There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. Think about that. It helps about half of all parents in America at some point in their lives.
But I agree with Republicans like Senator Rubio that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids. So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, help more Americans get ahead.
Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401(k)s. That’s why tomorrow I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a -- it’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg.
MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little or nothing for middle-class Americans, offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everybody in this chamber can.
And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations.
One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.
Now -- a pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician’s assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. (Applause.) On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy. That’s what health insurance reform is all about, the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything.
Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.
More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage — 9 million.
And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American, none, zero, can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a pre-existing condition like asthma or back pain or cancer. (Cheers, applause.) No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.
Now, I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. (Applause.) But let’s not have another 40- something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda.
The first 40 were plenty. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.
And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight. Now, Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country. That’s not where I got my highest vote totals. But he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families. They’re our neighbors and our friends, he said. They’re people we shop and go to church with -- farmers out on the tractor, grocery clerks. They’re people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick. No one deserves to live that way.
Steve’s right. That’s why tonight I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Help them get covered. Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It’ll give her some peace of mind, and plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.
After all, that — that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward.
It’s the spirit of citizenship, the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.
Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened, but conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it. And the bipartisan commission I appointed, chaired by my campaign lawyer and Governor Romney’s campaign lawyer, came together and have offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half-hour to vote. Let’s support these efforts. It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.
Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.
Citizenship demands a sense of common purpose; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.
And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States armed forces. Thank you.
Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.
After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.
If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of Al Qaeda. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.
The fact is that danger remains. While we’ve put Al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as Al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.
We have to remain vigilant.