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Mo Elleithee: “Happy holidays to our Republican friends”
Communications director Mo Elleithee wrote an email to supporters encouraging them to tweet at the GOP and the NRCC to wish them seasons greetings in response to selling t-shirts and mugs with the phrase, ""Happy Holidays" is what liberals say." Here's what he had to say:
The official organization charged with electing Republicans to the House -- the national Republican Party! -- thinks that telling people "Happy Holidays" is something that only liberals do.
They're even selling coffee mugs and t-shirts with that claim and using the proceeds to elect more Republicans.
It isn't just divisive. It's offensive.
As Democrats (and Americans) we want everyone to enjoy whatever holiday it is that they're celebrating this time of year. And that goes for our Republican friends, too.
So in the spirit of the season, we thought we'd make it easy for everyone to share a holiday greeting with the GOP!
At the very least, it'll be a nice reminder that even though we come from different places with different sets of traditions, Americans everywhere love a good holiday card.
Democratic National Committee
P.S. -- While we're getting in the holiday spirit, don't miss your chance to join us at our annual holiday party. Chip in $10 or whatever you can to be automatically entered, and if you win, we'll fly you and a guest to D.C. to celebrate all of this season's holidays with us.
We’ll fly you to DC
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement Honoring Anniversary of Rosa Parks’ Arrest
On December 1, 1955, an African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, spurring a movement that changed the nation. On the anniversary of this milestone in the fight for civil rights, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:
“Rosa Parks proved that a single act of righteous courage has the power to alter the course of history. By refusing to give up her seat, the 42-year-old seamstress defied the codes of racial segregation, igniting a social and civil justice movement that continues to this day.
“On this 58th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest, we are reminded of the individual power that we each have to achieve equality and freedom for our fellow Americans. Let us honor her memory by letting that same spirit of hope and determination guide us toward a more just society.”
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement in Recognition of World AIDS Day
World AIDS Day is December 1. In recognition, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:
“Today, communities across the globe come together to recognize World AIDS Day. We stand with those living with HIV/AIDS, honor those we’ve lost and recommit ourselves to the fight.
“Under President Obama’s leadership, America has been at the forefront of this global mission. In 2010, the Administration unveiled its National HIV/AIDS Strategy, in an effort to keep rates of HIV infection from rising and increase access to care for those infected, especially for those in communities where rates are highest. And under the Affordable Care Act, Americans have been given access to preventive services while those battling the disease will finally be able to get comprehensive treatment without risk of being denied coverage due to their pre-existing condition or going bankrupt due to lifetime caps.
“The international community shares the common goal of achieving an AIDS-free generation, and while we have made tremendous progress since the first World AIDS Day in 1988, we have so much more to do. We must redouble our commitment to expanding education about prevention, testing, treatment, research and investment toward finding a cure.
“We are moving in the right direction in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but we are not satisfied. Today, as we recognize World AIDS Day, we reaffirm our commitment to those living with HIV/AIDS and renew our dedication to ending this devastating pandemic.”
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement Celebrating the Beginning of Chanukah
The Jewish holiday of Chanukah begins at sundown this evening. In recognition, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:
“Tonight, along with Jewish families across the world, my family will light the menorah in celebration of the first night of Chanukah. Each night we light another candle to remember the miracle that happened more than two thousand years ago and the power of hope and justice in the face of incredible adversity. We also appreciate the miracles that happen in our lives every day.
“For the first time in more than a generation, Chanukah begins on the same day as Thanksgiving. These two holidays give us the opportunity to come together, reflect, and be thankful for all the blessings in our lives. Both holidays also direct us to be mindful of those who are less fortunate, and recommit ourselves to the values of mitzvot and tzedakkah - good deeds and giving to others.
“However you are celebrating, I wish you and your family happy holidays, and may the bright light of Chanukah shine for all of us in this coming year.”
What’s worse than holiday traffic?
In honor of the holiday season, the Democrats launched a new guide to help you engage your Republican relatives. Check out the email below from Digital Director Matt Compton, and be sure to visit: www.yourrepublicanuncle.com
This time of year, the only thing more annoying than holiday traffic is an awkward conversation with family about politics.
Don't get me wrong -- I love the Republicans in my life. But nothing ruins a slice of pecan pie faster than talking through immigration reform with a cousin who spends too much time listening to Rush Limbaugh.
That's why we're launching YourRepublicanUncle.com. And if you want to make sure that the political debates around your dinner table this Thanksgiving stay tethered to reality, you should check it out.
We can't do anything about highway congestion, but we can make sure you have the information you need to answer a bonkers question about President Obama's record on jobs or the perfect fact to respond to a ridiculous argument about the Affordable Care Act.
And to make sure you get that information whenever you need it, we designed YourRepublicanUncle.com so that it looks great and loads quickly on your phone -- no getting ambushed when you go back for seconds on stuffing.
This holiday season, don't stress about the political debates. We've got your back:
Democratic National Committee
P.S. -- We're really thankful for supporters like you, so we're doing something special for the holidays. Chip in $10 or whatever you can, and you'll be automatically entered to win an expenses-paid trip to D.C. to celebrate a great year with us.
My Reflections: Native American Heritage Month
November is Native American Heritage Month. As a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and an Executive Committee member at the Democratic National Committee, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what the Democratic Party has done to honor and provide opportunities to our communities and Indian Country as a whole.
Democrats have a long history of partnership with tribal communities, from the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934—nicknamed the Indian New Deal—to President Obama’s leadership on issues such as enhancing tribal jurisdiction and addressing Indian healthcare. Democrats have worked with and empowered tribes to address their challenges and have demonstrated a keen awareness of the critical importance to our nation and its cultural fabric to ensure the protection of the rich heritage and distinct cultures of the more than 500 tribes around our nation.
President Obama and Democrats, through both words and deeds, have demonstrated a true understanding that tribal nations themselves are in the best position to address the challenges they face. Accordingly, the role of the United States is to work in partnership with tribes to enhance the opportunities available and provide tools so that tribes can flourish politically and economically while meeting the challenges of the 21st Century. The Democratic Party is the party that lives by this approach.
The challenges facing many tribal communities are great. In too many places in Indian Country, Native people are disproportionately affected by the scourges of poverty, unemployment, lack of adequate health care, and high rates of suicide. Native women are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than any other racial or gender category. But with the partnership and strong leadership of the President and many other Democrats, progress can be and is being made.
For example, when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, he made certain that it included the reauthorization and enhancement of the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act, which will lead to better health outcomes in tribal communities. Moreover, at this month’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, he even called out the good work the Puyallup Tribe is doing in their health clinic in my home state of Washington. The ACA provided the Puyallup Tribe with increased flexibility to better tailor healthcare to the needs of its tribal community. There have been dramatic enhancements regarding access to hospice, assisted living, long-term and home- and community-based care. All of these things we desperately need and all of these things Democrats stood and fought for together with Indian Country.
In addition, Democrats and President Obama’s Administration have made jobs a priority and are working tirelessly to create more well-paying jobs that can support a family. In Indian Country, where unemployment often exceeds 50 percent, this focus on jobs is most welcome.
And, just a few months ago, President Obama established the first-ever White House Council on Native American Affairs. This working group recognizes the unique relationship between the United States government and our tribal governments, and strives to promote and sustain tribal nations for years to come. I can’t tell you how proud I was to see that Council at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, where it fielded town-hall-style questions directly from our tribal leaders on the difficult issues facing Indian Country. That shows a true commitment from our President to make that Council a working group for change in Indian Country and not just a symbolic gesture.
There is, of course, far more work to be done, but this record of achievement demonstrates that our President and Democrats get it. With this approach in place, the difficult and often seemingly intractable issues tribes have faced for far too long can and will be successfully addressed.
From the earliest days of our country’s founding, the contributions that Natives have made to the broader American story are immeasurable and often painful. Knowing that I get to work hand in hand with the Democratic Party and President Obama to help my community makes me proud. This month, as we recognize Native American Heritage Month, it’s important that we recognize the progress we have made, but also look ahead to the work we have yet to do together.
Advancing Women in Leadership
Last week, women state party Chairs, Vice Chairs, Executive Directors and staff gathered in New Orleans during a meeting of the Association of State Democratic Chairs to discuss the increasing role of women as leaders in Democratic Parties across the country.
This was the second time I participated in this event and wow! Not only has the turnout grown, but the programming - under the leadership of Louisiana Chair Karen Carter-Peterson and Idaho Executive Director Sally Boyton Brown - has excelled and given us the tools to improve how we promote women leaders in the states across the country. I was especially moved when both Chair Carter-Peterson, the first female Chair in Louisiana, and Maryland Chair Yvette Lewis spoke about what they each had to overcome in order to move into the top leadership position in their state Democratic Party structure.
Here's a few pictures from the event. I am looking forward to the next gathering!
Great turnout in New Orleans at the women's luncheon!
Maryland Chair Yvette Lewis moderates panel discussion about media coverage of women running for political office and what our national group of women can do to create change in our states.
Louisiana Chair Karen Carter-Peterson answers a question about women leaders in state parties.
One last pic from the ASDC & Louisiana Democratic Party welcome reception on Friday evening... an all women New Orleans brass band! They were incredible.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:
“No woman should have her health care dictated to her by her boss. The overwhelming majority of American women use birth control to stay healthy and plan their families. This is basic access to health care and a decision that belongs to a woman, to be made in consultation with her doctor, not her employer.
“This isn’t just a health care issue, it is an economic issue. The decision to require insurance policies to cover full preventive care saves many women and their families hundreds of dollars each year. If the Supreme Court rules against this policy that is supported by the majority of Americans, it would expose other medical procedures to the whims of an employer, such as vaccines, surgeries and mental health care.
“We respect the religious views of employers but they should not be allowed to impose these views on their employees. That is why I fully expect the Supreme Court to side with the American people.”
Giving Thanks This Holiday Season
This holiday season we want to take a moment to thank the supporters who stand with Democrats year round. In fact, that's something I'm particularly mindful of this week.
Because in preparing for the 2014 cycle, we decided to reach out to a few supporters to learn more about why they're standing with us. And in a nice change of pace from my usual work routine, I was the one who got to hop on the phone with a few Democrats from across the country and hear their stories.
The first person I had a chance to speak with was Bill -- a bus driver from the Minneapolis suburbs who couldn't say enough good things about the Affordable Care Act. Bill is one of the thousands of Americans who discovered that he will save hundreds of dollars by enrolling through an Obamacare health care exchange. He's also one of the millions of Americans with a pre-existing condition who — thanks to health care reform — can no longer be denied coverage. Here's how he put it: "Obamacare is the best thing going right now. As a person with a pre-existing condition, shutting down the government to the tune of $24 billion was offensive to people like me."
We also spoke with Vanessa, a teacher in Los Angeles who works hard every day to prepare her students for college and whatever careers they choose. Vanessa is also a first generation American. Her parents came to the United States from Mexico. She, like so many other Americans, believes in the importance of giving everyone a fair shot if they are willing to work for it. As she explained to me on the phone, Vanessa is a Democrat because she thinks it's our responsibility to make the world a better place. Here's how she put it: "Democrats should keep fighting for change because it doesn't happen overnight. The struggle is worth it."
My last call with a supporter named Judy was just as enjoyable. Judy is a mental health professional in Massachusetts who saw first-hand the devastating impacts of a broken health care system. She is a big fan of the Affordable Care Act because it will help many of the families she treats finally get the coverage they need to be healthy. Judy also thinks we need to raise the federal minimum wage to give low-income people a better chance at taking care of themselves and their families. She wants Democrats to be bold with their policies and to make sure everyone has access to the facts — despite Republican efforts to distort and confuse the public about President Obama's agenda.
As Democrats, we'll continue working for people like Bill, Vanessa, and Judy. We'll fight to create good paying jobs, provide access to quality, affordable health care, make education more accessible, and raise the minimum wage to strengthen the middle class. And we'll ultimately win those fights because we have people like Bill, Vanessa, and Judy in our corner. They help us make the change we all want to see.
Press Briefing by the Press Secretary, 12/3/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:18 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the White House for your daily briefing. Thanks for being here. The President, as you know, is speaking at 2:30 p.m. We're going to shoot for a wrap of this briefing around 2:00 p.m. so that everyone who wants to attend can make their way over to the site.
With that, I go to Julie Pace.
Q Thank you. There’s a new IG report from Treasury that says that the health care subsidies in the insurance exchanges may be vulnerable to fraud. Was the White House aware of this risk?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I would say that the IRS aggressively safeguards our information systems and combats tax fraud. Our efforts to protect the integrity of our Affordable Care Act programs are no exception. And as the IRS has said, they have a “strong, effective system in place for administering the premium tax credit. We have a proven track record of safely and securely transmitting federal tax information and we will have a robust and secure process in place to deliver this important credit for taxpayers.”
And beyond that, I would refer you to the IRS.
Q But they also say, beyond what you say there, that these subsidies are vulnerable to fraud.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would tell you is that the experts who do this every day over at the IRS have said what I just read to you. And I would --
Q So are you disputing the IG report?
MR. CARNEY: I'm pointing you to the IRS’s response to the IG report.
Q And was the White House aware of this possible risk before the report came out?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that the IRS has a great deal of experience in protecting taxpayers’ information and would point you to what the IRS says.
Q You didn’t answer that question, though, whether the White House was aware.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have any more information for you on that. What I can tell you is that the IRS has responded to the IG report and the IRS handles taxpayer information and does it effectively. I would point to what they said in response to the report.
Q On a separate topic, American Alan Gross is marking his fourth year in a Cuban prison. He’s written a letter to the President asking that he personally get involved in trying to seek his release. Do you know if the President has seen that letter, and does he have any plans to get more personally involved in trying to seek Mr. Gross’s release?
MR. CARNEY: Well, thank you for the question. Today is the fourth anniversary of Alan Gross’s incarceration in Cuba. Cuban authorities arrested Mr. Gross on December 3, 2009, and later sentenced him to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored Internet contact between a small religious community on the island and the rest of the world.
Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. We reiterate today our call for the Cuban government to release Alan Gross. Mr. Gross’s detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba.
Regarding your question about the President’s engagement on this, the President has, himself, personally engaged foreign leaders and other international figures to use their influence with Cuba to promote Mr. Gross’s release. The State Department has kept Mr. Gross’s case at the forefront of discussions with the Cuban government and made clear the importance the United States places on his welfare. They have also engaged a wide range of foreign counterparts and urged them to advocate for Mr. Gross’s release.
Q Do you know if the President has received this letter, though?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if he has seen it. I’m aware of it. I can tell you that he is engaged in this in the ways that I described, and that this is always very much a part of any discussions we have with the Cuban government and also with those governments and others who have influence with the Cuban government.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to go back to something you talked a little bit about yesterday, and that’s the East China Sea defense identification zone question. China has praised the United States’ action, giving advice to its commercial flights to notify Chinese authorities of their position, causing some consternation in Japan, which, as you know, has instructed its commercial airliners not to do that. Why that difference in approach? And what about the problems that causes with Japan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me answer that question, which I appreciate. We remain steadfastly committed to our allies and partners and we will maintain close and constant communication with our Korean and Japanese allies, including, as you know, during the Vice President’s trip.
Contrary to prior reporting, the FAA did not issue guidance to U.S. carriers with regard to the specific Chinese notice to airmen. It has, however, reiterated longstanding practice and policy that for the safety and security of passengers on commercial airlines, U.S. civilian aircraft flying internationally operate consistent with notices to airmen issued by foreign countries.
As we have said, and I said yesterday, the U.S. government does not accept or recognize China’s newly declared ADIZ. Indeed, U.S. military aircraft have been instructed to continue to operate normally in the area in line with U.S. government policy. The United States remains deeply concerned with -- concerned that, rather, China announced the establishment of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone because this appears to be a provocative attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea, a highly sensitive area, and thus raises regional tensions and increases the risk of miscalculation, confrontation and accidents.
The United States urges China not to implement the ADIZ, to refrain from taking similar actions elsewhere in the region, and to work with other countries, including Japan and North Korea -- or rather, Japan and South Korea -- to establish confidence-building measures, including emergency communications channels, to address the dangers its recent announcement has created and to lower tensions.
We note that China announced the ADIZ without prior consultations even though the newly announced ADIZ overlaps with parts of the longstanding ADIZs of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan, and includes territories administered by other countries, as I mentioned yesterday.
So I want to make that clarification that this was a reissuance of longstanding guidance regarding commercial aircraft. But our position on this that we do not recognize it and call on China not to implement it remains clear.
Q And just jumping to the Affordable Care Act implementation, there’s reporting that enrollment records for a large number of people who have signed up for health plans contain errors that could cause problems for the insurers who have to process that information. Does the administration have any deadlines for cleaning up the backend of the website?
MR. CARNEY: I am very glad you asked that question, because that statistic that was cited in a newspaper today does not reflect at all the picture of what is happening right now. In fact, I’m not sure it’s an accurate picture of issues with the backend of the system even going back weeks.
What I can tell you is that our general contractor has stood up a team of experts who are working already closely with issuers to make sure that every 834 form, every one -- past and present -- is accurate. And we believe that and are confident that they will be able to ensure that accuracy in time for the January 1st beginning of coverage for those who have signed up for it.
We have made huge improvements to the 834 forms, including over the weekend -- a process that has been going on for weeks, but including over the weekend some significant upgrades that we believe address many of the problems with the 834 forms. I would point out that some of this reporting about this seems to be a reiteration of the basic assertion with which we do not disagree that the website was functioning poorly in October. But it is functioning much more effectively now, and that includes on the backend with the 834 forms.
MR. CARNEY: I promised yesterday that I wouldn’t do all front row at the top. Jared.
Q Jay, over the holiday weekend, the President engaged with senators on Iran. Can you tell us where the President’s outreach is on negotiations regarding Iran and nuclear talks and the deal that has been in place in Geneva?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that our position is clear, that the -- it is the right position to take, rather, that the agreement reached by the P5-plus-1 with Iran needs to be implemented, and that both the President and Congress have a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means before pursuing alternatives.
Passing any new sanctions right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue by giving the Iranians an excuse to push the terms of the agreement on their side. Furthermore, new sanctions are unnecessary right now because our core sanctions architecture remains in place and the Iranians continue to be under extraordinary pressure. There is no doubt in Iran that should this agreement fail, Congress and this administration will quickly impose harsh new sanctions. It would make more sense to hold our powder, or keep our powder dry, rather, until we see whether Iran violates the understanding we have reached, and act accordingly at that time.
If we pass sanctions now, even with a deferred trigger, which has been discussed, the Iranians and likely our international partners will see us as having negotiated in bad faith and this would have a bearing on our core sanctions architecture.
So as you know, the agreement that was reached contains with it verification procedures that will, if implemented by the Iranians, assure the P5-plus-1 that they have halted the -- that Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and has rolled it back in some important areas. The relief is modest and reversible and does not -- deliberately does not affect the core sanctions architecture which this administration built.
And the purpose of sanctions was obviously to press Iran to see if Iran would change its behavior. The preliminary agreement reached with the P5-plus-1 is a step along the road of the process of testing whether they will change their behavior. So we think it’s important to continue that process and to hold in abeyance, if you will, any new sanctions for the time when they might be necessary and more effective.
Q Obviously the diplomacy is in a difficult position right now, tenuous. Would the diplomatic process be enhanced by the President’s visit at any time in the second term?
MR. CARNEY: If you’re asking about reports that are utterly false about a planned visit, I will simply say they’re utterly false.
Q And then on the website and healthcare.gov generally, does the President believe that for people who have spent hours and tried and failed to log on or failed to enroll, or for people who are spending time with their insurers and having difficulties there, is there any make-good that the President or the administration or the website can do to try to compensate people for the hassle that has been --
MR. CARNEY: Jared, I think -- I’m glad you ask, because as I think CMS announced today, there were over 1 million visits to the site yesterday -- 1 million. 13,000 consumers who were put in the queuing system requested email notifications as to when to come back to the site, and all were invited back the same day. Sixty percent of those folks who were sent an email saying to come back have returned.
And I think what this shows is that in spite of the problems that the website had upon launch and that we have been addressing aggressively over these days and weeks, there is an enormous amount of demand for quality, affordable health insurance. And that is a reminder to all of us, and we hope to everyone in Washington and around the country, that the Affordable Care Act is not about a website. The website is a means to an end, and the end is the provision of quality, affordable health insurance to millions of Americans, many of whom have not had access to quality, affordable health insurance in the past.
It is also about benefits that everyone in this room enjoys, as well as those who don’t have insurance or who are shopping for insurance on the exchanges today. That includes the fact that your twin sister, if you had one -- maybe you do -- cannot any longer be charged double for the same insurance that you buy. It means that those of you with children between the ages of 18 and 26 can stay on your plan now, whereas before they could not. It means that millions of Americans avail themselves of preventive care that they could not before. And it means that the 105 million Americans are no longer subject to lifetime limits on their health coverage, and up to 129 million Americans who have a preexisting condition for which they could have been denied coverage or charged more up to now are protected because denying them coverage is prohibited beginning in 2014.
So that’s what the Affordable Care Act is about. That’s what we all need to remember -- we, who are working on improvements to the website, working on talking about the Affordable Care Act -- that this about providing quality, affordable health insurance, and the security and peace of mind that comes with having quality, affordable health insurance for millions of Americans.
And the fact that the website launch was hugely problematic is on us, and I think we’ve been very candid about that. And that’s why it’s been our responsibility to improve it as quickly and effectively as possible. And I think we’ve seen in the last 48 hours that significant improvements have been made and that the demand that we saw initially is still there, despite the challenges that you identify. And we owe it to the American people who had been struggling with the website in October to make it better so that they can get the insurance that they clearly want.
Q Jay, can you just describe what the President is going to do every day on health care between now and December 23rd?
MR. CARNEY: Every day for 21 days?
Q Well, no, I'm asking are we going to hear from him every day.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think we have that time.
Q What is the plan between now and the end of December?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, today, the President in about an hour will hold an event here to deliver remarks about the Affordable Care Act, highlighting the benefits that have already kicked in for millions of middle-class families who have insurance, and the importance of continuing to help as many hardworking Americans as possible enroll for their new health care options through the marketplaces. Americans who have personally benefited from the health care law and supporters of reform will join the President at today’s event.
As our work continues to improve healthcare.gov, more Americans are signing up for insurance every day and are already benefiting from the health care law. Healthcare.gov met our self-imposed November 30th deadline, and even as we continue to make improvements to the website -- and we are and we will -- we will also remind the public about how the Affordable Care Act is already making a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans. The benefits of these consumer protections will only accumulate in the weeks and months ahead -- some of them I just mentioned. While work continues on the website, we think it is important that proponents of health reform undertake a renewed effort to refocus the public and the public’s attention on the benefits of the law that have already been implemented.
And so that’s what we're going to be doing. The President is kicking off that new effort with the event today. And I don't have a day-by-day plan. I can tell you that we'll talk about preventive care, we'll talk about preexisting conditions, we'll talk about slowing the growth in health care costs. There was significant data on that piece of it of late that demonstrates that for the past three years, the growth in health care costs has been the slowest in half a century -- that is the three years since the Affordable Care Act was passed. I think that conflicts rather significantly with the predictions made by opponents of the Affordable Care Act.
There was a significant story in The New York Times today in the business section about the fact that the costs of the Affordable Care Act are actually coming in below estimates. So this is just a sample of the kinds of things that we want to talk about as the month progresses and as obviously millions of Americans are shopping for health insurance and enrolling in plans.
Q Well, what can we expect -- how frequently can we --
MR. CARNEY: You want to know where you're going to go and what events you're going to cover?
Q No, no, no. What I want to know -- this is a crucial period. You lost a lot of time. You have until December 23rd for people who need it by January 1st. Should we expect to see him frequently talking about health care? I mean, what have you planned for him in these weeks, which is kind of a crucial period?
MR. CARNEY: If I told you now it wouldn't be a surprise when it happened, Mara. We are going to be engaged, the President is going to be engaged. He is kicking it off today -- I would point you to his remarks. I've given you a little bit of a preview of some of the things we're going to be talking about and focusing on. We plan to use a number of different venues to push this message to the public, including press events, digital media pushes, and highlighting the stories of Americans who are being helped by these specific benefits.
Q Is this top priority between now and Christmas?
MR. CARNEY: The President has many priorities. It is certainly one of his high, top priorities.
Q Thanks, Jay. Maybe this is asking you to state the obvious, but could you talk about the thought behind that strategy a little bit? I mean, do you think if people hear more of the benefits that will make people who are currently not going to sign up more eager to do so?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say a couple of things. One, everybody in this room for the most part and in this building and elsewhere in Washington who are focused on this issue have been focused on the problems with the website and some of the other issues with the rollout -- and that's appropriate given the challenges that we faced with the website. But it is important, too, as the improvements have been made to the website and more and more Americans are visiting the site and having it function effectively for them that we remember what the ACA is all about, what the benefits are that are being provided to millions of Americans, that it’s not just the website. The website was important and the fixes we've made were absolutely essential. The fixes we will make are important, too. But the Affordable Care Act is about the things I just mentioned before.
So when it comes to -- I think I talked about this yesterday -- I think that the numbers we've seen demonstrate that the demand and interest remains extremely high. What this effort is about is focusing on some of the benefits -- or the many benefits that the Affordable Care Act has already delivered and will deliver beginning on January 1, 2014.
Q When the President talks about the economy tomorrow, is that a health care speech, or is that something --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will tell you this since you asked that tomorrow at 11:20 a.m., the President will deliver remarks on the economy at the ARC, which is a Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus here in Washington, D.C. The ARC is a campus located in D.C.’s Ward 8 with a mission of working to improve the quality of life for residents of Ward 8. The ARC is home to 11 nonprofit agencies, all of which share the goal of helping children and adults reach their full potential. That event is being sponsored by the Center for American Progress.
Those remarks will focus on the economy. We will continue, beginning today, pushing -- or discussing the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in a variety of ways. The President’s remarks tomorrow will be on the economy.
Q And you're not worried about message whiplash there at all?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think that -- no, no, no, no. I think that the economy is elemental to most Americans, and it is the principal focus of this presidency. Remember, when he took office our economy was in free fall. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. The economy in the fourth quarter of 2008 contracted dramatically in the worst recession we’ve seen since the Great Depression. And he has -- the President and his team have worked assiduously over these years to halt that decline and reverse it, and we’ve seen sustained economic growth and job creation for a long time now.
But we are not where we need to be. We need to continue focusing on growing the economy. We need to continue focusing on investing in those areas of the economy that will create jobs today and greater economic growth and job creation in the future. So those are the things that the President will want to continue to address. And health care security is an element of economic security, so they are interrelated.
Q Can I just follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll get up and back. Jim.
Q Even before this new push on Obamacare, the polls have been showing that the law and the program itself are just stubbornly unpopular. And I’m just curious, does the President believe that this program will ever be popular?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President believes and the polls reflect that the elements of the Affordable Care Act and the benefits that it provides are popular and supported by majorities of the American people.
Q But as a whole it’s not --
MR. CARNEY: I think, also, it’s important to note that a lot of the polls that have been discussed, when you combine those who support the law as it is, those who wish it were more -- or different on the liberal side, if you will, and those who believe that we ought to fix it, fix the problems that we’ve seen with it, rather than discard it and repeal it -- that discard and repeal is a distinctly minority position, because most Americans believe that the status quo ante is not a good place to be -- the status quo ante where insurance companies could cancel your policy for a variety of reasons. They could deny you insurance because you had a preexisting condition. They could deny your child insurance because he or she had asthma. They could charge your twin sister double what they charge you. And they didn’t provide --
Q But people may want it to be single payer, but it’s never going to be single payer.
MR. CARNEY: But that’s not -- I think you understand that’s not the whole thing that I was saying, Jim. So if you’re asking me, has there been an enormous fight for years now about whether we should reform the health care system or not, there’s no question. And that fight has been highly ideological and political fundamentally. When you ask people, do they believe that insurance companies ought to be prohibited from denying you insurance because you have a preexisting condition, I think we'll take the numbers on the side of no -- I mean, yes, they ought to be prohibited from doing that.
If you ask them, should women be charged double for the same insurance policy that men get, they’ll say no. Do they want the benefits of free preventive care; do they want the benefits that have been provided to millions and millions of Americans for prescription drug costs, and the rebates that millions of Americans have received because of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that ensure that insurance companies dedicate the appropriate amount of their expenditures on providing coverage as opposed to administrative and other costs.
But we’re focused on providing the benefits, we’re not focused on the polls.
Q And getting back to the backend process, I mean, you said you were confident that these issues are going to be worked out before January 1st, but obviously you can’t guarantee that there might be some folks out there who might see potentially a gap in their coverage, because they thought they were insured but their enrollment package did not get to the insurance company properly. So can the administration guarantee to people that if they get a hospital bill or a medical bill for thousands of dollars that should have been covered under Obamacare, but because of this potential gap in coverage that was inadvertently caused because of these computer problems, that they won’t have to pay that bill?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, first of all, there’s not an insurance policy called Obamacare. I think it’s important to your viewers that they understand that they’re purchasing private insurance, first of all. Secondly, the general contractor, QSSI, has stood up a team of experts working very closely already with insurers to make sure that every 834 form, past and present, is accurate in time for January 1st. And we’re confident that they’ll be able to achieve that.
Going back to the story that was cited earlier today, even though we know that that -- or believe that the description is inaccurate in terms of what’s happening today, even if you look back at the worst period after the launch and the troubles we had with the website, the fact is very few people, as we know now -- because we have the October numbers -- were enrolling. So the universe of people who might have, in their enrollment, had problems with 834 forms is not particularly large, which is an outcome of the problems we had with the website. And the --
Q So people aren’t going to get socked with a medical bill because of an inadvertent gap?
MR. CARNEY: I’m telling you that the contractor and the issuers are working together and will make sure that every 834 form, both past and present, October 1st forward, is accurate.
Q Okay. And let me ask you just very quickly on -- last week, the National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, said to President Karzai in Afghanistan that if this bilateral security agreement is not signed the United States and NATO may pull all of our forces, all the forces there on the ground in Afghanistan, out of that country around the end of 2014. Is that a real threat? Could that really happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as Ambassador Rice noted last week, we have concluded negotiations, and deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year’s elections is not a viable option. It would not provide the United States and our NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence, nor would it provide Afghans with the certainty they deserve regarding their future in the critical months preceding elections.
Moreover, the lack of a signed bilateral security agreement would jeopardize NATO and other nations’ pledges of assistance made at the Chicago and Tokyo conferences in 2012. Ambassador Rice reiterated that without a prompt signature the United States would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan. We simply can’t do it. And the fact is everybody negotiated in good faith, there was an agreement, there is substantial support for that agreement in Afghanistan, and we believe it ought to be signed promptly.
Q Back to Iran, just a clarification on the sanctions bill. If Congress were to pass such a bill, would the President veto it?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, all I can tell you is that we strongly believe that passing new sanctions now will result in our international partners, as well as Iran, seeing us as having negotiated that agreement in bad faith, which would then have a bearing on our core sanctions architecture. So the passing of new sanctions during this period would actually undermine the overall core sanctions architecture, which this administration took the lead in building with our international partners and with the essential assistance of Congress.
So I think our view and our position, which we have expressed clearly in many meetings with members of Congress, is that the sanctions regime that they helped us build has provided this opportunity. It has succeeded in the sense that the sanctions were designed to pressure Tehran into changing its behavior. And because of the impact of the sanctions, Tehran has changed its behavior, or indicated that it is willing to change its behavior. And we had a series of negotiations with the P5-plus-1 in Geneva; the result of those negotiations was the agreement, the preliminary agreement reached by the P5-plus-1 with Iran, and we now foresee implementation of that agreement.
And if Iran abides by the elements of that agreement, it will result in the positive development that there is a halt to progress in their nuclear program, as well as the rolling back of elements of that program, which would essentially put time on the clock as we continue to test the theory that Iran is willing to take the necessary steps to assure the world, the United Nations and everyone else, that it will abide by its international commitments and it will in a verifiable, transparent way forsake any ambitions for a nuclear weapons program.
We believe that Congress should hold and reserve the options of passing new sanctions if the moment arises when Iran has failed to comply with its agreement, and that taking that action would have a positive result as opposed to the negative result that I just mentioned.
Q I understand. But my question is a very simple one: Would the President veto a new sanctions bill?
MR. CARNEY: There’s not a -- I don’t have a statement of administration policy on a specific bill. What I can tell you is we strongly oppose, for all the reasons I discussed -- and we are engaged in discussions with numerous lawmakers about this issue
-- the passage of new sanctions at this time because of the reasons I just enumerated.
Q And are Senator Menendez and Senator Corker wrong when they say that this interim agreement does do what the Iranians says it does, which establishes a right to enrich?
MR. CARNEY: I think if you read the agreement, it’s clear what it does and does not do. What the President said and others is that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program. The negotiations over the next six months, if Iran complies with the preliminary agreement, will address a whole host of issues.
What this President has made clear and his policies have proven out is that he is committed to the fundamental principle that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon, and he has made sure that all options available to him to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon remain on the table, and they remain on the table today.
The whole purpose of building up the sanctions regime with the unprecedented international consensus that the administration and the President built was to test whether or not Iran could be pressured to come to a diplomatic resolution to this challenge rather than a military resolution to it.
Q Right. But the question is, is there a recognition that Iran has the right to enrich uranium, which of course is a critical step in the path towards building a bomb. The agreement it seems at least implies that they have such a right, and the agreement says that a final accord “would involve a mutually defined enrichment program.” How is that not right in words there saying that they have a right to enrich?
MR. CARNEY: I would not impute added meaning to words that are printed in black and white. What I would tell you is that the President has --
Q “Final accord would involve a mutually defined enrichment program.” That’s saying a final accord --
MR. CARNEY: And I could discuss with you for many minutes and hours probably what that might and could mean in the full resolution of this through a six-month process. What the President has made clear is that Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy. What the President has also made clear is that he is adamantly opposed to and will not allow for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. And that is the threat that has been posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. That is the problem that was created by Tehran’s flouting of its international obligations and its refusal to demonstrate to the international community that it did not have non-civilian designs for its nuclear program. And it is the commitment that Iran will have to make in a transparent and verifiable way if there is to be an accord with the international community through the P5-plus-1 process.
Q And Jay, finally, I just wanted to give you a chance to respond to Senator Menendez, who said that you were fear-mongering in the way you were characterizing his position on these talks.
MR. CARNEY: What I said and what I believe is and we believe is the case is that the construction of the sanctions regime was meant to pressure Iran to change its behavior; that the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian economy, on the Iranian currency would hopefully bring Iran to the table with a new disposition towards resolving its commitments with the international community with regards to nuclear weapons. That regime, which this President and this administration working with our partners and allies has constructed, has been effective in the sense that we have seen a change or a potential change in Iranian behavior that has led to the negotiations in the wake of the elections in Iran and to the preliminary agreement that was reached in Geneva.
Since that’s what the sanctions are for, i.e. to test whether or not this can be resolved peacefully, the alternative, which is, as I’ve described, our view is that if you pass sanctions now and undermine the core sanctions architecture and cause our allies and partners internationally as well as Iran to view us as having negotiated in bad faith, the result is that you create a situation where keeping the commitment of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon leaves you with very few options, which is for --
Q But he’s saying you were fear-mongering.
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q This is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that Senator Menendez and every lawmaker up there who is rightfully concerned and has been concerned and worked on their concern about Iran’s nuclear program shares the same goal that the President has, which is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
I believe that the Chairman and most and hopefully all members of the Senate believe that the optimal way to resolve this challenge is peacefully, through diplomacy -- for two reasons. One, because war should always be a last resort, military action should always be a last resort. But two, the way to ensure for the long term that Iran has forsaken its nuclear weapons program and cannot obtain a nuclear weapon is to have Iran agree to forsake it and give it up in a transparent, verifiable way. Because military action would not have the same long-term effect.
Q But isn’t it fear-mongering to say --
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q -- the only difference -- the only choices are this interim agreement or a war with Iran? I mean, that’s why he was saying --
Q This is an interview.
MR. CARNEY: This was an interview? Is that -- (laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I think, Jon, that our belief is that if sanctions were passed now, even with a delayed trigger, that it would undermine the core sanctions regime and would potentially undermine the negotiations, which, if you want to resolve this peacefully, we need to test whether or not Tehran is willing to do what it takes and to make the commitments necessary to resolve this peacefully. And the only way we can do that is through diplomacy. Because bottom line, this President’s policy is and his position is that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.
Roger Runningen, and then Bill.
Q Thanks. Back to China. Mr. Biden is meeting with Chinese leaders tomorrow. Will he make a direct appeal for them to back off or drop their air defense zone?
MR. CARNEY: I think the Vice President has already on this trip and will tomorrow repeat this administration’s position, which I just delivered again moments ago, which is that we do not recognize and believe that China should not implement this ADIZ. So I’m sure that will be a subject of the Vice President’s conversations. As I noted yesterday, this trip to Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea was long planned and there are a host of items on the agenda in addition to this particular issue.
Q But what leverage does the U.S. have?
MR. CARNEY: I think we are making clear our views and our concerns that these kinds of unilateral actions are provocative and create risks of miscalculation, and that miscalculations could undermine peace, security, and prosperity in the region. And it is in everyone’s interest in the region to not have peace, prosperity and security put at risk. So I think we’ll be very clear about that, as we have already.
Q Will there be some consequences for violence?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to negotiate or preview conversations the Vice President will have. But our position has been clear.
Q Okay. One other thing -- on the economy, following up on Christie’s questions, is there anything new in the economic speech tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’ll have to see.
Q In his upcoming push for the Affordable Care Act over the next several weeks, will the President acknowledge the problems that some people have with it in terms of cost or availability? Or will this simply be a propaganda war between the two sides where one side highlights only the losers and the other side only the winners?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I think the President has, over the past several weeks, as have all of us, acknowledged the problems that the rollout of the marketplaces --
Q I'm not talking about the --
MR. CARNEY: And he has acknowledged some of the issues with cancellations and others where problems have been created by this transition period. So our approach has always been to acknowledge those problems and to address them and to fix them.
If you're -- some of your question goes to whether or not -- and this has been a central issue in the debate about whether there should be health insurance reform, whether or not there should be an individual responsibility provision, and obviously we came down on the side of yes, and that if you're a 28-year-old and you're uninsured and you're healthy and you don't want to pay for insurance, but you end up in the emergency room, and that's the way you get your coverage, that it’s costing you and Jon and Mara and everybody else, and me to pay for that coverage. So that it is the right and responsible thing to do for everyone to avail themselves of affordable, quality health insurance through the marketplaces if they don't already have it.
As you know, because of the way the Affordable Care Act was written, through the expansion of Medicaid, which a number of states have embraced, many uninsured Americans will be able to be covered through Medicaid, and there has been a substantial increase already since October 1st in those states that have expanded Medicaid in the numbers covered by Medicaid. Also, many, many Americans will be able to avail themselves of tax credits, depending on their income, to make sure that the coverage that they choose is affordable.
So I think that the fundamentals of this debate continue. What we're focused on is making sure that people know what the benefits are and know what the options they have available to them. Because in spite of all the problems that the misfunctioning website has created, and challenges and obstacles that it has thrown up to the American people over the past several months, we have seen, again, in the last 48 hours, that there is enormous demand and interest in this product. And the reason for that is because people want the security that health insurance provides. They want the security of a system where they know that they can't be jacked around anymore, and that they can have a basic set of benefits that they cannot be --
Q I'm not talking about the website. I'm talking about
-- I'm asking whether he will acknowledge complaints --
MR. CARNEY: The President has acknowledged complaints. He stood up here --
Q -- of those who lose coverage --
MR. CARNEY: -- before you -- I can't remember if you were here, but I'm sure you watched, that he very clearly acknowledged some of the issues that have arisen with the transition to the marketplaces. And we're not shying away from that. But we are also focusing on the many benefits to millions and millions and tens of millions of Americans that the Affordable Care Act provides.
And that's the focus. I think it is important -- it came up earlier -- that the alternative here has always been nothing. It has always been the status quo. It has always been a situation where more and more people are losing insurance, where costs have been increasing at a far higher rate than inflation, where insurance companies were able to throw you off your policy, or deny you coverage, or carve out exceptions, or give you a low-rate policy that you discover later doesn’t cover you for hospitalizations, and that sort of thing.
So these are the debates that we had around whether or not health insurance reform was the right thing to pursue. It was a hard-fought debate and the law was passed. It was upheld by the Supreme Court. It was debated extensively, maybe as the principal issue in a presidential election last year. And we obviously created a lot of problems for ourselves because of the website, but we're fixing those problems. Because the issue isn't can we make the website great; it’s can we make the website effective as a means by which Americans can get what they so clearly have demonstrated an interest in getting.
Q Jay, is the President going to let Detroit go bankrupt?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think that happened a while ago.
Q Well, a judge today says --
MR. CARNEY: As we said, Detroit’s bankruptcy is something that needs to be resolved between the city and its creditors. What we have said and what we are doing is working to provide real, tangible economic development and opportunity with existing resources and public-private partnerships to support and accelerate Detroit’s revitalization.
Q But didn’t the President say in the campaign that it would be awful for Detroit to go bankrupt? He obviously helped the auto industry, got them back on their feet. That was a positive development, but it wasn’t enough. And I thought in the campaign he said it would be horrible for Detroit to go bankrupt.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that there is enormous hardship caused by some of the problems that have happened in Detroit, which is why this needs to be resolved between the city and its creditors. Our position on this is the same as it was prior to the judge’s ruling and prior to -- or in the immediate aftermath of the declaration of bankruptcy.
Q Okay. Two quick ones on health care. As you can imagine, Senator McConnell’s office has been waiting for the President’s event anxiously today, and they put together about a dozen other times the President has launched sort of a “major PR blitz on health care.” Do you feel like he’s just sort of stuck in the same place and that you’ve made this pitch before and people just are still not buying it?
MR. CARNEY: Really? Because the law passed. The President won reelection. The Supreme Court upheld it. And a million people showed up on the website yesterday. And guess what -- 380,000 showed up before noon today. And people are enrolling every day.
Q But he’s still trying to sell the benefits. Why is he still selling the benefits?
MR. CARNEY: And Senator McConnell to this day has yet to put on the table a single idea to provide affordable, quality health insurance to the American people. Senator McConnell, I guess, by highlighting this -- clearly a political thing -- doesn’t want to engage in a debate about whether or not folks who are uninsured ought to have access to quality, affordable health insurance; whether folks who are in states where governors for political reasons chose not to expand Medicaid should have to answer for why their constituents are being denied coverage.
Q But why is the President still -- you’ve laid out at the top of the briefing all the great benefits of this. So why does the President still have to sell it? If it’s so great, why don't people already --
MR. CARNEY: Well, one reason that we've -- I think you’ve noticed and covered -- is that we've had a pretty rough go the last couple of months with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces.
Q You’ve been selling the benefits for three years, before the website. You know that.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think your questions in many ways mirror what Jim was asking about poll numbers. What we know is that if you ask the American people whether they prefer a world where insurance companies can deny you coverage because you have a preexisting condition, or one in which they are prohibited from denying you coverage because you have a preexisting condition, they prefer overwhelmingly a world where there is a law in place that prevents them from denying you that coverage. And that is true as you go down the list of benefits that the Affordable Care Act provides.
There is no question -- and you’ve covered it, I've covered attempts to pass health insurance reform in the past. This is a contentious, very political issue here in Washington. But what I can promise you is that around kitchen tables, including in houses where families have tried and struggled with the website in October, including in households where everyone who’s an adult voted against President Obama, people are going to make a decision if they need quality, affordable health insurance and don’t have it, they’re going to look at the options available to them and choose the certainty and security that comes with quality, affordable, private health insurance. It’s as simple as that, and that’s what we’re focused on.
We’ve got to go. So Chuck, and then -- April after this.
Q In your response on the Treasury IG report, you said, “We will have these safeguards in.” Are you guys building new safeguards? Was this the re-phrased -- were you quoting the IRS?
MR. CARNEY: What I quoted was the IRS, and I’d refer you to the IRS. The IRS obviously has a certain amount of experience in handling --
Q So these are all IRS -- this is not something that CMS or HHS should be dealing with and trying to prevent this issue, that it’s all -- the IRS has to deal with this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, when it comes to tax fraud and issues of subsidies that are tax related, the IRS handles that. It’s certainly not HHS or the White House.
Q No, I understand that. But is there some way --
MR. CARNEY: So protecting that information --
Q Is there a better safeguard that HHS should be in the front --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I haven’t read the IG report. I would simply refer you to what, since it’s about the IRS, what the IRS has said in response to it.
Q Quickly, Consumer Reports, their health care reporter today said their recommendation -- saying they’re now recommending people use the website now. They were not recommending that in October. They’re saying if you started an account in October, you should scrap it and start over. Is that the advice -- is that good advice?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would suggest that that question be addressed to CMS in the briefings they have, because I don’t want to say the wrong thing here on camera. My understanding is that CMS is reaching out to consumers who enrolled, and making sure that they’re aware of the steps they need to take to ensure that that enrollment results in coverage. But specifically about obviously the problems that were had with the website and those issues about people who thought they were enrolled but may not be, I would refer you for the specifics to CMS and in terms of what steps need to be taken.
But I know that when it comes to the 834 forms, when it comes to reaching out, as I said yesterday, to everyone who enrolled to make sure that they are aware of and are in contact with their issuers about when their premiums are due, what other information they may need to provide, that those steps are being taken by CMS, and to make sure that these issues are addressed.
Q When it comes to this new push of trying to get people to sign up, is it fair to say we wouldn’t be seeing the President today if he weren’t confident this website is now functional?
MR. CARNEY: I think -- well, I’m trying to think if the -- how that question plays out. I think that --
Q You put him out on October 1 before.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q You didn’t do that, you didn’t put him out on November 30, December 1, December 2. I mean --
MR. CARNEY: Today is December 3.
Q I understand that.
MR. CARNEY: So --
Q But my point is, you were waiting to see if traffic was going to work, the enrollment numbers.
MR. CARNEY: I think the point -- I think it is fair to say that the President is going to acknowledge today and will note today that we have all been -- in the administration, in the Fourth Estate and on Capitol Hill -- focused on the very real problems with the website and other problems with the transition that needed to be addressed and fixed, and that this is an opportunity, now that the website is functioning effectively for the vast majority of users, and we are seeing high volume and high volume being handled effectively by the website, and people enrolling, that it’s an opportune time to talk about, again, the actual benefits that are provided by the law.
Q And you guys are doing -- it seems like you’re leaking enrollment numbers now left and right. You didn’t do that the first time.
MR. CARNEY: I can’t confirm -- I mean, I tell you --
Q There’s stuff popping up all over the place now all of a sudden.
MR. CARNEY: I tell you, there are a lot of numbers, and this goes back to the story that was talked about earlier today, that are out there that come from anonymous sources that turn out to be wrong.
Q So you’re not confirming these numbers that are out there?
MR. CARNEY: I’m only -- the numbers I cite --
Q Are the traffic and --
MR. CARNEY: -- I have gotten from people who know. We will provide, or HHS and CMS will provide to you the enrollment figures once those that data is scrubbed and everything is received from states, and we’ll make sure that those are accurate. That was the case for October; it will be the case for November.
Q One final question on another topic. There’s some new international test scores that came out where the U.S., particularly in math, ranks 30th -- U.S. teens. And there’s a lot of other countries surpassing the United States, particularly in Asia. Is this a -- how is this not an indictment of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top when you look at these -- are these programs just simply not working as they were intended if these standardized test scores are as bad as they are for the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re absolutely right, and Secretary Duncan said today that the assessment demonstrates that there’s too much educational stagnation, even as it shows some encouraging progress on other important measures. And the administration has taken steps to raise standards and improve education for kids across the country, but there is still much more that we need to do. And Congress should pass the President’s proposals to, first, make quality early education available to every child; two, redesign America’s high schools to prepare students for college and the workplace; three, make college affordable for everyone who is willing to work for it; and four, to fix, through reauthorization, No Child Left Behind, which goes to one of your questions.
Every state should commit to college and career-ready standards for its students. This is hugely important, and this goes back to the question about the President talking about the economy. This is an economic issue. And it goes to the heart of our economic competitiveness in the future.
April, I think I gave you the last one. And you guys got to hurry if you’re going to make it.
Q Yes, yes. Immigration --
MR. CARNEY: If people are afraid of not making it --
Q What is the President’s conversation with you or around the White House about the deportation hearing this week for his uncle, his father’s half-brother?
MR. CARNEY: I think that conversation is a legal matter that should be addressed over at the Department of Justice.
Q Well, has he talked to his uncle recently or --
MR. CARNEY: I have no conversations like that to read out.
Q But the President is well aware that his --
MR. CARNEY: I have not discussed it with him, so I do not know. Thanks.
2:10 P.M. EST
Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice: “Human Rights: Advancing American Interests and Values”
Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice at the Human Rights First Annual Summit
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
“Human Rights: Advancing American Interests and Values”
Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you so much Elisa for your incredibly kind introduction, but even more I want to thank you for your long career fighting the good fight, and for your dedicated leadership of Human Rights First. For more than three decades, this group has been a clarion voice in defense of human dignity and the rights and freedom of people everywhere. And it really is my deep honor to be with you today.
Sixty-five years ago this month, representatives to the United Nations General Assembly came together to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—a worldwide recognition that all members of our human family are born possessing certain equal and inalienable rights. These same rights are reflected in the founding documents of the United States, and we cherish them as part of our national character. But, as President Obama has said, just because some truths are self-evident doesn’t mean they are self-executing. We have to work relentlessly to make them real. We must constantly question and challenge ourselves to be on the right side of history—to do our part so that more and more of our fellow human beings can enjoy the rights and freedoms, which are the birthright of all mankind.
Our history is filled with champions who have fought to bring us closer to our ideals—from Dr. King and the thousands who marched on Washington 50 years ago to “Battling” Bella Abzug, from Cesar Chavez to Harvey Milk and countless others. I know everyone in this room believes, as I do, that continuing their work at home and expanding it around the globe is our great commission as the inheritors of their legacy.
For me, the struggle for equal human rights is deeply personal. It’s essential to who I am as an American. I can never forget that I am the daughter of proud citizens who suffered the indignities of Jim Crow. Nor can I forget that, in 1964, the year of my birth, in many parts of this great country, people who looked like me could not vote or marry someone who looks like my husband. The unfinished battle for equality and human dignity is not only what drives me as a public servant, it is my central duty as the mother of my two children to make sure they never encounter any limitations on their dreams because of who they are or what they look like.
No one understands this profound responsibility more keenly than President Obama. From his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to his remarks at the United Nations in September, he has been clear about the principles that guide us and to which we hold ourselves accountable, even as we navigate an increasingly complex world of competing and overlapping challenges.
Make no mistake: advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy. It’s what our history and our values demand, but it’s also profoundly in our interests. That is why the United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere. We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and minorities. We defend the freedom for all people to worship as they choose, and we champion open government and civil society, freedom of assembly and a free press.
We support these rights and freedoms with a wide range of tools, because history shows that nations that respect the rights of all their citizens are more just, more prosperous and more secure. And while it’s neither effective nor desirable to advance human rights through the barrel of a gun, we have made clear that, in the face of imminent mass atrocities, there may be times when it is appropriate to use force to protect the innocent from the very worst crimes. But, we cannot and we should not bear that burden alone.
Yet, obviously, advancing human rights is not and has never been our only interest. Every U.S. president has a sworn duty to protect the lives and the fortunes of the American people against immediate threats. That is President Obama’s first responsibility, and mine. We must defend the United States, our citizens and our allies with every tool at our disposal, including, when necessary, with military force. We must do all we can to counter weapons of mass destruction, aggression, terrorism, and catastrophic threats to the global economy, upon which our way of life depends. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty.
As we seek to secure these core interests, we sometimes face painful dilemmas when the immediate need to defend our national security clashes with our fundamental commitment to democracy and human rights. Let’s be honest: at times, as a result, we do business with governments that do not respect the rights we hold most dear. We make tough choices. When rights are violated, we continue to advocate for their protection. But we cannot, and I will not pretend that some short-term tradeoffs do not exist.
Still, over time, we know that our core interests are inseparable from our core values, that our commitment to democracy and human rights roundly reinforces our national security. The greatest threats to our security often emerge from countries with the worst human rights records. Witness Iran and North Korea, which have stoked tensions with the world, in part to prolong their repressive rule at home. By contrast, when we are able to strengthen societies through our support for democracy and human rights, we plow the ground for greater cooperation among responsible nations on issues of mutual concern. So, the fact is: American foreign policy must sometimes strike a difficult balance — not between our values and our interests, because these almost invariably converge with time, but more often between our short and long-term imperatives.
During the past five years, we’ve employed a variety of means to spur governments to respect the universal rights of their people—and to hold them accountable when they do not.
Wherever President Obama goes, he speaks both publicly and privately to highlight human rights abuses and to help nations see that protecting the rights of their people is ultimately in their self-interest. We use the unmatched strength of our economy to apply financial pressure, including sanctions, on those that violate human rights. We leverage our military aid and other forms of bilateral support to encourage countries to live up to their international commitments. We allocate significant resources to assistance programs that foster human rights, the rule of law and good governance. Our senior leaders engage directly with civil society, both to show our support and to hear what is really happening on the ground. And, we work closely with multilateral institutions to marshal a coordinated international response to human rights violations.
Under President Obama, we joined the United Nations Human Rights Council in the face of domestic opposition. And, for all its continuing flaws, we’ve succeeded in making it a more effective institution that has shed light on abuses in Qadhafi’s Libya, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Iran. And I want to salute my friend and colleague Eileen Donahoe who is a good reason and a major reason for that success in Geneva. Thank you so much Eileen. We’ve worked cooperatively with the International Criminal Court to foster accountability for the worst crimes. Together with our international partners, we helped to midwife the peaceful emergence of an independent South Sudan. In Cote D’Ivoire, we worked through the United Nations to arrest spiraling violence and enable the duly-elected leader of Cote d’Ivoire to take office after a despot stubbornly refused to cede power. Just recently, we backed regional diplomacy and a robust UN force to help usher the M23 militia off the battlefield in eastern Congo, yielding the promise of progress for the first time in many years.
In Burma, after long and effective pressure, including tough sanctions and persistent calls to end Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest and release political prisoners, we are now working to help Burma take steps towards inclusive democracy and national reconciliation. In the Western Hemisphere, we joined in beating back efforts to limit the autonomy of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression. And, backed by a UN Security Council mandate, we led, with our partners in NATO and the Arab League, an unprecedented international intervention to prevent mass atrocities in Libya.
Around the world, we call to account the world’s worst abusers, from Iran to Syria, from Eritrea to Zimbabwe, from North Korea to Sudan. These governments crush the rights of their people and use the tyrant’s toolkit of repression to retain power. Some have systematically slaughtered their own citizens, as in the genocide in Darfur.
In Syria, even as we provide humanitarian assistance and make rapid progress toward eliminating the threat of chemical weapons, our work continues to end the violence that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and to see the perpetrators of atrocities held accountable. In Iran, as we test the potential for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue, we are mindful that another key test is whether we begin to see progress on human rights. We call on the government to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran to visit the country. Our sanctions on Iran’s human rights abusers will continue and so will our support for the fundamental rights of all Iranians. The Iranian people deserve the same right to express themselves online and through social media as their leaders enjoy.
Closer to home, we note modest steps toward economic reform in Cuba, but we condemn continued arrests of human rights activists and other government critics. As we mark the fourth year of his imprisonment, we call on the Cuban government to release our innocent, jailed compatriot, Alan Gross. Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. And that’s why President Obama has increased the flow of resources and information to ordinary citizens. The Cuban people deserve the full support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter American Democratic Charter.
These extreme examples are in many ways the most clear-cut. They are egregious cases, where the weight of our concern and the tenor of our relationship make it easier to chart a clear policy course. In other countries, it is more difficult to disentangle our competing interests and to give full primacy to our values. So, let me talk a bit more about these tougher cases.
In this new century, there are few relationships more complex or important than the one between the United States and China. Building a constructive relationship with China is crucial to the future security and prosperity of the world as a whole. We value China’s cooperation on certain pressing security challenges, from North Korea to Iran. Our trade relationship, one of the largest in the world, supports countless American jobs. And that’s precisely why we have a stake in what kind of power China will become, and that is why human rights are integral to our engagement with China.
So the United States speaks clearly and consistently about our human rights concerns with the Chinese government at every level, including at this year’s summit between President Obama and President Xi at Sunnylands. U.S. officials engage their Chinese counterparts directly on specific cases of concern—like that of Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong—as well as about broader patterns of restrictive behavior. And we voice our condemnation publicly when violations occur.
The Chinese people are facing increasing restrictions on their freedoms of expression, assembly and association. This is short-sighted. When people in China cannot hold public officials to account for corruption, environmental abuses, worker and consumer safety, or public health crises, problems that affect China as well as the world go unaddressed. When courts imprison political dissidents who merely urge respect for China’s own laws, no one in China, including Americans doing business there, can feel secure. When ethnic and religious minorities—such as Tibetans and Uighurs—are denied their fundamental freedoms, the trust that holds diverse societies together is undermined. Such abuses diminish China’s potential from the inside.
The same is true of Russia. We often can cooperate with Russia on nonproliferation, arms control, counterterrorism and other vital interests. But, as we meet these mutual challenges, we don’t remain silent about the Russian government’s systematic efforts to curtail the actions of Russian civil society, to stigmatize the LGBT community, to coerce neighbors like Ukraine who seek closer integration with Europe, or to stifle human rights in the North Caucasus. We deplore selective justice and the prosecution of those who protest the corruption and cronyism that is sapping Russia’s economic future and limiting its potential to play its full role on the world stage.
In the Middle East and North Africa, we are navigating the security challenges of the Arab Spring and helping partners lay the foundations for a future rooted in greater peace, opportunity, democracy and respect for human rights. In Egypt, we said we could not conduct business as usual with the interim government after it used large-scale violence against civilians and detained opposition leaders earlier this year. So, we withheld the delivery of some major weapons systems pending progress towards democratic reforms and inclusive governance. We have a stake in promoting inclusive politics in Egypt to avoid driving government opponents into the arms of extremist groups and condemning the country to further instability. We have spoken out about the deleterious impact the new demonstrations law and its heavy-handed enforcement is having on freedom of assembly in Egypt, and we will continue to urge non-violence and progress on Egypt’s roadmap towards an inclusive and stable democracy.
Bahrain is a long standing partner in the region. As home to our Fifth Fleet, a stable Bahrain is of great strategic importance to the United States. So we serve both our principles and our security by pressing for national reconciliation between the government and the opposition. We are discouraging actions on both sides that sharpen religious divisions or escalate violence. And, through concrete actions, including withholding portions of our military assistance, we are urging the government to lift restrictions on civil society, to treat members of the opposition in accordance with the rule of law, and to engage in a deliberate reform process.
Our commitment to Israel’s security is unprecedented and enduring. Thus, in the West Bank, we condemn incitement and violence against Israelis. At the same time, we reject settler violence against Palestinians. The daily humiliations of administrative detentions, land confiscations, and home demolitions must end for a culture of peace to take root.
Even as we address such pressing national challenges, the United States continues to lead in promoting a global human rights agenda for the 21st century. This starts with our intensive efforts to protect and empower women and girls. No society can reach its full potential when half its people are held back. That’s why, through the Equal Futures Partnership, we’re working with countries around the world to fulfill specific commitments that elevate the status of women, such as developing constitutional protections for gender equality or extending benefits for women-owned businesses.
A full third of women—one in three—experience either sexual or physical violence in their lifetimes. Gender-based violence is an affront to human dignity, but it also threatens public health, economic stability, and the security of nations. So, as part of our commitment to end this scourge, we’re helping equip first responders to protect women and girls from rape as soon as conflicts or disasters occur, and we’re launching a cabinet-level task force to raise awareness and coordinate our efforts to combat violence against women and girls.
No one–no one--should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love. So, we are working to lead internationally, as we have domestically, on LGBT issues. This summer, President Obama championed equal treatment for LGBT persons while standing next to the President of Senegal, a country that is making progress on democratic reforms, but like too many nations, still places criminal restrictions on homosexuality. President Obama met with LGBT and other civil society activists in St. Petersburg, Russia to discuss the restrictions they face in Russia. At the UN Human Rights Council and in regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States and the Pan American Health Organization, the United States has fought for and won support for resolutions that recognize the rights and protect the safety and dignity of LGBT persons. We created the Global Equality Fund to protect LGBT rights and those who defend them.
To support embattled civil society, which is the engine that drives greater transparency and accountability everywhere, including here in the United States we founded and are working through the Open Government Partnership to develop and share best practices. We’re coordinating with the Community of Democracies to pressure repressive regimes. The State Department led the creation of the Lifeline partnership, which provides emergency assistance to civil society organizations. We are reaching out directly to all of you in the NGO community to learn about how we can best support and train your sister organizations around the world. And, our support for young leaders across Africa focuses, in part, on empowering those who are committed to working for an Africa that is buttressed, as President Obama said, by “strong institutions” rather than by “strongmen.”
This isn’t an exhaustive summary of our efforts. From Rakhine State in Burma to Jonglei State in South Sudan, we are working to protect vulnerable civilians, especially minorities, to heal rifts in communities, and to press for accountability so that the worst forms of violence do not go unpunished. The modern-day slavery of human trafficking remains a stain on our collective conscience, and President Obama has redoubled our efforts to end human trafficking in all its forms.
We are promoting internet freedom while still guarding against threats from those who would use the connective power of new technologies to harm us. And, as part of our comprehensive strategy to help prevent genocide and mass atrocities, we’re developing the tools and partnerships that can warn us before violence ignites and strengthen our capacity to respond. For example, to take on the deteriorating situation and increasing violence in the Central African Republic, we’re working this week at the UN to support African Union forces protecting civilians, to provide humanitarian assistance, and to investigate human rights abuses so the perpetrators can be held accountable.
Finally, our commitment to human rights means we must live our values at home. And, here too, our work is not nearly complete. If we are not walking the talk, we undermine the United States’ ability to lead internationally. President Obama has an extremely strong record of promoting human rights domestically — from the first bill he signed into law as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to his support for voter protection, and his commitment to full equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters and for repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This Administration is deeply committed to ensuring that all men and women are treated equally.
In 2009, as UN Ambassador, I was proud to sign, on behalf of the United States, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But, almost five years later, as you know, we are still urging the Senate to approve this convention. I am very glad you’ll be hearing tomorrow from the great former Senator Bob Dole, who has been a relentless advocate for this cause. We need Congress to join with us to show that America doesn’t just press other nations to abide by international treaties and norms while we stand on the sidelines. Rather we must lead by example.
That is why too President Obama remains deeply determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo. We have new envoys at the Departments of State and Defense dedicated to this cause. In August, we completed the first successful detainee transfers under the onerous restrictions that Congress enacted in 2011, and we expect to announce more transfers in the near future. We continue to urge Congress to remove these restrictions, which have severely hampered our efforts to close the Guantanamo detention facility. And I want to thank Human Rights First and your coalition for your energetic support for closing Guantanamo.
More broadly, after over a decade of war, we continue to transition from a perpetual war footing while robustly protecting America’s interests and security around the world. Earlier this year, President Obama announced new guidelines governing the use of lethal force in our counterterrorism operations outside areas of active hostilities, including the use of drones. Congress is briefed on every strike taken, and we are committed to sharing as much information as possible with the American people about our efforts. Over time, continued progress against al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups should reduce the need for such actions.
More recently, President Obama directed a review of our signals intelligence collection. Intelligence saves lives—American lives and those of our allies and partners. We are committed to continuing to collect such information to meet our critical security needs. At the same time, we recognize that, in many countries, surveillance is an instrument of repression, which is why we must use the unprecedented power that technology affords us responsibly, while respecting the values of privacy, government transparency, and accountability that all people share.
In closing, I want to stress that our nation, and we in the Obama Administration, benefit enormously from groups like Human Rights First. Your analyses, your perspectives — and, yes, your criticisms—help shape and improve our decision making. It may be decades before we see how all the challenges and choices of today play out. But, the promise we make to you is this: The United States will keep working every day to uphold the rights and freedoms that belong to all the people of this earth.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen up close the evil that humans can perpetrate against one another—from churchyards in Rwanda to dirt camps in Darfur, from war-torn Sarajevo to burned-out death traps in Tripoli. More recently, I chaired meetings in the Situation Room after the Assad regime unleashed the world’s largest chemical weapons attack in 25 years. I’ve seen the worst of man’s inhumanity. But I also know the bewildering resilience of the human spirit. In so many unlikely places, I’ve seen the hope that pushes its way to the surface, unbidden, in the most dire circumstances.
I often think of the little boy, just 3 or 4 years old, whom I met in 1994 while visiting an IDP camp in war-torn rural Angola. I didn’t get his name. He was just one in a group of curious kids who came out to greet our delegation. He had short legs, a distended belly, and only a torn, dirty t-shirt to cover his little body. Looking around at his hellish surroundings was enough to sap the hope out of the most optimistic person. But that little boy defied logic. He just glowed -- with a smile so innocent and infectious I will carry it to my grave. As I moved toward him, drawn almost involuntarily, I suddenly realized I had nothing of worth to offer him, except perhaps the well-worn baseball hat on my head. When I took it off and set it on his unsuspecting head, he just beamed, radiating nothing but joy. The poet Emily Dickinson tells us that, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” So, for me, hope will always be that young boy’s smile.
Everything I’ve seen and done in my career since then has only left me more convinced of the common yearnings that stir in all of us. I have no idea what happened to that little boy in Cuito, Angola, but there are millions more just like him all over the Earth—each deserving of the same rights, the same security, and the same hope that our own children enjoy. Their future is bound up with our own. It is for their sake, and ours, that we stand fast for human rights. For their sake, and ours, we hold resolutely to our founding principles in this complicated and often dangerous world. And, it is for the sake of our common humanity and our shared future, that, even if imperfectly, we keep striving each day to build a world that is more just, more equal, more safe, and more free.
Thank you all very much.
Remarks by the First Lady at 2013 Holiday Press Preview
1:32 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello, everyone. You guys look great -- I'm talking about the front row. (Laughter.) You guys look okay, too. Well, I am thrilled to welcome you all here to the White House. Are you excited?
MRS. OBAMA: Why are you excited? (Laughter.) Because it's Christmas? Because you're going to get presents soon? Because there may be treats somewhere? Yes, a few heads nodding. Well, we're excited to have you guys here with us today.
I want to start by thanking Diane and her amazing family for all that they've done for this country and for that eloquent introduction, and for being one of the many fabulous volunteers who helped make this White House so beautiful. In fact, Diane told me that she got to work in this room, so we can personally thank her for this beautiful -- these beautiful decorations. Diane, we're just so grateful to you. And I want you all to know a little bit about Diane -- that in addition to the long hours that she put in this week, on top of all of that, she has spent countless hours volunteering regularly in her community through her church, through the Red Cross.
So volunteering is no stranger -- or Diane is no stranger to volunteering. In fact, Diane isn't alone in the contributions she's making -- in fact, I believe she embodies the spirit that we see in military families –- families like all of yours all across this country, particularly during the holiday season. You all are serving our nation. You all are volunteering in your communities every day. And you're also taking care of business at home with your own families.
And during this holiday season, as we gather with our loved ones, I’d ask every American to remember what our military families and servicemembers often experience during this time of year. Let us all remember the sacrifices they make to proudly serve all of us.
For example, I’m thinking today about the thousands of men and women in uniform serving abroad who wake up in the middle of the night in some remote part of the world to read a special holiday story to their children over Skype, or to be there on the screen to experience that special moment of joy when their kids open those presents from Santa.
And then there are the military families who spend hours painstakingly filling holiday care packages for their loved ones in uniform –- sending them miniature Christmas trees, making holiday cookies, creating special homemade cards, doing their best to help them experience the magic of the holidays wherever they may be.
And let us remember that many military families are assigned to bases that are far from their extended families, so they aren’t always able to make it home to see grandma and grandpa. And as a consequence, they have to find new ways to make the season bright. So they reach out, and they band together with other families, and they create their own special military family celebrations and traditions. And that’s what I've learned that military families do.
No matter what challenges you all face –- during the holidays or any other time during the year -- you all just dig a little deeper. I say this time and time again. You just get creative and you find ways to make it work, and you do it with such strength and humor and grace. And on top of all of that, somehow, like Diane, so many of you still manage to find time over the holidays and throughout the year to give back to your communities, once again digging deep and going above and beyond.
In fact, a recent survey shows that 81 percent of military family members reported volunteering in the past year, and that’s compared to just 27 percent of the general public. So you guys really make us all look bad. (Laughter.) But in short, your sacrifice and your service to this country, your families’ stories are such an important part of our great American story -- stories that remind us of the true meaning of the holiday season.
And that actually brings me to this year’s official White House holiday theme, which is “Gather Around: Stories of the Season." This holiday season, we’ll be focusing on the stories behind classic American holiday traditions -- traditions celebrated here at the White House and across the country. Our goal is for every room and every tree to tell a story about who we are and how we gather around one another to mark the holidays.
And that starts with all of you -- literally. In fact, when visitors arrive, the very first thing they’ll see is a tree decorated to pay tribute to our Armed Forces. This tree, graced with special Gold Star ornaments, tells the story of some of our greatest heroes: Those who gave their lives for our country. And any Gold Star family who visits the White House can create their own ornament to honor their loved one. In addition, everyone who visits this White House this year gets a chance to fill out an Operation Honor Card pledging to serve their community in honor of our military families, your servicemembers, your veterans, whoever you choose, just find a way to serve.
We also have an entire room -- it’s right next door, it’s the Blue Room, one of my favorite rooms -- dedicated to the idea of gathering around our military. The tree in that room is decorated with holiday greeting cards drawn by military children from bases all across the country as a way to celebrate their parents’ service. And they’re beautiful, they’re really sweet cards.
So that’s how we’ll be honoring our veterans and servicemembers and their families this holiday season. And I would ask during this time that every American find a way to honor these great Americans, not just during the holidays, but every day. And let us never forget the debt that we owe these men and women and their amazing families.
As for the rest of the house, because there is more, we have a number of special touches that build on our “Gather Around: Stories of the Season” theme. In the East Garden Room, you’ll see Christmas trees made entirely of stacks of books. You may have seen those coming in, they’re very cool. In the Cross Hall, you’ll see trees reflecting the idea of gathering around our heritage. They’ll be decorated with ornaments representing great American sites like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, and there's some silhouettes of people you might know today in history, so you guys will look and see if you recognize anyone.
And of course, we have our usual first dog display. This year, Bo will be joined by his little sister Sunny, our new pup, and the two of them will be surrounded by books. And I was surprised to see last night, this year they actually move. They're mechanical. This is a new step. We're stepping up in the world of Bo-and-Sunny honoring. And these are just a few of this year’s highlights.
Although people who visit the White House will see dozens of trees and wreaths, they're going to see thousands of ornaments and they're going to see a gingerbread house that weighs about 300 pounds -- it's pretty big -- some of the best sights they'll see are kids enjoying all of this just wonderful glory. Some of the best times in this White House is just watching the faces of kids as they walk through this house and count the trees and look at the ornaments.
And none of this would be possible without the 83 volunteers like Diane who came from all across the country to help us decorate, once again, sacrificing, leaving their families -- because they start decorating this house the day after Thanksgiving. It would not be possible for us to do all of this without our volunteers. They are a pleasure to work with, they are high-energy, they are positive. And just look around. I mean, every year they just outdo themselves. So we are just so grateful for their hard work and enthusiasm.
Now, over the course of this season, about 70,000 people will come to see our holiday decorations -- not bad. And I can't imagine a better group of people than all of you to be our very first guests. Don't you feel special? No one has seen these, not even the President has seen these. (Applause.) He hasn't seen them yet. You guys are the first.
And truly, it is a treat to make you all the first every season, because you all do so much for us. And we are so proud and so honored and so grateful. And we just want to give you a chance to bring your families in to just get a little special something just to remind you just how special we all think you are.
So I want you all to enjoy every minute in this house. I'm going to stop right now because we've got a little something we're going to do with the kids. All the kids, you guys think you're ready to go have some fun?
MRS. OBAMA: I’m going to take your kids. (Laughter.) And don't worry, nothing can be broken that can't be repaired. I guarantee you my kids have broken it if it can be broken. And we're going to go and do some decorating. Our chefs and our bakers and our florists -- they're over there -- they've got special little things that you can make, little gifts. You guys ready for that?
CHILD: Yes, ma'am!
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, ma'am! (Laughter.) I love that. So why don’t you guys get up. You guys can come and go with me. Parents, you guys hang out. Get some cider, some cookies, look at the ornaments. Breathe a little bit. They're in good hands. I guarantee you we will not lose them -- but I can't guarantee you they will come back clean. (Laughter.) That’s the only thing I can't guarantee, so if you want pictures of them clean, do it now. (Laughter.)
And thank you. Have a happy holiday, from my family to all of yours. Enjoy this holiday season. Be safe, be happy. And gather round together, and remember what this is all about.
You all, take care. Love you much. (Applause.)
1:43 P.M. EST
Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility
11:31 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. Please, please have a seat. Thank you so much. Well, thank you, Neera, for the wonderful introduction and sharing a story that resonated with me. There were a lot of parallels in my life and probably resonated with some of you.
Over the past 10 years, the Center for American Progress has done incredible work to shape the debate over expanding opportunity for all Americans. And I could not be more grateful to CAP not only for giving me a lot of good policy ideas, but also giving me a lot of staff. (Laughter.) My friend, John Podesta, ran my transition; my Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, did a stint at CAP. So you guys are obviously doing a good job training folks.
I also want to thank all the members of Congress and my administration who are here today for the wonderful work that they do. I want to thank Mayor Gray and everyone here at THEARC for having me. This center, which I’ve been to quite a bit, have had a chance to see some of the great work that’s done here. And all the nonprofits that call THEARC home offer access to everything from education, to health care, to a safe shelter from the streets, which means that you’re harnessing the power of community to expand opportunity for folks here in D.C. And your work reflects a tradition that runs through our history -- a belief that we’re greater together than we are on our own. And that’s what I’ve come here to talk about today.
Over the last two months, Washington has been dominated by some pretty contentious debates -- I think that’s fair to say. And between a reckless shutdown by congressional Republicans in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and admittedly poor execution on my administration’s part in implementing the latest stage of the new law, nobody has acquitted themselves very well these past few months. So it’s not surprising that the American people’s frustrations with Washington are at an all-time high.
But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles -- to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were. They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain -- that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.
I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office. And I know I’ve raised this issue before, and some will ask why I raise the issue again right now. I do it because the outcomes of the debates we’re having right now -- whether it’s health care, or the budget, or reforming our housing and financial systems -- all these things will have real, practical implications for every American. And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.
Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity -- the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice.
It was Abraham Lincoln, a self-described “poor man’s son,” who started a system of land grant colleges all over this country so that any poor man’s son could go learn something new.
When farms gave way to factories, a rich man’s son named Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday, protections for workers, and busted monopolies that kept prices high and wages low.
When millions lived in poverty, FDR fought for Social Security, and insurance for the unemployed, and a minimum wage.
When millions died without health insurance, LBJ fought for Medicare and Medicaid.
Together, we forged a New Deal, declared a War on Poverty in a great society. We built a ladder of opportunity to climb, and stretched out a safety net beneath so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back. And as a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.
Now, we can’t look at the past through rose-colored glasses. The economy didn’t always work for everyone. Racial discrimination locked millions out of poverty -- or out of opportunity. Women were too often confined to a handful of often poorly paid professions. And it was only through painstaking struggle that more women, and minorities, and Americans with disabilities began to win the right to more fairly and fully participate in the economy.
Nevertheless, during the post-World War II years, the economic ground felt stable and secure for most Americans, and the future looked brighter than the past. And for some, that meant following in your old man’s footsteps at the local plant, and you knew that a blue-collar job would let you buy a home, and a car, maybe a vacation once in a while, health care, a reliable pension. For others, it meant going to college -- in some cases, maybe the first in your family to go to college. And it meant graduating without taking on loads of debt, and being able to count on advancement through a vibrant job market.
Now, it’s true that those at the top, even in those years, claimed a much larger share of income than the rest: The top 10 percent consistently took home about one-third of our national income. But that kind of inequality took place in a dynamic market economy where everyone’s wages and incomes were growing. And because of upward mobility, the guy on the factory floor could picture his kid running the company some day.
But starting in the late ‘70s, this social compact began to unravel. Technology made it easier for companies to do more with less, eliminating certain job occupations. A more competitive world lets companies ship jobs anywhere. And as good manufacturing jobs automated or headed offshore, workers lost their leverage, jobs paid less and offered fewer benefits.
As values of community broke down, and competitive pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage. As a trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither. And for a certain period of time, we could ignore this weakening economic foundation, in part because more families were relying on two earners as women entered the workforce. We took on more debt financed by a juiced-up housing market. But when the music stopped, and the crisis hit, millions of families were stripped of whatever cushion they had left.
And the result is an economy that’s become profoundly unequal, and families that are more insecure. I’ll just give you a few statistics. Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than eight percent. Since 1979, our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few.
The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income -- it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s CEO now makes 273 times more. And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.
So the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed. In fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy. Across the developed world, inequality has increased. Some of you may have seen just last week, the Pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. “How can it be,” he wrote, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
But this increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country, and it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people. Understand we’ve never begrudged success in America. We aspire to it. We admire folks who start new businesses, create jobs, and invent the products that enrich our lives. And we expect them to be rewarded handsomely for it. In fact, we've often accepted more income inequality than many other nations for one big reason -- because we were convinced that America is a place where even if you’re born with nothing, with a little hard work you can improve your own situation over time and build something better to leave your kids. As Lincoln once said, “While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.”
The problem is that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years. A child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top. A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top. He’s 10 times likelier to stay where he is. In fact, statistics show not only that our levels of income inequality rank near countries like Jamaica and Argentina, but that it is harder today for a child born here in America to improve her station in life than it is for children in most of our wealthy allies -- countries like Canada or Germany or France. They have greater mobility than we do, not less.
The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough. But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action. We are a better country than this.
So let me repeat: The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe. And it is not simply a moral claim that I’m making here. There are practical consequences to rising inequality and reduced mobility.
For one thing, these trends are bad for our economy. One study finds that growth is more fragile and recessions are more frequent in countries with greater inequality. And that makes sense. When families have less to spend, that means businesses have fewer customers, and households rack up greater mortgage and credit card debt; meanwhile, concentrated wealth at the top is less likely to result in the kind of broadly based consumer spending that drives our economy, and together with lax regulation, may contribute to risky speculative bubbles.
And rising inequality and declining mobility are also bad for our families and social cohesion -- not just because we tend to trust our institutions less, but studies show we actually tend to trust each other less when there’s greater inequality. And greater inequality is associated with less mobility between generations. That means it’s not just temporary; the effects last. It creates a vicious cycle. For example, by the time she turns three years old, a child born into a low-income home hears 30 million fewer words than a child from a well-off family, which means by the time she starts school she’s already behind, and that deficit can compound itself over time.
And finally, rising inequality and declining mobility are bad for our democracy. Ordinary folks can’t write massive campaign checks or hire high-priced lobbyists and lawyers to secure policies that tilt the playing field in their favor at everyone else’s expense. And so people get the bad taste that the system is rigged, and that increases cynicism and polarization, and it decreases the political participation that is a requisite part of our system of self-government.
So this is an issue that we have to tackle head on. And if, in fact, the majority of Americans agree that our number-one priority is to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for all Americans, the question is why has Washington consistently failed to act? And I think a big reason is the myths that have developed around the issue of inequality.
First, there is the myth that this is a problem restricted to a small share of predominantly minority poor -- that this isn’t a broad-based problem, this is a black problem or a Hispanic problem or a Native American problem. Now, it’s true that the painful legacy of discrimination means that African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from a lack of opportunity -- higher unemployment, higher poverty rates. It’s also true that women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. So we’re going to need strong application of antidiscrimination laws. We’re going to need immigration reform that grows the economy and takes people out of the shadows. We’re going to need targeted initiatives to close those gaps. (Applause.)
But here’s an important point. The decades-long shifts in the economy have hurt all groups: poor and middle class; inner city and rural folks; men and women; and Americans of all races. And as a consequence, some of the social patterns that contribute to declining mobility that were once attributed to the urban poor -- that’s a particular problem for the inner city: single-parent households or drug abuse -- it turns out now we’re seeing that pop up everywhere.
A new study shows that disparities in education, mental health, obesity, absent fathers, isolation from church, isolation from community groups -- these gaps are now as much about growing up rich or poor as they are about anything else. The gap in test scores between poor kids and wealthy kids is now nearly twice what it is between white kids and black kids. Kids with working-class parents are 10 times likelier than kids with middle- or upper-class parents to go through a time when their parents have no income. So the fact is this: The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race, and that gap is growing.
So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts. (Applause.)
Second, we need to dispel the myth that the goals of growing the economy and reducing inequality are necessarily in conflict, when they should actually work in concert. We know from our history that our economy grows best from the middle out, when growth is more widely shared. And we know that beyond a certain level of inequality, growth actually slows altogether.
Third, we need to set aside the belief that government cannot do anything about reducing inequality. It’s true that government cannot prevent all the downsides of the technological change and global competition that are out there right now, and some of those forces are also some of the things that are helping us grow. And it’s also true that some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed, created disincentives to work.
But we’ve also seen how government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class. Investments in education, laws establishing collective bargaining, and a minimum wage -- these all contributed to rising standards of living for massive numbers of Americans. (Applause.) Likewise, when previous generations declared that every citizen of this country deserved a basic measure of security -- a floor through which they could not fall -- we helped millions of Americans live in dignity, and gave millions more the confidence to aspire to something better, by taking a risk on a great idea.
Without Social Security, nearly half of seniors would be living in poverty -- half. Today, fewer than 1 in 10 do. Before Medicare, only half of all seniors had some form of health insurance. Today, virtually all do. And because we’ve strengthened that safety net, and expanded pro-work and pro-family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s. And these endeavors didn’t just make us a better country; they reaffirmed that we are a great country.
So we can make a difference on this. In fact, that’s our generation’s task -- to rebuild America’s economic and civic foundation to continue the expansion of opportunity for this generation and the next generation. (Applause.) And like Neera, I take this personally. I’m only here because this country educated my grandfather on the GI Bill. When my father left and my mom hit hard times trying to raise my sister and me while she was going to school, this country helped make sure we didn’t go hungry. When Michelle, the daughter of a shift worker at a water plant and a secretary, wanted to go to college, just like me, this country helped us afford it until we could pay it back.
So what drives me as a grandson, a son, a father -- as an American -- is to make sure that every striving, hardworking, optimistic kid in America has the same incredible chance that this country gave me. (Applause.) It has been the driving force between everything we’ve done these past five years. And over the course of the next year, and for the rest of my presidency, that’s where you should expect my administration to focus all our efforts. (Applause.)
Now, you'll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address. (Laughter.) And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before. But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.
To begin with, we have to continue to relentlessly push a growth agenda. It may be true that in today’s economy, growth alone does not guarantee higher wages and incomes. We've seen that. But what's also true is we can’t tackle inequality if the economic pie is shrinking or stagnant. The fact is if you’re a progressive and you want to help the middle class and the working poor, you’ve still got to be concerned about competitiveness and productivity and business confidence that spurs private sector investment.
And that’s why from day one we’ve worked to get the economy growing and help our businesses hire. And thanks to their resilience and innovation, they’ve created nearly 8 million new jobs over the past 44 months. And now we’ve got to grow the economy even faster. And we've got to keep working to make America a magnet for good, middle-class jobs to replace the ones that we’ve lost in recent decades -- jobs in manufacturing and energy and infrastructure and technology.
And that means simplifying our corporate tax code in a way that closes wasteful loopholes and ends incentives to ship jobs overseas. (Applause.) And by broadening the base, we can actually lower rates to encourage more companies to hire here and use some of the money we save to create good jobs rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports, and all the infrastructure our businesses need.
It means a trade agenda that grows exports and works for the middle class. It means streamlining regulations that are outdated or unnecessary or too costly. And it means coming together around a responsible budget -- one that grows our economy faster right now and shrinks our long-term deficits, one that unwinds the harmful sequester cuts that haven't made a lot of sense -- (applause) -- and then frees up resources to invest in things like the scientific research that's always unleashed new innovation and new industries.
When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago. A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit. (Applause.)
So that’s step one towards restoring mobility: making sure our economy is growing faster. Step two is making sure we empower more Americans with the skills and education they need to compete in a highly competitive global economy.
We know that education is the most important predictor of income today, so we launched a Race to the Top in our schools. We’re supporting states that have raised standards for teaching and learning. We’re pushing for redesigned high schools that graduate more kids with the technical training and apprenticeships, and in-demand, high-tech skills that can lead directly to a good job and a middle-class life.
We know it’s harder to find a job today without some higher education, so we’ve helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go farther than before. We’ve made it more practical to repay those loans. And today, more students are graduating from college than ever before. We’re also pursuing an aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reins in tuition costs. We’ve got lower costs so that young people are not burdened by enormous debt when they make the right decision to get higher education. And next week, Michelle and I will bring together college presidents and non-profits to lead a campaign to help more low-income students attend and succeed in college. (Applause.)
But while higher education may be the surest path to the middle class, it’s not the only one. So we should offer our people the best technical education in the world. That’s why we’ve worked to connect local businesses with community colleges, so that workers young and old can earn the new skills that earn them more money.
And I’ve also embraced an idea that I know all of you at the Center for American Progress have championed -- and, by the way, Republican governors in a couple of states have championed -- and that’s making high-quality preschool available to every child in America. (Applause.) We know that kids in these programs grow up likelier to get more education, earn higher wages, form more stable families of their own. It starts a virtuous cycle, not a vicious one. And we should invest in that. We should give all of our children that chance.
And as we empower our young people for future success, the third part of this middle-class economics is empowering our workers. It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to -- (applause) -- so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class. It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women will have more tools to fight pay discrimination. (Applause.) It’s time to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act so workers can’t be fired for who they are or who they love. (Applause.)
And even though we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, we’re creating more good-paying jobs in education and health care and business services; we know that we’re going to have a greater and greater portion of our people in the service sector. And we know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty. (Applause.) And that’s why it’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office. (Applause.)
This shouldn’t be an ideological question. It was Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, who once said, “They who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.” And for those of you who don’t speak old-English -- (laughter) -- let me translate. It means if you work hard, you should make a decent living. (Applause.) If you work hard, you should be able to support a family.
Now, we all know the arguments that have been used against a higher minimum wage. Some say it actually hurts low-wage workers -- businesses will be less likely to hire them. But there’s no solid evidence that a higher minimum wage costs jobs, and research shows it raises incomes for low-wage workers and boosts short-term economic growth. (Applause.)
Others argue that if we raise the minimum wage, companies will just pass those costs on to consumers. But a growing chorus of businesses, small and large, argue differently. And already, there are extraordinary companies in America that provide decent wages, salaries, and benefits, and training for their workers, and deliver a great product to consumers.
SAS in North Carolina offers childcare and sick leave. REI, a company my Secretary of the Interior used to run, offers retirement plans and strives to cultivate a good work balance. There are companies out there that do right by their workers. They recognize that paying a decent wage actually helps their bottom line, reduces turnover. It means workers have more money to spend, to save, maybe eventually start a business of their own.
A broad majority of Americans agree we should raise the minimum wage. That’s why, last month, voters in New Jersey decided to become the 20th state to raise theirs even higher. That’s why, yesterday, the D.C. Council voted to do it, too. I agree with those voters. (Applause.) I agree with those voters, and I’m going to keep pushing until we get a higher minimum wage for hard-working Americans across the entire country. It will be good for our economy. It will be good for our families. (Applause.)
Number four, as I alluded to earlier, we still need targeted programs for the communities and workers that have been hit hardest by economic change and the Great Recession. These communities are no longer limited to the inner city. They’re found in neighborhoods hammered by the housing crisis, manufacturing towns hit hard by years of plants packing up, landlocked rural areas where young folks oftentimes feel like they've got to leave just to find a job. There are communities that just aren’t generating enough jobs anymore.
So we’ve put forward new plans to help these communities and their residents, because we’ve watched cities like Pittsburgh or my hometown of Chicago revamp themselves. And if we give more cities the tools to do it -- not handouts, but a hand up -- cities like Detroit can do it, too. So in a few weeks, we’ll announce the first of these Promise Zones, urban and rural communities where we’re going to support local efforts focused on a national goal -- and that is a child’s course in life should not be determined by the zip code he’s born in, but by the strength of his work ethic and the scope of his dreams. (Applause.)
And we're also going to have to do more for the long-term unemployed. For people who have been out of work for more than six months, often through no fault of their own, life is a catch-22. Companies won’t give their résumé an honest look because they’ve been laid off so long -- but they’ve been laid off so long because companies won’t give their résumé an honest look. (Laughter.) And that’s why earlier this year, I challenged CEOs from some of America’s best companies to give these Americans a fair shot. And next month, many of them will join us at the White House for an announcement about this.
Fifth, we've got to revamp retirement to protect Americans in their golden years, to make sure another housing collapse doesn’t steal the savings in their homes. We've also got to strengthen our safety net for a new age, so it doesn’t just protect people who hit a run of bad luck from falling into poverty, but also propels them back out of poverty.
Today, nearly half of full-time workers and 80 percent of part-time workers don’t have a pension or retirement account at their job. About half of all households don’t have any retirement savings. So we’re going to have to do more to encourage private savings and shore up the promise of Social Security for future generations. And remember, these are promises we make to one another. We don’t do it to replace the free market, but we do it to reduce risk in our society by giving people the ability to take a chance and catch them if they fall. One study shows that more than half of Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives. Think about that. This is not an isolated situation. More than half of Americans at some point in their lives will experience poverty.
That’s why we have nutrition assistance or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a difference for a mother who’s working, but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids. That’s why we have unemployment insurance, because it makes a difference for a father who lost his job and is out there looking for a new one that he can keep a roof over his kids' heads. By the way, Christmastime is no time for Congress to tell more than 1 million of these Americans that they have lost their unemployment insurance, which is what will happen if Congress does not act before they leave on their holiday vacation. (Applause.)
The point is these programs are not typically hammocks for people to just lie back and relax. These programs are almost always temporary means for hardworking people to stay afloat while they try to find a new job or go into school to retrain themselves for the jobs that are out there, or sometimes just to cope with a bout of bad luck. Progressives should be open to reforms that actually strengthen these programs and make them more responsive to a 21st century economy. For example, we should be willing to look at fresh ideas to revamp unemployment and disability programs to encourage faster and higher rates of re-employment without cutting benefits. We shouldn't weaken fundamental protections built over generations, because given the constant churn in today’s economy and the disabilities that many of our friends and neighbors live with, they're needed more than ever. We should strengthen them and adapt them to new circumstances so they work even better.
But understand that these programs of social insurance benefit all of us, because we don't know when we might have a run of bad luck. (Applause.) We don't know when we might lose a job. Of course, for decades, there was one yawning gap in the safety net that did more than anything else to expose working families to the insecurities of today’s economy -- namely, our broken health care system.
That’s why we fought for the Affordable Care Act -- (applause) -- because 14,000 Americans lost their health insurance every single day, and even more died each year because they didn’t have health insurance at all. We did it because millions of families who thought they had coverage were driven into bankruptcy by out-of-pocket costs that they didn't realize would be there. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens couldn’t get any coverage at all. And Dr. King once said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Well, not anymore. (Applause.) Because in the three years since we passed this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs are down to their slowest rate in 50 years. More people have insurance, and more have new benefits and protections -- 100 million Americans who have gained the right for free preventive care like mammograms and contraception; the more than 7 million Americans who have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicine; every American who won’t go broke when they get sick because their insurance can’t limit their care anymore.
More people without insurance have gained insurance -- more than 3 million young Americans who have been able to stay on their parents’ plan, the more than half a million Americans and counting who are poised to get covered starting on January 1st, some for the very first time.
And it is these numbers -- not the ones in any poll -- that will ultimately determine the fate of this law. (Applause.) It's the measurable outcomes in reduced bankruptcies and reduced hours that have been lost because somebody couldn't make it to work, and healthier kids with better performance in schools, and young entrepreneurs who have the freedom to go out there and try a new idea -- those are the things that will ultimately reduce a major source of inequality and help ensure more Americans get the start that they need to succeed in the future.
I have acknowledged more than once that we didn’t roll out parts of this law as well as we should have. But the law is already working in major ways that benefit millions of Americans right now, even as we’ve begun to slow the rise in health care costs, which is good for family budgets, good for federal and state budgets, and good for the budgets of businesses small and large. So this law is going to work. And for the sake of our economic security, it needs to work. (Applause.)
And as people in states as different as California and Kentucky sign up every single day for health insurance, signing up in droves, they’re proving they want that economic security. If the Senate Republican leader still thinks he is going to be able to repeal this someday, he might want to check with the more than 60,000 people in his home state who are already set to finally have coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin, and lets them afford to take their kids to see a doctor. (Applause.)
So let me end by addressing the elephant in the room here, which is the seeming inability to get anything done in Washington these days. I realize we are not going to resolve all of our political debates over the best ways to reduce inequality and increase upward mobility this year, or next year, or in the next five years. But it is important that we have a serious debate about these issues. For the longer that current trends are allowed to continue, the more it will feed the cynicism and fear that many Americans are feeling right now -- that they’ll never be able to repay the debt they took on to go to college, they’ll never be able to save enough to retire, they’ll never see their own children land a good job that supports a family.
And that’s why, even as I will keep on offering my own ideas for expanding opportunity, I’ll also keep challenging and welcoming those who oppose my ideas to offer their own. If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let’s hear them. I want to know what they are. If you don’t think we should raise the minimum wage, let’s hear your idea to increase people’s earnings. If you don’t think every child should have access to preschool, tell us what you’d do differently to give them a better shot.
If you still don’t like Obamacare -- and I know you don’t -- (laughter) -- even though it’s built on market-based ideas of choice and competition in the private sector, then you should explain how, exactly, you’d cut costs, and cover more people, and make insurance more secure. You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not just what you’re against. (Applause.) That way we can have a vigorous and meaningful debate. That’s what the American people deserve. That’s what the times demand. It’s not enough anymore to just say we should just get our government out of the way and let the unfettered market take care of it -- for our experience tells us that’s just not true. (Applause.)
Look, I’ve never believed that government can solve every problem or should -- and neither do you. We know that ultimately our strength is grounded in our people -- individuals out there, striving, working, making things happen. It depends on community, a rich and generous sense of community -- that’s at the core of what happens at THEARC here every day. You understand that turning back rising inequality and expanding opportunity requires parents taking responsibility for their kids, kids taking responsibility to work hard. It requires religious leaders who mobilize their congregations to rebuild neighborhoods block by block, requires civic organizations that can help train the unemployed, link them with businesses for the jobs of the future. It requires companies and CEOs to set an example by providing decent wages, and salaries, and benefits for their workers, and a shot for somebody who is down on his or her luck. We know that’s our strength -- our people, our communities, our businesses.
But government can’t stand on the sidelines in our efforts. Because government is us. It can and should reflect our deepest values and commitments. And if we refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody, and gives every child in this country a fair chance at success, then I remain confident that the future still looks brighter than the past, and that the best days for this country we love are still ahead. (Applause.)
Thank you, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
12:20 P.M. EST
Information on White House Christmas 2013
2013 White House Christmas – Gather Around
The theme for the White House Christmas 2013 is Gather Around, a celebration of coming together with loved ones at this special time of year, and of the stories behind our beloved and classic American holiday traditions. In celebrating heartfelt memories from American families across the country and First Families throughout the years, Gather Around seeks to have us share our stories with one another and inspire us for the season and into the New Year.
Using thoughtful hand-made volunteer crafts and recycled classic pieces, the Gather Around decorations tell a story with each room and every tree in the White House. Special art displays and Christmas trees made from repurposed books help this year’s theme come alive, and warm, traditional colors inspired by nature help unify the theme throughout the house.
This year’s decorations also honor our military families, a tradition started by Mrs. Obama, whose Joining Forces initiative seeks to honor and support those who sacrifice so much for our freedom.
East Visitor Entrance
The East Visitor Entrance serves as a welcoming point for guests as they begin their tours of the White House. The walkway leading to the house features lanterns, the two trees that flank the East entrance are complete with gold pinecones and the garland around the entrance is accented by burgundy ribbons.
East Entrance Landing
The area between the entrance and the East Colonnade is dedicated to honoring our military members and their families. The landing features a tree dedicated to the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and includes ornaments placed by Gold Star families, as well as ornaments representing all five branches of the military. Visitors are encouraged to write postcards thanking our service members serving abroad, and to pledge volunteer hours through Operation Honor Cards in order to give back during the holiday season and the New Year.
The windows of the East Colonnade feature evergreen and stained glass wreaths, and at the end of the hallway is a handmade archway made from satin ribbon and chenille stems. Outside in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden sits a Christmas tree wrapped in lights, perched atop a sleigh.
East Garden Room
The East Garden Room, commonly known as “Booksellers,” showcases stacked books which morph into Christmas trees, and a special book display that spells out the message “Share Your Story.” The east wall of the room features ribbon topiaries of the First Dogs – with a high-fiving Bo and a playful Sunny coming to life to delight the many children that will visit the White House this holiday season.
Accenting the many books in the Library is a Christmas tree styled with golden pinecones and burlap ribbon, decorated with poinsettia detail and a burgundy scroll design. A basket at the foot of the fireplace holds ornaments and glowing white lights.
This year, the Vermeil Room houses two Christmas trees, each adorned with wreath ring ornaments wrapped in satin yarn, and small door ornaments made by volunteers.
The eight-foot Christmas tree in the China Room is decorated with dangling crystal ornaments, red berries and fresh greenery. The table in the center of the room includes cylinder glass votive holders etched with the words “Gather Around.” Fresh greenery covers the mantelpiece, decorated with red, gold and silver ornaments matching the tree.
Grand Foyer and Cross Hall
The Grand Foyer and Cross Hall are decorated to celebrate both individual American families and our nation as a whole. The four large Christmas trees decorating the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall are adorned with snowflake ornaments and notes written by volunteers expressing their holiday wishes. Small wooden picture frame ornaments hold silhouettes of landmarks from around our nation including the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge.
State Dining Room
The State Dining Room features two 14 foot Christmas trees placed on either side of the mantelpiece, decorated with tin hearts, painted and decoupaged with the word “gratitude.” The State Dining Room is also home to the famous gingerbread house. Over the course of several weeks, members of the White House pastry team created a 300-pound, edible White House replica. This year’s creation features a mini Bo and Sunny sitting on the front steps of the house lit from within, and a functioning replica of the North Lawn fountain. This year, the gingerbread house rests on a life-size, custom-made hearth fashioned from Springerle Cookies. These sweet treats tell stories through images imprinted on their dough by hand-carved, wooden molds. Framing the opening of the hearth are sugar paste recreations of the tiles commissioned for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireplace. The edible fireplace reminds us of President Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats” and will certainly evoke memories for so many of their own special moments gathered around a fireplace.
For years, the Red Room has been home to the traditional White House cranberry tree. In keeping with this custom, a crimson and plum-colored flower and fruit vase—hand-made entirely of sugar paste—contains a one-of-a-kind arrangement of scarlet and fuchsia flowers and berries. The Red Room also features round stained glass wreaths hanging in the window bays above two 8 foot Christmas trees. Burlap cones filled with fresh greens and red berry accents decorate the Christmas trees, and gold painted nutcrackers accent the side tables of the room.
This oval room is home to the official White House Christmas Tree. This year’s tree, like many in years past, features decorations honoring our military families. More than 2,000 distinctive ornaments decorate the 18.5 foot Douglas fir from Lehighton, Pennsylvania. Children living on bases across the country created holiday greeting cards, many of which share their favorite holiday traditions. Other ornaments feature photographs of deployment homecomings, celebrating the joyous moment when families are reunited after long separations. These personalized decorations, along with round fabric ornaments featuring the silhouettes of each state and territory, hang from the tree’s branches. The tree also holds small globe ornaments, three-dimensional gold and silver paper-mache stars and ribbons hand-embroidered by volunteers with each state and territory.
Flower ornaments, sugared fruits and lush foliage convey the beauty of nature in the Green Room. In each window bay, 21-inch round stained glass windows with floral motifs hang above an 8-foot Christmas tree. Round disc ornaments decorated with red poppies adorn the trees, along with orange and red felt flowers and faux sugared fruits. Thick fresh greenery along with ornaments decorate the mantelpiece.
The East Room celebrates the act of sharing stories through art, and features four Christmas trees decorated with upwards of 120 detailed, unique ornaments created by volunteers. Ornaments include decorated miniature cardboard houses, large hand crafted paper roses and glass bell jars filled with small decorative pieces, such as miniature picture frames of art. On the wall of the East Room sits the White House crèche. The crèche has been a part of the White House holiday décor since it was given by the Engelhard Family during the Johnson Administration in 1967. Originally from Naples, Italy, the Baroque-style set consists of 44 terra cotta and wood figures, some over 300 years old.
For additional information, including the 2013 Holiday Tour Book and instructions on crafts the military children will create today, go to WH.gov/Holidays. Holiday-related content from the White House will be tagged #WHHoliday.
Number of Holiday Volunteers by State:
- Alabama: 1
- Alaska: 2
- Arizona: 1
- California: 3
- Colorado: 1
- Delaware: 1
- District of Columbia: 3
- Florida: 1
- Georgia: 5
- Hawaii: 1
- Illinois: 6
- Indiana: 1
- Iowa: 3
- Kentucky: 1
- Maryland: 4
- Massachusetts: 1
- Michigan: 1
- Minnesota: 4
- Nebraska: 1
- Nevada: 1
- New Jersey: 1
- New York: 2
- North Carolina: 3
- Ohio: 2
- Oklahoma: 2
- Pennsylvania: 4
- Rhode Island: 1
- South Carolina: 2
- South Dakota: 1
- Tennessee: 2
- Texas: 3
- Virginia: 14
- Washington: 3
- Wisconsin: 1
16 volunteers have either served in the military or are part of a military family
The official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room stands 18 ½ feet high and is nearly 11 feet wide. It comes from Crystal Springs Tree Farm in Lehighton, PA.
24 Christmas trees will be visible on the public tour route.
Over 450 repurposed books were used as part of the holiday decorations this year. They will be donated to a local school’s book drive following the holiday season.
Approximately 1,000 yards of satin ribbon were used to make this year’s replicas of the First Dogs Bo and Sunny.
Over 1,200 Springerle cookies were used on the gingerbread fireplace in the State Dining Room.
Nearly 300 lbs. of bread dough were used to make the completely edible White House replica in the State Dining Room.
Approximately 70,000 visitors are expected to visit the White House during the 2013 holiday season.
Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the Vice President's Asia Trip
10:44 P.M. (LOCAL)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I thought I’d do in a reasonably scattered and semi-coherent way, given the lateness of the hour and the length of the sessions we’ve just come out of, is walk through the Vice President’s meetings with President Xi today, and then open it up to a few questions from you guys. And then maybe we can spend a few minutes off the record at the end of that -- a little more texture and color.
So just to situate all of you, the Vice President spent a combined total of five and a half hours with President Xi today in three formats. He spent about two hours in a restricted meeting with a small handful of aides on each side. He spent an hour and a half in a larger expanded meeting and they had a substantial delegation on each side, and about two hours at a small working dinner, again, with just a few aides on each side.
The conversations ranged from the strategic to the detailed, and covered every significant topic in the U.S.-China relationship. And sometimes topics were covered two or three times over the course of an evolving five-and-a-half-hour conversation. The conversation was very much a back-and-forth. It reflected the casual candor that these two leaders have developed over the course of their relationship. And it was firmly punctuated by references to previous conversations where the two of them were picking up on threads that had started back in Chengdu or in Los Angeles or wherever it might be. And there was a real ease to the conversation in that respect, even though they were dealing with some difficult issues and having very direct discussions about them.
So this was my first time seeing the Vice President with President Xi, and I was quite taken aback by the nature of the dynamic between them -- the comfort that they have with one another, their willingness to really talk about the issues in a way that was personal, anecdotal, sort of building on each other’s analysis. It was not just a back-and-forth of talking points by any stretch of the imagination. And I know that we often come back and tell you that, but I promise you, this time it’s true. (Laughter.)
So with that, let me just run through some of the issues that were covered. They spent a good amount of time sort of throughout the discussion stepping back to look at the overall bilateral relationship and all of its complexities -- the need to build trust, the need to expand practical cooperation, the need to manage differences effectively, predictably, the need to be direct and candid with one another. And in fact, both President Xi and Vice President Biden remarked to one another that the strength of their personal relationship lies in the fact that they can be very direct about difficult issues. And obviously, also with respect to the bilateral relationship, the need for a consistent and sustained high-level engagement at the leadership level, and the view that they share that there’s really no substitute for these extended personal conversations between the leaders of each country.
They spent a substantial amount of time on North Korea, and they reviewed the internal situation in North Korea in light of some of the news reports in recent days. And they talked at some length about what the Iran example suggests for North Korea, and that is to say a combination of pressure plus dialogue plus international community unity -- and especially unity among the significant global power -- is what brought Iran to the table to deal constructively, and the same recipe can apply for North Korea.
So they talked about all of the elements of that, about the U.S. and China and the other five-party partners being on the same page about dialogue not being for dialogue’s sake, but being for a serious purpose and actually producing results, and about the need for pressure in order to sharpen the choice for North Korea and our common quest to have them denuclearize.
So there was quite a bit of discussion about the work that our respective teams have been doing to think about how to create the conditions for negotiations that could actually be fruitful and not just a repeat of the same old North Korean game. And they went and forth on that at some length.
They obviously spoke about the air defense and interdiction zone -- identification zone, excuse me -- and about the broader regional issues that are implicated in that in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea. And the Vice President laid out our position in detail. He indicated, as we’ve said, that we don’t recognize the zone, that we have deep concerns about it. And he indicated to Xi that we are looking to China to take steps as we move forward to lower tensions, to avoid enforcement actions that could lead to crisis, and to establish channels of communication with Japan, but also with their other neighbors to avoid the risk of mistake, miscalculation, accident or escalation.
President Xi was equally comprehensive in laying out China’s perspective on the zone, on their view of territorial disputes in the region and broader regional tensions. And he explained China’s thinking on these issues at some length in two different portions of the five-and-a-half-hour session. Both near the beginning and near they came to this issue. But ultimately President Xi took on board what the Vice President laid out, and now, from our perspective, it’s up to China. And we’ll see how things unfold in the coming days and weeks.
They had an extensive conversation on economics, in particular the outcomes of the third plenum. The Vice President inquired about specific aspects of the third plenum outcome document relating to the market as a decisive -- as the decisive factor in the economy, interest-rate liberalization and reform, multi-access issues, fair-competition issues that are encapsulated in the outcome document. And the Vice President sought more granularity about what these mean on what time frame and in what manner, and suggested to Xi that reforms along these lines are the kinds of things that can really help deepen and strengthen the U.S.-China bilateral economic relationship, as well.
But he also made the point that some of these reforms are going to take years to implement, and that we also need to be making progress in the here and now on difficult issues -- WTO-related issues, issues related to silver-dumping cases, issues related to electronic payment services and other things along those lines.
In connection with the conversation on the economy, they talked about climate and clean energy as well, and about what it’s going to take in terms of practical cooperation, both bilaterally on these issues and then multilaterally to get to a kind of agreement that is sort of reflective of common responsibilities across the board.
And I don’t want to give short shrift to just a broader, longer conversation about the region -- about how China sees the region, about how we see the region, about tensions with neighbors, issues in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, about the need for really all parties to act responsibly, but in particular China to take steps to try to promote a more peaceful, more stable regional environment.
And then they over dinner had more esoteric conversations about politics and history and governance and other topics that were areas that they had explored before in prior conversations, each kind of asking questions about the other’s country and sort of what made things tick there.
Q Did they discuss this issue of the NSC, which he’s now created?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It only came up very briefly. They didn’t get into great detail about it. So that’s -- am I missing any significant issues? That’s -- sorry, I didn’t mean to bore you, but that’s --
Q Great. Thank you so much. On the air defense zone then, are we just sort of in a kind of wait-and-see mode on China, and sort of a stance -- agree to disagree, but we hope they behave responsibly? I mean, that sort of sounds like the deal.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I wouldn’t say there’s a -- I wouldn’t characterize it as a deal. What I would say is that we indicated to the Chinese not only our deep concerns in sort of how we look at the air defense identification zone, but we also made clear that not just the United States, but other countries as well are looking at them to take steps to lower tensions, and the includes avoiding enforcement actions that really could lead to a crisis.
So I think where we are on that is the Chinese have taken on board what the Vice President had to lay down, and now it’s a question of behavior and action as we go forward. And what the Vice President’s goal is in all of this is to ensure that we see the lowering of tensions in a way that reduces the possibility of crisis or mistake or miscalculation. And that’s how he’s going to judge the outcome of this.
He’ll also have the opportunity, of course, to speak with President Park on Friday. The Koreans have -- it’s not as much in the news as the Japanese concerns, but the Koreans have their own substantial concerns about this. And he’ll look forward to the opportunity consult. Obviously the Chinese have a different perspective; they took this action. But I think President Xi listened carefully to the Vice President’s arguments about the need to create a more conducive environment too.
Q And I just wondered, do you think in your -- in all of your analysis of Xi, the third plenum, all the positive kind of global news, do you think that the zone was connected to a deeply thought sort of strategic plan the Chinese had? Or was this a political ploy by him to try to satisfy a certain wing of his establishment? In other words, was this sort of a knee-jerk thing, or did he lay it down into some sort of long systemic incrementalism that this is part of the Chinese regional logic?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll ask my colleagues to -- a response on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I would say -- I mean, our assessment is that this was not a recent knee-jerk thing; it's part of a longstanding effort by China to protect its sovereignty and its territorial integrity, which is a well-known, self-described core interest that Xi Jinping himself feels very strongly about.
Q So does that make it harder for you guys or less hard for them than -- the benefit was more like a political move to temporarily satisfy some wing of conservatives? It sounds like it might be harder if it's a deeply held belief, and he believes this is the right path for the Chinese to take.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll try to answer that --
Q You don’t think --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, one factor -- not an answer -- is that what's different today than yesterday is that the President of China heard literally firsthand, directly from someone he knows, what our concerns are and what our expectations are in terms of a responsible way forward. It's reasonable to expect the impact of that conversation to take some time to manifest itself, but it is not at all trivial.
Q Was the U.S. opinion in the assessment of this welcome by Xi? Or did he express any misgivings about the U.S. butting into a dispute that previously had been characterized as being between themselves and their neighbors?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Without quoting a foreign official, one thing that came across loud and clear was the conviction that understanding the other side's perspective and view of the implication of actions on the region and on the relationship is a prerequisite to finding solutions to problems.
One of the consistent themes from both the Vice President and President Xi was we need to be clear how we see a problem, what we think, and what we're looking for. It's fine to be candid, and that sets the stage for each of us, independently or together, to think through how we're going to address a problem or ameliorate a situation. So the short answer, therefore, is that I didn’t sense a pushback or objection to the straightforward presentation of the U.S. perspective by the Vice President.
Q The first session of the two leaders' meeting along with a small amount of staff that you mentioned lasted for two hours when on the schedule that we had, which may have been an estimate, was 45 minutes. Does that -- I know you talked about a wide-ranging set of issues, principles, but you also said at the beginning and the end they talked about the -- in China, the South -- East China Sea. Why did that run so long? Were they hashing out that one particular issue or a particular issue? Do the leaders just go as long as they feel comfortable and then call it quits, and that’s -- is that unusual?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the U.S.-China relationship, that’s a pretty common occurrence, because the restricted meeting is the one where there's a small group of advisors right around the principal, and they get into generally the most complex potentially contentious issues in the relationship.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And they go as long as they need to. And I would say that a substantial portion of that conversation was actually about North Korea.
Q During the Vice President’s remarks, he referred to -- or he apologized to everyone for prevailing upon his friendship with Xi and leaving the room. So what was that about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, and what?
Q During the Vice President’s remarks at the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Expanded?
Q Yes, expanded.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think he made everybody wait.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- leaving people waiting --
Q Oh, okay. Well, I misheard. I thought you said -- oh, they went for a little walk in the woods together.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Remarks by the President to ACA Youth Summit
South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
2:10 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hey! (Applause.) Hello, everybody. Hello, hello. Good to see you. Everybody, sit down. Good afternoon. (Applause.) Welcome to the White House. This is a little bit of a rowdy bunch. (Laughter.)
Well, it is wonderful to be with all of you, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of all the stuff that you guys are doing all across the country in your communities, in your organizations. There was a time when I was a young invincible. (Laughter.) After five years in this office, people don’t call me that anymore. (Laughter.)
But I just wanted to drop by and say thank you for everything that you’ve done and will do to spread the word about the Affordable Care Act and what it means for young people. About a year ago, I got a letter from a woman in her twenties; she had just graduated from law school. And she wrote, “Thank you for making health care reform a priority. If you hadn’t, you probably would have fewer gray hairs right now.” (Laughter.) That’s a good point. But her story is a reminder that the law was worth a few gray hairs, because she was one of the 3.1 million young people that this law helped to cover because they could join their parents’ plan. And that means that when she was diagnosed with a potentially deadly autoimmune disorder, she got the care she needed -- medications, blood transfusions, ultimately lifesaving surgery.
She was able to stay in school, graduate first in her class, find a job in her field. And in the letter she wrote, “I’m grateful because the Affordable Care Act saved my life. It saved my family from bankruptcy, and it gave me a future.” So that’s what this law is about: health care that’s there for you when you need it; financial protection for you and your family if you get sick; the security of knowing that an illness or an accident is not going to completely derail your dreams.
And there are a lot of benefits that are especially important to young people. Insurance companies now have to provide free preventive care that will help you stay healthy. They’ll have to provide contraceptive care for women at no extra cost. If you wanted to take a chance and start your own business, or try multiple careers like many young people do, particularly in this economy, before you settle down you’re not going to have to wonder whether or not you can do that because you’re worried about coverage. When you do settle down and start a family, maternal care will be covered. If you’re a woman, you won’t be charged twice as much as men because you’re the one carrying the baby.
So this law is already making a difference for millions of young people, and it’s about to help millions more. About half a million people across the country already are poised to gain coverage on January 1st, some for the very first time. One recent article reported that a surprisingly large number of young people are signing up. And there's a good reason for that: The law works. Most young people without insurance can now get covered for under 100 bucks a month.
Now, I am not allowed, for security reasons, to have an iPhone. (Laughter.) I don’t know what your bills are. I have noticed that Sasha and Malia seem to spend a lot of time on it. (Laughter.) My suspicion is that for a lot of you, between your cable bill, your phone bill, you're spending more than 100 bucks a month. The idea that you wouldn’t want to make sure that you've got the health security and financial security that comes with health insurance for less than that price, you guys are smarter than that. And most young people are, as well.
The product is good. It's affordable. People want financial stability of health insurance. We're going to keep working through any glitches, problems that may come up. Obviously, the website when it was first launched, wasn't in tip-top shape, to say the least. But we have been, 24/7, going at it. And now, for the vast majority of users, it's working. And there will be other things that come up during the course of the next several months, because you're starting off a new program that has an impact on one-sixth of the economy. This is a "big deal," to quote Joe Biden. (Laughter.)
But we're just going to keep on working on it, and improving it, and refining it. And if we see a problem, we're going to fix it. But we're not repealing it -- not as long as I'm President -- (applause) -- particularly because the folks who are criticizing it don’t seem to have any ideas in terms of how to reduce costs; ensure millions of people get coverage for the first time; make sure that insurance is more secure. And those are things that the law is already doing.
And we're going to have to just make sure that people know about it. And that’s why I'm here, because I need your help; that’s why you're here, because you know I need your help. Believe it or not, there are actually organizations that are out there working to convince young people not to get insurance.
Now, think about that. That’s a really bizarre way to spend your money -- to try to convince people not to get health insurance, not to get free preventive care, not to make sure that they're able to survive an accident or an illness. If I had that much money I wouldn’t be spending it that way. And some of these ad campaigns are backed by well-funded special-interest groups -- I assume they've got great health care.
And just remember and remind your friends and your peers -- imagine what happens if you get sick, what happens with the massive bills. The people who are running those ads, they're not going to pay for your illness. You're going to pay for it or your family is going to pay for it. And that's hard to imagine.
Look, I do remember what it's like being 27 or 28, and aside from the occasional basketball injury, most of the time I kind of felt like I had nothing to worry about. Of course, that's what most people think until they have something to worry about. But at that point, oftentimes it's too late. And sometimes in this debate, what we've heard are people saying, well, I don't need this, I don't want this; why are you impinging on my freedom to do whatever I want.
And part of what I say to folks when they tell me that is if you get sick and you get to the hospital, and you don't have any coverage, then somebody else is also going to be paying for it. It may be your family that can afford it, or it may be everybody else who does have health insurance and is acting responsibly, and is essentially subsidizing for your care. And that's not what I think most young people want. They want to be independent, and this is part of feeling and being financially, and from a health perspective, secure.
So I'm going to need you all to spread the word about how the Affordable Care Act really works, what its benefits are, what its protections are and, most importantly, how people can sign up. I know people call this law Obamacare. And that's okay -- (laughter) -- because I do care. (Laughter and applause.) I do. I care about you. I care about families. I care about Americans. (Applause.)
But no matter how much I care, the truth is, is that for your friends and your family, the most important source of information is not going to be me, it's going to be you. They are going to trust you. If you're taking them on a website, walking them through it saying, look at the price you're able to get, look at the benefits you're able to get. That's what's going to be making a difference.
So if you're a student body president, set up a conference on campus. If you work at a nonprofit, open your doors and use your email list to help people learn the facts. If you've got a radio show, spread the word on air. If you're a bartender, have a happy hour -- (laughter) -- and also probably get health insurance, because a lot of bartenders don't have it. Post something on your Facebook or Instagram. You can tweet using the hashtag #getcovered. But do whatever it takes to make sure people have the information they need to make the decision that's right for them.
If you're in a state that has its own state exchange, they're probably doing a lot of activities and you should plug into those as well. If you're in a state that so far has not decided to set up a state exchange, then obviously we can make sure that you have all the information you need to succeed. But the bottom line is I'm going to need you, and the country needs you. And a lot of your friends and peers, they may not know that they need you, but if something happens somewhere down the road where they really need to get to a hospital or a doctor, the fact that you have talked to them and gotten them involved is going to make all the difference in the world.
And finally, let me just make a broader point to all the young people here. This whole exercise obviously has huge implications for this country’s future, because if we can start bringing down health care costs, make sure people are covered, give people financial security, that’s good for the economy, it’s good for businesses, it’s good for the federal budget.
But I hope you haven’t been discouraged by how hard it’s been, because stuff that’s worth it is always hard. The Civil Rights Movement was hard. Getting women the right to vote -- that was hard. Making sure that workers had the right to organize -- that was hard. It’s never been easy for us to change how we do business in this country and particularly to address needs that a lot of people aren’t worried about on a day-to-day constant basis but then suddenly are desperately worried about it when a mishap happens.
So this has been the case for Social Security, for Medicare, for all the great social progress that we’ve made in this country. And I wanted to say all that just because my hope is not only that you work hard to help folks get signed up today and tomorrow and next week, but I look around the room and I see a lot of leaders who are going to be leading the charge well into the future on a whole range of issues. Don’t get discouraged. Be persistent. You may get a few gray hairs as a consequence -- (laughter) -- but I think at the end of the day you’ll think it’s worth it.
Thank you, guys. (Applause.)
2:23 P.M. EST
Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China
Great Hall of the People
Beijing, People’s Republic of China
PRESIDENT XI: Honorable Vice President Biden, let me again warmly welcome you to China, my old friend.
You have long been committed to the growth of China-U.S. relations, and I commend you for the large amount of work you have taken. And I hope your current visit will help us to further deepen mutual trust, exchanges, and cooperation between China and the United States.
The China-U.S. relationship has gotten off to a good start since the beginning of this year and has generally maintained the momentum of positive development. In my two meetings with President Obama -- first at the Annenberg estate, and then in St. Petersburg -- we agreed to work together to build a new model called Major Country Relationship between China and the United States based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation. In so doing, we set a direction for the future growth of this relationship.
We’re happy to see that in the recent period our two teams have worked actively to expand coordination and cooperation on bilateral, regional, and global levels, and helped to make important progress in our bilateral relationship.
At present, both the international situation and the regional landscape are undergoing profound and complex changes. The world economy has come into a period of in-depth readjustment. Regional hotspot issues keep cropping up and there are more pronounced global challenges such as climate change and energy security. The world as a whole is not tranquil. As the world’s two largest economies and two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China and the United States shoulder important responsibilities for upholding world peace and stability and promoting human development and progress. To strengthen dialogue and cooperation is the only right choice facing both countries.
We will soon enter into the 35th year of our diplomatic relationship. For over 30 years, our relationship has gone through a lot and made historical progress. Looking ahead to the future, we stand ready to work with the U.S. side to continue to move in the right direction, building a new model of Major Country Relations, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, continue to enhance practical cooperation, and increase our communication and coordination on international, regional and global issues, to appropriately handle sensitive issues and differences between us so that together we can make sure our bilateral relationship will continue to move forward in a sustained, healthy and stable way.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. President, thank you very much. And I say to your colleagues I hope you don't think that I trespassed on taking advantage of my friendship with the President to keep him as long as I did in the other room. But I thank you very much, Mr. President, for the opportunity to meet with you again.
As we’ve discussed in the past, this new model of major country cooperation ultimately has to be based on trust and a positive notion about the motive of one another. The relationship that you and President Obama have established thus far is full of promise and real opportunity for us. If we get this relationship right, engender a new model, the possibilities are limitless.
This is a hugely consequential bilateral relationship that is going to play a significant part in affecting the course of the 21st century. And we're fortunate that at the moment to have two men leading each of our countries who have the capacity to maybe bring this to fruition.
You pointed out all the change that is taking place in the world and the challenges it presents -- they present. But the way I was raised was to believe that change presents opportunity -- opportunity on regional security -- on a global level; opportunity on climate change, energy, and a whole range of issues that the world needs to see change in the next decade or so.
As you have pointed out, Mr. President, complex relationships call for sustained, high-level engagement. And that's why I'm here. And that's why I am so grateful, and so is the President, that you would give me the time to attempt to help further develop that engagement. As we've both acknowledged in the past, this new relationship requires practical cooperation to deliver concrete results. We've done much of that already.
Because I have had the benefit of being around for a long time as a senator and as the Vice President, I've had the opportunity to engage, not directly, but peripherally, with a number of world leaders. The thing that has impressed me from the beginning, and I stated to the President early on, after his meetings with you, which he concluded as well, is that you are candid, you are constructive in developing this new relationship. And both qualities are sorely needed. Candor generates trust. Trust is the basis on which real change, constructive change is made. And I am delighted to be back with you.
Remarks by the President on the Affordable Care Act
South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
2:45 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks to Monica, thanks to everybody standing behind me, and thanks for everybody out there who cares deeply about this issue. Monica’s story is important because for all the day-to-day fights here in Washington around the Affordable Care Act, it’s stories like hers that should remind us why we took on this reform in the first place.
And for too long, few things left working families more vulnerable to the anxieties and insecurities of today’s economy than a broken health care system. So we took up the fight because we believe that, in America, nobody should have to worry about going broke just because somebody in their family or they get sick. We believe that nobody should have to choose between putting food on their kids’ table or taking them to see a doctor. We believe we’re a better country than a country where we allow, every day, 14,000 Americans to lose their health coverage; or where every year, tens of thousands of Americans died because they didn’t have health care; or where out-of-pocket costs drove millions of citizens into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. We thought we were better than that, and that’s why we took this on. (Applause.)
And that’s what’s gotten lost a little bit over the last couple of months. And our focus, rightly, had to shift towards working 24/7 to fix the website, healthcare.gov, for the new marketplaces where people can buy affordable insurance plans. And today, the website is working well for the vast majority of users. More problems may pop up, as they always do when you’re launching something new. And when they do, we’ll fix those, too. But what we also know is that after just the first month, despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on January 1st -- some for the very first time. We know that -- half a million people. (Applause.) And that number is increasing every day and it is going to keep growing and growing and growing, because we know that there are 41 million people out there without health insurance. And we know there are a whole bunch of folks out there who are underinsured or don’t have a good deal. And we know the demand is there and we know that the product on these marketplaces is good and it provides choice and competition for people that allow them, in some cases for the very first time, to have the security that health insurance can provide.
The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future. People want the financial stability of health insurance. And we’re going to keep on working to fix whatever problems come up in any startup, any launch of a project this big that has an impact on one-sixth of our economy, whatever comes up we’re going to just fix it because we know that the ultimate goal, the ultimate aim, is to make sure that people have basic security and the foundation for the good health that they need.
Now, we may never satisfy the law’s opponents. I think that’s fair to say. Some of them are rooting for this law to fail -- that’s not my opinion, by the way, they say it pretty explicitly. (Laughter.) Some have already convinced themselves that the law has failed, regardless of the evidence. But I would advise them to check with the people who are here today and the people that they represent all across the country whose lives have been changed for the better by the Affordable Care Act.
The other day I got a letter from Julia Walsh in California. Earlier this year, Julia was diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma. “I have a lot of things to worry about,” she wrote. “But thanks to the [Affordable Care Act], there are lots of things I do not have to worry about, like…whether there will be a lifetime cap on benefits, [or] whether my treatment will bankrupt my family…I can’t begin to tell you how much that peace of mind means...” That’s what the Affordable Care Act means to Julia. She already had insurance, by the way, but because this law banned lifetime limits on the care you or your family can receive, she’s never going to have to choose between providing for her kids or getting herself well -- she can do both.
Sam Weir, a doctor in North Carolina, emailed me the other day. “The coming years will be challenging for all of us in family medicine,” he wrote. “But my colleagues and I draw strength from knowing that beginning with the new year the preventive care many of our current patients have been putting off will be covered and the patients we have not yet seen will finally be able to get the care that they have long needed.” That’s the difference that the Affordable Care Act will make for many of Dr. Weir’s patients. Because more than 100 million Americans with insurance have gained access to recommended preventive care like mammograms, or colonoscopies, or flu shots, or contraception to help them stay healthy -- at no out-of-pocket cost. (Applause.)
At the young age of 23, Justine Ula is battling cancer for the second time. And the other day, her mom, Joann, emailed me from Cleveland University Hospital where Justine is undergoing treatment. She told me she stopped by the pharmacy to pick up Justine’s medicine. If Justine were uninsured, it would have cost her $4,500. But she is insured -- because the Affordable Care Act has let her and three million other young people like Monica gain coverage by staying on their parents’ plan until they’re 26. (Applause.) And that means Justine’s mom, all she had to cover was the $25 co-pay.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 7 million seniors and Americans with disabilities have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicine. (Applause.) This year alone, 8.5 million families have actually gotten an average of $100 back from their insurance company -- you don’t hear that very often -- (laughter) -- because it spent too much on things like overhead, and not enough on their care. And, by the way, health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. So we’re actually bending the cost of health care overall, which benefits everybody. (Applause.)
So that’s what this law means to millions of Americans. And my main message today is: We’re not going back. We’re not going to betray Monica, or Julia, or Sam, or Justine, or Joann. (Applause.) I mean, that seems to be the only alternative that Obamacare’s critics have is, well, let’s just go back to the status quo -- because they sure haven’t presented an alternative. If you ask many of the opponents of this law what exactly they’d do differently, their answer seems to be, well, let’s go back to the way things used to be.
Just the other day, the Republican Leader in the Senate was asked what benefits people without health care might see from this law. And he refused to answer, even though there are dozens in this room and tens of thousands in his own state who are already on track to benefit from it. He just repeated “repeal” over and over and over again. And obviously we’ve heard that from a lot of folks on that side of the aisle.
Look, I’ve always said I will work with anybody to implement and improve this law effectively. If you’ve got good ideas, bring them to me. Let’s go. But we’re not repealing it as long as I’m President and I want everybody to be clear about that. (Applause.)
We will make it work for all Americans. If you don’t like this law -- (applause) -- so, if despite all the millions of people who are benefitting from it, you still think this law is a bad idea then you’ve got to tell us specifically what you’d do differently to cut costs, cover more people, make insurance more secure. You can’t just say that the system was working with 41 million people without health insurance. You can’t just say that the system is working when you’ve got a whole bunch of folks who thought they had decent insurance and then when they got sick, it turned out it wasn’t there for them or they were left with tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs that were impossible for them to pay.
Right now, what that law is doing -- (baby talks.) Yes, you agree with me. (Laughter.) Right now, what this law is doing is helping folks and we’re just getting started with the exchanges, just getting started with the marketplaces. So we’re not going to walk away from it. If I’ve got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that’s what I’ll do. That’s what we’ll do. (Applause.)
But what’s important for everybody to remember is not only that the law has already helped millions of people but that there are millions more who stand to be helped. And we’ve got to make sure they know that. And I’ve said very clearly that our poor execution in the first couple months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit. Now that the website is working for the vast majority of people, we need to make sure that folks refocus on what’s at stake here, which is the capacity for you or your families to be able to have the security of decent health insurance at a reasonable cost through choice and competition on this marketplace and tax credits that you may be eligible for that can save you hundreds of dollars in premium costs every month, potentially.
So we just need people to -- now that we are getting the technology fixed -- we need you to go back, take a look at what’s actually going on, because it can make a difference in your lives and the lives of your families. And maybe it won’t make a difference right now if you’re feeling healthy, but I promise you, if somebody in your family -- heaven forbid -- gets sick, you’ll see the difference. And it will make all the difference for you and your families.
So I’m going to need some help in spreading the word -- I’m going to need some help in spreading the word. I need you to spread the word about the law, about its benefits, about its protections, about how folks can sign up. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Do not let the initial problems with the website discourage you because it’s working better now and it’s just going to keep on working better over time. Every day I check to make sure that it’s working better. (Laughter.) And we’ve learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly smooth it’s going to be at all time, but if you really want health insurance through the marketplaces, you’re going to be able to get on and find the information that you need for your families at healthcare.gov.
So if you’ve already got health insurance or you’ve already taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, you’ve got to tell your friends, you’ve got to tell your family. Tell your coworkers. Tell your neighbors. Let’s help our fellow Americans get covered. Let’s give every American a fighting chance in today’s economy.
Thank you so much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
2:59 P.M. EST
Statement by the President on Nancy Sutley’s Departure in February
I want to thank Nancy Sutley for her counsel, and for her service to the American people over the past five years. As one of my top advisors, Nancy has played a central role in overseeing many of our biggest environmental accomplishments, including establishing historic new fuel economy standards that will save consumers money, new national monuments that permanently protect sites unique to our country’s rich history and natural heritage, our first comprehensive National Ocean Policy, and our Climate Action Plan that will help leave our children a safer, healthier planet. Under her leadership, Federal agencies are meeting the goals I set for them at the beginning of the administration by using less energy, reducing pollution, and saving taxpayer dollars. Her efforts have made it clear that a healthy environment and a strong economy aren’t mutually exclusive – they can go hand in hand. I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.
Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Katie Couric mangles HPV show, Obama talks social justice
Today @KatieShow we're talking about #HPV & the controversy surrounding the vaccine - what are your thoughts? http://t.co/...
@katiecouric @KatieShow My thoughts are that my daughter got the vaccine and my son will. Prevents cancer. Stop fear-mongering!
.@katiecouric @KatieShow There’s no controversy. It’s safe. And this is some serious fear-mongering.
.@katiecouric You are perpetuating a dangerous myth about HPV vaccine by presenting it as "controversial."
How @katiecouric stacked the journalistic deck in her segment today on HPV vaccine. By @matthewherper http://t.co/...
.@katiecouric @KatieShow Will you publicly respond to serious concerns raised by @sethmnookin, others? Bk is closed on HPV vaccine. It works
More on the unfortunate Katie Couric anti vax show from Aetiology:
One wonders if @katiecouric realizes what a massive mistake she made on @KatieShow yesterday. http://t.co/...
Regular readers keeping up on infectious disease issues might have seen Seth Mnookin’s post yesterday, warning of an upcoming episode of the Katie Couric show focusing on the HPV vaccine. Even though Mnookin previously spoke with a producer at length regarding this topic, the promo for the show certainly did not look promising:
Couric's show is no gift to journalism, and no credit to the profession.
“The HPV vaccine is considered a life-saving cancer preventer … but is it a potentially deadly dose for girls? Meet a mom who claims her daughter died after getting the HPV vaccine, and hear all sides of the HPV vaccine controversy.”
And indeed, reviews thus far show that unfortunately, Couric pretty much mangled the issue and allowed heart-wrenching anecdotes to trump science (reminiscent of Jenny McCarthy’s appearance on Oprah). I won’t cover it all (you can view it here), but basically Couric allows stories about illness and death in the weeks following administration of the vaccine to go unchallenged, and brings on Dr. Diane Harper as her HPV expert (featured prominently in the anti-vaccine documentary “The Greater Good“). Dr. Harper believes the HPV vaccine is over-hyped, and that Pap screening is “100% accurate” so no HPV vaccine is really needed. This, frankly, is hogwash. Even with emphasis on screening, here in the U.S. we have 12,000 cases and 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer alone each year. (And in Mnookin’s post and in Matthew Herper’s Forbes post, both note that head and neck cancers can also be caused by HPV as well–but have no good screening process).
We can’t ignore the stories of the girls Couric reported on, either. She said that eleven cases allege that HPV vaccines have caused death, according to the National Vaccine Information Center, an anti-vaccine group. (For comparison, Merck has shipped 62 million doses of Gardasil.) Vaccine makers and the CDC should redouble their efforts to make sure that if there is a risk of death from the vaccine, we know that. I think Merck in particular should be making an effort to approach these families and find out if there is anything it can learn about its vaccine. Is there any biologically plausible way that Gardasil could be having these effects? It seems unlikely, but we can’t be careful enough.
But deaths – including deaths by seizures or unexplained causes – do occur for all sorts of reasons, without explanation, and just because a death happened 18 days after a vaccine was given, as in the example on Katie’s show, does not mean the vaccine caused it. So far, investigations trying to link Gardasil and Cervarix to serious side effects have come up empty.
A study of 997,000 girls in Nordic countries found no link to autoimmune, neurological, and venous thromboembolic adverse events from the vaccine. A CDC analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009 also found no link between HPV vaccines and serious side effects. Schaffner says the main side effects he sees are sore arms and fever.
So far, despite the fact that many families do opt not to get the vaccine, Gardasil is performing better than expected. In the seven year period ending in 2010, the prevalence of HPV infection in girls and women fell 56% to 5.1% of the population. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, told NBC the reduction was “better than we hoped for.” Let’s hope that can continue.
It was even worse than I thought it was going to be, and I knew it was going to be bad when it was advertised as having a mother who thought that Gardasil killed her daughter. And so it did. What I didn’t realize is that Couric also had one of the founders of the anti-HPV vaccine crank blog SaneVax on her show, Rosemary Mathis, and her daughter Lauren. If you want to get an idea of just how much quackery and pseudoscience is promoted by SaneVax, just search this blog for the term. I’ll just give you two examples. First, SaneVax latched onto a dubious finding of trace amounts of HPV DNA in Gardasil to launch a fear mongering campaign of such monumental ignorance about molecular biology and science itself that it was breathtaking in its scope. Then about a year ago, SaneVax published a guide to blaming the deaths of children on Gardasil. I kid you not. The title of the despicable article was A Parent’s Guide: What to do if your child dies after vaccination.
More policy and politics below the fold.
One of the founders of this group was one of the mothers Couric interviewed as an equal to a real pediatrician.
Open thread for night owls: Will the latest fight against offshore secrecy turn out differently?
At the Center for Public Integrity, Michael Hudson writes Push against offshore secrecy an uphill battle:
|In June 2000, international groups rolled out blacklists targeting offshore refuges that shelter tax dodging and money laundering. Some observers predicted “the death of tax havens.”
By 2002 the campaign had, as one tax analyst put it, “dissolved into a series oftoothless pronouncements.”
In 2009, offshore centers faced new attacks as the United States pursued an investigation of Swiss banks and nations hit by economic crisis sought to boost tax revenues. “Tax havens and bank secrecy are finished,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared.
By 2010 it was clear the offshore industry had once more survived mostly unscathed.
Now offshore havens are under attack again in the wake of exposés by theInternational Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other news outlets.
Britain has vowed to lift the secrecy covering the Cayman Islands and other financial sanctuaries operating under its flag. Dozens of rich nations have agreed—in an unprecedented example of global cooperation on offshore issues — to begin swapping information about assets stashed in foreign accounts. Another French president— François Hollande—has promised to “eradicate” tax havens.
“Looks like the offshore party is over,” the Chicago Tribune said recently.
Will this time be different?
Many financial crime fighters are skeptical.
They fear the new initiatives mostly target small and medium tax scofflaws but allow other offshore clients—ultra-rich tax dodgers, white collar fraudsters, terrorism funders and tax-phobic corporations—to continue much as they always have. [...]
Fred Hampton: 1948-1969, R.I.P.
Forty-four years ago, on this date in 1969, Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party, was shot to death in a pre-dawn raid by Chicago police along with fellow Panther Mark Clark. Authorities claimed that the Panthers had opened fire first and the police had merely defended themselves. But evidence soon emerged that the FBI, through CoIntelPro, the tactical unit of the State's Attorney's Office in Cook County and the Chicago Police Department had conspired to assassinate Hampton. An infiltrator had drugged Hampton so he wouldn't wake up during the raid. Police initially claimed they had encountered a firestorm of gunshots, but it was later proved forensically that they had fired 98 rounds while Hampton had fired one, which was determined to have been a reflex from his being shot in the head. That was the only shot fired by the Panthers.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2008—More Smears From John Ziegler:
|Nate Silver's favorite punching bag makes fun of himself again, telling Alan Colmes that he thinks it's "rational" to believe Barack Obama is a Muslim.
We all know Barack Obama is Christian, but it's important to also say that it wouldn't matter if he were Muslim, or Jewish, or any other religion, because in this country, we don't impose religious tests.
At the same time, it's a smear to maliciously claim someone holds a religious faith other than their own, and to defend believing those smears as "rational" says more about how McCain nearly managed to get 46% of the vote than it does about anything else John Ziegler might choose to whine about.
Tweet of the Day:
On today's Kagro in the Morning show: Third Way is terrible. I say so. Greg Dworkin says so. And Joan McCarter says so. So that's three ways. Greg rounds up healthcare.gov numbers, Obama running away from Obamacare by giving a speech about Obamacare, how ACA journamalisms is awful, and how Tom Edsall says "The Center Cannot Hold." He tried to reassure us there wouldn't be another gov't shutdown, but we hung up on him. So, we asked Joan about that instead! And about the non-i-word hearing, the Detroit bankruptcy, and the recycling of the "Medicare cuts" talking point. Later: the VA special election to fill Mark Herring's seat, and some critical background from Demos on Detroit.
High Impact Posts. Top Comments. Overnight News Digest.
Economics Daily Digest: Youth unemployment is leading to tragedy
By Rachel Goldfarb, originally published on Next New Deal
Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.
"Tragedy as a generation" for U.S. Youth (Marketplace)
David Brancaccio speaks to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick about the problems young people are facing in today's economy. He says that without professional lobbyists, other groups' needs are being heard over young people's.
CFPB To Supervise Largest Student Loan Servicers (HuffPo)
Shahien Nasiripour reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has finalized a rule giving it oversight over the companies that collect payments on federal student loans. This should hopefully ensure more borrower-friendly practices.
Detroit Is Bankrupt: What Now? (Pacific Standard)
Anna Clark lists the three most important things to be aware of now that the courts have approved Detroit's bankruptcy filing. She notes that this case will have a major impact on other cities, which look to Detroit as an example of the possibilities in their future.
Fighting Corruption Polls Off the Charts (MSNBC)
Zachary Roth reports on a new poll from represent.us which shows that the vast majority of Americans support tougher campaign finance laws. Unfortunately, incumbents seem uninterested in changing the rules that helped to get them elected.
- Roosevelt Take: Jeff Raines, Chair of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Student Board of Advisors, explains how a current Supreme Court case could further weaken campaign finance law.
Black Friday and the Race to the Bottom (The New Yorker)
George Packer ties low retail sales during the extended Black Friday weekend to the fights for a higher minimum wage. Executives should recognize the practical truth that workers need to be able to afford to shop too.
Tax Breaks for CEOs Pay for Million-Dollar Salaries (The Guardian)
Jana Kasperkevic explains the performance pay loophole that allows corporations to deduct millions in executive compensation from their federal income taxes. She draws a parallel between the results of that policy and the low wages of average fast food workers.
- Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Director of Research Susan Holmberg and Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network alum Lydia Austin wrote a white paper calling on Congress to close the performance pay loophole. Read it here.
Low Bank Wages Costing the Public Millions, Report Says (WaPo)
Danielle Douglas writes that new data from the University of California at Berkeley's Labor Center shows that bank employees are relying heavily on public assistance, to the tune of $900 million a year. The banking industry reported $141.3 billion in profits last year.
Despite its governor's best efforts, South Carolina is expanding Medicaid
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has rejected Medicaid expansion in no uncertain terms: South Carolina, she says, “will not expand Medicaid. Ever.” Except that it is. The state expects to see a 16 percent jump in Medicaid enrollments by June, 2015. That's higher than the average 12 percent growth many states which have accepted the expansion money are predicting.
Why is this? Because South Carolina has so many poor people, many of whom just didn't know that Medicaid was an option for them until they found out about the health insurance mandate and looked for insurance.
South Carolina officials say publicity for the Affordable Care Act and its requirement that most people get insurance will attract tens of thousands of people who are currently eligible for Medicaid but have not enrolled.
That means the Medicaid rolls in South Carolina will grow by about 162,000 people by the middle of 2015. Had the state expanded Medicaid, another 340,000 people would get coverage. As it is, at least many more children will be covered, and their parents will probably find out in the process that if their governor hadn't been such an asshole, they would have coverage, too. That's also the case in Idaho and Utah, which should also see about 14 percent jumps in enrollment, again mostly children.
"The awareness component is huge," said Tony Keck, South Carolina's Medicaid director. [...]
Still, because the state has strict limits on its Medicaid program, many of the new enrollees are expected to be children. Advocates for the poor applaud the effort but say the state has missed a good opportunity to help more people, especially adults, with a program expansion.
"This doesn't make up for the fact that a couple hundred thousand people who would have been covered are being left behind," said Susan Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, an advocacy group for the poor. "It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth."
Third Way hon. chair calls Third Way WSJ op-ed 'outrageous,' 'strongly disagrees'
Pennsylvania congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate Alyson Schwartz, the honorary chair of Third Way, gave the following statement to the Huffington Post regarding the infamous Third Way WSJ op-ed:
Rep. Alyson Schwartz is in "disarray"
regarding Third Way.
Allyson thought Third Way's Op/Ed on Social Security was outrageous and strongly disagrees with it. In 2005, Allyson was an outspoken leader in fighting against President Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security and last year, she fought against Paul Ryan's attempt to end Medicare as we know it," [Schawartz's spokesperson] said in an email to TPM. "She has repeatedly been endorsed by the National Committee to Preserve Medicare and Social Security for her leadership in protecting and preserving Social Security and Medicare for current seniors and future retirees.
The Third Way in disarray? The statement does beg the question: Why won't Schwartz resign?
After all the op-ed does not express new thoughts from Third Way. This is what they believe. Schwartz's spokeperson says, "we're not going to get into the back and forth between PCCC and Third way ... she's an honorary co-chair. She's not involved with what they write. They don't run it past her, and she disagrees with this." Then why is she involved with Third Way? This is the heart of why Third Way exists, to argue for those policies Schwartz claims to "strongly disagree" with.
Time to cut ties with Third Way, Representative Schwartz.
NRSC peddles 'Obama closing Vatican embassy' conspiracy; Jeb Bush buys it
No, President Obama is not "closing America's embassy to the Vatican." You are stupid. Oh, but the polite thing to say would be you are in error or something like that, we mustn't upset the delicate political balance of having respect even for people that go off promoting whatever batshit conspiracy theories they last heard, but there's a difference between being in error on something and being a Great Gullible Git:
Jeb's stood by dumber things.
Jeb apparently got the notion from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, i.e. actual party leaders devoted to Lying Badly For Money:
Why would our President close our Embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare.
“The media is reporting that President Obama plans to close the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. This is just the latest anti-religion pursuit of this administration, a slap in the face to Catholic-Americans around the country that weakens America’s position as a global leader. Sign the Petition telling President Obama to leave the American Embassy at the Vatican.”
Which is entirely untrue, in every respect, and Jeb either was in on the professional Republican lie or he's just one of the willing rubes. (Honestly, take your pick on that one, six of one and so on. I've never been impressed by constant media assurances that Jeb is The Smart One.)
– petition campaign by the National Republican Senatorial Committee
What is actually happening is that the physical location for the embassy to the Vatican is moving. That's it. It's moving into very nice building in a larger compound that also houses the embassy to Italy (they will remain two separate embassies, with two separate ambassadors, buildings, entrances, and staff) primarily for security reasons, because as Jeb and the NRSC may have heard there has been a bit of a row about embassy security of late, and for budget reasons, because as Jeb and the NRSC knows we Americans must do everything we can to not spend any money on anything because Congress doesn't like that sort of thing.
There's very little possibility that the National Republican Senatorial Committee didn't know this, which means that they were almost certainly peddling a known-false conspiracy theory of "closing the embassy!" on purpose, which is the sort of cheap grift that would get you fired or get your once-friends to talk about you badly in any other profession other than politics, where the pundits and reporters who are supposed to act as public watchdog over possible miscreancies among our elite will still lick your important-sounding face and hump your important-looking leg even after it's long been established that you lie to them for money. That the group quietly wiped the claim from their website after a week of public humiliation indicates at least some possibility for shame, but there's no indication that anyone involved will take this as the learning experience it really could have been.
I've said it before: the Republican Party leadership is intertwined with the conspiracy theories of the worst of their base. The two are no longer separable; the grumblings of militia members warning about ammo bans and United Nations plots and creeping sharia and secret Kenyanism and all the rest of it can't be dismissed as ravings of the fringe when each of those things get peddled by actual Republican House and Senate members and the national party structures built to support them. They are a party that no longer knows the difference between conspiracy theory and reality, or at least no longer cares. If you're a pundit and you think you can still get by in happy faux-neutral land by not acknowledging the great reams of conspiracy-addled falsehoods being shoveled into the public discourse even by top Republican groups, you're not neutral. You're part of the problem.
Washington, DC, city council votes to raise minimum wage
After coming within one vote of a veto-proof majority for a bill that would have required big box stores to pay a $12.50 living wage, the Washington, DC, city council unanimously supported raising the city's minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016 and tying it to inflation, in a preliminary vote Tuesday.
Will Mayor Vincent Gray try to block a minimum wage raise as he runs for reelection?
Despite the fact that many states and cities have raised the minimum wage without seeing jobs flee across nearby borders to places with the low federal minimum wage of $7.25, proponents of poverty wages always claim that's what's going to happen. That may be particularly true in Washington, DC, as a small urban zone sandwiched between two states, and one with such a high density of industry lobbyists—but in this case, there's a twist involving two neighboring counties in Maryland:
By coordinating with lawmakers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which approved similar measures late last month, the council put the three localities on the cusp of creating a contiguous region with 2.5 million residents and a minimum wage higher than any of the 50 states.
The Washington measure is expected to pass a final vote easily and, if Mayor Vincent Gray vetoes it, the votes should be there for a veto override. So after all its hissy fits about the possibility of having to pay DC workers $12.50, Walmart will likely have to pay $11.50.
Fournier SUPER excited that young people hate Obama (yet they'd still vote for him)
Big headline over Ron Fournier's latest at National Journal:
Crap! Those young voters will be too busy impeaching Obama to vote for him again.
Millennials Abandon Obama and Obamacare
The nut of the story on a new Harvard poll:
A majority of America's youngest adults would vote to recall the president.
millennials are not so hot on their president.
This excited Fournier so much that he's tweeted about it at least 38 times today. You see, it's not just him that hates Obama, it's even his strongest youth supporters! And it's true, Obama's numbers suck across the board, even among some of his most reliable constituencies.
Obama's approval rating among young Americans is just 41 percent, down 11 points from a year ago, and now tracking with all adults. While 55 percent said they voted for Obama in 2012, only 46 percent said they would do so again.
When asked if they would want to recall various elected officials, 45 percent of millennials said they would oust their member of Congress; 52 percent replied "all members of Congress" should go; and 47 percent said they would recall Obama. The recall-Obama figure was even higher among the youngest millennials, ages 18 to 24, at 52 percent.
Yet missing among Fournier's story and his plethora of tweets? Context on those "vote again" numbers. From the pollsters' summary:
83 percent of those who supported President Obama versus Mitt Romney tell us that they would vote again for Obama if they could recast their vote, only four percent (4%) would vote for Mitt Romney if they could
7. If you could re-cast your 2012 vote for president today, for whom would you vote? (n=1,115)
So ... Obama still wins the group by double-digits, and the 13 percent who say "someone else" would vote for him in the end because "someone else" would mean "Mitt Romney".
Barack Obama ................................................ 46%
Mitt Romney .................................................. 35%
Are people pissed? Of course! Could much of this been avoided with a simple Medicare For All bill instead of trying to protect the corrupt incumbent insurance industry? Of course! Are many young Americans upset about the NSA and drones stuff? Deservedly so! Does this mean that Obama needs to fear a recall effort against him? Uh... Does this mean that young voters will suddenly be voting for Republicans? Good luck with that.
Some people have suggested that Fournier's National Journal has been trying to remake itself in Politico's image. From here, it looks more like they're trying to be the National Review.
ALEC's trouble continues as Visa leaves
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been having a rough time lately, and it doesn't seem to be getting better for the organization, which specializes in making corporations' desires into law. What with public attention to its role in passing the Florida "stand your ground" law cited in the killing of Trayvon Martin, ALEC has lost a lot of members lately, and losing its corporate members means losing money. Well, add one more to the toll:
This dog is not quite as sad and lonely as we want ALEC to be.
Financial services company Visa has dropped its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), providing further evidence of ALEC's dwindling membership in the wake of a major expose by The Guardian. Visa (whose slogan is "everywhere you want to be") made the announcement to Boston Common Asset Management, which had been engaging with Visa over the past year on lobbying disclosure. [...]
So sad. What's sadder, though, is that ALEC is still better funded and more influential in state policy than most progressive organizations.
Visa's departure won't help close up those budgetary gaps. In addition to supporting ALEC through its membership dues and participation in the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force, Visa was a "Chairman" level sponsor of 2011 ALEC Annual Conference, which cost $50,000 the previous year. It also sponsored a Plenary Session at the 2011 meeting featuring FreedomWorks founder Dick Armey.
Elizabeth Warren wants to know what think tanks are owned by Wall Street
Sen. Elizabeth Warren apparently doesn't give a fig about what the
centrist corporatist Third Way thinks about her and her economic populism. But she does care about who is funding the research from think tanks like Third Way that argues against economic populism. So she is demanding some transparency there. She just sent this letter [pdf] to the heads of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.
As you know, your institutions are free to express your views to lawmakers and regulators thorugh your lobbying efforts and those of the trade associations that represent you. But the law requires that there be transparency around you direct efforts to influence policymaking through lobbying, with disclosures about your lobbying expenditures. Under current law, however, your institutions are permitted to make financial contributions to think tanks without any similar public disclosure. This means that you can make enormous contributions that threaten both the independence and public credibility of the work of think tanks out of the public view. [...]
Game on, Wall Street CEOs and Third Way board members. Next time, they might want to be more careful about who they choose to take on.
As the CEOs of public companies, you have an obligation to expend corporate resources only in ways that advance the interests of your shareholders. For that reason, I believe your shareholders have the right to know both which think tanks your companies are supporting and the extent of that support so that they can assess for themselves whether they benefit from these contributions.
When you use corporate resources to support think tanks, there are only two possible outcomes from public disclosure—those contributions do not influence the work of the think tanks or those contributions do influence the think tanks' research and conclusions. Either way, shareholders have a right to know how corporate resources are spent, and even more importantly, policymakers and the public should be aware of your contributions and evaluate the work of think tanks accordingly.
4:08 PM PT: Third Way responds
"Our response is that we agree that all public companies should disclose who they give money to —not sure why she's singling out these six but everybody should disclose in the interest of fairness to these shareholders. So we agree with her," Third Way spokesman Matt Bennett told TPM on Wednesday. [...]
Right. No connection there at all between Wall Street lobbying and entitlement reform.
"But we're not sure how that's related to the argument that we were making in the op-ed about entitlement reform and populism," Bennett continued.
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