Statement from the President on Preliminary Assessments From Reviews Ordered on the Christmas Day Incident
Statement from the President on preliminary assessments from reviews ordered on the Christmas Day incident
This morning, I spoke with John Brennan about preliminary assessments from the ongoing consultations I have ordered into the human and systemic failures that occurred leading up to the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas Day and about our government-wide efforts at continued vigilance on homeland security and counterterrorism efforts. In a separate call, I spoke with Sec. Napolitano to receive an update on both the Department of Homeland Security review of detection capabilities and the enhanced security measures in place since the Christmas Day incident.
I anticipate receiving assessments from several agencies this evening and will review those tonight and over the course of the weekend. On Tuesday, in Washington, I will meet personally with relevant agency heads to discuss our ongoing reviews as well as security enhancements and intelligence-sharing improvements in our homeland security and counterterrorism operations.
NOTE: John Brennan is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
The Obama Administration’s Transparency Policy:
Executive Order – Classified National Security Information
This order prescribes a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information, including information relating to defense against transnational terrorism. Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their Government. Also, our Nation’s progress depends on the free flow of information both within the Government and to the American people. Nevertheless, throughout our history, the national defense has required that certain information be maintained in confidence in order to protect our citizens, our democratic institutions, our homeland security, and our interactions with foreign nations. Protecting information critical to our Nation’s security and demonstrating our commitment to open Government through accurate and accountable application of classification standards and routine, secure, and effective declassification are equally important priorities.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
PART 1 — ORIGINAL CLASSIFICATION
Section 1.1. Classification Standards. (a) Information may be originally classified under the terms of this order only if all of the following conditions are met:
(1) an original classification authority is classifying the information;
(2) the information is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States Government;
(3) the information falls within one or more of the categories of information listed in section 1.4 of this order; and
(4) the original classification authority determines that the unauthorized disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism, and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage.
(b) If there is significant doubt about the need to classify information, it shall not be classified. This provision does not:
(1) amplify or modify the substantive criteria or procedures for classification; or
(2) create any substantive or procedural rights subject to judicial review.
(c) Classified information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information.
(d) The unauthorized disclosure of foreign government information is presumed to cause damage to the national security.
Sec. 1.2. Classification Levels. (a) Information may be classified at one of the following three levels:
(1) “Top Secret” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.
(2) “Secret” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.
(3) “Confidential” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.
(b) Except as otherwise provided by statute, no other terms shall be used to identify United States classified information.
(c) If there is significant doubt about the appropriate level of classification, it shall be classified at the lower level.
Sec. 1.3. Classification Authority. (a) The authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by:
(1) the President and the Vice President;
(2) agency heads and officials designated by the President; and
(3) United States Government officials delegated this authority pursuant to paragraph (c) of this section.
(b) Officials authorized to classify information at a specified level are also authorized to classify information at a lower level.
(c) Delegation of original classification authority.
(1) Delegations of original classification authority shall be limited to the minimum required to administer this order. Agency heads are responsible for ensuring that designated subordinate officials have a demonstrable and continuing need to exercise this authority.
(2) “Top Secret” original classification authority may be delegated only by the President, the Vice President, or an agency head or official designated pursuant to paragraph (a)(2) of this section.
(3) “Secret” or “Confidential” original classification authority may be delegated only by the President, the Vice President, an agency head or official designated pursuant to paragraph (a)(2) of this section, or the senior agency official designated under section 5.4(d) of this order, provided that official has been delegated “Top Secret” original classification authority by the agency head.
(4) Each delegation of original classification authority shall be in writing and the authority shall not be redelegated except as provided in this order. Each delegation shall identify the official by name or position.
(5) Delegations of original classification authority shall be reported or made available by name or position to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office.
(d) All original classification authorities must receive training in proper classification (including the avoidance of over-classification) and declassification as provided in this order and its implementing directives at least once a calendar year. Such training must include instruction on the proper safeguarding of classified information and on the sanctions in section 5.5 of this order that may be brought against an individual who fails to classify information properly or protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure. Original classification authorities who do not receive such mandatory training at least once within a calendar year shall have their classification authority suspended by the agency head or the senior agency official designated under section 5.4(d) of this order until such training has taken place. A waiver may be granted by the agency head, the deputy agency head, or the senior agency official if an individual is unable to receive such training due to unavoidable circumstances. Whenever a waiver is granted, the individual shall receive such training as soon as practicable.
(e) Exceptional cases. When an employee, government contractor, licensee, certificate holder, or grantee of an agency who does not have original classification authority originates information believed by that person to require classification, the information shall be protected in a manner consistent with this order and its implementing directives. The information shall be transmitted promptly as provided under this order or its implementing directives to the agency that has appropriate subject matter interest and classification authority with respect to this information. That agency shall decide within 30 days whether to classify this information.
Sec. 1.4. Classification Categories. Information shall not be considered for classification unless its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security in accordance with section 1.2 of this order, and it pertains to one or more of the following:
(a) military plans, weapons systems, or operations;
(b) foreign government information;
(c) intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology;
(d) foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources;
(e) scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security;
(f) United States Government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities;
(g) vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security; or
(h) the development, production, or use of weapons of mass destruction.
Sec. 1.5. Duration of Classification. (a) At the time of original classification, the original classification authority shall establish a specific date or event for declassification based on the duration of the national security sensitivity of the information. Upon reaching the date or event, the information shall be automatically declassified. Except for information that should clearly and demonstrably be expected to reveal the identity of a confidential human source or a human intelligence source or key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction, the date or event shall not exceed the time frame established in paragraph (b) of this section.
(b) If the original classification authority cannot determine an earlier specific date or event for declassification, information shall be marked for declassification 10 years from the date of the original decision, unless the original classification authority otherwise determines that the sensitivity of the information requires that it be marked for declassification for up to 25 years from the date of the original decision.
(c) An original classification authority may extend the duration of classification up to 25 years from the date of origin of the document, change the level of classification, or reclassify specific information only when the standards and procedures for classifying information under this order are followed.
(d) No information may remain classified indefinitely. Information marked for an indefinite duration of classification under predecessor orders, for example, marked as “Originating Agency’s Determination Required,” or classified information that contains incomplete declassification instructions or lacks declassification instructions shall be declassified in accordance with part 3 of this order.
Sec. 1.6. Identification and Markings. (a) At the time of original classification, the following shall be indicated in a manner that is immediately apparent:
(1) one of the three classification levels defined in section 1.2 of this order;
(2) the identity, by name and position, or by personal identifier, of the original classification authority;
(3) the agency and office of origin, if not otherwise evident;
(4) declassification instructions, which shall indicate one of the following:
(A) the date or event for declassification, as prescribed in section 1.5(a);
(B) the date that is 10 years from the date of original classification, as prescribed in section 1.5(b);
(C) the date that is up to 25 years from the date of original classification, as prescribed in section 1.5(b); or
(D) in the case of information that should clearly and demonstrably be expected to reveal the identity of a confidential human source or a human intelligence source or key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction, the marking prescribed in implementing directives issued pursuant to this order; and
(5) a concise reason for classification that, at a minimum, cites the applicable classification categories in section 1.4 of this order.
(b) Specific information required in paragraph (a) of this section may be excluded if it would reveal additional classified information.
(c) With respect to each classified document, the agency originating the document shall, by marking or other means, indicate which portions are classified, with the applicable classification level, and which portions are unclassified. In accordance with standards prescribed in directives issued under this order, the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office may grant and revoke temporary waivers of this requirement. The Director shall revoke any waiver upon a finding of abuse.
(d) Markings or other indicia implementing the provisions of this order, including abbreviations and requirements to safeguard classified working papers, shall conform to the standards prescribed in implementing directives issued pursuant to this order.
(e) Foreign government information shall retain its original classification markings or shall be assigned a U.S. classification that provides a degree of protection at least equivalent to that required by the entity that furnished the information. Foreign government information retaining its original classification markings need not be assigned a U.S. classification marking provided that the responsible agency determines that the foreign government markings are adequate to meet the purposes served by U.S. classification markings.
(f) Information assigned a level of classification under this or predecessor orders shall be considered as classified at that level of classification despite the omission of other required markings. Whenever such information is used in the derivative classification process or is reviewed for possible declassification, holders of such information shall coordinate with an appropriate classification authority for the application of omitted markings.
(g) The classification authority shall, whenever practicable, use a classified addendum whenever classified information constitutes a small portion of an otherwise unclassified document or prepare a product to allow for dissemination at the lowest level of classification possible or in unclassified form.
(h) Prior to public release, all declassified records shall be appropriately marked to reflect their declassification.
Sec. 1.7. Classification Prohibitions and Limitations.
(a) In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to:
(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;
(2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;
(3) restrain competition; or
(4) prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.
(b) Basic scientific research information not clearly related to the national security shall not be classified.
(c) Information may not be reclassified after declassification and release to the public under proper authority unless:
(1) the reclassification is personally approved in writing by the agency head based on a document-by-document determination by the agency that reclassification is required to prevent significant and demonstrable damage to the national security;
(2) the information may be reasonably recovered without bringing undue attention to the information;
(3) the reclassification action is reported promptly to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (National Security Advisor) and the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office; and
(4) for documents in the physical and legal custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (National Archives) that have been available for public use, the agency head has, after making the determinations required by this paragraph, notified the Archivist of the United States (Archivist), who shall suspend public access pending approval of the reclassification action by the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office. Any such decision by the Director may be appealed by the agency head to the President through the National Security Advisor. Public access shall remain suspended pending a prompt decision on the appeal.
(d) Information that has not previously been disclosed to the public under proper authority may be classified or reclassified after an agency has received a request for it under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552), the Presidential Records Act, 44 U.S.C. 2204(c)(1), the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a), or the mandatory review provisions of section 3.5 of this order only if such classification meets the requirements of this order and is accomplished on a document-by-document basis with the personal participation or under the direction of the agency head, the deputy agency head, or the senior agency official designated under section 5.4 of this order. The requirements in this paragraph also apply to those situations in which information has been declassified in accordance with a specific date or event determined by an original classification authority in accordance with section 1.5 of this order.
(e) Compilations of items of information that are individually unclassified may be classified if the compiled information reveals an additional association or relationship that: (1) meets the standards for classification under this order; and (2) is not otherwise revealed in the individual items of information.
Sec. 1.8. Classification Challenges. (a) Authorized holders of information who, in good faith, believe that its classification status is improper are encouraged and expected to challenge the classification status of the information in accordance with agency procedures established under paragraph (b) of this section.
(b) In accordance with implementing directives issued pursuant to this order, an agency head or senior agency official shall establish procedures under which authorized holders of information, including authorized holders outside the classifying agency, are encouraged and expected to challenge the classification of information that they believe is improperly classified or unclassified. These procedures shall ensure that:
(1) individuals are not subject to retribution for bringing such actions;
(2) an opportunity is provided for review by an impartial official or panel; and
(3) individuals are advised of their right to appeal agency decisions to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (Panel) established by section 5.3 of this order.
(c) Documents required to be submitted for prepublication review or other administrative process pursuant to an approved nondisclosure agreement are not covered by this section.
Sec. 1.9. Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.
(a) Agency heads shall complete on a periodic basis a comprehensive review of the agency’s classification guidance, particularly classification guides, to ensure the guidance reflects current circumstances and to identify classified information that no longer requires protection and can be declassified. The initial fundamental classification guidance review shall be completed within 2 years of the effective date of this order.
(b) The classification guidance review shall include an evaluation of classified information to determine if it meets the standards for classification under section 1.4 of this order, taking into account an up-to-date assessment of likely damage as described under section 1.2 of this order.
(c) The classification guidance review shall include original classification authorities and agency subject matter experts to ensure a broad range of perspectives.
(d) Agency heads shall provide a report summarizing the results of the classification guidance review to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office and shall release an unclassified version of this report to the public.
Earlier this morning, the President sent this message to the CIA workforce in relation to yesterday’s attack in Khost Province, Afghanistan:
To the men and women of the CIA:
I write to mark a sad occasion in the history of the CIA and our country. Yesterday, seven Americans in Afghanistan gave their lives in service to their country. Michelle and I have their families, friends and colleagues in our thoughts and prayers.
These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life. The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA. You have helped us understand the world as it is, and taken great risks to protect our country. You have served in the shadows, and your sacrifices have sometimes been unknown to your fellow citizens, your friends, and even your families.
In recent years, the CIA has been tested as never before. Since our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, you have served on the frontlines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century. Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our Allies and partners have been more secure. Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated. Indeed, I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work because I rely on it every day.
The men and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan did their duty with courage, honor and excellence, and we must draw strength from the example of their sacrifice. They will take their place on the Memorial Wall at Langley alongside so many other heroes who gave their lives on behalf of their country. And they will live on in the hearts of those who loved them, and in the freedom that they gave their lives to defend.
May God bless the memory of those we lost, and may God bless the United States of America.
President Barack Obama
Statement By President Obama On Preliminary Information From His Ongoing Consultations About The Would Be Terrorist Attack At Metro Airport In Detroit
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
ON PRELIMINAY INFORMATION FROM HIS
ONGOING CONSULTATIONS ABOUT THE DETROIT INCIDENT
Kaneohe Bay Marine Base
11:26 A.M. HAST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Yesterday I updated the American people on the immediate steps we took — the increased screening and security of air travel — to keep our country safe in the wake of the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day. And I announced two reviews — a review of our terrorist watch list system and a review of our air travel screening, so we can find out what went wrong, fix it and prevent future attacks.
Those reviews began on Sunday and are now underway. Earlier today I issued the former [sic] guidelines for those reviews and directed that preliminary findings be provided to the White House by this Thursday. It’s essential that we diagnose the problems quickly and deal with them immediately.
Now, the more comprehensive, formal reviews and recommendations for improvement will be completed in the coming weeks, and I’m committed to working with Congress and our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities to take all necessary steps to protect the country.
I wanted to speak to the American people again today because some of this preliminary information that has surfaced in the last 24 hours raises some serious concerns. It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.
There appears to be other deficiencies as well. Even without this one report there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together. We’ve achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks. But it’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.
Had this critical information been shared it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.
The professionalism of the men and women in our intelligence, counterterrorism and law enforcement and homeland security communities is extraordinary. They are some of the most hardworking, most dedicated Americans that I’ve ever met. In pursuit of our security here at home they risk their lives, day in and day out, in this country and around the world.
Few Americans see their work, but all Americans are safer because of their successes. They have targeted and taken out violent extremists, they have disrupted plots and saved countless American lives; they are making real and daily progress in our mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world. And for this every American owes them a profound and lasting debt of gratitude.
Moreover, as Secretary Napolitano has said, once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253 — after his attempt it’s clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security took all appropriate actions. But what’s also clear is this: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been, so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable.
The reviews I’ve ordered will surely tell us more. But what already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security. We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system, because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.
I fully understand that even when every person charged with ensuring our security does what they are trained to do, even when every system works exactly as intended there is still no one hundred percent guarantee of success. Yet, this should only compel us to work even harder, to be even more innovative and relentless in our efforts.
As President I will do everything in my power to support the men and women in intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security to make sure they’ve got the tools and resources they need to keep America safe. But it’s also my job to ensure that our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security systems and the people in them are working effectively and held accountable. I intend to fulfill that responsibility and insist on accountability at every level.
That’s the spirit guiding our reviews into the attempted attack on Christmas Day. That’s the spirit that will guide all our efforts in the days and years ahead.
Thank you very much.
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE ATTEMPTED ATTACK ON CHRISTMAS DAY
AND RECENT VIOLENCE IN IRAN
Kaneohe Bay Marine Base
10:01 A.M. HAST
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, guys. Good morning, everybody. I just want to take a few minutes to update the American people on the attempted terrorist attack that occurred on Christmas Day and the steps we’re taking to ensure the safety and security of the country.
The investigation is ongoing and I spoke again this morning with Attorney General Eric Holder, the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and my Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan. I asked them to keep — continue monitoring the situation, to keep the American people and members of Congress informed.
Here’s what we know so far. On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.
Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and had been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. And a full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.
This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane it could have killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends.
The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your families safe and secure during this busy holiday season. Since I was first notified of this incident I’ve ordered the following actions to be taken to protect the American people and to secure air travel.
First, I directed that we take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the traveling public. We made sure that all flights still in the air were secure and could land safely. We immediately enhanced screening and security procedures for all flights, domestic and international. We added federal air marshals to flights entering and leaving the United States. And we’re working closely in this country — federal, state and local law enforcement — with our international partners.
Second, I’ve ordered two important reviews because it’s absolutely critical that we learn from this incident and take the necessary measures to prevent future acts of terrorism. The first review involves our watch list system, which our government has had in place for many years to identify known and suspected terrorists so that we can prevent their entry into the United States.
Apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in the system, but not on a watch list such as the so-called no-fly list. So I’ve ordered a thorough review not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened.
The second review will examine all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel. We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional steps we can take to thwart future attacks.
Third, I’ve directed my national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country. We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses — we will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us — whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.
Finally, the American people should remain vigilant, but also be confident. Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans. This incident, like several that have preceded it demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist. As a nation we will do everything in our power to protect our country, as Americans we will never give in to fear or division, we will be guided by our hopes, our unity, and our deeply held values. That’s who we are as Americans. And that’s what our brave men and women in uniform are standing up for as they spend the holidays in harm’s way, and we will continue to do everything that we can to keep America safe in the New Year and beyond.
Before I leave let me also briefly address the events that have taken place over the last few days in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries and even death.
For months the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people, who are a part of Iran’s great and enduring civilization.
What’s taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country — it’s about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran’s leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away. As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.
Along with all free nations the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people. We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I’m confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.
Thank you very much, everybody, and Happy New Year.
Remarks of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
December 24, 2009
PRESIDENT: Hello everyone, and Merry Christmas. As you and your families gather to celebrate the holidays, we wanted to take a moment to send greetings from our family—from me, from Michelle, from Malia and Sasha—and from Bo.
FIRST LADY: This is our first Christmas in the White House, and we are so grateful for this extraordinary experience. Not far from here, in the Blue Room, is the official White House Christmas Tree. It’s an 18-foot tall Douglas-fir from West Virginia and it’s decorated with hundreds of ornaments designed by people and children from all over the country. Each one is a reminder of the traditions we cherish as Americans and the blessings we’re thankful for this holiday season.
PRESIDENT: That’s right, especially as we continue to recover from an extraordinary recession that still has so many Americans hurting: parents without a job who struggled to put presents under the Christmas tree; families and neighbors who’ve seen their home foreclosed; folks wondering what the new year will bring.
But even in these tough times, there’s still so much to celebrate this Christmas. A message of peace and brotherhood that continues to inspire more than 2,000 after Jesus’ birth. The love of family and friends. The bonds of community and country. And the character and courage of our men and women in uniform who are far from home for the holidays, away from their families, risking their lives to protect ours.
To all our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen—I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander in Chief. I’ve been awed by your selfless spirit, your eagerness to serve—at the Naval Academy and West Point. I’ve been energized by your dedication to duty—from Baghdad to the Korean Peninsula. Michelle and I have been moved by your determination—wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Bethesda, fighting to recover, to get back to your units.
And I’ve been humbled, profoundly, by patriots who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. In flag-draped caskets coming home at Dover. In the quiet solitude of Arlington. And after years of multiple tours of duty, as you carry on with our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, your service, your readiness to make that same sacrifice, is an inspiration to us and to every American.
FIRST LADY: And so are your families. As First Lady, one of my greatest privileges is to visit with military families across the country. I’ve met military spouses doing the parenting of two—keeping the household together, juggling play dates and soccer games, helping with homework, doing everything they can to make the kids feel OK even as they try to hide their own fears and worries.
I’ve met kids who wonder when mom or dad is coming home; grandparents and relatives who step in to care for our wounded warriors; and folks trying to carry on after losing the person they loved most in the world.
And through it all, these families somehow still find the time and energy to serve their communities as well—coaching Little League, running the PTA, raising money to help those less fortunate than they are, and more.
But even these strong military families can use a hand, especially during the holidays. If you live near a military base, you can reach out through your workplaces, your schools, your churches. There are so many ways to help—with child care, with errands, or by just bringing over a home-cooked meal. Even if you don’t know a military family nearby, your family can still help by donating or volunteering at organizations that support military families.
PRESIDENT: You can also reach out directly to our forces around the world. Kids can make a card that will bring a smile to an American far from home. Adults can send a care package or a pre-paid phone card that makes the tour at little easier. Every American can do something to support our troops, even if it’s as simple as just saying thank you. For more ways to let our troops know you care, go to www.whitehouse.gov
So to all our men and women in uniform spending the holidays far from home—whether it’s at a base here in the states, a mess hall in Iraq or a remote outpost in Afghanistan, know that you are in our thoughts and our prayers. And this holiday season—and every Holiday season—know that we are doing everything in our power to make sure you can succeed in your missions and come home safe to your families.
FIRST LADY: And to all Americans, from our family to yours, Merry Christmas.
PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas, everybody.
Note to readers of The Washington Review:
Every year we post information regarding the history and origins of Christmas and other holidays that pertain to Christ Jesus and Christianity. It is our feverent hopes that our readers will intelligently process this information and use accordingly for their own personal benefit. The following research taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia can be readily found in any library, encyclopedia, and seminary. ~ Publisher
ORIGIN OF THE DATE OF CHRISTMAS:
Concerning the date of Christ’s birth the Gospels give no help; upon their data contradictory arguments are based. The census would have been impossible in winter: a whole population could not then be put in motion. Again, in winter it must have been; then only field labour was suspended. But Rome was not thus considerate. Authorities moreover differ as to whether shepherds could or would keep flocks exposed during the nights of the rainy season.
Zachary’s temple service
Arguments based on Zachary’s temple ministry are unreliable, though the calculations of antiquity (see above) have been revived in yet more complicated form, e.g. by Friedlieb (Leben J. Christi des Erlösers, Münster, 1887, p. 312). The twenty-four classes of Jewish priests, it is urged, served each a week in the Temple; Zachary was in the eighth class, Abia. The Temple was destroyed 9 Ab, A.D. 70; late rabbinical tradition says that class 1, Jojarib, was then serving. From these untrustworthy data, assuming that Christ was born A.U.C. 749, and that never in seventy turbulent years the weekly succession failed, it is calculated that the eighth class was serving 2-9 October, A.U.C. 748, whence Christ’s conception falls in March, and birth presumably in December. Kellner (op. cit., pp. 106, 107) shows how hopeless is the calculation of Zachary’s week from any point before or after it.
Analogy to Old Testament festivals
It seems impossible, on analogy of the relation of Passover and Pentecost to Easter and Whitsuntide, to connect the Nativity with the feast of Tabernacles, as did, e.g., Lightfoot (Horæ Hebr, et Talm., II, 32), arguing from Old Testament prophecy, e.g. Zacharias 14:16 sqq.; combining, too, the fact of Christ’s death in Nisan with Daniel’s prophecy of a three and one-half years’ ministry (9:27), he puts the birth in Tisri, i.e. September. As undesirable is it to connect 25 December with the Eastern (December) feast of Dedication (Jos. Ant. Jud., XII, vii, 6).
The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see Cumont’s epoch-making “Textes et Monuments” etc., I, ii, 4, 6, p. 355. Mommsen (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, 12, p. 338) has collected the evidence for the feast, which reached its climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274. Filippo del Torre in 1700 first saw its importance; it is marked, as has been said, without addition in Philocalus’ Calendar. It would be impossible here even to outline the history of solar symbolism and language as applied to God, the Messiah, and Christ in Jewish or Christian canonical, patristic, or devotional works. Hymns and Christmas offices abound in instances; the texts are well arranged by Cumont (op. cit., addit. Note C, p. 355).
The earliest rapprochement of the births of Christ and the sun is in Cyprian, “De pasch. Comp.”, xix, “O quam præclare providentia ut illo die quo natus est Sol . . . nasceretur Christus.” — “O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born.”
In the fourth century, Chrysostom, “del Solst. Et Æquin.” (II, p. 118, ed. 1588), says: “Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et Invicti Natalem appelant. Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster? . . . Vel quod dicant Solis esse natalem, ipse est Sol iustitiæ.” — “But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.”
Already Tertullian (Apol., 16; cf. Ad. Nat., I, 13; Orig. c. Cels., VIII, 67, etc) had to assert that Sol was not the Christians’ God; Augustine (Tract xxxiv, in Joan. In P.L., XXXV, 1652) denounces the heretical identification of Christ with Sol.
Pope Leo I (Serm. xxxvii in nat. dom., VII, 4; xxii, II, 6 in P.L., LIV, 218 and 198) bitterly reproves solar survivals — Christians, on the very doorstep of the Apostles’ basilica, turn to adore the rising sun. Sun-worship has bequeathed features to modern popular worship in Armenia, where Christians had once temporarily and externally conformed to the cult of the material sun (Cumont, op. cit., p. 356).
Note to readers of The Washington Review:
Every year we post information regarding the history and origins of Christmas and other holidays that pertain to Christ Jesus and Christianity. It is our feverent hopes that our readers will intelligently process this information and use accordingly for their own personal benefit. The following research taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia can be readily found in any library, encyclopedia, and seminary. ~ Publisher
Origin of the word
The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. In Dutch it is Kerstmis, in Latin Dies Natalis, whence comes the French Noël, and Italian Il natale; in German Weihnachtsfest, from the preceeding sacred vigil. The term Yule is of disputed origin. It is unconnected with any word meaning “wheel”. The name in Anglo-Saxon was geol, feast: geola, the name of a month (cf. Icelandic iol a feast in December).
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the “birthdays” of the gods.
The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. [Ideler (Chron., II, 397, n.) thought they did this believing that the ninth month, in which Christ was born, was the ninth of their own calendar.] Others reached the date of 24 or 25 Pharmuthi (19 or 20 April). With Clement’s evidence may be mentioned the “De paschæ computus”, written in 243 and falsely ascribed to Cyprian (P.L., IV, 963 sqq.), which places Christ’s birth on 28 March, because on that day the material sun was created. But Lupi has shown (Zaccaria, Dissertazioni ecc. del p. A.M. Lupi, Faenza, 1785, p. 219) that there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ’s birth. Clement, however, also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi (10 or 6 January). At any rate this double commemoration became popular, partly because the apparition to the shepherds was considered as one manifestation of Christ’s glory, and was added to the greater manifestations celebrated on 6 January; partly because at the baptism-manifestation many codices (e.g. Codex Bezæ) wrongly give the Divine words as sou ei ho houios mou ho agapetos, ego semeron gegenneka se (Thou art my beloved Son, this day have I begotten thee) in lieu of en soi eudokesa (in thee I am well pleased), read in Luke 3:22. Abraham Ecchelensis (Labbe, II, 402) quotes the Constitutions of the Alexandrian Church for a dies Nativitatis et Epiphaniæ in Nicæan times; Epiphanius (Hær., li, ed. Dindorf, 1860, II, 483) quotes an extraordinary semi-Gnostic ceremony at Alexandria in which, on the night of 5-6 January, a cross-stamped Korê was carried in procession round a crypt, to the chant, “Today at this hour Korê gave birth to the Eternal“; John Cassian records in his “Collations” (X, 2 in P.L., XLIX, 820), written 418-427, that the Egyptian monasteries still observe the “ancient custom“; but on 29 Choiak (25 December) and 1 January, 433, Paul of Emesa preached before Cyril of Alexandria, and his sermons (see Mansi, IV, 293; appendix to Act. Conc. Eph.) show that the December celebration was then firmly established there, and calendars prove its permanence. The December feast therefore reached Egypt between 427 and 433.
Cyprus, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Asia Minor
In Cyprus, at the end of the fourth century, Epiphanius asserts against the Alogi (Hær., li, 16, 24 in P.G., XLI, 919, 931) that Christ was born on 6 January and baptized on 8 November. Ephraem Syrus (whose hymns belong to Epiphany, not to Christmas) proves that Mesopotamia still put the birth feast thirteen days after the winter solstice; i.e. 6 January; Armenia likewise ignored, and still ignores, the December festival. (Cf. Euthymius, “Pan. Dogm.”, 23 in P.G., CXXX, 1175; Niceph., “Hist. Eccl,”, XVIII, 53 in P.G., CXLVII, 440; Isaac, Catholicos of Armenia in eleventh or twelfth century, “Adv. Armenos”, I, xii, 5 in P.G., CXXII, 1193; Neale, “Holy Eastern Church“, Introd., p. 796). In Cappadocia, Gregory of Nyssa’s sermons on St. Basil (who died before 1 January, 379) and the two following, preached on St. Stephen’s feast (P.G., XLVI, 788; cf, 701, 721), prove that in 380 the 25th December was already celebrated there, unless, following Usener’s too ingenious arguments (Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen, Bonn, 1889, 247-250), one were to place those sermons in 383. Also, Asterius of Amaseia (fifth century) and Amphilochius of Iconium (contemporary of Basil and Gregory) show that in their dioceses both the feasts of Epiphany and Nativity were separate (P.G., XL, 337 XXXIX, 36). <!–
In 385, Silvia of Bordeaux (or Etheria, as it seems clear she should be called) was profoundly impressed by the splendid Childhood feasts at Jerusalem. They had a definitely “Nativity” colouring; the bishop proceeded nightly to Bethlehem, returning to Jerusalem for the day celebrations. The Presentation was celebrated forty days after. But this calculation starts from 6 January, and the feast lasted during the octave of that date. (Peregr. Sylv., ed. Geyer, pp. 75 sq.) Again (p. 101) she mentions as high festivals Easter and Epiphany alone. In 385, therefore, 25 December was not observed at Jerusalem. This checks the so-called correspondence between Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) and Pope Julius I (337-352), quoted by John of Nikiû (c. 900) to convert Armenia to 25 December (see P.L., VIII, 964 sqq.). Cyril declares that his clergy cannot, on the single feast of Birth and Baptism, make a double procession to Bethlehem and Jordan. (This later practice is here an anachronism.) He asks Julius to assign the true date of the nativity “from census documents brought by Titus to Rome“; Julius assigns 25 December. Another document (Cotelier, Patr. Apost., I, 316, ed. 1724) makes Julius write thus to Juvenal of Jerusalem (c. 425-458), adding that Gregory Nazianzen at Constantinople was being criticized for “halving” the festival. But Julius died in 352, and by 385 Cyril had made no change; indeed, Jerome, writing about 411 (in Ezech., P.L., XXV, 18), reproves Palestine for keeping Christ’s birthday (when He hid Himself) on the Manifestation feast. Cosmas Indicopleustes suggests (P.G., LXXXVIII, 197) that even in the middle of the sixth century Jerusalem was peculiar in combining the two commemorations, arguing from Luke 3:23 that Christ’s baptism day was the anniversary of His birthday. The commemoration, however, of David and James the Apostle on 25 December at Jerusalem accounts for the deferred feast. Usener, arguing from the “Laudatio S. Stephani” of Basil of Seleucia (c. 430. — P.G., LXXXV, 469), thinks that Juvenal tried at least to introduce this feast, but that Cyril’s greater name attracted that event to his own period.
In Antioch, on the feast of St. Philogonius, Chrysostom preached an important sermon. The year was almost certainly 386, though Clinton gives 387, and Usener, by a long rearrangement of the saint’s sermons, 388 (Religionsgeschichtl. Untersuch., pp. 227-240). But between February, 386, when Flavian ordained Chrysostom priest, and December is ample time for the preaching of all the sermons under discussion. (See Kellner, Heortologie, Freiburg, 1906, p. 97, n. 3). In view of a reaction to certain Jewish rites and feasts, Chrysostom tries to unite Antioch in celebrating Christ’s birth on 25 December, part of the community having already kept it on that day for at least ten years. In the West, he says, the feast was thus kept, anothen; its introduction into Antioch he had always sought, conservatives always resisted. This time he was successful; in a crowded church he defended the new custom. It was no novelty; from Thrace to Cadiz this feast was observed — rightly, since its miraculously rapid diffusion proved its genuineness. Besides, Zachary, who, as high-priest, entered the Temple on the Day of Atonement, received therefore announcement of John’s conception in September; six months later Christ was conceived, i.e. in March, and born accordingly in December.
Finally, though never at Rome, on authority he knows that the census papers of the Holy Family are still there. [This appeal to Roman archives is as old as Justin Martyr (First Apology 34-35) and Tertullian (Adv. Marc., IV, 7, 19). Julius, in the Cyriline forgeries, is said to have calculated the date from Josephus, on the same unwarranted assumptions about Zachary as did Chrysostom.] Rome, therefore, has observed 25 December long enough to allow of Chrysostom speaking at least in 388 as above (P.G., XLVIII, 752, XLIX, 351).
In 379 or 380 Gregory Nazianzen made himself exarchos of the new feast, i.e. its initiator, in Constantinople, where, since the death of Valens, orthodoxy was reviving. His three Homilies (see Hom. xxxviii in P.G., XXXVI) were preached on successive days (Usener, op. cit., p. 253) in the private chapel called Anastasia. On his exile in 381, the feast disappeared.
According, however, to John of Nikiû, Honorius, when he was present on a visit, arranged with Arcadius for the observation of the feast on the Roman date. Kellner puts this visit in 395; Baumstark (Oriens Chr., 1902, 441-446), between 398 and 402. The latter relies on a letter of Jacob of Edessa quoted by George of Beeltân, asserting that Christmas was brought to Constantinople by Arcadius and Chrysostom from Italy, where, “according to the histories“, it had been kept from Apostolic times. Chrysostom’s episcopate lasted from 398 to 402; the feast would therefore have been introduced between these dates by Chrysostom bishop, as at Antioch by Chrysostom priest. But Lübeck (Hist. Jahrbuch., XXVIII, I, 1907, pp. 109-118) proves Baumstark’s evidence invalid. More important, but scarcely better accredited, is Erbes’ contention (Zeitschrift f. Kirchengesch., XXVI, 1905, 20-31) that the feast was brought in by Constantine as early as 330-35.
At Rome the earliest evidence is in the Philocalian Calendar (P.L., XIII, 675; it can be seen as a whole in J. Strzygowski, Kalenderbilder des Chron. von Jahre 354, Berlin, 1888), compiled in 354, which contains three important entries. In the civil calendar 25 December is marked “Natalis Invicti”. In the “Depositio Martyrum” a list of Roman or early and universally venerated martyrs, under 25 December is found “VIII kal. ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeæ”. On “VIII kal. mart.” (22 February) is also mentioned St. Peter’s Chair. In the list of consuls are four anomalous ecclesiastical entries: the birth and death days of Christ, the entry into Rome, and martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. The significant entry is “Chr. Cæsare et Paulo sat. XIII. hoc. cons. Dns. ihs. XPC natus est VIII Kal. ian. d. ven. luna XV,” i.e. during the consulship of (Augustus) Cæsar and Paulus Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the eighth before the calends of January (25 December), a Friday, the fourteenth day of the moon. The details clash with tradition and possibility. The epact, here XIII, is normally XI; the year is A.U.C. 754, a date first suggested two centuries later; in no year between 751 and 754 could 25 December fall on a Friday; tradition is constant in placing Christ’s birth on Wednesday. Moreover the date given for Christ’s death (duobus Geminis coss., i.e. A.D. 29) leaves Him only twenty eight, and one-quarter years of life. Apart from this, these entries in a consul list are manifest interpolations. But are not the two entries in the “Depositio Martyrum” also such? Were the day of Christ’s birth in the flesh alone there found, it might stand as heading the year of martyrs’ spiritual natales; but 22 February is there wholly out of place. Here, as in the consular fasti, popular feasts were later inserted for convenience’ sake. The civil calendar alone was not added to, as it was useless after the abandonment of pagan festivals. So, even if the “Depositio Martyrum” dates, as is probable, from 336, it is not clear that the calendar contains evidence earlier than Philocalus himself, i.e. 354, unless indeed pre-existing popular celebration must be assumed to render possible this official recognition. Were the Chalki manuscript of Hippolytus genuine, evidence for the December feast would exist as early as c. 205. The relevant passage [which exists in the Chigi manuscript Without the bracketed words and is always so quoted before George Syncellus (c. 1000)] runs:
He gar prote parousia tou kyriou hemon he ensarkos [en he gegennetai] en Bethleem, egeneto [pro okto kalandon ianouarion hemera tetradi] Basileuontos Augoustou [tessarakoston kai deuteron etos, apo de Adam] pentakischiliosto kai pentakosiosto etei epathen de triakosto trito [pro okto kalandon aprilion, hemera paraskeun, oktokaidekato etei Tiberiou Kaisaros, hypateuontos Hrouphou kai Hroubellionos. — (Comm. In Dan., iv, 23; Brotke; 19)
"For the first coming of Our Lord in the flesh [in which He has been begotten], in Bethlehem, took place [25 December, the fourth day] in the reign of Augustus [the forty-second year, and] in the year 5500 [from Adam]. And He suffered in His thirty-third year [25 March, the parasceve, in the eighteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar, during the consulate of Rufus and Rubellio].”
Interpolation is certain, and admitted by Funk, Bonwetsch, etc. The names of the consuls [which should be Fufius and Rubellius] are wrong; Christ lives thirty-three years; in the genuine Hippolytus, thirty-one; minute data are irrelevant in this discussion with Severian millenniarists; it is incredible that Hippolytus should have known these details when his contemporaries (Clement, Tertullian, etc.) are, when dealing with the matter, ignorant or silent; or should, having published them, have remained unquoted (Kellner, op. cit., p. 104, has an excursus on this passage.)
St. Ambrose (de virg., iii, 1 in P.L., XVI, 219) preserves the sermon preached by Pope Liberius I at St. Peter’s, when, on Natalis Christi, Ambrose’ sister, Marcellina, took the veil. This pope reigned from May, 352 until 366, except during his years of exile, 355-357. If Marcellina became a nun only after the canonical age of twenty-five, and if Ambrose was born only in 340, it is perhaps likelier that the event occurred after 357. Though the sermon abounds in references appropriate to the Epiphany (the marriage at Cana, the multiplication of loaves, etc.), these seem due (Kellner, op. cit., p. 109) to sequence of thought, and do not fix the sermon to 6 January, a feast unknown in Rome till much later. Usener, indeed, argues (p. 272) that Liberius preached it on that day in 353, instituting the Nativity feast in the December of the same year; but Philocalus warrants our supposing that if preceded his pontificate by some time, though Duchesne’s relegation of it to 243 (Bull. crit., 1890, 3, pp. 41 sqq.) may not commend itself to many. In the West the Council of Saragossa (380) still ignores 25 December (see can. xxi, 2). Pope Siricius, writing in 385 (P.L., XII, 1134) to Himerius in Spain, distinguishes the feasts of the Nativity and Apparition; but whether he refers to Roman or to Spanish use is not clear. Ammianus Marcellinus (XXI, ii) and Zonaras (Ann., XIII, 11) date a visit of Julian the Apostate to a church at Vienne in Gaul on Epiphany and Nativity respectively. Unless there were two visits, Vienne in A.D. 361 combined the feasts, though on what day is still doubtful. By the time of Jerome and Augustine, the December feast is established, though the latter (Epp., II, liv, 12, in P.L., XXXIII, 200) omits it from a list of first-class festivals. From the fourth century every Western calendar assigns it to 25 December. At Rome, then, the Nativity was celebrated on 25 December before 354; in the East, at Constantinople, not before 379, unless with Erbes, and against Gregory, we recognize it there in 330. Hence, almost universally has it been concluded that the new date reached the East from Rome by way of the Bosphorus during the great anti-Arian revival, and by means of the orthodox champions. De Santi (L’Orig. delle Fest. Nat., in Civiltæ Cattolica, 1907), following Erbes, argues that Rome took over the Eastern Epiphany, now with a definite Nativity colouring, and, with as increasing number of Eastern Churches, placed it on 25 December; later, both East and West divided their feast, leaving Ephiphany on 6 January, and Nativity on 25 December, respectively, and placing Christmas on 25 December and Epiphany on 6 January. The earlier hypothesis still seems preferable.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON SENATE PASSAGE OF HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM
State Dining Room
8:47 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. In a historic vote that took place this morning members of the Senate joined their colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass a landmark health insurance reform package — legislation that brings us toward the end of a nearly century-long struggle to reform America’s health care system.
Ever since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform in 1912, seven Presidents — Democrats and Republicans alike — have taken up the cause of reform. Time and time again, such efforts have been blocked by special interest lobbyists who’ve perpetuated a status quo that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. But with passage of reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we are now finally poised to deliver on the promise of real, meaningful health insurance reform that will bring additional security and stability to the American people.
The reform bill that passed the Senate this morning, like the House bill, includes the toughest measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition. They will no longer be able to drop your coverage when you get sick. No longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for the treatments you need. And you’ll be able to appeal unfair decisions by insurance companies to an independent party.
If this legislation becomes law, workers won’t have to worry about losing coverage if they lose or change jobs. Families will save on their premiums. Businesses that would see their costs rise if we do not act will save money now, and they will save money in the future. This bill will strengthen Medicare, and extend the life of the program. It will make coverage affordable for over 30 million Americans who do not have it — 30 million Americans. And because it is paid for and curbs the waste and inefficiency in our health care system, this bill will help reduce our deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion in the coming decades, making it the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.
As I’ve said before, these are not small reforms; these are big reforms. If passed, this will be the most important piece of social policy since the Social Security Act in the 1930s, and the most important reform of our health care system since Medicare passed in the 1960s. And what makes it so important is not just its cost savings or its deficit reductions. It’s the impact reform will have on Americans who no longer have to go without a checkup or prescriptions that they need because they can’t afford them; on families who no longer have to worry that a single illness will send them into financial ruin; and on businesses that will no longer face exorbitant insurance rates that hamper their competitiveness. It’s the difference reform will make in the lives of the American people.
I want to commend Senator Harry Reid, extraordinary work that he did; Speaker Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership and dedication. Having passed reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we now have to take up the last and most important step and reach an agreement on a final reform bill that I can sign into law. And I look forward to working with members of Congress in both chambers over the coming weeks to do exactly that.
With today’s vote, we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country. Our challenge, then, is to finish the job. We can’t doom another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits. Instead we need to do what we were sent here to do and improve the lives of the people we serve. For the sake of our citizens, our economy, and our future, let’s make 2010 the year we finally reform health care in the United States of America.
Everybody, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.
Q Do you have a holiday wish for the troops?
THE PRESIDENT: I do, and I will be actually — I’m on my way right now to call a few of them and wish them Merry Christmas and to thank them for their extraordinary service as they’re posted in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama signed the following into law:
S. 1472, the “Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009,” which requires establishment of a section within the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice to enforce human rights laws; and makes amendments to Federal criminal and immigration laws pertaining to genocide and child soldier recruitment.
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY AND SASHA AND MALIA OBAMA AFTER A VISIT TO THE CHILDREN’S NATIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Washington, D.C.
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AND SASHA AND MALIA OBAMA
AFTER A VISIT
Children’s National Medical Center
3:36 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: You guys have any questions? You can have questions for Malia and Sasha, too.
Q How will the holidays be different for you this year?
MRS. OBAMA: How will the holidays — what do you think? Do you think the holidays will be different?
SASHA: Well, it will be easier to get on the plane — (laughter) — than last year. But I don’t think anything will be very different.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, we’re doing the same things we usually do. Every year, ever since the kids were born and even before, we go to Hawaii, because that’s where the President is from. So we go with a group of friends. So as soon as all the work here is done, we’ll go there.
So we’ve done that ever — I don’t think they’ve ever spent a Christmas –
MALIA: No, there’s that one Christmas.
MRS. OBAMA: There’s that one Christmas. Any other questions? Yes, sweetie. Here we have one, right there. You want to — there’s a mic. It’ll be fun, talk in the mic, talk loud.
Q What did you get the President for Christmas?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, I can’t tell. They’re going to — (laughter.)
SASHA: They’re going to tell.
MRS. OBAMA: They’re going to tell.
MALIA: It’s something good, though. I hope he’ll like it.
MRS. OBAMA: It’s good. You know, we got him sports — I got him sports stuff.
SASHA: We got him –
MRS. OBAMA: Don’t say it, just give it a category.
SASHA: I’m not. It’s something he likes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. Well, there you go.
Well, what do you want for Christmas?
Q A stuffed dog.
MRS. OBAMA: A stuffed dog. Aww. All right, Santa. All right. Okay. This little — okay, we have one. And she in the pink had a question.
Q Merry Christmas, Mrs. Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: Merry Christmas to you, too.
Q How many Christmas trees are in the White House?
MRS. OBAMA: How many Christmas trees are in the White House? How many total are there? There are a lot.
MALIA: Like, okay, well, let’s see, one, two, three –
MRS. OBAMA: No, wait. (Laughter.) I think it’s 24. I think — where’s my team? (Laughter.) It’s like 24 — or 26 –
MRS. OBAMA: Twenty-six. See, I knew it was close. Yes, that’s a lot of Christmas –
MALIA: Unfortunately, you don’t get presents under all of them. (Laughter.)
SASHA: What about the wishing tree?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, there’s one — you want to talk about the wishing tree, one of the trees?
SASHA: One of the trees is called the wishing tree, and it is made out of cardboard. And so you can write down a wish and you roll it up and then you can put it one of the holes and it might come true.
MRS. OBAMA: So that’s a new tradition at the White House. So what we want you all to do next year is to come to the White House, because you can see all of them. It’s open to anybody who wants to come. (Bo barks.) You, too. (Laughter.)
All right, you promise me that next year you’ll come by the White House and see for yourself? Okay.
MR. SNOWDEN: Those were great questions, kids.
MRS. OBAMA: Those were great — wait, wait, wait. We have one. We’re going to get them all in, I know. She had her hand up. Sorry, Mr. Chairman.
Q I was going to ask –
MRS. OBAMA: Just make something up. Do you want to ask Bo a question? Bo, can you answer something?
Q I was going to ask, people were saying we’re going to get our pictures. And I was going to ask, are we going to take them with you?
MRS. OBAMA: Take pictures?
Q Or are you just going to give one to us? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: That’s a good question — Alan. (Laughter.) Were pictures promised?
MR. FITTS: Shake hands with everyone.
MRS. OBAMA: Okay.
Q What’s your favorite Christmas song?
MRS. OBAMA: What’s my favorite Christmas song? Oh, well, Malia and Sasha have been playing two that are just drilled into my head. “Carol of the Bells” and “Jingle Bells.”
SASHA: Oh, Malia — oh, yes.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, we’ve heard that for months.
SASHA: Well, I don’t play “Jingle Bells” as much as Malia plays “Carol of the Bells.” (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Those are my favorite.
SASHA: I’m getting bored of that song now. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: All right. Okay, guys, we’re going to come around and shake hands. Thank you guys. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy New Year.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AFTER MEETING WITH SMALL AND COMMUNITY BANKS CEOS
11:52 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: All right, everybody. Well, it’s good to see all of you. I just concluded a meeting with 12 regional community banks to have the same conversation that I had with some of the larger banks last week and that I’ve been having with CEOs of companies across the country over the last year, and that is how do we continue to consolidate the gains we’ve made over the course of this year in terms of economic recovery, but most importantly, how we move forward over the next year so that businesses are getting the capital that they need and that we are starting to see people hired again, people able to finance their homes, finance college educations and so forth.
Community banks serve a vital function all across the country. They are folks who know their customers, don’t just lend them money but also provide them advice if they’re entrepreneurs and getting started. They are intimately woven into the fabric of the community. I think it’s fair to say that most of these community banks were not engaged in some of the hugely risky activities that helped to precipitate the financial crisis. At the same time, they continue to try to do their best in their local and regional markets to make sure that businesses who are now being affected by the overall recession are able to pick themselves back up.
What I did was to go around the room and to hear from each of them. Not all these communities are the same — we’ve got everything from Kalamazoo to Harlem to small communities in Arkansas that focus mostly on farm loans.
There were some general themes that were out there — one, that there are businesses that are looking for loans out there that are profitable, that are ready to make money. And the key is to match them up with banks that are in a position to lend. There are some banks that have seen the increase in the savings rate and higher deposits give them a pretty good capital base, but they’re still constrained by some regulatory restraints.
We are looking to see if there are possibilities to cut some of the red tape. We don’t have direct influence over our independent regulators, but we think that the more that we can highlight that in some ways the pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of not lending after a decade in which it had gone way too far in the direction of getting money out the door no matter the risk — that if we can get that balance right that there are businesses and communities out there that are ready to grow again, and we just need to help make that happen.
I also had a discussion with all these bankers about the prospects for financial regulatory reform. As I said, many of the issues when it comes to large systemic banks and what precipitated the crisis on Wall Street don’t apply to these smaller banks. Most of them are very supportive of the idea of financial regulatory reform. I think, fairly, they just want to make sure that as we regulate better, that that doesn’t automatically mean that we’re just loading them up with more paperwork and more burdens. And I think we do have an obligation to make sure that the regulatory schemes that we come up with are more streamlined and more efficient and send clear signals to the banks involved.
I did emphasize to them that community banks do have a responsibility to their customers and that many of these consumer protections and efforts to make our — to create a single consumer financial protection agency would apply to them. And we think that’s important, because every bank, large and small, is providing credit cards and providing debit cards and providing mortgage loans. And we think that the more we are making sure that banks aren’t competing by how obscure their fine print is, but rather competing on the basis of the quality of their service and the terms of their loans, the better off consumers are going to be, and ultimately the better off banks are going to be as well.
So I very much appreciate them all coming in. I think the main message that I want everybody to take away, and certainly this is the message that I took away from the conversations here, is that there remains enormous opportunities as we come out of this recession for businesses to start growing again and to start hiring again. And everything that we’re going to be doing here in the White House over the next several months is going to be geared towards catalyzing and spurring additional lending, particularly to small businesses, because we feel very optimistic that the work is behind us and that now is the time for us to seize opportunities.
With that, I want to wish everybody, if I don’t see you guys before Christmas, a Happy Christmas — a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
All right? Thank you guys.
Q When do you think you’ll leave?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I will not leave until my friends in the Senate have completed their work. My attitude is, is that if they’re making these sacrifices to provide health care to all Americans, then the least I can do is to be around and to provide them any encouragement and last-minute help if necessary.
All right? Thank you guys.
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE PASSING OF ANN NIXON COOPER
“Michelle and I wish to express our deepest condolences on the passing of Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper. From her beginnings in Shelbyville and Nashville, Tennessee to her many years as a pillar of the Atlanta community, Ann lived a life of service. Whether it was helping to found the Girls Club for African American Youth, serving on the board of directors for the Gate City Nursery, working as a tutor at Ebenezer Baptist Church or registering voters, Ann had a broad and lasting impact on her community. I also understand that as a wife, mother and grandmother, Ann was a source of strength for her entire family, and that she always put them first.
Over the course of her extraordinary 107 years, Ann saw both the brightest lights of our nation’s history and some of its darkest hours as well. It is especially meaningful for me that she lived to cast a vote on Election Day 2008, and it was a deep honor for me to mark her life in the speech I delivered that night. It was a life that captured the spirit of community and change and progress that is at the heart of the American experience; a life that inspired – and will continue to inspire – me in the years to come. During this time of sadness, Michelle and I offer our deepest condolences to all who loved Ann Nixon Cooper. But even as we mourn her loss, we will also be rejoicing in all that she meant for her family, her community, and so many Americans.”
Statement from the Press Secretary on the Enactment of the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act
Statement from the Press Secretary on the Enactment of the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act
“Today the President was pleased to sign into law S. 1422, the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act and appreciates the leadership of Senator Patty Murray, Senator Chris Dodd, Congressman Tim Bishop and others in Congress on this issue. This new law amends the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to make sure that flight attendants and pilots are able to qualify for FMLA benefits, just like other American workers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides access to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for events such as the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a family member with a serious health condition, has been a bulwark of our nation’s employment laws for more than a decade.
The bipartisan legislation that the President signed today will help ensure that flight attendants, more than four-fifths of whom are women, and other flight crew members are able to take care of their families when the need arises. FMLA has been a tremendous success story, and the President is gratified that flight attendants and pilots will be able to participate in the years to come. While more work remains to support workers and their families, this bill is an important step in the right direction.”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT THE BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB
Richard England Clubhouse and Community Center
3:49 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I think one thing that’s important to remember is that, even though there’s a lot of fun at Christmas, you know, you got — especially when it’s snowy like this, so it’s pretty outside, you got the Christmas tree, you got the Christmas cookies, you’ve got presents. You know, I think that the most important thing is just to remember why we celebrate Christmas.
CHILD: I know!
THE PRESIDENT: Do you know?
CHILD: The birth of baby Jesus.
THE PRESIDENT: The birth of baby Jesus, and what he symbolizes for people all around the world is the possibility of peace and people treating each other with respect. And so I just hope that spirit of giving that’s so important at Christmas, I hope all of you guys remember that as well. You know, it’s not just about getting gifts but it’s also doing something for other people. So being nice to your mom and dad and grandma and aunties and showing respect to people — that’s really important too, that’s part of the Christmas spirit, don’t you think? Do you agree with me?
THE PRESIDENT: You do? Do you have an interesting observation?
CHILD: I know why we give gifts to other people.
THE PRESIDENT: Why is that?
CHILD: Because the three wise men gave gifts to baby Jesus.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. But the three wise men — the reason — (sign falls off wall) — uh-oh, I thought that was the cookies going down. We couldn’t have that.
You know, the three wise men, if you think about it, here are these guys, they have all this money, they’ve got all this wealth and power, and yet they took a long trip to a manger just to see a little baby. And it just shows you that just because you’re powerful or you’re wealthy, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is what’s — the kind of spirit you have.
So I hope everybody has a spirit of kindness and thoughtfulness, and everybody is really thinking about how can they do for other people — treating them well, because that’s really the spirit of Christmas.
Does everybody agree with that?
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. Well, you guys all seem like really sharp, sharp young people. And I’m very proud of you. And let me just ask you one last question. Is everybody here working pretty hard in school?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, because the thing that I want everybody to remember, the most important message I can leave is, is that you guys have so much potential — one of you could end up being President some day. But it’s only going to happen if you stay focused and you work hard in school. And you guys — there’s nothing wrong with having fun and fooling around and playing sports and listening to rap music and all that stuff. But I want you guys to read and hit the books and do your math, because that’s really what’s going to determine how you do in the future. All right? That’s the most important thing you can do.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE SAVE AWARD AND MAKING GOVERNMENT MORE EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE
Diplomatic Reception Room
11:21 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Good morning. Before I begin, I want to say a brief word about the historic vote which took place early this morning. The United States Senate knocked down a filibuster aimed at blocking a final vote on health care reform, and scored a big victory for the American people. By standing up to the special interests — who’ve prevented reform for decades and who are furiously lobbying against it now — the Senate has moved us closer to reform that makes a tremendous difference for families, for seniors, for businesses, and for the country as a whole.
For those who have insurance, reform will mean greater security and stability. No longer will people with preexisting conditions be excluded from coverage. No longer will people who are seriously ill be dropped from coverage. And no longer will families be allowed to go broke because they’re forced to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses.
Many people recall the enormous fights around the Patient’s Bill of Rights that never got done. Well, you know what, the Patient’s Bill of Rights is embedded in this health care bill and — to make sure that all Americans who have insurance right now are getting a fair deal from their insurance companies.
Small businesses and those who don’t get insurance through their employer will finally be able to get insurance at a price that they can afford with tax credits to help. And Medicare will be stronger and its solvency extended by nearly a decade. Seniors will get more assistance with prescription drug costs than they’re getting right now. And finally, these reforms will help the inexorable and unsustainable rise in health care costs that are overwhelming families, businesses, and the federal budget.
The Congressional Budget Office now reports that this bill will reduce our deficit by $132 billion over the first decade, and by as much as $1.3 trillion in the decade after that. So I just want to be clear, for all those who are continually carping about how this is somehow a big spending government bill, this cuts our deficit by $132 billion the first 10 years, and by over a trillion in the second. That argument that opponents are making against this bill does not hold water.
Now, embracing this kind of responsibility in Washington is what also brings us here today. I am pleased to be joined this morning by my Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Ric Shinseki; my budget director, Peter Orszag; and our special guest, last but not least, the winner of the first annual SAVE Award — and that’s Nancy Fichtner of Loma, Colorado.
Having met with Nancy a few minutes ago, I can tell you Nancy means business. She is a single working mom; she’s a clerk with the VA; she’s an artist; she’s an outdoorswoman; and she is an avid hunter. In fact, somewhere in the western United States, there is an elk that is breathing a sigh of relief because Nancy is here instead of where she would have been: hunting with her kids. (Laughter.) And I believe her children are here — where’s Nancy’s kids? There they are right there. It’s great to see you guys. Nancy’s daughter — she skins and guts her elk, so don’t mess with her either. (Laughter.)
We’re all here for a simple reason. At a time when we face not only a fiscal crisis, but also a host of difficult challenges as a nation, business as usual in Washington just won’t cut it. We need a government that’s more efficient, that’s more effective, and far more fiscally responsible.
When my administration walked through the door, the country faced a growing economic downturn as well as a deepening fiscal hole. Washington had passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and an expensive new entitlement program without paying for any of it. Health care costs continued to rise, year after year. And little effort was made to cut wasteful spending. As a result, over the previous eight years, the national debt doubled — doubled. In January, the deficit stood at $1.3 trillion. And we had to make the difficult decision to add to the deficit in the short term to prevent the potential collapse of our economy.
But as I’ve said, in the long run, we can’t continue to spend as if deficits don’t have consequences; as if waste doesn’t matter; as if the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people can be treated like Monopoly money. That’s what we’ve seen time and time again. Washington has been more concerned about the next election than the next generation. It’s put off hard choices in spending bill after spending bill, budget after bloated budget.
Government contracting is a perfect example. Between 2002 and 2008, the amount spent on government contracts more than doubled. The amount spent on no-bid, non-competitive contracts jumped by 129 percent. This is an inexcusable waste of money. And that’s why, back in March, I ordered federal departments and agencies to come up with plans to save up to $40 billion a year in contracting by 2011. And over the past six months, agencies have been making cuts by looking for better deals, by ending contracts and doing work in house, and by opening up no-bid contracts to competitive bidding. Because of these efforts, I’m proud to announce today that we are on track to meet our goals. Twenty-four departments have identified more than $19 billion in savings for this year alone.
And this is only the latest example. At my very first Cabinet meeting, I directed every secretary to join us in scouring the budget, line by line, to find ways to make government more efficient and less wasteful. Together, we identified more than 100 programs to scale back or end completely, as well as other ways to cut costs, finding $17 billion in savings so far.
We’re also going after roughly $100 billion wasted on improper payments to contractors, organizations, and individuals. To put this in perspective, these mistakes, and in some cases abuses, cost taxpayers more each year than the budgets for the Education and Homeland Security Departments combined.
We have done what some said was impossible: preventing wasteful spending on outdated weapons systems that even the Pentagon said it doesn’t need. And I’ve insisted from the beginning that health care reform will not add one dime to our deficit. And as I just noted, not only is it not adding to our deficit, it’s actually reducing it.
Finally, I’ve issued a challenge to every man and woman who works for the federal government: If you see a way that government could do its job better, or do the same job for less money, I want to know about it. That’s why we started the SAVE Award, to draw on those who know government best to improve how government works. We asked federal employees to submit reform proposals based on their experiences. And in a testament to the seriousness with which these folks are taking their jobs, we received more than 38,000 proposals in just three weeks.
From these submissions, four finalists were selected and put to an online vote. Nancy is here because she won. Her idea stems from her experience at the VA Medical Center where she works. She noticed that whenever patients left the hospital, leftover medications like eye drops or inhalers were just thrown away. And often, veterans would have to go right back to the pharmacy to refill what was discarded. So the VA is paying twice — it’s waste, plain and simple. And thanks to Nancy — and to Secretary Shinseki and the folks at Veterans Affairs — we’re putting a stop to it. The change is already underway.
Of course, Nancy’s proposal was just one of many great ideas that came to us. We’ve already begun to implement a host of suggestions made through the SAVE contest. And while promoting electronic paystubs or scheduling Social Security appointments online or re-purposing unused government supplies may not be the most glamorous reforms in history, when taken together, these small changes can add up; they add up to a transformation of how government works.
And that’s why we’re going to turn the SAVE Award into an annual event. That’s why we’re holding a forum at the White House next month to seek more ideas from the private sector, specifically about how we can better use technology to reform our government for the 21st century.
After years of irresponsibility, we are once again taking responsibility for every dollar we spend, the same way families do. It’s true that what I’ve described today will not be enough to get us out of our fiscal mess by itself. We face a deficit that will take some tough decisions in the next year’s budget and in years to come to get under control. But these changes will save the American people billions of dollars. And they’ll help to put in place a government that’s more efficient and effective, that wastes less money on no-bid contracts, that’s cutting bureaucracy and harnessing technology, that’s more fiscally responsible, and that better serve the American taxpayer. That’s the government we need. That’s the government I intend to implement. That’s the kind of government that the American people deserve. And that’s the kind of government that people like Nancy are helping to build each and every day.
So, Nancy, congratulations. We’re proud of you. Thank you so much. Thank you. We’re very proud of your mom. (Laughter.) That’s great.
Thank you, everybody.
From New York Times Op-Ed: “Why The Senate Should Vote Yes On Health Care” By Vice President Joe Biden
NEW YORK TIMES
Why the Senate Should Vote Yes on Health Care
By JOE BIDEN
Published: December 20, 2009 Washington
IF I were still a United States senator, I would not only vote yes on the current health care reform bill, I would do so with the sure knowledge that I was casting one of the most historic votes of my 36 years in the Senate. I would vote yes knowing that the bill represents the culmination of a struggle begun by Theodore Roosevelt nearly a century ago to make health care reform a reality. And while it does not contain every measure President Obama and I wanted, I would vote yes for this bill certain that it includes the fundamental, essential change that opponents of reform have resisted for generations.We have been here before.
In the past, as the moment of decision drew nearer, criticism from both the left and the right grew louder. Compromises were derided. The perfect became the enemy of the good. Most recently, in 1993, Democrats had a chance to forge a compromise with Senator John Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, on a health care reform bill. Congress’s failure to pass health care reform that year led to 16 years of inaction – and 16 years of exploding health care costs and rising numbers of uninsured Americans.We can’t let that happen again.
While it is not perfect, the bill pending in the Senate today is not just good enough – it is very good. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or drop coverage when people get sick. Charging exorbitant premiums based on sex, age or health status will be outlawed. Annual and lifetime caps on benefits will be history. Those who already have insurance will be able to keep it, and will gain peace of mind knowing they won’t be priced out of the market by skyrocketing premiums. And more than 30 million uninsured Americans will gain access to affordable health care coverage.
That is not all. President Obama and I know we have to put our fiscal house in order. This is why those who claim they oppose reform because they fear for our country’s fiscal stability should finally acknowledge what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office makes crystal clear: not only is the Senate bill paid for, it is this country’s single largest deficit-reduction measure in a dozen years. I share the frustration of other progressives that the Senate bill does not include a public option. But I’ve been around a long time, and I know that in Washington big changes never emerge in perfect form.
Those in our own party who would scuttle this bill because of what it doesn’t do seem not to appreciate the magnitude of what it has the potential to accomplish. Howard Dean was head of the Democratic Party. I respect his leadership on health care, and I understand his criticism of the bill. But it is worth noting that on some of the key health reform issues – like ensuring that Americans have access to stable, affordable coverage, and doing away with abusive practices by insurance companies – the reforms in the Senate bill would do even more than Vermont, the state he governed, has done. And they would do it for the entire country. What’s more, this bill would expand both choice and competition in an insurance market that, for many Americans, has offered far too little of either.
The issues in the health reform bill are complicated, but the consequences of failing to pass it are straightforward. Those who would vote no on this bill need to look into the eyes of Americans who don’t have health care now and tell them they’re going to be better off without this bill – better off continuing to live without health coverage. They should explain to all those Americans who are denied coverage because they have pre-existing conditions or whose insurance ran out because of lifetime caps that they don’t need this bill. And they should tell the families who have insurance and the small-business owners who provide it that the relentless rise in their premiums without this bill will somehow make them glad it didn’t pass.Is America better off today because a chance at a compromise health bill was missed in 1993?
For my friends on the left, the rising toll of the uninsured provides an emphatic no. For my friends on the right, the soaring share of federal spending on health care likewise provides a no. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
If the bill passes the Senate this week, there will be more chances to make changes to it before it becomes law. But if the bill dies this week, there is no second chance to vote yes. What those who care about health insurance reform need to realize is that unless we get 60 votes now, there will be no health care reform at all. Not this year, not in this Congress – and maybe not for another generation.
Joe Biden, a United States senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009, is the vice president of the United States.