Monday, March 30, 2009

“Protecting That Which Fuels Our Spirit”

Monday, March 30th, 2009 at 8:06 pm
“Protecting That Which Fuels Our Spirit”
This afternoon President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, one of the most sweeping pieces of conservation and public land management legislation in years.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined the President, and spoke eloquently:

Over the last two centuries, America’s best ideas for protecting our vast lands and open spaces have often arrived while our country has faced its greatest trials.

It was in the midst of our nation’s bloodiest conflict – the Civil War – that President Abraham Lincoln set aside the lands that are now Yosemite National Park.

It was at the dawn of the 20th century, with our cities and industries growing and our open lands and watersheds disappearing, that President Teddy Roosevelt expanded our national parks and set aside the world’s largest system of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the national wildlife refuge system.

And it was in the darkest days of the Great Depression that President Franklin Roosevelt put three million young Americans to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. They built the trails, campgrounds, parks, and conservation projects we enjoy today.

In these moments when our national character is most tested we rightly seek to protect that which fuels our spirit.

For America’s national character - our optimism, our dreams, our shared stories – are rooted in our landscapes.

The President echoed his sentiments:

As Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent. Our lands have always provided great bounty -- food and shelter for the first Americans, for settlers and pioneers; the raw materials that grew our industry; the energy that powers our economy.

What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardship. As our greatest conservationist President, Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago, "I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

That's the spirit behind the bipartisan legislation I'm signing today -- legislation among the most important in decades to protect, preserve, and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.

As the President noted, however, there is another hopeful element to the legislation, namely the Christopher and Dana Reeve's Paralysis Act, which boosts research and rehabilitation for paralysis:

That's the mission of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In the lobby of their facility in New Jersey sits Christopher’s empty wheelchair. And his son, Matthew Reeve, was once asked if the sight of it ever saddened him, and he replied no. He said, "Empty chairs -- that was Dad's goal," he said. "We hope there will be many more of them."

Matthew is here with us today. And the legislation I'm about to sign makes solid progress toward the realization of that hope and the promise of a brighter future.

The Cost of Inaction

Monday, March 30th, 2009 at 1:24 pm
The Cost of Inaction
Rebecca Adelman of the Department of Health and Human Services tells us about a new report that turns the debate over the costs of health reform on its head.

Last month, President Obama told a joint session of Congress that "health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year." A report released today by the Department of Health and Human Services highlights why health care reform cannot wait. Entitled The Costs of Inaction, this report includes statistics that illustrate the challenges Americans are facing – from skyrocketing costs to the persistent gaps in health care quality.

The full report is available at According to the report, health care costs doubled from 1996 to 2006, and more Americans are being left out of the health care system than ever before. An estimated 87 million people -- one in every three Americans under the age of 65 -- were uninsured at some point in 2007 and 2008. President Obama has committed to work with Congress this year to make our health care system work for all Americans.

This report comes as President Obama seeks input on health care reform from Americans across the country at the Regional White House Forums on Health Reform. The fourth regional forum will take place tomorrow in Greensboro, North Carolina, moderated by Governor Bev Perdue. You can watch the forum live on beginning at 10:30 ET tomorrow morning.

GM & Chrysler

Monday, March 30th, 2009 at 12:53 pm
GM & Chrysler

This morning the President announced that his Auto Task Force has completed its evaluation of the viability of General Motors and Chrysler in light of their requests for federal assistance. In addition to releasing the viability assessments, he also released a new policy with the American government guaranteeing warrantees for cars from those companies to ensure that if you have one it "will be safer than it's ever been":

Fact Sheet on the New Path to Viability for GM & Chrysler (pdf) >>
Warrantee Commitment Program Explanation (pdf) >>
GM Viability Assessment (pdf) >>
Chrysler Viability Assessment (pdf) >>
In the course of his remarks, the President pledged in no uncertain terms that he would not simply stand by and watch the American auto industry fail. He pledged to work with Congress on further action. And he made clear that the government has no interest in running these companies.

In broader terms, he laid out early what led to his decisions announced today, the bottom line being that the Task Force has determined the companies’ submitted plans to restructure simply do not go far enough:

And so today I'm announcing that my administration will offer GM and Chrysler a limited additional period of time to work with creditors, unions, and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional taxpayer dollars. During this period they must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success.

Now, what we're asking for is difficult. It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers who have already made extraordinarily painful concessions to do more. It'll require creditors to recognize that they can't hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts. It'll have to -- it will require efforts from a whole host of other stakeholders, including dealers and suppliers. Only then can we ask American taxpayers who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry.

But I'm confident that if each are willing to do their part, if all of us are doing our part, then this restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry -- an auto industry that is once more out-competing the world; a 21st century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity, and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us towards an energy-independent future. I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: The United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars.

He laid out his prescription for GM:

GM has made a good faith effort to restructure over the past several months -- but the plan that they've put forward is, in its current form, not strong enough. However, after broad consultation with a range of industry experts and financial advisors, I'm absolutely confident that GM can rise again, providing that it undergoes a fundamental restructuring. As an initial step, GM is announcing today that Rick Wagoner is stepping aside as Chairman and CEO. This is not meant as a condemnation of Mr. Wagoner, who's devoted his life to this company and has had a distinguished career; rather, it's a recognition that will take new vision and new direction to create the GM of the future.

In this context, my administration will offer General Motors adequate working capital over the next 60 days. And during this time, my team will be working closely with GM to produce a better business plan. They must ask themselves: Have they consolidated enough unprofitable brands? Have they cleaned up their balance sheets, or are they still saddled with so much debt that they can’t make future investments? Above all, have they created a credible model for how not only to survive, but to succeed in this competitive global market?

And he explained the differences underlying his prescription for Chrysler:

The situation at Chrysler is more challenging. It's with deep reluctance but also a clear-eyed recognition of the facts that we've determined, after careful review, that Chrysler needs a partner to remain viable. Recently, Chrysler reached out and found what could be a potential partner -- the international car company Fiat, where the current management team has executed an impressive turnaround. Fiat is prepared to transfer its cutting-edge technology to Chrysler and, after working closely with my team, has committed to build -- building new fuel-efficient cars and engines right here in the United States. We've also secured an agreement that will ensure that Chrysler repays taxpayers for any new investments that are made before Fiat is allowed to take a majority ownership stake in Chrysler.

Still, such a deal would require an additional investment of taxpayer dollars, and there are a number of hurdles that must be overcome to make it work. I'm committed to doing all I can to see if a deal can be struck in a way that upholds the interests of American taxpayers. And that's why we'll give Chrysler and Fiat 30 days to overcome these hurdles and reach a final agreement -- and we will provide Chrysler with adequate capital to continue operating during that time. If they are able to come to a sound agreement that protects American taxpayers, we will consider lending up to $6 billion to help their plan succeed. But if they and their stakeholders are unable to reach such an agreement, and in the absence of any other viable partnership, we will not be able to justify investing additional tax dollars to keep Chrysler in business.

He ended on a hopeful note, however, making clear that his decisions were not made out of despair, but out of certainty that the ingenuity and determination Americans and these companies have shown for decades.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weekly Address: Crisis and Service

Saturday, March 28th, 2009 at 5:30 am
Weekly Address: Crisis and Service
This week the President dedicates his address to the people of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota as they face down disastrous flooding. He speaks of what the government is doing, but also stresses that times of crisis like this are reminders of the need and opportunity Americans have to keep their dedication to service. He commends the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, which passed the Senate this week following similar legislation in the House last week, for helping to rejuvenate this spirit.

"In the Fargodome, thousands of people gathered not to watch a football game or a rodeo, but to fill sandbags. Volunteers filled 2.5 million of them in just five days, working against the clock, day and night, with tired arms and aching backs. Others braved freezing temperatures, gusting winds, and falling snow to build levees along the river’s banks to help protect against waters that have exceeded record levels."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Around the Agencies: Back to Nature

Friday, March 27th, 2009 at 7:20 pm
Around the Agencies: Back to Nature
The Food Safety and Inspection Service on twitter: a smart match.

The EPA is all over Earth Day – send in your videos and photos of what you’ve done to help your little corner of the earth, or just a little corner of the earth you admire, and the EPA will feature them. We liked this one taken in Kaikoura, New Zealand and submitted by pixel_fairy22:

Speaking of helping little corners of the earth, Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced plans to invest $3.2 billion in energy efficiency and conservation projects in U.S. cities, counties, states, territories, and Native American tribes. has a good video on a Recovery Act success story. Powerpoint if you prefer.

The USDA has a good story: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today presided over the Washington, D.C., graduation ceremony of 26 minority farmers from the Small Farmer Agricultural Leadership Training Institute, a 2-year course of study that gives small, socially disadvantaged, limited resource and/or farmers of color the knowledge to become successful agricultural entrepreneurs. "President Obama recognizes that small farm operators are the custodians of about 48 percent of this nation's farm and ranch land," Vilsack said.

HHS gives community health centers a big boost: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced the release of $338 million to expand services offered at the nation’s community health centers. The money was made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and comes as more Americans join the ranks of the uninsured. "More Americans are losing their health insurance and turning to health centers for care," said Health Resources and Services Administrator (HRSA) Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N. "These grants will aid centers in their efforts to provide care to an increasing number of patients during the economic downturn." It’s a big story around the country.

A Special Moment for Service

Friday, March 27th, 2009 at 5:39 pm
A Special Moment for Service
Last night the Senate passed a bill close to the President’s heart, we asked Carlos Monje Jr., Senior Policy Advisor at the Domestic Policy Council to go explain what it meant a little more in-depth:

We had an exciting day in the White House yesterday. The Senate passed legislation to dramatically expand service opportunities for Americans of all ages. By an overwhelming vote of 79-19, the Senate approved the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, a bill that will take the next quantum leap in national service.

The legislation is important because it is core to what the President believes – that all of us need to work together to make a difference. As he said in his praise of the bill’s passage:

"Our work is not finished when I sign this bill into law – it has just begun. While our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities. To do our part to lift up our fellow Americans. To realize our own true potential. I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country."

The bill contains key elements of the President’s national service agenda: Creating an army of 250,000 Americans a year involved in full and part time service to address some of our nation’s greatest challenges, including healthcare, education, energy and economic opportunity; expanding service-learning to engage young-people and put them onto a pathway to service; providing better service opportunities for seniors and boomers; and establishing a Social Innovation Fund to identify and grow programs that fix tough community problems.

Public service is something close to the President and First Lady’s hearts. President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, and Mrs. Obama was the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago, an AmeriCorps Program. They have talked often about how service can transform individuals and the communities in which they work. Last week, the First Lady made her own case for service when she joined YouthBuild participants on the National Mall. She told the young people:

"Community service is an integral part of empowering our people and making our communities stronger. And service must become a part of each of our lives. It has to be an integral part of each of our lives if we're going to create a more unified nation that we all want and that our President talks so much about."

Seeing this bill moving one giant step closer to completion is a special moment. I was lucky enough to work on national service issues during the campaign, and watching these ideas move from a conference table in Chicago to the halls of Congress shows what an incredible movement the American people created in electing Barack Obama president.

More than that, I continue to be amazed by the thousands of people who have spent decades building the national service movement and believing in its potential. The men and women who serve in nonprofit groups across the country live their lives according to the creed that ‘I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.’ They make this country work and they have maintained momentum for this legislation. The employees of the Corporation for National and Community Service--many of whom have been working there since its inception in 1993—are an incredible team. They wake up every day with the sole mission of giving other Americans the chance to serve, and they have been instrumental in improving this legislation line by line.

The House and Senate Staff who have been working long nights and longer weekends are incredible professionals whose quick work will see this legislation through to final passage. And these bills would be nowhere without the work of leaders like Harris Wofford, the former U.S. Senator and former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who at 82 is an indefatigable champion of service.

This is a piece of legislation everybody in the Administration will feel proud of when it’s signed, it feels close.

A New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

Friday, March 27th, 2009 at 10:32 am
A New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan
"Good morning," began the President today. "Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this marks the conclusion of a careful policy review, led by Bruce [Reidel], that I ordered as soon as I took office."

The President stressed the perilous position we find ourselves in there, and the threat that would arise should safe havens on Pakistan go unchallenged or should the government in Afghanistan fall to the Taliban again. He also noted that 2008 was the deadliest year to date in that war.

The President put forth the central question:

Many people in the United States -- and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much -- have a simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there? And they deserve a straightforward answer.

And gave his answer:

So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just.

He described the need for a comprehensive strategy in the two countries, including a "standing, trilateral dialogue among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan." The President expressed his profound respect for the Pakistani people and their history, and pledged that the United States would so all it could to help Pakistan fight against the terrorists who have so often attempted to destabilize the country, including with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

So too did he express his admiration for the people of Afghanistan, before going on to describe the shift coming on the ground there as well:

Our troops have fought bravely against a ruthless enemy. Our civilians have made great sacrifices. Our allies have borne a heavy burden. Afghans have suffered and sacrificed for their future. But for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq. Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals.

I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential elections in Afghanistan in August.

At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That's how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.

For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. And those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. And later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 -- and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.

This push must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort. Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, we've seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty.

So to advance security, opportunity and justice -- not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces -- we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. And that's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. That's also why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations -- an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in The Hague.

At a time of economic crisis, it's tempting to believe that we can shortchange this civilian effort. But make no mistake: Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future.

The President described a new regime of accountability in the execution of this war, beginning with contractors, and stretching to demanding clearly understood goals:

There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who've taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. And that's why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans -- including women and girls.

Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable. We’ll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan security forces and our progress in combating insurgents. We will measure the growth of Afghanistan’s economy, and its illicit narcotics production. And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wrapping Up Open for Questions

Thursday, March 26th, 2009 at 4:54 pm
Wrapping Up Open for Questions
The initial run of Open for Questions came to a close with the President’s online town hall this morning. With almost a hundred thousand participants and more than three and a half million votes, it was an eye-opening experience and showed the potential of what this kind of open engagement can accomplish. The online town hall had an amazing feel of something that had never been done before, and something we should be trying to do more of. If you missed it, watch the video of the entire event:

Here's his answer to the top question in the Veterans category:

DR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you for clearing that up. (Laughter.) This next question comes from Columbia, South Carolina: "The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is higher than the national unemployment rate. Our veterans are a national treasure. How can you, the VA, and I ensure our veterans are successfully transitioning into civilian life?"

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. You know, I had just an extraordinary honor -- yesterday was Medal of Honor Day. And I went to Arlington National Cemetery, and we had a ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a collection of Medal of Honor winners from all our various wars.

And a special place of honor was a guy named John Finn, who had been present the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was on one of the ships, was shot by -- was strafed by the fire from the planes coming in, and yet still had the presence of mind to shoot down a plane, and won the Medal of Honor -- or was awarded the Medal of Honor for that.

And it just reminds you that we wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for the sacrifices of earlier veterans. We would not -- (applause) -- we would not enjoy the same safety and security and liberty that we do.

So when our veterans come home from Iraq and Afghanistan -- and they have performed brilliantly, they have done everything that's been asked of them, regardless of what your views are on these wars -- they have earned these benefits that all too often we fail to give them.

And that's why in my budget we are increasing veterans funding by more than any time in the last 30 years. We're going to make sure that we deal with the -- (applause) -- we're going to make sure that deal with the backlog that too many veterans experience in terms of getting benefits. We're going to make sure that homeless veterans are receiving housing and services.

The homeless rate for veterans is multiple times higher than it is for non-veterans. That's inexcusable. It means that we're going to provide services for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that we're going to provide services for Traumatic Brain Injury that are the signature injuries of these recent wars. So we are going to significantly increase veterans spending.

Now, just as is true generally, government alone can't do it. So all of us individually are going to have roles. If you're a business owner, hiring a veteran, not discriminating against somebody who's a veteran is going to be absolutely critical. In your communities, in your churches, in your neighborhoods, making sure that there's outreach and celebration of veterans when they come home, that's going to be critical.

I think we've done a much better job during these wars than we did during Vietnam, where in many cases our treatment of veterans was inexcusable. But we can always do more. Government is going to do its role, and then we've got to make sure that our communities do their role, as well.

National Medal of Honor Day

Thursday, March 26th, 2009 at 8:46 am
National Medal of Honor Day
Yesterday the President participated in the wreath-laying ceremony for National Medal of Honor Day at Arlington National Cemetery, along with more than 30 of the 98 living Medal of Honor recipients.

(With the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery and the city of Washington in the background, President Barack Obama concludes ceremonies Wednesday, March 25, 2009, at the National Medal of Honor Day at the military cemetery. Medal of Honor recipients applaud after laying a wreath at the tomb in Arlington, Va. The White House / Pete Souza)

The President issued the following statement yesterday:

We are grateful to all those who wear the uniform of our Armed Forces and serve and sacrifice on behalf of our great nation. Members of our Armed Forces hold themselves to the highest standards and set an example of responsibility to one another and to the country that should inspire all Americans to serve a purpose greater than themselves. Today we pay our respect to those who distinguished themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty - the recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Since it was first awarded during the Civil War to the current battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, Medal of Honor recipients have displayed tremendous courage, an unfailing determination to succeed, and a humbling willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is telling that so many Medal of Honor recipients received the award posthumously. These soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman embody the best of American values and ideals.

Medal of Honor recipients are the foremost example of greatness in service and sacrifice. Their bravery and humble strength continues to reassure our nation of the strength of its character and ideals even in these difficult times. We owe these heroes a debt of gratitude that our nation can never fully repay. So, it is on this day that we salute that fact and celebrate their lives and heroic actions that have placed them amongst the "bravest of the brave." We must never forget their sacrifice and will always keep the Fallen and their families in our thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bracing in North Dakota

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 at 6:37 pm
Bracing in North Dakota
With fears of record flooding in North Dakota and surrounding areas, last night the President signed a Major Disaster Declaration For North Dakota. Today the President met with Senators and Representatives from North Dakota and Minnesota to discuss the situation.

(President Barack Obama meets Wednesday, March 25, 2009, at the U.S. Capitol with representatives from North Dakota and Minnesota, areas hard hit by flooding. With the President in front of a display of area news coverage are, from left, Rep. Collin Peterson, and behind him Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both of Minnesota, and Sen. Ken Conrad, Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, all of North Dakota. The White House / Pete Souza)

Addressing Our Problems Head-On

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 at 10:40 am
Addressing Our Problems Head-On

In his press conference last night, the President explained why he is committed to the change in course on the nation’s priorities that his budget represents. In response to a question about the deficit, he expounded on the reasons for addressing so many decades-old problems head-on:

OBAMA: Of course I do, Ed, which is why we're doing everything we can to reduce that deficit. Look, if this were easy, then, you know, we would have already had it done, and the budget would have been voted on, and everybody could go home. This is hard.

And the reason it's hard is because we've accumulated a structural deficit that's going to take a long time, and we're not going to be able to do it next year or the year after or three years from now. What we have to do is bend the curve on these deficit projections. And the best way for us to do that is to reduce health care costs. That's not just my opinion. That's the opinion of almost every single person who has looked at our long-term fiscal situation.

Now, how do we -- how are we going to reduce health care costs? Because the problem is not just in government-run programs. The problem is in the private sector, as well. It's experienced by families. It's experienced by businesses.

And so what we've said is, look, let's invest in health information technologies. Let's invest in preventive care. Let's invest in mechanisms that look at who's doing a better job controlling costs while producing good quality outcomes in various states and let's reimburse on the basis of improved quality, as opposed to simply how many procedures you're doing. Let's do a whole host of things, some of which cost money on the front end, but offer the prospect of reducing costs on the back end.

Now, the alternative is to stand pat and to simply say, "We are just going to not invest in health care. We're not going to take on energy. We'll wait until the next time that gas gets to $4 a gallon. We will not improve our schools. And we'll allow China or India or other countries to lap our young people in terms of their performance. We will settle on lower growth rates, and we will continue to contract, both as an economy and our ability to -- to provide a better life for our kids."

That, I don't think, is the better option.

Into Space

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 9:10 pm
Into Space
This morning President Obama was joined by Congressional leaders and middle school students from the Washington, DC area in the Roosevelt Room to congratulate the astronauts on the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Discovery on their successful ongoing mission.

They spent some time talking about solar power from very different perspective:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's great. We are really excited about the project that you're doing. My understanding is, is that you are installing some additional solar panels on the space station, and that's actually going to increase the number of people that can work out of the space station, is that correct?

MISSION SPECIALIST PHILLIPS: Sir, that's correct. We've roughly doubled the amount of solar power available for experimentation and for supporting a larger crew, and we hope to go to a crew of six and a more aggressive experimental program this year.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, this is really exciting, because we're investing back here on the ground a whole array of solar and other renewable energy projects, and so to find out that you're doing this up at the space station is particularly exciting.

Can I ask, how exactly do you end up installing these solar panels? What's involved? Somebody want to give us a rundown on how you go about doing it?

MISSION SPECIALIST SWANSON: Yes, sir. First it comes up on a truss segment, about five feet long. We use a robotic arm to attach it to the -- into another truss segment. And then once that's attached and bolted on through spacewalks, then we'll go ahead and unfurl or actually deploy the solar rays in a position so that we can unfurl from inside during the commanding with new software.

THE PRESIDENT: About how long does it take?

MISSION SPECIALIST SWANSON: It takes about, to put it all together, about six hours, but you actually do the commanding to actually deploy them out to their full length -- it takes about two hours.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Open for Questions:

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 6:45 pm
Open for Questions: President Obama to Answer Your Questions on Thursday
Today, the President invited everyone to use a new feature on called "Open for Questions" to ask a question about the economy and rate other questions up or down. Then, on Thursday morning, the President will conduct a special online town hall on the economy and answer some of the most popular questions and the event will be streamed on

"Open for Questions" is a new experiment for, the President’s latest effort to open up the White House and give Americans from around the country a direct line to the Administration.

This first round will deal with a chief concern for all of us: the economy. We’ve created a few categories to better organize the questions, and encourage you to search for a specific question before you submit your own in case it already exists.

To get started, head over to and set up your account. Then follow the simple instructions to start voting on questions or submit your own (we encourage you to include a link to a published video of the question being asked, although this is not required).

This experiment is about encouraging transparency and accountability, so ask the President exactly what it is you want to know – but let others do the same. It is a community-moderated system, but remember that even though you may not like the viewpoint behind someone’s question, everyone has a right to their opinion. Also remember that Americans of all ages will be participating in this event, so be thoughtful about the words you choose. Participants are asked to follow some basic guidelines for submitting their own questions and flagging other questions as inappropriate.

So be part of history in the making and ask away. The team here at the White House can’t wait to see America’s response!

A Good Day on the Swingset

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 5:30 pm
A Good Day on the Swingset
This morning the President hosted the Children’s Miracle Network Champions, young children who have fought against serious illness or health problems from all 50 states. After they met, the President invited the children to play on the swing set in the South Lawn.

The President Calls NASA Astronauts

Live-streaming now: The President Calls NASA Astronauts
President Obama, joined by Congressional leaders and middle school students from the Washington, DC area, is currently calling to congratulate the astronauts on the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Discovery on their successful ongoing mission.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another Leg in the Stool

Monday, March 23rd, 2009 at 1:21 pm
Another Leg in the Stool
Last week the President and the Treasury Department focused on ensuring that homeowners take advantage of the President’s Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan to keep people in their homes and stabilize the mortgages that underlie the assets involved in the financial crisis. This morning the President and the Treasury unveiled the plan to unlock the credit markets, one of the most complex and intractable obstacles to economic recovery. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner penned an extensive op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and posted a detailed explanation of how the plan will function on the Treasury Department’s website. The President spoke to the press about the plan this morning after receiving the Economic Daily Briefing in the Roosevelt Room:

As I've said before, there are a number of legs in the stool in the economic recovery. Step one is making sure that we had a stimulus package that was robust enough to fill the huge gap in demand that was created by the recession. Step two was making sure that we had a effective homeowners' plan to try to keep people in their homes and to stabilize the housing market. Because of the work that's already been done, you are starting to see glimmers of hope in the housing market that stabilization may be taking place. Mortgage rates are at a very, very low level, and you're starting to see some activity in the housing market.

We then took a series of steps to improve liquidity in what had been secondary markets that had been completely frozen. And we are now seeing activity in student loans and auto loans. We announced last week a small-business initiative that ensures that we have more activity and you start seeing small businesses being able to get credit again in order to sell products and services and make payroll.

And this morning, Secretary Geithner announced the latest element in this multi-pronged approach, and that is a mechanism that he, in close consultation with the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, has initiated in order to allow banks to take some of their bad assets off their books, sell them into a market, but do so in a way that doesn't just obligate taxpayers to buy at whatever price they're willing to sell these assets; instead, involves a public-private partnership that allows market participants who have every interest in making a profit to accurately price these assets so that the taxpayers share in the upside as well as the downside.

And we believe that this is one more element that is going to be absolutely critical in getting credit flowing again. It's not going to happen overnight. There's still great fragility in the financial systems. But we think that we are moving in the right direction. And we are very confident that, in coordination with the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, other relevant institutions, that we are going to be able to not only start unlocking these credit markets, but we're also going to be in a position to design the regulatory authorities that are necessary to prevent this kind of systemic crisis from happening again.

Recovery in Action: Green Jobs Edition

Monday, March 23rd, 2009 at 12:16 pm
Recovery in Action: Green Jobs Edition
Today the President is hosting an event focused on "Investing in Our Clean Energy Future," with experts from inside and outside government (watch his remarks live-streamed at 12:30). So it’s appropriate that this edition of Recovery in Action focus on green jobs, and given that Susan Hockfield, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of featured speakers, it’s also appropriate that we start off with an inspiring story out of Massachusetts.

Erin Ailworth of the Boston Globe had an in-depth piece on the "Renewable job market":

If you're readying a resume, it might help to use recycled paper. The clean-tech and green industries in Massachusetts are hiring.

Companies looking to add employees include Aeronautica Windpower in Plymouth, lithium-ion battery maker Boston-Power Inc. in Westborough, and Conservation Services Group, also in Westborough. Eco-friendly experience is a plus, but not required.

The workforce expansions are being partly spurred by the federal economic stimulus package, which includes billions for home energy-efficiency upgrades and an extension of a tax credit for renewable energy technologies such as wind power. Within the next two years, stimulus spending is expected to create or save 79,000 jobs in Massachusetts, and an estimated 3.5 million nationwide, according to the federal government.

Soon after Congress passed the nearly $800 billion bill last month, Stephen Cowell, chief executive of Conservation Services Group, said he told his staff, "Get the resumes together." In the last six months, the energy-efficiency company has hired about 50 employees in its main office. Because of the stimulus bill as well as several new contracts, Cowell plans to add 200 more jobs this year. The company currently employs about 400 and does business in 22 states. At least 30 to 40 of the new jobs will be in Massachusetts, he said.

"We're sort of the tip of the iceberg," Cowell said. "A couple of hundred people will be hired here, but that means that 2,000 people will be hired at the local level to do the work that we spec out and help facilitate."

It goes through company after company and industry after industry from there. And we’re off!

Indiana [WLFI-TV, 3/20/09]:

Governor Mitch Daniels announced plans to distribute $132 million in federal stimulus funds for energy conservation. The money will go to weatherization projects for low income homeowners who are already a part of the state's energy assistance program. The program's budget will be expanded by a multiple of 11. Groups looking to do the work can apply beginning next week. "We will be looking for those organizations, non-profit in every case, who can make a good showing that they can achieve the most conservation, help the most Hoosier households per dollar spent in the shortest amount of time," said Gov. Daniels. Daniels said 2300 jobs will be created by the stimulus money.

Nevada [Las Vegas Sun, 3/22/09]:

The federal economic stimulus will send Nevada about $37 million to weatherize buildings and homes and another $28 million to train workers for green jobs, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said Friday. The Senate Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee unanimously voted to move forward with Horsford’s bill, SB152, which would set guidelines for how to spend federal economic stimulus money meant to create "green jobs." Horsford said Nevada could get training for at least 3,200 unemployed or underemployed workers, and provide money to weatherize low-income housing, schools and public buildings.

Pennsylvania [Centre Daily, 3/14/09]:

At the 25th annual Home Show, green is in… Among the traditional remodelers, homebuilders and lenders are signs proclaiming the rebates, tax incentives and money-saving offers on the next generation of green building products. Businesses are hoping the incentives, many of them introduced with the recent economic stimulus package, will draw consumers looking to build or renovate into what has been a slow market.

California [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/17/09]:

In his latest effort to combat global warming, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to enlist the state's hard-luck youth. The governor on Monday announced the new California Green Corps, a statewide effort to train young adults between 16 and 24 years old to work in the state's fledgling green-tech industry. "It's the kind of program President Obama envisioned when he put together the economic stimulus package. It's all about jobs, jobs, jobs," Schwarzenegger said after touring a solar-installation certificate program at a Sacramento community college. The program will be administered by Schwarzenegger's volunteerism czar Karen Baker and will receive about $20 million in initial funding. Half the money will come from the U.S. Department of Labor as part of the federal stimulus package, while the other half is expected to be raised from the private sector. The idea is to create a 20-month pilot program in at least 10 locations to train at least 1,000 people for jobs such as solar-panel installation and sheet-metal manufacturing for wind turbines, Schwarzenegger said.

Live-Blog: Regional Forum on Health Reform, Des Moines

Monday, March 23rd, 2009 at 10:55 am
Live-Blog: Regional Forum on Health Reform, Des Moines
Rebecca Adelman of the Department of Health and Human Services gives us a play-by-play on the third of five White House Regional Forums on Health Reform, watch it streamed livefrom Des Moines, Iowa at

1:27: Governor Culver thanks the audience for their spirited participation and encourages people to continue the discussion by visiting He also thanks President Obama for his commitment to health reform. He said, on every front, the President and his team have been extremely responsive.

1:23: Nancy-Ann DeParle closes the event promising to brief her colleagues in the White House on the suggestions and concerns brought up in the forum today. She urged participants to visit to submit more suggestions, and said "I have a lot to be optimistic about as I go back to the White house." She says she heard frustration from small business, farmers, providers that premiums are out of reach. She also says she heard the desire of clinicians to be at the table, to break down the barriers that exist to providing care, and she heard intelligent advocates from all different angles today. Finally, she expressed hope that everyone will continue to provide input as we work to lower costs and cover more Americans.

1:18: Senator Harkin makes his closing remarks and talks about how members of Congress are working to make health reform happen this year. He said they are setting deadlines, and hope to have a bill on the floor in late June to debate it in July. He said his goal, and the President is pushing very hard on this, is to get this done in Congress before the August recess, and to have a bill to the President in September or October. "We are not going to kick the ball down the field," he said. "This is going to happen this year."

1:10: A gentleman with a "Livestrong" t-shirt wraps up the discussion talking about cancer. He asks for a show of hands of how many participants have been touched by cancer in their own families or personally, and nearly 100 percent of those in the room raised their hands. He said we need to continue to keep this very important issue part of the national discussion about health care.

1:02: Responding to the question proposed by Governor Rounds about rural health, a participant brought up the importance of long-term care providers in rural communities. This participant said he came from a rural area, and many people there just want to stay in their homes and communities. He said if we pay greater attention to the importance of long-term care providers, and if we invest in them, people in rural communities will visit hospitals less frequently and fewer citizens will need to live in expensive nursing homes.

12:55: Governor Rounds takes a few minutes to speak about the challenge of attracting doctors and nurses to serve in rural communities. He said the demand for medical professionals in rural areas is so great that each provider is stretched thin, making it even more difficult to maintain a workforce of doctors and nurses. He asked the participants for suggestions on how to attract medical professionals to rural areas, and how to support them once they establish a practice. The Governor said we need a plan to bring good medical services to rural Americans.

12:41: A participant named Tracey brought up the cost of treating chronic diseases. She suggested that the health system reform include a focus on primary and secondary prevention. She said it is crucially important to think about how to keep the well healthy, to identify the at-risk individuals, and to help the chronically ill manage their conditions to keep the costs for treating these illnesses down.

12:30: Governor Culver reads a question from Audrey Wiedemeier, a resident of Iowa City who submitted her question online at She asked, "What is being done to address the fact that many low income communities don’t have access to affordable fresh healthy food?" Governor Culver and Senator Harkin discuss at length what prevention methods we could employ that would be accessible to Americans of all income brackets. Senator Harkin argues in particular that we need to rethink what food options kids have in schools to start prevention early in life .

12:20: A chiropractor brings up the issue of electronic medical records. He says the adoption of that technology could save $77 billion annually. Now that $19.5 billion has been put forth in the Recovery Act for Health Information technology, we must think about how to make that transition. He urges that an important question in the health reform effort is how can we use technology to drive best practices and efficiency.

12:10: After Darlyne Neff addresses the group, Governor Culver turns the microphone over to the participants in the audience. A small businessman from Iowa speaks first, and stresses the particular difficulties that small businesses face as they strive to insure their employees when health care costs are skyrocketing. A woman who was recently laid off from her job said she is not sure how she will get insurance, but hopes her former employer will be able to provider her with health insurance with the help of money from the Recovery Act. Later, a man named Bruce from Iowa brought up the fact that people between the ages of 50 and 64 are among the fastest growing group of uninsured Americans. Nancy-Ann DeParle said it is an issue the President is very aware of, and that solutions are being discussed.

11:55: Darlyne Neff, from Iowa City, Iowa addressed the assembled group after Nancy-Ann DeParle. Neff is a 75-year-old retired teacher living in a life-care residential community. She taught kindergarten, grade school, and speech at the junior high and community college level. She said if she could go back to teaching now she would stress with her students the importance of listening to their bodies and would try to impress upon them the importance of health and wellness. Darlyne was one of 30,000 Americans who participated in health care reform community discussions over the holidays. She said she has survived operations for breast cancer and a brain tumor, and when she heard that the President’s health care team was seeking input from Americans on how to reform the health care system, she thought, "this is something I really need to do."

11:45: White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle addressed and thanked the participants next – she especially singled out the clinicians she met in the audience, who are on the front lines of this health care reform effort. She spoke about the first forum on health reform that brought together Democrats, Republicans, insurance executives, providers and everyday Americans at the White House to begin the discussion. These regional forums, she said, are a continuation of that discussion.

11:40: South Dakota Governor Rounds addressed the group next. He said that in South Dakota, the pressing concern is how to provide the best possible care in small, rural communities. 9 percent of South Dakotans are uninsured. Governor Rounds said, "We can do better…and we must not leave out rural areas."

11:34: Senator Harkin just addressed the group – he stressed that we urgently need to change the health care system. The Senator said, "the good news is, we have a President who gets it." He urged the incorporation of prevention measures in to the health system, so that we can transform our system from a sick-care system to a health care system.

11:25: Governor Culver welcomes the group and thanks President Obama for his commitment to tackling the "national challenge" that is health care reform. He says he hopes the discussion today can provide some useful input for the President and his health care team (since the Transition, that team has been exceptional in listening carefully and turning the input they get into serious points and data to inform policy-making). Two Iowa lawmakers - Congressman Leonard Boswell and Senator Tom Harkin, are next up to speak.

11:15: Governor Culver kicks off the forum with a video message from President Obama. The President thanks the group for participating and says he looks forward to hearing about the concerns and ideas raised at the forum today. For background, the regional forums were designed to bring everyone with a stake in the health reform debate together, not just in Washington but across the country where people deal with the realities of health care every day, not just the policy analysis and politics of it. Forums in Dearborn, Michigan and Burlington, Vermont were held over the last two weeks, and two more health reform discussions in Greensboro, North Carolina and Los Angeles, California are coming up.

11:05: The third Regional White House Forum on Health Reform just began in Des Moines, Iowa. Today’s event is coming to you live from the Polk County Convention Center (which was also home to the Iowa Caucuses in 2008) Thomas Newton, the Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health just began his opening remarks to the forum, welcoming the participants. It will be moderated by Governor Chet Culver of Iowa and Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota, with Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office on Health Reform, representing the White House.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Budget Equal to the Task Before Us

Saturday, March 21st, 2009 at 5:30 am
A Budget Equal to the Task Before Us
The President reflects on lessons from his time spent outside Washington recently, which only reinforced the core principles in his budget. The budget will be his central focus throughout this week:

"These investments are not a wish list of priorities that I picked out of thin air – they are a central part of a comprehensive strategy to grow this economy by attacking the very problems that have dragged it down for too long: the high cost of health care and our dependence on oil; our education deficit and our fiscal deficit."

Spring Gardening

Friday, March 20th, 2009 at 3:51 pm
Spring Gardening
"This is a big day. We've been talking it since the day we moved in," said the First Lady as she and two dozen local students broke ground on the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. Those students will be involved in the garden as it develops and grows, producing delicious, healthy vegetables to be cooked in the White House Kitchen and given to Miriam's Kitchen, which serves the homeless in Washington, DC.

Fiscal Responsibility Summit Report

Friday, March 20th, 2009 at 3:41 pm
Fiscal Responsibility Summit Report
We welcome OMB Director Peter Orszag, who has agreed to lend his expertise for a post discussing the new Fiscal Responsibility Summit Report. Read Director Orszag regularly at his own blog at

Today, the Administration is releasing the Fiscal Responsibility Summit Report (pdf) that the President announced during the final session of the Summit on February 23.

The Summit was convened so that the President could solicit ideas and discuss solutions to our long-term fiscal imbalance with a broad array of national leaders—from both political parties, from in and out of government, and from Washington, DC and the country as a whole. The President and the Administration are committed to seeking out the best ideas, wherever they may be found, and the Fiscal Responsibility Summit was an important early step in this vital effort.

The Report offers a summary of the Summit’s events, which encapsulates the comments and insights contributed by the full array of Summit participants.

As I have stated elsewhere, our nation is currently being forced to grapple with a pair of trillion-dollar deficits. One is the trillion-dollar deficit between what the economy is producing each year and what it could produce. The other is the trillion-dollar budget deficits that this Administration is inheriting.

The first deficit, the trillion-dollar income gap this year, is an urgent crisis. The longer it persists, the more jobs that are lost, the more income that households lose, and the more businesses that are closed. The Recovery Act that was enacted last month is intended to address that crisis.

The second deficit, the budget deficit, may be somewhat less urgent, but it's no less important. Over the medium to long term, the nation is on an unsustainable fiscal course, and to be responsible, we must begin the process of fiscal reform now.

That's why the President convened the Fiscal Responsibility Summit, because we can no longer let the urgent get in the way of the important. In charting a new fiscal course, we need to be clear in diagnosing the problem. The single most important thing we can do to put this nation back on a sustainable long-term fiscal course is to slow the growth rate of health care costs.

So, as I stated during my remarks at the Summit, let me be very clear: Health care reform is entitlement reform. The path to fiscal responsibility must run directly through health care.

This is part of the reason why the President had said, time and again, that he is committed to reforming the health system this year. And at the Summit, there was consensus on this point across a range of voices. From Senator Alexander and Douglas Holtz-Eakin on one side of the aisle, to Senator Baucus and Senator Dodd and Representative Waxman on the other, all agreed to try to tackle health care this year.

With the President’s leadership, and with the support of a diverse set of voices, we can reform health care this year, start to bend the curve on long-term costs, and get our economy back on a path of long-term fiscal sustainability.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bringing the Outside In

Friday, March 20th, 2009 at 2:00 pm
Bringing the Outside In
The President has made a point of looking for ways to puncture the presidential bubble that has so often resulted in America’s leaders losing touch with the majority of the America people, whether it’s been by fighting to keep his blackberry so he can always hear from a variety of voices outside the White House, or by traveling to town halls to get out of Washington altogether. This afternoon, when the President and the Vice President met with representatives from the National Conference of State Legislatures, he brought some lessons home with him from his town halls in California this week, namely the need for investments and the need for accountability in those investments:

Over the last two days I've been traveling in California, talking with Americans about the challenges they're facing as a result of this economic crisis. And these are challenges that all of you know very well. You're on the front lines of this recession. It's your states that are struggling with shrinking revenues, your budgets are being cut, services that your families depend on in a moment of need are being placed under tremendous strain. And as a former state legislator, I know how difficult your work can be, and how important it is to have a strong partner in Washington. I want you to know I'm committed to being that kind of partner.

The President heard a lot about the need for those investments in California, but he also made clear today in the meeting that the accountability effort, which only began with, will have teeth:

That starts with a fundamental commitment. Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merits. Let me repeat that: Decisions about how Recovery money will be spent will be based on the merits.

They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists. Any lobbyist who wants to talk with a member of my administration about a particular Recovery Act project will have to submit their thoughts in writing, and we will post it on the Internet for all to see. (Applause.) If any member of my administration does meet with a lobbyist about a Recovery Act project, every American will be able to go online and see what that meeting was about. These are unprecedented restrictions that will help ensure that lobbyists don't stand in the way of our recovery.

And this plan cannot and will not be an excuse for waste and abuse. Whenever a project comes up for review, we're going to ask a simple question: Does it advance the core mission of the Recovery Act? Does it jumpstart job creation? Does it lay the foundation for lasting prosperity?

The initiatives that will get priority will be ones that have demonstrated how they meet this test; initiatives that maximize the number of jobs we are creating so we can get the most bang out of every taxpayer buck; initiatives that help make health care more affordable, and rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, or provide other enduring benefits to the American people.

The President thanked the U.S. Conference of Mayors for their commitment to the effort as well, with Vice President Biden having sent a letter (pdf) to them today detailing the accountability standards that will be applied. The President pledged that he would lead by example, forgoing much needed repairs in the Executive offices because they simply don’t fit the mission of the Recovery Act, but he held up Harry Truman, who crusaded against waste, fraud, and profiteering in the war effort as an even better example: "What Harry Truman understood was that spending tax dollars wisely isn’t just about keeping our books straight, it’s about fulfilling our obligation as keepers of the public trust."

A New Year, A New Beginning

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 at 11:55 pm
A New Year, A New Beginning
President Obama released a special video message for all those celebrating Nowruz. Translated "New Day," Nowruz marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of the New Year for millions in Iran and other communities around the world. This year, the President wanted to send a special message to the people and government of Iran on Nowruz, acknowledging the strain in our relations over the last few decades. "But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together," he says.

After committing his administration to a future of honest and respectful diplomacy, he continues on to address Iran's leaders directly: "You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create."


Thursday, March 19th, 2009 at 2:51 pm
The President just spoke at the Edison Electric Vehicle Technical Center in Pomona, California. The Center "provides a broad range of electric transportation services, focusing on solutions for automakers, battery manufacturers, government agencies, business and industrial fleet customers, residential customers and more" – a mission that dovetails perfectly with the President’s vision for green transportation and a green economy. The President explained that in addition to green jobs being a key element of the Recovery Act, it will be a focus of his economic blueprint throughout his presidency:

And that is the forward-thinking purpose of the budget that I submitted to Congress. It's a budget that makes hard choices about where to save and where to spend; that makes overdue investments in education, health care and, yes, in energy -- investments that will catalyze innovation and industry, create green jobs, and launch clean renewable energy companies right here in California.

Over the next three years, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy. We've also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history -- an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in science and technology. We will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power, advanced biofuels, clean coal, and fuel-efficient cars and trucks that are built right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can create new energy in cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bill, just like you've done in California for decades. And we will put 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles on America's roads by 2015. (Applause.)

He went on to announce the availability of $2.4 billion in funding Americans to work producing next generation Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles and the advanced battery components that will make these vehicles run. The initiative will create tens of thousands of jobs, and Americans who decide to purchase these Plug-in Hybrid vehicles can claim a tax credit of up to $7,500. He went on to announce that:

The Department of Energy is offering up to $1.5 billion in grants to U.S. based manufacturers to produce these highly efficient batteries and their components.
The Department of Energy is offering up to $500 million in grants to U.S. based manufacturers to produce other components needed for electric vehicles, such as electric motors and other components.
The Department of Energy is offering up to $400 million to demonstrate and evaluate Plug-In Hybrids and other electric infrastructure concepts -- like truck stop charging station, electric rail, and training for technicians to build and repair electric vehicles.
Learn more at

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

President Obama Meets with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 at 3:53 pm
President Obama Meets with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
President Obama had a productive meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus this morning in the State Dining Room. The press weren't there, but we can give you this exclusive photo and the "readout" the Press Office sent out (that's what they send when the meeting is closed press to in order to give an idea of what happened without violating any participant's sense of privacy).

(President Barack Obama listens during the Wednesday, March 18, 2009, meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the State Dining Room of the White House. The President discussed how the administration will work with the CHC to address immigration concerns. The White House / Pete Souza)

Readout on the President’s Meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus

The President had a robust and strategic meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus today on the topic of immigration. The meeting lasted approximately one hour. The President discussed how the administration will work with the CHC to address immigration concerns in both the short and long term. During the meeting, the President announced that he will travel to Mexico next month to meet with President Calderon to discuss the deep and comprehensive US-Mexico relationship, including how the United States and Mexico can work together to support Mexico’s fight against drug-related violence and work toward effective, comprehensive immigration reform. Since their meeting in January, the President has repeatedly praised President Calderon for his extraordinary work to solve these challenges, which are important to communities and families on both sides of the border.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The President, the Taoiseach, and the Shamrocks

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 at 1:44 pm
The President, the Taoiseach, and the Shamrocks

On this St. Patrick’s Day, the President announced his intention to nominate Dan Rooney, co-founder of the Ireland Fund, as ambassador to Ireland. Later he hosted Taoiseach Brian Cowen and once again used his diverse roots to find humor and common ground:

Now, before I turn it over to the Taoiseach, it turns out that we have something in common. He hails from County Offaly. And it was brought to my attention on the campaign that my great-great-great grandfather on my mother's side came to America from a small village in County Offaly, as well. We are still speculating on whether we are related. (Laughter.)

I do share, though, a deep appreciation for the remarkable ties between our nations. I am grateful to him for his leadership of Ireland. The bond between our countries could not be stronger. As somebody who comes from Chicago, I know a little bit about Ireland, and the warmth, the good humor, and the fierce passion and intelligence of the Irish people is something that has informed our own culture, as well. And so that's why this day and this celebration is so important.

Good ideas, not political tactics

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 at 11:18 am
Good ideas, not political tactics
This morning the President met with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt. After the meeting, the President spoke about the investments and hard choices his budget makes. He noted at the outset that it "will bring discretionary spending for domestic programs as a share of the economy to its lowest level in nearly half a century" over the next decade. But he also made clear that while the budget does not attempt to solve every problem, it does not walk away from the crucial investments that will ensure our economy is on a strong footing for the future.

He committed to ending the era of the "bubble economy," and creating a solid foundation based on "investments that will lead to real growth and real prosperity." He talked about health reform that will ease the burden on businesses, budgets, and families. He talked about the need for investments and reform in education because "countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow." He talked about shifting to a clean energy economy that will ensure that as the global economy changes, America stays ahead of the curve and creates the jobs of tomorrow here.

For those who claim that the President’s goals are too big to accomplish, he had a ready response: "What I say is that the challenges we face are too large to ignore." In closing his remarks he also reached out to his critics, and encouraged them to come to the table with a constructive mindset:

But the one thing I will say is this: With the magnitude of the challenges we face right now, what we need in Washington are not more political tactics -- we need more good ideas. We don't need more point-scoring -- we need more problem-solving. So if there are members of Congress who object to specific policies and proposals in this budget, then I ask them to be ready and willing to propose constructive, alternative solutions. If certain aspects of this budget people don't think work, provide us some ideas in terms of what you do. "Just say no" is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs. It is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party.

The American people sent us here to get things done. And in this moment of enormous challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead. Let's show them that we're equal to this task before us. Let's pass a budget that puts this nation on the road to lasting prosperity. I know Kent Conrad is committed to doing that; John Spratt is committed to doing that; I'm committed to doing that. We're going to need everybody working together to get this thing done.

Vermont Regional Health Forum: Streaming at 1:00

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 at 10:09 am
Vermont Regional Health Forum: Streaming at 1:00
The next stop in the drive for health reform is in Burlington, Vermont today, where another Regional Forum will be hosted by Gov Douglas of Vermont and Gov Patrick of Massachusetts. Again, it will focus on getting input from the American public and stakeholders from every side of the issue, from doctors to business owners to public officials.

Watch the livestream at at 1:00.

The local NPR station in Boston, WBUR, has a story up on the caravan up to Vermont from Massachusetts:

Dozens of Massachusetts hospital, insurance, employment and health care advocacy leaders are on the road to Vermont to discuss national health reform.

The governors of Vermont and Massachusetts are co-leading today's event to highlight their states' efforts to cover the uninsured. They'll take questions and comments for about an hour and half.

Alliea Groupp, who will attend with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, says now, during an economic downturn, is the time to make sure Americans have coverage.

"We need to be able to strengthen the safety nets and one such safety net here in Massachusetts is our health reform," says Groupp. "And to be able to deliver that nationally could be a significant improvement in many people's lives."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Your role in the Middle Class Task Force

Monday, March 16th, 2009 at 2:23 pm
Your role in the Middle Class Task Force
People have had a lot of good questions about the Recovery Act - this week's meeting of the Middle Class Task Force aims to address them.

As mentioned here on Saturday, the meeting will be held as a town hall in St. Cloud, Minnesota on Thursday. Vice President Biden has now opened for your questions, and the Task Force will be addressing some of them at the Town Hall on Thursday. Take your best shot.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

President Obama: "A wonderful meeting of the minds"

Saturday, March 14th, 2009 at 4:31 pm
President Obama: "A wonderful meeting of the minds"
Calling himself "a great admirer of the progressive, forward-looking leadership that President Lula has shown," President Obama opened up a joint press availability this afternoon after a meeting between the two heads of state. President Lula described the topics covered in the meeting, from stemming the global financial crisis, to addressing the unemployment around the world that results from it, to development in Africa and Latin America.

President Obama was also asked about Brazil’s almost unprecedented move towards biofuels, and whether that would create friction with biofuel producers in the United States, but both President Obama and President Lula struck a very positive, optimistic note:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Is that directed at me? Well, look, I think Brazil has shown extraordinary leadership when it comes to biofuels. And I've been a great admirer of the steps that have been taken by President Lula's government in pursuing biofuels and developing them. And this is an investment that Brazil has made for a very long time.

My policies coming into this administration have been to redouble efforts here in the United States to pursue a similar path of clean energy development. And I think we have a lot to learn from Brazil.

As I mentioned to President Lula, I think we have the potential to exchange ideas, technology to build on the biodiesel cooperation structure that we've already established. I know that the issue of Brazilian ethanol coming into the United States has been a source of tension between the two countries. It's not going to change overnight, but I do think that as we continue to build exchanges of ideas, commerce, trade around the issue of biodiesel, that over time this source of tension can get resolved.

PRESIDENT LULA: This is the very first meeting that we have between the Brazilian administration and President Obama's administration to discuss this issue. Actually, my answer is built in your question. I can't also understand while the world is concerned with climate change and with carbon emissions that bring greenhouse effect, (inaudible) fuel gets tariffs, and clean fuel also gets tariffs. I have discussed this with Angela Merkel, with Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister, with President of France, Sarkozy, with former President Bush.

I never expect an immediate answer. This is a process. As time goes by, Brazil is proving that biofuel is an extraordinary alternative. And slowly the countries will be convinced. And slowly other countries will join the biofuel effort. That's what I believe.

A seminar will be held in New York City on Monday, where I will attend, and this will be a strong issue that will be discussed there. I talked with President Obama about the possibility for us to build partnerships with third-party countries, especially a joint project with the African continent. And things will move forward as people start changing. No one can change overnight, in terms of their energy matrix. Thank God for 30 years Brazil has already control -- technological control and know-how on this issue.

And when President Obama comes to visit Brazil I'm going to ask him to get inside a car that is run by a flex-fuel engine and he will feel very comfortable.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I actually had a flex-fuel vehicle. But one of the problems here in the United States is, is that we don't have enough gas stations that have biofuels in them. So that's one of the areas that we need to change our distribution networks here in the United States.

MCTF Meeting 2: The Recovery Act and the Middle Class

Saturday, March 14th, 2009 at 4:11 pm
MCTF Meeting 2: The Recovery Act and the Middle Class
Having held an amazing first meeting in Philadelphia around green jobs, the Middle Class Task Force has announced their second official meeting. It will be held on March 19th in St. Cloud, Minnesota as a town hall, titled "Road to Recovery: Building a Strong Middle Class Starting with the Recovery Act."

The town hall format will be a shift from the first meeting which focused on expert panels and presentations, and will have a focus on questions, concerns and ideas from average citizens. You will be able to submit your questions through, and audience members coming together at the New Flyer Bus Company in St. Cloud –- a low-emission mass transit company that has flourished even as the economy declined -- will have their shot as well.

Weekly Address: Reversing a Troubling Trend in Food Safety

Saturday, March 14th, 2009 at 5:30 am
Weekly Address: Reversing a Troubling Trend in Food Safety
In this week's address, President Barack Obama makes key announcements regarding the safety of our nation's food.

"We are a nation built on the strength of individual initiative. But there are certain things that we can't do on our own. There are certain things that only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and don't cause us harm."

To watch Your Weekly Address video go to to learn more about the President's measures to make the food that lands on America's dinner tables safer.

Friday, March 13, 2009

MCTF Meeting 2: The Recovery Act and the Middle Class

Friday, March 13th, 2009 at 3:19 pm
MCTF Meeting 2: The Recovery Act and the Middle Class
Having held an amazing first meeting in Philadelphia around green jobs, the Middle Class Task Force has just announced their second official meeting. It will be held on March 19th in St. Cloud, Minnesota as a town hall, titled "Road to Recovery: Building a Strong Middle Class Starting with the Recovery Act."

The town hall format will be a shift from the first meeting which focused on expert panels and presentations, and will have a focus on questions, concerns and ideas from average citizens. You will be able to submit your questions through, and audience members coming together at the New Flyer Bus Company in St. Cloud – a low-emission mass transit company that has flourished even as the economy declined -- will have their shot as well.

Recovery in Action: AZ, KS, MD, MA, MS, MO, OH, PA, SC, VA

Friday, March 13th, 2009 at 11:25 am
Recovery in Action: AZ, KS, MD, MA, MS, MO, OH, PA, SC, VA
Before beginning this installment of "Recovery in Action," a slightly different kind of story out of California courtesy of the LA Times:

Chris Schultz breaks down as he worries that his younger brothers will become homeless because his family is four months behind in rent.

Evelyn Aguilar's home was foreclosed, so her family is among a dozen people sharing a one-bedroom apartment.

Victoria Gonzalez may delay college for a year to support her family.

These students, all 17, and 14 of their classmates tell their tales in "Is Anybody Listening?", a nine-minute video made by students at Village Academy High School in Pomona. The production quality is minimal; students speak directly to the camera in front of a blue background, laced with footage of foreclosed homes, abandoned storefronts and others advertising going-out-of-business sales.

But the tales of families dealing with the economic crisis are deeply personal.

This week, in his first major speech on education since taking office, President Obama described the video and spoke directly to the Pomona students.

"I am listening. We are listening. America is listening," the president said. "And we are not going to rest until your parents can keep their jobs, your families can keep their homes, and you can focus on what you should be focusing on: your own education."

Although the subject is dispiriting, the story of how the documentary came to be made at a low-income yet high-achieving public school -- and ended up in a speech by the president -- is extraordinary.

Read the rest, or watch the video. Now for a glance around the country to see what the recovery act is doing to address stories like those:

Arizona [East Valley Tribune, 3/10/09]:

About $7 million in federal stimulus money will enable Maricopa Workforce Connections to help hundreds more displaced workers upgrade their skills for future employment. The U.S. Department of Labor this week announced state allotment levels for employment and training programs funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The work force investment system will use the $3.5 billion to help Americans get back to work through the national network of one-stop career centers. "It can be used to help folks who have been laid off through education and training programs," said Peggy Abrahamson, Department of Labor spokeswoman. "Primarily the states do this through the one-stop career centers, and there's well over 3,000 around the country."

Kansas [Topeka Capital Journal, 3/12/09]:

Money from the federal stimulus program may reduce the three-month wait time for an appointment at the Shawnee County Health Agency Clinic. Shawnee County commissioners authorized Anne Freeze, health agency director, to speed the process of preparing the application and sending it to Washington.

Maryland [, 3/11/09]:

Stimulus road workers happy to be back on job… When American Infrastructure won the contract to repave a section of New Hampshire Avenue, Bryan White, 47, of Aberdeen, was one of the employees who got the call to return to work. "It's wonderful," White said of the project, cited as the first in the nation under the $26.6 billion released by President Barack Obama from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to state and local governments to repair and build roadways and bridges. "It's going to create more jobs. I know I'm happy."

Massachusetts [The Boston Globe, 3/12/09]:

The city plans to put its first millions in federal stimulus cash to work as early as next month as part of the redevelopment of the Washington-Beech housing development in Roslindale, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday. Future phases of the redevelopment, which already have received significant federal funding, will mean a total of 342 new affordable housing units at Washington-Beech and in the surrounding area. Menino said yesterday that he believes the planned April 1 start date of construction on the Washington-Beech project made the city one of the first in the nation to use stimulus dollars aimed at housing. Other stimulus-funded projects slated to begin in 2009 include the installation of more energy-efficient lighting and heating at several housing developments ($5 million); upgrades to bathrooms in several of the housing authority's oldest developments ($10 million); heating and cooling system improvements ($5 million); and security camera installation ($1 million). "Washington-Beech is just the beginning," Menino said.

Mississippi [Biloxi Sun-Herald, 3/12/09]:

Gil Carmichael was as happy as a kid in a candy store that President Obama put $9.3 billion for high-speed rail transportation and upgrading Amtrak into the $785 billion economic recovery package. Carmichael, otherwise a Meridian businessman and former Republican leader, for 20 years since he served as Federal Railroad Administrator has been preaching a vision of a vastly expanded national system of passenger rail transportation he calls "Interstate II." In the Obama recovery package is $8 billion for some 30,000 miles of inter-city high-speed rail transportation and $1.3 billion for Amtrak whose ridership has risen since gas hit $4. The high-speed rail system would significantly benefit all states, even a rural state like Mississippi, as Carmichael will explain in a moment. He praised Obama's inclusion of the rail system in his package: "President Obama clearly understands this necessary new approach to meeting 21st century transportation needs."

Missouri [News-Leader, 3/11/09]:

Missouri will get about $525 million in federal funds for transportation -- a slice of which will be for road projects in the Ozarks. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aims to create jobs and jump start the economy, Kirk Juranas, Missouri Department of Transportation district engineer for District 8, said Tuesday evening at a public meeting. "This is about jobs," he said. "Jobs, jobs, jobs." Stimulus funds invested in Missouri's transportation infrastructure will directly and indirectly support nearly 22,000 jobs statewide, according to MoDOT… "These projects all have to be delivered fast," Juranas said.

Ohio [Oxford Press, 3/10/09]:

More than 275 jobs could be created or retained locally as a result of stimulus funds that should hit the area this summer. The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council presented its list of projects to potentially receive federal stimulus dollars during a public hearing Monday, March 9. The final list should be approved by the OKI board Thursday, said Brian Cunningham, spokesman for the agency. With an emphasis on "shovel-readiness," the OKI staff also selected projects for their ability at improving commerce or creating jobs, he said.

Pennsylvania [The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/12/09]:

Under Gov. Rendell's proposal for spending federal education stimulus money, Philadelphia schools would stand to get $361 million in additional funding next school year, and suburban districts would get a total of $88 million in new funding. That money is part of $1.1 billion in stimulus money that Pennsylvania would spend on assorted education programs starting in July, according to a plan released yesterday by the state Department of Education. About a third of that money would go directly to a handful of programs targeted to low-income students and special education. Rendell wants to designate the rest of the money - totaling $728 million - to two broad programs. One would supplement the state's regular education funding, which otherwise could face cuts reflecting the poor state of economy. The other would represent new money that districts could use on a variety of programs, including classroom instruction, school renovations, and technology upgrades. It could also be used to make up for any lost school-tax revenue.

Virginia [Virginia Pilot, 3/12/09]:

The city will receive about $20 million from the federal stimulus package, and that's in addition to tens of millions of dollars the school system and Hampton Roads Transit will receive. The City Council received a breakdown Tuesday of funds the city has confirmed it will get, including $9.2 million to rehabilitate public housing and $6 million to improve roads. City Manager Regina V.K. Williams said the city has applied for added funds, including $16 million to improve sewer systems in some of the city's oldest neighborhoods…. "You put it all together, and construction firms will be hiring new people and paying overtime to some of their existing employees," she said.

Accountable Recovery

Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 7:07 pm
Accountable Recovery
Today President Obama made clear that as great as the demands on our government are, accountability will never fall by the wayside.

First, this morning leaders from across the country descended upon Washington with one mission in mind: implementing the Recovery Act. Vice President Joe Biden invited implementation ‘czars’ and representatives from all U.S. states and territories to take part in the White House Conference on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation. The conference was a chance for state officials to bring forward ideas and share best practices, as well as hear presentations from a number of Cabinet Secretaries and Administration officials, including Earl Devaney, Chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board.

"States have a huge responsibility in partnering with us to ensure that dollars spent as part of the Recovery Act are spent wisely, with transparency and accountability," said Vice President Joe Biden, who has been tasked by the President to oversee the implementation of the Recovery Act. "Our hope for this conference is to meet face-to-face with the state officials and streamline this implementation process so we can get our economy running again."

During the conference, President Obama stopped by to share a few words of encouragement:

So my main message to all of you is I think you're up to the task; I think you guys will do extraordinary work with using these precious tax dollars that the American people have given up in order to deliver on the kind of economic growth -- short-term and long-term -- and job creation that's going to be so important.

But we're going to need to work really hard and we're going to have to make sure that every single dollar is well spent. We've got to go above and beyond what I think is the typical ways of doing business in order to make sure that the American people get the help that they need and that our economy gets the boost that it needs.

The White House Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference is part of a large effort to ensure that dollars invested and spent as part of the Recovery Act are effective, transparent, and efficient. To learn more about today’s event, read the President’s and
Vice President’s full remarks.

Likewise, when the President spoke to the Business Roundtable at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington this afternoon, he had a similar message of accountability on the financial stability leg of the stool:

[C]ritical to that solution is an honest and forthright assessment of the true status of bank balance sheets -- something that we've not yet had. And that's why the Treasury has asked bank regulators to conduct intensive examinations or "stress tests" of each bank.

When that process is complete next month, we will act decisively to ensure that our major banks have enough money on hand to lend to people even in more difficult times. And if we learn that such a bank has more serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for any assistance they'll receive, and this time they'll have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer.

The crisis we face is the most severe in decades, and it will take an approach that addresses every facet of the crisis at once, but the scale of the problem only means accountability is more important than ever.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The President meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi

Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 4:21 pm
The President meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi

Readout on the President's Meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi

President Obama met with the Chinese Foreign Minister today in the Oval Office. Prior to the meeting, the Foreign Minister met with National Security Advisor Jones and also met yesterday at the State Department with Secretary of State Clinton.

During today’s meeting, President Obama and Foreign Minister Yang discussed the overall state of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, emphasizing the desire of both sides to strengthen cooperation and build a positive and constructive U.S.-China relationship.

The two also discussed other important global issues, including the international financial crisis, North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the situation in Sudan. The President also stressed the importance of raising the level and frequency of the U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue in order to avoid future incidents. General Jones had also raised the recent incident in the South China Sea with the USNS Impeccable.

On the international financial crisis, the two agreed that China and the U.S. must work closely and urgently, as two of the world’s leading economies, to stabilize the global economy by stimulating demand at home and abroad, and get credit markets flowing. The President also emphasized the need to address global trade imbalances.

On human rights, the President noted that the promotion of human rights is an essential aspect of U.S. global foreign policy. The President expressed his hope there would be progress in the dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

On North Korea, the President expressed appreciation for the important role China has played as the Chair of the Six-Party Talks. He said we will continue to work with China and other partners in the Six-Party process to verifiably eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program. The President also highlighted the risks posed by North Korea’s missile program.

On Darfur, President Obama expressed his deep concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the Government of Sudan’s decision to expel major humanitarian organizations that had been providing lifesaving assistance to the people of Darfur.

The first regional forum on health reform: streaming at 2pm ET

Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 11:09 am
The first regional forum on health reform: streaming at 2pm ET
Today is the first of five regional forums following up on the forum at the White House a week ago, hosted by Governors Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Jim Doyle of Wisconsin. As the President explained in the announcement of the regional forums, they will be meant to foster the same kind of meaningful and open dialogue that occurred at the White House in communities across the country: "The forums will bring together diverse groups of people all over the country who have a stake in reforming our health care system and ask them to put forward their best ideas about how we bring down costs and expand coverage for American families."

You can watch the first one streamed from Michigan at at 2pm ET, and in the meantime you can submit your own ideas and questions for the forums, find dates and locations, and learn what people in your own state had to say during the community discussions that took place during the Presidential Transition

Deb Price of the Detroit News describes Joyce Shilakes, a local social worker and breast-cancer survivor, who was involved in those discussions and who will speak at the forum today:

"I deal with people on a daily basis trying to fund their health care," Shilakes said.

"They are not able to afford their treatments, their medications. They are juggling that with household bills -- heat, food," she added.

The result, she says, is that people don't comply with physician-recommended doses of medication, because they can't afford it. One of her clients refused to have a lump checked in her breast -- despite a history of breast cancer in her family -- because she had no medical insurance.
Shilakes and her husband Mark have seen the importance of good coverage.

Her cancer treatment bills -- paid for by GM -- topped $100,000. Husband Mark, a General Motors staff research technician, who has both of them on his health care plan, was also diagnosed with cancer and needed treatment.

"With the state of things in the auto industry, we don't know whether he is going to have a job. If he loses his job, which provides our health care, we'll be without coverage," she said.

Every community in the country has stories like hers, and these forums will give those stories a chance to be heard -- and even more importantly start the process of helping to fix what’s broken.