Read all posts from May 2009

  • Another update from Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, in the spirit of transparency as always:
    The President has taken bold steps to enhance transparency in government, end lobbying abuses, and ensure that the government’s spending decisions are based on merit.  As we’ve mentioned in a prior post, we continue to track the implementation of the President’s unprecedented transparency rules for lobbying contacts under the Recovery Act.  Yesterday we had two meetings about the rules at which lobbyists were present.  First, we met with representatives of groups from the reform community, including those generally supportive of the policy.  A wide array of opinions was aired, with some indicating that they want the policy to stay as is, and others making a variety of suggestions for changes to make the policy even tougher.  Later in the day, we met with representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who oppose the rules.  We heard their concerns and engaged in discussion about their particular objections.  We continue to believe that the rules are sound as a matter of law and policy, but consistent with the President’s instructions, we are using this 60-day implementation period to cultivate, and listen to, a wide range of views.  Present at the reform group meeting were:
    Nicole Austin Hillary
    Director and Counsel, Washington Office
    The Brennan Center for Justice
    Meredith McGehee
    Policy Director
    Campaign Legal Center
    Tara Malloy
    Associate Legal Counsel
    Campaign Legal Center
    Sarah Dufendach
    Vice President for Legislative Affairs
    Common Cause
    Fred Wertheimer
    President
    Democracy 21
    Scott Amey
    General Counsel
    Project on Government Oversight
    Craig Holman
    Legislative Representative
    Public Citizen
    John Wonderlich
    Policy Director
    Sunlight Foundation
    Lisa Rosenberg
    Government Affairs Consultant
    Sunlight Foundation
    Daniel Schuman
    Policy Counsel
    Sunlight Foundation
    Lisa Gilbert
    Democracy Advocate
    U.S. PIRG
    Lee Mason
    Director of Nonprofit Speech Rights
    OMB Watch
    Sheila Krumholz
    Executive Director
    Center for Responsive Politics
    Lloyd Leonard
    Director of Advocacy
    League of Women Voters
    Norm Ornstein
    Resident Scholar
    American Enterprise Institute
    Present at the meeting with the Chamber of Commerce were:
    Steven Law
    Chief Legal Officer
    Judith K. Richmond
    Associate General Counsel
    Amar Sarwal
    Staff Attorney
    In addition to Norm Eisen, White House attendees included Preeta Bansal of OMB, Mike Mongan of the Office of the Vice President, and members of their staff.

  • Today the President met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, picking up on the diplomatic foundation laid during the President’s trip to Europe a month ago.
    The President and the Russian Foreign Minister(President Barack Obama meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office of the White House May 7, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
    They spoke briefly to the press afterwards, both expressing an optimistic tone:
    PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I just want to make a brief statement.  I just had an excellent conversation with Minister Lavrov.  He and Secretary Clinton and the rest of our foreign policy teams have been meeting throughout the day.  This caps off many of these conversations, all in preparation for a visit that President Medvedev and I have discussed to take place sometime this summer.
    As I've said before, I think we have an excellent opportunity to reset the relationship between the United States and Russia on a whole host of issues, from nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how we approach Iran, how we approach the Middle East, commercial ties between the two countries, and how we address the financial crisis that has put such a strain on the economies of all countries around the world.
    And President Medvedev has an excellent representative in Minister Lavrov.  We very much appreciate his strong work in trying to move the relationship forward, and I am hopeful that the meetings that we've had so far and the meetings that we expect to have throughout the course of this year will be of mutual benefit to both countries.
    So thank you very much for taking the time.
    FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  Thank you, Mr. President.  And I just would like briefly to relate that we indeed working very hard developing the documents which you and President Medvedev authorized us to do when you met in London.  I think we work in a very pragmatic, businesslike way on the basis of the common interest whenever our positions coincide, and on the basis of respect to each other whenever we have disagreements, trying to narrow the disagreements for the benefit of our countries and the international stability. 
    And I can convey to you once again that President Medvedev is really looking forward to meeting you in Moscow in July.
    PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, everybody.

  • The President engages in community service
    (White House Photo, 4/21/09, Samantha Appleton)
    A few weeks ago, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law, ushering in a new era of service and volunteering for our nation. Facing unprecedented challenges, the President has asked all Americans to engage in service opportunities help create a better nation.
    The Corporation for National & Community Service was charged with dramatically expanding opportunities for Americans to serve, and in a sign of how seriously they are taking that charge today they announced a nationwide listening tour. Visit their site to learn more and register for their public listening sessions MO, SC, DC, MA, UT, or LA.
    The Serve America Act goes into effect on October 1. In the meantime, here's what else you can do to stay involved and make a difference:

  • Jared Bernstein, the Vice President's Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor, gives us this update:
    Recovery Act includes $48 billion dollars for transportation construction projects, and funding has been announced for over 2,800 projects in all 50 states.  In order to obtain feedback on transportation policy issues related to the Recovery Act, Jared Bernstein, the Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser to the Vice President, recently met with labor groups.  The groups raised concerns about the fact that the Act funds capital costs but not operating costs.  They presented information showing that mass transit ridership is up, and because of state and city budget cuts, mass transit operating budgets have been flat or falling.  This is leading to layoffs and service reductions.  One substantive question raised in the meeting was whether it would be possible, with legislation, to shift some capital funds over to operations.
    Present at the April 21 meeting were the following, each representing the entity noted: 
    Edward Wytkind
    President
    Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO 
    Larry I. Willis
    General Counsel and Chief of Staff
    Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
    Brendan Danaher
    Legislative and Policy Representative
    Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO 
    Cynthia P. Bradley
    Legislative Affairs Specialist
    American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
    Ron Kloos
    International Representative
    Transportation Communications International Union 
    Frederick P. McLuckie
    Deputy Director of Legislation, Government Affairs
    International Brotherhood of Teamsters 
    Portia Reddick White
    Director of Legislative and Political Affairs
    Transport Workers Union of America

  • Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    download .mp4 (117 MB) | read the transcript

    Today the President released his full budget providing all the details for the blueprint that Congress recently approved in the Budget Resolution.  Having spoken about his vision to create a new foundation for the country a few weeks ago, today he returned to that theme:
     
    We're doing everything that we can to create jobs and to get our economy moving while building a new foundation for lasting prosperity -- a foundation that invests in quality education, lowers health care costs, and develops new sources of energy powered by new jobs and industries.
    But one of the pillars of this foundation is fiscal responsibility.  We can no longer afford to spend as if deficits don't matter and waste is not our problem.  We can no longer afford to leave the hard choices for the next budget, the next administration -- or the next generation.
    That's why I've charged the Office of Management and Budget, led by Peter Orszag and Rob Nabors who are standing behind me today, with going through the budget -- program by program, item by item, line by line -- looking for areas where we can save taxpayer dollars.
    He referenced the 100-program volume of Terminations, Reductions, and Savings released by OMB Director Orszag in his blog post this morning, and went on to give a few examples of how these programs represent the long-standing bad habits in Washington. He mentioned an obsolete navigation system that still gets funding, a literacy program that devotes half its budget to overhead, an a Department of Education outpost in Paris whose work could easily be accomplished here at home.
    In addition, we're going to save money by eliminating unnecessary defense programs that do nothing to keep us safe, but rather prevent us from spending money on what does keep us safe.  One example is a $465 million program to build an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.  The Defense Department is already pleased with the engine it has.  The engine it has works.  The Pentagon does not want and does not plan to use the alternative version.  That's why the Pentagon stopped requesting this funding two years ago.  Yet it's still being funded.
    These are just a few examples.  But the point to remember is that there are consequences for this kind of spending.  It makes the development of new tools for our military, like the Joint Strike Fighter, more expensive -- even prohibitively so -- and crowds out money that we could be using, for example, to improve our troops' quality of life and their safety and security.  It makes government less effective.  It makes our nation less resilient and less able to address immediate concerns and long-term challenges.  And it leaves behind a massive burden for our children and grandchildren.
    He closed by reiterating all of the ways the Administration has fought for fiscal discipline already, from supporting "pay as you go" rules, to ending sibsidies for insurance companies, to empowering government employees to find and suggest efficiencies. He pledged that this was just the beginning.

  • OMB Director Peter Orszag tells us about the budget being released today, in particular the volume on Terminations, Reductions, and Savings.

    We in the Administration have spoken often about the President’s Budget heralding a new era of responsibility—an era in which we not only do what we must to lift our economy out of recession, but in which we also lay a new foundation for long-term growth and prosperity.  This means making long overdue investments and reforms in health care, education, and energy. It also means restoring fiscal discipline.  We cannot put our nation on a course for long-term growth with uncontrollable deficits and debt, and we no longer can afford to tolerate investments in programs that are outdated, duplicative, ineffective, or wasteful.
    That’s why the Budget we’re releasing today includes a separate volume, Terminations, Reductions, and Savings, which identifies more than 100 terminations, reductions, or other areas of savings that take nearly $17 billion off the federal government’s bottom line next year alone.  About half of the savings for next fiscal year are from defense programs, and about half are from non-defense programs.
    The programs in Terminations, Reductions, and Savings are ones that do not accomplish the goals set for them, do not do so efficiently, or do a job already done by another initiative. They include these ten:
    • LORAN-C ($35 million): This long-range, radio-navigation system has been made obsolete by GPS.
    • Abandoned Mine Lands Payments ($142 million): This program now pays to clean up mines that have already been cleaned up.
    • Educational attaché, Paris, France ($632,000): The Department of Education can use e-mail, video conferencing, and modest travel to replace a full-time representative to UNESCO in Paris, France.
    • Los Alamos Neutron Science Center refurbishment ($19 million): The linear accelerator housed here was built 30 years ago and no longer plays a critical role in weapons research.
    • Even Start ($66 million): The most recent evaluation found no difference between families in the program and those not in it across 38 of 41 outcomes. Strengthening early childhood education is accomplished through significant investments in proven, more effective programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start, and the Early Learning Challenge Fund.
    • Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ($1 million): Due to high overhead, the Foundation would spend only 20 percent of its 2010 appropriation on the fellowships it awards.
    • Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit ($125 million): This program benefits very few taxpayers, and has an extremely high error rate:  GAO found that 80 percent of recipients did not meet at least one of its requirements.
    • Javits Gifted and Talented Education Program ($7 million): Grants from this program go to only 15 school districts nationwide, and there are no empirical measures to judge their efficacy.
    • Public Broadcasting Grants ($5 million):  USDA made these grants to support rural public broadcasting stations in their conversions to digital broadcasting.  That transition is now almost complete.
    • Rail Line Relocation Grants ($25 million): This program, duplicative of a merit-based program, is loaded with earmarks.
    The steps we are detailing in Terminations, Reductions, and Savings are part of the Administration’s larger effort to change how Washington does business and put the nation’s fiscal house in order.  Today represents a significant installment in our commitment to review the federal budget line by line.  
    But our efforts to restore fiscal responsibility have already begun. To date, we have taken the following steps to cut waste, save taxpayer dollars, and make government more effective:
    • The Budget includes an historic down payment on health care reform, the key to our long-term fiscal future.
    • The Budget will cut the deficit in half by the end of the President’s first term and was constructed without commonly used budget gimmicks that, for instance, hide the true costs of war and natural disasters.
    • The Budget will bring non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level as a share of GDP since we began keeping records in 1962.
    • The President has announced a contracting reform effort that will greatly reduce no-bid contracts and help to save $40 billion.  In support of this effort, Secretary of Defense Gates, in consultation with our nation’s military leadership, unveiled an unprecedented effort to reform defense contracting.
    • The President directed agency heads at the first Cabinet meeting to identify at least $100 million in administrative savings.
    • The President personally called on the congressional leadership to pass PAYGO laws so that Congress will be required to adhere to a simple principle: to pay for what it spends.
    Now, every one of the programs listed in our Terminations, Reductions, and Savings volume has a supporter, and there will be vocal and powerful interests that will oppose different aspects of this Budget. I am under no illusions that change will be easy, but after an era of profound irresponsibility, I believe that Americans are ready to put problem-solving ahead of point-scoring and to reconstruct an economy built on a solid foundation.  
    That’s why I know the President will work with Congress to reform and transform Washington, to make these needed cuts so that we use taxpayer dollars to invest in what works and put our nation back on the path toward prosperity for all Americans.

  • Last night the First Lady discussed the Social Innovation Fund at the Time 100 Most Influential People Awards; we asked Michele Jolin, Senior Advisor for Social Innovation for the Domestic Policy Council, to tell us about it:
    Yesterday, the President announced that he would ask Congress in the FY2010 budget to provide $50 million in seed capital for his Social Innovation Fund, fulfilling a campaign pledge.  The Fund will identify the most promising, results-oriented non-profit programs and expand their reach throughout the country.   
    This is a dramatically different way for the government to do business – and it reflects the President’s new governing approach -- finding and scaling the best social innovations; partnering with those who are leading change in their communities; and creating a policy environment for all these innovations to thrive. 
    President Obama has said that this is an "all-hands-on-deck" moment and that government cannot solve our nation’s problems alone. He has said that it is critical to partner with citizens, nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, foundations and corporations to make progress on our nation’s great challenges.   The President has also talked about finding new solutions to old problems, and this is where the social innovation can play a unique role.
    As the First Lady said in her remarks on Tuesday to the TIME 100 Most Influential people:
    The idea is simple: to find the most effective programs out there and then provide the capital needed to replicate their success in communities around the country that are facing similar challenges. By focusing on high-impact, result-oriented non-profits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of the public trust.
     
    First Lady at TIME 100 Most Influential People event(First Lady Michelle Obama attended and gave remarks at the TIME 100 Annual Dinner at the Rose Jazz Center in New York City. She was greeted by (L to R) Jeffrey Bewkes, Chairman of Time Warner Inc., Rick Stengel, Managing Editor of TIME magazine, and John Huey, Editorial Director of TIME Inc.)
    The First Lady also talked more broadly about the need help nurture a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who will direct their skills and energy toward solving their community’s – and our nation’s – most serious social problems: 
    Careers focused on lifting up our communities – whether helping transform troubled schools or training workers for green jobs or helping low-income families access health care – are not always obvious. But, at a time when our nation is facing unprecedented challenges, encouraging careers in public service and social innovation are more important than ever.
    The First Lady highlighted the work of a couple of young, new social entrepreneurs.   One example was Rebecca Onie, a creative young woman who founded "Project Health" to help break the link between poverty and poor health.  Rebecca organizes college students to staff Help Desks in urban medical centers, universities and community centers. Students then connect low-income families to other critical community and government resources – such as housing vouchers, supplemental nutrition assistance, and educational support.
    This is just one example of the kind of social innovation and entrepreneurship that the Obama Administration wants to encourage and replicate in communities across the country.   
    The Social Innovation Fund will help do that.   We recognize that there is no ready and available source of growth capital for programs and ideas that have demonstrated they work and are ready to spread.   This gap in the social capital markets is a good niche for government action.   The Social Innovation Fund will build a "pipeline" of programs that have demonstrated results and are ready to spread across the country to meet community needs. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in programs that work and find innovative, effective solutions to our nation’s most serious challenges.  

  • The Vice President met with Al Franken this afternoon, and released this statement afterwards:
    "The election process and recount in Minnesota have lived up to the state's reputation for organization, transparency, and bipartisanship.  The officials have been meticulous and every ruling has been unanimous. 
    "While Senator Amy Klobuchar is one of the hardest working members of the United States Senate, Minnesotans deserve their full representation. 
    "Once the Minnesota Supreme Court has issued its final ruling in this case, the President and I look forward to working with Mr. Franken on building an economy for the 21st century."
    Biden and Franken
    [Download Full Size]

    (Vice President Joe Biden meets with Al Franken in the Vice President's West Wing office in Washington DC, Wednesday, May 6, 2009.  Official White House Photo by David Lienemann.)

  • Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    download .mp4 (88.5 MB) | read the transcript

    Today the President’s schedule was virtually clear except for three pivotal meetings with leaders from two pivotal countries. He was joined by Vice President Biden first for a meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan, then with President Zardari of Pakistan, and finally for a trilateral meeting with both of them.  He was flanked by the two leaders when he spoke to the press afterwards:
    We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future. And to achieve that goal, we must deny them the space to threaten the Pakistani, Afghan, or American people. And we must also advance security and opportunity, so that Pakistanis and Afghans can pursue the promise of a better life.
    He went on to discuss the specific tasks ahead:
    There is much to be done. Along the border where insurgents often move freely, we must work together with a renewed sense of partnership to share intelligence, and to coordinate our efforts to isolate, target and take out our common enemy. But, we must also meet the threat of extremism with a positive program of growth and opportunity. That is why my Administration is working with members of Congress to create opportunity zones to spark development. And that is why I’m proud that we’ve helped advance negotiations toward a landmark transit-trade agreement to open the Afghanistan and Pakistan border to more commerce.
    Within Afghanistan, we must help grow the economy, while developing alternatives to the drug trade by tapping the resilience and ingenuity of the Afghan people. We must support free and open national elections later this fall, while helping to protect the hard-earned rights of all Afghans. And we must support the capacity of local governments and stand up to corruption that blocks progress. I also made it clear that the United States will work with our Afghan and international partners to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties as we help the Afghan government combat our common enemy. 
    Within Pakistan, we must provide lasting support to democratic institutions, while helping the government confront the insurgents who are the single greatest threat to the Pakistani state. And we must do more than stand against those who would destroy Pakistan – we must stand with those who want to build. That is why I have asked Congress for sustained funding for schools, roads, and hospitals. I want the Pakistani people to understand that America is not simply against terrorism – we are on the side of their hopes, and their aspirations. Because we know that the future of Pakistan must be determined by the talent, innovation and intelligence of its people. 
    (President Barack Obama (center) with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari during a US-Afghan-Pakistani Trilateral meeting in Cabinet Room May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    (President Barack Obama (center) with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari during a US-Afghan-Pakistani Trilateral meeting in Cabinet Room May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza )

    (President Barack Obama (center) with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari during a US-Afghan-Pakistani Trilateral meeting in Cabinet Room May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    (President Barack Obama (center) with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari walk along the Colonnade following a US-Afghan-Pakistani Trilateral meeting in Cabinet Room May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    (President Barack Obama with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Vice President Joe Biden during a statement in the Grand Foyer of the White House May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo By Lawrence Jackson

    President Barack Obama, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zadari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, give remarks to the media following their trilateral meeting at the White House Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

  • The President and Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan got an early start on Cinco de Mayo at the White House last night, as did the First Lady at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Charter School. 

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    download .mp4 (130.0 MB) | also available here | read the transcript

    The First Lady at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Charter School
    [Download High Resolution]

    (First Lady Michelle Obama attends Cinco de Mayo celebration program Monday,May 4, 2009, at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Charter School in Washington, D.C. White House Photos by Samantha Appleton)

     

  • Yesterday, even before we posted here on the blog about the President's proposals to curb offshore tax havens and end tax incentives for companies shifting jobs overseas, we asked for your reactions on our various social networking outposts. As we expected, there were a lot of interesting comments and questions, largely supporting the President but some raising concerns and objections. We asked Jason Furman, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, to address some of them:
     
    kylekunkler:Ending deferral (when US already has 2nd highest corporate tax) will only hurt US MNCs and cost jobs! http://tinyurl.com/coofnd
     
    Jason Furman: Kyle, you are correct that the United States has the second highest statutory tax rate in the world, the official rate published in the tax code. But the United States also has more loopholes and special tax preferences than many other countries. As a result, the United States has a much lower effective tax rate. If you look at corporate taxes as a share of GDP they are below those of most major economies. The result is a tax code that is complicated, inefficient and unfair. One of major causes of these problems is the way that we tax – or more often do not tax – the foreign earnings of American companies. The administration’s plan is intended as a major, first step in addressing this problem.
     
    ScottGjerdingen: What sort of jobs would be impacted by Obama's "offshore jobs" corporate cutback on tax benefits?
     
    Jason Furman: Scott, you ask an important question of what jobs would be affected by the President’s proposal. In answering it is important to look at both halves of the proposal. One half is to end special tax preferences for creating jobs overseas. The goal of this is not to stop American companies from competing and succeeding in the global economy. What the President wants is to stop giving them special subsidies for doing so – subsidies they would not get for investing in the United States. The result will be to shift more investment and job creation to the United States. The second half of the policy is to take these savings and use them to cut taxes in businesses that create jobs in the United States by making the tax credit for research & development permanent. The direct beneficiaries of this policy will be companies engaged in research and development, but the innovations that result will have important spillover effects, creating jobs and raising wages across the economy.
     
    Marc Solomon: Bringing jobs back to the US by switching tax incentives from creating jobs overseas to creating jobs in the US is a wonderful idea. My concern is, if the goal is to make our tax laws fairer and simpler, this accomplishes only the first and not the second (and of course that assumes fairer means fairer for US citizens and not for all people of the ... Read Moreworld). Wouldn't just removing the tax incentives for creating jobs overseas accomplish BOTH goals and not just the one? It would definitely simplify the tax laws and be fair for all people, not just U.S. citizens (although, personally, I am prejudiced to being fairer for U.S. citizens).
     
    Jason Furman: Marc, you should understand that today’s announcement is a down-payment on the President’s overall tax agenda. As he said in his remarks today, "the steps I am announcing today will help us deal with some of the most egregious examples of what's wrong with our tax code and will help us strengthen some of these other efforts.  It's a down payment on the larger tax reform we need to make our tax system simpler and fairer and more efficient for individuals and corporations." That said, the proposals the President made today would start to simplify the tax code. This includes the President’s proposal to reward companies that create jobs in America – which would make the research and development tax credit permanent, adding more predictability and stability to the tax code because companies would no longer have to worry about whether or not the credit would expire or continue.

  • Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    download .mp4 (112.9 MB) | also available here | read the transcript

    One of the most frequent questions we get, whether through our comment form or through the Open for Questions session we launched for the President’s online town hall, is about the incentives in the tax code for companies to shift jobs overseas. This was one of the top questions in the jobs section, for example:
    "What are your plans to encourage corporations to keep middle class jobs, such as customer service call centers and transactional based support services like accounting and computer program jobs, in the U.S?"
    PAG, Houston, TX  
    Today the President answered that question with proposals to curb tax havens and replace tax advantages for creating jobs overseas with incentives to create them here at home.
    The President closed his remarks on a note of basic fairness:
    So the steps I am announcing today will help us deal with some of the most egregious examples of what's wrong with our tax code and will help us strengthen some of these other efforts.  It's a down payment on the larger tax reform we need to make our tax system simpler and fairer and more efficient for individuals and corporations.
    Now, it will take time to undo the damage of distorted provisions that were slipped into our tax code by lobbyists and special interests, but with the steps I'm announcing today we are beginning to crack down on Americans who are bending or breaking the rules, and we're helping to ensure that all Americans are contributing their fair share.
    In other words, we're beginning to restore fairness and balance to our tax code.  That's what I promised I would do during the campaign, that's what I'm committed to doing as President, and that is what I will work with members of my administration and members of Congress to accomplish in the months and years to come.
    Join or read through the discussion started at Twitter.com/WhiteHouse, or read all the details in the White House fact sheet:
    1. Replacing Tax Advantages for Creating Jobs Overseas With Incentives to Create Them at Home
      • Reforming Deferral Rules to Curb A Tax Advantage for Investing and Reinvesting Overseas
      • Closing Foreign Tax Credit Loopholes
      • Using Savings To Make Permanent The Tax Credit for Investing in Research and Experimentation at Home
    2. Getting Tough on Overseas Tax Havens
      • Eliminating Loopholes for "Disappearing" Offshore Subsidiaries
      • Cracking Down on the Abuse of Tax Havens by Individuals
      • Devoting New Resources for IRS Enforcement to Help Close the International Tax Gap

     

  • This morning Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, is meeting with rural Americans in the fourth in a series of White House Health Care Stakeholder Discussions.
    The meeting will be held against the backdrop of a new report out of HHS, which you can find at HealthReform.gov, entitled "Hard Times in the Heartland: Health Care in Rural America." A few of the key reasons rural communities particularly need health reform this year, from the report:
    • Nearly one in five of the uninsured – 8.5 million people – live in rural areas.
    • Rural residents pay on average for 40% of their health care costs out of their own pocket, compared with the urban share of one-third.
    • In a multi-state survey, one in five insured farmers had medical debt.
    Late Update: Rebecca Adelman of HHS reports back on the meeting:
    Health care in rural America has been a significant topic of conversation at every health reform stakeholder event held at the White House over the past three months, and for good reason. Rural Americans are being hit especially hard by the skyrocketing cost of health care, and many live hundreds of miles away from the physicians and hospitals they need for treatment. Earlier today, representatives from rural communities met with White House office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle to discuss the state of the health care system outside America’s largest cities.
    There are nearly 50 million people living in rural America who face unique challenges accessing quality and affordable health care.  Rural Americans are more likely to live in poverty, and have fewer providers in their communities. They report more health problems, and are more likely to be without health insurance than citizens living in urban areas. They are also more likely to delay medical treatment because they cannot afford it. According to a new study released today on www.healthreform.gov, nearly one in five of the uninsured – 8.5 million people – live in rural areas. 
    The meeting participants gathered at the White House included farmers, ranchers, teachers, and fishermen, who spoke of their shared difficulty affording health care.  Dr. Wayne Meyers, a pediatrician and organic farmer in rural Maine, summed it up by saying: "For most rural people, cost is the bottom line…health care costs are eating us alive."  Many participants expressed frustration that farmers who spend their lives growing healthy food for the nation are struggling to afford medical care they need to live healthy lives. Jon Bailey, Director of the Rural Research and Analysis Program, spoke to the difficulty many small businesses are having in rural areas as they attempt to remain profitable while paying huge sums for health care coverage. Bailey said, "If we don’t solve the health care issues of small businesses, and farmers and ranchers and fishermen in rural areas, we won’t have an entrepreneurial economy, and that means we won’t have much of an economy in rural America."
    Mary Wakefield, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Congressman Mike Ross (D-AR) were both on hand to listen. Congressman Ross closed the meeting by thanking Nancy-Ann DeParle and President Obama for their attention to rural health care issues, and for bringing together a diverse group from outside Washington, D.C. to share their experiences and concerns. DeParle made a point to emphasize the President’s commitment to enacting comprehensive health reform that will help rural Americans by lowering costs, guaranteeing choice of doctors and plans, and assuring quality and affordable coverage for all Americans. 
     

  • In his Weekly Address, the President discusses the government’s response to the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, from school closings to activating online social networks. He urges Americans to be calm but cautious.
    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    download .mp3 or .mp4 (46.9 Mb)  |  also available here  |  read transcript
    President Obama: This is also why the Centers for Disease Control has recommended that schools and child care facilities with confirmed cases of the virus close for up to fourteen days.  It is why we urge employers to allow infected employees to take as many sick days as necessary.  If more schools are forced to close, we’ve also recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if children do have to stay home.  We have asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu:  keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.  And the White House has launched pages in Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to support the ongoing efforts by the CDC to update the public as quickly and effectively as possible.

  • Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    download .mp4 (183.0 MB) | also available here | read the transcript

    This afternoon the President attended a naturalization ceremony for active duty service members in the East Room of the White House, along with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who delivered the oath of allegiance. It was a meaningful moment to reflect on what it means to be an American.
    The President also presented the Outstanding American by Choice award to Peter Lemon, whose amazing story you can read along with the names of all of the new American citizens in the background to the event.
    You all have your own stories of how you came to this country.  And you all have your own personal reasons for why you joined the military.  But in the service that you render, in the sacrifices that each of you have made and will continue to make, in the commitment you've shown to your adopted nation, you're part of a larger story -- America's story.
    For more than two centuries, this nation has been a beacon of hope and opportunity -- a place that has drawn enterprising men and women from around the world who have sought to build a life as good as their talents and their hard work would allow.  And generation after generation of immigrants have come to these shores because they believe that in America all things are possible.
    So you are not only living examples of that promise; you're also serving to defend that promise for future generations.  And your service reminds all of us that much of the strength of this country is drawn from those who have chosen to call it home.  It's not lost on me or anybody here today that at a time when we face an economic crisis born in many ways of irresponsibility, there are those who are actively pursuing greater responsibility.

  • As he has done before in the spirit of transparency, Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, asked us to pass along this update on the President’s Executive Order on Ethics:

    Just a quick post to advise that we granted an authorization under Section 3 of the President’s Ethics Executive Order to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett to lead the White House's effort to support Chicago's bid to secure the 2016 Olympics.

    The President promised during the campaign that staff would not work on contracts or regulations directly related to their former employers.  We have captured that promise in Paragraph 2 of our revolving door rules, which applies to non-lobbyists.  Valerie previously served as Vice Chair of Chicago 2016, the non-profit entity responsible for the Chicago bid.  Although Chicago 2016 was not her "former employer" in traditional terms, the term "former employer" in the President's Order encompasses entities that appointees served as directors or officers, as Valerie did here.  (To be clear, Valerie was not a lobbyist for Chicago 2016, and this waiver has nothing to do with lobbying.)
    We decided that a waiver of Paragraph 2 was in the public interest in order to help bring the Olympics back to the United States. Valerie’s past experience with Chicago 2016 makes her ideal to work with the city and its bid committee to help win the Olympics for the U.S., with the many benefits that would bestow.  In her time working with the City of Chicago on its bid, she developed knowledge about the process that will make her a powerful advocate and liaison.  Although Valerie previously volunteered with Chicago 2016, she has no continuing financial relationship with them.  Since the Administration already plans on vigorously supporting the United States’ sole 2016 Olympic bid, we felt that letting Valerie lead our efforts was strongly in the public interest.  The authorization can be found here (pdf).
     
    As I have previously noted on this blog, the availability of waivers in appropriate cases has been praised by ethics experts and commentators alike:
    • Norman Ornstein, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute stated that "This tough and commendable new set of ethics provisions goes a long way toward breaking the worst effects of the revolving door. There are many qualified people for the vast majority of government posts. But a tough ethics provision cannot be so tough and rigid that it hurts the country unintentionally. Kudos to President Obama for adding a waiver provision, to be used sparingly for special cases in the national interest. This is all about appropriate balance, and this new executive order strikes just the right balance."
    • Thomas Mann, Senior Fellow of Governance Studies and the Brookings Institution said that "The new Obama ethics code is strict and should advance the objective of reducing the purely financial incentives in public service.  I applaud another provision of the EO, namely the waiver provision that allows the government to secure the essential services of individuals who might formally be constrained from doing so by the letter of the code.  The safeguards built into the waiver provision strike the right balance."
    • The Washington Post editorialized that the President had "adopted a tough ethics policy . . . sweeping in time and scope."  The editorial board wrote that "The president's rule ensures that any conflicts will be carefully watched, and his flexibility despite certain criticism signals an ability to make hard but reasonable calls." 

     

  • The President made an appearance at today's press briefing to discuss Justice David Souter's retirement:

    THE PRESIDENT:  I just got off the telephone with Justice Souter.  And so I would like to say a few words about his decision to retire from the Supreme Court.

    Throughout his two decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Souter has shown what it means to be a fair-minded and independent judge.  He came to the bench with no particular ideology.  He never sought to promote a political agenda.  And he consistently defied labels and rejected absolutes, focusing instead on just one task -- reaching a just result in the case that was before him.

    He approached judging as he approaches life, with a feverish work ethic and a good sense of humor, with integrity, equanimity and compassion -- the hallmark of not just being a good judge, but of being a good person.

    I am incredibly grateful for his dedicated service.  I told him as much when we spoke.  I spoke on behalf of the American people thanking him for his service.  And I wish him safe travels on his journey home to his beloved New Hampshire and on the road ahead.

    Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as President.  So I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity.  I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book.  It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives -- whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.

    I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes.  I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.  I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded, and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.

    As I make this decision, I intend to consult with members of both parties across the political spectrum.  And it is my hope that we can swear in our new Supreme Court Justice in time for him or her to be seated by the first Monday in October when the Court's new term begins.

  • In the President’s last Weekly Address, he called on government to "recognize that we cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking." He added that "we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative," and pledged to "reach beyond the halls of government" to engage the public. Today the White House is taking steps to expand how the Administration is communicating with the public, including the latest information and guidance about the H1N1 virus. In addition to WhiteHouse.gov, you can now find us in a number of other spots on the web:
    The WhiteHouse blog (RSS) will power a lot of the content in these networks, but we’re looking forward to hearing from our fans, friends and followers. Don’t forget these sites as well:
    Technology has profoundly impacted how – and where – we all consume information and communicate with one another. WhiteHouse.gov is an important part of the Administration’s effort to use the internet to reach the public quickly and effectively – but it isn’t the only place.
    There’s a lot to talk about right now. From an economic crisis to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the President and his Administration have a full plate – not the least of which is making sure the public stays up-to-date and involved in our efforts.
    Here’s an important thing you can do right now. The Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, supported by the Center for Disease Control, have been working around the clock to make sure that the public has the latest facts about the H1N1 virus. This is a serious situation that demands serious precautions. No precaution is more essential than having the most accurate information, so head over to the CDC page to get the latest news, prevention tips – and tools you can use to promote public health efforts around the web.

  • We will have more on their visit later, but in the meantime watch a quick shoot-around from earlier this week when the undefeated women's basketball national champions, the UCONN Huskies, came to the White House. 

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
    download .mp4 (212 MB) | also available here

    UPDATE: Maya Moore, this year’s winner of the John R. Wooden Award as the women's college basketball player of the year, dropped us a note after her visit:

    Wow what an experience! I am still in shock that my teammates and I were able to be in the same atmosphere as some of the greatest leaders in history. As we were taking a tour of the rooms of the White House, like the famous Red Room, I felt a deeper appreciation for the founders of this nation. We truly do live in an amazing country and actually walking where some of our great leaders have walked gave me chills! Meeting President Obama was as enjoyable as advertised, and he left an inspiring impression on us all. The way he took the time to shake hands, take pictures, and talk to everyone showed his humility and genuine personality. The way he sacrificed some extra time out of his day to shoot a few shots with us made me remember what life is all about. It is about investing in people and having faith that the love you impart on them will somehow make the world better than it was. Thank you to President Obama and everyone who made this event possible!

JUMP TO: