REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE EARTHQUAKE IN CHILE
1:48 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. Earlier today, a devastating earthquake struck the nation of Chile, affecting millions of people. This catastrophic event was followed by multiple aftershocks, and has prompted tsunami warnings across the Pacific Ocean. Earlier today, I was briefed by my national security team on the steps that we’re taking to protect our own people, and to stand with our Chilean friends.
Early indications are that hundreds of lives have been lost in Chile, and the damage is severe. On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the Chilean people. The United States stands ready to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts, and we have resources that are positioned to deploy should the Chilean government ask for our help. Chile is a close friend and partner of the United States, and I’ve reached out to President Bachelet to let her know that we will be there for her should the Chilean people need assistance, and our hearts go out to the families who may have lost loved ones.
We’re also preparing for a tsunami that could reach American shores later today, particularly in Hawaii, American Samoa, and Guam. A tsunami warning is in place, and people have been alerted to evacuate coastal areas. I urge citizens to listen closely to the instructions of local officials, who will have the full support of the federal government as they prepare for a potential tsunami, and recover from any damage that may be caused.
I also urge our citizens along the West Coast to be prepared as well, as there may be dangerous waves and currents throughout the day. Again, the most important thing that you can do is to carefully heed the instructions of your state and local officials.
Once again, we’ve been reminded of the awful devastation that can come at a moment’s notice. We can’t control nature, but we can and must be prepared for disaster when it strikes. In the hours ahead, we’ll continue to take every step possible to prepare our shores and protect our citizens. And we will stand with the people of Chile as they recovery from this terrible tragedy.
Thank you very much, everybody.
White House Announces Julianna Smoot as Social Secretary
The White House today announced Julianna Smoot has been named Deputy Assistant to the President and Social Secretary. She joins the White House staff from the office of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, where she serves as Chief of Staff.
“Julianna shares our commitment to creating an inclusive, dynamic and culturally vibrant White House, and Michelle and I are pleased to have her join our team,” the President said.
“I am humbled and excited to take on the role of White House Social Secretary and support the Obama administration in a different capacity,” said Julianna Smoot. “Over the last year, I have had the honor of building relationships in the international community through my work at USTR, and I am looking forward to implementing this experience at the White House.”
“Julianna Smoot brings extraordinary organization and people skills to the role, and sharp attention to detail – all attributes critical to the highly complex responsibilities of the White House Social Secretary. I know that she will continue on the path of creating beautiful events and opening up the White House in new and creative ways that have been established this past year. I’m pleased to welcome her to the East Wing,” said Susan Sher, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama.
A native of North Carolina, Smoot has worked in and out of Washington. Prior to joining the Administration, Smoot served as finance director for the Obama Campaign. She has also worked for Senators Schumer, Durbin, Reid and Rockefeller.
President Obama Signs Executive Order Promoting Excellence, Innovation and Sustainability at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
President Obama Signs Executive Order Promoting Excellence, Innovation and Sustainability at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Obama signed an executive order, which can be viewed here, renewing the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the White House East Room. This event demonstrates the President’s strong appreciation for the historic role these institutions have played in educating our citizens and the Administration’s commitment to assisting HBCUs with accomplishing their mission.
Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have made historic and ongoing contributions to the general welfare and prosperity of our country. Established by visionary leaders, America’s HBCUs have, for over 150 years, produced many of the Nation’s leaders in business, government, academia, and the military and have provided generations of American men and women with hope and educational opportunity.
The Nation’s 105 HBCUs are located in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and serve more than 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students. These institutions continue to be important engines of economic growth and community service, and they are proven ladders of intergenerational advancement for men and women of all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds, especially African-Americans.
Among its provisions the Executive Order:
· Establishes the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to be housed in the Department of Education. Headed by Dr. John Wilson, the Initiative will lead the Obama Administration’s work to partner with federal departments, agencies and offices, as well as other public and private partners to focus on five key tasks: strengthening the capacity of HBCUs to participate in Federal programs; fostering private-sector initiatives and public-private partnerships that would include promoting specific areas and centers of academic research and programmatic excellence; improving the availability, dissemination, and quality of information concerning HBCUs to inform public policy and practice; sharing administrative and programmatic practices within the HBCU community for the benefit of all; and exploring new ways of improving the relationship between the Federal Government and HBCUs.
· Establishes a President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs that will advise the Obama Administration on matters pertaining to strengthening the educational capacity of these institutions.
Apart from the Executive Order, President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to strengthening educational opportunities at HBCUs through his FY 11 Budget which includes:
· $98 million in new money for HBCUs at the Department of Education. This includes a 5% or $13 million increase for the Strengthening HBCUs program and support for the $85 million in mandatory funding for HBCUs in the pending Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act.
· $20.5 million for the HBCU Capital Financing program, to provide HBCUs with access to financing for the repair, renovation, and construction or acquisition of educational facilities, instructional equipment, research instrumentation, and physical infrastructure. This funding will support $279 million in new loans in 2011, more than $100 million more than in 2010.
· $64.5 million for the Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institution program, a $3.1 million or 5% increase.
· $103 million for a comprehensive science and technology workforce program at the National Science Foundation designed to engage undergraduates at Historically Black, Tribal, and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities by realigning and building on existing programs. The President’s budget request would increase funding for these activities by over 14%.
· An increase in the Pell Grant maximum award to $5,710 in 2011 – an increase of $160 over the 2010 level – and a provision to increase that rate faster than inflation in future years. In 2011, students attending HBCUs will receive about $900 million in Pell Grants, an increase of nearly $400 million since the Administration took office.
Students attending HBCUs will also benefit from provisions included in the President’s higher education package, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), currently pending before Congress and reflected in the President’s FY 11 Budget. SAFRA deepens the President’s commitment to Pell, includes an expansion of low-interest Perkins Loans and further simplifies federal financial aid forms. SAFRA would also provide increased support for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) including HBCUs and helps MSIs through programs such as the American Graduation Initiative that lends new support for community colleges, and the Access and Completion Fund, which would make grants to states, institutions of higher education, and other organizations to support innovative strategies to increase the number of students entering and completing college.
President Obama is working to provide students a complete and competitive education from cradle to career by ensuring that students, families and communities have the resources and opportunities needed to improve educational outcomes. Today, we set a course to work with HBCUs to achieve this goal.
President Obama Announces Members of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
Council to advise on labor-management relations in the executive branch
WASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations.
· Carol A. Bonosaro, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· William Dougan, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· Michael B. Filler, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· John Gage, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· David Holway, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· Gregory Junemann, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· Colleen M. Kelley, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· H.T. Nguyen, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
· Darryl Perkinson, Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
The Council, created in 2009 by Executive Order, is tasked with advising the President on matters involving labor-management relations in the executive branch. The Council is co-chaired by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, and the Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeffrey Zients. The Chair of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, Carol Pope, was designated as an ex-officio member. In addition, the President designated to the Council the following individuals: W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Seth Harris, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor; Jane Holl Lute, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; William J. Lynn, III, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Defense; and Neal Wolin, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Treasury.
President Obama said, “I am grateful that these distinguished men and women have offered their wise counsel to help foster successful labor-management relations within the executive branch. I look forward to continuing this important dialogue with them for years to come.”
President Obama announced today his intent to appoint the following individuals:
Carol A. Bonosaro, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management RelationsCarol Bonosaro has been President of the Senior Executives Association, the professional association representing the top career executives in the Federal government, since 1986. She served on the Association’s Board of Directors from 1981 to 1986, including as Chair from 1983-1986. Ms. Bonosaro began her government career in 1961 at the then Bureau of the Budget (now Office of Management and Budget) as a management intern. At 33, she reached the executive ranks at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, where she held various positions including Director of the Women’s Rights Unit where she developed the Commission’s program implementing its new jurisdiction over sex discrimination. Ms. Bonosaro directed the Commission’s Congressional and Public Affairs Program from 1980 to 1986 when she retired from the Senior Executive Service. She is Chair of the William A. Jump Memorial Foundation, a member of the Advisory Board of the Asian American Government Executives Network, and a former member of the National Partnership Council. She received the 2005 Stan Suyat Award from the Asian American Government Executives Network. A graduate of Cornell University, Ms. Bonosaro attended George Washington University for graduate study in economics and Harvard University’s Program for Senior Managers in Government.
William Dougan, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
William Dougan has been the President of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) since 2009. A 30-year member of the National Federation of Federal Employees, he has served in a number of union positions at the Local, Council, and National levels. Previously, Mr. Dougan served as National Secretary-Treasurer in 2007 and also served over 4 years as President of NFFE’s Forest Service Council. He began his federal career in 1976 as a temporary employee with the National Park Service. He then worked for the Forest Service as a firefighter and tree planter, and became a permanent employee (and NFFE member) in 1979. He worked as a forester on National Forests in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. He retired from the Forest Service in 2007 after a 30-year career. Mr. Dougan received his B.S. in Forest Management from Humboldt State University and has completed graduate studies at Oregon State University, Washington State University, and the University of Washington.
Michael B. Filler, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
Michael B. Filler is the Director of the Public Services Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and has 30 years of public sector labor experience. Prior to joining the Teamsters in 2003, he served as Director of Negotiations for the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). He also served for 12 years as the Northeast Regional Director.
John Gage, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
John Gage has been the National President of the American Federation of Government Employees since 2003 and is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council. He has been involved in AFGE and the labor movement for more than 25 years. Mr. Gage has committed years of service as president of AFGE Local 1923 and as national vice president of AFGE’s 4th District. Mr. Gage also serves as a trustee of the National Labor College, an accredited four year college for union members and their families. He received his B.A. from Wheeling Jesuit University.
David Holway, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
David Holway has been the President of the National Association of Government Employees since October of 2002. Prior to his election in 2002, Mr. Holway served in many capacities at NAGE. He also previously held several government positions including Deputy Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Chief Financial Officer at the Norfolk County Hospital, and as budget and staff director at the Massachusetts Legislative Committee on Counties. Mr. Holway served on the Cambridge Massachusetts School Committee 1978-1979. He received his B.S. from Boston State College.
Gregory Junemann, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
Gregory Junemann has been President of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) AFL-CIO & CLC since 2001. Before assuming his presidential post, Mr. Junemann was serving his third term as Secretary-Treasurer/Director of Organizing for IFPTE, a position he was first elected to in 1994. As Secretary-Treasurer, he was IFPTE’s Chief Financial Officer, responsible for all aspects of the Federation’s finances. Prior to his election as Secretary-Treasurer, Mr. Junemann served IFPTE as the Midwest Area Vice President (1986-1994) and was the Finance Committee Chairman (1988-1994). On the local union level, Mr. Junemann served IFPTE Local 92 in Milwaukee in many capacities including President, Vice President, and Bargaining Committee Chairperson. He was also employed for 17 years at the Ladish Company in Wisconsin where he worked as a Senior Cost Estimator and Project Planner.
Colleen M. Kelley, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
Colleen M. Kelley has been the President of the National Treasury Employees Union since 1999 and was re-elected to a third four-year term in 2007. A Pittsburgh native, certified public accountant (CPA), and an NTEU member since 1974, Ms. Kelley was an IRS Revenue Agent for 14 years and served in various NTEU chapter leadership positions, including chapter president of NTEU Chapter 34 in Pittsburgh. Ms. Kelley serves on the Federal Salary Council, the Employee Thrift Advisory Council of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, and the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund (FEEA) Board of Directors. She is also a member of the Board of Governors of the Partnership for Public Service, which is committed to enhancing perceptions of public service and encouraging participation in the public sector. Ms. Kelley first joined the IRS upon graduation from Drexel University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She also earned an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.
H.T. Nguyen, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
H.T. Nguyen is currently the Executive Director/General Counsel for the Federal Education Association (FEA), a state affiliate of the National Education Association representing federally-employed educators. Previously, Mr. Nguyen served as the Deputy General Counsel for FEA (1988-1998), where he was the Association’s lead attorney in all major cases involving FEA. Prior to that, Mr. Nguyen was a Staff Attorney with FEA (1984-1988). He holds a B.A. (American Government), an M.A. (International Relations), and a J.D from the Catholic University of America.
Darryl Perkinson, Nominee for Member, National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations
Darryl Perkinson currently serves as the National President of the Federal Managers Association (FMA), which represents the interests of the over 200,000 managers, supervisors and executives serving in the federal government. Within FMA, Mr. Perkinson held many leadership positions both at the local and national levels before ascending to National President in 2006. He is also presently the Nuclear Training Manager at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), serving in the Consolidated Training Division. He has also been assigned to serve as the chairman of the Shipyard’s Training Council and as a member of the Shipyard Training Workforce and Development Board of Directors. Mr. Perkinson began his career at NNSY as a pre-apprentice in 1970 as part of the school-to-work program with the City of Portsmouth, Virginia, and Wilson High School. He attended Virginia Wesleyan College and obtained a B.A. in Social Sciences in 1975. In 2006, Mr. Perkinson received his Master in Business Administration with a Concentration in Human Resources from Strayer University with honors.
President Obama Calls for New Steps to Prepare America’s Children for Success in College and Careers
President Obama Calls for New Steps to Prepare America’s Children for Success in College and Careers
Obama Administration Applauds Governors for Bipartisan Work to Develop Higher Standards in Education
WASHINGTON, DC – Today at a meeting with our nation’s governors, President Obama outlined new steps to better prepare America’s children for college and the workplace. The President is calling for a redesigned Elementary and Secondary Education Act that includes a comprehensive, new vision to help states successfully transition to and implement college- and career-ready standards by improving teacher preparation and development, upgrading classroom instruction, and supporting high-quality assessments.
“America’s prosperity has always rested on how well we educate our children – but never more so than today,” said President Barack Obama. “This is true for our workers, when a college graduate earns over 60 percent more in a lifetime than a high school graduate. This is true for our businesses, when according to one study; six in ten say they simply can’t find qualified people to fill open positions.”
Last year, the President challenged states to develop standards and assessments that will help America’s children rise to the challenge of graduating from high school prepared for college and the workplace.
Today, the Obama Administration announced new efforts to promote college- and career-ready standards in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The President and Secretary Duncan applauded Governors for their efforts to work together in a state-led consortium – managed by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) – to develop and implement common reading and math standards that build toward college- and career-readiness. “With many states well positioned to adopt these common standards that better position our students for college and careers, the Governors initiative is an essential first step in improving the rigor of teaching and learning in America’s classrooms,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
To better align the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to support college- and career-ready standards, the Obama Administration will integrate new policies into a re-designed ESEA, which will:
· Require all states to adopt and certify that they have college- and career-ready standards in reading and mathematics, which may include common standards developed by a state-led consortium, as a condition of qualifying for Title I funding.
· Include new funding priorities for states with college- and career-ready standards in place, as they compete for federal funds to improve teaching and learning and upgrade curriculum in reading and math. This priority applies to the President’s FY2011 budget request for new Effective Teaching and Learning programs in literacy ($450 million) and STEM ($300 million).
· Encourage states, schools districts, and other institutions to better align teacher preparation practices and programs to teaching of college and career-ready standards. This priority supports the President’s FY2011 budget request for a new Teacher and Leaders Pathways program ($405 million).
· Assist states in implementing assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards, under a new Assessing Achievement program. The President’s FY2011 budget supports $400 million in state grants under this program.
· Support the expansion of the Race to the Top, beyond funding in the Recovery Act, to dedicate $1.35 billion in awards to states and school districts that have college- and career-ready standards in place as a condition of funding.
· Support professional development for teachers, leaders and other school instructional staff to better align instruction to college and career-ready standards. This supports the President’s FY2011 budget request for the Effective Teacher and Leaders state grant program ($2.5 billion).
Statement by the President on the Credit Card Bill Implementation
Today, the major reforms of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act that I signed into law last spring take effect, marking a significant turning point for American consumers. For too long, credit card companies have had free rein to employ deceptive, unfair tactics that hit responsible consumers with unreasonable costs. But today, we are shifting the balance of power back to the consumer and we are holding the credit card companies accountable.
The new rules taking effect today mean that credit card companies can no longer retroactively increase rates or increase rates in the first year you open an account, charge misleading late fees or use over-limit fee traps. They’re now required to send ample notification if they plan to make changes to the terms of your card and they must employ clear, simple standard payment dates and times. There are new protections for underage consumers, restrictions on double billing and caps on high-fee cards. The new rules are an unprecedented step in my administration’s ongoing efforts to strengthen consumer protections and enact meaningful financial reform.
These new rules don’t absolve consumers of their obligation to pay their bills, but they finally level the playing field so that every family and small business using a credit card has the information they need to make responsible financial decisions.
THE PRESIDENT’S PROPOSAL
The President’s Proposal puts American families and small business owners in control of their own health care. It makes insurance more affordable by providing the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history, reducing premium costs for tens of millions of families and small business owners who are priced out of coverage today. This helps over 31 million Americans afford health care who do not get it today – and makes coverage more affordable for many more. The President’s Proposal bridges the gap between the House and Senate bills and includes new provisions to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse.
• Eliminating the Nebraska FMAP provision and providing significant additional Federal financing to all States for the expansion of Medicaid;
• Closing the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole” coverage gap;
• Strengthening the Senate bill’s provisions that make insurance affordable for individuals and families;
• Strengthening the provisions to fight fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid;
• Increasing the threshold for the excise tax on the most expensive health plans from $23,000 for a family plan to $27,500 and starting it in 2018 for all plans;
• Improving insurance protections for consumers and creating a new Health Insurance Rate Authority to provide Federal assistance and oversight to States in conducting reviews of unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.
A detailed summary of the provisions included in the President’s Plan is set forth below:
It includes a targeted set of changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Senate-passed health insurance reform bill. The President’s Proposal reflects policies from the House-passed bill and the President’s priorities. Key changes include: Policies to Improve the Affordability and Accountability Increase Tax Credits for Health Insurance Premiums. Health insurance today often costs too much and covers too little. Lack of affordability leads people to delay care, skip care, rack up large medical bills, or become uninsured. The House and Senate health insurance bills lower premiums through increased competition, oversight, and new accountability standards set by insurance exchanges. The bills also provide tax credits and reduced cost sharing for families with modest income. The President’s Proposal improves the affordability of health care by increasing the tax credits for families. Relative to the Senate bill, the President’s Proposal lowers premiums for families with income below $44,000 and above $66,000. Relative to the House bill, the proposal makes premiums less expensive for families with income between roughly $55,000 and $88,000. The President’s Proposal also improves the cost sharing assistance for individuals and families relative to the Senate bill. Families with income below $55,000 will get extra assistance; the additional funding to insurers will cover between 73 and 94% of their health care costs. It provides the same cost-sharing assistance as the Senate bill for higher-income families and the same assistance as the House bill for families with income from $77,000 to $88,000.
Close the Medicare Prescription Drug “Donut Hole”.
cost of expensive medicines, causing many to skip doses or not fill prescriptions at all – harming their health and raising other types of health costs. The Senate bill provides a 50% discount for certain drugs in the donut hole. The House bill fully phases out the donut hole over 10 years. Both bills raise the dollar amount before the donut hole begins by $500 in 2010. Relative to the Senate bill, the President’s Proposal fills the “donut hole” entirely. It begins by replacing the $500 increase in the initial coverage limit with a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010. It also closes the donut hole completely by phasing down the coinsurance so it is the standard 25% by 2020 throughout the coverage gap.
The Medicare drug benefit provides vital help to seniors who take prescription drugs, but under current law, it leaves many beneficiaries without assistance when they need it most. Medicare stops paying for prescriptions after the plan and beneficiary have spent $2,830 on prescription drugs, and only starts paying again after out-of-pocket spending hits $4,550. This “donut hole” leaves seniors paying the full 3 Invest in Community Health Centers. Community health centers play a critical role in providing quality care in underserved areas. About 1,250 centers provide care to 20 million people, with an emphasis on preventive and primary care. The Senate bill increases funding to these centers for services by $7 billion and for construction by $1.5 billion over 5 years. The House bill provides $12 billion over the same 5 years. Bridging the difference, the President’s Proposal invests $11 billion in these centers. Strengthen Oversight of Insurance Premium Increases. Both the House and Senate bills include significant reforms to make insurance fair, accessible, and affordable to all people, regardless of pre-existing conditions. One essential policy is “rate review” meaning that health insurers must submit their proposed premium increases to the State authority or Secretary for review. The President’s Proposal strengthens this policy by ensuring that, if a rate increase is unreasonable and unjustified, health insurers must lower premiums, provide rebates, or take other actions to make premiums affordable. A new Health Insurance Rate Authority will be created to provide needed oversight at the Federal level and help States determine how rate review will be enforced and monitor insurance market behavior. Extend Consumer Protections against Health Insurer Practices. The Senate bill includes a “grandfather” policy that allows people who like their current coverage, to keep it. The President’s Proposal adds certain important consumer protections to these “grandfathered” plans. Within months of legislation being enacted, it requires plans to cover adult dependents up to age 26, prohibits rescissions, mandates that plans have a stronger appeals process, and requires State insurance authorities to conduct annual rate review, backed up by the oversight of the HHS Secretary. When the exchanges begin in 2014, the President’s Proposal adds new protections that prohibit all annual and lifetime limits, ban pre-existing condition exclusions, and prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals. Beginning in 2018, the President’s Proposal requires “grandfathered” plans to cover proven preventive services with no cost sharing. Improve Individual Responsibility.
a percentage of income. The Senate sets the payment as a flat dollar amount or percentage of income, whichever is higher (although not higher than the lowest premium in the area). Both the House and Senate bill provide a low-income exemption, for those individuals with incomes below the tax filing threshold (House) or below the poverty threshold (Senate).The Senate also includes a “hardship” exemption for people who cannot afford insurance, included in the President’s Proposal. It protects those who would face premiums of more than 8 percent of their income from having to pay any assessment and they can purchase a low-cost catastrophic plan in the exchange if they choose. The President’s Proposal adopts the Senate approach but lowers the flat dollar assessments, and raises the percent of income assessment that individuals pay if they choose not to become insured. Specifically, it lowers the flat dollar amounts from $495 to $325 in 2015 and $750 to $695 in 2016. Subsequent years are indexed to $695 rather than $750, so the flat dollar amounts in later years are lower than the Senate bill as well. The President’s Proposal raises the percent of income that is an alternative payment amount from 0.5 to 1.0% in 2014, 1.0 to 2.0% in 2015, and 2.0 to 2.5% for 2016 and subsequent years – the same percent of income as in the House bill, which makes the assessment more progressive. For ease of administration, the President’s Proposal changes the payment exemption from the Senate policy (individuals with income below the poverty threshold) to individuals with income below the tax filing threshold (the House policy). In other words, a married couple with income below $18,700 will not have to pay the assessment. The President’s Proposal also adopts the Senate’s “hardship” exemption.
All Americans should have affordable health insurance coverage. This helps everyone, both insured and uninsured, by reducing cost shifting, where people with insurance end up covering the inevitable health care costs of the uninsured, and making possible robust health insurance reforms that will curb insurance company abuses and increase the security and stability of health insurance for all Americans. The House and Senate bills require individuals who have affordable options but who choose to remain uninsured to make a payment to offset the cost of care they will inevitably need. The House bill’s payment is 4 •
• It sets up a new competitive health insurance market giving tens of millions of Americans the exact same insurance choices that members of Congress will have.
• It brings greater accountability to health care by laying out commonsense rules of the road to keep premiums down and prevent insurance industry abuses and denial of care.
• It will end discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions.
• It puts our budget and economy on a more stable path by reducing the deficit by $100 billion over the next ten years – and about $1 trillion over the second decade – by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN TOWN HALL MEETING
Green Valley High School
9:58 A.M. PST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Henderson! Thank you! Thank you so much, everybody. Everybody, have a seat, have a seat. I am thrilled to be here. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Mr. President!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Applause.)
We’ve got some special guests here — everybody is a special guest, but I just want to acknowledge a few folks here. Secretary of State Ross Miller in the house. (Applause.) Two outstanding members of Congress — Representative Shelley Berkley — (applause) — and your own Dina Titus. (Applause.)
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford. (Applause.) We’ve got State Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera. (Applause.) Clark County Commissioner Chairman Rory Reid. (Applause.) Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen. (Applause.) Former Governor Bob Miller. (Applause.)
We’ve got — first, can everybody give a huge round of applause for Tina Long for the great introduction of Harry Reid? (Applause.) Green Valley High School principal Jeff Horn. (Applause.) Obviously not exam time yet. (Laughter.) Get’s a standing “O.”
The Green Valley High School Marching Band that played at my inauguration — give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) They played “Viva Las Vegas.” (Laughter.) At the reviewing stand — they did. (Laughter.)
And finally, he may have already been acknowledged — I want to give a special acknowledgment to Greg Koehler, North Las Vegas Fire Department, who just returned from 14 days in Haiti giving medical assistance to orphans — (applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) We’re proud of you. Thank you.
Now, it’s good to be back in Nevada — (applause) — good to be back in Vegas. (Applause.) Good to be back in Henderson. (Applause.) And good to be with my good friend, your great senator, Harry Reid. (Applause.)
I understand Henderson is where Harry went to school as a boy and fought in the ring as an amateur boxer. Now, looking at Harry, you wouldn’t say that — (laughter) — I mean, let’s face it — (laughter) — but I can personally attest that Harry Reid is one of the toughest people I know. He does not give up. He knows what he cares about. He knows what he believes in and he’s willing to fight for it. And sometimes he takes his licks, but he gets back up. Harry Reid has never stopped fighting — he hasn’t stopped fighting for Henderson; he hasn’t stopped fighting for Nevada; he has not stopped fighting for the United States of America and middle-class families all across this country that need a fair shake. (Applause.)
I’m looking forward to hearing what’s on your minds and trying to answer a few questions. But before I do, let me say a few words about the situation that folks are facing right now.
Harry is not one for sugarcoating things — I don’t know if you noticed that. He’s kind of a blunt guy. (Laughter.) Neither am I. These are tough times. When President Kennedy was here, he called Henderson a “city of destiny” because he saw its potential as Las Vegas grew. But for too long, I know many of you have felt like your destiny has been slipping beyond your control.
You don’t need me to tell you that. All of you in some way have felt this recession. You felt it in the tourism and hospitality industry. You felt it in the construction industry. The unemployment rate here is 13 percent, which is the second highest in the nation. Foreclosures are also among the highest. Home values have fallen by more than almost anyplace else. And this is after a decade when, for most middle-class families, incomes actually shrank and wages flat-lined, and the only thing rising faster was medical costs and the cost of education.
So I know it’s tough out there. Harry Reid knows it’s tough out there. That’s why we asked you to send us to Washington. We didn’t run for the fancy title or a big desk or a comfy chair. We didn’t run because it was fun to get your name in the newspapers — most of the time, it’s not. (Laughter.) We didn’t run so a bunch of folks on cable TV could chatter about you. (Laughter.) And we didn’t run to kick our problems down the road. We ran to solve problems that folks like you are facing every single day. (Applause.) That’s why we ran for office. That’s why Harry wanted to be Majority Leader, and that’s why I wanted to be President of the United States — to help you. (Applause.)
When my administration took office, our immediate mission was clear. We needed to stop the great recession from turning into a great depression. And economists of every stripe were warning that was a real possibility. And that meant that we had to make some decisions swiftly, boldly, and not always popular, but decisions that were necessary. It wasn’t a time for satisfying the politics of the moment, it wasn’t time for just playing to the cameras — it was time for doing what was right.
That’s why we helped stabilize our financial system — not because we felt any compassion for big banks, but because not doing so would have endangered the savings and dreams of millions more Americans. (Applause.)
And by the way, I was committed to ensuring that if taxpayers were going to provide temporary assistance to keep our financial system afloat, then it actually had to be temporary. And I was determined to get back every single dime, and we are well on our way to doing that — getting back every single dime from those banks. (Applause.)
In fact, one battle we’re having right now is we think the largest banks should be assessed a fee so that taxpayers are held harmless for the assistance that you’ve been giving. (Applause.) As you might imagine, the banks are not enthusiastic about that. (Laughter.) And it won’t surprise you to learn that they’ve got a few friends in Congress who are willing to go along, but you know Harry Reid is not one of those folks who are willing to go along. (Applause.) We’re going to get your money back because Harry Reid is going to make sure you get your money back. (Applause.)
We helped shore up the American auto industry. That wasn’t popular. I understood why. Folks felt like these companies should reap the consequences of bad management decisions in the past, just like any other company would. But if we had let GM and Chrysler go under, it would have been hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans who paid the price — not just folks at those companies themselves, but at suppliers and dealers all across the country.
So we told them, if you’re willing to take the tough and painful steps you make — that are needed for you to become more competitive, then we’re willing to invest in your future. And as a result, auto production in the United States of America is up 69 percent from the first three months of 2009. (Applause.) GM’s CEO recently said that the company would repay $6.7 billion in loans from taxpayers — with interest — by June of this year. (Applause.)
Now, one of the things you need to know is that the steps we’ve taken to shore up the banks and the autos, they have nothing to do with the Recovery Act. Those were separate. We had to do those as emergency measures. And I just want to point this out — Harry Reid, he’s got his pollsters; I’ve got my pollsters. We knew that this wasn’t going to be popular. But we did it because it was the right thing to do. (Applause.)
So it’s also why we passed the Recovery Act. Now, a lot of people think that the stimulus package, the Recovery Act — if you listen on television, you’d think, well, that’s all about giving banks money. That has nothing to do with the banks. The other week, I saw a poll that said Americans, they don’t like the Recovery Act — they just like all the individual parts of the Recovery Act. (Laughter.)
And the reason is, they think the Recovery Act is for banks and auto companies. When you ask folks about what was actually in the Recovery Act, they think it’s full of good ideas — like tax cuts, like infrastructure investment, like unemployment relief. That’s what the Recovery Act was. It was tax cuts for small business owners and 95 percent of you. You may not have noticed — 95 percent of you got a tax cut — because of Harry Reid and because of the Recovery Act. (Applause.) One million people in the state of Nevada.
We expanded unemployment insurance at a time when it was absolutely vital for people as they were trying to stay afloat. (Applause.) More than a quarter-million of your members — of your neighbors. It was jobs for construction workers and jobs for cops and firemen, jobs for almost 2,000 education professionals right here in Nevada.
I haven’t talked to the principal, but I guarantee you, we would have seen some very difficult decisions having to be made about maintaining teachers right here at Green Valley, if it hadn’t been for the help that Harry Reid provided last year. (Applause.) You would have seen some very tough choices.
All of this — from the tax cuts to the unemployment insurance to the jobs — that was only possible because of Harry’s leadership. And as a result, our economy is growing again. Almost two million Americans who would otherwise be employed [sic] are working right now — because of what Harry Reid did. (Applause.) We’re no longer staring into an economic abyss — because of what Harry Reid helped to do.
Now, he and I both know that’s little comfort to the seven million Americans who lost their job in this recession. It’s little comfort to homeowners who are facing foreclosure or steep declines in their home values, or to students who are having to delay their college plans because they can’t afford it, or older folks who are postponing retirement.
That’s why I’m not going to rest. That’s not — why we’re not done. That’s why Harry Reid isn’t going to rest until all of America is working again, until the dream of home ownership is secure once again, and until our economy is benefiting not just Wall Street but benefiting hardworking Nevada families, benefiting the middle class, benefiting Americans all across this great country of ours. That’s what we are aiming to do. (Applause.)
Now, I’ve said before that the way I measure our economy’s strength — the way you measure it — is by whether jobs and wages and incomes are growing. But the other way we measure is by whether families have a roof over their heads and whether folks are living out that American Dream of owning a home. That dream has been jeopardized in this recession for a lot of people, especially right here in Nevada.
Now, part of it was — I’ve got to be blunt here, I got to be honest — part of it was because too many lenders were focused on making a quick buck instead of acting responsibly. (Applause.) And, if we’re honest, too many borrowers acted irresponsibly at certain points, taking on mortgages that they knew they couldn’t afford. (Applause.) And what happened was the regulators in Washington and legislators too often turned a blind eye to the excesses and the failures on Wall Street that fed a housing bubble. And now that that bubble has burst, it’s left devastation that we’re still grappling with today.
Now, government has a responsibility to help deal with this problem. Government can’t solve this problem alone. We got to be honest about that. Government alone can’t solve this problem. And it shouldn’t. But government can make a difference. It can’t stop every foreclosure, and tax dollars shouldn’t be used to reward the very irresponsible lenders and borrowers who helped bring about the housing crisis. But what we can do is help families who’ve done everything right stay in their homes whenever possible. (Applause.) What we can do is stabilize the housing market so that home values can begin rising again.
And that’s why we’re buying up vacant homes and converting them into affordable housing — creating jobs, stemming our housing crisis, growing the local economy. (Applause.) That’s why last year, we put a tax credit worth thousands of dollars into the pocket of 1.4 million Americans to help them buy their first home — first-time homebuyers credit. (Applause.) That’s why we’re offering over one million struggling homeowners lower monthly payments through our loan modification initiative.
And that’s why today, thanks to the leadership of Harry Reid, I’m announcing a $1.5 billion fund for housing finance agencies in the states that are hardest hit by this housing crisis — and that means here in Nevada. (Applause.) Right here in Nevada. (Applause.)
So this fund is going to help out-of-work homeowners avoid preventable foreclosures, and it will help homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth find a way to pay their mortgages that works for both the borrowers and the lenders alike, and will help folks who’ve taken out a second mortgage modify their loans.
So, yes, we need to strengthen our housing market. And we need to focus on job creation and getting our economy moving again. But one last thing I want to be clear about — we can do all those things, dealing with sort of the emergency crisis, and still fall behind in the 21st century, in this global economy, unless we recommit ourselves to solving some of the long-term problems that have been with us for years.
We’ve got to recognize, just like earlier generations, that our future is what we make of it, and unless we give everything we’ve got to securing America’s success in the 21st century, our children aren’t going to have the same opportunities.
Now, I’ve traveled a lot over the last year, all over the world, and I’ve got to tell you, countries like China — they’re competing to win. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We want China to succeed. They’ve got a lot of poverty, much more poverty than we have here, and it’s good for their stability if they’re doing well. But I don’t know about you — I don’t intend to cede the 21st century to anybody else. (Applause.) America is not a nation that follows — America leads. That’s what I intend for us to do once again. (Applause.) America leads.
So what does it mean to lead? It means countries that out-educate us today are going to out-compete us tomorrow. And that means America has to lead in education. (Applause.) That’s why we’re working with educators to transform our schools, and make college more affordable, and prepare our kids for science and engineering and technical degrees — because those are going to be the jobs of the future.
And because the future belongs to countries that create the jobs of tomorrow, we’ve got to lead in energy. That’s why we’re investing in companies right here in Nevada and across this nation that produce solar power and wind power and the smart, energy-efficient electric grids — (applause) — the investments that are giving rise to a clean energy economy. (Applause.) It’s vital that we do that.
Our nation can’t lead, we can’t prosper, if we’ve got a broken-down health care system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for ordinary Americans. (Applause.) And we can’t squander the opportunity to reform our health care system to make it work for everybody. (Applause.)
That’s why this coming week I’m going to be meeting, and Harry is going to be meeting, with members of both parties and both chambers — we’re going to move forward the Democratic proposal; we hope the Republicans have one, too. And we’ll sit down and let’s hammer it out, go — we’ll go section by section.
Because America can’t solve our economic problems unless we tackle some of these structural problems. And America can’t lead — we can’t succeed unless we’re also getting a handle on our debt. We’ve got to confront this fiscal crisis that has been brewing for years. That’s why we’re cutting what we don’t need to pay for what we do. That’s why I signed a law that says Americans should pay as we go and live within our means. (Applause.) That’s why yesterday I announced a bipartisan fiscal commission that will help us meet our fiscal challenges once and for all.
Fiscal responsibility. Clean energy. A world-class education. A health care system that works. An economy that lifts up all our citizens. That’s how America can lead. That’s how the future will be won — with all of us coming together to win it — (applause) — Democrats and Republicans alike. (Applause.) And independents.
With all the petty partisanship and game-playing in Washington, I know that sometimes you guys can feel pretty frustrated.
THE PRESIDENT: I know it can be easy to despair about whether we, as a nation, can come together anymore. But for those who wonder if America can unite, just come to Henderson. You think about it. This is a town that was founded during World War II to supply metal for planes, for guns, for the arsenal of democracy that freed the world from tyranny. This is a town — it wasn’t built by liberals or conservatives; it was built by Americans, by patriots who rallied around a common purpose in an hour of need. (Applause.) And I’m certain that if we can reclaim in this country the spirit of unity that built Henderson, Nevada, all those years ago, then we can build cities of destiny across this country. And the future will belong to the United States of America. (Applause.)
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
All right, everybody sit down. This is the — (applause.) Here’s where I’m on the hot seat, so I’ve got to take off my jacket. (Laughter.) Answer some questions. Everybody sit down. All right.
Some of you have been to town halls before, so this is pretty straightforward. We’ve got people in the audience with mics, and just raise your hand — we’re going to go girl, boy, girl, boy — (laughter) — make sure it’s fair. And I’m going to try to take as many questions as I can in the time remaining. And when you — before you answer [sic] your question, if you can introduce yourself so that we know who you are. And try to make your question relatively brief so that we can get in as many as possible. All right?
As I said, we’re going to go girl, boy, girl, boy. Young lady right there, yes.
Q Thank you, President Obama. In Nevada –
THE PRESIDENT: What’s your name?
Q Oh, my name is Florence Jamison (phonetic.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. How are you, Florence?
Q I’m terrific.
THE PRESIDENT: Great.
Q In Nevada we have the second highest number of medically uninsured, about 325,000 uninsured. More than five working adults are colleagues who are dying each week because of no access to health care. I am the founder of Volunteers in Medicine, Southern Nevada — a free clinic which has been set up to help our sick and dying. There are hundreds of caring Nevadans that have rallied like a corps of angels to come and provide free health care for their struggling neighbors — housekeepers, operators, receptionists, eligibility workers, social workers, nurses, doctors.
In your health reform bill you have a provision to protect the federally funded subsidized community clinics. It is not clear if they’re going to cover the free clinics where volunteers throughout the community have rallied to give support to their struggling neighbors in their great time of need. Can you help us with that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, first of all, for the great work that you guys are doing. So we appreciate that. (Applause.) But if you’re like a lot of free clinics across the country, I know you’re getting overwhelmed, because the need is so great.
The bill that Harry and I have been working on would provide assistance to a whole range of community-based efforts — preventive care, wellness care — which is absolutely vital not only for the people who are receiving services at clinics like yours, but also for reducing the costs of health care overall, because the more that people have access to preventive care, the less likely they are to go to the emergency room when things are already out of hand.
Now, let me just speak more broadly about health care, because we’re going to have a meeting with the Republicans, as I said, next week. I’ve got to admit that this has been an issue that I was warned I shouldn’t take on. (Laughter.) No, no, I mean, seriously. When I first came in — and Harry was part of some of these conversations — there were a lot of political advisors who said, look, health care is just too hard, it’s just too complicated. Everybody says in theory that they want to reform the health care system, but because it’s complicated, once you start putting a bill together you get all kinds of criticism; the insurance lobby will spend millions of dollars on advertising and TV, scaring the heck out of everybody; your poll numbers will go down, and you’re not going to get a lot of cooperation from the other side.
I mean, that was the warning. Plus, because the economy is bad, a lot of people are already feeling kind of anxious, and so they’re thinking, gosh, we had to do all that stuff to fix the financial system, we had to do this stuff to fix the autos, we had this big recovery package, the deficits are going up — partly because tax revenues is not coming in and we’re having to spend more on unemployment insurance and things like that — this is probably not the time to be too ambitious.
So I want to explain to everybody why I decided to take it on. First of all, I decided to take it on because I get a letter — or two, or five — every day from people who have lost their job and suddenly they don’t have health insurance, somebody in their family gets sick, and they lose their house. They were solid middle-class folks until they lost their job, and, lo and behold, they discovered they couldn’t get coverage because something had happened to them before. Maybe a woman had had breast cancer, and it was okay as long as she had her employer-based health care. But once she tried — once she lost her job and tried to get health care, couldn’t get it.
I’ve looked too many parents in the eye who say, our children have these chronic diseases and we found out that our insurance only covered us up to a certain amount and then they hit a cap, and afterwards we had to hold bake sales and our neighbors had to raise money just to make sure that our kids would live. Too many stories like that. So that was the main reason that I said we had to take it on.
But the second reason was because even if you’ve got health insurance, what’s happened to your premiums lately? Look, if this is a representative sample, I’m assuming that 85 percent of you have health care — maybe 90 percent — let’s say 85 percent of you have health care. Some of you are getting it through your jobs; some of you are still buying it individually, or you’re a small business owner and you’re purchasing it. No matter what your situation, I guarantee you your costs have gone up at least double digits over the last year. They have doubled over the last decade. And they’re going to more than double over the next decade if we don’t do anything. So even if you’re lucky enough to have health care, it is digging deeper and deeper into your pocket.
They just had — some of you saw the news — for people who don’t have insurance through a big employer, the individual market, in California one of the biggest insurance providers, Anthem Blue Cross, just announced that they were going to raise rates on these folks by up to 39 percent — up to 39 percent.
That’s the future. That’s the future, Henderson. That’s going to be one of the main things that helps to bankrupt local school districts, because all these teachers, all these employees, those health care costs go up. Universities — those young people who are about to go to college, part of the reason your tuition is going up is because every employee at the university, their health care costs are going up. And that gets passed on to you.
And, finally, the third reason that we had to take this on is because the deficit and the debt that you hear everybody getting in a tizzy about — properly so — the vast majority of our long-term debt is driven by Medicare and Medicaid. It’s driven by our rising health care costs. Nothing comes close. You could eliminate every earmark, you could eliminate foreign aid, you could eliminate all that stuff — it would amount to about 5 percent of the budget. Most of it is health care costs.
And as the population gets older, they use more health care; that drives it up even faster. And pretty soon, pretty soon the entire federal budget is going to be gobbled up by these rising health care costs. And you’re already seeing it at the state level here in Nevada, right? What’s happening with Medicaid? The governor is starting to talk about having to cut all kinds of aspects of Medicaid because of the cost.
So here’s my point. We can’t wait to reform the health care system. It is vital for our economy. (Applause.) It is vital for our economy to change how health care works in this country. It’s vital. (Applause.)
Now, having said all that, the people who were giving me advice at the beginning of the year were right — health care has been knocking me around pretty good. (Laughter.) It’s been knocking Harry around pretty good. And Harry has shown extraordinary courage because he said, you know what, Barack, we are going to get this done. I know it’s costing me politically but it’s important, it’s the right thing to do. (Applause.) That’s what he’s been saying consistently, and I’m proud of him for it.
So let me — just very quickly, let me describe what it is that we have proposed — and I’m waiting to see what the Republicans propose in turn — because there’s been a lot of misinformation here. What we have said is this: If you have health insurance, we are going to pass a series of health reforms so that the insurance companies have to treat you fairly — it’s very straightforward — that they can’t prevent you from getting health insurance because of a preexisting condition; that they can’t put a lifetime cap so in the fine print it turns out that you’re not fully covered. (Applause.) So there are a whole series of insurance reforms — that’s number one.
Number two, we’ve got a whole series of cost controls. So what we’re saying is, for example, that every insurer, they’ve got to spend the vast majority of your premiums on actual care, as opposed to profits and overhead. (Applause.) We’re saying that we’ve got to get out some of the waste and abuse, including subsidies to insurance companies in the Medicare system that run in the tens of billions of dollars every year. (Applause.) That’s not a good use of your taxpayer dollars. And we’re working to improve wellness and prevention, as I said before, so that people aren’t going to the emergency room for care.
Now, the third thing, and the thing that’s most controversial, sadly, is what we’re also saying is we’ve got to make sure that everybody can have access to coverage. And the way we do that is we set up something called an exchange, where essentially individuals and small businesses who aren’t getting a good deal because they don’t have the same negotiating power as the big companies when it comes to the insurance market, they can pool just like members of Congress and federal employees do in their health care plan — they can pool so that now they’ve got the purchasing power of a million people behind them and they can get a better deal. That can lower their costs. And we’ll give subsidies for working families who can’t afford it even with lower premium costs. (Applause.)
Now, so I want everybody to pay attention next Thursday when we have this health care summit. You may not want to watch all six or eight hours of it, you got things to do. (Laughter.) But pay attention to what this debate is about, because there’s been so much talk about death panels and adding to the deficit, and this and that and the other. Pay attention, because this is — what we’re proposing has nothing to do with a government takeover of a health care. Most of you would have the exact same health care that you’ve got right now, but you’d be more protected and more secure. And if you don’t have health care, you’d have a chance of getting health care.
And, by the way, it would actually save us money in the long term, because all those wasteful dollars that we’re spending right now, the experts estimate we’d actually save a trillion dollars by passing it. (Applause.)
Now, I think it’s the right thing to do. The Republicans say — the Republicans say that they’ve got a better way of doing it. So I want them to put it on the table — (applause) — because as I told them — as I told them a while back, look, I mean, I’m not a — I’m not an unreasonable guy. (Laughter.) If you show me that you can do the things we just talked about — protect people from insurance problems, make sure that the costs are controlled, and people who don’t have health insurance are covered — and you can do it cheaper than me, then why wouldn’t I do that? I’ll just grab your idea and say, great, and take all the credit. I’d be happy to do it. (Applause.)
So show me what you got. But don’t let the American people go another year, another 10 years, another 20 years without health insurance reform in this country. (Applause.)
Okay, it’s a gentleman’s turn. It’s a man’s turn. This guy over here. This guy with a beard.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Ben Burris (phonetic), from Jonesboro, Arkansas.
THE PRESIDENT: What are you doing all the way here in Vegas?
Q Everybody comes to Vegas. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s what I’m talking about. There you go. Everybody comes to Vegas. (Applause.) Yes. Now, here’s my only question, Ben. Have you spent some money here in Vegas?
Q Oh, yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: He says “Yes, sir.” (Applause.)
Q Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: He’s spending some money here in Vegas. All right. That’s good. We like to see that. All right, what’s your question?
Q Well, sir, I’m reasonably familiar with the current and proposed legislature as it applies to dentistry and oral health. And my question is, what’s your vision for how dentistry will fit into your larger framework for health care reform?
THE PRESIDENT: Are you a dentist yourself?
Q Yes, sir. So if somebody has a heart attack, you better still call 9-1-1. (Laughter.) Just a dentist.
THE PRESIDENT: Now, it is interesting that you raised this. It turns out — this is serous — that dental hygiene is actually very important for keeping your heart healthy. It turns out that heart disease can be triggered when you’ve got gum disease. So everybody floss. That’s my first — am I right? You got to floss. (Applause.)
It is my hope that we can include dental care in the various proposals that we’re putting forward. Dental and vision care are very important. Now, I’ll tell you that some folks will say we can’t afford it. Some states in their Medicaid program cover dental; some states don’t.
At minimum — at minimum, I think it’s very important that we’ve got dental care for our kids. (Applause.) Because what happens is, is that if we can keep our children’s teeth healthy, then usually that means they’ve got healthy teeth as adults. And if not, oftentimes that actually distracts them and prevents them from learning, because both dental and eye care — a lot of kids end up being distracted. They can’t read the blackboard, they’ve got a cavity that’s been untreated. It’s a huge problem.
So I would like to see dental care covered. I will tell you that some folks are going to say we can’t afford it. At minimum, I’d like to see that our children have the care that they need. (Applause.)
Q Can I say one more thing, sir? I think most of us in dentistry think that health care is the primary need here in terms of that, and children as well. So we think that if you can take care of health care first and let dentistry — do that kind of thing — it’s more important to take care of the health care first. Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: There you go. All right, I appreciate that. Thank you. (Applause.)
Okay, it’s a young lady’s turn. It’s so hard to choose. Okay, I’ll call on this young lady back here, right over here. Yes, you. (Laughter.) All right, we got to get the young man with the mic over to you.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Thank God for this opportunity. I realize that insurance and medical care has been a major issue. This is my problem. I worked for United Airlines for nearly 30 years. I was severely injured during flight. I have a workman comp’s case that have fallen on deaf ear. The conflict in this city with the lawyers and the doctors and this whole problem has drove my life really to almost not having a life at all.
I don’t know where else to turn. I don’t know who else to talk to about the problem. I’ve written you letters. I’ve written letters to many of the senators here in Las Vegas. I’ve talked to the doctors. I’ve done everything I know how to do. But I am a widow with a special needs child. I have lived in the house that I live in for 19 years. My house is in foreclosure. I have disability insurance. I have Social Security disability. That disability tells me, your insurance is not accepted here. I can’t get the medical help that I need to get better.
THE PRESIDENT: What’s your –
Q I’d love to be a flight attendant for you on that U.S. One. I’m trained on that U.S. One. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, in terms of your specific issue, come see Harry Reid and Harry Reid will see if he can help you out here. (Applause.) All right? Workman’s comp is generally a state issue as opposed to a federal issue. But Harry, he’s got a few connections here in Nevada, so I suspect that he can help out.
But, look, to the larger point, there are a lot more people who are actually going on disability right now partly because job opportunities have shrunk. And that’s why it’s so important for us to really focus on jobs.
Now, if you were listening to the Republicans, you’d think that last year we weren’t paying any attention to jobs, that we were just kind of — I don’t know what we were doing, Harry. I guess we were just sort of sitting around. (Laughter.) The truth is, is that everything we did last year was designed around how do we break the back of the recession and move the economic recovery forward in order to promote job growth.
You can’t have job growth if the economy is contracting by 6 percent, because businesses look and they say nobody is spending money, we got no customers, we can’t hire. So the first thing we had to do was to make sure that companies were starting to make a profit again, and the economy was growing. We are now in that position, because of the work that Harry did and a lot of — and these two outstanding members of Congress did, Congresswoman Berkley and Titus. (Applause.) The economy is now growing again.
But here is the challenge that we’ve got. The challenge we have is that after they’ve laid off 8 million people, now they’re growing with fewer people. So they’re making profits, but they haven’t started hiring yet. Our challenge is how do we get businesses to start hiring again?
Now, some of the jobs, I’ll be honest with you, are probably not going to come back. And the reason is because people have installed new technologies, or they’ve set up new system where they can do more with fewer workers. That’s why it’s so important for us to invest in new industries and new technologies.
I’ll give you an example. We were talking about autos before. Do you know that before the Recovery Act was passed, the United States was producing about 2 percent of the advanced batteries that are used in these clean cars, these electric cars? We were producing 2 percent of the batteries — less than 2 percent. What we did as part of the Recovery Act was invest in developing plants for battery production here in the United States. And do you know that in 18 months, we will have the capacity to produce 20 percent of the advanced batteries around the world? (Applause.) And by 2015, we’ll have the capacity to produce 40 percent of the batteries around the world. We’ve created an entire new industry — an entire new industry has been created here in the United States that can produce jobs.
So we’ve got to constantly look for those opportunities in solar and in wind, and in other hi-tech areas, because that’s going to be the future. The more people have work available to them — there is just a virtuous cycle that happens. When people go to work, they feel good; their health is better; their kids do better in school — right? (Applause.) Business — they’ve got money to spend, they come to Vegas, right? Tourism industry starts taking off. (Applause.)
So we’re going to be putting — Harry and I are working now on a jobs package for this year that’s designed not — it’s no longer designed to grow the economy. Now it’s designed to give incentives to businesses who are now making a profit to start hiring again, and to help small businesses get loans. Because a lot of small businesses are still having trouble getting loans from banks, even if they see an opportunity for business growth, and we want to make sure that they’ve got access to capital.
All right, it’s a guy’s turn. I’m going to call on this guy, even though he’s got a Cubs jacket on. (Laughter.) Everybody knows I’m a White Sox fan, but I’m going to call — just to show that I’m unbiased, I’m calling on a Cubs guy. (Laughter.)
Q You’re not a Cub hater.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not a Cub hater, that’s right.
Q Okay, before I ask my question, I want to say something. I’m enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. I understand that my benefits will be cut with health reform. I’m all for it.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, how about that? Let me — let me — before you ask your actual question, let me just make this point. We’re not actually eliminating Medicare Advantage. What Medicare Advantage is, is basically the previous administration had this idea, instead of traditional Medicare, let’s contract out to insurance companies to manage the Medicare program. And the insurance companies can then kind of package and pool providers of dental care or eye wear or what have you, and it’s a one-stop shop for seniors.
Now, in theory that sounds like a pretty good idea, except as you might imagine if the insurance companies are involved that means they’ve got to make a profit. And what happened was they didn’t bid out competitively this Medicare Advantage program. So these insurance companies were just getting a sweet deal.
All we’ve been saying is let’s make sure that there’s a competitive bidding process and that we are getting the absolute best bargain. (Applause.)
But I appreciate your larger concern, which is let’s make sure that everybody has access to health care. And traditional Medicare, by the way, is a great deal. Everybody who is in it is pretty happy with it. But go ahead with your question.
Q I’m going to introduce myself. My name is Norman — I live in north Las Vegas. I’m retired. (Applause.) And my question is about Social Security.
THE PRESIDENT: Are you a former Chicagoan?
Q Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Where are you from in Chicago?
Q Schaumburg last.
THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic. Well, the weather is a little bit better here, I got to admit. (Laughter.)
Q Well, we can visit snow here.
THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. All right, go ahead.
Q Well, my question is about Social Security. Now, I know there are a lot of myths out there, and I know you can dispel them. I saw an interview on “Meet The Press” with Alan Greenspan, who, as you know, was on the Social Security Commission in the ’80s. And Tim Russert asked him specifically, what about the crisis in Social Security? Alan Greenspan’s response was, there is no crisis in Social Security; it’s a payroll tax issue. Can you comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Here’s the situation with Social Security. It is actually true that Social Security is not in crisis the way our health care system is in crisis. I mean, when you think about the big entitlement programs, you’ve got Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. These are the big programs that take up a huge portion of the federal budget. Social Security is in the best shape of any of these, because basically the cost of Social Security will just go up with ordinary inflation, whereas health care costs are going up much faster than inflation.
It is true that if we continue on the current path with Social Security, if we did nothing on Social Security, that at a certain point, in maybe 20 years or so, what would happen is that you start seeing less money coming into the payroll tax, because the population is getting older so you’ve got fewer workers, and more people are collecting Social Security so more money is going out, and so the trust fund starts dropping.
And if we did nothing, then somewhere around 2040 what would happen would be a lot of the young people who would start collecting Social Security around then would find that they only got 75 cents on every dollar that they thought they were going to get. Everybody with me so far?
All right. So slowly we’re running out of money.
But the fixes that are required for Social Security are not huge, the way they are with Medicare. Medicare, that is a real problem. If we don’t get a handle on it, it will bankrupt us. With Social Security, we could make adjustments to the payroll tax. For example — I’ll just give you one example — right now, your Social Security — your payroll tax is capped at $109,000. So what that means is, is that — how many people — I don’t mean to pry into your business, but how many people here make less than $109,000 every year? (Laughter.) All right, this is a pretty rich audience — a lot of people kept their hands down. (Laughter.) I’m impressed. (Laughter.)
No, look, what it means is basically for 95 percent of Americans, they pay — every dollar you earn, you pay into the payroll tax. But think about that other 5 percent that’s making more than $109,000 a year. Warren Buffett, he pays the payroll tax on the first $109,000 he makes, and then for the other $10 billion — (laughter) — he doesn’t pay payroll tax.
So — yes, somebody said, “What?” (Laughter.) Yes, that’s right. That’s the way it works.
So what we’ve said is, well, don’t we — doesn’t it make sense to maybe have that payroll tax cut off at a higher level, or have people — maybe you hold people harmless till they make $250,000 a year, but between $250,000 and a million or something, they start paying payroll tax again — just to make sure that the fund overall is solvent.
So that would just be one example. That’s not the only way of fixing it, but if you made a slight adjustment like that, then Social Security would be there well into the future and it would be fine. All right? (Applause.)
Okay. It’s a woman’s turn. Anybody — I’m going to go back here. Nobody’s got — these folks haven’t had a chance here. Hold on one second — I’m going to let you use my mic. You’ll give it back, right? (Laughter.) Okay.
Q My name is Peggy — and I’m a native Nevadan, grew up in Boulder City. (Applause.) There’s a few of us here — known this great guy, Harry, all my life. And my question, which is near and dear to my heart, and there’s a few of my co-workers watching right now on television, and a few here — is we want to know what is going to be done for tourism in Nevada, particularly airlines. I am a U.S. Airways employee who has been furloughed for 17 months. They furloughed over 500 more just on the 14th, so there’s many, many of us now on the unemployment rolls. And we want to see what’s going to happen to bring our jobs back to Las Vegas. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, obviously tourism is directly connected to the state of the economy as a whole. If people have disposable income, then they’re going to travel. And if they’re going to travel and have fun, they’re going to come to Las Vegas. (Applause.) Right? So — but on the other hand, if times are tight, they’re having trouble paying the bills, making the mortgage, et cetera, that means tourism declines.
So everything we’re doing in terms of improving the economy as a whole will start improving tourism. But what is also true is that we can take some particular steps to help to encourage the tourism industry. And Harry, before we came out, was talking about a bipartisan tourism promotion/travel promotion act.
Harry — I’m going to give the mic to Harry for a second. Harry, do you want to talk just a little bit about what would be in the act? (Applause.)
SENATOR REID: We’re going to try to take that up next week. You’ll save a half a billion dollars over 10 years and create tens of thousands of jobs. We’re the only country in the world, major country in the world, that doesn’t promote itself. You’ll see on TV Jamaica does, New Zealand does, Australia does, South Africa does — but not the United States. We hope within two or three months we’ll be promoting ourselves. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Now, that’s the kind of leadership that Harry is showing. Let me make one last point about airlines in particular. There are two things that we can really do to help improve the airline industry.
The first is on energy. Part of the reason that airlines are getting squeezed all the time is because their fuel costs are huge. That’s the single biggest problem for most airlines, is fuel costs that skyrocket or are unpredictable.
And so if we’ve got a smart energy policy that is encouraging the use of electric cars and improving gas mileage, and making sure that we’re looking at alternative fuels like biofuels that can be used for trucks, all those things will help to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and, as a consequence, will, over time, stabilize fuel prices in a way that is very helpful to the airlines.
The second thing that we need to do is we’ve got to upgrade our air traffic control system, which is a little creaky. And one of — don’t worry, I mean, it’s safe to travel. I’m not — (laughter) — I don’t want anybody to think, man, creaky, that doesn’t sound good. (Laughter.)
What it is, is that because we don’t use the latest technologies, a lot of times the holding patterns for planes, how many planes can land safely at the same time, all those things are — reduce the efficiency of — the overall system is reduced because we’re not using the best technologies available.
If we can upgrade those technologies, then we could reduce delays, we could reduce cancellations, we could reduce the amount of time that it takes when there’s bad weather for planes to land. And all that would also help improve profitability in the airlines industry, which in turn would mean that they would be able to hire more workers and provide outstanding customer service. Okay? (Applause.)
All right. It’s a gentleman’s turn. This guy right here. He’s a big guy, he stood up and — he stood up, I thought, man, that’s a big guy, I better call on him. (Laughter.) Say you’re big, too — I agree. (Laughter.) Don’t worry, I’m not saying you’re not big. (Laughter.) All right, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Dr. Herve Misoko (phonetic). I am originally from France — actually from Africa, moved to France, and now I’m here in America because I believe — I still believe that America is the country of the American Dream. And I came here — I’m a scientist, president of a renewable energy startup, and I came here because I really believe that America can become the first country for clean energy. (Applause.)
One of the comments I wanted to make, coming from Europe where carbon is regulated, I see firsthand — I have a company in France also — that regulation works. It creates job. My company has been growing 30 percent every year in France for the past two years. And I really want to see that happen here. And I think that even if you don’t believe in climate change, there’s like byproducts that are awesome jobs. The country is going to advance technology-wise. We’re going to become once again like we were with the space industry, the most advanced technologically country in the world. And so I really want to see these regulations happen because it’s going to help all of us in the clean energy business. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Well, let me just talk about — this is — when the conservatives have their conventions and they yell at me and say how terrible I am — (laughter) — along with health care this is the other thing that they usually point out, which is that “the President wants to create this cap and trade system and it’s going to be a job killer and it’s one more step in the government takeover of the American economy.” So this is a good place for me to maybe just spend a little time talking about energy and climate change.
First of all, we just got five feet of snow in Washington and so everybody is like — a lot of the people who are opponents of climate change, they say, see, look at that, there’s all this snow on the ground, this doesn’t mean anything. I want to just be clear that the science of climate change doesn’t mean that every place is getting warmer; it means the planet as a whole is getting warmer. But what it may mean is, for example, Vancouver, which is supposed to be getting snow during the Olympics, suddenly is at 55 degrees, and Dallas suddenly is getting seven inches of snow.
The idea is, is that as the planet as a whole gets warmer, you start seeing changing weather patterns, and that creates more violent storm systems, more unpredictable weather. So any single place might end up being warmer; another place might end up being a little bit cooler; there might end up being more precipitation in the air, more monsoons, more hurricanes, more tornadoes, more drought in some places, floods in other places.
So I just — that’s one aspect of the science that I think everybody should understand. That’s point number one.
Point number two: The best way for us to unleash the free market — the best way for us to unleash the free market and capitalism and innovation and dynamism in the energy sector is for us to fully take into account all the costs that go into producing energy and using energy.
And what do I mean by that? Look, if you tell a company that there are no mileage standards on cars, then people end up making Hummers. Right? And everybody drives Hummers until finally gas gets so crazy and at a certain point people start saying maybe I should get a more fuel-efficient car.
But if you’ve got a fuel-efficiency standard in place that says your car needs to get 20 miles a gallon or 30 miles a gallon, suddenly all these engineers are thinking, well, how do we do that? And all these companies start coming up with new technologies that make your cars more fuel-efficient. Ultimately, you end up seeing jobs and businesses thriving in response to the regulation that’s been put there.
Now, that’s one way to regulate, is just to tell people you got to produce more energy-efficient cars. Another way of doing it is just to send a price signal. You say, it’s going to be more expensive for you if you’ve got a less fuel-efficient car.
Well, that’s the only idea that we’re trying to talk about when it comes to these greenhouse gases that are causing global warming. If we say that, you know what, the pollution that’s being sent into the atmosphere has a cost to all of us — in terms of in some cases the air we breathe that’s causing asthma, in some cases because it’s causing climate change — we just want you to take into account those costs and price energy accordingly. And that means that things like wind energy suddenly become more appealing because they don’t produce those pollution — those pollutants, and other sources of energy become less appealing because they do produce those pollutants.
The idea has been that if we put a price on these carbons, then maybe that would be a way that companies would all respond and start inventing new things that would make our planet cleaner. That’s the whole idea.
Now, last point I’m going to make on this. What is true is that a lot of us depend on dirty sources of energy and a lot of us depend on really inefficient cars and buildings and et cetera. And so there’s got to be a transition. We’re not going to suddenly get all our energy from wind or all our energy from sun because we just don’t have the technology to do it.
But what we should be doing is planning over the next 20, 30 years to move in that direction. That’s what countries like China are doing. That’s what countries like France are doing. That’s what countries all across Europe are doing, and all across Asia are doing. We don’t want to be left behind. We’re the only ones who have kind of missed the boat. So we’re still using 20th century technologies and everybody else is producing 21st century technologies.
Look what happened with the car. We started getting our clock cleaned when consumers decided they wanted a cleaner car and suddenly everybody was buying their cars from Japan, or now South Korea. And we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen when it comes to wind turbines, it doesn’t happen when it comes to solar energy, et cetera.
So the ideas that are being talked about is how do we provide more incentive for clean energy companies like yours to operate profitably, and over time how do we start shifting away from less efficient ways of using energy? That’s a pretty straightforward thing to do. There’s nothing radical about it.
It is true, though, that it’s not going to happen overnight; it’s going to take some time. And we’re still going to be getting our electricity from coal; we’re still going to be getting electricity from nuclear energy; we’re still going to be getting electricity and power from natural gas and other traditional sources. We just want to make sure that we’re also moving into the future even as we do so. And I think that we can. (Applause.)
All right. I think I’ve got time for one more question. All right, this is the last question. Last question. It’s a lady’s turn. All right, everybody is pointing at her. Right up there, right there. I couldn’t call on anybody. You know I love everybody here.
Q Good morning, Mr. President. My name is Terry Wright (phonetic) — and I teach math right here at Green Valley High School. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Excellent.
Q And my mom is right behind you in the top row.
THE PRESIDENT: Where is Mom? Mom, raise your hand.
Q Right there.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, hey, Mom. (Laughter.) You’re a very young looking mom.
Q Thank you. My question is this — and I’m speaking on behalf of all of us math teachers up here — when you were a freshman in high school specifically, did you have math homework every night? And if you did, did you do it? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, ah. (Laughter.) The answer is yes, and sometimes. (Laughter.) But, first of all, let me thank you for being a math teacher, because we need more math teachers. (Applause.) We need more science teachers. We need more teachers generally who are enthusiastic about their work and their jobs. So thanks to all the teachers here. We love teachers. (Applause.)
All right. Now, we are actually — unfortunately, our students are falling behind in math and science, internationally. We used to rank at the top, and now we’re sort of in the middle of the pack when it comes to math and science performance.
This is why one of the things that I’ve been emphasizing this year — and this actually hasn’t been subject to a lot of controversy; this is an area where we’ve been able to get good cooperation between Democrats and Republicans — is promoting math and science education, promoting technology education. The more that we are moving our young people into these areas, the better off this economy is going to be, because that means we’re producing engineers, we’re producing scientists, we’re producing computer programmers.
So we want to make sure that we are recruiting more math teachers, we’re recruiting more science teachers. We want all outstanding teachers to be getting higher pay. (Applause.) We want to make sure that there’s constant professional development when it comes to the teaching profession, so that if you had the best way of teaching math five years ago, it might not be the best way of teaching math five years from now, and so you should be able to go back and constantly sharpen your skills.
To the students I want to say this. We’re doing a lot of work on education reform. We are doing a lot to bring in new teachers, to improve classrooms, to make sure that they’re all connected to the Internet, to make sure that college is more affordable. (Applause.) But let me just say that it won’t make any difference if our students aren’t working a little bit harder. (Applause.)
Now, I’m not saying all of you aren’t working hard. I’m sure many of you feel like you are working very, very hard — because Malia and Sasha always tell me how hard they’re working. (Laughter.) But I really do think that we’re going to have to emphasize in the next decade that we’re competing around the world, and America will continue to be number one as long as we are just as hungry as other countries.
So if our kids are spending all their time playing video games, and somebody else’s kids are getting the math and science skills to invent video games — (laughter) — we’re not going to be number one. I mean, it’s as simple as that.
So the need to turn off the TV, put the video games away, buckle down on your work, making sure that parents are checking their kids’ homework and talking to their teachers — (applause) — being accountable, being responsible — that’s what’s going to make sure that we continue to thrive, we continue to excel into the future.
Thank you, Henderson. I had a great time. Bye-bye. (Applause.)
WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Says it is Time to Move Forward on Health Care Reform
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama used his weekly address to call on Democratic and Republican leaders to attend next week’s health care meeting in good faith to find reforms that work for American families and small businesses. With several health insurance companies announcing steep hikes in their rates – from 10 to over 30 percent – it is clear that the status quo, while good for the insurance industry, is bad for the American people. After a year of exhaustive debate, it is time to move forward on reform.
The full audio of the address is HERE. The video can be viewed online at www.whitehouse.gov.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
February 20, 2010
The other week, men and women across California opened up their mailboxes to find a letter from Anthem Blue Cross. The news inside was jaw-dropping. Anthem was alerting almost a million of its customers that it would be raising premiums by an average of 25 percent, with about a quarter of folks likely to see their rates go up by anywhere from 35 to 39 percent.
Now, after their announcement stirred public outcry, Anthem agreed to delay their rate hike until May 1st while the situation is reviewed by the state of California. But it’s not just Californians who are being hit by rate hikes. In Kansas, one insurance company raised premiums by 10 to 20 percent only after asking to raise them by 20 to 30 percent. Last year, Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield raised rates by 22 percent after asking to raise them by up to 56 percent. And in Maine, Anthem is asking to raise rates for some folks by about 23 percent.
The bottom line is that the status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America. Over the past year, as families and small business owners have struggled to pay soaring health care costs, and as millions of Americans lost their coverage, the five largest insurers made record profits of over $12 billion.
And as bad as things are today, they’ll only get worse if we fail to act. We’ll see more and more Americans go without the coverage they need. We’ll see exploding premiums and out-of-pocket costs burn through more and more family budgets. We’ll see more and more small businesses scale back benefits, drop coverage, or close down because they can’t keep up with rising rates. And in time, we’ll see these skyrocketing health care costs become the single largest driver of our federal deficits.
That’s what the future is on track to look like. But it’s not what the future has to look like. The question, then, is whether we will do what it takes, all of us – Democrats and Republicans – to build a better future for ourselves, our children, and our country.
That’s why, next week, I am inviting members of both parties to take part in a bipartisan health care meeting, and I hope they come in a spirit of good faith. I don’t want to see this meeting turn into political theater, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points. Instead, I ask members of both parties to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that’s been with us for generations.
It’s in that spirit that I have sought out and supported Republican ideas on reform from the very beginning. Some Republicans want to allow Americans to purchase insurance from a company in another state to give people more choices and bring down costs. Some Republicans have also suggested giving small businesses the power to pool together and offer health care at lower prices, just as big companies and labor unions do. I think both of these are good ideas – so long as we pursue them in a way that protects benefits, protects patients, and protects the American people. I hope Democrats and Republicans can come together next week around these and other ideas.
To members of Congress, I would simply say this. We know the American people want us to reform our health insurance system. We know where the broad areas of agreement are. And we know where the sources of disagreement lie. After debating this issue exhaustively for a year, let’s move forward together. Next week is our chance to finally reform our health insurance system so it works for families and small businesses. It’s our chance to finally give Americans the peace of mind of knowing that they’ll be able to have affordable coverage when they need it most.
What’s being tested here is not just our ability to solve this one problem, but our ability to solve any problem. Right now, Americans are understandably despairing about whether partisanship and the undue influence of special interests in Washington will make it impossible for us to deal with the big challenges that face our country. They want to see us focus not on scoring points, but on solving problems; not on the next election but on the next generation. That is what we can do, and that is what we must do when we come together for this bipartisan health care meeting next week. Thank you, and have a great weekend.
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
TO THE NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION
11:09 A.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. Thank you. It is a pleasure for me to be here with all of you today and to welcome you all to Washington.
Thank you, Governor Douglas, for that very kind introduction. And thanks to you and Governor Manchin for your leadership in Vermont as well as [West] Virginia, and as the Chair and the Vice Chair of the NGA.
And I also want to recognize all the governors who are here today and to thank you for your outstanding leadership and the dedicated service that you provide to states all across this country. We are grateful to you.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all the spouses who are here for all the things you have to put up with. (Laughter.) The long hours, absolutely. (Applause.) You all are making the same kind of sacrifices, putting up with long hours and late-night crises. And all I can say is, been there, done that. (Laughter.) And I know how you feel, and we are just grateful to have you all. And again, we’ll give them another round of applause. (Applause.)
Now, I know that the focus of this year’s meeting is the issue of health care. And over the next few days, you’re going to be talking about spiraling costs that are straining your budgets and running up all of our deficits — costs like the nearly $150 billion a year that we spend on obesity-related conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. You’re going to talk about the staggering Medicaid burdens — and how premiums have risen three times faster than wages, often bankrupting families in your states, sinking businesses in states all across this country.
But we all know that there’s another set of statistics that have to be a part of this discussion — like how nearly one in three of our children in this country is now overweight or obese. Like how one in three kids today will eventually develop diabetes — and in the African American and Hispanic communities, the number is nearly half. Because if we think our health care costs are high now, just wait until 10 years from now. Think about the many billions we’re going to be spending then. Think about how high those premiums are going to be when our kids are old enough to have families of their own and businesses of their own.
So we all know that we can’t solve our health care problems unless we address our childhood obesity problem, too. And that’s really why I’m here today: to talk about the issue of childhood obesity that is so important to me and what our states and our nations can do to solve it.
But we have to begin by understanding how we got here, what’s caused this crisis in the first place. And I have my theories, but when you all think about it, this is a relatively new phenomenon. This wasn’t something that we were dealing with when I was growing up. Back when we were all growing up, most of us led lives that naturally kept us at a healthy weight. We walked to school and we walked home, because we usually lived in communities where our schools were close. All of us ran around all day at school, doing recess and gym because everybody had to do it. And then when we got home, we’d be sent right back outside and told not to come back home until dinner was served. (Laughter.) You know your parents didn’t let you in the house.
And back then we ate sensibly. We had many more home-cooked meals. That was the norm. And much to our dismay at the time, there was always something green on the plate. (Laughter.) Fast food and dessert was a special treat. You had it but you didn’t have it every day, and the portion sizes were reasonable. In my family I remember a couple of pints of ice cream — this was a big treat — we’d get three pints of ice cream for a family of four and that would last us a week, because you wouldn’t eat a pint, you’d get a scoop, and that would be it. You’d savor that a spoonful at a time.
And these weren’t arbitrary rules that our parents just made up. As we know now, it was a way of life they imposed to help keep us active and healthy. They knew back then that kids couldn’t and shouldn’t sit still for hours. They knew that kids needed to run around and play. They knew that keeping us healthy wasn’t about saying no to everything, but it was about balance and moderation. We all had our share of burgers and fries and ice cream growing up. We just didn’t have it every day, and not at every meal.
But somewhere along the line, we kind of lost that sense of perspective and moderation. And we all want the very best for our kids just like our parents wanted for us. But with the pressures of today’s economy, and the breakneck pace of modern life, many parents feel like the deck is stacked against them.
They want to prepare healthy foods for their kids, but a lot of times they’re tight on money and they just can’t afford these meals. Or oftentimes they’re tight on time because they’re juggling longer hours at work and many of them juggling multiple jobs. So they just can’t swing coming home and making a home-cooked meal around the dinner table. It’s hard.
They want their kids to be active, but sometimes they live in communities where either it’s not practical to walk to school or, worse yet, it’s not safe. Or they live in communities where gym classes and school sports are considered luxuries and not necessities — the first things to go in a budget crunch. And those afternoons playing outside, they’ve been replaced by afternoons sitting inside in front of the TV or video games or the Internet. And as a result, many parents feel like they’ve lost that sense of being in charge that their parents had.
But we have to be honest with ourselves: Our kids didn’t do this to themselves. Our kids didn’t decide whether there’s time for recess or gym class, or our kids don’t decide what’s served to them in the school cafeteria. Our kids don’t decide whether to build playgrounds and parks in their neighborhoods or whether to bring supermarkets and farmer’s markets to their communities. We set those priorities. We make those decisions. And even if it doesn’t feel like we’re in charge, we are.
But that’s the good news. Because if we make these decisions here, then we can decide to solve this problem. And that’s precisely what so many of you are doing right now in your states. You’re experimenting and innovating. Many of you are ignoring the naysayers and the old partisan divides, and focusing solely on what works.
In Pennsylvania, for example, folks started a Fresh Food Financing Initiative to bring grocery stores to underserved areas. And I got to visit one of those communities yesterday when I spent some time with Governor Rendell in Philadelphia. In that community they started with $30 million, and then they leveraged that for an additional $190 million from the private and non-profit sectors. And with that money they’ve funded 83 supermarket projects in 34 counties that are making profits, and they’re projected to create more than 5,000 jobs.
In North Carolina, they’ve launched a full-scale effort to help kids eat healthier and to exercise more. They’ve banned snack and soda vending machines from elementary schools. They’ve given grants to cities and to counties for things like sidewalks and trails and community gardens. And they’ve trained 41,000 teachers across the state on how to incorporate physical activity into the classroom.
And Arkansas started on the issue of childhood obesity way back in 2003 — something former Governor Huckabee and I discussed yesterday when I appeared on his TV show. They screened students’ BMIs, which was controversial. They got healthier food into their schools and required regular physical education classes. And as a result, that state was able to halt the rise of childhood obesity completely.
What you all are doing is proof that if we are creative and committed enough, if we meet this challenge with the kind of energy and determination that it requires, then we can take back control and we can turn back the tide and we can give our kids the kind of lives they deserve.
And that’s why last week we launched this wonderful initiative called “Let’s Move.” It’s a nationwide campaign to rally this country around a single ambitious goal, and that is to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that the kids born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
So we’ve issued a call to action. We’ve said, let’s move. Let’s move to help families and communities make healthier decisions for their kids. And let’s move to bring together governors and mayors and doctors, nurses, our business leaders, non-profit community, our educators, our athletes, our parents to tackle this challenge once and for all. Because it’s going to take every last one of us — particularly folks in the private sector, from the food industry offering healthier options to retailers who understand that what’s good for kids and families can actually be good for businesses, too.
That’s why, over the next 90 days, the first ever government-wide task force, which includes members of our Cabinet, will develop a national action plan. And they won’t just review every government program relating to child nutrition and physical activity and advise us on how to marshal those resources. But they’re also going to develop benchmarks to measure our progress, and recommend actions that can be taken by the private and the non-profit sectors.
But we cannot wait 90 days to get to work here. So we’ve already gotten started on a series of initiatives to achieve our goal.
There are four key pillars. The first: Let’s move to offer parents the tools and information they need and that many have been asking for to make healthier choices for their kids. So many parents want to do the right thing, but they are bombarded by conflicting information, and they don’t know what to believe or where to start. That’s why many of you have been running public education campaigns and creating healthy-living Web sites. And California is leading the way, becoming the first state in the country to require restaurant chains of a certain size to post calorie information on menus and menu boards — just one part of an aggressive, anti-obesity strategy that’s making a difference across that state. And the health care legislation in Congress follows their lead. It includes a similar provision to help parents make informed decisions.
Let’s Move is going to add to these efforts. We’ve started with a Web site, called letsmove.gov, that’s going to have helpful tips and step-by-step strategies for parents. We’re also working with pediatricians and family doctors to encourage them to screen kids for obesity early, and then actually write out a prescription for parents with action steps that they can take to address it so they don’t feel like they’re dealing with this problem alone.
And we’ve been working with the FDA and the food industry to make our food labels more customer-friendly, so that people don’t spend hours squinting at words they can’t pronounce to know if the foods they’re buying are healthy. In fact, the nation’s beverage companies, the largest, just announced that they’re going to be providing clearly visible information about calories on the front of their products and on their vending machines and soda fountains. And this is a step in the right direction. It’s an important step, but it’s still only one step. And we have so many more ahead.
We can’t forget, for example, that 31 million of our children participate in federal school meal programs. So we don’t want to be in the position where we take one step forward with parents making good decisions, but then we take two steps back when lunch time rolls around at school and kids are faced with poor choices in the school cafeteria.
So let’s move to get healthier food into our nation’s schools, and that’s the second part of this initiative. There’s a reason why our governors are such passionate advocates for our school meal programs. It’s because you all know the impact that these programs have. You know that when kids get the nutrition they need, they perform better in the classroom and they miss fewer days of school. So let’s multiply that by 31 million, and we are talking about a serious impact on education in this country.
That’s why we’ve set a goal of doubling the number of schools in the HealthierUS School Challenge. And we’ve already gotten several major food suppliers to commit to offering healthier school meals.
We’re also updating and strengthening the Child Nutrition Act. Secretary Vilsack is taking the lead on these efforts, and we plan to invest an additional $10 billion over 10 years to fund that legislation. This will allow us to serve 1 million more kids in the first five years, and dramatically improve the quality of food in our schools — decreasing sugar, fat, and salt; and increasing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
But our success here is up to you. It’s up to you to get that — get the most out of these new investments. And maybe that means demanding more from your suppliers in your state, or maybe renegotiating your contracts to include healthier options. Maybe it means starting a farm-to-school program or insisting on healthier options in school vending machines, which, by the way, has actually meant increased revenues in schools in Kentucky and Maine and elsewhere.
But while school meals provide critical nutrition for millions of kids, we also can’t forget that kids get plenty of their calories at home, right in their own neighborhoods. And many of our kids live in what we call “food deserts,” and these are areas without access to a grocery store. Imagine that, living in a community without a grocery store. So too many of those calories at home come from fast food or processed foods from the local gas station or convenience store.
So that’s why the third component of “Let’s Move” is, let’s move to ensure that all our families have access to healthy, affordable food in their communities. Right now there are food deserts in every single state in this country, so we’ve set an ambitious goal, and that is to eliminate every last one of those food deserts within seven years.
And to achieve this, we’ve created the Healthy Food Financing Initiative that is modeled on what was so successful in Pennsylvania. We’ll start with an initial investment of $400 million a year. And we’ll use that to leverage hundreds of millions more from the private and non-profit sectors to bring grocery stores to underserved areas across the country.
And once again, our success here is going to depend so much on what you do. We need you to encourage communities to apply for these grants, and provide the right incentives — from helpful zoning laws, to remapped transit routes that help shoppers access stores, to job training to entice grocers with a well-prepared workforce.
But we know that eating right is only part of the battle. We all know that in our own lives. We know that physical activity is critical, too — not just for better health but for better academic achievement. Experts recommend that kids get at least 60 minutes of active play each day. And we know that many of our kids aren’t anywhere close to that. So let’s move — and I mean that literally. We have to move to find new ways for our kids to be physically active both in and out of school.
And I have to say that many of you have been very creative on this piece already. Folks in West Virginia have taken the lead in bringing DDR — that’s Dance, Dance Revolution — it’s a new video game that gets kids up and moving. Many other states use it as well. And let me tell you, I can attest to Dance, Dance Revolution. We got it at Camp David, and it will make you sweat. (Laughter.) And it is addictive in a very good way. The President still can’t do it. (Laughter.)
Georgia is using a program called HOPSports, and they’re beaming in videos of famous athletes into gym classes so kids can learn skills and techniques from their heroes and their role models.
And to build on these efforts, “Let’s Move” is going to work to modernize and expand the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge. And we’ve already recruited professional athletes from dozens of different sports leagues. They’re going to be involved to encourage our kids to get and stay active.
So that’s just some of what we’re doing — just some of it. That’s how we’re working to attack this problem from every single angle. Because that’s the thing about this issue of childhood obesity — it has so many different causes. There are so many different culprits, and it’s not enough to tackle any one of them alone, because we can give our kids the healthiest school meals imaginable, but if the rest of their calories come from the corner store or drive-through, then they still won’t get adequate nutrition. And we can have shiny new supermarkets on every block in every community, but if parents don’t have the information they need, they’ll still struggle to make the right choices for their kids.
So we need a comprehensive, coordinated approach to this problem. But that doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive approach, because I know that many of you are stretched thinner than ever in these times, and don’t actually have money to spare. But often it’s about doing more with what you already have. If you’re already paving a new road, for example, why not add a sidewalk or a bike path, too? Or if you’re already building a housing development, why not add a playground? If you’ve got school gyms or playing fields empty after hours, why not find a way to open them up to the community at night or on the weekends?
I also want to be clear that “comprehensive and coordinated” doesn’t mean centralized. I’ve spoken to so many experts on this issue, and not a single one of them has said that the solution is for the federal government to tell people what to do. That doesn’t work. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem. Because what works in Rhode Island might not work in Arizona. What’s perfect for Hawaii might not be right for Minnesota. Different states, as you know, have different needs and different priorities and different resources.
And you all know best what’s going to work for the people that you serve. You know what’s working and you know what isn’t. That’s why the NGA’s efforts to support this issue and to provide best practice is going to be so valuable. It has already been. That’s why I’ve reached out to so many of you to get your ideas and your input and to learn more about how we can help you. And I want to hear from every single state, of every size, from every region. I want to work with leaders from both parties, because the way I see this, there is nothing Democratic or Republican, there is nothing liberal or conservative about wanting our kids to lead active, healthy lives.
There’s no place for politics when it comes to fighting childhood obesity. And I know all of you agree; I know that. You know that — (applause) — you know that because with a phone call or the stroke of a pen, you can determine whether a child can see a doctor or get a decent education or have a safe place to play, because you all are fighting the real battles every day on behalf of our kids, and you don’t have time for the fake battles. You’re interested in what works, what makes a real difference in people’s lives, what will make things better for the next generation.
It’s funny, because that’s what drove President Theodore Roosevelt to call the very first meeting of this organization a century ago to speak to America’s governors about conservation — about preserving America’s beauty and bounty not just for the current generation but for generations to come.
Working for the next generation is what drives so many Americans to do what they do — to work that extra shift, to take that extra job, to go without themselves just so that their kids can have more than they did. It’s what we’ve always done in this country. I know my parents have done it for me. They measured their success by the success of their children, by whether their children were happier and healthier and had a better shot at fulfilling their dreams than they did.
That’s why so many of you got involved in politics in the first place — to leave something better for those who are going to come after you. And in the end, that’s what “Let’s Move” is all about. It is simple. Let’s stop wringing our hands and talking about it and citing statistics. Let’s act. Let’s move. Let’s give our kids the future they deserve.
Look, I look forward to working with all of you in these efforts over the months and years ahead. I’m going to need you. I’m going to need you championing these causes, giving me feedback, giving me direction and guidance. It will not work any other way. And our kids can’t afford for us to get this wrong, and we know it.
So thank you in advance for your help, and I look forward to seeing you all on the dance floor tomorrow night. (Laughter.) Thank you so much. (Applause.)