Read all posts from March 2010

  • Increasingly desperate opponents of health reform continue their effort to shift the debate from the popular aspects of reform, such as more consumer protections for people, competitive marketplaces that offer small businesses health insurance at reasonable rates, and the reduction of overall health care costs over time.  Instead, opponents of reform often choose to invent wild claims without any regard for evidence or accuracy.

    Take, for example, recent outlandish and false allegations in the news that the White House has sent unsolicited emails to drum up support for reform.  Let's be clear -- and done -- with this incorrect claim: the White House only sends mass messages to email addresses submitted through email signup forms on WhiteHouse.gov.  And every message we send has a clear unsubscribe link at the footer to stop receiving messages at any time.

    While some people unsubscribe from the White House’s email program, many more have signed up. Since inauguration, the number of people who have opted-in for email updates has steadily grown, making this an increasingly popular way for anyone to stay current and informed about what's happening with President Obama and the White House.  Anyone can sign up for them here.

    Just today a fierce critic of health reform, Karl Rove, went a step further on ABC's "This Week" by making the absurd and unfounded claim that the White House “sent out unsolicited e-mails to federal employees asking them to contact their legislators about this bill.”  This is simply not true and unless Mr. Rove can point to a White House email making this request of anyone, federal employee or otherwise, he should correct this dangerous and inaccurate assertion.

  •  In his remarks to the House Democratic Caucus yesterday, President Obama put the upcoming health insurance reform effort into a larger context with some powerful thoughts about how he got invovled in politics and what moments like now mean for the country.

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (381MB) | mp3 (28MB)

    Here are some particularly poignant thoughts from the end:

    Sometimes I think about how I got involved in politics.  I didn’t think of myself as a potential politician when I get out of college.  I went to work in neighborhoods, working with Catholic churches in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, trying to figure out how people could get a little bit of help.  And I was skeptical about politics and politicians, just like a lot of Americans are skeptical about politics and politicians are right now.  Because my working assumption was when push comes to shove, all too often folks in elected office, they’re looking for themselves and not looking out for the folks who put them there; that there are too many compromises; that the special interests have too much power; they just got too much clout; there’s too much big money washing around.

    And I decided finally to get involved because I realized if I wasn’t willing to step up and be true to the things I believe in, then the system wouldn’t change.  Every single one of you had that same kind of moment at the beginning of your careers.  Maybe it was just listening to stories in your neighborhood about what was happening to people who’d been laid off of work.  Maybe it was your own family experience, somebody got sick and didn’t have health care and you said something should change.

    Something inspired you to get involved, and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican.  Because somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don’t just look out for ourselves, that we don’t just tell people you’re on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighborliness and a sense of community and we are willing to look out for one another and help people who are vulnerable and help people who are down on their luck and give them a pathway to success and give them a ladder into the middle class.  That’s why you decided to run.

    And now a lot of us have been here a while and everybody here has taken their lumps and their bruises.  And it turns out people have had to make compromises, and you’ve been away from families for a long time and you’ve missed special events for your kids sometimes.  And maybe there have been times where you asked yourself, why did I ever get involved in politics in the first place?  And maybe things can’t change after all.  And when you do something courageous, it turns out sometimes you may be attacked.  And sometimes the very people you thought you were trying to help may be angry at you and shout at you.  And you say to yourself, maybe that thing that I started with has been lost.

    But you know what?  Every once in a while, every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings and all those constituency breakfasts and all that traveling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, you know what, you’re right, the system is not working for you and I’m going to make it a little bit better.

    And this is one of those moments.  This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here.  This is why I got into politics.  This is why I got into public service.  This is why I’ve made those sacrifices.  Because I believe so deeply in this country and I believe so deeply in this democracy and I’m willing to stand up even when it’s hard, even when it’s tough.

    Every single one of you have made that promise not just to your constituents but to yourself.  And this is the time to make true on that promise.  We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true.  We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.  We have been debating health care for decades.  It has now been debated for a year.  It is in your hands.  It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow. 
     

  • As a key committee in the Senate takes up reforming the ways of Wall Street, the President lays down a marker: “I urge those in the Senate who support these reforms to remain strong, to resist the pressure from those who would preserve the status quo, to stand up for their constituents and our country.   And I promise to use every tool at my disposal to see these reforms enacted: to ensure that the bill I sign into law reflects not the special interests of Wall Street, but the best interests of the American people.”

  • In this video, President Obama sends an important message to those celebrating the Persian holiday of Nowruz, and in particular to the people and government of Iran. While recognizing our continuing differences with the Iranian government, the President outlines his commitment to a more just and hopeful future for all Iranians. To everyone celebrating Nowruz around the world, may you have a peaceful and prosperous new year.

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (128MB) | mp3 (5MB)
     

    This video is also available with Arabic subtitles.  Full transcript available in English, Persian (PDF), and Arabic (PDF).

  • As the fight to put American families and small businesses in control of their health care hits the home stretch, local papers across the country are speaking out for the communities they serve and urging Congress to get health reform done.  Here's just a sample of what editorials are saying in advance of the vote:

    Fort Collins Coloradoan (Editorial) “Markey making right choice to vote for reform”:

    There's no denying the health-care reform bill to be considered by Congress in coming days is far from perfect and has been crafted in a flawed process. However, continuing with the current health-care system marred by uncontrolled costs and countless uninsured Americans is not an option. That's why we believe Rep. Betsy Markey is making the right decision to support the reform package.

    Des Moines Register (Editorial) “Finally: Health bill ready for vote”:

    History books recognize specific dates when a president took action that changed the course of the country's future. One of those days was Aug. 14, 1935, when Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Another was July 30, 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law. Both programs improved the lives of Americans. The country is on the cusp of another such remarkable day. That's right. The U.S. House is expected to vote on health reform legislation Sunday. If it passes and President Barack Obama signs it into law, the country will be witnessing historic change.

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Editorial) “Four big lies about health care reform”:

    As Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives push for a final vote on health care reform by this weekend, we examine four big lies that reform opponents are spreading. “The current system works just fine.” … “This bill is a government takeover of health care.” … “We can’t afford health care reform. We have to cut the deficit.” … “Health care reform means federal funding for abortion.”

    Las Vegas Sun (Editorial) “Pass health care reform”:

    Congressional leaders unveiled the latest version of the health care bill Thursday, and the House Democratic leadership was ecstatic. After months of being hammered by Republicans with lies about the reform plans, Democrats cheered the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s initial analysis of the bill, which undercut the GOP’s complaints. The analysis found the bill would give access to health insurance to 95 percent of nonelderly Americans while cutting the federal deficit by $138 billion over 10 years. The bill could cut as much as $1.2 trillion from the deficit in the following decade.

    Arizona Daily Sun (Editorial) “No time like present to start health care reform”:

    … Our larger point is that, when it comes to fixing what's broken in U.S. health care, it is time to put aside rigid ideologies and embrace experimentation and hybrid solutions. Whatever plan comes out of Congress this week -- if any -- won't be perfect. But it will be a start at a process of change that, in an era of globalization and mobility, is long overdue.

    Detroit Free Press (Editorial) “Messy bill offers significant health care progress”:

    As the "yes" votes for health care reform trickle in, building toward the House majority needed to approve work done in the Senate, Americans must keep in mind what will be forefeit if that effort falters. Medical costs continue to skyrocket even as fiscally challenged states like Michigan slash Medicaid payments. Most of the healthy uninsured cannot afford to buy policies, leaving the individual market mostly to chronically ill, for whom health insurance is more like a discount card than a safety net.

    Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Editorial) “Rx for health care: political courage”:

    The latest health care scenarios just released by researchers from a respected think tank offer grim food for thought as health reform moves toward final passage in Congress. If the legislation doesn't pass, the worst-case projection is that the number of Americans without coverage will climb from 49.4 million to 67.6 million in 2020, meaning that nearly one in four Americans too young for Medicare will be uninsured.

    Miami Herald (Editorial) “Time to vote on healthcare reform”:

    By now, every voice in the debate over healthcare reform has been heard from. The only thing left to do is pass the reform bill. Admittedly, the bill under consideration is far from perfect. President Obama made a last-minute change that delays a tax on high-cost insurance policies until 2018, which adds to the immediate costs. Nor were Democrats willing to reduce or kill the tax break for employee health benefits, which would also reduce costs and produce more cost-conscious healthcare consumers.

    Washington Post (Editorial) “Health reform is a risk worth taking”:

    EVERY piece of legislation is in some sense a wager: that it will accomplish what is intended; that its costs will be as anticipated; that the promised funding will materialize; that, however imperfect, it represents an improvement on the status quo. Voting for the health reform package now before the House of Representatives represents, in those terms, a huge gamble.

    St. Petersburg Times (Editorial) “Health care legislation good for Florida”:

    As the House heads toward a historic vote on health care reform as early as Sunday, all Florida Republicans remain opposed and all but two Democrats are firmly in support. But a new analysis released Thursday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee suggests Florida lawmakers who vote against the reforms are acting against the best interests of their constituents.

  • Since Monday, the President has held 64 meetings or phone calls with Members of Congress on health insurance reform.  Here's one:

    President Barack Obama talks to a Member of Congress while en route to George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., to deliver remarks on health insurance reform, March 19, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (576MB) | mp3 (34MB)

    This morning, speaking before thousands at the Patriot Center in Virginia, the President was perhaps even more passionate about finishing the job on health reform than any time in this year-long debate.  It’s probably best to let him speak for himself, so read the full transcript for yourself or a few excerpts below:

    Setting the stage:

    THE PRESIDENT:  A few miles from here, Congress is in the final stages of a fateful debate about the future of health insurance in America.  (Applause.)  It’s a debate that’s raged not just for the past year but for the past century.  One thing when you’re in the White House, you’ve got a lot of history books around you.  (Laughter.)  And so I’ve been reading up on the history here.  Teddy Roosevelt, Republican, was the first to advocate that everybody get health care in this country.  (Applause.)  Every decade since, we’ve had Presidents, Republicans and Democrats, from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon to JFK to Lyndon Johnson to -- every single President has said we need to fix this system.  It’s a debate that’s not only about the cost of health care, not just about what we’re doing about folks who aren’t getting a fair shake from their insurance companies.  It’s a debate about the character of our country -– (applause) -- about whether we can still meet the challenges of our time; whether we still have the guts and the courage to give every citizen, not just some, the chance to reach their dreams.  (Applause.)

    At the heart of this debate is the question of whether we’re going to accept a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people -- (applause) -- because if this vote fails, the insurance industry will continue to run amok.  They will continue to deny people coverage.  They will continue to deny people care.  They will continue to jack up premiums 40 or 50 or 60 percent as they have in the last few weeks without any accountability whatsoever.  They know this.  And that’s why their lobbyists are stalking the halls of Congress as we speak, and pouring millions of dollars into negative ads.  And that’s why they are doing everything they can to kill this bill.

    Placing the coming vote in the context of history:

    THE PRESIDENT:  In just a few days, a century-long struggle will culminate in an historic vote.  And when we have faced such decisions in our past, this nation has chosen time and again to extend its promise to more of its people.
     
    When the naysayers argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, the men and women of Congress stood fast, and created a program that has lifted millions of poverty. 
    When the cynics warned that Medicare would lead to a government takeover of our entire health care system, and it didn’t have much support in the polls, Democrats and Republicans refused to back down, and made sure that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind. 

    Generations ago, those who came before made the decision that our seniors and our poor should not be forced to go without health care just because they couldn’t afford it.  Today, it falls to this generation to decide whether we will make the same promise to middle-class families, and small businesses, and young Americans like yourselves who are just starting out.

    And in closing:

    THE PRESIDENT: I still believe we can do what’s right.  I still believe we can do what’s hard.  The need is great.  The opportunity is here.  And the time for reform is now.

  • I know where I’ll be and it will not be watching March madness like most of the country.  I’ll be in front of my computer logged onto the Paralympic website, watching the United States Paralympic hockey team play for the gold medal.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have never been a hockey fan.  But that all changed during my visit to Vancouver for the Paralympic Winter Games where I was part of the Presidential delegation.  Now, I can’t tell you I’ll be watching the Chicago Blackhawks or the Washington Capitals in the future, but the Paralympic hockey game I watched got me, well, like our President is fond of saying, all fired up and ready to go!

    Our visit to Vancouver was an extraordinary experience with an outstanding group of individuals representing the President and the United States of America.  The head of the delegation was Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and he was joined by administration officials including Administrator Lisa Jackson of the EPA, US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, and me.  The delegation also included 4 former Paralympic medal winning athletes including Jim Martinson, Mike May, Bonnie St. John and Melissa Stockwell.  The delegation was supported by staff from the EPA, VA and Department of State Protocol office, all of whom were outstanding and extremely supportive of the US Paralympic athletes.  Our traveling party, including guests, totaled about 25 people.

    2010 Paralympics - Opening Ceremonies

    Opening Ceremonies at the 2010 Paralympics.

    Day 1

    By 1:00 on Friday, March 12, the entire delegation had arrived and we were ready to take Vancouver by storm.  We kicked off the festivities with a reception with USOC members and supporters. Secretary Shinseki delivered some inspiring remarks.  We had a chance to meet some outstanding athletes and young people who will be Paralympic athletes of the future.  And, something that would become a theme of our entire weekend, we were served food.

    We next attended an IPC hosted reception prior to opening ceremonies where we were again served something to eat.  The opening ceremonies were mind blowing.  Imagine 60,000 people flashing lights, waving their hands, standing, singing, dancing and roaring their approval and satisfaction for two hours and 45 minutes of outstanding entertainment.  The thing that kept going through my mind was that people with disabilities really have come a long way in the last 25 years.  The ceremony featured musical performances, hundreds of children dancing, speeches by Canadian and IPC officials, introduction of the athletes and of course lighting of the torch.  For someone like me that has attended championship sporting events in professional basketball and baseball, I have never been in a louder arena than this one when they announced the US and Canadian Paralympic athletes.  The spirit of the Canadians supporting their Paralympic athletes was something to behold.  They chanted slogans, stomped their feet and generally rocked the house!

    We concluded day 1 with another reception with members of the USOC Board of Directors, and yes, for the third time in a little over 4 hours, we were served more food.  Needless to say, no one needed to order room service.

    Day 2

    We started with a drive to Whistler which I’m told is one of the most beautiful drives but for this blind guy, it was an opportunity to read a good book—I’m taking the sighted folks word that it’s beautiful.  We first watched skiing and then the biathlon.  We saw an athlete in the biathlon with no arms shoot his gun with his teeth.  True athletic brilliance.  Because we were getting hungry, we proceeded to the next event of downhill skiing, but it was postponed due to fog.  Never fear though, we were able to pass the time in the hospitality room where, you guessed it, plenty of food was being served.  

    Before proceeding to the next event, we took a short break to visit the Paralympic public village for shopping.  Oh yeah, and we had lunch too. 

    Then, it was off to the athletes living quarters for a tour.  It was amazing to meet and witness this incredible operation that includes doctors, physical therapists, a hospital, full gym, office facilities and that’s right, a full cafeteria.  And, well, there was a cafeteria, so we had to stop and eat dinner.  But, we had a good excuse. We had dinner with some of the US athletes.  It really was a highlight to meet the athletes and let them know that the President and US were supporting them.  You could sense their excitement that we had such a large delegation with senior officials. I provided some tips on skiing but let’s hope they ignored them. 

    Paralympics 2010 - Delegation Shot

    The Presidential Delegation at the Paralympics.

    We drove back to Vancouver (I didn’t drive), day 2 concluded and thankfully, there was no more food.

  • 32,000,000
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    Over the course of our ‘Health Reform by the Numbers’ online series, we’ve highlighted many of the problems of our broken health care system to raise awareness about why we just can’t wait any longer for reform:

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

    For the last number in the series – we wanted to showcase what you get from health insurance reform:

    • It expands health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans, guaranteeing that 95% of Americans will be covered.
    • It makes health insurance affordable for middle class and small businesses -- including the largest middle class tax cuts for health care in history -- reducing premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
    • It strengthens consumer protections and reins in insurance company abuses.
    • It gives millions of Americans the same types of private insurance choices that members of Congress will have -- through a new competitive health insurance market that keeps costs down.
    • It holds insurance companies accountable to keep premiums down and prevent denials of care and coverage, including for pre-existing conditions.
    • It improves Medicare benefits with lower prescription drug costs for those in the ‘donut hole,' better chronic care, free preventive care, and nearly a decade more of solvency for Medicare.
    • It reduces the deficit by more than $100 billion over next ten years, and by more than one trillion dollars over the following decade; reining waste, fraud and abuse; overpayments to insurance companies and by paying for quality over quantity of care.

    As President Obama says, “we must act now” and put American families and small businesses, not health insurance companies, in control of their own health care.  Help spread the word by sharing this blog post with your family, friends and online networks using the ‘Share/Bookmark' feature below.

    32,000,000 is the last number in ‘Health Reform by the Numbers,' our online campaign to raise awareness about why the time is now for health insurance reform. You can follow the campaign on Whitehouse.gov and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn.

    Previous Numbers:

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (270MB) | mp3 (9MB)

    This morning, President Obama signed into effect the HIRE Act, a jobs bill that provides small businesses with incentives to spur hiring and help put Americans back to work. Saying that "while this jobs bill is absolutely necessary, it’s by no means enough," the President pledged that this was just one step amongst many. The bill is The HIRE Act will:

    • Provide tax cuts for businesses that hire someone who has been out of work for at least 2 months
    • Help businesses to invest in their future by permitting them to write off investments in equipment this year
    • Encourage job creation by expanding investments in schools and clean energy projects
    • Maintain investments in roads and bridges

    Before signing the bill, the President said:

    A consensus is forming that, partly because of the necessary - and often unpopular - measures we took over the past year, our economy is now growing again and we may soon be adding jobs instead of losing them.  The jobs bill I’m signing today is intended to help accelerate that process.

    I’m signing it mindful that, as I’ve said before, the solution to our economic problems will not come from government alone.  Government can’t create all the jobs we need or can it repair all the damage that’s been done by this recession.

    But what we can do is promote a strong, dynamic private sector -- the true engine of job creation in our economy.  We can help to provide an impetus for America’s businesses to start hiring again.  We can nurture the conditions that allow companies to succeed and to grow.
     

    HIRE Act 3.18

    President Barack Obama and Members of Congress applaud after the signing of the HIRE Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, March 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

     

  • The final health insurance reform legislation that will be voted on by the House this weekend, and debated in the Senate soon after, is now available.  As the President said in Ohio, “We have debated this issue now for more than a year.  Every proposal has been put on the table.  Every argument has been made.” This legislation represents the best ideas to emerge from both sides of the aisle to put American families and small business owners—not the insurance companies—in control of their own health care. 

    • It makes health insurance affordable for middle class and small businesses—including the largest middle class tax cuts for health care in history – reducing premiums and out-of-pocket costs. 
    • It gives millions of Americans the same types of private insurance choices that members of Congress will have—through a new competitive health insurance market that keeps costs down.
    • It holds insurance companies accountable to keep premiums down and prevent denials of care and coverage, including for pre-existing conditions.
    • It improves Medicare benefits with lower prescription drug costs for those in the ‘donut hole,’ better chronic care, free preventive care, and nearly a decade more of solvency for Medicare.
    • It reduces the deficit by more than $130 billion over next ten years, and by more than one trillion dollars over the following decade; reining waste, fraud and abuse; overpayments to insurance companies and by paying for quality over quantity of care.

    The health insurance reform legislation Congress is about to vote on makes important improvements to the bill passed by the Senate last December---a bill that is built upon the principles the President has been outlining all year.  The new provisions improve that legislation by: 

    • Providing the biggest middle class tax cut for health care in history and making health insurance even more affordable for middle class families.
    • Strengthening consumer protections and reining in insurance company abuses
    • Further reducing the deficit in the first and second decades. With the new changes, this bill will become the largest deficit reduction effort in more than a decade
    • Closing the gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors covered by Medicare, known as the donut hole,  and extending the solvency of Medicare
    • Expanding health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans, guaranteeing that 95% of Americans will be covered.

    Closing out his remarks in Ohio, the President sent a message to Congress to finish the job that ring true today:

    The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for these interests, for their future.  So what they’re looking for is some courage.  They’re waiting for us to act.  They’re waiting for us to lead.  They don’t want us putting our finger out to the wind.  They don’t want us reading polls.  They want us to look and see what is the best thing for America, and then do what’s right.  (Applause.)  And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership.  And I know these members of Congress are going to provide that leadership.  I don’t know about the politics, but I know what’s the right thing to do.  And so I’m calling on Congress to pass these reforms -- and I’m going to sign them into law.  I want some courage.  I want us to do the right thing, Ohio.  And with your help, we’re going to make it happen.
     

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • One of the goals of the Council on Women and Girls is to call attention to the inspirational women working in the Federal Government and to learn more about their paths to their current positions. In the first of this series, Meet the Women of the Administration, we asked Dr. Rebecca Blank to reflect on how she developed an interest and expertise in economics and to weigh in on how she balances work and family. Take a look and find out what keeps Dr. Blank going!

    Dr. Rebecca Blank

    Dr. Rebecca Blank serves as Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at the Department of Commerce.

    How did you become interested in working for the Federal Government?
    This is my third time working in government service.  I spent a year as a senior staff economist on the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) in the administration of President George H. W.  Bush.    The CEA is the organization inside the White House that provides economic advice to the President.  I came back to DC as a presidential appointee with the CEA in the second term of President Clinton.  Now I am back, serving as the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at the Department of Commerce.  Government service provides an opportunity to actually be part of the policy development process.  In every government job I’ve had, I’ve gained new insights into the economic issues that I work on. 

    What inspired you to pursue your field of interest?
    I started college as an English major.  I certainly never thought “I want to be an economist when I grow up!”  But I took an introductory economics class and it was so interesting that I took another.  And I never quite escaped after that.   Economics requires rigorous math and analytical skills, which I found challenging but fun.  At the same time, economics has a lot to say about how the world works.   After graduate school I became increasingly interested in how government policies could (or couldn’t) affect behavior and economic outcomes.  That led me into lots of interesting research areas.  And my research on the impact of policy in turn opened up opportunities to work directly on real world policy issues inside government. 

    What keeps you motivated?
    I know it’s a corny thing to say, but I care about trying to help make the world a better place.  I care about the fact that too many people in America are currently without jobs or without adequate health care.  I’m privileged to be in a position where I can collect information and work on policies that might help reduce these problems.  I may not make the final decision on most issues, but I’m part of the process.   And I love working with a group of smart and dedicated people.  I’m always angry when I read statements about the alleged incompetence of government workers.  The people who I work with every day are committed and hardworking, and that motivates me to come to work ready to do the best job that I can in my position. 

    What has been your favorite moment since you’ve been working at Commerce?
    For almost 20 years I’ve been working on trying to improve the measurement of poverty in the United States.  I’ve written articles about this and served on various commissions and advisory boards.  I received word this past winter that the Administration was going to propose adding funds to the part of the Commerce budget that I oversee, asking the Census Bureau to develop and publish a Supplemental Poverty Measure with many of the improvements that I and others have been talking about.  Public policy doesn’t move fast, but it was really a high point to be in my job when this change happened.

    Recently, what has been new and exciting about your work?
    Among other things, I oversee the Census Bureau which is in the midst of launching the 2010 Decennial Census, which is designed to count every man, woman, and child in America.  It’s been absolutely fascinating to be involved in the final planning and launch of this effort.  And it’s challenging and often sobering to deal with the criticism and firestorms that the Census generates.   Being part of the 2010 Census has demanded management skills, substantive knowledge, and political savvy.  Of course, it’s not just an interesting project, but one of the most important things that will happen this year.  Our political representation depends upon the data from the Census.  And over $400 billion in Federal dollars are allocated to states and localities each year based on data from the Decennial Census.

    Do you have a family?  How do you balance work and family life?
    I’m married, with a teenage daughter.   I got married in my late 30s and had a pretty well established career by then.  That made it easier to deal with the inevitable tradeoffs that motherhood requires.  But my ability to hold a series of challenging jobs has depended on a husband who has often had a somewhat more flexible schedule and who is willing to share home and parenting tasks.  I always want to tell younger women that if they want a career and family, they need to “marry well.”  I don’t mean finding a partner with money (although of course that won’t hurt!), but finding a partner who will respect their career and who will truly share the family work.   I’ve been extremely fortunate.  I love my job, but spending time with my family keeps me sane.  As an academic researcher, I’m always tempted to live too much in my own head; my family pulls me out of my own preoccupations and reminds me of the importance of human connection.  

    Maggie Chen is Special Assistant to the Council on Women and Girls

  • Cross-posted from the OMB blog.

    Today’s Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of health insurance reform legislation reaffirms what we have said for the past year: that fiscally responsible health insurance reform is not only possible, but also is an important step toward long-term fiscal sustainability.

    The new CBO estimate finds that health insurance reform will reduce the deficit by over $100 billion in this decade and by more than $1 trillion over the following 10 years. If enacted, this would be the most significant deficit-reduction package passed into law in over a decade. And it will begin to transform our health care system into one that delivers higher quality at lower cost, boosting the bottom lines of American businesses, families, and the federal government — all the while providing those with health insurance with new choices and a host of new consumer protections and expanding coverage to 32 million Americans.

    By paying for itself and more, this legislation represents an important break from the way Washington has done business recently. In the first decade of this century, large, significant domestic policy initiatives—two tax cuts and a Medicare prescription drug benefit — were passed into law without being paid for, adding trillions to the deficit. That is why the President pushed for, and then signed into law, statutory pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) legislation that holds policymakers to a simple principle: if you propose new tax cuts or entitlement expansions, you must find a way to pay for them.

    Some have raised concerns that the health insurance reform legislation may have fallen short of this PAYGO principle. That is simply false. CBO’s analysis shows that the combination of the Senate-passed bill and the reconciliation bill will be deficit-reducing according to statutory PAYGO standards — standards that go beyond simple deficit reduction.

    In particular, the overall bill — including the Senate-passed bill and the reconciliation bill combined—generates over $100 billion in deficit reduction over the next decade (and more thereafter). For the purposes of statutory PAYGO, however, certain of the bill’s savings are not counted: namely, the deficit reduction coming from increased Social Security payroll tax revenues and from the CLASS Act, a long-term care program.  But even excluding these components the combined bills generate a net reduction in the deficit, and thus are fully compliant with statutory PAYGO. 

    The CBO score today should leave no doubt that we are operating in a new fiscal era — one where we abide by our commitment to pay for new initiatives and take steps to restore fiscal responsibility by reining in the single biggest driver of our long-term shortfall.

    Peter Orszag is Director of the Office of Management and Budget

  • 3
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    • 3 million -- that’s the decrease in the number of middle-income earners who obtained health insurance from their employers from 2000 to 2008. [Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation]
    • And 3 times -- is how much faster health care premiums are rising compared to wages. [Source: Kaiser Family Foundation]

    It’s no secret --  skyrocketing health care costs are crushing families and businesses, forcing small business owners to choose between health care and hiring and forcing families to make hard spending choices because of rising out-of-pocket health care costs. While our broken health care system is hurting everyone, it’s the middle class that’s being hit the hardest. Yesterday, the non-partisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report showing that the middle class became uninsured at a faster pace than those with less or more income. 

    Health insurance reform will change that by giving American families and small businesses more control over their own health care.  While in Ohio earlier this week, President Obama detailed just what health insurance reform means for America’s middle class:

    For the first time, uninsured individuals, small businesses, they’d have the same kind of choice of private health insurance that members of Congress get for themselves.  Understand if this reform becomes law, members of Congress, they’ll be getting their insurance from the same place that the uninsured get theirs, because if it’s good enough for the American people, it’s good enough for the people who send us to Washington.

    So basically what would happen is, we’d set up a pool of people; millions of people across the country would all buy into these pools that give them more negotiating power.  If you work for a big company, you’ve got a better insurance deal because you’ve got more bargaining power as a whole.  We want you to have all the bargaining power that the federal employees have, that big companies have, so you’ll be able to buy in or a small business will be able to buy into this pool.  And that will lower rates, it’s estimated, by up to 14 to 20 percent over what you’re currently getting.  That’s money out of pocket.

    And what my proposal says is if you still can’t afford the insurance in this new marketplace, then we’re going to offer you tax credits to do so.  And that will add up to the largest middle-class tax cut for health care in history.  That’s what we’re going to do…

    Look, I want everybody to understand -- the wealthiest among us can already buy the best insurance there is.  The least well among us, the poorest among us, they get their health care through Medicaid.  So it’s the middle class, it’s working people that are getting squeezed, and that’s who we have to help, and we can afford to do it.

    Today’s number, 3, is the latest in ‘Health Reform by the Numbers,’ our online campaign to raise awareness about why the time is now for health insurance reform.You can follow the campaign on Whitehouse.gov and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn.

    To help spread the word, share this blog post with your family, friends and online networks using the ‘Share/Bookmark’ feature below.

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  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (406MB) | mp3 (30MB)

    Following her cover story for Newsweek, the First Lady talked with Newsweek’s Editor Jon Meacham about her Let's Move campaign at the Newseum in Washington D.C. today. She discussed the magnitude of the problem of childhood obesity, especially during current times as a busier culture.

    We’re also a culture and a society right now that snacks a lot more.  Just some of the statistics I talked about in my speech yesterday was that the average snack amount when I was growing up was one snack a day, if you were lucky.  And now it’s averaging two to three.  They say the average school-age kid is getting six snacks a day.  So we’re taking 200 more calories than we were 40 years ago, 30 years ago just from snacks alone.

    She explained the importance of food manufacturing industries providing clear food labels so people can easily make decisions about what foods are healthy. “Parents have to understand what’s in the Twinkie; again, how does it fit into the overall diet.  So we don’t need a warning, we need information.  And we need information that’s easy to understand.”

    The First Lady also talked about passing legislation that will set nutritional guidelines for school lunch programs and vending machines. President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the Council on Childhood Obesity that will review every program and policy regarding education and nutrition.

    Visit LetsMove.gov to learn more about the initiative to address the growing health epidemic of childhood obesity.
     

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (258MB) | mp3 (8MB)

    In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, President Obama met with the Taoiseach of Ireland Brian Cowen this morning. The President thanked the Taoiseach for Ireland’s assistance on important international issues and said that the U.S. and Ireland will be working together to address world hunger.

    The President later attended Speaker Pelosi’s Friends of Ireland Luncheon, accompanied by the Taoiseach and the Vice President. At the luncheon, President Obama paid tribute to the late Ted Kennedy.

    Just a few years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, so it would probably be maybe five years ago, when I had just gotten to the Senate, Teddy cornered me on the Senate floor for my support on a piece of legislation.  And I told him, “You’ve got my vote, Teddy, but I got to tell you, this is not looking good.  I do not think this thing is going to fly.”  But it did, with votes to spare.  And so I grabbed Teddy, pulled him aside.  I said, “How did you pull that off?”  And he just patted me on the back and he said, “Luck of the Irish!”

    Ireland Luncheon 3.17

    President Barack Obama addresses the Friends of Ireland luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 17, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    This evening President Obama and the First Lady will host the annual St. Patrick’s Day Reception, where the President and the Taoiseach will participate in a traditional Shamrock Ceremony.

    Green Fountain 3.17

    The water in the fountain on the North Lawn of the White House is dyed green in honor of St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

  • [UPDATE: This event has now concluded.]

    This morning HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius takes to the virtual pages of Yahoo! News to make the case once more on the urgency of reform for countless Americans for whom a health crisis puts their entire life in shambles. She harkens back to Natoma’s story, which the President told in Ohio this week, and explains the broader significance:

    What's remarkable about Natoma’s story is how unremarkable it is. She was unlucky enough to get sick. But that was just chance. It could have happened to any of the tens of millions of Americans who don't have health insurance. Or to any of the tens of millions more who are underinsured. Some of them have caps on their benefits, which means their coverage can disappear in the middle of a hospital stay or a round of chemotherapy.

    Those of us who work for large employers that can negotiate better insurance rates have slightly more security. But the share of Americans under 65 who get health insurance through their job has been going down every year since 2000. And as soon as any of us change jobs or retire or decide to start our own business, we're facing the same risks as Natoma. Even if we keep our jobs, our health care premiums are rising three times faster than wages, eating up a bigger chunk of our paychecks every year.

    Our health insurance system is failing at the very job it is supposed to do. It's supposed to protect people against exorbitant health costs, yet many Americans who have insurance still spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on health care. It's supposed to soften the financial blow that comes with getting sick, yet the Americans who are most likely to have serious health problems often can’t get insurance. It's supposed to give families peace of mind, but it’s hard to think of any other issue that causes as many worries.

    President Obama's health insurance reform plan will make our insurance system work for families, small business owners, and individuals like Natoma by making three significant changes.

    Secretary Sebelius will be taking your questions live at 5:15 as we hit the home stretch on health reform.

  • There’s no issue that touches people more directly than health care, so there’s good reason for people to want as much reassurance as they can get before the country goes ahead with reform.  That’s why those who work in our health care system day in and day out have a unique role in weighing in on the merits of any reform effort.   In that field, one could hardly find a better voice than Marla J. Weston, PhD, RN, head of the American Nurses Association, who spoke out today loudly and clearly: “If ever there was a time to trust a nurse—that time is now. Please trust me when I tell you that we can’t afford to put off reform for one more administration—one more political season—or even one more day… This legislation will enact very real and much-needed insurance reforms; it will place a new focus on wellness and prevention, improving access to primary care and expanding coverage to over 30 million people.”

    It would only make sense that Americans listen to groups dedicated to advocating for the sick and disabled, for our kids and our nation’s seniors, and for the American consumer.  And for women, communities of color, and people of faith, it is more than understandable that they would want to hear from groups that have studied the proposals closely to see how it impacts them and their communities.  Organizations representing 59,000 Catholic nuns, for example, joined together today to passionately urge Congress to act:  “In this Lenten time, we have launched nationwide prayer vigils for health care reform. We are praying for those who currently lack health care. We are praying for the nearly 45,000 who will lose their lives this year if Congress fails to act. We are also praying for you and your fellow Members of Congress as you complete your work in the coming days. For us, this health care reform is a faith mandate for life and dignity of all of our people.”

    Small businesses, fighting through a still-tough economy, also rightly want to know what this would mean for them, and the Small Business Majority makes the case on the benefits, adding that “Two-thirds or more of small business owners we polled in 17 states agree that healthcare reform is needed now to get the US economy back on track.”

    But those groups are just the tip of the iceberg -- in an unprecedented show of diverse, even sweeping support, a virtual army of organizations came out in support of the President’s health reform proposal this morning as Congress prepares to make its final decisions.  The astounding list of 244 organizations provided Families USA, which led the way in coordinating the coalition, is below:

  • This week, Senator Chris Dodd introduced a financial reform bill that would begin to bring accountability to our financial institutions and ensure that American taxpayers would never again be on the hook to bail out firms that were deemed “Too Big to Fail.” The President immediately said that he would "work with Chairman Dodd and his colleagues to strengthen the bill and will fight against efforts to weaken it."  Not surprisingly, opponents of reform went to work almost immediately taking him up on that fight.

    Just yesterday we learned that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, no stranger to fighting for the status quo, plans to launch a $3 million ad campaign aimed at bringing down the much needed reforms of our financial system. That’s $3 million to fight a bill that will protect American families by establishing a consumer financial protection agency that will bring transparency, stronger supervision and clear rules of the road to our financial system.

    The recession and the aftermath of the financial crisis saw over 8 million Americans lose their jobs, trillions in household wealth disappear and small businesses denied the credit they need to grow. And this was all brought about by a system that failed to monitor or constrict the risk-taking of firms that were too big to break apart in a way that would protect taxpayers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t think that’s a problem worth fixing, but the President does.

    The American people deserve a strong and independent consumer financial protection agency that enforces clear rules across the financial marketplace, and the President will fight against the Chamber’s or anyone else’s efforts to undermine the agency’s independence.

    If the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to come to the aid of the financial institutions that helped bring about this crisis, that’s their choice. But the President will work to ensure that we bring long overdue reforms to our financial system, because doing so will benefit the American people by laying a foundation for long-term growth and stability in our economy.

    Jen Psaki is Deputy Communications Director

  • As our year long debate on health care comes to a close there’s a lot of misinformation flying around. Case in point: a recent headline suggesting that health premiums would increase under the President’s health care plan. The suggestion of this article was that maybe Americans would be better off and end up paying less if we ditch reform just continue to do nothing.
     
    In fact, the opposite is true. Most people would pay less—in many cases a lot less.  Let’s look at why:

    In the absence of reform, health premiums are expected to continue skyrocketing. Those 20, 30 and 40% increases that you’ve heard about lately – they’ll be the rule not the exception.

    The real question, then, is whether the President’s plan would lower the cost of premiums from what they would be or increase them. Here, we don’t have to rely on hearsay or news articles – the Congressional Budget Office has offered  its official view on the question.
     
    According to the CBO, Americans buying the same coverage they have today in the individual market will see premiums fall by 14 to 20 percent compared to what they would pay without health insurance reform. This results from two important things that reform will do:

    • First,  the President’s Proposal introduces greater competition in the insurance market by establishing state-based exchanges where insurers will need to compete for business.  In addition, the proposal streamlines administrative costs by standardized forms and reducing the paperwork burden of providers.  CBO assumes that competition and administrative savings in the reformed market will generate significant savings, which will reduce average premiums for a comparable package of benefits by 7 to 10 percent compared to the cost of such benefits without reform in the individual market.
    • Second,  as a result of insurance market reforms that will be in place in the individual market and because of the individual responsibility requirement for coverage, CBO assumes that millions more people will have access to the individual market. According to the CBO, the impact of bringing these new people – many of whom are younger and healthier – into the market will help reduce premiums by 7 to 10 percent in the individual market.

    But wait, maybe you’ve heard opponents saying that CBO actually found that premiums would go up? Again, the facts matter here. CBO assumes that under the President’s Proposal individuals purchasing coverage in the reformed individual market will have access to a wider range of health benefits than they have in today’s individual market. So people may choose to buy better coverage.  Some may pay more because they are getting more for their money.

    And let’s not forget that the President’s plan includes the largest middle class tax cut for health insurance in our nation’s history. Critics also fail to point out that the majority of people purchasing coverage in the individual market will receive tax credits that on average will cover two-thirds of their premium. Once the impact of these new tax credits are taken into account, many people in the individual market could see their premiums drop by almost 60 percent compared to what they would have paid without health insurance reform.  

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

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