Secretary Kathleen SebeliusFebruary 09, 2010
05:34 PM EDT
In our current health insurance system, too many Americans are at the whim of private, for-profit insurance companies who are raking in billions in profits each year, while policyholders struggle to make ends meet in this tough economy. Insurance companies can raise premiums or slash benefits, and there's not much families can do about it, especially if they have preexisting conditions that would make it hard to get other coverage.
That is exactly what is playing out right now in California, where Anthem Blue Cross recently announced that on March 1, many of its 800,000 policyholders could see a rate increase of up to 39 percent. What's more, Anthem also declared that it may adjust rates more frequently than once-a-year, making it impossible for families to anticipate and plan for such increases.
For many Californians, including two individuals profiled by the LA Times, this is devastating news. Keith Knueven, a graphic designer in California, is about to see his health insurance rates climb by 37%, from $297 per month to $393. Mark Weiss, a podiatrist, and his wife will see their annual policy rise from $20,184 to $27,336 -- a 35% increase. And if that weren't enough, as these Americans are facing dramatic rate increases, Anthem's parent company WellPoint reported $2,740,000,000 in profits during the last quarter of 2009.
What's happening in California can happen in any state. It's clear that we need health insurance reform that will give American families the secure, affordable coverage they need and put a stop to insurance company abuses and control out-of-pocket costs. We're closer than ever to reforming our health insurance system. Now is the time to finish the job.
In the meantime, I think Californians and the American people deserve an explanation, so yesterday, I sent a letter to the President of Anthem Blue Cross. While Anthem has made some comments to the press, they haven't given us the full answer we deserve. I am eagerly awaiting their reply.
The letter I sent to Anthem Blue Cross is below.
Jesse LeeFebruary 09, 2010
04:31 PM EDT
Following up on the unique conversation the President held with House Republicans at their retreat, the President invited bipartisan leadership from Congress to the White House to discuss job creation and the economy. Making a surprise appearance at the daily press briefing afterwards, the President relayed some thoughts on the meeting:
THE PRESIDENT: ...And at this critical time in our country, the people sent us here expect a seriousness of purpose that transcends petty politics. That's why I'm going to continue to seek the best ideas from either party as we work to tackle the pressing challenges ahead. I am confident, for example, that when one in 10 of our fellow citizens can't work, we should be able to come together and help business create more jobs. We ought to be able to agree on providing small businesses with additional tax credits and much needed lines of credit. We ought to agree on investments in crumbling roads and bridges, and we should agree on tax breaks for making homes more energy-efficient -- all of which will put more Americans to work. Many of the job proposals that I've laid out have passed the House and are soon going to be debated in the Senate. We spent a lot of time in this meeting discussing a jobs package and how we could move forward on that. And if there are additional ideas, I will consider them as well. What I won't consider is doing nothing in the face of a lot of hardship across the country.
This meeting was also in advance of a bipartisan summit on health reform that the President convened for February 25th. This meeting has already garnered significant attention, with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs making clear that while the meeting is very much about inviting valuable ideas from Republicans, it is by no means about backing away from the challenges facing the American people. The President laid out his expectations for a constructive conversation:
Q After meeting with you, John Boehner came out and told us, "The House can't pass the health care bill it once passed; the Senate can't pass the health care bill it once passed. Why would we have a conversation about legislation that can't pass?" As a part of that, he said you and your White House and congressional Democrats should start over entirely from scratch on health care reform. How do you respond? Are you willing to do that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, here's how I responded to John in the meeting, and I've said this publicly before. There are some core goals that have to be met. We've got to control costs, both for families and businesses, but also for our government. Everybody out there who talks about deficits has to acknowledge that the single biggest driver of our deficits is health care spending. We cannot deal with our deficits and debt long term unless we get a handle on that. So that has to be part of a package.
Number two, we've got to deal with insurance abuses that affect millions of Americans who've got health insurance. And number three, we've got to make health insurance more available to folks in the individual market, as I just mentioned, in California, who are suddenly seeing their premiums go up 39 percent. That applies to the majority of small businesses, as well as sole proprietors. They are struggling.
So I've got these goals. Now, we have a package, as we work through the differences between the House and the Senate, and we'll put it up on a Web site for all to see over a long period of time, that meets those criteria, meets those goals. But when I was in Baltimore talking to the House Republicans, they indicated, we can accomplish some of these goals at no cost. And I said, great, let me see it. And I have no interest in doing something that's more expensive and harder to accomplish if somebody else has an easier way to do it.
So I'm going to be starting from scratch in the sense that I will be open to any ideas that help promote these goals. What I will not do, what I don't think makes sense and I don't think the American people want to see, would be another year of partisan wrangling around these issues; another six months or eight months or nine months worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there's a lot of posturing. Let's get the relevant parties together; let's put the best ideas on the table. My hope is that we can find enough overlap that we can say this is the right way to move forward, even if I don't get every single thing that I want.
But here's the point that I made to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell: Bipartisanship can't be that I agree to all the things that they believe in or want, and they agree to none of the things I believe in and want, and that's the price of bipartisanship, right? But that's sometimes the way it gets presented. Mitch McConnell said something very nice in the meeting about how he supports our goals on nuclear energy and clean coal technology and more drilling to increase oil production. Well, of course he likes that; that's part of the Republican agenda for energy, which I accept. And I'm willing to move off some of the preferences of my party in order to meet them halfway. But there's got to be some give from their side as well. That's true on health care; that's true on energy; that's true on financial reform. That's what I'm hoping gets accomplished at the summit.
Kori SchulmanFebruary 09, 2010
02:51 PM EDT
[Ed. Note: This event was moved to today due to tomorrow’s weather forecast]
Today marks the beginning of the 2010 White House music series with “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement” - a concert celebrating Black History month.
At 3pm EST today, the White House will host a "Music that Inspired the Movement" workshop for high school students from across the country. Robert Santelli, the executive director of The GRAMMY Museum, and Smokey Robinson, the legendary Motown singer, will facilitate the workshop with performances by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the original Freedom Singers in the 1960s who traveled around the country carrying stories in song of local Civil Rights Movement campaigns to national audiences.
Tonight the President and First Lady will host the "In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement" concert, featuring songs from the Civil Rights Movement as well as readings from famous Civil Rights speeches and writings with participants including Bob Dylan, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and more.
Watch both events live right here on WhiteHouse.gov:
Music that Inspired the Movement Student Workshop
3:00p.m. – 4:00p.m. EST
February 09, 2010
02:46 PM EDT
"It’s done, honey," President Obama said to The First Lady earlier today as he signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing a task force on childhood obesity to address the growing health epidemic. "Now we work," she responded.
The new task force is charged with developing an interagency action plan to solve the problem of obesity among our Nation's children as part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign. The campaign will take a comprehensive approach to engage both public and private sectors to help children become more active and eat healthier within a generation, so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
Within 90 days, the task force will develop and submit to the President a comprehensive interagency plan that details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks, and outlines an action plan. The President applauded all those involved:
I am so proud of the work that the First Lady, along with the Cabinet Secretaries behind me, has done in trying to tackle one of the most urgent health issues that we face in this country, and that is the increase of childhood obesity. And because of the outstanding planning that they've done, they are going to be rolling out a terrific plan of action that involves the private sector as well as government agencies coordinating much more effectively a lot of public information out there to help parents make good decisions about allowing their children to be active and eating healthier.
Members of the task force include: the Secretary of the Interior; the Secretary of Agriculture; Secretary of Health and Human Services; Secretary of Education; Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady; Assistant to the President for Economic Policy; and heads of other executive departments, agencies, or offices as the Chair may designate.
Speaking at an event later, the First Lady explained what motivated her to take this on: "These words – 'overweight' and 'obese' – they don’t tell the full story. This isn’t just about inches and pounds or how our kids look. It’s about how our kids feel, and how they feel about themselves. It’s about the impact we’re seeing on every aspect of their lives."
You'll find lots more information, such as brief the introductory video, at LetsMove.gov.
Jesse LeeFebruary 09, 2010
11:35 AM EDT
John Brennan, who serves as Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, took to the pages of USA Today this morning to clear up some falsehoods being spread by those seeking to get political advantage out of this national security matter:
Politics should never get in the way of national security. But too many in Washington are now misrepresenting the facts to score political points, instead of coming together to keep us safe.
Immediately after the failed Christmas Day attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was thoroughly interrogated and provided important information. Senior counterterrorism officials from the White House, the intelligence community and the military were all actively discussing this case before he was Mirandized and supported the decision to charge him in criminal court.
The most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights, which the FBI made standard policy under Michael Mukasey, President Bush's attorney general. The critics who want the FBI to ignore this long-established practice also ignore the lessons we have learned in waging this war: Terrorists such as Jose Padilla and Saleh al-Mari did not cooperate when transferred to military custody, which can harden one's determination to resist cooperation.
Aneesh ChopraFebruary 09, 2010
10:58 AM EDT
Countless entrepreneurs have taught us that the key to success is to execute quickly, seek feedback from the market, and iterate. We have taken this lesson to heart and think it especially apt in our work to increase transparency, participation, and collaboration in government. Therefore it is with great pleasure that – after just 60 days - U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra and I unveil what we call Version 1.0 of the Open Government Dashboard and look forward to building it together with all of you. By way of this blog post, we hope to tell you a little bit about what we’ve done so far and what to expect in the weeks ahead.
Version 1.0 of the Dashboard focuses on agency execution of the deliverables explicitly identified in the Open Government Directive. It makes it easy for the American people to visually track progress on the deadlines to date. The Dashboard also links to each agency's Open Government Webpage, where the public can find more details on the steps taken to implement the Directive. Just look for the words "Evaluating our Progress."
The next big step will be to evaluate the agencies' Open Government Plans, due April 7th. Whereas the indicators have been largely binary thus far (e.g. Do you have an Open Government Webpage?), the Plans present a special opportunity for the Dashboard to evolve over time and empower the public while spurring a race to the top amongst agencies. We share your feedback that the agency plans are the most consequential deliverable required by the Directive, as they promise to hardwire greater transparency, participation, and collaboration into the culture of every agency. As such, the Open Government Working Group is preparing a set of "stretch criteria" to help evaluate the plans and celebrate those agencies that exceed the minimal requirements of the Directive to reflect the President's vision of openness and accountability as articulated in the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. We are eager to seek your input in this process, so keep an eye out for opportunities to weigh in over the next two weeks.
After agencies have successfully delivered on the demanding deadlines set out for the first 120 days, Version 2.0 of the Dashboard can deploy a more holistic set of metrics, informed by agency Plans. Identifying the right set of metrics will help steer agencies toward high-impact efforts in the years to come. Some of you have already shared your thoughts with us and we look forward to hearing from may more of you in the coming months.
Thank you for helping us make this a success.
Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer
Jesse LeeFebruary 08, 2010
08:10 PM EDT
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just responded to a letter sent today from House Republican Leader John Boehner and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor regarding the proposed bipartisan health care summit:
The President is adamant that we seize this historic moment to pass meaningful health insurance reform legislation. He began this process by inviting Republican and Democratic leaders to the White House on March 5 of last year, and he’s continued to work with both parties in crafting the best possible bill. He’s been very clear about his support for the House and Senate bills because of what they achieve for the American people: putting a stop to insurance company abuses, extending coverage to millions of hardworking Americans, getting control of rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reducing the deficit.
The President looks forward to reviewing Republican proposals that meet the goals he laid out at the beginning of this process, and as recently as the State of the Union Address. He’s open to including any good ideas that stand up to objective scrutiny. What he will not do, however, is walk away from reform and the millions of American families and small business counting on it. The recent news that a major insurer plans to raise premiums for some customers by as much as 39 percent is a stark reminder of the consequences of doing nothing.
Read HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' letter to Anthem Blue Cross calling on them to publicly justify their extreme premium hikes at the same time their parent company sees soaring profits.
Dan PfeifferFebruary 08, 2010
03:33 PM EDT
While most of Washington spent the weekend digging out of the snow, federal agencies were taking the next steps in making their work more transparent for the American people. Since early December, agencies have worked to create their own webpages to serve as the gateway for each agency’s implementation of the Open Government Directive. These pages all went live this weekend, complete with the latest news and updates, downloadable information unique to that agency, and information about how each agency is moving to implement the President’s call for a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government.
Importantly, each of these sites will be the focal point for the agency's open government plans that, after public feedback and suggestion, will make our work across the Administration more accessible to the American people. That's why each Open Government Webpage incorporates a mechanism to seek your ideas and insights. Most agencies are leveraging a new, no-cost public engagement app from the General Services Administration that allows them to pay less attention to designing tools and more attention to running, moderating, and analyzing public input. It will help to make the agency open government pages more effective at turning public suggestions into government actions.
Here at the White House, we're keeping tabs on the agencies’ efforts. A dashboard – launched this weekend – tracks agency progress toward the goals of the Open Government Directive. This dashboard will continue to evolve with your feedback.
Since day one, the President has committed his Administration to break down long-standing barriers between the people and their government. The steps that the agencies are taking are designed to change the culture of government from a closed, opaque structure to one that is more accessible and accountable to citizens.
Check out the agency sites and see their work for yourself.
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Commerce
- Department of Defense
- Department of Education
- Department of Energy
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Homeland Security
- Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Department of the Interior
- Department of Justice
- Department of Labor
- Department of State
- Department of Transportation
- Department of the Treasury
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Environmental Protection Agency
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Agency for International Development
- General Services Administration
- National Science Foundation
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Office of Personnel Management
- Small Business Administration
- Social Security Administration
- Corporation for National and Community Service
- International Trade Commission
- National Archives and Records Administration
- National Transportation Safety Board
- Peace Corps
- Council on Environmental Quality
- Office of Management and Budget
- Office of National Drug Control Policy
- Office of Science and Technology Policy
- Office of the United States Trade Representative
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Jared BernsteinFebruary 08, 2010
02:51 PM EDT
Along with a massive snowstorm, Friday brought a blizzard of new info on the job market. From the perspective of our work at the White House, two points stand out, one about where we are and the other about where we’ve been.
First, while there are encouraging signs regarding jobs, they are early signs and must be viewed with care. The job market is clearly doing better than it was but the level of unemployment is miles north of where it needs to be. Unemployment fell significantly last month, which is good, but a) it’s a one month data point and not yet a new trend, and b) it fell from 10% to 9.7%, and that's still an unacceptably high rate of joblessness.
Second, today's data release has new, revised information on just how bad this recession has been in the job market. Here a chart is worth a lot of words.
The chart plots the course of payroll employment over the last four recessions, including this one. In each case, we index jobs at the start of the recession to 100%, and the x-axis shows the number of months from when the recession began.
By setting it up this way, you get a lot of useful, comparative information across different downturns. For example, you see how much longer it took to regain the lost jobs in the 1990 and 2001 recession compared to the 1981 version.
But the main point is how severe this recession has been on job loss. There are two lines in the graph for the current recession because last week's data provided a revision based on more complete data. We knew it was bad, but it turned out to be even worse. We thought we were losing an unprecedented 690,000 jobs per month in the first quarter of last year. It turned out to be 750,000. In the four months between December 2008 and March 2009, we lost more jobs than during the last two recessions combined.
That's where we were. Where we are, as noted, is better but not good enough. Last month, we lost 20,000 jobs and that's not an outlier—it's another data point in an improving trend moving towards net job gains, which we expect to be seeing in a few months. But the job market won't be in recovery until those small negatives turn into big positives.
Here's what comes out of all this: our policies, most notably the Recovery Act, have helped move us from a situation where we were losing a nightmarish 750,000 jobs per month to one in which we've pulled back from the economic abyss and are moving a lot closer to adding jobs, on net, on a regular basis. But we can't kick back and wait for that moment. There's too much pain out there, too many families struggling with a job market that’s simply not providing the opportunities they need to get back on their feet.
So we have to hasten the arrival of more robust job growth with a set of initiatives targeted at the factors holding back job creation. The House passed a targeted jobs bill in December that included some of these priorities, including upgrading transportation and infrastructure, and aid to states to keep teachers, cops, and firefighters on the job. The Senate’s actively working on proposals with some of those same components.
Last week the President announced an initiative to help credit flow more freely to small businesses that want to expand their operations and payrolls but can’t access the capital. Both the President and Congress have been working on a new hiring tax credit targeted at the business owner who is considering adding workers but needs a nudge (and you can see employers dipping their toes in the labor pool—temp work has increased in each of the past four months).
Another idea in the mix right now is investment in infrastructure to help offset the continuing job losses in construction, a sector that took another big hit last month. And another is help to state and local governments facing tight budget squeezes and the resultant layoffs in folks like teachers, down 10,500 last month at the local level.
GDP is growing and growing pretty solidly. The employment data show employers cutting a lot less but not yet adding a lot more. Unemployment moved in the right direction last month, and we need to build on that positive movement.
But as the figure above shows so clearly, we've got a huge hole to fill. That hole wasn't dug overnight, and it's going to take some time and some smart, targeted policies, to fill it up. Now there's a shovel-ready project worth taking on.
Jared Bernstein is Chief Economist to Vice President Biden, and Executive Director of the Middle Class Task Force
Jesse LeeFebruary 06, 2010
06:00 AM EDT
Reiterating once again his commitment to small business as the engine of our economy, the President urges Congress to move forward immediately on steps to help them expand and create jobs. These proposals include using $30 billion in TARP funds to create a new Small Business Lending Fund to provide capital to community banks to increase lending to small businesses, offering a new tax credit for over one million small businesses that hire new workers or raise wages, and providing targeted support for the most innovative small businesses with the potential to export new goods and products.
February 05, 2010
04:12 PM EDT
In accordance with the Open Government Directive, two working groups have been established to help develop specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration set forth in the President’s Memorandum of January 21, 2009.
First, Federal Agencies have designated a high-level senior official to be accountable for the quality of Federal spending information. In an ongoing commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration, these senior leaders will work together to ensure that Federal spending information meets adequate controls to ensure quality data is are available to the public. The senior leaders will also participate in the agency’s Senior Management Council.
Second, the White House created a Working Group on January 6 to focus on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government. With senior-level representation from program and management offices throughout the Government, this group will serve several critical functions. These functions include (1) the development and sharing of best practices and innovative ideas to promote transparency, encourage participation, and foster collaboration and (2) coordinating efforts to implement existing mandates for Federal spending transparency.
With representation from across government, the work of these two groups will support Federal Agencies as they encourage transparency, cultivate public participation, and create opportunity for innovative collaborations.
Vivek Kundra is Chief Information Officer
Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer
February 05, 2010
03:09 PM EDT
As the President has recently noted, the Administration has had an extraordinary first year for transparency and open government. We still have work to do, but we have already had some significant accomplishments. That was the conclusion of the respected independent groups that gave us an A for transparency in a recent report card -- and that view was also expressed by other experts in this area who I recently joined on a panel hosted by OMB Watch on government transparency. You can watch a recording of the full panel discussion, and we have excerpted some of the comments below.
Ellen Miller, Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation, said:
There is no question that the President has set an extraordinarily high bar with respect to transparency in government. And while I think there have been certainly some shortcomings in execution… I think he has begun to make a significant change in the culture of what openness means and move the default of where government information is from being in the hands of government into citizens’ hands… The Administration has clearly endorsed that sort of fundamental cultural shift in information and transparency. It’s a sea change, frankly, not just from the previous Administration… Forget the previous administration; this is a sea change in my decades of experience of Washington…
The important thing that's happening in the administration is not the individual things that they are making available, as important as they are, but the fact that they are beginning to hardwire this default of openness into government.
Transparency is not an issue; it’s a value. And I think that's what the administration has embraced and what’s absolutely key to their successes.
Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel of the National Security Archive, focused on the Administration’s work on three specific openness issues:
[F]or me, these three issues--presidential records, classification, and FOIA--can be summed as showing a pretty good start. A lot of work necessary in a few of these areas but really a tremendous change.
She also noted regarding our historic White House visitor records release (100,000 records and counting) that it is "tremendously brave to expose yourself to that kind of attack, that kind of inquiry."
Sarah Cohen, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, while candid about the work that remains to be done, stated:
The idea that we’re here at all talking about transparency says a lot. We wouldn't have been here at all a year and a half ago. Nobody would have had it on an agenda, and nobody would have cared about it. And that makes a big difference… the point about releasing the White House visitor logs is a very important one, that that was a huge step, and one that I think most people around the country looked at and said "that’s really important."
And even Mark Tapscott, the editor of the Washington Examiner's editorial page—which has been pretty tough on the Administration at times—offered some kind words:
Having served in an administration… as a political appointee, I have some appreciation for the political imperative that the transparency issue has to exist within. The political imperative is very simply this: plausible deniability. "Protect the boss." "Save your tail." And that means, too often, we have an incentive to not be transparent. And an incentive that’s institutional and not merely personal. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so difficult to achieve change.
It's also one of the reasons why many of the things that the Obama people have started to do are rather remarkable. It is remarkable, given that imperative, that they would assume responsibility for doing these things.
Our release of the White House visitor logs that the panelists applauded is only one example of the many steps the President has taken so far to increase government transparency. The Administration’s other 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. And the President capped the year off by calling in the State of the Union for bold transparency initiatives (pdf) as part of his reform agenda for 2010 and the years ahead.
Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform
Dan PfeifferFebruary 05, 2010
01:31 PM EDT
Yesterday, just hours after the Senate voted 96-0 to confirm Martha Johnson as the Administrator of the GSA after a pointless 9-month delay, we learned that Sen. Richard Shelby from Alabama has placed a blanket hold on all nominees, including national security nominees, to use as leverage for some projects in his state. He's holding up 70 nominees, among them top intelligence officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. According to the National Journal, he’s holding them up until two defense contracts that would benefit interests in his state can be fast-tracked.
Let's be clear: Sen. Shelby is preventing qualified nominees who will help protect the American people from being confirmed. He’s not alone, though. This is just the latest example of this kind opposition for opposition’s sake that the President talked about earlier this week.. This strategy of obstruction is preventing qualified people from doing their jobs on behalf of the American people and it’s preventing real work from getting done in Washington. Every minute spent needlessly blocking noncontroversial nominees, many of whom go on to be confirmed by 70 or more votes or by voice vote (nine of the President’s nominees so far), is a minute not spent on the issues that matter to American families.
As I noted yesterday, this is true of the legislative process, too. The Senate cast more votes to break filibusters last year than in the entire 1950s and '60s combined, making it nearly impossible to come to agreement on key legislation.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Christina RomerFebruary 05, 2010
09:30 AM EDT
While unemployment remains a severe problem, today’s employment report contains encouraging signs of gradual labor market healing. The unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point and employment rose in a number of industries, though overall employment fell slightly.
The unemployment rate declined from 10.0 percent to 9.7 percent. This decline occurred despite a modest rise in the labor force. The broadest measure of the unemployment rate, which includes all persons marginally attached to the labor force and workers working part time for economic reasons, fell almost a full percentage point. Obviously, the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, and is even worse for certain demographic groups such as teenagers and black or African American workers.
Overall payroll employment declined 20,000 in December. This total reflects substantial variation across industries. Employment in manufacturing rose for the first time since January 2007, led by an increase in employment in motor vehicles and parts. Employment also rose in retail trade and in temporary help employment. Employment fell, however, in construction and state and local government.
Even as today’s numbers contain signs of the beginning of recovery, they are also a reminder of how far we still have to go to return the economy to robust health and full employment. Indeed, with the benchmark revision announced today, we now know that the total job loss over the recession was more than 1 million larger than previously estimated. That is why at the same time that he released a plan for reining in the budget deficit over the medium and long run, the President has called on Congress to enact responsible, targeted actions to jump-start job creation. His proposals for a small business jobs and wages tax cut and a new program to encourage small business lending are important steps to help the businesses that are essential to robust job creation. Today’s numbers showing continued decline in construction and state and local government employment emphasize the importance of two other of the President’s priorities—continued infrastructure investment and additional aid for strapped state and local governments.
There will likely be bumps in the road ahead. The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative. It is essential that we continue our efforts to move in the right direction and replace job losses with robust job gains.
Christina Romer is Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
Nancy SutleyFebruary 04, 2010
05:37 PM EDT
Yesterday I had the opportunity to co-convene a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and leaders from across the Federal community who are helping to make sustainability a reality for the Federal government. Following up from President Obama’s announcement on Friday when he set a government-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 28 percent by 2020, I can speak for all who were there when I say there is a lot of excitement in the air!
So what does this goal mean? Achieving this 28 percent reduction will reduce Federal energy use by 646 trillion BTUs, which is equal to 205 million barrels of oil, or taking 17 million cars off the road for one year. And this is also equivalent to a cumulative total of $8 to $11 billion in avoided energy costs through 2020 based on current energy prices. Now that is impressive.
The next step towards Federal Sustainability is an important one: each agency is developing a “Sustainability Plan” that defines how they’ll meet their GreenGov goals, reduce energy use, drive long-term savings, save taxpayer dollars, and help create local clean energy jobs.
Cities, states, and American businesses have helped to forge the way by showing that greening their operations is not only good for the environment, but good for business; we have ample best practices and lessons to look to from our colleagues around the country.
And Federal Departments and Agencies are already taking actions to achieve greenhouse gas pollution reductions, such as installing solar arrays at military installations, tapping landfills for renewable energy, putting energy management systems in Federal buildings, and replacing older vehicles with more fuel efficient hybrid models. You can view examples of projects that are underway here.
The 28% Federal target announced on Friday is the aggregate of 35 Federal Agency self-reported targets. For example, the Department of Defense announced it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from non-combat activities by 34% by 2020 and the Department of the Treasury will reduce its emissions by 33%.
We are very excited by the progress that is already occurring, and will continue to watch these developments in the future. Moving forward, implementation of the Executive Order will focus on integrating achievement of sustainability goals with agency mission and strategic planning. The goal is to optimize performance and minimize costs.
You will all be able to chart the Federal government’s progress through “scorecards” that will grade each agency on how well it is meeting its performance targets. And to ensure transparency and accountability, annual progress will be reported online to the public. I’m looking forward to sharing more updates in the months ahead!
Nancy Sutley is the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
Jesse LeeFebruary 04, 2010
05:23 PM EDT
[Update: Chat will begin at 1:00PM EST]
If you were here at WhiteHouse.gov last week you may well have seen the President's event answering questions submitted through YouTube by citizens across the country. If you missed it, you can still watch the video of course.
But if you were one of the 64,969 people who cast 772,384 votes on 14,459 questions, and didn't get your favorite question asked, all is not lost. We pledged from the beginning that we would make an effort to answer some more of the questions after the President's interview, and we'll be following through tomorrow in a chat where we'll take another round of questions submitted last week, along with some live questions in a chat run by YouTube.
The chat will be at 12:45 EST with some of our key policy folks from the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and the National Security Council. Join the chat at YouTube.com/citizentube or through facebook.
Aneesh ChopraFebruary 04, 2010
04:00 PM EDT
Yesterday the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a workshop to gather insight from leading experts in the fields of gaming and technology to inform the development of a nutrition game-design challenge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services is preparing to launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, a call to American entrepreneurs, software developers, and students to use a recently released USDA nutrition data set to create innovative, fun, and engaging web-based learning applications that motivate kids, especially “tweens” (aged 9-12) and their parents, to eat more healthfully and be more physically active.
Thirty-one experts joined the meeting—some via teleconference—to offer their knowledge and experience related to game design, entertainment technology, social media, and skill contests, in reaction to a previously circulated concept paper outlining key components of the contest.
Our intention here is to invite you to join this discussion. Here are some of the major design-related themes, that emerged from the Workshop, around which we’d like to get input from you:
- Goal: We discussed the potential for games – powered by nutrition data – to change behavior in our target segment (“tweens” between the ages of 9-12 and their parents). Design questions focused on whether the contest should result in a finished, high-impact game or one that continually evolves over time (“gaming as a service”). How would you recommend we address this question in the design of our contest?
- Incentives: We discussed government limitations on the size of the prize ($3,000 – a purse we’ve awarded in public service announcement contests as well). Design questions focused on the degree to which other stakeholders might supplement the prize with privately raised funds; develop new markets for educational games, including schools, parents, and after-school programs; and recognize finalists at the White House or other venues. What incentives would you recommend we deploy to maximize high quality participation?
- Final Product: We acknowledged a spectrum of potential final products– including “back of the envelope” ideas, game story boards, working prototypes, and market-ready “final” products. In addition, we discussed the possibility of multiple phases to capture the breadth and quality of potential submissions (perhaps an early round seeking top ideas/story boards to be developed into games in round two). How should we design the competition in a manner that inspires and empowers both professionals willing to volunteer hours to the competition and students willing to build a game that doubles as a semester class assignment? How do we address the myriad game product categories – from casual games to fully developed titles?
- Your Commitment: A great deal of the conversation focused on how individuals might complement the official competition with commitments they could offer from their respective positions – whether it would be incorporating nutrition data in already-developed games, faculty assigning class time towards building nutrition games, or organizations spreading the word about the contest. How might you be willing to help? Please post any commitments your firm, foundation, school or other organization might be willing to offer as we build a national movement to address childhood obesity.
Thank you in advance for your ideas on these important questions.
Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer of the United States
Dan PfeifferFebruary 04, 2010
03:47 PM EDT
Nine months ago, the White House sent the nominee for GSA Administrator, Martha Johnson, to the Senate for its consideration. Today, she was finally given a vote and was overwhelmingly approved by a margin of 94-2 [Update: make that 96-0 after the remaining two switched their votes]. What happened in between was a perfect example of why Americans are so frustrated with Washington.
Martha Johnson is an ideal candidate for Administrator, which is highlighted by the unanimous vote she received in committee. And the only thing that's changed between now and then is that some in Congress found it to be politically expedient to delay her vote. This isn’t just about one person filling one job – it hampers our ability reform the way government works and save taxpayer dollars by making it more efficient and effective.
What’s worse, Martha Johnson is hardly the first nominee to fall victim to this trend of opposition for opposition’s sake. Nine of the President's nominees found themselves stuck in this same situation only to be confirmed by 70 or more votes or a voice vote. Several nominees, including two members of the Council of Economic Advisers, had cloture withdrawn and were passed by a voice vote.
Maybe votes on these nominations were delayed as a bargaining chip for someone's pet project – more likely it was part of a political strategy of opposition and obstruction at all costs. Whatever the reason, it's obvious from the margins of the final votes that it had little to do with their qualifications.
This isn't just a problem for nominees; it’s become a problem for legislating, too. Historically, the filibuster has been used as a way to try and reach a bipartisan compromise; now it's just a tactic used to gum up the works. The Senate has had to cast more votes to break filibusters last year than in the entire 1950s and '60s combined. This has prevented an honest debate from taking place, which has made it impossible to find agreement on important legislation that would benefit working families in this country.
What's clear from all of this is that we need to change the way business is done in this city. If we're going to have a government that works for the American people, then we need to focus on the things that actually matter to them, like jobs and health care. Every day we waste delaying votes on well-qualified public servants or obstructing progress on problems that need solving is a day we’re not doing our jobs. It’s time to put an end to these partisan political games and get back to work.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
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