President Obama Speaks on the Economy

Today President Obama returned to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois to kick off a series of speeches about his vision for rebuilding an economy that puts the middle class — and those fighting to join it – front and center.

In his remarks, President Obama laid out the progress we’ve made together in the five years since the start of the recession that cost millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, and their savings

“Thanks to the grit and resilience and determination of the American people — of folks like you — we’ve been able to clear away the rubble from the financial crisis. We started to lay a new foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth.

“As a country, we’ve recovered faster and gone further than most other advanced nations in the world. With new American revolutions in energy and technology and manufacturing and health care, we’re actually poised to reverse the forces that battered the middle class for so long, and start building an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.”

But, he said, “I’m here to tell you today that we’re not there yet.”

“As Washington prepares to enter another budget debate, the stakes for our middle class and everybody who is fighting to get into the middle class could not be higher,” he said.

“And that’s why, over the next several weeks, in towns across this country, I will be engaging the American people in this debate.”

“I’ll lay out my ideas for how we build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America, and what it takes to work your way into the middle class in America: Job security, with good wages and durable industries. A good education. A home to call your own. Affordable health care when you get sick. A secure retirement even if you’re not rich. Reducing poverty. Reducing inequality. Growing opportunity. That’s what we need.”

A better bargain for the middle class — an economy that grows from the middle out, not the top down, the President explained. “That’s where I will focus my energies not just for the next few months, but for the remainder of my presidency.”

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President Obama Takes Questions from the Press

Yesterday, President Obama held a press conference in the briefing room at the White House. He answered questions from reporters about Syria, the sequester, implementation of the Affordable Care Act and more.

President Obama said that the United States has been deeply engaged and involved in bringing about a solution to the “slowly unfolding disaster for the Syrian people.”

“What’s happening in Syria is a blemish on the international community generally, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the Syrian people,” he said.

“And when I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts,” President Obama said. “That’s what the American people would expect.”

“And what I’ve said to my team is we’ve got to do everything we can to investigate and establish with some certainty what exactly has happened in Syria, what is happening in Syria. We will use all the assets and resources that we have at our disposal. We’ll work with the neighboring countries to see whether we can establish a clear baseline of facts. And we’ve also called on the United Nations to investigate.”

On immigration reform, President Obama said that despite dysfunction on Capitol Hill, “I feel confident that the bipartisan work that’s been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate, passes the House, and gets on my desk. And that’s going to be a historic achievement.”

He also called on Congress to work together in finding a solution to the sequester, a set of harmful budget cuts that went into effect earlier this year.

“It’s damaging our economy. It’s hurting our people. And we need to lift it. What’s clear is, is that the only way we’re going to lift it is if we do a bigger deal that meets the test of lowering our deficit and growing our economy at the same time. And that’s going to require some compromises on the part of both Democrats and Republicans.”

President Obama said that he can put pressure on Congress to embrace common sense solutions to our problems, and rally the American people to do the same. But it’s up to Congress to decide they want to do the right thing.

“The only way the problem does get fixed is if both parties sit down and they say: How are we going to make sure that we’re reducing our deficit sensibly? How are we making sure that we’re investing in things like rebuilding our airports and our roads and our bridges, and investing in early childhood education, basic research — all the things that are going to help us grow? And that’s what the American people want.”

Finally, the President discussed the Affordable Care Act, which will be fully implemented by 2014. A huge portion of the law is already in place, the President said.

“There are a whole host of benefits that, for the average American out there, for the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, this thing has already happened.  And their only impact is that their insurance is stronger, better, more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.

“The implementation issues come in for those who don’t have health insurance,” President Obama said. “Maybe because they have a preexisting condition and the only way they can get health insurance is to go out on the individual market,” or because they can’t afford coverage or get it through their employer.

“And what we’re doing is we’re setting up a pool so that they can all pool together and get a better deal from insurance companies.  And those who can’t afford it, we’re going to provide them with some subsidies.  That’s it.  I mean, that’s what’s left to implement, because the other stuff has been implemented and it’s working fine.

“The challenge is that setting up a market-based system, basically an online marketplace where you can go on and sign up and figure out what kind of insurance you can afford and figuring out how to get the subsidies — that’s still a big, complicated piece of business.”

President Obama said that despite the challenges, “we’ve got a great team in place. We are pushing very hard to make sure that we’re hitting all the deadlines and the benchmarks.”

Before leaving the briefing room, the President added one last comment about Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out publicly on Monday .

“I had a chance to talk to him yesterday,” President Obama said. “He seems like a terrific young man. And I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him. “

“And I think America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly, and everybody is part of a family, and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance and not their sexual orientation” President Obama said.

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President Obama Talks About his Plan to Put People to Work Rebuilding America

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on infrastructure, at the Port of Miami Tunnel project in Miami. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on infrastructure, at the Port of Miami Tunnel project in Miami. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama was in Florida today, where he got a chance to see the Port Miami tunnel project on Dodge Island. The project, which is the result of three years of work by over 500 employees and more than 6,000 sub-contractors and vendors, will create connect the port to the interstate highway system more quickly and safely and will take over 1.5 million trucks out of the downtown area per year.

It is projects like this one, the President said in remarks following his tour, that will help reignite the true engine of our economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class. “Projects like this create a lot of other good jobs, too,” President Obama explained. “You ask any CEO where we they rather locate their business and hire new workers. Are you going to set up shop in a country that’s got raggedy roads, runways that are pot-holed, and backed-up supply chains?  Or are you going to seek out high-speed rail, Internet, high-tech schools, new state-of-the-art power grids, new bridges, new tunnels, new ports that help you ship products made in America to the rest of the world as fast as possible? That’s what people are looking for. That’s what CEOs are looking for.”

Despite real progress toward upgrading national infrastructure over the past four years, much work needs to be done if we are to prove to the world that there is no better place to do business than in the United States. As the President noted today, “we still have all kinds of deferred maintenance. We still have too many ports that aren’t equipped for today’s world commerce. We’ve still got too many rail lines that are too slow and clogged up. We’ve still got too many roads that are in disrepair, too many bridges that aren’t safe.”

“We don’t have to accept that for America,” he continued. “We can do better. We can build better. And in a time of tight budgets, we’ve got to do it in a way that makes sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”The President today laid out a plan that will create jobs while upgrading what our businesses need most — modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Called the Partnership to Rebuild America, this partnership with the private sector has three main components: creating an independent fund which would leverage private and public capital for infrastructure projects that show the greatest merit; fund more projects, at less cost, by establishing new America Fast Forward bonds which will give mayors and governors more flexibility and power to attract private investment for public projects; and strengthening a loan program (the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act  or TIFIA) that will give cities and counties better access to funds for infrastructure improvements.

Fixing our infrastructure is a non-partisan priority that has support from both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, and from mayors and governors from both parties. As President Obama said today, the Partnership to Rebuild America will create good jobs doing the work America needs done. “That’s how we’ll encourage more businesses to start here, and grow here, and hire workers here.”

LULAC, MALDEF Send Joint Letter to Congress on Impact of Sequestration on Hispanic Students

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund (MALDEF) have issued a joint letter to the House and Senate leadership urging for a bipartisan solution that staves off the Budget Control Act’s automatic sequestration provision. Both LULAC and MALDEF are co-chairs of the HEC which also includes 20 organizations focused on improving educational opportunities and outcomes for more than the 54 million Hispanics living in the United States and Puerto Rico.

The letter specifically highlighted the negative impacts that the sequestration cuts would likely have on federal education programs which serve thousands of Latino students. For example, education programs will be uniquely affected since school districts must make budget decisions today for the 2013-2014 school year and the sequestration cuts will go into effect in the fall of 2013.

“The programs that will see the most cuts are critical to increasing graduation rates and reducing the drop-out rates among Hispanic students across the country,” said LULAC National President Margaret Moran. “We will continue to urge Congress to find alternative solutions to our country’s budget problems.”

The cuts will be made to federal programs that help ensure educational access and support for Latino students. A copy of the letter to the Senate leadership can be found here, and a copy of the letter to the House leadership can be found here.

“The cuts to ESEA, ELL and Head Start will have significant consequences on the Hispanic student population since the majority of the students who are served from these critical programs are Hispanic,” said LULAC National Executive Director, Brent Wilkes. “We hope to see a consensus before these cuts to our nation’s federal education programs cause irreparable harm to students who are working hard and need these programs the most.”

President Obama Talks About Moving Forward Despite Sequester

President Obama held a press conference on Friday after meeting with Congressional leaders to talk about his plans to move the country forward in light of the severe budget cuts that will start to take effect today.

These cuts, which are known as the sequester, will hurt our economy and cost us jobs, the President said. And as Americans all across the country work hard to keep our economic recovery going, arbitrary cuts to services and investments that businesses and workers depend on makes that far more difficult.

But none of this is necessary, President Obama said. These cuts are “happening because of a choice that Republicans in Congress have made.”

“They’ve allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit. As recently as yesterday, they decided to protect special interest tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected, and they think that that’s apparently more important than protecting our military or middle-class families from the pain of these cuts.

“I do believe that we can and must replace these cuts with a more balanced approach that asks something from everybody: Smart spending cuts; entitlement reform; tax reform that makes the tax code more fair for families and businesses without raising tax rates —  all so that we can responsibly lower the deficit without laying off workers, or forcing parents to scramble for childcare, or slashing financial aid for college students.”

Speaking in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, President Obama vowed that he would continue working with Congress in the coming weeks to find compromise on a balanced approach to replacing these harmful budget cuts:

“I’m going to keep on reaching out to them, both individually and as groups of senators or members of the House, and say to them, let’s fix this — not just for a month or two, but for years to come.  Because the greatest nation on Earth does not conduct its business in month-to-month increments, or by careening from crisis to crisis. And America has got a lot more work to do.”

The President also promised that the sequester would not affect his plans to move the country forward on other important goals:

“There are other areas where we can make progress even with the sequester unresolved. I will continue to push for those initiatives.  I’m going to keep pushing for high-quality preschool for every family that wants it. I’m going to keep pushing to make sure that we raise the minimum wage so that it’s one that families can live on. I’m going to keep on pushing for immigration reform, and reform our voting system, and improvements on our transportation sector. And I’m going to keep pushing for sensible gun reforms because I still think they deserve a vote.”

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President Obama: Automatic Budget Cuts Will Hurt Economy, Slow Recovery, and Put People Out of Work

Just 10 days from now, Congress might allow a series of severe and automatic budget cuts to take place that will hurt our economic growth, add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls, and threaten military readiness.

But, as President Obama said yesterday, these cuts don’t have to happen — Congress has the power to stop them.

In 2011, President Obama explained today, Congress passed a law saying that if they couldn’t agree on a plan to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion – including the $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction lawmakers in both parties have already accomplished over the last few years – about $1 trillion in automatic, arbitrary cuts would start to take effect this year.

“The whole design of these arbitrary cuts was to make them so unattractive and unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would actually get together and find a good compromise of sensible cuts as well as closing tax loopholes and so forth,” President Obama said. “And so this was all designed to say we can’t do these bad cuts; let’s do something smarter.  That was the whole point of this so-called sequestration.”

Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t compromised, these cuts are now poised to take effect next Friday, President Obama said:

“Now, if Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research. It won’t consider whether we’re cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness, or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day. It doesn’t make those distinctions.

“Emergency responders like the ones who are here today — their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded. Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.

“And already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. And as our military leaders have made clear, changes like this — not well thought through, not phased in properly — changes like this affect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world” President Obama said.

The President called on Congress to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines tax reform with additional spending reforms – an approach that doesn’t harm our economy or the middle class.

“This is not an abstraction,” President Obama said. “There are people whose livelihoods are at stake. There are communities that are going to be impacted in a negative way. And I know that sometimes all this squabbling in Washington seems very abstract, and in the abstract, people like the idea, there must be some spending we can cut, there must be some waste out there. There absolutely is. But this isn’t the right way to do it.”

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Giving Every Child a Chance in Life

President Barack Obama delivers remarks to discuss proposals unveiled in the State of the Union Address that focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class and those striving to get there, at Hyde Park Academy, Chicago, Ill. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks to discuss proposals unveiled in the State of the Union Address that focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class and those striving to get there, at Hyde Park Academy, Chicago, Ill. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama was in Chicago on Friday to talk about the importance of making sure every child in America has every chance in life to succeed. Speaking at the Hyde Park Career Academy, which is less than a mile from the Obama’s home in that city, the President discussed the recent death of Hadiyah Pendleton, a Chicago teenager who was shot just days after attending the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, DC.

Hadiyah’s parents were guests of First Lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address on Tuesday, where President Obama discussed the need to prevent this kind of senseless violence and protect American children. But the important goal of  keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is not enough to ensure a bright future for all of our children, and the President also laid out a plan to rebuild ladders of opportunity for every American who is willing to work hard and climb them. This includes making sure every child in America has access to high-quality pre-K, and raising the minimum wage so that no family that works hard and relies on a minimum wage is living in poverty. But creating a path into the middle class also means transforming high-poverty communities into places of opportunity that can attract private investment, improve education, and create jobs, and President Obama talked about his plan to make that happen:

“And that’s why on Tuesday I announced — and that’s part of what I want to focus on here in Chicago and across the country — is my intention to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit communities in America to get them back in the game — get them back in the game.

“First, we’ll work with local leaders to cut through red tape and improve things like public safety and education and housing. And we’ll bring all the resources to bear in a coordinated fashion so that we can get that tipping point where suddenly a community starts feeling like things are changing and we can come back.

“Second of all, if you’re willing to play a role in a child’s education, then we’ll help you reform your schools. We want to seed more and more partnerships of the kind that Rahm is trying to set up.

“Third, we’re going to help bring jobs and growth to hard-hit neighborhoods by giving tax breaks to business owners who invest and hire in those neighborhoods.

“Fourth, and specific to the issue of violence — because it’s very hard to develop economically if people don’t feel safe. If they don’t feel like they can walk down the street and shop at a store without getting hit over head or worse, then commerce dries up, businesses don’t want to locate, families move out, you get into the wrong cycle. So we’re going to target neighborhoods struggling to deal with violent crime and help them reduce that violence in ways that have been proven to work. And I know this is a priority of your Mayor’s; it’s going to be a priority of mine.

“And finally, we’re going to keep working in communities all across the country, including here in Chicago, to replace run-down public housing that doesn’t offer much hope or safety with new, healthy homes for low- and moderate-income families” President Obama said.