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Hi, all. Today's report features:

• Online Wednesday Watch: Soyuz launch to space station starts 12:30 p.m. here; White House Forum on Environmental Justice starts 10 a.m. EST here.

• First Question & press briefing: Q&A on Afghanistan, START, health care reform.

• Cool roof at DOE: Secretary Chu explains how this simple technology saves money while reducing global carbon emissions.

• Commerce Department: Secretary Locke on renewable energy technology exports.

• Tuesday Talks: Answering questions about the White House Fellows program.

• Court challenges to health care reform: The USAG and HHS Secretary explain why the Act must be upheld.

• Homeland Security and the DREAM Act: Secretary Napolitano urges the Act’s passage.

• State Department: PEPFAR partnership with South Africa to fight HIV/AIDS.

• NBA Cares: Reactions to  visit of the President and L.A. Lakers to Boys and Girls Club.


NASA Television, Dec. 14, 2010:

Kelly, Crew Await Three New ISS Residents

International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly talks with CNN Radio and KRIV-TV, Houston about the upcoming arrival of the final three Expedition 26 crew members at the ISS. Cady Coleman, Paolo Nespoli and Dmitry Kondratyev are set to join Kelly, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochkov on Friday., Dec. 14, 2010:

Soyuz Set for Wednesday Launch

Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka tackled a variety of research and maintenance tasks Tuesday aboard the International Space Station as they await the arrival of three additional flight engineers set to launch Wednesday aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

Kelly performed routine maintenance on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device or ARED, a weightlifting machine that simulates the pull of gravity. ARED is just one of a suite of exercise devices available to the crew for a daily two-and-a-half-hour exercise regimen to counteract the loss of bone density and muscle mass that occurs during long-term spaceflight.

Afterward Kelly continued preparations for the arrival of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s H-II Transfer Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), set to launch Jan. 20. Working in the Kibo laboratory, Kelly checked out the command console that the crew can use to take control of the automated rendezvous process if needed when the unpiloted cargo craft arrives at the station.

Kelly took a break from his work for a pair of in-flight interviews with CNN Radio’s Jim Ribble and Tom Zizka of KRIV-TV in Houston. The commander answered questions about life and work aboard the orbital outpost.

In the Russian segment of the station, Kaleri and Skripochka began their workday with an experiment that assesses a cosmonaut’s ability to perform tasks in weightless conditions. The two cosmonauts also worked together on a study of the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the cardiovascular system.

Throughout the day Tuesday, the station’s residents had several opportunities to take photographs of the Earth below as they continue to document the condition of their home planet. Among the targets suggested by researchers for photography were the glaciers of the Southern and Northern Patagonian Ice Fields of the Andes Mountains in South America.

During his stay aboard the station, Kelly will post some of his photographs of Earth on Twitter for an online geography trivia game.

Participate in Commander Scott Kelly’s Geography Trivia From Space contest

Back at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency received their final approval to begin their five-month mission aboard the station from Russian officials. The three will board the Soyuz TMA-20 Wednesday for a launch at 2:09 p.m. EST (1:09 a.m. Thursday, Kazakhstan time).

Live NASA TV coverage of the crew’s pre-launch activities begins at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, followed by launch coverage at 1:15 p.m.

Coleman, Kondratyev and Nespoli will join the Expedition 26 crew as flight engineers after docking with the station at 3:12 p.m. Friday.

Read more about Expedition 26

View space station resupply

Council on Environmental Quality, Dec. 14, 2010:

Open for Questions: Environmental Justice with CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

Posted by Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

This Wednesday, December 15, 2010, the Obama Administration is hosting the first White House Forum on Environmental Justice to build on our commitment to ensuring that overburdened and low-income communities have the opportunity to enjoy the health and economic benefits of a clean environment.  At lunch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and I will host a live Facebook chat to answer your questions about the Obama Administration’s work to create a healthy and sustainable environment for all Americans.

Tune in on Wednesday, December 15th at 12:50PM EST to participate in the discussion live at  Submit your questions on Facebook here.  Also, watch the White House Forum live all day, beginning at 10am, at


White House, Dec. 14, 2010:

First Question with Robert Gibbs -- December 14th, 2010

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs takes first questions before his press briefing from the online audience on the prospects for ratifying the New START treaty and ramifications of not doing so, as well as lessons on bipartisan compromise from the tax cut legislation.

White House, Dec. 14, 2010:

12/14/10: White House Press Briefing

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

Office of the Press Secretary, Dec. 14, 2010:

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/14/2010

On the President’s AfPak meeting and Ambassador Holbrooke.

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon.  Let’s -- let me do a quick readout from the President’s Afghanistan meeting -- Pakistan meeting this morning.

President Obama met for nearly two hours with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  At the beginning of the meeting, President Obama and Secretary Clinton reaffirmed the great debt that the administration and the American people owe to Richard Holbrooke and noted the extraordinary expressions of respect from Ambassador Holbrooke’s life, demonstrated -- demonstrate the legacy that he’s built over 50 years of service to his country.

Both General Petraeus and Ambassador Eikenberry noted that many Afghans had expressed their condolences to Ambassador Holbrooke’s family to them over the course of the past day.

The President then reviewed the findings of the draft national security staff-led report on the progress that has been made in implementing our strategy, focusing on the three different components of the review:  al Qaeda senior leadership, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In each area, the President and his team discussed both the progress that has been made as well as areas for additional focus moving forward.

The President directed his team to finalize the report, while also continuing to address the range of issues discussed in the report as we head into 2011.

The President will provide an update on our strategy to the American people on Thursday as he presents the findings of the review, along with members of his senior national security team....

.... I think that when you see the review on Thursday, I doubt there will be, in all honesty, a lot of surprise at what the review lays out.  I think you will see, as many of you have written and reported, that there has been some important progress in halting the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  We have seen, through counterterrorism, success at degrading senior al Qaeda leaders.  And we’ve seen greater cooperation over the course of the past 18 months with the Pakistani government.

You will also see in the review an enumeration of the continued challenges that we have in that region.  They will focus on a few different areas, but clearly we have to strengthen -- continue to strengthen capacity inside of Afghanistan.  And we still have the ongoing challenge and threat of safe havens in Pakistan.  So -- plus I think you have overlaid with that the progress that an agreement that we saw in Lisbon with NATO and ISAF in agreeing on a strategy of beginning the transition in 2011 through 2014, where Afghans will take full responsibility for their nation and for their security.

So I think that’s a tenor of what you’ll see (Thursday).  Again, a lot of that has been -- a decent amount of that you guys have covered and reported over the past several months.  And I think this was an opportunity for the national security team to evaluate the progress and identify further challenges a little -- slightly more than a year after the President laid down a different strategy late last year....

Well, let me say a few things about Richard, because I think that -- I think our focus over the past almost 24 hours I think has been on what he would want us to focus on, and that is continuing to get this policy right.

When we haven’t been focusing on that, I think we’ve been focused on the tremendous impact that his career has had over many decades and on many issues that have been at the forefront of our foreign policy.  I think he was a public servant in the truest sense of those words.

So our focus has been on celebrating the diplomatic life and the life that he had with his family and friends -- and focus, quite frankly, less so on what might be next for that position.

Obviously Richard had a very talented team that continues even today to do the work that Secretary Clinton and President Obama asked him to do many months ago.  I think the American people, as you heard the President and the First Lady say last night in their statement, are indebted to his service.  And their thoughts and prayers and our thoughts and prayers are with his family....

Q: Staying with Ambassador Holbrooke for a moment, it’s been reported that his final words were, "You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan."  ....

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Alister, I would point you to -- and I think you should all check what P.J. Crowley said at the top of his briefing today.  P.J. has talked to a number of people that were in the room or familiar with the situation.  And I think it’s emblematic of the fact that Richard was always focused on the task at hand.

But I think if you look at that transcript, you’ll see there’s a little back and forth as the medical staff is trying to get him to calm down and relax at some point, and he’s saying that he’s worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the doctor says, "Well, let us focus on this."  And he said, "Okay, great, you end the war in Afghanistan."

So, again, I’d point you to P.J. on this because he’s done some checking around on that....

Q: Do you think the war is going better now than it was a year ago?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t think there’s any doubt.  We have -- and I think you’ll see this from the review, and again, I preface it by saying it is not without its challenges.  It is not without –

Q: We’re losing more troops than we were a year ago.

MR. GIBBS: And I think that is the sad impact of having more forces to stem the momentum that the Taliban had been making.  There’s no doubt that we would not be seeing either security or civilian progress were it not for the stemming of that momentum.

That’s -- look, the President argued for years that we needed more forces, even as more forces were diverted to other conflicts, away from what the President believes was the central front.

I think you’ll see in the review when it’s made -- when a summary is made public, that because of the increased troop level, you’ve had an opportunity to push back on the Taliban in important areas of the country, something that wasn’t happening until more forces were added.

Many challenges remain.  As I said, as we have seen success, we understand that that success without following up in the capacity building of either Afghanistan as a whole, or those regions specifically, it’s going to be hard either from a security or a governmental perspective to hold those areas.  We’ve got to recruit, retain -- recruit, train and retain a security force of police and army to be able to do that.

You also have to create the civilian capacity that’s necessary to deliver both the basic functions of either a regional or a national government and continue to make progress in doing so in order to hold those regions.  All of that is what continues....

There’s three aspects of the review:  Afghanistan, al Qaeda and Pakistan.  So, again, this is sort of along the lines of what I was telling Jake, and that is, we have seen over the course of many months an increased willingness to cooperate from the Pakistanis.  But as you saw in both -- you’ll see in this review and in reports that have been sent up I think early fall, late last summer, that there are things that we still need Pakistan to continue to cooperate with us more on and continue to do in order to prevent further safe havens from impacting the progress that ultimately can be made in Afghanistan....


Q: A couple issues on the Hill.  "Don’t ask, don’t tell," the House is introducing a standalone bill today.  Does the President believe that perhaps a standalone bill is the best way to get this policy repealed legislatively?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Mike, I think the President is -- believes that the best way to change this policy is through a legislative vehicle.  As you’ve heard me say, as you’ve heard Secretary Gates as recently as his -- coming back from his trip to Afghanistan, that his strong belief is that the policy will change one of two ways:  either through the court system or through Congress.

His preferred and our preferred method is to do this legislatively through Congress.  And it’s our hope -- you saw a vote late last week, 57 senators support repeal.  There were some absences and things like that.  I think it’s safe -- you can without a doubt say that a number far exceeding a majority is supportive of the repeal of that policy as you’d seen previously in the House.

And I think we have a strong chance to change that policy before Congress leaves the end of this year.

Q: As the calendar goes by, is the President becoming worried that time may be running out on this issue for this Congress?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President believes that there’s time enough to get several things done.  The tax agreement I think obviously passed an important procedural hurdle yesterday and hopefully will be agreed on by the Senate today.  I think the House will take it up over the course of the next several days.  I think the Senate is likely to move to consideration of the ratification of the New START treaty, which is also a strong and important priority of the President....

Q: As you mentioned, the START treaty is probably going to be coming up actually -- might actually be coming up tonight, but the debate will really begin tomorrow.  What is the President doing to make sure that that comes -- gets 67 votes?  And some Republicans are talking about moving to strike the non-binding missile defense language out of the preamble of the treaty.  And I’m wondering if you see the treaty text as inviolable or would you entertain changes to it?

MR. GIBBS: I will check with NSC on the language.  I think it’s pretty clear that when people like James Baker and others say that this is a treaty that will not affect our ability to conduct missile defense, probably there’s no better example than at a meeting in Lisbon by NATO, where many encouraged the ratification -- the Senate to ratify this treaty.  We also finally got -- we finally went from the theoretical to the reality of a missile defense shield for Europe that also protects America.  So I think the notion that somehow those were in contradiction of each other were in many ways addressed them.

The President has tasked the Vice President specifically with -- and the Vice President has, over the course of many weeks, been making calls and visits to the Senate.  I think it’s clear that if you look at the number of Democrats and Republicans that have said they’re supportive of this treaty, that number is at or exceeds 67....

On the economy and meetings with CEOs.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think there’s a series of -- and, look, we’ll have more to -- and the President will have more to say on this before he goes tomorrow.  But I think, as you mention, there are a whole host of important economic ideas and important things that you’ve heard the President talk about.

I would point you to the speech that he did a little more than a week ago in North Carolina, as an important marker for what he sees this country has to be involved in in order to create opportunities for people here at home and how obviously that is directly related to businesses and employers.  We are not going to see a sustained economic recovery until we see that it is sparked and led by the private sector.

So I think whether that is -- and you’ve seen, again, some of this over the past couple of weeks, whether it is agreement on a free trade agreement that will open up important developing -- either developing markets or fast-growing markets for our products and creating jobs here at home; whether it is an investment in a sufficient infrastructure for the 21st century; whether it’s education reform.  There are a whole host of things I think that the President is interested in both talking to and hearing from CEOs on this tomorrow....

But in the end, the economy grows because of consumer demand, and that’s where a lot of these decisions will derive from.....

On the middle-class tax cuts.

Q: What’s the President’s sense of the dynamics in the House as the tax legislation would move over there?....

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the framework that -- the framework that the President introduced a little more than week ago has, as you heard others say, has been changed to add the energy tax credits that were important to the President and a number of Democrats.  So I think that the Senate is going to pass that, and that’s going to be the basis of which the House takes up that legislation.  Obviously we think it’s also the basis for what will become the agreement that the President will sign.

Look, I’ll continue to say that the President, as you heard, have -- and said at this podium just yesterday, understands the frustration that members have in not being able to simply extend the tax cuts permanently for middle-class Americans.  But we didn’t have the votes to do that in the Senate, and that’s what led us to need to come up with something that didn’t impact middle-class Americans with a tax increase on the 1st of January.

....  The President will continue to make calls.  And I think the President believes -- look, I think if you look at the -- look at events over the past 48 hours, 85 I think was the final number in the Senate last night -- 83-15.  I knew there was a five in there somewhere.  I wouldn’t have done well in "The Price Is Right."

The 83 votes, I think, if you look at a number of public opinion polls that have come out, demonstrate broad bipartisan support.  And I think the President believes that in the not-too-distant future we’ll have an agreement that he can sign that preserves those tax rates....

On Afghanistan again.

MR. GIBBS:  The document does not call for any additional force changes.  I think the document, as I said, will show that we’re on track for July 2011.  Obviously the President asked for some changes in the document today, so in terms of the number of pages, I don’t know.

Obviously there’s going to be -- there’s two version of this.  There will be an executive summary that we’ll put out publicly, and then obviously there is a top secret and classified version that has been constructed as well.

....  I think you’ll hear the President lay out extensively his thoughts on where we are.  And then, as I said, some of the senior policymakers will be in here to take some of your questions around that.

So I don’t see that there will be a West Point-type speech, but I think an extensive discussion of where we are is certainly what you’ll see on Thursday...

Q: (On the expiration of the Build America Bonds program on Dec. 31.)

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have -- there are a lot of things that the President wanted to see that aren’t in this agreement.  Obviously the Build America Bonds and other things are things that the President believes are important.

Obviously -- I think there are obviously -- there are a series of budgetary concerns that -- at a state and local level that I’m not entirely sure all of that is a result of -- or could be remedied with Build America Bonds.

But obviously it’s an important investment that the President and the team put in the Recovery Act.  And, look, there are things that we’d like to see extended that just aren’t in this agreement.

Q: If states like Illinois and California that are particularly in dire straits came with their tin cup in hand, would the White House agree to -- is there another bailout for the states in the works?  Is that something you’d consider?

MR. GIBBS: I’m not aware that there has been a bailout for the states that was previous to your question today....

I don’t think investing in infrastructure is -- maybe I’m misunderstanding the premise of your question.  But I don’t think paying down on a municipal rate for a bond to invest in infrastructure is a bailout.  I mean, that’s how we build schools.  I don’t think that when we build schools we consider that a bailout....

On court challenges to the Affordable Care Act.

Q: .... does the White House have any reaction to reports of conflicts of interest regarding the judge who struck down the health care law?....

MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any reaction particularly on that.  I think if you -- look, there was a lot of commentary on yesterday’s ruling.  I think it is important to get a couple of points of perspective.  Eleven cases challenging the constitutionality of some portion of the health care bill have been dismissed.  Two federal courts have actually upheld the constitutionality of the very provision that another court ruled differently on yesterday.  And as I said, 115 miles apart, two judges in the same commonwealth came to different conclusions.

So I think if you take a -- if you really look at the ruling, the thing that I’m struck by is quite honestly the narrowness of the ruling based on the petition that the Attorney General (Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia) made.  The Attorney General -- and I think to be clear, the Attorney General wanted the entire piece of legislation, based on proving what he thought was one segment of the bill unconstitutional, that the whole bill would be struck down.  The judge actually, despite a lack of a severability clause in the larger legislation, severed his ruling on the mandate away from the rest of the legislation.

The practical impact -- because the only thing the judge dealt with was one aspect of the legislation to be implemented in 2014 -- there’s no practical impact at all as states move forward in implementing the decision -- or implementing the law that Congress passed and the President signed....

On continuity after the passing of Richard Holbrooke.

Q: your view and the President’s view, is the war effort strategy for dealing with Afghanistan bigger than any one person?

MR. GIBBS: Of course it’s bigger than any one person.  Obviously Richard had, as I said earlier, a set of experiences that made him crucial and important to this effort.  General McChrystal has been replaced by General Petraeus.  And I think you’d be hard pressed to see how that has negatively impacted the effort.

Obviously we miss his presence today, and we will no doubt miss his presence in the future.  I think the Secretary of State, his staff that remains, and many of the ambassadors that he has come into contact with and some of whom he has shaped over his five decades in diplomatic service will help lead the effort to continue to make progress on the civilian side and to make progress on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thanks, guys.


Department of Energy, Dec. 14, 2010:

Cool Roofs: An Easy Upgrade

Posted by Cathy Zoi, Acting Under Secretary of the Department of Energy

Check out Google Earth – the ‘view from above’ of your favorite American city. And look at the roofs of the office buildings, warehouses, shopping centers, and even the homes. Most of them are probably pretty dark in color – and this means they heat up a lot when the weather is warm – up to 50 degrees hotter than light roofs. All of those dark roofs mean that as a nation we’re using a lot more air conditioning than we need to. At least a billion dollars a year in extra power bills, in fact. And when you combine hot roofs with dark roads and parking lots, we get the ‘urban heat island’ effect: cities tend to be 2-5 degrees hotter than less urban areas just because of all the dark surfaces.

But there’s something we can do about it: changing to a ‘cool roof.’ The Department of Energy just did this in our Washington, DC headquarters. It was time to replace our roof anyway, so for no extra cost we went to a ‘cool’ white material. And we’re hoping others follow this lead.

Here's a video of Secretary Chu giving his thoughts on our new cool roof:

Why Cool Roofs?

By installing a cool roof at DOE, the federal government and Secretary Chu are helping to educate families and businesses about the important energy and cost savings that can come with this simple, low-cost technology. Cool roofs have the potential to quickly and dramatically reduce global carbon emissions while saving money every month on consumers' electrical bills.

A cooler roof means lower energy bills –up to 10-15% lower – when it’s warm out because your air conditioner doesn’t have to work as hard. Saving energy means lower greenhouse gas emissions because we don’t need to burn as much fossil fuel. And less heat absorbed by building rooftops means cooler communities in the summer.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab estimate that if just over three quarters of our nation’s commercial buildings were updated with cool roofs, the U.S. would save enough energy on air-conditioning to reduce CO2 emissions by about 6 million metric tons each year. That’s like taking more than a million cars off the road.

Places like Bermuda and the Aegean island of Santorini got this concept long ago. Nearly every rooftop is white. These folks figured out that it’s more comfortable to use a cool roof in a hot climate than to use a dark roof and blast the AC.

So if you or someone you know is planning some work on the roof of your building or home, check out whether cool roofing is a good option for your climate zone. Go to to calculate how much money you might save.

The cleanest source of energy is the energy you don’t use. We’ve realized that in the Federal government and have gotten started on making sensible changes to save the taxpayers money. We’re looking forward to businesses and householders joining us in saving money by saving energy – and then let’s all shout about it from the rooftops. Cool ones, that is.


White House Blog, Dec. 14, 2010:

Boosting Exports of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Technology

Posted by Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce

From the earliest days of the Obama administration, we have been working to promote innovation and competitiveness in high-growth sectors like renewable energy and energy efficiency (RE&EE).  President Obama’s Recovery Act, for instance, made the single largest investment in clean energy in our nation’s history. Over $90 billion was invested through the Recovery Act to promote everything from advanced wind turbines and solar panels to new battery technologies and the modernization of our electricity grid.

Thanks to these investments and the ingenuity of U.S. businesses, America is on track to meet the president’s goal of doubling the country’s installed capacity of renewable energy technologies by 2012

But spurring domestic clean energy innovation to meet America’s needs is only half of the picture.

Empowering U.S. business to create and deliver those new technologies to energy-hungry foreign markets is the other.

Think about this for a moment: To meet the energy demands of the 9 billion people expected to be living on our planet in 2050, the world will need to construct two 1,000-megawatt power plants every single week.

And even that undersells the challenge.

The world’s climate can't afford for us to build two coal plants a week for the next 40 years.  We’ve got to create technologies that draw energy from cleaner sources, and we've got to get them to places like India and China that will have the most intense energy demand.

Last week, we took an important step in ensuring this happens, when I announced the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative – an effort of eight separate U.S. Government agencies – co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and Energy – to focus our resources on meeting the exporting needs of these emerging industries.

Among other things, this initiative will provide new financing options for RE&EE exporters; enhance market access for U.S. RE&EE technologies in foreign markets; increase the number of trade promotion events for U.S. RE&EE companies and significantly improves the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. Government export promotion programs.

In fact, we are already taking action. I met last week with 24 members of the newly formed Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee, who will help us ensure that the implementation of the Initiative is as effective as possible. In addition, we have created a new online portal for RE&EE companies, which aggregates information on news, trade events and market research from all U.S. Government agencies into a single, easy-to-use website.

Over time, the new Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative is designed to increase the competitiveness of U.S. RE&EE companies in key markets and provide the export opportunities U.S. companies need to hire new workers and promote economic growth for the American people.

That’s precisely the message I’m delivering all over the country.

The potential for new business and new job creation in renewable energy and energy efficiency industries is astounding – and the Department of Commerce and the rest of the U.S. Government are eager to turn that potential into reality.  

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative gets us one step closer to a future in which America leads the global clean energy economy and benefits from the sustainable, well-paying jobs that comes with that leadership.


White House, Dec. 14, 2010:

Tuesday Talks: The White House Fellows Program

Program Director Cindy Moelis and former Fellows Jaime Areizaga-Soto and Esther Benjamin answer your questions about the prestigious White House Fellows Program and the Fellowship application process.


Office of the Press Secretary, Dec. 14, 2010:

Op-ed by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

The full text of the op-ed by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is printed below. The piece, published in today’s Washington Post, can be read online HERE.

Health reform will survive its legal fight

By Eric H. Holder Jr., Attorney General of the United States, and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of health and Human Services

In March, New Hampshire preschool teacher Gail O'Brien, who was unable to obtain health insurance through her employer, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. Her subsequent applications for health insurance were rejected because of her condition. With each round of chemotherapy costing $16,000, she delayed treatment because she knew her savings wouldn't last.

Then President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to this law, O'Brien is getting treatment through a temporary program that provides affordable coverage to people who've been shut out of the insurance market because of a preexisting condition. Even better, she knows that in 2014 insurers will be banned from discriminating against her or any American with preexisting conditions.

That's what makes the recent lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act so troubling. Roughly 20 cases question the new law's individual responsibility provision, which says that Americans who can afford to must maintain basic health coverage.

Federal courts in Michigan and Virginia have upheld the law as constitutional, but Monday, a federal court in Virginia reached the opposite result. These and other cases will continue through our courts as opponents try to block the law. But these attacks are wrong on the law, and if allowed to succeed, they would have devastating consequences for everyone with health insurance.

The majority of Americans who have health insurance pay a higher price because of our broken system. Every insured family pays an average of $1,000 more a year in premiums to cover the care of those who have no insurance.

Everyone wants health care to be affordable and available when they need it. But we have to stop imposing extra costs on people who carry insurance, and that means everyone who can afford coverage needs to carry minimum health coverage starting in 2014.

If we want to prevent insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, it's essential that everyone have coverage. Imagine what would happen if everyone waited to buy car insurance until after they got in an accident. Premiums would skyrocket, coverage would be unaffordable, and responsible drivers would be priced out of the market.

The same is true for health insurance. Without an individual responsibility provision, controlling costs and ending discrimination against people with preexisting conditions doesn't work.

The legal arguments made against the law gloss over this problem even as opponents have sought to invent new constitutional theories and dig up old ones that were rejected 80 years ago.

Opponents claim the individual responsibility provision is unlawful because it "regulates inactivity." But none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care. All of us need health care eventually. Do we pay in advance, by getting insurance, or do we try to pay later, when we need medical care?

The individual responsibility provision says that as participants in the health-care market, Americans should pay for insurance if they can afford it. That's important because when people who don't have insurance show up at emergency rooms, we don't deny them care. The costs of this uncompensated care - $43 billion in 2008 - are then passed on to doctors, hospitals, small businesses and Americans who have insurance.

As two federal courts have already held, this unfair cost-shifting harms the marketplace. For decades, Supreme Court decisions have made clear that the Constitution allows Congress to adopt rules to deal with such harmful economic effects, which is what the law does - it regulates how we pay for health care by ensuring that those who have insurance don't continue to pay for those who don't. Because of the long-held legal precedent of upholding such provisions, even President Ronald Reagan's solicitor general, Charles Fried, called legal objections to the law "far-fetched."

As these lawsuits continue, Americans should be clear about what the opponents of reform are asking the courts to do. Striking down the individual responsibility provision means slamming the door on millions of Americans like Gail O'Brien, who've been locked out of our health insurance markets, and shifting more costs onto families who've acted responsibly.

It's not surprising that opponents, having lost in Congress, have taken to the courts. We saw similar challenges to laws that created Social Security and established new civil rights protections. Those challenges ultimately failed, and so will this one.

Rather than fighting to undo the progress we've made, and returning to the days when one out of seven Americans was denied insurance due to their medical histories, supporters of repeal should work with us to implement this law effectively. The initial decisions about the Affordable Care Act will be reviewed on appeal. We are confident that the law will ultimately be upheld.


The White House Blog, Dec. 14, 2010:

How the DREAM Act Would Bolster Our Homeland Security

Posted by Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security

Ed. Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts from top Administration Officials on the importance of the DREAM Act.  Read Education Secretary Arne Duncan's post here, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis's contribution here, and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's post here.

Over the past several weeks, the President and my fellow Cabinet members have talked about a number of important reasons to support the DREAM Act. Today, I’d like to speak to the important role the DREAM Act would have in promoting public safety though smart and effective immigration enforcement.

By providing a firm, but fair, means for individuals who were brought to the United States as children to adjust their status, the DREAM Act would bolster the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to focus our limited enforcement resources on detaining and removing criminal aliens and those who pose a threat to our national security and public safety.

Under this Administration, the Department of Homeland Security has deported a record number of illegal aliens convicted of criminal offenses, including 195,000 in fiscal year 2010 – a 70 percent increase in criminal removals compared to 2008. Passage of the DREAM Act would further enhance these efforts.

To be clear, no one who poses a threat to public safety will be able to adjust their status under the DREAM Act. The bill ensures applicants will undergo a rigorous background check, and individuals who committed offenses that are grounds for removal will be barred from relief. It is a narrowly-tailored, bipartisan bill that would allow a select group of immigrant students with great potential to contribute more fully to America.  

Our priority of removing criminal illegal aliens – which the DREAM Act would further enhance – is only one part of this Administration’s broader strategy to secure the border and enforce our nation’s immigration laws. We have more personnel, technology, and infrastructure at the border than ever before, including record numbers of Border Patrol agents and 1,200 National Guard personnel whom the President has authorized to assist at the border. As of this year, we have drone flights covering the southwest border from El Centro, CA to Brownsville, TX, and have more border fencing than at any previous point in history.

The DREAM Act is not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform.  While the broader immigration debate continues, however, I urge the Congress to pass the DREAM Act and allow those who arrived in this country as children and who want to go to college or serve in our military to adjust their immigration status.  By passing the DREAM Act, Congress can help DHS continue to enhance our immigration enforcement efforts in the way that makes the most sense for our public safety and national security. The U.S. House of Representatives has already acted in a bipartisan manner on this legislation, voting last week to pass the DREAM Act. And soon, the Senate will have the same opportunity to enact the measure. I urge the Senate to do what’s good for our nation’s security, pass the DREAM Act.


Department of State, Dec. 14, 2010:

Secretary Clinton Participates in a US-South African PEPFAR Signing Ceremony

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton participates in a U.S.-South African PEPFAR Partnership Framework Agreement Signing Ceremony with South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., December 13, 2010.

Department of State, Dec. 14, 2010:

Remarks at U.S.-South African PEPFAR Partnership Framework Agreement Signing Ceremony

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, good afternoon. Welcome to the Treaty Room here in the State Department.

Before we begin with the business at hand today, on behalf of all the women and men at the State Department I want to express my deepest condolences to the family of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Richard was a trusted friend, a valued mentor, and an indispensable colleague to so many of several generations of American diplomats. Of all the many things that have already been said and will be said – and it has been remarkable to see the tributes coming in from around the world – the word that keeps being said over and over again is "statesman." It’s a word that we don’t use much anymore, but Richard embodied it, a man who loved our country and dedicated his life to serving not only our people but the cause of peace, a diplomat who used every tool in the toolbox and someone who accomplished so much on behalf of so many.

I am very grateful for the wonderful support that has been given to Richard’s family. I have no doubt that Richard would be the first to urge us to go forward and continue his work and continue his mission of not only what he was doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but across the broad reach of American foreign policy.

Let me now welcome a friend and an esteemed colleague who I have had the great pleasure of working with now for over a year, someone who has demonstrated the vigor of the Zuma Administration in her country in tackling problems at home, regionally, and globally. And today we will sign a new partnership framework for the PEPFAR program, which has so much meaning to us as a partner with our friends in South Africa. It embodies a new level of cooperation that has been made possible because of the tremendous efforts of the South African Government....

We are here at a moment when South Africa is turning the tide against HIV/AIDS. It is exciting to see, and we are already reviewing surveys being done by the South African Government as the minister will, I’m sure, mention that shows HIV among youth is falling. We want to do everything we can to be a good partner. In his moving speech on World Aids Day last year, President Zuma noted that HIV/AIDs is a disease that can only be overcome by individuals taking responsibility for their own lives and the lives of those around them.

And what South Africa has done is to make a tremendous commitment by doubling its investment, now covering 60 percent of the total spending. There is so much that’s being done at the grassroots level on prevention, efforts against discrimination, treating people with HIV, and doing so much more to put together a comprehensive strategy. And we together have worked on the development of a promising microbicide that could prevent the transmission of the HIV virus. This was led by South African scientists, and it’s the kind of new partnership we want to see more of together....

MINISTER NKOANA-MASHABANE: Thanks very much. My dear friend and colleague Secretary of State Madam Clinton, it is always such a great pleasure for me to be here with you. And I would really at the outset want to take this opportunity on behalf of myself and our delegation to pay our sincere message of sympathy to the Ambassador Holbrooke family, to your good self, to President Obama, government and people of the United States. Indeed, you have lost in him a dedicated diplomat and a dedicated statesman and a friend of the international community. May his soul rest in peace, and our hearts go out, again, to the family.

Indeed, in you, I have found a true friend but also a working partner. But we are working together to reinvigorate the very, very strong and very important bilateral ties that looks at our bilateral relationship, elevated to another level through the strategic partnership and strategic dialogue that we have solidified by signing, I hope – in this room last – this year in April. The amount of work that our working groups working on our leadership had covered, from issues around trade and investments to issues of food security, to issues of fighting HIV and AIDS....

This partnership under PEPFAR, it’s really through Ambassador Goosby and all those who work with him – really, bravo, and thank you ever so much for the support. It really – it’s turning the tide at home. South African Government spends about 6 billion rand on this program, and your 2.3 billion rand will go a long way. The U.S.A. is a leader; don’t be shy to lead. You lead by also showing compassion to those who need you, those who can account for the resources that you provide for them for support.

I was quite elated to learn from our trade and investment delegation that the last time they’ve had such a vigorous engagement with their counterparts here was about nine years ago. So our partnership has really taken this relationship forward. We want to work with you to make AGOA bring meaning to many of our African compatriots. We have listened to your views about the national investment initiative that President Obama leads. Within, there are synergies between the two, and we should continue to work on that. Under our partnership, we also work on issues around peace, security, peacekeeping, peacemaking, and post-conflict in Africa, which is highly appreciated by all of us.

Madam Secretary, we walk into the United Nations Security Council hoping to find a good friend there under your leadership, your good self. We would want to make a contribution with many progressive governments around the world, in particular with your government, to make sure that United Nations Security Council work for peace around the world, and peace dialogue, and peace first priority. We are making an undertaking here that together with all African countries, we will work to make sure that we bring the AU Peace and Security Council to the table to work with the United Nations Security Council....

(The document was signed.)


NBA Cares video, Dec. 14, 2010:

President Obama, Los Angeles Lakers Give Back

During their second straight White House championship visit, the Los Angeles Lakers recently joined President Barack Obama at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington for an NBA Cares event to write letters and send care packages to military members.

Five-time NBA Champion Derek Fisher says, "It’s very rewarding to have the opportunity to meet a President, period.  But to have this opportunity with young people, and the kids get a chance to see him, spend time with him, be up close with him, and then to do the things that we did in terms of putting the packages together for the service people, for the homeless people here in DC – I just think the combination of everything made today really special."

"Sports are very important to Boys and Girls Clubs," says Roxanne Spillett, President & CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  "Not only will others benefit (from the care packages), but I think our kids, as well as the Lakers, will stand a lot taller knowing that they’ve doen something to help somebody less fortunate.

Originally posted to Kat 4 Obama on Wed Dec 15, 2010 at 06:41 AM PST.

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