  In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and 
greater energy independence. We need to encourage that, and that's why 
my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil 
and gas permits. That has got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. 
But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research 
and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects 
our air and our water.
  In fact, much of our newfound energy is drawn from lands and waters 
that we, the public, own together. So, tonight, I propose we use some 
of our oil and gas revenues to fund an energy security trust that will 
drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil 
for good. If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and 
admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let's take their 
advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in 
gas prices we've put up with for far too long.
  I'm also issuing a new goal for America: Let's cut in half the energy 
wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. We'll work 
with the States to do it. Those States with the best ideas to create 
jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings 
will receive Federal support to help make that happen.

  America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure 
badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where

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they'd rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and 
bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, 
self-healing power grids? The CEO of Siemens America, a company that 
brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina, said that if we upgrade 
our infrastructure they'll bring even more jobs, and that's the 
attitude of a lot of companies all around the world. And I know you 
want these job-creating projects in your districts. I've seen all those 
ribbon-cuttings.
  So, tonight, I propose a ``fix it first'' program to put people to 
work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 
70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make 
sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a 
Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade 
what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern 
pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. 
Let's prove there's no better place to do business than here in the 
United States of America, and let's start right away. We can get this 
done.
  Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. 
The good news is our housing market is finally healing from the 
collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in 6 
years. Home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is 
expanding again. But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too 
many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being 
rejected. Too many families who never missed a payment and want to 
refinance are being told no. That's holding our entire economy back, 
and we need to fix it.
  Right now, there is a bill in this Congress that would give every 
responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by 
refinancing at today's rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported 
it before. So what are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that 
bill. Why would we be against that? Why would that be a partisan issue, 
having folks refinance? Right now, overlapping regulations keep 
responsible young families from buying their first home. What's holding 
us back? Let's streamline the process and help our economy grow.
  These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and 
housing, all these things will help entrepreneurs and small business 
owners expand and create new jobs, but none of it will matter unless we 
also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those 
jobs. And that has to start at the earliest possible age.
  Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the 
better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than three in ten 
4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most 
middle class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for a 
private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack 
of access to preschool education can shatter them for the rest of their 
lives.
  Tonight, I propose working with States to make high-quality preschool 
available to every single child in America. That's something we should 
be able to do. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood 
education can save more than $7 later on by boosting graduation rates, 
reducing teen pregnancies, even reducing violent crime.
  In States that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, 
like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to 
read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and 
form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let's do 
what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life 
already behind. Let's give our kids that chance.
  Let's also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a 
path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on 
graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a 
technical degree from one of our community colleges. So those German 
kids, they're ready for a job when they graduate high school; they've 
been trained for the jobs that are there. Now, at schools like P-Tech 
in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools and City 
University of New York and IBM, students will graduate with a high 
school diploma and associate's degree in computers or engineering. We 
need to give every American student opportunities like this.
  Four years ago, we started Race to the Top--a competition that 
convinced almost every State to develop smarter curricula and higher 
standards, all for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each 
year. Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's 
high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-
tech economy. We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with 
colleges and employers and create classes that focus on science, 
technology, engineering, and math--the skills today's employers are 
looking for to fill jobs that are there right now and will be there in 
the future.
  Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some 
higher education. It's a simple fact: The more education you have, the 
more likely you are to have a good job and work your way into the 
middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price too many young people 
out of a higher education or saddle them with unsustainable debt.
  Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college 
more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few 
years. But taxpayers can't keep on subsidizing higher and higher and 
higher costs for higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep 
costs down, and it's our job to make sure that they do.
  So tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that 
affordability and value are included in determining which colleges 
receive certain types of Federal aid. And tomorrow, my administration 
will release a new ``College Scorecard'' that parents and students can 
use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get 
the most bang for your educational buck.

  Now, to grow our middle class, our citizens have to have access to 
the education and training that today's jobs require. But we also have 
to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who's willing 
to work hard has the chance to get ahead.
  Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of 
striving, hopeful immigrants; and right now, leaders from the business, 
labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time 
has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Now is the time to 
do it. Now is the time to get it done. Now is the time to get it done.
  Real reform means stronger border security. And we can build on the 
progress my administration has already made--putting more boots on the 
southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal 
crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.
  Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned 
citizenship--a path that includes passing a background check, paying 
taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back 
of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally. And real 
reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods 
and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will 
help create jobs and grow our economy.
  In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, 
bipartisan groups in both Chambers are working diligently to draft a 
bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let's get this done. Send me a 
comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months and I will 
sign it right away, and America will be better for it. Let's get it 
done. Let's get it done.
  But we can't stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our 
wives, our mothers, and our daughters can live their lives free from 
discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic 
violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that 
Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago, and I now urge the 
House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women 
should earn a living equal to their efforts and finally pass the 
Paycheck Fairness Act this year.
  We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day's work 
with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum

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wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we've put in place, 
a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below 
the poverty line. That's wrong. That's why, since the last time this 
Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 States have chosen to bump theirs 
even higher.
  Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest Nation on Earth, no one 
who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the 
Federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. We should be able to get that done. 
This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working 
families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food 
bank, rent or eviction, scraping by or finally getting ahead. For 
businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money 
in their pockets. And a whole lot of folks out there would probably 
need less help from government. In fact, working folks shouldn't have 
to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has 
never been higher. So here's an idea that Governor Romney and I 
actually agreed on last year: Let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of 
living so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.
  Tonight, let's also recognize that there are communities in this 
country where, no matter how hard you work, it's virtually impossible 
to get ahead: factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up; 
inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are 
still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance 
of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny, and that's why we 
need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all 
who are willing to climb them.
  Let's offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who've got 
what it takes to fill that job opening but who have been out of work 
for so long that no one will give them a chance anymore. Let's put 
people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. 
And this year, my administration will begin to partner with 20 of the 
hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their 
feet. Now, we'll work with local leaders to target resources at public 
safety, education, and housing. We'll give new tax credits to 
businesses that hire and invest, and we'll work to strengthen families 
by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income 
couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood--because what makes you 
a man isn't the ability to conceive a child, but having the courage to 
raise one. And we want to encourage that. We want to help that.
  Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is 
this kind of prosperity--broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle 
class--that has always been the source of our progress at home. It's 
also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.
  Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who 
sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with 
confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and 
achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we've 
brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and -women. This spring, 
our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces 
take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 
34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown 
will continue, and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will 
be over.
  Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign 
Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. 
We're negotiating an agreement with the Afghan Government that focuses 
on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the 
country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts 
that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.
  Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its 
former self. It's true that different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist 
groups have emerged--from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threats 
these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don't need 
to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad or occupy 
other nations. Instead, we'll need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, 
and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take 
the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, 
through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action 
against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.
  As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That's why my 
administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and 
policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, 
we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that 
in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we're 
doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to 
engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and 
prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system 
of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent 
to the American people and to the world.
  Of course, our challenges don't end with al Qaeda. America will 
continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world's most 
dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know they will only 
achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international 
obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only 
further isolate them, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own 
missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response 
to these threats.
  Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for 
a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding 
that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to 
prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. At the same time, we'll 
engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and 
continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that 
could fall into the wrong hands--because our ability to influence 
others depends on our willingness to lead and meet our obligations.
  America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyberattacks. 
Now, we know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private 
emails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate 
secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our 
power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control 
systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did 
nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.
  That's why earlier today I signed a new executive order that will 
strengthen our cyberdefenses by increasing information-sharing and 
developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and 
our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to 
give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter 
attacks. This is something we should be able to get done on a 
bipartisan basis.
  Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today's world 
presents not just dangers, not just threats, but it presents 
opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and 
level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to 
complete negotiations on a transpacific partnership. Tonight, I'm 
announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive transatlantic 
trade and investment partnership with the European Union because trade 
that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-
paying American jobs.
  We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our 
world enriches us all. Not only because it creates new markets, more 
stable order in certain regions of the world, but also because it's the 
right thing to do. In many places, people live on little more than a 
dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to 
eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting 
more people through the global economy; by empowering women; by giving 
our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping 
communities to feed and power and educate themselves; by saving the 
world's children from preventible deaths; and by realizing the promise 
of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.

[[Page H448]]

  You see, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during 
this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in 
Rangoon, in Burma, when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President 
into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands 
of Burmese lined the streets waving American flags, including a man who 
said, ``There is justice and law in the United States. I want our 
country to be like that.''
  In defense of freedom, we'll remain the anchor of strong alliances 
from the Americas to Africa, from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, 
we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights and 
support stable transitions to democracy. We know the process will be 
messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in 
countries like Egypt. But we can and will insist on respect for the 
fundamental rights of all people. We'll keep the pressure on a Syrian 
regime that has murdered its own people and support opposition leaders 
that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast 
with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the 
messages I'll deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.
  All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve 
in dangerous places at great personal risk: our diplomats, our 
intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed 
Forces. As long as I'm Commander in Chief, we will do whatever we must 
to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain 
the best military the world has ever known. We'll invest in new 
capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will 
ensure equal treatment for all servicemembers and equal benefits for 
their families, gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and 
skills of our sisters, daughters, and moms, because women have proven 
under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our 
veterans, investing in world-class care, including mental health care, 
for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving 
our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities that they 
have earned. And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden 
for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well 
as they have served us. Thank you, honey. Thank you, Jill.

  Defending our freedom, though, is not just the job of our military 
alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are 
protected here at home. That includes one of the most fundamental 
rights of a democracy: the right to vote. When any Americans--no matter 
where they live or what their party--are denied that right because they 
can't afford to wait for 5, 6, or 7 hours just to cast their ballot, we 
are betraying our ideals. So tonight I'm announcing a nonpartisan 
commission to improve the voting experience in America, and it 
definitely needs improvement. I'm asking two longtime experts in the 
field, who by the way recently served as the top attorneys for my 
campaign and for Governor Romney's campaign, to lead it. We can fix 
this, and we will. The American people demand it, and so does our 
democracy.
  Of course, what I've said tonight matters little if we don't come 
together to protect our most precious resource, our children.
  It has been 2 months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time 
this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is 
different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans, Americans who believe 
in the Second Amendment, have come together around commonsense reform, 
like background checks, that will make it harder for criminals to get 
their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on 
tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to 
criminals. Police chiefs are asking for our help to get weapons of war 
and massive ammunition magazines off our streets because these police 
chiefs, they're tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned.
  Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to 
vote ``no,'' that's your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. 
Because in the 2 months since Newtown, more than 1,000 birthdays, 
graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a 
bullet from a gun. More than 1,000.
  One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 
15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. 
She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best 
friend. Just 3 weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her 
classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration--and, a week 
later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a 
mile away from my house.
  Hadiya's parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this Chamber tonight along 
with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by 
gun violence. They deserve a vote.
  Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
  The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
  The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
  The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg and the countless 
other communities ripped open by gun violence--they deserve a simple 
vote.
  They deserve a simple vote.
  Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this 
country. In fact, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will 
perfectly solve all of the challenges I've outlined tonight. But we 
were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what 
difference we can--to secure this Nation, expand opportunity, uphold 
our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely 
necessary work of self-government.
  We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way 
they look out for one another every single day, usually without 
fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.
  We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu 
Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, she 
wasn't thinking about how her own home was faring. Her mind was on the 
20 precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that 
kept them all safe.
  We should follow the example of a north Miami woman named Desiline 
Victor. When Desiline arrived at her polling place, she was told the 
wait to vote might be 6 hours. As time ticked by, her concern was not 
with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would 
get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in 
line to support her--because Desiline is 102 years old--and they 
erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, ``I 
voted.''
  We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. 
When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and Brian was 
the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back 
until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the 
safety of the fellow Americans worshipping inside--even as he lay 
bleeding from 12 bullet wounds.
  And when asked how he did that, Brian said, ``That's just the way 
we're made.''
  That's just the way we're made.
  We may do different jobs and wear different uniforms and hold 
different views than the person beside us, but as Americans, we all 
share the same proud title: We are citizens.
  It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or our legal 
status. It describes the way we're made. It describes what we believe. 
It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we 
accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; 
that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well 
into our third century as a Nation, it remains the task of us all, as 
citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great 
chapter of our American story.

  Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
  (Applause, the Members rising.)
  At 10 o'clock and 17 minutes p.m., the President of the United 
States, accompanied by the committee of escort, retired from the Hall 
of the House of Representatives.
  The Deputy Sergeant at Arms escorted the invited guests from the 
Chamber in the following order:
  The members of the President's Cabinet; the Chief Justice of the 
United States and the Associate Justices of

[[Page H449]]

the Supreme Court; the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.
  The SPEAKER. The Chair declares the joint session of the two Houses 
now dissolved.
  Accordingly, at 10 o'clock and 24 minutes p.m., the joint session of 
the two Houses was dissolved.
  The Members of the Senate retired to their Chamber.

                          ____________________