Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. We have faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens. These issues call for vigorous debate, and I think it's fair to say we've answered that call. Yet history will record that amid our differences, we acted with purpose. And together, we showed the world the power and resilience of American self-government.
All of us were sent to Washington to carry out the people's business. That is the purpose of this body. It is the meaning of our oath. And it remains our charge to keep.
The actions of the 110th Congress will affect the security and prosperity of our Nation long after this session has ended. In this election year, let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them. And let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time.
From expanding opportunity to protecting our country, we have made good progress. Yet we have unfinished business before us, and the American people expect us to get it done.
In the work ahead, we must be guided by the philosophy that made our Nation great. As Americans, we believe in the power of individuals to determine their destiny and shape the course of history. We believe that the most reliable guide for our country is the collective wisdom of ordinary citizens. So in all we do, we must trust in the ability of free people to make wise decisions, and empower them to improve their lives and their futures.
To build a prosperous future, we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy. As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined. And at kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future.
In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth. But in the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing. So last week, my Administration reached agreement with Speaker Pelosi and Republican Leader Boehner on a robust growth package that includes tax relief for individuals and families and incentives for business investment. The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable. This is a good agreement that will keep our economy growing and our people working. And this Congress must pass it as soon as possible.
We have other work to do on taxes. Unless the Congress acts, most of the tax relief we have delivered over the past 7 years will be taken away. Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.
Most Americans think their taxes are high enough. With all the other pressures on their finances, American families should not have to worry about the Federal Government taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks. There is only one way to eliminate this uncertainty: make the tax relief permanent. And Members of Congress should know: If any bill raising taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it.