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Obama offers reassurance in crisis Calls for nation 'to pull together' so the economy can overcome recession

President Obama on Tuesday roused Congress and a nation fearing a slide into an economic abyss by outlining pathways to bank reform, better schools and a revival of American manufacturing.

"We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril and claimed opportunity from ordeal," he said in his first address to a joint session of Congress. "Now we must be that nation again."

Speaking in somber, measured tones, Obama said that although "the economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

"We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach.

"They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.

"Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."

Obama, who was greeted by 10 minutes of cheers, handshakes and applause before his speech, made a number of ambitious promises, saying that his administration would:

*Submit a comprehensive health care bill within a year.

*Not "hide" the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as the Bush administration did by leaving the figure out of the main budget.

*"Double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years."

The president said he will "ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

Obama promised to "eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use."

To deal with the current economic crisis, the president said more government money will be needed to rescue troubled banks beyond the more than $700 billion already committed last year by Congress.

He said he knows that the bailout program for banks is unpopular -- "I promise you, I get it," he said -- but he also insisted that it was the only way to get credit moving again to households and businesses, the lifeblood of the American economy.

The president said that he would impose strong oversight on how banks and investment houses use government bailout funds but that "I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job -- our job -- is to solve the problem."

Along with aid for banks, he also called on Congress to move quickly on legislation to overhaul outdated regulations governing the nation's financial markets.

Although he said he wasn't "laying blame" on his predecessor, Obama lost no time denouncing the policies of former President George W. Bush.

"A [federal budget] surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future," he said. "Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market.

"People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans, anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day. Well, that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here."

On manufacturing, Obama said his administration is committed to a retooled, strong U.S. auto manufacturing industry. He vowed to end tax breaks for American companies that send jobs overseas.

"New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea," he said. "Well, I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders -- and I know you don't, either. It is time for America to lead again."

Lawmakers interrupted his speech 59 times, and 40 of those interruptions were standing ovations.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, delivering the GOP response, called Obama's handling of the economy "irresponsible," saying that it would increase taxes and federal debt.

Jindal, considered a likely presidential contender in 2012, said the way to lead is not to raise taxes, which he says puts more power into the hands of Washington politicians.

He said the recently enacted $787 billion stimulus bill will "grow the government, increase our taxes down the line and saddle future generations with debt."

For Obama's speech, ambassadors, Supreme Court justices and the president's Cabinet filled the seats not filled by lawmakers. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's former campaign rival, greeted him with a kiss.

US Airways pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III sat in the gallery as a guest of the president six weeks after he crash-landed his crippled jetliner in the Hudson River off Manhattan, saving the lives of the 155 people aboard.

Clarence Center Fire Chief David Case, was on hand, too, less than two weeks after he oversaw the first response to the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which claimed 50 lives.

Case, the guest of Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, said, "I'm very proud to represent the community and the fire company and all the first responders that responded that night."

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com