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Obama: US will emerge stronger from crisis

US President Barack Obama struck a balance between grim economic reality and a hopeful outlook yesterday as he tried to reassure worried Americans their country will emerge from crisis "stronger than before."

Riding high in opinion polls, Obama was careful to include a sober assessment of the economic emergency in his first speech to Congress. He sought, according to advance excerpts from the address, to temper expectations that his administration's rescue efforts would yield quick fixes.

But the politician whose memoir was called "The Audacity of Hope" and who won the White House in last November's election amid chants of "yes, we can" was also back in stride, telling recession-weary Americans they can expect better days ahead.

"While our 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," Obama said in his televised speech to be delivered at 9 pm EST (0200 GMT on Wednesday) .

"And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," he insisted.

The Democratic president also leveled a barrage of indirect criticism at his Republican predecessor George W. Bush for the country's economic plight and bloated public debt, saying the "day of reckoning" had arrived.

Five weeks after taking office, Obama pressed the case for his economic revival plans while laying out a broad agenda, including a much-anticipated push for a healthcare overhaul, education reform and investment in alternative energy, to help build momentum for his young presidency.

The primetime address to a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives comes against a backdrop of growing anxiety across the country in the face of the worst financial meltdown in decades.

While his public support is strong, Wall Street remains skeptical of his economic remedies.

Jittery investors sent US stocks to a 12-year low on Monday, but the markets rallied yesterday on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's assurances that the country's troubled banks should be able to weather the downturn without being nationalized.


Trying to show he would make good on his promise of fiscal responsibility, Obama said he had begun scrutinizing the budget and identified US$2 trillion in costs that can be cut over the next decade.

Obama, who will roll out his first budget proposal to Congress tomorrow, has vowed to halve the federal deficit by the end of his term.

That may be difficult, critics say, if he moves swiftly on his pledge to undertake a costly healthcare overhaul while the economy is still slumping and tax revenues are down.

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

In what was sure to be his most closely watched speech since his inauguration, Obama planned to offer a candid assessment.

But with misgivings among some fellow Democrats that his tone has become too gloomy, Obama also took care to inject a clear note of optimism.

He was set to speak after another day of grim data on the US economy. US home prices plunged at a record pace in December and consumer confidence hit a new low in February, data showed.


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