Read all posts from February 2012

  • President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a dinner to honor Iraq War Veterans

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Department of Defense dinner in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 29, 2012. The President and Mrs. Obama hosted the dinner to honor Armed Forces who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, and to honor their families. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr Jill Biden tonight welcomed a group of true American heroes to the White House. “A Nation’s Gratitude: Honoring those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn” was a formal dinner that paid tribute to our Iraq veterans and marked the end of the war.

    More than 100 service members and their guests were in attendance, and the invitees included men and women in uniform from all ranks, each U.S. state and territory, and every branch of the Armed Forces. Together, they represented the million American troops who served in Iraq, and they also represented  what Vice President Joe Biden called the finest generation of warriors in all of history.

    In his remarks, the President welcomed the veterans home, praised their bravery and dedication to their mission, and thanked them on behalf of more than 300 million Americans: 

    Tonight, what we can do is convey what you’ve meant to the rest of us. Because through the dust and the din and the fog of war, the glory of your service always shone through. In your noble example, we see the virtues and the values that sustain America, that keep this country great.  

    You taught us about duty. Blessed to live in the land of the free, you could have opted for an easier path. But you know that freedom is not free. And so you volunteered and you stepped forward, and you raised your hand and you took an oath -- to protect and defend; to serve a cause greater than yourself, knowing, in a time of war, you could be sent into harm’s way. 

    You taught us about resolve. Invasion turned to insurgency and then sectarian strife. But you persevered, tour after tour, year after year.  Indeed, we’re mindful that even as we gather here, Iraq veterans continue to risk their lives in Afghanistan, and our prayers are with them all tonight.  

    In one of our nation’s longest wars, you wrote one of the most extraordinary chapters in American military history. Now the Iraqi people have a chance to forge their own destiny, and every one of you who served there can take pride in knowing you gave the Iraqis this opportunity; that you succeeded in your mission.        

  • VP Biden shakes hands with General McKinley during National Guard Adjutants General Visit to the White House

    VP Biden shakes hands with General McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, after speaking to National Guard Adjutants General Meeting at the White House. February 29, 2012. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Today Vice President Biden spoke with the top ranking National Guard Officers from every state and territory to thank them for their service and discuss some of the most pressing challenges facing the Guard today.

    At a White House meeting with National Guard Adjutants General from across the country, the Vice President talked about America’s place in the world three years into the Administration. From Iraq to Afghanistan, the Vice President discussed the progress made and the challenges still ahead. He said that nothing we’ve achieved in those countries would have been possible without the dedication and unparalleled service of our men and women in uniform.

    “This 9/11 Generation is better than any generation of warriors we have ever produced in the history of the world,” he said. “I’m just in awe of the way all of you stepped up.”

    And while thanking the Generals for their service, he also stressed that America’s commitment to its servicemembers can’t stop when they step off the battlefield. The Vice President promised that we won’t “yield one single solitary inch” on making sure that all of our veterans have “the care they need” and “the opportunities for jobs they deserve.”

  • Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, at an event addressing women’s political participation.

    As a woman who discovered a true passion for public service, this topic is one for which I care very deeply. My parents raised me to believe that if I worked hard and focused on my goals, there were no limits to what I could accomplish. My responsibility as the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls is to help ensure that all women and girls have that same opportunity.

    I’m proud to say that President Obama shares this goal. His dream is for his daughters to grow up in a world where they can compete on an even playing field. A world where women have access to equal education, equal pay, and equal opportunity.

    The President is determined that America will do its part to help empower women around the world.  Under the new U.S. National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security, all U.S. government personnel who serve in conflict-affected areas will be responsible for making that sure women are part of the peacemaking process. At the UN last year, Secretary Clinton signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. And during President Obama’s address to the 2011 UN General Assembly, he reaffirmed his commitment to increasing women’s participation, and called upon member states to announce the steps they are taking to break down economic and political barriers for women and girls. 

    President Obama also intends to lead by example here in the United States, by harnessing the extraordinary talent of women and girls as we create an America that’s built to last. 

  • Lately, there have been a lot of misleading claims about gas prices. As middle class families are struggling with high prices at the pump, a result of increased global oil prices, politicians have renewed their promises for $2 gas and their misleading claims about who is to blame. One thing is clear, cheap political points and false debates won’t bring down the price of gasoline. 

    The fact is, oil is bought and sold in a world market.  And just like last year, the biggest thing that’s causing the price of oil to rise right now is instability in the Middle East. 

    The truth is that there is no silver bullet to address rising gas prices in the short term, but there are steps we can take to ensure the American people don’t fall victim to skyrocketing gas prices over the long term.  That’s why since taking office the President has been focused on a sustained, “all-of-the-above” approach to developing new domestic energy sources, expanding oil and gas production, and reducing our reliance on foreign oil, most notably through the historic fuel economy standards the President has established, which will nearly double the efficiency of the vehicles we drive and save families $1.7 trillion at the pump.  It’s true that in the near term, the U.S. will continue to rely on responsibly produced oil and gas, but over the long term, the Obama administration is committed to a policy that allows us to transition from oil towards cleaner alternatives and energy efficiency. This strategy is a win-win scenario. A win for the economy. A win for energy security. And a win for the environment. Despite the facts, Republicans have continued to ratchet up the rhetoric, distorting facts and in some cases pushing complete falsehoods for short term political gains.

    Here are some of the claims that have been made recently, and the reality that the politicians making those claims fail to acknowledge.

  • Tonight, a group of Iraq veterans will join President Obama and the First Lady for a formal dinner at the White House to mark the end of the war.

    Around 80 service members and their guests will be in attendance.

    Those invited include men and women in uniform from all ranks, each U.S. state and territory, and every branch of the Armed Forces. Together, they are representative of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who served in Iraq.

    As the last American troops left the country, we put together a timeline to show what it took to end combat operations and begin fulfilling the promise we as a nation owe to those who served.

    Go check it out.

  • Remarks from the 3rd Annual Black History Month Recpetion

    Vice President Biden speaks to guests at the third annual Black History Month reception at the Naval Observatory, February 27, 2012 (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    This week, Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden hosted their third annual Black History Month reception at the Naval Observatory.  More than 140 guests were in attendance, including Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Conference of Black Mayors and the National Organization of Black County Officials.

    In addition to hearing from the Vice President, Dr. Biden and civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, guests had the opportunity to see a collection of photos from the Delaware Historical Society’s special exhibit, Wilmington in the 1930s: Focus on the East Side. Henry Szymanski, Sr.’s collection provides a rare Depression-era glimpse into the daily lives of people living in the city’s East side community.

  • U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Speaks to the American Legion

    U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks to the American Legion prior to signing a memorandum of understanding with the American Legion which will help our Nation's veterans and transitioning military service members find positions that promote agriculture, animal and plant health, food safety, nutrition, conservation and rural communities at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday February 28, 2012. USDA Photo by Johnny Bivera.

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the USDA Blog

    Today about 6.1 million of America’s veterans live in rural communities. About 38 percent of military recruits call rural America home, but these communities face real economic challenges.  So over the past two years – at President Obama’s direction – USDA and the rest of the federal government have taken historic action to support rural economies.

    At the same time, USDA has worked to increase our rate of hiring veterans and disabled veterans each year.  At the end of Fiscal Year 2011, nearly a quarter of USDA’s permanent hires were veterans.

    Veterans are leaders in their communities and we want to help them pursue their goals.  So today, Secretary Vilsack signed a Memorandum of Understanding between USDA and The American Legion at The American Legion’s Washington Conference. The Legion is the Nation’s largest veterans service organization and has long been committed to helping transitioning military and America’s veterans find jobs.

    We will work with the Legion to increase outreach, recruitment, hiring, and retention of veterans and to ensure that veterans across America – and especially in rural America – are well informed about USDA programs like our through Farm Service Agency loans that can be used to purchase land, livestock, equipment, feed, seed and supplies.  The agency provides direct and guaranteed loans to beginning farmers and ranchers. USDA also provides homeownership opportunities to low-and moderate-income rural Americans and business loans, grant and loan guarantees for rural communities under our Rural Development mission area.

  • Over the past few years, health care cost increases have been slowing – both for Medicare and private health care. And both CBO and Medicare estimate that cost increases are slowing. Despite these encouraging trends, there is much more we need to do – both to reduce costs and strengthen the Medicare program for future generations and to improve health care quality so patients get the best care possible.

    Achieving these goals takes serious work. That’s why the Affordable Care Act is designed to learn from the best health systems and experts in the country to find better ways to improve health care.  Under health reform, we will reward doctors and hospitals that focus on spending time with patients, that better coordinate care, and that improve the quality of care patients are receiving while lowering costs.

    Health reform also establishes the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). IPAB will be composed of fifteen experts including doctors, consumers and patient advocates who will be recommended by Congressional leaders, nominated by the President, and confirmed by the Senate.  It will recommend policies to Congress to help Medicare provide better care at lower costs.  Congress could pass these or other changes to strengthen Medicare.  Starting in 2015, if Medicare cost growth per beneficiary exceeds a growth rate target, IPAB recommendations would take effect only if Congress fails to act.

    Today, Congressional Republicans are working to repeal and dismantle the Independent Advisory Board before it even gets started even though experts like former Bush Administration Medicare Official Mark McClellan called for “[strengthening] and [clarifying] the authority and capacity of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).”  And a coalition of economists including Nobel Prize Winners said “…the Affordable Care Act contains essentially every cost-containment provision policy analysts have considered effective in reducing the rate of medical spending. These provisions include…An Independent Payment Advisory Board with authority to make recommendations to reduce cost growth and improve quality within both Medicare and the health system as a whole”

  • When the President signed the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in December, he issued a detailed statement making clear that “The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it.”  He noted that he had serious reservations about certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists, and indeed the potential for the bill to interfere with the effective system this Administration has developed was a subject of intense negotiation with Congress -- not to mention one of great concern to many Americans. 

    In the closing of his statement, the President said that despite having won several crucial changes from previous versions of the bill, concerns remained, and pledged that “My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief.”  Today the President is making good on that pledge.

  • Today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services has suspended payments worth an estimated $2.3 million per month to 78 Texas home health agencies suspected to be involved in an alleged fraud ring. That’s more than $27 million in hard-earned taxpayer dollars that could be saved over the next year.

    The suspension of payments was part of today’s announcement that:

    “A physician and the office manager of his medical practice, along with five owners of home health agencies, were arrested today on charges related to their alleged participation in a nearly $375 million health care fraud scheme involving fraudulent claims for home health services.”

    Today’s suspension of payments are part of efforts that recovered $4.1 billion in taxpayer dollars last year, the second year recoveries hit this record breaking level.  Total recoveries over the last three years were $10.7 billion. Prosecutions are way up, too: the number of individuals charged with fraud increased from 821 in fiscal year 2008 to 1,430 in fiscal year 2011 – nearly a 75 percent increase.

    In addition to cracking down on fraud, we are also taking aggressive steps to cut payment errors in Medicare and Medicaid. We dramatically reduced the government-wide rate of improper payments in fiscal year 2011, including significant reductions in every Medicare and Medicaid program. All told, we have avoided over $20 billion in improper payments over the past two years, as part of our efforts to reduce waste and error across government through the Obama Administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste.

  • President Barack Obama Delivers Remarks at the United Auto Workers Conference

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the United Auto Workers (UAW) Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    Today, President Obama spoke at the United Auto Workers Annual Conference to discuss the success of the American auto industry.

    After nearly collapsing three years ago, our nation's big three automakers are turning profits and opening new factories. The industry has added more than 200,000 jobs. And those workers aren't just building cars again--they are building better, more fuel efficient automobiles that help Americans save money at the pump every time they fill up. The cars they are building to meet new fuel efficiency standards will average 55 miles to the gallon by 2025, cutting our oil consumption by 2 million barrels a day.

    When the President took office, our nation’s three largest automakers were on the brink of failure. The economy was in complete free fall and private  investors weren’t willing to take a chance on the auto industry. Doing nothing, as some proposed, would have cost more than a million Americans their jobs, and threatened the livelihood of many more in the communities that depend on the industr. As President Obama explained today:

    Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel, if GM and Chrysler had gone under. The suppliers, the distributors that get their business from these companies, they would have died off.  Then even Ford could have gone down as well. Production shut down. Factories shuttered. Once-proud companies chopped up and sold off for scraps. And all of you, the men and women who built these companies with your own hands, would have been hung out to dry.

    President Obama wasn’t willing to let that happen. He stepped in and offered the support automakers needed in return for some restructuring on their end:

    [W]e were not going to take a knee and do nothing. We were not going to give up on your jobs and your families and your communities.  So in exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We said to the auto industry, you're going to have to truly change, not just pretend like you're changing.  And thanks to outstanding leadership…we were able to get labor and management to settle their differences. 

  • During Black History Month, we pause to salute and reflect on the contributions African Americans have made to the rich fabric that makes up the United States. There are many untold stories that reveal the best of Americans who stepped up when duty called, broke color barriers, or quietly made their communities better one person at a time.

    In tribute, President Obama recently invited six special senior citizens to visit the White House to honor as unsung heroes. These unsung heroes are individuals who strengthen their communities through extraordinary everyday acts of service done with reliability and commitment, but who seldom receive recognition. 

    Among those who visited with President Obama were pioneers in the struggle for racial equality, educators who changed their communities through the classroom, and people who believe that a lifetime serving others is a life well spent.

  • Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a progress report on the work Congress and the Administration have done over the last year to tackle duplication and fragmentation and take advantage of cost-saving opportunities in the Federal government. In addition, it released a second report suggesting areas for future action. We appreciate GAO’s work in these important areas. Big problems require all of us – the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch– to come together around big solutions.

    We have examined the GAO report, and our analysis of it is here. The key findings are:

    • Nearly 80 percent of the issue areas for which GAO recommended action last year, and more than three-quarters of the recommendations for Executive Branch actions associated with those areas (76 percent) were addressed in some way.
    • Congress addressed less than 40 percent of the GAO recommendations that required congressional action (39 percent) in some way.

    GAO found progress over the last year reducing duplication in areas as diverse as data center consolidation, food safety, interagency contracting, and arms control. It found cost-saving progress in areas as diverse as the management of DOD spare parts, government wide improper payments, strategic sourcing, and electronic filing of tax returns. 

  • On February 21, 2012 the President and First Lady invited a group of blues legends to perform in the East Room as part of the "In Performance at the White House" series produced by PBS.

    The musicians included Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck and BB King, and the night was a celebration of what President Obama called, "music with humble beginnings -- roots in slavery and segregation, a society that rarely treated black Americans with the dignity and respect that they deserved.  The blues bore witness to these hard times.  And like so many of the men and women who sang them, the blues refused to be limited by the circumstances of their birth." 

    Before you tune in for  "In Performance" tonight on PBS, take a look behind the scenes: 

    Special thanks to PBS for sharing video footage from this event.

    Additional performances:

  • Ed note: This was originally published on Open for Business, the official blog of the SBA

    Made in America is hot.  More than 400,000 manufacturing jobs have been created since the start of 2010 and there are currently about 229,000 job openings in the manufacturing sector, according to data from the Labor Department.

    America’s small manufacturers are a critical part of that. According to BLS and Census data, 98 percent of America’s manufacturing firms are small.  More than one in three Americans who work in manufacturing, work at a small business.  

    Everyone from the President on down has been working very hard to make sure these firms have the tools they need to grow and create jobs.

    For example, in 2010, President Obama signed into law the Small Business Jobs Act. One of the most important provisions was increasing the limit on SBA loans from $2 million to $5 million. The higher loan limits directly helped nearly 2,500 small businesses – including nearly 450 small manufacturers – with access to over $10.2 billion to help buy new buildings, buy more equipment, and hire more workers. 

    We’re building on that momentum by taking even more steps to help small manufacturers.

  • The Community College to Career Tour at Davidson County Community College

    Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis make remarks at Davidson County Community College, in Thomasville, North Carolina, February 24, 2012. The Vice President Joined Dr. Biden and Secretary Solis for the last stop of their community college tour to announce the availability of $500 million to fund partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train workers with skills employers need. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Last Friday, Vice President Biden joined Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis at Davidson County Community College in Thomasville, North Carolina to discuss the importance of training workers with the skills employers need right now. This visit was the final leg of a five-state, three-day Community College to Career Bus Tour that Dr. Biden and Secretary Solis took to highlight the $8 billion Community College to Career Fund recently proposed as part of the President’s FY 2013 Budget.

    Speaking to over 300 faculty, students, and other members of the Davidson community, the Vice President argued that America’s skilled workforce is one of our greatest economic assets.  But now that many American manufacturers and other businesses are growing again, too many are having trouble finding workers with the exact skills they need.  That’s why it’s so important to forge partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train workers with the skills that employers need for jobs that are open right now.  On Friday, the Vice President announced that the Administration is taking further steps to do exactly that by making available another $500 million to create and expand these partnerships as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Community College and Career Training grant program. 

    The Administration’s efforts to create and expand these training partnerships are already showing results at places like Davidson County Community College (DCCC).  Thanks to a grant they received in the first round of this program, DCCC has been able to expand their partnerships with local companies to train workers with the skills they need—companies like Ingersoll Rand, which is working with DCCC to train workers with computer numerically controlled manufacturing skills, or Unilin Flooring, which is training workers in electronics engineering.  And these programs are working—in fact, every single graduate of the electronics engineering program at Davidson County Community College has been able to secure a job, many of them at companies like Unilin.  

  • President Obama meets with NGA (February 27, 2012)

    President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, President Obama challenged state governors to make sure all students in their schools today get the education and skills they need to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.

    A majority of states will spend less on elementary and secondary schools in 2012 than they did last year, and more than 40 states cut higher education spending in 2011 — cuts that lead to higher tuition prices in our public colleges and universities.

    But when our economy is struggling, the last place to make cuts is in education. Making sure that every student in our country graduates from high school prepared for college and a successful career is central to rebuilding our economy and securing a brighter future. And when students go on to pursue higher education, we should make sure they are able to pay for it.

    “Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state as the decisions you make about where to invest,” President Obama told governors. “Budgets are about choices, so today I’m calling on you to choose to invest more in teachers, invest more in education, and invest more in our children and their future.”

  • First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden at the 2012 NGA meeting (February 27, 2012)

    First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden discuss military spouse employment at the National Governors Association annual meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    Earlier this morning, the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden addressed the National Governors Association (NGA) Winter Meeting, the annual meeting that brings state leaders to Washington, D.C. to discuss important issues impacting all Americans.

    Today, the First Lady and Dr Biden had one message for the governors: urging them to take action on the state level to support America’s military spouses. 

    In their travels to military bases across America and throughout the world over the last three years, the First Lady and Dr. Biden have heard stories from countless military family members and spouses.  One of the top issues they hear about everywhere they go deals with the professional licensing requirements that affect how military spouses can move forward in their careers. 

    Less than two weeks ago, the First Lady and Dr. Biden joined the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all of the Joint Chiefs in rolling out a new report on state licensing.   

    This is an enormous issue for military spouses throughout this country. There are more than 100,000 military spouses who serve in the dozens of professions that require a state license or credential – teachers, nurses, childcare providers, dental hygienists, real estate brokers, speech pathologists and many other professionals. Each move to a new state can mean different credentialing or licensing standards – a process that can sometimes take months to resolve.  

    As part of their address to military families and Pentagon leadership, the First Lady and Dr. Biden announced an ambitious goal: for 50 states to pass legislation that supports military spouse license portability by 2014. 

  • Keb Mo is a singer, songwriter, and blues guitarist. He's a three-time Grammy award winner. And in 2006, in the final episode of The West Wing, he sang "America the Beautiful" at the inauguration of President Matt Santos.

    Last week, he sat down inside the White House to reprise that performance. Check it out:

    Don't forget to watch "In Performance: Red, White, and Blues" tonight on your local PBS station.

    Additional performances:

  • Vice President Biden with Ann Burke at the Naval Observatory

    Vice President Biden with Ann Burke at a reception to mark the 17th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act at the Naval Observatory, September 13th, 2012 (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Over the past month, college newspapers across the country have run an op-ed penned by Vice President Biden in which he urges college students to take action to help put an end to dating violence and sexual assault on their campuses. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and Vice President Biden took the opportunity to remind students that dating violence is still a very real problem in our country. 

    The facts are clear: nearly one in five college women will be the victim of a sexual assault, and one in ten teens will be hurt by someone they are dating. As the Vice President wrote, these are not merely statistics, “these are the people you know: your roommates, your friends, your sisters, and your classmates.” 

    As the Vice President has often said, we all have an absolute obligation to try to stop abuse when we see it – no matter what. That’s why this Administration is working so hard to confront the problem head on. 

    Last April, new standards were announced that make it clear that colleges are responsible for creating campus environments that refuse to tolerate dating violence. And in September, the Vice President launched the “1 is 2 Many” project – an effort to change attitudes that lead to violence and educate the public on the realities of abuse.