Read all posts from December 2009

  • As many of you know, earlier this year President Obama launched the SAVE Award — a program that offered every Federal employee the chance to submit ideas about how government can save money and perform better. Over the course of three weeks, Federal employees submitted more than 38,000 ideas. Staff at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) assessed the submissions and narrowed them down to the final four ideas.

    Voting began on Monday and will only remain open until 11:59pm tomorrow. Already, we’ve received over 65,000 votes – so don’t miss out on your opportunity to help choose the winner. The person whose idea is voted the best will get to meet the President, present the winning idea directly to him, and have that idea included in the FY2011 Budget.

    You can vote on the ideas by rating each idea on a scale of 1 through 5, with 5 being the highest rating you can give. (You may vote on each idea only once. If you re-vote for an award, your previous vote will be overwritten.)

    Click here to start voting.

    If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch the President annouce the four finalists.

    Peter Orszag is the director of the Office of Management and Budget

  • Senators are making great progress and we're pleased that they're working together to find common ground toward options that increase choice and competition.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • On Friday, December 4th, the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) held a Youth and HIV/AIDS Meeting at the White House campus. Over 35 young people flew to Washington, DC to participate in our meeting. The meeting attendees were young people from all regions of the country and of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities. HIV positive youth were also well represented in the group.

    The meeting's purpose was to gather input on the development of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), which has three primary goals: reducing HIV incidence, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.  The young people shared their wide range of ideas and experiences.

    Our meeting began with remarks by Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. Heather and Jeff spoke about the Administration’s enthusiasm for youth engagement and the importance of the NHAS.

    Meeting participants then participated in several presentations by issue experts and youth leaders that provided context on youth and HIV in America.

    Our participants then broke out into three small discussion groups focusing on the primary goals of the NHAS: prevention, communication, and youth engagement; challenges and barriers to care, treatment, and adherence that are particular to youth; and population-specific challenges that contribute to disparities in delivery of care. These discussions lasted for 80 minutes, at the end of which each group came back with three to five top-line goals to achieve or problems to solve in their topic area.

    Kalpen Modi from the White House Office of Public Engagement closed the meeting with remarks about President Obama’s commitment to youth and youth-related issues.

    The Youth and HIV/AIDS meeting went extremely well, as we heard many great suggestions throughout the three hours. For example, attendees suggested that there should be a national youth campaign promoting HIV testing. Meeting participants also mentioned the importance of developing and enhancing youth-friendly care. It was both exciting and inspiring to see so much passion and enthusiasm from the youth leaders who joined us last Friday. As we move ahead, we know that this meeting will help us to ensure that the NHAS meets the needs of young people across the United States.

    Natalie Pojman is an  Executive Assistant for the Office of National AIDS Policy

  • It's no secret that institutions of all stripes focus their communications on certain messages day to day. We thought it would all be a little more open and transparent if we went ahead and published what our focus will be for the day, along with any related articles, documents, or reports.

    Supporting letter: CEO Work Group on Health Reform, 12/8/09 (pdf)

    Supporting letter: David M. Cote, CEO, Honeywell, 12/7/09 (pdf)

    Talking Points: Health CEOs Confirm Reform Lowers Costs

    • CEO's from several sectors of the health care industry – healthcare provider groups, hospitals, physician groups, insurers – have put out a letter praising health insurance reform legislation and saying that it will improve quality and lower costs. 
    • Like the economists who yesterday reported that reform will save a typical family $2,500, these health care executives write that the CBO underestimated the impacts of reforms aimed at promoting best practices and reducing costs.
    • Due to problems with structure and incentives, the current system "both inflates and obscures true costs," the CEOs write.  "Both pending bills counter this in several important ways."
    • In fact, the CEOs say, "proposed legislation underestimates the power of its provisions."  Savings and improved quality may "happen faster than policy makers believe."
    • Among the crucial reform measures the CEOs cite:
      • "Mechanisms for enabling systemic changes that allow our health care delivery system to provide more affordable, better integrated and higher quality health care."
      • "Provisions... that will allow doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers to collaborate in sharing costs, responsibility and savings in ways that our current regulations prohibit."
      • Measures that make it easier for physicians to coordinate care, which will  lower health costs and improve quality.
    • The current health reform effort, the CEOs conclude, "represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to avert the stark and draconian consequences of inaction."

  • If you’ve been following the health insurance reform debate, you know that from the very beginning we've been focused on how reform legislation can slow the growth of health care costs for families, small businesses, and the government. You've probably heard us talking about "game changers" and "bending the curve" – both shorthand for getting control of skyrocketing costs that are squeezing families and businesses and acting as a drag on American competitiveness.

    Both the House bill and the Senate bill incorporate important policy changes that will help drive down health care costs in the long term. Recently, the Senate’s health reform legislation has been praised by economists and health experts for its cost-containment provisions. And the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will lower health care premiums and reduce our national deficit.

    The Senate is now hard at work debating and amending their bill – and finding ways to make it even stronger on cost-containment.

    As part of that effort, eleven freshman Senators held a press conference today to unveil a package of amendments to strengthen the bill's cost provisions. They were joined at the press conference by the President of the Business Roundtable, a group of leading American CEO's who understand as well as anyone the urgency of getting health care costs under control. (So much for a recent editorial claiming the Business Roundtable would stop working constructively on health reform.)

    The policies rolled out in today's press conference look encouraging for several reasons. The package would:

    • Develop additional programs to base hospital payments on quality of care.
    • Strengthen provisions to test innovative payment systems and expand successful programs quickly.
    • Create authority to expand accountable care programs – coordinated care by doctor groups – to private plans.
    • Expand authority to create a system to evaluate health plans on the basis of their performance and to help consumers make more informed choices.
    • Reduce insurance company red tape.
    • Expand the authority of the Independent Medicare Advisory Board to make recommendations to slow the growth of national health expenditures.

    This complements other proposals like that of Senators Specter, Lieberman and Collins to strengthen incentives at all levels – insurers, providers, and patients – to advance high-quality care.

    There are a lot of good ideas out there, and a lot of ways we can work together to slow the explosive growth in health care costs. It's great to see the Senate so focused on putting more of those ideas into their bill.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (355MB) | mp3 (26MB)

    Coming off of last week's Jobs Forum, and the White House continues to be informed by Community Jobs Forums being held by citizens and public officials across the country, it seems a good time to take stock of the economy and look towards some next steps in the President overall approach.

    It was in that vein that the President gave an address at the Brookings Institute this morning. As the President said, "we're in a very different place today than we were a year ago," with the latest jobs report being the best since 2007, in no small part because of the actions taken by his Administration. There was the Recovery Act, which has saved or created over a million jobs so far through countless investments in infrastructure, green jobs, and elsewhere. There was TARP – "there has rarely been a less loved or more necessary emergency program than TARP” he said, but added that it has “indisputably helped prevent a collapse of the entire financial system."

    Looking forward, he focused on a few specific areas for next steps:

    1. Helping Small Businesses Expand Investment, Hire Workers and Access Credit

    First, we're proposing a series of steps to help small businesses grow and hire new staff. Over the past 15 years, small businesses have created roughly 65 percent of all new jobs in America. These are companies formed around kitchen tables in family meetings, formed when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, formed when a worker decides it's time she became her own boss. These are also companies that drive innovation, producing 13 times more patents per employee than large companies. And it's worth remembering, every once in a while a small business becomes a big business -- and changes the world.

    2. Investing in America’s Roads, Bridges and Infrastructure

    Second, we're proposing a boost in investment in the nation's infrastructure beyond what was included in the Recovery Act, to continue modernizing our transportation and communications networks. These are needed public works that engage private sector companies, spurring hiring all across the country. Already, more than 10,000 of these projects have been funded through the Recovery Act. And by design, Recovery Act work on roads, bridges, water systems, Superfund sites, broadband networks, and clean energy projects will all be ramping up in the months ahead. It was planned this way for two reasons: so the impact would be felt over a two-year period; and, more importantly, because we wanted to do this right. 

    3. Creating Jobs Through Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Investments

    Third, I'm calling on Congress to consider a new program to provide incentives for consumers who retrofit their homes to become more energy-efficient, which we know creates jobs, saves money for families, and reduces the pollution that threatens our environment. And I'm proposing that we expand select Recovery Act initiatives to promote energy efficiency and clean energy jobs which have been proven to be particularly popular and effective. It's a positive sign that many of these programs drew so many applicants for funding that a lot of strong proposals -- proposals that will leverage private capital and create jobs quickly -- did not make the cut. With additional resources, in areas like advanced manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, we can help turn good ideas into good private sector jobs.

    Recognizing that many people continue to struggle in the same ways they were when the Recovery Act was enacted, he also called for extending the relief passed as part of that package, and which will also help the economy in general:

    Finally, as we are moving forward in these areas, we should also extend the relief in the Recovery Act, including emergency assistance to seniors, unemployment insurance benefits, COBRA, and relief to states and localities to prevent layoffs. This will help folks weathering these storms, while boosting consumer spending and promoting job growth.

    Read more specifics on all of the points in the White House fact sheet.  The President closed with broad, and hopeful strokes:  "These have been a tough two years. And there will no doubt be difficult months ahead. But the storms of the past are receding. The skies are brightening. And the horizon is beckoning once more."

  • Yesterday, Secretary Hilda Solis hosted a live chat to discuss the new regulatory agenda. The chat was a great success, as Secretary Solis posted on her Facebook page: "Just finished my chat. I was able to get to 40 of 147 great questions. We had 847 active participants. I'll post a few photos later. More DOL webchats to come!"

    You can read a transcript of the chat here.

    Don't forget that today and tomorrow, chats are being hosted (at the same address) by the heads of these Labor Department agencies: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Labor-Management Standards, the Wage and Hour Division, the Employment and Training Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

    There are several ways to submit your question:

    Solis Facebook Chat

    Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis hosts a Facebook chat. December 7, 2009. (by Photo from Secretary Solis' Facebook page)

  • Download Video: mp4 (461MB) | mp3 (34MB)

    On his very first day in office, President Obama signed a memorandum to all federal agencies directing them to break down barriers to transparency, participation, and collaboration between the federal government and the people it is to serve. 

    As an example of the steps taken in response, the White House, for the first time ever, now publishes the names of everyone who visits.  We are also publishing online never-before-available data about federal spending and research.  At, for instance, what started as 47 data sets from a small group of federal agencies has grown into more than 118,000 today – with thousands more ready to be released starting this week.  And in March, the Attorney General published updated FOIA guidelines, establishing a presumption in favor of voluntary disclosure of government information – an important step toward enabling the American people to see how their government works for them.  There have been other advancements, from providing online access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, adopting a tough new state secrets policy, reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records, and web-casting White House meetings and conferences. 

    By themselves, however, these steps do not provide the transformation in the philosophy of governing that the President wants.  They are improvements over past practice, to be sure, and valuable ones.  But more needs to be done.

    That is why, at the end of May, the Administration launched the Open Government Initiative (OGI).  This unique outreach effort, led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, sparked a never-before-seen collaboration between the public and the government.  We asked questions, and you provided answers.  We responded, and you offered alternatives.  By the end of the three-month outreach period, tens of thousands of Americans participated, and thousands of ideas were generated.

    Since the OGI outreach ended, we’ve been pouring over the suggestions.  We’ve talked with outside experts.  We’ve evaluated and re-evaluated the steps we want to implement government-wide.  And as a result, today we are releasing two documents:

    • The Open Government Directive (view as html, download as pdf, txt, doc or view on Slideshare)
    • The Open Government Progress Report to the American People (download as pdf or view on Slideshare)

    The directive, sent to the head of every federal department and agency today, instructs the agencies to take specific actions to open their operations to the public.  The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration are at the heart of this directive.  Transparency promotes accountability.  Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise to government initiatives.  Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government, and between the government and private institutions.

    Peter Orszag is the director of the Office of Management and Budget

  • Obama meets with former Vice President Al Gore

    President Barack Obama meets with former Vice President Al Gore in the Oval Office in advance of his Wednesday meeting with business and environmental leaders at the White House regarding the Copenhagen conference, Dec. 7, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza) December 7, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Barack Obama met with former Vice President Al Gore in the Oval Office today in advance of his trip to Copenhagen where he will participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The White House recently announced that, in the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that includes robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies, the President is prepared to put on the table a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation.

    This announcement was met with strong support from a diverse group of leaders, including former Vice President Al Gore:

    “President Obama took an important step today with the announcement that he will attend the global warming treaty talks in Copenhagen.

    This action is another example of the significant change in policy on the climate crisis.…Those who feared that the United States had abdicated its global responsibility should take hope from these actions and work towards completing a strong operational agreement next month in Copenhagen and guidelines for negotiators to complete their work next year on a comprehensive treaty.

    It is my hope that the Senate will support the President and move quickly to pass climate and energy legislation early next year in order to ensure that the world moves toward speedy solutions for the climate crisis.”

  • In an appropriate first for the White House, we'll be announcing the White House's Open Government Plan in a live online chat with Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.  Watch the announcement, then ask your questions and make your suggestions live.

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (315MB) | mp3 (23MB)

    After meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, President Obama expressed his continued desire to move forward with a strong US-Turkey partnership. He stressed the enormous economic possibilities, highlighting trade ties between the two nations. The President also expressed a desire for Turkey’s support in curbing a nuclear program in Iran, and praised the Prime Minister for his country’s “outstanding” contributions to the US’ efforts in Afghanistan:  

    During the course of our discussions here, we've had the opportunity to survey a wide range of issues that both the United States and Turkey are concerned about.  I thanked Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish people for their outstanding contributions to stabilizing Afghanistan.  We discussed our joint role in helping Iraq achieve the kind of independence and prosperity that I think has been advanced as a consequence of the election law finally being passed over the weekend. 

    We discussed issues of regional peace, and I indicated to the Prime Minister how important it is to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear capacity in a way that allows Iran to pursue peaceful nuclear energy but provides assurances that it will abide by international rules and norms, and I believe that Turkey can be an important player in trying to move Iran in that direction.

    And we discussed the continuing role that we can play as NATO allies in strengthening Turkey's profile within NATO and coordinating more effectively on critical issues like missile defense.

    I also congratulated the Prime Minister on some courageous steps that he has taken around the issue of normalizing Turkish/Armenian relations, and encouraged him to continue to move forward along this path.

    Turkey - Talking

    President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in the Oval Office, Dec. 7, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton) December 7, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

    Turkey - Walking

    President Barack Obama walks along the Colonnade at the White House with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Dec. 7, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) December 7, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Today from 2 to 3 p.m. EST at, Secretary Solis will host a live web chat to discuss the contents of the Department of Labor’s new regulatory agenda, which focuses on improving the lives of working Americans and leveling the playing field for businesses that play by the rules. 

    Secretary Solis' chat will be followed on Dec. 7, 8 and 9 (at the same address) by chats hosted by the heads of these Labor Department agencies: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Labor-Management Standards, the Wage and Hour Division, the Employment and Training Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

    There are several ways to submit your question:

    Secretary Solis gives an introduction to the process in this video:

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (372MB) | mp3 (17MB)

    Last night in the White House’s East Room, five legendary artists and performers were honored for their unparalleled contributions to America’s cultural heritage. Comedian Mel Brooks, jazz musician David Brubek, opera singer Grace Brumby, rocker Bruce Springsteen and actor Robert DeNiro accepted the award, bestowed upon recipients once a year by the center's trustees and by past honorees.  Prior to highlighting the artistic contributions of each recipient, President Obama discussed the importance of the arts in America:

    These performers are indeed the best.  They are also living reminders of a simple truth -- and I'm going to steal a line from Michelle here -- the arts are not somehow apart from our national life, the arts are at the heart of our national life.  (Applause.)  

    In times of war and sacrifice, the arts -- and these artists -- remind us to sing and to laugh and to live.  In times of plenty, they challenge our conscience and implore us to remember the least among us.  In moments of division or doubt, they compel us to see the common values that we share; the ideals to which we aspire, even if we sometimes fall short.  In days of hardship, they renew our hope that brighter days are still ahead.

    So let's never forget that art strengthens America.  And that's why we're making sure that America strengthens its arts.  It's why we're reenergizing the National Endowment of the Arts.  That's why we're helping to sustain jobs in arts communities across the country.  It's why we're supporting arts education in our schools, and why Michelle and I have hosted students here at the White House to experience the best of American poetry and music.   

    And it's why we're honored to celebrate these five remarkable performers, who for decades have helped to sustain and strengthen the American spirit.

  • At the end of September, the Office of Management and Budget launched the President’s SAVE Award - a contest for Federal employees to come up with the best idea to save taxpayer dollars and make the government perform more effectively and efficiently.

    The response was amazing. In just three weeks, we received 38,484 entries from Federal employees all across the country. The ideas ran the gamut from the commonsensical to the complex. OMB staff assessed the ideas, passing back the best ones to agencies to include in their submissions for the FY2011 Budget. And the suggestions that were in need of government-wide action stayed here at OMB for our staff to begin working on. Over the coming months, we hope to implement many of these excellent ideas.

    We need your help choosing a winner. Watch the President's video and go vote for your favorite ideas:

    Download Video: mp4 (39MB) | mp3 (2MB)

    The winner will be able to present their idea to the President in person, and will have that idea included in the FY2011 Budget.

    Now more than ever, it’s time to fix or end government programs that don’t work and waste Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. The SAVE Award is just one step we’re taking to bring new thinking into how your government is run and to instill a new of responsibility for every dollar that is spent.

    Peter Orszag is the director of the Office of Management and Budget

  • There is no topic the President brings up more in the Oval Office than putting Americans back to work, and this Tuesday the President takes another step as part of his overall effort to jumpstart job growth for Americans

    Since taking office, the President has been focused on taking every responsible step he can to contain our financial crisis, stabilize our economy, and get job growth going again.

    But we don’t think we have a monopoly on good ideas either which is why we put together a forum last week to bring new voices and new ideas to the table on job creation.

    At the forum the President heard from experts from the private sector including small business owners, business leaders, representatives from nonprofits and academics and he even spent some time participating in smaller group discussions on green jobs and infrastructure.

    He also kicked off our White House to Main Street Tour in Allentown on Friday where he spent the day visiting a manufacturing plant, having lunch with workers and hearing from local small business owners on how we can work together to help spur job growth.

    On Tuesday, the President will outline some key priorities for encouraging businesses to invest and create jobs. This is another stepping stone in a continuous effort to jumpstart job growth. The American people should be assured that until Americans are working again our focus will continue to be job creation.

    We don’t think there is one silver bullet, one plan, one speech or a singular piece of legislation that alone will solve double-digit unemployment. And the President’s speech will not represent the totality of our plans for continued economic recovery.

    Around the country, people are holding their own community job forums and the response has been so strong we've extended the time period for through the new year - learn more about hosting your own. The feedback from these will be reviewed by White House staff and incorporated into a memo for the President.

    As the President has said many times, recovery will not happen overnight and as we continue to take important steps forward ---we must remember that everyone has a stake.

    So as we continue working with Congress over the coming months, we will view every bill through the prism of job creation, we expect the private sector to play an active role as a partner and there will not be a day that goes by that the President and his economic team don’t discuss steps we can take to put Americans back to work.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of playing in the NFL.  But I also have career aspirations beyond the playing field.  One day I plan to be a brain surgeon and I realized at an early age that this would never be possible unless I placed a premium on my studies.  Therefore, while pursuing my football dreams, I made sure to also stay focused in the classroom. It is this emphasis on education that inspired me to postpone my NFL career to study as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford University. You can watch my story here:

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.

    Education has also played an important role in the career of Houston Rocket Shane Battier.  Watch his story here:

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.

  • Following the best jobs numbers since 2007, the President recognizes that such trends are cold comfort to those who are struggling and pledges to continue pushing forward towards positive job growth. President Obama looks back at the Jobs Forum he hosted days before and looks ahead to further action. He emphatically restates why he ran for President in the first place: "to fight for a country where responsibility is still rewarded, and hard-working people can get ahead."

  • Ed. Note: Read another take, including photos, courtesy of the Council on Environmental Quality.

    Earlier this week, we attended the Clean Energy Economy Forum with over 120 youth leaders at the White House. It kicked off with a great opening session including Secretaries Salazar, Solis and Chu as well as Administrator Jackson and Nancy Sutley of CEQ:

    Download Video: mp4 (1229MB)

    We want to thank everyone who attended or followed along online – it was a great event! We were fired up by the stories we heard of young people making their voices heard on climate change and clean energy legislation in the Senate.  We met young people leading energy retrofit projects, building the environmental justice movement, and educating friends and family about green job opportunities. Together, we're changing the world, and we know everybody could sense that in the Facebook breakout session hosted by Greg Nelson of the White House's Office of Public Engagement and Christine Glunz of CEQ:

    Download Video: mp4 (586MB)

    In our many months in our traveling around the country last year, we were always inspired by our friends, classmates, and fellow young people making a difference. We now have the opportunity to work for a great boss, Secretary Ken Salazar, who recognizes that young people aren't just our future, they're our present.  He is always encouraging us to shoot for the moon and have fun in the process.  Like so many others in the Administration, he has empowered young appointees to take responsibility for their country and their planet. 

    This Administration believes that young people can help our nation achieve energy independence, and here at the Department of Interior we work on one direct path: by standing up renewable energy on our public lands. Young people can help our plant and wildlife species adapt and persist in the face of climate change. Young people from all walks of life can help preserve our natural and cultural resources by taking a summer job in a national park, a wildlife refuge, or on one of our other public lands. Together, we can make a difference, that was one thing everybody agreed on during the closing session after the breakouts:

    Download Video: mp4 (350MB)

    But we need young people to stay engaged in this Administration so we can deliver the change we all want.  Here are a few easy ways you can stay connected to the Green Cabinet that we wanted to share:

    You can follow Interior Secretary Salazar, Energy Secretary Chu, Labor Secretary Solis, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Facebook. Or you can catch up with the Department of the Interior, Department of Labor or EPA on Twitter. 

    Thanks again. We're all counting on the youth.

    Nate Hundt and Jonathan Jourdane are recent college graduates and work on youth programs at the Department of Interior. Nate Hundt works in the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs and Jonathan Jourdane works in the Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs.

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (559MB) | mp3 (41MB)

    If you haven't been following the updates from the road through our Facebook and Twitter accounts, by all means go get caught up before continuing. If you have, you might be curious to hear more about what the President has been saying at this various stops in Allentown, PA. The day after his Jobs Forum here at the White House, he went to talk to working people and small business owners, to hear from them on what's working and what's not. He's been speaking to people around town, but has his best opportunity speaking at Lehigh Carbon Community College. He began by making a few remarks about the economic news this morning:

    I just came from Allentown Metal Works, where I had a chance to visit with workers there.  And they were working hard -- not just to forge the heavy machinery that makes this country run.  In fact, one of their projects is actually related to the rebuilding of the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers down there.  So you could just tell the extraordinary pride that the workers take in this project.

    But like so many others across America, these workers have also been doing the best they can to stay afloat in a brutal recession that has hit folks like them hardest of all.

    In the two years since this recession began, too many members of our American family have felt the gut punch of a pink slip.  Eight million Americans have lost their jobs.  Every one of us knows somebody who has been swept up by this storm:  neighbors who have lost their homes or their health care; friends who have used up their savings or put off their retirement; relatives who have downscaled their dreams -- or dropped them entirely; young people who aren’t sure whether they can afford their college educations.

    I’ve heard these stories from every corner of America, and I see them in the letters that I read every single night. 

    So as we come to the end of this very tough year, I want to do something I haven’t had a chance to do that often during my first year in office, and that is to share some modestly encouraging news on our economy.

    Today, the Labor Department released its monthly employment survey and reported that the nation lost 11,000 jobs in November -- which was about 115,000 fewer than was forecast -- and is about close to zero, from the perspective of our overall economy.  (Applause.)  The unemployment rate ticked down, instead of up.  (Applause.) The report also found that we lost about 160,000 fewer jobs over the last two months than we had previously thought.  So overall this is the best jobs report that we’ve seen since 2007.  (Applause.)

    And this is good news, just in time for the season of hope.  I’ve got to admit, my chief economist, Christy Romer, she got about four hugs when she handed us the report.  But I do want to keep this in perspective.  We've still got a long way to go.  I consider one job lost one job too many.  (Applause.)  And as I said yesterday at a jobs conference in Washington, good trends don’t pay the rent.  We’ve got to actually grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can.

    One of the questions he heard in the course of the discussion that followed came from Susan Kennedy with the Manufacturers Resource Center in Bethlehem, who said that all the manufacturers with her “want to know what you will do to loosen up the money for the small businesses and how they can compete more with the things they need to grow their businesses.” One of them stepped forwarded, adding “Today, our concern is, are the banks going to be there with us?  And we don’t feel they are.”

    The President answered:

  • Cross-posted from the OMB blog.

    One of the criticisms leveled by skeptics of health insurance reform is that the hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare savings being proposed won’t actually be implemented since efforts to cut waste never stick. "Congress is notorious for passing Medicare savings, and then after the cuts take place and the political groups get activated, we restore all the money," one Republican congressman told the Wall Street Journal last month.

    A new report by two former CBO officials – James Horney and Paul Van de Water – now working at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that this criticism is, in their words, a "mistaken belief."

    "Virtually all of the Medicare cuts enacted in 1990 and 1993, which accounted for a significant portion of the savings in those large deficit-reduction packages, were implemented," they wrote. "And most of the savings enacted in 1997 other than the SGR cuts – nearly four-fifths [emphasis theirs] – were implemented as well."
    The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 was a huge success. So much so that over time, one-fifth of the cuts from that year’s deficit-reduction legislation (other than the SGR cuts) was restored. But as Horney and Van de Water point out, this was done because Medicare spending slowed dramatically from an average rate of about 10 percent per year in the previous decade to an actual reduction in the year-to-year rate from 1998 to 1999. Also, the federal budget was in surplus from 1998 to 2001; in this environment, Congress chose to ease some of the cuts. Needless to say, after the past eight years and the economic crisis, we are unlikely to be so fortunate.
    Moreover, with PAYGO policies in effect any rollback of the cuts would have to be balanced with another offset. This will be a powerful incentive for Congress not to tinker with the savings package.

    Finally, the authors point out the inherent flaws with the SGR provisions in the 1997 legislation that led the President and Congress to prevent the measure from taking effect over the past seven years. Fundamentally, the blunt cut in physician reimbursement rates was just that – done without any of the systemic reforms needed to actually bring down the cost of health care. In contrast, Horney and Van de Water write "the Medicare provisions in the health reform bills seem well designed to accomplish their assigned tasks and are not based on crude formulas likely to result in unanticipated, unacceptably large cuts."

    The rest of the report details the other key elements of fiscally-responsible health reform – all contained in the bills under debate. Check it out; it’s worth the read.

    Peter Orszag is Director of the Office of Management and Budget