Our Top Stories
Matt ComptonDecember 20, 2011
05:56 PM EDT
Five days ago, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was on hand in Baghdad to bring the mission in Iraq to its official end. The United States Forces-Iraq colors were lowered and flown out of the country in the official casing ceremony.
Today, President Obama and Vice President Biden were there as the colors returned home.
They were joined by General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and some of the families of the final returning service members from Iraq.
One of those the group welcomed home was General Lloyd Austin, III -- the final commander of the U.S. in Iraq.
General Austin spoke at the ceremony, thanking the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and civilians who served in the nearly nine year mission.
“I am truly humbled by your service and your many, many sacrifices,” he said.
Megan SlackDecember 20, 2011
01:16 PM EDT
House Republicans are refusing to extend the payroll tax cut, which expires on December 31. If it does, taxes will go up for 160 million working Americans. Nearly everyone--from President Obama to Congressional Democrats to Republicans in the Senate--is committed to making sure that doesn't happen, but a faction in the House is dragging their feet.
Ending the payroll tax cut will cost the typical family making $50,000 a year about $1,000 a year, which is a lot of money for struggling families. President Obama explained today:
Our failure to do this could have effects not just on families but on the economy as a whole. It’s not a game for the average family, who doesn’t have an extra 1,000 bucks to lose. It’s not a game for somebody who’s out there looking for work right now, and might lose his house if unemployment insurance doesn’t come through. It’s not a game for the millions of Americans who will take a hit when the entire economy grows more slowly because these proposals aren’t extended.
That $1,000 a year works out to about $40 a paycheck that families won’t have to spend or save. Although opponents of the payroll tax cut might say $40 isn't much, we know that’s not the case. So we’re asking Americans to explain what that tax increase would look like in their house.
What does $40 mean to you? What will you and your family have to cut or go without if Congress refuses to pass the payroll tax cut?
Here are some of the stories we’ve collected so far. Tell us your own story here, or tweet @WhiteHouse with the hashtag #40dollars, to help us add to the list.
I can buy lunch from the cafeteria for almost a whole month for my twins, I can buy food, or pay for gas. I can save it for my daughter’s prescriptions deductibles. To some people $40 is nothing, but $40 is big money for us.
L.A., Hamden, Connecticut
Forty dollars a paycheck is a lot of money. I am the primary care giver for my 91 year old father who is living with me. Though his estate pays me for his care, the $40 will help with groceries, gasoline and miscellaneous expense for his care. I work a part time job so $40 a paycheck is a lot of money extra in my pocket.
I.O., Arlington Heights, Illinois
After everything that comes out, including my mortgage my take home pay is $150.00 every two weeks. So minus forty would be $110.00. I can barely get by now, that forty bucks is my gas for my car to get to work. Taking forty away from my pay would, just about put me under.
R.T., Charleston, West Virginia
$40 less a paycheck means I will have to pick between my insulin and the water bill. It means never being able to see my doctor - even though I have insurance.
B.T., Roswell, New Mexico
A single mother of two, with no financial support from my children's father, 40 dollars means lunch money for my children at school. It means a tank of gas, and it means covering my weekly visit copays to the doctor.
L.O., Gaithersburg, Maryland
Jarrod BernsteinDecember 20, 2011
10:35 AM EDT
President Obama and the First Lady today sent their warmest wishes to everyone celebrating Hanukkah around the world. Earlier this month the First Couple hosted a Hanukkah celebration at the White House, an event that involved making over the kitchen according to the highest standard of kosher observance. Watch the video below for a look at the White House kitchen as it has never been seen before:
Jarrod Bernstein is the Director of Jewish Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement.
Megan SlackDecember 19, 2011
05:55 PM EDT
If Congress fails to extend the payroll tax cut, the typical family making $50,000 a year will have about $40 less to spend or save with each paycheck. Over the year, that adds up to about $1,000.
Opponents of the payroll tax cut dismiss its impact by insisting $40 isn’t a lot of money, but that’s not the case for many families who are already working hard to make ends meet. Forty dollars buys a tank of gas or a fridge and pantry full of groceries. It covers a water bill or the cost of a prescription.
The payroll tax cut doesn’t just benefit the 160 million American workers who receive it, however. It also helps the economy as a whole. People spending money on goods and services generate business for stores and companies, who can then hire more workers, creating more jobs across the country.
President Obama says that this is a make or break moment for the middle class, and those trying to reach it. The defining issue of our time is whether we can build an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded. And the President will continue to fight to make sure that working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.
To make sure people here in Washington know that losing the payroll tax cut would affect people everywhere, tell us what making $40 less each paycheck would mean for you and your family. What would you have to give up or go without? Share your story here and add your voice to the debate.
Megan SlackDecember 19, 2011
05:45 PM EDT
Last week, the White House announced that nine states-- California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington--would receive grants to invest in high-quality early learning and development programs through the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge.
To apply for the grants, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services asked states to create plans for early education programs that would give children from low-income families the strong foundation they need to be successful once they start school. Thirty-five states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia applied for grants, and these nine were chosen based on the quality of their applications, and the funds available. Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the grantees at an early learning event at the White House last Friday.
President Obama had previously asked Congress to authorize a permanent Early Learning Challenge Fund as part of his budget. Unfortunately, Congress did not act on that proposal, so the Administration took action to ensure this program was funded this year through Race to the Top, because our kids only get one shot at a top-notch education and they cannot afford to wait.
The grants will support the nine states as they work toward closing the school readiness gap and developing new approaches to raising the bar across early learning programs, including Head Start, public pre-K, childcare, and private preschools. States will work toward creating standards, improving training and support for teachers and educators, and building evaluation systems into their early learning programs.
Learn more about Race to the Top.
Valerie JarrettDecember 19, 2011
03:29 PM EDT
Today, President Obama issued an executive order directing the implementation of the United States’ first-ever National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. The plan was developed with collaboration across the U.S. government, and with the help of NGOs and civil society groups that support women and girls every day. It is a historic step toward a future where all men and women can reach their full potential.
The tangible commitments our government is making as part of the National Action Plan will weave perspectives of women and girls into the DNA of our foreign policy. These commitments include helping women engage in peace processes; providing assistance to NGOs focused on women’s participation; helping to integrate women into the security sectors of our partner nations; improving the UN’s capacity to combat sexual violence; holding development personnel and contractors to the highest standards for preventing human trafficking; and helping to ensure that humanitarian assistance is distributed equally to women as well as men.
These steps, and the others outlined in the plan and executive order, are part of President Obama’s broader commitment to promoting equal rights and opportunities for women and girls. Across the Middle East and North Africa, we’re helping women realize the political gains and the rights they fought for so inspiringly over the past year. In Afghanistan, we continue to push the government to include women and civil society in all aspects of the reconciliation process. We’re dedicating tens of millions of dollars around the world to combat violence against women. We’re addressing the root causes of conflict by investing in women’s economic empowerment, health, and education.
Jennifer PalmieriDecember 18, 2011
06:29 PM EDT
The President believes this is a make or break moment for the middle class, and that's why he is determined to protect the payroll tax cut for millions of American families.
Yesterday, after some tough negotiations and months of Republican opposition, the Senate came to a bipartisan compromise that extends the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits. This bill received 89 votes, including 39 Republican votes. We’re pleased that Republicans were finally showing a willingness to not raise taxes on middle class families.
The near 90 percent approval by the Senate demonstrates the view by the overwhelming number of Senate Republicans – as well as Democrats – that the best way to achieve the President’s goal of ensuring that taxes were not increased on 160 million working Americans and protecting unemployment insurance benefits for 2.5 million people was to support this bipartisan compromise.
Speaker Boehner himself yesterday called it a “good deal” and a “victory.” After it passed, Senator Hatch said, “This is probably a done deal in the House; it should be.” Well, we couldn’t agree more.
Yesterday Senator McConnell said, “in order to achieve something around here, you've got to compromise… What we've done here is crafted a bill not designed to fail but designed to pass.”
On CNN Senator Blunt said, “I think the House has to deal with it and look at the fact that it was paid for, it extends not just the payroll tax but also the unemployment insurance.”
It’s time for House Republicans to listen to the American people, and their colleagues in the Senate. It’s time for them too stop playing politics and get the job done. If they refuse to pass this bipartisan bill to extend the payroll tax cut, there will be a significant tax increase on 160 million hardworking Americans in 13 days that would damage the economy and job growth. That’s unacceptable. They need to get to work and finish the job.
Matt ComptonDecember 17, 2011
06:06 PM EDT
This afternoon, President Obama took a moment to address reporters on the plan from Congress to extend the payroll tax cut. He said:
Today, Congress has finally agreed to extend this middle-class tax cut into next year. And they’ve also agreed to another part of my jobs plan, extending unemployment insurance for millions of Americans who are out there trying as hard as they can to find a job. This is spending money that also benefits families and businesses and the entire economy. And it’s a lifeline that would have been lost for more than two and a half million people in the first two months of next year if Congress had not acted.
So I'm very pleased to see the work that the Senate has done. While this agreement is for two months, it is my expectation -- in fact it would be inexcusable for Congress not to further extend this middle-class tax cut for the rest of the year. It should be a formality. And hopefully it’s done with as little drama as possible when they get back in January.
Matt ComptonDecember 17, 2011
05:30 AM EDT
Kori SchulmanDecember 16, 2011
10:03 PM EDT
Tonight, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer released this statement on an agreement that will prevent middle class families from getting hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time:
The President said that Congress cannot go home without preventing a tax increase on 160 million hardworking Americans, and the deal announced tonight meets that test. This is an important step towards enacting a key provision of the President’s American Jobs Act and a significant victory for the American people and the economy, because as independent analysts have said, failing to extend this tax cut would have had a damaging effect on our recovery and job growth. The President urges Congress now to finish up their business for the American people.
Visit WhiteHouse.gov/taxcut to learn how it affects you.
Megan SlackDecember 16, 2011
06:07 PM EDT
This afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to deliver hundreds of toys that White House staff donated to Toys for Tots, an annual holiday toy drive organized by the Marines. She thanked volunteers and military families for their hard work and dedication to the 60-year old program.
This is hard work. It takes people who take time out of their own families, time to come, shop, sort toys, make sure things get out. I mean, this doesn't happen automatically; it happens because people give up time, precious time with their families to make this happen. So this wouldn't be possible without all of the volunteers. So I want to extend a very big thank you to all of you, especially all of our troops and all of our military families who have led this effort this year, and who lead it every year.
Mrs. Obama made military families a focus of this year’s White House holiday celebration, and today she thanked them for all they do for our nation--and still finding the time and energy to run programs like Toys for Tots.
At the White House, we’re paying tribute to our military this holiday season. All over the White House there are signs of your strength and your sacrifice and your courage. At the White House, we’re showcasing the stories and the pictures of our fallen heroes. We’re giving guests an opportunity to send a thank-you note to troops overseas. And once again, we collected hundreds of toys from White House staff, which I’ve had the honor of bringing here today.
She also encouraged everyone to do their part, no matter how big or small.
You don't have to live in the White House. You don't have to spend a fortune. You don't have to be an expert in military life to be a part of this effort and to lift families up. You just have to be willing to give just a little bit back to your community and to your country.
For more information:
- Read more about this year's holiday theme, Shine, Give, Share, which pays tribute to our troops, veterans, and their families
- Find out where you can donate locally to Toys for Tots
- Learn more about Joining Forces, the First Lady's initiative with Dr. Jill Biden to support veterans and military families.
- Add your own thank you note to an online card that troops all over the world will see will see
Kori SchulmanDecember 16, 2011
05:16 PM EDT
Today, Brad Cooper, Executive Director of Joining Forces, answered your questions about the First Lady's initiative to support military families, Administration-wide efforts to create jobs for veterans and new resources like the Veterans Jobs Bank during a session of White House Office Hours on Twitter. Find ways to take action to serve America's military families at JoiningForces.gov.
December 16, 2011
05:02 PM EDT
Watch West Wing Week here.
What happened this week on WhiteHouse.gov:
Fort Bragg After nearly nine years of sacrifice, the Iraq war has come to an end. The President and First Lady traveled to Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Wednesday to welcome home the troops and thank them — and their families — for their enormous sacrifices and achievements. “For all the disagreements that we face, you remind us that there is something bigger than our differences. Something that makes us one nation. And one people…I could not be prouder of you. America could not be prouder of you.” To see more milestones from the Iraq War, from President Obama’s very first day in office through the work his Administration has done to support our heroes as they return home, check out our new timeline.
Iraq Visit On Monday, the President welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The two leaders held talks on the removal of U.S. military forces from Iraq and on efforts to start a new chapter in partnership between the two nations. “This is a season of homecomings. Military families across America families are being reunited for the holidays. In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq—with honor and with their heads held high.”
Fair Labor As a part of the ‘We Can’t Wait’ campaign, the President announced his support to extend overtime pay protections and a guaranteed minimum wage for home healthcare workers. This effort will raise wages for people like Pauline Beck, a homecare worker who inspired then-Senator Obama in 2007. Currently, many in-home care providers earn less than the minimum wage and no overtime for their vital services to assist those who need it most. “We are going to make sure that over a million men and women in one of the fastest-growing professions in the country don’t slip through the cracks. We’re going to make sure that companies who do right by their workers aren’t undercut by companies who don’t. We’re going to do what’s fair, and we’re going to do what’s right.”
Still Ticking In 15 days, middle class taxes will increase if Congress does not take action to extend the payroll tax cut. Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese explains in a White Board discussion how President Obama’s payroll tax cut helps families, business, and the economy – and why it’s so important for Congress to act and extend the tax cut for 2012.
Megan SlackDecember 16, 2011
04:44 PM EDT
Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s destructive, and threatens the health and well-being of our young people. Nearly one-third of all school age children are bullied each year--13 million students.
Allowing students to be harassed, teased, or even injured by bullying is not something we have to accept. In March, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama held the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, bringing together communities from across the nation who have been affected by bullying as well as those who are taking action to address it. The President and First Lady even filmed a video about the importance of ending bullying and creating communities where young people can thrive.
Watch President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama address bullying here.
Today, the Department of Justice released the first of five reports examining how bullying affects things like student achievement and school attendance, and explores whether extra-curricular activities help ease problems caused by bullying (good news: they can).
The report also found that generic, pre-fabricated anti-bullying curriculums weren’t that helpful or effective in preventing bullying. Giving students opportunities to be mentors to others or participate in community service activities, on the other hand, allows them to practice healthy leadership and learn what it means to be in charge.
Read the full report here.
Secretary Kathleen SebeliusDecember 16, 2011
04:19 PM EDT
When this Administration took office, President Obama made historic efforts to promote and cultivate a culture of innovation across government. We’ve seen the first-ever Open Government plan and launching of initiatives that harness the creativity of the American people to help solve our toughest problems.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, we’re looking at new ways to collaborate with innovators who seek to deliver better health and health care at lower cost. Healthcare technology, particularly health IT, is a particular area where a great deal of innovation is taking place – leading to the creation of new jobs in Health IT.
As part of the Administration’s Startup America campaign to promote entrepreneurship, we’ve hosted events targeting entrepreneurs, investors and senior administration officials to come up with new opportunities around health care innovations. We’ve also encouraged new and creative ways of thinking through various prizes and challenge efforts to create new tools and applications to support better health and health care.
Secretary Ray LaHoodDecember 16, 2011
03:02 PM EDT
This week, the Department of Transportation continued its TIGER grant program, sending $511 million to 46 transportation projects in 33 states. Already the response has been tremendous.
At City Halls in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, and on the phone with major and local media outlets across the country, folks seem excited about the benefits these projects will provide and the jobs they'll create. I expect even more enthusiasm in Chicago shortly.
In the historic Philadelphia City Hall's Reception Room, I was happy to share with Mayor Michael Nutter and others the news of a $10 million grant for the city's IMPaCT project. This award will help pay for upgrades to 100 traffic lights and connect these controllers to the city’s traffic management system through fiber optic cable. The project includes technology to extend green lights for buses and trolleys when they need more time to get through an intersection. The money will also support upgrades to handicapped ramps and pedestrian countdown signals at crosswalks.
When completed, this $32 million program will improve traffic flow for transit vehicles, synchronize signals to keep motorists moving, and increase safety for pedestrians and people with disabilities. That sounds like a big win for all Philadelphians.
Megan SlackDecember 16, 2011
01:42 PM EDT
Earlier this week, the CDC released new data that shows an additional 2.5 million young adults now have health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
Before President Obama’s historic health care reform law was passed, young people were generally dropped from their parents plan when they turned 18 or left college. Obtaining coverage through an individual plan could be cost-prohibitive for young adults, especially those with pre-existing conditions, so many went without health insurance altogether.
The Affordable Care Act includes a provision that allows young adults to stay on their parent’s health insurance until their 26th birthday. When that provision went into effect in September of 2010, about 64 percent of 19 to 25 year olds had health insurance. By June of 2011, that number jumped to nearly 73 percent.
What’s more, the most significant provisions of the Affordable Care Act won’t go into effect until 2014. When they do, an estimated 30 million previously uninsured Americans will have access to coverage.
For more information:
- Read about how the Obama Administration is reducing health care fraud, and making it easier for small businesses to insure their workers
- Read about how the Affordable Care Act has already saved seniors and people with disabilities $1.5 billion on their prescription drugs
- Read about how the Obama Administration is making it easier for doctors and other health professionals to adopt health IT to reduce paperwork and better coordinate high-quality patient care
Matt ComptonDecember 16, 2011
12:00 AM EDT
With America's war in Iraq coming to an end, the President welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to the White House and invited him to a wreath laying ceremony, then spoke to troops at Fort Bragg on ending the war responsibly and standing by those who fought for it. After nearly nine years of sacrifice, the tide of war is receding, and the troops are coming home.
Watch West Wing Week here.
Kori SchulmanDecember 15, 2011
06:52 PM EDT
On Wednesday, President Obama was at Fort Bragg to mark the end of the war in Iraq and welcome home our troops. First Lady Michelle Obama was there too, and she promised the troops and military families in the crowd that America appreciates their service and their sacrifice:
I want you to know that this nation’s support doesn’t end as this war ends. Not by a long shot. We’re going to keep on doing this. We have so much more work to do. We’re going to keep finding new ways to serve all of you as well as you have served us.
In the next session of White House Office Hours, Brad Cooper, Executive Director of Joining Forces, is answering your questions on Twitter about the initiative and how you can support our nation's veterans and their families.
Join Brad for Office Hours at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, December 16. Here's how it works:
- Ask your question on Twitter with the hashtag #WHChat
- Brad Cooper, Executive Director of Joining Forces, responds to your questions in real-time via Twitter
- Follow the Q&A through the @WHLive Twitter account
- If you miss the live event, the full session will be posted on WhiteHouse.gov and Storify.com/WhiteHouse
Megan SlackDecember 15, 2011
06:09 PM EDT
Today, the White House released a new report that shows how extended unemployment insurance benefits have helped, and would continue to help, the economic recovery. The report shows that unemployment insurance must be extended to ensure that millions of Americans are able to make ends meet and care for their families while looking for a job.
The report, prepared by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Labor, found that five million workers will lose their benefits over the next year if Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance, including about 1.3 million people whose benefits will expire as soon as January. Additionally, the Council of Economic Advisers estimates that the economy will generate nearly 500,000 fewer jobs through 2014 if federally funded unemployment insurance benefits aren’t extended.
Extending and reforming unemployment insurance, along with extending the payroll tax cut and preventing taxes from going up on 160 million Americans, are critical components of the President’s plan to build a stronger middle class and a brighter future for the American people.
To learn more about how unemployment insurance provides important support for the millions of Americans looking for work and helps them return to work sooner, read the full report here.