Read all posts from April 2010

  • Because our rules are so tough, they occasionally yield unintended consequences.  We attempt to take a common-sense approach to those situations, as we did this week in authorizing the National Security Advisor, General James Jones, to give very brief remarks introducing President Clinton at an Atlantic Council event.  The Atlantic Council is a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity that promotes American leadership and engagement in international affairs.  General Jones had served as the uncompensated, volunteer Board Chair of the group over a year ago.  Because the remarks were public, and because General Jones had long ago resigned, we concluded that the Ethics Pledge was not intended to prevent the short speech and we allowed it.  As always, we are posting the waiver here in the interests of transparency.

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

  • The Affordable Care Act has a number of important measures to promote more consumer choice and control when it comes to health insurance options.  A big part of that will be a web portal that offers American consumers and small businesses the ability to find health coverage options in their states through a clear, easy-to-understand process.
     
    The web portal will be a central place to get information about these options -- including private insurance plans, high risk pools, CHIP and Medicaid.
      
    Of course, before we can present this information to individuals, we need to assemble a national dataset of plans in one central place -- something that hasn't been done before.  So today we have started a process to collect data from insurance companies by releasing an Interim Final Rule (IFR) that puts forth a framework for the process moving forward.  Key to the success of the portal will be input from the private sector and the public to ensure that what we're aiming to do will be helpful and effective.  So take a look at the Rule and let us know what you think.
       
    We plan to deploy an initial version of the portal by July 1, which will improve and add new capabilities over time, with the help of public input.  The portal will grow on an ongoing basis to deliver ever better information and value to consumers and small businesses.  We can't wait to launch the first version of many to come, and hope that you will give us plenty of guidance on the path ahead.

    Todd Park is the Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services

  • In September, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would routinely release visitor records. Today, the White House releases visitor records that were created in January 2010. Today’s release also includes several visitor records created prior to September 16, 2009 that were requested by members of the public during March 2010 pursuant to the White House voluntary disclosure policy. This release brings the grand total of records that this White House has released to well over 300,000 records. You can view them all in our Disclosures section.

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

  • First Lady Paints Butterfly on Mural

    Two volunteers watch as First Lady Michelle Obama paints a butterfly on a wall mural at the Marie Reed Community Learning Center in Washington, DC, April 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

    Yesterday the First Lady added some color to the walls of Marie Reed Community Learning Center during a Congressional Service Event, where the congressional spouses had painted murals on the walls of the school. The First Lady expressed her belief that the project would “add a little brightness to a community that is growing and developing every single day.” She said that it was an honor to contribute to the valuable initiative, joking that it was a risk since they were a group of “well intentioned but not necessarily artistic people.”

    We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my folks - my fellow folks at the Congressional Club, all the spouses.  We had an opportunity to spend a wonderful lunch yesterday.  It was just a truly special afternoon and it’s so good that everyone has made a commitment to step out of our tea dresses and away from the crystal and to roll up our sleeves and be ready to paint and to get a little dirty.

    It’s important, so important, not just to me but to the community to have us out here; for our kids to see that we not only care about them, which we do -- we are so proud of you all and we want the world to see you all and understand your potential, to see grade point averages go from 2.0 to 3-point-who-knows-what.  We are so proud and we want to keep lifting you up and showing other kids that these opportunities are available.

    First Lady at Marie Reed Community Learning Center

    First Lady Michelle Obama talks with other volunteers while planting a garden while visiting the Marie Reed Community Learning Center in Washington, DC, April 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (234MB) | mp3 (9MB)

    [UPDATE: Read an update on the federal response to the oil spill from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs posted May 1, 2010.]

    Earlier today, President Obama delivered remarks on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico before talking about the economy. He explained that while BP is ultimately responsible for the costs of cleanup operations, the government has been discussing the response effort with BP and is prepared to help affected communities.

    He announced that there are now five staging areas to protect sensitive shorelines along with federal response personnel in the area and response vessels and aircraft on the scene. The President also said that Secretary Salazar will conduct a thorough review of the oil spill and report on additional precautions and technologies that should be required to prevent future accidents.

    So, let me be clear.  I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security, but I've always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment.  The local economies and livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast as well as the ecology of the region are at stake.  And we're going to continue to update the American people on the situation in the Gulf going forward.

    The President then discussed the GDP report released today, which shows that the economy grew at a rate of 3.2 percent as opposed to last year during the quarter when it shrank at a rate of 6.4 percent. He explained that the number shows that the “economic heartbeat is growing stronger,” but that he measures progress by a different pulse – “the progress the American people feel in their own lives day in, day out.” The President stated that “the work of moving the economy forward remains our focus every single day.”

    Now, government can’t replace every job that has been lost. That’s not government’s role.  It is America’s business all across the country -- the private sector, businesses -- that have always been and will always be the engines of our job creation.  Our task, then, is to create the conditions necessary for those businesses to open their doors, expand their operations, and ultimately hire more workers.

    That’s precisely what we’ve tried to do by cutting taxes for small businesses; by backing thousands of loans supporting billions of dollars in lending; and by making targeted investments in the areas of our economy where the potential for job growth is greatest -– areas like clean energy.

    He talked about Itron and A123 Systems, both companies that were able to capitalize their growth by taking advantage of the Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credit in the Recovery Act, which helped several companies hire more workers, add equipment, boost output, and promote American business in the clean energy industry. 

    In fact, this program was so successful that it was oversubscribed by a ratio of three to one.  That’s why I’ve called for an additional $5 billion in investment into these projects to accelerate the creation of clean-energy jobs in America’s factories.  Because every time a new factory or plant opens or expands in America, it becomes important to more people than the workers it employs; it becomes an economic lifeline to a community, capable of supporting dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of jobs indirectly.

     

    President Obama on 2010 GDP Numbers

    President Barack Obama comments on the first quarter 2010 GDP numbers in the Rose Garden of the White House, April, 30, 2010. President Obama is joined by representatives and workers from two U.S. manufacturers, Itron, a Washington state based manufacturer of smart energy meters, and A123 Systems, a Massachusetts based advanced battery manufacturer, that are expanding production and hiring as a result of Recovery Act investments in innovation and technology. April 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

     

  • First they said the Wall Street Reform bill was a "bailout."  They thought they’d found the winning strategy to kill reform.  But there was one problem: it wasn’t true.  And with all the facts against them, there was only so long they could use that argument as an excuse for delay.

    Now, less than forty-eight hours after Republicans finally allowed the Senate to begin debating Wall Street Reform, they have moved on to the next strategy: claiming that a bill designed to empower consumers is actually some kind of massive government takeover.

    But there's one problem: it’s no more true than the bailout argument.

    Today, seven different Federal agencies have authority to write rules for consumer financial products and services, enforce the rules, or both.  But most of them are only focused on the health of banks, and none sees consumer financial protection as its top priority.  Meanwhile, big parts of the market for consumer financial services operate without any real oversight at all.

    Instead of this inefficient, ineffective system, the Senate bill will establish an independent bureau of consumer financial protection with a straightforward mission: to prevent abusive and deceptive practices by providers of financial services and to promote transparency and consumer choice.

    The case for this reform couldn’t be more clear.  The current system has left millions of Americans -- including servicemen and women, college students and working families across the country -- vulnerable to predatory lending and other abusive practices.  And poor oversight of the mortgage lending market contributed to the financial crisis in the first place.

    This is not about inserting the government where it doesn’t belong.  It’s about making sure that consumers can get the information they need to make the financial choices that are right for them.

    This isn’t about burdening community banks with more regulation.  It’s about holding non-banks like mortgage brokers to the same standards as the local banks they compete against.

    And no matter how much the Republicans try to scare small business, this isn’t about regulating dentists or grocers.  It’s about holding unscrupulous credit providers, be they payday lenders or auto lenders, accountable -- so that they can’t trap customers with misleading terms buried in the fine print.  This is good for families and this is good for those fair and honest credit providers who play by the rules and can now face a level playing field.

    While Republicans play Whac-A-Mole with financial reform, President Obama is trying to fix a system that we all know is broken.  He has been clear from day one that a consumer agency must be independent, with independent authority, funding, rule-writing and enforcement.

    We owe it to the American people to give them an advocate and we won't stand by while defenders of Wall Street attempt to weaken protections for consumers.

    Jen Psaki is Deputy Communications Director

  • Over the past few days, more than 170,000 people weighed in on the six finalists in the White House Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.  The race was neck and neck with all of the schools finishing within half a point of one another. 

    The top three finalists, in no particular order are:

    The next step in the Challenge is for President Obama to choose which school to visit and deliver the commencement address at later this spring.  The final winner will be announced on Tuesday, May 4.  We are working with all of the six finalist schools to have a Cabinet secretary or senior administration official deliver the commencement address if they are not selected by the President. 

    We launched the Commencement Challenge to give public high schools around the country a chance to show President Obama what they are made of, and how they are challenging their students to excel in academics, take personal responsibility for their education, and graduate high school ready for college and career.  Over a thousand schools submitted outstanding applications that are testament to the great work happening in public schools around the country.

    Each of the six finalists in the Commencement Challenge - Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, KS, Clark Montessori in Cincinnati, OH, Denver School of Science and Technology in Denver, Colorado, Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, CA, Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, MI and MAST Academy in Miami, FL- are extraordinary schools and each has worked incredibly hard over the past few months to demonstrate the unique aspects of their school.  I am so proud of these schools. 

    Thank you to everyone who has participated in the Commencement Challenge!  Be sure to check back on Tuesday to find out which school the President will visit.

    Heather Higginbottom is a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
     

  • Ed. note: Beth Noveck and staff from the Office of Science and Technology Policy will be live-blogging from the Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking summit all day on the Open Government Blog.

    Last month, the Administration issued its Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government. The Guidance provides a policy and legal framework for the use of prizes and challenges to promote open government, innovation, and other national priorities. Today the White House and the Case Foundation are hosting a summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking. The day is organized into a combination of presentations and panels, breakout roundtables, and Ignite Sessions all designed to deepen our understanding of how to incorporate prizes and other innovative techniques into the way we solve complex economic and social problems.

    There are over 200 public and private sector participants at this event, learning from one another how to bring innovation to policymaking.

    You can see the program here. While the speeches and panels will be broadcast online next week, today you can watch live interviews with the speakers, including Sonal Shah of the Domestic Policy Council, Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation, Bonin Bough of PepsiCo, and Jim Shelton of the Department of Education.

    We welcome your participation in this event. Before and during the sessions, you can submit questions via Twitter, using the hashtag #opengov, via email at casesoup@casefoundation.org or by using the interactive chat window on the Case Foundation website available during the sessions.

    Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative.

  • Ed. Note: This post was updated at 3:45PM.

    The response to the BP Oil Spill began as an emergency search and rescue mission by the U.S. Coast Guard and other partners on April 20. Concurrently, command center operations were stood up immediately in the Gulf Coast to begin also addressing the environmental impact of the incident.

    The morning after the explosion, Secretary Salazar deployed Deputy Secretary Hayes down to the gulf to assist with coordination and response to the incident.

    The Administration immediately began holding regular calls with BP leadership and numerous senior-level meetings have been held between the administration and BP to discuss BP’s response effort and federal oversight and support.

    The National Response Team (NRT), an organization of 16 federal departments and agencies responsible for coordinating emergency preparedness and response to oil and hazardous substance pollution incidents was quickly activated and a coordinated group of federal partners—including the United States Coast Guard, Departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency—immediately began directing and overseeing BP’s response.

    The President immediately began actively monitoring the incident and consulting on the response. The President has been in contact with all the governors of the states that may be affected and ordered that the administration use every single available resource at our disposal.

    The Department of Defense is fully integrated into the DHS-led team and fully supportive of all response activities. Navy assets have been involved since day #1, and DOD continues to offer and prepare to offer what is needed as the situation develops.

    The Secretary of Defense has approved a request for two C-130 aircraft with Modular Aerial Spray Systems (MASS), which are currently en route to the affected area. The Coast Guard has requested assistance from the Department of Defense for these aircraft.

    These aircraft dispense the same dispersant chemical being used by BP and the federal responders. Each system is capable of covering up to 250 acres per flight with three flights per aircraft per day.

    Additionally, in direct support of the Coast Guard under an existing pollution clean-up and salvage operations agreement, the Navy is providing a variety of oil pollution control equipment. The Navy has sent thousands of feet of inflatable oil boom with mooring equipment, several skimming systems, related support gear, and personnel to support oil spill response efforts. Naval Air Station Pensacola is serving as a staging facility for Coast Guard contractor-provided equipment.

    Early on, the President directed responding agencies to not only devote every resource to respond to this incident but to also determine its cause. Earlier this week, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar laid out the next steps for the investigation.

    The President has also dispatched Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Salazar, EPA Administrator Jackson, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Policy Carol Browner and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to the Gulf Coast to ensure all is being done to respond to this oil spill.

    DHS Secretary Napolitano announced that this incident is of national significance, the Department of Interior has announced that they will be sending SWAT teams to the Gulf to inspect all platforms and rigs and the EPA is conducting air monitoring activities to gather information on the impact of the controlled burn on air quality.

    By the Numbers To Date:

    • Personnel were quickly deployed and 1,900 have been responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife—hundreds more than yesterday.
    • Approximately 75 response vessels have been responding on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts—in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.
    • More than 217,000 feet of boom (barrier) have been deployed to contain the spill—an increase of more than 40,000 feet since yesterday. An additional 305,000 feet is available.
    • 20,313 barrels (853,146 gallons) of an oil-water mix have been recovered—an increase of 90,000 gallons since yesterday.
    • 139,459 gallons of dispersant have been deployed—an increase of more than 40,000 gallons since yesterday. An additional 51,000 gallons are available.
    • Six staging areas (Biloxi, Miss., Pensacola, Fla. Venice, La., Pascagoula, Miss. and Theodore, Ala., and Fourchon, La.) were set up to protect sensitive shorelines—an increase of 1 since yesterday.

    Robert Gibbs is White House Press Secretary

  • Today’s GDP report shows important signs of continued recovery.  Real GDP grew at a solid 3.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter of 2010.  This is the third consecutive quarter of positive growth.  To put the rate of growth into perspective, real GDP fell at a 6.4 percent rate in the first quarter of 2009.  There is no question that the economy has improved dramatically over the past year.

    Each additional quarter of GDP growth is a welcome sign that the economy is healing from a severe recession that cost over eight million jobs and wiped out trillions of dollars in household and family wealth. Given the severity and depth of the recession, it will take a number of quarters of robust growth and strong employment gains to return the economy to full health and full employment.

    The most encouraging news in the report was the strong growth of key types of private spending by consumers.  Personal consumption expenditures grew at an annual rate of 3.6 percent, suggesting renewed confidence among households.  This growth is also consistent with the rise in tax refunds in the first quarter due to the Recovery Act (see the CEA’s Third Quarterly Report on the Economic Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for more information on the surge in Recovery Act tax relief in the first quarter).  Business investment spending on equipment and software rose strongly as well, increasing at a 13.4 percent rate.  Businesses also increased their inventory investment substantially, suggesting they are more optimistic about future sales.

    While there is much to be encouraged by in the report, there were two areas of notable weakness.  First, both residential and non-residential structures investment declined, reflecting continuing slack in the housing and commercial real estate markets.  Second, state and local government purchases fell at a 3.8 percent rate, more than offsetting a small rise in Federal purchases.  This fall in state and local government spending was the largest since 1981, and is consistent with the continuing severe budget shortfalls in many states.

    The Administration continues to work with Congress to take responsible actions that will help the private sector create jobs and speed the recovery.

    CEA 43010 GDP Chart

     

    Christina Romer is the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

  • Just over a month ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. This landmark legislation gives the American people the control over their own health insurance they need and deserve -- by holding insurance companies accountable, bringing down costs and giving all Americans more insurance choices.

    The day of that signing the President made one thing clear – he expects his Administration to deliver the benefits of reform to the American people as effectively and expeditiously as possible.  As the President said, “we need to get this right.”   Over the last month, we’ve begun doing that.  We’ve made significant progress in implementing the new law and making reform a reality for millions of Americans.  

    Here’s what we’ve done:

    We’ve Held Insurance Companies Accountable
    Effective September 23, the Affordable Care Act prohibits some of the worst insurance company practices, including the practice of rescinding coverage from policyholders when they become sick and need it most.  After media accounts indicated that an insurance company actively worked to rescind health care coverage for women diagnosed with breast cancer, the Administration called on this company to end this practice and immediately comply with the new law. Two days ago, the insurance industry announced they will immediately follow the new rules and not wait for the new law to make it illegal. We’re glad to hear that the insurance companies are now doing the right thing -– and we intend to hold them to their word.

    We’ve Helped Small Businesses Lower Costs
    Across the country, small businesses are struggling to provide their employees with affordable, quality health benefits. Rising costs have forced many small businesses to charge their employees more for care, or eliminate benefits altogether.

    The Affordable Care Act provides tax credits to small employers that purchase health insurance for employees. An estimated 4 million small businesses nationwide could qualify for the tax credit, which will provide a total $40 billion in relief for small firms over the next 10 years. Small businesses can take advantage of the tax credit immediately and the Internal Revenue Service has begun delivering postcards to more than four million small businesses and tax-exempt organizations to make them aware of the tax credit. Learn more about the tax credits here.

    We’ve Expanded Coverage for Young Adults
    In the past, college graduations were a time to celebrate and a time to worry. For many young adults, graduating from college meant losing health insurance coverage.

    This year, the Affordable Care Act will allow many young adults to stay on their parents’ health care plan until age 26. This provision takes effect on September 23, 2010. Under the new law, some young adults graduating from college this spring could risk losing their health insurance before the provision takes effect, only to be added back onto their parents’ policy the next time their parents’ plan comes up for renewal on or after September 23rd.  On April 19, Secretary Sebelius called on insurance companies to begin covering young adults voluntarily before the September 23 implementation date. 65 insurance plans, including some of the largest carriers in the country have agreed to do so. This will help ensure many Americans graduating from college this spring can stay on their parents’ health insurance plan.

    On April 27, the Internal Revenue Service released new guidance specifically stating that children can be covered tax-free on their parents' health insurance policy. This new guidance provides important information to businesses and includes information on incentives the Affordable Care Act provides for employers to immediately extend health insurance coverage to young adults.

    We’ve Provided Relief for Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions
    Before reform, parents across America worried how they would provide coverage to their children if they had a pre-existing condition. Through no fault of their own, these children were locked out of the insurance marketplace.

    This year, provisions in the Affordable Care Act prohibiting health insurers from excluding coverage of children because of preexisting conditions take effect. When questions were raised about whether insurers would work to avoid covering children with pre-existing conditions, Secretary Sebelius called on the nation’s health insurance companies to provide coverage to these vulnerable Americans. On March 29, health insurance companies agreed to ensure children with pre-existing conditions were not denied coverage.

    Adults with pre-existing conditions also suffered under the old insurance industry rules that allowed insurance companies to charge sky-high rates or deny coverage altogether. 

    Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions will be banned in 2014.  In the meantime, a new temporary high risk pool program will provide immediate relief. The high risk pool program will offer affordable health insurance coverage to people who are uninsured because of pre-existing conditions. States may choose whether and how they participate in the program, which is funded entirely by the Federal government. If a state chooses not to participate, eligible residents of the state will be able to obtain insurance through a federal high risk pool.

    Plans are underway to create the national and state high-risk pools by July 1st.  In early  April, the Department of Health and Human Services asked states to declare how they intend to participate in the program by April 30, 2010. We anticipate that many states will decide to offer their citizens the national high risk pool, but regardless of whether or how a state participates, all Americans who meet the eligibility criteria will have the opportunity to join a high risk pool.

    We’re Protecting Your Premium Dollars
    For too long, insurance companies could spend your premium dollars on things like CEO salaries, advertising and overhead – instead of improving care and improving patient health.

    A new policy in the Affordable Care Act – called the medical loss ratio -- creates new incentives for insurance companies to be more efficient, and ensure that consumer premiums are being used for medical care, not excessive and unnecessary administrative costs. 

    The law requires large group plans to spend 85 percent of your premium dollars (80 percent in the small group market) on medical care.  It also calls for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to establish uniform definitions and methods for calculating the medical loss ratio. While the law calls for NAIC to deliver recommendations on how to do this by December, 2010, Secretary Sebelius called on NAIC to deliver its recommendations by June 1, 2010. NAIC has agreed to the accelerated timeline.

    Throughout our work to implement this legislation, we’ve made communicating with you one of our top priorities. From town hall meetings with President Obama, to webcasts with Secretary Sebelius and blog posts here on the White House blog, we have worked to answer your questions about this important new law. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be expanding our public education campaign and doing more to ensure you have the facts about reform.

    Nancy-Ann DeParle is Director of the White House Office of Health Reform