Good morning. It's been said that to learn about democracy you can take a break from Plato and take the bus. I know firsthand that's good advice. It was on our bus tour last year that I met so many of the Americans who helped to chart our course toward tomorrow: fathers and mothers and children, citizens whose concerns are everyday concerns, the kind that unfortunately have been ignored for too long in this Capital City.
I heard worry in some of those voices and hope everywhere that new leadership could change our country for the better. That strengthened my resolve to beat back the status quo, to fight against special interest and politics as usual, to fight for the people who work hard and play by the rules. You put your faith in us so that we could put you, the American people, first. And that's what I try to do every day. In every battle I fight, I just try to keep you and your needs and the future of our great Nation in mind.
Even today I'm reminded of the work still to be done here. For many Americans the weekend is a time to unwind a bit, see friends, catch up with the family, do the shopping and other chores. Maybe some of you are out in the yard gardening or washing a car or tossing a softball or a frisbee.
I know there's been some good news lately. After about 100 days as President we've begun to change the direction of America. Our economic program has been adopted in its broad outlines by Congress. That's brought an end to trickle-down economics. The stock market is at an all-time high, and interest rates are very, very low, mortgages at a 20-year low. Many of you have already saved a lot of money just since the November election on these lower interest rates, with refinancing your home mortgages or getting car loans or consumer credit or perhaps business loans at lower rates. That's going to put billions and billions of dollars back into this economy, which will create jobs and opportunities for people for years to come. I'm excited about that. We're also lowering the deficit with over 200 specific cuts in Government spending and tax increases, almost all of which are coming on people with incomes above $100,000.
We're doing some other things, like taking steps to make more credit available to businesses and farms, supporting working families with children, developing a proposal to clean up our environment in a way that creates jobs rather than costs jobs, and working to invest for new jobs for those people who have been laid off by defense cuts.
These developments will all help to turn our country around and move us in the right direction. But still, for many Americans, this is just another day without a job and a cruel reminder that without gainful employment even the basics in life, including self-esteem, are hard to come by.
For those Americans I'll never stop fighting, because for all Americans the stakes go up whenever unemployment refuses to go down. Think about this: For 16 straight months the national unemployment rate has been 7 percent or higher. Just this week we saw the latest figures for unemployment claims, and it still wasn't good. There were 359,000 claims, an increase of 26,000.
And some say we're in a recovery. Well, the majority of the officials you elected to represent you in Washington know this is a serious situation. They know that every industrial nation in the world is having a big problem creating jobs. Most people understand we need action and bold changes to ensure that we get out of this cycle of job loss. How can anybody with a lick of sense think that we don't need more jobs?
Yet, still, this past week, a minority of the United States Senate, 43 Senators, played parliamentary games with our people's lives. They blocked an attempt to even vote on our plan to put Americans back to work. Instead of giving the majority the chance they wanted to pass the jobs bill, which would have put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work, they decided we should spend your tax dollars only to extend unemployment benefits.
I could think they don't understand. The 16 million Americans who want full-time jobs don't just want more handouts to get from week to week. They want work so they can support themselves and be independent and pay taxes instead of spending tax dollars.
The bill I proposed didn't create Democratic jobs or Republican jobs. And it certainly didn't create make-work jobs. It was a bill to create jobs building the fundamentals for long-term economic growth. It funded highway and mass transit constructions. It would have enabled inner-city and rural kids to get off the streets and go to work. It would have permitted hard-pressed communities to rehire as many as 10,000 police officers to enlist them in the fight against street crime. And these investments were paid for by more than 200 real spending cuts contained in the budget that Congress has already passed.
Of course, the best program is one that will help to generate jobs. That's the social program we really need. Think of it: If everybody in America who wanted a job had one, we wouldn't just be a more productive nation; we'd be a freer people, free of many of the problems in our society.
That's why I went the extra mile on this jobs program. I offered a compromise. I offered another compromise that met our opponents more than halfway, and why I still want to work with Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to pass the details of our economic program and to create jobs.
Look what happened in the Senate. When the economy is looking weak, when the recovery isn't producing jobs, when you, the American people, are asking lawmakers to cut out the gridlock, the opponents of our program filibustered and literally prevented even a vote so that the majority could have worked its will. Well, a lot of those people think they've scored a victory by killing a chance to put nearly a half million Americans to work. I don't think that's much of a victory. I think that's letting the American people down. And I'm going to do my best not to let you down.
I've just been here in Washington a short time. We've made some big strides. Our budget blueprint has been approved by Congress in record time, and that's led to a record reduction in interest rates. As I said earlier, a lot of you have already benefited from that, and that's going to release tens of billions of dollars to invest in this economy.
We're not going to play business as usual here. We're going to shift the course of this economy from consumption and waste to investment and growth. We're taking on some of the hardest problems facing America, such as changing the health care system to make it work for you and trying to drive special interest out of politics through campaign finance and lobbying reform. We're asking everyone to take more responsibility by reforming welfare so it's a second chance, not a way of life, by making our education system live up to strong national standards, by offering students a chance to go to college in exchange for community service, by forcing Federal Agencies to do more with a lot less of your money.
These are big changes. We all know they won't happen overnight. But we're on our way, thanks to the support you've given us. I want our debate on key issues like creating jobs to rise above politics, to rise above party and up to the level of the American people. Our only agenda should be your needs, the kind of needs you've been telling us about for a long time.
I'm still listening to you. And I'll keep on doing it. But all the people here in Washington are going to have to get on the bus. We can't miss the bus this time. We've got to be out there working for you to make this country what it ought to be.