Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
This rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour -- when decisions are hard and courage is tested. We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors under way, and others that are ours to begin.
In all of this, much is asked of us. We must have the will to face difficult challenges and determined enemies -- and the wisdom to face them together.
Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate -- and I congratulate the Democratic majority. Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not. Each of us is guided by our own convictions -- and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we are all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes:
To extend this Nation's prosperity … to spend the people's money wisely … to solve problems, not leave them to future generations … to guard America against all evil, and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us.
We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on -- as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and help them to build a future of hope and opportunity -- and this is the business before us tonight.
A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy -- and that is what we have. We are now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth -- in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs … so far. Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move -- and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government but with more enterprise.
Next week, I will deliver a full report on the state of our economy. Tonight, I want to discuss three economic reforms that deserve to be priorities for this Congress.
First, we must balance the federal budget. We can do so without raising taxes. What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009 -- and met that goal three years ahead of schedule. Now let us take the next step. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. I ask you to make the same commitment. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government, and balance the federal budget.
Next, there is the matter of earmarks. These special interest items are often slipped into bills at the last hour -- when not even C-SPAN is watching. In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate -- they are dropped into Committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You did not vote them into law. I did not sign them into law.
Yet they are treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice. So let us work together to reform the budget process … expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress … and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session.