Read all posts from 2011
Matt ComptonDecember 05, 2011
04:43 PM EST
President Barack Obama delivers a statement to the Press in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Dec. 05, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Just after 2:00 PM ET, President Obama stopped by the White House press briefing room to talk about the fight to extend the payroll tax cut.
"It's the right thing to do," he said -- not just for the economy, but for American workers and their families:
Although the unemployment rate went down last month, our recovery is still fragile, and the situation in Europe has added to that uncertainty. And that's why the majority of economists believe it's important to extend the payroll tax cut. And those same economists would lower their growth estimates for our economy if it doesn’t happen.
Not only is extending the payroll tax cut important for the economy as a whole, it's obviously important for individual families. It's important insurance for them against the unexpected. It will help families pay their bills. It will spur spending. It will spur hiring.
On Thursday, the Senate voted on extending the tax cut, but Republicans blocked the proposal. The President, however, said we're starting to see evidence that lawmakers might be ready to put politics aside and do the right thing for the middle class:
Now, the good news is I think the American people's voices are starting to get through in this town. I know that last week Speaker Boehner said this tax cut helps the economy because it allows every working American to keep more of their money. I know that over the weekend Senate Republican leaders said we shouldn’t raise taxes on working people going into next year.
Congress has 26 days to find a solution to this impasse. To underscore that point, we've started a clock on WhiteHouse.gov, counting down the time until the tax cut expires. And to make sure you have the information you need to see what this means for your family, we've put together a calculator to show how much of your money hangs in the balance. Check it out here.
Megan SlackDecember 05, 2011
02:58 PM EST
If Congress doesn’t act, taxes on the middle class will go up in 26 days. That’s when President Obama’s payroll tax cut—signed into law last year—will end. Approximately 160 million workers will begin paying 6.2 percent of their wages in payroll taxes, rather than continuing to pay the current rate of 4.2 percent. As a result, the typical family earning $50,000 a year would pay an additional $1,000 in taxes in 2012.
As part of the American Jobs Act, President Obama asked Congress to extend and expand the payroll tax cut to continue helping middle class families--an extension Senate Republicans have already rejected once. His plan would cut the rate workers pay even further, down to 3.1 percent of their wages. Under President Obama’s proposal, the same family earning $50,000 would see an extra $1,500 in their pockets next year.
Want to see how changes to the payroll tax cut will affect you starting January 1st? Use our calculator to find out how much more you’ll be paying if Congress doesn’t act in the next 26 days...and counting.
Amy DudleyDecember 04, 2011
08:28 PM EST
Vice President Joe Biden had one last stop to make in Istanbul earlier today before departing for Athens - the last leg of his trip through the region.
Samatya Square -- a traditional neighborhood in the Fatih district of Istanbul -- is home to all sorts of vendors and food stands carrying local specialties.
The neighborhood is said to represent a "mosaic of life" in Istanbul, having been home to Turks and various minority groups for centuries.
Vice President Biden walked through the cobblestone streets stopping in stores and picking up a few things. On the Vice President's shopping list: oranges, tangerines and other fruit as well as olives and cheeses.
Vice President Joe Biden visits a shop in the Samatya Square neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey, December 4, 2011. (by David Lienemann)
Amy DudleyDecember 03, 2011
04:30 PM EST
Following their meeting, the Vice President and the Ecumenical Patriach were joined by members of the Holy Synod, Metropolitans, and Greek community leaders for continued discussions - not to mention an abundance of the local dessert of choice, Turkish Delight.
Vice President Biden then had the opportunity to tour the Church of St. George at the Patriarchate with His Eminence Archbishop Demitrios Trakatellis, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, with whom the Vice President recently met in New York City. A beautiful day in Istanbul, the tour included a stroll through the Church's mosaic adorned courtyard. It was a special honor to later light a candle at the Church with the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Amy DudleyDecember 03, 2011
03:45 PM EST
Earlier today in Istanbul, Vice President Biden addressed the second Global Entrepreneurship Summit, convened by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Vice President is leading the U.S. delegation to the summit, which follows the 2010 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship hosted by President Obama in Washington, D.C.
This year’s summit comes at a critical moment in the Middle East and North Africa as millions have risked their lives for political freedom and economic opportunity.
"Democratic revolutions like the ones in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya -- and the ones still unfolding in Syria and Yemen --are imbued, literally imbued with entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit that requires risk and initiative, steadfast determination, and a unifying idea," said Vice President Biden. "They aim to do more than merely change the government which is in power, but also to end practices like authoritarianism, corruption, the stifling of free expression -- practices that make political and economic freedom impossible."
The Vice President also highlighted how entrepreneurs are a driving force for job creation and economic growth in the United States.
"Once, the wealth of a nation was primarily measured by the abundance of its natural resources, the expanse of its landmass, the size of its population and the power of its armies," the Vice President said. "Today, the true wealth of a nation is found in the creative minds of its people and their freedom and ability to bring those ideas to life -- to develop not only new products, but the technologies that will create entirely new industries, entire new markets, entire new opportunities."
Megan SlackDecember 03, 2011
12:00 PM EST
On this day last year, President Obama made a surprise visit to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to thank troops for their service. Watch the video from his address here.
Watch First Lady Michelle Obama make a surprise call to a military spouse to say thanks.
Add a note to the USO's interactive thank you card for service members and their familes.
Dan PfeifferDecember 03, 2011
06:00 AM EST
We’ve seen Republicans in Congress vote to obstruct the American Jobs Act, a bill that independent economists have said could create up to 2 million jobs. They’ve voted against keeping teachers in the classroom, cops on the beat and firefighters on the job. They voted against putting construction workers back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges.
In addition to blocking these job-creating measures, Republicans in Congress refused to compromise to tackle our nation’s serious deficit problem. They chose to protect tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires at any cost, even if it means deep cuts to education, medical research and Medicare. They will not budge from that negotiating position.
And Thursday night, after weeks of saying “no” to just about everything, Republicans in Congress chose to allow taxes to increase on nearly 160 million hardworking Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. They voted against a bill that would have not only extended the $1,000 tax cut for a typical family, but expanded that tax cut to put $1,500 in their pockets next year, and given nearly six million small business owners new incentives to expand and hire. That’s not right. It’s not acceptable.
Now, you’ll hear Republicans try to come up with a substantive objection to the payroll tax cut. The fact is, we all know it’s a bad idea to raise taxes on 160 million working Americans. Independent economists agree. We can’t put our economy and the middle class at risk. We can’t play politics with the security of millions of American families and small business owners. Republicans know this. They’ve said so in past. Those same Republicans who voted “no” last night have previously supported the payroll tax cut. Let’s take a look:
12/9/10: Sen. Alexander: “It Also Means That Your Employees Who Work There Will Get A One-Third Reduction In Their Payroll Tax Payments Every Two Weeks. And Maybe They’ll Spend Some More Money Creating More Jobs.” ”QUESTION: And if you look at the proportions, though, of the top, top sector of earners in this country getting the bulk of the benefits, why does that help?
ALEXANDER: Well, if you’re a small business person in Tennessee, what this means is that you won’t be paying tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps more, in taxes and you can use that to create a job. It also means that your employees who work there will get a one-third reduction in their payroll tax payments every two weeks. And maybe they’ll spend some more money creating morejobs. So it’s a combination of policies that all together are focused on jobs.” [NPR, 12/9/10]
11/20/09: Sen. Kyl: “…What You're Suggesting Here Is That You Can Do Some Things To Stimulate Job Creation And Certainly Something Like Reducing The Payroll Tax, Which Has Been Written About Recently, Would Accomplish That…”“MR. KUDLOW: All right. Let me go to a couple of other things. We had Senator Thune on last night about ending TARP, putting a stake in TARP by the end of the year. But Mr. Kyl, let me just ask you. Suppose you got $300 billion from ending TARP. Wouldn't it be better to give it back to the taxpayers in the form of lower tax rates? Wouldn't that be a terrific thing with 10.2 percent unemployment, kind of "we, the people," the government works for us, and they could use the extra cash right now and maybe some incentives on lower rates for payroll taxes?
SEN. KYL: Yeah. As a matter of fact, the original intent here was that when the money was paid back by the banks, you didn't create a revolving account there, you lowered the debt. That is to say, you simply retired that aspect of the debt. Remember, this is all borrowed money from the Chinese and elsewhere. So you can do one of two things with it. You can either retire the debt, or what you're suggesting here is that you can do some things to stimulate job creation and certainly something like reducing the payroll tax, which has been written about recently, would accomplish that. There are other ways you can do it as well.” [CNBC, Kudlow Report, 11/20/09]
11/29/11: “Republican Leaders Said Tuesday They Would Join Democrats In Supporting An Extension Of The 2011 Payroll-Tax Cut Despite Some Reluctance Within The GOP, Virtually Assuring That American Wage-Earners Will Continue To Receive The Benefit Next Year…..Mr. DeMint Said He Would Support The Extension Because ‘I Just Don't Think It's A Good Time To Increase Any Taxes.’” “Republican leaders said Tuesday they would join Democrats in supporting an extension of the 2011 payroll-tax cut despite some reluctance within the GOP, virtually assuring that American wage-earners will continue to receive the benefit next year. Republicans still oppose Democrats' plan to pay for the tax break with a tax on people earning more than $1 million a year. GOP leaders said they would find another way to pay for the tax break and predicted it would pass. ‘I think at the end of the day, there's a lot of sentiment in our conference—clearly a majority sentiment—for continuing the payroll-tax relief that we enacted a year ago in these tough times,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said. Republicans and some economists have questioned the value of the payroll-tax break, saying its economic impact is limited by its temporary nature and the fact that some people use the spare cash to pay down debt, rather than buy things. Some argue Congress should revamp the whole tax code rather than temporarily reducing individual taxes. ‘I think it's a mistake to do this little tax and that little tax,’ said Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.). ‘We need to reform our tax code if we're going to be competitive internationally.’ Nonetheless, Mr. DeMint said he would support the extension because ‘I just don't think it's a good time to increase any taxes.’” [Wall Street Journal, 11/30/11]
9/10/11: AP: “Kirk Said Obama's Proposals To Cut The Payroll Tax…Should Receive Quick, Bipartisan Action.” “Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said Obama's proposals to cut the payroll tax and approve trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama should receive quick, bipartisan action.” [AP, 9/10/11]
7/8/10: Pulaski County Daily: “Blunt Agreed That A Payroll Tax Holiday, A 100 Percent Depreciation Of Capital Expenses, And Other Ideas Could Have Worked To Stimulate The Economy…” “Blunt agreed that a payroll tax holiday, a 100 percent depreciation of capital expenses, and other ideas could have worked to stimulate the economy, but said the $800 billion federal spending plan happened in 2009 because President Barack Obama has a fundamentally different view of how to help the economy than most Republicans and many rural Americans.” [Pulaski County Daily, 7/8/10]
11/30/11: New York Times: “Another Republican Senator Has Opened The Door To Tax Increases On High Earners As A Way To Pay For A Payroll Tax Cut, Showing More Movement In The Party Ranks After Resistance All Year To Tax Increases. ‘I Sense A Change In Mood,’ Senator Mike Johanns, Republican Of Nebraska, Said Wednesday. ‘It’s A Little More Bipartisan. My Position Has Always Been, ‘Let’s Not Raise Taxes,’ But On The Other Hand, I Don’t Want Our Country To Collapses Under A Mountain Of Debt. If That Means Compromise, I Am Going To Do Everything To Get That Done.’” “Another Republican senator has opened the door to tax increases on high earners as a way to pay for a payroll tax cut, showing more movement in the party ranks after resistance all year to tax increases. ‘I sense a change in mood,’ Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska, said Wednesday. ‘It’s a little more bipartisan. My position has always been, ‘Let’s not raise taxes,’ but on the other hand, I don’t want our country to collapses under a mountain of debt. If that means compromise, I am going to do everything to get that done.’…Democrats are seeking to reduce the Social Security payroll tax paid by employees by half, to 3.1. percent of wages, a position many Republicans support.” [New York Times, 11/30/11]
2009 Republican Stimulus Proposal Included a Payroll Tax Cut
2/5/09: 40 Republican Senators Voted For The Republican Substitute Stimulus Which Included A Payroll Tax Cut. On February 2, 2009, 40 Republican senators voted for a McCain motion to consider an alternative Republican stimulus bill that “would have cut income and payroll taxes….” according to the Associated Press. The motion was rejected 40-57. [Senate Roll Call Vote #45, 2/5/09; AP, 2/5/09]
- 18 Republican Senators Voted Against Both Payroll Tax Cut Extension Bills On December 2, 2011 But Voted For A Payroll Tax Cut On February 5, 2009: Alexander, Burr, Chambliss, Coburn, Cochran, Corker, Cornyn, DeMint, Graham, Hatch, Inhofe, Isakson, Johanns, Kyl, Roberts, Sessions, Shelby, And Thune. [Senate Roll Call Vote #45, 2/5/09; Senate Roll Call Vote #219, 12/1/11; Senate Roll Call Vote #220, 12/1/11]
- 10/15/09: Sen. McCain: “Mr. President, Earlier This Year I Put Forward A Proposal To Eliminate The 3.1 Percent Payroll Tax For One Year For All Employees In Order To Put More Money In Every Working American’s Pocket During These Difficult Economic Times. This Would Have Been A Real Stimulus To Our Economy.” “‘Mr. President, earlier this year I put forward a proposal to eliminate the 3.1 percent payroll tax for one year for all employees in order to put more money in every working American’s pocket during these difficult economic times. This would have been a real stimulus to our economy. Unfortunately, every Democrat in this chamber voted against this common sense proposal. ‘The regressive payroll tax oppresses all Americans, especially young men and women, and burdens small businesses that must match the tax that their employees pay. About 41 percent of Americans have no income tax liability. But every wage-earner is hit by the payroll tax no matter how much or how little one earns. For 86 percent of all working Americans, the payroll tax they pay is more than their income tax liability.” [Sen. John McCain – Floor Statement, 10/15/09– video available via C-SPAN]
- 3/26/09: Sen. McCain: “Our Proposal Would Have . . . Put Money Immediately Back Into The Hands Of All Americans Through A Payroll Tax Holiday.” “Our proposal would have helped fix the housing crisis, invested in our nation’s infrastructure through effective and restrained spending, put money immediately back into the hands of all Americans through a payroll tax holiday, and allowed businesses to keep more of their profits to hire new employees, invest in capital and expand their businesses.” [Sen. John McCain – Remarks to the Heritage Foundation, 3/26/09]
Matt ComptonDecember 03, 2011
06:00 AM EST
December 02, 2011
06:46 PM EST
Watch West Wing Week here.
What happened this week on WhiteHouse.gov:
Payroll Tax Cut On Wednesday President Obama spoke in Scranton, Pennsylvania urging Congress to extend a tax break for middle class families. Yesterday Congress rejected an extension of this payroll tax cut that is set to expire at the end of the month. Because of this failed attempt to extend tax cuts, the typical middle-class family is going to see their taxes go up by $1,000 in 2012. The President released a statement calling the vote “unacceptable” -- and urging Congress to stop playing politics.
White House Holidays The trees are lit and the ornaments are out. The First Lady welcomed military families to the White House Wednesday for a preview of this year’s holiday decorations. This year’s White House Holiday theme “Shine.Give.Share” celebrates the countless way we can lift up those around us and share our blessings with all. Mrs. Obama’s guests saw the 18-foot official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room that honors our military, the Gold Star tree in the East Landing plus a series of topiaries built in the image of the First Dog, Bo. On Thursday, the First Family welcomed hundreds to the National Tree Lighting Ceremony to bring in holiday cheer with guest performances including a reading of “the Night Before Christmas” by the First Lady and Kermit the Frog.
Green Building Initiative President Obama was joined by former President Bill Clinton on Friday as he announced the next piece of his “We Can’t Wait” initiative—a $4 billion investment in improving energy efficiency in buildings across the country. The President has also directed all Federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades over the next two months.
World AIDS Day To mark World Aids Day on Thursday, the President spoke about the progress made in the fight against the disease worldwide. He was joined via satellite by former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, while Bono, Alicia Keys and others were on hand to make a new commitment to help extend the progress made in the fight against this global pandemic. The commitment plans to help 6 million people get treatment by the end of 2013, 2 million more than the original goal.
EU Summit President Obama met with a group of senior officials from the European Union Wednesday to help find a solution to the Eurozone Crisis. The leaders issued a joint statement describing their shared commitment to create jobs and ensure financial stability. Later in the week, he met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to discuss his government’s commitment to keeping the euro intact.
Matt ComptonDecember 02, 2011
05:44 PM EST
Today, for the third year, President Obama hosted the White House Tribal Nations Conference here in Washington, DC. The goal of the event is to provide leaders from America's 565 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with members of the Obama administration -- including the President. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and OMB Deputy Director Heather Higginbottom were all in attendance.
Speaking at the close of the conference, President Obama discussed the work he's done to improve communications between tribal nations and the federal government -- and his commitment to helping Indian communities realize prosperous futures. It's a set of changes that is starting to take effect:
While our work together is far from over, today we can see what change looks like. It's the Native American-owned small business that's opening its doors, or a worker helping a school renovate. It’s new roads and houses. It’s wind turbines going up on tribal lands, and crime going down in tribal communities. That’s what change looks like.
Before his remarks, President Obama signed an executive order to expand educational opportunities for First American students aimed helping to preserve Native languages, cultures, and histories, while ensuring that these young people are prepared for colleges and careers. Read the order here.
President Barack Obama is joined onstage by his adopted Native American parents, Hartford "Sonny" Black Eagle and Mary Black Eagle, during the 2011 Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of Interior, Washington, D.C., Dec. 2, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Megan SlackDecember 02, 2011
05:43 PM EST
Today, President Obama announced commitments from 60 major CEOS, universities, mayors, labor leaders, and others to improve the energy efficiency of 1.6 billion square feet of commercial and industrial property. That’s more square footage than 500 Empire State Buildings.
Refitting our nation’s buildings to be more energy efficient will help businesses save money, create jobs for out-of-work construction workers, and help protect our environment. In fact, meeting President Obama’s Better Building Initiative goal—improving energy efficiency in our commercial buildings 20 percent by 2020—will save businesses $40 billion per year and create 114,000 jobs.
President Obama knows that we can’t wait on Congress to offer incentives for building owners to move forward with energy efficiency upgrades on their properties. That’s why he partnered with the former President Bill Clinton and his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to spur the $2 billion private sector investment that led to today’s announcement. To jumpstart even more energy efficient upgrades, President Obama also directed Federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades in the next two years.
Ken SalazarDecember 02, 2011
05:38 PM EST
Today, the White House hosted the Tribal Nations Conference at the Interior Department. The conference continued the meaningful government-to-government dialogue that has made the march of progress happening in Indian Country possible. During his remarks today, President Obama again reiterated his deep commitment to making government work better to fulfill our trust management duties, support tribal self-determination and empower American Indian and Alaska Natives to unlock the economic potential of Indian communities.
This is a promise shared throughout the Obama administration, and today’s conference was a great manifestation of the progress we’ve made – bringing together several members of the President’s cabinet, key federal officials from across the administration as well as the White House, and leaders from more than 565 federally-recognized tribes.
This morning I had the pleasure of announcing the promising results of a pilot program to reduce the high incidence of violent crime on four Indian reservations. The Safe Indian Communities initiative, a two-year program that included targeted community policing, achieved a 35 percent overall decrease in violent crime across the four communities.
We know that safer Indian communities mean stronger Indian communities. The positive results from the pilot program are extremely encouraging and far surpassed our goals. We are committed to building on that progress and will be expanding the Safe Indian Communities initiative to other reservations that are experiencing high levels of violent crime.
And throughout the week, I was proud to announce several other initiatives - developed in consultation with tribal leaders - that strengthen consultations, restore greater control to individual American Indians and Alaska Natives and tribes over their lands, reform trust asset management and resolve water rights disputes:
- The comprehensive and transparent consultation policy will provide a strong, meaningful role for tribal governments at all stages of federal decision-making on Indian policy. The draft policy embodies the best consultation practices and most innovative methods available, contains detailed accountability requirements for Interior managers, responds to the needs of tribal leaders to be more engaged in policy development and promotes more responsible decision-making on issues affecting Indian Country.
- The sweeping reform of antiquated, “one-size-fits-all” federal leasing regulations for the 56 million surface acres the federal government holds in trust for tribes and individual Indians will provide landowners certainty and flexibility on the use of their land. The revised regulations, the most comprehensive reform of Indian land leasing rules in more than 50 years, will streamline the approval process for home ownership, expedite business leases and spur renewable energy development in Indian Country.
- The Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform was activated by naming five prominent tribal leaders to this national commission to undertake a forward-looking, comprehensive evaluation of how Interior manages nearly $4 billion in American Indian trust funds. The goal is to make the trust administration system more transparent, responsive, customer-friendly and accountable.
- The release of $21 million under the Soboba of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act marks the final step in an historic water rights settlement and fulfills promises made to the Soboba Band and southern California communities when Congress approved the Act in 2008. The settlement will stabilize water supplies in the San Jacinto River Basin and enhance economic development opportunities for the Soboba Band and its neighbors.
These initiatives build on other Administration achievements during the past three years, including the historic $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement that addresses long-standing injustices; $1 billion in settlements to meet the critical water needs of Native American communities; the Tribal Law and Order Act, which allowed federal agencies to accelerate their focus on safe tribal communities; and acquiring more than 157,000 acres of land in trust on behalf of tribal nations.
Over the last three years we have made tremendous progress in Indian Country. A lot of that progress is possible because the ideas that tribal leadership has shared at these conferences. But we know we haven’t solved all of our problems and there is much work to be done. But I am confident with your help there isn’t anything we cannot achieve. As the President said today, this Administration has your back.
Megan SlackDecember 02, 2011
02:36 PM EST
This morning, President Obama met with former President Bill Clinton to announce the next piece of the "We Can't Wait" campaign -- a $4 billion effort to improve energy efficiency in buildings across the country.
The two were joined by Tom Donohue -- the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- and Randi Weingarten -- the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The group toured a building in northwest Washington that's currently seeing an efficiency upgrade. That improvement employs around 250 full-time workers and will save the building $200,000 a year on its energy bills.
Making our buildings more energy efficient is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways for us to create jobs, save money, and cut down on harmful pollution, President Obama said:
It is a trifecta, which is why you’ve got labor and business behind it. It could save our businesses up to $40 billion a year on their energy bills – money better spent growing and hiring new workers. It would boost manufacturing of energy-efficient materials. And when millions of construction workers have found themselves out of work since the housing bubble burst, it will put them back to work doing the work that America needs done. So this is an idea whose time has come.
As part of today’s announcement, President Obama directed all Federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades over the next two months. Additionally, 60 private companies, hospitals, cities, states, colleges, and universities, among others, have collectively committed another $2 billion in energy efficiency retrofits to 1.6 billion square feet of property—roughly the equivalent of 500 Empire State Buildings.
The investments announced today are part of President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative, which set a goal of improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020. The initiative will reduce energy bills for businesses by $40 billion per year, and one report found it could create up to 114,000 jobs.
Colleen CurtisDecember 02, 2011
11:18 AM EST
Last night President Obama was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters Malia and Sasha and "Grandmother in Chief" Marian Robinson to light a brand new National Christmas Tree in the President's Park outside the White House. This year's tree replaces one that was part of the national tradition for 30 years , until it was lost in a storm earlier this year.
In his remarks, the President wished Americans "the merriest of Christmases" and reminded everyone to keep the central message of the holiday season in their hearts:
In this season of hope, let’s help those who need it most –- the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in. In this season of plenty, let’s reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families. In this season of generosity, let’s give thanks and honor to our troops and our veterans, and their families who've sacrificed so much for us. And let’s welcome all those who are happily coming home.
And this holiday season, let us reaffirm our commitment to each other, as family members, as neighbors, as Americans, regardless of our color or creed or faith. Let us remember that we are one, and we are a family.
Continuing another tradition, the First Lady read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to the crowd before the lighting ceremony began, and this year she was joined by Kermit the Frog.
View photos from the event and watch the President's remarks and the First Lady's reading below.
Watch the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony here.
Amy DudleyDecember 02, 2011
10:09 AM EST
Speaking at an event in Baghdad to honor the shared sacrifice and commitment of American and Iraqi servicemembers, Vice President Biden heralded a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and Iraq – one rooted in civilian cooperation as the remaining American troops prepare to return home by the end of this year. More than 200 U.S. and Iraqi servicemembers attended the event at Al Faw Palace - a former palace of Saddam Hussein.
“Today we come together at another moment of transition,” said Vice President Biden. “In America, and in Iraq, the tide of war is receding. And our relationship, borne on the battlefield and long defined by the imperative of security alone, is now giving way to a new, more normal partnership between sovereign nations seeking to build a future together.”
In reflecting on the 4,486 American servicemembers who lost their lives in the war in Iraq, and the more than 30,000 wounded, the Vice President quoted President Harry Truman in describing the end of the war as a “solemn but glorious hour.”
The event capped two days of productive talks in Baghdad with Iraqi political leaders – including a meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee – all focused on the transition to an Iraq in control of its own security, with the United States as an enduring strategic partner across a broad range of areas. From energy development, to trade, to the rule of law, to agriculture, to education – these areas of cooperation defined by the Strategic Framework Agreement offer an “opportunity to help a new Iraqi democracy secure its place in the community of responsible nations,” the Vice President said.
From Baghdad, Vice President Biden traveled to Erbil where he met with Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani.
The next stop for the Vice President: Ankara, Turkey, the first leg on a four-day visit to Turkey and Greece.
Related: See the slideshow from the Vice President's trip to Iraq
Alan KruegerDecember 02, 2011
09:35 AM EST
Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but the pace of improvement is still not fast enough given the large job losses from the recession that began in December 2007.
Private sector payrolls increased by 140,000 in November and overall payroll employment rose by 120,000. The unemployment rate fell 0.4 percentage point to 8.6 percent, the lowest unemployment rate since March 2009. About half of the drop in unemployment in the household survey was due to a decline in the labor force (-315,000) and about half to employment growth (+278,000). Despite adverse shocks that have created headwinds for economic growth, the economy has added private sector jobs for 21 straight months, for a total of 2.9 million jobs over that period. Nonetheless, we need faster growth to put more Americans back to work.
While the U.S. economy is healing, the world economy continues to be in a fragile state and all economies are linked through trade and finance. In this environment, the President’s American Jobs Act is the right medicine to sustain and strengthen the recovery. In particular, with 13.3 million Americans still unemployed, and 43 percent of them unemployed for 6 months or longer, it would be a setback for the economy and American families if Congress were to allow extended unemployment benefits to expire at the end of the year. The President’s proposal to extend and expand the payroll tax cut for workers and small businesses also would provide a substantial boost to economic growth and job creation.
Sectors with employment increases in November included retail trade (+50,000), professional and business services (+33,000), leisure and hospitality (+22,000), health care and social assistance (+19,000), and manufacturing (+2,000). The temporary help services industry, which is often a leading indicator of future job growth, increased for the fifth month in a row, by 22,300. Sectors with employment declines included government (-20,000) and construction (-12,000). State and local governments lost 16,000 jobs and have shed 430,000 jobs since February 2010.
The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and employment estimates are subject to substantial revision. Therefore, as the Administration always stresses, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report.
Matt ComptonDecember 02, 2011
12:00 AM EST
This week, as the President urged Republicans to join a Democratic effort to prevent a thousand dollar tax increase on the typical American family, the White House got spruced up for the holidays. The President also hosted the EU Summit, the Dutch Prime Minister, and announced a new commitment to fighting AIDS in America and around the world. He also lit the National Christmas Tree. That's November 25th to December 1st, or "Bo Meets Bo."
Matt ComptonDecember 01, 2011
09:55 PM EST
Just now, Republicans in the Senate rejected an extension of the payroll tax cut that is set to expire at the end of the month. In a statement, President Obama called that vote "unacceptable" -- and urged Congress to stop playing politics:
Tonight, Senate Republicans chose to raise taxes on nearly 160 million hardworking Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. They voted against a bill that would have not only extended the $1,000 tax cut for a typical family, but expanded that tax cut to put an extra $1,500 in their pockets next year, and given nearly six million small business owners new incentives to expand and hire. That is unacceptable. It makes absolutely no sense to raise taxes on the middle class at a time when so many are still trying to get back on their feet.
Now is not the time to put the economy and the security of the middle class at risk. Now is the time to rebuild an economy where hard work and responsibility pay off, and everybody has a chance to succeed. Now is the time to put country before party and work together on behalf of the American people. And I will continue to urge Congress to stop playing politics with the security of millions of American families and small business owners and get this done.
Nancy-Ann DeParleDecember 01, 2011
04:50 PM EST
Earlier this week, I highlighted a new story from the Associated Press indicating that seniors who hit the prescription drug coverage gap known as the donut hole will save an average of $600 this year alone.
Today, we got more good news for people with Medicare. Released today, a new report from the Government Accountability Office requested by Senators Baucus and Harkin finds that more seniors are enrolling in Medicare Advantage and that premiums are going down. The report examined changes in the Medicare Advantage program between 2010 and 2011. Here are a few of the highlights:
Access to Medicare Advantage Remains Strong, with more people enrolled in Medicare Advantage this year:
“Enrollment in the MA plans GAO analyzed increased by about 6 percent--from 7.9 million to 8.4 million beneficiaries--from April 2010 through April 2011.”
Medicare Advantage premiums are going down:
“The average monthly premium for beneficiaries in MA plans decreased from $28 in 2010 to $24 in 2011, about a 14 percent reduction.”
President Obama is committed to making Medicare stronger and today’s report is another sign that the Affordable Care Act is working for America’s seniors. In addition to lower premiums, seniors can get free preventive services like mammograms and other cancer screenings and a free annual wellness visit. And in the years ahead, the prescription drug coverage gap known as the donut hole will be eliminated.
You can learn more about Medicare and the Affordable Care Act at www.healthcare.gov. And click here to read the full report from the GAO, entitled MEDICARE ADVANTAGE: Enrollment Increased from 2010 to 2011 While Premiums Decreased and Benefit Packages Were Stable.
Nancy-Ann DeParle is the Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff