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Jobs creation top priority in 2010

world Updated: Jan 28, 2010 08:21 IST

President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to make job creation his top priority in 2010, in a bid to restore America's faith in his change crusade after a first year in office soured by economic misery.

In his debut State of the Union address, Obama vowed to battle a host of "big and difficult" challenges which dragged down his administration and demanded unity from Congress to pull the United States out of the mire.

"I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit," We don't allow fear or division to break our spirit."

Obama vowed that he would not "walk away" from his stalled effort to pass comprehensive health care reform and said his administration's early actions last year had staved off a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression.

"And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed, but the devastation remains," he said.

Obama demanded Congress pass a jobs bill and send it to his desk "without delay," and warned that if lawmakers did not maintain the strength of his bid to crackdown on Wall Street he would veto their bill.

The president also promised to redirect 30 billion dollars from a Wall Street bailout fund to help small businesses still reeling from the crisis.

Obama turned towards foreign policy only towards the end of an address dominated by economic challenges, warning Iran would face "growing consequences" if it did not halt its nuclear program.

He said that North Korea was growing ever more isolated as a result of its pursuit of nuclear arms.

Obama's speech in the House of Representatives was seen as a chance to restore the hopeful promise of his 2008 election campaign, which has soured amid economic blight and partisan warfare.

With unemployment at 10 percent, a government deficit at 1.4 trillion dollars, and his aspirations for a transformative administration threatened by Washington partisanship, Obama focused mostly on the middle class.

"We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope what they deserve -- is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics," the president said.

Obama also hit out at the corrosive influence of lobbyists on Washington's poisoned politics, and condemned a Supreme Court decision lifting curbs on corporations openly backing candidates in elections.

"I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.

"They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong."

Obama's ambitious reform agenda took a huge hit when Republicans seized a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts last week, and the president is under intense pressure to show leadership and to restore his authority.

The president sent a signal to Americans worried about government debt being piled up for future generations, by promising a three-year freeze on non-discretionary spending.

He said he would encourage small businesses to invest in the work force, announcing more stimulus money for job-rich infrastructure projects and tout his clean energy and green economy initiatives.

Haiti's ambassador to the United States Raymond Joseph was one of First Lady Michelle Obama's guests in her box in the House, along with Kimberly Munley, the policewoman who took down Major Nidal Hasan, who is charged with the Fort Hood massacre last November.

Given the poisoned political climate in the run-up to mid-term congressional polls in November, and some panic in Obama's Democratic Party, prospects for Obama's laundry list of initiatives look uncertain.

A Wall Street Journal poll Wednesday found that 51 percent of Americans believe Obama has devoted too little attention to the economy, and 44 percent think he has spent too much time on health care.

One year into his presidency, Obama's political brand seems to have lost its luster, as has the notion that a fresh face with new ideas could steer the US ship of state in a new direction.

His promise to seek bipartisan solutions has foundered, partly due to a strategy of total opposition on behalf of Republicans.

Polls show that Obama remains popular among Americans -- but confidence in his policies is fading: the president's approval ratings are at 50 or below in most opinion surveys.