Posts Tagged ‘Reform

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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• Source(s): The White House
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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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• Source(s): The White House
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26
Jun
10

Weekly Address: Finishing the Job on Wall Street Reform

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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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15
May
10

Weekly Address: Wall Street Reform & Main Street

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Weekly Address: Wall Street Reform & Main Street

President Obama “Wall Street Reform Will Bring Greater Security to Folks on Main Street”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In his weekly address, President Barack Obama discussed how reforming Wall Street will strengthen Main Street. The reform bill moving through Congress will empower and protect American families with the strongest consumer financial protections in history, level the playing field for community banks by making sure all lenders are subject to tough oversight, and strengthen small businesses by curbing excessive risk taking on Wall Street, which will help protect credit for our small businesses. As the economy recovers in the short term, we need to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity for the long term. This bill helps to do just that.

On Thursday, I paid a visit to a small business in Buffalo, New York, a town that’s been hard hit in recent decades. I heard from folks about the struggles they’ve been facing for longer than they care to remember. And I talked with them about what my administration is doing to help our families, our small businesses, and our economy rebound from this recession.

Jumpstarting job creation in the private sector and fostering a climate that encourages businesses to hire again is vitally important – and I’ll continue working hard to make sure that happens. But my responsibility as President isn’t just to help our economy rebound from this recession – it’s to make sure an economic crisis like the one that helped trigger this recession never happens again.

That’s what Wall Street reform will help us do. In recent weeks, there’s been a lot of back and forth about the reform bill currently making its way through Congress. There’s been a lot of discussion about technical aspects of the bill, and a lot of heated – and frankly, sometimes misleading – rhetoric coming from opponents of reform.

All of this has helped obscure what reform would actually mean for you, the American people. So, I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about why every American has a stake in Wall Street reform.

First and foremost, you have a stake in it if you’ve ever been treated unfairly by a credit card company, misled by pages and pages of fine print, or ended up paying fees and penalties you’d never heard of before. And you have a stake in it if you’ve ever tried to take out a home loan, a car loan, or a student loan, and been targeted by the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders.

The Wall Street reform bill in Congress represents the strongest consumer financial protections in history. You’ll be empowered with the clear and concise information you need to make the choices that are best for you. We’ll help stop predatory practices, and curb unscrupulous lenders, helping secure your family’s financial future.

That’s why families have a stake in it. And our community banks also have a stake in reform. These are banks we count on to provide the capital that lets our small businesses hire and grow.

The way the system is currently set up, these banks are at a disadvantage because while they are often playing by the rules, many of their less scrupulous competitors are not. So, what reform will do is help level the playing field by making sure all our lenders – not just community banks – are subject to tough oversight. That’s good news for our community banks, which is why we’ve received letters from some of these banks in support of reform.

What’s true for our community banks is also true for small businessmen and women like the ones I met in Buffalo. These small businesses were some of the worst victims of the excessive risk-taking on Wall Street that led to this crisis. Their credit dried up. They had to let people go. Some even shut their doors altogether. And unless we put in place real safeguards, we could see it happen all over again.

That’s why Wall Street reform is so important. With reform, we’ll make our financial system more transparent by bringing the kinds of complex, backroom deals that helped trigger this crisis into the light of day. We’ll prevent banks from taking on so much risk that they could collapse and threaten our whole economy. And we’ll give shareholders more of a say on pay to help change the perverse incentives that encouraged reckless risk-taking in the first place. Put simply, Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street.

The stories I heard in Buffalo this week were a reminder that, despite the progress we’ve made, we need to keep working hard, so we can build on that progress and rebound from this recession in the short-term. But even as we do, we also need to lay a new foundation for growth and shared prosperity over the long-term.

Next week, we have a chance to help lay a cornerstone in that foundation. The reform bill being debated in the Senate will not solve every problem in our financial system – no bill could. But what this strong bill will do is important, and I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible, so we can secure America’s economic future in the 21st century.

• Source(s): The White House
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08
May
10

Weekly Address: Health Reform Starts to Kick In

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Weekly Address: Health Reform Starts to Kick In
President Obama Praises the Benefits and Successes of Health Reform Already in Effect

Saturday, May 8, 2010


In his weekly address, President Barack Obama highlighted the ways in which health reform is already holding insurance companies more accountable and giving consumers more control. Implementing everything in the new law will not happen overnight. But already, consumers are getting a break from unfair rate hikes and insurance companies will no longer drop coverage for people when the get sick. Four million small businesses have been notified that they could be eligible for a health care tax cut this year. Retirees will soon receive help if they fall into the prescription drug “donut hole.” And, young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26 years old.

It has now been a little over a month since I signed health insurance reform into law. And while it will take some time to fully implement this law, reform is already delivering real benefits to millions of Americans. Already, we are seeing a health care system that holds insurance companies more accountable and gives consumers more control.

Two weeks ago, four million small business owners and organizations found a postcard in their mailbox informing them that they could be eligible for a health care tax cut this year – a tax cut potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars; a tax cut that will help millions provide coverage to their employees.

Starting in June, businesses will get even more relief for providing coverage to retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare. And a little over a month from now, on June 15th, senior citizens who fall into the prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” will start receiving a $250 rebate to help them afford their medication.

Aside from providing real, tangible benefits to the American people, the new health care law has also begun to end the worst practices of insurance companies. For too long, we have been held hostage to an insurance industry that jacks up premiums and drops coverage as they please. But those days are finally coming to an end.

After our administration demanded that Anthem Blue Cross justify a 39% premium increase on Californians, the company admitted the error and backed off its plan. And this week, our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, wrote a letter to all states urging them to investigate other rate hikes and stop insurance companies from gaming the system. To help states achieve this goal, we’ve set up a new Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, and will provide grants to states with the best oversight programs.

In the next month, we’ll also be putting in place a new patients’ bill of rights. It will provide simple and clear information to consumers about their choices and their rights. It will set up an appeals process to enforce those rights. And it will prohibit insurance companies from limiting a patients’ access to their preferred primary care provider, ob-gyn, or emergency room care.

We’re holding insurance companies accountable in other ways, as well. As of September, the new health care law prohibits insurance companies from dropping people’s coverage when they get sick and need it most. But when we found out that an insurance company was systematically dropping the coverage of women diagnosed with breast cancer, my administration called on them to end this practice immediately. Two weeks ago, the entire insurance industry announced that it would comply with the new law early and stop the perverse practice of dropping people’s coverage when they get sick.

On Monday, we’ll also be announcing the new rule that allows young adults without insurance to stay on their parents’ plan until they’re 26 years old. Even though insurance companies have until September to comply with this rule, we’ve asked them to do so immediately to avoid coverage gaps for new college graduates and other young adults. This also makes good business sense for insurance companies, and we’re pleased that most have agreed. Now we need employers to do the same, and we’re willing to work with them to make this transition possible. These changes mean that starting this spring, when young adults graduate from college, many who do not have health care coverage will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance for a few more years. And you can check healthreform.gov to find a list of all the insurance carriers who have agreed to participate right away.

I’ve said before that implementing health insurance reform won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tweaks and changes along the way. Ultimately, we’ll have a system that provides more control for consumers, more accountability for insurance companies, and more affordable choices for uninsured Americans. But already, we are seeing how reform is improving the lives of millions of Americans. Already, we are watching small businesses learn that they will soon pay less for health care. We are seeing retirees realize they’ll be able to keep their coverage and seniors realize they’ll be able to afford their prescriptions. We’re seeing consumers get a break from unfair rate hikes, patients get the care they need when they need it, and young adults get the security of knowing they can start off life with one less cost to worry about. At long last, this is what health care reform is achieving. This is what change looks like. And this is the promise we will keep as we continue to make this law a reality in the months and years to come.

Thanks so much.

• Source(s): The White House
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01
May
10

Weekly Address: Giving Government Back to the American People

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Weekly Address: Giving Government Back to the American People

President Obama Calls on Congress to Enact Reforms to Stop a ‘Potential Corporate Takeover of Our Elections’

Saturday, May 1, 2010

In the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling, which gives special interests, corporations – and potentially foreign nationals – the power to spend unlimited money to influence the outcome of elections, President Barack Obama called on Congress to enact reforms to limit this power and protect the integrity of our democracy. With these reforms, campaign committees will have to reveal who is funding them, and their leaders or financers will have to claim responsibility for their ads. Also, the reforms will restrict foreign corporations and foreign nationals from spending money in American elections. These reforms will help ensure the government works for the American people, not the special interests.

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve debated reforms to hold Wall Street accountable and protect consumers and small businesses in our financial system, we’ve come face-to-face with the great power of special interests in the workings of our democracy. Of course, this isn’t a surprise. Every time a major issue arises, we’ve come to expect that an army of lobbyists will descend on Capitol Hill in the hopes of tilting the laws in their favor.

That’s one of the reasons I ran for President: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington. And that’s why, since the day I took office, my administration has been taking steps to reform the system. Recently, however, the Supreme Court issued a decision that overturned decades of law and precedent – dealing a huge blow to our efforts to rein in this undue influence. In short, this decision gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money – literally millions of dollars – to affect elections throughout our country. This, in turn, will multiply their influence over decision-making in our government.

In the starkest terms, members will know – when pressured by lobbyists – that if they dare to oppose that lobbyist’s client, they could face an onslaught of negative advertisements in the run up to their next election. And corporations will be allowed to run these ads without ever having to tell voters exactly who is paying for them. At a time when the American people are already being overpowered in Washington by these forces, this will be a new and even more powerful weapon that the special interests will wield.

In fact, it’s exactly this kind of vast power that led a great Republican President – Teddy Roosevelt – to tackle this issue a century ago. He warned of the dangers of limitless corporate spending in our political system. He actually called it “one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.” And he proposed strict limits on corporate influence in elections. “Every special interest is entitled to justice,” he said. “but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.”

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, we face a similar challenge. That’s why it’s so important that Congress consider new reforms to prevent corporations and other special interests from gaining even more clout in Washington. And almost all of these reforms are designed to bring new transparency to campaign spending. They are based on the principle espoused by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis – that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Shadowy campaign committees would have to reveal who’s funding their activities to the American people. And when corporations and other special interests take to the airwaves, whoever is running and funding the ad would have to appear in the advertisement and claim responsibility for it – like a company’s CEO or an organization’s biggest contributor. This will mean citizens can evaluate the claims in these ads with information about an organization’s real motives.

We know how important this is. We’ve all seen groups with benign-seeming names sponsoring television commercials that make accusations and assertions designed to influence the public debate and sway voters’ minds. Now, of course every organization has every right in this country to make their voices heard. But the American people also have the right to know when some group like “Citizens for a Better Future” is actually funded entirely by “Corporations for Weaker Oversight.”

In addition, these reforms would address another troubling aspect of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Under the bill Congress will consider, we’ll make sure that foreign corporations and foreign nationals are restricted from spending money to influence American elections, just as they were in the past – even through U.S. subsidiaries. And we’d keep large contractors that receive taxpayer funds from interfering in our elections as well, to avoid the appearance of corruption and the possible misuse of tax dollars.

Now, we can expect that these proposed changes will be met with heavy resistance from the special interests and their supporters in Congress. But I’m calling on leaders in both parties to resist these pressures. For what we are facing is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections. And what is at stake is no less than the integrity of our democracy. This shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an issue that goes to whether or not we will have a government that works for ordinary Americans – a government of, by, and for the people. That’s why these reforms are so important. And that’s why I’m going to fight to see them passed into law.

Thanks so much.

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24
Apr
10

Weekly Address: Good News from the Auto Industry

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Weekly Address: Good News from the Auto Industry

President Obama Says Promising News From the Auto Industry Doesn’t Reduce Need for Wall Street Reform

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In his weekly address, President Obama said that while the government is ending many of emergency programs put in place to stabilize the financial sector and restart lending, Wall Street reform remains urgently needed. General Motors announced that it has repaid its loan to taxpayers with interest five years ahead of schedule, and Chrysler Financial has already fully repaid with interest its loan as well. While this is good news, it is also a reminder that the crisis in the auto industry was caused in part by problems in the financial sector. To help prevent another crisis, Congress needs to enact reforms to hold Wall Street accountable and protect consumers.

It was little more than one year ago that our country faced a potentially devastating crisis in our auto industry. Over the course of 2008, the industry shed 400,000 jobs. In the midst of a financial crisis and deep recession, both General Motors and Chrysler – two companies that for generations were a symbol of America’s manufacturing might – were on the brink of collapse. The rapid dissolution of these companies – followed by the certain failure of many auto parts makers, car dealers, and other smaller businesses – would have dealt a crippling blow to our already suffering economy. The best estimates are that more than one million American workers could have lost their jobs.

The previous administration extended temporary loans to both companies. Even so, when I took office, the situation remained dire. We had to determine whether or not we could justify additional taxpayer assistance. After all, many of the problems in the auto industry were a direct result of poor management decisions over decades. So it wasn’t an easy call. But we decided that while providing additional assistance was a risk, the far greater risk to families and communities across our country was to do nothing. We agreed to additional help, but only if the companies and their stakeholders were willing to break with the past. They had to fundamentally reorganize, with new management that would reexamine the decisions that led to this mess and chart a path toward viability. I knew this wasn’t a popular decision. But it was the right one.

So, GM and Chrysler went through painful restructurings: ones that required enormous sacrifices on the part of all involved. Many believed this was a fool’s errand. Many feared we would be throwing good money after bad: that taxpayers would lose most of their investment and that these companies would soon fail regardless. But one year later, the outlook is very different. In fact, the industry is recovering at a pace few thought possible.

Just this week we received some encouraging news. Since General Motors emerged from bankruptcy, the auto industry has actually added 45,000 jobs – the strongest growth in a decade. And Chrysler announced an operating profit in the first three months of this year. This is the first time Chrysler has reported a profit since the beginning of the economic crisis. What’s more, GM announced that it paid back its loans to taxpayers with interest, fully five years ahead of schedule. It won’t be too long before the stock the Treasury is holding in GM can be sold, helping to reimburse the American people for their investment.

In addition, Chrysler Financial has already fully repaid with interest the loans it received to support auto financing. And we are closing the books on the temporary program that helped parts suppliers weather this storm – returning this investment to the Treasury in full, with interest, as well. Finally, we are bringing to an end many of the emergency programs designed to stabilize the financial sector and restart lending so folks could finance cars and trucks – as well as homes and small businesses.

On Friday, in fact, the Treasury Department informed Congress that this financial rescue – which was absolutely necessary to prevent an even worse economic disaster – will end up costing taxpayers a fraction of what was originally feared. This is a direct result of the careful management of the investments made by the American people so that we could recoup as many tax dollars as possible – and as quickly as possible.

These steps, as well as others we’ve taken, have meant that millions of people are working today who might otherwise have lost their jobs. But these steps were never meant to be permanent. As I’ve said many times, I did not run for president to get into the auto business or the banking business. As essential as it was that we got in, I’m glad to see that we’re getting out.

At the same time, even as we have come a long way, we still have a ways to go. The auto industry is more stable today. And the economy is on a better footing. But people are still hurting. I hear from them just about every day in letters I read and in the towns and cities that I visit. No matter what the economic statistics say, I won’t be satisfied until folks who need work can find good jobs. After a recession that stole 8 million jobs, this is gonna take some time. And this will require that we continue to tackle the underlying problems that caused this turmoil in the first place. In short, it’s essential that we learn the lessons of this crisis – or we risk repeating it.

Now, part of what led to the crisis in our auto industry – and one of the main causes of the economic downturn – were problems in our financial sector. In the absence of common-sense rules, Wall Street firms took enormous, irresponsible risks that imperiled our financial system – and hurt just about every sector of our economy. Some people simply forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is a family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement.

That’s why I went to New York City this week and addressed an audience that included leaders in the financial industry. And once again I called for reforms to hold Wall Street accountable and to protect consumers. These reforms would put an end – once and for all – to taxpayer bailouts. They would bring greater transparency to complex financial dealings. And they will empower ordinary consumers and shareholders in our financial system. Folks will get clearer and more concise information when they make financial decisions – instead of having to worry about deceptive fine print. And shareholders and pension holders will have a stronger voice in the boardrooms of companies in which they invest their savings.

That’s how we’ll restore trust and confidence in our markets. That’s how we’ll help to put an end to the cycle of boom and bust that we’ve seen. And that’s how – after two very difficult years – we will not only revive the economy, but help to rebuild it stronger than ever before.

Thanks.

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23
Apr
10

Harry Reid moves forward with first financial reform vote

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Harry Reid moves forward with first financial reform vote

Friday, April 23, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll try to move a financial reform bill to the floor today–and if the Republicans object, as they’ve threatened to do, he’ll force them to take a tough vote on whether to allow debate on legislation to regulate Wall Street.

“If they let us move to it, I’d be happy to do that,” Reid said at a press conference with Democratic leadership this afternoon. “If they don’t … I’m filing cloture [and we’ll] have a cloture vote on Monday, 5:15.”

That won’t please the GOP. Just before the Democrats’ press conference, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose vote is still in play on financial reform, implored Reid not to move ahead until a final bipartisan agreement is reached.

“I hope that Senator Reid abandons his plan to force a premature cloture vote on Monday,” Collins told reporters. “I think that would be unfortunate in view of the fact that both sides of the negotiations say that progress is being made.”

Reid is undeterred. “I have been around for quiet a while,” he said. “What we have done on financial reform was just as energetic as what we did on health care. We worked for more than two months with [Sen. Richard] Shelby trying to come up with something … I’m not going to waste any more time of the American people while they come up with some agreement.”

“The games of stalling are over,” Reid said.

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22
Apr
10

President Obama seeks reform buy-in from Wall Street

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President Obama seeks reform buy-in from Wall Street
The President Speaks to Wall Street, Republicans, and All of America

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Barack Obama has railed at unfettered corporate greed as he laced a defining pitch for U.S. financial reform with stark warnings of future economic meltdowns if the bid fails.

Just blocks from Wall Street, the epicentre of high finance in the United States, the president sent a tough message to financial barons, American voters and Republican opponents critical of his plans.

Obama recalled how he had visited the historic college at Cooper Union during his election campaign to warn of the dangers of corporate excess.

‘And I take no satisfaction in noting that my comments then have largely been borne out by the events that followed,’ he told an audience of banking notables, including Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of fraud-tainted titan Goldman Sachs, on Thursday.

‘But I repeat what I said then, because it is essential that we learn the lessons of this crisis, so we don’t doom ourselves to repeat them. Make no mistake, that is exactly what will happen if we allow this moment to pass.’

Obama assured investors he believed in the ‘power of the free market’ and a ‘strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings’.

‘But a free market was never meant to be a free licence to take whatever you can get, however you can get it.

‘Some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is a family looking to buy a house, to pay for an education, open a business, save for retirement.

‘What happens on Wall Street has real consequences across the country, across our economy.’

Obama urged Wall Street bosses to call off armies of lobbyists trying to thwart what he has promised will be the most sweeping regulatory reform drive since the 1930s Great Depression.

As Democrats and Republicans spar over the final shape of the financial regulatory legislation, Obama argued that middle-ground could be found on the draft law.

Plans include protections for taxpayers should one financial institution pose a systemic risk to the whole economy if it failed, and limits on the size of corporate entities.

‘A vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to taxpayer-funded bailouts,’ Obama said. ‘The goal is to make certain that taxpayers are never again on the hook because a firm is deemed too big to fail.’

Obama also called for stronger protections for consumers and greater transparency by bringing risky financial instruments such as derivatives out into the open.

His efforts got a boost on Wednesday, when a Senate panel approved new restrictions on derivatives, a complex financial instrument blamed for partly igniting the meltdown from which America is just emerging.

Obama’s Democrats needs to peel away at least one vote from Republicans in a final vote in the full Senate, which could come within weeks.

Polls show Americans, though highly suspicious of government, support efforts to rein in Wall Street.

Obama’s financial reform effort is reaching a climax after regulators slapped civil fraud charges on finance titan Goldman.

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14
Apr
10

White House fights for finance reforms

NEWS
White House fights for finance reforms

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A bipartisan meeting on financial regulatory reform between President Barack Obama and GOP congressional leaders broke up early and acrimoniously Wednesday – as the White House warned Republicans against trying to water down the bill.

“Obama made clear that bipartisanship should not be equated with an openness to lobbyists’ loopholes and special interest carve-outs and that he would be unwilling to negotiate on some key issues,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in an e-mailed readout of the meeting, “And that he could not accept bad policy” in pursuit of a deal with the GOP.

“It appears the bipartisan talks have broken down,” pronounced Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.), after meeting for less than an hour with Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“The strings were kind of pulled by the Democratic leaders,” added McConnell, who said that Democrats “are trying to jam us” for political gain.

“If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned,” said Obama in televised remarks prior to the meeting, “it’s that an unfettered market where people are taking huge risks and expecting taxpayers to bail them out when things go sour is simply not acceptable.”

Pelosi said Obama and the Democrats confronted McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner, saying they asked the Republicans, “Do you want to rein in Wall Street?”
Despite McConnell’s claims, Democratic staffers have expressed confidence that regulating Wall Street is such a poisonous issue for the GOP this fall that many in the party will ultimate side with Democrats – with as many as half a dozen defections possible.

Senate Democrats are lining up behind a proposal passed by lame-duck Banking Committee Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) that would create a consumer protection bureau with authority to write rules governing all financial entities, including banks and other institutions, in addition to “authority to examine and enforce regulations for banks and credit unions with assets over $10 billion and all mortgage-related businesses.”

Acrimony aside, Dodd and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the committee, are due to meet this afternoon in hopes of hashing out a broader deal. But Dodd earlier Wednesday threatened to end negotiations with Republicans on a financial regulatory reform bill if they continue to lead what he called a misinformation campaign based on Wall Street talking points.

In a blistering floor speech Tuesday, McConnell laid out the GOP’s counterargument – claiming the Democrats’ bill would put taxpayer on the hook for future bailouts.

Emerging from his Tuesday meeting, McConnell hammered home that point, saying, “It’s a bill that actually guarantees future bailouts of Wall Street banks, if you look carefully… hat is clearly not the direction the American people want to go.”

A seething Reid, squinting in the bright sunlight of the West Wing driveway, called McConnell’s claim that Democrats had abandoned talks a “figment of his imagination” and vowed to pass the overhaul quickly.

The White House has accused McConnell of parroting the party’s talking points, driven by polls.

Participants described the meeting as “lively” and “candid” but demurred when reporters pressed him on the number of GOP “yes” votes he hoped to get.

“It’s difficult to work with the party of no,” he said.

The majority leader, facing a tough reelection fight in Nevada this fall, seized on a FOX Business News report that McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) recently met privately with about 25 hedge Wall Street executives, many of them hedge fund managers, to talk fundraising and regulatory reform.

McConnell dodged questions about the meeting saying only that he had heard criticism of the Dodd bill from “community banks in Kentucky.”

But when a reporter pressed him about his relationship with Wall Street, McConnell said, “Sure, we talk with people all the time, I’m not denying that,” – saying it was “inaccurate to say the GOP was fighting for the big banks.

As the meeting took place, Boehner’s staff released a list of talking points the leader planned to make, including the argument that the Dodd bill “sets up a huge new bureaucracy” and “does nothing to address the root causes of the Fannie & Freddie.”

But a person familiar with the situation that Boehner “actually said none of that” during the brisk, businesslike meeting.

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12
Apr
10

Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

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Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

Monday, April 12, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already had a lot of things on his plate to get done in the Senate this year, even before last week’s news broke. Now he’s facing two more big issues in the midst of an election year (and in the midst of a fight for his own political life in Nevada) – a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, and an upcoming confirmation battle over a Supreme Court nomination. Given that Harry Reid’s Senate is not exactly known for moving with blinding speed (to be fair, few Senates are), one has to wonder whether Harry Reid can deliver on some of these big issues before the midterm elections or not.

The three major issues which Reid presently faces are the “New START” treaty, the Supreme Court nomination battle, and Wall Street reform. There are other issues just as large (and just as confrontational) which conventional Washington wisdom has already decided Reid isn’t even going to tackle in an election year (comprehensive immigration reform and a new energy policy, to name two of the biggest), although it must be said that politics is always fluid, so this conventional wisdom may prove wrong by November. Add to this the regular issues which the Senate must deal with (such as the budget), as well as pressing political problems like jobs legislation, and it’s pretty easy to see that Reid faces an overwhelming list of things to do this year.

Which means that a lot of the focus in Washington this year is going to be centered squarely on the Senate. Nancy Pelosi’s House has shown that it is much quicker and more productive, passing dozens of good bills (many with widespread Republican support), which have then done nothing but languish in the Senate. This backlog adds even further to Reid’s “to do” list. To be fair, the House does not have such constitutional duties as ratifying treaties or confirming judges. Because the Senate does, and because it faces one of each right now, it is just going to shrink the available time for the Senate to act on legislative issues this year.

Just considering the three highest-priority items on that list currently, it’s easy to see how they could eat up most (or all) of the Senate’s time between now and Election Day. Wall Street reform is the first of these scheduled for a showdown on the Senate floor. And – much like the health reform bill – this is a huge and complicated issue, with plenty of room for watering things down and inserting loopholes in the fine print. Which is exactly what both Republicans and Democrats who have sold their soul to the banking industry are going to attempt. If they don’t kill the bill outright, that is, or delay it endlessly until Reid cries “Uncle!” and shelves the whole debate.

To be blunt, Reid’s performance in the health reform struggle does nothing to inspire confidence that the donnybrook over Wall Street reform will be any different. To Reid’s credit, on health reform, he did finally deliver. About nine months late, but given the constraints he was working under (especially when Democrats lost the filibuster-proof majority they theoretically had), putting anything at all on the president’s desk was indeed a big achievement. But this time, we don’t have those extra nine months. And the constraints Reid faced then have not gone away. Which leaves passage of any meaningful Wall Street reform a real open question, at this point.

The next big, contentious issue on Reid’s schedule will be shepherding President Obama’s Supreme Court pick through the confirmation process. This fight will be different for two reasons. The first is that, ultimately, it is a binary choice for senators to make – either “yea” or “nay.” Unlike a legislative battle, where changing a paragraph here or there can gain you some votes, with a court nominee you’re either going to be for him or her, or against him or her – there’s no middle ground. The second reason this fight will be different is that it will have a real and concrete deadline. Justice John Paul Stevens is stepping down at the end of the Supreme Court’s current term, and the Senate really is going to need to act before the next term begins – which happens before the election. Meaning Harry Reid is going to face a deadline he won’t be able to ignore. And, so far, he hasn’t been all that impressive about meeting deadlines lately – although (again, to be fair) he did manage to do so the last time he faced this situation, confirming Sonia Sotomayor in a timely enough fashion for her to join the high court before its term began last year.

The third big issue Reid faces will be the Senate exercising their constitutional duty to ratify (or reject) the New START treaty which President Obama just signed. However, there is no real deadline on treaty ratification (at least, not as far as I know – there may be such a deadline in the language of the treaty itself). What this means is that if Harry Reid has to “punt” any of these three issues past the election itself, this is going to be the prime candidate to get put off.

The Senate returned to work today, after a two-week vacation. Or, as they officially and euphemistically call it, a “State Work Period” (even though they are fooling precisely nobody with this cheerfully Orwellian label). From today until Election Day dawns, the Senate has a further seven weeks of vacation time scheduled (so far). That’s one week for Memorial Day, one week for Independence Day, and five whole weeks for the “August In D.C. Is So Hellish Month.” And these are just the vacation periods scheduled so far (the “tentative” schedule currently says nothing about post-Labor Day vacations). Which is not to say that they aren’t going to take a big chunk of October off, to go home and campaign their little hearts out. In the last two midterm election years (2006 and 2002), the Senate took off six weeks and three weeks, respectively. In particular, 2006 was a relaxed and leisurely year for the Senate, as they worked precisely one week in all of October and November combined (a six-week election break was followed by one week of work, then two weeks off for Thanksgiving – nice work, if you can get it, eh?).

Taken together, the two weeks for holidays, the five weeks in August, and the (likely) four weeks or so before the election where the Senate won’t be in session, the schedule leaves only a little over four months’ worth of actual working time to get anything done. The Supreme Court pick is likely going to eat up roughly a month of this time, possibly more. Wall Street reform is going to take at least a month or two (and that is being wildly optimistic, I should add). Even if Reid punts on the treaty ratification, it’s easy to see that the calendar is going to be an awfully tough one for Senate Democrats to get much done outside of the major issues this year. Which puts even more pressure on them to deliver on the major issues themselves, I should add.

Congressional Democrats would like to campaign this year on the things they’ve been able to accomplish. As well as (knock wood) an economy that is visibly getting better for people, of course. So far, the things Democrats have been able to accomplish haven’t exactly resonated with the public (health care, the stimulus, etc.). Whether Democratic officeholders have anything else to put before the voters as solid Democratic accomplishments is going to hinge mostly on Reid’s performance for the rest of this year.

If Harry Reid can manage to produce, he may improve his own currently-dismal re-election chances in Nevada, as well as give the Democratic voter base a reason to get enthusiastic about voting in November. But, if Reid cannot deliver, a lot of Democrats are going to be sucked down on Reid’s “coattails” come Election Day. Now, obviously, there are other factors at play in this election season – which, like all midterms, is problematic for the president’s party – but Harry Reid could either give Democrats a real boost in their chances at the polls by delivering a few big wins (and, one hopes, a whole bunch of smaller wins), or he could squander this opportunity and not provide legislative victories for Democrats to tout on the campaign trail.

Harry Reid has the rest of this year to produce some solid Senate victories. And the question remains: Can Harry Reid actually deliver? For many Democrats, the answer to this question is a whole lot more than merely academic, and may in fact mean quite a bit to their own chances in the upcoming election.

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07
Apr
10

FBI arrests man for threatening Pelosi

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FBI arrests man for threatening Pelosi

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Federal agents in California have arrested a man for allegedly threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Gregory Lee Giusti, 48, was arrested at his San Francisco home in the Tenderloin district shortly after noon, said Joseph Schadler, a spokesman for the FBI office in San Francisco.

Rose Riggs, Giusti’s neighbor in a public housing complex, said she saw two plainclothes and two uniformed officers take him away in cuffs. Riggs said Giusti was known for engaging in heated political debates with others in the building.

“He was not one of my favorite people. He had a real attitude problem,” she said.

The court documents are sealed and will remain so until the Giusti appears in San Francisco federal court at 9:30 Thursday morning.

“The FBI takes threats against elected officials very seriously,” Hansen said Wednesday.

Pelosi’s office issued a statement late Wednesday evening, acknowledging the arrest.

“The Speaker thanks the FBI, the Capitol Hill Police, House Sergeant at Arms, and other law enforcement officials for their professionalism in this matter,” spokesman Brendan Daly said in a statement Wednesday evening. “She will have no further comment at this time.”

Officials told The Associated Press that a man called Pelosi’s Washington and California homes, in addition to her husband’s business office, several times.

This arrest is the second such arrest in as many days: The FBI in Washington state arrested a man Tuesday for threatening Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a top Senate Democrat who also supported the legislation.

Federal officials in Philadelphia arrested a man for threatening House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last month.

Pelosi’s office declined to comment.

Threats toward lawmakers have been especially prevalent in the weeks since Congress passed health care overhaul legislation last month. Lawmakers have had bricks thrown through their windows, threatening voicemails left and protests outside their homes.

In Cantor’s case, Norman Leboon, the man arrested, allegedly threatened the Republican and his family through YouTube videos. Cantor also got threatening e-mails. Charles Wilson, the man accused of threatening Murray, allegedly left threatening voice messages on her office line in Washington.

Threats directed at an elected official carry a different charge than harassment toward any citizen – if convicted, similar charge carries up to 10 years imprisonment and a quarter-million dollar fine. It is unclear what Pelosi’s alleged threatner might be charged with.

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01
Apr
10

March jobs jump could lift Obama

NEWS
March jobs jump could lift Obama

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The economy is expected to have added hundreds of thousands of jobs in March, bolstering the Obama’s administration’s arguments that the $787 billion stimulus package is working.

Private forecasts on the unemployment report to be released on Friday predict as many as 200,000 jobs will have been created in March.

Economist Mark Zandi, who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 campaign and Democrats during the crafting of the stimulus, projects that 175,000 jobs will have been created.

Zandi’s estimate is that 100,000 of those jobs were created by the Census Bureau, which is hiring hundreds of thousands of workers to go door to door to get people to fill out their censuses.

Another 50,000 jobs are a bounce-back from February, when Zandi and other economists believe harsh winter storms contributed to lower-than-expected hiring. The economy shed 36,000 jobs in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Either way, the numbers will provide a jolt of good economic news for President Barack Obama, who is already enjoying the fruits of Democrats’ healthcare victory.

If the economy did add 175,000 jobs, it would be the most jobs created since March 2007, when the economy added 239,000 jobs.

Democrats nervous about the fall elections want to push the storyline that their efforts with the stimulus helped stave off a new Great Depression, and that an economy that lost nearly 3.7 million jobs in the months immediately following Obama’s election is now moving forward.

The March figures would boost that narrative, but there are several clouds on the horizon.

It’s unclear whether the 9.7 percent unemployment rate will drop at all, even with the positive job numbers.

Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute says the rate could stay at 9.7 percent or even jump to 9.8 percent. The reason is workers who gave up looking for jobs are now coming back to the workforce.

Also, the help from Census hiring is a temporary boost at best. Most Census workers will only be employed for a matter of months.

That means it could be a cruel summer for Obama and Democrats when the Census Bureau begins cutting jobs this summer. Job figures could look great in March, April and May only to look terrible in June, July and August, Shierholz said.

Goldman Sachs on Tuesday projected a small improvement in the labor market. It recorded a drop in the gap between jobs available and jobs that are hard to get.

The ratio of 41.4 percent is the best reading of that statistic since August 2008, Goldman said in the report, but is still indicative of a fragile labor market.

Zandi said job growth won’t be strong enough until late in 2010 or early in 2011 to bring down unemployment significantly.

“A lack of credit for small businesses and still-weak business confidence will slow the job-market recovery,” he said.
• Source(s): Mark Zandi, Chief Economist – Moody’s Analytics, Inc.
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31
Mar
10

Barack Obama tries triangulation lite

NEWS
Barack Obama tries triangulation lite

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Just days after Republicans fumed that passage of the health care bill tolled the death knell for bipartisanship, there was a very different message coming from some GOP quarters Wednesday: praise for President Barack Obama’s decision to lift the ban on some offshore oil drilling.

Credit Obama with pulling off a small political coup – one you could even call triangulation lite.

The price he paid in political terms was relatively small: Angry blowback from environmental activists who still support his overall climate change policy.

But the short-term benefits were large: By announcing the policy change, Obama defused a potentially potent Republican issue ahead of the summer gas spike and the fall midterms, while embracing major elements of the GOP’s “all of the above” energy approach to kick-start a stalled climate change bill.

And the drilling decision also allows the president to distance himself from liberal environmentalists disdained by some pro-drilling, blue-collar voters.

“It’s not a bad thing to show you’re willing to do something that gets liberals angry right after you pass the biggest liberal bill in a generation,” said a Senate Democrat staffer, whose boss opposes the policy.

The aide was encouraged by reader comments on news stories about the drilling decision announced early Wednesday. “Lots of people are saying ‘Obama finally did something I can get behind.’”

Obama proposed opening up a huge swath of the U.S. coastline to offshore drilling, an area that includes the Gulf Coast and much of the eastern seaboard, including possible petroleum fields off the Virginia coast, a move backed by the state’s two Democratic Senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb.

Obama’s plan would maintain the ban on drilling off the southwestern coast of Alaska, but lifts restrictions on exploration of north Alaskan oceanic fields.

The move, which Obama telegraphed in his State of the Union speech and promised to pursue during the 2008 campaign, earned him rare bipartisan plaudits.

“I appreciate the department’s decision to allow valid existing rights to explore Alaska’s huge offshore oil and gas reserves to go ahead,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the Republicans Obama hopes to woo with his decision.

“I will work with the administration on proceeding with important future lease sales off Alaska’s coast.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has opposed virtually everything Democrats have proposed in the 111th Congress, said he was encouraged but skeptical; effusive support by McConnell standards.

Administration officials hope that the drilling announcement will coax other moderate Republicans in the Senate to join efforts by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman to cross party lines to pass a carbon-regulating climate change bill this year.

The long-awaited decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar – coming on the heels of Obama’s proposed tripling of funding for nuclear plant development – sparked a far less positive response from most green groups, who view it as a sell-out.

“We had been told they were going to come out with something and we had been told we weren’t going to like it. I’m just really surprised by how counter-productive this proposal is,” said Anna Aurilio, of Environment America, which joined Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters and other groups in opposing the move.

“To me this doesn’t add up to any progress. This is a step backwards … All this stuff that we’ve been working to protect for so long is now threatened for no good reason.”

Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), an opponent of drilling, told that Wednesday’s move will be pointless if Obama can’t follow up with passage of a comprehensive bill that regulates carbon – a tall order even following the Democrats’ big health care win.

Without comprehensive reform, “a massive expansion of offshore drilling does not cut the mustard,” Inslee said. He added that he’s worried the administration is giving away one of their most important climate carrots – and getting nothing in return.

“It would in my mind be more confidence building to have this as part of the final agreement rather than the opening discussion,” he said.

Obama anticipated such criticism during a speech announcing the policy at Andrews Air Force Base.

“There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision,” he said. “What I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy” to wean the U.S. from foreign oil.

It’s not clear what, if any, impact the announcement will have on the Graham-Kerry-Lieberman effort to craft a bill sometime this spring. Obama and his staff have made it clear they plan to tackle financial regulatory reform next – a process that’s expected to take until Memorial Day.

That leaves only a few weeks before lawmakers leave for the midterm elections to pass a climate bill, a particularly tight timeframe given that Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman have yet to release a draft.

Other congressional aides steeped in climate politics say the drilling proposal is more defensive – by adopting the Republican cry for expanded drilling, the White House preempts one of their favorite attacks.

“Republicans claim they are for an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy. Now, when a vote occurs on a bill that includes drilling and nuclear power along with clean energy and a climate component, President Obama can call their bluff,” said a House aide involved in energy issues.

In the Senate, moderate Democrats and a handful of Republicans have named offshore drilling as their price of admission for a comprehensive climate bill.

“I will not support any bill that doesn’t have off-shore drilling in a meaningful way,” said Graham.

“It’s just impossible to pass any piece of legislation without it,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “In order to get any bill through here, there’s going to be expanded drilling opportunities both on-shore and off.”

“It will be a fight – it always is,” she said, “but I think we’ll win.”

Yet even if Obama’s wins a short-term bump on the issue, perils remain. The decision may gain him some GOP backing – at the expense of anti-drilling Democrats.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has vowed to filibuster any legislation that removes the ban on drilling off the coast of Florida. And last week, 10 coastal state Democrats wrote the three senators working on the climate bill, warning that they could not support a bill that includes offshore drilling.

“We hope that as you forge legislation, you are mindful that we cannot support legislation that will mitigate one risk only to put our coasts at greater peril from another source,” they wrote.

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31
Mar
10

Making Higher Education More Affordable

NEWS
Making Higher Education More Affordable

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The President signs legislation to finalize health reform and to improve access to higher education by reforming student loans and making investments in community colleges and minority institutions.

The President believes that for America to compete in the 21st century, we’ll need a highly educated workforce that is second to none. But one of the things holding us back from this achievement is soaring tuition costs at colleges and universities around the country. Too many students and families struggle to make ends meet just to fulfill the dream of a college education. And when students are unable to afford access to higher education or graduate with a degree, our economy suffers.

That’s why President Obama signed today a historic piece of legislation that delivers real reforms and critical investments to our higher education system. By strengthening the Pell Grant program, investing in community colleges, extending support for Historically Black Colleges and other Minority Serving Institutions, and helping student borrowers manage their student loan debt, we will make college more affordable and enable more Americans to earn a college degree.

Lifelong educators like Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, know how important these reforms will be to our higher education system.

This legislation means $40 billion more dollars in the Pell Grant program to ensure that eligible students receive an award, and that awards increase to keep pace with rising tuition. And a $2 billion investment over four years for community colleges to develop, improve, and provide education and career training programs. Students will be able to choose to limit their student loan payments to 10% of their income, with any remaining balance forgiven after 20 years. And public service workers can have their loans forgiven after 10 years.

Because special interests have been benefiting from taxpayer subsidies for too long, we’re cutting out the middlemen by ending government subsidies currently given to banks and other financial institutions that make guaranteed federal student loans. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, ending these wasteful subsidies will free up nearly $68 billion for college affordability and deficit reduction over the next 11 years. So these investments are not only paid for, but they’ll reduce the deficit in the long run.

Because of the legislation enacted today, we’re finally undertaking meaningful reform to our education system and making college more affordable and accessible.

For more information on these federal student aid programs, please go to www.studentaid.ed.gov, or call 1-800-4FED-AID.
• Source(s): The White House
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27
Mar
10

Weekly Address: Two Major Reforms on Health Care & Higher Ed

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Weekly Address: Two Major Reforms on Health Care & Higher Ed

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The President looks back on a week that saw the passage of two major sets of reforms: one putting Americans in control of their own health care, and one ensuring student loans work for students and families, not as subsidies for bankers and middlemen.

This was a momentous week for America. It was a week in which together, we took bold new steps toward restoring economic security for our middle class and rebuilding a stronger foundation for our future. It was a week in which some of the change that generations have hoped for and worked for finally became reality in America.

It began with the passage of comprehensive health insurance reform that will begin to end the worst practices of the insurance industry, rein in our exploding deficits, and, over time, finally offer millions of families and small businesses quality, affordable care – and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

And it ended with Congress casting a final vote on another piece of legislation that accomplished what we’ve been talking about for decades – legislation that will reform our student loan system and help us educate all Americans to compete and win in the 21st century.

Year after year, we’ve seen billions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to the bankers and middlemen who handle federal student loans, when that money should have gone to advancing the dreams of our students and working families. And yet attempts to fix this problem and reform this program were thwarted by special interests that fought tooth and nail to preserve their exclusive giveaway.

But this time, we said, would be different. We said we’d stand up to the special interests, and stand up for the interests of students and families. That’s what happened this week. And I commend all the Senators and Representatives who did the right thing.

This reform of the federal student loan programs will save taxpayers $68 billion over the next decade. And with this legislation, we’re putting that money to use achieving a goal I set for America: by the end of this decade, we will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

To make college more affordable for millions of middle-class Americans for whom the cost of higher education has become an unbearable burden, we’re expanding federal Pell Grants for students: increasing them to keep pace with inflation in the coming years and putting the program on a stronger financial footing. In total, we’re doubling funding for the federal Pell Grant program to help the students who depend on it.

To make sure our students don’t go broke just because they chose to go to college, we’re making it easier for graduates to afford their student loan payments. Today, about 2 in 3 graduates take out loans to pay for college. The average student ends up with more than $23,000 in debt. So when this change takes effect in 2014, we’ll cap a graduate’s annual student loan repayments at 10 percent of his or her income.

To help an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates over the next decade, we’re revitalizing programming at our community colleges – the career pathways for millions of dislocated workers and working families across this country. These schools are centers of learning; where students young and old can get the skills and technical training they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow. They’re centers of opportunity; where we can forge partnerships between students and businesses so that every community can gain the workforce it needs. And they are vital to our economic future.

And to ensure that all our students have every chance to live up to their full potential, this legislation also increases support for our Minority Serving Institutions, including our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to keep them as strong as ever in this new century.

Education. Health care. Two of the most important pillars of a strong America grew stronger this week. These achievements don’t represent the end of our challenges; nor do they signify the end of the work that faces our country. But what they do represent is real and major reform. What they show is that we’re a nation still capable of doing big things. What they prove is what’s possible when we can come together to overcome the politics of the moment; push back on the special interests; and look beyond the next election to do what’s right for the next generation.

That’s the spirit in which we continue the work of tackling our greatest common tasks – an economy rebuilt; job creation revitalized; an American Dream renewed – for all our people.

Thank you.

▪ President Obama said that his student loan bill – which he is expected to sign into law Tuesday – would save taxpayers $68 billion while generating more student lending in order to give the United States the highest proportion of college graduates worldwide within 10 years. ‘To make sure our students don’t go broke just because they chose to go to college, we’re making it easier for graduates to afford their student loan payments,’ he added.

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25
Mar
10

‘Go For It,’ Obama Tells Republicans On Health Care Repeal

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‘Go For It,’ Obama Tells Republicans On Health Care Repeal

Thursday, March 25, 2010

President Barack Obama mocked Republicans’ campaign to repeal his new health care law, saying they should “Go for it” and see how well they fare with voters.

“Be my guest,” Obama said Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa, in the first of many appearances around the country to sell the overhaul to voters before the fall congressional elections. “If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don’t believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver’s seat.”

With emotions raw around the nation over the party-line vote to approve the nearly $1 trillion, 10-year law, Obama took the opposition to task for “plenty of fear-mongering, plenty of overheated rhetoric.”

“If you turn on the news, you’ll see that those same folks are still shouting about how it’s going to be the end of the world because this bill passed,” said Obama, appearing before thousands in this college town where, as a presidential candidate three years ago, he first unveiled his health care proposals.
No Republican lawmakers voted for the overhaul, a sweeping package that will shape how almost every American will receive and pay for medical treatment. Many in the GOP are predicting it will prove devastating in November for the Democrats who voted for it.

But the president stressed the notion of a promise kept, saying the legislation he signed into law on Tuesday is evidence he will do as he said. As the crowd broke into a chant of “Yes we can!” Obama corrected them: “Yes we did!”

The White House suggests it has the upper hand against Republicans politically, arguing the GOP risks a voter backlash because a repeal would take away from small businesses and individuals the benefits provided to them immediately under the new law.

“We’re not going back,” Obama said.

Obama spoke as Democrats in Washington raced to complete the overhaul with a separate package of fixes to the main bill.

Senate leaders finished work Thursday on the fix-it legislation, already approved in the House. But Republican attempts to derail the process resulted in minor changes to the bill, which meant the House would have to vote on it again before it can go to Obama for his signature. The House vote was expected by evening.

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25
Mar
10

Senate OKs changes to healthcare bill

NEWS
Senate OKs changes to healthcare bill

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Senate Democrats voted to pass the reconciliation package of repairs to President Obama’s health care overhaul Thursday afternoon after nearly round-the-clock votes to reject dozens of Republican amendments.

The bill passed 56–43 but has to go back to the House for another vote after Republicans were able to get two lines of the legislation deleted because they violated Senate rules. The House is expected to approve the changes to the bill – one a technicality, the other a limit on the maximum Pell grant allowed in the federal student loan program – and send the package to Mr. Obama late Thursday evening. A reform of the nation’s student loan system was included in the reconciliation bill for health reform.

The reconciliation bill contains a series of corrections to the underlying health care overhaul plan, which Mr. Obama signed into law this week.

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25
Mar
10

Senate Will Have to Return Health Bill to House

NEWS
Senate Will Have to Return Health Bill to House

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Washington, DC Spokesman for Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Jim Manley, released the following statement today after Republicans forced shut down of several Senate committees for the second consecutive day:

“For a second straight day, Republicans are using tricks to shut down several key Senate committees. So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings? These political games and obstruction have to stop – the American people expect and deserve better.”

The reconciliation bill will have to go back to the House for another vote after Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin ruled early this morning that two minor provisions violated the chamber’s rules and could not be included in the final bill, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley.

Both provisions made technical changes to the bill’s Pell Grant regulations. All told, 16 lines of text will be removed from the 153-page bill, Manley told reporters as business on the Senate floor wrapped early Thursday morning.

A spokeswoman for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) reiterated that the changes are “minor” and won’t create problems when the altered bill goes back to the House for approval. The reconciliation bill is designed to make changes to the newly minted health care reform law.

“The parliamentarian struck two minor provisions tonight form the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, but this bill’s passage in the Senate is still a big win for the American people. These changes do not impact the reforms to the student loan programs and the important investments in education. We are confident the House will quickly pass the bill with these minor changes,” Harkin spokeswoman Kate Cyrul wrote.

The all-night session came as Republicans offered 29 amendments in a final attempt to scuttle the bill, or at least force Democrats into taking politically difficult votes that could be used against them in November. Democrats steadily rejected each amendment, arguing that any changes would send the bill back to the House for another vote, an outcome Senate Democrats worked mightily to avoid before the parliamentarian’s ruling early Thursday.

Reid finally adjourned the marathon session at about 2:45 a.m. after striking a deal with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to return at 9:45 a.m. today and hold a final vote on the bill around 2 p.m. – news that was greeted with audible sighs of relief from tired senators.

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25
Mar
10

Health care ‘fix-it’ bill up for Senate debate

NEWS
Health care ‘fix-it’ bill up for Senate debate

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Democratic senators ripped their Republican counterparts for forcing cancellations of hearings throughout the Senate on Wednesday, claiming that the GOP is needlessly blocking essential national security business.

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill both complained that Republicans kept them from holding their hearings on budget requests for the military’s Pacific and strategic and police training contracts in Afghanistan.

Either party in the Senate is allowed to object to holding hearings, as Senate rules require a unanimous consent request for hearings to be held after 2 p.m. Most of these unanimous consent requests aren’t even noticed on any given day, but Republicans have been objecting to these requests, essentially shutting down committee work.

“It is astounding to me that the Republicans have decided to take this course of action. There’s no point to it. It does not accomplish their goals of stopping health care reform. All it can do is stop us from carrying out our duties to provide for the security of our country,” Levin said.

Generals from U.S. Pacific Command, Strategic Command and U.S. Forces Korea posted overseas flew to Washington for their annual update to the Armed Services committee, and Levin said his staff is working to reschedule a hearing for Friday but that it is unclear whether the generals will be able to stay that long.

Levin said he approached Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) Tuesday night at a meeting with senators and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alerting him of the importance of the hearing and asking for assistance in ensuring the committee could meet. “He told me he’d look into it,” Levin said.

McCaskill, who chairs the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, stepped up the criticism of the McConnell, saying that although he might not be the senator blocking the committee hearings, it’s well within his purview to stop it.

“If he’s a strong enough leader to keep all of his members in the corral on some of the things he’s kept them in the corral on in the past few months–surely, he’s a strong enough leader to say we’re not going to stop hearings on police training contracts in Afghanistan and commanders who travel halfway across the world to testify on behalf our United States military,” McCaskill said of McConnell.

McCaskill went on to say that the rule that allows members to block committee proceedings is “dumb” and “antiquated” and that although the “buck stops with the Republican leader… at a minimum, they owe the American people an answer as to who is responsible.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is pushing to strike so-called “sweetheart deals” such as an extra $300 million in Medicaid funds for the state of Louisiana. Critics have labeled the deal the “Louisiana Purchase.”

Democrats have dismissed the GOP proposals as little more than politically motivated obstructionism meant to derail the deal.

Republicans are “not serious about helping this bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said Wednesday. They are concerned only with “throwing roadblocks in front of anything we do.”

Reid said Senate Democrats “feel very comfortable and confident” that the package of changes as currently drafted will pass.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said Tuesday he didn’t think the Senate would change the bill, but if it did, the House would be prepared to vote on the revised bill and send it to Obama.

After a White House meeting Monday night with Senate Democratic leaders and Obama, a senior Democratic source said they believe some portions of the fixes bill may be ruled out of order because they violate the complicated legislative rules governing the process. The source would not specify the potential problems identified at the meeting.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), said one or two potential problems were identified, but he said they were minor.

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