Read all posts from January 2010

  • After more than 11,000 questions and 630,000 votes, the folks from CitizenTube who will interview President Obama tomorrow have reminded everyone that the deadline for submitting questions is tonight at 8pm EST:

    On Monday afternoon, as a follow-up to his State of the Union address, President Obama will give a live interview to YouTube from the White House -- and every single question will come from you. You can submit your questions in video or in text, and you can vote on which questions you think should be asked on CitizenTube. Your votes will determine the top questions posed during the discussion with the President. The deadline for submission is Sunday night at 8 p.m. EST.

    The event will be available at both YouTube.com and WhiteHouse.gov/live and starts at 1:45pm EST.  So head over and submit your question, vote on others and then tune in tomorrow to see the President's answers.

  • In an appearance on a morning news show today, House Minority Leader John Boehner repeatedly charged that the health insurance reform bills being considered in Congress represent a “big government takeover” of health care.

    It’s important to know that’s just not true. The claim of a “government takeover” is a time-worn attack raised by opponents of reform whenever real change is in sight. But the bills passed by the House and Senate would enact nothing of the sort.

    The legislation would create a marketplace where private insurance companies would compete for business, and it would expand coverage by providing subsidies for Americans to purchase affordable coverage from private insurers. At the same time, the legislation would put the brakes on rising health care costs and put an end to insurance company abuses.

    That's not a "government takeover": it's the solution to problems that have plagued our health care system for decades and slowed American competitiveness. And if the specifics sound familiar, it's because this legislation is very much like the bipartisan approach proposed by former Senate leaders Bob Dole, Howard Baker, and Tom Daschle, and the health care system supported by Senator-elect Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

    Unfortunately, the knowing repetition of false claims has become a defining characteristic of this debate – and as the President said on Friday to House Republicans, that’s a loss for everyone:

    “So I am absolutely committed to working with you on these issues, but it can’t just be political assertions that aren’t substantiated when it comes to the actual details of policy.  Because otherwise, we’re going to be selling the American people a bill of goods.” 

    The President also stressed the broader point that in these trying times, the American people expect more from their elected officials than the same old political tactics:

    “But we’ve gotten caught up in the political game in a way that’s just not healthy.  It’s dividing our country in ways that are preventing us from meeting the challenges of the 21st century.  I’m hopeful that the conversation we have today can help reverse that.”

    If you haven’t seen the video of President Obama’s remarkable question-and-answer with House Republicans yet, you can check it out here.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • A short time ago, the independent Recovery and Transparency Board posted the latest round of reports from recipients of Recovery Act dollars on Recovery.gov.  These reports provide a detailed look at how a portion of Recovery Act spending was put to work in the last three months of last year creating jobs and boosting local economies.   

    If you visit Recovery.gov, you will see how you can pull up the latest map, type in your zip code and zoom in to get a closer look at how some Recovery Act projects are unfolding right in your own backyard.  Take for example my hometown, the great city of Philadelphia.  If I zoom in on the map, I can see details on Recovery Act projects - including who the dollars went to, when they got them and how many workers were funded last quarter through them.  And if you zoom back out to look at all of last quarter’s reports, you’ll see the total number or workers these recipients reported paying in that three month period using this small portion of Recovery dollars.

    Now, you’ll notice I keep saying “some projects” and a “portion of spending” – that’s key here.  While these reports provide an extraordinary level of detail about Recovery Act projects, they only cover about $50 billion – or one fifth- of Recovery Act spending and tax relief through the end of last year.  Congress asked that these reports only be filed by a portion of Recovery Act recipients – specifically those putting the dollars to work in areas like infrastructure projects and education spending.

    So that gives you a pretty good sense of what the reports and related jobs numbers do include: the number of workers recipients of a small pool of Recovery Act funds report they funded in the last three months of 2009 with Recovery Act dollars.  That’s an informative sample that tells us a lot about the kinds of projects underway, how far along they are and what sort of direct employment impact they may be having.  But here is what they don’t show us:

    • Jobs funded by those dollars from previous or future quarters.  Remember, that $50 billion may have also funded jobs before October 1, 2009 – and may fund more jobs in the future.
    • The job impact of the other 80 percent of Recovery Act spending last quarter which includes things like small business loans, tax credits, and financial assistance for individuals and families – all of which are job-creators.
    •  Any jobs where the salary was not directly paid with Recovery Act dollars like the worker hired by the subcontractor for a government contract.  Or the worker hired by the asphalt quarry supplying asphalt for a half dozen Recovery Act projects.  Or the fast food worker hired because of the growing lunch rush due to a Recovery Act project underway across the street.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that posting this level of information about a Federal Government program in full public view like this is quite simply unprecedented -- it’s never been done before in the entire history of our government.  And these reports are no ordinary government-released reports.  They come directly from the recipients of Recovery dollars themselves -- people like local government employees, community organization administrators and small business owners who don’t count jobs for a living.  While these are honest efforts to be as accurate as possible, we know they’re not perfect. 

    With all of that in mind – just how many jobs has the Recovery Act created?  Is it the 599,108 number for this quarter posted on Recovery.gov?  Nope – remember, that represents just a portion of the job impact in the fourth quarter.  Is it that 599,108 number this quarter plus last quarter’s number?  No – both just account for a portion of spending and, since the method for counting was changed slightly this quarter to make it easier for recipients, the two numbers are pretty much apples and oranges.   The good news is that we already know the overall estimated job impact of the Recovery Act.  The Council of Economic Advisers recently released analysis that found the Recovery Act is already responsible for about 2 million jobs and the independent, non-partisan Congressional Budget Office agrees, putting the number at as many as 2.4 million jobs. 

    So what exactly does the roughly 600,000 jobs number tell us?  Well, that small portion of Recovery spending recipients say yielded about 600,000 jobs funded is right in line with our goal to create or save 3.5 million jobs through the Recovery Act by the end of 2010.   That’s good news for the millions of Americans across the country that have or will bring home a paycheck thanks to the Recovery Act.

    Ed DeSeve is Special Advisor to the President

  • During these tough economic times, American families are forced to make tough choices about what they can spend money on and what they need to cut from their household budgets.

    Through the course of the budget process we did the same thing.

    The President believes we need to be honest about what is working and what isn’t and that making tough choices about which programs to fund and which to reduce or terminate is part of governing.

    In the 2011 Budget we will release on Monday we terminated or reduced programs that weren’t working well or duplicated efforts, some in areas that are important to the President and to the Administration.

    Last year, President Obama sought to end or reduce 121 programs for a one-year savings of approximately $17 billion of which $11.5 billion was from discretionary savings.  Congress approved cuts that produced a net discretionary savings of $6.8 billion, nearly 60 percent of the discretionary cuts proposed. According to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, this far exceeds the best the last Administration did (40 percent), and far exceeds the less than 15 percent success rate they had in their last two years in office (pdf)

    This year, we are proposing more than 120 terminations, reductions, and savings for approximately $20 billion in savings this year.

    Some of the programs eliminated or scaled back include:

    • Consolidating 38 Education programs into 11.  The current program structure at the Department of Education is fragmented and ineffective. The Department operates dozens of grant programs that impose narrow requirements on districts and fail to demand better outcomes or build a knowledge base of what works. Some of these programs have little evidence of success, while others are demonstrably failing to improve student achievement. As part of the Administration’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization proposal, the Budget therefore proposes to consolidate 38 K-12 programs into 11 new programs that give states and districts more flexibility about means but impose greater accountability for outcomes.
    • Cutting Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America grant programs at the National Park Service. Save America’s Treasures program was started to mark the millennium and was supposed to last for two years. Both programs lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.
    • Eliminate the Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit (AEITC). EITC eligible taxpayers with children may file a form with their employers and receive a portion of their EITC throughout the year in their paychecks. Only a tiny number of EITC eligible taxpayers claim the AEITC; 3 percent, or 514,000 taxpayers according to the Government Accountability Office. And the error rate for the program is high: 80 percent of recipients did not comply with at least one program requirement. This ineffective and prone-to-error program should be eliminated.
    • Terminate the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative. While a consistent supporter of the brownfield clean-up on the campaign trail and a strong advocate for expanding economic opportunity in urban areas, the President proposes to eliminate BEDI, a small program duplicative of larger programs. Instead, the Administration consolidates its support for the brownfield clean-up – funding larger programs and thereby reducing overhead costs.
    • End Abandoned Mine Lands Payments to Certified States. The Abandoned Mine Land program was established to restore abandoned coal mine lands. Changes to this program allowed these funds to go to states and tribes who already have cleaned up these mine. Paying states and tribes to clean up mines that are already cleaned up was not the intention of this program, and is why it is being terminated.

    These choices are never easy, but the President never expected that governing during tough economic times with rising deficits would be easy.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • The President pledges to rein the deficit, citing three specific steps to this end. He praises the Senate for restoring the pay-as-you-go law, discusses his proposal for a freeze in discretionary spending, and calls for a bipartisan Fiscal Commission to hammer out further concrete deficit reduction proposals.

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (671MB) | mp3 (79MB)

    Today the President did something unusual in American politics – initiated an open dialogue with members of the opposite party.  Visiting the House Republican retreat, he took questions on anything they wanted to talk about.  He heard them out, acknowledged where they were right, and gave a genuine explanation where he felt they were wrong.

    It's worth noting that the President is looking to answer your questions as well.  That's why immediately after the State of the Union, we partnered with YouTube to give you an opportunity to ask questions of the President.  Go and ask whatever you want, or just vote on other questions that your fellow citizens have submitted, and the President will answer some of those questions in a unique live event on Monday at WhiteHouse.gov.

    The President Takes Question at the GOP Retreat, Vertical

    President Barack Obama addresses the Republican GOP House Issues Conference in Baltimore, Md. Listening at left are US House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va) and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) January 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • This week, the Middle Class Task Force unveiled a series of initiatives in the President’s FY 11 budget aimed at helping families with soaring child care costs, balancing work with caregiving, paying for college and saving for retirement.   These are costs that have risen dramatically for families at a time when their incomes have not. 
     
    Arguably no one is more familiar with the strain on family budgets than families paying for child care. The two-thirds of families headed by either two working parents or a single working parent know all too well that child care costs can be higher than rent or a house payment. The cost of child care has grown twice as fast as the median income of families with children since 2000.  Full time infant care often costs more than $10,000 per year – or higher.   Of course, the price of child care varies depending on where you live, the number of kids you have in care, and the type of child care your kids receive – in-home care is generally less expensive than day care; care for older kids is usually less expensive than care for infants.  But the average yearly costs are still hefty - ranging between $4,000 and $15,000 for infants, and $4,000 and $11,000 for 4-year-olds.  In 39 states, child care fees are higher than a year’s tuition at a four year public college.

    To help these families, the Middle Class Task Force is proposing an expansion of the Child Care and Dependent Care Tax Credit. For families making more than $43,000 a year, this tax credit currently covers only 20 percent of either $3,000 in expenses for one child or $6,000 in expenses for two or more children.  So the maximum credit is $1,200.  The credit has only been increased once in 28 years and is not indexed for inflation. We’re proposing to increase the credit to 35 percent of child care expenses for all families making between $43,000 and $85,000. So now, the families above would get $2,100 instead of $1,200.   Families making between $85,000 and $115,000 would see a credit increase as well, as the rate is phased down from 35 percent to 20 percent. 

    Here’s how it will work for most families – when they file their income taxes they will be able to use the credit against their tax liability. For those who pay taxes directly out of their paycheck, the tax credit may count toward a tax refund.  

    Because the credit is not refundable, if you don’t have any tax liability then you won’t get it. That’s why the Middle Class Task Force is also recommending $1.6 billion in child care funding for the Child Care and Development Fund, which provides direct assistance to working families who need help paying for child care. The increase will allow the program to serve an additional 235,000 children
    .
    As Mark Ginsberg, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children noted, “Together, these budget requests provide an economic as well as education benefit to individual children and society as a whole.” Data shows that quality early childhood education substantially increases children’s readiness for school.

    Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary of the Center for American Progress called the Middle Class Task Force announcement “a critical first step toward job stability for the millions of American workers who are one step away from losing their job due to breakdowns in family care arrangements.”

    We recognize that these investments in child care address only part of the very real challenges of balancing work and family – and that more, such as paid sick leave and greater flexibility, will also help. The Task Force plans to continue to work on these issues in the coming months. 

    Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

  • [Ed. note: Learn more about the Educate to Innovate campaign]

    Two remarkable young women sat with First Lady Michelle Obama during the President’s State of the Union address, representing President Obama’s commitment to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (STEM).

    STEM - Boynton

    Li Boynton, an 18-year-old senior from Bellaire, Texas, developed a new, and possibly groundbreaking, method for testing the quality of drinking water. February 1, 2010.

    Li Boynton, an 18-year-old senior from Bellaire, Texas, was a winner of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last year for developing a new and potentially ground-breaking method for testing the quality of drinking water, an accomplishment that could someday help the one billion people around the world lacking potable water. Having learned about the limitations and significant expense of conventional chemical-specific tests, Boynton saw a need for a broader, more efficient assay for testing -- and developed a bacterial bio-sensor. Li’s work has the potential to improve public health worldwide.

    Li’s passion for science and innovation can be traced back to fifth grade, when she designed a solar-distillation device after reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, a novel involving a shipwreck. The device would come in handy, she reasoned, if she ever got stranded in the middle of the ocean.

    STEM - Farfan

    Gabriela Farfan, a 19-year-old Stanford University freshman, conducted independent research describing why certain gemstones appear to change color when viewed from different angles. February 1, 2010.

    Also sitting with the First Lady was Gabriela Farfan, a 19-year-old Stanford University freshman and geology major from Madison, Wisconsin, who won one of the top awards in the Intel Science Talent Search for her independent research describing why certain gemstones appear to change color when viewed from different angles—work that has potential applications in nanotechnology and materials science. Gabriela is also a Hispanic Scholar awardee.

    After getting an invitation from the White House last week, the two young women flew to Washington  on Wednesday and were immediately swept up in a whirlwind of activities leading up to the State of the Union address last night.

    That included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History, where Gabriela and Li learned about weird life forms known as foraminifera and how to calculate climate temperatures from the ancient fossil record. They also learned about the process of bone fossilization and what fossils can tell us about human-animal interaction in ancient Africa.

    After the museum visit, they met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Then it was onward to the White House, where they were greeted by OSTP Director and Presidential science advisor John Holdren and First Lady Michelle Obama. Finally the two joined other special guests to travel by motorcade to the Capitol, where they  listened to the President's speech from their prime perch in the Presidential box seats.

    Even though Wednesday’s schedule left Gabriela and Li exhausted (not to mention their 5 a.m. television news gig on Thursday), they took the time Wednesday night to write a little bit about their brief and exhilarating experience here in the Nation’s capital. By Friday they will be back at their respective schools, continuing to hit the books hard to remain outstanding young leaders in the scientific community.

    By Gabriela Farfan:

    I am still trying to calm down from the adrenaline rush of tonight’s events. I feel deeply honored to have been invited to sit with the First Lady in her box at the State of the Union Address. I think that President Obama’s speech was inspirational and moving. It was a forceful reminder of how far we have come this year and how much more we have to go. I was particularly happy at how he stressed the importance of science and math education as the key to our future and a competitive society. I believe that government encouragement and funding of science education is essential. But it is ultimately up to the students and their parents to make the real difference. As a student, it is important to take your interests seriously and ask questions. There are so many resources out there waiting for you to grab them. As for the parents, I can say that it was my parents’ (and many other friends’) support of my interest in geology that fueled my enthusiasm and success.

    As for the experience of the State of the Union itself, the room was freezing! However, everyone is packed into a room that is much smaller than what it appears to be on TV, so it warmed up quickly. Before the President took the podium, it was incredible to see the faces of people I had learned about in high school – Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Biden, Supreme Court Justices and many more. They were all in front of me at once, milling around like normal people! During the speech it was very interesting to observe the different reactions. Sometimes everyone cheered, sometimes only the Democrats and sometimes it was random. Every few sentences, we would all stand up and clap, especially when the First Lady rose. I found the entire process fascinating and truly gratifying. Sitting in the First Lady’s box made it feel like we were participating in history and democracy. After the Address, I got a picture with both Barack and Michelle Obama. The President shook my hand and the First Lady gave me a hug. I thanked Michelle Obama for being such a great role model and told the President that he did an amazing job on his speech. I could not have asked for a better evening.

    By Li Boynton:

    Being in the Capitol for the State of the Union Address was completely surreal. When Michelle Obama walked in the room, I was stunned. I was so used to seeing her on TV, I expected a glass screen to be right in front of me! But Michelle was so warm, down-to-earth, and inviting that I began to feel at home in the White House theater. Later on, when we met in the Presidential Box at the Capitol, she shook my hand and told me she was proud of me. I was so star-struck I whispered, “I just touched Michelle Obama!” to the guest next to me.

    Even more so, I loved Obama’s speech. I think he executed his first State of the Union Address very powerfully. I probably clapped the hardest when he talked about education reform that supports students excelling in math and science, since I knew I was a role model for that. He also spent a lot of time emphasizing the need to revamp our energy infrastructure towards one of clean energy, which I believe is vital to the state of our nation and economy. His relentless belief and optimism in our nation, despite status quo hardships, was really inspiring.

    But what really inspired me was all the support from people in my community, my state, and even the world. A couple days ago, a family friend from Chicago emailed me and told me he and his kids were going to have a “little watch party and pop popcorn” for me. He said his kids were also aspiring scientists and looked to me as a role model. I realized then that what inspires me most is inspiring other people. Before all the opportunities and awards Intel provided me with, I was following in the footsteps of scientists I could only dream to be. Now I realize that not only am I capable, but also I set an example for others. This is what really inspires me to keep achieving and solving problems in the world around me with science and real-life applications.

    I must admit that I rarely watched the State of the Union Address before. But after tonight, I’m sure I’ll watch it every year. However, it certainly can’t compare to watching it live next to Michelle Obama!

    Phillip Larson is a Research Assistant in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • In September, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would release visitor records.  Last month, the White House released more than 25,000 visitor records from September 16 to September 30 as provided in the President’s voluntary disclosure policy. Today, we continue to fulfill President’s commitment to transparency by making available more than 75,000 White House visitor records from the month of October.

    Like last month, today’s release includes visitor information for the Vice President and his staff at the White House Complex, the names and dates of visitors to the Vice President’s Residence for the official events between October 1 and October 31, and the visitors to the Residence who appear on the daily schedules of the Vice President and Dr. Biden.

    In addition, included in today’s release are over 200 pre-Sept 16 visitor records that are responsive to more than 100 specific requests that the White House received from the public during the month of December.

    Today’s release builds upon the previous series of visitor record disclosures.  In October, the White House released close to 500 records in response to 110 requests that were received throughout September.  In November, the White House released 1,600 records in response to nearly 300 individual requests received throughout October. You can view them all in our Disclosures section.

    Today’s release is only one example of the many steps the President has taken to increase government transparency over the past year. This Administration’s concrete commitments to openness include issuing the Open Government Directive, putting up more government information than ever before on data.gov and recovery.gov, reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, issuing an executive order to fight unnecessary secrecy and speed declassification, reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records, and webcasting White House meetings and conferences. The release also compliments our new lobbying rules, which in addition to closing the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government have also emphasized expanding disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government. 

    These efforts were recognized by a consortium of independent outside government reform groups that gave the Administration an A for its first-year actions making government open and transparent.  And in this week’s State of the Union, the President laid out a bold agenda for pressing forward on government transparency and reform.

    Also, as we have previously noted, sometimes rather than providing clear information, transparency can have confusing or amusing results. Given the significant number of visitors to the White House, many visitors share the same name. Today's release includes the names of some notable figures (for example, Louis Farrakhan and James Taylor appear in this disclosure). The well-known individuals with those names have not visited the White House, but we have included the records of the individuals that did.

    Finally, last month we noted that a small set of the September records were being withheld in order to conclude a national security review.  That process has concluded and those records are included in this month’s release. 

    Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform

  • Ed. Note: You can watch video of each Cabinet member describing what his or her department or agency has accomplished this year and what to expect in the year ahead at our The President's Cabinet Reporting to You page.

    Today the President went to a small business in Baltimore to announce the Small Business Jobs and Wages Tax Cut, which will provide a $5,000 tax credit to over a million small businesses for every net new employee they hire, with other tax incentives for increasing wages. (Read the transcript of the President's remarks in Baltimore.) As the President emphasized in his State of the Union address, we still have much work to do to help small businesses create more jobs in 2010, and this is a major first step.

    The President has also announced plans to eliminate capital gains taxes on small business investments, to provide tax incentives for small businesses that invest in new plants and equipment, and to use $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks repaid to help community banks offer small business loans.

    But it’s also worth noting that small business, and their role in our recovery, has been a top priority for the President since his first day in office.  That’s why I was pleased to provide this brief report on what we accomplished at the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2009 with the help of the Recovery Act.

    Download Video: mp4 (16MB)

    We know that if we give small businesses the tools they need, they will create the jobs Americans need. This tax cut is one of several tools the President has proposed that help small businesses continue to drive our nation’s economic recovery. And, all of us here at the SBA are proud to be helping them do just that.

    Karen G. Mills is Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA)

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (640MB) | mp3 (75MB)

    It's not often that the President and the Vice President get together for a town hall, but the occasion yesterday was something special for Vice President Biden. They were in Florida, one of the sites just announced for a massive down payment on high-speed rail, the future of transportation, and a great source of jobs in the here-and-now. See a map of the full web of high-speed rail, and emerging high-speed rail projects being funded by the nearly $8 billion investment in the Recovery Act.

    Rail Map

    You can also read more from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in his blog post from yesterday.  It's probably fair to say that both he and the Vice President, were fired up and ready to go:

    THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, we're determined to restore America to its rightful place at the leading edge of innovation, with bold ideas that will create jobs immediately and serve as the foundation, a new platform -- (applause) -- a new platform to build this economy on that will serve not just our immediate needs but future generations; ideas like wind power, solar energy, a smart grid, broadband -- (applause) -- and high-speed rail.  And that's why we're here today.  (Applause.)
     
    Having made over 7,900 round trips, literally, on Amtrak, 250 miles a day, I am very familiar with rail.  (Laughter.)  And today you have no idea how pleased I am to talk about the announcement that we made yesterday awarding -- in total, nationwide -- nearly $8 billion from the Recovery Act, funding to move us in the direction of developing a high-speed rail service in 13 travel corridors covering 31 states all across this country.  (Applause.)

    Ladies and gentlemen, these investments -- these investments have several goals:  first, to improve existing rail lines to make train service faster, more reliable; two, to pull cars off the road, reducing congestion, cutting pollution, and increasing productivity; and three, to begin to develop new corridors for high-speed trains that will go from 169 to 230 miles an hour.  (Applause.)

    Ladies and gentlemen, like a corridor, right here from Tampa to Orlando -- (applause) -- so you'll be able to get on a train here to Orlando in less than an hour, without battling traffic and congestion, arrive at your destination.  Ladies and gentlemen, this single investment is not going to solve all our transportation issues overnight.  Instead, with more than $55 billion of proposals from 50 states all across the country, we're providing $8 billion in seed money.  And today's awards provide only initial funding for the rail system.  Like Tampa and Orlando route, more funding is going to come in the future as progress is made.

    We have committed to another $5 billion in funding over the next five years.  It's a down payment on a truly national program that's going to reshape the way we travel.  It will change the way which we go from place to place, change the ways we work and live, and will connect communities to each other in a way that in the past was impossible.  Just like the Interstate Highway structure did back in the mid-'50s, it will have far-reaching consequences.

    Let me ask you a question:  How can we, the leading nation in the world, be in a position where China, Spain, France -- and name all the other countries who have rail systems that are far superior to ours?

    Ladies and gentlemen, it's about time we move.  But this time -- but this time, we're not only going to be providing a better way to transport; we're going to be taking cars off of congested highways, reducing carbon emissions, and saving billions of dollars in human productivity lost just sitting in traffic jams, as studies point out.
    Most important, we're creating jobs -- good jobs.  (Applause.)  Construction jobs.  Manufacturing jobs.  And we're going to be creating them right now.  We're going to spur economic development in the future and we're making our communities more livable all in the process.  

    The Vice President Speaks at a Town Hall with the President in Tampa, Florida

    President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden take part in a town hall meeting at the Bob Martinez Sports Center at the University of Tampa in Tampa, Fla. January 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The President Speaks at a Town Hall in Tampa, Florida

    President Barack Obama listens to a question at the town hall meeting at the University of Tampa Bob Martinez Sports Center in Tampa, Fla. January 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

     

  • One year ago today, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restores the law to where it was before the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. by clarifying that a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice that is unlawful under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 occurs each time compensation is paid.

    In signing the bill, President Obama said, "equal pay is by no means just a women's issue—it's a family issue... And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month’s paychecks to simple discrimination."

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (165MB) | mp3 (8MB)

    One year later, the law has already been applied to court cases involving allegations of wage discrimination; however, an earnings gap still remains, as does wage discrimination, as attested to by wage discrimination complaints filed and court decisions.

    Women earn only about 80 cents for every dollar that a man earns, and the gap is even greater for African American women and Latinas, who earn only 70 cents and 63 cents, respectively, for every dollar a man earns.

    The wage gap has significant consequences to the economic security of women and families.  Today, families are increasingly dependent on women’s wages.  In married couple families, wives’ earnings account for 36 percent of family income, and approximately 2 million women have now become the sole breadwinner, supporting families with just over one-third of the usual family income.

    Reducing or eliminating the earnings gap will require action on many fronts, including moving more women into non-traditional jobs, creating opportunities for occupational mobility, and addressing wage discrimination. 

    While women have made strides in increasing their numbers in male-dominated occupations, among the 20 leading occupations of employed women, women are the majority among all but first line managers/supervisors of retail sales workers; managers, all others; and cooks.

    My vision of "Good Jobs for Everyone" includes, among other things, increasing workers' incomes and narrowing wage and income inequality and helping workers who are in low-wage jobs find a path into middle class jobs.  Among the steps the Labor Department will be taking to deal with wage discrimination is a renewed emphasis on the identification and elimination of gender-based compensation discrimination at the worksites of Federal contractors.  In addition, the Women’s Bureau has been engaging in and will increase its outreach to stakeholders and its education efforts to its customers to apprise them of their employment rights in furtherance of my vision.

    Hilda Solis is Secretary of Labor

  • Last Friday, I had the opportunity to help break ground on a transitional housing facility for homeless women veterans in Cocoa, Florida. Named Operation Home Front and run by the Center for Drug-Free Living, the new facility will provide integrated services to help residents address warfare trauma and substance abuse, gain employment, and transition to permanent housing. Operation Home Front will foster a safe, supportive community by housing 28 homeless female veterans and their children together. At a time when an estimated 13,000 women veterans are homeless, Operation Home Front is an example of the comprehensive strategies we need to help this group build strong families and become self-sufficient.

    I attended the groundbreaking with Tammy Duckworth, Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. (You can read Director Kerlikowske’s Op-Ed on this project.)

    In the afternoon, Director Kerlikowske and I had the privilege of visiting a treatment program where the Center for Drug-Free Living serves women and their children. We were able to meet with the women there and hear first-hand their stories of struggle, perseverance, and love for their children. The strength and courage of these women as they work to overcome their addictions was inspiring.

    It was clear how important it is to provide treatment programs where women and their children can stay together – it’s better for these families, and it works. Studies show that 60% of the mothers in family-based treatment remain substance-free six months after discharge. Also, 88% of children treated in these programs remain stabilized and living with their mothers six months after discharge.  This approach is also cost-effective: the costs of family-based treatment are offset three to four times by savings from reduced costs of crime, foster care, and adverse birth outcomes.

    However, a mere 5% of treatment programs offer family-based services for both parents and children. These programs need to be replicated and expanded; public-private partnerships, like the one that funds Operation Home Front, can help make these lifesaving services available to more families.

    Tina M. Tchen is the Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls

  • Not everybody is up for watching a sixty-nine minute, forty-four second speech, no matter how good it may be. So we thought we'd provide the opportunity to watch some key sections, broken out by topic.

    State of the Union: Building Infrastructure and Creating Jobs at Home

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    State of the Union: The Challenges of Change

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    State of the Union: Finishing the Job of Health Reform

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    State of the Union: Investing in a World-Class Education

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  • Today’s GDP report is the most positive news to date on the economy.  The data show that the total output of the U.S. economy increased strongly in the fourth quarter of 2009.  Real GDP (that is, GDP adjusted for inflation) increased at an annual rate of 5.7 percent.  The change from the first quarter of 2009, when GDP fell at an annual rate of 6.4 percent, is truly extraordinary; indeed, the three-quarter swing in growth rates was the largest since 1981.

    While positive GDP growth is a necessary first step for job growth, our focus must remain on getting Americans back to work.  That GDP rose strongly in the fourth quarter of last year while employment fell and the workweek increased only slightly emphasizes the need for policy actions designed to help spur private sector job creation.  The President is announcing today the specifics of his plan for a small business jobs and wages tax cut.  This policy is designed to encourage businesses to respond to rising demand and output by taking the plunge and hiring new workers again.

    Part of the rapid growth in real GDP was due to a substantial rise in inventory investment.  This inventory bounce, though likely to be transitory, is a normal part of healthy recoveries.  As firms’ confidence in the future increases, their desire to run down inventories wanes.  This change in behavior is often a powerful force for growth early in a recovery.  Other components of GDP also rose strongly:   business investment in equipment and software rose at an annual rate of 13 percent and residential investment rose at a 6 percent rate.  And consumer spending rose at a rate of 2 percent.  This broad-based rise in GDP was surely fueled in part by the tax cuts and investment spending in the Recovery Act and other rescue actions, but some appears to be the result of private sector demand returning.

    As always, it is important not to read too much into a single report, positive or negative.   There will surely be bumps in the road ahead, and we will need to continue to take responsible actions to ensure that the recovery is as smooth and robust as possible.  Nonetheless, today’s report is a welcome piece of encouraging news.

    GDP Q4 2009 Chart

    Christina Romer is Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

  • This week the Middle Class Task Force unveiled a series of initiatives in the President's FY 11 budget that are aimed at helping families with soaring child care costs, balancing work with caring for elderly relatives or people with disabilities, paying for college, and saving for retirement.  These are costs that – along with health care – have risen dramatically for families at a time when their incomes haven't.   Some people call this "squeeze" because of the pressure these costs put on family budgets.  But for many families it just seems like it is impossible to get ahead.

    This is particularly true for the so-called "sandwich generation" – people who are caring for children (or grandchildren or adult children who are struggling financially) and their parents.   The Vice President often speaks very personally about his experience caring for his parents and in-laws.  And almost all of us know someone who has juggled caring for a parent or relative who can’t get along completely on their own.  Millions of Americans provide unpaid care to aging relatives – including approximately 23 million caregivers with jobs and 12 million who are also caring for their own children.   That's why the Middle Class Task Force’s "squeeze" initiative includes help for family caregivers. 

    These caregivers play a vital role in helping seniors stay in their communities or at home.  But too often they don’t have the support they need to balance caregiving with work and family responsibilities.  As Elinor Ginzler of AARP put it:

    "AARP is grateful that the Middle Class Task Force has drawn attention  to an issue that is deeply important to our members—the critical role of family caregivers and what we should be doing to help them.  Approximately 65 million Americans provide care to a loved one, giving more than $375 billion worth of unpaid care each year—often at their own financial and emotional expense.  Increasing support to these invaluable individuals would be an important step to help those who do so much to help others."

    The nearly $103 million investment proposed by the Middle Class Task Force will support more respite care, counseling, training, referrals, and adult day care.  As Sandy Markwood, CEO of National Association for Area Agencies on Aging explained:

    "Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force’s recommendation to increase funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program and Lifespan Respite, along with strengthening supportive services through Title III-B of the Older Americans Act, represents a huge investment in community-based programs that support the independence of older Americans and their caregivers. These funds will enable them to access and get the critical services that they need while avoiding unnecessary and more expensive institutional care or spending down to Medicaid.  We applaud the work that has been done by the Administration that serves to strengthen long term living options through home and community-based services."

    The extra funding proposed by the Task Force will allow nearly 200,000 additional caregivers to be served and 3 million more hours of respite care to be provided.  It adds funding to programs that provide transportation help, adult day care, and in-home services including aides to help bathe and cook.  Some have said these things are modest.  And, to some extent, they are. But sometimes it is these small things that add up to make all the difference.

    Eric Hall, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Alzheimers Foundation of America is well aware of the vital help these services give families:

    "Family caregivers who struggle each day with practical and financial challenges have been anxiously waiting for this issue to be brought to the national stage and for relief in their own homes and communities. For these families, assistance at any level can help delay nursing home placement and enhance caregiver well being. The proposed initiatives represent a welcome change in direction, from minimal or flatlined funding to amounts that will make a difference for hundreds of thousands of American families."

    And here’s what Gail Hunt, CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving who represents family caregivers said:

    "The National Alliance for Caregiving is proud to support the Middle Class Task Force and their efforts to support family caregivers. This is a wonderful addition to the National Family Caregiver Support Program and it is a perfect way to recognize these caregivers who on average spend 18 hours a week providing care.  The funding for transportation, adult day care and other services under Title III b will also help family caregivers by assisting the older adult they are caring for. We are grateful to the Middle Class Task Force for bringing much needed public awareness to the family caregiver."

    The caregiver initiative won’t magically alleviate all the strain on caregivers and their families – but it is an important first step toward providing more support for families and caregivers and the vital services they are performing.

    Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

  • Cross-posted from the DOT's Fast Lane blog.

    I have looked forward to this day for a long time.

    It is a great honor--a great honor--to have President Obama and Vice President Biden in Tampa, Florida, to announce our American Recovery and Reinvestment Act High-Speed and Inter-city Passenger Rail grants.

    The investments we announce today make rail a viable transportation alternative in many regions. With this historic $8 billion investment by President Obama, we are jump-starting American High-Speed rail.

    The bulk of today's awards go to new, large-scale high-speed rail programs--projects such as Florida, with $1.25 billion to develop a high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando with trains running up to 168 miles per hour--and California, with $2.25 billion to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and points in between with trains running up to 220 miles per hour.

    In total, 31 states and the District of Columbia will receive awards. In addition to 13 corridor investments, we are also awarding several grants for improvement projects and planning. These efforts on existing routes and emerging corridors will lay the groundwork for future high-speed and intercity rail development. 

    I've said it before, and I believe it even more today: this is an absolute game-changer for American transportation.

    We will make passenger rail more efficient, providing better service in travel markets across the country.

    • High-speed rail travel offers competitive door-to-door trip times
    • It reduces congestion on key routes between cities
    • It reduces transportation emissions
    • And, most of all, it creates the jobs of the future, the jobs America needs right now

  • The State of the Union Address was available live to more people and in more ways than any event we’ve hosted since the President’s Inauguration.  Now that the dust has settled from last night’s speech, we wanted to share some of the results with you.

    Last night nearly 1,300,000 people tuned into to our live video feed of the President’s State of the Union Address.  That’s a ten-fold increase over our second most popular live-streamed event.

    The live video was available here on WhiteHouse.gov as well as to anyone who runs a website or blog via the share link WhiteHouse.gov/live.  Some notable sites that embedded the feed include YouTube.com, the Huffington Post, and Blogher.com.

    Moreover, thousands of people tuned in live from their mobile devices using the new White House iPhone App.  While we aren’t able to confirm the total number of unique streams yet, we are able to see that nearly a terabyte of data was served to iPhones with the application during the event.

    After the speech, over 50,000 people stayed on to watch and engage with administration officials during a live chat on Facebook.  It was just the latest in our Open for Questions series where you can ask questions directly to the officials who work here at the White House. 

    While we’ve already heard from many of you, we are far from done.

    Right now, you can go to YouTube.com/CitizenTube to submit and vote on questions for President Obama to answer during a live online event next week.  Thus far, over 40,000 people have submitted 472,000 votes and 9,926 questions.  Just to go to YouTube.com/CitizenTube to ask your question of vote on others’ now.

  • Ed. Note: You can watch video of each Cabinet member describing what his or her department or agency has accomplished this year and what to expect in the year ahead at our The President's Cabinet Reporting to You page.

    Download Video: mp4 (28MB)

    In his first year in office, President Obama crafted an ambitious agenda that called on all Federal agencies to change the way government works and provide an unprecedented amount of support to the American people. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) took this call to action as an opportunity to provide leadership in areas such as sustainable building design, online citizen engagement, and green IT alternatives.

    As the business arm of the government, GSA is responsible for laying the foundation on which other Federal agencies can build. For example, just this week GSA’s Office of Citizen Services made available an online public dialog tool for government agencies to use in order to engage community members and meet President Obama’s Open Government Directive.

    Moving forward, GSA will continue to support the Federal agenda with innovative business solutions, quality acquisition services, superior workplaces and effective government-wide policies.

    Stephen Leeds is the Acting Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA)
     

  • Today is the last day for you to submit nominees for the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal! President Obama wants to recognize Americans from all across the country who represent the best of the core American value of service. And he wants to hear from you about who has inspired you and made your community or the world community a better place. Who is your unsung hero? Who has worked selflessly and determinedly, without seeking the limelight, to help others? Who has sacrificed to put someone else’s interests before their own? Help us recognize your exemplary citizen and local hero and bring them the public attention they deserve.

    The deadline is 11:59 pm EST TODAY, Thursday, January 28 – don’t miss your chance to get your nomination in!

    This year, the President wants to single out ordinary citizens who have gone above and beyond, performing extraordinary deeds of service outside of their regular jobs, including:

    • those who have a demonstrated commitment to service in their own community or in communities farther from home,
    • those who have helped their country or their fellow citizens through one or more extraordinary acts, and
    • those whose service relates to a long-term or persistent problem.

    Many Americans spend hours every week teaching basketball or tennis to neighborhood kids, feeding the homeless, or teaching people to read. Others take on a particular project, building or cleaning a local playground or park, or organizing a fundraising drive for victims near and far through their places of worship. Others engage in long battles to change local laws that deprive part of the populace of their rights, to bring attention to the abuses of powerful interests or to develop programs that ultimately become community staples. And others do just one thing, but one thing that changes the lives of others forever. All make the world a better place and represent the best in each of us.

    As we face today’s economic challenges, these contributions are more important than ever. So help us recognize the work of these heroes and thereby inspire others to serve. By highlighting their stories, we will lift up all of our spirits and remind ourselves of the best of the American spirit.

    So send your nomination now, before today’s midnight deadline!

    Lisa Brown is an Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary

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