Robert GibbsMay 06, 2010
08:59 PM EDT
This morning, President Obama was briefed by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan on the ongoing efforts in response to the severe weather and flooding in Tennessee and across the Southeast. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen characterized the weather events in a press call this afternoon, “The storm which occurred really Saturday and Sunday was unprecedented. It was by any measure, on both days, record-setting amounts of rain.”
The President signed a disaster declaration in Alabama on May 3 and another in Tennessee on May 4, opening affected areas up for Federal funding assistance. For those affected by the recent floods, assistance may be available by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or by visiting www.DisasterAssistance.gov. You can also access this information by visiting www.m.fema.gov from your mobile device.
Despite simultaneous response efforts in the wake of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast, FEMA representatives are on the ground working directly with state and local officials. Earlier this week FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate visited Nashville, where he met with Governor Bredesen and local officials to discuss federal support for the response. This afternoon Governor Bredesen described the federal response:
I have to say that FEMA and the White House have been absolutely supportive. Very quickly FEMA was on the ground here before the raindrops started falling…The President was on the phone to me before the sun came up practically on Monday morning. Slightly after it came up, other people from the White House had called and checked in with us and helped…I’ve never seen this kind of a response to things that have happened. We’ve had our share of tornadoes and those kinds of things… I’m very, very pleased with the response we’ve gotten from the administration.
At the request of the President, Administrator Fugate returned to travel throughout Tennessee today and tomorrow to survey the damage and receive on the ground briefings on the response effort. Administrator Fugate explained that the response and recovery work is a team effort between federal, state, and local agencies as well as with nongovernment volunteer partners such as the Red Cross.
Joe Becker, the Senior Vice President for Disaster Relief, gave a sense of how the Red Cross is providing comforts to those affected and reiterated the need for partnerships in the response:
I can tell you from the Red Cross perspective, we have volunteers here from 37 states who have fanned out across the state of Tennessee and are still meeting those immediate emergency needs in many places – shelter, food, supplies that people need to clean up and just immediate comfort items.
But let’s be clear here. This is going to be a long slog. This is going to be for weeks and weeks with various communities in different states. It’s going to take a team effort of government, of nongovernment, and of people helping people.
You can lend a hand to those affected by flooding and tornados in Tennessee and across the region by donating to the Red Cross at http://www.redcross.org/ or texting “RedCross” to 90999 and a $10 donation will be added to your bill.
Robert Gibbs is White House Press Secretary
May 06, 2010
04:54 PM EDT
Yesterday, President Obama signed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 into law. The law includes provisions that help provide support for the caregivers of seriously injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, helps improve services for our nation’s 1.8 million women veterans, and helps expand the availability of health care for veterans and services preventing veterans from becoming homeless. These measures and others honor the sacrifices of our men and women who have served this country proudly, the commitment and dedication of the those who care for our wounded service members every day, and our Nation's sacred responsibility to stand by our troops, our veterans, and their families.
Here’s a quick look at what the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 does:
- Provides veterans’ caregivers with training, counseling, supportive services, and a living stipend; provides health care to the family caregivers of injured veterans under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA); requires independent oversight of the caregiver program;
- Requires VA to report to Congress on its comprehensive assessment of the barriers in providing health care to the 1.8 million women veterans’ currently receiving VA health care and it requires VA to train its mental health providers in the treatment of military sexual trauma. It also mandates that VA implement pilot programs to provide child care to women veterans receiving medical care and provide readjustment services to women veterans;
- Expands VA’s authority to provide incentives so that VA can recruit and retain high-quality health care providers; provides travel reimbursements for veterans receiving treatment at VA facilities and grants for veterans service organizations transporting veterans residing in highly rural areas;
- Authorizes the Secretary to utilize non-VA facilities for the care and treatment of veterans suffering from TBI when the Secretary: (1) is unable to provide such treatment or services at the frequency or for the duration necessary; or (2) determines that it is optimal to the veteran's recovery and rehabilitation;
- Establishes and increases eligibility for Iraq and Afghanistan service members, including National Guard and Reserve members, to receive readjustment counseling; requires VA to conduct a study on veteran suicides;
- Emphasizes VA's commitment to provide medical care for certain Vietnam-era veterans exposed to herbicide and Gulf-War era veterans who have insufficient medical evidence to establish a service-connected disability; and
- Eliminates copayments for veterans who are catastrophically disabled.
To read the President’s remarks from the bill signing, please click here.
General James Jones is National Security Advisor
Dan PfeifferMay 06, 2010
04:29 PM EDT
As we’ve noted on this blog before, many in the Senate have spent a remarkable amount of time and energy blocking well-qualified nominees to important Administration posts in an effort to score political points. Well, today we learn from Senate leaders that there are nearly 100 nominees waiting to get their final up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. That’s 16 times the number of nominees that were awaiting final confirmation at this point in George W. Bush’s presidency. And all told, there are 228 nominees currently pending in the Senate confirmation process. This extraordinary level of obstruction has caused a substantial backlog on the Senate Calendar; it’s long past time for Senate Republicans to live up to their responsibilities to vote on these nominees so they can get to work on behalf of the American people.
To put this in perspective, at this point in George W. Bush's presidency, there were just 6 nominees on the Senate Calendar. We have 96 waiting for a final confirmation vote, including nominees to fill critical positions at the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the National Transportation Safety Board, and dozens of judges at the district court and appellate court level.
It is time for Senators to stop abusing their responsibility to provide advice and consent on these well-qualified nominees. The American people expect action from their public servants, and Senate Republicans should stop putting partisan gamesmanship ahead of their responsibility to serve the American people.
Below is a list of President Obama’s nominees currently awaiting a final floor vote in the Senate:
Jesse LeeMay 06, 2010
02:09 PM EDT
Jesse LeeMay 06, 2010
12:09 PM EDT
This morning we posted about the Republican alternative amendment on consumer protections in Wall Street Reform. As the Senate continues debate, the President weighs in:
Nearly two years after the collapse on Wall Street that cost over 8 million jobs on Main Street, the American people deserve strong, tough reform that will help prevent another financial crisis. The bill before the Senate demands accountability from Wall Street and includes the strongest consumer protections ever.
Unfortunately, throughout this debate, there have been partisan attempts to obstruct progress and weaken reform. Today, the Senate is considering a Republican amendment that will gut consumer protections and is worse than the status quo. I will not allow amendments like this one written by Wall Street’s lobbyists to pass for reform. This amendment will significantly weaken consumer protection oversight, includes dangerous carve outs for payday lenders, debt collectors, and other financial services operations, and hurts the ability of community and local banks to compete by creating an unlevel playing field with their non-bank competitors.
As I have said throughout this process, I want to continue to work with Democrats and Republicans because protecting the American people should not be a partisan issue. But we must work together in good faith. Alternatives that gut consumer protections and do nothing to empower the American people by cracking down on unfair and predatory practices are unacceptable, and I urge the Senate to vote no on weakening consumer protections and instead stand with the American people.
UPDATE: The amendment was defeated, 68 votes against, 38 votes for it.
Beth NoveckMay 06, 2010
09:48 AM EDT
With a major water main break in Boston and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in the news these days, it is obvious how much our country needs well-trained chemical engineers with expertise in pollution prevention and treatment. Professor Benjamin Davis of The Cooper Union College is just such an expert. He had been looking for a way to teach young people the field he loves so that they, too, might know about and choose chemical engineering as a college and career option.
Thanks to an article in the newspaper, he came across a link for National Lab Day—a nationwide initiative to foster collaborations among volunteers, students, and educators—and signed up. Yesterday, at the East Side Community High School on the lower east side of Manhattan, Professor Davis taught 10th graders (as well as this U.S. Deputy CTO) how waste water is treated on an industrial scale. In keeping with the basic tenet of National Lab Day, this wasn't just a lecture. It was a hands-on experiment through which we learned how to clean and purify "contaminated" water—namely 100 ml of tap water that the good Professor had mixed with 18 g of dirt, 10 g of flour, 2 ml of salad dressing, and some dish soap that science teacher Joe Vicente had provided for the experiment.
This get-your-hands-dirty experiment can be traced in part back to last November, when the President launched the "Educate to Innovate" campaign to motivate and inspire students to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math. At that White House event, he announced the launch of National Lab Day and challenged Americans to get involved in a historic grassroots effort to bring hands-on learning to students by upgrading science labs, supporting project-based learning, and building communities of support for STEM teachers.
Since its launch the effort has quickly gained momentum, with National Lab Day projects now scheduled in every state, involving over 1,500 schools already and over 200 science and engineering societies and organizations representing millions of potential volunteers. National Lab Day matches volunteers with schools and teachers to coordinate face-to-face learning opportunities. New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who attended today's event, complimented the innovative approach of National Lab Day, which brings knowledgeable experts into America's middle and high schools to get kids interested science.
"Yo-Yo Ma is in New York today and he can visit five schools," Klein remarked. "But a program like National Lab Day can put a ‘Yo-Yo Ma’ of science and technology in every classroom." And you never know what these match-ups will lead to, he added. "I had a physics teacher in high school who helped me get a science grant that let me go to college."
And although Yo-Yo Ma was not part of today’s water treatment experiment, TV stars Tim Daly and Andrea Bowen turned up to add some chemistry to the chemistry. And of course, there was pizza.
May 12th is the official National Lab Day kick-off, but National Lab Day isn't just a single day. It's an ongoing, year-round, grassroots effort in participatory citizenship designed to encourage young people, as President Obama has said, "to be makers of things, not just consumers of things."
Students at East Side Community High School in New York learn how to clean up dirty water as part of a National Lab Day experience. (Photos by Beth Noveck)
Beth Noveck is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer
Dan PfeifferMay 06, 2010
07:00 AM EDT
Earlier this week we put out a list of “10 Most Wanted Lobbyist Loopholes” – examples of how industry lobbyists are looking to weaken Wall Street reform. It turns out that we underestimated their ambition. A new amendment put forward by Senator Shelby on consumer financial protection would not just weaken the bill, it would weaken the status quo.
This new proposal keeps consumer protection oversight under banks' prudential supervisors, whose primary responsibility is safety and soundness of the bank, not consumer welfare. The record on this arrangement is unacceptable. It also leaves payday lenders, debt collectors, and other financial services operations with a huge exemption from federal oversight simply because they aren’t called “banks.” It leaves community banks to compete on an unlevel playing field with their non-bank competitors. And it would prohibit updating existing subprime regulations that protect consumers from abusive loans, and it would block states from enforcing the law.
We are heartened to see that on some issues the Republicans have decided to join Democrats in a constructive, bipartisan way. But on the issue that will arguably do the most to benefit everyday Americans on a day to day basis – that is, consumer protection – they continue to oppose all serious efforts at reform. Two years after a financial crisis that was exacerbated by the lack of transparency in the market for consumer financial products, the Republicans would still rather stand with the big banks than with American families.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Heidi AveryMay 05, 2010
10:04 PM EDT
The Joint Information Center provides the latest updates from the Gulf Coast including a snapshot of the last 24 hours below. Federal authorities, both military and civilian, continue to work onsite and around the clock to respond to and mitigate the impact of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A chronology of the ongoing administration-wide response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill, beginning on April 20, is available here.
Heidi Avery is White House Deputy Homeland Security Advisor
The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill
Prepared by the Joint Information Center
UPDATED May 5, 2010 7 PM
In the Past 24 Hours:
Secretary Salazar Gulf Coast Visit
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar surveyed ongoing response efforts to combat the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, inspecting the four-story cofferdam that will attempt to capture the largest leak from the damaged wellhead; making an aerial survey of containment and cleanup efforts underway on Gulf waters; and visiting national wildlife refuges on the Louisiana and Alabama coast to assess on-the-ground efforts to protect sensitive areas.
Successful Controlled Burn
Favorable weather conditions allowed responders to conduct a successful controlled burn operation. As part of a coordinated response that combines tactics deployed above water, below water, offshore, and close to coastal areas, controlled burns efficiently remove oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and wildlife.
NASA Satellite Assets
At NOAA’s request, NASA has agreed to use their ER-2 aircraft, equipped with a highly specialized scanner (the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) system) to provide NOAA high resolution images of the threatened Gulf shoreline. This will assist valuable NOAA’s damage assessment activities by forecasting spill trajectories and conducting mass balance calculations. Additionally, NASA has employed satellite instruments both to detect the extent of the entire oil spill, and to see the details of the extent of selected areas of the spill.
Additional Staging Location
A 10th staging location was established in Panama City, Fla., joining nine others in Biloxi, Miss., Pensacola, Fla., Pascagoula, Miss., Dauphin Island, Ala., Port Sulphur, La., Shell Beach, La., Slidell, La., Port Fourchon, La., and Venice, La.
Aerial Dispersant Spray Missions
Modular Aerial Spray System (MASS) aircraft flew four missions—dispensing the same dispersant chemical being used by BP and the federal responders. These systems are capable of covering up to 250 acres per flight.
NOAA Fisheries continues to collect seafood samples and transfer those to the National Seafood Inspection Lab.
NOAA Ocean and Marsh Imaging Flights
Two NOAA turbo-prop aircraft are positioned in Mobile, Ala. One will fly marine mammal survey missions—the second aircraft will conduct ocean imaging missions, providing valuable information about the oil thickness and density on the sea surface. A third NOAA aircraft is positioned in New Orleans and staged to conduct aerial photographic flights of marsh areas.
Ocean Exploration Mission
A NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research-sponsored mission is en route to collect seafloor and water column data from areas near the oil spill source.
National Park Service Response Website
The National Park Service created an oil spill response website, available at http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/oil-spill-response.htm, to update the public about potential park closures, resources at risk, and NPS actions to protect vital park space and wildlife.
By the Numbers to Date:
- Personnel were quickly deployed and approximately 7,900 are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife.
- Nearly 200 vessels are 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.
- Approximately 564,000 of feet of boom (regular and sorbent) have been deployed to contain the spill—and 1.6 million feet are available.
- More than 1.2 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
- More than 190,000 gallons of dispersant have been deployed. More than 55,000 gallons are available.
- Nine staging areas have been set up to protect vital shoreline in all potentially affected Gulf Coast states (Biloxi, Miss., Pensacola, Fla., Pascagoula, Miss., Dauphin Island, Ala., Port Sulphur, La., Shell Beach, La., Slidell, La., Port Fourchon, La., Venice, La.).
- For information about the response effort, visit www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.
- To contact the Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center, call (985) 902-5231.
- To volunteer, or to report oiled shoreline, call (866) 448-5816. Volunteer opportunities can also be found here.
- To submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system, or to submit alternative response technology, services, or products, call 281-366-5511.
- To report oiled wildlife, call (866) 557-1401. Messages will be checked hourly.
- For information about validated environmental air and water sampling results, visit www.epa.gov/bpspill.
- For National Park Service updates about potential park closures, resources at risk, and NPS actions to protect vital park space and wildlife, visit http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/oil-spill-response.htm.
- To file a claim, or report spill-related damage, call BP’s helpline at (800) 440-0858. A BP fact sheet with additional information is available here. For those who have already pursued the BP claims process and are not satisfied with BP’s resolution, can call the Coast Guard at (800) 280-7118. More information about what types of damages are eligible for compensation under the Oil Pollution Act as well as guidance on procedures to seek that compensation can be found here.
Jesse LeeMay 05, 2010
09:18 PM EDT
Welcoming a boisterous crowd to the Rose Garden for Cinco de Mayo, the President had a long list of people to recognize. From Mexico’s Interior Secretary, Fernando Gomez Mont, to Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, to esteemed Members of Congress, to Secretaries Solis, Napolitano, and Salazar (who was not in attendance), to the Maru Montero Dance Company and DJ Javier Cortes, it was a crowd more than worthy of recognition.
The President also gave a nod to "Los Suns," the Phoenix basketball team who has made a statement by wearing jerseys in their playoff games that give a nod to American and Arizona's diversity. The President added his own statement:
So today reminds us that America’s diversity is America’s strength. That’s why I spoke out against the recently passed law in Arizona. (Applause.) Make no mistake, our immigration system is broken. And after so many years in which Washington has failed to meet its responsibilities, Americans are right to be frustrated, including folks along border states. But the answer isn’t to undermine fundamental principles that define us as a nation. We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like, or how they talk, or how they dress. We can’t turn law-abiding American citizens —- and law-abiding immigrants —- into subjects of suspicion and abuse. We can’t divide the American people that way. That’s not the answer. That’s not who we are as the United States of America.
And that’s why I’ve instructed my administration to closely monitor the new law in Arizona, to examine the civil rights and other implications that it may have. That’s why we have to close the door on this kind of misconceived action by meeting our obligations here in Washington.
So I want to say it again, just in case anybody is confused. The way to fix our broken immigration system is through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. (Applause.) That means responsibility from government to secure our borders, something we have done and will continue to do. It means responsibility from businesses that break the law by undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers -— they’ve got to be held accountable. It means responsibility from people who are living here illegally. They’ve got to admit that they broke the law, and pay taxes, and pay a penalty, and learn English, and get right before the law -- and then get in line and earn their citizenship.
Comprehensive reform —- that’s how we’re going to solve this problem. And I know there’s been some commentary over the last week since I talked about this difficult issue: Well, is this politically smart to do? Can you get Republican votes? Look, of course, it’s going to be tough. That’s the truth. Anybody who tells you it’s going to be easy or I can wave a magic wand and make it happen hasn’t been paying attention how this town works. (Laughter.)
We need bipartisan support. But it can be done. And it needs to be done. So I was pleased to see a strong proposal for comprehensive reform presented in the Senate last week —- and I was pleased that it was based on a bipartisan framework. I want to begin work this year, and I want Democrats and Republicans to work with me -- because we’ve got to stay true to who we are, a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Dan PfeifferMay 05, 2010
02:27 PM EDT
Yesterday, for those tracking Wall Street reform on the Senate floor, I posted a list of likely lobbyist loopholes designed to weaken the bill. While we continue to keep a watchful eye out for those amendments, fortunately, lobbyists aren’t the only ones paying attention to Wall Street reform. There are also Senators and consumer advocates fighting for ways to strengthen the legislation.
While attention is appropriately focused on some of the major points of debate around the bill, we wanted to highlight today a few simple, straightforward improvements that would further strengthen an already strong bill and really help American families. We'll call them the “Good Guys". Let’s hope they prevail over the "Lobbyist Loopholes" as the debate moves forward.
- Investment Advice by Any Other Name. Today, investment advisors have a fiduciary duty to their clients – that is, they are legally obligated to act in their client’s best interest. But brokers offering investment advice have no such obligation. Why does that make sense? Well… it doesn’t. If you’re a retiree managing your savings, or a family saving for college, you should be able to trust that the person giving you investment advice has your best interests at heart –whether that person is called a broker or an investment advisor. It’s that simple.
- Serving Those Who Serve Our Country. As unconscionable as it seems, American military service-members and their families are often the targets of unscrupulous lenders. In particular, recently enlisted soldiers and sailors who have their first steady paycheck can be lured into easy credit offers. And there are also many experienced military families struggling with daily expenses such as child care and medical bills in the face of deployments and frequent moves. To help ensure that we properly serve those who serve, we strongly support the creation of an Office of Military Liaison within the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
- Lots of Ways to Make a Living. Not everyone works the same hours or earns the same amount of money throughout the year. For example, farmers, fishermen, retailers and people from lots of other professions earn uneven incomes, with significant variation from season to season. The consumer financial protection bureau will be responsible for writing rules with respect to mortgage lending, but we support making absolutely clear that lenders can take the seasonality or irregularity of income into account when making a mortgage loan. The lobsterman shouldn’t have his access to credit restricted simply because the lobster season only runs a few months of the year.
- Preventing Abuses of Private Student Loans. Educating the next generation of Americans is key to building a strong economic future for our country. Unfortunately, students are often the victims of unscrupulous practices by private student loan companies. As a result, they start out their careers weighed down by unnecessary debt. What can we do to help? Well, for one thing we can make sure that banks offering private student loans are subject to the examination and enforcement authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so that someone is making sure that private student loan companies play by the rules.
- Dismantling the Payday Loan Trap. Payday lenders say their loans are meant to provide occasional, emergency funding for folks facing a short-term money crunch. But the truth is that the vast majority of payday loans are used to repay a previous payday loan. The payday loan debt trap can be very tough to escape. That’s why it makes sense to put in place some basic rules for payday lenders – like limiting the number of high-cost loans a lender can provide in a given year or making sure that, if someone does get stuck in the payday loan trap, the lender gives them an extended repayment plan to help them get out.
- Common Sense Credit Rating Agency Reforms. Credit Rating Agencies bear a good deal of responsibility for the financial pain we’ve experienced over the past few years, and there are some common sense reforms that would strengthen credit ratings. The current regulatory regime for credit rating agencies is voluntary – meaning that if the standards are too high, firms are free to escape those standards. It’s time to impose a mandatory registration requirement on all rating agencies. In addition, rating agencies should be banned from providing consulting services to issuers that are also rated by the rating agency. Consulting creates a clear conflict of interest, and we simply can’t afford to let credit rating agencies be compromised.
- Helping to Keep Credit Rating Agencies Honest. All too often, the rating agencies gave a financial firm or a complex “structured product” a Triple A rating, even when there were huge risks buried just below the surface. And all too often, irresponsible business practices and serious conflicts of interest played a role. The current bill includes some important reforms – and as noted above, there’s still more that can be done to regulate rating agencies more effectively. But here’s another fix that makes a lot of sense: If someone at a credit rating agency has the courage to “blow the whistle” on malpractice at a rating agency, that person deserves the law’s full protection.
- No More Paying Them to Decide How Much to Pay You. In recent years, executive pay practices at big financial companies became increasingly un-tethered from shareholder value. Corporate boards often justified outlandish bonuses by hiring compensation consultants or other advisors to analyze the market and make pay recommendations. Sounds fine in theory. But often, those same compensation consultants are hired by the management to perform other services as well, creating an obvious conflict of interest – and helping inflate executive pay beyond all reason. One way to fix this problem is to set mandatory standards for the independence of compensation consultants and other comp advisors.
- Thinking About the Full Range of Threats to Financial Well-Being. Social Security numbers are a top target for identity thieves. But checks cut by federal, state and local governments often includes Social Security numbers. And even worse, prisoners are sometimes engaged in work that gives them access to Social Security numbers. While identity theft may not represent a threat to the financial system, part of the purpose of Wall Street reform is to protect everyday Americans from the range of risks that can undermine their financial well-being. As part of that effort, it makes sense to put in place measures that protect the privacy of sensitive information.
- Creating a Homeowner Advocate for the Home Affordable Mortgage Program. Even as the economy recovers from the deep recession of the past two years, millions of Americans continue to struggle with unaffordable or “upside down” mortgages. With incomes reduced by unemployment or scaled-back hours, it can be hard to keep up with payments. Continuing to stabilize the housing market is a key part of securing the recovery, and the Home Affordable Mortgage Program is designed to do just that. By getting servicers to work with borrowers to modify the repayment schedule, modifications help keep families in their homes. To improve the program’s effectiveness, we support creating a homeowner advocate at the Treasury Department.
Hopefully, we will see these simple, straightforward improvements that strengthen the bill prevail, and not the loopholes that weaken it.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Stephanie CutterMay 05, 2010
01:28 PM EDT
Several months ago, Anthem Blue Cross, an insurance company in California owned by WellPoint, informed its customers that they would see their health insurance premiums rise by as much as 39 percent. President Obama, his team, leaders in Congress and officials in California spoke out and an investigation found that there were significant errors in Anthem Blue Cross’s justification for the massive rate increase. Last week, the company withdrew the proposed increase and admitted they made “miscalculations.”
The announcement was good news for the more than 800,000 Anthem Blue Cross customers in California who will receive some temporary relief, but it raised troubling questions about the company’s actions. Did WellPoint make similar miscalculations in the other states where it does business? Will those errors leave consumers stuck with higher premiums?
Last night, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to Governors across the country and urged them to examine this issue. In her letter, she wrote:
I am writing to call your attention to the recent withdrawal by Anthem Blue Cross, an affiliate of WellPoint, Inc., of the proposed rate increase of up to 39 percent for many of its California individual market policyholders. The California Department of Insurance found that the proposed rate increase was based on unreasonably high assumptions about the rate at which medical costs are increasing.
In light of this recent finding, I urge that, to the extent you have authority to do so, you re-examine any WellPoint rate increases in your state to determine whether any mistaken assumptions similar to those made in California were made in your state. Even small errors can mean unaffordable premiums for policyholders.
Sebelius also urged the Governors to examine whether or not they have the tools and authority they need to approve all rate increases before they take effect.
The ability to require insurers to modify an increase if a proposed rate increase is unjustified has been shown to be effective in many states. The Affordable Care Act expressly contemplates support for state efforts in rate review, appropriating a total of $250 million to states to assist in meaningful rate review.
The Affordable Care Act is already ending some of the worst insurance company practices and we’ll keep working to bring costs down and give the American people, not big insurance companies, control of their health care.
Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President for Special Projects
Katelyn SabochikMay 05, 2010
01:15 PM EDT
From 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM EDT we’ll be streaming the Clean Energy Economy Forum with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on WhiteHouse.gov/live. Today’s forum is focused on bio-energy and energy opportunities for rural economic development. We’ll be taking questions from the online audience during both panels, so drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter.
May 05, 2010
12:42 PM EDT
Ed. Note: In advance of his trip to Spain and Belgium this week, the following op-ed by Vice President Joe Biden has been posted on-line by the International Herald Tribune today and will be published in the newspaper tomorrow, May 6, 2010:
This week I will sit down with NATO ambassadors to advance the ongoing dialogue among the United States and its closest allies on the future of European security. I do so because the United States is firmly committed to the view that any decisions about Europe’s security must be made in close coordination with our European allies and partners. We will decide nothing about our European allies and partners without them.
The United States and Europe can take much pride in what we have achieved together: We have built the most successful alliance in history, one that has kept the peace in the Euro-Atlantic region for more than 60 years and helped transform Europe into a beacon of democracy and prosperity. These achievements have been sustained by security institutions, principally NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, built through the cooperation of Americans and Europeans over decades. But now it is vital that we ask how these institutions, which have served us so well, should adapt to the challenges — and opportunities — of a new era.
NATO is revising its “strategic concept,” which contains the guiding principles for NATO’s strategy to deal with security threats, to prepare the alliance for the challenges of the 21st century. Russia also has come forward with new ideas about European security. These issues deserve thoughtful consideration and discussion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined our approach to European security in a speech in Paris in January. As she pointed out, the United States does not believe Europe needs new treaties or institutions, but will instead seek to create a more secure Europe that takes into account the changing nature of the threats we face, and respects the core principles of existing institutions such as NATO and the O.S.C.E.
We will seek to uphold these principles by moving forward along the following, parallel tracks. First, we need to work together to broaden our commitments to reciprocal transparency about all our military forces , including both conventional and nuclear forces, and other defensive assets in Europe, including missile defenses. Our hope is to do this with Russia. We no longer see Europe in zero-sum, Cold War terms.
Promoting trust within Europe requires understanding how neighbors understand their security challenges and how they intend to confront those challenges. And the new START treaty demonstrates that trust and certainty are best built by increasing the exchange of information about our doctrine, forces and intentions.
We will come forward with proposals to improve military transparency through a variety of steps, including enhanced exchanges of military data and site visits. Just this week, the United States released information about the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile. We think it is in our national security interest to be as transparent as we can about the U.S. nuclear program. We call on other states to do the same.
Second, we will explore reciprocal limitations on the size and location of conventional forces . These should be relevant to the world of today and tomorrow, not yesterday’s world. We should also be steering our militaries away from basing their exercises on scenarios that bear little resemblance to reality, instead working together to plan for real threats, especially those that come from outside of Europe.
Third, we have to devote more attention and resources to deterring and combating security threats to Europe that come from outside Europe . The threat of war among major powers that haunted Europe for centuries has receded, even if regional flashpoints remain. This is a great achievement, but today the Continent faces new and pernicious threats: the spread of weapons of mass destruction to rogue regimes with access to ballistic missile technology, the ongoing threat of terrorist attack enabled by havens in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prospect of cyber-attack by criminal networks and other actors, and significant energy security challenges. No nation in Europe is immune from such threats; they affect all countries on the Continent equally. Our common efforts, including through NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and our efforts to combat global terrorism, underscore this. We must focus our efforts to address these external challenges and update our security arrangements to meet the true risks we face today.
Fourth, we need a more effective conflict-prevention, conflict-management, and crisis-resolution mechanism to defuse crises before they escalate. The Russia-Georgia crisis in August 2008 reminded all of us that we cannot take security in Europe for granted or become complacent. To prevent such events from recurring, we support the creation of an O.S.C.E. Crisis Prevention Mechanism that, in situations of tensions between O.S.C.E. states, would seek to prevent crises before they start. And in the case that they do, it would empower the organization to offer rapid humanitarian relief, help negotiate a cease-fire, and provide impartial monitoring. We also believe that the O.S.C.E. should facilitate consultations in the case of serious energy or environmental disruption and dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations.
Finally, we must affirm that security in Europe is indivisible, the importance of territorial integrity for all countries in Europe, and the right of states to choose their own security alliances . Sustainable security in Europe requires peace and stability for all of Europe — not old or new Europe, East or West Europe, NATO or non-NATO Europe. It includes the partners and friends who seek the stability and prosperity that comes with the democratic standards of the E.U. and NATO.
We seek an open and increasingly united Europe in which all countries, including Russia, play their full roles. The indivisibility of security also means that all European countries must abide by certain shared rules: above all, a commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and the right of all countries to choose their own alliances freely. The threat or use of force has no place in relations among European powers. Nor can we allow large countries to have vetoes over the decisions of smaller ones. And most importantly, we cannot permit the re-establishment of spheres of influence in Europe.
The United States crossed the Atlantic twice in the last century in the defense of Europe and stood shoulder to shoulder with our allies through the Cold War. We did so because of our shared values and because of our shared security — the recognition that the peace and stability of Europe is essential to U.S. security. That is just as true today as it was in the 20th century and that is why we are engaging vigorously in the debate over the future of European security.
There is still much to do as we seek a fully democratic, secure, peaceful and prosperous Europe. With these principles, we can reinvigorate and guarantee European security for a new era.
Joe Biden is Vice President of the United States
Kumar GargMay 05, 2010
12:05 PM EDT
Who says Congress disagrees about everything? Yesterday, the House of Representative voted 378-2 to pass a resolution drawing congratulatory attention to President Obama’s efforts to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and the Administration’s Educate to Innovate campaign, which has inspired an “all hands on deck” effort by volunteers, industry, philanthropies, and others to help students get excited about STEM subjects and careers.
The House resolution specifically offers kudos to National Lab Day, a nationwide initiative to build local communities of support that will foster ongoing collaborations among volunteers, students and science educators. It’s an effort that the First Lady highlighted this week as she cheered on the final teams at National Science Bowl. As the First Lady put it:
That's why my husband and his administration want to ensure that every single child in this country gets a good education, particularly in math and science.
Next week’s National Lab Day is a great example of what this might look like—this kind of investment. The President has highlighted his grassroots effort, which brings together scientists like Secretary Chu, organizations representing teachers, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and local volunteers to work with young people in fun hands-on learning.
These students are going to be with us, they’re going to launch rockets, construct miniature windmills, and learn by doing and not just by listening.
We want to bring more hands-on learning like this to students by also modernizing science labs and supporting project-based learning, and expanding advanced courses in schools throughout the country.
We want to create more opportunities for under-represented groups as well, particularly women and girls. We want them to have the confidence; we want all our young women to have the confidence and the support to take on the study and to succeed in the study of science, math, engineering and technology.
And we want to build communities of support for all the teachers who make these subjects come alive for our students. We couldn't do it without you.
The President, First Lady, and 378 members of Congress can’t all be wrong! So get involved with National Lab Day by volunteering, posting a project, or making a video. May 12 is National Lab Day.
Kumar Garg is a Policy Analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Heidi AveryMay 05, 2010
05:55 AM EDT
Ed. Note: For more information on federal response resources, volunteer opportunities, and assistance for those in affected areas visit WhiteHouse.gov/Deepwater-BP-Oil-Spill. The latest updates will now be available on the Deepwater BP Oil Spill blog. This post was updated on 5/25/10 at 3:56PM.
Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion the night of April 20, federal authorities, both military and civilian, have been working onsite and around the clock to respond to and mitigate the impact of the resulting BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
We have compiled this chronology in the spirit of transparency so the American people can have a clear understanding of what their government has been and is doing to respond to the massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.
Heidi Avery is White House Deputy Homeland Security Advisor
Katelyn SabochikMay 04, 2010
04:35 PM EDT
Tomorrow, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will host a Clean Energy Economy Forum. The forum will bring together stakeholders from rural communities across the country to discuss bio-energy and energy opportunities for rural economic development.
You can watch the event live on WhiteHouse.gov/live starting at 2:30 PM EDT. Each of the panels will take questions from our online audience. You can submit questions during the event via Facebook, or submit a question in advance on Facebook or Twitter.
Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutely will kick off the event with opening remarks. Next up, Secretary Vilsack will discuss the progress achieved on the one year anniversary of President Obama’s Biofuels Directive and moderate a panel on bio-energy with Joe Glauber, Chief Economist from USDA, Dr. Roger Beachy, Chief Scientist at USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Jose Olivares of the Bioscience Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Ben Larson from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Secretary Vilsack will then moderate a second panel on energy opportunities for rural economic development with Neil Hamilton of Drake University, Dallas Tonsager, Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development, Ken Moss, CEO of Piedmont Bioproducts, and Dr. Dennis Beck of the University of Minnesota.
Tune in tomorrow on WhiteHouse.gov/live at 2:30 PM EDT to watch and discuss.
May 04, 2010
03:24 PM EDT
Last week I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with President Obama in farm country. At stops in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois we heard from the men and women who make their living in rural America about issues ranging from commodity prices, to job creation initiatives, to the environment. And we were reminded that a vibrant national economy depends on a healthy rural America.
Over the last year, I heard about many of these same subjects as I visited dozens of communities in 20 states while leading President Obama’s Rural Tour - an effort to engage in a more robust dialog with folks living in rural America. In those visits I saw that there is more opportunity in rural American today than at any time in decades – but that we need to embrace new strategies to help drive that revitalization.
And today I’m excited to announce that USDA is going to host a National Rural Summit, on Thursday, June 3, in Hillsboro, Mo., to discuss the future of rural America. This summit will build on the dialogue I began with rural Americans on the Rural Tour, and we’ll seek more input on how communities, states, and the federal government can work together to help strengthen rural communities across this nation.
The Obama administration stands ready to help communities generate wealth and build a stronger, more prosperous rural America for generations to come. And I can’t wait to get out more details about this event – and to hear ideas from Americans of all stripes about how to help in that revitalization.
Tom Vilsack is the Agriculture Secretary
Dan PfeifferMay 04, 2010
03:16 PM EDT
As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico grows and makes it way toward the coast, attention has turned to the question of who will pay for the clean-up and any possible damages to our natural habitats, businesses, and individuals who call this region home.
So let’s be clear about a few things: BP is responsible for -- and will be held accountable for – all of the very significant clean-up and containment costs. They will pay for the mess they’ve made.
Beyond clean-up and containment, BP must be held responsible for the damages this spill causes. To help make sure of that, the Administration – in the context of a comprehensive energy bill which would help move us to a clean energy future -- strongly supports efforts on Capitol Hill to raise the Oil Pollution Act damages cap significantly above $75 million.
Currently, under the Oil Pollution Act, if BP is found to be grossly negligent or to have engaged in willful misconduct or conduct in violation of federal regulations, then there is no cap under this specific law for damages. Simply put, the $75 million cap on damages under the Oil Pollution Act would not apply under these circumstances.
Right now, this crisis is still very much unfolding so it will take time to determine what caused this spill and the extent of the damage that can be claimed under this one law. Changing the Oil Pollution Act so that its cap does not limit our ability to collect damages would increase our chances of collecting adequate compensation. In addition, we are examining what fines or damages BP could be liable for under additional applicable federal and state laws.
The bottom line is that the Administration will aggressively pursue compensation from BP for any damages from this spill.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Jesse LeeMay 04, 2010
01:02 PM EDT
Addressing the Business Council this morning, the President spoke first on the new developments regarding the recent incident in Times Square. Between yesterday and this morning, the President has talked with Duane Jackson and Lance Orton, who were the vendors who first reported the suspicious vehicle, as well as Officers Wayne Rhatigan and Pam Duffy who were on the scene to thank them for their vigilance:
Before I begin, I hope you don’t mind -- I indicated to Jim Owen that I want to give the American people a brief update on the investigation into the attempted terrorist attack in Times Square. A suspect is now in custody and is being questioned. The American people can be assured that the FBI and their partners in this process have all the tools and experience they need to learn everything we can. That includes what, if any, connection this individual has to terrorist groups. And it includes collecting critical intelligence as we work to disrupt any future attacks. Justice will be done, and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect the American people.
Attorney General Eric Holder and other members of my national security team are going to be providing more details, but let me say this. This incident is another sobering reminder of the times in which we live. Around the world and here at home, there are those who would attack our citizens and who would slaughter innocent men, women and children in pursuit of their murderous agenda. They will stop at nothing to kill and disrupt our way of life. But once again, an attempted attack has been failed.
It has failed because ordinary citizens were vigilant and reported suspicious activity to the authorities. It failed because these authorities -- local, state and federal -- acted quickly and did what they’re trained to do. I’ve had the opportunity to personally thank some of the citizens and law enforcement officers whose quick thinking may have saved hundreds of lives. And this suspect has been apprehended because of close and effective coordination at every level, including our Joint Terrorism Task Force and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Finally, New Yorkers have reminded us once again of how to live with their heads held high. We know that the aim of those who try to carry out these attacks is to force us to live in fear, and thereby amplifying the effects of their attacks -- even those that fail. But as Americans, and as a nation, we will not be terrorized. We will not cower in fear. We will not be intimidated. We will be vigilant. We will work together. And we will protect and defend the country we love to ensure a safe and prosperous future for our people. That’s what I intend to do as President and that’s what we will do as a nation.
Valerie JarrettMay 04, 2010
12:29 PM EDT
Whenever I speak with leaders from the business community from all around the country, they all agree on one thing: rising health care costs are making it harder for workers and retirees to get the benefits they deserve. Increasingly, employers are being forced to choose between staying competitive and honoring the men and women who powered their businesses by providing their retirees with quality benefits.
Americans who retire before they turn 65 and are eligible for Medicare are particularly vulnerable. In 1988, 66 percent of large firms provided health care coverage to their retirees. 20 years later in 2008, the percent of firms offering coverage to retirees plummeted to 31 percent. The lack of coverage from their employer forces many retirees to pay exorbitant premiums or simply go without health insurance.
Fortunately for these Americans, the Affordable Care Act will provide immediate relief. The new law includes $5 billion in financial assistance for employer health plans that offer coverage to early retirees. This program is temporary and will help bridge the gap until 2014 when health insurance exchanges make it easier for all Americans to access affordable health coverage. Between now and then, this program will provide premium relief for employers, making it easier to give their retirees high-quality, affordable medical coverage.
Employers know this program will help them cover their retirees. Today, John J. Castellani, President of the Business Roundtable said:
While health care costs are the number one cost pressure facing our members, we are committed to providing coverage to our more than 35 million employees, retirees and their families. The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program reduces costs and allows many of our member companies to continue providing this critical coverage.
We’re moving quickly to implement this provision in the new law. Today, President Obama announced the release of new regulations for this program. You can read the regulations here. In June, businesses, unions and state and local governments can begin applying to participate. To learn more about this important effort, check out the fact sheet we issued today.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are lowering costs for businesses, and ensuring more Americans have the affordable, quality care they need and deserve.
Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President.
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