Read all posts from February 2009

  • Here's some news: even before money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is available to start stimulating the economy, the President’s signature on the act may itself be able to start saving jobs.
    Though it could be a matter of weeks or months before funds from the act actually reach businesses and local governments, the Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar said today that if ARRA passes, his company would be able to rehire some of the 20,000 employees it has laid off in the last few weeks.
    President Obama announced the news today in front of a Virginia road construction project that had to stop short because funds ran out -- but is precisely the kind of project the recovery act could get going again.
    "Where we are standing, that could mean hundreds of construction jobs," he said. "And the benefits of jobs we create directly will multiply across the economy."
    President Obama and Gov. Kaine in Virginia
    White House photo 2/11/09 by Pete Souza

     

  • "No matter what you do, you can't pass a law that makes somebody do the right thing, right?"
    That was First Lady Michelle Obama's message to a group of young people she met with on a visit to Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that provides a range of social services.
    Instead, she said, it's the responsibility of every individual, family, and community to do the right thing. But where you come from shouldn't be a barrier to success.
    "I didn't come into this position with a lot of wealth, with a lot of resources," she said. "There is no magic dust that was sprinkled on my head or on Barack's head. You know, we were kids much like you who figured out one day that our fate was in our own hands, you know, and we made decisions to listen to our parents and to work hard and to work even harder when somebody doubted us."

  • The Senate has just voted to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
    President Obama is currently holding a town hall in Fort Myers, FL to talk about the ARRA and the other "legs of the stool" -- the different things we have to do to get the economy back on track.

  • Treasury Secretary Geithner just finished speaking about the new Financial Stability Plan.
    Treasury Secretary Geithner announces the Financial Stability Plan
    This is not the economic recovery plan that the President talked about yesterday in Indiana, and is talking about right now in Florida -- but it is one of the "legs of the stool," another central component of our effort to get the economy back on track.
    "Our plan will help restart the flow of credit, clean up and strengthen our banks, and provide critical aid for homeowners and for small businesses," Secretary Geithner said. "As we do each of these things, we will impose new, higher standards for transparency and accountability."
    The plan includes a comprehensive housing program (designed to prevent home foreclosures), as well as programs to restore confidence in the markets and create public-private partnerships to boost lending. But like the President and Treasury Secretary announced before, the new efforts to stabilize the financial system are going to come with some strings attached.
    "Government support must come with strong conditions to protect the tax payer and with transparency that allows the American people to see the impact of those investments," Secretary Geithner said.
    There's a new site geared at ensuring the accountability of the FSP at FinancialStability.gov. Since the plan has just been announced, the site’s pretty basic, but it does have a fact sheet which will give you a good idea of how the plan is going to work.
    Photo courtesy U.S. Department of the Treasury.

  • play
    1:12 p.m.: Wrapping up. President is shaking some hands and greeting the crowd.
    1:10 p.m.: Question: from an enthusiastic young man named Julio who says he has worked for McDonald's for four years but hasn't seen his benefits improve. Answer: Tax cuts will help you keep more money, and the ARRA will make health care coverage and college tuition more affordable. "For young people like Julio who have so much enthusiasm and energy, we have to make sure we are giving them opportunities."
    1:07 p.m.:  Question: How can you help with infrastructure and transportation? Answer: We've got a lot of work to do. Nods to American Society of Civil Engineer's recently released 2009 Report Card for American Infrastructure, which gives the country's roads, bridges, and ports a national grade of D. Makes a case for high-speed rail and mass tranit -- says the days of sprawl are over. "Everyone recognizes that's not a good way to design communities."
    1:00 p.m.: Question:You said we have to be patient. What's the plan? Answer: "We didn't get in to this fix overnight and we're not going to get out of it overnight." Says the staff is working as hard as possible, is open to ideas, and has its focus on working people. "I ask myself every day, did I work as hard as I could?" Moment of candor: "I expect to be judged by results."
    12:58 p.m.: A woman in the crowd asks for assistance, President embraces her.
    12:57 p.m.: Question from a local contractor -- what's the plan for school construction? Answer: Get the money to school districts ASAP. "Hopefully you'll be able to get some work and keep your folks on payroll, and that'll make the difference for the economy."
    12:55 p.m.:  President pauses the Q&A to announce some breaking news: the Senate has passed the ARRA. And there was much rejoicing.
    12:54 p.m.:  Question: There's a lot of money in the recovery package, but are there any tax cuts, and how much? Answer: Yup. Working families have got $1000 in tax cuts coming to them, that will "start flowing right away." Not just giving money to the top, and waiting for it to trickle down, but giving it to the middle class.
    12:51 p.m.: Question: how can families get by on unemployment insurance? Answer: Unemployment insurance is necessary but it's "not ideal." That's why the recovery plan is designed to create jobs. "People want to work." But it's going to involve all the different legs of the stool -- not just economic recovery, but also stabilizing the financial system, getting credit flowing, and fixing the housing crisis.
    12:44 p.m.:  Question: Is health care reform a priority? Answer: "People who say the economy comes first, they don't understand that health care is the biggest component of our economy."Also notes that converting medical records to electronic records will improve efficiency, save money, and save lives.
    12:39 p.m.: Second question: helping homeowners? Answer: We'll try to make it easier for homeowners to negotiate the terms of their mortgages. "Unless we address it in a serious way, we're not going to be able to get the economy back to where it needs to be."
    12:34 p.m.: First question: how much emphasis on higher education and vocational training in the plan? Answer: there's a tax credit; funds for building or improving public colleges and universities; and emphasis on job training.
    12:31 p.m.: OK, now time for questions.Full remarks here.
    12:30 p.m.:A moment of candor: "No plan is perfect. I can't tell you with one hundred percent certainy that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope." But, that said, "doing nothing is not an option -- you didn't send me to Washington to do nothing."
    12:25 p.m.: "Not just make-work jobs," he adds, but rather jobs that lay the groundwork for a stronger economic future. Point: this isn't just a short-term thing.
    12:22 p.m.: "We'll put people back to work doing the work that needs to be done." That's what the recovery plan comes down to, really.
    12:20 p.m.: President Obama is explaining the different "legs of the stool" -- not just the recovery plan but also the financial stability plan, including relief for homeowners. Gives a nod to Secretary Geithner's announcement this morning.
    12:15 p.m.: President is laying out how Ft. Myers has been affected by the downturn. He's talking now about Steve Adkins, the president of a small construction company in Ft. Myers that specializes in school building and repair. Work is slow, and he's been forced to lay off 50 percent of his workers just to make ends meet. The Adkins family -- Steve and Michelle (both are 41) and their children (son Bailey 11; daughter Josie, 7) -- had to sell their home and move into a smaller one.
    The whole family is attending the town hall.
    12:13 p.m.: President Obama returned the favor and thanked Gov. Crist. "The thing about governors is they understand our economic crisis in a way people who are a little more removed may not understand."

    12:10 p.m.: 
    Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist is introducing the President before the crowd in Fort Myers. "It's important we pass this package," he said (not verbatim). "It's important that we do so to help education. To help our infrastructure. And to provide health care for those who need it the most, the most vulnerable. And Mr. President let me finish by saying we need to do it in a bipartisan way."
    11:55 a.m.: Like Elkhart, IN, the town President Obama visited yesterday, Ft. Myers, FL has been hit hard by the economic downturn. It has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country -- and, like much of Florida, the downturn in construction has been particularly devastating. Take a look at what the economic recovery act will do in Florida.
    11:45 a.m.: The President is in Ft. Myers, FL, today, where he's due to kick off a town hall meeting on the economic recovery plan in just a little while.

     

  • The President last night gave his first White House press conference. Watch the full video below.
    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    White House photo by Pete Souza

  • Mrs. Obama this afternoon visited the Department of the Interior, where she spoke about how important it is to protect our natural resources and move towards a clean, sustainable energy future.
    "These [priorities] aren't only vital for the survival of our planet as we work to combat climate change, but also incredibly important to strengthen our economy and the well-being of our families," she said. "At a time when so many Americans are out of work, sound energy and environmental policies are going to help create thousands of jobs through the economic recovery and reinvestment plan that Barack is out there promoting today."
    She also announced that President Obama will soon appoint a new, high-level advisor to serve as a liaison between Native Americans and the federal government, "on issues such as sovereignty, health care, education -- all central to the well-being of Native American families and the prosperity of tribes all across this country."
    View photos from the First Lady's visit and read her full remarks below.


     
    REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
    AT THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
    U.S. Department of the Interior
    February 9, 2009
    MRS. OBAMA: Well, I have to say I am completely humbled and moved by all of you, by the Black Bear Tribal Group. We have to give them another round of applause -- (applause) -- for that inspiring performance, for the beautiful shawl. Thank you, Nedra, thank you so much for the prayers. It means so much to me. It means so much to my family. And I want to thank you for that beautiful sign there in the back. It's a small sign. (Applause.) It's hard to read, but -- (laughter).
    And I also want to acknowledge these wonderful workers, folks who have been in this department longer than I've been alive. (Laughter.) I mean, that is amazing. And they don't look it. There's no way, by looking on this stage, that you can tell that people have devoted their careers, lifetimes, more than lifetimes -- I know there's some people in this audience who haven't been born half the time that they've been working here, and they are amazing and true representatives of what government work is all about. And it's one of the reasons why I'm here -- to say thank you, not just to the folks on this stage, but to all of you.
    I want to thank Secretary Salazar, who has been a unique and wonderful friend. He is correct; he and his wife, Hope, were two of the first people we met when Barack joined the United States Senate. And they showed us a level of kindness that we will never forget, and we are proud for his contribution to this country. He brings the department a lifetime of experience protecting our natural resources, promoting clean energy, and standing up for rural communities. And we could not be more pleased -- could not be more pleased -- to have him as a part of this administration. You are lucky to have him as a leader. (Applause.)
    So this is the third agency that I visited since we've arrived, and each of the agencies that I've seen have had a different flavor. It's been such a great way for me to get to know our new community and to meet you, our new co-workers and our new neighbors.
    I know that this is an important time of reform and renewal here in this department. And as you begin the work -- the hard work -- of taking this department into a new era of excellence, I wanted to come by, again, to simply say thank you. Thank you for your service to this nation. It's a simple message, but it's one that we think is important to deliver.
    The issues that you're working on, as you know, affect us all. They affect you, they affect your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your neighbors. And as public servants and stewards of some of America's greatest assets, from our parks and forests to mountains and rivers, you're charged with the sacred task of ensuring that America's resources are used responsibly and protected for future generations.
    Some of the greatest adventures that we experience in life here in this nation –- like family vacations, and camping, and hiking, and fishing, if you're blessed to have access to those resources -- are possible because of the work that you do right here in this department.
    And Barack and I and the girls, as you may have read, just had a little retreat away. We visited Camp David for the first time, and got to experience the beautiful -- the beauty of those grounds, and it was just wonderful to get a bit of a break and to spend some quality time as a family in nature.
    You are also, in addition to helping make those experiences possible for our family, you are at the center of this administration's highest priorities: securing America's energy future -- Barack has talked about it time and time again; protecting its natural environment; and using the natural resources, again, as responsibly as we can.
    These aren't only vital for the survival of our planet as we work to combat climate change, but also incredibly important to strengthen our economy and the well-being of our families. At a time when so many Americans are out of work, sound energy and environmental policies are going to help create thousands of jobs through the economic recovery and reinvestment plan that Barack is out there promoting today.
    And for those of you focused on meeting the federal government's obligations to the Native Americans, understand that you have a wonderful partner in the White House right now. (Applause.) 
    Barack has pledged to honor the unique government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government. And he'll soon appoint a policy advisor to his senior White House staff to work with tribes and across the government on these issues such as sovereignty, health care, education -- all central to the well-being of Native American families and the prosperity of tribes all across this country. So there is a lot of work to do -- a lot of work. And we have great leaders in Secretary Salazar and in President Obama. I love to say that. (Applause.) 
    But what's important to remember that we will never forget -- never can forget is that great leaders are only as great as the people who hold them up. (Applause.) So that is why I'm here. (Laughter.) We're counting on you all. (Laughter and applause.) We're at the beginning of what will be a lot of work, a long journey, and we're going to need one another, not just here in Washington but we're going to need one another across this country.
    So before we start that hard work, Barack and I want to thank those of you who have been here long before you ever heard of Barack Obama, working tirelessly to keep this country sound. Thank you for the work that you've done. Thank you for the work that you're going to do today and in the future. We are all neighbors in this effort. And together we can get a lot of things done.
    So on behalf of my husband, my girls, thank you for the warm welcome that you've offered us to Washington. And let's get some good things done. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

  • President Obama is holding his first press conference. You can watch it streaming at WhiteHouse.gov/live.
    (Update: the press conference is over, and no longer viewable as a live stream. You can watch video of the press conference here.)
    He opened up with some brief remarks, which you can read in full (as prepared for delivery) below.

    OPENING REMARKS OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA -- AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
    First Presidential Press Conference
    East Room, The White House
    Monday, February 9th, 2009
    Good evening. Before I take your questions tonight, I’d like to speak briefly about the state of our economy and why I believe we need to put this recovery plan in motion as soon as possible. 
    I took a trip to Elkhart, Indiana today. Elkhart is a place that has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America. In one year, the unemployment rate went from 4.7% to 15.3%. Companies that have sustained this community for years are shedding jobs at an alarming speed, and the people who’ve lost them have no idea what to do or who to turn to. They can’t pay their bills and they’ve stopped spending money. And because they’ve stopped spending money, more businesses have been forced to lay off more workers. Local TV stations have started running public service announcements that tell people where to find food banks, even as the food banks don’t have enough to meet the demand.
    As we speak, similar scenes are playing out in cities and towns across the country. Last Monday, more than 1,000 men and women stood in line for 35 firefighter jobs in Miami. Last month, our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine. And if there’s anyone out there who still doesn’t believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from.
    That is why the single most important part of this Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is the fact that it will save or create up to 4 million jobs. Because that is what America needs most right now.
    It is absolutely true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do.
    When passed, this plan will ensure that Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage. We will also provide a $2,500 tax credit to folks who are struggling to pay the cost of their college tuition, and $1000 worth of badly-needed tax relief to working and middle-class families. These steps will put more money in the pockets of those Americans who are most likely to spend it, and that will help break the cycle and get our economy moving.
    But as we learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone cannot solve all our economic problems – especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it has only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now. 
    That is why we have come together around a plan that combines hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the middle-class with direct investments in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure – investments that will save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again – now and in the future.
    More than 90% of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector. These will not be make-work jobs, but jobs doing the work that America desperately needs done. Jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and repairing our dangerously deficient dams and levees so that we don’t face another Katrina. They will be jobs building the wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars that will lower our dependence on foreign oil, and modernizing a costly health care system that will save us billions of dollars and countless lives. They’ll be jobs creating 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America. And they’ll be the jobs of firefighters, teachers, and police officers that would otherwise be eliminated if we do not provide states with some relief.
    After many weeks of debate and discussion, the plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be big enough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challenge we face right now. It is a plan that is already supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America; by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It contains input, ideas, and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans. It also contains an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability, so that every American will be able to go online and see where and how we’re spending every dime. What it does not contain, however, is a single pet project, and it has been stripped of the projects members of both parties found most objectionable.
    Despite all of this, the plan is not perfect. No plan is. I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing too little or nothing at all will result in an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes; and confidence. That is a deficit that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe. And I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this country back to work.
    I want to thank the members of Congress who’ve worked so hard to move this plan forward, but I also want to urge all members of Congress to act without delay in the coming week to resolve their differences and pass this plan.
    We find ourselves in a rare moment where the citizens of our country and all countries are watching and waiting for us to lead. It is a responsibility that this generation did not ask for, but one that we must accept for the sake of our future and our children’s. The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. That is the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship, and it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead. After a day of speaking with and listening to the fundamentally decent men and women who call this nation home, I have full faith and confidence that we can. And with that, I’ll take your questions.

  • play

    While some in Washington have obsessed about "process stories" regarding the recovery package, for most of America the economy is not a spectator sport.  That’s why the President went to discuss with working people exactly how the package will affect them and their communities in a town hall today in Elkhart, Indiana.

    quot;You know, we tend to take the measure of the economic crisis we face in numbers and statistics.  But when we say we’ve lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began....We’re talking about folks who’ve lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place," President Obama said. "Parents who’ve lost their health care and lie awake nights praying the kids don’t get sick.  Families who’ve lost the home that was their corner of the American dream. Young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can’t afford it."
    The President was introduced by Ed Neufeldt, one of many Elkhart residents laid off recently from the area's RV plants. At 62 years old, he has two young children and 5 grown children, and he needs to work. But unemployment in the area has more than tripled from 4.7% at the end of 2007 to over 15% at the end of last year.
    Questions from the crowd of about 1,700 people ranged from the foreclosure crisis and green energy to the mechanism by which recovery funds will reach communities like Elkhart. Some highlights, then the full transcript below.
    Q: With respect to the stimulus bill, are there provisions in there that address green job issues, improvement of environmental issues, and those type of matters?
    A:Under this plan, we would double the production of alternative energy -- double it from where it is right now….there is money allocated in this plan to develop the new battery technologies that will allow not just cars but potentially RVs as well to move into the next generation of plug-in hybrids….We also have put in money that provide for the weatherization of millions of homes across the country....If we don't use this crisis as an opportunity to start retooling, then we will never catch up and be able to compete effectively against Japanese automakers, Korean automakers, and we will find ourselves continuing to slide.This should be an opportunity for us to retool.
    Q We are truly tired of the economics that we have been getting that has got us into the position that we're in. That theory has been a trickle down. We need to trickle up. So I would hope in your philosophy about trying to kick-start the economy that the money gets directly to the people who are -- have homes that are foreclosed, the people that have lost jobs....So I would hope...that the money gets directly into the hands of the people who are hurting.
    A:When it comes to tax cuts, you are exactly right that instead of providing tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, what I've been pushing in this plan is to make sure that the tax cuts go to working families. That is not only good for those families, it's actually good for the economy, because when you give a tax break to working families who are struggling, they will spend it on buying a new coat for the kids, or making sure that they get that car repaired that they use to get to work.
    Q: What are you going to do about enticing companies to stay here in the United States once we have them?
    A: The single most important factor I think in whether companies are going to continue to locate here in Elkhart and around the country is, what are we doing about education. Because the quality of the work force is probably what most companies are going to pay the most attention to over time…. [W]hat we should be looking for is how do we encourage high-wage, high-value work. And there the key is going to be how well we are training our work force….And over the next few days, as we are having these conversations, we should talk about how we can make sure that we're investing in education, because that's what's going to keep companies investing right here in the United States over the long term.

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT TOWN HALL
    Concord Community High School
    Elkhart, Indiana
    February 9, 2009
    THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you so much. Well, let's -- everybody can have a seat. Make yourselves comfortable -- we're going to be here a while. (Applause.)
    It is good to be back in Elkhart. (Applause.) And it's good to be back in Indiana. You know, the last event we had on the campaign was Indiana. And the first time that I'm traveling outside of the White House to talk about the economy is back in Indiana. (Applause.)
    And I want to start by thanking Ed for coming here today and sharing his family's story with all of us. Ed was terrific -- give him a big round of applause. (Applause.)
    There are a few other special guests that I just want to acknowledge very quickly. First of all, your own senator, my former colleague, a outstanding legislator and public servant, former governor here in Indiana -- give it up for Senator Evan Bayh. Where is he? Where's Evan? There he is. (Applause.)
    A guy you may be familiar with, your own member of Congress, Joe Donnelly. (Applause.) We brought a few other members of Congress here to get in on the fun: Representative Baron Hill. (Applause.) Representative Brad Ellsworth. (Applause.) Representative Fred Upton. (Applause.) Representative André Carson. (Applause.) Former Representative Tim Roemer. (Applause.) Former Representative Lee Hamilton. (Applause.) We've got Mayor Dick Moore of Elkhart. (Applause.) And we've got the new Secretary of Transportation, a former member of Congress from my own home state of Illinois, Ray LaHood. (Applause.)
    I don't know if you guys have been noticing, but we've had a little debate in Washington -- (laughter) -- over the last week or two about the economy. You know, we tend to take the measure of the economic crisis we face in numbers and statistics. But when we say that we've lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began, nearly 600,000 in the past month alone; when we say that this area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in the United States of America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent, when it was 4.7 percent just last year; when we talk about layoffs at companies like Monaco Coach, and Keystone RV, and Pilgrim International -- companies that have sustained this community for years -- we're not just talking numbers, we're talking about Ed. We're talking about people in the audience here today. People not just in Elkhart, but all across this country. We're talking about people who have lost their livelihood and don't know what will take its place.
    We're talking about parents who've lost their health care and lie away at night, praying their kids don't get sick. We're talking about families who've lost the home that was the corner -- their foundation for their American Dream. Young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can't afford it. That's what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis.
    Those are the stories I heard when I came to Elkhart six months ago, and those are the stories that I carried with me to the White House. I have not forgotten them. And I promised you back then that if elected -- (applause) -- I'd do everything I could to help this community recover, and that's why I came back today, because I intend to keep my promise. (Applause.)
    I intend to keep my promise. But you know, the work is going to be hard. I don't want to lie to people -- that's why we're having a town hall meeting -- because the situation we face could not be more serious. We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression.
    Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don't act immediately, millions of more jobs will be lost. The national unemployment rates will approach double digits not just here in Elkhart, all across the country. More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that at some point we may be unable to reverse.
    So we can't afford to wait. We can't wait and see and hope for the best. We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. (Applause.) That was what this election was all about -- the American people rejected those ideas because they hadn't worked. (Applause.) You didn't send us to Washington because you were hoping for more of the same; you sent us there to change things -- (applause) -- the expectation that we would act quickly and boldly to carry out change. And that's exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
    That's why I put forth a recovery and reinvestment plan that is now before Congress. At its core is a very simple idea: to put Americans back to work doing the work America needs to be done. Ed -- Ed said it better than anybody could. He said, look, folks in Elkhart, they want to work. Nobody is looking for a handout. Everybody just wants to be able to get a job that supports a family. And we got the most productive workers on Earth. (Applause.) We've got the best workers right here in Elkhart -- (applause) -- who are willing to put hard time and do whatever it takes to make sure a company succeeds.
    But they've got to have a chance. The plan that we put forward will save or create 3 to 4 million jobs over the next two years. But not just any jobs -- jobs that meet the needs we've neglected for far too long, jobs that lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth; jobs fixing our schools; computerizing medical records to save costs and save lives; jobs repairing our roads and our bridges and our levees; jobs investing in renewable energy to help us move towards energy independence. (Applause.)
    The plan also calls for immediate tax relief for 95 percent of American workers, so that you who are being pinched, even if you still have a job, with rising costs while your wages and incomes are flat-lined, you'll actually have a little bit of extra money at the end of the month to buy the necessities for you and your children.
    Now, I know that some of you might be thinking, well, that all sounds good, but when are we going to see any of this here in Elkhart? What does all this mean to my family, to my community? And those are exactly the kinds of questions you should be asking your President and your government. And today, I want to provide some answers -- and I want to be as specific as I can.
    Number one, this plan will provide for extended unemployment insurance, health care and other assistance for workers -- (applause) -- other assistance for workers and families who have lost their jobs in this recession. So if you've lost your job, for example, under existing law you can get COBRA -- some of you have heard of COBRA -- but the only problem is it's so expensive, it doesn't do you any good. (Applause.) So what we've said is -- what we've said is we will help subsidize people so that they can keep -- at least keep their health insurance while they're out there looking for a new job. (Applause.)
    This plan will also -- and what this means is, from the perspective of unemployment insurance, you will have an additional $100 per month in unemployment benefits that will go to more than 450,000 Indiana workers, extended unemployment benefits for another 89,000 folks who've been laid off and can't find work, and job training assistance to help more than 51,000 people here get back on their feet. (Applause.)
    Now, that's not just our moral -- that's not just our moral responsibility to lend a helping hand to our fellow Americans at a time of emergency; it makes good economic sense. If you don't have money, you can't spend it. And if you don't spend it, our economy will continue to decline.
    Now, for that same reason, the plan includes badly needed tax relief for middle class workers and families. (Applause.) Folks all across the country are under siege. We need to give you more of the money you've earned so that you can spend it and pay your bills. Under our plan, families -- working families will get a thousand dollars, providing relief for nearly 2.5 million workers and their families here in Indiana. The plan also will provide a partially refundable $2,500 per student tax credit to help 76,000 Hoosier families send their kids to college. (Applause.) This will benefit your household budgets in the short run, and it will benefit America in the long run.
    But providing tax relief and college assistance, and helping folks who have lost their jobs, that's not enough. A real recovery plan helps create more jobs and put people back to work. And that's why between the investments our plan makes, and the tax relief for small business it provides, we'll create or save nearly 80,000 badly needed jobs for Indiana right here over the next couple of years.
    Now, you may have heard some of the critics of our plan say it would create mostly government jobs. That is not true. Ninety percent -- more than 90 percent of the jobs created under this recovery act will be in the private sector; more than 90 percent. (Applause.) But it's not just the jobs that will benefit Indiana and the rest of America. It's the work people will be doing -- rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our dams, our levees; roads like US 31 here in Indiana -- (applause) -- that Hoosiers can count on -- that connects small towns and rural communities to opportunities for economic growth. And I know that a new overpass downtown would make a big difference for businesses and families right here in Elkhart. (Applause.)
    We'll also put people to work rebuilding our schools. (Applause.) This school is a terrific school, but I know there's work to be done here. We should do it so that all our children can have the world-class classrooms -- the labs, the libraries -- that they need in order to compete in today's global economy. (Applause.)
    We should be investing in clean alternative sources of energy. (Applause.) We should be investing in the electric grid we need to transport this new energy from coast to coast. So if you build a windmill here in Indiana and it generates energy, that energy can get to Chicago and can get to St. Louis and can get to other places all across the country. (Applause.)
    We can help make Indiana an energy-producing state, not just an energy-consuming state. (Applause.) The plan calls for weatherizing homes across Indiana; installing state-of-the-art equipment that help you control your energy costs; building new, high-speed broadband lines; reaching schools and small businesses in rural Indiana so they can connect and compete with their counterparts in any city of any country in the world. (Applause.)
    Those -- those are the kinds of projects that we're looking at -- that put people to work, that allow us to train people for jobs that pay a living wage, and that end up being a gift that keeps on giving, because not only are we creating jobs now, but we're creating the infrastructure for the jobs of the future. (Applause
    Now, let me be clear, I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect. It's coming out of Washington, it's going through Congress -- (laughter) -- you know. Look, it's not perfect, but it is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jumpstart our economy and transform this economy for the 21st century. (Applause.)
    I can't tell you with a hundred percent certainty that every single item in this plan will work exactly as we hoped. But what I can tell you is, I can say with complete confidence that endless delay or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will only bring deepening disaster. I can tell you that doing nothing is not an option. (Applause.)
    So we've had a good debate. Now is the time to act. That's why I'm calling on Congress to pass this bill immediately. Folks here in Elkhart and all across America need help right now. They can't afford to keep waiting for folks in Washington to get this done.
    Even with this plan, the road ahead won't be easy. This crisis has been a long time in the making. We're not going to turn it around overnight. Recovery will likely be measured in years, not weeks or months. But we also know that our economy will be stronger for generations to come if we commit ourselves to the work that needs to be done -- commit ourselves today to the work that needs to be done.
    And being here in Elkhart, I am more confident than ever that we will get where we need to be, because I know people are struggling, but I also know that folks here are good workers and good neighbors -- (applause) -- who step up, who help each other out, who make sacrifices when times are tough. (Applause.) I know that all folks here are asking for is a chance to work hard and to have that work translate into a decent life for you and your family. (Applause.) So I know you're going to be doing your part. I think it's about time that government did its part, too. (Applause.) That's what this recovery plan is all about. That's why I hope it passes as soon as possible, so we can start creating jobs and helping families, and turning our economy around. (Applause.)
    Thank you, Elkhart. Thank you. (Applause.)
    Thank you. All right. Thank you. All right, we're going to take questions. All right, I just want to make sure my mic is working here. Here's the deal on questions. First of all, we didn't screen anybody. So there's some people who like me in the audience, some people who don't. Some people agree with me, some people who don't. It doesn't matter. We want to take questions from everybody.
    Here's the only thing I've got to ask, though. I would ask that everybody raise their hand -- not right now. (Laughter.) People who had a question, raise their hand. We're going to try to call on people -- I'm going to try to go around the room. We may not get to every single question, so don't be mad at me. We've got a lot of people here. We've got about 35 minutes, 40 minutes, so I'm going to try to get as many questions as possible -- which means try to keep your question relatively succinct, and I will try to keep my answer relatively succinct. We've got young people in the audience who have microphones, so wait until the microphone gets to you. And if you could introduce yourself, that will be helpful. And the last thing I'm going to do is I'm going to go girl, boy, girl, boy, so that nobody gets mad at me. (Laughter and applause.)
    All, right. This young lady right here, she's number one, right here. (Applause.)
    Q Thank you. And, President Obama, we welcome you to Elkhart with our whole heart.
    THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
    Q You are just -- we are so grateful that you've come here today.
    THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
    Q My question to you is, sir, when you allocate the money for Elkhart, Indiana, will it come directly into Elkhart? Or where -- is it going to have to go around somewhere else?
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, what's your name?
    Q My name is Helen Castillo [phonetic].
    THE PRESIDENT: Okay, thank you, Helen. It's a good question. Look, we've got to get the bill passed. But we also have to make sure that the money is well spent, which means we're doing some things that are unprecedented to make sure that the money gets out quickly, but it gets out wisely.
    We're going to set up an independent board made up of Democrats and Republicans to review how the money is being spent, because we've got to make sure that it's not being wasted on somebody's special project that may not actually create help for people. So that's point number one.
    Point number two is we're actually going to set up something called recovery.gov. This is going to be a special website that we set up that gives you a report on where the money is going in your community, how it's being spent, how many jobs it's [sic] being created, so that all of you can be the eyes and ears. And if you see that a project is not working the way it's supposed to, you'll be able to get on that website and say, you know, I thought this was supposed to be going to school construction, but I haven't noticed any changes being made. And that will help us track how this money is being spent.
    Now, in terms of how it's -- how it's being utilized and who it's going to, it's probably going to depend on different aspects of the plan. Some of the plan will go to the state government because, for example -- well, let me give you an example. Unemployment insurance is run through the state, not run through a city, and so that part of the plan will be going through the state.
    There are going to be other projects having to do with transportation, for example, in which we may be working directly with local municipalities and communities as well as the state government to make sure that the project is well planned. And that's why we've got Secretary LaHood here, because he's going to be working with the local communities.
    The same is true on education funding. We may be working directly with the school superintendent, who I know is here, to figure out where are the schools that are in most need of help and where we can right away get some construction going and get some improvements going. So it'll probably depend on what stream of money we're talking about, but the key is we're going to have strong oversight and strong transparency to make sure that this money is well spent.
    And listen, I know that there are a lot of folks out there who have been saying, oh, this is pork and this is money that's going to be wasted and et cetera, et cetera. Understand: This bill does not have a single earmark in it -- which is unprecedented for a bill of this size -- does not have a single earmark in it. (Applause.)
    So we may debate -- we can debate, you know, whether you'd rather have this tax cut versus that tax cut, or this project versus that project. Be clear, though, that there aren't a -- there aren't individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill. Regardless of what the critics say, there are no earmarks in this bill. That's part of the change that we're bringing to Washington, is making sure that this money is well spent to actually create jobs right here in Elkhart.
    All right? Okay. (Applause.)
    Gentleman out there, all the way at the top. You, that's right. (Laughter.) But hold on a second. Let's get a mic to him.
    Q Thank you. I also want to just be very thrilled to be in the presence of you because we've been looking for a change. We are truly tired of the economics that we have been getting that has got us into the position that we're in. That theory has been a trickle down. We need to trickle up. (Applause.)
    So I would hope in your philosophy about trying to kick-start the economy that the money gets directly to the people who are -- have homes that are foreclosed, the people that have lost jobs. To try to give to a bank and give a low interest rate, and the person whose home has been foreclosed on don't have a job, don't help anybody. It's a sale that nobody can take advantage of because you ain't got no money. (Applause.)
    So I would hope and I pray that you would support the people who got you into the office -- we, the people, not the fat cat -- (laughter) -- we, the people -- to where that the money gets directly into the hands of the people who are hurting, to where that we don't have to worry about going to the state, going to the federal government, standing in line somewhere. Send that check to our mailbox. (Laughter and applause.) Amen, amen. So we can take it to the bank and pay that mortgage. Thank you. (Applause.)
    THE PRESIDENT: Let me -- can everybody hear me? Hold on a second. Testing, testing. How's that? All right.
    Well, let me respond in a couple of ways. Number one, when it comes to tax cuts, you are exactly right that instead of providing tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, what I've been pushing in this plan is to make sure that the tax cuts goes to working families. That is not only good for those families, it's actually good for the economy, because when you give a tax break to working families who are struggling, they will spend it on buying a new coat for the kids, or making sure that they get that car repaired that they use to get to work.
    When you give it to the wealthier families, they just put it away somewhere, and so it doesn't circulate in the economy. So tax cuts targeted to working families are the most effective means of stimulus that we can provide to the economy.
    Now, you're making another point, though, that has to do with a separate part of what we're going to need to get this economy moving again, and that has to do with the financial system and the banking system. And I just want to be clear that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act that is before Congress right now is just one leg in the stool of recovery.
    The other thing that we've got to get done is we've got to get the banks stable and lending again. Part of what's happened in terms of the RV industry, for example -- I was talking to Congressman Donnelly about this -- is basically people who want to buy an RV can't get financing right now even if they've got good credit. So what we're going to be trying to do is to set up a whole new mechanism for helping people get consumer credit. We're going to help small businesses and medium-sized businesses get credit. And instead of just pumping that money directly into Wall Street, we're going to make sure that a lot of that money is going directly to consumers, and the money that does go into Wall Street is going to come with some strings attached. (Applause.)
    You cannot expect taxpayers to bail out banks that have made bad decisions when they are then using that money to give themselves huge bonuses. (Applause.)
    So one of the things that we said is, look, we understand that the banking system is fragile right now and even though those folks made bad decisions -- could bring down the entire economy, and it affects towns like Elkhart, so we're going to do something strengthen the banking system. But, you know, you are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you've paid taxpayers back. You can't get corporate jets -- (applause) -- you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime. (Applause.) There's got to be some accountability and some responsibility, and that's something that I intend to impose as President of the United States. (Applause.)
    All right. Young lady right here -- right here in the striped sweater.
    Q Thank you. My question is, you have -- my name is Tara. You have come to our county and asked us to trust you, but those that you have appointed to your Cabinet are not trustworthy and can't handle their own budget and taxes.
    THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, this is a legitimate -- this is a legitimate question.
    Q So I'm one of those that thinks you need to have a beer with Sean Hannity. So tell me why, from my side, we can understand --
    AUDIENCE: Boo!
    THE PRESIDENT: No, that's okay. That's okay. No, no, look, I think it was a perfectly legitimate question.
    First of all, I appoint -- I've appointed hundreds of people, all of whom are outstanding Americans who are doing a great job. There are a couple who had problems before they came into my administration in terms of -- in terms of their taxes. Look -- and I think this is a legitimate criticism that people have made, because you can't expect one set of folks to not pay their taxes when everybody else is paying theirs. So I think that's a legitimate concern. (Applause.)
    I will tell you that the individuals at issue here, I know them personally, and I think these were honest mistakes. And I made sure they were honest mistakes beforehand. And one of the things I discovered is if you're not going to appoint anybody whose ever made a mistake in your [sic] life, then you're not going to have anybody taking your job. So -- (applause) --
    But having said that, what I did acknowledge -- and I said it publicly on just about every TV station -- is something that you probably sometimes don't hear from politicians, which is: I made a mistake. (Applause.) And that, because I don't want to send the signal that they're two sets of rules.
    Now, understand, though, I think something that should also be mentioned is that we've set up an unprecedented set of ethics rules in my White House where we are not -- we are not -- everybody will acknowledge that we have set up the highest standard ever for lobbyists not working in the administration; people who work in my administration aren't going to be able to go out the revolving door and start working for some lobbying firm and lobbying the White House. Republicans and Democrats have acknowledged that there's a very high bar that we've set for ourselves. We have not been perfect, but we are changing the culture in Washington and it's going to take some time.
    Now, with respect to Sean Hannity, I didn't know that he had invited me for a beer. (Laughter.) But I will take that under advisement. (Laughter.) Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high -- (laughter) -- but I'm always good for a beer, so -- (laughter and applause.)
    All right. Well, let me -- let me get this side of the room and then I'll come back. I want to make sure I'm not looking too biased on one side here. That gentlemen right up there in the corner there -- you, yes.
    Q Thank you, President Obama. It's -- like everybody has said, it's an honor to be here. I'm -- my name is Jason Ward [phonetic] and I'm a local attorney here in town, but I've seen a lot of the effects that the manufacturing industry has had here. And there's been a lot of discussion with respect to green jobs and environmental issues --
    THE PRESIDENT: Right.
    Q -- and this area has been one of the areas that's been mentioned about maybe retooling to take advantage of the green revolution. And I guess the question is, with respect to the stimulus bill, are there provisions in there that address green job issues, improvement of environmental issues, and those type of matters?
    THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. It's a great question, and let me describe for you just some of the things that we have in there. Under this plan, we would double the production of alternative energy -- double it from where it is right now. So that's point number one. (Applause.)
    Point number two -- point number two, there is money allocated in this plan to develop the new battery technologies that will allow not just cars but potentially RVs as well to be -- to move into the next generation of plug-in hybrids that get much better gas mileage, that will wean ourselves off dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and will improve our environment and lessen the potential effects of greenhouse gases and climate change.
    We also have put in money that provide for the weatherization of millions of homes across the country. Now, this is an example of where you get a multiplier effect. If you allocate money to weatherize homes, the homeowner gets the benefit of lower energy bills. You right away put people back to work, many of whom in the construction industry and in the housing industry are out of work right now -- they are immediately put to work doing something. You can train young people as apprentices to start getting training at -- in home construction through weatherization. And you start reducing energy costs for the nation as a whole. So there are billions of dollars in this plan allocated for moving us towards a new energy future.
    Now, I'll be honest with you, some of the critics of the plan have said that's pork. I don't understand their criticism. Their basic argument is, well, that's -- you're trying to make policy instead of just doing short-term stimulus. Well, my whole attitude is, if we're going to spend billions of dollars that creates jobs anyway, then why wouldn't we want to create jobs in things like clean energy that create a better economic future for us over the long term? That's just -- that's common sense to me. That's common sense to me. (Applause.)
    And that is especially important for the Midwest, because if you think about it, the auto industry, RV industry, transportation industry is so important to us here in the Midwest. If we don't use this crisis as an opportunity to start retooling, then we will never catch up and be able to compete effectively against Japanese automakers, Korean automakers, and we will find ourselves continuing to slide. This should be an opportunity for us to retool.
    And so I am going to make this a big priority over the next few days as we're trying to reconcile the House and the Senate bill, getting folks in Congress to understand that this is one of the best possible investments that we can make.
    Let me give you another example of long-term investments that are in this plan. I've been criticized because I suggested that as part of this plan we should improve information technology in the health care system. Now, here's the reason that I want to do it. Not only will it immediately create jobs in the health care industry, as well as in information technologies -- people who are programmers, people who are information systems specialists -- but it will also put everybody's medical records in a computerized form that will reduce medical errors and cut down the cost of health care over the long term.
    One of our biggest problems is that health care costs keep on going up even when everything else is going down. You know that in your own lives. The average family premium has doubled over the last eight years, even though your wages and your incomes haven't doubled.
    If we keep on going down that path, health care is going to gobble up everything. So what I've said is, look, if we're going to be spending money anyway creating jobs, why not create jobs getting these medical records set up in a way that drives down health care costs over the long term. Some of my critics have said that's social policy, that's not stimulus. Look, doesn't it make sense, if we're going to spend this money, to solve some big problems that have been around for decades? (Applause.) That's what we're trying to do. That's what's in this package. And that's why I hope Congress supports it. (Applause.)
    All right. It's a young lady's turn. This young lady right here. Hold on one second. Let's get a mic to you so everybody can hear you. We got a mic?
    Q I'm Jackie Whittaker [phonetic] from South Bend. And I work as a foreclosure intervention counselor. And there's a bill pending that indicates that they're trying to get the authority for judges to go in and then they'd change and help mortgages. Do you think that is something that will pass?
    THE PRESIDENT: Let me talk to you about the housing foreclosure issue, because this was raised by this gentleman as well. We have to give homeowners some help and some relief.
    You've got home foreclosures that have gone up astronomically during this recession, during this downturn. It is both a cause and effect of the downturn. If we don't do anything about stabilizing the housing market, it is going to be much more difficult for us to recover.
    So we are going to be unveiling a series of plans to help not only homeowners who are at the brink of foreclosure, but there are a lot of homeowners who are making their mortgage payments every day, but they've seen the value of their homes decline so badly that now their mortgage is more than the value of their home -- which means that even when interest rates are low, it's very hard to refinance your home to take advantage of those low rates because a bank will say, well, you actually owe more than the home is worth. So we're going to be doing a lot of work on this.
    Now, one potential provision that has been discussed that I'm supportive of, but is not in this package -- it will be on a separate package -- is the idea that right now, if you have a second home or a third home or a fourth or a fifth home -- (laughter) -- and you go bankrupt, then the judge can modify the terms of your mortgage on your second, third, fourth, fifth home. So if you're worth $100 billion, you bought all these houses, and suddenly you went bankrupt, you would still be able to protect your second, third, fourth, fifth home.
    But, if you are like most people, including me, and you got one house -- (applause) -- keep in mind, the house I'm in, in D.C., I'm just borrowing that, that's the people's house. So I'm just -- I'm a guest in Washington, in the people's house. My house is on the south side of Chicago, that I own. (Applause.) But if you just have one house, it turns out that under current law you can't modify that mortgage if you are in bankruptcy. And if you -- if you just can't make the payments, the judge is not authorized to modify that loan so that let's say, the banks have to take a little bit less, but you are still making some payments. Now that makes no sense. What that's doing is, it's forcing a lot of people into foreclosure who potentially would be better off, and the bank would be better off and the community would be better off, if they're at least making some payments, but they're not able to make all the payments necessary. (Applause.)
    So this is a piece of legislation -- so this is a piece of legislation that I strongly support. We're going to try to make that part of our housing package so that -- remember I said, this recovery package and reinvestment package is just one leg of the stool. We've got to deal with the credit crisis. We've got to deal with housing. There are a whole bunch of other steps that we're going to have to take, and this is one of them.
    All right. The gentleman right back here in the tie -- yes.
    Q Thank you, President Obama. I'm Bill Keith [phonetic] from SunRise Solar. I manufacture a solar-powered attic fan right here in Indiana. (Applause.) And believe me, a lot of people encouraged me to go to China years ago to manufacture my products so I could live a little higher on the hog, and I decided to keep my friends and neighbors employed and make it right here. (Applause.)
    THE PRESIDENT: That's right. Excellent.
    Q And I wanted you to know that we've got people in this row -- Eric, Laura, Terry, Denise, Jesse Carbonda [phonetic] up in the balcony, and Gary Freimiller [phonetic] -- and these are people who are running green companies right now that are employing American people on our soil and keeping jobs here.
    What we need is a little more friendly environment from the utility companies, so if I want to put a solar system on my house I can get more than nine cents on the dollar for the electric I feed back into it. (Applause.) Some legislation like that would be helpful. And what my stance has been is, if the federal government mandates that the utility companies have to produce at least so much renewable energy, then all of our rates are going to go up.
    So I've been trying to encourage my own state to be more proactive and adopt a renewable energy standard, renewable electric standard on their own. What do you see in the pipeline for companies like mine? Because it's hard -- I don't get any tax -- you know, those of you out there that think that the prior administration or someone gave us some kind of benefits for being a green company here -- there are none. I mean, there's no real incentive for us to do what we're doing, so we're doing it out of passion right now. So we appreciate all that you're saying about renewables.
    THE PRESIDENT: Good. Well, let me -- three things that we can do, just very specific and we can do them quickly, and then there's a fourth thing that we can do that will take a little bit more time.
    Number one is that we need to pass a renewable energy standard. (Applause.) And what that does is, just as for people who aren't sort of experts in the field, it's pretty simple. What it says is -- to the various utilities, it says, you need to get 15 percent or 20 percent of your energy from renewable sources. And once you set that benchmark, then what happens is, is that people who are producing renewable energy -- solar or wind or hydrothermal -- what they're able to do then is count on a pretty solid market that they're going to be able to sell their energy to. And that means investors, then, will say, you know what, this is actually a pretty good thing for us to invest in. And over time what that means is, is that more and more people invest in renewable energy, which means that technology gets better, the research and development improves, and you start growing that sector. So a renewable energy standard is very important. That's point number one.
    Point number two is we should be providing tax credits and loan guarantees to renewable energy. There are some in place currently that have -- are on the verge of lapsing, and we have to act much more forcefully in terms of making sure that those are in place. That's the second thing.
    The third thing that we should be doing is working with utilities all across America, including here in Indiana, to do what some utilities are already doing in California. And this is a really smart thing. What they do is, the utility is able to make money not just on how much energy it sells, but it's also able to make money on how much energy its customers save.
    So you can structure how they charge your electricity bill so that if you started installing a solar panel, that you would actually, as you point out, be able to sell some of that energy back when you're not using it. You get to put some money in your pocket, and the utilities are rewarded for encouraging you to do that. Right now they don't have enough incentive to do it because they're making money the more energy you use, whereas what we want to do is make -- give them incentives so that they are constantly telling you how you can save energy.
    The fourth thing -- and this is the thing that's going to take a little bit longer -- is we've got to improve basic science, research and development. When it comes to solar, when it comes to wind, the price has gone down, but generally speaking it's still a little more expensive than fossil fuels: coal, natural gas, and so forth. So we've got to improve the technology, and that's why I want to make sure that we're investing some money every year in the development of new energy technologies that will drive those costs down over the long term.
    The country that figures out how to make cheaper energy that's also clean, that country is going to win the economic competition of the future. (Applause.) And I want that to be the United States of America. That's one of my commitments as President of the United States. (Applause.)
    All right, this part of the room has been kind of neglected here. Let's get that young lady right there. Yes.
    Q Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Erin Mendoza [phonetic]. And I kind of had a question that went along with the gentleman over there. What are you going to do about enticing companies to stay here in the United States once we have them? A lot of local companies have gone overseas since I was born -- sorry. And the economy here in Elkhart was at a high, and it is going down because companies are enticed to leave. So like the gentleman said, they can live higher on the hog.
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I believe that the United States has the most productive workers. We've got the best universities and colleges. We've got the most dynamic, risk-taking economy and innovative economy of any in the world. So we can compete against anybody.
    But we've got some problems both in terms of our failure to invest in what's going to keep us competitive; we under-invest when it comes to energy -- we just talked about. Our health care system is broken, and that's a huge cost -- a lot of employers who want to stay here find it very difficult to deal with the rising cost of health care for their employees. So fixing health care will actually make us more competitive.
    We've got a tax code that is too often skewed to encourage companies to move overseas. We still have laws on the books that give tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas. And I think it's important for us to give tax breaks to companies that are investing right here in Elkhart, and right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)
    Now, having said all that, the single most important factor I think in whether companies are going to continue to locate here in Elkhart and around the country is, what are we doing about education. (Applause.) Because the quality of the work force is probably what most companies are going to pay the most attention to over time. There are going to be some companies that just ship jobs overseas, because it's low -- it's low value-added work. And they don't need skilled labor. And if you don't need skilled labor to make certain things, then you're just going to find the cheapest place. And we're never going to be able to compete against a country like Bangladesh when it comes to low-wage work.
    But what we should be looking for is how do we encourage high-wage, high-value work. (Applause.) And there the key is going to be how well we are training our work force. That's why in this recovery and reinvestment package, we put billions of dollars not only to make sure that school districts who are getting hammered are able to keep their teachers, but also we have money in the package to make sure that we are retraining our teachers around math and science, so that they are able to provide our young people what they need to compete in this new global economy, (applause); we have money to make -- create new labs, so that we have got science labs and the latest Internet connections into our schools so that they are part of this modern economy; we have money to revamp our community colleges, which are a tremendous bridge for people who maybe need more training to get these new jobs of the future.
    Now, I'll be honest with you, the Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars. I would like to see some of it restored. (Applause.) And over the next few days, as we are having these conversations, we should talk about how we can make sure that we're investing in education, because that's what's going to keep companies investing right here in the United States over the long term. All right?
    Now, there's a young man right in front of you here who's -- yes, you. (Laughter.) In fact, I just received a note that this is the last question. Oh, don't be mad at me. (Laughter.) I would love to stay here for a long time, but I've got to go back to Washington and convince everybody to get moving on this package. (Applause
    Q What are you going to do to help our schools?
    THE PRESIDENT: And this is a good place to end, with our future here. What's your name?
    Q My name is James.
    THE PRESIDENT: James, how old are you?
    Q I'm nine years old.
    THE PRESIDENT: Okay, fantastic. What's your question?
    Q What are you going to do to help our schools?
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I just started talking about that. (Laughter.) So, James, as I said, I think that we've got to rebuild our schools to make sure that they're state of the art. We also have to make sure that we are training new teachers and retraining some of the existing teachers so that they've got the best possible skills.
    We also are going to have to reform how we do business in some of the schools. I think it's very important for us to have high standards. I think we've got to do a better job, though, of assessing performance in schools. No Child Left Behind needs to be reworked in a more effective way. (Applause.)
    But the last thing that we need in schools -- do in schools has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with parents. (Applause.) Because we can put as much money as we want into schools -- if parents don't have an attitude that says, I'm going to make sure my child does my homework; that I'm meeting with the teacher to find out what's going on; if all of us aren't instilling a sense of excellence in our kids -- then they're not going to be able to compete. And that means young people like you, you're going to have to -- you're going to have to work a little harder. (Laughter and applause.)
    Yes. Thank you, James.
    All right, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
    END 1:07 P.M. EST
     

  • The President is on his way to Elkhart, Indiana, for a town hall about the economic recovery plan. He'll talk for a bit, then take questions from the audience of about 1,700 people.
    Elkhart has been hit especially hard by the economic crisis. Its seen its unemployment rate more than triple over the past year -- from 4.7% in December 2007 to 15.3% this past December.
    Our economic team put together some details of how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will work in Indiana, we've pasted them below. We’ll have more from the town hall later this afternoon.


     
    AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT PLAN:
    THE IMPACT FOR INDIANA
    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is a nationwide effort to create jobs, jumpstart growth and transform our economy for the 21st century. Across the country, this plan will help businesses create jobs and families afford their bills while laying a foundation for future economic growth in key areas like health care, clean energy, education and a 21st century infrastructure. In Indiana, this plan will deliver immediate, tangible impacts, including:
    • Creating or saving 79,300 jobs over the next two years. Jobs created will be in a range of industries from clean energy to health care, with over 90% in the private sector. [Source: White House Estimate based on Romer and Bernstein, "The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan." January 9, 2009.]
    • Providing a making work pay tax cut of up to $1,000 for 2,480,000 workers and their families. The plan will make a down payment on the President’s Making Work Pay tax cut for 95% of workers and their families, designed to pay out immediately into workers’ paychecks. [Source: White House Estimate based on IRS Statistics of Income]
    • Making 76,000 families eligible for a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to make college affordable. By creating a new $2,500 partially refundable tax credit for four years of college, this plan will give 3.8 million families nationwide – and 76,000 families in Indiana – new assistance to put college within their reach. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of U.S. Census data]
    • Offering an additional $100 per month in unemployment insurance benefits to 456,000 workers in Indiana who have lost their jobs in this recession, and providing extended unemployment benefits to an additional 89,000 laid-off workers. [Source: National Employment Law Project]
    • Providing funding sufficient to modernize at least 176 schools in Indiana so our children have the labs, classrooms and libraries they need to compete in the 21st century economy. [Source: White House Estimate]

  • Last Thursday, February 5, 2009, President Obama took his first flights aboard Marine One and Air Force One, on his way to the House Democratic Issues Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.
    See photos from the trip and read the President's remarks from the conference below.
    play

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
    AT HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS ISSUES CONFERENCE
    Kingsmill Resort
    Williamsburg, Virginia
    February 5, 2009
    THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you, Democrats.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Please, everybody have a seat.  Everybody have a seat. It is great to be here with so many friends. Thank you for giving me a reason to use Air Force One. (Laughter.) It's pretty nice.  (Laughter.)
    I'm glad to see the House Democratic Caucus is getting by just fine without my Chief of Staff.(Laughter.) I don't know how many of you were at the Alfalfa dinner, but I pointed out, you know, this whole myth of Rahm being this tough guy, mean, is just not true. At least once a week he spends time teaching profanity to underprivileged children.(Laughter and applause.) So he's got a soft spot.
    I want to thank John Larson for inviting me here tonight.This is John's first conference as Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, so we're both new at this. John, congratulations.  (Applause.)
    I want to acknowledge the great Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.(Applause.) She is our rock who's proven to be an extraordinary leader for the American people. And I want to thank Nancy and Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, and the entire caucus -- (applause) -- Javier Becerra -- all the leadership working so hard, all the chairmen like David Obey, who've worked so hard in passing an economic recovery plan that is so desperately needed for our country.(Applause.)
    All of you acted with a discipline that matches the urgency and the gravity of the crisis that we face.Because you know what's at stake.Every weekend you go home to your districts and you see factories that are closing and small businesses shutting their doors. You hear from families losing their homes; students that can't pay their tuition; seniors who are worrying about whether they can retire with dignity, or see their kids and grandkids lead a better life.
    So you went to work, and you did your job. For that, you have my appreciation and admiration. And more importantly, you've got the American people's thanks, because they know it is time to get something done here in Washington. (Applause.)
    As we meet here tonight, we know that there's more work to be done.The Senate is still acting. And after it has its final vote, we still need to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills.So we're going to still have to work, and I'm going to urge you to complete that work without delay. And I know that Nancy and Steny, all the rest of the leadership is committed to making that happen.
    Now, I just want to say this -- I value the constructive criticism and the healthy debate that's taking place around this package, because that's the essence, the foundation of American democracy. That's how the founders set it up. They set it up to make big change hard.  It wasn't supposed to be easy.  That's part of the reason why we've got such a stable government, is because no one party, no one individual can simply dictate the terms of the debate. I don't think any of us have cornered the market on wisdom, or that do I believe that good ideas are the province of any party. The American people know that our challenges are great.  They're not expecting Democratic solutions or Republican solutions -- they want American solutions. And I've said that same thing to the public, and I've said that, in a gesture of friendship and goodwill, to those who have disagreed with me on aspects of this plan.
    But what I have also said is -- don't come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis. (Applause.) You know, all of us here -- imperfect. And everything we do and everything I do is subject to improvement. Michelle reminds me every day how imperfect I am.(Laughter.) So I welcome this debate.But come on, we're not -- we are not going to get relief by turning back to the very same policies that for the last eight years doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin.(Applause.)
    We can't embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face; that ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or falling schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees. I don't care whether you're driving a hybrid or an SUV -- if you're headed for a cliff, you've got to change direction.(Applause.) That's what the American people called for in November, and that's what we intend to deliver. (Applause.)
    So the American people are watching. They did not send us here to get bogged down with the same old delay, the same old distractions, the same talking points, the same cable chatter. (Applause.) You know, aren't you all tired of that stuff?
    AUDIENCE: Yes!
    THE PRESIDENT: They did not vote for the false theories of the past, and they didn't vote for phony arguments and petty politics.They didn't vote for the status quo -- they sent us here to bring change.We owe it to them to deliver.This is the moment for leadership that matches the great test of our times.  And I know you want to work with me to get there.(Applause.)
    If we do not move swiftly to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, an economy that is already in crisis will be faced with catastrophe. This is not my assessment.This is not Nancy Pelosi's assessment. This is the assessment of the best economists in the country. This is the assessment of some of the former advisors of some of the same folks who are making these criticisms right now.
    Millions more Americans will lose their jobs. Homes will be lost. Families will go without health care.  Our crippling dependence on foreign oil will continue. That is the price of inaction.
    This isn't some abstract debate. Last week, we learned that many of America's largest corporations already laid off thousands and are planning to lay off tens of thousands of more workers.Today, we learned that in the previous week, the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000. Tomorrow, we're expecting another dismal jobs report, on top of the half a million jobs that were lost last month, on top of the half a million jobs that were lost the month before that, on top of the 2.6 million jobs that were lost last year.
    For you, these aren't just statistics. This is not a game.  This is not a contest for who's in power and who's up and who's down. These are your constituents. These are families you know and you care about. I believe that it is important for us to set aside some of the gamesmanship in this town and get something done.(Applause.)
    Now, I believe -- I just want to repeat, because I don't want any confusion here. I believe that legislation of this enormous magnitude, that by necessity we are moving quickly -- we're not moving quickly because we're trying to jamb something down people's throats.  We're moving quickly because we're told that if we don't move quickly, that the economy is going keep on getting worse, and we'll have another 2 or 3 or 4 million jobs loss this year.
    I'd love to be leisurely about this. My staff is worn out, working around the clock. So is David Obey's staff. So is Nancy Pelosi's staff. We're not doing this because we think this is a lark. We're doing this because people are counting on us.So legislation of this magnitude deserves the scrutiny that it's received, and all of you will get another chance to vote for this bill in the days to come. But I urge all of us not to make the perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary.
    Understand the scale and the scope of this plan is right. And when you start hearing arguments on the cable chatter, just understand a couple of things. Number one, when they say, well, why are we spending $800 billion -- we've got this huge deficit? First of all, I found this deficit when I showed up. (Applause.)  Number one. (Applause.) I found this national debt doubled, wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office.
    Number two, it is expected that we are going to lose about a trillion dollars worth of demand this year, a trillion dollars of demand next year because of the contraction in the economy. So the reason that this has to be big is to try to fill some of that lost demand.  And as it is, there are many who think that we should be doing even more.(Applause.) So we are taking prudent steps.
    But you talk to Ted Strickland and what's happening in Ohio, and you ask him whether they need some relief in terms of the unemployment insurance rates that are going sky-high, and him having to pick up all kinds of folks who are suddenly seeking food stamps who had been working all their lives -- and he'll tell you that this not something that we're just doing to grow government. We're doing this because this is what the best minds tell us needs to be done. That's point number one.
    Point number two:  When they start talking about, well, we need more tax cuts -- we started this package with a healthy amount of tax cuts in the mix, recognizing that some tax cuts can be very beneficial, particularly if they're going to middle class and working families that will spend that money.(Applause.) That's not me talking; that's the economists talking, who insisted that they're most likely to spend and get that money into circulation and stimulate the economy.
    Now, in fact, when we announced the bill, you remember -- this is only about, what, two weeks ago? When we announced the framework -- and we were complimented by Republicans, saying, boy, this is a balanced package, we're pleasantly surprised. And suddenly, what was a balanced package needs to be put out of balance? Don't buy those arguments.
    Then there's the argument, well, this is full of pet projects. When was the last time that we saw a bill of this magnitude move out with no earmarks in it? Not one. (Applause.) And when you start asking, well, what is it exactly that is such a problem that you're seeing, where's all this waste and spending? Well, you know, you want to replace the federal fleet with hybrid cars. Well, why wouldn't we want to do that?(Laughter.) That creates jobs for people who make those cars. It saves the federal government energy. It saves the taxpayers energy. (Applause.)
    So then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is?(Laughter and applause.) That's the whole point.No, seriously.(Laughter.)That's the point.(Applause.)
    So -- I mean, I get carried away.(Laughter.) We've got to leave some time for questions and answers. Here's the point I'm making.This package is not going to be absolutely perfect, and you can nit and you can pick, and that's the game we all play here. We know how to play that game. What I'm saying is, now we can't afford to play that game. We've got to pull together.
    There are going to be some things that don't get included that each of us would like to see included.All of us are going to have to make some sacrifices.And we have to accommodate the interests of a range of people. And the House is going to have to work with the Senate. But let's think big right now.Let's not think small.Let's not think narrowly.
    Just as past generations of Americans have done in trying times, we can -- and must -- turn this moment of challenge into one of opportunity. The plan that you've passed has at its core a simple idea: Let's put Americans to work doing the work that America needs done.(Applause.)
    This plan will save or create over three million jobs -- almost all of them in the private sector.
    This plan will put people to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges; our dangerously deficient dams and levees.
    This plan will put people to work modernizing our health care system. That doesn't just save us billions of dollars, it saves countless lives, because we'll reduce medical errors. (Applause.)
    This plan will put people to work renovating more than 10,000 schools -- (applause) -- giving millions of children the chance to learn in 21st century classrooms, and libraries and labs -- creating new scientists for a new future.
    This plan will provide sensible tax relief for the struggling middle class, and unemployment insurance and continued health care coverage for those who've lost their jobs. And it will help prevent our states and local communities -- it will help Governor Ritter and Governor Strickland not have to lay off firefighters and teachers and police. Because when they get laid off, not only do we lose services, but maybe they can't make payments on their home. Maybe they get foreclosed on and the economy goes down further.
    And finally, this plan will begin to end the tyranny of oil in our time -- doubles our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy, like wind and solar and biofuels. And it does it in three years; saves taxpayers billions of dollars; makes federal buildings more efficient; saves the average working family hundreds of dollars on their energy bills. After decades of empty rhetoric, that's the down payment that we need on energy independence.
    You know, there's a lot about running for President that is tough -- especially I don't miss sleeping in motels and hotels, and I don't miss not being with my kids as much as I'd like. But the best thing about being a candidate -- and all of you know this because those members of Congress who are here, you've run, you know what it's like -- you get to see the country. You get to know the character of the American people.  Over the last two years, I visited almost all 50 states. I've got to admit, the one I missed was Alaska. (Laughter.)We're going to get there. I've been in so many of your districts.  I've passed through towns and cities farms and factories. And I know what you know -- people are hurting.I've looked in their eyes. I've heard their stories.I've sensed their deep frustration.
    And they're just hoping that we're working for them.They're so strong and they're so decent, the American people, and those struggles haven't diminished that strength and that decency. We hold in our hands the capacity to do great things on their behalf. But we're going to have to do it by not thinking about ourselves, not thinking about how does this position me, how am I looking. We're going to have to just think about how are we delivering for them.
    It starts with this economic recovery plan. And soon, we'll take on the big issues like addressing the foreclosure problem, by passing a budget, tackling our fiscal problems, fixing our financial regulation, securing our country.And we won't approach these challenges just as Democrats -- because we remember the look in the eyes of our constituents. We know even though they've been cynical, that they're thinking, maybe this time is going to be different. They know we've got to overcome all these problems as Americans. And that's why we have to work in a serious, substantive, and civil way, and we will keep working to build bipartisan support for action.
    I promise you that my door is always open, and my administration will consult closely with each and every one of you -- the people's representatives -- as we take on these pressing priorities.
    Already, you've made a difference. Nancy mentioned -- I'm so proud of that day that we signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- (applause) -- to see Lilly Ledbetter on the stage, representing the American people, representing all the women out there who want their daughters to have the same opportunities as our sons.And then we signed Children's Health Insurance to provide coverage for 11 million, and make a down payment on comprehensive health care reform. (Applause.)
    And it wasn't easy. You worked hard to make it happen, which means we can work hard to make sure that we've got jobs all across America, and energy independence all across America.And we will not stop until we deliver for our constituents.(Applause.)
    That's what the Democratic Party is all about.That's what this caucus is all about. That's what my presidency is all about. (Applause.)
    Thank you, guys.I love you.(Applause.)Thank you. (Applause.)

     

  • There was bad news and then there was good news.
    Yesterday we learned that in January, the country suffered its largest one-month job loss in 34 years.
    But last night, the Senate struck a compromise on the economic recovery plan and put us on our way to giving the economy the short-term jolt and long-term investments it needs.
    "Americans across this country are struggling, and they are watching to see if we're equal to the task before us," the President says in this morning's Weekly Address. "Let's show them that we are."
    Watch the President's address and read the full text below.
    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.


     
    REMARKS OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
    WEEKLY ADDRESS
    The White House
    Saturday, February 7, 2009
    Yesterday began with some devastating news with regard to our economic crisis.  But I'm pleased to say it ended on a more positive note.
    In the morning, we received yet another round of alarming employment figures – the worst in more than 30 years.  Another 600,000 jobs were lost in January.  We've now lost more than 3.6 million jobs since this recession began.
    But by the evening, Democrats and Republicans came together in the Senate and responded appropriately to the urgency this moment demands.
    In the midst of our greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people were hoping that Congress would begin to confront the great challenges we face.  That was, after all, what last November's election was all about. 
    Legislation of such magnitude deserves the scrutiny that it's received over the last month, and it will receive more in the days to come.  But we can't afford to make perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary.  The scale and scope of this plan is right.  And the time for action is now.
    Because if we don't move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe.  Millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their homes, and their health care.  Millions more will have to put their dreams on hold.
    Let's be clear:  We can't expect relief from the tired old theories that, in eight short years, doubled the national debt, threw our economy into a tailspin, and led us into this mess in the first place.  We can't rely on a losing formula that offers only tax cuts as the answer to all our problems while ignoring our fundamental economic challenges – the crushing cost of health care or the inadequate state of so many schools; our addiction to foreign oil or our crumbling roads, bridges, and levees.
    The American people know that our challenges are great.  They don't expect Democratic solutions or Republican solutions – they expect American solutions.
    From the beginning, this recovery plan has had at its core a simple idea:  Let's put Americans to work doing the work America needs done.  It will save or create more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, all across the country – 16,000 in Maine, nearly 80,000 in Indiana – almost all of them in the private sector, and all of them jobs that help us recover today, and prosper tomorrow.
    Jobs that upgrade classrooms and laboratories in 10,000 schools nationwide – at least 485 in Florida alone – and train an army of teachers in math and science.
    Jobs that modernize our health care system, not only saving us billions of dollars, but countless lives.
    Jobs that construct a smart electric grid, connect every corner of the country to the information superhighway, double our capacity to generate renewable energy, and grow the economy of tomorrow.
    Jobs that rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges and levees and dams, so that the tragedies of New Orleans and Minneapolis never happen again.
    It includes immediate tax relief for our struggling middle class in places like Ohio, where 4.5 million workers will receive a tax cut of up to $1,000.  It protects health insurance and provides unemployment insurance for those who've lost their jobs.  And it helps our states and communities avoid painful tax hikes or layoffs for our teachers, nurses, and first responders.
    That's what is at stake with this plan:  putting Americans back to work, creating transformative economic change, and making a down payment on the American Dream that serves our children and our children's children for generations to come.
    Americans across this country are struggling, and they are watching to see if we're equal to the task before us.  Let's show them that we are.  And let's do whatever it takes to keep the promise of America alive in our time.
    Thank you.

  • "Instead of driving us apart, our very beliefs can bring us together," President Obama said yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast.
    E pluribus unum, in other words.
    After the breakfast he announced an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and talked about the role faith-based and secular community organizations will play in our economic recovery.
    "People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them," he said.
    The President named Joshua DuBois to lead the office, and also announced the creation of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships -- a group of 25 religious and secular leaders, listed below.
    "Whether it's connecting groups that are training people to do new jobs, or figuring out the role of faith-based organizations in combating global climate change, this office creates those partnerships in a way that's responsible, constitutional, and -- bottom line -- helps those in need," DuBois said.
    We asked DuBois to talk a little bit more about the office. Watch the video below.
    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    Members of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships:
    Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America
    Philadelphia, PA
    Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expert
    Washington, DC
    Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention
    Taylors, SC
    Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA
    Alexandria, VA
    Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
    Cleveland, OH
    Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Corps
    Chicago, IL
    Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular non-profit intermediary
    New York, NY
    Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA
    Philadelphia, PA
    Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and expert on church/state issues
    Winston-Salem, NC
    Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed
    Lakeland, FL
    Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural Center
    San Antonio, TX
    Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners
    Washington, DC
    Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church
    Knoxville, TN
    Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediary
    New York, NY
    Richard Stearns, President, World Vision
    Bellevue, WA

     

  • As we've noted on the blog, the President has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. We've also published the DTV Delay Act of 2009.
    Since a few questions have come in, we want to update you on the President's campaign commitment to introducing more sunlight into the lawmaking process by posting non-emergency legislation online for five days before signing it. This policy will be implemented in full soon; currently we are working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar.
    The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.

  • We just learned the economy lost another 600,000 jobs last month. It's a staggering number, and it underscores just how deep this crisis is – and, as the President pointed out this morning, it’s accelerating.
    That's why he created the Economic Recovery Advisory Board -- to solicit ideas from "beyond the echo chamber of Washington, DC."
    "I’m not interested in groupthink, which is why the Board reflects a broad cross-section of experience, expertise, and ideology," he said. "We’ve recruited Republican and Democrats; veterans of government and the private sector; advocates for business and labor. Not everyone is going to agree with each other, and not all of them are going to agree with me – and that’s precisely the point. Because we want to ensure that our policies have the benefit of independent thought and vigorous debate." 
    Before the President signed the executive order officially creating the board, he addressed the jobs numbers and brought home the individual pains behind those almost incomprehensibly large numbers. 
    "Somewhere in America, a small business has shut its doors; a family has said goodbye to their home; a young parent has lost their livelihood, and doesn’t know what’s going to take its place," the President said.  
    Read the rest of his remarks below -- along with those of PERAB chairman Paul Volcker -- and the list of board members below that.
     

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE ESTABLISHMENT
    OF THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY ADVISORY BOARD
    East Room, The White House
    February 6, 2009

    THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Please have a seat.  (Applause.)  Good morning, everybody.

    AUDIENCE:  Good morning.

    THE PRESIDENT:  I have just had the opportunity to welcome the members of my Economic Recovery Advisory Board.  And I'm grateful that I will have the counsel of these extraordinarily talented and experienced men and women in the challenging months to come.

    If there's anyone, anywhere, who doubts the need for wise counsel and bold and immediate action, just consider the very troubling news we received just this morning.  Last month, another 600,000 Americans lost their jobs.  That is the single worst month of job loss in 35 years.  The Department of Labor also adjusted their job loss numbers for 2008 upwards, and now report that we've lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began.

    That's 3.6 million Americans who wake up every day wondering how they are going to pay their bills, stay in their homes, and provide for their children.  That's 3.6 million Americans who need our help.

    I'm sure that at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of the Senate are reading these same numbers this morning.  And I hope they share my sense of urgency and draw the same, unmistakable conclusion:  The situation could not be more serious.  These numbers demand action.  It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay, or politics as usual, while millions of Americans are being put out of work.

    Now is the time for Congress to act.  It's time to pass an Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan to get our economy moving.

    This is not some abstract debate.  It is an urgent and growing crisis that can only be fully understood through the unseen stories that lie underneath each and every one of those 600,000 jobs that were lost this month.  Somewhere in America a small business has shut its doors; somewhere in America a family has said goodbye to their home; somewhere in America a young parent has lost their livelihood -- and they don't know what's going to take its place.

    These Americans are counting on us, all of us in Washington.  We have to remember that we're here to work for them.  And if we drag our feet and fail to act, this crisis could turn into a catastrophe.  We'll continue to get devastating job reports like today's -- month after month, year after year.  It's very important to understand that, although we had a terrible year with respect to jobs last year, the problem is accelerating, not decelerating.  It's getting worse, not getting better.  Almost half of the jobs that were lost have been lost just in the last couple of months. 

    These aren't my assessments -- these are the assessments of independent economists.  If we don't do anything, millions more jobs will be lost.  More families will lose their homes.  More Americans will go without health care.  We'll continue to send our children to crumbling schools, and be crippled by our dependence on foreign oil.  That's the result of inaction.  And it's not acceptable to the American people.

    They did not choose more of the same in November.  They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, to try to score political points.  They did not send us here to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected, because we saw the results.  They sent us here to make change, with the expectation that we would act. 

    Now, I have repeatedly acknowledged that, given the magnitude and the difficulties of the problem we're facing, there are no silver bullets and there are no easy answers.  The bill that's emerged from Congress is not perfect, but a bill is absolutely necessary.  We can continue to improve and refine both the House and Senate versions of these bills.  There may be provisions in there that need to be left out; there may be some provisions that need to be added.  But broadly speaking, the package is the right size, it is the right scope, and it has the right priorities to create 3 to 4 million jobs and to do it in a way that lays the groundwork for long-term growth -- by fixing our schools, modernizing our health care to lower costs, repair our roads and bridges and levees and other vital infrastructure, move us towards energy independence.  That is what America needs.  It will take months, even years, to renew our economy, but every day that Washington fails to act, that recovery is delayed.

    Now, we also know that no single act can meet the challenges of this moment.  This process is just the beginning of a long journey back to progress and growth and prosperity.  Given the scope of this crisis, we'll need all hands on deck to figure out how we are going to move forward.  And I'm pleased to have an extraordinary team of folks in my administration -- Tim Geithner at Treasury, Larry Summers, Christina Romer, Peter Orszag -- they're all here in the White House.  I also want to be sure that we're tapping a broad and diverse range of opinion from across the country, because a historic crisis demands a historic response.  And that's why we took the unique step of creating the new institution whose members have gathered here today. 

    Put simply, I created this board to enlist voices to come from beyond the Washington echo chamber, to ensure that no stone is unturned as we work to put people back to work and get our economy moving.

    Within this group, you've got leaders of manufacturing and leaders of finance.  You've got labor and you've got management.  You've got people who work in small businesses and people who work in large businesses.  You've got some economists and some folks who think they're economists.  (Laughter.)  By the way, these days everybody thinks they're an economist.  (Laughter.)  We will meet regularly so that I can hear different ideas and sharpen my own, and seek counsel that is candid and informed by the wider world. 

    The board is headed by Paul Volcker -- not only because he's the tallest among us -- (laughter) -- but because, by any measure, he is one of the world's foremost experts on the economy; one of the most experienced and insightful economic minds that we have.  He's advised me for many months.  He has helped steer the American economy through many twists and turns.  Probably prior to this one, the worst economic crisis we had back in the early '80s, it was Paul Volcker who helped restore confidence and pull us out of that extraordinarily difficult time.

    So I'm glad that Paul has decided to continue his public service at this critical moment.  Assisting Paul and the rest of the board will be Austan Goolsbee, who's been one of my closest economic advisors, one of the finest young economists that we have in the country.  He's going to ensure that we are making the best possible use of this unique resource.

    I'm not interested in groupthink, which is why the board reflects a broad cross-section of experience and expertise and ideology.  We've recruited Republicans and Democrats, people who come out of the government as well as the private sector.  Not everyone is going to agree with each other, and not all of them are going to agree with me -- and that's precisely the point, because we want to ensure that our policies have the benefit of independent thought and vigorous debate.

    And we're also going to count on these men and women to serve as additional eyes and ears for me as we work to reverse this downturn.  Many of them have ground-level views of the changes that are taking place, as they work across different sectors of the economy and different regions of the country, and they can help us see the trends that are not fully formed, the trouble that may be on the horizon, and the opportunities that have yet to be seized.  I look forward to relying on their input and recommendations on specific questions as we jumpstart job creation and pursue strong and stable economic growth.

    This new institution should send a signal of how seriously I take the responsibility of building an economic recovery that is broad and enduring.  These are extraordinary times.  For far too many Americans, the future is filled with unanswered questions:  Can I get a job?  Will my family be able to stay in their home?  Will I be able to retire with dignity, and see my children lead a better life?  And these are the questions that we will answer affirmatively during the course of this administration. 

    We are going to create the jobs that our people need and the future that this great nation deserves.  Those are the challenges that I've put before my economic team, and these distinguished advisors will be tackling those same issues in the months and years to come.

    So I'm grateful to them.  And before I officially sign this executive order, I would like Paul just to say a quick word.

    MR. VOLCKER:  Well, thank you, Mr. President.  I will say a very quick word.  You've spoken about the variety of experience and talent you brought together.  One thing I am sure they all share, we all share, is a sense of urgency, that you alluded to and emphasized.  The figures this morning simply reenforce that.   And I can't imagine that the Congress won't share this sense of urgency and you can get on the road toward the kind of program you want. 

    But thank you for the confidence that you've shown in all of us.  We hope to help.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Paul.  All right, let me get over there.

    (The executive order is signed.)  (Applause.)

    The President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board

    Chairman
    Paul Volcker

    Staff Director and Chief Economist
    Austan Goolsbee

    Members
    William H. Donaldson, Chairman, SEC (2003-2005)

    Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President & CEO, TIAA-CREF

    Robert Wolf, Chairman & CEO, UBS Group Americas

    David F. Swensen, CIO, Yale University

    Mark T. Gallogly, Founder & Managing Partner, Centerbridge Partners L.P.

    Penny Pritzker, Chairman & Founder, Pritzker Realty Group

    Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO, GE

    John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers

    Jim Owens, Chairman and CEO, Caterpillar Inc.

    Monica C. Lozano, Publisher & Chief Executive Officer, La Opinion

    Charles E. Phillips, Jr., President, Oracle Corporation

    Anna Burger, Chair, Change to Win

    Richard L. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO

    Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Dean, Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley

    Martin Feldstein, George F. Baker Professor of Economics, Harvard University

    Return to the remarks.

     

  • As the President has emphasized since he began developing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the goals of the plan include both creating millions of new jobs and taking "steps to strengthen our country for years to come."  On both counts, rebuilding America’s critical infrastructure is a central piece of the plan, and experts from across the political spectrum agree that investing in infrastructure is one of best ways to get "bang for the buck" in terms of stimulus.
    Yesterday, in his first post at the Transportation Department’s blog, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced a new group within his department dedicated to its role in the recovery plan, and today Vice President Biden joined LaHood and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to discuss the importance of these investments.
    After touring the Laurel, Maryland MARC Train Station, one of the thousands of rail and commuter stations all across the country in dire need of improvements, the Vice President echoed the President’s message of urgency: "Quite simply, we cannot wait.  We cannot wait another two weeks, three weeks, four weeks.  We cannot wait.  Our economic recovery package is now before the Senate. It will put us back on track to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs." The Vice President also referenced a new report released by the White House using Maryland as a case study to show the impact investing in infrastructure will have on our nation.
    You can read the case study here.

  • The people at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have a crucial role to play in our economic recovery, the First Lady told the staff of the Department during a visit there yesterday.
    "At times like these -- and we know times are hard right now -- there's so many families who've lost their homes, and millions are struggling to keep up with their mortgages," Mrs. Obama said. "You know this firsthand. You and your colleagues are going to be asked to do even more, that's for sure. It's of critical importance that we stem the tide of foreclosures and find a way to keep people in their homes."
    Read the First Lady's full remarks below.
    First Lady Michelle Obama addresses the staff of the Department of Housing and Urban Development

     
    REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY TO
    DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT STAFF
    Department of Housing and Urban Development
    Washington, D.C.
    February 4, 2009
    MRS. OBAMA: Wow, there are a lot of you here. (Applause.) Thank you so much for taking the time to --
    AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you! (Applause.)
    MRS. OBAMA: I love you, too. That's one of the reasons why I'm here. And I want to thank Secretary Donovan for those kind remarks, that wonderful introduction. I am so pleased to be here. I mean, my task here today is simple. I've been -- this is my second stop. I'm visiting -- trying to visit all the agencies here to say a few things -- one, to say hello. (Applause.)
    AUDIENCE: Hello!
    MRS. OBAMA: I want to learn, listen, know what's going on from you. But I also want to say thank you, on behalf of my husband, my family, and this country. (Applause.) Because what we do know, even though this is a brand new administration, the folks working in this department, many of you have been here for decades --
    AUDIENCE: Yes!
    MRS. OBAMA: -- working hard on the issues that impact our communities -- say yes.
    AUDIENCE: Yes!
    MRS. OBAMA: I can get an amen on that, right?
    AUDIENCE: Amen!
    MRS. OBAMA: And you have been doing outstanding work, and I want to thank you for the work that you've done, the work that you're going to do, and the work that has to be done in the months and years to come.
    That's my first task. Because the truth is, is that everyone in this room is a public servant, and every day you carry out the nation's work without any fanfare, oftentimes, attention, acknowledgment. You do it and get the job done because it's the right thing to do.
    And Barack and I and all the folks over in the West Wing and the East Wing, we're very proud of what you've done for this country. There's a lot more to do. And at times like these -- and we know times are hard right now -- there's so many families who've lost their homes, and millions are struggling to keep up with their mortgages. You know this firsthand. You and your colleagues are going to be asked to do even more, that's for sure. It's of critical importance that we stem the tide of foreclosures and find a way to keep people in their homes. (Applause.) Because what we do know is that homeownership, at least as I know it, growing up on the south side of Chicago, has always been one of the building blocks for strong neighborhoods, for strong schools and strong families. People who own their homes and take care of their homes, it leads to the well-being of the entire community. It's critical. And the housing crisis has drastic consequences, not just on our economy but on the very fiber of our communities all across this country.
    So in addition to meeting you all here at these agencies, I'm taking time out, as well as Barack, to get to know the community that we're in. We're going to be visiting schools and neighborhoods throughout this area, because Barack and I always believe that investing in the community that you live in first and foremost is critical. And for the people here in this agency, we are now your neighbors. (Applause.)
    So it's important to remember -- not that you need any reminding -- but the issues that you're working on every single day, in whatever way you are working on them, in whatever capacity, affect this community that we live in, as well. They affect you, your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors. And under Secretary Donovan's leadership, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is going to play a critical role in implementing elements of the economic recovery and reinvestment plan that will help our communities. This plan is important. (Applause.) With these investments, it's important to remember we'll be able to strengthen the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to help communities purchase foreclosed or abandoned properties, and rehabilitate or resell or redevelop these homes so that they don't contribute to community blight and force down the value of neighboring properties.
    This investment will allow us to put people to work, weatherizing at least 2 million low-income homes, which will also save working families on average $350 per year in heating costs. It's important to remember that these investments will expand the availability of affordable housing by 15,000 units -- and that is not insignificant -- which, coupled with other homeless programs here at HUD will play an important role in preventing an increase in homelessness during these tough economic times.
    And I am very, very pleased that the stimulus plan is going to make much needed repairs to military family housing so the quality -- (applause) -- so that the quality of troops' homes matches the quality and excellence of their service to this nation.
    AUDIENCE: Amen!
    MRS. OBAMA: So there's a lot of work to do. And we have great leaders in Secretary Donovan and in Barack Obama. (Applause.) But great leaders are only as great as the people who hold them up. (Applause.) So that's why it's important for us to come here now, before the hard work happens, to say thank you and to remind you that we need each and every one of you to recommit to the task at hand, to look at your work with a new level of passion and vigor, and to know that everything you do every day is going to lead to stronger communities all over this nation.
    So I thank you again. We appreciate and value who you are as our neighbors and our coworkers. And let's get to work. Thanks so much. (Applause.)

  • The House voted yesterday to delay the transition from analog to digital TV, from February 17 -- less than two weeks away -- to June 12.
    The Senate has already approved the bill, so now it heads to the President's desk to be signed into law. You can read the full text and let us know what you think by leaving your comments on the legislation here.

  • He said hello to members of the DOE and their new Secretary, Steven Chu.
    He announced new efficiency standards for common household appliances, an important shift in policy that will get us closer to energy independence.
    And then President Obama issued a stark rebuke to critics of the stimulus plan and urged its swift passage.
    "Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence, but I am. And so are you. And so are the American people," President Obama said. "Inaction is not an option that is acceptable to me and it’s certainly not acceptable to the American people – not on energy, not on the economy, and not at this critical moment."
    He singled out critics who have been nit-picking the stimulus plan and misrepresenting some of its provisions:
    "Now, I read the other day that the critics of this plan ridiculed our notion that we should use part of the money to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of state of the art fuel-efficiency.  They call it pork.  You know the truth.  It will not only save the government significant money over time, it will not only create jobs manufacturing those vehicles, it will set a standard for private industry to match.  And so when you hear these attacks deriding something of such obvious importance as this, you have to ask yourself – is it any wonder we haven’t had a real energy policy in this country?"
    Read the President's full remarks below.
    President Obama speaks at the Department of Energy

     
    REMARKS OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
    PROMOTING THE RECOVERY PLAN WITH SECRETARY CHU
    Department of Energy
    February 5, 2009
    Thank you, Secretary Chu, for bringing your experience and expertise to this new role. And thank you all so much for your service each and every day here at the Department. Your mission is so important and will only grow as we seek to transform the ways we produce and use energy for the sake of our environment, our security – and our economy.
    As we are meeting, in the halls of Congress just down the street from here, there’s a debate going on about the plan I’ve proposed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
    This isn’t some abstract debate.  Last week, we learned that many of America’s largest corporations are planning to layoff tens off tens of thousands of workers. Today we learned that last week, the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000.  And tomorrow, we’re expecting another dismal jobs report on top of the 2.6 million jobs we lost last year. 
    Now, I believe that legislation of such magnitude deserves the scrutiny that’s it received over the last month.  But these numbers that we’re seeing are sending an unmistakable message – and so are the American people.  The time for talk is over.  The time for action is now.  Because we know that if we don’t act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse.  Crisis could turn into catastrophe for families and businesses across our country. 
    I refuse to let that happen.  We can’t delay and we can’t go back to the same worn ideas that led us here in the first place.  In the last few days, we’ve seen proposals arise from some in Congress that you may not have read, but would be very familiar to you.  They’re rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve our problems.  That half-measures and tinkering are somehow enough.  That we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges – the crushing cost of health care, the inadequate state of so many schools, and our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.
    Let me be perfectly clear:  those ideas have been tested, and they have failed.  They have taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they have brought our economy to a halt.  And that’s precisely what the election we just had was all about.  The American people have rendered their judgment.  Now is the time to move forward, not back.  Now is the time for action.
    Just as past generations of Americans have done in trying times, we can and must turn this moment of challenge into one of opportunity.  The plan I’ve proposed has at its core a simple idea:  let’s put Americans to work doing the work that America needs done. 
    This plan will save or create over three million jobs – almost all of them in the private sector.
    This plan will put people to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges; our dangerous deficient dams and levees.
    This plan will put people to work modernizing our health care system, not only saving us billions of dollars, but countless lives.
    This plan will put people to work renovating more than 10,000 schools, giving millions of children the chance to learn in 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs – and to all the scientists in the room today, you know what that means for America’s future. 
    This plan will provide sensible tax relief for the struggling middle-class, unemployment insurance and continued health care coverage for those who’ve lost their jobs, and it will help prevent our states and local communities from laying off firefighters, teachers, and police.
    Finally, this plan will begin to end the tyranny of oil in our time. 
    After decades of dragging our feet, this plan will finally spark the creation of a clean energy industry that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells for example, and millions more after that.  These jobs and these investments will double our capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years.
    We’ll fund a better, smarter electricity grid and train workers to build it – a grid that will help us ship wind and solar power from one end of this country to another.  Think about it. The grid that powers the tools of modern life – computers, appliances, even blackberries - looks largely the same as it did half a century ago. Just these first steps toward modernizing the way we distribute electricity could reduce consumption by 2 to 4 percent.
    We’ll also lead a revolution in energy efficiency, modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the efficiency of more than 2 million American homes. This will not only create jobs, it will cut the federal energy bill by a third and save taxpayers $2 billion each year and save Americans billions of dollars more on their utility bills.
    In fact, as part of this effort, today I've signed a presidential memorandum requesting that the Department of Energy set new efficiency standards for common household appliances. This will save consumers money. This will spur innovation. And this will conserve tremendous amounts energy. We’ll save through these simple steps over the next thirty years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America. 
    And through investments in our mass transit systems to boost capacity, in our roads to reduce congestion, and in technologies that will accelerate the development of innovations like plug-in hybrid vehicles, we’ll be making a significant down payment on a cleaner and more independent energy future.
    Now, I read the other day that the critics of this plan ridiculed our notion that we should use part of the money to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of state of the art fuel-efficiency.  They call it pork.  You know the truth.  It will not only save the government significant money over time, it will not only create jobs manufacturing those vehicles, it will set a standard for private industry to match.  And so when you hear these attacks deriding something of such obvious importance as this, you have to ask yourself – is it any wonder we haven’t had a real energy policy in this country? 
    For the last few years, I’ve talked about these issues with Americans from one end of this country to another.  Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence, but I am.  And so are you.  And so are the American people.
    Inaction is not an option that is acceptable to me and it’s certainly not acceptable to the American people – not on energy, not on the economy, and not at this critical moment.
    So I call on the members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – to rise to this moment.  No plan is perfect, and there have been constructive changes made to this one over the last month.  There may be more today.  But the scale and scope of this plan is right.  It’s what America needs right now, and we need to move forward today.  I thank you all for being here, and I’m eager to work with Secretary Chu and all of you as we stand up to meet the challenges of this new century.
    Thank you very much.


    *The version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that passed the House and is now under consideration in the Senate included the following language:
    "Energy efficient federal motor vehicle fleet procurement:
    "For capital expenditures and necessary expenses of the General Services Administration's Motor Vehicle Acquisition and Motor Vehicle Leasing programs for the acquisition of motor vehicles, including plug-in and alternative fuel vehicles, $600,000,000: Provided, That the amount set aside from this appropriation pursuant to section 1106 of this Act shall be 1 percent instead of the percentage specified in such section: Provided further, That none of these funds may be obligated until the Administrator of General Services submits to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, within 90 days after enactment of this Act, a plan for expenditure of the funds that details the current inventory of the Federal fleet owned by the General Services Administration, as well as other Federal agencies, and the strategy to expend these funds to replace a portion of the Federal fleet with the goal of substantially increasing energy efficiency over the current status, including increasing fuel efficiency and reducing emissions: Provided further, That the Administrator shall report to the Committees on the obligation of these funds on a quarterly basis beginning on June 30, 2009."

  • "The particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us," President Obama said this morning to a crowd of several thousand people gathered for the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton in the nation's capital. "Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring usThousands listen to President Obama remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times."
    A dozen foreign leaders attended, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who delivered the keynote address.
    Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) read from Scripture, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered a prayer for national leaders, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) delivered a prayer for world leaders, and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) delivered the closing prayer. Casting Crowns, a Christian rock group, performed at the event.
    The National Prayer Breakfast, currently co-chaired by Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Heath Shuler (D-NC), is a yearly event held in Washington, D.C., on the first Thursday of February each year. The event has taken place since 1953 and every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in the breakfast.
    The President is set to sign an executive order regarding the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which we'll have more on later today.
    Read the President's remarks below.
    White House photo 2/5/09 by Pete Souza


     
    Remarks of President Barack Obama
    National Prayer Breakfast

    Thursday, February 5th, 2009
    Washington, DC
    Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast, Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I’d also like to thank Tony Blair for coming today, as well as our Vice President, Joe Biden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.
    Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has always been a guiding force in our family’s life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here.
    It’s a tradition that I’m told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work. Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything.
    The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. It didn’t matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God.
    These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time after President Eisenhower asked a group of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.
    I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another – as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness.
    There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we’re going next – and some subscribe to no faith at all.
    But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.
    We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.
    It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do – to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world.
    In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I’m announcing later today.
    The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it’s a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what’s happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.
    We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don’t expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.
    This is my hope. This is my prayer.
    I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived.
    I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.
    I didn’t become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose.
    In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."
    So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you.

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