Statement From President Barack Obama On Signing Into Law The National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2012
Statement by the President on H.R. 1540
Today I have signed into law H.R. 1540, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.” I have signed the Act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed. In hundreds of separate sections totaling over 500 pages, the Act also contains critical Administration initiatives to control the spiraling health care costs of the Department of Defense (DoD), to develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, to build the security capacity of key partners, to modernize the force, and to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide.
Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 1540
On Saturday, December 31, 2011, the President signed into law:
H.R. 1540, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012,” which authorizes FY 2012 appropriations for Department of Defense programs and military construction, Department of Energy national security programs, and Department of Transportation maritime security programs.
Statement by the President on the Horn of Africa Famine
As we enter the season of giving and renewal, more than 13.3 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance amid the worst drought the region has seen in 60 years. The heartbreaking accounts of lives lost and of those struggling to survive remind us of our common humanity and the need to reach out to people in need. I want to thank the many Americans who have reached out in support, and made donations over the last several months to support people in need in the Horn of Africa.
Today, on behalf of the U.S. Government and the American people, I am announcing an additional $113 million in emergency relief assistance for the Horn of Africa. This funding will support urgently needed food, health, shelter, water and assistance needs. To date, the U.S. has provided approximately $870 million for relief purposes. Importantly, and even as we help to meet the emergency needs of the people of this region, we are also investing in their long-term food security http://www.feedthefuture.gov/.
For more information, please visit the FWD Campaign run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and to learn more about how you can get involved, please visithttp://action.usaid.gov/ .
Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest on U.S. Sale of Defense Equipment to Saudi Arabia
Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest on U.S. Sale of Defense Equipment to Saudi Arabia
The United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have signed a government-to-government agreement under the Foreign Military Sales program to provide advanced F-15SA combat aircraft to the Royal Saudi Air Force.
Valued at $29.4 billion, this agreement includes production of 84 new aircraft and the modernization of 70 existing aircraft as well as munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics. These F-15SA aircraft, manufactured by The Boeing Company, are among the most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world.
This agreement will positively impact the U.S. economy and further advances the president’s commitment to create jobs by increasing exports. According to industry experts, this agreement will support more than 50,000 American jobs, engaging 600 suppliers in 44 states, and providing $3.5 billion in annual economic impact to the U.S. economy.
This agreement reinforces the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security.
BREAKING NEWS: PRESIDENT OBAMA TELLS REPUBLICANS THAT WASHINGTON HAS “MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT THAN POLITICS!”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE PAYROLL TAX CUT
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:59 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Sorry to interrupt.
MR. CARNEY: All yours, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. It is no secret that there hasn’t been an abundance of partisanship in Washington this year. And that’s why what happened on Saturday was such a big deal.
Nearly the entire Senate — including almost all of the Republicans — voted to prevent 160 million working Americans from receiving a tax increase on January 1st. Nearly the entire Senate voted to make sure that nearly 2.5 million Americans who are out there looking for a job don’t lose their unemployment insurance in the first two months of next year. And just about everybody — Democrats and Republicans — committed to making sure that early next year we find a way to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance through the end of 2012.
But now, even though Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were willing to compromise for the good of the country, a faction of Republicans in the House are refusing to even vote on the Senate bill — a bill that cuts taxes for 160 million Americans. And because of their refusal to cooperate, all those Americans could face a tax hike in just 11 days, and millions of Americans who are out there looking for work could find their unemployment insurance expired.
Now, let’s be clear: Right now, the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January 1st. It’s the only one. All of the leaders in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — say they are committed to making sure we extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the entire year. And by the way, this is something I called for months ago.
The issue is, is that the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate worked on a one-year deal, made good progress, but determined that they needed more time to reach an agreement. And that’s why they passed an insurance policy — to make sure that taxes don’t go up on January 1st.
In fact, the House Republicans say they don’t dispute the need for a payroll tax cut. What they’re really trying to do, what they’re holding out for, is to wring concessions from Democrats on issues that have nothing to do with the payroll tax cut — issues where the parties fundamentally disagree. So a one-year deal is not the issue; we can and we will come to that agreement, as long as it’s focused on the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance and not focused on extraneous issues.
The issue right now is this: The clock is ticking; time is running out. And if the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days. I saw today that one of the House Republicans referred to what they’re doing as, “high-stakes poker.” He’s right about the stakes, but this is not poker, this is not a game — this shouldn’t be politics as usual. Right now, the recovery is fragile, but it is moving in the right direction. Our failure to do this could have effects not just on families but on the economy as a whole. It’s not a game for the average family, who doesn’t have an extra 1,000 bucks to lose. It’s not a game for somebody who’s out there looking for work right now, and might lose his house if unemployment insurance doesn’t come through. It’s not a game for the millions of Americans who will take a hit when the entire economy grows more slowly because these proposals aren’t extended.
I just got back from a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, where we received the flag and the colors that our troops fought under in Iraq, and I met with some of the last men and women to return home from that war. And these Americans, and all Americans who serve, are the embodiment of courage and selflessness and patriotism, and when they fight together, and sometimes die together, they don’t know and they certainly don’t care who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican and how somebody is doing in the polls and how this might play in the spin room. They work as a team, and they do their job. And they do it for something bigger than themselves.
The people in this town need to learn something from them. We have more important things to worry about than politics right now. We have more important things to worry about than saving face, or figuring out internal caucus politics. We have people who are counting on us to make their lives just a little bit easier, to build an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded. And we owe it to them to come together right now and do the right thing. That’s what the Senate did. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate said, we’re going to put our fights on other issues aside and go ahead and do what’s right on something we all agree to. Let’s go ahead and do it. We’ll have time later for the politics; we’ll have time later to have fights around a whole bunch of other issues. Right now, though, we know this is good for the economy — and they went ahead and did the right thing.
I need the Speaker and House Republicans to do the same: Put politics aside, put aside issues where there are fundamental disagreements, and come together on something we agree on. And let’s not play brinksmanship. The American people are weary of it; they’re tired of it. They expect better. I’m calling on the Speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote. Give the American people the assurance they need in this holiday season.
Joint Statement by the United States and the Republic of South Sudan at the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan
by the United States and the Republic of South Sudan
at the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan
The Governments of the United States and the Republic of South Sudan are pleased to have hosted the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan December 14-15, 2011 to highlight the national development vision of South Sudan and the opportunities for investment in the country. The United States and South Sudan appreciate the support and participation of the conference co-sponsors – the United Kingdom, Norway, Turkey, the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Corporate Council on Africa, and InterAction. Senior officials from each of these governments and organizations participated in the conference, providing valuable insights and contributions.
At the conference, President Salva Kiir Mayardit presented a forward-looking development vision of South Sudan and emphasized his government’s commitment to promoting a climate conducive to attracting and retaining new investment, including taking specific legislative actions and encouraging regional and international trade, especially in several key sectors. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted the U.S. commitment to partnering with South Sudan as it works to develop its economy and strengthen its institutions of government for the benefit of its people.
Participants in the conference saluted the people of South Sudan for achieving their independence in July and welcomed the government’s early focus on and commitment to accountability, transparency and good governance. Follow-through on this commitment is critical to fulfill the aspirations of the South Sudanese people for economic and social development. The conference focused on several important themes central to this goal: responsible management of oil revenue and natural resources; effective social services delivery; investments in education, health and agriculture; human capital and institutional capacity development; promotion of women, youth and respect for diversity; and efficient coordination of international assistance. In addition, participants discussed specific investment opportunities in sectors such as oil and renewable energy, information technology, agriculture, transportation infrastructure, clean water and sanitation, capacity building services, and financial services. South Sudan proposed and participants agreed that investments, international support and development assistance will be linked to national priorities. South Sudan will engage the international community on a high-level dialogue to strengthen institutions to advance accountability and transparency.
Going forward, the United States Government and other key partners — including other donors, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations — reinforced a commitment to work alongside the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to serve as a catalyst for new partnerships and opportunities to assist in achieving prosperity and social development for the people of South Sudan. The conference emphasized that South Sudan must be supported in its desire for peace in order to enable it to concentrate on the needs of its people, who have waited long for the opportunity for a better life.
FACT SHEET: Supporting South Sudan’s Vision for the Future
The United States hosted the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan to welcome the new country to the international community and provide a forum for the Republic of South Sudan (RoSS) to highlight its development priorities and opportunities for engagement with public and private sector partners. From the involvement of ten co-sponsors to the participation of over 25 countries, this conference demonstrated the continued commitment of the United States and international community to South Sudan.
As part of this effort, agencies across the United States government have examined the tools they can bring to bear to propel development and investment in South Sudan. This was a far-reaching effort, ranging from discussions on a possible new Peace Corps program, to the Department of Commerce facilitating follow up with private sector participants through a webinar series, to ongoing support to assist the government of South Sudan to manage its oil sector transparently and take steps towards joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Progress is ongoing and will continue after the conference, but significant steps in a range of areas are moving forward. The United States, along with the co-sponsors, commit to continued support to South Sudan in order to:
- · Promote sound management of national resources and accountability to benefit the people of South Sudan.
- · Create a climate for investment and promote trade to facilitate economic integration and growth.
- · Strengthen education, health and agricultural sectors as the foundations for growth and long-term development of the South Sudanese people.
- · Encourage the participation of women and youth and respect the diversity of the people of South Sudan.
RECENT KEY U.S. GOVERNMENT COMMITMENTS TO SOUTH SUDAN
- · Department of Treasury Has Issued General Licenses to Help South Sudan Stimulate Investment
Existing U.S. sanctions on Sudan were identified as a barrier to greater investment in the Republic of South Sudan (RoSS). In order to encourage U.S. investment in the RoSS, OFAC has issued two general licenses that authorize, to the extent otherwise prohibited, (1) activities and transactions relating to the petroleum and petrochemical industries in the RoSS and related financial transactions and (2) the transshipment of goods, technology, and services through Sudan to and from the RoSS and related financial transactions. These licenses are expected to enable greater investment in South Sudan.
- · U.S. Office of the Trade Representative Launches Review of South Sudan Eligibility for Trade Benefits and African Growth and Opportunity Act
Expanding trade between the United States and the RoSS is a critical element of our engagement strategy. The Administration has launched a review of South Sudan’s eligibility for trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences. If it is determined that South Sudan meets the eligibility requirements, up to 4,800 different products would become eligible for duty-free treatment by the United States. The United States is also starting the process of considering South Sudan’s eligibility under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA gives duty free treatment to a broader variety of products than GSP, including apparel, footwear, and certain agricultural products. By enabling greater access to the U.S. market and providing tangible incentives for African countries to open their economies and build free markets, GSP and AGOA together play an important role in sustainable economic development throughout Africa.
- · Overseas Private Investment Corporation Has Initiated Process to Open for Business in South Sudan
U.S. private sector investment will be critical to the Republic of South Sudan’s economic development. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, has initiated the process to open for business in South Sudan. OPIC can provide financing and risk mitigation tools to small businesses, large corporations, and NGOs to catalyze private investment in South Sudan. OPIC has experienced considerable demand from U.S. companies interested in investing in the country, particularly in infrastructure and agriculture. In order for OPIC to provide its programs in a new country, the country must first meet a set of criteria. Once eligible, OPIC-supported private equity funds will also be able to make investments in South Sudan.
- · USAID Focusing on Agricultural Development to Strengthen Economic Growth
Through Feed the Future, President Obama’s food security initiative, the United States has focused on agricultural development to drive broad-based economic growth in the RoSS. USAID is working with a range of partners on this effort including John Garang University, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC). Goals include increasing agricultural resiliency, supporting high-quality agricultural inputs and services and building an enabling agricultural infrastructure.
As part of this focus, USAID also recently designed the first-ever credit guarantee in the newly independent South Sudan to support local lending to the country’s agriculture sector. Working with AGRA, the Development Credit Authority guarantee will mobilize $7 million in private financing for agriculture lending from Equity Bank and Finance Sudan. Negotiations are underway to include an additional commercial bank. The six-year guarantee will provide partial risk protection for bank lending to key agricultural aggregators, input suppliers, entrepreneurs, and other small-scale businesses in the agriculture value chain.
- · USAID Supporting High-Quality Health Care Systems for the People of South Sudan
USAID is partnering with the RoSS, the World Bank and the donors of the Health Pooled Fund to expand essential primary health care services. These international development partners will support the RoSS’s Basic Package of Health Services, including primary health care facilities and community-level health providers to offer high-quality life-saving interventions aimed at reducing maternal, newborn and child morbidity and mortality, as well as decreasing the burden of critical communicable diseases.
- · Supporting the Participation of Women in Political, Social and Economic Spheres
The U.S. Government is taking a closer look at areas for increased engagement with women, as well as the diverse constituency of individuals that strengthen South Sudanese society. We welcome initiatives such as:
- · The inclusion of South Sudan in the U.S.’s National Action Plan (NAP) on Women Peace and Security Initiative. The goal of the NAP is to empower half the world’s population as equal partners in the pursuit of lasting peace and security.
- · The participation of South Sudanese women entrepreneurs in the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, which seeks to engage African businesswomen, equip them with the tools and opportunities to accelerate the growth of their businesses to become leaders in their communities and drive further social and economic progress in Africa.
RECENT KEY CO-SPONSOR COMMITMENTS TO SOUTH SUDAN
The United States welcomes the ongoing efforts of our co-sponsors to help South Sudan achieve its immediate and long-term goals. As one of the objectives of this conference, international coordination is imperative, and we welcome the continued collaboration and coordination. Many of the co-sponsors involved have been supporting South Sudan in a variety of ways for a long time. Below are examples of some of the renewed commitments they are making in conjunction with the conference:
- · Norway is working collaboratively with the U.S. and others from a transparency perspective to include all the principles behind the EITI in petroleum revenue management legislation. The Bill currently in the process of being approved comprises a broad range of measures to ensure transparency including regular disclosure of key information including payments. In addition, Norway will work together with the Republic of South Sudan to provide an EITI-aligned report. As a result, South Sudan will be as transparent as any EITI country once the Bill is adopted and implemented.
- · The United Kingdom, on behalf of the Troika (the U.S., the U.K., and Norway) has been discussing with the Government of South Sudan the steps that could be taken to establish a high-level dialogue on transparency and accountability issues. The dialogue could review progress against government and international commitments in these areas, as well as trends in and public perception of corruption and actions taken in response to allegations against corruption.
- · Turkey, as a key player in ensuring sustainable economic and social development, is encouraging its private sector to increase business-to-business cooperation between the two countries for higher trade and investment targets. Turkey is also prepared to evaluate and support development projects in South Sudan in areas where the Turkish International Cooperation Agency is particularly active throughout Africa, including irrigation, energy, health and education.
- · The United Nations (UN) Country Team will assist the Government to take bold steps to reinforce core governance functions, build service delivery systems, improve food security, and reduce community conflict in an equitable way across all ten states. In doing so, they will give special focus to addressing the acute needs of women in the South Sudan.
- · The World Bank will build upon and extend its ongoing work with the Government of South Sudan to support sustained growth and development, including by organizing a donors’ conference in 2012. In addition, the World Bank, African Development Bank and IMF are assisting South Sudan’s acceptance as full members of the financial institutions.
- · International Finance Corporation (IFC) supported South Sudan during the CPA period with advisory services in the Ministry of Investment that helped put in place the basic legal framework for business. IFC will continue this support on a larger scale going forward to help the government promote financial sector development and investments in key sectors like agriculture and infrastructure. The IFC is establishing a field office in Juba to facilitate this engagement.
- · The European Union (EU) has committed to substantially expand its support of the rural development sector in South Sudan, building on the EU’s existing programs supporting rural development and food security. To help fulfill the priority needs outlined by South Sudan, the EU will sponsor an event on agriculture and food security in Juba during the first half of 2012, working in coordination with the U.S.
- · The African Union (AU), together with NEPAD Coordinating Agency, will work to support the Government of South Sudan in developing a country Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) Agenda. CAADP focuses on improving food security, nutrition, and incomes by raising agricultural productivity by at least 6% per year and increasing public investment in agriculture to10% of national budgets per year.
- · Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) will coordinate its Working Group on Sudan for the private sector and invited guests from the U.S. Government and the private sector. In coordination with others, CCA will work to convene a Doing Business in South Sudan workshop, as a follow-up meeting for the private sector in Juba to further connections and to explore the potential for doing business in South Sudan. CCA will also work with Books for Africa, the nation’s largest supplier of books to Africa, to supply South Sudan with a container of approximately 22,000 books for use by schools and libraries and in law development.
- · Interaction, in coordination with many of its members and other aid agencies, totaling 38 organizations working in South Sudan, released the briefing paper: “Getting it Right from the Start.” The report highlights key lessons to follow for promoting development success in South Sudan.
Together, the actions of the United States Government and its co-sponsors are providing the support needed to help build a bright future for the new nation of South Sudan.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON MINIMUM WAGE AND OVERTIME PROTECTIONS
FOR IN-HOME CARE WORKERS
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
12:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. As I said in Kansas last week, the defining issue of our time is whether we can build an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded. It’s whether this is going to be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family and build a modest savings and own a home, secure their own retirement, look after their kids. That’s the test of our time.
In some cases, building this kind of economy is going to require some action from Congress. And right now, Congress needs to make sure that 160 million working Americans don’t see their taxes go up on January 1st. None of the workers who’ve joined us here today can afford a $1,000 tax increase next year. And it wouldn’t be good for the economy. Every economist indicates that it’s important for us to extend the payroll tax cut and make sure that unemployment insurance is extended. So this Congress cannot and should not leave for vacation until that — until they have made sure that that tax increase doesn’t happen. Let me repeat that: Congress should not and cannot go on vacation before they have made sure that working families aren’t seeing their taxes go up by $1,000 and those who are out there looking for work don’t see their unemployment insurance expire.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to extend these items — the payroll tax cut, UI — before the holidays. There’s no reason the government should shut down over this. And I expect all of us to do what’s necessary in order to do the people’s business and make sure that it’s done before the end of the year.
Now, only Congress can prevent the payroll tax from going up next year. But there are also some things that we can do without Congress to help make sure that hard work pays off. And that’s why we’re here today.
Right behind me here is my friend Pauline Beck. One day, back in 2007, Pauline was my boss. I was in California to take part in an event called “Walk a Day in My Shoes,” where you’d spend the day working the job of someone who was in the service industry. And I was lucky enough to be paired up with Pauline, and I have tell you, it ended up being one of my favorite days of the entire campaign.
Pauline is a home health care worker. When we met, she was getting up every day at 5:00 a.m. to go to work taking care of an 86-year-old amputee named “Mr. John.” And each day, she’d dress Mr. John and help him into his wheelchair. She’d make him breakfast. She’d scrub his floors. She’d clean his bathroom. She was his connection to the outside world. And when the workday was done, she would go home to take care of a grandnephew and two foster children who didn’t have families of their own. Heroic work, and hard work. That’s what Pauline was all about.
And one of the things I remember about Pauline was her patience. She was patient with me even when I didn’t wring out the mop properly or didn’t shake out the sheets before putting them in the laundry bin. But I also remember listening to her talk about the hardships in her life, and she did so without any self-pity. She was glad to be working hard and she was glad to be helping someone. All she wanted in return for a hard day’s work was enough to take care of those kids she was going home to, enough to save a little bit for retirement, maybe take a day off once in a while to rest her aching back.
Each of the folks who are here today has a story like Pauline’s. They represent nearly 1.8 million homecare workers across the country — hardworking professionals, mostly women, who work around the clock so that folks who need help, including many of our family members, can live independently in their own home. Right now, homecare is one of the fastest-growing industries in America, partly because we’re getting older as a society. And as the baby boom generation heads into retirement, more and more Americans are going to need the services of these outstanding workers.
But here’s the thing: As the homecare business has changed over the years, the law hasn’t changed to keep up. So even though workers like Pauline do everything from bathing to cooking, they’re still lumped in the same category as teenage babysitters when it comes to how much they make. That means employers are allowed to pay these workers less than minimum wage with no overtime. That’s right — you can wake up at 5:00 in the morning, care for somebody every minute of the day, take the late bus home at night, and still make less than the minimum wage. And this means that many homecare workers are forced to rely on things like food stamps just to make ends meet.
That’s just wrong. In this country, it’s unexcusable. I can tell you firsthand that these men and women, they work their tails off, and they don’t complain. They deserve to be treated fairly. They deserve to be paid fairly for a service that many older Americans couldn’t live without. And companies who do pay fair wages to these women shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage.
Four years ago, a homecare worker named Evelyn Coke took her case all the way up to the Supreme Court. And Evelyn was working up to 70 hours a week with no overtime pay. But the Court ruled against her, saying that to change the law would require action from Congress or the Department of Labor. I’m sure many of you won’t be surprised to know that Congress hasn’t acted on this issue so far.
Today, I will. Today, we’re guaranteeing homecare workers minimum wage and overtime pay protection. And that’s thanks to the hard work of my Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis. We are going to make sure that over a million men and women in one of the fastest-growing professions in the country don’t slip through the cracks. We’re going to make sure that companies who do right by their workers aren’t undercut by companies who don’t. We’re going to do what’s fair, and we’re going to do what’s right.
Evelyn Coke didn’t live to see this day. But the truth is, Americans like Evelyn and Pauline and the rest of the workers who are here today, they’re one of the reasons that I ran for President. They work hard. They play by the rules. In exchange, they just want to see that their hard work and their responsibility is rewarded. It’s that simple. Americans all deserve a fair shake and a fair shot. And as long as I have the honor of serving as President, I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that those very modest expectations are fulfilled. I’m going to make sure that they are treated right. I’m going to make sure that every American is treated fairly.
Thanks very much, everybody. Thank you.
After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq is ending.
In recent days, many of our troops have come home and been reunited with their families for the holidays. Over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of Iraq.
This moment of success is because of their sacrifice. More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq. More than 30,000 of these brave men and women were wounded. Nearly 4,500 gave their lives. America’s military families have borne a heavy burden.
As we mark the end of this war, we need to show our veterans and their families that they have the thanks of a grateful nation.
Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it. It’s not enough to honor our heroes with words; we must do so with deeds.
That’s why we’ve worked to send 600,000 veterans and family members back to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. That’s why one of Michelle’s top priorities as First Lady has been to support military families and why she’s worked with the private sector to get commitments to create 100,000 jobs for those who’ve served and their spouses. That’s why we worked with Congress to pass a tax credit so that companies have an incentive to hire vets and have taken steps to help veterans translate military experience to the private sector job market.
In America, our commitment to those who fight for our freedom and our ideals doesn’t end when our troops take off the uniform.
You can be a part of this effort to honor our heroes.
Help mark this moment. Write a quick note that troops and veterans all over the world will be able to see:
President Barack Obama
We Can’t Wait: President Obama Will Announce Administrative Action to Provide Minimum Wage and Overtime Protections for Nearly 2 Million In-Home Care Workers
We Can’t Wait: President Obama Will Announce Administrative Action to Provide Minimum Wage and Overtime Protections for Nearly 2 Million In-Home Care Workers
WASHINGTON – The White House today will announce new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor that would provide minimum wage and overtime protections for nearly two million workers who provide in-home care services for the elderly and infirmed. Many of these workers provide critical in-home health care services such as tube feeding, wound care, or assistance with physical therapy, and deserve the protections provided under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of executive actions the Obama Administration is taking to strengthen the economy and move the country forward because we can’t wait for Congress to act.
“The nearly 2 million in-home care workers across the country should not have to wait a moment longer for a fair wage. They work hard and play by the rules and they should see that work and responsibility rewarded. Today’s action will ensure that these men and women get paid fairly for a service that a growing number of older Americans couldn’t live without,” said President Obama.
“The care provided by in-home workers is crucial to the quality of life for many families,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The vast majority of these workers are women, many of whom serve as the primary breadwinner for their families. This proposed regulation would ensure that their work is properly classified so they receive appropriate compensation and that employers who have been treating these workers fairly are no longer at a competitive disadvantage. “
Currently, workers classified as ‘companions’ are exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. When established in 1974, such exemptions were meant to apply to casual babysitters and companions for the elderly and infirm, not workers whose vocation was in-home care service, and who were responsible for their families’ support. With an aging American population, there has been increased demand for long-term in-home care, and as a result the in-home care industry has grown substantially. Today’s 1.79 million home care workers are professional caregivers, not mere companions. In view of this changed landscape, the proposed regulation reconsiders whether the current exemption is now too broad. Of the 1.79 million home care workers, 1.59 million are employed by staffing agencies of which over 92% are women, nearly 30% are African American, 12% are Hispanic and close to 40% rely on public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps.
Today’s proposed rule would expand minimum wage and overtime protections by ensuring that all home care workers employed by third parties, like staffing agencies, will receive protections. It would also ensure that those employed by families and performing skilled in-home care work, such as medically related tasks for which training is typically a prerequisite, are covered. However, those employed by families and truly engaged in tasks related to fellowship and protection- such as visiting with friends and neighbors or engaging in hobbies-would still be considered ‘companions’ and will not be subject to wage protections.
This issue gained national attention when, in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that Evelyn Coke, a home care worker who worked as much as 70 hours a week, was not entitled to overtime pay under existing regulations. Thus, any change to these rules requires action by Congress or the Department of Labor. There have been bills introduced in numerous Congresses to address this issue (including legislation that then-Senator Obama co-sponsored in the 110th Congress) but these bills have not moved forward. The Department of Labor is therefore now proposing regulations to change these rules and ensure that home care workers like Evelyn Coke will have basic wage protections.
States’ regulations currently vary in whether they extend minimum wage and overtime provisions to home health care workers. Twenty nine states currently do not include home health care workers in their minimum wage and overtime provisions: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Nearly half of the nation’s home care workers work in these states. Today’s proposed regulation would provide home care workers in these states with new protections. Sixteen states extend both minimum wage and overtime coverage to most home health care workers: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. Five states and the District of Columbia extend minimum wage, but not overtime coverage to home care workers: Arizona, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Dakota and the District of Columbia. Even in those states that have some existing minimum wage or overtime protection for home care workers, this proposed rule would extend the additional protections of federal education and enforcement by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.
The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act that was passed in 1938 to provide minimum wage and overtime protections for workers, to prevent unfair competition among businesses based on subminimum wages, and to spread employment by requiring employers whose employees work excessive hours to pay employees at one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a week. Upon publication of the proposed rule, interested parties will be invited to submit comments at www.regulations.gov. More information, including the proposed rule and fact sheet is available on the Department’s Companionship Webpage at www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/companionNPRM.htm.
Statement by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer
The President continues to have significant concerns about a number of provisions that have been reported to be in the Republican agreement on the omnibus. This includes provisions that would undermine Wall Street reforms, enact extreme social and ideological riders, undercut environmental protections, and threaten the foreign policy prerogatives of the President. Given the magnitude of the legislation — providing over $1 trillion dollars in funding — coupled with the unresolved payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extension, Congress should pass a short-term continuing resolution as it has seven times already this year so that all parties have an appropriate opportunity to consider and complete all of the critical budget and economic issues necessary to finish our responsibilities for the year.
NOMINATIONS SENT TO THE SENATE:
Jonathan Don Farrar, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama.
Tony Hammond, of Missouri, to be a Commissioner of the Postal Regulatory Commission for the remainder of the term expiring October 14, 2012, vice Dan Gregory Blair, resigned.
Joseph E. Macmanus, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Vienna Office of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.
Joseph E. Macmanus, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Representative of the United States of America to the International Atomic Energy Agency, with the rank of Ambassador.
Pauline R. Maier, of Massachusetts, to be a Member of the Board of Trustees of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation for a term expiring November 17, 2017, vice J. C. A. Stagg, term expired.
Phyllis Marie Powers, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Nicaragua.
Mark A. Robbins, of California, to be a Member of the Merit Systems Protection Board for the term of seven years expiring March 1, 2018, vice Mary M. Rose, term expired.
William E. Todd, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Executive Service, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Cambodia.
WITHDRAWAL SENT TO THE SENATE:
Jonathan Don Farrar, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Nicaragua, which was sent to the Senate on April 14, 2011.
Statement by the President on Indonesia’s Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
The United States welcomes Indonesia’s ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, (CTBT), which provides a strong example of the positive leadership role Indonesia can play in the global effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a critical element of the international effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and I urge all states to sign and ratify the agreement so that it can be brought into force at the earliest possible date. The United States remains fully committed to pursuing ratification of the Test Ban Treaty and will continue to engage members of the Senate on the importance of this Treaty to U.S. security. America must lead the global effort to prevent proliferation, and adoption and early entry into force of the CTBT is a vital part of that effort.
Statement by President Barack Obama on the 70th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Seventy years ago today, a bright Sunday morning was darkened by the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, Michelle and I join the American people in honoring the memory of the more than 2,400 American patriots—military and civilian, men, women and children—who gave their lives in our first battle of the Second World War. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families for whom this day is deeply personal—the spouses, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters who have known seven decades without a loved one but who have kept their legacy alive for future generations.
We salute the veterans and survivors of Pearl Harbor who inspire us still. Despite overwhelming odds, they fought back heroically, inspiring our nation and putting us on the path to victory. They are members of that Greatest Generation who overcame the Depression, crossed oceans and stormed the beaches to defeat fascism, and turned adversaries into our closest allies. When the guns fell silent, they came home, went to school on the G.I. Bill, and built the largest middle class in history and the strongest economy in the world. They remind us that no challenge is too great when Americans stand as one. All of us owe these men and women a profound debt of gratitude for the freedoms and standard of living we enjoy today.
On this National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we also reaffirm our commitment to carrying on their work—to keeping the country we love strong, free and prosperous. And as today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end and we welcome home our 9/11 Generation, we resolve to always take care of our troops, veterans and military families as well as they’ve taken care of us. On this solemn anniversary, there can be no higher tribute to the Americans who served and sacrificed seventy years ago today.
Bipartisan Group of Attorneys General to Renew Call for Confirmation of Richard Cordray to Lead Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
STAKEOUT TODAY: Bipartisan Group of Attorneys General to Renew Call for Confirmation of Richard Cordray to Lead CFPB
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, a bipartisan group of attorneys general from across the country will renew their call for the Senate to confirm Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A CFPB without its full authorities is hamstrung in its ability to help level the playing field between small banks and nonbank financial service providers. For too long, banks were playing by one set of rules, while other parts of the financial industry, like some payday lenders or independent mortgage brokers, were playing by another, often with little or no oversight. Earlier this fall, 37 attorneys general from across the country urged the Senate to confirm Richard Cordray, former Attorney General of Ohio, to lead the CFPB. Their letter is here.
On Thursday, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the CFPB. Cordray has spent his career fighting for middle class families and finding solutions that help consumers, and he has seen bipartisan support from people around the country. However, some Senate Republicans have vowed to block his nomination without raising question about his qualifications or background – and their opposition puts consumers at risk. A White House NEC report on the importance of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director is available here. The following attorneys general will be at the White House today:
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff
THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION RELEASES STATEMENTS ON THE DEPARTURE OF PHIL SCHILIRO, SPECIAL ADVISOR AND ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT
Statements on the Departure of Phil Schiliro
WASHINGTON, DC— The White House today released statements on the departure of Assistant to the President and Special Advisor Phil Schiliro. Schiliro was announced as Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs on November 15, 2008 and served in that role from the beginning of the Obama administration until January of 2011. During that time he presided over the passage of a series of critical pieces of legislation including the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform and New START, as well as the confirmations of two Supreme Court justices. Since then, he has served as Assistant to the President and Special Advisor, providing counsel to the President on a wide array of issues. He will stay on in that role until the end of the year.
President Obama said, “As my advisor and chief liaison to Congress during one of the most productive legislative periods in our history, Phil Schiliro helped shepherd through a series of historic accomplishments on behalf of the American people, from health care reform that will make coverage more affordable and accessible to Wall Street reform that will protect consumers and our economy. The White House will not be the same without Phil, but more importantly, the country would not be the same without his steady leadership and tireless effort over the past three years.”
White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said, “Phil Schiliro has been an integral member of the President’s team. Regardless of the issue at hand, Phil’s thoughtful counsel, sound judgment, and unparalleled understanding of and relationships with Congress have made his advice invaluable. His presence will be sorely missed at the White House, but his tremendous contributions to the American people will live on long beyond his departure.”
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY H.R. 10 – Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 10 – Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011
(Rep. Davis, R-Kentucky, and 204 cosponsors)
The Administration is committed to ensuring that regulations are smart and effective, and tailored to further statutory goals in the most cost-effective and efficient manner. Accordingly, the Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 10, the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, which would impose an unprecedented requirement that a joint resolution of approval be enacted by the Congress before any major rule of Executive Branch agencies could have force or effect. This radical departure from the longstanding separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches would delay and, in many cases, thwart implementation of statutory mandates and execution of duly enacted laws, increase business uncertainty, undermine much-needed protections of the American public, and create unnecessary confusion.
There is no justification for such an unprecedented requirement. When a Federal agency promulgates a major rule, it must already adhere to the particular requirements of the statute that it is implementing and to the constraints imposed by other Federal statutes and the Constitution. Indeed, in many cases, the Congress has mandated that the agency issue the particular rule. The agency must also comply with the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 551, et seq.). When it issues a major rule, the agency must perform analyses of benefits and costs that typically are required by one or more statutes (such as the Regulatory Flexibility Act, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, and the Paperwork Reduction Act) as well as by Executive Order 12866.
In addition, this Administration has already taken numerous steps to reduce regulatory costs and to ensure that all major regulations are designed to maximize net benefits to society. Most recently, Executive Order 13563 requires careful cost-benefit analysis, increased public participation, harmonization of rulemaking across agencies, flexible regulatory approaches, and a regulatory retrospective review. Finally, agency rules are subject to Federal courts.
Moreover, for the past 15 years, the Congress itself has had the opportunity, under the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA), to review on an individual basis the rules – both major and non-major – that Federal agencies have issued.
By replacing this well established framework with a blanket requirement of Congressional approval, H.R. 10 would throw all major regulations into a months-long limbo, fostering uncertainty and impeding business investment that is vital to economic growth. Maintaining an appropriate allocation of responsibility between the two branches is essential to ensuring that the Nation’s regulatory system effectively protects public health, welfare, safety, and our environment, while also promoting economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation.
If the President were presented with H.R. 10, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY H. R. 2405 –Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H. R. 2405 –Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act
(Rep. Rogers, R–MI, and 4 cosponsors)
The Administration supports House passage of H.R. 2405, which would reauthorize several key programs led by the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare the Nation for bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. In addition to continuing existing activities, including the advanced research and development of medical countermeasures, H.R. 2405 would expand the Food and Drug Administration’s role in strengthening the Nation’s preparedness. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to improve and strengthen the bill, for example by authorizing a Strategic Investor for medical countermeasures, as its consideration shifts to the Senate.
WHITE HOUSE FACT SHEET: Working to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Persons Globally
FACT SHEET: Working to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Persons Globally
“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights.”
–President Obama, December 6, 2011
Since taking office, President Obama has demonstrated that his vision for a brighter future includes greater equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Americans. The President and this Administration are dedicated to eliminating barriers to equality, fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and engaging LGBT communities across the country. The Administration’s dedication to LGBT rights does not stop at our borders, as the President made clear at the United Nations in September of this year when he said: “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”
Today, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum that directs all federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. Under the Obama Administration, agencies have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere. And now, following an interagency process coordinated by the National Security Staff, this memorandum directs the first-ever U.S. government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Today’s memorandum applies to the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the President may designate.
The memorandum directs agencies to:
- Combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad.
- Protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
- Leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.
- Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
- Engage International Organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.
- Report on progress.
Even before today’s memo, U.S. agencies have been working to protect and promote the rights of LBGT persons around the world. Since January 2009, Secretary Clinton has directed the Department of State to champion a comprehensive human rights agenda—one that includes the protection of LGBT people.
Around the world, the State Department is:
· Engaging bilaterally and regionally in conjunction with U.S. embassies, civil society, and multilateral agencies to encourage countries to repeal or reform laws that criminalize LGBT conduct or status.
· Reinforcing the human rights of LGBT people in multilateral fora, such as the UN Human Rights Council. In June 2011, the United States joined South Africa and a cross-regional group of co-sponsors in passing the first-ever UN Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons.
· Promoting human rights worldwide. U.S. embassies are declaring the United States’ support for the human rights of LGBT people through innovative public diplomacy. Ambassadors and embassies have hosted public discussions and private roundtables, published op-eds and supported Pride events.
· Supporting LGBT human rights defenders and civil society groups, with programmatic and financial assistance, including efforts to document human rights violations; build advocacy skills; provide advocates with legal representation; and, when necessary, relocation support.
· Reporting on the conditions of human rights of LGBT people in each of its annual, country-specific Human Rights Reports.
· Strengthening the Department’s personnel and consular policies. The Secretary extended the range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of foreign service staff serving abroad. The United States also incorporated gender identity into federal equal employment opportunity policies in 2010.
· Protecting LGBT refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants through a protection strategy developed with other U.S. Government agencies, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and NGOs.
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery –
Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking a few of the folks who’ve joined us today. We’ve got the mayor of Osawatomie, Phil Dudley; your superintendent, Gary French; the principal of Osawatomie High, Doug Chisam. And I’ve brought your former governor, who’s now doing an outstanding job as our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.
It is great to be back in the state of Kansas. As many of you know, I’ve got roots here. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Obamas of Osawatomie. Actually, I like to say that I got my name from my father, but I got my accent – and my values – from my mother. She was born in Wichita. Her mother grew up in Augusta. And her father was from El Dorado. So my Kansas roots run deep.
My grandparents served during World War II — he as a soldier in Patton’s Army, she as a worker on a bomber assembly line. Together, they shared the optimism of a nation that triumphed over a Depression and fascism. They believed in an America where hard work paid off, responsibility was rewarded, and anyone could make it if they tried — no matter who you were, where you came from, or how you started out.
These values gave rise to the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known. It was here, in America, that the most productive workers and innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth, and every American shared in that pride and success — from those in executive suites to middle management to those on the factory floor. If you gave it your all, you’d take enough home to raise your family, send your kids to school, have your health care covered, and put a little away for retirement.
Today, we are still home to the world’s most productive workers and innovative companies. But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefitted from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before. But everyone else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t – and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.
For many years, credit cards and home equity loans papered over the harsh realities of this new economy. But in 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We all know the story by now: Mortgages sold to people who couldn’t afford them, or sometimes even understand them. Banks and investors allowed to keep packaging the risk and selling it off. Huge bets – and huge bonuses – made with other people’s money on the line. Regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to look at all.
It was wrong. It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility across the system. And it plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we are still fighting to recover. It claimed the jobs, homes, and the basic security of millions – innocent, hard-working Americans who had met their responsibilities, but were still left holding the bag.
Ever since, there has been a raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity; balance and fairness. Throughout the country, it has sparked protests and political movements – from the Tea Party to the people who have been occupying the streets of New York and other cities. It’s left Washington in a near-constant state of gridlock. And it’s been the topic of heated and sometimes colorful discussion among the men and women who are running for president.
But this isn’t just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for too many years. Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
Well, I’m here to say they are wrong. I’m here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.
You see, this isn’t the first time America has faced this choice. At the turn of the last century, when a nation of farmers was transitioning to become the world’s industrial giant, we had to decide: would we settle for a country where most of the new railroads and factories were controlled by a few giant monopolies that kept prices high and wages low? Would we allow our citizens and even our children to work ungodly hours in conditions that were unsafe and unsanitary? Would we restrict education to the privileged few? Because some people thought massive inequality and exploitation was just the price of progress.
Theodore Roosevelt disagreed. He was the Republican son of a wealthy family. He praised what the titans of industry had done to create jobs and grow the economy. He believed then what we know is true today: that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It’s led to a prosperity and standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.
But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can. It only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest. And so he busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for customers with better services and better prices. And today, they still must. He fought to make sure businesses couldn’t profit by exploiting children, or selling food or medicine that wasn’t safe. And today, they still can’t.
In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here, to Osawatomie, and laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism. “Our country,” he said, “…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”
For this, Roosevelt was called a radical, a socialist, even a communist. But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign: an eight hour work day and a minimum wage for women; insurance for the unemployed, the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.
Today, over one hundred years later, our economy has gone through another transformation. Over the last few decades, huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less, and made it easier for them to set up shop and hire workers anywhere in the world. And many of you know firsthand the painful disruptions this has caused for a lot of Americans.
Factories where people thought they would retire suddenly picked up and went overseas, where the workers were cheaper. Steel mills that needed 1,000 employees are now able to do the same work with 100, so that layoffs were too often permanent, not just a temporary part of the business cycle. These changes didn’t just affect blue-collar workers. If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs or the internet. Today, even higher-skilled jobs like accountants and middle management can be outsourced to countries like China and India. And if you’re someone whose job can be done cheaper by a computer or someone in another country, you don’t have a lot of leverage with your employer when it comes to asking for better wages and benefits – especially since fewer Americans today are part of a union.
Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there’s been a certain crowd in Washington for the last few decades who respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If only we cut more regulations and cut more taxes – especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger. Sure, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everyone else. And even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, they argue, that’s the price of liberty.
It’s a simple theory – one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible post-war boom of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade.
Remember that in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history, and what did they get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class – things like education and infrastructure; science and technology; Medicare and Social Security.
Remember that in those years, thanks to some of the same folks who are running Congress now, we had weak regulation and little oversight, and what did that get us? Insurance companies that jacked up people’s premiums with impunity, and denied care to the patients who were sick. Mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn’t afford. A financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy.
We simply cannot return to this brand of your-on-your-own economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and its future. It doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens.
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top one percent has gone up by more than 250%, to $1.2 million per year. For the top one hundredth of one percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her workers now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade, the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about six percent.
This kind of inequality – a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression – hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity – that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars they made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them – that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.
More fundamentally, this kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try. We tell people that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, hard work can get you into the middle class; and that your children will have the chance to do even better than you. That’s why immigrants from around the world flocked to our shores.
And yet, over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.
It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It’s wrong. It flies in the face of everything we stand for.
Fortunately, that’s not a future we have to accept. Because there’s another view about how we build a strong middle class in this country – a view that’s truer to our history; a vision that’s been embraced by people of both parties for more than two hundred years.
It’s not a view that we should somehow turn back technology or put up walls around America. It’s not a view that says we should punish profit or success or pretend that government knows how to fix all society’s problems. It’s a view that says in America, we are greater together – when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.
So what does that mean for restoring middle-class security in today’s economy?
It starts by making sure that everyone in America gets a fair shot at success. The truth is, we’ll never be able to compete with other countries when it comes to who’s best at letting their businesses pay the lowest wages or pollute as much as they want. That’s a race to the bottom that we can’t win – and shouldn’t want to win. Those countries don’t have a strong middle-class. They don’t have our standard of living.
The race we want to win – the race we can win – is a race to the top; the race for good jobs that pay well and offer middle-class security. Businesses will create those jobs in countries with the highest-skilled, highest-educated workers; the most advanced transportation and communication; the strongest commitment to research and technology.
The world is shifting to an innovation economy. And no one does innovation better than America. No one has better colleges and universities. No one has a greater diversity of talent and ingenuity. No one’s workers or entrepreneurs are more driven or daring. The things that have always been our strengths match up perfectly with the demands of this moment.
But we need to meet the moment. We need to up our game. And we need to remember that we can only do that together.
It starts by making education a national mission – government and businesses; parents and citizens. In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class. The unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average. Their income is twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma. Weshouldn’t be laying off good teachers right now – we should be hiring them. We shouldn’t be expecting less of our schools – we should be demanding more. We shouldn’t be making it harder to afford college – we should be a country where everyone has the chance to go.
In today’s innovation economy, we also need a world-class commitment to science, research, and the next generation of high-tech manufacturing. Our factories and their workers shouldn’t be idle. We should be giving people the chance to get new skills and training at community colleges, so they can learn to make wind turbines and semiconductors and high-powered batteries. And by the way – if we don’t have an economy built on bubbles and financial speculation, our best and brightest won’t all gravitate towards careers in banking and finance. Because if we want an economy that’s built to last, we need more of those young people in science and engineering. This country shouldn’t be known for bad debt and phony profits. We should be known for creating and selling products all over the world that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America.
Today, manufacturers and other companies are setting up shop in places with the best infrastructure to ship their products, move their workers, and communicate with the rest of the world. That’s why the over one million construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed shouldn’t be sitting at home with nothing to do. They should be rebuilding our roads and bridges; laying down faster railroads and broadband; modernizing our schools – all the things other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores.
Yes, businesses, not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. But as a nation, we have always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed. Historically, that hasn’t been a partisan idea. Franklin Roosevelt worked with Democrats and Republicans to give veterans of World War II, including my grandfather, the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, a proud son of Kansas, who started the interstate highway system and doubled-down on science and research to stay ahead of the Soviets.
Of course, those productive investments cost money. And so we’ve also paid for these investments by asking everyone to do their fair share. If we had unlimited resources, no one would ever have to pay any taxes and we’d never have to cut any spending. But we don’t have unlimited resources. And so we have to set priorities. If we want a strong middle class, then our tax code must reflect our values. We have to make choices.
Today that choice is very clear. To reduce our deficit, I’ve already signed nearly $1 trillion of spending cuts into law, and proposed trillions more – including reforms that would lower the cost of Medicare and Medicaid.
But in order to actually close the deficit and get our fiscal house in order, we have to decide what our priorities are. Most immediately, we need to extend a payroll tax cut that’s set to expire at the end of this month. If we don’t do that, 160 million Americans will see their taxes go up by an average of $1,000, and it would badly weaken our recovery.
But in the long term, we have to rethink our tax system more fundamentally. We have to ask ourselves: Do we want to make the investments we need in things like education, and research, and high-tech manufacturing? Or do we want to keep in place the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in our country? Because we can’t afford to do both. That’s not politics. That’s just math.
So far, most of the Republicans in Washington have refused, under any circumstances, to ask the wealthiest Americans to go the same tax rates they were paying when Bill Clinton was president.
Now, keep in mind, when President Clinton first proposed these tax increases, folks in Congress predicted they would kill jobs and lead to another recession. Instead, our economy created nearly 23 million jobs and we eliminated the deficit. Today, the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century. This isn’t like in the early 50s, when the top tax rate was over 90%, or even the early 80s, when it was about 70%. Under President Clinton, the top rate was only about 39%. Today, thanks to loopholes and shelters, a quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One percent.
This is the height of unfairness. It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million. It is wrong for Warren Buffett’s secretary to pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. And he agrees with me. So do most Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. And I know that many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute a little more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.
This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare. It’s about making choices that benefit not just the people who’ve done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get to the middle class, and the economy as a whole.
Finally, a strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street. As infuriating as it was for all of us, we rescued our major banks from collapse, not only because a full blown financial meltdown would have sent us into a second Depression, but because we need a strong, healthy financial sector in this country.
But part of the deal was that we would not go back to business as usual. That’s why last year we put in place new rules of the road that refocus the financial sector on this core purpose: getting capital to the entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and financing to millions of families who want to buy a home or send their kids to college. We’re not all the way there yet, and the banks are fighting us every inch of the way. But already, some of these reforms are being implemented. If you’re a big bank or risky financial institution, you’ll have to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail, so that taxpayers are never again on the hook for Wall Street’s mistakes. There are also limits on the size of banks and new abilities for regulators to dismantle a firm that goes under. The new law bans banks from making risky bets with their customers’ deposits, and takes away big bonuses and paydays from failed CEOs, while giving shareholders a say on executive salaries.
All that is being put in place as we speak. Now, unless you’re a financial institution whose business model is built on breaking the law, cheating consumers, or making risky bets that could damage the entire economy, you have nothing to fear from these new rules. My grandmother worked as a banker for most of her life, and I know that the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals want to do right by their customers. They want to have rules in place that don’t put them at a disadvantage for doing the right thing. And yet, Republicans in Congress are already fighting as hard as they can to make sure these rules aren’t enforced.
I’ll give you one example. For the first time in history, the reform we passed puts in place a consumer watchdog who is charged with protecting everyday Americans from being taken advantage of by mortgage lenders, payday lenders or debt collectors. The man we nominated for the post, Richard Cordray, is a former Attorney General of Ohio who has the support of most Attorneys General, both Democrat and Republican, throughout the country.
But the Republicans in the Senate refuse to let him do his job. Why? Does anyone here think the problem that led to our financial crisis was too much oversight of mortgage lenders or debt collectors? Of course not. Every day we go without a consumer watchdog in place is another day when a student, or a senior citizen, or member of our Armed Forces could be tricked into a loan they can’t afford – something that happens all the time. Financial institutions have plenty of lobbyists looking out for their interests. Consumers deserve to have someone whose job it is to look out for them. I intend to make sure they do, and I will veto any effort to delay, defund, or dismantle the new rules we put in place.
We shouldn’t be weakening oversight and accountability. We should be strengthening them. Here’s another example. Too often, we’ve seen Wall Street firms violating major anti-fraud laws because the penalties are too weak and there’s no price for being a repeat offender. No more. I’ll be calling for legislation that makes these penalties count – so that firms don’t see punishment for breaking the law as just the price of doing business.
The fact is, this crisis has left a deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. And major banks that were rescued by the taxpayers have an obligation to go the extra mile in helping to close that deficit. At minimum, they should be remedying past mortgage abuses that led to the financial crisis, and working to keep responsible homeowners in their home. We’re going to keep pushing them to provide more time for unemployed homeowners to look for work without having to worry about immediately losing their house. The big banks should increase access to refinancing opportunities to borrowers who have yet to benefit from historically low interest rates. And they should recognize that precisely because these steps are in the interest of middle-class families and the broader economy, they will also be in the banks’ own long-term financial interest.
Investing in things like education that give everybody a chance to succeed. A tax code that makes sure everybody pays their fair share. And laws that make sure everybody follows the rules. That’s what will transform our economy. That’s what will grow our middle class again. In the end, rebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot, and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other’s success. And it will require all of us to take some responsibility to that success.
It will require parents to get more involved in their children’s education, students to study harder, and some workers to start studying all over again. It will require greater responsibility from homeowners to not take out mortgages they can’t afford, and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
It will require those of us in public service to make government more efficient, effective, and responsive to people’s needs. That’s why we’re cutting programs we don’t need, to pay for those we do. That’s why we’ve made hundreds of regulatory reforms that will save businesses billions of dollars. That’s why we’re not just throwing money at education, but challenging schools to come up with the most innovative reforms and the best results.
And it will require American business leaders to understand that their obligations don’t just end with their shareholders. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel put it best: “There’s another obligation I feel personally,” he said, “given that everything I’ve achieved in my career and a lot of what Intel has achieved…were made possible by a climate of democracy, an economic climate and investment climate provided by…the United States.”
This broader obligation can take different forms. At a time when the cost of hiring workers in China is rising rapidly, it should mean more CEOs deciding that it’s time to bring jobs back to the United States – not just because it’s good for business, but because it’s good for the country that made their business and their personal success possible.
I think about the Big Three Auto companies who, during recent negotiations, agreed to create more jobs and cars in America; who decided to give bonuses, not just to their executives, but to all their employees – so that everyone was invested in the company’s success.
I think about a company based in Warroad, Minnesota called Marvin Windows and Doors. During the recession, Marvin’s competitors closed dozens of plants and let go hundreds of workers. But Marvin didn’t lay off a single one of their four thousand or so employees. In fact, they’ve only laid off workers once in over a hundred years. Mr. Marvin’s grandfather even kept his eight employees during the Depression.
When times get tough, the workers agree to give up some perks and pay, and so do the owners. As one owner said, “You can’t grow if you’re cutting your lifeblood – and that’s the skills and experience your workforce delivers.” For the CEO, it’s about the community: “These are people we went to school with,” he said. “We go to church with them. We see them in the same restaurant. Indeed, a lot of us have married local girls and boys. We could be anywhere. But we are in Warroad.”
That’s how America was built. That’s why we’re the greatest nation on Earth. That’s what our greatest companies understand. Our success has never just been about survival of the fittest. It’s been about building a nation where we’re all better off. We pull together, we pitch in, and we do our part, believing that hard work will pay off; that responsibility will be rewarded; and that our children will inherit a nation where those values live on.
And it is that belief that rallied thousands of Americans to Osawatomie – maybe even some of your ancestors – on a rain-soaked day more than a century ago. By train, by wagon, on buggy, bicycle, and foot, they came to hear the vision of a man who loved this country, and was determined to perfect it.
“We are all Americans,” Teddy Roosevelt told them that day. “Our common interests are as broad as the continent.” In the final years of his life, Roosevelt took that same message all across this country, from tiny Osawatomie to the heart of New York City, believing that no matter where he went, or who he was talking to, all would benefit from a country in which everyone gets a fair chance.
Well into our third century as a nation, we have grown and changed in many ways since Roosevelt’s time. The world is faster. The playing field is larger. The challenges are more complex.
But what hasn’t changed – what can never change – are the values that got us this far. We still have a stake in each other’s success. We still believe that this should be a place where you can make it if you try. And we still believe, in the words of the man who called for a New Nationalism all those years ago, “The fundamental rule in our national life – the rule which underlies all others – is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.”
I believe America is on its way up. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.