Read all posts from November 2009

  • Download Video: mp4 (414MB)

    I was very pleased to join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the President’s Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, ONAP Director Jeffrey Crowley, and Dr. Elly Katabira, President-elect of the International AIDS Society at the White House today for an event on the eve of World AIDS Day 2009.   World AIDS Day is an occasion to reflect on how far we have come in the fight against this epidemic, but also to remind ourselves of the important work we have yet to do in preventing and treating HIV.  

    This year marks my first World AIDS Day as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, although I have been working on HIV/AIDS issues for more than 25 years.  In addition to my work treating persons living with HIV and AIDS, I have held various roles in and outside of government working to respond to HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and around the world.  I was deeply humbled when the President appointed me to serve as the Global AIDS Coordinator.  We are just getting started, but President Obama has demonstrated solid leadership on domestic and global HIV/AIDS issues, and it is an exciting time to be a part of his team.

    At today’s event, Secretary Clinton announced that the 2012 International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington, DC.  This momentous event is made possible by the Administration’s recent lifting of the entry ban for HIV-positive travelers to the United States. The full removal of the ban takes effect on January 4, 2010.  This entry ban was originally placed into effect in 1987 when there was little information on how HIV is spread, and was then codified by Congress.  Even after scientists had long proved that HIV/AIDS was not spread through casual contact with a person living with HIV, the entry ban remained in place.  Only a handful of countries worldwide prohibit HIV-positive travelers from crossing their borders, and the United States has been the only Western country to uphold this discriminatory policy.  Last year, Congress finally repealed the law mandating the travel ban, and the Obama Administration was able to remove the remaining regulatory barriers.

    Hosting the International AIDS Conference in the United States is an important opportunity for the United States. This event draws scientists, policy makers, program officials, HIV-positive individuals and others from all over the world.  As the largest conference of its type, the International AIDS Conference attracts more than 25,000 participants and over 3,000 members of the media.  Welcoming conference attendees to our Nation’s capital will allow America to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to ending the HIV pandemic both in the United States and around the world.  Given that the conference is fundamentally a research conference, holding this event in such close proximity to the National Institutes of Health and other U.S. Government research facilities will also, hopefully, expand the level of scientific discourse between our scientists and researchers from around the world.
    Hosting the conference in the United States will also enable us to showcase our efforts to respond to our domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic.  By 2012, the U.S. will have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in place for the first time in our nation’s history.  We expect to have made new strides by then to better coordinate HIV prevention and care services across the U.S. Government, as well as to reduce HIV/AIDS disparities.  In addition, the conference will allow us to spotlight our ongoing and continued commitment to the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Global Health Initiative.  

    World AIDS Day is an important day to pause and reflect.  It is also an important day to look forward with renewed optimism and vigor.  Today’s announcement by Secretary Clinton is a sign of renewed commitment that gives us all hope as we move forward in the fight against HIV/AIDS and confront the many challenges ahead.

    Eric P. Goosby, MD is the United States Ambassador at Large and Global AIDS Coordinator

  • Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an analysis (pdf) of the Senate version health insurance reform – and it contains more good news about what reform will mean for families struggling to keep up with skyrocketing premiums under the broken status quo.

    Like other recent analyses, the CBO report finds that lower administrative costs, increased competition, and better pooling for risk will mean lower premiums for American families. Among the findings:

    • Americans buying comparable health plans to what they have today in the individual market would see premiums fall by 14 to 20 percent.
    • Those who get coverage through their employer today will likely see a decrease in premiums as well.
    • And Americans who currently struggle to find coverage would see lower premiums because more people will be covered.

    In addition to the welcome relief on costs, the CBO reports that Americans will also have better insurance options. The CBO assumes that many people will take advantage of these better options and "buy up" to purchase better plans than are currently offered in the individual market.

    Not surprisingly, some of reform's opponents have already started trying to distort that finding to make false claims that reform will raise costs. So let's be clear: where the CBO does see premiums rising, it's not because Americans are paying more for the same coverage – it's that they’re making a choice to purchase better plans that weren't previously available to them.

    In keeping with that finding, the CBO affirms the effectiveness of the grandfather policy, which will allow you to keep what you have if you like it. The report reads, "Moreover, if they wanted to, current policyholders in the nongroup market would be allowed to keep their policy with no changes, and the premiums for those policies would probably not differ substantially from current-law levels."

    Finally, it’s worth nothing that for all the good news in the CBO report, the analysis doesn't even take into account all of the bill’s measures to control costs and improve coverage. So if anything, it understates the positive impacts of reform. For example, the CBO does not take into account policies like the catastrophic option available to young adults, and reinsurance provision, that would reduce premiums even further.

    It also does not incorporate potential effects of the proposal on the level or growth rate of spending for health care. For instance, CBO’s analysis does not fully capture the effects of the excise tax on high-cost plans, which will bend the cost curve over the long-term. But it did provide a snapshot: for plans affected by the tax in 2016, premiums would be 9-12 percent lower than under current law.

  • The Thanksgiving holiday is over, and attention now turns to the Senate floor debate on its health insurance reform. Today's Washington Post explores one aspect of this debate– and that's what the impact of health reform will be on our deficits and fiscal situation.

    There are three things to keep in mind when assessing this issue.

    First, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Senate bill (pdf) – and the House bill (pdf) – will reduce the deficit over the first 10 years, and then substantially reduce it by hundreds of billions of dollars in the second 10 years as well.  That would be up to ¼ percent of GDP. CBO scoring is, by design, conservative, and we should not take their assessment lightly. Contrary to what many thought when this process began, the health reform bills represent the biggest deficit reduction legislation since the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

    Second, we also need to understand the limits of CBO scoring. Some of the most auspicious reforms that health policy experts believe will transform the health care system from one that delivers more care at an increasingly growing price to one that delivers better care are not analyzed by CBO for the fiscal effects. Why? Since they have never been done before ordone in concert with each other, they are hard to assess.  For CBO, past results is an important indicator for future savings.  I know this firsthand, having served as the CMS Administrator when the agency implemented the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA). The BBA was first estimated to extend the Medicare Trust Fund's solvency through 2017, but by the end of the Clinton Administration, the savings in the BBA were re-estimated and found to have extended the life of the Trust Fund to 2029.

    Ironically, while some opponents of reform have tried to dismiss the CBO scores as underestimating the costs of reform, the opposite is almost certainly the case. Indeed, Jon Gabel wrote a New York Times op-ed in August spelling out why both history and logic argue that the CBO almost always underestimates savings in reform of the health care system, and are likely doing so now solely by virtue of their methodology:

    "The budget office's cautious methods may have unintended consequences in the current health care reform effort. By underestimating the savings that can come from improved Medicare payment procedures and other cost-control initiatives, the budget office leads Congress to think that politically unpopular cost-cutting initiatives will have, at best, only modest effects."

    In addition to historic investments in health information technology, research into what works and what doesn't, and prevention and wellness investments that were included in the Recovery Act, some of the key provisions under consideration in the health reform bills include:

    • Changing the way we pay hospitals, to discourage mistakes and unnecessary and costly readmissions.
    • Creating incentives in the payment system to reward quality of care rather than just the quantity of procedures.
    • Giving physicians incentives to collaborate in the coordination of patient care.
    • Reducing hospital-acquired infections and other avoidable health-center acquired conditions through rigorous reporting and transparency.
    • Imposing a fee on insurance companies offering high-premium plans — which would create a strong incentive for more cost-efficient plans that would help reduce the growth of premiums.
    • Establishing a Medicare commission — which would develop and submit proposals aimed at extending the solvency of Medicare, slowing Medicare cost growth, and improving the quality of care delivered to Medicare beneficiaries. 

    These elements are included in the Senate bill, and they will be deliberated upon and strengthened and modified where necessary over the coming debate.

    Third, health reform is necessary, but not sufficient to curing our fiscal problems. The growing cost of health care is the number-one, long-term fiscal challenge we face. If we do nothing, by 2017, 20 percent of GDP will be spent on health care – and eventually it will swamp the federal budget. Fiscally-responsible health insurance reform that does not add a dime to our deficits and that reduces the rate of health care cost growth will help put our nation on a more sustainable, long-term trajectory. In fact, just "bending the curve" – reducing the annually rate of health care cost growth -- by 15 basis points (or .15 percent) is the equivalent of wiping out the entire actuarial deficit in Social Security.

    So, it's essential that we get health care costs under control by wringing out the waste in the system. But it is not sufficient to plug the massive deficits built up over the past several years. The President understands that, and that’s why as part of the budget process for next year he has tasked the Office of Management and Budget and his entire economic team with exploring ways to reduce our medium-term deficits.

    As the debate gets under way, there will be those who will find fault and raise serious questions; we welcome their considered critiques. But a little perspective is in order; the bill passed by the House and the one being considered in the Senate do more to take health care off its unsustainable course than anything in history. And the critics of these efforts rarely offer any alternatives. One thing is clear: doing nothing is not an option.

    Nancy-Ann DeParle is Director of the Office of Health Reform

  • As one of the people in the Office of Public Engagement who work every day with citizens, groups, and organizations on health insurance reform, I’m constantly amazed at the overwhelming show of support from every corner and every constituency you can think of. When I say the list goes on and on, I mean it literally goes on and on, and is made up of some of the most trusted groups in America.

    And nobody has been more important, more of a pleasure to work with, or more trusted for that matter than America’s doctors and nurses. We invited the heads of two groups representing the people who know our heath care system best to take part in this special video with the Vice President, to tell us all why they think reform is so important:

    Download Video: mp4 (74MB)


    Ann Widger is Deputy Associate Director of Public Engagement

  • UPDATE: Due to overwhelming response, with thousands of people having signed up to host, we have extended the deadline to January 7, 2010.

    This Thursday, the President is hosting a discussion at the White House to explore every possible avenue for job creation and get ideas from CEOs, small business owners, economists, financial experts, labor union representatives, nonprofit groups and regular Americans who have felt the impact of this economic crisis firsthand.

    But you don't need to be at the event in DC to participate.  Today we’re announcing nationwide community job forums that will run from November 30th through January 7th.  These discussions, among neighbors, co-workers and friends, will be a source of insights and ideas that will inform the President’s approach to job creation.  Through, hosts can upload the results of their discussions. Back here at the White House, we’ll compile the feedback into a report that will be sent to the Oval Office for review.

    Let us know if you are interested in organizing a jobs forum in your community, and we’ll follow up with discussion questions and other materials to make your event as productive as possible. We’re not able to offer an events center where you can find events already happening, so if you haven’t heard of one in your area, start your own and reach out to your network for participants.

    UPDATE: Watch the video about what's going on with the local economy in Allentown, PA that was shown at the beginning of the President's forum:

    Download Video: mp4 (76MB)

  • Jonathan Gruber, PhD, a MIT Economist who has been closely following the health insurance reform process, issued a compelling new report based on data from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.  As the Politico wrote, "The report concludes that under the Senate’s health-reform bill, Americans buying individual coverage will pay less than they do for today's typical individual market coverage, and would be protected from high out-of-pocket costs."  Here are some key points:

    Gruber concludes that the Senate proposal's health insurance exchange, choices and competition, and policies to hold insurers accountable would reduce costs.  Savings for people purchasing coverage in the individual market would range from $200 to 500 for individuals and families, and would be greater if people opted for basic benefits.  People with low incomes would receive premium tax credits that would reduce the price that they pay for health insurance by as much as $2,500 to $7,500 in 2009 dollars.

    Two charts based on his report illustrate these savings:

    Gruber Premiums Chart - Single Person

    November 27, 2009.

    Gruber Premiums Chart - Family

    November 27, 2009.


    The coverage Americans get under the Senate plan would be better than today's typical individual market coverage.  For example, it would protect individuals from high out-of-pocket costs, meaning Americans would pay less premiums for more coverage.  If instead Americans chose basic benefits similar to those offered in the individual market today, they would pay almost 20 percent less.

    As Gruber concludes:

    Analysis of the non-partisan information from the CBO suggests that for those facing purchase in the non-group market, the House bill will deliver savings ranging from $200 for singles to $500 for families in today’s dollars – even without subsidies.  The savings are much larger for lower income populations that receive premium credits.  This is in addition to the higher quality benefits that those in the exchange will receive, with actuarial values for low income populations well above what is typical in the non-group market today.  It is also in addition to all the other benefits that this legislation will deliver to those consumers – in particular the guarantee, unavailable in most states, that prices would not be raised or the policy revoked if they became ill.

    Nancy-Ann DeParle is Director of the White House Office of Health Reform

  • I have seen the consequences of a health care system in need of reform – too few insured, too costly for others and too little quality for all. Unsustainable growth in the cost of health care and the continued denial of coverage to millions of Americans is evidence that our health care system has failed.

    These failings are amplified in rural America, where folks pay more for health care than their urban counterparts, but are still more likely to experience chronic illness and poor health.  I applaud the National Farmers Union for their  recent endorsement of the U.S. Senate's health care reform bill and their prior support of the House’s bill.  Their support of the legislation and thier courage in this critical debate says a great deal about the need for reform and the consequences for rural America if we do not get it.

    Consider the following statistics:

    • Rural Americans pay 39% of their total health care costs, out of pocket – the highest percentage for all Americans.
    • Almost one in four Americans living in towns with less than 2,500 people have no health insurance coverage.
    • Rural Americans are more likely than their urban counterparts to postpone or forego medical care because of the cost – 9% say they delayed care and 7% skipped treatment.
    • Approximately 80% of Rural Americans are self-employed or work for a small business – two groups greatly impacted by the rising cost of health care premiums.
    • Rural residents are more likely to report fair to poor health status than urban residents, have a higher mortality rate and are more likely to have a chronic condition.

    For more information, check out this recent report detailing how health insurance reform will impact rural America.

    These numbers aren’t just statistics – they tell the real story about the health and well-being of rural Americans.  When high costs or lack of insurance deters someone from seeking needed health care, illnesses go undiagnosed and long term costs increase.

    Soaring health care costs are also hurting rural economies and businesses. Small businesses create most new jobs in rural America, but they are at a disadvantage in our current health care system, paying up to 18% more per worker than large firms for the same health insurance policy.  And over the last 16 years the number of small businesses offering health care has dropped to less than 40%.  We can overcome this by creating a new insurance exchange where individuals and small businesses will have greater leverage to bargain for better prices and quality coverage.

    The debate we are having is a good one and it will result in legislation more beneficial to the American people.  But we cannot forget - we have been debating health care reform since Harry Truman was President and the status quo is unsustainable.  We must seize the unprecedented opportunity for reform that will improve the health care security and stability that Americans value, strengthen our economy and maintain the character of our rural communities for decades to come.  The time is now. Rural America can’t wait any longer.

    Tom Vilsack is Secretary of the Department of Agriculture

  • In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer takes great pains to paint a bleak picture of health care reform as "monstrous," "overregulated," and rife with "arbitrary bureaucratic inventions."  The columnist's argument may be cogent and well-written, but it is wholly inaccurate.

    Krauthammer describes a "better choice" for health reform as having three elements: tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits. All three elements are part of the current effort.

    And while Mr. Krauthammer may try to label reform legislation as a package of programs linked only by "political expediency," the legislation actually is designed to take health care off the unsustainable path it is currently on by improving the health of all Americans and reducing costs for families, small businesses and the government.  Some examples from the Senate bill:

    • An independent Medicare Commission that would develop and submit proposals to Congress aimed at shoring up the long-term financial health of Medicare, slowing Medicare cost growth that is hurting seniors and the budget, and improving the quality of care delivered to all Medicare beneficiaries. (Section 3403)
    • A program to ensure that uninsured individuals with pre-existing conditions can buy affordable health coverage. (Section 1101)
    • New programs to expand the health care workforce so we can ensure there are more doctors and nurses in this country. (Sections 5102, 5201, 5202, 5203, 5204, 5205, 5206, 5207, 5309, 5310, 5311, 5312)
    • New prevention and wellness programs such as tobacco cessation and programs to combat childhood obesity. (Sections 4001, 4002, 4003 and 4004, 4107, 4306)


  • The President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board released the following statement today:

    Statement from PERAB Chairman Paul Volcker on Tax Task Force

    The tax subcommittee of the PERAB was scheduled to release its report on December 4th. But we have received more than 500 submissions of serious tax reform ideas from the public both in person and on our website and we had to cut them off to meet the original deadline.

    I want us to review as many suggestions as possible and to have sufficient time to fully consider the hundreds of suggestions that have come in already. I have asked the Administration to extend our deadline and to reopen the website for submissions so that we can hear the widest possible range of ideas.

    We still have the same specific mandate: to discuss the pros and cons of a spectrum of reform ideas relating to tax simplification, enforcement of existing tax laws and reform the corporate tax system without considering policies that would raise taxes on families making less than $250,000.

    The PERAB is not tasked with providing its own policy recommendations for the Administration and the final report will be an almanac of options from a broad range of viewpoints.

    We will be reopening the web submission form and extending the deadline for any suggestions in keeping with our mandate (suggestions may also be submitted via email) and will be scheduling more public meetings over the coming weeks. We expect to report back to the Administration after the holidays.

  • Happy Thanksgiving! 

    Given the holiday, we are releasing the President's weekly address today.  In this video, President Obama calls to our attention the men and women in uniform who are away from home sacrificing time with family to protect our safety and freedom.  He also talks about the progress of health care reform, the Recovery Act, and job creation to ensure that next Thanksgiving will be a brighter day.

  • Pilgrims from over 160 countries, including nearly 20,000 Americans, have gathered in Saudi Arabia for the annual performance of the Hajj.  They have assembled in Mina and will travel to Arafat, Muzdalifah, and Mecca to offer the rites of pilgrimage. On Friday, Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid-ul-Adha.  The President issued the following statement today marking the beginning of Hajj and the upcoming Eid holiday:

    Michelle and I would like to send our best wishes to all those performing Hajj this year, and to Muslims in America and around the world who are celebrating Eid-ul-Adha.  The rituals of Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha both serve as reminders of the shared Abrahamic roots of three of the world’s major religions.

    During Hajj, the world’s largest and most diverse gathering, three million Muslims from all walks of life – including thousands of American Muslims – will stand in prayer on Mount Arafat.  The following day, Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid-ul-Adha and distribute food to the less fortunate to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son out of obedience to God.

    This year, I am pleased that the Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with the Saudi Health Ministry to prevent and limit the spread of H1N1 during Hajj.  Cooperating on combating H1N1 is one of the ways we are implementing my administration's commitment to partnership in areas of mutual interest.

    On behalf of the American people, we would like to extend our greetings during this Hajj season – Eid Mubarak.

    Translations available in Arabic, Persian, Dari, Urdu, Pashto, Russian , French and Hindi.

     Rashad Hussain is Deputy Associate White House Counsel

  • Some exciting announcements today from the White House on our efforts to combat climate change and lay the foundation for a clean energy economy!   The President will be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP 15) next month, and he will take with him an emissions reduction target to drive progress toward a comprehensive and operational Copenhagen accord.

    Over the last 10 months, the Administration, under the President’s active leadership, has made remarkable progress in addressing climate change and accelerating a clean energy renaissance domestically and abroad (see a list of accomplishments below).  These aggressive initiatives have laid the foundation for a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen and longer term for a new, sustainable and prosperous clean energy future.

    The international climate summit will bring together delegations from 192 nations and will be visited by approximately 15,000 people.  For the first time in the series of these conferences, the U.S. delegation will have a U.S. Center, providing a unique and interactive forum to share our story with the world.  The Center will host over 70 events during the two-week conference that will highlight the strong actions the U.S. is taking at home as well as the leadership role the U.S. is pursuing internationally to combat global climate change. 

    Activities in the Center will include a series of presentations by senior Cabinet and Administration officials including: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, along with Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner.  Topics will range from energy efficiency investments and global commitments to renewables policy and clean energy jobs.

    To help bring the events from Copenhagen back home, the State Department will be running a website dedicated solely to COP 15 events, as well as a Facebook page.  More info coming on all the ways you can keep up will follow soon.

    These are definitely exciting times as we work collectively to address the challenge of climate change and advance the opportunities of a new clean energy future.

    Highlights of actions and accomplishments on climate change and energy by the Obama Administration in the last 10 months.

    Domestic Leadership

    Recovery Act: The U.S. is investing more than $80 billion in clean energy through its Recovery Act – including the largest-ever investment in renewable energy, which will double our generation of clean renewable energy like wind and solar in three years.

    Efficiency Standard for Automobiles:  President Obama announced the first ever joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks in May.  The new standards are projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program with a fuel economy gain averaging more than 5 percent per year and a reduction of approximately 900 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Advancing Comprehensive Energy Legislation: Passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation is a top priority for the Administration and significant progress has been made.  In June, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act that will promote clean energy investments and lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent by 2050.  The Senate continues to advance their efforts to pass comprehensive legislation and move the U.S.  closer to a system of clean energy incentives that create new energy jobs, reduce our dependence on oil, and cut pollution.

    Appliance Efficiency Standards: The Administration has forged more stringent energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential appliances, including microwaves, kitchen ranges, dishwashers, lightbulbs and other common appliances.  This common sense approach makes improved efficiency a manufacturing requirement for the everyday appliances used in practically every home and business, resulting in a significant reduction in energy use.  Altogether, about two dozen new energy efficiency standards will be completed in the next few years.

    Offshore Energy Development:  Within the Administration’s first 100 days, a new regulatory framework was established to facilitate the development of alternative energy projects in an economic and environmentally sound manner that allows us to tap into the vast energy potential of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that development of wind energy alone on the OCS may provide an additional 1,900 gigawatts of clean energy to the U.S.

    Emissions Inventory Rule: For the first time, the U.S. will catalogue greenhouse gas emissions from large emission sources – an important initial step toward measurable and transparent reductions.

    International Leadership

    The Major Economies Forum (MEF): President Obama launched the MEF in March 2009, creating a new dialogue among developed and emerging economies to combat climate change and promote clean energy. At the July L’Aquila summit, MEF Leaders announced important new agreements to support the UN climate talks and launched a new Global Partnership to promote clean energy technologies.

    Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies: The President spearheaded an agreement at the Pittsburgh G20 summit for all G20 nations to phase out their fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term and to work with other countries to do the same.  Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations followed the G20 lead at their summit in Singapore, expanding the number of countries committing to these subsidies.  According to the International Energy Agency, this measure alone could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent or more by 2050.

    Bilateral Energy and Climate Partnerships: The U.S. is accelerating its collaboration with China, India, Mexico, Canada and other key international partners to combat climate change, coordinate clean energy research and development, and support the international climate talks.

    Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas: President Obama proposed a partnership with our neighbors in the western hemisphere to advance energy security and combat climate change.  An early product of this cooperation is Chile’s Renewable Energy Center, which receives technical support from the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Phasing Down HFCs (Hydrofluorocarbons): The U.S. joined Canada and Mexico in proposing to phase-down HFC emissions, a very potent greenhouse gas, in developed and developing countries under the Montreal Protocol.  This represents a down payment of about 10% of the emission reductions necessary to cut global greenhouse gas emissions to half their current levels by 2050.

    Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

  • As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, let us also pause and acknowledge that many of our neighbors are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. The President and the First Lady are calling on all of us to come together to solve hunger in our communities.

    In this spirit, the Corporation for National and Community Service in coordination with the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching the United We Serve: Feed a Neighbor initiative. The new initiative raises awareness of hunger issues and equips Americans with the resources to mobilize against the hunger crisis.

    Here’s what you can do to get started fighting hunger today:

    Nicola Goren is the Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (160MB) | mp3 (7MB)

    Today at the White House, the President officially pardoned not one turkey, but two -- sparing both “Courage” and “Carolina,” a request from his compassionate daughters, Sasha and Malia. Before sending the birds to a life of “peace and tranquility” in Disneyland, the President took the time to express his gratitude for life’s blessings, and remind Americans that Thanksgiving is also a time to think of those less fortunate:

    When my family and I sit around the table tomorrow, just like millions of other families across America, we'll take time to give our thanks for many blessings. But we'll also remember this is a time when so many members of our American family are hurting. There's no question this has been a tough year for America. We're at war. Our economy is emerging from an extraordinary recession into recovery. But there's a long way to go and a lot of work to do.

    In more tranquil times, it's easy to notice our many blessings. It's even easier to take them for granted. But in times like these, they resonate a bit more powerfully. When President Lincoln set aside the National Day of Thanksgiving for the first time -- to celebrate America's "fruitful fields," "healthful skies," and the "strength and vigor" of the American people -- it was in the midst of the Civil War, just when the future of our very union was most in doubt. So think about that. When times were darkest, President Lincoln understood that our American blessings shined brighter than ever.

    This is an era of new perils and new hardships. But we are, as ever, a people of endless compassion, boundless ingenuity, limitless strength. We're the heirs to a hard-earned history and stewards of a land of God-given beauty. We are Americans. And for all this, we give our humble thanks -- to our predecessors, to one another, and to God.

    So on this quintessentially American holiday, as we give thanks for what we've got, let's also give back to those who are less fortunate. As we give thanks for our loved ones, let us remember those who can't be with us. And as we give thanks for our security, let's in turn thank those who've sacrificed to make it possible, wherever they may be.

  • Building upon last month’s historic release of nearly 500 White House visitor records, today the White House releases more than 1,600 records of visits to the White House in response to another month’s worth of requests. You can view all the records in a searchable database in our Disclosures section.

    We announced earlier that in December the White House would -- for the first time in history -- begin posting all White House visitor records under the terms of our new voluntary disclosure policy. As part of that initiative, we also offered to look back at the records created before the announcement of the policy and answer specific requests for visitor records created earlier in the year.

    Today’s production of records is in response to over 300 requests from the public during the month of October. Those requests have yielded over 1,600 responsive records. Consistent with our earlier announcement that we will only release records that are 90 days or older, this group of records covers the time period between January 20, 2009 to August 31, 2009. All of these have been added to the online database of published visitor records in an accessible, searchable format for anyone to browse or download.

    Today’s release advances the President’s historic commitment to increasing government transparency and openness. This Administration’s concrete commitments to openness include putting up more government information than ever before on and, reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, adopting a tough new state secrets policy, reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records, and webcasting White House meetings and conferences. The release also compliments our new lobbying rules, which in addition to closing the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government have also emphasized expanding disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government.

    Several of the most frequent White House visitors in today's release are, not surprisingly, Administration officials who come to the White House as part of their daily work. For example, Tom Perrelli and Spencer Overton - each an appointed official in the Administration - have visited the White House many times.

    Finally, as we noted last month, sometimes rather than providing clear information transparency can have confusing or amusing results. With an average of 100,000 White House access records created each month, many White House Visitors share the same name as celebrities. In October, requests were submitted for the names of some notable figures (for example Michael Jordan and Michael Moore). The famous individuals with those names never actually came to the White House, but we have included the individuals that did visit and share those names.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for ethics and government reform

  • At 11:28 AM EST, President Obama will speak at the official pardoning of the White House turkey. The ceremony will take place in the Rose Garden and give one lucky turkey a second chance at life. Watch it through

    And in case you missed it, check out yesterday’s preview:

    Download Video: mp4 (46MB)

    [UPDATE: This event has now concluded.]

  • At 11:30am EST, White House Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle will answer questions from about health reform and small business. 

    Watch it live at

    [UPDATE: This event has now concluded.]

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (288MB) | mp3 (13MB)

    In honor of the arrival of His Excellency Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the Republic of India, and his wife, Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will hold the first official State Dinner of the Presidency. The event promises to be a celebration of President Obama’s deep respect for India and its people, setting the tone for a long-lasting relationship between the nations.

    Earlier today during the Arrival Ceremony, President Obama spoke of the enduring bonds shared by the US and India, and looked forward to continued cooperation rooted in strong democratic values:

    And as the world's largest democracies, we can keep faith with our common values -- speaking out and standing up for the rights and dignity to which all human beings are entitled; and showing that nations that respect the rights and aspirations of their people are ultimately more stable, more secure and more successful. 

    This is the India that America welcomes today -- a leader in Asia and around the world.  (Applause.)  These are the challenges we are summoned to meet in partnership.  This is the progress that is possible -- today and in the days and years ahead. 

    And, Mr. Prime Minister, as we build our common future, we can draw strength from our shared past.  For it was exactly 60 years ago, in a ceremony not unlike this, that an American president welcomed to the White House the first prime minister of an independent India.  And while the decades that followed were not without their challenges, the spirit of that first visit is with us today -- the same sense of possibility, the same hope for the future.


    The State Dinner will be streamed live at 8:15 PM EST, so make sure to tune in.

  • As the White House prepares for tonight's State Dinner in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Gursharan Kaur of India (see the Press Preview pdf), First Lady Michelle Obama hosts young women from the White House Leadership and Mentoring Program to discuss the history and protocol that surround State and Official Visits. The First Lady discusses how protocol and hospitality can help foster good relations and build strong friendships.

    Joining the First Lady are White House Curator William Allman and Tanya Turner, Protocol Officer for the Visits Division at the U.S. Department of State.

    [UPDATE: This event has now concluded]

  • Today, I announced a $620 million investment in the "Smart Grid" -- building on a $3.4 billion investment announced by President Obama last month as part of the Recovery Act.  So what is a "Smart Grid?"  How will it save your family money?  Check out this video:

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    Steven Chu is Secretary of Energy