By STEVEN R. HURST
Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama traded gloom for reality and promised Americans in his first speech to a joint session of Congress that better days were just over the economic horizon.
Returning to the message of hope that carried him from relative political obscurity to the White House, Obama told a vast prime-time television audience that Americans were not consigned to withering economic suffering that gripped the country in the decade of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation," Obama said in the speech that was interrupted 61 times by applauding lawmakers. "Tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."
Obama's message of hope was tempered with warnings that time must pass for his economic curatives to take effect.
Vice President Joe Biden also warned Wednesday morning that the economic pain afflicting Americans — particularly the increasing numbers who have lost jobs — was not likely to ease for two years at best.
In a round of interviews on the country's three major broadcast television networks, Biden said the nation could be "back in the saddle" within two years if things go according to plan.
While Obama has worked to tackle the country's economic woes, he also has been trying to complete his Cabinet, with two posts still vacant. On Wednesday, the president was set to name his third choice for commerce secretary, Washington Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat is who is the first Chinese-American to govern a U.S. state.
The two prior commerce choices dropped out, one because of an investigation into possible corruption and the other over ideological differences. The nominee for health secretary bowed out because of tax problems, and a replacement has not been announced.
Obama's focus has been on shoring up the economy, and in his speech Tuesday night, he said Americans could expect to spend billions more dollars to strengthen America's teetering financial system. The U.S. Treasury already is doling out portions of the $787 billion stimulus package Obama pushed through Congress earlier this month. That massive fund was designed to work in tandem with a $700 billion financial bailout program passed in the last months of the former Bush administration.
Obama has half that fund still available but deepening troubles in the banking system made it likely much more would be needed, Obama said, to get credit moving again to households and businesses, the lifeblood of the American economy.
Along with aid for banks, he also called on Congress to move quickly on legislation to overhaul regulations on U.S. financial markets.
"I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary," Obama said in his speech in the House of Representatives chamber. "Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession."
With U.S. automakers struggling for survival, Obama also said he would allow neither their demise nor "their own bad practices" to be rewarded.
Thinking longer-term, Obama said both political parties must give up favored programs while uniting behind his campaign promises to help the millions without health insurance, build better schools and move the nation to more-efficient fuel use.
Obama urged lawmakers to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change by creating a cap-and-trade system of limits and pollution allowances.
He said the budget he is sending to Congress on Thursday will call for $15 billion a year in federal spending to spur development of environmentally friendly but so far cost-ineffective energy sources such as wind and solar, biofuels, clean coal and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Even as Washington pours money into the economic recovery, Obama said the budget deficit, at $1.3 trillion and ballooning, must be brought under control.
He promised he would slash it by half by the end of his term in 2013, mostly by ending U.S. combat in Iraq and eliminating some of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.