Read all posts from September 2010

  • In his address last week before the UN General Assembly, President Obama issued an unprecedented appeal to heads of state around the world to promote open society and open government. He noted that the "arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble" and called civil society the "conscience of our community." At a time when governments have grown savvy at using legal and administrative curbs to impede the work of civil society organizations, he also urged world leaders to “embrace and effectively monitor norms” that advance the rights of non-governmental groups.

    Today, in Geneva, in a landmark achievement for human rights, a diverse group of countries – large and small, rich and poor, north and south, east and west – came together to create the first-ever Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association. This new position will collect critical information about how these rights are exercised, identify best practices that promote and protect these rights, and help hold governments accountable for their restrictions on civil society activity. The geographic diversity of the 62 countries that co-sponsored this resolution – including original co-sponsors the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, the Maldives, Mexico and Nigeria – are but the latest testament to the universality of the right to assemble – a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and acted upon every day by citizens around the world who mobilize on behalf of good government, more inclusive politics, cleaner air, media freedom, and the full stable of human rights. Most notably, many of these cosponsors were nations that emerged from tyranny in the second half of the last century. Together this group conveyed our shared belief, in President Obama’s words, that “part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.”

    Throughout history, when societies face tough economic times, we have seen democratic reforms deferred, decreased trust in government, persecution of minority groups, and a general shrinking of the democratic space. This time, though, a large and far-sighted group of countries have banded together to send a resounding message that the protection and advancement of civil society bring about the advancement of society as a whole. The Human Rights Council’s decision is both a moral and pragmatic victory. As Secretary Clinton said in Krakow this summer, “progress in the 21st century depends on the ability of individuals to coalesce around shared goals, and harness the power of their convictions.” Those who stood together today at the Human Rights Council took an important step to bring about that progress.

    Samantha Power is Senior Director and Special Assistant for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights

  • Today, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund will expire because a minority in Congress blocked the extension proposed by the President. This will put up to 100,000 jobs in jeopardy, raising unemployment and potentially even cost the government more money in additional public assistance funds. A strong commitment that the program will be restored when Congress returns could still save some of these jobs, and provide crucial help to workers, businesses and communities.

    The TANF Emergency Contingency Fund lets states use Recovery Act dollars to help employers pay for the cost of hiring low-income unemployed workers. Since the inception of the program, states have provided jobs to more than 250,000 jobless parents and disadvantaged youth according to a recent analysis. In September alone, up to 100,000 Americans were employed in subsidized jobs funded through the Emergency Fund - jobs that are in jeopardy given the expiration of this successful initiative. We certainly shouldn’t let effective programs expire, especially when they’re still very much needed to help these low-income workers earn the paychecks they need to support their families.

    Small businesses are hiring many of the workers supported by this program and these businesses have been able to grow as a result. A recent New York Times story highlighted an innovative program in Mississippi that used the funding to pay private companies to hire 3,200 workers and paid their salaries on a sliding scale so that the employers would end up paying the entire amount after six months. As a local employer recently told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a win-win. We needed the help and they needed the jobs.”

    Without federal funding, most states and localities won’t be able to continue to provide support for these jobs. Governors from both parties have called for the extension of the program and some will try to keep it going for a couple of months with state funds, buying Congress time to act. But the reality is that many states will be unable to fill the gap, and those that can, only temporarily. A commitment to extending this program will give more governors the confidence not to end it now and could save up to 100,000 jobs.

    We should all support effective job creation programs. I hope Republicans will join with Democrats in Congress to renew funding for the Emergency Contingency Fund and provide businesses a chance to hire and the neediest Americans an opportunity to work.

    Lawrence H. Summers is Director of the National Economic Council

  • Today, the Wall Street Journal editorial page takes a look at the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and put the insurance industry back in control of the health care system and calls the plan a “good campaign platform.”

    But for millions of Americans, the Affordable Care Act isn’t about politics or campaign platforms – it’s about getting the health care they need and being protected from the worst insurance company abuses.

    It’s about people like Gail O’Brien from Keene, New Hampshire who was diagnosed with high grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier this year. At the time, she had no health insurance. Thankfully, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan was established by the Affordable Care Act. As a result, Gail now has insurance that will pay for her treatments and is responding very well.


    It’s about families like the Restemayer’s in Bismarck, North Dakota. Jennifer Restemayer’s daughter Alison has a rare genetic disorder and was close to hitting the lifetime limit on health care in her father’s policy. The Affordable Care Act will remove the lifetime limit so Alison can continue to get the care she needs.

    It’s about Dawn Josephson in Jacksonville, Florida whose family finally has comprehensive coverage because insurance companies can no longer discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions.

    And it’s about people like Josh Lapps of Nazareth, Pennsylvania and Gail Weschler of St. Louis, Missouri. Under the new law, Josh and Gail’s son will be able to remain on their parent’s health insurance policy until they turn 26.

    Read more about all of their stories by clicking here.

    Defenders of the insurance industry want to focus on politics, pledges and campaigns. We’re focused on families like the O’Brien’s, the Josephson’s and the Weschler’s and delivering the benefits of the Affordable Care Act to the American people.

    Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President for Special Projects

  • Today we're trying out something new -- White House White Board, in which one of our key players on the White House team will cut through the political back-and-forth you hear every day and break down an issue affecting American families into simple, understandable terms.  Today, Austan Goolsbee, the new Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers here at the White House, tackles the tax cut fight and what it means that Congressional Republicans are "holding middle class tax cuts hostage" as the President has said:

    Download Video: mp4 (22MB)

    Key points and links:

    • Under President Obama’s plan,  all Americans would receive a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their income.  Every middle class family would receive the immediate certainty and comfort of knowing their tax cuts were permanently extended. Every American making more than $250,000 per year they would receive a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their income.
    • Instead of working to give middle class families this immediate certainty and comfort, Congressional Republicans are continuing to hold that relief hostage in order to have our nation borrow $700 billion that we can’t afford to provide an average tax cut of $100,000 to millionaires and billionaires.
    • We simply can’t afford to give the wealthiest Americans these big tax cuts that would add to our deficit and, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, be just about the least effective way to grow our economy and help create jobs. 

  • Later today, House Republican Leader John Boehner will be giving a speech on “Congressional Reform and the People’s House” at the American Enterprise Institute.   We are interested to hear what Rep. Boehner has to say, but given the track record of Congressional Republicans over the past two years and the lack of real reform in their new agenda, we sincerely hope we’ll hear some substantive proposals this time around.   But please excuse us for being more than a little skeptical that this is anything other than a brief election year conversion.  One thing is already clear: they haven’t changed, so they won’t bring the change we need.  Despite their talk about ending “backroom deals” and their promises of transparency, Congressional Republicans have repeatedly shown that they still pay more attention to lobbyists than they do to the American people.   

    When Rep. Boehner and his House Republican colleagues unveiled their “Pledge to America” last week, one of the document’s most striking omissions was its lack of a plan to increase disclosure and curb the influence of special interest lobbyists.    Unfortunately, this omission didn’t come as a surprise to us.  While the Congressional Republican agenda was supposed to be the result of the people “speaking out,” it turned out to be the product of special interests speaking quietly.  In fact, when House Republicans were putting together the “Pledge,” Rep. Boehner invited a group of high-powered lobbyists and corporate insiders to help craft the agenda at a secret, closed door meeting.   After the invitation was leaked to the press, House Republicans bowed to pressure and broadcasted the meeting over the web, insisting that the webcast was an example of the kind of transparency they want in Washington.  But the Pledge makes clear that they haven’t learned their lesson.  Nowhere in the document is there any mention of steps they would take to improve disclosure and reduce the influence of high-powered lobbyists and special interests.  In fact, on the day they released their agenda, we learned that the Pledge itself was written with the help of a former lobbyist for Big Oil and other special interests.

    If Congressional Republicans are interested in reform, we suggest that they take a look at some of the unprecedented steps we have taken over the past two years to increase transparency in the executive branch – steps that have made this Administration the most transparent in history.  They include releasing White House visitor records; tough new rules that close the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government; expanded disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government; posting more government information than ever before on data.gov and recovery.gov; reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries; reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records; and web-casting White House meetings and conferences.  And we’d remind Rep. Boehner that when Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, they passed landmark ethics reforms that required disclosure of earmark sponsors and lobbyists’ campaign contributions, banned gifts from lobbyists and paid travel on corporate jets, and took important steps towards closing the revolving door in Congress. 

    These efforts represent a belief that our government belongs to the American People.  We hope Republicans feel the same way about Congress, but they still need to prove that they don’t think it belongs to the special interests.  Until they show they are committed to serious reform and change their own way of doing business, they won’t change the way Washington works.

  • I spent Monday morning in Milwaukee touring the impressive work underway to integrate the natural environment back into water infrastructure.  Throughout the tour, I saw ways in which the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is using or planning to use green infrastructure to manage and reuse stormwater, reducing pollution in the Great Lakes in a more natural way.  I was proud to announce that we are awarding MMSD a $4 million grant through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to continue this type of innovative and effective restoration work.

    glri sutley pointing

    CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley joins Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Executive Director Kevin Shafer to tour projects that will help meet GLRI restoration goals.

    President Obama created the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to target the most significant problems facing the Great Lakes, and track progress in addressing them.  Through this initiative, we have proposed the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades.  The grant awarded to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District will fund projects to help meet these restoration goals. 

    glri sutley by river

    Chair Sutley and Executive Director Shafer view a Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District project

    The Great Lakes support a multi-billion dollar economy, provide drinking water for 30 million people, and help shape the culture and environment of the region.  But just like many of our nation’s ecosystems, the Great Lakes face challenges like pollution, invasive species, habitat loss and environmental degradation that threaten to erode them.  The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative calls for aggressive action to address priority areas such as cleaning up toxics and toxic hot spots, combating invasive species, protecting watersheds from polluted run-off, and restoring wetlands and other habitats.

    Restoring the Great Lakes is a national priority.  Working together, we can protect this magnificent resource for the benefit of Great Lakes communities and all Americans.

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Yesterday, the White House Office of Urban Affairs hosted a live chat on the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative to support the transformation of distressed neighborhoods into neighborhoods of opportunity. Larkin Tackett, Department of Education; Luke Tate, Department of Housing and Urban Development; Thomas Abt, Department of Justice; and Richard Frank, Department of Health and Human Services; joined Derek Douglas, White House Domestic Policy Council, to discuss one of the Obama Administration’s signature place-based initiatives to support and revitalize distressed communities.

    Here are a few highlights from the discussion:

    “We truly believe we need a great school at the center of every great neighborhood,” said Larkin Tackett, Director of Promise Neighborhoods, Department of Education.

    “This collaboration is very important. . . public safety is a critical component of neighborhood revitalization. . .without it, kids can’t learn, residents can’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods, and resident health is threatened by drugs and violence,” said Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff, Office of Justice Programs, DOJ.
     
    “Community resources are critical to how people live their lives,” said Richard Frank, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, HHS.

    “Choice Neighborhoods broadens our focus...beyond the walls of the development itself to the entire neighborhood,” said Luke Tate, Special Assistant to the Secretary, HUD.

    Watch the video of the chat and use the links below to skip directly to questions (questions are paraphrased):

    Download Video: mp4 (543MB) | mp3 (52MB)
     

    Alaina Beverly is Associate Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs

  • This morning the President benefited from another family's hospitality, this time the Clubb family in Des Moines, Iowa, who hosted him and about 70 of their neighbors for an open conversation.  The topics ranged from the economy and prospects for those coming out of college to tax breaks for small business.  But one of the most interesting exchanges, and one which showed the value of these kinds of discussions, was on the reforms in the Affordable Care Act.  As you can see below, the President ended up taking quite a few questions actually -- if you have your own you can also try HealthCare.gov.

    President Barack Obama Shakes Hands with Neighborhood Families in the Backyard of Jeff and Sandy Clubb's Home in Des Moines, Iowa

    President Barack Obama shakes hands with neighborhood families following a discussion on the economy in the backyard of Jeff and Sandy Clubb's home in Des Moines, Iowa September 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    The full exchange:

    Q    I have great concerns over your health bill.  One of the ladies in admissions over there whom I was talking with the other week, started -- she’s from England, and her family is still in England.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Right.

    Q    And she was explaining to us how -- telling us what we had to look forward to here.  Her sister worked as a nurse in the same hospital for 20 years.  She was 55.  She was told she needed open-heart surgery.  She was put on a 10-year waiting list.  Three years later, she had a major heart attack and they were forced to give her that surgery that she needed.

    I realize you’re saying the 26-year-olds will have health insurance -- they don’t have to worry about that.  My mother always told me the older you get, the faster time goes.  And when she said that to me years back, I thought she was crazy.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, I’ve noticed this, too.  (Laughter.)

    Q    Yes.  And these 26-year-olds in a heartbeat are going to be 50, 55.  When you’re young, you’re supposed to be able to work hard for what you want.  You build up your income.  You further yourself so you can retire and have peace of mind.  It’s hard to -- I can’t fathom now how can you be excited in your youth when you have to save, save, save just to protect yourself health insurance-wise when you reach our age.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Let me ask you a question, though.  I mean, because you said you’re worried about my health reform bill, and the nurse said, here’s what you have to look forward to.  Is your mom on Medicare?

    Q    Yes.

    THE PRESIDENT:  So there’s nothing in our health reform bill that is going to impact whether your mom can get heart surgery if she needed it.  We didn’t change the core Medicare program.  So unless there’s something specific that you’re worried about --

    Q    Medicare doesn’t start until you’re 65.

    THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, I understand.

    Q    I’m talking about 50, 55 years old. 

    THE PRESIDENT:  All right, so if you’re not on Medicare --

    Q    Yes, right.

    THE PRESIDENT:  And do you have health insurance?

    Q    Yes.  Right now, yes.

    THE PRESIDENT:  So there’s nothing in the bill that says you have to change the health insurance that you’ve got right now.  I just want to identify what your worry is, because I want to say you shouldn’t be worried about it.  But what is it that you think might happen to your health insurance as a consequence of health care reform?

    Q    Okay, what I’m concerned about is say if my -- just say if my husband got laid off.  Say we had no health care.

    THE PRESIDENT:  You had no health insurance, okay?  Now, right now before reform, if you had no health insurance, you’d just be out of luck, okay?

    Q    And then we’d get the government-run health insurance, right?  Is that what you’re saying?

    THE PRESIDENT:  No, here’s the way it would work.  So let me just kind of map it out for you.  If you are already getting health insurance on your job, then that doesn’t change.  Health insurance reform was passed six months ago.  I don’t know if anybody here has gotten a letter from their employer saying you now have to go into government-run health care because we can’t provide you health insurance anymore.  I mean, that hasn’t happened, right?

    So you’re keeping the health insurance that you had through your job.  And the majority of people still get health insurance through your job. 

    The only changes we’ve made on people’s health insurance who already have it was to make it a little more secure by saying there are certain things insurance companies can’t do -- a patient’s bill of rights, basically.

    So insurance companies can no longer drop your coverage when you get sick, which was happening.  Sometimes there were some insurance companies who were going through your policy when you got sick to see if you had filled out the form wrong, you hadn’t listed some infection that they might call a preexisting condition, et cetera -- a bunch of fine print that led to people not having health insurance.  So that was one thing that we said. 

    We said also you can keep kids on your health insurance till they’re 26; that children with preexisting conditions had to be covered under health insurance.

    So there were a handful of things that we said insurance companies have to do, just as good business practices to protect consumers.  But otherwise you can stay on your employer’s health care.  So that’s if you have health insurance.

    The other thing that we did was we said if you’re a lot of people who don’t have health insurance, it’s because they work for small businesses, who have trouble affording health insurance, because they’re not part of a big pool -- they’re not like a big company that has thousands of employees and they can negotiate because the insurance companies really want their business -- so what we said was let’s provide tax breaks to small businesses so they can -- they’re more likely to buy health insurance for their employees.  And right now about 4 million businesses across the country are now getting a tax break, a tax credit, if they provide health insurance for their employees, that can save them tens of thousands of dollars.  So that’s the second thing.

    And the third thing we said was, okay, if you don’t have health insurance -- let’s just say your job doesn’t offer you health insurance, or you lose your job -- then what we’re going to set up is what’s called an exchange, which is basically a big pool -- you become part of this big group of people, just like as if you were working for a big company or a big university like Drake.  You become part of this pool, and you’ll be able to buy your own insurance through this pool, but the rates will be lower and you’ll get a better deal because you’ve got the bargaining power of these thousands or millions of people who you’re buying it with.  You’ll still have a choice of plans.  You’ll have a choice of BlueCross or you’ll have a choice of this plan or that plan, but you’ll be buying it through a pool.  And if you can’t afford it, then we’ll provide you some subsidies to see if we can help you buy it, so make it affordable.

    So that’s essentially what health reform is about.  Now, what that means is, is that you’re not going to be forced to buy a “government-run” health care plan.  The only thing that we have said is, is that if you can afford to get health care and you’re not getting health care, well, that’s a problem because that means when you get sick and you have to go the emergency room, everybody else here has to pay for it.  And that’s not fair.

    So we’ve said if you can afford to get health care, we’re going to make sure that you can afford it, but you’ve got to have some basic coverage so that we’re not subsidizing -- everybody else isn’t paying an extra thousand dollars on their premiums to cover you.

    President Barack Obama Holds a Discussion on the Economy with Neighborhood Families in the Backyard of Jeff and Sandy Clubb's Home in Des Moines, Iowa 2

    President Barack Obama holds a discussion on the economy with neighborhood families in the backyard of Jeff and Sandy Clubb's home in Des Moines, Iowa September 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    President Barack Obama Holds a Discussion on the Economy with Families in the Backyard of Jeff and Sandy Clubb's home in Des Moines, Iowa

    President Barack Obama holds a discussion on the economy with neighborhood families in the backyard of Jeff and Sandy Clubb's home in Des Moines, Iowa September 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Today at 2 PM EDT, the White House is hosting a special live chat with Marie Johns, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, moderated by OPEN Forum's Scott Roen.  Deputy Administrator Johns will answer small business owners' questions about The Small Business Jobs Act and opportunities for small businesses as part of the Recovery Act and Affordable Care Act.

    Tune in at 2 PM EDT to submit questions and participate at whitehouse.gov/live or on facebook.  You can also watch live on openforum.com/whitehouse.

  • Last week, we brought together leading Alzheimer’s disease advocates, researchers, health and long-term care experts, and others to commemorate World Alzheimer’s Day.  Alzheimer’s disease is not only a fatal disease that robs individuals of their memories and leads to progressive mental and physical impairments, it is also a serious and growing threat to the health of the nation.  While estimates vary, upwards of 5 million people in the United States are believed to be living with Alzheimer’s disease and it’s the seventh leading cause of death in this country. 

    The Obama Administration is committed to strengthening our nation’s response to the disease and this meeting was a serious effort to better understand the challenges and opportunities available to us.  The meeting brought together some of the Administration’s key leaders in responding to the disease, including Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging at HHS, Dr. Richard Hodes, Director of the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

  • Download Video: mp4 (160MB) | mp3 (33MB)

    First Lady Michelle Obama held a conference call with nurses from across the country today to discuss the new Patient’s Bill of Rights and other important benefits from the Affordable Care Act.  Joined by Dr. Mary Wakefield, Administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, and six nurses from a cross-section of practices and hometowns, the First Lady emphasized what the new reforms mean for nurses and their patients.

    Last week, we hit the six-month anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.  That means that we’re starting to see more of the reforms take effect, including new protections and benefits in the Patient’s Bill of Rights.

    So for example, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against kids because they have a preexisting condition.  Patients can no longer be dropped by their insurance companies because they get sick.  People suffering from a serious illness like breast cancer can focus on their treatment because they no longer have to worry about hitting their lifetime limit on coverage.  And college kids and young adults just starting out on their own can now get coverage through their parents’ plan.

    Now, all this means that individuals and families have more control over their health care.  But here’s the important point:  These reforms aren’t abstract theories that just make for good talking points.  These are real changes that will benefit Americans all across the country.

    Encouraging access to preventive care is an important part of the Affordable Care Act and the Let’s Move! initiative, which is focused on ending the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.  As the First Lady discussed, preventing illness helps cut health care costs and keeps families healthy.

    And some of the biggest new changes and benefits are the reforms that deal with preventative care, because we all know, everyone on this call, that the best way to keep families healthy and cut health care costs is to keep people from getting sick in the first place.

    And, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, that’s going to be easier because many preventative services are now covered at no out-of-pocket costs.  Things like mammograms, cervical screenings, colonoscopies, childhood immunizations, prenatal and new baby care, high blood pressure treatment, all of these are included in new insurance plans with no deductable, no co-pay, no coinsurance, nothing.  These steps are crucial because they can help combat preventable conditions that can have serious health consequences later in life.

    Lastly, the First Lady recognized the significant impact nurses have had throughout the reform process and asked for their help in sharing information about the new law with their peers.

    But in closing, just let me say this to all of you on this line.  So many of you have played such an important role throughout this process.  From the very beginning, it’s been nurses who have sat at the table sharing your ideas, sharing your concerns and your experiences.  And as a result, all of you have helped to make this law even better.  So I want to thank you for that.  And we needed your help then and we need your help again to spread the word.

    Listen to the conference call

    Read the full remarks

  • Yesterday, Vice President Biden visited the home of Bob and Lorie Cochran in Manchester, New Hampshire for a discussion on the economy and other issues that are important to middle class families. The Cochrans were kind enough to host a small group of their neighbors and other families from Manchester.  You might have seen the President leading similar discussions over the last few weeks – it’s all about hearing directly from the American people about how things are going on Main Street and the concerns they’re facing as they sit around their kitchen tables.  We’ve been calling these events “backyard discussions,” but the weather didn’t cooperate yesterday.  It started raining as soon as we arrived in New Hampshire, so we all had to move inside to the Cochrans’ living room. 

    Vice President Joe Biden attends a Middle Class Task Force Event at the Home of Lorie and Robert Cochran in Manchester, New Hampshire

    Vice President Joe Biden attends a Middle Class Task Force event at the home of Lorie and Robert Cochran in Manchester, New Hampshire, September 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Fortunately, the grim weather didn’t put a damper on our conversation.  After some brief opening remarks by the Vice President, we launched right into a great discussion, with the audience asking about the steps we’re taking to create jobs and get our economy moving again.  The Vice President took the opportunity to discuss our agenda for creating jobs, including more tax cuts for small businesses that want to expand and hire, infrastructure investment to build on the momentum of the Recovery Act, preserving tax cuts for the middle class, making college more affordable, and reducing health care costs while protecting health care consumers.

    As you’d expect in a political season in a highly politically engaged state, other questioners asked about the upcoming midterm elections.  And on that subject, Vice President Biden stressed the stark choice voters will face on November 2: will we continue moving forward, building on our economic progress, making sure that insurance companies and banks are playing by the new rules of the road, and pursuing a policy agenda focused on the prosperity of the middle class?  Or will we hit reverse and go back to the failed, discredited economic policies set that got us into this mess?  Will we rescind and repeal the progress we’ve made to end abuses by insurance companies and big banks, stop rebuilding America’s vital infrastructure, and go back to slashing taxes for millionaires and billionaires with no regard for the fiscal consequences?

    From where we stand, the choice is clear.  Vice President Biden ended the conversation by stressing just how high the stakes are, and how important it is that every American citizen stays engaged in this debate in the weeks ahead.  From what I could tell as I looked on from the kitchen, no one disagreed.

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President

  • Having met with with Andy and Etta Cavalier at their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, President Obama spoke openly on the economy with area families in the Cavaliers’ front yard. The final question was an emotional one, with the President asked about what he was doing to strengthen VA benefits -- Andy Cavalier was asking about his father in particular, but on behalf of all veterans who may not have always gotten the care they deserve. The President explained that the same emotions led him to call for the largest increase in 30 years in Federal spending for VA benefits, as well as implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill.

    President Barack Obama Holds a Front Yard Discussion on the Economy in Albuquerque, New Mexico

    President Barack Obama holds a discussion on the economy with area families in the front yard of the home Andy and Etta Cavalier in Albuquerque, New Mexico September 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The President also made the point that when we look at the choices ahead, there are real questions on priorities to consider:

    Q Thank you so much, Mr. President. My name is Andrew Cavalier, I’m his son. I’ve got a couple questions for you. One really hits hard for me. I’m getting a little emotional here. My father, being a veteran, we appreciate everything that he’s done for the country. And obviously the VA does a lot for my father.

    THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we love your dad. Yes, we appreciate what he’s done.

    Q Thank you. (Applause.)

    THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

    Q The reason I get emotional is because --

    THE PRESIDENT: Because he’s your dad.

    Q Well, unfortunately at the VA sometimes he doesn’t get the care and the service that he should.

    THE PRESIDENT: Right.

    Q I mean he sacrificed his body -- I mean, over 17 surgeries that he’s had --

    THE PRESIDENT: Right.

    Q I really didn’t want to do this on TV.

    THE PRESIDENT: That’s all right.

    Q But, you know, I see -- he put his blood, his sweat and his tears into this country and doesn’t always get the type of care that he deserves because -- I just want to ask, I mean, do you have any plan for that? There’s obviously lots of veterans out there --

    THE PRESIDENT: Right.

    Q -- feel the same way, not getting the treatments that they deserve. It’s not just the medications, you know, it’s really being treated like a human.

    THE PRESIDENT: Right.

    Q And, I mean, that’s kind of the issue that I have is, we put in our taxpayer dollars and, you know, it’s -- I mean, I have a small business myself. We help provide people with legal services, stuff like that, you know, having access to their rights. But when you can’t afford it, I mean, we’re forced to just basically settle for what we got because of the fact that that’s all we could afford.

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me -- first of all, you don’t have to apologize for being emotional about your dad who served our country as a Marine, man. That’s -- I get emotional when I think about our young men and women and our veterans who have served this country with such bravery and courage. We have a sacred trust for people who put on the uniform of the United States. They serve us. They’re willing to put their lives on the line. And that means that when they come back, we’ve got to serve them.

    Now, here’s the good news. First of all, I’ve got what I think is one of the finest, if not the finest, Secretaries of Veterans Affairs ever, General Ric Shinseki, who himself is a disabled veteran. And this guy just thinks day and night about how are we going to make sure that veterans services are provided in a timely, effective, respectful fashion, all right? So that’s point number one.

    Point number two. We are actually -- even in the midst of this very difficult budget situation that we’re in, we have increased over the last two years funding for veterans more than any time in the last 30 years. More than any time in the last 30 years.

    And the reason we did it was because a lot of VA facilities had gotten outdated. The backlog in terms of folks trying to get medical services or getting their claims processed had just gotten ridiculous. You had over a million young people who had served in Iraq and now Afghanistan who had come back and they’ve got new problems like -- well, they’re not new problems but now we’re much more effective at diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury -- they weren’t getting services. We’ve got women who are now serving in a much more dangerous situation in a lot of these theaters, and yet a lot of VA facilities still did not have special services for women and their special needs as they return.

    So we are in the process of investing more in the VA and reforming how business is done at the VA than at any time in the last 30 years.

    Now, we’ve still got a ways to go, but this is again an example of where, come November, we’ve got to start making some choices because if, for example, we give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires that cost us $700 billion that we don’t have, that money has to come from somewhere. And we’ve got to be able to provide for our veterans. I’d rather choose veterans. I’d rather choose these young people who are looking for scholarships.

    President Barack Obama Meets with Andy and Etta Cavalier at their Home in Albuquerque, New Mexico

    President Barack Obama meets with Andy and Etta Cavalier at their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico September 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Barack Obama Holds a Discussion on the Economy with Area Families in Albuquerque, New Mexico

    President Barack Obama holds a discussion on the economy with area families in the front yard of the home Andy and Etta Cavalier in Albuquerque, New Mexico September 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

  • En español.

    On Wednesday evening, Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Mayra Alvarez, Director of Public Health Policy in the HHS Office of Health Reform will participate in a call-in radio town hall on Entravision’s Spanish-language La Tricolor radio network to talk to and take questions from the Hispanic community on the benefits of health insurance reform and the new protections that took effect last week, six months after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Health reform is particularly important to the Hispanic community, since more than one of every three Hispanics lacks health care coverage and nearly half don’t have a regular doctor. 

    The new provisions of the law that went into effect last week will hold insurance companies accountable, lower health care costs, guarantee more health care choices, and enhance the quality of health care for Hispanics and all Americans. The town hall is scheduled to begin at 6pm PT (9pm ET) on La Tricolor radio stations .  Tune in on all La Tricolor radio stations including KDLD-FM and KDLE- FM  (Los Angeles), KMXX-FM (El Centro/Yuma), KLOK-FM (Salinas/Monterey), KMIX-TV (Stockton and Modesto), KRCX-FM (Sacramento), KRNV-FM (Reno), KQRT-FM (Las Vegas), KRZY-AM (Albuquerque), KLNZ-FM (Phoenix), KYSE-FM El Paso, KBZO-FM (Lubbock), KXPK-FM (Denver) and KPVW-FM (Aspen) or listen tothe live stream here.

    On September 23, critical new consumer protections in the new law – a Patient’s Bill of Rights -- began to take effect. The Patient’s Bill of Rights puts an end to some of the worst insurance company abuses, and puts consumers, not insurance companies, in control of their health care.  These new protections include:

    • Ban on Discriminating Against Kids with Pre-Existing Conditions
    • Ban on Insurance Companies Dropping Coverage
    • Ban on Insurance Companies Limiting Coverage
    • Ban on Insurance Companies Limiting Choice of Doctors
    • Ban on Insurance Companies Restricting Emergency Room Care
    • Guarantee You a Right to Appeal
    • Covering Young Adults on Parent’s Plan  
    • Covering Preventive Care With No Cost

     To get more information on these protections, click HERE or visit HealthCare.gov.

     Luis Miranda is White House Director of Hispanic Media

  • Suspense is building in advance of tomorrow’s highly anticipated awards ceremony for the “Apps for Healthy Kids” challenge, where the winners of $60,000 in prizes will be announced for newly created digital games and apps that best empower and inspire kids to eat healthy and get moving.

    The Challenge—sponsored by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and launched in March by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity—attracted nearly 100 entries from students, software designers, game developers, and independent entrepreneurs living and working in states all across the country. The games and apps they developed incorporate USDA nutritional information into entertaining digital adventures designed to inspire kids and their parents to follow healthier lifestyles.

    Along the way, the challenge inspired the coordination of “game jams” in cities across the country, including George Mason University where I had the pleasure of kicking off the jam. Students and faculty joined in the spirit of collaboration to share ideas and test prototypes. The owners of Whyville.net built a platform of sorts where tweens and others could test-drive each other’s apps and games; and a huge community of supporters emerged to add enthusiasm and momentum to this healthful cause.

    If you have any doubt about how much this challenge has captured the Nation’s attention and imagination, just look at the lineup for tomorrow’s ceremony, to be held on the White House complex, which will feature Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs; USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; the Executive Director of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, Robin Schepper; former Redskins Super Bowl champion running back Brian Mitchell; and yours truly as emcee.

    So congratulations in advance to all those who stepped up to the Apps for Health Kids Challenge, and may the best App win! Then stay tuned for more: Many are already gearing up for the next challenge—the Recipes for Healthy Kids challenge.

    Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Associate Director for Technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • I have been blessed with jobs that have taken me many places. From the California State Legislature and my time on Capital Hill, to my current post as your Secretary of Labor, public service has allowed me to see so much of what our nation has to offer. But what started it all, and what remains as one of the most important positions I have held, was when my friends urged me to run for my first elected office as a member of the Rio Hondo Community College board of trustees.

    What I quickly learned at Rio Hondo, and still believe today, is that community colleges are an amazing and often undervalued choice in post-secondary education.  Community colleges are unmatched in their ability to reach students in diverse communities and meet the needs of many who might not think that higher education was “for them.”

    Recently, we have seen an unprecedented demand placed on the community college system.  As their reputations grow, and education becomes increasingly expensive, more and more students are realizing the value of community colleges. Not only do recent high-school graduates look to community colleges for top-notch education, many skilled workers are returning to school to prepare for new careers.

    In today’s competitive job market, ensuring that community colleges continue to excel and that they remain the institutions workers and employers can count on to provide career-focused education is more important than ever. These schools must have the resources needed to meet the demands of a new generation of students and workers seeking to upgrade their skills.

    Little did I know when I joined the Rio Hondo board, that 25 years later I would have the opportunity to participate in this exciting national discourse.  Community colleges face many challenges, but they are one of our best resources when it comes to providing a good education – leading to good jobs – for everyone.

    On October 5, Dr. Jill Biden will be hosting the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges.  To learn more and find out how you can get involved go to WhiteHouse.gov/CommunityCollege.

  • Last week we highlighted some ways in which the Small Business Jobs Bill could benefit Tart Lumber, the small business in Sterling Virginia where Republicans laid out their “Pledge to America.”  Apparently, Craig Fritsche, the President of Tart Lumber agrees telling MSNBC’s Ed Schultz last night, “I do like that bill.  And I’m glad they’re making efforts to help us borrow money.”

    The same Republicans in Congress who mentioned small businesses eighteen times in their “Pledge to America” voted against the Small Business Jobs Bill in the House on the same day...that’s right..they voted against a bill that would potentially benefit the very small business where they rolled out their agenda.

    The potential benefits to Tart Lumber in the Small Business Jobs Bill, signed into law by President Obama just yesterday, include:

    1. Businesses like Tart will be able to immediately write off its first $500,000 in equipment investment next year.
    2. Investors in firms like Tart would receive zero capital gains on their investments.   
    3. A new Small Business Lending Fund will make capital more available to firms like Tart
    4. By expanding successful SBA lending programs, firms like Tart will have expanded opportunities to get the loans they need to grow.

    And let’s not forget….

    In addition to hiking taxes for 110 million middle-class families and millions of businesses, the Congressional Republicans have also consistently opposed the 8 small business tax cuts that the President had already signed into law:

    1. A New Small Business Health Care Tax Credit
    2. A New Tax Credit for Hiring Unemployed Workers
    3. Bonus Depreciation Tax Incentives to Support New Investment
    4. 75% Exclusion of Small Business Capital Gains
    5. Expansion of Limits on Small Business Expensing
    6. Five-Year Carryback of Net Operating Losses
    7. Reduction of the Built-In Gains Holding Period for Small Businesses from 10 to 7 Years to Allow Small Business Greater Flexibility in Their Investments
    8. Temporary Small Business Estimated Tax Payment Relief to Allow Small Businesses to Keep Needed Cash on Hand

  • President Barack Obama Gestures During an Interview with Mario "Don Francisco" Kreutzberger

    President Barack Obama gestures during an interview with Mario "Don Francisco" Kreutzberger for Univision’s Sabado Gigante in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sept. 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    En español.

    This weekend two interviews with President Obama aired on Hispanic television, one on “Sábado Gigante” with Don Francisco, and another on Telemundo’s Sunday show “enfoque” with José Díaz Balart. In case you missed them, here are links to see both:

    Sábado Gigante

    Enfoque:

    Luis Miranda is White House Director of Hispanic Media

  • Today I traveled with Dr. Biden to New York for the NBC Education Summit.  It was great to be a part of a day dedicated to the future of education in America.  As a community college instructor, Dr. Biden was right at home in the Higher Education discussion, and she spoke about the Obama-Biden Administration’s support for quality and accessible higher education.  Dr. Biden also shared some new details about the upcoming White House Summit on Community Colleges which will take place next Tuesday October 5th.  We are all working hard on plans for the day and are thrilled that we will be joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Melinda Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William Green, Chairman and CEO of Accenture, Eduardo Padron, President of Miami Dade College, Ted Carey, President of the Student Association of Community Colleges and other students, educators and leaders from across the country.

    We are also encouraging as many people as possible to join us through live webcasts of the day.  In the meantime you can join the conversation about improving community colleges or share your story about how community college has changed your life.  Visit WhiteHouse.gov/CommunityCollege to get started.

  • It’s hard to get more clear-cut about the right thing to do for the economy than the opening of this story from the New York Times this weekend:

    Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs within weeks unless Congress extends one of the more effective job-creating programs in the $787 billion stimulus act: a $1 billion New Deal-style program that directly paid the salaries of unemployed people so they could get jobs in government, at nonprofit organizations and at many small businesses.

    In rural Perry County, Tenn., the program helped pay for roughly 400 new jobs in the public and private sectors. But in a county of 7,600 people, those jobs had a big impact: they reduced Perry County’s unemployment rate to less than 14 percent this August, from the Depression-like levels of more than 25 percent that it hit last year after its biggest employer, an auto parts factory, moved to Mexico.

    If the stimulus program ends on schedule next week, Perry County officials said, an estimated 300 people there will lose their jobs — the equivalent of another factory closing.

    The American economy has been growing now for the past four quarters, and private-sector employers have added jobs every month this year.  But the economic hole left by the Great Recession remains very deep, and creating jobs remains the administration’s top priority.

    With that in mind, when one of our programs is effectively and efficiently creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for workers who need them, the last thing we should do is shut the program down.

    But unless Congress acts quickly, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Subsidized Jobs program.  This program is a proven success – more than 30 states are already using the program to put folks back on the job, and if we let it end prematurely, this highly effective job creation infrastructure that’s been created at the state level will go to waste.

    Sadly, Republicans in Congress are playing politics with the future of this program at precisely the time we can least afford to shut it down.

    We’ve been talking about what a great program this is for months now, because it’s been extremely effective.  It lets states use Recovery Act dollars to help employers pay for the cost of hiring unemployed workers, and by lowering hiring costs, it encourages employers to hire more workers and create more jobs.  And because many of these workers are being hired at private-sector businesses, the program is not only creating jobs, but also helping American businesses expand and grow.

    Unfortunately, the program is scheduled to expire just a few days from now, at the end of September, even though the workers who have been placed through the program still badly need these jobs.  That’s why we’ve been fighting so hard to get this program extended.

    The good news is that the program is getting more and more well-deserved attention, like the New York Times article above telling the story of some of the workers and communities that depend on this program and the jobs it’s providing.  And outside of Washington, the program has gotten strong bipartisan support from figures like Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s Republican governor.

    But unfortunately, here in the nation’s capital, politics are still triumphing over common sense as Republicans in Congress block action to extend this highly successful job creation program.

    Look, I understand there are differences of opinion about the best way to create jobs in this country, but there’s a time and a place for those disagreements.  We should all be able to agree not to shut down programs that are successfully putting workers on the job at private-sector businesses across the country.

    So I hope Republicans in Congress will rise above the politics and work with us to extend this program.  We only have a few days left to act.  Let’s keep helping businesses put these folks back on the job.

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President

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