Read all posts from February 2010

  • The 24th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day was celebrated on February 3rd.  Ensuring that women and girls have equal opportunities to be strong and healthy is a priority for the Obama Administration.  National Girls and Women in Sports Day reminds us of the hard work that has and must continue to go into providing women equal opportunities to participate and excel in sports.  We also take this day to celebrate the accomplishments of all female athletes, from girls running their first races to the athletes participating in this year’s XXI Olympic Winter Games. 

    President Obama and Secretary Sebelius have stated their support for National Girls and Women in Sports Day. You can read the President's statement here and  the Secretary’s statement here.

    Maude Baggetto is Staff Assistant in the Office of Public Engagement and the Council on Women and Girls

  • Today, the President addressed by video the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar.  He outlined the actions the United States has taken since his speech in Cairo, Egypt last June, in which he called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.  The President emphasized that the U.S is ending in the war in Iraq, creating partnerships to isolate violent extremists in Afghanistan, and pursuing a two-state solution that recognizes the rights and security of Palestinians and Israelis.

    Download Video: mp4 (153MB) | mp3 (5MB)

    He  also described the government-wide approach the Administration is taking to create immediate and long-term programs and partnerships that seek to improve the daily lives of people in Muslim communities around the world.  All agencies and departments – from NASA and the Small Busines Administration to the Department of State and USAID – have worked together to implement a number of programs in the areas of education, entrepreneurship, health,  and science and technology.  For example, after holding thousands of listening sessions around the world, the U.S. has expanded exchange programs and online opportunities, forged a global recovery effort to create jobs in all regions of the world, launched a Global Technology and Innovation Fund to invest in technological development in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, worked with Saudi officials to address H1N1 to prepare for Hajj, and partnered with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to eradicate polio.    

    At home, senior officials across the Administration – including Attorney General Holder, Secretary Napolitano, and Secretary Locke – have engaged Muslim communities around the country, and today, John Brennan, the President’s top counter-terrorism advisor, will hold a town hall dialogue at the Islamic Center of New York University with students and community leaders from around the country.

    As part of his commitment to continue to seek a new beginning with Muslim communities around the world, and to expand upon the partnerships he outlined in Cairo, I am honored and humbled that the President has asked me to serve as his Special Envoy to the OIC.  President Obama has emphasized that progress will be judged not by our words, but our actions, and I am committed to deepening the partnerships that he outlined in his visionary address last summer.   I look forward to updating you on the Administration's efforts in these areas over the coming months.

    Today's remarks by President Obama in Doha are below:

  • The President, having just signed the "Pay As You Go" law, discusses the importance of this fundamental rule to getting budget deficits in check.  Ensuring that new spending and tax cuts are offset was a important factor in creating the budget surplus of the late 1990’s.

  • Today marks the beginning of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. President Obama taped a special video message to welcome and encourage the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams upon their arrival in Vancouver.

    Watch the video and visit the Vancouver 2010 website for more information the Olympics. 

    Download Video: mp4 (19MB)

    Here is the transcript:

    I want to congratulate all the athletes here today for making the 2010 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams – you are truly the best of the best. All of us are incredibly proud of everything you’ve accomplished to get here, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish in Vancouver.

    The Olympics represent one of the greatest traditions in sports – a place where legends are born and history is made. And over the next two and a half weeks, each of you will have the experience of a lifetime – the culmination of years of hard work and endless sacrifice; dogged perseverance and unyielding determination.

    As Olympic and Paralympic athletes, you’ll be representing your coaches, family and friends who gave so much to help you get to where you are. You’ll be representing the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans watching at home and around the globe. And you’ll be serving as ambassadors for your country, both on and off the playing field – presenting the very best of America to the world.

    So congratulations again on making the team, and best of luck in Vancouver. Michelle, Malia, Sasha, Bo and I can’t wait to follow your journeys from here in Washington. I know you’ll all make America enormously proud. Thank you.

  • One month since the earthquake, the relief efforts in Haiti are still a national priority and we will continue to support our neighbors through the difficult rebuilding period ahead. American contributions to these efforts were part of a statement released by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs earlier today:

    As part of the civilian-led American response, search and rescue teams pulled survivors from the rubble.  Volunteer physicians, nurses and paramedics continue to deliver life-saving medical treatment.  Having reopened the main airport and port to enable a massive international humanitarian effort, our servicemen and women are supporting the distribution of urgently needed food, water, medicine and shelter until these functions can be fulfilled by the rapidly-expanding civilian operation and the United Nations in Haiti.

    His statement also highlighted the resilience of the people of Haiti and reiterated our commitment for future assistance:

    Amidst unimaginable suffering, the people of Haiti have inspired the world with their faith, strength of spirit and determination to rebuild.  In the difficult months and years to come, they will continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

    Read the full press release and visit the Haiti Earthquake page to learn more about how you can get involved.

  • President Obama, in taped remarks, sends his warmest wishes to those celebrating the Lunar New Year, here in America and around the world:

    Download Video: mp4 (30MB) | mp3 (1MB)

    Here's the transcript:

    Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the people of Asia, and all those around the world who are celebrating the Lunar New Year. 

    As people of all cultures and faiths welcome the Year of the Tiger, let us all give thanks for family, the wisdom of our ancestors, and the company of our friends and neighbors.

    Here in the United States, the Lunar New Year will be marked by festivals in Houston and lion dances in Los Angeles; parades in Chicago and celebrations large and small in communities across our nation. Americans of Asian descent will continue the rich traditions of the past and begin new ones with their own families. Together, they serve as a reminder of the richness and diversity that make our country great.

    So to all those celebrating the Lunar New Year, may you be blessed with peace, prosperity and good health – now and in the year ahead.

    Kalpen Modi is an Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement

  • Keeping track of huge piles of paperwork is not an easy task for anyone. Imagine doing that for our entire health care system. In effect, that is what is going on with our current paper and pencil system of medical record keeping -- until now.
    At the Department of Health and Human Services, part of our mission is to ensure quality health care for all Americans. And today I am excited to announce that we are delivering on this in the form of over $750 million in new grants that are part of a federal initiative to build capacity to enable widespread meaningful use of health IT, helping doctors adopt electronic medical records.
    As part of the Recovery Act, the legislation President Obama signed into law last year to help strengthen the economy, these grants benefit both patients and doctors by cutting costs, eliminating paperwork, and helping doctors deliver high-quality, coordinated care. They also help eliminate errors that come with having a paper and pencil system and save patients from having to fill out the same form dozens of times.
    You can find examples of this from across the country.  At one health system, they used electronic health records to identify older women who hadn’t received an osteoporosis screening and mail them personal letters encouraging them to get screened.  Screenings went up 300%. 
    At another health system, only a third of their diabetes patients were receiving the recommended foot and eye exams.  They started tracking these patients using electronic health records, and within five months, the share of patients getting the recommended exams doubled to around two out of three.
    Yet despite all these benefits, only 20 percent of doctors and 10 percent of hospitals have even basic electronic health records today.  That’s because even though many doctors around the country can see the potential benefits, there are also obstacles.
    That’s where these grants come in. We want to spread the benefits of health information technology to our entire health care system. Led by our National Coordinator for Health IT, Dr. David Blumenthal, our grants team has identified major areas where we can begin to implement new technology to make delivering health care more efficient and more effective. Read Dr. Blumenthal’s blog about it here.
    Electronic health records will provide major technological innovation to our current health care system by allowing doctors to work together to make sure patients get the right care at the right time and want to be clear that in all our Health IT investments, patient privacy is our top priority.

    Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of Health and Human Services 

  • On Tuesday the President discussed the upcoming bipartisan meeting on health reform, saying "Let's get the relevant parties together; let's put the best ideas on the table.  My hope is that we can find enough overlap that we can say this is the right way to move forward, even if I don't get every single thing that I want."

    Moments ago the invite (pdf) was sent out from Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – here is the full text:

    Dear Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, and Representative Boehner:

    We are writing to ask that you join President Obama for a bipartisan meeting at the Blair House on February 25 to discuss health reform legislation.

    We have seen again in recent days that when it comes to health care, the status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable. The proof is right in front of us: just last week, a major insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, announced plans to increase premiums for many of its policyholders in California by as much as 39 percent on March 1.

    As the President noted this week, if we don’t act on comprehensive health insurance reform, this enormous rate hike will be "just a preview of coming attractions. Premiums will continue to rise for folks with insurance; millions more will lose their coverage altogether; our deficits will continue to grow larger."

    Now is the time to act on behalf of the millions of Americans and small businesses who are counting on meaningful health insurance reform. In the last year, there has been an extraordinary effort to craft effective legislation. There have been hundreds of hours of committee hearings and mark-ups in both the House of Representatives and Senate, with nearly all of those sessions televised on C-SPAN. The Senate spent over 160 hours on the Senate floor considering health insurance reform legislation and, for the first time in history, both the House of Representatives and Senate have approved comprehensive health reform legislation. This is the closest our Nation has been to resolving this issue in the nearly 100 years that it has been debated.

    The Blair House meeting is the next step in this process. The session will begin at 10:00 a.m. and be broadcast live in its entirety. Although it is impossible to include every House Member or Senator who has played a pivotal role in the health care debate, the President is inviting the most senior House/Senate bipartisan leadership, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the committees that oversee health insurance reform legislation in both chambers. A complete list of this group is attached. The President would like each of you to designate an additional four Members to attend the meeting and be available to participate. It is also important that each of you have one staff member specializing in health care policy in the meeting.

    We will have a representative from the Office of Management and Budget to provide technical assistance, and hope that representatives from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation will also be able to attend.

    In addition to the President, attending and participating on behalf of the Administration will be the Vice President, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the Office of Health Reform.

    The President will offer opening remarks at the beginning of the meeting, followed by remarks from a Republican leader chosen by the Republican leadership and a Democratic leader chosen by the Democratic leadership. The President will then open and moderate discussion on four critical topics: insurance reforms, cost containment, expanding coverage, and the impact health reform legislation will have on deficit reduction.
    Since this meeting will be most productive if information is widely available before the meeting, we will post online the text of a proposed health insurance reform package. This legislation would put a stop to insurance company abuses, extend coverage to millions of Americans, get control of skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reduce the deficit.
    It is the President’s hope that the Republican congressional leadership will also put forward their own comprehensive bill to achieve those goals and make it available online as well. As the President said earlier this week:
    I’m looking forward to a constructive debate with plans that need to be measured against this test: Does it bring down costs for all Americans as well as for the Federal Government, which spends a huge amount on health care? Does it provide adequate protection against abuses by the insurance industry? Does it make coverage affordable and available to the tens of millions of working Americans who don't have it right now? And does it help us get on a path of fiscal sustainability?
    These are priorities that we all share, and the President is looking forward to examining with you and your colleagues how we can best achieve the most effective reform possible.

    Rahm Emanuel

    Assistant to the President


    Kathleen Sebelius
    Secretary of Health and Human Services

    Click here to read the full list of invitees (pdf).

  • Today’s Washington Post has an interesting article on moms entering the workforce – or staying in the workforce – during the last two years. It notes the trends during the recent recession that many experts have been writing about:  women are either re-entering the workforce, moving from part to full time jobs or becoming their family’s breadwinner.  There are two things that are noteworthy about this: (1) the recession may have sped up changes in family structure that had been gradually happening over the last two decades; and (2) balancing work and caregiving are increasingly important to the economic well-being of middle class families, as more families become reliant on two incomes to get ahead.  Predictably, parents in the Post article had different reactions to returning to or staying at work – but all acknowledged they would continue the juggling act while it made financial sense for their families.  There is little evidence the trends exacerbated by the recession will significantly change as the economy continues its recovery.

    On this blog we’ve been writing a lot about the proposals the Middle Class Task Force has already put forward to help families pay for child care and to expand help for families caring for elders or a person with a disability.  These proposals are a step in the right direction for working parents, but more – such as more and better child care options, paid leave and greater flexibility – can be done to adapt our workplaces to the transformation that is occurring for families.  These policies are often lumped together under the misnomer "work family balance." As most parents (working or not) in our 24/7 economy will tell you, true balance is illusory amidst all the teetering and juggling that gets you through the day.  We can’t create more hours in the day, but we can create more options for parents.  And while that may not bring balance – it can help mitigate stress, uncertainty, and unpredictability.  As a first step we can learn strategies and practices from corporations that have already taken innovative steps and reaped rewards in efficiency and retention for doing so. The Task Force plans to continue to work on these issues in the coming months. 

    Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

  • Yesterday the White House released the annual Economic Report of the President – a detailed analysis of actions taken by the Administration to address our Nation’s economic challenges over the past year and the President’s plans to rebuild and rebalance our economy for the future. As part of White House’s commitment to make government more accessible, the Economic Report of the President is now available as an eBook for your Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble nook, Sony Reader and a number of other devices. We are always looking for ways to bring people closer to their government through new technology.

    The 2010 Report includes an overview by the President of the Administration’s economic policies and goals, a 300-page analysis of the Administration’s first year and over 100 pages of key economic statistics. Now the 2010 Report isn’t just more convenient, it’s also more environmentally friendly.

    The full report is available for download as a free eBook through or through Amazon, Barnes & Noble or the Sony Reader store.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • President Obama's statement following action by the Senate to confirm twenty-seven nominees:

    Today, the United States Senate confirmed 27 of my high-level nominees, many of whom had been awaiting a vote for months. 

    At the beginning of the week, a staggering 63 nominees had been stalled in the Senate because one or more senators placed a hold on their nomination.  In most cases, these holds have had nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications or even political views, and these nominees have already received broad, bipartisan support in the committee process. 

    Instead, many holds were motivated by a desire to leverage projects for a Senator’s state or simply to frustrate progress.  It is precisely these kinds of tactics that enrage the American people. 

    And so on Tuesday, I told Senator McConnell that if Republican senators did not release these holds, I would exercise my authority to fill critically-needed positions in the federal government temporarily through the use of recess appointments.  This is a rare but not unprecedented step that many other presidents have taken.  Since that meeting, I am gratified that Republican senators have responded by releasing many of these holds and allowing 29 nominees to receive a vote in the Senate. 

    While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess.  If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.

  • The President meets with the 2009 and 2010 March of Dimes Ambassadors in the Oval Office:

    The President greets March Of Dimes ambassador families

    President Barack Obama greets March Of Dimes ambassador families in the Oval Office February 11, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

  • The Middle Class Task Force recently announced a number of initiatives that are designed to strengthen the retirement system and help provide a more secure retirement to millions of American workers.  These initiatives are part of President Obama’s FY 2011 budget, and this Administration will be working hard with Congress to get these proposals passed into law this year.

    You don’t need us to tell you how important it is to strengthen the retirement system, but in the wake of the financial crisis and the market collapse, it’s become clearer than ever that we need to do more to help  American workers save for a secure retirement.  Many workers have seen their 401(k)s and IRAs decline by thirty or forty percent, and many more have seen the value of their home - the single most important asset for many middle-class families - fall just as far.  So families across the country are acutely feeling the need for us to do more to help provide a secure retirement for hardworking Americans.

    But there are also some longer-term problems with the retirement system, and we think it’s important to address those as well.  Far too many workers don’t have access to a retirement plan through their employer, and even among Americans who have been saving since they got their first job, too many are seeing the returns on their savings eaten away by high fees, leaving them with less than they’d hoped for when they retire.

    That’s why we’ve proposed this package of retirement initiatives – we want to make sure that Americans have access to good options to save for retirement.

    That means making sure more workers have workplace retirement plans by requiring employers who don’t offer a retirement plan at the workplace to automatically enroll their workers in a direct-deposit IRA, to give workers an easy and effective way to save.  Workers will be able to opt out if they choose, and the smallest employers will be exempt, but this proposal will provide an important new way to save for many of the seventy eight million Americans – about half the workforce – who currently do not have a retirement plan at work.

    It also means matching the savings of many families to help them save more.  We’re proposing to simplify and expand the Saver’s Credit to provide a fifty percent match on the first $1,000 of retirement savings for families making up to $65,000, and to provide a partial credit for families making up to $85,000.  So if you save $1,000, you get a tax credit for an additional $500 to help you build up your retirement savings.  And we’re proposing to make the credit fully refundable, helping families who are just starting to save a nest egg and helping lower-income families to rise into the middle class.

    Finally, it means updating and strengthening regulations to make sure there are good savings options available to American workers.  Too many workers are seeing high fees erode the returns on their retirement savings year after year, so we’re proposing new regulations that would make sure American workers have all the information they need to make the best choices with their retirement savings.

    We’re already getting good reactions on these proposals from retirement experts across the ideological spectrum.  For example, Nancy LeaMond, Executive Vice President of AARP, said in a statement,

    “Millions of hard-working Americans don’t have access to a traditional pension or a 401(k), making it difficult for them to save for retirement. Studies have shown that when workers have the ability to enroll in an automatic workplace retirement savings plan, they are more likely to save.  AARP firmly believes that the an automatic workplace savings account or “Auto IRA” is a low-cost, high-impact way to help millions of Americans save for their retirement – experts estimate such a proposal could help 50 million Americans. The Auto IRA proposal has earned bipartisan support among leaders in Congress as well as among employers. More importantly, according to a recent AARP survey, eighty percent of Americans support for the proposal as a way to improve individuals’ retirement security.”

    Robert Greenstein, Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said of our package of retirement initiatives,

    “Taken together, these proposals should induce significant increases in retirement saving.  Such an increase in saving would both help families in old age and strengthen U.S. long-term economic growth by increasing the pool of national savings that can be tapped for private investment in new plant and equipment.”

    The Corporation for Enterprise Development also praised our efforts to help American workers save more, writing in a statement,

    “We commend the Obama Administration for prioritizing asset building as part of their solution to financial distress for America’s middle class families.  The President and his team are right to seek solutions to rising levels of asset poverty.”

    Meanwhile, David John at the Heritage Foundation describes our Automatic IRA proposal as a “common-sense idea that could help to increase Americans’ retirement security.”  He writes:

    “This simple, easy-to-understand way for workers to save some of their own money each payday is important, because almost 78 million American workers--about half of all workers--are employed by companies that do not offer any sort of pension plan or 401(k)-type retirement saving plan. … The Automatic IRA has wide bipartisan support from the left and right and was endorsed in 2008 by both the McCain and Obama campaigns. It is a simple, cross-ideological, and practical solution to a serious problem.”

    Of course, we don’t think these proposals will solve the problem of retirement insecurity overnight; especially in the aftermath of the market crash, it will take time and hard work for Americans to build up their retirement savings.  But we believe these initiatives are an important step toward making sure that American workers have good choices to save for the secure retirement they deserve.

    Tobin Marcus is the Assistant to the Chief Economist for the Vice President

  • As part of the Open Government Directive, 25 different agencies have launched open government webpages and are using those sites to take your ideas for how they can be more open and transparent. 

    Launched on Feb 6th, these webpages are only one of the important milestones laid out in the Directive and the next deliverable, an open government plan for each agency, is being developed based on your input.  Each agency’s plan will serve as a two-year roadmap for how the principles of transparency, collaboration, and participation will be incorporated in both the agency’s overarching mission and day-to-day activities. 

    Your feedback can help influence the development of agency plans, transparency policies, and publically disclosed data.  Here are some examples from ongoing discussions:

    Department of Homeland Security Dialogue:

    Immigration – National Visa Center

    Information from the phone contact system is not always up-to-date about cases. Need to improve it to provide the actual/current status of cases. Applications take a long time at the USCIS Office, but there is a tool where one can check the status of a case online. We need to have a similar online tool to check status of cases that are at the NVC. It should give a general ideas on where in the process a case is.

    Department of Education Dialogue:

    Funding for Open Source Textbooks, Lesson Materials, Etc.

    Current textbooks are expensive, and not really great. Creating free textbooks that schools could modify for their own purposes would raise the bar.

    General Services Administration Dialogue:

    Vacancy Rates of Federal Buildings

    Provide location-based data for recent years with geo-mapping on each Federal building performance measures, such as: Utilization (i.e., occupancy rate), Condition Index, Mission Dependency, and Annual Operating Costs and other like measures from the Federal Real Property Council.

    Through many of these agency discussions, you can suggest a new idea or vote on others’ comments.  Visit the GSA list of participating agencies to find ongoing conversations and join the discussion today.

  • For your inner film student, some raw footage of the White House during yesterday's blizzard:

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

  • Today, we are releasing the Economic Report of the President for 2010.  For more than sixty years, the Economic Report has provided a nearly contemporaneous record of how Administrations have interpreted economic developments, the motivation for policy actions, and the results of those interventions.  This year’s volume has attempted to stay true to this proud legacy.  It provides a detailed economic history of the first year of the Obama Administration.  It examines the economic challenges that we face as a Nation, the many policy actions that have already been taken to address these challenges, and the President’s proposals for further action.

    The economic challenges facing the Nation when President Obama took office were among the greatest in our history.  Last January, the American economy was truly in freefall.  Real GDP was falling at an annual rate of more than 6 percent and the U.S. economy was losing jobs at the devastating rate of almost 800,000 per month.  Our financial markets, having narrowly avoided collapse in the financial panic of the early fall of 2008, were paralyzed with fear, and borrowers of all sorts, from households to small businesses to large corporations, were having trouble accessing the credit necessary for normal economic activity.  As a scholar of the 1930s, I can say that the threat of a second Great Depression was both genuine and terrifying.

    But as great as the immediate challenges were, our country’s economic problems were also deeper and more long-standing.  For nearly a decade, typical American families had seen their incomes stagnate, instead of rising steadily as they had for generations.  Much of the economic growth that the United States experienced in the past decade was fueled by consumers and the government running up large debts, aided by a financial system better at making short-term profits than managing long-term risks.  Rapidly rising health care costs were squeezing both family incomes and the government’s budget.  And as a country, we were failing to invest as we needed to in education, new energy technologies, and basic research and development.

    Over the past year, the President, working with Congress, has sought to rescue the economy from the immediate crisis, rebalance the economy toward greater investment and exports and away from unsustainable budget deficits, and begin the process of rebuilding the economy on a stronger foundation of quality, affordable health care, better education and job training, clean energy, and innovation.  The Economic Report of the President details both the actions we have taken so far and the President’s plans for continued progress.

    While it is impossible to describe the whole volume in detail, let me highlight the findings from three chapters and discuss how the other chapters fit into the Report.

    Rescuing an Economy in Freefall

    The Employment Act of 1946, which created both the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and the Joint Economic Committee, made explicit that it was the role of the Federal Government “to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power.”  Chapter 2 of the Economic Report discusses the unprecedented actions that have been taken to end the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.  It is no surprise that this chapter is the longest in the book; the actions that have been taken are many.  They include not only the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but a number of smaller fiscal actions such as the “cash for clunkers” program to stimulate the automobile industry and important extensions of key tax cuts and unemployment benefits.  They include a range of financial sector interventions, such as the stress test of the nineteen largest financial institutions, new lending programs, and support for the government sponsored enterprises.  Rescue actions also include programs to stabilize the housing market and help responsible homeowners avoid foreclosure, as well as conventional and extraordinary monetary policy measures conducted by the Federal Reserve.

    Chapter 2 also discusses the evidence that these actions have had a tremendous impact.  Our financial markets are secure again and credit spreads, a common measure of financial market unease, are down almost to historical norms.  Despite overwhelming downward momentum, the trajectory of the economy has changed radically.  By the third quarter of 2009, real GDP was growing again, and last Friday we learned that the unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point in January.  Experts across the ideological spectrum credit the unprecedented policy actions with preventing an economic cataclysm and putting us on the road to recovery.

    ERP Figure 2-14

    Here I want to discuss particularly the impact of the Recovery Act.  This Act is the great unsung hero of the past year.  It has provided a tax cut to 95 percent of America’s working families and thousands of small businesses.  It has meant the difference between hanging on and destitution for millions of unemployed workers who had exhausted their conventional unemployment insurance benefits.  It has kept hundreds of thousands of teachers, police, and firefighters employed by helping to fill the yawning hole in state and local budgets.  And, it has made crucial long-run investments in our country’s infrastructure and jump-started the transition to the clean energy economy.  All told, the Recovery Act has saved or created some 1½ to 2 million jobs so far, and is on track to have raised employment relative to what it otherwise would have been by 3.5 million by the end of this year.  When the political rancor of the moment passes and dispassionate analysis is done by experts, I have no doubt that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will be viewed as one of the great triumphs of timely, effective, countercyclical macroeconomic policy—just exactly the type of policy the Employment Act of 1946 was designed to facilitate.

    While conditions are far better than they would have been without the actions that were taken, it is clear that substantial challenges remain.  The unemployment rate is 9.7 percent and the revised data show that employment has fallen 8.4 million from its peak in December 2007.  For this reason, the President has called for important targeted actions to spur job creation.  One of these is the Small Business Jobs and Wages Tax Cut.  The Council’s analysis suggests that such a tax cut for hiring could be a particularly cost-effective way to generate substantial increases in employment at this point in the recovery.  The Administration also supports continuation of essential relief measures to aid the unemployed and to keep teachers, police, and first responders employed by strapped state and local governments.

    In another chapter on rescue measures, the Economic Report discusses the worldwide response to the crisis.  It shows that a coordinated move to monetary and fiscal expansion allowed countries around the globe to climb out of the crisis simultaneously.  In this way, worldwide growth helped to support the growth in each individual country.

    Rebalancing the Economy on the Path to Full Employment

    In his State of the Union address, the President highlighted the problem of the Federal budget deficit.  As described in Chapter 5 of the Economic Report, the Federal budget situation had deteriorated substantially before the recession.  Largely because of two tax cuts, two wars, and a major new Medicare drug benefit that were not paid for, the budget surpluses of the 1990s had been replaced by substantial actual and projected future deficits long before the recession began at the end of 2007.  The recession obviously made the deficit larger, as did the actions to address the recession, such as the Recovery Act.  But by the end of the decade, the rescue actions raise the deficit by just one-quarter of one percent of GDP.  The much more significant factors in accounting for the long-run deficit are the unpaid-for policies of the past decade and Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security costs.  Whatever their cause, the medium- and long-run deficits that are projected are unsustainable, and will gradually crowd out investment and impede growth if they are not addressed.

    ERP Figure 5-5

    Chapter 5 explains the logic of the Administration’s proposed fiscal target.  By balancing the primary deficit (that is, the deficit net of interest costs) in the medium run, we will stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio.  To achieve this, the Administration has proposed a sensible plan that includes a three-year freeze of nonsecurity discretionary spending and a bipartisan commission to build consensus on other needed actions.  At the same time, our budget contains $100 billion for further targeted jobs measures and additional funds for continuing relief efforts.  Such a blending of near-term emergency spending and a medium- and long-term plan for fiscal sustainability is the sensible policy for this point in the recovery.

    Other chapters of the Economic Report build on the theme of restoring balance to the American economy.  CEA analysis suggests that American families are likely to be saving more in the future than they did in the past decade.  To fill the gap left in demand, business investment and net exports will need to rise.  The Administration has proposed a number of policies to encourage this healthy transition.  Likewise, our financial regulatory system needs to be revamped to match 21st century financial innovation.  We need to put in place sensible rules of the road to ensure that we do not return to the bubble and bust economy that has wreaked such havoc on the American economy in the past decade.

    Rebuilding a Stronger Economy

    In no area are the long-run challenges facing the American economy greater than in health care.  We are all too aware of the statistics on the millions of Americans without health insurance.  But, as we discuss in Chapter 7 of the Economic Report, the troubles are broader than that.  American families with insurance face further stagnation and eventual decline in take-home wages as rising health insurance costs consume a larger and larger fraction of total compensation.  Federal, State, and local governments face unsustainable pressure on their budgets as government health expenditures rise along with overall health care costs.  That is why the President has made health insurance reform a top priority.

    ERP Figure 7-2

    Working with Congress, we have already achieved a great deal. The extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program will bring coverage to as many as 4 million more children.  The Recovery Act provided support for unemployed workers to help them maintain health insurance benefits and made pioneering investments in health information technology, health centers, and research into which treatments are likely to work best.  Both houses of Congress have passed reform legislation that would do so much more to slow the growth rate of health care costs, and make insurance coverage more secure for those who have it and affordable for the millions of Americans who do not.  Successful completion of reform legislation is essential to our long-run economic prosperity, taming our government budget deficit, and making American families more secure in their health insurance coverage.

    Three other chapters of the Economic Report discuss additional areas where the President believes we need to rebuild our economy stronger than before.  Education is a key ingredient to improved productivity and wages.  Clean energy holds the promise of generating good jobs at the same time that we reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.  And innovation is the ultimate engine of economic growth.  In each of these areas, the President and Congress have already made key substantive investments.  But, as these chapters describe, there is much more that can and should be done to ensure a brighter future for our children and our country.

    As I have described, this year’s Economic Report of the President is a blend of history, analysis, and prescription.  It describes what we have been through during the past very difficult year.  It describes the many actions we have taken to address both the near-term crisis and our longer-run problems.  And, it contains an important agenda of policy actions that will help to ensure that the American economy not only recovers completely, but comes back even stronger than before.

    Before I close, I want to acknowledge the outstanding staff of the Council of Economic Advisers who contributed to this report.  The CEA is unique among government agencies in that most of the staff turns over every year.  Our senior economists are typically professors on leave from universities, and our junior staff are typically students on leave from Ph.D. studies in economics or undergraduate economics majors.  This past year, the Council has been blessed with staff of a caliber not seen since the glory days of the CEA in the 1960s, when future Nobel laureates Robert Solow and Kenneth Arrow were senior economists and James Tobin was a member.  Leading experts in every field of economics joined the CEA staff this year to try to bring the best professional expertise to the tremendous economic challenges facing the country.  The junior staff is equally gifted and has worked eighty hours a week with a cheerfulness and enthusiasm that is truly inspiring.  I am indebted to all them, and to the dedicated permanent staff, and this volume reflects their collective wisdom and months of very hard work.

    Christina Romer is Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers 

  • We wanted to clear up some confusion about where the President stands on bonuses and excessive executive compensation. A recent headline from an interview the President did with Bloomberg yesterday inaccurately made it sound like the President brushed off the impact of bonuses and applauded the role of bankers.  This naturally came as a surprise to the many people who share his outrage at the behavior that continues on Wall Street and is not an accurate portrayal of where the President stands or what he said during the interview. 

    The President has said countless times as he did in the interview that he doesn’t ‘begrudge’ the success of Americans, but he also expressed ‘shock’ at the size of bonuses and made clear that there are a number of steps that need to be taken to change the culture of Wall Street. A sentiment he has consistently expressed since long before he took office.

    He also made clear, as he has said many times before, that he believes bonuses should take the form of stock so that the compensation is tied to long term performance. His focus from day one has been on signing into law a comprehensive financial reform package that reins in the abuses on Wall Street, addresses Too Big to Fail,  imposes real oversight and strict accountability on financial companies, prevents predatory lending practices,  ensures that consumers get clear information and imposes a fee on the biggest banks to ensure they pay back every dollar of money owed to the taxpayers.

    So let’s break this down:

    What did the President actually say during the interview?

    “I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth.  That's part of the free market system.  I do think that the compensation packages that we've seen over the last decade at least have not matched up always to performance.  I think that shareholders oftentimes have not had any significant say in the pay structures for CEOs.”

    When asked whether seventeen million dollars is a lot for Main Street to stomach, he expressed shock at the size of the compensation and called for the same actions that are a part of the comprehensive financial reform proposal that has been working its way through Congress:

    “Listen, $17 million is an extraordinary amount of money.  Of course, there are some baseball players who are making more than that who don't get to the World Series either.  So I'm shocked by that as well.  I guess the main principle we want to promote is a simple principle of "say on pay," that shareholders have a chance to actually scrutinize what CEOs are getting paid.  And I think that serves as a restraint and helps align performance with pay.  The other thing we do think is the more that pay comes in the form of stock that requires proven performance over a certain period of time as opposed to quarterly earnings is a fairer way of measuring CEOs' success and ultimately will make the performance of American businesses better.”

    And what has the President said about this same topic over the course of the last year?

    • ONE YEAR AGO-In February 2009, Pres. Obama Said, This is America. We dont disparage wealth. We dont begrudge anybody for achieving success. And we believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset and rightfully so are executives being rewarded for failure. Especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. [Remarks by Pres. Barack Obama on Executive Compensation, 2/4/09]
    • ELEVEN MONTHS AGO- In March 2009, Pres. Obama Said, I’ve Always Been a Strong Believer in the Power of the Free Market. Our Role as Lawmakers is Not to Disparage Wealth, But to Expand Its Reach. I've always been a strong believer in the power of the free market. It has been and will remain the very engine of America's progress -- the source of a prosperity that has gone unmatched in human history. I believe that jobs are best created not by government, but by businesses and entrepreneurs like you who are willing to take risks on a good idea. And I believe that our role as lawmakers is not to disparage wealth, but to expand its reach; not to stifle the market, but to strengthen its ability to unleash the creativity and innovation that still makes this nation the envy of the world. [Remarks by Pres. Barack Obama at the Business Roundtable, 3/12/09]
    • EIGHT MONTHS AGO- In June 2009, Pres. Obama Said, I Believe Our Role is Not to Disparage Wealth, But to Expand Its Reach. In these efforts, we seek a careful balance. I've always been a strong believer in the power of the free market. It has been and will remain the engine of America's progress -- the source of prosperity that's unrivaled in history. I believe that jobs are best created not by government, but by businesses and entrepreneurs who are willing to take a risk on a good idea. I believe that our role is not to disparage wealth, but to expand its reach; not to stifle the market, but to strengthen its ability to unleash the creativity and innovation that still make this nation the envy of the world. [Remarks by Pres. Barack Obama on Regulatory Reform, 6/17/09]
    • FIVE MONTHS AGO-In September 2009, Pres. Obama Said, I Believe the Role of the Government is Not to Disparage Wealth, But to Expand Its Reach. I have always been a strong believer in the power of the free market. I believe that jobs are best created not by government, but by businesses and entrepreneurs willing to take a risk on a good idea. I believe that the role of the government is not to disparage wealth, but to expand its reach; not to stifle markets, but to provide the ground rules and level playing field that helps to make those markets more vibrant -- and that will allow us to better tap the creative and innovative potential of our people. For we know that it is the dynamism of our people that has been the source of America's progress and prosperity. [Remarks by Pres. Barack Obama on Financial Rescue and Reform, 9/14/09]

    Jen Psaki is Deputy Communications Director

  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced today that it is rescinding enforcement of its 24-month cumulative cap on short-term and emergency housing assistance under the Ryan White program. This is a temporary step pending a broader review of Ryan White housing policies.  See the announcement in the Federal Register.

    Late last year, I became aware of growing community concern over the impact of this policy, especially as the date (late March) was approaching when the first persons subject to this limit faced the possibility of losing their housing.  In December, I met with a number of HIV community advocates who shared their concerns with the perceived inflexibility of this policy.  The situation is compounded by the difficult economic situation.  The need for housing assistance exceeds the available resources in many communities in the best of circumstances, but is further constrained by tight local and state budgets as the country works to recover from the most serious economic downturn in many peoples’ lifetimes. 

    In October, the President signed into law the fourth reauthorization of the Ryan White program.  This is a strong law that underscores the ongoing commitment of the Administration and the Congress to provide for the care and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.  The HIV/AIDS Bureau, under the leadership of Deborah Parham Hopson, is determined to implement the law and ensure that resources are effectively deployed to provide critical medical care and supportive services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the country. 

    Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive and essential role of housing in ensuring that people living with HIV/AIDS come into care and stay in care. Recognition of this link provides a basis for Ryan White supporting short-term, emergency housing assistance.  At the same time, the Ryan White program is intended to primarily support primary medical care and related health care supports.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and in particular the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program, has lead responsibility for providing housing assistance to people with HIV/AIDS.  Going back through many Administrations, the role of Ryan White in providing housing supports has always been understood to be limited to short-term and emergency assistance.  We are not currently contemplating any expansion of Ryan White’s role beyond providing short-term emergency assistance. 

    I have heard the community concerns and believe it is important to ensure that our implementation of this policy reaches an appropriate balance that achieves several goals: it should strengthen linkages to HUD programs and state and local housing resources for providing longer-term assistance; it should minimize housing disruptions for people living with HIV/AIDS; it should integrate housing with a broader range of supports that collectively can support individuals in maintaining their health; it should provide flexibility to respond to exceptional circumstances; and it should minimize the burden on Ryan White providers who are responsible for assisting us in implementing any housing policy.  Administering the Ryan White program is an important responsibility that necessarily entails making difficult choices as we respond to multiple and competing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS all over the United States. As I work with the HIV/AIDS Bureau to undertake a comprehensive review of Ryan White housing policies, I look forward to the continued insights and perspectives of people living with HIV/AIDS, housing experts, and our network of local, state, and community-based partners.

    Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N. is the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

  • Following up on the U.S.-led Security Council session on preventing sexual violence in conflict, the United Nations has appointed Margot Wallstrom as the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  This is a newly created position to lead, coordinate, and advocate for efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence against women and children and bring  more attention and action on this critical issue.  Ms. Wallstrom brings important experience to this job and has been a long time advocate for women’s rights. She said about her appointment, “The challenge is enormous. I intend to bring all of my energy and political experience to bear on it. This is an issue which I regard as one of the most important and yet one of the most overlooked and ignored in modern conflicts. Violence against women is the most common but least punished crime in the world. In recent years, it has been sickening to see sexual violence become a tool of modern warfare. In far too many parts of the world, women are excluded from the decision-making process and from conflict resolution and peacekeeping. This absolutely has to change and I am determined to play my part in making that change happen.”

    The Obama Administration is committed to strengthening international action to stop the atrocious targeting of women and girls in conflict.  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an average of 36 women and girls are raped every day.  Many of those surviving such vicious attacks - which often involve mutilation - are children, mostly girls.  We must do more. This appointment of the new Special Representative is a further step in the right direction, and we commend Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for it.  We welcome Ms. Wallstrom to her role and look forward to working with her and her team to protect women and children from sexual violence.

    Jennifer Simon is a Senior Advisor to Ambassador Susan Rice and serves as her liaison to the White House Council on Women and Girls

  • Last night, John Stewart interviewed former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on The Daily Show.   Mr. Gingrich aired his share of criticisms, including how the Administration handled the recent attempted Christmas Day attack in Detroit.  While Mr. Gingrich is certainly entitled to his opinions, he isn’t entitled to his own facts.  Take this exchange for instance:

    Mr. Gingrich: The American public doesn't understand reading Miranda rights to terrorists in Detroit when it's fairly obvious they're terrorists.
    Mr. Stewart: The only thing I would say to that is didn't they do the same with Richard Reid who was the show bomber?
    Mr. Gingrich: Richard Reid was an American citizen.

    The truth, which has been widely reported, is that Richard Reid is a British citizen who was read his Miranda rights just minutes after being taken off of a plane that he tried to blow up. The same critics who are trying to score political points off of the failed Christmas Day attack today were silent when Reid was handled in the same way.  Today, Richard Reid is serving a life sentence in Supermax prison.

    The Daily Show website offers the entire show.