Our Top Stories
Megan SlackNovember 25, 2011
01:00 PM EDT
Today, First Lady Michelle Obama received the official White House Christmas tree. The tree, a 19-foot balsam fir, arrived in a horse-drawn carriage and will be displayed in the Blue Room of the White House. It will be decorated in honor of military families.
This year’s tree came from Schroeder’s Forevergreens in Wisconsin, a member of the National Christmas Tree Association, and one of about 800 Christmas tree farms and lots around the country that donates free, full-grown trees to military families as part of the Trees for Troops program. This year, Trees for Troops hopes to deliver its 100,000th tree.
Watch First Lady Michelle Obama receive the 2011 White House Christmas Tree here.
Katelyn SabochikNovember 24, 2011
08:16 AM EDT
Earlier this week, First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise phone call to Jessica Allen, the wife of an Army veteran who was deployed in Afghanistan earlier this year, to thank her and her family for their service and sacrifice. Check out the video their conversation.
Today, First Lady Michelle Obama encourage all Americans to send a message of Thanks From Everywhere in a message to the White House email list. If you didn't get the email, be sure to sign up.
Every Thanksgiving, Barack sits down to call some of our troops and thank them for their service.
When he tells me about these conversations, it always reminds me of how blessed we are to live in a country where men and women will stand up to protect our freedoms and preserve our way of life. And whenever I've had the chance to meet with these heroes and their families, I've always walked away inspired by their courage and in awe of their strength.
I can't think of any better way to spend Thanksgiving than letting our servicemembers know how grateful we are for everything that they do. So this year, we're making it easy to do just that.
We've partnered with the USO to create a program called Thanks From Everywhere. To get involved, simply visit JoiningForces.gov/Thanks and write a quick note that troops and veterans all over the world will be able to see.
Matt ComptonNovember 24, 2011
05:30 AM EDT
Matt ComptonNovember 24, 2011
12:00 AM EDT
This week, the President wrapped up an 8 day tour demonstrating American leadership and opening up economic opportunity for America in the Asia Pacific region. Upon his return he signed legislation to help our veterans find jobs, traveled to New Hampshire to urge Congress to cut payroll taxes for workers and small businesses, and pardoned two turkeys. That's November 18th to November 24th or "Your Best You."
Watch West Wing Week here.
Megan SlackNovember 23, 2011
06:14 PM EDT
As part of their “In Performance at the White House” series, the President and First Lady invited invite music legends and contemporary major artists to the White House for a celebration of country music. The program includes performances by Lauren Alaina, The Band Perry, Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Mickey, Darius Rucker and James Taylor.
Watch this behind the scenes look at the event before it airs tonight on PBS (check your local listing to find out what time):
Megan SlackNovember 23, 2011
02:00 PM EDT
Jay Chung, a Philadelphia music teacher, says that we need the American Jobs Act because it invests in our schools and our student’s futures.
Chung is responsible for music classes at seven different schools in the Philadelphia school district. He travels from school to school, teaching percussion classes using plastic buckets from Home Depot, which he’s found is the best way to stretch his meager $100 budget.
Megan SlackNovember 23, 2011
01:00 PM EDT
Presidents have pardoned 24 Thanksgiving turkeys since President George H.W. Bush started the tradition in 1989, The turkeys are donated from turkey farms around the country, and after being spared from the dinner table, are sent to live out their days on a farm. In past years, pardoned turkeys have even traveled to California to serve as marshals in the Thanksgiving Day Parade at Disney Land.
President Obama pardoned both Liberty, this year's National Thanksgiving Turkey, and its alternate Peace. The birds were raised by four high school students on a farm in Willmar, Minnesota and sent to live in Mt. Vernon after the pardoning ceremony.
Want to know more? Read our definitive history of the Presidential Turkey Pardon.
November 23, 2011
12:44 PM EDT
Internet users learned several years ago that they could enjoy great savings at their favorite stores without having to endure the madness of Black Friday – the traditional beginning of holiday shopping – by waiting until Cyber Monday, online retailers’ response to Black Friday. Last year online sales on Cyber Monday exceeded $1 billion for the first time, a 16 percent increase from the previous year, according to comScore. Thanks to the Internet, consumers can take advantage of Cyber Monday bargains from the comfort of home, as opposed to rising before dawn and battling the long lines at their local retail outlets.
Just as traditional brick-and-mortar storefront shopping has been augmented, and sometimes replaced, by computer-based e-commerce, a new phenomenon has surfaced this holiday shopping season: mobile e-commerce—Black Friday bargains made available exclusively on mobile devices. These deals will not be available to Internet shoppers over their wired connections but will be available to people on the move—including those stuck in line at stores and malls throughout the country Friday.
Mobile e-commerce is another example of how increasing access to wireless broadband can help U.S. entrepreneurs drive innovation and competition, and spur the development of new applications that bring value and convenience to American consumers. It’s a trend that has already begun to make an impact: In October – well before this week’s promotions -- almost 10 percent of online retail sales were made by consumers using mobile devices, according to IBM Coremetrics.
Matt ComptonNovember 23, 2011
12:18 PM EDT
As promised, this morning, President Obama pardoned two more turkeys -- Liberty and Peace. The ceremony was held on the North Portico of the White House, and the president received a bit of help of his daughters, Sasha and Malia.
This year's turkeys are both 19-weeks old and weigh 45 pounds. They were raised by a group of students from Willmar High School in Minnesota.
To kick off the pardon, President Obama said:
Tomorrow is one of the best days of the year to be an American. It’s a day to count our blessings, spend time with the ones we love, and enjoy some good food and some great company. But it’s also one of the worst days of the year to be a turkey. They don’t have it so good.
The rare exception, of course, are the two birds who’ve joined me today. Now, is Peace here, or just Liberty? Just Liberty is here, but Peace is back here somewhere. Some of you may know that recently I’ve been taking a series of executive actions that don’t require Congressional approval. Well, here’s another one. We can’t wait to pardon these turkeys. Literally. Otherwise they’d end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing.
He also remarked on the special training provided to these birds for their big moment:
Now, I’m told that in order to prepare Liberty and Peace for their big day, the students exposed them to loud noises and flash bulbs so that they’d be ready to face the White House press corps. This is actually true. They also received the most important part of their media training, which involves learning how to gobble without really saying anything.
So Liberty is ready for his turn in the spotlight. And after he finishes a round of cable hits and a few Sunday shows, he’s going to retire to a life of leisure at Mount Vernon -- the same place where George Washington spent his golden years.
Want to know more about turkey pardons? Don't miss our definitive history.
Karen MillsNovember 23, 2011
12:00 PM EDT
Ed. note: This was cross-posted from the Small Business Administration's Open for Business blog
You’ve heard of Black Friday. And Cyber Monday. But did you know that this Saturday is Small Business Saturday? We’re encouraging everyone to visit a small business to do some holiday shopping this Saturday.
As President Obama said in a message out to all Small Business Saturday supporters:
From the mom-and-pop storefront shops that anchor Main Street to the high-tech startups that keep America on the cutting edge, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of our Nation’s promise. These businesses create two out of every three new jobs in America, helping spur economic development in communities across our country and giving millions of families and individuals the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Through events such as Small Business Saturday, we keep our local economies strong and help maintain an American economy that can compete and win in the 21st century.
When you walk down Main Street in any city in America, you can often find great restaurants, service providers, and handcrafted, Made-in-America products from local shops. It’s wonderful to simply go in and visit with local business owners and hear what’s happening in the community.
There are many people in my life that appreciate a unique gift from a local business, like the blueberry jam I pick up at the Farmers’ Market in my hometown of Brunswick, Maine. This Saturday, I’m planning to go back to that market early in the morning, and then I will travel to Roslindale, Massachusetts, to celebrate Small Business Saturday with Boston Mayor Tom Menino. Many other top-level officials throughout the Administration are also “shopping small” this Saturday.
Everyone knows that your dollar goes a long way at when you buy a product or service from a small business. That money goes right back into the local economy. And that’s important, because half of working Americans either own or work for a small business, and small businesses create two out of every three new jobs.
It’s great to find the perfect gift from a small business. Often, when you carry it to the counter, you can see the business owner’s eyes light up. They tell a story about how that gift was made. Or where it came from. Or how it’s a one-of-a-kind. And the gift immediately becomes even more meaningful and special. Moments like that are what makes the holidays magical.
In addition to our support for Small Business Saturday, the SBA is working hard to make sure even more small businesses can keep growing. For example, we had an all-time record for SBA loans this year, with over $30 billion in lending support that helped about 60,000 small businesses buy a new building, get more equipment, or hire more workers. And, right now, the President is calling on Congress to cut in half the payroll taxes for small businesses as part of the American Jobs Act.
Let’s all do our part to support America’s small businesses as they continue to strengthen our economy and create jobs. Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Small Business Saturday, and Happy Holidays.
Megan SlackNovember 23, 2011
06:00 AM EDT
Watch President Obama grant pardon to 'Apple', the National Thanksgiving Turkey here.
Each Thanksgiving, the President “pardons” a hand-selected turkey, sparing the bird from someone’s dinner table and ensuring the rest of its days are spent roaming on a farm, doing whatever it is turkeys love to do. Twenty-two turkeys have been pardoned, and today, President Obama will pardon one more.
You’re probably wondering: Where did this very serious business of the Presidential turkey pardon come from anyway?
Americans have been sending the President turkeys for the holidays since at least the 19th century. Beginning in 1873 during Grant’s presidency, a Rhode Island man named Horace Vose was responsible for “selecting with the utmost care” the “noblest gobbler in all that little state” for the President’s Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition he carried out for more than 25 years according to The New York Times. In 1947, the National Turkey Federation took on the role of official turkey supplier to the President, delivering a 47-pound bird in time for the Christmas holiday.
That year, the White House also began holding a turkey receiving ceremony, usually in the Rose Garden, providing a photo op that many confuse with the beginning of the pardoning tradition. Back then, however, birds were more likely to be destined for the White House dining table than the easy life on a farm. In 1948, President Truman said he would take the gifted turkey home to Independence, Missouri, where his 25 relatives “require a lot.”
So then when did the pardoning start? Here’s where it gets tricky. Tales of spared turkeys date back to the Lincoln days. According to one story, Lincoln’s son Tad begged his father to write out a presidential pardon for the bird meant for the family’s Christmas table, arguing it had as much a right to live as anyone. Lincoln acquiesced and the turkey lived.
In 1963, President Kennedy decided to send that year’s gift from the National Turkey Federation back to the farm where it came from. “We’ll just let this one grow,” he said. Sometime around the Nixon administration, the President began sending the turkey to a petting farm near Washington after holding the traditional receiving ceremony and photo op, although no formal pardon was given.
President George H.W. Bush was the first to actually offer a turkey pardon. On November 14, 1989, he announced that year’s bird had “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” He sent the turkey on his way to the perhaps unfortunately named Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia, and with that, a tradition was born.
Since taking office, President Obama has pardoned two turkeys, although in 2009, he admitted Courage, that year’s top turkey, came dangerously close to gracing the White House table. “Thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha – because I was ready to eat this sucker – Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate."
"I'm told Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys," Obama said. "You can't fault them for that; that's a good-looking bird."
Matt ComptonNovember 22, 2011
06:25 PM EDT
Right now, President Obama is going all out to extend the payroll tax cut for the middle class -- and expand it for 2012.
And that effort underscores an important fact: This President has proposed and enacted thousands of dollars of tax relief for American families and small businesses.
With that same piece of legislation, he created the American Opportunity Tax Credit -- which is currently helping more than 9 million families afford the cost of college.
The Recovery Act also lowered the threshold for refunds through the Child Tax Credit -- providing a tax cut to 11.8 million working families.
The President also expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit for families with three or more children -- giving them a tax cut of up to $640 this year.
President Obama has passed tax cuts for small businesses 17 times. These measures range from allowing corporation to expense 100 percent of their new investments until the end of 2011 to creating a new deduction for health care costs for the self-employed.
And just this week, the President also signed legislation to create tax credits for businesses that hire veterans.
If Congress passes the American Jobs Act, a typical family of four would see their taxes decrease an additional $2,325 -- bringing their total tax relief to about $5,425 for the President’s first term.
That number goes up if the family is helping their kids pay college tuition.
This lower tax rate hasn't come about through happenstance. It's a product of hard work from President Obama. Those of us in the middle class have more money in our pockets because the President made it a priority.
And it's going to take more hard work between now and the end of the year to keep things that way.
Matt ComptonNovember 22, 2011
04:55 PM EDT
In 40 days, our taxes will go up -- unless Congress steps in to change that. And speaking from New Hampshire today, President Obama talked about that situation:
[Last] year, both parties came together to cut payroll taxes for the typical household by $1,000 this year. That’s been showing up in your paychecks each week. You may not know it, but it’s been showing up because of the action that we took. Which reminds me, by the way, the next time you hear one of these folks from the other side coming in talking about raising your taxes, you just remind them that ever since I’ve gotten into office, I’ve lowered your taxes, haven’t raised them. That’s worth reminding them. But this payroll tax is set to expire at the end of next month. End of next month, end of the year, this tax cut ends. And if we allow that to happen -– if Congress refuses to act -– then middle-class families are going to get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time. For the average family, your taxes will go up $1,000 if Congress does not act by the end of the month.
Now, we can’t let that happen. Not right now. It would be bad for the economy. It would be bad for employment.
The American Jobs Act, the President said, actually does one better. It expands expands the tax cut for individuals and cuts payroll taxes for small business owners:
Instead of a $1,000-a-year tax cut next year, the average working family would get a tax cut of more than $1,500. And that’s $1,500 that would have been taken out of your paycheck, would instead be going into your pocket. And that means you’d be spending in small businesses, and that would increase their business, which means they would potentially hire more people.
The American Jobs Act would also cut payroll taxes in half for small business owners. Say you have 50 employees making $50,000 apiece. You’d get a tax cut of nearly $80,000. That is real money that you can use to hire new workers or buy new equipment.
When Congress takes up this issue after the holiday, the President said, lawmakers have a choice:
Do you want to cut taxes for the middle class and those who are trying to get into the middle class? Or do you want to protect massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, many of whom want to actually help? Do you want to help working families get back on solid ground and grow this economy for all of us? Or do you really want to vote to raise taxes on nearly 160 million Americans during the holidays? When push comes to shove, are you willing to fight as hard for working families as you are for the wealthiest Americans? What’s it going to be? That’s the choice.
Colleen CurtisNovember 22, 2011
04:07 PM EDT
Some of the biggest names in country music gathered in the East Room at the White House on Monday night for a concert that honored the history and traditions of a uniquely American musical genre. Musicians including Alison Krauss, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker paid tribute to many of country music’s most legendary figures through live performances that were enjoyed by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and numerous administration officials. The event is part of a series called “In Performance at the White House” which has been produced by PBS throughout every administration since its launch in 1978.
Earlier in the day, Lovett, Rucker and Kristofferson joined the First Lady and local schoolchildren in the State Dining Room for a workshop called “The History of Country Music: From Barn Dances to Pop Charts.” Mrs. Obama welcomed the students to “the People’s House” and reminded them of her vow to make sure everyone, not just“senators and diplomats and CEOs who have a chance to come here but … all Americans, especially young people” feels welcome.
The First Lady encouraged the young audience to explore the surroundings, ask questions and take inspiration from the talented and accomplished musicians who were there to tell their stories:
And that is really my biggest hope for all of you, is that as you sit here and you listen to these fine gentlemen, that you figure out how you can turn something that you love into one of those real jobs, right? I mean, think about the things that really drive you and give you passion. And it might not be music. It might be business, it might be technology, it might be teaching or medicine, or anything else. For me it was working with young people that gave me passion. But no matter what sparks your imagination, I want you to take that energy and then follow it. Follow it with every little piece of energy that you have, because whatever you do, it does take work. And that’s the one thing you have to get in your mind, that even when you love something, if you’re going to be good at it and get good enough at it, you have to invest in it.
And I also want you all to imagine yourselves coming back to the White House maybe years from now, sitting up on this stage and hearing from some future First Lady or future President. And I want you to be thinking about telling your story to the next generation of young people. And you have to be able to see yourselves in these places to begin to imagine and to dream and to work towards those dreams.
"Country Music: In Performance at the White House" will air on local PBS stations on Wednesday, November 23 at 8 p.m. ET
November 22, 2011
03:30 PM EDT
All across the country, thousands of Americans spend a great amount of time commuting to their jobs. This is precious time that could be spent with their families and not sitting in traffic. As our families grow and our lives get busier, living close to work becomes vital to our quality of life. We are constantly looking for a better solution, something to make things just a little bit easier.
Now, thanks to nearly $96 million in Sustainable Communities Awards announced this week, 27 communities and 29 regions across the country will be able to establish a more livable, equitable, and economically competitive future. These funds, awarded to two grant programs, are poised to help change the face of communities across the country.
The Community Challenge Grants aim to reform and reduce barriers to achieving affordable, economically vital and sustainable communities. Awarded to large and small communities, these funds will help address local challenges to integrating transportation and housing. Funds awarded to communities may also be used to retrofit main streets to provide safer routes for children and seniors and to preserve affordable housing and local businesses near new transit stations.
The Regional Planning Grants allows grantees to support efforts that integrate housing, land-use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure developments. This will empower regions to consider how all of these factors work together to create more jobs and economic opportunities.
As a direct result of this funding thousands of jobs will be created and will impact the lives of 45.8 million Americans. This means that 45.8 million Americans will be able to spend less time in their cars and more time at home with their families.
Megan SlackNovember 22, 2011
03:00 PM EDT
Millions of turkeys will be stuffed, roasted, carved, and served this Thanksgiving. But tomorrow, one lucky bird will be granted a reprieve in the form of a Presidential pardon. This is the story of one such bird from 2009. Watch the preview here.
Megan SlackNovember 22, 2011
12:02 PM EDT
President Obama's plan to create jobs would provide a tax cut for 160 million workers by expanding the payroll tax cut from 2 percent this year to 3.1 percent in 2012.
For a typical family earning $50,000 a year, this cut would translate to an extra $1500 a year in their pockets. That's more than $125 a month for households to pay for gas, food, and other expenses. On the other hand, if Republicans block passage of the President's payroll tax cut, the typical family making $50,000 a year would see their taxes rise by $1,000 next year.
Businesses, too, will benefit from the payroll tax cut. Approximately 98 percent of businesses will see their payroll tax bill cut in half -- from 6.2 percent to 3.1 percent -- on their first $5 million in wages. The President's proposal also includes a full payroll tax holiday for firms that add workers or increase wages.
This means that a construction firm with a payroll last year of $500,000 hires two new workers and adds $80,000 in payroll would receive a tax cut of $20,460. A warehouse with a payroll last year of $7 million hires 40 new workers and adds $2 million in payroll would receive a total tax cut of $279,000.
Use our calculator to find out how your bottom line will be impacted
Katelyn SabochikNovember 22, 2011
10:55 AM EDT
Without a vote from Congress, taxes for nearly every American will go up on January 1, 2012. The American Jobs Act would expand existing tax cuts and put more money in your pocket. This morning, Vice President Joe Biden sent the email below to the White House email list, asking folks to check out our calculator to see how your own bottom line would be impacted. At 12:15 p.m. EDT today, President Obama will discuss the importance of the American Jobs Act and tax cuts for the middle class. Watch live at WhiteHouse.gov/live.
If you didn't get the email, but sure to sign up for the White House email list.
I'll cut to the chase: If Congress doesn't act soon, middle-class Americans will see their taxes go up starting on January 1st, taking almost $1,000 out of the pockets of a typical family next year.
Last year, President Obama and members of both parties in Congress cut the payroll tax for 155 million workers, putting money in your pockets. Now, that tax cut is expiring. So in September, the President and I proposed extending that tax cut and cutting your taxes even further: giving the typical family a $1,500 tax cut. Steps like this won't just help families feel more secure in their budgets, it'll give them more money to spend at local businesses that will hire more people and make investments in new equipment too.
We thought the extension would win bipartisan support again. How could Republicans in Congress, some of whom have pledged not to raise taxes by a penny, oppose extending the same tax cuts they just passed? But after years of protecting expensive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, many Republicans now say we should let this middle-class tax cut expire.
There's a lot at stake here for you and your family, and the better folks understand how much more they may have to pay, the easier it will be to get Congress to do the right thing. We've put together a calculator to show how much of your money hangs in the balance.
Matt ComptonNovember 21, 2011
07:31 PM EDT
Watch President Obama's full remarks here.
President Obama addressed that situation from the White House Briefing Room just before 6:00 PM ET.
While some members of Congress are talking about undoing the automatic spending cuts that will take effect in 2013 if lawmakers can't reach a compromise, the President said that kind of backpeddling is unacceptable:
I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one.
There is still plenty of time for Congress to act, and there are a range of issues that demand their immediate attention.
That starts with the payroll tax cut. Without a vote from Congress, taxes for nearly every American will go up on January 1st.
"I'm not about to let that happen," President Obama said.
Megan SlackNovember 21, 2011
07:14 PM EDT
More than 1 million service members will return to civilian jobs as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. Despite the fact these veterans have unique skills and experiences that make them excellent hires for any civilian business, their unemployment rate tops 12 percent.
President Obama believes that no veteran who fought for our country should have to fight for a job once they come home, and is working hard to help our nation’s heroes get back to work. Today, he signed two tax credits that encourage business to hire veterans. In addition to the 120,000 veterans hired by the federal government, he challenged the private sector to train or hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses. His Administration launched a host of online tools to help veterans in their job search, including a job bank with more than 500,000 listings for positions at companies looking to hire returning service members.
We’ve talked to a number of veterans who have experienced the difficulty of finding a job after returning to civilian life. Find their story below and click to read more.