Read all posts from July 2009

  • White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag addressed the Council on Foreign Relations today, outlining the Administration’s response to the economic crisis, and how the Administration is working to build a new foundation for economic growth and broadly shared prosperity.
    Orszag reminded the audience that when President Obama was elected in November, the economy was in a freefall.  The administration had to work to restore confidence. This is why the administration has been looking to the future, and laying the groundwork for a stable foundation, so that we will be prepared for future shocks.  The Capital Assistance Program, the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, and the Recovery Act were all part of this approach. From his prepared remarks:
    In designing the Recovery Act, we also recognized that the economic situation we inherited was so severe that we needed to assure producers and consumers that aggregate demand would be boosted not just for a few months, but for a sustained period.  That is why we envisioned a Recovery Act that would ramp up rapidly in 2009, have its peak impact in 2010, and lay the groundwork for further growth thereafter.
    Now, the Recovery Act has encountered some criticism in recent days – from all sides. And a piece of legislation of this size and import should be scrutinized.  In conducting this debate, however, we need to understand what the Act was designed to do.
    Remember that the Recovery Act was designed to take effect over a two-year period with about 70 percent of all funds going out in the first 18 months.
    As a result, and since job growth typically lags behind economic activity, both Administration and independent forecasts have predicted that only a very small part of the total job creation expected from the Recovery Act would take place by the end of the second quarter.  Therefore evaluating how well the Recovery Act is working based on recent movement in employment numbers is misleading.
    Implementation of the Recovery Act is on schedule, and the $220 billion in relief has already had a direct impact. Orszag explained how the Recovery Act is helping our economy rebound:
    Goldman Sachs, for one, projects that the Recovery Act will add about 3 percentage points on an annualized basis to GDP in the second quarter and have a similar effect in the third quarter.  To be sure, other analysts may reach slightly different quantitative conclusions than Goldman Sachs – and in any case we have a way to go before anyone should become satisfied with our economic performance.  Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that the economy is no longer on the brink of disaster.
    The equity markets have rebounded, and credit markets have thawed.  The TED spread—an indicator of stress in private credit markets—was typically below 50 basis points before the crisis. In October of last year, it peaked at over five times that, at 460 basis points.  It has now settled back under 50 basis points.   And the consensus among private forecasters is that the economy will return to positive growth this year.
    But even as progress is made, this year will continue to be difficult for American workers, as the unemployment rate typically lags behind other parts of the economy. He argued that recovery is not just about rescue, but about rebuilding our economy so that we can have long-term, sustainable growth -- and that health care reform is an essential element to building this new foundation:
    The evidence is clear that the biggest threat to our fiscal future is rising health care costs. If health care costs grow at the same rate over the next four decades as they did over the previous four, Medicare and Medicaid spending will go from about 5 percent of GDP to about 20 percent by 2050. That was about the size of the entire federal government last year.
    Our fiscal future is so dominated by healthcare that if we can slow the rate of cost growth by just 15 basis points a year, the savings for Medicare and Medicaid would equal the impact from eliminating Social Security’s entire 75-year shortfall.
    The fiscal importance of health care reform is indisputable.  Yet in the current debate, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding whether the bills that are emerging from Congress accomplish our fiscal goals or not.  So let me be clear: the President will not sign a health care reform bill unless it is deficit neutral with hard, scoreable savings over the next decade and on a stable trajectory as the decade ends.
    In addition to reforming health care in a deficit-neutral way, the President has also insisted that we take additional steps to transforming our system to one that delivers better care, rather than more care.
    Because if we fail to do more to move towards a high-value, low-cost healthcare system, we will be on an unsustainable fiscal path no matter what else we do.  As it stands now, the health care system does the opposite of what it should -- creating incentives for doctors and hospitals to provide more care, not the best care.
     

  • Vice President Biden gave a speech in Kyiv today on U.S.-Ukraine relations, before departing for the second leg of his overseas trip in Tbilisi, Georgia. The Vice President praised Ukrainians for demanding justice, achieving free and fair elections, and a free press.  He noted that today, Ukraine is one of the most democratic nations in the region.
    (The Honor Guard marches away from Air Force Two as the ceremonial red carpet is rolled upon Vice President Joe Biden's departure from Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, July 22, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    While Ukraine has come a long way since the 2004 Orange Revolution, there is still progress to be made. The Vice President emphasized that the United States will support Ukraine as it works to become a democratic and prosperous member of Europe:
    In any true democracy, freedom is the beginning, not the end.  Freedom is merely the beginning, not the end.  And here in Ukraine, yours is a revolution still in progress whose promise remains to be fulfilled.
    More than anything else, I’m here to say this to the Ukrainian people: Ukraine, as it continues on the path to freedom, democracy, and prosperity, the United States will stand by Ukraine.  These are your choices, not ours.  But rest assured that we stand with you as you make those choices.
    The Obama administration will not waver in its support of a strong and independent Ukraine.  Charting the future course of Ukraine is, of course, a decision to be made by all of you, not by anyone outside.
    Based on my discussions yesterday with the bulk of your political leadership, we want for Ukraine what it appears Ukrainians want for themselves -- a democratic and prosperous European nation.
    (Vice President Joe Biden delivers a speech at the Ukraine House to civil society leaders hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, July 22, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    The Vice President also talked about the President’s recent trip to Moscow, where the President aimed to reset relations with Russia. But, as the Vice President explained, this would not come at the expense of Ukraine:
    I know it created some speculations that improving relations with Russia would somehow threaten our ties with Ukraine. Let me say this as clearly as I can.  As we reset the relationship with Russia, we reaffirm our commitment to an independent Ukraine.
    And we recognize no sphere of influence, or no ability of any other nation to veto the choices an independent nation makes as to with whom and under what conditions they will associate.  We also do not believe in zero-sum thinking.  We do not believe that a partnership with one nation must come at the expense of another.  It has not.  It does not, and it will not.
    As I said, referencing the Munich Security Conference just weeks after taking office, it holds true again -- I want to reemphasize it.  We reject the notion of spheres of influence as 19th century ideas that have no place in the 21st century.  And we stand by the principle that sovereign states have a right to make their own decisions, to chart their own foreign policy, to choose their own alliances. 
    He acknowledged the difficult economic climate in Ukraine, and related the country's struggle to our own economic struggle.  The Vice President pledged that the United States would help as Ukraine works to rebuild its economy and move towards energy efficiency and independence, issues that have been tied to democracy and the fight against corruption everywhere in the world.
    As you take action, you will not stand alone.  The United States wants to work with you to improve the investment climate, expand trade and investment between our two countries, and help in any effective way we can, knowing full well we do not have the answers.  We are struggling economically, as well; a different struggle, but a real struggle.
    Ultimately, democracy and free markets will flourish when they deliver on what people want most -– honesty, the elimination of corruption, a decent job, the ability to care for their parents and educate their children, physical security and economic opportunity, a chance to build a better life.  No one wants anything more than a chance. When democracy and free markets deliver on these basic desires, then those promoting alternative forms of government, whether from within or without, are never able to gain a foot hold.
    Nowhere is the relationship between democracy, development and security clearer than when it comes to energy.  Right now, in the United States, we’re making significant efforts at some political expense, I might add, to diversify our energy supply, to invest in efficiency, and to make some very difficult decisions about how to deal with the carbon footprint we're leaving our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.  None are without cost.
    Just as it is in our interest to diversify our sources of energy and reduce the influence of those we depend on for our energy, I might add so too it -- so too is it in your overwhelming interest.  Your economic freedom depends more, I suspect, in this country on your energy freedom than on any other single factor.  Ukraine has abundant reserves of energy, and reform of your energy sector should reduce your dependence on foreign suppliers.  Moving toward market pricing for energy is brave, but also absolutely necessary pre-condition.
    Promoting energy efficiency and conservation also will go a long way toward increasing your independence.
    (Vice President Joe Biden has breakfast with President Viktor Yushchenko, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, July 22, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
     

  • Starting around 7:30, the President and First Lady will be hosting a celebration of country music at the White House with performers like Charley Pride, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss and Union Station.
    The President will give a few remarks, and then on with the music.
     

  • As we told you yesterday, the Vice President is in Kyiv, Ukraine today, where he met with President Viktor Yushchenko. After their meeting, the Vice President gave remarks to the press. He explained that his message to the people there is simple: the United States is committed to a strong, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine.
    He reiterated what the President said during his recent trip to Moscow, that the United States supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, and ability to make its own alliances:
    We consider, Mr. President, Ukraine to be a vital European partner for advancing stability, prosperity and democracy on the continent. And the President and I agreed that the United States and Ukraine will work together in the months and years to come to strengthen the strategic partnership.
    It is not for the United States to dictate what that partnership will be but to reiterate. And President Obama and I have stated clearly that if you choose to be part of Euro-Atlantic integration – which I believe you have – that we strongly support that. We do not recognize – and I want to reiterate it – any sphere of influence. We do not recognize anyone else's right to dictate to you or any other country what alliances you will seek to belong to or what relationships you – bilateral relationships you have.
    (Vice President Joe Biden tours the Holodomor famine memorial site with President Viktor Yushchenko after the two laid flowers and planted a tree, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    During their meeting, the two leaders also discussed the many challenges facing Ukraine, and how the United States can help Ukraine build its democracy and economy:
    I know it's hard, I know it's hard, and these are tough decisions that your government has to make. And I also know from experience of being in public life for a long time, it's harder to make tough decisions in election years. It's a difficult time in any democracy. I told the President what I will tell other officials with whom I'll be meeting today, that working together, especially in times of crisis, is not a choice, it’s an absolute necessity. And compromise, I might add, is not a sign of weakness, it is evidence of strength.
    Ukraine has come a long way in the short time since declaring independence in 1991. And Ukraine’s vibrant civil society – and it is vibrant – its engaged and free media, as we witnessed here today – and its lively democracy show the world that Ukraine will continue on its chosen path toward a prosperous future as an integral part of Europe.
     

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    The President spoke in the Rose Garden today on health insurance reform, but began his remarks by praising the Senate vote on F-22 funding. The President is committed to changing the way we do business in Washington, whether that means finding common ground on health care or eliminating waste and inefficiency in our defense projects. The President explained that today’s vote in the Senate against $1.75 billion in funds for additional F-22 fighter jets, which both parties agree are unnecessary, will free up money for more critical matters:
    But I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure.  That's why I’ve taken steps to greatly reduce no-bid defense contracts.  That's why I've signed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to limit cost overruns on weapons systems before they spiral out of control.  And that's why I'm grateful that the Senate just voted against an additional $1.75 billion to buy F-22 fighter jets that military experts and members of both parties say we do not need.
    At a time when we’re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money.  Every dollar of waste in our defense budget is a dollar we can’t spend to support our troops, or prepare for future threats, or protect the American people.  Our budget is a zero-sum game, and if more money goes to F-22s, it is our troops and citizens who lose. 
    The President is committed to fiscal discipline, and health care costs are the biggest drivers of our deficit. That is why the status quo is unacceptable, and we must reform health care now to bring down costs, while expanding coverage and providing choice. As both the House and the Senate work to craft their bills, we are closer than ever before to comprehensive health care reform and the consensus continues to build. The President outlined the common ground that has been reached on substantial issues:
    We've agreed that our health reform bill will extend coverage and include unprecedented insurance protections for the American people.  Under each of these bills, you won't be denied coverage if you've got a preexisting medical condition.  You won't lose your health care if you change jobs, if you lose your job, or if you start a business.  And you won't lose your insurance if you get sick.
    We've agreed that our health reform bill will promote choice.  America -- Americans will be able to compare the price and quality of different plans, and pick the plan that they want. If you like your current plan, you will be able to keep it.  Let me repeat that:  If you like your plan, you'll be able to keep it.  And each bill provides for a public option that will keep insurance companies honest, ensuring the competition necessary to make coverage affordable.
    We've agreed that our health reform bill will emphasize prevention and wellness.  By investing in programs that help Americans live healthier lives, we will save money, prevent illness, and increase the competitiveness of our country.  We've agreed that our health reform bill will protect American families from financial catastrophe if they get sick.  That's why each of these bills has out-of-pocket limits that will help ensure that families don't go bankrupt because of illness.  And we have agreed that our health reform bill will include dramatic measures to cut costs while improving quality. 
    Each of these bills improves oversight while cracking down on waste.  Each will help reduce unwarranted giveaways to insurance companies in Medicare.  And each of these bills will provide incentives so that patients get the best care, not just the most expensive care.
    The consensus that we've forged is not limited to Congress. Indeed, we've forged a level of consensus on health care that has never been reached in the history of this country.  Health care providers have agreed to do their part to reduce the rate of growth in health care spending.  The pharmaceutical industry has agreed to spending reductions that will make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors.  Hospitals have agreed to bring down costs.  The American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, who represent millions of nurses and doctors who know our health care system best, have announced their support for reform.
    (President Barack Obama makes a statement on health care reform in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
    Even as consensus builds on these critical issues, the President knows the road ahead will not be easy. Those who are committed to the status quo will fight to delay and defeat reform, as they’ve done before. But the President is committed to bringing change to Washington, and he knows that this isn’t about political games, it is about the American people:
    So I understand that some will try to delay action until the special interests can kill it, while others will simply focus on scoring political points.  We've done that before.  And we can choose to follow that playbook again, and then we'll never get over the goal line, and we'll face an even greater crisis in the years to come.  That's one path we can travel.
    Or, we can come together and insist that this time it will be different.  We can choose action over inaction.  We can choose progress over the politics of the moment.  We can build on the extraordinary common ground that's been forged, and we can do the hard work needed to finally pass the health insurance reform that the American people deserve.
    And I can guarantee you that when we do pass this bill, history won't record the demands for endless delay or endless debates in the news cycle –- it will record the hard work done by the members of Congress to pass the bill, and the fact that the people who sent us here to Washington insisted upon change. That's the work that we've come here to do, and I look forward to working with Congress in the days ahead to getting the job done.
     

  • Yesterday, OMB and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board kicked off a four-day, seven-webinar training series to help show Recovery Act recipients just how to comply with the Act’s transparency guidelines. We recently posted the audio recordings from yesterday’s webinars at: Whitehouse.gov/Recovery/WebinarTrainingMaterials.
    The powerpoint presentations and audio of all the webinars will be made available on this page over the course of the week.  So check back often to download the materials you need to help make Recovery Act spending as transparent as possible.

     

  • Check out the new and improved White House Council on Environmental Quality website! Our hope is to keep visitors informed on what is happening at CEQ and CEQ’s environmental priorities and activities. One of the major duties of the Council is to foster and promote environmental quality to meet the conservation, social, economic, and health goals of the Nation. Through our site, you can find up-to-date news on CEQ projects and announcements. The site gives some insight into areas we are focusing on in the environment and provides opportunities to give CEQ feedback and input on environmental initiatives.
    Nancy Sutley is the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

     

  • When we heard Energy Secretary Steven Chu was joining Facebook to start a conversation about solving today's energy challenges, we invited him to write a post to tell you about it.

    Nashala I recently joined Facebook because I want to talk with you directly about solving the energy and climate change challenge and ensuring America’s leadership in a clean energy economy.  I hope you will check out my new page at http://www.facebook.com/stevenchu  

    I’m excited by the chance to share what the Obama Administration is doing to bring about a revolution in clean energy.  We are finding innovative ways to use energy more efficiently, working to deploy clean energy technologies like solar and wind power, and conducting cutting edge research to find the next generation of clean technologies.  I will keep you up to date on all the latest developments, as well as share tips that will save you money on your energy bills.
    But I also want to hear from you about what you’re doing in your communities and the steps you think we should take as a nation.  I hope we can have a true dialogue because every American can and must play a role in this effort.

     

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    It’s been exactly 40 years since man first stepped foot on the moon, and today the President welcomed Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin to the White House to honor their achievement.  He called the Apollo 11 astronauts "American heroes" and praised the entire NASA family for making that iconic flight possible. He also noted how the men’s accomplishment served as inspiration for a generation, and reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to math and science:
    I also know that, as a consequence of the extraordinary work of NASA generally, that you inspired an entire generation of scientists and engineers that ended up really sparking the innovation, the drive, the entrepreneurship, the creativity back here on Earth.  And I think it's very important for us to constantly remember that NASA was not only about feeding our curiosity, that sense of wonder, but also had extraordinary practical applications.  And one of the things that I've committed to doing as President is making sure that math and science are cool again, and that we once again keep the goal by 2020 of having the highest college graduation rates of any country on Earth, especially in the maths and science fields.
    So I think on this 40th anniversary, we are – all of us thank and grateful to all of you for what you've done, and we expect that there's, as we speak, another generation of kids out there who are looking up at the sky and are going to be the next Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrins. And we want to make sure that NASA is going to be there for them when they want to take their journey.
    (President Barack Obama poses with Apollo 11 astronauts, from left, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong, Monday, July 20, 2009, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
     

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    This afternoon the President continued his conversation on health reform with a roundtable at the Children's National Medical Center, a conversation that has taken him to every region of the country and encompassed every imaginable perspective on health care reform.
    It has been a conversation that has brought more people and more stakeholders into the fold supporting strong reform than ever before, and taken us further down that road than ever before. And so it is no surprise, perhaps, that those who feel they would profit financially or politically have come out swinging furiously to try to kill reform.
    Surrounded by those who heroically do everything they can to help the young and the ill, today the President made clear that whereas those special interests and their voices in Congress have stopped change in the past, they would not win this time:
    And over the past decade, premiums have doubled in America; out-of-pocket costs have shot up by a third; deductibles have continued to climb.  And yet, even as America's families have been battered by spiraling health care costs, health insurance companies and their executives have reaped windfall profits from a broken system.
    Now, we've talked this problem to death, year after year.  But unless we act -- and act now -- none of this will change.  Just a quick statistic I heard about this hospital:  Just a few years ago, there were approximately 50,000 people coming into the emergency room.  Now they've got 85,000.  There's been almost a doubling of emergency room care in a relatively short span of time, which is putting enormous strains on the system as a whole.  That's the status quo, and it's only going to get worse.
    If we do nothing, then families will spend more and more of their income for less and less care.  The number of people who lose their insurance because they've lost or changed jobs will continue to grow.  More children will be denied coverage on account of asthma or a heart condition.  Jobs will be lost, take-home pay will be lower, businesses will shutter, and we will continue to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on insurance company boondoggles and inefficiencies that add to our financial burdens without making us any healthier.
    So the need for reform is urgent and it is indisputable.  No one denies that we're on an unsustainable path.  We all know there are more efficient ways of doing it.  We just -- I spoke to the chief information officer here at the hospital and he talked about some wonderful ways in which we could potentially gather up electronic medical records and information for every child not just that comes to this hospital but in the entire region, and how much money could be saved and how the health of these kids could be improved.  But it requires an investment.
    Now, there are some in this town who are content to perpetuate the status quo, are in fact fighting reform on behalf of powerful special interests.  There are others who recognize the problem, but believe -- or perhaps, hope -- that we can put off the hard work of insurance reform for another day, another year, another decade.
    Just the other day, one Republican senator said -- and I'm quoting him now -- "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo.  It will break him."  Think about that.  This isn't about me.  This isn't about politics.  This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses, and breaking America's economy.
    And we can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care.  Not this time.  Not now.  There are too many lives and livelihoods at stake.  There are too many families who will be crushed if insurance premiums continue to rise three times as fast as wages.  There are too many businesses that will be forced to shed workers, scale back benefits, or drop coverage unless we get spiraling health care costs under control.
    President Barack Obama roundtable with health care providers at Children's Hospital
    (President Barack Obama roundtable with health care providers at Children's Hospital, July 20, 2009. Official White House Photograph by Pete Souza)
     

  • The Vice President began a three-day trip to Ukraine and Georgia today. He arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he visited with the staff of the U.S. embassy. On Tuesday, he will meet with President Yushchenko to discuss energy concerns, the economy, and democratic reforms. The Vice President will also meet with Prime Minister Tymoshenko and key civic leaders. On Wednesday, the Vice President will travel to Georgia, where he will meet with President Saakashvili and deliver an address to the Georgian parliament.  
    (Vice President Joe Biden and Charge D'Affaires James Pettit walk down the red carpet during an arrival ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, July 20, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    (Vice President Joe Biden dips a piece of bread in salt as part of a welcoming ceremony upon the Vice President's arrival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, July 20, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
     

  • Today, OMB and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board are kicking off a four-day series of online forums to help recipients of Recovery dollars better understand and comply with the Act's transparency guidelines.

    White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Deputy Director, Rob Nabors explains, "the Recovery Act's unprecedented transparency is a shared responsibility between the federal, state, and local governments, as well as those companies and organizations putting Recovery dollars to work. As we move forward, it's important that everyone understand precisely what they are responsible to report to the public."

    The first of seven forums begins today at 10am EDT and will be streamed live on WhiteHouse.gov. The first forum is a general overview of Recovery Act recipients' reporting principles and requirements. You can download the powerpoint of today's presentation here.

    UPDATE: Download the powerpoint presentation for the second online forum, Basic Principles and Requirements of Recovery Act Recipient Reporting, here.

    Over the course of the week, training materials for all seven forums will be made available on WhiteHouse.gov/Recovery. Here's a list of the full training schedule:

    Date
    Time (EST)
    Title of Webinar
    July 20, 2009 10:00am - 12:00pm SECTION 1 - General Information (PPT)
    2:00pm - 4:00pm SECTION 2 - Basic Principles and Requirements of Recovery Act Recipient Reporting (PPT)
    SECTION 5 - Reporting on Jobs Creation Estimates by Recipients
     
    July 21, 2009 10:00am - 12:00pm SECTION 3 - Recipient Reporting Process
    2:00pm - 4:00pm Technology Solution from an Agency Perspective
     
    July 22, 2009 10:00am - 12:00pm Technology Solution from a Prime Recipient Perspective
    2:00pm - 4:00pm Technology Solution from a Sub- Recipient Perspective
     
    July 23, 2009 10:00am - 12:00pm SECTION 4 - Data Quality Requirements
     

  • The President calls on Congress to seize this opportunity – one that may not come again for decades – and finally pass health care reform: "It’s about every family unable to keep up with soaring out of pocket costs and premiums rising three times faster than wages. Every worker afraid of losing health insurance if they lose their job, or change jobs. Everyone who’s worried that they may not be able to get insurance or change insurance if someone in their family has a pre-existing condition..."
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  • There are some moments in our lives where we have an "I was there" moment. A moment that despite your best attempts to explain how you felt, what you perceived that others were feeling, the words that were shared and the fanfare of the activity, you still can't convey how remarkable an experience it was that you just shared.
    I had that moment on Thursday, July 16th, 2009 as did so many others when President Barack Obama went to the 100th anniversary convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 
    The President speaks, audience pictured
    (President Barack Obama speaks at the NAACP 100th anniversary convention in New York City July 16, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.)
    Everyone had a feeling of excitement beyond description. Many dignitaries were present. NAACP leaders from across the country embarked to New York - a city filled with historical civil rights moments, which oftentimes are forgotten about because they weren't occurring in the historic South. But, the first moment that captured my attention was watching the line of people form slowly throughout the afternoon as they waited patiently despite their palpable excitement. The look of pride and accomplishment amongst a people who many times didn't feel such positive feelings was evident.   Later, as the president met several leaders of NAACP, it was the genuine appreciation that humbled me and made me even more proud to work for him as he shook the hands of the staff despite the large number of them being present. There were a lot of people there whose names many times go unmentioned and unnoticed for work they do to fight for greater equality, never caring that their name is in lights. To have their work recognized by the President of the United States added a special dimension to the night that the media didn't capture, but it was equally important. I was fortunate to see it. I was there. 

    And then, there was the speech

    (President Barack Obama makes remarks at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP in New York, Thursday, July 16, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
    NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who received the Spingarn medal during the banquet - NAACP's highest recognition - simply but eloquently introduced President Obama by saying, "When he came to our convention in 2007, he was one of eight Democratic presidential primary candidates. When he came last year, he was the one - his party's nominee. Now I am honored to give the best introduction of all - please welcome the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama."
     
    The president gave an inspirational speech where his physical presence and empowering words provided a visual reality to so many African-Americans that despite the tests of time AND the adversities of life OUR hopes and dreams can be and ARE being fulfilled.
     
    The feeling in the room was electric. There were African-Americans who lived through the civil rights era and fought to have an equal voice at the table - including the right to vote - there to see an African-American President of the United States during the 100th anniversary of this pillar of the Civil Rights community who were led to many joyful tears, amens, shouts of celebration and reflective statements of how far we have come.
     
    There were older women who were saying "amen" and "tell it" as the president shared that there are no excuses to us achieving more. There was an African-American sailor near me who took photos of every moment of every person he could see. People who couldn't get into the room of 4,200 attendees watched and videotaped from TV screens throughout the Hilton Hotel who didn't complain about not getting in but rather rejoiced in just being in the building for such a historic moment. 
     
    His remarks embodied an understanding that we've made progress but we have more mountains to climb. They also reminded us that we have to dream higher and obtain more, which he so beautifully stated by saying, "our kids can't all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers -- doctors and teachers -- not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice. I want them aspiring to be the President of the United States of America."
     
    So for more than 4,000 people at the New York Hilton hotel who were there supporting this hallmark organization, which for 100 years has had many "I was there" moments including the marching, protesting, sitting in and standing tall; from W.E.B. Dubois to Julian Bond, we all shared in this once in a lifetime moment - the first African-American president closing out the 100th anniversary convention of the oldest African-American civil rights group in the country. So for generations to come, I will tell my children, and they will tell their children I was there. 
    Michael Blake is the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement & Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • On Wednesday, the White House Office of Public Engagement welcomed over a hundred women entrepreneurs for a meeting to discuss the President's agenda and share ideas. Head over to the OPE blog, where you can learn more about it.

  • In his remarks today at the White House, the President reiterated that health care reform cannot wait, and pledged to get it done this year.  It is not the time to slow down, as consensus continues to build on the urgent need for reform.  This week, the American Nurses Association and American Medical Association, two organizations who know the realities of health care firsthand, announced their support of legislation that will lower costs, expand coverage, and assure choice.  The President explained that we are closer than ever before to passing real reform and this is not the time to slow down, pledging that the legislation will lower costs, expand coverage, assure choice and be deficit-neutral:
    In these past weeks, we've also built consensus around specific reforms on which there hasn't been consensus before.  Let me list some of those.  And I want to particularly applaud the efforts of the committees in the House and the Senate who have worked long and hard to make this progress.  We're now at a point where most everyone agrees that we need to invest in preventative and wellness programs that can save us money and help lead healthier lives.  We have an agreement on the need to simplify the insurance forms and paperwork that patients have to fill out everytime they go to a hospital or see a doctor.  We have an agreement on the need to reform our health insurance system so if you lose your job, change your job, or start a small business, you can still get affordable health insurance.  We have an agreement on the need to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to Americans with pre-existing medical conditions.  And we have agreement on the need for a health insurance exchange, a marketplace where people can compare prices and quality and choose the health care plan that best suits their needs.
     
    (President Barack Obama makes a statement on healthcare legislation in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Friday, July 17, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
     
    By cutting hundreds of billions in unnecessary spending and unwarranted giveaways to insurance companies, we can cover 2/3 of the costs just from these savings.  The President also emphasized that the bill must also work to slow health care costs in the long run.  He called for an independent board to help identify best practices and eliminate waste and ineffeciences:
    I realize there's going to be a lot of debate and disagreement on how best to achieve these long-term savings.  Our proposal would change incentives so that providers will give patients the best care, not just the most expensive care, which will mean big savings over time.  This is what we mean when we say that we need delivery system reform.  I have proposed to Congress, and I am actually confident that they may adopt these proposals, that an independent group of doctors and medical experts will oversee long-term cost savings measures.  Every year there's a new report that details how much waste and inefficiency there is in Medicare, how best practices are not always used, and how many billions of dollars could be saved.  Unfortunately, this report ends up sitting on a shelf, and what we want to do is force Congress to make sure that they are acting on these recommendations to bend the cost curve each and every year so that we're changes that will reduce costs for families and for taxpayers.  We need an independent group that is empowered to make these changes, and that's something that we've proposed. I'm confident that if we work with the foremost experts in the field, we can find a way to eliminate waste, slow the growth of health care costs, and provide families more security in the long term.

    (President Barack Obama makes a statement on healthcare legislation in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Friday, July 17, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
     
    The President concluded his remarks by emphasizing that reform will get done this year, because we cannot afford to wait:
    Now, I realize that the last few miles of any race are the hardest to run, but I have to say now is not the time to slow down, and now is certainly not the time to lose heart.  Make no mistake, if we step back from this challenge at this moment, we are consigning our children to a future of skyrocketing premiums and crushing deficits.  There's no argument about that.  If we don't achieve health care reform, we cannot control the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and we cannot control our long-term debt and our long-term deficits.  That's not in dispute.  So we're going to have to get this done. If we don't get health care reform done now, then no one's health insurance is going to be secure because you're going to continue to see premiums going out-of-pocket costs going up at astronomical rates, and people who lose their jobs are having a pre-existing medical condition or changing their jobs finding themselves in a situation where they cannot get health care.  And that’s not a future I accept for the United States of America. And that’s why those who are betting against this happening this year are badly mistaken.  We are going to get this done.  We will reform health care. It will happen this year.

     

     

  • This piece from the Arizona Republic just scratches the surface of a great story of service, and how we can help increase volunteerism around the nation.
     
    Publicity from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's recent tour of the La Mesita Family Shelter for homeless families in west Mesa was intended to help launch President Obama's volunteerism program, United We Serve [sic] locally, but it [also] helped A New Leaf, which operates the shelter, attract more volunteers. The program's goal is to stimulate more volunteerism, with Americans helping each other, especially during the recession.
     
    After Secretary Locke's June 22 visit, A New Leaf received 10 calls from new volunteers who had read newspaper stories about the event or heard about it on television reports. Volunteers from Sun Valley Community Church in Gilbert called to discuss ideas for a group community service project, and four Eagle Scout candidates called in one week to do community service (they usually receive about two calls a month).
     
    The Mesa-based non-profit operates 20 facilities valleywide, including two shelters in the East Valley, La Mesita and the East Valley Men's Center. It also operates Faith House, a domestic violence and transitional housing program in Glendale. The organization served 30,000 people last year and volunteers contributed 20,000 hours of service.
     
    Like many nonprofits, A New Leaf has found that even with the blessing of a recent surge in volunteers, they need still more.  In a tough economy, demand for services is rising while financial resources are declining, leaving volunteer manpower the only viable way to bridge the gap.  To address this challenge all across America, the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service have joined forces to create Serve.gov, a quick and easy way to connect organizations with potential volunteers.  Groups can post their needs on the site, and anyone interested in serving can find a list of the volunteer opportunities right in your community simply by entering your zip code – or you can create your own volunteer projects with easy-to-use tool kits.
     
    It’s all part of "United We Serve," a nationwide service initiative to help meet growing social needs resulting from the economic downturn. With the knowledge that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when given the proper tools, President Obama is asking us to come together to help lay a new foundation for growth. This initiative aims to both expand the impact of existing organizations by steering new volunteers their way, and encourage new volunteers to develop their own "do-it-yourself" projects.   United We Serve is starting with an initial 81 day burst of service, culminating in a day of celebration and commemoration on September 11, but it will grow into a sustained, collaborative and focused effort to promote service as a way of life for all Americans.

     

    Nicola Goren is the Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service  

  • Get a behind-the-scenes look at the highlights of the President’s trip to Moscow earlier this month. See images of his trip, and listen to the President speak at the New Economic School. You can read the whole speech here.
    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.

     

  • The Recovery Act has three main goals: to stop the free fall of our economy, to create and save jobs and jumpstart our economy, and to build the foundation for long-term economic growth.  The funds provided by the Recovery Act are still creating jobs across the country and helping put people to work now, but this week we highlight projects ensuring our nation’s long-term economic growth.  From funding the improvement of airports in Kansas to new sources of clean energy in Hawaii, the Recovery Act is investing in the infrastructure that will keep America strong for years to come:
     
     
    Rucker Boulevard to be upgraded through funding "Though an area highway upgrade has fallen to the wayside after encountering planning difficulties, Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell said a major city thoroughfare will soon be upgraded thanks to federal stimulus money.  Boswell and the Enterprise City Council unanimously agreed to enter into an agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation to repave Rucker Boulevard… During the repaving of Rucker Boulevard, a much sought-after traffic signal will also be installed at the intersection of Freedom Drive and Rucker Boulevard.  The project, which will repave Rucker Boulevard from Reynolds Street to the Enterprise/Fort Rucker Gate, is expected to be awarded in August… City officials began lobbying for the resurfacing of Rucker Boulevard in its entirety more than two years ago and lobbying efforts were successful last year when ALDOT agreed to begin the project. The project was unfortunately cut short, however, when state funding ran low and left only one-third of Rucker Boulevard resurfaced… ‘We have had the traffic light actually warranted for quite some time, but we had to wait until there was money allocated for it,’ Boswell explained…The traffic signal, Boswell said, is another step the city is taking to make motorists safe."
     
     
    HECO to get $750,000 in wind power stimulus funds "Hawaiian Electric Co. will receive $750,000 in federal stimulus money to develop wind power initiatives, U.S. Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye announced yesterday. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Energy, will support HECO's Hawaii Utility Integration Initiatives. ‘Grants like this will help Hawai'i as we continue to strive for energy independence through the creation of renewable power solutions that utilize our unique access to wind, water, solar and other sustainable resources,’ the senators said in a statement. Wind farm projects are operating on Maui and the Big Island. Other projects are being planned for Kahuku, Maui and Lana'i."
     
     
    Salina airport project putting federal stimulus dollars to work "Construction is under way at the Salina airport on improvements funded partly with federal stimulus money. The work includes redeveloping the north ramp, which is part of the Salina Airport Authority's plan to provide additional services to a variety of aviation customers. Funds exceeding $830,000 were awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration. Construction will leave the airport with more than 1 million square feet of hangar, shop, office and classroom space for aviation businesses and their customers. Airport Authority executive director Tim Rogers says expects the construction project to create at least 850 aviation and aerospace jobs with an annual payroll of more than $21 million."
     
     
    Louisiana gets $43M in stimulus money from EPA "The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality says the state has received $43 million to work on overdue wastewater upgrades and to fund ‘green projects.’ The money was awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency and comes through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which Congress passed this year to stimulate the U.S. economy. DEQ said Wednesday that the money will be spent in 55 cities and towns in 42 parishes."
     
     
    State gets $34.5M in stimulus water grants "Approximately $34.5 million is coming to New Mexico for water projects under the federal stimulus plan.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it is awarding $15 million to the New Mexico Environment Department for the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. Another $19.5 million will go to the New Mexico Finance Authority for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program.  Both programs provide low-interest loans for water projects. The clean water program funds quality protection projects for wastewater treatment, non-point source pollution control, and watershed and estuary management.  The drinking water program helps finance infrastructure improvements in drinking water systems. It emphasizes small and disadvantaged communities and programs that encourage pollution prevention as a tool for ensuring safe drinking water. About $4 billion will be awarded for wastewater infrastructure projects nationwide under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and about $2 billion will be awarded for drinking water infrastructure projects. About 20 percent of the drinking water funds are to be used for green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency improvements and other environmentally innovative projects."
     
     
    Stimulus Project Underway in Harrison County "Stimulus dollars are already helping to fill in gaps in ODOT project funding. A project just under way on U.S. Route 22 in Harrison County will remove three bridges and not replace them. The area will instead be filled in with dirt and paved, reducing maintenance and inspection costs… Removing the bridges will save ODOT about $7 million over the next 35 years, plus an additional $5,000 a year in inspection and maintenance costs. This is one of the first stimulus projects in the state to break ground, and the effects can be felt in more ways than one. In total it is estimated that almost 3,000 hours will be spent on the job by union carpenters, laborers and operators."

     

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