Turning the Affordable Care Act into a Reality

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today I continued my series of bipartisan outreach meetings to engage leaders from inside and outside of government as we implement the Affordable Care Act. It’s been just over three months since health insurance reform became law, and already Americans are gaining greater control over their health care. As we work to turn the new law into reality for families, businesses, and individuals across the country, we’ve been getting some great insight from leaders in all sectors, as well as directly from the American people.

http://whitehouse-org.blogspot.com/I was pleased to join my colleague Nancy-Ann DeParle, who is overseeing health care implementation on behalf of the President, in hosting former Senate majority Leader Tom Daschle, former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, and Dr. Mark McClellan, former CMS Administrator and former FDA Commissioner, at the Department today. They offered some great ideas about implementation and outreach, suggestions about strategies to make sure that the Affordable Care Act is successful, and I will continue to draw on their experience in the months ahead.
We know that all Americans have an interest in what is happening in implementing the Affordable Care Act. Over the past few months, we’ve been meeting with Members of Congress and their staff, insurers, Governors, State Insurance Commissioners, advocates, senior citizens, employers, health care providers and others to answer questions, provide updates, and gather input and advice. We’ve also been answering questions directly from the American people through webchats that focus on different parts of the new law.
Tomorrow, we will launch an unprecedented, easy to use website, HealthCare.gov, where consumers and small business owners will be able to compare health plans and find information on the new law and other important health topics. Tomorrow is also the day when many Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing health condition will be able to start enrolling in new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans throughout the country.
We encourage you to check out the new website tomorrow and visit it often for the latest updates on how the new law will impact you.

It’s Up to YOU!

This week New York City hosted the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service: It’s Up to YOU! Over 5,000 service leaders convened to discuss how to create greater impact and effectiveness in meeting social needs through service and volunteering. The National Conference on Volunteering and Service is the world’s largest gathering of service and civic engagement leaders. This conference is hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, our federal agency home for service, and the Points of Light Institute.
I was pleased to deliver the opening remarks to frame the President’s and First Lady's vision and commitment to service as well as to meet with a broad cross-section of service leaders from the nonprofit, public, private, and philanthropic sectors.
As you well know, our nation faces a daunting set of challenges. But, from day one, the President has acted on the principle that “service is a solution” – that service is a critical tool as we address our national priorities.
That’s why one of the President’s top priorities in his first 100 days was to sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. We worked with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress and with service and community leaders across the country to give the American people more opportunities to serve.
Afterall, the President and First Lady have always believed that the best ideas don’t come from Washington. They come from individuals and communities all across the country. From coast to coast, our neighbors are finding new and innovative ways to meet our country’s most pressing challenges. These community-led solutions are strengthening, reforming and supporting our schools; helping us bring quality, affordable health care to everyone; building a sustainable energy future; and ensuring economic recovery, economic opportunity and economic growth in every community in the country.
To support community solutions, the President tasked me with creating the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation as part of the Domestic Policy Council in the White House – to find the best ways to invest in and scale programs that work and find ways to help communities better solve their own problems. We know that we need to get the policies right, but we also know that Americans everywhere are already working to make a difference – and they deserve our support.
We have to come together – the public, private, nonprofit, academic, and philanthropic communities. We need to share best practices, share new ideas, and invest in what works. And we need to support a new generation of leaders who can build on the great progress we have made together.
To get involved in your own local community, please go to Serve.gov to find opportunities to volunteer. And to hear more about the discussions that took place at the National Conference please visit the conference’s website.

2010 MATHCOUNTS Winners Visit President Obama

Question: If you start with $1 and, with each move, you can either double your money or add another $1, what is the smallest number of moves you have to make to get to exactly $200?
Mark Sellke, an 8th grader at Klondike Middle School in West Lafayette, Indiana, correctly answered this question in less than 45 seconds this past May to become the 2010 MATHCOUNTS individual champion.
Yesterday, President Obama met with Mark, the winning MATHCOUNTS team from California, and the individual runner-up of the competition. During their visit to the White House, these elated “mathletes" talked to the President about their aspirations—including working for NASA and becoming a math professor. The President congratulated the students on their accomplishments and emphasized the importance of science and math to the Nation’s economy, security, and competiveness. He also confessed to a more parochial pleasure in getting to know them, declaring that he would be calling upon them next time Sasha or Malia stumped him with a math homework question.
Not everyone needs to be able to figure out as fast as Mark did that it takes (spoiler alert!) at least nine moves to get that $200, but the United States will need more stars like Mark and his co-winners if we are to meet the President’s goal of once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.
That’s one reason why the President launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign to motivate and inspire students to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). That campaign has already helped to raise more than $500 million from the private, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors for the creation of innovative public-private partnerships to attract, develop, reward, and retain outstanding educators in STEM subjects.
So congratulations to America’s newest mathletes. And to the rest of the Nation’s students: Let’s get to work!


Bringing Green Manufacturing Back Home

We talk a lot about the need for America to lead the world in green manufacturing, and with good reason: a strong green manufacturing sector will create good, domestic jobs and boost exports, all while helping us reduce carbon emissions and break our dependence on foreign oil.
But it’s not just talk. We’re taking action to re-establish that leadership, and what’s happening today, down in Louisville, Kentucky, is a perfect example of how we’re going to do it.
Vice President Biden was in Louisville today to visit a General Electric facility called Appliance Park, where GE is investing $600 million to expand their manufacturing of energy-efficient appliances. But they’re not doing it alone – their investment is being supported by $24.8 million in Recovery Act funds through a program called the Section 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit, or “48C” for short.
We’ve written about this program before, because it’s one of our favorite programs here at the Middle Class Task Force – it uses Recovery Act dollars to spur private-sector investments in the clean energy and energy efficiency technologies we need to tackle our energy challenges. And those investments create good jobs now, while planting the seeds for vibrant new industries in the future.
Down in Louisville, they’re having another great effect – they’re bringing green manufacturing back to America. Right now, GE makes energy-efficient water heaters in China, but thanks in part to this Recovery Act program, they’re moving production back to the states.
That’s a big turnaround. In fact, these energy-efficient water heaters are the first new product line at Appliance Park in the last 50 years, and the return of all this green manufacturing to the US is going to mean hundreds of new, high-quality jobs down in Louisville.
This is just one of the many success stories we’ve heard from the 48C program, which is leveraging private-sector investment to create good, middle-class jobs and build a domestic clean energy manufacturing sector. Our administration has proposed to build on that success by expanding the 48C program, and the Middle Class Task Force has made that expansion a priority.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – it’s time for Congress to enact our proposed expansion of 48C, because programs like this are the only way we’re going to keep getting changes like what’s happening down in Louisville. And that’s how we’re going to lead the world in green manufacturing.

President Obama on the Loss of Senator Robert Byrd: "A Voice of Principle and Reason"

Monday, June 28, 2010

This morning the President issued the following statement on the passing of Senator Robert Byrd:

I was saddened to hear this morning that the people of West Virginia have lost a true champion, the United States Senate has lost a venerable institution, and America has lost a voice of principle and reason with the passing of Robert C. Byrd.

Senator Byrd’s story was uniquely American. He was born into wrenching poverty, but educated himself to become an authoritative scholar, respected leader, and unparalleled champion of our Constitution. He scaled the summit of power, but his mind never strayed from the people of his beloved West Virginia. He had the courage to stand firm in his principles, but also the courage to change over time.

He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors. His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history. He held the deepest respect of members of both parties, and he was generous with his time and advice, something I appreciated greatly as a young senator.

We take solace in the fact that he is reunited with his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma; and our thoughts and prayers are with their daughters, their grandchildren and great grandchildren, and all the people of West Virginia who loved Robert C. Byrd.

Vice President Biden also took a moment today to speak on the loss of his friend:

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: "As we used to say in my years in the Senate, if you’ll excuse a point of personal privilege here for a moment, a very close friend of mine, one of my mentors -- a guy who was there when I was a 29-year-old kid being sworn into the United States Senate shortly thereafter; a guy who stood in the rain, in a pouring rain, freezing rain outside a church as I buried my daughter and my wife before I got sworn in, Robert C. Byrd. He passed away today. He was the -- we lost the dean of the United States Senate, but also the state of West Virginia lost its most fierce advocate and, as I said, I lost a dear friend.

“Throughout his 51 years, the longest tenure of any member in Congress in the history of the United States, Robert C. Byrd was a tough, compassionate, and outspoken leader and dedicated above all else to making life better for the people of the mountain state -- his state, the state of West Virginia. He never lost sight of home. He may have spent half a century in Washington. But there’s a guy -- if anybody wondered -- he never, never, never, never took his eye of his beloved mountain state. And we shall not -- to paraphrase the poet -- we shall not see his like again. And the Senate is a lesser place for his going."

The President's Plan to Increase Spectrum - Technology & the Economy

Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, spoke today on technology policy, job creation, and economic growth – in particular the President’s move to dramatically increase the amount of federal and commercial spectrum available for smartphones and wireless Internet devices.
As our fact sheet explained, "In recent years, the amount of information flowing over some wireless networks has grown at over 250 percent per year, with some estimates indicating that the next five years will see an increase in wireless data of between 20 and 45 times 2009 levels, reflecting the increasing use of smartphones, netbooks, and other wireless devices. As the revolution in mobile broadband and related technologies unfolds, the demand for spectrum will continue to increase – leading to increasing fears of a 'spectrum crunch.'"
Summers put the move into historical perspective:
The most important innovations are those that create possibilities that could not have previously been imagined, and with them create the industries of the future and millions of new jobs.
The steam engine, electricity, the automobile – these were technologies that did not just permit existing products to be produced better or more cheaply, but opened whole new economic vistas. We are in the middle of another one of those revolutions right now.
The information technology revolution is redefining infrastructure. For millennia, progress in infrastructure came from the more effective movement of the commerce in goods and services. But in the digital world, we are concerned with the movements of images and ideas, bits rather than mass.
We are now in the midst of the third wave of the Internet’s development: mobile broadband. And we have only begun to glimpse the benefits of that revolution, exemplified by smartphones, netbooks, and the applications that run on them.
He identified the four key parts of the President’s plan – read the full speech or the fact sheet for all the details:
1. "First, identify and plan for the release of 500 MHz of spectrum."
2. "The second part of the President’s plan is to provide new tools and new incentives to free up spectrum."
3. "Third, redeploy the spectrum to high-value uses."
4. "Fourth and finally, use the auction proceeds to promote public safety and job-creating infrastructure investment."

Keeping Up with the G8 and G20

Below find all of the resources, and several photos from the second day of the G8 Summit and the G20 in Canada.


Weekly Address: Finishing the Job on Wall Street Reform

With Congress having finalized a strong Wall Street reform bill, the President urges Congress to finish the job and send the bill to his desk. The legislation reflects 90% of what the President originally proposed, including the strongest consumer financial protections in history with an independent agency to enforce them. It ensures that the trading of derivatives, which helped trigger this 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. It also creates 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.

President Obama at the G8 in Photos

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The President spent today at the G8 Summit in Canada, which focused amongst other things on the Muskoka Initiative on maternal and child health (MCH). See an array of photos from the day below.http://whitehouse-org.blogspot.com/

Building Our Cities Greener

Earlier this week, we took another big step forward in the Obama Administration’s efforts to encourage more sustainable development as we announced $100 million for our new Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant program to encourage regions to integrate economic development, land use, and transportation investments – which will help to tie the quality and location of housing to broader opportunities such as access to good jobs, quality schools, and safe streets.
For all the implications of “sprawl”—from job loss, economic decline and segregation, to obesity, asthma rates, to climate change and our dangerous dependence on foreign oil—all of them share by one fundamental problem: the mismatch between where we live and where we work. Whatever else we do to address these problems, America must find a way to connect housing to jobs.
And Americans are demanding it. Today, the average household spends more than half of its budget on housing and transportation. They have become American families’ two single biggest expenses.
During the housing boom, real estate agents suggested to families that couldn’t afford to live near job centers that they could find a more affordable home by living farther away. Lenders bought into the “Drive to Qualify” myth as well – giving easy credit to homebuyers without accounting for how much it might cost families to live in these areas or the risk they could pose to the market.
And then, an odd thing happened when these families moved in – they found themselves driving dozens of miles to work, to school, to the movies, to the grocery store, spending hours in traffic and spending nearly as much to fill their gas tank as they were to pay their mortgage...and in some places, more. In addition to adding to families’ budgets and time, it is also contributing to increased carbon emissions and pollution.
In all, in the last century, transportation costs as a share of household expenditures have increased by a thousand percent.
In February, HUD launched our new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities – allowing us to work directly with communities to support innovative planning and practice at the local level and helping to coordinate our investments with other agencies at the federal level.
In particular, HUD formed a Sustainability Partnership with the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency. When it comes to housing, environmental and transportation policy, the Federal government must speak with one voice. This is an example of how we’re changing the way we do business across the Administration – working not at cross purposes in our silos, but together, in common purpose

Of course, as critical as regional planning is, the hard work of implementing plans happens at the local level.
That’s why our $40 million Sustainable Communities Challenge Planning Grant program is targeted to cities and towns. I announced this program earlier this week in conjunction with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a joint grant program that includes up to $35 million for its “TIGER II” planning grant program.
Where the Transportation program will fund planning activities that relate directly to a future transportation capital investment, HUD’s program will fund land-use related planning activities and affordable housing strategies that will be linked to that investment. This funding will make it possible for communities to hire staff with the expertise needed to remove barriers communities face to sustainable development.
The goal of each of these efforts—at the regional level, at the community level and at the neighborhood level—is the same: to advance our shared priorities and values as Americans for the decades to come.
Priorities like jobs for the 21st century – located closer to where we live, so businesses spend less money moving goods and services and people can spend less time commuting and more time with family.
Values like healthier, more inclusive communities – with neighborhoods where kids can play outside and breathe clean air.
Communities where opportunities for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities are never determined by their zip code.
These are the kinds of communities we all want our children to grow up in.
If, in this new century, we grow our communities and our economies out of this fundamental principle, then I have no doubt our America and our children’s America will be a strong, prosperous America infused with the same sense of purpose, opportunity and resolve that have always defined us.

Reset with Russia Continues

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It may be that no relationship has seen greater progress and been more productive over the past two years than that between the U.S. and Russia. As one of his earliest foreign policy priorities, the President sought to “reset” relations with Russia and reverse what he called a “dangerous drift.”

Every meeting of the two presidents has been preceded by countless hours of preparation and negotiations, helping to ensure that tangible steps forward could be taken on issues ranging from the New START Treaty and nuclear proliferation, to North Korea, to Kyrgyzstan, to energy and the environment.

President Obama
and President Medvedev spent much of the day in meetings, along with lunch at Ray's Hell Burger in Virginia and at the U.S.–Russia Business Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. At a joint press conference afterwards, the President explained how two nations who once saw each other as primary security threats to each other were now helping to keep the entire world safe:

Together, our nations have deepened our cooperation against violent extremism, as terrorists threaten both our people, be it in Times Square or in Moscow. And today we’ve agreed to expand our cooperation on intelligence and counterterrorism. Russian transit routes now play a vital role in supplying American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. And to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons, we came together at our Nuclear Security Summit, where our two nations made numerous commitments, including agreeing to eliminate enough plutonium for about 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Together, we have coordinated our efforts to strengthen the global economic recovery through the G20 -— work that we will continue in Toronto this weekend. And today we agreed to continue closely to coordinate our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts following the tragic outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan.

Our two countries continue to disagree on certain issues, such as Georgia, and we addressed those differences candidly. But by moving forward in areas where we do agree, we have succeeding in resetting our relationship, which benefits regional and global security. This includes, I would note, a change in the attitudes among the Russian people, who today have a far more favorable view of the United States, and that, in turn, creates more space for additional partnership.

Indeed, this has been the real focus of our work today and of President Medvedev’s visit -- not simply resetting our relationship, but also broadening it. Because 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the U.S.-Russian relationship has to be about more than just security and arms control. It has to be about our shared prosperity and what we can build together.

http://whitehouse-org.blogspot.com/The President opened his remarks calling today “an opportunity to return the wonderful hospitality that the President, Mrs. Medvedeva, and the Russian people showed me and my family during our visit to Moscow one year ago.” One of our first behind-the-scenes videos abroad was from that President– still well worth a watch:

Recent Article:


West Wing Week: "Mailbag Day"

Mailbag Day! We decided to make episode thirteen of West Wing Week a chance to respond to some of your letters and emails. This week, find out if the White House composts, learn which direction the eagle on the Presidential seal faces, and examine the process by which the flag flying over the White House is lowered to half-staff.

While this edition of West Wing Week was focused on questions from the American people, we want to make sure you still have access to information on everything that happened this week at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This week, the President broke ground on the 10,000th Recovery Act Road Project, delivered a speech on responsible fatherhood, announced the Patient's Bill of Rights, met with his Cabinet, discussed new leadership in Afghanistan, spoke on LGBT month and met with Russian President Medvedev.

Friday. June 18, 2010

The President breaks ground on the 10,000th Recovery Act Road Project!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The President's "Most Important Job" Father's Day remarks

Monday, June 21, 2010

The President reflects on responsible fatherhood

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The President announces historic Patient's Bill of Rights healthcare regulations

The President meets with the Cabinet to discuss BP Oil Spill, Iraq, and energy and climate legislation

The President remarks on LGBT Pride Month

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The President speaks on new leadership for the mission in Afghanistan

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The President meets with President Medvedev

Finish Line in Sight on Wall Street Reform

What a difference a year makes.

Last June, President Obama unveiled a comprehensive proposal for financial reform, saying:

Millions of Americans who've worked hard and behaved responsibly have seen their life dreams eroded by the irresponsibility of others and by the failure of their government to provide adequate oversight. Our entire economy has been undermined by that failure.

So the question is, what do we do now? We did not choose how this crisis began, but we do have a choice in the legacy this crisis leaves behind. So today, my administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system.

On that same day, President Obama ticked off his priorities for financial reform:

First, we're proposing a set of reforms to require regulators to look not only at the safety and soundness of individual institutions, but also -- for the first time -- at the stability of the financial system as a whole…

Second, we're proposing a new and powerful agency charged with just one job: looking out for ordinary consumers….

Third, we're proposing a series of changes designed to promote free and fair markets by closing gaps and overlaps in our regulatory system -- including gaps that exist not just within but between nations.

A lot of people wondered whether such an overhaul could actually be achieved. Even with our financial system undeniably broken, even with trillions in lost savings and millions of lost jobs, they wondered whether Washington could actually come together and get the job done.

Secretary Geithner warned against inaction:

Every financial crisis of the last generation has sparked some effort at reform. But past efforts have begun too late, after the will to act has subsided.

We cannot let that happen this time. We may disagree about the details, and we will have to work through those issues. But ordinary Americans have suffered too much; trust in our financial system has been too shaken; our economy has been brought too close to the brink for us to let this moment pass.

That’s why we have never let up in the fight for financial reform.

Look at where we are now, a year later, the finish line is in sight.

Right now a Congressional Conference Committee is in its second week of meetings. Thanks to the strong leadership of Chairman Dodd and Chairman Frank, as well as Chairwoman Lincoln and Chairman Peterson, the House and the Senate are tirelessly working through the last few remaining differences that exist between their bills.

In the coming days, they will reach agreement. And once that happens, the President will be able to sign into law the strongest set of financial reforms since those that followed the Great Depression.

We don’t have to wait until that day to know what reform will look like.

While some work remains to be done in Conference, the parameters of any final bill are largely set. And they largely follow the principles outlined by the President over a year ago.

For example, we already know that whatever bill comes to the President’s desk will end the problem of “too big to fail.” It will end taxpayer-funded bailouts. And it will make sure that American families and businesses never have to foot the bill for the irresponsibility of Wall Street.

We already know that the bill will give regulators the tools they need to curb risk-taking by financial institutions so that we can help prevent future crises.

We already know that the bill will put in place the strongest consumer financial protections in American history. It will make sure that consumers have the information they need to make informed decisions. And it will crack down on companies that take advantage of their customers

And we already know that the bill will create a safer, more transparent derivatives market, so that all of those transactions are brought out of the shadows and placed under strong supervision. It will also force derivatives dealers to hold capital against their risks so that financial firms will be accountable for the risks they take.

We know all this because all of it is already in the bills passed by the House and the Senate.

Everyone has a stake in financial reform. If you’re a family trying to buy your first house, a parent trying to fund your child’s education, an employee trying to save for retirement, or an entrepreneur trying to expand your business, you have a stake in financial reform.

Over the past two years, we have all lived through a devastating economic crisis. We have all learned important lessons. And when the President signs the final financial reform bill into law, he will have delivered on his commitment last year: to lay a new foundation for a stronger, safer financial system.

President Obama on Afghanistan, General McChrystal & General Petraeus

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This afternoon the President spoke on new leadership for the mission in Afghanistan, full remarks below:

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. I did so with considerable regret, but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country.

I'm also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan, which will allow us to maintain the momentum and leadership that we need to succeed.

I don't make this decision based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal, as we are in full agreement about our strategy. Nor do I make this decision out of any sense of personal insult. Stan McChrystal has always shown great courtesy and carried out my orders faithfully. I've got great admiration for him and for his long record of service in uniform.

Over the last nine years, with America fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has earned a reputation as one of our nation’s finest soldiers. That reputation is founded upon his extraordinary dedication, his deep intelligence, and his love of country. I relied on his service, particularly in helping to design and lead our new strategy in Afghanistan. So all Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal’s remarkable career in uniform.

But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president. And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that it is the right decision for our national security.

The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

My multiple responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief led me to this decision. First, I have a responsibility to the extraordinary men and women who are fighting this war, and to the democratic institutions that I've been elected to lead. I've got no greater honor than serving as Commander-in-Chief of our men and women in uniform, and it is my duty to ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out.

That includes adherence to a strict code of conduct. The strength and greatness of our military is rooted in the fact that this code applies equally to newly enlisted privates and to the general officer who commands them. That allows us to come together as one. That is part of the reason why America has the finest fighting force in the history of the world.

It is also true that our democracy depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command. And that’s why, as Commander-in-Chief, I believe this decision is necessary to hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy.

Second, I have a responsibility to do what is -- whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan, and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. I believe that this mission demands unity of effort across our alliance and across my national security team. And I don’t think that we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change. That, too, has guided my decision.

I’ve just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option, but an obligation. I welcome debate among my team, but I won’t tolerate division. All of us have personal interests; all of us have opinions. Our politics often fuels conflict, but we have to renew our sense of common purpose and meet our responsibilities to one another, and to our troops who are in harm’s way, and to our country.

We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere. We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world.

So make no mistake: We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.

That’s the strategy that we agreed to last fall; that is the policy that we are carrying out, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In that effort, we're honored to be joined by allies and partners who have stood by us and paid the ultimate price through the loss of their young people at war. They are with us because the interests and values that we share, and because this mission is fundamental to the ability of free people to live in peace and security in the 21st century.

General Petraeus and I were able to spend some time this morning discussing the way forward. I’m extraordinarily grateful that he has agreed to serve in this new capacity. It should be clear to everybody, he does so at great personal sacrifice to himself and to his family. And he is setting an extraordinary example of service and patriotism by assuming this difficult post.

Let me say to the American people, this is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy. General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall, and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place. In his current post at Central Command, he has worked closely with our forces in Afghanistan. He has worked closely with Congress. He has worked closely with the Afghan and Pakistan governments and with all our partners in the region. He has my full confidence, and I am urging the Senate to confirm him for this new assignment as swiftly as possible.

Let me conclude by saying that it was a difficult decision to come to the conclusion that I have made today. Indeed, it saddens me to lose the service of a soldier who I’ve come to respect and admire. But the reasons that led me to this decision are the same principles that have supported the strength of our military and our nation since the founding.

So, once again, I thank General McChrystal for his enormous contributions to the security of this nation and to the success of our mission in Afghanistan. I look forward to working with General Petraeus and my entire national security team to succeed in our mission. And I reaffirm that America stands as one in our support for the men and women who defend it.

Thank you very much.

On a Path to Ending Homelessness

Ed Note: In case you missed it, check out Secretary Donovan’s post on HUD’s blog following yesterday’s release of the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.

Someone once told me -- in your head it's a dream, but on paper it's a plan. As a nation, we have talked about addressing the issue of homelessness, and now we've a plan. Over the last year, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), consisting of 19 federal agencies and chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, drafted the nation’s first comprehensive strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.

The impetus for such a plan was simple. In the United States, no one should spend a single night without a place to call home. Yet, 634,000 people, including 107,000 veterans, experience homelessness on any given night. The families and individuals that experience homelessness and the advocates that work so hard on this issue know that we need to act with a renewed sense of urgency.

Yesterday, the lead Cabinet secretaries from USICH – Secretary Donovan, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki – joined USICH Director Barbara Poppe to unveil and submit Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness to the President and Congress.

The plan sets ambitious but measurable goals: (1) end chronic homelessness in five years; (2) prevent and end homelessness among veterans in five years; (3) prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children within a decade; and (4) put us on a path to ending all types of homelessness.

The plan builds on existing interagency partnerships and evidence-based models that are working at the local level. It will focus the resources and efforts of federal agencies to offer a variety of comprehensive solutions. For example, the partnership between HUD, HHS, and Education will provide homeless families with not only a home, but the wrap-around services they need to remain off the streets.

This is doable but it requires all of us to work together - Congress, federal agencies, state and local officials, faith-based and community organizations, and business and philanthropic leaders across our country.

We applaud the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for their tireless efforts to put on paper what we know is possible. Preventing and ending homelessness will positively impact the lives of individuals and families, veterans, children and youth, those who are chronically ill, those suffering from domestic violence, and those combating discrimination of all sorts.

We look forward to working with dedicated state and local leaders to open doors and opportunities for men, women, and children all across the country.

Bringing Relief to Americans

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March he ushered in a new day for every American family that has seen its wages and dreams eroded by a health care system that worked for the insurance companies’ bottom line — and at the expense of regular people.

To me, reforming America’s health care system has always been about re-empowering America’s workers and putting consumers back in charge of their health coverage and care.

Today, I joined with my colleagues at HHS and Treasury in announcing new regulations to do just that by stopping insurance companies from limiting the care you need and removing the bureaucratic barriers between you and your doctor.

Beginning this fall -- just six months after the Affordable Care Act was enacted -- new regulations will put an end to some of the most egregious practices. These rules:

* Put an end to pre-existing condition exclusions for children under age 19 for all group health plans and new individual market policies;

* Stop insurers from arbitrarily rescinding coverage except in cases involving fraud or an intentional misrepresentation of material facts for all plans;

* Prohibit the use of lifetime limits in all policies issued or renewed after September 23, 2010;
* Phase out the use of annual dollar limits over the next three years for most plans;

* Allow consumers to designate any available participating primary care provider as their primary care provider for all new plans;

* End the practice of charging higher out-of-pocket costs for services that are obtained out of a plan’s network emergency for all new plans.

Together, this new Patient’s Bill of Rights, will bring immediate relief to many Americans and provide peace of mind to millions more who are only one illness or accident away from medical and financial chaos.

For too long, many small business owners and self-employed entrepreneurs have been priced out of adequate health care coverage. The provisions announced today provide these engines of economic growth with more choices in care, greater value for the money, and the confidence that comes with both.

The Affordable Care Act -- Benefits and Weights Being Lifted

In March 2007, doctors diagnosed Amy Wilhite’s daughter, Taylor, with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Taylor received three rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. The cancer treatment produced multiple side effects: problems with her heart and hip, short-term memory loss, steroid-induced diabetes, and a compromised immune system. And so as one can imagine, the lifetime limit on the insurance plan that was covering Taylor was a constant worry, and as Amy explained before introducing the President today, there was always the worry pursuing a treatment now might mean they could not afford an even more important treatment later.

The Wilhites are just one family that will benefit from the fact that the Affordable Care Act, or Health Reform as you probably know it, will prohibit all insurance companies from imposing lifetime benefit limits for plans beginning on or after September 23, 2010. The Wilhite family can now follow doctor's orders without having to worry about hitting a limit, which Amy described as a weight being lifted. And that was just one of the benefits that the President spoke about this morning:

On July 1st, uninsured Americans who’ve been locked out of the insurance market because of a preexisting condition will now be able to enroll in a new national insurance pool where they will finally be able to purchase quality, affordable health care -- some for the very first time in their lives. For states that opt to run their own insurance pools using funds from the new law, my administration is urging them to begin enrolling people as soon as possible.

And in a few years, once the new competitive marketplace comes online through insurance exchanges, discrimination against Americans with preexisting conditions will be banned for good. That’s when individuals and small businesses will finally have the same access to the same types of insurance plans that members of Congress have for themselves.

And today, I am announcing that the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury are issuing new regulations under the Affordable Care Act that will put an end to some of the worst practices in the insurance industry, and put in place the strongest consumer protections in our history -- finally, what amounts to a true Patient’s Bill of Rights.

This long-overdue step has one overriding focus, and that’s looking out for the American consumer. It is not punitive. As I said when I met with the insurance executives, it is not meant to punish insurance companies. They provide a critical service. They employ large numbers of Americans. And in fact, once this reform is fully implemented a few years from now, America’s private insurance companies have the opportunity to prosper from the opportunity to compete for tens of millions of new customers. We want them to take advantage of that competition.

Now, what Americans expect in return is a greater level of accountability and fairness and security. We expect to get what we pay for. And these rights guarantee just that -- basic rules of the road that will make America’s health care system more consumer-driven and more cost-effective, and give Americans the peace of mind that their insurance will be there when they need it -- give Amy that piece of mind that her insurance will be there when she needs it.

So, starting in September, some of the worst abuses will be banned forever. No more discriminating against children with preexisting conditions. No more retroactively dropping somebody’s policy when they get sick if they made an unintentional mistake on an application. No more lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on coverage. Those days are over.

And I am pleased to say that some insurance companies have already stopped these practices. When news reports indicated that a company was dropping coverage for women diagnosed with breast cancer, my administration called on the industry to end the practice immediately -- don’t wait until September. And soon after, the entire industry announced that it would comply with the new law early and stop the practice of dropping people’s coverage when they fall ill and need it most.

The President also spoke to health insurance rates, another important factor for families' peace of mind. Just beforehand he met with health insurers and state insurance commissioners:

But it is important to have these steps in places to protect consumers from unjustifiable rate increases. In fact, many states are already exercising their review authority. We are already seeing a wave of change that’s lifting up consumers and leveling the playing field. Maine rejected a proposed 18 % rate hike there. Pennsylvania is investigating premium increases made by nine of the state’s largest insurers. New York recently passed a law granting the state the authority to review and approve premium increases before they take effect. And we’re working with other states and the state insurance commissioners here today to support similar efforts. Secretary Sebelius has urged them to investigate other rate hikes. We have set up a new Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight to help. And we will provide grants to the states that run the best, most innovative oversight programs to protect their consumers.

And beginning next year, insurance companies will be required to spend at least 80 or 85 % of health care dollars where they should be spent -- on health care and on efforts to improve its quality. Not on profits, not on bonuses, not on administrative costs that don’t make people healthier.