Posts Tagged ‘Capitol Hill

07
Aug
10

Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform

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Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform
President Obama Highlights Benefits to Seniors Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Saturday, August 07, 2010

In his weekly address this week, President Obama highlighted a Medicare Trustees report noting the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing, which will help to preserve Medicare for generations to come. Additionally, America’s seniors are already seeing more benefits as a result of health reform, including a rebate to cover the cost of their prescriptions if they fall into the Medicare Part D drug coverage gap. In the coming years, as we continue to ramp up reform, we expect seniors to save in premiums and out of pocket costs. And the President will continue to make Medicare stronger to ensure our seniors have access to affordable and quality healthcare.

Forty-five years ago, we made a solemn compact as a nation that senior citizens would not go without the health care they need. This is the promise we made when Medicare was born. And it’s the responsibility of each generation to keep that promise.

That’s why a report issued this week by the Trustees who oversee Medicare was such good news. According to this report, the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing. Reform has actually added at least a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare – the single longest extension in history – while helping to preserve Medicare for generations to come.

We’ve made Medicare more solvent by going after waste, fraud, and abuse – not by changing seniors’ guaranteed benefits. In fact, seniors are starting to see that because of health reform, their benefits are getting better all the time.

Seniors who fall into the “doughnut hole” – the gap in Medicare Part D drug coverage – are eligible right now for a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescriptions. Now, I know for people facing drug costs far higher than that, they need more help. That’s why we negotiated a better deal with the pharmaceutical companies for seniors. So starting next year, if you fall in the doughnut hole, you’ll get a 50-percent discount on the brand-name medicine you need. And in the coming years, this law will close the doughnut hole completely once and for all.

Already, we have put insurance companies on notice that we have the authority to review and reject unreasonable rate increases for Medicare Advantage plans. And we’ve made it clear to the insurers that we won’t hesitate to use this authority to protect seniors.

Beginning next year, preventive care – including annual physicals, wellness exams, and tests like mammograms – will be free for seniors as well. That will make it easier for folks to stay healthy. But it will also mean that doctors can catch things earlier, so treatment may be less invasive and less expensive.

And as reform ramps up in the coming years, we expect seniors to save an average of $200 per year in premiums and more than $200 each year in out of pocket costs, too.

This is possible in part through reforms that target waste and abuse and redirect those resources to where they’re supposed to go: our seniors. We’re already on track to cut improper payments in half – including money that goes to criminals who steal taxpayer dollars by setting up insurance scams and other frauds. And we won’t stop there. Because by preventing the loss of these tax dollars, we can both address the runaway costs of Medicare and improve the quality of care seniors receive – and we can crack down on those who prey on seniors and take advantage of people.

So we are no longer accepting business as usual. We’re making tough decisions to meet the challenges of our time. And as a result, Medicare is stronger and more secure. That’s important. Because Medicare isn’t just a program. It’s a commitment to America’s seniors – that after working your whole life, you’ve earned the security of quality health care you can afford. As long as I am President, that’s a commitment this country is going to keep.
Thank you.

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31
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Good News on Autos, Obstruction on Small Business

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Weekly Address: Good News on Autos, Obstruction on Small Business
President Obama Hails Successes of the Restructuring of the Auto Industry, Calls on GOP Leaders to Stop Blocking Aid for Small Businesses

Saturday, July 31, 2010

In this week’s address, President Obama praised the successes of the auto industry restructuring. When his administration decided to invest in the American car companies, some said such a move was bound to fail. But since GM and Chrysler have emerged from bankruptcy, the auto industry has added 55,000 jobs – the strongest growth in 10 years – and for the first time since 2004, all three companies are operating at a profit. The President also called on Republican leaders in the Senate to stop blocking a vote on a bill helping small businesses. Even though this bill will help the recovery, and has been endorsed by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, the Republican Senate leadership continues to hold it hostage to politics by denying an up-or-down vote on the bill.

Hello everyone. I’m speaking to you from the GM auto plant here in Detroit, Michigan, where a hopeful story is unfolding in a place that’s been one of the hardest hit in America.

In the twelve months before I took office, American auto companies lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Sales plunged 40 percent. Liquidation was a very real possibility. Years of papering over tough problems and failing to adapt to changing times – combined with a vicious economic crisis – brought an industry that’s been the symbol of our manufacturing might for a century to the brink of collapse.

We didn’t have many good options. On one hand, we could have continued the practice of handing out billions of taxpayer dollars to the auto industry with no real strings attached. On the other hand, we could have walked away and allowed two major auto companies to go out of business – which could have wiped out one million American jobs.

I refused to let that happen. So we came up with a third way. We said to the auto companies – if you’re willing to make the hard decisions necessary to adapt and compete in the 21st century, we’ll make a one-time investment in your future.

Of course, if some folks had their way, none of this would be happening at all. This plant might not exist. There were leaders of the “just say no” crowd in Washington who argued that standing by the auto industry would guarantee failure. One called it “the worst investment you could possibly make.” They said we should just walk away and let these jobs go.

Today, the men and women in this plant are proving these cynics wrong. Since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, our auto industry has added 55,000 jobs – the strongest period of job growth in more than ten years. For the first time since 2004, all three American automakers are operating at a profit. Sales have begun to rebound. And plants like this that wouldn’t have existed if all of us didn’t act are now operating maximum capacity.

What’s more, thanks to our investments, a lot of these auto companies are reinventing themselves to meet the demands of a new age. At this plant, they’re hard at work building the high-quality, fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow – cars like the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt that can run 40 miles before taking a sip of gasoline. Throughout Michigan, an advanced battery industry is taking root that will power clean electric cars – an industry that produced only 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries last year, but will now be able to produce as much as 40 percent in a little over five years. That’s real progress.

There’s no doubt that we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do before folks here and across the country can feel whole again. But what’s important is that we’re finally beginning to see some of the tough decisions we made pay off. And if we had listened to the cynics and the naysayers – if we had simply done what the politics of the moment required – none of this progress would have happened.

Still, even as these icons of American industry are being reborn, we also need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America’s small businessmen and women, as well – particularly since they’re the ones who create most of the new jobs in this country.

As we work to rebuild our economy, I can’t imagine anything more common-sense than giving additional tax breaks and badly-needed lending assistance to America’s small business owners so they can grow and hire. That’s what we’re trying to do with the Small Business Jobs Act – a bill that has been praised as being good for small businesses by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. It’s a bill that includes provision after provision authored by both Democrats and Republicans. But yesterday, the Republican leaders in the Senate once again used parliamentary procedures to block it. Understand, a majority of Senators support the plan. It’s just that the Republican leaders in the Senate won’t even allow it to come up for a vote.

That isn’t right. And I’m calling on the Republican leaders in the Senate to stop holding America’s small businesses hostage to politics, and allow an up-or-down vote on this small business jobs bill.

At a time when America is just starting to move forward again, we can’t afford the do-nothing policies and partisan maneuvering that will only take us backward. I won’t stand here and pretend everything’s wonderful. I know that times are tough. But what I also know is that we’ve made it through tough times before. And we’ll make it through again. The men and women hard at work in this plant make me absolutely confident of that.

So to all the naysayers out there, I say this: Don’t ever bet against the American people. Because we don’t take the easy way out. That’s not how we deal with challenge. That’s not how we build this country into the greatest economic power the world has ever known. We did it by summoning the courage to persevere, and adapt, and push this country forward, inch by inch. That’s the spirit I see in this plant today, and as long as I have the privilege of being your President, I will keep fighting alongside you until we reach a better day.
Thanks.

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30
Jul
10

President Obama in Detroit: The Fight for America’s Workers

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President Obama in Detroit: The Fight for America’s Workers
President Obama hails auto bailout as good news in Michigan

Friday, July 30, 2010

Today the President was in Detroit visiting workers at a Chrysler plant and a GM plant that have not only survived, but found success after critics looking to score political points claimed there was no hope for them. For those critics the President offered a lesson: “Don’t bet against the American worker.”

During the two years since the economy took its hard downward turn, millions of Americans have had to fight with everything they had to stay afloat, to keep food on the table, to keep their businesses in business – and nowhere has that been more true than in Detroit.

The President has also been fighting alongside America’s workers – from the Recovery Act that’s saved or created about 3 million jobs, to the fight today over small business lending – and of course for the workers in Detroit and across America who contribute to the decades-old craft of American cars. When political opponents said that helping the American auto industry survive was a lost cause, and tried to turn public frustration against the President, he stepped in and made the hard choices anyway. There couldn’t necessarily be a life raft for everybody, but he was not going to let a million American jobs fall by the wayside simply because it opened him up for cheap political attacks.
And as the report released yesterday made clear, that investment is paying off: “In the year before GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, the auto industry shed 334,000 jobs. In the year since, auto industry employment has increased by 55,000 jobs. This is the fastest year-over-year growth in auto employment since 1999.” Not only that, but with a boost from the Recovery Act’s investments in the clean energy economy, the industry has turned toward the future in ways many thought they never could. A quick look at the interactive map released yesterday gives a glimpse of how America can move back to the front of the pack in the coming generation of fuel efficient and electric vehicles.

In his visit to the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant, speaking to workers who have had to fight just to keep working, it was clear the President felt in a bit of a fighting mood himself:

The President: Investments like those mean jobs for American workers to do what they’ve always done: build great products and sell them around the world.

So the bottom line is this – we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re beginning to see some of these tough decisions pay off. We are moving forward.

I want you to remember, though, if some folks had their way, none of this would have been happening. I just want to point that out. Right? I mean this – this plant – this plant and your jobs might not exist. There were leaders of the “just say no” crowd in Washington – they were saying – oh, standing by the auto industry would guarantee failure. One of them called it “the worst investment you could possibly make.”

Audience: Boo!

The President: They said – they said we should just walk way and let those jobs go.

Audience: Boo!

The President: I wish they were standing here today. (Applause.) I wish they could see what I’m seeing in this plant and talk to the workers who are here taking pride in building a world-class vehicle. I don’t think they’d be willing to look you in the eye and say that you were a bad investment. They might just come around if they were standing here and admit that by standing by a great American industry and the good people who work for it, that we did the right thing. It’s hard for them to say that. You know, they like admitting when I do the right thing. (Laughter.) But they might have had to admit it. And I want all of you to know, I will bet on the American worker any day of the week! (Applause.)

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24
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Moving Forward on the Economy vs. Moving Backward

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Weekly Address: Moving Forward on the Economy vs. Moving Backward
President Obama Praises New Wall Street Reform Law; Says GOP Plan Will Take Us Backward

Saturday, July 24, 2010

In this week’s address, President Obama praised the Wall Street reform bill that he signed into law on Wednesday and explained how it fits into the greater strategy to bring the country out of recession and build an economy for the long run. The president’s plan is aimed at strengthening the middle class and gives tax breaks to small businesses that creates jobs here, invests in homegrown, clean energy, and cuts taxes for working families. Unfortunately, when the Republican leader in the House offered his plan to create jobs this week, he presented the same policy ideas that led to this recession – ideas that will kill jobs instead of create them, and will add $1 trillion to the deficit, not reduce it.

This week, I signed into law a Wall Street reform bill that will protect consumers and our entire economy from the recklessness and irresponsibility that led to the worst recession of our lifetime. It’s reform that will help put a stop to the abusive practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies. It will end taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street firms. And it will finally bring the shadowy deals that caused the financial crisis into the light of day.

Wall Street reform is a key pillar of an overall economic plan we’ve put in place to dig ourselves out of this recession and build an economy for the long run – an economy that makes America more competitive and our middle-class more secure. It’s a plan based on the Main Street values of hard work and responsibility – and one that demands new accountability from Wall Street to Washington.

Instead of giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, we want to give tax breaks to small business owners who are creating jobs right here in America. Already, we’ve given small businesses eight new tax cuts, and have expanded lending to more than 60,000 small business owners.

We’re also investing in a homegrown, clean energy industry – because I don’t want to see new solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars manufactured in some other country. I want to see them made in America, by American workers. So far, we’ve provided new tax credits, loan guarantees, and investments that will lead to more than 800,000 clean energy jobs by 2012. And throughout America, communities are being rebuilt by people working in hundreds of thousands of new private sector jobs repairing our roads, bridges, and railways.

Our economic plan is also aimed at strengthening the middle-class. That’s why we’ve cut taxes for 95% of working families. That’s why we’ve offered tax credits that have made college more affordable for millions of students, and why we’re making a new commitment to our community colleges. And that’s why we passed health insurance reform that will stop insurance companies from dropping or denying coverage based on an illness or pre-existing condition.

This is our economic plan – smart investments in America’s small businesses, America’s clean energy industry, and America’s middle-class. Now, I can’t tell you that this plan will bring back all the jobs we lost and restore our economy to full strength overnight. The truth is, it took nearly a decade of failed economic policies to create this mess, and it will take years to fully repair the damage. But I am confident that we are finally headed in the right direction. We are moving forward. And what we can’t afford right now is to go back to the same ideas that created this mess in the first place.

Unfortunately, those are the ideas we keep hearing from our friends in the other party. This week, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives offered his plan to create jobs. It’s a plan that’s surprisingly short, and sadly familiar.

First, he would repeal health insurance reform, which would take away tax credits from millions of small business owners, and take us back to the days when insurance companies had free rein to drop coverage and jack up premiums. Second, he would say no to new investments in clean energy, after his party already voted against the clean energy tax credits and loans that are creating thousands of new jobs and hundreds of new businesses. And third, even though his party voted against tax cuts for middle-class families, he would permanently keep in place the tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans – the same tax cuts that have added hundreds of billions to our debt.

These are not new ideas. They are the same policies that led us into this recession. They will not create jobs, they will kill them. They will not reduce our deficit, they will add $1 trillion to our deficit. They will take us backward at a time when we need to keep America moving forward.

I know times are tough. I know that the progress we’ve made isn’t good enough for the millions of Americans who are still out of work or struggling to pay the bills. But I also know the character of this nation. I know that in times of great challenge and difficulty, we don’t fear the future – we shape the future. We harness the skills and ingenuity of the most dynamic country on Earth to reach a better day. We do it with optimism, and we do it with confidence. That’s the spirit we need right now, and that’s the future I know we can build together.
Thank you.

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21
Jul
10

Obama signs historic finance reform bill

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Obama signs historic finance reform bill
Historic financial overhaul signed to law by Obama

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law the most sweeping reform of the U.S. finance industry since the 1930s, promising U.S. taxpayers would no longer get the bill for Wall Street excess.

The legislation, which some Republicans have pledged to repeal, introduces new consumer protections, checks the power of big banks and cracks down on deceptive practices by credit card firms.

“Because of this law, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more tax-funded bailouts,” Obama promised.

Seeking to restore public confidence in his economic leadership as unemployment flirts with double digits, Obama said the bill would repair the fractures and abuses of which the financial meltdown was born.

“It was a crisis born of a failure of responsibility from certain corners of Wall Street to the halls of power in Washington,” said Obama, before adding the legacy-boosting law to his huge health care reform passed earlier this year.

“These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” Obama said, before signing the new law, passed by Congress last week.

“These protections will be enforced by a new consumer watchdog with just one job: looking out for people – not big banks, not lenders, not investment houses.”

The financial reform bill finally squeezed through Congress with just a handful of Republican votes, as the opposition party continued with its policy of trying to block Obama’s ambitious reform program at all costs.

Republican leaders on Wednesday condemned the new law, saying it would crimp growth, and handcuff the might of America’s financial titans.

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele accused Obama of trying to convince “sceptical Americans that he is doing everything he can to lower unemployment.”

“President Obama has signed into law a 2300 page behemoth that will saddle the business community with innumerable unintended consequences, tighter credit, and countless job-killing regulations,” Steele said.

Obama, facing record low approval ratings in some polls, hopes the financial reforms will eventually become popular, but much of the bill, like the health care bill, is so complicated that it will not come into force for months.

For instance, it will be up to a year before a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is set up to protect American consumers from hidden fees and deceptive lending practices when they get a new mortgage or credit card.

It could be 18 months before new regulations emerge to stop banks from engaging in impermissible proprietary trading and investment in hedge funds – under the Volcker rule, named after former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker.

In a bid to highlight the help the bill will grant to the middle classes, Obama was joined at the signing ceremony by several Americans who suffered unfair treatment at the hands of credit card firms and banks.

The legislation closes loopholes in regulations and requires greater transparency and accountability for hedge funds, mortgage brokers and payday lenders, as well as arcane financial instruments called derivatives.

The measure has drawn praise but also skepticism from economists and analysts.

The bill “addresses a number of key weaknesses in the U.S. financial regulatory structure that led to the financial meltdown in 2008 and early 2009,” said Brian Bethune at IHS Global Insight.

But Diane Swonk at Mesirow Financial warned that much of the impact is not known.

“We will have more regulators overseeing – but not necessarily averting – risk, and with a bill so large and undefined, we are likely to get more, in terms of unintended than intended consequences, going forward,” she said.

The law is likely to generate heated debate ahead of congressional elections in November as Republicans call for its reversal.

House Republican leader John Boehner said recently the law “ought to be repealed” and replaced with “common-sense things that we should do to plug the holes in the regulatory system.”
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19
Jul
10

Obama to GOP: Restore unemployment benefits now

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Obama to GOP: Restore unemployment benefits now
President Obama Pushes for Up-or-Down Vote on Help for Our Laid Off Friends & Neighbors

Monday, July 19, 2010

President Barack Obama tore into congressional Republicans on Monday for blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, arguing that a “partisan minority” had allowed short-term political calculations to trump genuine economic need.

The Senate is set to consider a bill Tuesday that would extend the deadline to file for unemployment benefits through the end of November. The bill would cost $33 billion in additional deficit spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“It’s time to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work and extend unemployment insurance,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

He accused Senate Republicans for “holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics.”

The bill, formally known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation, is a U.S. federal government program which assists states in providing additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who have been laid off due to no fault of their own.

The legislation, which has already cleared the House of Representatives on July 1, would retroactively restore benefits to recipients who as early as the end of May may have started losing their benefits. The Senate is scheduled to take up the measure on Tuesday.

Republicans have successfully blocked the bill from clearing the Senate for three times, quoting the additional budgetary burden as their main concern.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stressed Sunday that Republicans are “all for extending unemployment insurance” but not in favor of deficit spending.

“They’ve taken the deficit as a percentage of GDP from 3.2 percent to almost 10 percent in a year and a half,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Somewhere in the course of spending a trillion dollars, we ought to be able to find enough to pay for a program for the unemployed.”

Obama also urged the Senate to act this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, the two other legislative priorities Obama and Democrats agreed to last week following the passage of the financial regulation bill.

Good morning, everybody. Right now, across this country, many Americans are sitting at the kitchen table, they’re scanning the classifieds, they’re updating their resumes or sending out another job application, hoping that this time they’ll hear back from a potential employer. And they’re filled with a sense of uncertainty about where their next paycheck will come from. And I know the only thing that will entirely free them of those worries – the only thing that will fully lift that sense of uncertainty – is the security of a new job.

To that end, we all have to continue our efforts to do everything in our power to spur growth and hiring. And I hope the Senate acts this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, where most of America’s jobs are created.

So we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that we are digging ourselves out of this tough economic hole that we’ve been in. But even as we work to jumpstart job growth in the private sector, even as we work to get businesses hiring again, we also have another responsibility: to offer emergency assistance to people who desperately need it – to Americans who’ve been laid off in this recession. We’ve got a responsibility to help them make ends meet and support their families even as they’re looking for another job.

That’s why it’s so essential to pass the unemployment insurance extension that comes up for a vote tomorrow. We need to pass it for men like Jim Chukalas, who’s with me here today. Jim worked as a parts manager at a Honda dealership until about two years ago. He’s posted resumes everywhere. He’s gone door-to-door looking for jobs. But he hasn’t gotten a single interview. He’s trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he’s exhausted his unemployment benefits, that’s getting harder to do.

We need to pass it for women like Leslie Macko, who lost her job at a fitness center last year and has been looking for work ever since. Because she’s eligible for only a few more weeks of unemployment, she’s doing what she never thought she’d have to do – not at this point, anyway. She’s turning to her father for financial support.

And we need to pass it for Americans like Denise Gibson, who was laid off from a real estate agency earlier this year. Denise has been interviewing for jobs – but so far nothing has turned up. Meanwhile, she’s fallen further and further behind on her rent. And with her unemployment benefits set to expire, she’s worried about what the future holds.

We need to pass it for all the Americans who haven’t been able to find work in an economy where there are five applicants for every opening; who need emergency relief to help them pay the rent and cover their utilities and put food on the table while they’re looking for another job.

And for a long time, there’s been a tradition – under both Democratic and Republican Presidents – to offer relief to the unemployed. That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits – benefits that are often the person’s sole source of income while they’re looking for work – are in jeopardy.

And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help.

Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried – not once, not twice, but three times – to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.

That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings – Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise – they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim and Leslie and Denise, but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now – and I hope we seize it. It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right – not for the next election but for the middle class. We’ve got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We’ve got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and the lending for small businesses.

Times are hard right now. We are moving in the right direction. I know it’s getting close to an election, but there are times where you put elections aside. This is one of those times. And that’s what I hope members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will do tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

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19
Jul
10

Engineers detect seepage near BP oil well

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Engineers detect seepage near BP oil well

Monday, July 19, 2010

Earth

••• The U.S. government has raised concern over seepage near the Gulf of Mexico oil well but stopped short of asking BP to remove the cap which has halted the gushing crude for the first time since April.

BP had earlier acknowledged some bubbles appeared near the wellhead but expressed optimism that the cap could stay on, saying tests were ‘encouraging’ after three days and that a final solution was in sight.

But tensions emerged as the government’s pointman on the worst environmental disaster in US history ordered the energy giant to report swiftly on a ‘detected seep’ and ‘anomalies’ near the well head as experts monitored the seabed for cracks.

‘Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period,’ Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said in a letter to BP chief managing director Bob Dudley.
Allen ordered BP to report to the government in no more than four hours when seeps are detected, and said BP must lay out its next steps in writing for ‘opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed’.

Hydrocarbons occur naturally in crude oil, and their detection could mean that oil is seeping out from the area around the well, which began gushing oil after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20 and capsized two days later, killing 11 workers.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, BP’s chief operating officer Doug Suttles said pressure was rising slowly in the well, as expected, and touted ‘encouraging signs’ that would allow the newly placed cap to remain on the well until a permanent ‘kill’ operation takes place in August.

‘In two different locations we’ve seen a few bubbles. This is not uncommon but clearly it’s important that we check everything very closely so we’re monitoring that,’ Suttles said.
The U.S. government was granting extensions to exhaustive well tests on a 24-hour basis, while BP said the valves on the containment cap that is staunching the flow would remain shut as long as no leaks are discovered.

‘Clearly we don’t want to reinitiate flow into the Gulf if we don’t have to,’ said Suttles.

Three days of respite from the unsettling images of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico raised hopes among residents that this could mark the beginning of the end of what estimates suggest is the biggest oil spill ever.

The start of the two-week operation to plug the well permanently by pumping in heavy drilling fluids and then cement is now less than two weeks away as engineers have only 98 feet left vertically to drill.

Gulf residents, who have seen the relentless flow of crude tarnish their shorelines and cripple the local economy, reacted cautiously to news that the cap was holding back the crude, wary of being given false hope after weeks of botched BP operations.

‘I don’t know if it’s going help. It’s still a short-term fix,’ New Orleans resident and medical researcher Ashok Pullikuth told AFP. ‘The permanent fix is the relief wells. This cap has saved a month’s worth of spill damage.’
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17
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Filibustering Recovery & Obstructing Progress

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Weekly Address: Filibustering Recovery & Obstructing Progress
President Obama Says GOP Senate Leadership Choosing to “Filibuster Our Recovery and Obstruct Our Progress”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In this week’s address, the President criticized the Republican leadership in the Senate for opposing initiatives which that would create jobs and strengthen the economy like cutting taxes for small businesses and extending unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs during the recession. Aiding small businesses and renewing unemployment insurance are not just the right things to do for those hit hardest by the recession, they are steps that will help strengthen the recovery. When crises strike Main Street, the President believes it’s important to put aside politics and act in the best interests of American families and small businesses.

This week, many of our largest corporations reported robust earnings – a positive sign of growth.

But too many of our small business owners and those who aspire to start their own small businesses continue to struggle, in part because they can’t get the credit they need to start up, grow, and hire. And too many Americans whose livelihoods have fallen prey to the worst recession in our lifetimes – a recession that cost our economy eight million jobs – still wonder how they’ll make ends meet.

That’s why we need to take new, commonsense steps to help small businesses, grow our economy, and create jobs – and we need to take them now.

For months, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. But too often, the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress. And that has very real consequences.

Consider what that obstruction means for our small businesses – the growth engines that create two of every three new jobs in this country. A lot of small businesses still have trouble getting the loans and capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers. So we proposed steps to get them that help: Eliminating capital gains taxes on investments. Establishing a fund for small lenders to help small businesses. Enhancing successful SBA programs that help them access the capital they need.

But again and again, a partisan minority in the Senate said “no,” and used procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote.

Think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who’ve lost their jobs since the recession began. Over the past several weeks, more than two million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire. For many, it was the only way to make ends meet while searching for work – the only way to cover rent, utilities, even food.

Three times, the Senate has tried to temporarily extend that emergency assistance. And three times, a minority of Senators – basically the same crowd who said “no” to small businesses – said “no” to folks looking for work, and blocked a straight up-or-down vote.

Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it’s a form of welfare. They say it discourages folks from looking for work. Well, I’ve met a lot of folks looking for work these past few years, and I can tell you, I haven’t met any Americans who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family. And we all have friends, neighbors, or family members who already knows how hard it is to land a job when five workers are competing for every opening.

Now in the past, Presidents and Congresses of both parties have treated unemployment insurance for what it is – an emergency expenditure. That’s because an economic disaster can devastate families and communities just as surely as a flood or tornado.

Suddenly, Republican leaders want to change that. They say we shouldn’t provide unemployment insurance because it costs money. So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they’ve finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They’ve got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don’t need them and didn’t even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help. And every day this goes on, another 50,000 Americans lose that badly needed lifeline.

Well, I think these Senators are wrong. We can’t afford to go back to the same misguided policies that led us into this mess. We need to move forward with the policies that are leading us out of this mess.

The fact is, most economists agree that extending unemployment insurance is one of the single most cost-effective ways to help jumpstart the economy. It puts money into the pockets of folks who not only need it most, but who also are most likely to spend it quickly. That boosts local economies. And that means jobs.

Increasing loans to small business. Renewing unemployment insurance. These steps aren’t just the right thing to do for those hardest hit by the recession – they’re the right thing to do for all of us. And I’m calling on Congress once more to take these steps on behalf of America’s workers, and families, and small business owners – the people we were sent here to serve.

Because when storms strike Main Street, we don’t play politics with emergency aid. We don’t desert our fellow Americans when they fall on hard times. We come together. We do what we can to help. We rebuild stronger, and we move forward. That’s what we’re doing today. And I’m absolutely convinced that’s how we’re going to come through this storm to better days ahead.

Thanks.

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13
Jul
10

BP confirms placing new cap over oil leak in Gulf of Mexico

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BP confirms placing new cap over oil leak in Gulf of Mexico

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Earth

••• BP has confirmed it has successfully placed a new cap over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, hoping the giant valve will seal the well or contain all the gushing crude.

BP officials said on Monday evening the cap was mounted on the well after two days of preparing the site and a day of slowly lowering it into place.
The company plans to run tests, starting on Tuesday, to see if the cap can withstand pressure.

‘It is expected, although cannot be assured, that no oil will be released to the ocean for the duration of the test,’ the oil giant said in a statement, adding however that it would not indicate if the flow had permanently stopped.
The old cap, removed on Saturday, did not have a tight fit and allowed crude to escape.

The new cap will enable BP to capture all the oil and funnel it up to ships.

BP is drilling two relief wells so it can pump mud and cement into the leaking well for a permanent fix.
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12
Jul
10

Oil spill hopes raise with BP’s latest effort to fix it

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Oil spill hopes raise with BP’s latest effort to fix it

Monday, July 12, 2010

Earth••• BP reported good progress on its high-stakes effort to fully contain the Gulf of Mexico oil leak by fixing a tighter cap over the giant gusher.

Operations have reached a critical phase as engineers race to take advantage of a stretch of fine weather in the midst of the Atlantic hurricane season to install a new system with the potential to capture all the leaking crude.

Expected to take between four and seven days, the round-the-clock work began at midday on Saturday when the old, less efficient cap was ripped off a fractured pipe 1.6km down on the sea floor by robotic submarines.

‘We are pleased with our progress,’ BP Vice President Kent Wells told journalists almost 24 hours in. ‘We have carefully planned and practised this whole procedure. We’ve tried to work out as many of the bugs as we can.’

Sunday’s operations saw a transition spool being lowered into place which must be bolted onto the leaking pipe before a gigantic funnel – weighing 68 tonnes and dubbed the ‘Top Hat 10’ – can be installed.

The old ‘Top Hat’ system collected roughly 25,000 barrels of crude every day, but estimates suggest that could be less than half the leak.

BP says the new cap and the deployment of a third containment ship called the Helix Producer will raise the system’s capacity to between 60,000 and 80,000 barrels a day, enough to capture all the leaking oil.

The new system has also been designed so it can be disconnected and reconnected more easily in the case of a hurricane and has a built-in device that should give the first precise estimate of the overall flow.
No permanent solution is expected until mid-August at the earliest when the first of two relief wells is due to be completed – allowing drilling fluids to be injected into the well, which would then be sealed with cement.

The decision to remove the old cap and allow most of the oil to pour unchecked into the sea was approved by Admiral Thad Allen, the former Coast Guard chief leading the US government’s response to the disaster.

Although the removal of the cap forced the suspension of the main containment operation, a separate siphoning system is taking a smaller proportion of the oil to be flared off on a surface vessel.

Wells said two more ships would join a fleet of 46 skimming vessels scooping up oil off the sea and said 15 controlled burns of the surface crude had been carried out on Saturday.

Oil has washed up on beaches in all five Gulf states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – forcing fishing grounds to be closed and threatening scores of coastal communities with financial ruin.

The man charged with doling out compensation to victims of the spill said he could not estimate whether the initial $20 billion fund set up by BP would be enough to pay compensation claims.

‘If they are eligible, we will give them up to six months emergency (compensation),’ Kenneth Feinberg told CNN, adding: ‘I can’t help people if they don’t file.’

Many fishermen and others who work in the Gulf get paid in cash and do not have paperwork to back up their claims. Some are also worried that if they ask for compensation, the government will seek taxes for previous income.
While the containment effort and the claims process continued apace, the attorney general said the Justice Department was also still considering whether to bring criminal charges against the culprit or culprits.

‘The investigation is ongoing. We are in the process of accumulating documents, talking to witnesses on both the criminal side and the civil side,’ Eric Holder told CBS’s Face the Nation program.

Holder was quick to stress that when he announced the probe on June 1, he had been careful not to mention BP by name as it was not the only party involved with the Deepwater Horizon rig.

At congressional hearings back in May, BP, rig owner Transocean and oil services provider Halliburton blamed each other for the spill as executives from all three oil titans were grilled by U.S. lawmakers.

The man charged with doling out BP’s compensation to victims of the Gulf oil spill said on Sunday he is prepared to pay up to six months of expenses in advance, but getting people to file claims is a struggle.

Kenneth Feinberg told CNN he wanted to provide ‘some degree of financial certainty’, to people who have found their livelihoods hurt by the massive oil spill. ‘If they are eligible, we will give them up to six months emergency (compensation).’

But, he lamented, ‘I can’t help people if they don’t file.’

Many of the fishermen and others who work in the Gulf region regularly get paid in cash and do not have paperwork to back up their claims of lost income. They are also worried that if they ask for compensation, the government will seek taxes for previous income.

The BP-leased rig exploded on April 20 killing 11 workers. It sank two days later, unleashing the nation’s worst ever environmental disaster.
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10
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Help for Vets with PTSD

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Weekly Address: Help for Vets with PTSD
President Obama Announces Changes to Help Veterans with PTSD Receive the Benefits They Need

Saturday, July 10, 2010

In this week’s address, President Barack Obama announced that on Monday the Department of Veterans Affairs, led by Secretary Shinseki, will begin to make it easier for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to receive the benefits they need. For many years, veterans with PTSD have been stymied in receiving benefits by requirements they produce evidence proving a specific event caused the PTSD. Streamlining this process will help not just the veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, but generations of veterans who have served and sacrificed for the country.

Last weekend, on the Fourth of July, Michelle and I welcomed some of our extraordinary military men and women and their families to the White House.

They were just like the thousands of active duty personnel and veterans I’ve met across this country and around the globe. Proud. Strong. Determined. Men and women with the courage to answer their country’s call, and the character to serve the United States of America.

Because of that service; because of the honor and heroism of our troops around the world; our people are safer, our nation is more secure, and we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq by the end of August, completing a drawdown of more than 90,000 troops since last January.

Still, we are a nation at war. For the better part of a decade, our men and women in uniform have endured tour after tour in distant and dangerous places. Many have risked their lives. Many have given their lives. And as a grateful nation, humbled by their service, we can never honor these American heroes or their families enough.

Just as we have a solemn responsibility to train and equip our troops before we send them into harm’s way, we have a solemn responsibility to provide our veterans and wounded warriors with the care and benefits they’ve earned when they come home.

That is our sacred trust with all who serve – and it doesn’t end when their tour of duty does.

To keep that trust, we’re building a 21st century VA, increasing its budget, and ensuring the steady stream of funding it needs to support medical care for our veterans.

To help our veterans and their families pursue a college education, we’re funding and implementing the post-9/11 GI Bill.

To deliver better care in more places, we’re expanding and increasing VA health care, building new wounded warrior facilities, and adapting care to better meet the needs of female veterans.

To stand with those who sacrifice, we’ve dedicated new support for wounded warriors and the caregivers who put their lives on hold for a loved one’s long recovery.

And to do right by our vets, we’re working to prevent and end veteran homelessness – because in the United States of America, no one who served in our uniform should sleep on our streets.

We also know that for many of today’s troops and their families, the war doesn’t end when they come home.

Too many suffer from the signature injuries of today’s wars: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. And too few receive the screening and treatment they need.

Now, in past wars, this wasn’t something America always talked about. And as a result, our troops and their families often felt stigmatized or embarrassed when it came to seeking help.

Today, we’ve made it clear up and down the chain of command that folks should seek help if they need it. In fact, we’ve expanded mental health counseling and services for our vets.

But for years, many veterans with PTSD who have tried to seek benefits – veterans of today’s wars and earlier wars – have often found themselves stymied. They’ve been required to produce evidence proving that a specific event caused their PTSD. And that practice has kept the vast majority of those with PTSD who served in non-combat roles, but who still waged war, from getting the care they need.

Well, I don’t think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application. And I’ve met enough veterans to know that you don’t have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war.

So we’re changing the way things are done.

On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs, led by Secretary Ric Shinseki, will begin making it easier for a veteran with PTSD to get the benefits he or she needs.

This is a long-overdue step that will help veterans not just of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, but generations of their brave predecessors who proudly served and sacrificed in all our wars.

It’s a step that proves America will always be here for our veterans, just as they’ve been there for us. We won’t let them down. We take care of our own. And as long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, that’s what we’re going to keep doing. Thank you.

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07
Jul
10

Oil comes ashore in Texas as BP dismisses money fears

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Oil comes ashore in Texas as BP dismisses money fears

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Earth••• Clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill extended Tuesday to Texas and Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, as BP dismissed reports of deeper financial woes.

Officials said crews collected tar balls and waste from Lake Pontchartrain, the vast estuary near New Orleans, as rough weather continued to hamper the containment and skimming effort near the spill site in the Gulf.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the huge spill was now threatening all the states along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas and that rough seas since the passage of Hurricane Alex had hurt the effort.

The first Atlantic hurricane of the year passed through the Gulf of Mexico last week without too much alarm for the oil containment efforts, but Allen said two nearby storm systems were being closely watched.

‘We’re watching very, very closely the swells and waves that might be generated by this current storm system,’ he said.

‘Sometime in the seven to 10 days we’ll look for a window of opportunity to put the containment cap on at the same time we will go on and continue with the drilling of the relief well.’
A BP spokeswoman in London denied the firm was planning to sell new stock to a strategic investor to raise money, amid reports the British government is working on a crisis plan if the company is sunk by the disaster.

‘We are not issuing any new equity,’ she said. ‘We welcome new shareholders to come onto the shareholder register and we welcome existing shareholders who want to take a bigger amount of shares.’

The Times newspaper in London reported that officials at the Department of Business and the Treasury were already considering contingencies for BP’s potential collapse.

‘It is not clear how bad this will get, but the government needs to be prepared for any eventuality,’ an anonymous source said to be familiar with the talks was quoted as saying.

BP has forked out some $3.12 billion in spill-related costs and has promised to pay another $20 billion into an escrow fund to compensate Americans affected by the spill.

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers, unleashing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
On Sunday, tar balls from the spill arrived on beaches in Texas, more than 310 miles away, though it was unclear how the crude got there.

Tests showed they did come from the BP Deepwater Horizon well but scientists and officials were working to determine if they arrived in Texas by currents or via ships operating in the vicinity of the well head.

The tar balls in Lake Pontchartrain were also being tested.

Some 492 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline has been oiled, and fishing ground closures and tourist cancellations threaten financial ruin for residents who have reacted angrily to BP’s failure to cap the spill.

Up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day is believed to be leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, far outpacing the collection efforts of a system that is capturing around 25,000 barrels a day.

Officials hope to more than double that capacity to some 53,000 barrels a day by hooking up a third containment vessel, the Helix Producer, to the system that captures and siphons away the crude.

‘There is a partial hookup right now and they can sustain that unless they have really severe sea states,’ said Allen, the U.S. official coordinating the spill response.

‘We won’t know for several hours whether they’re able to do it. It currently is a work in progress.’
Officials were also testing a mega-tanker, A Whale, which could boost efforts to skim spilled crude from the sea surface.

The ship is believed to be able to suck up to 500,000 barrels of oily water a day through its ‘jaws’, a series of vents on the side of the ship.

By comparison, more than 500 smaller vessels in 10 weeks have only managed to collect some 31.3 million gallons of oil-water mix between them and high waves forced most of the boats to halt operations on Tuesday.

It will likely be mid-August at the earliest before the ruptured well is permanently capped by injecting mud and cement with the aid of relief wells.

The high end of the oil leak estimates means it has now surpassed the 1979 Ixtoc blowout, which took nine months to cap and dumped an estimated 3.3 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is topped only by the deliberate release of six to eight million barrels of crude by Iraqi troops who destroyed tankers and oil terminals and set wells ablaze in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.
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04
Jul
10

Rough seas halt U.S. spill clean-up as crews test mega-skimmer

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Rough seas halt U.S. spill clean-up as crews test mega-skimmer

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Earth••• Clean-up work resumed in some areas of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but heavy swells kept many boats docked, halting efforts to fight the ecological disaster.

A Taiwanese mega-skimmer dubbed the ‘A Whale’ was in position near the site of the leak and set to undergo 48 hours of ‘proof of concept’ testing, Coast Guard spokeswoman Ayla Kelley said.
The 903 feet long tanker can vacuum up 21 million gallons of oily water a day, separating oil from water and spitting the seawater back out.

Small skimming boats that have been patrolling the Gulf for the past 10 weeks have only collected 28.2 million gallons of oily water to date, and rough weather made seas off Louisiana too choppy for them to even go out on Saturday.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker at a Houma, Louisiana information centre said crews were resetting protective booms along fragile coastal areas, but skimming and controlled burns of spilled crude had been halted.

However, around the Chandeleur Islands, a chain of uninhabited barrier islands and wildlife refuge at Louisiana’s easternmost point, boom and skimming operations resumed on Friday, said a representative of Admiral Thad Allen, the top official overseeing the spill response.

‘These are the most environmentally sensitive areas. The good news is that we saw only light oil and there were hundreds of boats working in the area resetting boom and skimming,’ rear admiral Paul Zunkunft told reporters after he flew over the islands.

‘The areas are critical to defend because they are home to turtles, shrimp and other wildlife,’ Zukunft said.
Despite containment efforts, he warned: ‘We are not out of the woods yet.’

An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day has gushed from the ruptured well since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank on April 22, some 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

A containment system has captured about 557,000 barrels of oil, but rough seas delayed the deployment of a third vessel that could boost capacity from 25,000 barrels to 53,000 barrels a day.

That means an estimated 1.9 to 3.6 million barrels – or 79.5 to 153 million gallons – of oil has now gushed into the Gulf.

Using the high end of that estimate, the spill has now surpassed the 1979 Ixtoc blowout, which took nine months to cap and dumped an estimated 3.3 million barrels (140,000 million gallons) into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is topped only by the deliberate release of six to eight million barrels of crude by Iraqi troops who destroyed tankers and oil terminals and set wells ablaze in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.
And it will likely be mid-August at the earliest before the Gulf well is permanently capped by injecting mud and cement with the aid of relief wells.
Skimmers had been collecting about 12,000 barrels of oil a day before they were sent back to port after Hurricane Alex whipped up waves earlier this week, while about 8,000 barrels of oil was being burned off the surface.
But the spill has so far oiled at least 450 miles of U.S. shorelines, 74 days into the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Admiral Allen said he hoped to have the third containment vessel, the Helix Producer, in place by Wednesday.

Once the Producer is working, officials will also have a better sense of just how much crude is leaking, ‘just by the visual evidence of how much oil is actually coming out around that cap’, Allen said.

They will then have to decide if the existing system should stay in place, or if it would be best to undergo a risky procedure to replace the cap with another system capable of capturing up to 80,000 barrels of oil a day.

‘The decision window associated with that would be sometime in the next, I would say, seven to 10 days,’ Allen said in a conference call on Friday.

In addition to boosting capacity, the new system would also greatly reduce the amount of time oil could gush freely into the sea if crews had to evacuate due to a bad storm.

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson was headed to Pensacola, Florida to oversee coastal clean-up operations in the state, where tourist draws Miami and the Florida Keys face the likelihood of fouled beaches.
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03
Jul
10

Weekly Address: A Solar Recovery

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Weekly Address: A Solar Recovery
President Obama Touts Nearly $2 Billion in New Investments to Help Build a Clean Energy Economy

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In this week’s address, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Energy is awarding nearly $2 billion in conditional commitments from the Recovery Act to two solar companies. Abengoa Solar has agreed to build one of the largest solar plants in the world in Arizona, which will create about 1,600 construction jobs with over 70 percent of the construction components and products manufactured here in the USA. When completed, this plant will provide enough clean energy to power 70,000 homes. And, Abound Solar Manufacturing is building two new plants, one in Colorado and one in Indiana. These projects will create more than 2,000 construction jobs, and over 1,500 permanent jobs as the plants produce millions of state of the art solar panels each year.

This week, I spent some time in Racine, Wisconsin, talking with folks who are doing their best to cope with the aftermath of a brutal recession.

And while I was there, a young woman asked me a question I hear all the time: “What are we doing as a nation to bring jobs back to this country?”

Well, on Friday, we learned that after 22 straight months of job loss, our economy has now created jobs in the private sector for 6 months in a row. That’s a positive sign. But the truth is, the recession from which we’re emerging has left us in a hole that’s about 8 million jobs deep. And as I’ve said from the day I took office, it’s going to take months, even years, to dig our way out – and it’s going to require an all-hands-on-deck effort.

In the short term, we’re fighting to speed up this recovery and keep the economy growing by all means possible. That means extending unemployment insurance for workers who lost their job. That means getting small businesses the loans they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers. And that means sending relief to states so they don’t have to lay off thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers.

Still, at a time when millions of Americans feel a deep sense of urgency in their own lives, Republican leaders in Washington just don’t get it. While a majority of Senators support taking these steps to help the American people, some are playing the same old Washington games and using their power to hold this relief hostage – a move that only ends up holding back our recovery. It doesn’t make sense.

But I promised those folks in Wisconsin – and I promise all of you – that we won’t back down. We’re going to keep fighting to advance our recovery. And we’re going to keep competing aggressively to make sure the jobs and industries of the future are taking root right here in America.

That’s one of the reasons why we’re accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and doubling our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power – steps that have the potential to create whole new industries and hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America.

In fact, today, I’m announcing that the Department of Energy is awarding nearly $2 billion in conditional commitments to two solar companies.

The first is Abengoa Solar, a company that has agreed to build one of the largest solar plants in the world right here in the United States. After years of watching companies build things and create jobs overseas, it’s good news that we’ve attracted a company to our shores to build a plant and create jobs right here in America. In the short term, construction will create approximately 1,600 jobs in Arizona. What’s more, over 70 percent of the components and products used in construction will be manufactured in the USA, boosting jobs and communities in states up and down the supply chain. Once completed, this plant will be the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use – even at night. And it will generate enough clean, renewable energy to power 70,000 homes.

The second company is Abound Solar Manufacturing, which will manufacture advanced solar panels at two new plants, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. A Colorado plant is already underway, and an Indiana plant will be built in what’s now an empty Chrysler factory. When fully operational, these plants will produce millions of state-of-the-art solar panels each year.

These are just two of the many clean energy investments in the Recovery Act. Already, I’ve seen the payoff from these investments. I’ve seen once-shuttered factories humming with new workers who are building solar panels and wind turbines; rolling up their sleeves to help America win the race for the clean energy economy.

So that’s some of what we’re doing. But the truth is, steps like these won’t replace all the jobs we’ve lost overnight. I know folks are struggling. I know this Fourth of July weekend finds many Americans wishing things were a bit easier right now. I do too.

But what this weekend reminds us, more than any other, is that we are a nation that has always risen to the challenges before it. We are a nation that, 234 years ago, declared our independence from one of the greatest empires the world had ever known. We are a nation that mustered a sense of common purpose to overcome Depression and fear itself. We are a nation that embraced a call to greatness and saved the world from tyranny. That is who we are – a nation that turns times of trial into times of triumph – and I know America will write our own destiny once more.

I wish every American a safe and happy Fourth of July. And to all our troops serving in harm’s way, I want you to know you have the support of a grateful nation and a proud Commander-in-Chief. Thank you, God Bless You, and God Bless the United States of America.

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30
Jun
10

Obama slams Republicans over BP ‘apology’ and economy

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Obama slams Republicans over BP ‘apology’ and economy

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

••• U.S. President Barack Obama lampooned Republicans over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Wednesday, seeking to turn a disaster that has been a political liability for him into a political weapon.

Obama cited a gaffe by a leading Republican politician who said the US government’s hardline tactics were a ‘tragedy’ for BP, to lambast the opposition party as the pace heats up ahead of November’s mid-term elections.

He said some Republicans opposed raising the legal cap on liabilities BP must pay to clean-up America’s worst environmental disaster and a $20 billion BP escrow compensation fund for businesses victimised by it.

‘The top Republican on the energy committee even had the nerve to apologise to BP for the fact that we made them set up this fund,’ Obama said in remarks released by the White House prior to a presidential event in Wisconsin.

‘Apologise to BP! He actually called the fund a tragedy. A tragedy? A tragedy is what the people of the Gulf are going through right now.

‘That’s the tragedy. And our government has a responsibility to hold the corporations accountable that caused it. They want to take us backwards. We want to move forward.’

Democrats are mercilessly using comments by Republican Representative Joe Barton, who offered them a golden opening by apologising to BP for the escrow fund, which he called a $20 billion White House ‘shakedown’ of BP.

Barton has retracted the remarks, and his party leaders have condemned them, but the comments are bound to be seized upon often by Democrats in the run-up to November’s congressional polls, in which the party fears heavy losses.
Obama’s switch to full bore politicking mode over the oil spill reflects the way both political parties will try to use the disaster for political advantage. Republicans have accused Obama of being too passive in the crisis.

Recent polling give the president poor to moderate ratings on how he has handled the oil spill, though his management of the crisis is much preferred by Americans to the performance over BP during the disaster.

Forty-four per cent of those asked in a Gallup poll this month approved of Obama’s efforts, while 48 per cent disapproved.

BP and other oil firms are currently bound under U.S. law to pay all related clean-up costs from a spill, but the limit on liability for compensation and other claims is set at $75 million.

Democratic efforts to raise the cap took another step forward on Wednesday as the Senate Environment and Public Works committee approved a bill retroactively removing the cap for BP.

The bill now heads to the full chamber for debate.

‘As we see the images and read the stories from the Gulf Coast night after night, it could not be clearer that coastal families and taxpayers are the ones who need protection, not oil companies,’ the bill’s sponsor Robert Menendez said.
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26
Jun
10

Weekly Address: Finishing the Job on Wall Street Reform

NEWS
Weekly Address: Finishing the Job on Wall Street Reform
President Obama Urges Congress to Complete Work on Wall Street Reform Bill

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In this week’s address, President Barack Obama asks Congress to pass historic Wall Street reform which will make the toughest financial reforms since the Great Depression the law of the land. The Wall Street reform bill, which reflects 90 percent of what the President originally proposed, includes the strongest consumer financial protections in history with an independent agency to enforce them. It ensures that the trading of derivatives, which helped trigger the crisis, will be brought into the light of day, and enacts the “Volcker Rule,” which will make sure banks protected by safety nets like the FDIC cannot engage in risky trades. And, this bill will create a resolution authority to wind down firms whose collapse would threaten the entire financial system. Wall Street reform will end taxpayer funded bailouts and make sure Main Street is never again held responsible for Wall Street’s mistakes.

This weekend, I’m traveling to Toronto to meet with members of the G20. There, I hope we can build on the progress we made at last year’s G20 summits by coordinating our global financial reform efforts to make sure a crisis like the one from which we are still recovering never happens again. We’ve made great progress toward passing such reform here at home. As I speak, we are on the cusp of enacting the toughest financial reforms since the Great Depression.

I don’t have to tell you why these reforms are so important. We’re still digging ourselves out of an economic crisis that happened largely because there wasn’t strong enough oversight on Wall Street. We can’t build a strong economy in America over the long-run without ending this status quo, and laying a new foundation for growth and prosperity.

That’s what the Wall Street reforms currently making their way through Congress will help us do – reforms that represent 90% of what I proposed when I took up this fight. We’ll put in place the strongest consumer financial protections in American history, and create an independent agency with an independent director and an independent budget to enforce them.

Credit card companies will no longer be able to mislead you with pages and pages of fine print. You will no longer be subject to all kinds of hidden fees and penalties, or the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders.

Instead, we’ll make sure credit card companies and mortgage companies play by the rules. And you’ll be empowered with easy-to-understand forms, and the clear and concise information you need to make the financial decisions that are best for you and your family.

Wall Street reform will also strengthen our economy in a number of other ways. We’ll make our financial system more transparent by bringing the kinds of complex trades that helped trigger this crisis – trades in a $600 trillion derivatives market – finally into the light of day.

We’ll enact what’s called the Volcker Rule to make sure banks protected by a safety net like the FDIC can’t engage in risky trades for their own profit. We’ll create what’s called a resolution authority to help wind down firms whose collapse would threaten our entire financial system. Put simply, we’ll end the days of taxpayer-funded bailouts, and help make sure Main Street is never again held responsible for Wall Street’s mistakes.

Beyond these reforms, we also need to address another piece of unfinished business. We need to impose a fee on the banks that were the biggest beneficiaries of taxpayer assistance at the height of our financial crisis – so we can recover every dime of taxpayer money.

Getting this far on Wall Street reform hasn’t been easy. There are those who’ve fought tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. In recent months, they’ve spent millions of dollars and hired an army of lobbyists to stop reform dead in its tracks.

But because we refused to back down, and kept fighting, we now stand on the verge of victory. And I urge Congress to take us over the finish line, and send me a reform bill I can sign into law, so we can empower our people with consumer protections, and help prevent a financial crisis like this from ever happening again.

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• Source(s): The White House
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24
Jun
10

After Earlier Troubles, BP Says It Restored Cap

NEWS
After Earlier Troubles, BP Says It Restored Cap
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Earth••• BP on Wednesday reinstalled an oil containment system sucking up crude from a ruptured pipe in the Gulf of Mexico, which had been removed following a collision with a robotic submarine.

The oil cap ‘was successfully reinstalled on the Deepwater Horizon’s failed blow-out preventer’ at 6.30 pm Wednesday, BP said in a statement, adding that ‘the system resumed collecting oil and gas’ a half hour later.

Oil spewed unhindered into the Gulf of Mexico when BP detached the “top hat” cap, which traps leaking oil and then siphons it up to a container ship, and made repairs after a remote-controlled submarine crashed into it.

The setback marked a terrible start for American Bob Dudley in his first day as BP’s disaster coordinator, brought in by the firm to replace gaffe-prone British CEO Tony Hayward.

Admiral Thad Allen, leading the U.S. government effort to confront the nation’s worst ever environmental disaster, said earlier the cap had been removed for inspection after crews detected gas.

“Out of an abundance of caution … they moved the containment cap with the riser pipe and moved away so they can assess the condition,” Allen told reporters earlier on Wednesday, before the cap was reattached.

“They indicated the problem was a remotely-operated vehicle had bumped into one of the vents,” Allen said, adding that the vent had then closed, creating pressure that had forced up gas and other materials.

The cap is siphoning away some 25,000 barrels of oil each day, and keeping it off would have exacerbated the dire effects of the massive leak that has allowed between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of crude to gush into the sea, according to the latest U.S. government estimates.

Completing a disastrous start for Dudley, Allen said two people involved in the clean-up efforts had been reported dead in separate incidents.
One was killed in what he described as “an accident regarding a swimming pool,” and the second individual died of a likely self-inflicted gunshot to the head, according to the local Alabama coroner who treated the body.

Dudley assumes command from Hayward, who faced massive criticism of his handling of the spill, including accusations of insensitivity, and was ridiculed as out of touch.

Unlike Hayward, Dudley is an American citizen who spent much of his childhood in Mississippi, one of the four southern U.S. states whose coastlines face an environmental catastrophe.

The news came as administration officials pledged to redouble efforts to freeze new deepwater oil drilling while they assessed safety regulations.

On Tuesday, Judge Martin Feldman overturned a drilling moratorium authorised by President Barack Obama in the spill’s aftermath, saying it was ‘arbitrary and capricious’.

But the White House pledged to appeal the decision and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told lawmakers at a hearing on Wednesday that he would soon issue a new order to ensure the freeze sticks.

“We will move forward with the executive authority which I have to make sure that the moratorium stays in place,” Salazar said.

The Obama administration believes the decision flies in the face of mounting evidence that there are serious safety risks with the 33 deepwater wells in question.

But oil workers and executives argue the freeze is driving away business, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, said the moratorium hurt the same people already being negatively impacted by the spill.

An internal BP document released by a U.S. lawmaker this week showed the firm contemplated a worst-case scenario of up to 100,000 barrels, or 4.2 million gallons, a day leaking.

America’s worst previous oil spill, the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, dumped nearly 11 million gallons off the Alaskan coast, but even under the low end of current estimates, more than 90 million gallons have entered the Gulf.

BP has spent $2 billion so far on cleaning up the spill and compensating residents and businesses facing ruin.
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24
Jun
10

Gulf oil spill has new face: BP replaces Tony Hayward with Bob Dudley as head of cleanup effort

NEWS
Gulf oil spill has new face: BP replaces Tony Hayward with Bob Dudley as head of cleanup effort
Thursday, June 24, 2010

••• BP put Mississippi native Bob Dudley in charge of handling the Gulf oil spill in an effort to take the spotlight off chief executive Tony Hayward.

BP PLC confirmed that Dudley, who grew up in Hattiesburg, an easy drive from the coast, is now the point man in the mission to stop the oil gusher and deal with the economic damage it has caused.

Dudley, who had led BP’s operations in the Americas and Asia, is no stranger to tough situations, having protected his company’s interests in rough dealing in Russia even after he was barred from the country.

The 54-year-old spent two decades climbing the ranks at Amoco Corp., which merged with BP, and lost out to Hayward on the CEO’s slot three years ago.

Perhaps most importantly, he is a fresh face for the oil company as it attempts to fix the spill and protect its future. Hayward shocked Gulf residents last month when he said “I’d like my life back” and weeks later went yachting.

Dudley was appointed president and chief executive of the newly created Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, effective immediately, and will report to Hayward.

“In the near term, my focus will be on listening to stakeholders, so we can address concerns and remove obstacles that get in the way of our effectiveness. And we’ll build an organisation that over the longer term fulfils BP’s commitments to the restore the livelihoods and the environment of the Gulf Coast,” Dudley said.

The reorganisation followed a series of humiliations in recent days for BP. Last week it bowed to President Barack Obama’s demand that it set up a $20 billion escrow fund to cover damages and to suspend dividend payments, followed a day later by a public thrashing for Hayward before a Congressional committee.

Hayward repeatedly apologised and expressed sorrow for the oil leak caused by a fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20. Eleven workers on the rig died.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee were infuriated when Hayward denied direct responsibility for operational decisions which may have led to the disaster.

“You’re really insulting our intelligence,” Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said at Thursday’s hearing. “I am thoroughly disgusted.”
Hayward had a further public relations gaffe over the weekend when he was photographed at a yacht race, and on Tuesday he ducked out of a previously announced commitment to speak at an oil industry conference in London.

A defining moment in BP’s response to the disaster came on May 30 with Hayward’s unguarded remark that “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

Prime Minister David Cameron intends to press Obama this weekend at the G8 summit for more clarity on the ultimate financial cost that BP will face, the British leader’s office said.

Cameron told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the company is prepared to meet its obligations to fund the clean up and compensate those whose businesses have been blighted by the spill.

“But we do want to make sure that this remains a strong and stable company, for our benefit but also for the benefit of the United States,” Cameron said.

BP said the newly formed organisation will manage all aspects of the response to the Deepwater Horizon incident and the oil and gas spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That includes clean-up operations, coordinating with the U.S. government and local officials, and managing the $20 billion escrow account.

“Having grown up in Mississippi, Bob has a deep appreciation and affinity for the Gulf Coast, and believes deeply in BP’s commitment to restore the region,” Hayward said.

“Our commitment to the Gulf States is for the long-term. And that requires a more permanent sustainable organisation to see it through,” Hayward added.

BP had said on Tuesday that Dudley would be taking the lead in the United States while Hayward retreated to his chief executive role.

Dudley’s oil industry career began in 1979 with Amoco, which merged with BP in 1998.

Between 1994 and 1997 Dudley was based in Moscow, working on developing Amoco’s business in Russia. From 2003 to 2008, he was president and chief executive of TNK-BP, a joint venture in Russia with a consortium of billionaires.

In that job, he steered the firm through a series of politically explosive disputes that saw one employee charged with espionage, the company’s offices raided by Russian intelligence, an investor boycott and a barrage of tax and labour investigations.
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22
Jun
10

U.S. slaps BP with new bill

NEWS
U.S. slaps BP with new bill
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

••• The White House has slapped BP with a new $51 million bill, the third sent to the British energy giant.

Officials have stressed that they would keep billing the British energy giant for all associated costs from America’s biggest-ever environmental disaster, under a U.S. law requiring oil firms to pay for cleanups.

“As a responsible party, BP is financially responsible for all costs associated with the response to the spill,” the administration said.

That includes “efforts to stop the leak at its source, reduce the spread of oil, protect the shoreline and mitigate damages, as well as long term recovery efforts to ensure that all individuals and communities impacted by the spill are made whole.”

Two earlier bills to BP and other responsible parties this month amounting to $70.89 million were paid in full, it said in a statement.
The invoice charges the firms for ‘specific federal government expenses’ including response costs for more than 24 federal entities and agencies from three U.S. states, as well as for reimbursing the trust fund set up by BP and the government to reimburse local individuals and businesses affected by the massive spill.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska, made oil giants liable for cleanup costs resulting from spills and is being used by the administration to hold BP’s feet to the fire.

Obama has also vowed to hold BP responsible if it is found that the company broke any laws before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in April.

BP said on Monday it has so far spent $2 billion on the spill, including ongoing efforts at containment, relief well drilling, grants to Gulf states, claims paid to thousands of affected individuals and businesses, and costs incurred by the U.S. government.
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21
Jun
10

Gulf Paymaster Pledges to Speed Up Compensation Claims, Says Residents ‘Desperate’

NEWS
Gulf Paymaster Pledges to Speed Up Compensation Claims, Says Residents ‘Desperate’

Monday, June 21, 2010

••• The administrator of a $20 billion compensation fund set up by British oil giant BP said on Monday he will speed up payment of compensation to those affected by the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Kenneth Feinberg, who was tapped by President Barack Obama to run the third party fund, said on U.S. television that Obama has conveyed to him a message that “we want to get these claims out quicker. We want to get these claims out with more transparency.”

He said when it comes to emergency payments, “you’ve got to allow those payments to go out with less corroboration than you would if you’re giving a lump-sum payment that is the total compensation.”

“For the emergency payments, we’ve got to err on the side of the claimant,” he said.
The White House and BP has worked out an agreement last week that BP would fund the $20 billion fund, managed independently by White House tapped Feinberg. Feinberg on Monday appeared on several TV networks’ news programs, explaining how he intends to run the compensation fund.

Feinberg said people can file electronically for relief, and can do so without the help of a lawyer. “When a person comes in and asks for emergency assistance, they shouldn’t have to keep coming back,” said he.

The oil spill, which is now two months old, has hurt fishing, tourism, oil and other businesses. The fund is set up to compensate lost wages, business interruption, lost profits, personal injuries and even deaths.

BP said on Monday it has spent $2 billion so far on cleaning up the spill.
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