Hi, all. Today's report features:
• State of the Union: Inside the making of the SOTU Address; how to engage online. Watch tonight at 9 p.m. EST.
• Supporting military families: The President, First Lady and Second Lady unveil new measures to provide federal support for military families.
• Armed forces update: More on governmentwide plans to address military families’ needs; new tanks in Afghanistan; Navy Secretary plans alternative energy use.
• White House press briefing: Mr. Gibbs takes questions on SOTU, gun violence, Jeff Immelt, etc.
• Voices of Health Reform: Helping small businesses with tax credits and insurance exchanges.
• Energy news: Secretary Chu reviews DOE progress in strengthening nuclear security and putting America on course to a clean energy future and millions of new jobs; talk to the Secretary in Wednesday’s online town hall.
• STATE OF THE UNION •
White House, Jan. 25, 2011:
Inside the White House: The State of the Union Address
Watch behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the making of President Barack Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address. Senior Advisor to the President David Axelrod and Director of Speechwriting Jon Favreau give a rare inside look at the process behind the President's address.
White House Blog, Jan. 25, 2011:
Posted by Macon Phillips
Ever wanted to know how President Obama tackles his State of the Union address? Our latest Inside the White House feature takes you into the West Wing offices of Jon Favreau, a longtime speechwriting aide to the President, and Senior Advisor David Axelrod to get a rare glimpse at how the process works -- and how the President is approaching tonight's speech.
You'll also learn about the history of the State of the Union address from U.S. House of Representatives Historian Matthew Wasniewski, and see archival footage of Addresses from decades past.
After you hear the the history of this event, make sure you don't miss out on what's new. When President Obama delivers his Address to the nation at 9 p.m. EST, be sure to check out the first-ever Enhanced State of the Union -- a visual companion of related charts and other content as the President speak.
Immediately after the speech, we'll take you back to the White House for an event with a panel of policy experts who will take your questions via the web. And throughout the week, there will be a number of ways citizens can engage and ask their questions to the President and senior Administration officials.
• SUPPORTING MILITARY FAMILIES •
White House, Jan. 24, 2011:
Supporting Military Families
President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden unveil new measures to strengthen and better coordinate the Federal Government's support for military families.
Office of the Press Secretary, Jan. 24, 2011:
DR. BIDEN: Good morning. And on behalf of the President and First Lady, the Vice President and myself, I want to welcome you and thank you for joining us here today at the White House.
I want to offer a special welcome to our service members and military families. Your presence here today honors us all.
I’m proud to stand here this morning as a military mom. My son is a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard and he recently spent a year in Iraq, so my husband and I know well the mixture of pride and concern that all military families share.
From our earliest times together, Michelle and I have had the privilege of meeting with military service members and their families all around the country -- people and families like so many of you who are with us here today....
Michelle and I have talked a lot about the ways that all Americans can support our troops and thank those men and women for their service. Today, we will highlight the efforts of the federal government to support our nation’s military families.
At the direction of the President, the agencies are acting in a coordinated, strategic, and comprehensive way to bring the full force of the federal government to bear on this critically important issue.
As a teacher, I am particularly pleased that the Department of Education is supporting the military children in public schools throughout the country. And I am looking forward to working with Secretary Duncan to help teachers understand how they can meet the unique needs of the military students in their classrooms.
I am also heartened by the efforts to respond to the challenges facing our Guard and Reserve families -- from helping them sustain their businesses to supporting their reintegration back into their communities after deployments.
Today is an important next step in this administration’s commitment to support our servicemen, their families and our members.
Michelle and I hold this commitment close in our hearts, just as we keep each of our soldiers in our hearts and in our prayers. As long as we have the privilege and honor of serving in our roles, we will do whatever we can to support those who protect us.
And now it is my pleasure to introduce my partner, my dear friend, and our First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Good morning. Thank you. Good morning, everyone. (Applause.) Thank you. Thanks so much. Thank you all. Thank you for being here. Thank you, Jill, for that kind introduction. It has been a true privilege to work with you on these and so many other issues. And we’ve got a lot more work to do, so I’m looking forward to it....
And let me say a special word of thanks to folks like Patty Shinseki, Becky Gates, and all of the spouses of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the senior enlisted advisors who have been such good friends and trusted counselors to both Jill and me over these past couple of years.
But most of all, I want to take a moment to thank those among us today and everyone outside of this room who wears our country’s uniform, and the families who serve right alongside them each and every day.
Working with all of you is some of the best work I do. Your stories affect me not just as First Lady, but as a mother, as a wife, and as an American....
Stories like the woman who had just gotten her nursing degree and quit her new job only after two months, so that she could take care of her Navy SEAL brother who was wounded by an IED -- two of my favorite people. And today, he’s doing better, even running last fall’s Army 10-miler on a pair of prosthetic legs....
Stories like these -- and stories like those of so many in this room -- are a reminder of what words like "service," "strength," and "sacrifice" -- what those words look like in real life. They’re a reminder of the love that keeps us together -- the love of family, the love of country.
And for me, and for Jill, they are a reminder of our obligation to our troops, our veterans, and their families -- an obligation to work harder; an obligation to channel the strength and courage of our military families and veterans into our work on their behalf.
Again, I know Jill feels the same way, and we’ve learned so much as we’ve tackled these issues together. We visited with servicemen and women, like many of you, at Fort Bragg or Nellis Air Force Base in San Diego and New York, at Landstuhl and in Baghdad. We’ve played with your kids at childcare centers. We’ve sat with you at hospital bedsides. We’ve heard your concerns around conference tables. We’ve invited you to the White House for roundtable discussions and backyard picnics and even a Halloween haunted house or two. (Laughter.)
We’ve seen you giving back to your communities, no matter how strapped you are for time or resources or sleep. We’ve heard how difficult it is when the only way you can connect with your spouse is by sporadic cell phone calls or emails. We’ve seen the strength you’ve shown when a loved one comes home with a wounded body or painful memories, and the journey back to normal takes longer than expected.
And the more we’ve listened, the more stories we’ve heard, the more we’ve recognized that there is no one, single definition of a military family; there’s no standard-issue set of challenges that you all face....
And so, for me and for Jill, this isn’t about just understanding your concerns. It’s about addressing your concerns....
And that’s why today means so much to us. That’s why we’re so excited. Because back in May, I announced that my husband had directed his Cabinet to identify new priorities and new partnerships to support our military families. So today, they have come back with 50 -- 50 specific commitments that aim to keep improving your quality of life.
For instance, the Department of Education, as Jill mentioned, is simplifying its financial aid application process just for you. The Departments of Labor, Commerce, Defense, and the Small Business Administration are partnering with the business community to expand your career options. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, and Defense are working together to expand your childcare options.
But the list of commitments goes on and on, addressing everything from homelessness to mental health to employment opportunities for young adults. So this effort gives you all a seat at the table not just at the White House or at the Pentagon or at the VA. It gives you a seat at the table all across the federal government....
And my husband feels the exact same way. I know that because of the moments that we’ve shared with wounded warriors and survivors, because of the military children who have made us both smile, and because of the conversation that he and I have had long after those events are over. That’s why he has been such a leader on these issues.
And that is why I am so proud to introduce this man –- because he hears your stories not only as President and Commander-in-Chief, but also as a loving father and as a wonderful husband. He doesn’t hear me say that often. (Laughter.)
So I give to you the President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you very much. Everyone, please have a seat. Thank you so much.
Well, good morning, everyone. I want to thank Michelle and Jill -- although I have to say I hate following both of them. (Laughter.) As I think all you sense, when they speak, the government listens. You should know -- and I know Joe Biden would agree with this -- when they speak, the President and Vice President listen. (Laughter.)....
Now, last month I was in Afghanistan to visit our troops and to thank them for their service, especially during the holidays. And I think as some of you are aware, we fly in, in the dark of night for security reasons, unannounced. Folks I'm sure have to scramble on the other end to make sure that our visit works. And we had a wonderful crowd, a great rally. And then afterwards, I took the time not only to meet with General Petraeus and some of the other commanding officers, but I also met with a group of our special ops forces. Now, anybody who’s met with SEALs and Deltas, you know these are some of the toughest, most battle-hardened troops in our military. They are involved in some of the most dangerous fighting that there is.
There are tough guys. Looking at them, you can tell they’re tough. Some folks end up being tough, but these -- you can just tell these guys are tough. (Laughter.) And they embody the courage and character that makes our military the finest in the world. And just to give you some sense, these guys are going out on helicopter raids at night with very little support and carrying out extremely dangerous assignments each and every day.
So I asked them. I said, "What do you need from me? What can I do to support you better?" And without missing a beat, they looked me in the eye and they gave me their answer. It wasn’t about more equipment. It wasn’t about more resources on the battlefield. In fact, it wasn’t about them. They said -- to a man -- "Sir, take care of our families. Take care of our families. If we know our families are all right back home, then we can do our jobs."....
This isn’t just a military or -- this is not just a moral obligation. This is a matter of national security. With millions of military spouses, parents and children sacrificing as well, the readiness of our Armed Forces depends on the readiness of our military families....
As Commander-in-Chief, I am determined to do everything in my power to make sure that we are fulfilling that request from our troops, that we are taking care of their families. And that’s why, over the past two years, we’ve made major investments: more military housing, more childcare, new schools for our military kids; more counseling and career support for spouses; more help for those tireless caregivers; dramatic increases in veterans health care, and helping hundreds of thousands of veterans and family members pursue their education through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
And that’s why I ordered this government-wide effort, a Presidential Study Directive, to bring together the resources of the federal government for this mission. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with these presidential directives, these are reserved for some of our most important and complex national security challenges. I think Mike Mullen will share with you, since becoming President I’ve only ordered about a dozen, including this one, which we believe is the first one ever on behalf of military families.
And today, I’m proud to announce that for the first time ever, supporting the well-being of our military families will be a priority not just for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but all across the federal government. That's why all these Cabinet folks are here today. Sixteen members of my Cabinet have committed their departments and agencies to making military families one of their highest priorities.
We’re focusing on four areas —- the things you said matter most to you, whether you’re Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine or Coast Guard -- active Guard or Reserve, a veteran or a member of a family of the fallen. We didn’t wait for today to launch these efforts. Many of these efforts have already been underway. And that includes innovative new partnerships so that, in tough fiscal times, our government is more efficient and serves you better.
So let me just list our primary areas of focus. First, we are putting new emphasis on the quality of life for our military families. The Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, for example, have joined forces to improve community mental health services and prevent suicides. A new office in the Treasury Department is working to protect military families from abusive practices like predatory lending. It turns out that military families are more subject to some of these financial scams than just about any other group.
The Agricultural Department is expanding its support for families in rural areas. A disproportionate number of our military families come from rural areas or are stationed in rural communities.
The Interior Department -- we use our national parks to help our wounded warriors recover. And we are going to remain relentless -- not just at VA, but at HUD and HHS and across the government -— in our fight to end homelessness among our veterans. We have to have zero tolerance for homelessness among our veterans. (Applause.)
Second, we’re putting a new focus on the education and development of our military children, most of whom go to public schools. So for the first time ever, the Department of Education will make military families a priority for some of its grant programs. And that’s going to give states and communities new incentives to address the unique needs of military children.
The Interior Department, which is already one of the largest federal employers of young people, will create more opportunities, like summer jobs, for young people from military families. And today, we are renewing our call for every state to adopt the Interstate Compact, which makes it easier for military children to transfer between schools and succeed in the classroom. (Applause.)
Third, we’re redoubling our efforts to help military spouses pursue their educations and careers. As Michelle said, we’ve brought in the departments of Labor and Commerce and the Small Business Administration. We’re going to help spouses get that degree, find that job, or start that new business. We want every company in America to know our military spouses and veterans have the skills and the dedication, and our nation is more competitive when we tap their incredible talents. (Applause.)
And finally, we’re going to keep increasing childcare for our military moms and dads with young children. This is not just a job for the Department of Defense. As Michelle said, the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture are now helping, too. And working together, we believe we can find new childcare options for tens of thousands of military children.
So these are just some of the nearly 50 specific commitments that my administration is making today. In other words, we’re not simply reaffirming our responsibility to our military families, we are upping our game....
Michelle and Jill said they’re going to keep pushing —- and I promise you they are not kidding. (Laughter.) And as President, I’m going to make sure that we get this done.
We also recognize that this can’t be a mission for government alone. Government has its responsibilities, but 1 percent of Americans may be fighting our wars; 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting our troops and their families -- 100 percent. (Applause.)
So to help launch this effort, Michelle will be on "Oprah" this week to urge --
MRS. OBAMA: Oooh! (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: -- to urge every American to join a new national campaign to support our military families. That's a pretty good plug.
You see, this is one of those challenges, and one of those moments, when we have to remember what unites us as Americans, what we can achieve together -- and what we owe to each other, especially to those who serve and sacrifice so we can live free and be safe.
I want every service member who’s deployed to know that when you’re over there taking care of the country that you love, your country is back here taking care of the families that you love. I want every military wife and husband to know that we’re going to help you keep your family strong and secure. I want every military kid to know that we’re going to be there for you, too, to help you grow and to live your dreams.
I want our Gold Star families to know that this nation will never forget and will always honor the supreme sacrifice that your family has made to our nation.
And I want every single American to remember that as the beneficiaries of their service, each of us has an obligation —- a sacred duty —- to care for those who have "borne the battle."
These are my commitments; these are Michelle and Jill’s commitments; these are my administration’s commitments; and they must be America’s commitments. And as long as I am President, we’re going to keep working to fulfill those commitments for all who serve.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)
• ARMED FORCES UPDATE•
Department of Defense, Jan. 24, 2011:
Military Family Report
President Barack Obama outlined efforts to step up government support for military families.
By Elaine Wilson, American Forces Press Service
White House officials released a report today that unveils a new, governmentwide approach to military family support and details a sweeping, interagency effort under way to strengthen families and enhance their well-being and quality of life.
President Barack Obama announced the results of a nearly yearlong review of military family support today in a White House ceremony attended by the Defense Department’s top brass, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, service chiefs and their spouses.
From child care to health care to spouse employment, the report -- titled "Strengthening our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment" -- identifies the key issues military families face and presents programs and resources government agencies plan to roll out in the coming months to address them.
"This document is the commitment to our military families not only of this government, but this nation in terms of their support, their care and their empowerment," Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Pentagon’s office of military community and family policy, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service in a recent interview.
The report outlines four key areas that the governmentwide effort plans to address: enhancing military families’ well-being and psychological health, developing military spouse career and education opportunities, increasing child care availability and quality and ensuring excellence in military children’s education and development.
"We’re bringing together our agencies, our whole of government, with our whole of nation to focus on those four priority areas," Gordon said. "The DOD can’t do this alone; it does take a whole-of-nation approach."
Gordon cited counseling services as an example of the benefits of an interagency effort. While the Defense Department offers counseling through Military OneSource and within military support centers and communities, "we can expand those services and activities with partnership with other sorts of sectors," he said.
The report addresses plans for expanded counseling services in detail, which will greatly benefit military families, Gordon noted. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 2 million service members have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in an unprecedented frequency, the report said, and, along with service members, military families also are vulnerable to deployment-related stress. The report cited a 2010 study that reports an 11 percent increase in outpatient visits for behavioral health issues among a group of 3- to 8-year-old children of military parents and an increase in behavioral and stress disorders when a parent was deployed.
"We do need to pay attention to the socio-emotional support of our kids," Gordon said, noting the impact of long parental separations due to deployments. He also acknowledged the additional responsibilities the spouse back home must shoulder in the military member’s absence.
"We have devised ways ahead as a government and ... in partnership with the other sectors to do something about that," he said.
The report also lays out new and improved programs to increase behavioral health care services for military families in the coming months. The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, for example, are slated to implement a multiyear strategy to promote early recognition of mental health conditions that includes education and coaching for family members and integration of mental health services into primary care, the report said.
DOD officials also are working to boost the number of mental health providers and to increase quality of care. In one effort, a TRICARE military health plan working group is undertaking a yearlong project to provide the best possible health care for the more than 9.6 million beneficiaries beyond 2015, the report said.
Additionally, the Defense and Health and Human Services secretaries will jointly accelerate efforts that prevent and address suicide, the report said. Meanwhile, VA’s National Suicide Call Center will expand and enhance services to combat suicide among veterans.
The report also outlines efforts to protect military families from unfair financial practices, to address homelessness and improve housing security, and to ensure availability of substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services for veterans and military families.
Gordon also touched on employment opportunities for spouses.
"Our spouses want to work," he said, noting that of the roughly 700,000 spouses in DOD, 77 percent have expressed a desire to work. "We want to create opportunities for them," Gordon added.
The report takes a two-tier approach to the issue of employment, Gordon said. First, the government is committed to opening doors to educational opportunities, and then on easing the path to employment.
As an example, he highlighted the Army Spouse Employment Partnership program, which has signed a statement of support with 57 Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies. Since 2003, these companies have hired more than 84,000 Army spouses, the report said. DOD officials plan to enhance and expand this program to Navy, Marine and Air Force spouses, Gordon added.
"These are the kinds of opportunities we are looking for," he said.
In another effort, the Veterans Affairs, Labor and Defense departments will reform the employment workshop portion of the Transition Assistance Program to include an outreach initiative for military spouses, the report said. The workshop will feature a hands-on, tailored work force readiness program for service members and their spouses, including employment assistance during moves.
Other agencies will educate corporate America on the benefits of hiring from within the military, the report said, and encourage them to hire military spouses.
Turning to military children, Gordon said a considerable portion of the review was dedicated to looking at the need for more abundant child care. The department has 200,000 military children in the child care system, he noted, and a shortage of about 37,000 child care spaces.
"This is one area we want to focus on," Gordon said. "You’ll see that commitment in this document. It’s a partnership that we want to engage with our communities."
This community partnership is vital, he noted, since only about 37 percent of families live on military installations; the remaining 63 percent live in thousands of communities nationwide.
The Defense, Education, Health and Human Services and Agriculture departments are working together to increase the availability of child care options, the report said. This month, new child care liaison positions will be established through pilot programs in 13 states with identified childcare needs. DOD also will leverage partnerships with organizations such as the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the Council on Accreditation and Zero to Three for assistance with training community providers.
Additionally, DOD will continue to slate construction projects to meet the demand for increased capacity and to replace aging facilities, the report said.
On education, the report details efforts to ensure excellence in military children’s education and development. The Education Department, for example, will, for the first time, favor grant applications to meet the needs of military-connected students, the report said, and DOD is committed to making its schools a leader in the use of advanced learning technologies, including software, online courses and student-written and sharable simulations.
To help to reduce the negative impacts of frequent relocations and absences, DOD will pursue the complete development of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which addresses mobility-related challenges military children face, such as records transfer and course placement, the report said.
To gain a complete picture of this groundbreaking effort, Gordon encouraged service members and their families to read the full report.
"What you’ll find is how the government and nation really define areas where we can support and care for our families, our service members," he said. "But not only that, it’s about empowerment. It’s the fact that our families want to be fulfilled. It’s the fact that they are assets for the country in those 4,000-plus communities and across the world, and how we can leverage that as well. This document talks about all of these things."
Department of Defense, Jan. 24, 2011:
Tanks in Afghanistan
Marines with Delta Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division arrived in Afghanistan earlier this month. They’re the first tank unit to deploy during Operation Enduring Freedom. The Marines will be working with Abrams tanks, which were flown to Afghanistan from Kuwait. Officials say the Abrams are a different type of tank from the ones the Marines originally trained on, and some preparation will be needed before taking the tanks into battle.
White House Blog, Jan. 24, 2011:
Posted by Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy
In October 2009, as Secretary of the Navy, I established five ambitious goals to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the Navy and Marine Corps and increase the use of alternative energy to at least 50% of our energy requirements no later than 2020. These goals support the President’s objective to create a new energy future and a clean energy economy for the United States, and the reasons for doing so are clear and compelling:
• Reducing our reliance on foreign sources of energy makes the country more secure. Competition over fossil fuel resources has been one of the leading sources of conflict for thousands of years. Today, little has changed – whether it is oil, natural gas, or electricity – disruptions in the flow of energy can cause major economic havoc and negatively affect both our national security and international stability.
• Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels makes our people safer. Getting fossil fuels to our troops on the front lines is one of the most dangerous things we do. In fact, we import more gasoline into Afghanistan than any other product. Moving fuel to our Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) means convoys, which means protecting our convoys with Marines and Sailors, taking them away from doing what we sent them to Afghanistan to do and making them vulnerable to IEDs and ambush. If we can reduce the number of convoys by making our systems more efficient, or generating power from solar energy at the FOBs, we make our troops safer.
• Increasing energy efficiency makes our ships, aircraft, and vehicles more tactically capable. A better engine on a plane means it can go farther, and stay airborne longer. Better engines on ships results in less time spent refueling in vulnerable locations in port or at sea – a lesson we learned all too clearly with the USS COLE.
• Increasing alternative energy use by the Navy and Marine Corps helps create an alternative energy market. The Navy uses a third of the fossil fuels consumed by the Federal Government, which in turn uses about two percent of fossil fuels in America. The Navy and Marine Corps’ plan helps spur private investment and ultimately moves the country toward a clean energy economy.
• Reducing the energy footprint of the Navy and Marine Corps significantly reduces our carbon footprint.
Since our objectives were announced, we have made great progress toward our goals:
• In Quantico, Virginia and in Twenty-Nine Palms, California, the Marine Corps established two expeditionary Forward Operating Base as test sites for alternative energy projects that can be used by our combat forces in Afghanistan. Because of the work done there, the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, deployed this summer to Helmand Province and even in the midst of a contested environment, the Battalion has reduced its use of fossil fuel by 20 percent and reduced its logical support requirements by successfully employing solar power systems at its bases and combat outposts.
• On Earth Day in April 2010, we tested an F/A-18 fighter jet on a camelina-based biofuel blend at supersonic speeds. In the months following, we extended testing to naval helicopters and, using an algae-based biofuel, to riverine combat craft. We have proved that our engines don’t care what they use, performance on biofuel is just as good as performance on fossil-based jet fuel. Just as importantly, neither of these fuels impacts food supply, the carbon footprint in terms of production is low, and the cost of each is rapidly falling.
• For our surface ships, we have developed a hybrid electric drive for the USS MAKIN ISLAND that dramatically increases fuel efficiency. Over the ship's more than 30-year lifespan, she will save up to $250 million in fuel costs – at today's prices. As we move forward over the next few years to extend this technology to other ships of the fleet, our savings will continue to grow.
• All across the United States, we are working with other federal departments, with industry, and with academia to move forward on alternative energy research and development. One of the most promising partnerships got underway last summer in Hawaii, which imports almost all its energy, when the Navy began a project with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the State of Hawaii to develop biofuel production in the State. Over the next few years, this project will help create a new industry for the Hawaii, will benefit local farmers and entrepreneurs, and will create locally produced fuel for ships of the Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbor.
Just as we have done for 235 years, the Navy and Marine Corps are leading the nation in adopting new technology to make our country more secure. With the assistance of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, farmers, and industry – and with the leadership and support of the President, we are helping to create a new energy future.
• WHITE HOUSE PRESS BRIEFING •
White House, Jan. 24, 2011:
1/24/11: 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, Jan. 24, 2011;
MR. GIBBS: Before I get started, let me -- I want to read a brief statement from the President on the terrorist attack in Moscow today.
"I strongly condemn this outrageous act of terrorism against the Russian people at the Domodedovo Airport. I want to express the solidarity of the American people with the Russian people in the aftermath of this premeditated attack against innocent civilians.
Michelle and I offer our deepest condolences to the Russian people, who have suffered greatly at the hands of terrorism. We share your sorrow and a resolve to stand with you in our common fight against those who use terrorism for their political goals.
Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and we are praying for a successful recovery for all of those who were injured."
To give you an update, the President was briefed on these events at 10:45 a.m. in the Oval Office by John Brennan, separate and apart from his presidential daily briefing.
So, with that --
Q: On the attacks, would it be your initial sense that it would be the work of Chechen rebels, as opposed to some group that might also be –
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into -- I don't think it would be a good idea for me to get into that. Obviously we are continuing to gather facts, to talk with the Russian government. We would extend any assistance that they might want, and officials here and throughout our government will stay briefed throughout the day on it.
Q: And on the State of the Union, your response to the comments by McConnell and Cantor yesterday, basically holding the line on any more spending?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think many of you will find this to be a semi-unsatisfying briefing, the fact that I am not, at noon on Monday, going to talk or give a lot about what the President is going to say at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday.
I will say that I think you’ll hear the President, as we've discussed, speak -- spend most of his time talking about the economy, talking about the challenges that we face both in the short term in terms of doing whatever we can to help create jobs, in the medium and long term to continue working on issues like competitiveness and innovation, and ensuring that in the medium and the long term we get our fiscal house in order.
So I think this is -- we're not going to have a debate in Washington about whether we need to make some changes and whether we need to control spending. We're going to have, hopefully, a bipartisan discussion and work together on how we go about doing that.
Q: If the administration has already assured Democratic leaders that the President won't be calling for cuts to Social Security, will there be any specifics on curbing Social Security or cutting entitlements?
MR. GIBBS: I was going to print out the slide that said the President’s State of the Union is at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday. I likely should have done that. I know there’s a lot of conjecture back and forth. I'm going to wait until the speech.
And with that, I'm sure nobody has their hand raised because -- (laughter) -- that sort of sucked the air out of the room, didn’t it? (Laughter.)
Q: Robert, when will the President take a position on the deficit commission’s report?....
MR. GIBBS: Jeff, I think, again, this is a President who, in last year’s budget, instituted some tough measures in terms of our non-defense -- or non-security discretionary spending. You’ve seen proposals already this year to freeze civilian pay for government employees. And the President, again, will spend some time, not just tomorrow night and not just at the introduction of the budget, but throughout the year, talking about what we have to do, again, to make progress on our spending....
Q: A new poll, CNN poll pointing that the President’s approval rating continuing to rise. You tend not to like those polls whenever we ask -- when the numbers are going down.
MR. GIBBS: You haven’t tended to ask me about one that's gone up. (Laughter.)....
MR. GIBBS: I watch these numbers because many of you ask me about your own polls during these briefings. But, look, I would go back to what we were saying, Dan, in all honesty, back during the beginning of the lame duck session -- quite frankly, even somewhat directly after the election. The message that the American people had delivered in an election was that both sides have a stake in governing this country and both sides should put aside politics and game-playing to sit down and try to solve the biggest, most vexing problems that we have.
I think in the State of the Union address -- I’m sorry -- in the lame duck session, you saw that whether it was on taxes, whether it was on things like START, whether it was on issues like food safety or what have you, or "don't ask, don't tell," people put aside game-playing and broad bipartisan majorities made progress on behalf of the American people.
I think the American people saw two groups sitting down at a big table and figuring out how to solve our problems. And I think because of that, people have reacted positively to the progress that has been made, and not just the overall impact of it but how we went about doing it. And I think it’s a pretty good road map on a whole host of issues as we move forward....
Q: Has the President moved ideologically to the center?
MR. GIBBS: The President is still the same President that we’ve had for more than two years....
Q: Robert, you said that the major policy decisions have been nailed down now as of this morning. Does the same hold true for the major budget items to be decided yet, or are they still numbers and things like that –
MR. GIBBS: My sense is most of that has been made because a lot of that stuff goes to the printer well ahead of time. You might ask why you still print the budget, and it’s a question many of us in here have posed for the last two years and still haven’t gotten a great answer. But that's what happens....
Q: Can you talk about the members of Congress sitting together tomorrow? Do you view it as important or just simply symbolic or maybe both those things to be true –
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, I was asked in here 10 days or so ago on it. I think it was -- I said it was an interesting idea. I think Senator Udall was one of the primary catalysts behind this idea. I think the President would say that any time there’s more collegiality, less acrimony and less partisanship either during the speech or during the debates and what have you on these issues, that that’s a good thing for the process....
Q: Robert, House Republicans are introducing a bill to kill public financing of elections. It’s going to come down next week, it seems. The President obviously didn’t take public financing in 2008, but he has been a supporter of the system. Where does the White House come down on this?
MR. GIBBS: Sam, again, the President believes that -- certainly if you look back at the decisions that the President was critical of a year ago, the concern about special interest money in dictating the decisions that are made at the ballot box are obviously something that are greatly concerning of him.
I have not and I don’t know who here has seen the exact specifics of the legislation. But obviously ensuring that we have a fair campaign system is something that we all support....
Q: And also on the issue -- going back to the issue that we raised last week on gun control....
MR. GIBBS: No, look, again, I think that -- first, you’re talking about a series of, in some cases, state, in some cases, local issues in terms of different laws that govern the purchasing of or the possession of guns in those jurisdictions.
Look, there’s no doubt that the gang violence that's resulted in the murders of kids in Chicago and Washington and throughout the country are issues that are important to this administration and important to this President, particularly as you said, given his hometown of Chicago. There have been efforts at DOJ and other places to see what measures can be taken to help those localities deal with many of these problems, understanding that, April, I think the President will be the first one to tell you that laws alone by any jurisdiction or any government are not going to -- are not ever going to fully stop what happens to young people who -- I think he’s said in different speeches -- have a hole in their heart that lead them to do the types of things that result in killing kids their own age.
I think those are -- these are issues that have to be met with responses not simply at a state, local or federal level, but at a level in -- at kitchen tables and in churches all over the country....
Q: .... I’m wondering if you think that Republican leaders ought to reject that kind of birther talk and –
MR. GIBBS: I think rational people have come to the conclusion, many of them years ago, that the President is -- was born in Hawaii and is a citizen of the United States of America.
Q: Do you think the Republican leaders ought to reject that sort of thing, and do you think they have a duty to do that? Would you do that if the situation were reversed and it was Sarah Palin, for example, whose eligibility were being questioned? Would you do that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, remember, there were concerns about the eligibility of the Republican presidential nominee’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone, and President Obama joined efforts to ensure that efforts were taken to, again, ensure that if there were any questions about what that meant for your citizenship -- Tommy, again, I think rational people have long ago, many when they first heard and saw the President, come to the conclusion of his citizenship....
Q: The President on Friday named Mr. Immelt as head of his council on jobs and competitiveness. Do we know the other members? Have you put out a list of the other members?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think we’ve put out a list of those members. My guess is they’ll be comprised not dissimilarly to some broad makeup of what you’ve seen before. I think you’ll see people that are -- those that have worked in government, those that have worked in business, those that have worked in labor and workforce issues.
I think the President wants a broad viewpoint as we transition from the PERAB structure of focusing on the decisions that have to be made immediately to prevent us from sliding from a recession into a depression, now to focusing on, as we’ve seen now 12 months of positive job growth, how do we see that growth not simply continue but become greater, and how do we make a series of decisions that put us on stronger footing for the long term?
Q: The machinists union, if I may follow up, the machinists union today put out some numbers showing that GE is one of the major exporters of American jobs over the last five years....
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'd say first and foremost, Bill, I don't think the message is contradictory, largely because what we did was -- the stop that we made was to visit the birthplace of General Electric, a place where the company is bringing back jobs from overseas back into, in that case, upstate New York and back into this country.
I think virtually every one of the -- as you walked around the floor of that factory, you saw that virtually every one of the enormous pieces of equipment -- the turbines for different types of energy implements -- almost all of them or a good measure of them were going overseas. We’re manufacturing -- bringing jobs back in order to manufacture products in this country that then get sold overseas and help support jobs here in America.
I think that, in many ways, will be one of the challenges that our country faces over the course of the next many years. And I think whether it’s General Electric, other companies, or other individuals that help highlight that, I think you’ll hear the President talk about it and highlight it even more....
Q: Why did the Democrat proposal to break up partisan seating at the State of the Union come only this year after the Democrats became such a distinct minority in the House?
MR. GIBBS: Read the first part again.
Q: Why did the Democrat proposal to break up partisan seating at the State of the Union come only –
MR. GIBBS: Lester, did you identify a Democratic conspiracy with which to commingle the seating? Ah! Can I just mention –
Q: It didn’t happen when the Republicans were a minority. I’m just wondering if you could explain why.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can’t speak for the Republicans. But I will say that 52 minutes into this briefing, news has been made and Lester has uncovered the grand conspiracy of losing Congress in order to commingle seats. (Laughter.)
Q: You are a funny man.
MR. GIBBS: If only we had thought of that earlier....
Q: Will the President be following through next month on the pledge to get Republicans up to Camp David?....
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I’ll see where that rests. I know that -- I think I’d go back to what Laura and others have asked. I think whether -- and Mark as well -- whether it’s a bipartisan meeting in the Cabinet Room or in his private dining room over in the residence or over at Camp David, I think whenever these groups have a chance to sit down and away from the partisan back-and-forth and, again, speak directly to one another, I think you have a better opportunity, again, to find out what -- not what you disagree on, but what you agree on and how you can move that forward....
• VOICES OF HEALTTH REFORM •
White House Blog, Jan. 24, 2011:
Posted by Stephanie Cutter, Assistant to the President for Special Projects.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series where readers can meet average Americans already benefiting from the health reform law, the Affordable Care Act.
Jim Houser and his wife have owned an auto repair shop in Portland, Oregon for over 25 years, and it’s important to them to retain their employees and keep them healthy. They invest time, energy and money to train their workers and they don’t want to lose valuable employees.
That’s why Jim has always provided health insurance to his employees. But in the last ten years, Jim has been forced to contend with skyrocketing premium increases, with premiums making up over 20% of his payroll.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Jim and small business owners like him are getting immediate relief.
The health reform law provides tax credits for small businesses that offer employees health insurance. Up to 4 million small businesses could be eligible for relief from high health insurance premiums and, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office, the tax credit will save small businesses $40 billion by 2019. And small business owners like Jim are benefiting from the tax credit today. Jim estimates that the tax credits will save him over $10,000.
Tax credits aren’t the only benefit for small businesses in the Affordable Care Act. The law creates new, competitive state-based insurance Exchanges. Exchanges will enable individuals and small businesses to pool together and use their market strength to buy coverage at a lower cost, the same way large employers do today, giving them the freedom to launch their own companies without worrying whether health care will be available when they need it.
Small businesses are the engine of our economy and President Obama and his team will continue to do all we can to help small businesses grow, create jobs and succeed. That’s why the President called on Congress to eliminate the overly burdensome 1099 reporting requirement requires businesses to report to the IRS all purchases that exceed $600.
As Jim notes, the Affordable Care Act is already helping businesses like his "offer the kind of support that keeps employees with your company." Listen to his story:
• ENERGY NEWS •
Posted by Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy
Ed. Note: Recently the Department of Energy (DOE) launched a new version of Energy.gov to better showcase the information and services DOE provides online. Be sure to check it out at Energy.gov.
Sometimes when one gets so focused on the daily tasks at hand, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture around us. But when you take a step back, it is an impressive canvass. Thanks to the hard work of everyone at the Department of Energy over the past year, we’ve made remarkable progress in laying the foundation for a new energy future, advancing groundbreaking science, and reducing the nuclear dangers facing the world. In the process, we’ve begun to change the way the Department does business so we accomplish our work more efficiently and more effectively.
The steps we’ve taken have put America on the course that leads to a clean energy future and millions of new jobs. Through the Recovery Act, we awarded more than $32 billion to promote clean energy and put our citizens to work. In just two years, we’ve laid the groundwork for a strong advanced vehicle manufacturing industry and put America on track to double our renewable energy generation. We’ve toughened and enforced appliance standards that will save consumers more than $250 billion, and we’ve helped more than 300,000 families weatherize their homes so they can save money on their monthly energy bills. More than 2.5 million smart meters – which provide consumers with realtime data about their energy use -- have been deployed as we embark on what will become the most significant investment in electrical grid since it was pioneered by Thomas Edison. From extending commitments to the country’s largest solar thermal plant to the world’s largest wind farm to America’s first new nuclear power plant in 30 years, our momentum is real and tangible.
We are also expanding the frontiers of science to spur innovation and position the United States to lead in the global race for clean energy. With funding for the first time from the Recovery Act, we quickly set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to support transformative research. We launched three Energy Innovation Hubs and dozens of Energy Frontier Research Centers to accelerate energy innovation. And we began to take a strategic approach to how we fund research and development. From a car battery with a 500 mile range to producing gasoline from sunlight, we have unleashed bold new research efforts that – if successful – could fundamentally change the way we use and produce energy. This includes the world’s largest and most comprehensive effort to develop, test and deploy carbon capture and sequestration technologies that are crucial to avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
Finally, our work has strengthened nuclear safety and security at home and abroad. We permanently cleaned up 235 square miles of contaminated land – an area 10 times the size of Manhattan Island – and collected enough debris and contaminated soil to fill more than 350 Olympic-sized swimming pools. And we have taken steps to improve project management so we can continue the momentum. Since President Obama outlined an ambitious nuclear nonproliferation and security agenda in Prague, we have secured enough loose nuclear material to make more than 800 warheads and ensure improved security at hundreds of sites around the world. We also played a central role in organizing April’s historic Nuclear Security Summit, which brought together 47 world leaders to agree on effective national and international measures to secure nuclear material and prevent nuclear smuggling. And we made the world a safer place by helping negotiate the New START Treaty – the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades – and by supporting the effort to get it ratified by providing the Senate with assurances about the modernization of our nuclear security enterprise.
Department of Energy, Jan. 24, 2011:
Submitted by Ginny Simmons, a New Media Specialist at the Department of Energy
After the State of the Union address this week, Secretary Steven Chu will host an online town hall to discuss President Obama's clean energy agenda.
We hope you'll join us this Wednesday, January 26 at 12:45pm EST, at energy.gov/livechat.
Two weeks ago, Secretary Chu asked what you most hoped to see the Department discussing. You responded with more topics than I have room to list, ranging from electric bicycles and LED lighting, to nuclear power, high-speed rail and energy independence.
And so we're happy to say that Wednesday's town hall won't just be a single one-hour event, but will be kicking off a new year-long series called Energy Matters, in which experts from the Department will talk about the issues you've asked to hear more about, and answer your questions live online.
If you have questions for the Secretary ahead of Wednesday's event, please email them to email@example.com, post them on DOE's Facebook page, or tweet @energy with the hashtag #chu. You'll also be able to ask additional questions live during the event.
Building our country's energy future is going to require research, innovation, and working together. We're excited to host these Energy Matters online town halls to keep the conversation flowing between the Secretary, small business owners, energy experts, homeowners and interested citizens around the country.
I'll see you online at Energy.gov/livechat on Wednesday at 12:45pm EST.