Read all posts from November 2010

  • Since the enactment of health reform legislation in March, several state Attorneys General and others opposed to the law have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.  Legal challenges like this are nothing new.  Challenges to the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act all failed.  

    Now, challenges to the health care law are failing in court.  In October, a federal judge in Michigan found that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Today, a federal judge in Virginia dismissed a lawsuit brought by Liberty University that challenged the constitutionality of the health reform law. The judge upheld the law and said that the requirement that individuals maintain health insurance is constitutional, writing:

    “I hold that there is a rational basis for Congress to conclude that individuals’ decisions about how and when to pay for health care are activities that in the aggregate substantially affect the interstate health care market…Nearly everyone will require health care services at some point in their lifetimes, and it is not always possible to predict when one will be afflicted by illness or injury and require care…Far from ‘inactivity,’ by choosing to forgo insurance, Plaintiffs are making an economic decision to try to pay for health care services later, out of pocket, rather than now, through the purchase of insurance. As Congress found, the total incidence of these economic decisions has a substantial impact on the national market for health care by collectively shifting billions of dollars on to other market participants and driving up the prices of insurance policies.”

    The judge’s ruling today only underscores the importance of the law’s individual responsibility provision. In order to make health care affordable and available for all, the Act regulates how to pay for medical services – services that account for more than 17.5% of the national economy. This law came into being precisely because of the interconnectedness of our health care costs.   People who make an economic decision to forego health insurance do not opt out of the health care market, but instead shift their costs to others when they become ill or are involved in an accident and cannot pay. 

    We do not leave people to die at the emergency room door – whether they have insurance or not.  Those costs – $43 billion in 2008 alone – are borne by doctors, hospitals, insured individuals, taxpayers and small businesses.   According to a recent study, this cost-shift added on average $1,100 to family premiums in 2009 and roughly $410 to an individual premium.

    In the weeks ahead, there will be additional court cases examining this matter and the health reform law. We can’t predict the outcome of each case, but we are confident that we will ultimately prevail in court and continue to deliver the benefits of reform to the American people.

    Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President for Special Projects

  • The President released the statement below on the DOD report released earlier today on the impact of repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell":

    As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law because it weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness and equality by preventing patriotic Americans who are gay from serving openly in our armed forces.  At the same time, as Commander in Chief, I am committed to ensuring that we understand the implications of this transition, and maintain good order and discipline within our military ranks. That is why I directed the Department of Defense earlier this year to begin preparing for a transition to a new policy. 

    Today’s report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families—more than two thirds—are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian.  This report also confirms that, by every measure—from unit cohesion to recruitment and retention to family readiness—we can transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security. And for the first time since this law was enacted 17 years ago today, both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly endorsed ending this policy.

    With our nation at war and so many Americans serving on the front lines, our troops and their families deserve the certainty that can only come when an act of Congress ends this discriminatory policy once and for all.  The House of Representatives has already passed the necessary legislation.  Today I call on the Senate to act as soon as possible so I can sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally.  Our troops represent the virtues of selfless sacrifice and love of country that have enabled our freedoms. I am absolutely confident that they will adapt to this change and remain the best led, best trained, best equipped fighting force the world has ever known. 

  • Two years ago, President Barack Obama vowed that this administration would work with Native Americans to empower tribal governments, fulfill our trust responsibilities to tribal members and help tribal leaders build safer, stronger, healthier and more prosperous communities.

    Today we took a giant step toward fulfilling that promise with Congressional approval of five major settlements for Indian country that are nothing short of historic.

  • Cross-posted from the USDA blog.

    Since my first day as Secretary of Agriculture in January 2009, President Obama and I have made resolving USDA’s troubled civil rights record one of our top priorities.  Today we have taken an important step forward in this work as the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 to finally allow USDA to turn the page on past discrimination against black farmers.  The inequities many faced are well-documented and affirmed in the courts; however, the question of compensation has lingered.

    The Claims Settlement Act will allow those that have been waiting to get the relief they deserve and have long been promised. USDA has worked with Congress to include strong protections against waste, fraud, and abuse and ensure that only deserving applicants are reimbursed under this settlement.

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (82MB) | mp3 (8MB)

    It's understandable that some may have been skeptical that real bipartisan cooperation could happen in what have been heated political times over the past years, but after the President's meeting with bipartisan Congressional leaders today he sounded a note of optimism:

    It’s no secret that we have had differences that have led us to part ways on many issues in the past.  But we are Americans first, and we share a responsibility for the stewardship of our nation.  The American people did not vote for gridlock.  They didn’t vote for unyielding partisanship.  They’re demanding cooperation and they’re demanding progress.  And they’ll hold all of us –- and I mean all of us –- accountable for it.  And I was very encouraged by the fact that there was broad recognition of that fact in the room.

    I just want to say I thought it was a productive meeting.  I thought that people came to it with a spirit of trying to work together.  And I think it’s a good start as we move forward.

    I think everybody understands that the American people want us to focus on their jobs, not ours.  They want us to come together around strategies to accelerate the recovery and get Americans back to work.  They want us to confront the long-term deficits that cloud our future.  They want us to focus on their safety and security, and not allow matters of urgent importance to become locked up in the politics of Washington.

    Between election season, the Thanksgiving holiday, and the simple fact that there are a lot of challenges facing the country, there's no doubt that Congress has a lot on its plate.  The President touched on some of the issues they discussed at the meeting, including tax cuts:

  • Before and after the Affordable Care Act became law, many opponents of reform predicted that Medicare Advantage plans - a type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide benefits to seniors – would be severely damaged by health reform.

    Today, the Washington Post looks at the reality and finds that the dire predictions were unfounded and Medicare Advantage is going strong. Under the headline “Medicare Advantage provision going smoothly” the Post reports:

    “One of the most significant savings envisioned in the new health care law - limiting payments to the private health plans that cover 11 million older Americans under Medicare - is, so far, bringing little of the turbulence that the insurance industry and many Republicans predicted.”

    Before the Affordable Care Act, Medicare Advantage insurance companies were paid more than $1,000 per person on average than seniors in traditional Medicare. All seniors on Medicare – even the 77 percent not enrolled in Medicare Advantage – helped subsidize the additional payments to insurance companies. The Affordable Care Act protects guaranteed Medicare benefits for seniors in Medicare Advantage plans and levels the playing field by ending overpayments to big insurance companies. As the Post reports:

    “Whether the payment changes are warranted was a contentious subplot in the protracted debate over the legislation. Democrats argued successfully that the private plans were being overpaid and could withstand the changes. Republicans warned that such plans would raise prices, lower benefits or cause defections from the program, stranding the elderly people who rely on them.

    “Early clues to the actual effects have now materialized, as elderly Americans may sign up for a health plan for 2011 during an enrollment period through the end of the year, and the warnings of swift, serious damage to the program are not borne out. Fewer health plans are available for the coming year, but the decrease is largely for reasons unrelated to the new law. Premiums have not jumped substantially, and benefits have not tended to erode.”

    Click here to read the complete story and if you’re on Medicare, be sure to visit www.Medicare.gov for more information about your health insurance choices.

    Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President for Special Projects

  • Ed. Note: View the DREAM Act fact sheet with more information on why the Act is good for our economy, good for our security and good for the nation.

    This afternoon, the White House reiterated the President's commitment to the DREAM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation designed to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by giving them the chance to obtain legal status by pursuing a higher education, or by serving in the U.S. armed forces for the country they've grown up in and love as their own.

    Thanks to the participation of young people from all over the country, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Cecilia Munoz took great questions on whether the legislation would encourage people to come to the United States illegally (it would not) and whether the DREAM Act can be implemented by the President via Executive Order (it cannot, which is why he is strongly urging Congress to do the right thing by passing it).

    Today's webchat is part of the President's ongoing commitment to engage with young people all over the country. If you'd like to be added to the White House youth engagement distribution list, send an email to youth@who.eop.gov

    Miss the webchat live? Check it out in its entirety with full questions and answers here:

    Download Video: mp4 (280MB) | mp3 (27MB)
     

  • This evening, Senators will have the chance to support small businesses when they vote on a plan to eliminate a requirement that businesses report to the IRS all purchases that exceed $600. Known as the 1099 provision this policy, which had bipartisan support, helped pay for the new health reform law. The provision was intended to narrow the gap between taxes owed and taxes paid.  And while our Administration is deeply committed to closing the tax gap, the new rule places too great a burden on small businesses. Our Administration has already taken a number of steps to alleviate the burden, including exempting transactions completed with a debit or credit card.   In June, the Small Business Administration sent a letter to small business owners regarding some of their efforts to minimize the burden of this new rule.   And in November, the President said:

    “You know, for example, I know one of the things that’s come up is that the 1099 provision in the health care bill appears to be too burdensome for small businesses.  It just involves too much paperwork, too much filing.  It’s probably counterproductive. It was designed to make sure that revenue was raised to help pay for some of the other provisions, but if it ends up just being so much trouble that small businesses find it difficult to manage, that's something that we should take a look at.”

    Today, Small Business Administrator Karen Mills issued a memo to small business owners on the Administration’s support for repealing this provision. A copy of the memo is below.

    SUBJECT: Senate voting today on 1099 reporting requirement repeal

    November 29, 2010

    Dear Small Business Owner,

    Last week I wrote to you expressing the Obama Administration’s support for the repeal of the expanded 1099 reporting requirement that was included in the Affordable Care Act. As you know, earlier in the year we asked you for feedback on this requirement and what we heard was that will involve too much paperwork and will be overly burdensome.

    As the Senate votes today on whether or not to roll back this requirement, I want to again express the Administration’s support for repealing the expanded 1099 reporting requirement.

    Thank you again for your feedback on this important matter and I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure you have the tools and resources you need to grow your business and create jobs.

    Sincerely,

    Karen Mills
    Administrator

     Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President for Special Projects

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (80MB) | mp3 (8MB)

    This morning the President welcomed everybody back from the Thanksgiving break, and said he was looking forward to tomorrow's bipartisan meeting with Congressional leaders, making clear that "it’s time to get back to work."  Before talking about the news of the day, namely his call for cutting the deficit by freezing Federal employee pay, the President spoke a little bit about how concerns about the economy and the deficit relate:

    Now, there’s no doubt that if we want to bring down our deficits, it’s critical to keep growing our economy.  More importantly, there’s still a lot of pain out there, and we can’t afford to take any steps that might derail our recovery or our efforts to put Americans back to work and to make Main Street whole again.  So we can’t put the brakes on too quickly.  And I’m going to be interested in hearing ideas from my Republican colleagues, as well as Democrats, about how we continue to grow the economy and how we put people back to work.

    The President went through his various efforts to scrape tens of billions in saving out of the budget, from the line-by-line review, to aggressively going after improper government payments, to selling off $8 billion of unneeded federal land and buildings, to proposing a three-year freeze on all non-security discretionary spending -- "a step that would bring that spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in 50 years."

    He then explained his decision announced today, which you can learn more about from OMB Director Jack Lew's blog post or our fact sheet:

  • Ed. Note: This live event has concluded. Check back for the video.

    In Tuesday Talks this week, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is answering your questions in a live video chat. Secretary Chu recently delivered a speech calling on the United States to sharply accelerate innovations in clean energy -- citing China and other countries' recent advances in clean technology as a critical "Sputnik Moment" for the U.S. Now, it’s your chance to ask the Secretary your questions on building a clean energy economy.

    Join us for a talk with Secretary Chu on Tuesday, November 30th at 1:15 p.m. EST.

    Here's how you can participate in advance:

    Here’s how you can join live:

  • Editor's note: This blog post is cross-posted from the USDA's Blog

    If you have ever been bullied, Secretary Vilsack wants you to know that it gets better.

    The “It Gets Better” project is a website that aims to inspire hope for young people facing harassment because they are gay or perceived to be gay.  With over 15 million views the website encourages people to submit videos to show LGBT youth that despite the bullying, it does indeed get better.  Secretary Vilsack recently joined the movement and submitted his own video because he wants LGBT youth – especially youth in small-town and rural America – to know that they are never alone.

    I hope that you take a moment to watch the Secretary’s video submission to the “It Gets Better” project. It’s important for LGBT youth of rural America, as well as their family members and friends to know that there are resources available and folks willing to help.

    Thank you so much, and I hope that you too will take a stand to stop bullying in your community.

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

  • As I wrote last week upon my return to the Office of Management and Budget, the fiscal and economic situation we face today is very different than the projected surpluses we left behind the last time I served as OMB Director in the 1990's. After years of fiscal irresponsibility, President Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion projected deficit and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

    The President and his economic team worked quickly to address the crisis, and we are seeing our economy recover – albeit more slowly than anyone would like. Families and businesses are still hurting, and too many who want to work are not able to find a job. Our top priority must be to do what we can to help boost economic growth and spur private sector job creation.

    But to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth and to make our nation competitive for years to come, we must put the United States back on a sustainable fiscal course. And that’s going to require some tough choices.

    Today, the President made one of those: proposing a two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers. This will save  $2 billion over the remainder of this fiscal year, $28 billion in cumulative savings over the next five years, and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years. The freeze will apply to all civilian federal employees, including those in various alternative pay plans and those working at the Department of Defense – but not military personnel.

    We are announcing this move today because tomorrow is the legal deadline to submit to Congress the President’s decision about locality pay, a key component of overall federal worker pay.  In addition, we are in the midst of the 2012 budget process, and need to make a decision about pay to develop the 2012 budget. Simply, the time to decide about pay for those two years is now.

    Make no mistake: this decision was not made lightly.

    Like everyone honored to serve in the White House or the Cabinet, we work with extraordinarily talented public servants every day. Throughout my career in the Congress, at  the State department, and here at OMB, I have met federal workers who have sacrificed more lucrative jobs and hours with their families - -and, in some cases, put their lives in harm’s way -- in order to serve their fellow Americans.  Indeed, anyone who has flown safely, enjoyed our national parks, received a Pell grant to go to college, or relied on a Social Security check to retire in dignity has benefited from the service of federal workers.

    This pay freeze is not a reflection on their fine work. It is a reflection of the fiscal reality that we face: just as families and businesses across the nation have tightened their belts, so must the federal government.

    Already, the Administration has taken a number of steps in this regard  as part of its Accountable Government Initiative from the President freezing the salaries for all senior White House officials and other top political appointees upon taking office to his efforts to get rid of $8 billion of excess federal real property over the next two years, reduce improper payments by $50 billion by the end of 2012, and freeze non-security spending for three years – which will bring non-security discretionary spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in 50 years.

    Moving forward, we will need to make many more tough choices to construct a plan to pay down these deficits and put our nation on sound fiscal footing. Later this week, the Fiscal Commission will release its report laying out its approach, and I look forward to working with people from across the spectrum on this challenge in the weeks to come.

     

    Jack Lew is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

  • A quick look at the week of November 22, 2010:

    Quote: “We shape our own destiny with conviction, compassion, and clear and common purpose. We honor our past and press forward with the knowledge that tomorrow will be better than today. We are Americans. That’s the vision we won’t lose sight of. That’s the legacy that falls to our generation. That’s the challenge that together, we are going to meet,” said President Obama in his Weekly Address. Watch the video.

    West Wing Week:“The Turkey Behind the Turkey.” Watch the video.

    High Five: The First Family continues their annual tradition of service on the day before Thanksgiving at Martha’s Table, a community based non-profit organization in Northwest DC. Watch the video and find service opportunities in your community.

    President Barack Obama gets a high five at Martha’s Table

    President Barack Obama gets a high five from a little visitor as the First Family helps distribute Thanksgiving food items at Martha’s Table, a food pantry in Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Don't Bet Against Us: President Obama and Vice President Biden visit Kokomo, Indiana. The lesson: "Don't bet against America. Don't bet against the American auto industry. Don't bet against American ingenuity.  Don't bet against the American worker. Don't bet against us." Watch the video.

    Get Updates: A few interesting things about the White House email list. Join here.

    Building A Clean Energy Economy: From helping middle class families save on energy bills to modernizing our electric grid and powering electric cars – check out highlights from the last couple of weeks.

    Return Of First Question: Press Secretary Robert Gibbs takes your questions from Twitter on prospects for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and ratification of the New START Treaty in the lame duck session of Congress. Watch the video answers.

    Notable Number: 900,000. In September 2009, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would routinely release visitor records. The latest release brings the grand total of records that this White House has released to over 900,000 records. View them all.

    It Gets Better: Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry shares his own video for youth who may be experiencing feelings of isolation because they are, or are perceived to be, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Watch the video.

    DREAM: The DREAM Act is designed to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, by giving them the chance to either obtain legal status by pursuing a higher education, or by serving in the U.S. armed forces. Join a live web chat on the DREAM Act on Monday, November 29th at 3:00 p.m. EDT.

    A New Rule: The “medical loss ratio” will require health insurance companies to spend 80 to 85 percent of your health care insurance premiums on making you healthier instead of overhead costs like advertising or executive compensation. In the latest White House Whiteboard video, Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the Office of Health Reform at the White House, explains why it’s so important.

  • In September 2009, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would routinely release visitor records. Today, the White House releases visitor records that were generated in August 2010. Today’s release also includes several visitor records generated prior to September 16, 2009 that were requested by members of the public during October 2010 pursuant to the White House voluntary disclosure policy. This release brings the grand total of records that this White House has released to over 900,000 records. You can view them all in our Disclosures section.

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

     


     

  • Ed. Note: As part of the It Gets Better Project, President Obama and Vice President Biden recorded video messages. Watch the videos here.

    Recently, thousands of Americans have come together to share their messages of hope for American youth who may be experiencing feelings of isolation because they are, or are perceived to be, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). With the It Gets Better Project, people have shared their own stories of how life does get better for those who may feel isolated today.

    I wanted to take a moment and share with you my own video for the project. As an openly gay man myself, I know that life does get better for LGBT youth. It dramatically does. Young people should know that no matter how difficult the challenges are that they are facing right now, it does get better. Every individual is precious and our nation's future rests on our ability to engage and inspire this new generation. You can be whatever you want. You can love whomever you want, but only if you first love yourself. Trust me. It's worth it. It gets better. 

    I encourage you to share your own story of how life gets better for LGBT youth. You can do so at: www.itgetsbetter.org.

  • Over the past few months we’ve been working to improve the White House email program to provide subscribers with timely, relevant information about what’s happening at the White House and around the Administration. Now, we offer a number of email subscriptions like periodic updates from President Obama and senior Administration officials; a daily email with the photo of the day, highlights from the blog and the President’s schedule; and weekly topic-based newsletters. 

    And before you go any further, ask yourself: if I'm reading a blog post about the White House email program, shouldn't I make sure that I'm part of it?  Don't miss any updates by joining the White House email list here

    Last week, we sent out a short email survey to our email list to ask for their feedback on the email and online programs.  We got over 48,000 responses and we thought we’d share some of the results.  This wasn’t a scientific survey, the results reflect the opinions of the people who took the time to read our email and complete the survey, but this kind of feedback is really helpful. We’ll be using this information to help improve our emails and our online program in the coming weeks and months.

    Below are a few interesting tidbits and comments.  You can also take a look at some of the data from the survey results in the slideshow below:

  • Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Walk step by step with the President as he attends the NATO Summit in Portugal, visits Kokomo, Indiana, participates in the traditional turkey pardoning and volunteers alongside the First Family at Martha’s Table, a local organization that provides nutrition and other family services to those in need, and more…

    Download Video: mp4 (179.6MB)

    November 20th, 2010

     November 23rd, 2010

     November 24th, 2010

     November 25th , 2010

    Arun Chaudhary is the official White House videographer

  • The President expresses gratitude to America’s military men and women and their families, and discusses the steps his administration is taking to help create jobs so that next Thanksgiving, Americans can give thanks for a stronger economy.

  • Ed. Note: First Lady Michelle Obama sent a message to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and encourage all Americans to give back. Visit Serve.gov to find service opportunities in your community.

    Today, the First Family continued their annual tradition of service on the day before Thanksgiving at Martha’s Table, a community based non-profit organization in Northwest DC. The Obama Family handed out turkeys, pumpkin pies, stuffing and other groceries to families of the Martha’s Table community. Watch a video from their visit:

    Download Video: m4v (8MB)
     
    First Family at Martha’s Table

    President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and mother-in-law Marian Robinson help distribute Thanksgiving food items at Martha’s Table, a food pantry in Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Barack Obama gets a high five at Martha’s Table

    President Barack Obama gets a high five from a little visitor as the First Family helps distribute Thanksgiving food items at Martha’s Table, a food pantry in Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    First Lady Michelle Obama and Malia at Martha’s Table

    First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia distribute various Thanksgiving food items to members of the community at Martha’s Table, a food pantry in Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

  • President Obama and Vice President Biden have been clear since they took office that this Administration will not put up with business as usual when it comes to transparency and accountability.  They fundamentally believe that the American people have the right to know how their hard-earned tax dollars are being put to work. 

    That’s why, when the Recovery Act was passed and signed into law, it required tens of thousands of recipients of Recovery Act funds to report every quarter on what exactly they are doing with the money -- and those reports are posted in full view on Recovery.gov

    This is unprecedented – never before has this level of transparency been available by the federal government.  When the Recovery Act was passed, the President and Vice President were adamant that we didn’t just take the necessary steps to begin to repair the economy by passing the largest economic recovery package in history – but that, while implementing that package, we made sure every dollar was accounted for and every official was held accountable.

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