Full Text Obama Presidency March 25, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech Marking the Fifth Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President Marking the Fifth Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act

Source: WH, 3-25-15

South Court Auditorium

10:42 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much, everybody.   Everybody, have a seat.  Thank you, Doctor, for that introduction.  I want to thank Sylvia Burwell, our outstanding head of Health and Human Services.  We’ve got some wonderful members of Congress here today who helped make this happen.  And I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to all of the top medical professionals who are here today.  We’ve got hospital leaders, we’ve got health care CEOs, doctors, patients, advocates, consumer groups, Democrats and Republicans, who have all come together and spent time and effort to make the Affordable Care Act, and America’s health care system, work even better.

What your efforts have meant is the start of a new phase, where professionals like you and organizations like yours come together in one new network with one big goal, and that is to continue to improve the cost and quality of health care in America.

A lot of you have already taken steps on your own.  The American Cancer Society that’s represented here is committed to teaching its members about how new patient-centered approaches can improve cancer care.  Governor Markell of Delaware, who’s here, has set a goal of having 80 percent of his citizens receive care through new and improved payment and delivery models within five years.  And Dr. Glenn Madrid, of Grand Junction, Colorado, is using a new care model that allowed him to hire case coordinators and use better technology so that patients have access to him 24/7.  I don’t know when that lets him sleep — but his patients are sleeping better.

And these are examples of efforts that show we don’t need to reinvent the wheel; you’re already figuring out what works to reduce infections in hospitals or help patients with complicated needs.  What we have to do is to share these best practices, these good ideas, including new ways to pay for care so that we’re rewarding quality.  And that’s what this network is all about.

In fact, just five years in, the Affordable Care Act has already helped improve the quality of health care across the board.  A lot of the attention has been rightly focused on people’s access to care, and that obviously was a huge motivator for us passing the Affordable Care Act — making sure that people who didn’t have health insurance have the security of health insurance.

But what was also a central notion in the Affordable Care Act was we had an inefficient system with a lot of waste that didn’t also deliver the kind of quality that was needed that often put health care providers in a box where they wanted to do better for their patients, but financial incentives were skewed the other way.

And so the work that we’ve been able to do is already spurring the kinds of changes that we had hoped for.  It’s helped reduce hospital readmission rates dramatically.  It’s a major reason why we’ve seen 50,000 fewer preventable patient deaths in hospitals.  And if you want to know what that means, ask Alicia Cole, who suffers — Alicia is right here — who suffers the long-term effects of a hospital-acquired infection.  And she is here today because she doesn’t want anybody else to endure what she has.  And it’s preventable if we set up good practices, and financial incentives, reimbursement incentives, are aligned with those best practices.

So making sure that the Affordable Care Act works as intended, to not only deliver access to care but also to improve the quality of care and the cost of care, that’s something that requires all of us to work together.  That’s part of what the law is all about.  It’s making health coverage more affordable and more effective for all of us.  And in a lot of ways, it’s working better than many of us, including me, anticipated.  (Laughter.)

Wherever you are, here’s why you should care about making this system more efficient, and here’s why you should care that we keep the Affordable Care Act in place.

If you get insurance through your employer, like most Americans do, the ACA gave you new savings and new protections.  If you’ve got a pre-existing condition like diabetes or cancer, if you’ve had heartburn or a heart attack, this law means that you can no longer be charged more or denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, ever.  It’s the end of the discrimination against the sick in America, and all of us are sick sometimes.

If you don’t have health insurance, you can go online to the marketplace and choose from an array of quality, affordable private plans.  Every governor was given the option to expand Medicaid for his or her citizens, although only 28 have chosen to do so — so far.  But after five years of the ACA, more than 16 million uninsured Americans have gained health care coverage — 16 million.  In just over one year, the ranks of the uninsured have dropped by nearly one-third — one-third.

If you’re a woman, you can no longer be charged more just for being a woman.  And you know there are a lot of women.  (Laughter.)  Like more than 50 percent.  (Laughter.)  Preventive care, like routine checkups and immunizations and contraception now come with no additional out-of-pocket costs.

If you’re a young person, you can now stay on your parents’ plan until you turn 26.  And if you want to turn that new idea into a business, if you’re going to try different jobs, even a different career, you now have the freedom to do it because you can buy health care that’s portable and not tied to your employer.  Most people have options that cost less than 100 bucks a month.

If you’re a business owner — because when we put forward the Affordable Care Act, there was a lot of question about how it would affect business; well, it turns out employer premiums rose at a rate tied for the lowest on record.  If premiums had kept growing at the rate we saw in the last decade, then either the average family premium, paid by the family or paid by the business, would be $1,800 higher than it is today.  That’s 1,800 bucks that businesses can use to higher and invest, or that’s 1,800 bucks that stays in that family’s bank account, shows up in their paycheck.

If you’re a senior — more than 9 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved an average of $1,600 on their prescriptions, adding up to over $15 billion in savings.  There were fears promoted that somehow this was going to undermine Medicare.  Well, it turns out the life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by 13 years since this law has passed.

And, relevant to the topic today, we’re moving Medicare toward a payment model that rewards quality of care instead of quantity of care.  We don’t want the incentives to be skewed so that providers feel obliged to do more tests; we want them to do the right tests.  We want them, perhaps, to save — to invest some money on the front end to prevent disease and not just on the back end to treat disease.  And so these changes are encouraging doctors and hospitals to focus on getting better outcomes for their patients.

As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system.  I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill — (applause) — which would be really exciting.  I love when Congress passes bipartisan bills that I can sign.  (Laughter.)  It’s always very encouraging.  And I want to thank everybody here today for their work in supporting new models of care that will benefit all Americans.

But the bottom line is this for the American people:  The Affordable Care Act, this law, is saving money for families and for businesses.  This law is also saving lives — lives that touch all of us.  It’s working despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund, and defame this law.

It’s not the “job-killer” that critics have warned about for five years.  When this law was passed, our businesses began the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record:  60 straight months, five straight years, 12 million new jobs.

It’s not the fiscal disaster critics warned about for five years.  Health care prices are rising at the slowest rate in nearly 50 years, which has helped cut our deficit by two-thirds since I took office.  Before the ACA, health care was the single biggest driver driving up our projected deficits.  Today, health care is the single biggest factor driving those projections down.

I mean, we have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case:  death panels, doom.  (Laughter.)  A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress.  (Laughter.)

The budget they introduced last week would literally double the number of the uninsured in America.  And in their defense, there are two reasons why coming up with their own alternative has proven to be difficult.

First, it’s because the Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it — (laughter) — based on conservative, market-based principles developed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans in Congress, and deployed by a guy named Mitt Romney in Massachusetts to great effect.  If they want to take credit for this law, they can.  I’m happy to share it.  (Laughter.)

And second, it’s because health reform is really hard and the people here who are in the trenches know that.  Good people from both parties have tried and failed to get it done for 100 years, because every public policy has some trade-offs, especially when it affects one-sixth of the American economy and applies to the very personal needs of every individual American.

And we’ve made our share of mistakes since we passed this law.  But we also know beyond a shred of a doubt that the policy has worked.  Coverage is up.  Cost growth is at a historic low.  Deficits have been slashed.  Lives have been saved.  So if anybody wants to join us in the spirit of the people who have put aside differences to come here today and help make the law work even better, come on board.

On the other hand, for folks who are basing their entire political agenda on repealing the law, you’ve got to explain how kicking millions of families off their insurance is somehow going to make us more free.  Or why forcing millions of families to pay thousands of dollars more will somehow make us more secure.  Or why we should go back to the days when women paid more for coverage than men.  Or a preexisting condition locked so many of us out of insurance.

And if that’s your argument, then you should meet somebody like Anne Ha, who is here.  Anne is 28 years old.  Where’s Anne?  There you are.  Anne runs her own business in Philadelphia.  And she thought what many of us think when we’re young — I no longer qualify — (laughter) — that she was too young, too healthy to bother with health insurance.  She went to the gym every day.  She ate healthy, looks great, felt invincible.  Why pay a doctor just to tell her she’s okay?

But then her mom called, as moms sometimes do, and told Anne to get insured against the “what ifs” of life.  What if you get sick?  What if you get into a car accident?  So Anne, dutiful daughter that she was, went to HealthCare.gov, checked out her options in the marketplace.  And thanks to the tax credits available to her under this law, she got covered for 85 bucks a month.  Four months later, Anne was diagnosed with early-stage stomach cancer.  Anne underwent surgery, endured chemo.  Today, she’s recovering.  She looks great.  She’s here with us at the White House.  She invited me to her wedding.  I told her you don’t want the President at her wedding.  (Laughter.)

“If I didn’t have insurance,” Anne wrote, “my stomach cancer would have gone undiscovered, slowly and silently killing me.  But because I did have insurance, I was given a chance to live a long and happy life.”  (Applause.)

And so in September, Anne is going to be marrying her fiancé, Tom.  And she’s convinced him to get covered, too.  And I do appreciate, Michelle appreciates the invitation.  As I said, we have to mag people at the wedding, and it spoils the fun.  (Laughter.)

But here are two lessons from Anne’s story.  Number one:  Listen to your mom.  (Laughter.)  Number two:  The Affordable Care Act works.  And it’s working not just to make sure that folks like Anne get coverage, but it’s also working to make sure that the system as a whole is providing better quality at a better price, freeing up our providers to do the things that led them to get into health care in the first place — and that’s help people.  It works.

Five years ago, we declared that in the United States of America, the security of quality, affordable health care was a privilege — was not a privilege, but a right.  And today, we’ve got citizens all across the country, all of you here today who are helping make that right a reality for every American, regardless of your political beliefs, or theirs.  And we’re saving money in the process.  And we’re cutting the deficit in the process.  And we’re helping businesses in their bottom lines in the process.  We’re making this country more competitive in the process.

And it’s not going to happen overnight.  There are still all kinds of bumps along the way.  Health care is complicated stuff.  And the hospital executives who are here, and the doctors who are here, and the consumer advocates who are here can tell you — all the complications and the quirks not just to the Affordable Care Act, but just generally making the system more rational and more efficient, it takes some time.  But we’re on our way.  We’re making progress.

And if all of us summon the same focus, the same kind of courage and wisdom and hard work that so many of you in this room display; and if we keep working not against one another, but for one another, with one another, we will not just make progress in health care.  We’re going to keep on making sure that across the board we’re living up to our highest ideals.

So I very much am appreciative of what all of you are doing.  I’m very proud of you.  And why don’t you guys get back to work?  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
10:59 A.M. EDT

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Full Text Obama Presidency December 19, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at his Year-End Press ConferenceFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  We’ve really got a full house today, huh?  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.  (Laughter.)  But first let me say a little bit about this year.

In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America.  And it has been.  Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated.  We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many.  But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions.  Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s.  America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas.  We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over.  We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year.  Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period.  The uninsured rate is at a near record low.  Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years.  And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners.  We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries.  We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people.

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way.  And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.

The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy.  Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real.  We are better off.

I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors.  Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come.

To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices.  We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter.  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans.  Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid.  We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time.  A new future is ready to be written.  We’ve set the stage for this American moment.  And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.

My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout.  I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family.  So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year.  I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.

And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions.  And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico.  There you go, Carrie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today.  What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack?  And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie?  Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me address the second question first.  Sony is a corporation.  It suffered significant damage.  There were threats against its employees.  I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.  Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.

In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.  Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.  When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks.  We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done.  We’re not even close to where we need to be.

And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too.  Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors.  All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage.

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.  Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.  Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

So that’s not who we are.  That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.  Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks.  Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues.  We already have.  We will continue to do so.  But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this.  They’re going to be costly.  They’re going to be serious.  We take them with the utmost seriousness.  But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.  So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

Q    Can you just say what the response would be to this attack?  Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know.  The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.  I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco].  (Laughter.)  I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond.  We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.  It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.  Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.  And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage.  That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.

Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need.  Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe.  Where you going to be?

Q    Brussels.

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

Q    It’s been a long road for the both of us.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

THE PRESIDENT:  The waffles are delicious there, by the way.
Cheryl Bolen.  You’ve been naughty.  (Laughter.)  Cheryl, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform.  And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year?  Will you be putting out a new proposal?  Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there?  And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform.  But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done.  The tax area is one area where we can get things done.  And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.

I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see more simplicity in the system.  I’d like to see more fairness in the system.  With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers.  That’s not fair.

There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance.  We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States.  In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  I think that needs to be fixed.

So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important.

Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share.  How we do that — the devil is in the details.  And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward.  I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.

One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years.  (Audience member sneezes.)  Bless you.  We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems.  We are way behind.

And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built.  I’d like to see us work on that issue as well.  Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system?  When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform.  Why not do the same with Cuba?

And if I could just follow up on North Korea.  Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.

With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.

I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.

And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before.  It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before.  It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before.  It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.

And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people.

I think it will happen in fits and starts.  But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.

Q    Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be.  But change is going to come to Cuba.  It has to.  They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work.  They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela.  Those can’t be sustained.  And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change.

But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific.  It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen.  And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.

Lesley Clark.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I had a number of questions on Cuba as well.  Appreciate that.  I wanted to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Do I have to write all these down?  How many are there?  (Laughter.)  “A number” sounded intimidating.

Q    As quick as I can.  As quick as I can.  I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.

THE PRESIDENT:  Meaning?  Be specific.  What do you mean?

Q    When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes.  They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

Q    Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them.  I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks?  When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up?  Or did you ask about him?  How he’s doing?  People haven’t seen him in a while.  Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here.  (Laughter.)  This is taking up a lot of time.

Q    Okay, all right.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration.  It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.  I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.

I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations.  So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy.  And that could put significant strains on the relationship.  But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy.  And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not.

So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem.  And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong.  But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.

The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important.

My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time.  And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man.  Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood.  He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight.  (Laughter.)

And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine.  (Laughter.)  And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family.  But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had.

I sort of forgot all the other questions.  (Laughter.)

Q    I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Congress?  We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo.  That’s codified in the Libertad Act.  And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it.  There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach.  People will see how the actions we take unfold.  And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress.

And I will certainly weigh in.  I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.  But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.  I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.

Roberta Rampton.

Q    I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana?  Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that?  And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea?  Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options.  They will be presented to me.  I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.

With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.  I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years.  I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people.  But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change.  But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda.  And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively.  Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda?  Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress.  As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.  I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.  The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.  I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree.

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me.  If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no.  And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.  But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done.

I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive.  There’s no evidence of that.  So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.  And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.

Immigration is the classic example.  I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.  And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you.  Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.

And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is:  Pass bills.  And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills.

Because both sides are going to have to compromise.  On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off.  And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.

All right.  I think this is going to be our last question.  Juliet Eilperin.  There you go.

Q    Thanks so much.  So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project.  I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers.  And also, what do you see as the benefits?  And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits.  At issue in Keystone is not American oil.  It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada.  That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.  Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world.

So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through.  And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.  And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States.  It’s not.  There’s a global oil market.  It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.  It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.

Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs.  Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens.  There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf.  Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project.  But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.

And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless.  If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that.

And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore.  That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.

So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate.  Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision.

But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.

In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices.  But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market.  And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.

Q    And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll see what they do.  We’ll take that up in the New Year.

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask — April, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last question, I guess.  (Laughter.)  Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.”  You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity.  We’re ending 2014.  What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.  The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American.  They’re better off than they were.

The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists.  And we’ve got more work to do on that front.  I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery.  That’s not an excuse for black folks.  And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.  They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college.  But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.

And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.  If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.

And we’ve seen some progress.  The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results.  We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time.  We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college.  In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population.  But we’ve still got more work to go.

Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion.

The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.

And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them.  Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action.  Some of them will require congressional action.  Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions.

But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had.  These are not new phenomenon.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations.  And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.

In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly.  One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts.  We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms.  And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.

The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people.  I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith.  And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions.  Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should.  Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around.  But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems.  It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying.  I think that troubles everybody.  So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times.  It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping.  And I understand that.  But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.  The economy has gotten better.  Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better.  We know more about how to educate our kids.  We solved problems.  Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it.  You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed.

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence.  America knows how to solve problems.  And when we work together, we can’t be stopped.

And now I’m going to go on vacation.  Mele Kalikimaka, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Mahalo.  Thank you, everybody.

END
2:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency August 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the American Legion National Convention about VA Reform Executive Actions and Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Remarks by the President to the American Legion National Convention

Source: WH, 8-26-14 

Charlotte Convention Center
Charlotte, North Carolina

12:07 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Please, everybody, have a seat.  Hello, Legionnaires!

AUDIENCE:  Hello!

THE PRESIDENT:  I want to thank Commander Dellinger for the introduction, but more importantly, for your service in the Army.  And as you conclude your tenure as Commander, thank you for your tireless commitment to America’s veterans.

I want to thank the entire leadership team for welcoming me here today, including your National Adjutant, Dan Wheeler; your Executive Director in Washington, Peter Gaytan; Nancy Brown-Park, all the spouses, daughters — (applause) — hey! — sisters of the Auxiliary, and the Sons of the American Legion.  (Applause.)  And let me say that I join you in honoring the memory of a friend to many of you — an Army veteran and a great Legionnaire from North Carolina, Jerry Hedrick.  (Applause.)

To Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, Mayor Dan Clodfelter — thank you for welcoming us to the great state of North Carolina and to Charlotte, and for your great support of our troops and our veterans.

And I do have to mention the President of Boys Nation –Matthew Ellow, from Lacey’s Spring, Alabama.  I welcomed Matthew and all the incredible young people of Boys and Girls Nation to the White House last month.  I was running a little bit late, so they just started singing, filling the White House with patriotic songs.  And then they sang Happy Birthday to me, so I was pretty moved.  And they’re a tribute to the Legion and to our country.

I’ve brought with me today our new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald.  (Applause.)  And for those of you who are not aware, Bob is one of America’s most accomplished business leaders.  He comes from a military family.  He excelled at West Point, served as an Army Airborne Ranger — so he’s got a reputation for jumping into tough situations.  (Laughter.)  And he’s hit the ground running, visiting hospitals and clinics across the country, hearing directly from veterans and helping us change the way the VA does business.  And by the way, Washington doesn’t agree on much these days, but he got confirmed 97 to 0.  (Applause.)  People understand he’s the right man for the job.  He has my full support.  And, Bob, I want to thank you for once again serving your country.  (Applause.)

It’s an honor to be back with the American Legion.  In the story of your service we see the spirit of America.  When your country needed you most, you stepped forward.  You raised your right hand, you swore a solemn oath.  You put on that uniform and earned the title you carry to this day — whether Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman.

Among you are proud veterans of World War II; of Korea; of Vietnam; of Desert Storm and the Balkans; and our newest veterans — from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Across the generations, you served with honor.  You made us proud.  And you carry the memory of friends who never came home — our fallen, our prisoners of war, those missing in action — heroes that our nation can never forget.

When you took off that uniform, you earned another title –the title of veteran.  And you never stopped serving.  As Legionnaires, you put on that cap, wore that emblem — “for God and country” — and took care of one another, making sure our veterans receive the care and the benefits that you’ve earned and deserve.

And just as you defended America over there, you helped build America here at home — as leaders and role models in your communities, as entrepreneurs and business owners, as champions for a strong national defense.  You helped the United States of America become what we are today — the greatest democratic, economic, and military force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.

Now, these are challenging times.  I don’t have to tell you that.  Around the world as well as here at home.  You turn on the TV and we’re saturated with heartbreaking images of war and senseless violence and terrorism and tragedy.  And it can be easy to grow cynical or give in to the sense that the future we seek is somehow beyond our reach.  But as men and women who have been tested like few others, you should know better.  You know that cynicism is not the character of a great nation.  And so, even as we face, yes, the hard tasks of our time, we should never lose sight of our progress as a people or the strength of our leadership in the world.

Think about it — six years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — in some ways, the crisis had the potential of being worse than the Great Depression — thanks to the decisions we made to rescue our economy, thanks to the determination of the American people, we are stronger at home.  Over the past 53 months, our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs — the longest streak of private sector job creation in American history.  Construction and housing are rebounding.  Our auto industry and manufacturing are booming.  Our high school graduation rate is at a record high.  More young people are earning their college degrees than ever before.  Millions more Americans now have quality, affordable health care.  We’ve cut the deficit by more than half.  And now we have to sustain this momentum so more people share in this progress, so our economy works for every working American.

And just as we’re stronger at home, the United States is better positioned to lead in the 21st century than any nation on Earth.  It’s not even close.  We have the most powerful military in history — that’s certainly not close.  From Europe to Asia, our alliances are unrivaled.  Our economy is the most dynamic.  We’ve got the best workers.  We’ve got the best businesses.  We have the best universities and the best scientists.  With our domestic energy revolution, including more renewable energy, we’re more energy independent.  Our technologies connect the world.  Our freedoms and opportunities attract immigrants who “yearn to breathe free.”  Our founding ideals inspire the oppressed across the globe to reach for their own liberty.  That’s who we are.  That’s what America is.

And moreover, nobody else can do what we do.  No other nation does more to underwrite the security and prosperity on which the world depends.  In times of crisis, no other nation can rally such broad coalitions to stand up for international norms and peace.  In times of disaster, no other nation has the capabilities to deliver so much so quickly.  No nation does more to help citizens claim their rights and build their democracies.  No nation does more to help people in the far corners of the Earth escape poverty and hunger and disease, and realize their dignity.  Even countries that criticize us, when the chips are down and they need help, they know who to call — they call us.  That’s what American leadership looks like.  That’s why the United States is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world.

Now, sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure, means we have to use our power wisely.  History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching, and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.  And nobody knows this better than our veterans and our families — our veteran families, because you’re the ones who bear the wages of war.  You’re the ones who carry the scars.  You know that we should never send America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan, and we are resourcing it and prepared to see it through.  (Applause.)  You know the United States has to lead with strength and confidence and wisdom.

And that’s why, after incredible sacrifice by so many of our men and women in uniform, we removed more than 140,000 troops from Iraq and welcomed those troops home.  It was the right thing to do.  It’s why we refocused our efforts in Afghanistan and went after al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, driving the Taliban out of its strongholds, and training Afghan forces, which are now in the lead for their own security.  In just four months, we will complete our combat mission in Afghanistan and America’s longest war will come to a responsible end.  And we honor every American who served to make this progress possible — (applause) — every single one, especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to keep us safe.

And now, as Afghans continue to work towards the first democratic transfer of power in their history, Afghan leaders need to make the hard compromises that are necessary to give the Afghan people a future of security and progress.  And as we go forward, we’ll continue to partner with Afghans so their country can never again be used to launch attacks against the United States.  (Applause.)

Now, as I’ve always made clear, the blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda’s leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat.  Al Qaeda affiliates still target our homeland — we’ve seen that in Yemen.  Other extremists threaten our citizens abroad, as we’ve seen most recently in Iraq and Syria.  As Commander-in-Chief, the security of the American people is my highest priority, and that’s why, with the brutal terrorist group ISIL advancing in Iraq, I have authorized targeted strikes to protect our diplomats and military advisors who are there.  (Applause.)

And let me say it again:  American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.  I will not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq.  Because ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves.  (Applause.)  The limited strikes we’re conducting have been necessary to protect our people, and have helped Iraqi forces begin to push back these terrorists.  We’ve also been able to rescue thousands of men and women and children who were trapped on a mountain.  And our airdrops of food and water and medicine show American leadership at our best.  And we salute the brave pilots and crews who are making us proud in the skies of Iraq every single day.  (Applause.)

And more broadly, the crisis in Iraq underscores how we have to meet today’s evolving terrorist threat.  The answer is not to send in large-scale military deployments that overstretch our military, and lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time, and end up feeding extremism.  Rather, our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL.

So we’re strengthening our partners — more military assistance to government and Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition in Syria.  We’re urging Iraqis to forge the kind of inclusive government that can deliver on national unity, and strong security forces and good governance that are ultimately going to be the antidote against terrorists.  And we’re urging countries in the region and building an international coalition, including our closest allies, to support Iraqis as they take the fight to these barbaric terrorists.

Today, our prayers are with the Foley family in New Hampshire as they continue to grieve the brutal murder of their son and brother Jim.  But our message to anyone who harms our people is simple:  America does not forget.  Our reach is long.  We are patient.  Justice will be done.  We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans — (applause) — to go after those who harm Americans.  (Applause.)

And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.  And rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.  But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being.

So even as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end, we will stay vigilant.  We will continue to make sure that our military has what it needs.  And as today’s generation of servicemembers keeps us safe, and as they come home, we also have to meet our responsibilities to them, just as they meet their responsibilities to America.  (Applause.)

When I was here at the Legion three years ago, I said that the bond between our forces and our citizens has to be a sacred trust, and that for me, for my administration, upholding our trust with our veterans is not just a matter of policy, it is a moral obligation.

And working together, we have made real progress.  Think about it.  Working with the Legion and other veterans service organizations, we’ve been able to accomplish historic increases to veterans funding.  We’ve protected veterans health care from Washington politics with advanced appropriations.  We’ve been able to make VA benefits available to more than 2 million veterans who didn’t have them before, including more Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange.  (Applause.)  We’ve dedicated major new resources for mental health care.  We’ve helped more than 1 million veterans and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

And moreover, as the Legion and other veterans groups have said, once veterans get in the door the care you receive from the VA is often very good.  The specialized care is among the best in the world.  And many of the hardworking folks at the VA are veterans themselves — veterans serving veterans.  And we can never thank them enough for their good work.

But what we’ve come to learn is that the misconduct we’ve seen at too many facilities — with long wait times, and veterans denied care, and folks cooking the books — is outrageous and inexcusable.  (Applause.)

As soon as it was disclosed, I got before the American people and I said we would not tolerate it.  And we will not.  And I know the Legion has been on the frontlines, fanning out across the country, helping veterans who’ve been affected.  And I know Bob is going to give you an update on the actions that we’re taking.  But what I want you to know, directly from me, is that we’re focused on this at the highest levels.  We are going to get to the bottom of these problems.  We’re going to fix what is wrong.  We’re going to do right by you, and we are going to do right by your families.  And that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here.  (Applause.)

Already we’re making sure that those responsible for manipulating or falsifying records are held accountable.  We’re reaching out to veterans — more than a quarter million so far  — to get them off wait lists and into clinics.  We’re moving ahead with reforms at the Veterans Health Administration.  And to help get that done, you supported, and Congress passed, and I signed into law the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which means more resources to help the VA hire more doctors and nurses and staff.  It means if you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or your VA doctors can’t see you fast enough, we’ll help you go to a doctor outside the VA.

And we’re instituting a new culture of accountability.  Bob doesn’t play.  Bob likes to recall a cadet prayer from West Point, which should be the ethos of all of us:  “Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”  And with the new legislation that I signed into law, Bob and the VA now have the authority to more quickly remove senior executives who don’t meet our high standards.  If you engage in unethical practices, or cover up a serious problem, you should be and will be fired.  (Applause.)

And by the way, if you blow the whistle on higher-ups because you’ve identified a legitimate problem, you shouldn’t be punished, you should be protected.  (Applause.)

So my bottom line is this:  Despite all the good work that the VA does every day, despite all the progress that we’ve made over the last several years, we are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there.  And those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans, and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first.  And I will not be satisfied until that happens.  (Applause.)

And we’re in the midst of a new wave of veterans — more than a million servicemembers returning to civilian life.  So we have to do more to uphold that sacred trust not just this year or next year, but for decades to come.  We’re going to have to stay focused on the five priorities that I outlined last year.  And I just want to reiterate them for you just so you know what it is that we’re committing to.

Number one, we need to make sure our veterans have the resources you deserve.  And the new funding we just helped — we just passed with the help of Senators Burr and Kay, that helps.  But as you know, it’s not enough.  Even in these tough fiscal times, I’ve, therefore, proposed another increase in veterans funding for next year.  And I’ll continue to resist any effort to exploit the recent problems at the VA to turn veterans health care into a voucher system.  We don’t need vouchers.  You need VA health care that you have earned and that you can depend on.  (Applause.)  We need to make the system work.

Second, we need to make sure veterans are actually getting the health care you need when you need it.  Reforming the VHA and more doctors and staff is a good step.  But with this new wave of veterans, we’ve got to deliver the care our newest veterans need most.  And that includes tailored care that treats our women veterans with respect and dignity.  (Applause.)  It means doing even more to help veterans from all wars who are struggling with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.  And we have to end this tragedy of suicide among our troops and veterans.  (Applause.)  As a country, we can’t stand idly by on such tragedy.

So we’re doing even more — more than ever — more awareness, more outreach, more access to mental health care.  So long as any servicemember or veteran is suffering, or feels like they have nowhere to turn, or doesn’t get the support that they need, that means we haven’t done enough.  And we all know we need to do more.  Veterans called for it.  We heard you — which is why today I’m announcing 19 new executive actions to help improve mental health care for those American heroes and their families.  (Applause.)

So just one example:  We’re expanding suicide prevention training across the military and the VA, so colleagues and clinicians can spot the warning signs and encourage our troops and veterans to seek help.  We’ll improve access to care, with more peer support — veterans counseling veterans — at VA hospitals and clinics.  We’re calling on Congress to help us ensure that our troops get coverage for mental health care that’s on par with the coverage for other medical conditions.  And we’re going to make it easier for servicemembers being treated for mental health conditions to continue their care as they transition to the VA, so automatically connecting them with the support they need, making sure they don’t lose access to any medications they may be taking.

And maybe most of all, we’re going to keep saying loud and clear to anyone out there who’s hurting, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it is a sign of strength.  Talk to a friend.  Pick up the phone.  You are not alone.  We are here for you.  And every American needs to know if you see someone in uniform or a veteran who is struggling, reach out and help them to get help.  They were there for America.  We now need to be there for them.  (Applause.)

Our third priority:  We have to keep attacking the disability claims backlog.  Now, the good news is, since its peak last year, we’ve worked with you to slash the backlog by more than 50 percent.  There had been a surge in the backlog in part because of an influx of new veterans; in part because we opened it up for folks who had PTSD, folks with Agent Orange symptoms.  And now we’ve had to work that backlog back down.  The trend lines are good.  But we don’t just want those claims processed fast; we need to make sure they get processed right.

So we’re going to keep at this until we end this backlog once and for all.  And as we do, we’re going to keep working to liberate you from those mountains of paper.  We’ve got to move towards a paperless system — electronic health records that our troops and veterans can keep for life, and that could cut down on some of the bureaucratic red tape so that you’re getting the benefits that you’ve earned a little bit faster.  (Applause.)

Number four:  We need to uphold the dignity and rights of every veteran, and that includes ending the tragedy of homelessness among veterans.  (Applause.)  Again, we’ve got good news to report.  Today, I can announce that, working together over the last few years, we have been able to reduce the number of homeless veterans by one-third.  (Applause.)  And that means on any given night, there are 25,000 fewer veterans on the streets or in shelters.  But we’re not going to stop until every veteran who has defended America has a home in America.  That’s a basic commitment that we have to uphold.  (Applause.)

And finally, we need to make sure our troops and veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream.  That includes a home of their own.  You know, under the law, our servicemembers are entitled to reduced mortgage rates, but the burden is on them to ask for it and prove they’re eligible, which means a lot of folks don’t get the low rates they deserve.

So, today, we’re turning that around.  We’re announcing a new partnership in which some of America’s biggest banks and financial institutions will simplify the process, proactively notify servicemembers who qualify for lower rates and make it easier to enroll.  In other words, we’re going to help more of our troops and military families own their own home without a crushing debt.  (Applause.)

We’re also going to keep helping our troops transition to civilian life.  Because of the work we’ve done together, if you already have a military truck driver’s license, every state now waives the skills test so it’s easier for you to get a commercial driver’s license.  (Applause.)  And we’re going to keep pushing more states to recognize the incredible skills and training of our veterans.  If you could do a job in a warzone, if you’re a medic in a warzone, you shouldn’t have to go take nursing 101 to work in a hospital here in the United States.  (Applause.)  If you can handle million-dollar pieces of equipment in a warzone, that should count for something in getting certified back here at home.  If you can do the kinds of jobs so many of you have done in the most extreme circumstances, I’m pretty confident you can do that job right here at home.  (Applause.)

To help our troops and veterans pursue their education, we worked with loan servicers to automatically cap interest rates on student loans to our servicemembers at 6 percent.  For veterans going back to school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, we’ll keep standing up against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices that target and prey on you and your families.  So far, about 6,000 colleges and universities have pledged to adhere to our principles of excellence, promising to do right by our veterans.  And more than a thousand colleges and universities have adopted our “8 Keys” to make sure that they’re truly welcoming veterans and helping them succeed on campus.  And by the way, every school in America should join them.  You should be proud if you’re educating a veteran, and you should be doing right by them.  (Applause.)

And we’re going to keep helping our veterans find those private sector jobs worthy of your incredible talents.  Our new online Veterans Employment Center is a single one-stop shop connecting veterans and their spouses to more than 1.5 million jobs that are open right now.  And we’re joining with states and local leaders to identify nearly two dozen cities and regions with the most opportunities for veterans.  And with Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden leading the call, America’s businesses are joining forces to hire or train veterans and spouses — more than half a million so far, and growing.

So veterans’ unemployment is going down, and it’s now actually lower than the national average.  It was higher to begin with, and we have been driving it down.  But we’ve got more to go, especially for our post-9/11 veterans.  So we’re going to keep saying to every business in America, if you want somebody who knows how to get the job done, no matter the mission, hire a veteran.  Hire a vet.  (Applause.)

So fixing what’s broken at the VA; ensuring the resources you deserve; delivering the health care that you’ve earned; eliminating the backlog; standing up for your rights and dignity; helping you realize the American Dream that you so honorably defended — these are our commitments to you.  This is what we’re focused on.  This is what we can do together — especially as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end and we welcome home our newest veterans.

There are a lot of them here tonight.  We salute Captain Scott Miller of Indiana, a proud Hoosier and a proud Marine.  In Afghanistan, he went out on dangerous patrols, traveling to remote villages, meeting with tribal elders, building trust, forging partnerships to push back insurgents.  And here at the Legion, he continues to serve by encouraging businesses across America to give back to the veterans who defended our way of life and make our prosperity possible.  So thank you, Scott.  Where is Scott here today?  (Applause.)  We are proud of him.  There here is.

We salute Master Sergeant Carol Barker of Greensboro, North Carolina.  As a first sergeant of her medevac unit, she was responsible for more than a hundred troops, helped save the lives of our wounded warriors in those critical first hours when life so often hung in the balance.  And here at the Legion, she continues to serve, helping homeless veterans come in off the streets, and begin their lives anew with a roof over their heads.  Thank you, Carol.  Where’s Carol?  (Applause.)

We salute Sergeant Joe Grassi, who grew up just outside New York City.  After his hometown was attacked on 9/11, he left his civilian job, he joined the Army.  A squad leader in Afghanistan, he spent most of his time on the flight line, in the 120-degree heat, supplying our helicopter crews.  And here at the Legion, he continues to serve, helping veterans complete their disability claims, and raising his voice in Washington for a strong national defense, because, he says, “Some things are worth fighting for.  America is worth fighting for.”  Thank you, Joe.  We’re proud of you.  Thank you, sir.  (Applause.)

Scott, Carol, Joe — they’re among the patriots here today who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And I would ask all our Post-9/11 Generation veterans to stand if you are able and accept the thanks of a grateful nation.  I ask these men and women to stand because the American people have to know that even as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end, our obligation to this generation of veterans has only just begun.  And this cannot just be the work of government and veterans groups alone.  I want every American to take this commitment seriously.  Please stand, Post-9/11 Generation, all of you who’ve served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re grateful for you.  (Applause.)

This is not just a job of government.  It’s not just a job of the veterans’ organizations.  Every American needs to join us in taking care of those who’ve taken care of us.  Because only 1 percent of Americans may be fighting our wars, but 100 percent of Americans benefit from that 1 percent.  A hundred percent need to be supporting our troops.  A hundred percent need to be supporting our veterans.  A hundred percent need to be supporting our military families.  (Applause.)

And everybody can do something.  Every American.  Every business.  Every profession.  Every school.  Every community.  Every state.  All of us, as one American team.  That’s how we will truly honor our veterans.  That’s how we will truly say thank you.  That’s how we will uphold the sacred trust with all who’ve served in our name.

God bless you.  God bless our veterans.  God bless the United States of America.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
12:41 P.M. EDT

Political Musings June 9, 2014: New poll finds Obama less competent than both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Recent polls are giving President Barack Obama a stream of bad news, now a new Fox News poll released on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 finds that Americans consider Obama less competent than his recent predecessors. The new Fox News poll…Continue

Political Musings May 27, 2014: Obama overcompensates Memorial Day honors as Veterans Affairs scandal heats up

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama overcompensates Memorial Day honors as Veterans Affairs scandal heats up

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Political Musings April 22, 2014: Obama announces at press conference that Obamacare reached 8 million enrollees

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama announces at press conference that Obamacare reached 8 million enrollees

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, April 17, 2014 in the White House’s Brady Press Briefing Room President Barack Obama announced that with the majority of numbers tallied the total number of enrollees on the federal marketplace…READ MORE

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Full Text Obama Presidency April 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on Reaching 8 Million Obamacare Enrollees and the Crisis in Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by the President, 4/17/14

Source: WH, 4-17-14

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT PRESS CONFERENCE

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction marked with asterisks.

3:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  Before I begin I just want to express on behalf of the American people our deepest condolences to the Republic of Korea and the families of all those who’ve seen their loved ones lost when a ferry sank within the last couple of days.

Obviously, information is still coming in.  We know that many of the victims of this terrible tragedy were students.  And American Navy personnel and Marines have already been on the scene helping the search and rescue.  As one of our closest allies, our commitment to South Korea is unwavering in good times and in bad, and that’s something I’ll underscore during my visit to Seoul next week.

Before I take questions I’d also like to say a few words about how the Affordable Care Act is now covering more people at less cost than most would have predicted just a few months ago.

The first open enrollment period under this law ended a little over two weeks ago.  And as more data comes in, we now know that the number of Americans who’ve signed up for private insurance in the marketplaces has grown to 8 million people — 8 million people.  Thirty-five percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35.  All told, independent experts now estimate that millions of Americans who were uninsured have gained coverage this year — with millions more to come next year and the year after.

We’ve also seen signs that the Affordable Care Act is bringing economic security to more Americans.  Before this law added new transparency and competition to the individual market, folks who bought insurance on their own regularly saw double-digit increases in their premiums.  That was the norm.  And while we suspect that premiums will keep rising, as they have for decades, we also know that since the law took effect health care spending has risen more slowly than at any time in the past 50 years.

In the decade before the Affordable Care Act, employer-based insurance rose almost 8 percent a year.  Last year, it grew at half that rate.  Under this law, real Medicare costs per person have nearly stopped growing.  The life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by 10 years.  And the independent Congressional Budget Office now expects premiums for plans on the marketplace to be 15 percent lower than originally predicted.

So those savings add up to more money that families can spend at businesses, more money that businesses can spend hiring new workers.  And the CBO now says that the Affordable Care Act will be cheaper than recently projected.  Lower costs from  coverage provisions will shrink our deficits by an extra $100 billion.

So the bottom line is, under the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs is down.  Hundreds of millions of Americans who already have insurance now have new benefits and protections from free preventive care to freedom from lifetime caps on your care.  No American with a preexisting condition like asthma or cancer can be denied coverage.  No woman can be charged more just for being a woman.  Those days are over.  And this thing is working.

I’ve said before, this law won’t solve all the problems in our health care system.  We know we’ve got more work to do.  But we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans, and take insurance away from millions more — which is why, as I’ve said before, I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been.

They still can’t bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working.  They said nobody would sign up; they were wrong about that.  They said it would be unaffordable for the country; they were wrong about that.  They were wrong to keep trying to repeal a law that is working when they have no alternative answer for millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who would be denied coverage again, or every woman who would be charged more for just being a woman again.

I know every American isn’t going to agree with this law.  But I think we can agree that it’s well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about — and that continues to be the economy.  Because these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost.  The 50 or so votes Republicans have taken to repeal this law could have been 50 votes to create jobs by investing in things like infrastructure or innovation.  Or 50 votes to make it easier for middle-class families to send their kids to college.  Or 50 votes to raise the minimum wage, or restore unemployment insurance that they let expire for folks working hard to find a new job.

The point is the repeal debate is and should be over.  The Affordable Care Act is working.  And I know the American people don’t want us spending the next two and a half years refighting the settled political battles of the last five years.  They sent us here to repair our economy, to rebuild our middle class, and to restore our founding promise of opportunity — not just for a few, but for all.  And as President, that’s exactly what I intend to keep doing as long as I’m in this office.

With that, I’ll take some questions.  Let’s see who we got.  Kathleen Hennessey of the LA Times.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  It sounds like there’s been some development in the Ukraine talks in Geneva.  I’m just wondering if you could describe your level of confidence in what this agreement is and how you can be sure that Russia will follow through, given some of the remarks from President Putin this morning.

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think we can be sure of anything at this point.  I think there is the possibility, the prospect that diplomacy may deescalate the situation and we may be able to move towards what has always been our goal, which is let the Ukrainians make their own decisions about their own lives.

There was a meeting in Geneva — representatives of the Ukrainian government, the Russian government, the EU, as well as the United States.  It was a lengthy, vigorous conversation.  My understanding is, is that the Ukrainian Prime Foreign** Minister gave a detailed and thorough presentation about the reforms that they intend to introduce, including reforms that provide assurances for Ukrainians who live in eastern and southern Ukraine that they will be fully represented, that their rights will be protected, that Russian speakers and Russian natives in Ukraine will have the full protection of the law.  And my understanding, based on what I’ve heard, is that there was an acknowledgement within the meeting that the Ukrainian government in Kyiv had gone out of its way to address a range of the concerns that may have existed in southern and eastern Ukraine.

There was a promising public statement that indicated the need to disarm all irregular forces and militias and groups that have been occupying buildings.  There was an offer of amnesty to those who would willingly lay down their arms, evacuate those buildings, so that law and order could be restored in eastern and southern Ukraine.

The Russians signed on to that statement.  And the question now becomes will, in fact, they use the influence that they’ve exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election, move forward with the decentralization reforms that they’ve proposed, stabilize their economy, and start getting back on the path of growth and democracy and that their sovereignty will be respected.

We’re not going to know whether, in fact, there’s follow-through on these statements for several days.  And so today I spoke with Chancellor Merkel; later on in the day I’m going to be speaking to David Cameron.  We’re going to be consulting with our European allies.  Over the last week, we have put in place additional consequences that we can impose on the Russians if we do not see actual improvement of the situation on the ground.  And we are coordinating now with our European allies.

My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days.  But I don’t think given past performance that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

If, in fact, we do see improvements, then that will obviously be a positive.  In the meantime, we’re going to make sure that we continue to help the Ukrainian government — working with the IMF, the Europeans and others — to stabilize their economy and to start reforming it.  We’re going to continue to work with our NATO allies to make sure that they are assured that we’re going to meet our Article 5 obligations and that they are secure.

And as I’ve said before — I think I had an interview with Major yesterday in which I mentioned this whole exercise by the Russians is not good for Russia either.  There are, I think, a number of articles today indicating the degree to which an economy that was already stuck in the mud is further deteriorating because of these actions.

And in my conversations with President Putin, I’ve emphasized the same thing, that we have no desire to see further deterioration of the Russian economy.  On the other hand, we are going to continue to uphold the basic principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity for all countries; and that there’s a way for Ukraine to be independent, to be sovereign, and to have positive relationships with both the West and the East, with both its European neighbors and its Russian neighbors.  And that’s our primary concern.

Maria Peña, La Opinión.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ve got a hot spot for you here in the U.S.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said — or claimed that you haven’t learned how to work with them.  And he’s angry that you’re attacking the GOP on the lack of movement on immigration reform.  So I was wondering how you respond to that.

And the second part to that, right now you have hunger strikers across the street demanding relief for undocumented immigrants.  And I was wondering if you can dispel the rumors or if there’s a leak from the White House that you will make some sort of announcement in the coming weeks to expand that relief for the undocumented.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday.

Q    Really?

THE PRESIDENT:  I did.  (Laughter.)  You’re always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation.  I wished him happy Passover.  And what I said to him privately is something that I would share with him — that I’ve said publicly, which is there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform.  It would strengthen our economy, it would help with our security, and it would provide relief to families who — many of whom have lived here for years and who have children and family members who are U.S. citizens; and that Congress should act; and that right now what’s holding us back is House Republican leadership not willing to go ahead and let the process move forward.

So it was a pretty friendly conversation.  I think in his press release, I gather he was referring to the observation that we’d made a day earlier that it had now been a year since the Senate had passed a strong bipartisan bill, and that although we had heard a lot of talk about the House Republicans being interested in doing something, nothing had happened yet, and suggesting that we need some urgency here.  I still feel the same way.

I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do.  I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this.  But what I also know is that there are families all across the country who are experiencing great hardship and pain because this is not getting resolved.  I also know that there are businesses around the country that could be growing even faster, that our deficits could be coming down faster, that we would have more customers in our shops, if we get this thing resolved.

We know what the right thing to do is.  It’s a matter of political will.  It’s not any longer a matter of policy.  And I’m going to continue to encourage them to get this done.

As far as our actions, Jeh Johnson, our new head of the  Department of Homeland Security, has been talking to everybody  — law enforcement, immigrant rights groups — to do a thorough-going review of our approach towards enforcement.  And we’re doing that in consultation with Democrats and Republicans and with any interested party.

I do think that the system we have right now is broken.  I’m not alone in that opinion.  The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action.  We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could.  We’re going to review it one more time to see if there’s more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with I think the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn’t be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding.

And so let me —

Q    Do you have a time?

THE PRESIDENT:  I won’t get into timing right now because Mr. Johnson is going to go ahead and do that review.

Tamara Keith.

Q    So you — regarding the Affordable Care Act, I think you —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, let’s talk about that.  (Laughter.)

Q    Since you brought it up.  (Laughter.)  I think everyone agrees that it has flaws.  But Democrats have been sort of reluctant in Congress to reopen the conversation, and Republicans have been more than happy to reopen the conversation but in a different way.  Now that, as you say, it’s here to stay, there are so many people that signed up, in this environment is it possible to do the kind of corrections that the business community and many others would like to see — sort of small, technical corrections?

THE PRESIDENT:  It is absolutely possible, but it will require a change in attitude on the part of the Republicans.

I have always said from the outset that on any large piece of legislation like this, there are going to be things that need to be improved, need to be tweaked.  I said that I think the day I signed the bill.  And I don’t think there’s been any hesitation on our part to consider ideas that would actually improve the legislation.  The challenge we have is, is that if you have certain members in the Republican Party whose view is making it work better is a concession to me, then it’s hard in that environment to actually get it done.

And I recognize that their party is going through the stages of grief — anger and denial and all that stuff — and we’re not at acceptance yet.  But at some point, my assumption is, is that there will be an interest to figure out how do we make this work in the best way possible.

We have 8 million people signed up through the exchanges.  That doesn’t include the 3 million young people who are able to stay on their parents’ plan.  It doesn’t include the 3 million people who benefited from expansions to Medicaid.  So if my math is correct, that’s 14 million right there.  You’ve got another 5 million people who signed up outside of the marketplaces but are part of the same insurance pool.  So we’ve got a sizable part of the U.S. population now in the first — for the first time in many cases, in a position to enjoy the financial security of health insurance.

And I’m meeting them as I’m on the road.  I saw a woman yesterday — young woman, maybe 34, with her mom and her dad, and she’s got two small kids and self-employed husband, and was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And this isn’t an abstraction to her.  She is saving her home.  She is saving her business.  She is saving her parents’ home, potentially, because she’s got health insurance, which she just could not afford.

And the question now becomes if, in fact, this is working for a lot of people but there are still improvements to make, why are we still having a conversation about repealing the whole thing, and why are we having folks say that any efforts to improve it are somehow handing Obama a victory?  This isn’t about me.  And my hope is, is that we start moving beyond that.  My suspicion is that probably will not happen until after November because it seems as if this is the primary agenda item in the Republican political platform.

But here’s what I know:  The American people would much rather see us talk about jobs, would much rather see us talk about high college costs, would much rather see us discussing how we can rebuild our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure and put people back to work.  They’d much rather see us talk about how we’d boost wages and boost incomes and improve their individual family bottom lines.

And if the Republicans want to spend the entire next six months or year talking about repealing a bill that provides millions of people health insurance without providing any meaningful alternative, instead of wanting to talk about jobs and the economic situation of families all across the country, that’s their prerogative.  At some point I think they’ll make the transition.  That’s my hope, anyway.  If not, we’re just going to keep on doing what we’re doing, which is making it work for people all across the country.

I’m sorry, I’m going to say one last thing about this, just because this does frustrate me:  States that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite.  You’ve got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states — zero cost to these states — other than ideological reasons.  They have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens.  That’s wrong.  It should stop.  Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else.

Isaac, from Politico.  Where are you, Isaac?  There you are.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Given all that you were just saying about the Affordable Care Act, do you think it’s time for Democrats to start campaigning loudly and positively on the benefits of Obamacare?  Will you lead that charge?

And on Ukraine, you’ve said in other situations — Iran, for example — that the military option remains on the table even as talks go on.  Is the military option on the table with Russia?  And if so, would that be through NATO forces, through lethal aid to Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, keep in mind I think I’ve been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.  What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.  They move forward with reforms that meet the interests of the various groups within Ukraine, they move forward with elections, and they start getting their economic house in order.  That’s what’s going to solve the problem.

And so obviously, Russia right now still has its forces amassed along the Ukrainian-Russian border as a gesture of intimidation.  And it is our belief — and not ours alone — but I think broad portions of the international community believe that Russia’s hand is in the disruptions and chaos that we’ve been seeing in southern and eastern Ukraine.  But there is an opportunity for Russia to take a different approach.  We are encouraging them to do so.

In the meantime, we’re going to prepare additional responses should Russia fail to take a different course.  We’ve already had an impact on their economy that is well documented.  It could get significantly worse.  But we don’t have an interest in hurting ordinary Russians just for the sake of it.  Our strong preference would be for Mr. Putin to follow through on what is a glimmer of hope coming out of these Geneva talks.  But we’re not going to count on it until we see it.  And in the meantime, we’re going to prepare what our other options are.

With respect to the Affordable Care Act, my point is that we’ve been having a political fight about this for five years.  We need to move on to something else.  That’s what the American people are interested in.  I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact that millions of people like the woman I just described who I saw in Pennsylvania yesterday we’re helping because of something we did.  I don’t think we should apologize for it, and I don’t think we should be defensive about it.  I think there is a strong, good, right story to tell.

I think what the other side is doing and what the other side is offering would strip away protections from those families and from hundreds of millions of people who already had health insurance before the law passed, but never knew if the insurance company could drop them when they actually needed it, or women who were getting charged more just because they were a woman.  I’m still puzzled why they’ve made this their sole agenda item when it comes to our politics.  It’s curious.

But what I intend to talk about is what the American people are interested in hearing:  Our plans for putting people back to work; our plans for making sure our economy continues to innovate; our plans to make sure that, as I discussed yesterday, we’re training people for the jobs that are out there right now and making better use of our community colleges and linking them up with businesses; and how we’re going to continue to bring manufacturing back the way we have over the last several years; and how we’re going to put more money in the pockets of ordinary people.

So if they want to — if Republicans want to spend all their time talking about repealing a law that’s working, that’s their business.  I think what Democrats should do is not be defensive, but we need to move on and focus on other things that are really important to the American people right now.

David Jackson.

Q    Yes, sir.  Thank you.  One reason the Republicans talk about it is there are people who object to the law who said they’ve had problems with the law, and there are a significant number of opponents of the law.  I guess my question is, what makes you think a significant majority of the American people, of voters, will accept this law?  Or are we destined to see health care as a 50/50, red state/blue state argument for years to come?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think you’re mixing up two things here, David.  You said there are people who have seen problems with the law.  That’s not 50 percent of the American people.  There may have been folks who have been affected in ways that they weren’t happy about — by the law.  That is a far smaller number than the millions of people who’ve been signed up.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about it.  That’s an area where, as I said to Tamara, we should be open to other ways that we can make it even better.  So that’s objective facts and real problems out there.

The other side of it is just polling, right, what’s the general opinion of the law — which is attached to general opinions about me or about Democrats and partisanship in the country generally.

My view is that the longer we see the law benefiting millions of people, the more we see accusations that the law is hurting millions of people being completely debunked — as some of you in the press have done — and the more the average American who already has health insurance sees that it’s actually not affecting them in an adverse way, then it becomes less of a political football — which is where I want it to be.  This shouldn’t be a political football.  This should be something that we take for granted, that in this country you should be able to get affordable health care regardless of how wealthy you are.

Now, the larger issue about whether we can move past the polarization and sort of the bitter political debates between Democrats and Republicans, of which Obamacare is just one small part, that’s going to take more time.  But it’s not for lack of trying on my part.  And I think that I speak for all Democrats in saying we would much prefer a constructive conversation with the Republicans about how do we get some stuff done, and let’s focus on some areas that the American people really care about.

On jobs, we know that infrastructure would put people back to work right now and it would improve our economy for the long term.  It didn’t used to be a partisan issue.  Why aren’t we coming up with a way to make sure that we’re rebuilding our roads and our bridges, and improving our air traffic control system?  There’s no reason that has to be political.  There really isn’t any ideological disagreement on that.  And I guarantee you after this winter, if you look at the potholes that are the size of canyons all across big chunks of the United States, that people would like to see an infrastructure bill.  Let’s get it done.

Q    How long before health care ceases to become a political football, do you think?  Are we talking years?  Months?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s hard to say.  It’s interesting, I spoke at the LBJ Library the other day, and most of us weren’t around to pay real close attention to those debates, or they’re pretty distant now in the past.  Apparently it took several years before people realized, hey, Medicare actually works and it’s lifting a lot of seniors out of despair and poverty.

So we’ve been through this cycle before.  It happens each and every time we make some strides in terms of strengthening our commitments to each other and we expand some of these social insurance programs.

There’s a lot of fear-mongering and a lot of political argument and debate, and a lot of accusations are flung back and forth about socialized medicine and the end of freedom.  And then it turns out that, you know what, it’s working for a lot of folks, and we still live in a free-market society and the Constitution is intact.  And then we move on.  And I don’t know how long it’s going to take.  But in the meantime, how about us focusing on some things that the American people really care about?

Thank you, everybody.

END
4:13 P.M. EDT

 

Political Musings February 21, 2014: Michelle Obama celebrates Let’s Move’s fourth anniversary on Jimmy Fallon

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

First Lady Michelle Obama embarked on a media tour to celebrate the fourth anniversary of her health, nutrition, and exercise movement for America’s youth, Let’s Move on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 visiting the New Museum in…READ MORE

Political Musings February 3, 2014: Michelle Obama talks Scandal, Valentine’s Day, health care with Ryan Seacrest

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

While President Barack Obama embarked on his two-day economic opportunity policy tour, First Lady Michelle Obama went on her own official trip fundraising in California from Wednesday, Jan. 29 to Friday, January 31, 2014. While on the trip to…Continue

Political Musings February 3, 2014: Obama vs Bill O’Reilly tie in tough pre-Super Bowl interview match-up

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama vs Bill O’Reilly tie in tough pre-Super Bowl interview match-up

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The 10-minute pre-Super Bowl interview between FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly and President Barack Obama on Sunday evening, Feb. 2, 2014 during a special edition of The O’Reilly Factor was even more bruising than…READ MORE

Political Musings December 17, 2013: Obama’s year-end poll lowest of presidency, lower than most recent presidents

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

President Barck Obama is ending the fifth year of his presidency with one of the lowest approval ratings his has on record. The latest poll released on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post. The…READ MORE

Political Musings December 4, 2013: Obama launches campaign to sell health care law after HealthCare.gov repaired

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama launches campaign to sell health care law after HealthCare.gov repaired

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama launched on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 3, 2013 a three-week public relations campaign to sell his health care law, the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. After the White House met their Nov. 30 deadline to…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 4, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Economic Mobility

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility

Source: WH, 12-4-13

President Obama Speaks on Economic Mobility

President Obama Speaks on Economic Mobility

THEARC
Washington, D.C.
11:31 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you so much.  Please, please have a seat.  Thank you so much.  Well, thank you, Neera, for the wonderful introduction and sharing a story that resonated with me.  There were a lot of parallels in my life and probably resonated with some of you.
Over the past 10 years, the Center for American Progress has done incredible work to shape the debate over expanding opportunity for all Americans.  And I could not be more grateful to CAP not only for giving me a lot of good policy ideas, but also giving me a lot of staff.  (Laughter.)  My friend, John Podesta, ran my transition; my Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, did a stint at CAP.  So you guys are obviously doing a good job training folks.
I also want to thank all the members of Congress and my administration who are here today for the wonderful work that they do.  I want to thank Mayor Gray and everyone here at THEARC for having me.  This center, which I’ve been to quite a bit, have had a chance to see some of the great work that’s done here.  And all the nonprofits that call THEARC home offer access to everything from education, to health care, to a safe shelter from the streets, which means that you’re harnessing the power of community to expand opportunity for folks here in D.C.  And your work reflects a tradition that runs through our history — a belief that we’re greater together than we are on our own.  And that’s what I’ve come here to talk about today.
Over the last two months, Washington has been dominated by some pretty contentious debates — I think that’s fair to say.  And between a reckless shutdown by congressional Republicans in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and admittedly poor execution on my administration’s part in implementing the latest stage of the new law, nobody has acquitted themselves very well these past few months.  So it’s not surprising that the American people’s frustrations with Washington are at an all-time high.
But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles.  Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles — to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement.  It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them.  And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were.  They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today.  And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain — that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.
I believe this is the defining challenge of our time:  Making sure our economy works for every working American.  It’s why I ran for President.  It was at the center of last year’s campaign.  It drives everything I do in this office.  And I know I’ve raised this issue before, and some will ask why I raise the issue again right now.  I do it because the outcomes of the debates we’re having right now — whether it’s health care, or the budget, or reforming our housing and financial systems — all these things will have real, practical implications for every American.  And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.
Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story.  And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity — the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit.  And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice.
It was Abraham Lincoln, a self-described “poor man’s son,” who started a system of land grant colleges all over this country so that any poor man’s son could go learn something new.
When farms gave way to factories, a rich man’s son named Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday, protections for workers, and busted monopolies that kept prices high and wages low.
When millions lived in poverty, FDR fought for Social Security, and insurance for the unemployed, and a minimum wage.
When millions died without health insurance, LBJ fought for Medicare and Medicaid.
Together, we forged a New Deal, declared a War on Poverty in a great society.  We built a ladder of opportunity to climb, and stretched out a safety net beneath so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back.  And as a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known.  And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.
Now, we can’t look at the past through rose-colored glasses.  The economy didn’t always work for everyone.  Racial discrimination locked millions out of poverty — or out of opportunity.  Women were too often confined to a handful of often poorly paid professions.  And it was only through painstaking struggle that more women, and minorities, and Americans with disabilities began to win the right to more fairly and fully participate in the economy.
Nevertheless, during the post-World War II years, the economic ground felt stable and secure for most Americans, and the future looked brighter than the past.  And for some, that meant following in your old man’s footsteps at the local plant, and you knew that a blue-collar job would let you buy a home, and a car, maybe a vacation once in a while, health care, a reliable pension.  For others, it meant going to college — in some cases, maybe the first in your family to go to college.  And it meant graduating without taking on loads of debt, and being able to count on advancement through a vibrant job market.
Now, it’s true that those at the top, even in those years, claimed a much larger share of income than the rest:  The top 10 percent consistently took home about one-third of our national income.  But that kind of inequality took place in a dynamic market economy where everyone’s wages and incomes were growing.  And because of upward mobility, the guy on the factory floor could picture his kid running the company some day.
But starting in the late ‘70s, this social compact began to unravel.  Technology made it easier for companies to do more with less, eliminating certain job occupations.  A more competitive world lets companies ship jobs anywhere.  And as good manufacturing jobs automated or headed offshore, workers lost their leverage, jobs paid less and offered fewer benefits.
As values of community broke down, and competitive pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage.  As a trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.  And for a certain period of time, we could ignore this weakening economic foundation, in part because more families were relying on two earners as women entered the workforce.  We took on more debt financed by a juiced-up housing market.  But when the music stopped, and the crisis hit, millions of families were stripped of whatever cushion they had left.
And the result is an economy that’s become profoundly unequal, and families that are more insecure.  I’ll just give you a few statistics.  Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than eight percent.  Since 1979, our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few.
The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income — it now takes half.  Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s CEO now makes 273 times more.  And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.
So the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed.  In fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy.  Across the developed world, inequality has increased.  Some of you may have seen just last week, the Pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length.  “How can it be,” he wrote, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
But this increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country, and it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.  Understand we’ve never begrudged success in America.  We aspire to it.  We admire folks who start new businesses, create jobs, and invent the products that enrich our lives.  And we expect them to be rewarded handsomely for it.  In fact, we’ve often accepted more income inequality than many other nations for one big reason — because we were convinced that America is a place where even if you’re born with nothing, with a little hard work you can improve your own situation over time and build something better to leave your kids.  As Lincoln once said, “While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.”
The problem is that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years.  A child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top.  A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top.  He’s 10 times likelier to stay where he is.  In fact, statistics show not only that our levels of income inequality rank near countries like Jamaica and Argentina, but that it is harder today for a child born here in America to improve her station in life than it is for children in most of our wealthy allies — countries like Canada or Germany or France.  They have greater mobility than we do, not less.
The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough.  But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action.  We are a better country than this.
So let me repeat:  The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe.  And it is not simply a moral claim that I’m making here.  There are practical consequences to rising inequality and reduced mobility.
For one thing, these trends are bad for our economy.  One study finds that growth is more fragile and recessions are more frequent in countries with greater inequality.  And that makes sense.  When families have less to spend, that means businesses have fewer customers, and households rack up greater mortgage and credit card debt; meanwhile, concentrated wealth at the top is less likely to result in the kind of broadly based consumer spending that drives our economy, and together with lax regulation, may contribute to risky speculative bubbles.
And rising inequality and declining mobility are also bad for our families and social cohesion — not just because we tend to trust our institutions less, but studies show we actually tend to trust each other less when there’s greater inequality.  And greater inequality is associated with less mobility between generations.  That means it’s not just temporary; the effects last.  It creates a vicious cycle.  For example, by the time she turns three years old, a child born into a low-income home hears 30 million fewer words than a child from a well-off family, which means by the time she starts school she’s already behind, and that deficit can compound itself over time.
And finally, rising inequality and declining mobility are bad for our democracy.  Ordinary folks can’t write massive campaign checks or hire high-priced lobbyists and lawyers to secure policies that tilt the playing field in their favor at everyone else’s expense.  And so people get the bad taste that the system is rigged, and that increases cynicism and polarization, and it decreases the political participation that is a requisite part of our system of self-government.
So this is an issue that we have to tackle head on.  And if, in fact, the majority of Americans agree that our number-one priority is to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for all Americans, the question is why has Washington consistently failed to act?  And I think a big reason is the myths that have developed around the issue of inequality.
First, there is the myth that this is a problem restricted to a small share of predominantly minority poor — that this isn’t a broad-based problem, this is a black problem or a Hispanic problem or a Native American problem.  Now, it’s true that the painful legacy of discrimination means that African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from a lack of opportunity — higher unemployment, higher poverty rates.  It’s also true that women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.  So we’re going to need strong application of antidiscrimination laws.  We’re going to need immigration reform that grows the economy and takes people out of the shadows.  We’re going to need targeted initiatives to close those gaps.  (Applause.)
But here’s an important point.  The decades-long shifts in the economy have hurt all groups:  poor and middle class; inner city and rural folks; men and women; and Americans of all races.  And as a consequence, some of the social patterns that contribute to declining mobility that were once attributed to the urban poor — that’s a particular problem for the inner city: single-parent households or drug abuse — it turns out now we’re seeing that pop up everywhere.
A new study shows that disparities in education, mental health, obesity, absent fathers, isolation from church, isolation from community groups — these gaps are now as much about growing up rich or poor as they are about anything else.  The gap in test scores between poor kids and wealthy kids is now nearly twice what it is between white kids and black kids.  Kids with working-class parents are 10 times likelier than kids with middle- or upper-class parents to go through a time when their parents have no income.  So the fact is this:  The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race, and that gap is growing.
So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern.  And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts.  (Applause.)
Second, we need to dispel the myth that the goals of growing the economy and reducing inequality are necessarily in conflict, when they should actually work in concert.  We know from our history that our economy grows best from the middle out, when growth is more widely shared.  And we know that beyond a certain level of inequality, growth actually slows altogether.
Third, we need to set aside the belief that government cannot do anything about reducing inequality.  It’s true that government cannot prevent all the downsides of the technological change and global competition that are out there right now, and some of those forces are also some of the things that are helping us grow.  And it’s also true that some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed, created disincentives to work.
But we’ve also seen how government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class.  Investments in education, laws establishing collective bargaining, and a minimum wage — these all contributed to rising standards of living for massive numbers of Americans.  (Applause.)  Likewise, when previous generations declared that every citizen of this country deserved a basic measure of security — a floor through which they could not fall — we helped millions of Americans live in dignity, and gave millions more the confidence to aspire to something better, by taking a risk on a great idea.
Without Social Security, nearly half of seniors would be living in poverty — half.  Today, fewer than 1 in 10 do.  Before Medicare, only half of all seniors had some form of health insurance.  Today, virtually all do.  And because we’ve strengthened that safety net, and expanded pro-work and pro-family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s.  And these endeavors didn’t just make us a better country; they reaffirmed that we are a great country.
So we can make a difference on this.  In fact, that’s our generation’s task — to rebuild America’s economic and civic foundation to continue the expansion of opportunity for this generation and the next generation.  (Applause.)  And like Neera, I take this personally.  I’m only here because this country educated my grandfather on the GI Bill.  When my father left and my mom hit hard times trying to raise my sister and me while she was going to school, this country helped make sure we didn’t go hungry.  When Michelle, the daughter of a shift worker at a water plant and a secretary, wanted to go to college, just like me, this country helped us afford it until we could pay it back.
So what drives me as a grandson, a son, a father — as an American — is to make sure that every striving, hardworking, optimistic kid in America has the same incredible chance that this country gave me.  (Applause.)  It has been the driving force between everything we’ve done these past five years.  And over the course of the next year, and for the rest of my presidency, that’s where you should expect my administration to focus all our efforts.  (Applause.)
Now, you’ll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address.  (Laughter.)  And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before.  But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.
To begin with, we have to continue to relentlessly push a growth agenda.  It may be true that in today’s economy, growth alone does not guarantee higher wages and incomes.  We’ve seen that.  But what’s also true is we can’t tackle inequality if the economic pie is shrinking or stagnant.  The fact is if you’re a progressive and you want to help the middle class and the working poor, you’ve still got to be concerned about competitiveness and productivity and business confidence that spurs private sector investment.
And that’s why from day one we’ve worked to get the economy growing and help our businesses hire.  And thanks to their resilience and innovation, they’ve created nearly 8 million new jobs over the past 44 months.  And now we’ve got to grow the economy even faster.  And we’ve got to keep working to make America a magnet for good, middle-class jobs to replace the ones that we’ve lost in recent decades — jobs in manufacturing and energy and infrastructure and technology.
And that means simplifying our corporate tax code in a way that closes wasteful loopholes and ends incentives to ship jobs overseas.  (Applause.)  And by broadening the base, we can actually lower rates to encourage more companies to hire here and use some of the money we save to create good jobs rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports, and all the infrastructure our businesses need.
It means a trade agenda that grows exports and works for the middle class.  It means streamlining regulations that are outdated or unnecessary or too costly.  And it means coming together around a responsible budget — one that grows our economy faster right now and shrinks our long-term deficits, one that unwinds the harmful sequester cuts that haven’t made a lot of sense — (applause) — and then frees up resources to invest in things like the scientific research that’s always unleashed new innovation and new industries.
When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago.  A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit.  (Applause.)
So that’s step one towards restoring mobility:  making sure our economy is growing faster.  Step two is making sure we empower more Americans with the skills and education they need to compete in a highly competitive global economy.
We know that education is the most important predictor of income today, so we launched a Race to the Top in our schools.  We’re supporting states that have raised standards for teaching and learning.  We’re pushing for redesigned high schools that graduate more kids with the technical training and apprenticeships, and in-demand, high-tech skills that can lead directly to a good job and a middle-class life.
We know it’s harder to find a job today without some higher education, so we’ve helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go farther than before.  We’ve made it more practical to repay those loans.  And today, more students are graduating from college than ever before.  We’re also pursuing an aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reins in tuition costs.  We’ve got lower costs so that young people are not burdened by enormous debt when they make the right decision to get higher education.  And next week, Michelle and I will bring together college presidents and non-profits to lead a campaign to help more low-income students attend and succeed in college.  (Applause.)
But while higher education may be the surest path to the middle class, it’s not the only one.  So we should offer our people the best technical education in the world.  That’s why we’ve worked to connect local businesses with community colleges, so that workers young and old can earn the new skills that earn them more money.
And I’ve also embraced an idea that I know all of you at the Center for American Progress have championed — and, by the way, Republican governors in a couple of states have championed — and that’s making high-quality preschool available to every child in America.  (Applause.)  We know that kids in these programs grow up likelier to get more education, earn higher wages, form more stable families of their own.  It starts a virtuous cycle, not a vicious one.  And we should invest in that.  We should give all of our children that chance.
And as we empower our young people for future success, the third part of this middle-class economics is empowering our workers.  It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to — (applause) — so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.  It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women will have more tools to fight pay discrimination.  (Applause.)  It’s time to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act so workers can’t be fired for who they are or who they love.  (Applause.)
And even though we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, we’re creating more good-paying jobs in education and health care and business services; we know that we’re going to have a greater and greater portion of our people in the service sector.  And we know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty.  (Applause.)  And that’s why it’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.  (Applause.)
This shouldn’t be an ideological question.  It was Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, who once said, “They who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.”  And for those of you who don’t speak old-English — (laughter) — let me translate.  It means if you work hard, you should make a decent living.  (Applause.)  If you work hard, you should be able to support a family.
Now, we all know the arguments that have been used against a higher minimum wage.  Some say it actually hurts low-wage workers — businesses will be less likely to hire them.  But there’s no solid evidence that a higher minimum wage costs jobs, and research shows it raises incomes for low-wage workers and boosts short-term economic growth.  (Applause.)
Others argue that if we raise the minimum wage, companies will just pass those costs on to consumers.  But a growing chorus of businesses, small and large, argue differently.  And  already, there are extraordinary companies in America that provide decent wages, salaries, and benefits, and training for their workers, and deliver a great product to consumers.
SAS in North Carolina offers childcare and sick leave.  REI, a company my Secretary of the Interior used to run, offers retirement plans and strives to cultivate a good work balance.  There are companies out there that do right by their workers.  They recognize that paying a decent wage actually helps their bottom line, reduces turnover.  It means workers have more money to spend, to save, maybe eventually start a business of their own.
A broad majority of Americans agree we should raise the minimum wage.  That’s why, last month, voters in New Jersey decided to become the 20th state to raise theirs even higher.  That’s why, yesterday, the D.C. Council voted to do it, too.  I agree with those voters.  (Applause.)  I agree with those voters, and I’m going to keep pushing until we get a higher minimum wage for hard-working Americans across the entire country.  It will be good for our economy.  It will be good for our families.  (Applause.)
Number four, as I alluded to earlier, we still need targeted programs for the communities and workers that have been hit hardest by economic change and the Great Recession.  These communities are no longer limited to the inner city.  They’re found in neighborhoods hammered by the housing crisis, manufacturing towns hit hard by years of plants packing up, landlocked rural areas where young folks oftentimes feel like they’ve got to leave just to find a job.  There are communities that just aren’t generating enough jobs anymore.
So we’ve put forward new plans to help these communities and their residents, because we’ve watched cities like Pittsburgh or my hometown of Chicago revamp themselves.  And if we give more cities the tools to do it — not handouts, but a hand up — cities like Detroit can do it, too.  So in a few weeks, we’ll announce the first of these Promise Zones, urban and rural communities where we’re going to support local efforts focused on a national goal — and that is a child’s course in life should not be determined by the zip code he’s born in, but by the strength of his work ethic and the scope of his dreams.  (Applause.)
And we’re also going to have to do more for the long-term unemployed.  For people who have been out of work for more than six months, often through no fault of their own, life is a catch-22.  Companies won’t give their résumé an honest look because they’ve been laid off so long — but they’ve been laid off so long because companies won’t give their résumé an honest look.  (Laughter.)  And that’s why earlier this year, I challenged CEOs from some of America’s best companies to give these Americans a fair shot.  And next month, many of them will join us at the White House for an announcement about this.
Fifth, we’ve got to revamp retirement to protect Americans in their golden years, to make sure another housing collapse doesn’t steal the savings in their homes.  We’ve also got to strengthen our safety net for a new age, so it doesn’t just protect people who hit a run of bad luck from falling into poverty, but also propels them back out of poverty.
Today, nearly half of full-time workers and 80 percent of part-time workers don’t have a pension or retirement account at their job.  About half of all households don’t have any retirement savings.  So we’re going to have to do more to encourage private savings and shore up the promise of Social Security for future generations.  And remember, these are promises we make to one another.  We don’t do it to replace the free market, but we do it to reduce risk in our society by giving people the ability to take a chance and catch them if they fall.  One study shows that more than half of Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives.  Think about that.  This is not an isolated situation.  More than half of Americans at some point in their lives will experience poverty.
That’s why we have nutrition assistance or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a difference for a mother who’s working, but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids.  That’s why we have unemployment insurance, because it makes a difference for a father who lost his job and is out there looking for a new one that he can keep a roof over his kids’ heads.  By the way, Christmastime is no time for Congress to tell more than 1 million of these Americans that they have lost their unemployment insurance, which is what will happen if Congress does not act before they leave on their holiday vacation.  (Applause.)
The point is these programs are not typically hammocks for people to just lie back and relax.  These programs are almost always temporary means for hardworking people to stay afloat while they try to find a new job or go into school to retrain themselves for the jobs that are out there, or sometimes just to cope with a bout of bad luck.  Progressives should be open to reforms that actually strengthen these programs and make them more responsive to a 21st century economy.  For example, we should be willing to look at fresh ideas to revamp unemployment and disability programs to encourage faster and higher rates of re-employment without cutting benefits.  We shouldn’t weaken fundamental protections built over generations, because given the constant churn in today’s economy and the disabilities that many of our friends and neighbors live with, they’re needed more than ever.  We should strengthen them and adapt them to new circumstances so they work even better.
But understand that these programs of social insurance benefit all of us, because we don’t know when we might have a run of bad luck.  (Applause.)  We don’t know when we might lose a job.  Of course, for decades, there was one yawning gap in the safety net that did more than anything else to expose working families to the insecurities of today’s economy — namely, our broken health care system.
That’s why we fought for the Affordable Care Act — (applause) — because 14,000 Americans lost their health insurance every single day, and even more died each year because they didn’t have health insurance at all.  We did it because millions of families who thought they had coverage were driven into bankruptcy by out-of-pocket costs that they didn’t realize would be there.  Tens of millions of our fellow citizens couldn’t get any coverage at all.  And Dr. King once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Well, not anymore.  (Applause.)  Because in the three years since we passed this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs are down to their slowest rate in 50 years.  More people have insurance, and more have new benefits and protections — 100 million Americans who have gained the right for free preventive care like mammograms and contraception; the more than 7 million Americans who have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicine; every American who won’t go broke when they get sick because their insurance can’t limit their care anymore.
More people without insurance have gained insurance — more than 3 million young Americans who have been able to stay on their parents’ plan, the more than half a million Americans and counting who are poised to get covered starting on January 1st, some for the very first time.
And it is these numbers — not the ones in any poll — that will ultimately determine the fate of this law.  (Applause.)  It’s the measurable outcomes in reduced bankruptcies and reduced hours that have been lost because somebody couldn’t make it to work, and healthier kids with better performance in schools, and young entrepreneurs who have the freedom to go out there and try a new idea — those are the things that will ultimately reduce a major source of inequality and help ensure more Americans get the start that they need to succeed in the future.
I have acknowledged more than once that we didn’t roll out parts of this law as well as we should have.  But the law is already working in major ways that benefit millions of Americans right now, even as we’ve begun to slow the rise in health care costs, which is good for family budgets, good for federal and state budgets, and good for the budgets of businesses small and large.  So this law is going to work.  And for the sake of our economic security, it needs to work.  (Applause.)
And as people in states as different as California and Kentucky sign up every single day for health insurance, signing up in droves, they’re proving they want that economic security.  If the Senate Republican leader still thinks he is going to be able to repeal this someday, he might want to check with the more than 60,000 people in his home state who are already set to finally have coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin, and lets them afford to take their kids to see a doctor.  (Applause.)
So let me end by addressing the elephant in the room here, which is the seeming inability to get anything done in Washington these days.  I realize we are not going to resolve all of our political debates over the best ways to reduce inequality and increase upward mobility this year, or next year, or in the next five years.  But it is important that we have a serious debate about these issues.  For the longer that current trends are allowed to continue, the more it will feed the cynicism and fear that many Americans are feeling right now — that they’ll never be able to repay the debt they took on to go to college, they’ll never be able to save enough to retire, they’ll never see their own children land a good job that supports a family.
And that’s why, even as I will keep on offering my own ideas for expanding opportunity, I’ll also keep challenging and welcoming those who oppose my ideas to offer their own.  If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let’s hear them.  I want to know what they are.  If you don’t think we should raise the minimum wage, let’s hear your idea to increase people’s earnings.  If you don’t think every child should have access to preschool, tell us what you’d do differently to give them a better shot.
If you still don’t like Obamacare — and I know you don’t — (laughter) — even though it’s built on market-based ideas of choice and competition in the private sector, then you should explain how, exactly, you’d cut costs, and cover more people, and make insurance more secure.  You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not just what you’re against.  (Applause.)  That way we can have a vigorous and meaningful debate.  That’s what the American people deserve.  That’s what the times demand.  It’s not enough anymore to just say we should just get our government out of the way and let the unfettered market take care of it — for our experience tells us that’s just not true.  (Applause.)
Look, I’ve never believed that government can solve every problem or should — and neither do you.  We know that ultimately our strength is grounded in our people — individuals out there, striving, working, making things happen.  It depends on community, a rich and generous sense of community — that’s at the core of what happens at THEARC here every day.  You understand that turning back rising inequality and expanding opportunity requires parents taking responsibility for their kids, kids taking responsibility to work hard.  It requires religious leaders who mobilize their congregations to rebuild neighborhoods block by block, requires civic organizations that can help train the unemployed, link them with businesses for the jobs of the future.  It requires companies and CEOs to set an example by providing decent wages, and salaries, and benefits for their workers, and a shot for somebody who is down on his or her luck.  We know that’s our strength — our people, our communities, our businesses.
But government can’t stand on the sidelines in our efforts.  Because government is us.  It can and should reflect our deepest values and commitments.  And if we refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody, and gives every child in this country a fair chance at success, then I remain confident that the future still looks brighter than the past, and that the best days for this country we love are still ahead.  (Applause.)
Thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)
END
12:20 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 3, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech Selling the health Care Law, the Affordable Care Act and the relaunch of HealthCare.gov

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Affordable Care Act

Source: WH, 12-3-13

President Obama Speaks on the Affordable Care Act

President Obama Speaks on the Affordable Care Act

South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building

2:45 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thanks to Monica, thanks to everybody standing behind me, and thanks for everybody out there who cares deeply about this issue.  Monica’s story is important because for all the day-to-day fights here in Washington around the Affordable Care Act, it’s stories like hers that should remind us why we took on this reform in the first place.

And for too long, few things left working families more vulnerable to the anxieties and insecurities of today’s economy than a broken health care system.  So we took up the fight because we believe that, in America, nobody should have to worry about going broke just because somebody in their family or they get sick.  We believe that nobody should have to choose between putting food on their kids’ table or taking them to see a doctor.  We believe we’re a better country than a country where we allow, every day, 14,000 Americans to lose their health coverage; or where every year, tens of thousands of Americans died because they didn’t have health care; or where out-of-pocket costs drove millions of citizens into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth.  We thought we were better than that, and that’s why we took this on.  (Applause.)

And that’s what’s gotten lost a little bit over the last couple of months.  And our focus, rightly, had to shift towards working 24/7 to fix the website, healthcare.gov, for the new marketplaces where people can buy affordable insurance plans.  And today, the website is working well for the vast majority of users.  More problems may pop up, as they always do when you’re launching something new.  And when they do, we’ll fix those, too.  But what we also know is that after just the first month, despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on January 1st — some for the very first time.  We know that — half a million people.  (Applause.)  And that number is increasing every day and it is going to keep growing and growing and growing, because we know that there are 41 million people out there without health insurance.  And we know there are a whole bunch of folks out there who are underinsured or don’t have a good deal.  And we know the demand is there and we know that the product on these marketplaces is good and it provides choice and competition for people that allow them, in some cases for the very first time, to have the security that health insurance can provide.

The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future.  People want the financial stability of health insurance.  And we’re going to keep on working to fix whatever problems come up in any startup, any launch of a project this big that has an impact on one-sixth of our economy, whatever comes up we’re going to just fix it because we know that the ultimate goal, the ultimate aim, is to make sure that people have basic security and the foundation for the good health that they need.

Now, we may never satisfy the law’s opponents.  I think that’s fair to say.  Some of them are rooting for this law to fail — that’s not my opinion, by the way, they say it pretty explicitly.  (Laughter.)  Some have already convinced themselves that the law has failed, regardless of the evidence.  But I would advise them to check with the people who are here today and the people that they represent all across the country whose lives have been changed for the better by the Affordable Care Act.

The other day I got a letter from Julia Walsh in California.  Earlier this year, Julia was diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma.  “I have a lot of things to worry about,” she wrote.  “But thanks to the [Affordable Care Act], there are lots of things I do not have to worry about, like…whether there will be a lifetime cap on benefits, [or] whether my treatment will bankrupt my family…I can’t begin to tell you how much that peace of mind means…”  That’s what the Affordable Care Act means to Julia.  She already had insurance, by the way, but because this law banned lifetime limits on the care you or your family can receive, she’s never going to have to choose between providing for her kids or getting herself well — she can do both.

Sam Weir, a doctor in North Carolina, emailed me the other day.  “The coming years will be challenging for all of us in family medicine,” he wrote.  “But my colleagues and I draw strength from knowing that beginning with the new year the preventive care many of our current patients have been putting off will be covered and the patients we have not yet seen will finally be able to get the care that they have long needed.”  That’s the difference that the Affordable Care Act will make for many of Dr. Weir’s patients.  Because more than 100 million Americans with insurance have gained access to recommended preventive care like mammograms, or colonoscopies, or flu shots, or contraception to help them stay healthy — at no out-of-pocket cost.  (Applause.)

At the young age of 23, Justine Ula is battling cancer for the second time.  And the other day, her mom, Joann, emailed me from Cleveland University Hospital where Justine is undergoing treatment.  She told me she stopped by the pharmacy to pick up Justine’s medicine.  If Justine were uninsured, it would have cost her $4,500.  But she is insured — because the Affordable Care Act has let her and three million other young people like Monica gain coverage by staying on their parents’ plan until they’re 26.  (Applause.)  And that means Justine’s mom, all she had to cover was the $25 co-pay.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 7 million seniors and Americans with disabilities have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicine.  (Applause.)  This year alone, 8.5 million families have actually gotten an average of $100 back from their insurance company — you don’t hear that very often — (laughter) — because it spent too much on things like overhead, and not enough on their care.  And, by the way, health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years.  So we’re actually bending the cost of health care overall, which benefits everybody.  (Applause.)

So that’s what this law means to millions of Americans.  And my main message today is:  We’re not going back.  We’re not going to betray Monica, or Julia, or Sam, or Justine, or Joann.  (Applause.)  I mean, that seems to be the only alternative that Obamacare’s critics have is, well, let’s just go back to the status quo — because they sure haven’t presented an alternative.  If you ask many of the opponents of this law what exactly they’d do differently, their answer seems to be, well, let’s go back to the way things used to be.

Just the other day, the Republican Leader in the Senate was asked what benefits people without health care might see from this law.  And he refused to answer, even though there are dozens in this room and tens of thousands in his own state who are already on track to benefit from it.  He just repeated “repeal” over and over and over again.  And obviously we’ve heard that from a lot of folks on that side of the aisle.

Look, I’ve always said I will work with anybody to implement and improve this law effectively.  If you’ve got good ideas, bring them to me.  Let’s go.  But we’re not repealing it as long as I’m President and I want everybody to be clear about that.  (Applause.)

We will make it work for all Americans.  If you don’t like this law — (applause) — so, if despite all the millions of people who are benefitting from it, you still think this law is a bad idea then you’ve got to tell us specifically what you’d do differently to cut costs, cover more people, make insurance more secure.  You can’t just say that the system was working with 41 million people without health insurance.  You can’t just say that the system is working when you’ve got a whole bunch of folks who thought they had decent insurance and then when they got sick, it turned out it wasn’t there for them or they were left with tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs that were impossible for them to pay.

Right now, what that law is doing — (baby talks.)  Yes, you agree with me.  (Laughter.)  Right now, what this law is doing is helping folks and we’re just getting started with the exchanges, just getting started with the marketplaces.  So we’re not going to walk away from it.  If I’ve got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that’s what I’ll do.  That’s what we’ll do.  (Applause.)

But what’s important for everybody to remember is not only that the law has already helped millions of people but that there are millions more who stand to be helped.  And we’ve got to make sure they know that.  And I’ve said very clearly that our poor execution in the first couple months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit.  Now that the website is working for the vast majority of people, we need to make sure that folks refocus on what’s at stake here, which is the capacity for you or your families to be able to have the security of decent health insurance at a reasonable cost through choice and competition on this marketplace and tax credits that you may be eligible for that can save you hundreds of dollars in premium costs every month, potentially.

So we just need people to — now that we are getting the technology fixed — we need you to go back, take a look at what’s actually going on, because it can make a difference in your lives and the lives of your families.  And maybe it won’t make a difference right now if you’re feeling healthy, but I promise you, if somebody in your family — heaven forbid — gets sick, you’ll see the difference.  And it will make all the difference for you and your families.

So I’m going to need some help in spreading the word — I’m going to need some help in spreading the word.  I need you to spread the word about the law, about its benefits, about its protections, about how folks can sign up.  Tell your friends.  Tell your family.  Do not let the initial problems with the website discourage you because it’s working better now and it’s just going to keep on working better over time.  Every day I check to make sure that it’s working better.  (Laughter.)  And we’ve learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly smooth it’s going to be at all time, but if you really want health insurance through the marketplaces, you’re going to be able to get on and find the information that you need for your families at healthcare.gov.

So if you’ve already got health insurance or you’ve already taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, you’ve got to tell your friends, you’ve got to tell your family.  Tell your coworkers.  Tell your neighbors.  Let’s help our fellow Americans get covered.  Let’s give every American a fighting chance in today’s economy.

Thank you so much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END
2:59 P.M. EST

Political Musings November 29, 2013: Post-Presidential life & legacy focus of Barbara Walters’ interview with Obamas

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Political Musings November 19, 2013: Obama free falling in new polls from disastrous health care rollout

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama free falling in new polls from disastrous health care rollout

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Most of the major political polls have now determined that President Barack Obama approval ratings are hitting all time lows, while his disapproval rating is now skyrocketing. The latest poll from ABC News/Washington Post released on Monday, Nov. 18…

READ MORE

Political Musings November 16, 2013: Obama uses his weekly address to focus on the economy and energy production

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama uses his weekly address to focus on the economy and energy production

By Bonnie K. Goodman

After weekly battles over his health care law, the Affordable Care Act’s troubled rollout, President Barack Obama prefers to turn his attention to the economy in his weekly address, as he did in his address released on Saturday…READ MORE

Political Musings November 15, 2013: House passes Keep Your Health Plan Act 261-157 with Democratic support

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

House passes Keep Your Health Plan Act 261-157 with Democratic support

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The House of Representatives passed the new Republican introduced bill “Keep Your Health Plan Act” with a vote of 261 to 157 with the support of 39 Democratic votes. This law would allow health insurance plans that were…READ MORE

Political Musings November 14, 2013: Obama offers health care fix for Americans with cancelled policies is it enough?

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama announced during a press conference in the White House briefing room on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 that Americans with cancelled insurance would be allowed to keep their policies that do not fit…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency November 14, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference Announcing Fix for Americans Receiving Health Insurance Cancellation

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Announces New Steps to Help Americans Receiving Insurance Cancellation Notices

Source: WH, 11-14-13 

President Barack Obama answers questions at a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White HousePresident Barack Obama answers questions at a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Nov. 14, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Statement by the President on the Affordable Care Act

Source: WH, 11-14-13

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:02 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Today I want to update the American people on our efforts to implement and improve the Affordable Care Act, and I’ll take a couple of your questions.  But before I do, I just want to say a few words about the tragedy that’s unfolded in the Philippines.

Over the past few days, I think all of us have been shaken by the images of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan.  It’s a heartbreaking reminder of how fragile life is, and among the dead are several Americans.  So our prayers are with the Filipino people, and with Filipino Americans across our country who are anxious about their family and friends back home.

One of our core principles is, when friends are in trouble, America helps.  As I told President Aquino earlier this week, the United States will continue to offer whatever assistance we can.  Our military personnel and USAID team do this better than anybody in the world, and they’ve been already on the ground working tirelessly to deliver food, water, medicine, shelter, and to help with airlift.  Today, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other ships arrived to help with search- and-rescue, as well as supplies, medical care and logistical support.  And more help is on the way.

America’s strength, of course, has always been more than just about what our government can do –- it’s also about what our citizens can do.  It’s about the big-heartedness of the American people when they see other folks in trouble.  So today, I would encourage everybody who wants to help, to visit WhiteHouse.gov/typhoon — that’s WhiteHouse.gov/typhoon — and that will offer you links to organizations that are working on the ground and ways that you can support their efforts.  Our friends in the Philippines will face a long, hard road ahead, but they’ll continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

Now, switching gears, it has now been six weeks since the Affordable Care Act’s new marketplace has opened for business.  I think it’s fair to say that the rollout has been rough so far.  And I think everybody understands that I’m not happy about the fact that the rollout has been wrought with a whole range of problems that I’ve been deeply concerned about.  But today I want to talk about what we know after these first few weeks and what we’re doing to implement and improve the law.

Yesterday, the White House announced that in the first month, more than 100,000 Americans successfully enrolled in new insurance plans.  Is that as high a number as we’d like?  Absolutely not.  But it does mean that people want affordable health care.  The problems of the website have prevented too many Americans from completing the enrollment process.  And that’s on us, not on them.  But there is no question that there’s real demand for quality, affordable health insurance.

In the first month, nearly a million people successfully completed an application for themselves or their families.  Those applications represent more than 1.5 million people.  Of those 1.5 million people, 106,000 of them have successfully signed up to get covered.

Another 396,000 have the ability to gain access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  That’s been less reported on, but it shouldn’t be.  Americans who are having a difficult time, who are poor, many of them working, may have a disability; they’re Americans like everybody else, and the fact that they are now able to get insurance is going to be critically important.

Later today, I’ll be in Ohio, where Governor Kasich, a Republican, has expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  And as many as 275,000 Ohioans will ultimately be better off because of it.  And if every governor followed suit, another 5.4 million Americans could gain access to health care next year.

So bottom line is, in just one month, despite all the problems that we’ve seen with the website, more than 500,000 Americans could know the security of health care by January 1st — many of them for the first time in their lives.  And that’s life-changing and it’s significant.

That still leaves about 1 million Americans who successfully made it through the website, and now qualify to buy insurance, but haven’t picked a plan yet.  And there’s no question that if the website were working as it’s supposed to, that number would be much higher of people who have actually enrolled.  So that’s problem number one –- making sure that the website works the way it’s supposed to.  It’s gotten a lot better over the last few weeks than it was on the first day, but we’re working 24/7 to get it working for the vast majority of Americans in a smooth, consistent way.

The other problem that has received a lot of attention
concerns Americans who have received letters from their insurers that they may be losing the plans they bought in the old individual market, often because they no longer meet the law’s requirements to cover basic benefits like prescription drugs or doctors’ visits.

Now, as I indicated earlier, I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it.  And to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear.  I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem.  And today I’m offering an idea that will help do it.

Already, people who have plans that predate the Affordable Care Act can keep those plans if they haven’t changed.  That was already in the law.  That’s what’s called a grandfather clause.  It was included in the law.  Today, we’re going to extend that principle both to people whose plans have changed since the law took effect, and to people who bought plans since the law took effect.

So state insurance commissioners still have the power to decide what plans can and can’t be sold in their states.  But the bottom line is, insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014, and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan.

We’re also requiring insurers to extend current plans to inform their customers about two things.  One, that protections — what protections these renewed plans don’t include.  And number two, that the marketplace offers new options with better coverage and tax credits that might help you bring down the cost.

So if you’ve received one of these letters, I’d encourage you to take a look at the marketplace.  Even if the website isn’t working as smoothly as it should be for everybody yet, the plan comparison tool that lets you browse costs for new plans near you is working just fine.

Now, this fix won’t solve every problem for every person.  But it’s going to help a lot of people.  Doing more will require work with Congress.  And I’ve said from the beginning, I’m willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to fix problems as they arise.  This is an example of what I was talking about.  We can always make this law work better.

It is important to understand, though, that the old individual market was not working well.  And it’s important that we don’t pretend that somehow that’s a place worth going back to.  Too often, it works fine as long as you stay healthy; it doesn’t work well when you’re sick.  So year after year, Americans were routinely exposed to financial ruin, or denied coverage due to minor preexisting conditions, or dropped from coverage altogether — even if they paid their premiums on time.

That’s one of the reasons we pursued this reform in the first place.  And that’s why I will not accept proposals that are just another brazen attempt to undermine or repeal the overall law and drag us back into a broken system.  We will continue to make the case, even to folks who choose to keep their own plans, that they should shop around in the new marketplace because there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to buy better insurance at lower cost.

So we’re going to do everything we can to help the Americans who have received these cancellation notices.  But I also want everybody to remember there are still 40 million Americans who don’t have health insurance at all.  I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time.  And I’m not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years.

So we’re at the opening weeks of the project to build a better health care system for everybody — a system that will offer real financial security and peace of mind to millions of Americans.  It is a complex process.  There are all kinds of challenges.  I’m sure there will be additional challenges that come up.  And it’s important that we’re honest and straightforward in terms of when we come up with a problem with these reforms and these laws, that we address them.  But we’ve got to move forward on this.

It took 100 years for us to even get to the point where we could start talking about and implementing a law to make sure everybody has got health insurance.  And my pledge to the American people is, is that we’re going to solve the problems that are there, we’re going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.

So with that, I’m going to take your questions, and I’m going to start with Julie Pace of AP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  The combination of the website problems and the concerns over the policy cancellations has sparked a lot of worry within your own party, and polls also show that you’re taking some hits with the public on both your overall job approval rating and also on factors like trust and honesty.  Do you feel as though the flawed health care rollout has led to a breach in the public trust and confidence in government?  And if so, how do you plan to resolve that?

THE PRESIDENT:  There is no doubt that people are frustrated.  We just came out of a shutdown and the possibility that for the first time in over 200 years, we wouldn’t pay our bills.  And people breathed a sigh of relief when that finally got done, and the next thing they know is, is that the President’s health care reform can’t get the website to work and that there are these other problems with respect to cancellation notices.

And I understand why folks are frustrated.  I would be, too.  Because sometimes people look at what’s taking place in Washington and they say, not enough is getting done that helps me with my life.  And regardless of what Congress does, ultimately I’m the President of the United States and they expect me to do something about it.

So in terms of how I intend to approach it, I’m just going to keep on working as hard as I can around the priorities that the American people care about.  And I think it’s legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular, and on a whole range of these issues in general.

And that’s on me.  I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law.  There are a whole bunch of things about it that are working really well which people didn’t notice because they weren’t controversial — so making sure kids could stay on their parents’ plans until they were — through the age of 25, and making sure that seniors got more discounts on their prescription drugs.  There were a whole bunch of stuff that we did well over the first three years.

But we always knew that these marketplaces, creating a place where people can shop and through competition get a better deal for the health insurance that their families need, we always knew that that was going to be complicated and everybody was going to be paying a lot of attention to it.  And we should have done a better job getting that right on day one — not on day 28 or on day 40.

I am confident that by the time we look back on this next year, that people are going to say this is working well, and it’s helping a lot of people.  But my intention in terms of winning back the confidence of the American people is just to work as hard as I can; identify the problems that we’ve got, make sure that we’re fixing them.  Whether it’s a website, whether it is making sure that folks who got these cancellation notices get help, we’re just going to keep on chipping away at this until the job is done.

Major Garrett.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You said while the law was being debated, “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”  You said after the law was implemented or signed, “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”  Americans believed you, sir, when you said that to them over and over.  Do you not believe, sir, the American people deserve a deeper, more transparent accountability from you as to why you said that over and over when your own statistic published in the Federal Register alerted your policy staff — and I presume you — to the fact that millions of Americans would, in fact, probably fall into the very gap you’re trying to administratively fix now?

That’s one question.  Second question.  (Laughter.)  You were informed, or several people in this building were informed two weeks before the launch of the website that it was failing the most basic tests internally, and yet a decision was made to launch the website on October 1st.  Did you, sir, make that test?  And if so, did you regret that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, on the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to.  Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great.

I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity a week before the website opens if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.  So clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website.  Even a week into it, the thinking was that these were some glitches that would be fixed with patches, as opposed to some broader systemic problems that took much longer to fix and we’re still working on them.

So that doesn’t excuse the fact that they just don’t work.  But I think it’s fair to say that, no, Garrett — Major, we would not have rolled out something knowing very well that it wasn’t going to work the way it was supposed, given all the scrutiny that we knew was going to be on the website.

With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan, you can keep it, I think — and I’ve said in interviews — that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.  It was not because of my intention not to deliver on that commitment and that promise.  We put a grandfather clause into the law, but it was insufficient.

Keep in mind that the individual market accounts for 5 percent of the population.  So when I said you can keep your health care, I’m looking at folks who’ve got employer-based health care; I’m looking at folks who’ve got Medicare and Medicaid — and that accounts for the vast majority of Americans.  And then for people who don’t have any health insurance at all, obviously that didn’t apply.  My commitment to them was, you’re going to be able to get affordable health care for the first time.

You have an individual market that accounts for about 5 percent of the population.  And our working assumption was — my working assumption was that the majority of those folks would find better policies at lower costs or the same costs in the marketplaces, and that the universe of folks who potentially would not find a better deal in the marketplaces, the grandfather clause would work sufficiently for them.  And it didn’t.  And again, that’s on us.  Which is why we’re — that’s on me.  And that’s why I’m trying to fix it.

And as I said earlier, I guess last week, and I will repeat, that’s something I deeply regret because it’s scary getting a cancellation notice.

Now, it is important to understand that out of that population, typically there is constant churn in that market.  This market is not very stable and reliable for people.  So people have a lot of complaints when they’re in that marketplace.  As long as you’re healthy, things seem to be going pretty good.  And so a lot of people think, I’ve got pretty good insurance — until they get sick — and then suddenly they look at the fine print, and they’ve got a $50,000 out-of-pocket expense that they can’t pay.

We know that on average over the last decade, each year, premiums in that individual market would go up an average of 15 percent a year.  I know that because when we were talking about health care reform, one of the complaints was:  I bought health care in the individual market and I just got a notice from the insurer, they dropped me after I had an illness; or my premium skyrocketed by 20 or 30 percent, why aren’t we doing something about this?

So part of what our goal has been is to make sure that that individual market is stable and fair, and has the kind of consumer protections that make sure that people don’t get a rude surprise when they really need health insurance.  But if you just got a cancellation notice, and so far you’re thinking, my prices are pretty good, you haven’t been sick, and it fits your budget, and now you get this notice — you’re going to be worried about it.  And if the insurer is saying the reason you’re getting this notice is because of the Affordable Care Act, then you’re going to be understandably aggravated about it.

Now, for a big portion of those people, the truth is they might have gotten a notice saying, we’re jacking up your rates by 30 percent.  They might have said, from here on out, we’re not going to cover X, Y and Z illnesses, we’re changing the — because these were all 12-month policies.  The insurance companies were under no obligation to renew the exact same policies that you had before.

But, look, one of the things I understood when we decided to reform that health insurance market, part of the reason why it hasn’t been done before and it’s very difficult to do, is that anything that’s going on that’s tough in the health care market, if you initiated a reform, can be attributed to your law.  And so what we want to do is to be able to say to these folks, you know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan.

Now, what folks may find is the insurance companies may still come back and say, we want to charge you 20 percent more than we did last year; or we’re not going to cover prescription drugs now.  But that’s in the nature of the market that existed earlier.

Q    Did you decide, sir, that the simple declaration was something the American people could handle, but this nuanced answer you just gave now was something that you couldn’t handle and you didn’t trust the American people with a fuller truth?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  I think, as I said earlier, Major, my expectation was that for 98 percent of the American people, either it genuinely wouldn’t change at all, or they’d be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace, and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest.

That proved not to be the case.  And that’s on me.  And the American people — those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me.  But they don’t want just words.  What they want is whether we can make sure that they are in a better place, and that we meet that commitment.

And, by the way, I think it’s very important for me to note that there are a whole bunch of folks up in Congress and others who made this statement, and they were entirely sincere about it.  And the fact that you’ve got this percentage of people who have had this impact — I want them to know that their senator or congressman, they were making representations based on what I told them and what this White House and our administrative staff told them.  And so it’s not on them.  It’s on us.  But it is something that we intend to fix.

Steve Collinson.

Q    Do you have reason to believe that Iran would walk away from nuclear talks if Congress draws up new sanctions?  And would a diplomatic breakdown at this stage leave you no option but military action?  And how do you respond to your critics on the Hill who say that it was only tough sanctions that got Iran to the table, but only tougher sanctions will make it capitulate?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me make a couple of points.  Number one, I’ve said before and I will repeat:  We do not want Iran having nuclear weapons.  And it would be not only dangerous to us and our allies, but it would be destabilizing to the entire region, and could trigger a nuclear arms race that would make life much more dangerous for all of us.  So our policy is Iran cannot have nuclear weapons.  And I’m leaving all options on the table to make sure that we meet that goal.

Point number two:  The reason we’ve got such vigorous sanctions is because I and my administration put in place, when I came into office, the international structure to have the most effective sanctions ever.  And so I think it’s fair to say that I know a little bit about sanctions, since we’ve set them up, and made sure that we mobilize the entire international community so that there weren’t a lot of loopholes and they really had bite.

And the intention in setting up those sanctions always was to bring the Iranians to the table so that we could resolve this issue peacefully, because that is my preference.  That’s my preference because any armed conflict has cost to it, but it’s also my preference because the best way to assure that a country does not have nuclear weapons is that they are making a decision not to have nuclear weapons, and we’re in a position to verify that they don’t have nuclear weapons.

So as a consequence of the sanctions that we put in place  — and I appreciate all the help, bipartisan help, that we received from Congress in making that happen — Iran’s economy has been crippled.  They had a -5 percent growth rate last year.  Their currency plummeted.  They’re having significant problems in just the day-to-day economy on the ground in Iran.  And President Rouhani made a decision that he was prepared to come and have a conversation with the international community about what they could do to solve this problem with us.

We’ve now had a series of conversations, and it has never been realistic that we would resolve the entire problem all at once.  What we have done is seen the possibility of an agreement in which Iran would halt advances on its program; that it would dilute some of the highly enriched uranium that makes it easier for them to potentially produce a weapon; that they are subjecting themselves to much more vigorous inspections so that we know exactly what they’re doing at all their various facilities; and that that would then provide time and space for us to test, over a certain period of months, whether or not they are prepared to actually resolve this issue to the satisfaction of the international community — making us confident that, in fact, they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

In return, the basic structure of what’s been talked about, although not completed, is that we would provide very modest relief at the margins of the sanctions that we’ve set up.  But importantly, we would leave in place the core sanctions that are most effective and have most impact on the Iranian economy, specifically oil sanctions and sanctions with respect to banks and financing.  And what that gives us is the opportunity to test how serious are they, but it also gives us an assurance that if it turns out six months from now that they’re not serious, we can crank — we can dial those sanctions right back up.

So my message to Congress has been that, let’s see if this short-term, phase-one deal can be completed to our satisfaction where we’re absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing their program.  We can buy some additional months in terms of their breakout capacity.  Let’s test how willing they are to actually resolve this diplomatically and peacefully.

We will have lost nothing if, at the end of the day, it turns out that they are not prepared to provide the international community the hard proof and assurances necessary for us to know that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon.  And if that turns out to be the case, then not only is our entire sanctions infrastructure still in place, not only are they still losing money from the fact that they can’t sell their oil and get revenue from their oil as easily, even throughout these talks, but other options remain.

But what I’ve said to members of Congress is that if, in fact, we’re serious about trying to resolve this diplomatically — because no matter how good our military is, military options are always messy, they’re always difficult, always have unintended consequences, and in this situation are never complete in terms of making us certain that they don’t then go out and pursue even more vigorously nuclear weapons in the future — if we’re serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there’s no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place.

Now, if it turns out they can’t deliver, they can’t come to the table in a serious way and get this issue resolved, the sanctions can be ramped back up.  And we’ve got that option.

All right.  Roger Runningen.  Roger, it’s his birthday, by the way.  So that’s not the reason you got a question, but I thought it was important to note that.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Happy birthday.

Q    Back to health care.  Can you guarantee for the American people that the health care website is going to be fully operational for all people, not just the vast majority, by November 30?  And second, more broadly, this is your signature domestic piece of legislation.  You hear criticism on the Hill that you and your White House team are too insular.  Is that how this mess came to be?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think there is going to be a lot of evaluation of how we got to this point.  And I assure you that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about that.  The truth is that this is, number one, very complicated.  The website itself is doing a lot of stuff.  There aren’t a lot of websites out there that have to help people compare their possible insurance options, verify income to find out what kind of tax credits they might get, communicate with those insurance companies so they can purchase, make sure that all of it’s verified.  So there’s just a bunch of pieces to it that made it challenging.

And you combine that with the fact that the federal government does a lot of things really well.  One of the things it does not do well is information technology procurement.  This is kind of a systematic problem that we have across the board.  And it is not surprising then that there were going to be some problems.

Now, I think we have to ask ourselves some hard questions inside the White House as opposed to why we didn’t see more of these problems coming earlier on — A, so we could set expectations; B, so that we could look for different ways for people to end up applying.

So ultimately, you’re right.  This is something that’s really important to me, and it’s really important to millions of Americans who have been waiting for a really long time to try to get health care because they don’t have it.  And I am very frustrated, but I’m also somebody who, if I fumbled the ball, I’m going to wait until I get the next play, and then I’m going to try to run as hard as I can and do right by the team.  So ultimately, I’m the head of this team.  We did fumble the ball on it, and what I’m going to do is make sure that we get it fixed.

In terms of what happens on November 30th or December 1st, I think it’s fair to say that the improvement will be marked and noticeable.  The website will work much better on November 30th, December 1st than it worked certainly on October 1st.  That’s a pretty low bar.  It will be working a lot better than it is — it was last week, and it will be working better than it was this week, which means that the majority of people who go to the website will see a website that is working the way it’s supposed to.

I think it is not possible for me to guarantee that 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time going on this website will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience.  We’re going to have to continue to improve it even after November 30th, December 1st.  But the majority of people who use it will be able to see it operate the way it was supposed to.

One thing that we’ve discovered, though, that I think is worth noting:  A lot of focus has been on the website and the technology, and that’s partly because that’s how we initially identified it — these are glitches.  What we’re discovering is that part of the problem has been technology — hardware and software — and that’s being upgraded.  But even if we get the hardware and software working exactly the way it’s supposed to with relatively minor glitches, what we’re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.

And another mistake that we made I think was underestimating the difficulties of people purchasing insurance online and shopping for a lot of options with a lot of costs and a lot of different benefits and plans, and somehow expecting that that would be very smooth.  And then they’ve also got to try apply for tax credits on the website.

So what we’re doing even as we’re trying to solve the technical problems is also what can we do to make the application a little bit simpler; what can we do to make it in English as opposed to bureaucratese; are there steps that we can skip while still getting the core information that people need

And part of what we’re realizing is that they are going to be a certain portion of people who are just going to need more help and more handholding in the application process.  And so I guess part of the continuous improvement that I’m looking at is not just a technical issue.  It’s also, can we streamline the application process; what are we doing to give people more assistance in the application process; how do the call centers and the people who are helping folks in-person; how are they trained so that things can go more smoothly.

Because the bottom line ultimately is, I just want people to know what their options are in a clear way.  And buying health insurance is never going to be like buying a song on iTunes.  It’s just a much more complicated transaction.  But I think we can continue to make it better — all of which is to say that on December 1st, November 30th, it will be a lot better, but there will still be some problems.  Some of those will not be because of technological problems — although I’m sure that there will still be some glitches that have to be smoothed out.  Some of it’s going to be how are we making this application process more user-friendly for folks.

And one good example of this, by the way, just to use an analogy — when we came into office, we heard a lot of complaints about the financial aid forms that families have to fill out to get federal financial aid.  And I actually remember applying for some of that stuff and remember how difficult and confusing it was.  And Arne Duncan over at Education worked with a team to see what we could do to simplify it, and it made a big difference.

And that’s part of the process that we’ve got to go through.  And in fact, if we can get some focus groups and we sit down with actual users and see how well is this working, what would improve it, what part of it didn’t you understand —  that all I think is part of what we’re going to be working on in the weeks ahead.

Q    What about the insularity criticism that you hear on the Hill?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got to say I meet with an awful lot of folks, and I talk to an awful lot of folks every day.  And I have lunches with CEOs and IT venture capitalists and labor leaders and pretty much folks from all walks of life on a whole bunch of topics.  And if you looked at my schedule on any given day, we’re interacting with a whole lot of people.

And I think it’s fair to say that we have a pretty good track record of working with folks on technology and IT from our campaign where, both in 2008 and 2012, we did a pretty darn good job on that.  So it’s not — the idea that somehow we didn’t have access or were interested in people’s ideas, I think isn’t accurate.  What is true is that, as I said before, our IT systems, how we purchase technology in the federal government is cumbersome, complicated, and outdated.

And so this isn’t a situation where on my campaign I could simply say, who are the best folks out there; let’s get them around a table, let’s figure out what we’re doing, and we’re just going to continue to improve it and refine it and work on our goals.  If you’re doing it at the federal government level, you’re going through 40 pages of specs and this and that and the other, and there are all kinds of laws involved, and it makes it more difficult.  It’s part of the reason why, chronically, federal IT programs are over budget, behind schedule.

And one of the — when I do some Monday morning quarterbacking on myself, one of the things that I do recognize is — since I know that the federal government has not been good at this stuff in the past — two years ago, as we were thinking about this, we might have done more to make sure that we were breaking the mold on how we were going to be setting this up.  But that doesn’t help us now.  We’ve got to move forward.

Jeff Mason.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Today’s fix that you just announced leaves it up to state insurance commissioners and insurance companies to ultimately decide whether to allow old policies to be renewed for a year.  How confident are you that they will do that?  And secondly, how concerned are you that this flawed rollout may hurt Democrats’ chances in next year’s midterm elections, and your ability to advance other priorities such as immigration reform?

THE PRESIDENT:  On the first question, traditionally, state insurance commissioners make decisions about what plans can be or cannot be sold, how they interact with insurers.  What we’re essentially saying is the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the factor in what happens with folks in the individual market.  And my guess is right away you’re going to see a number of state insurance commissioners exercise it.

Part of the challenge is the individual markets are different in different states.  There are some states that have individual insurance markets that already have almost all the consumer protections that the Affordable Care Act does.  They match up pretty good.  It’s not some big jump for folks to move into the marketplace.  In others, they’re pretty low standards, so you can sell pretty substandard plans in those markets.  And that’s where people might see a bigger jump in their premiums.

So I think there’s going to be some state-by-state evaluation on how this is handled.  But the key point is, is that it allows us to be able to say to the folks who received these notices:  Look, I, the President of the United States and the insurance –- that the insurance model, the Affordable Care Act, is not going to be getting in the way of you shopping in the individual market that you used to have.  As I said, there are still going to be some folks who over time, I think, are going to find that the marketplaces are better.

One way I described this to — I met with a group of senators when this issue first came up — and it’s not a perfect analogy — but we made a decision as a society that every car has to have a seatbelt or airbags.  And so you pass a regulation.  And there are some additional costs, particularly at the start of increasing the safety and protections, but we make a decision as a society that the costs are outweighed by the benefits of all the lives that are saved.  So what we’re saying now is if you’re buying a new car, you got to have a seatbelt.

Well, the problem with the grandfather clause that we put in place is it’s almost like we said to folks, you got to buy a new car, even if you can’t afford it right now.  And sooner or later, folks are going to start trading in their old cars.  But we don’t need — if their life circumstance is such where, for now at least, they want to keep the old car, even if the new car is better, we should be able to give them that option.  And that’s what we want to do.

And, by the way, that’s what we should have been able to do in drafting the rules in the first place.  So, again, these are two fumbles on something that — on a big game, which — but the game is not over.

With respect to the politics of it, I’ll let you guys do a lot of the work on projecting what this means for various political scenarios.  There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they’re running or not, because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin.  And I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them rather than easier for them to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place — which is, in this country, as wealthy as we are, everybody should be able to have the security of affordable health care.  And that’s why I feel so strongly about fixing it.

My first and foremost obligation is the American people, to make sure that they can get what’s there — if we can just get the darn website working and smooth this thing out — which is plans that are affordable, and allow them to take advantage of tax credits and give them a better deal.

But I also do feel an obligation to everybody out there who supported this effort.  When we don’t do a good job on the rollout, we’re letting them down.  And I don’t like doing that.  So my commitment to them is, we’re going to just keep on doing better every day until we get it done.

And in terms of the impact on me — I think to some extent I addressed it when I talked to Julie — there are going to be ups and downs during the course of my presidency.  And I think I said early on when I was running — I am not a perfect man, and I will not be a perfect President, but I’ll wake up every single day working as hard as I can on behalf of Americans out there from every walk of life who are working hard, meeting their responsibilities, but sometimes are struggling because the way the system works isn’t giving them a fair shot.

And that pledge I haven’t broke.  That commitment, that promise, continues to be — continues to hold — the promise that I wouldn’t be perfect, number one, but also the promise that as long as I’ve got the honor of having this office, I’m just going to work as hard as I can to make things better for folks.  And what that means specifically in this health care arena is we can’t go back to the status quo.

I mean, right now everybody is properly focused on us not doing a good job on the rollout, and that’s legitimate and I get it.  There have been times where I thought we were kind of slapped around a little bit unjustly.  This one is deserved.  Right?  It’s on us.

But we can’t lose sight of the fact that the status quo before the Affordable Care Act was not working at all.  If the health care system had been working fine, and everybody had high-quality health insurance at affordable prices, I wouldn’t have made it a priority; we wouldn’t have been fighting this hard to get it done — which is why, when I see sometimes folks up on Capitol Hill, and Republicans in particular, who have been suggesting repeal, repeal, let’s get rid of this thing, I keep on asking what is it that you want to do?  Are you suggesting that the status quo was working?  Because it wasn’t, and everybody knows it.  It wasn’t working in the individual market and it certainly wasn’t working for the 41 million people who didn’t have health insurance.

And so what we did was we chose a path that was the least disruptive, to try to finally make sure that health care is treated in this country like it is in every other advanced country — that it’s not some privilege that just a certain portion of people can have, but it’s something that everybody has some confidence about.  And we didn’t go far left and choose an approach that would have been much more disruptive.  We didn’t adopt some more conservative proposals that would have been much more disruptive.  We tried to choose a way that built off the existing system.  But it is complicated, it is hard, but I make no apologies for us taking this on — because somebody sooner or later had to do it.  I do make apologies for not having executed better over the last several months.

Q    And do you think that execution and the flaws in the rollout will affect your ability to do other things, like immigration reform and other policy priorities?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, if it comes to immigration reform, there is no reason for us not to do immigration reform.  And we’ve already got strong bipartisan support for immigration reform out of the Senate.  You’ve got — I met with a number of traditionally very conservative clergy who are deeply committed to immigration reform.  We’ve got the business community entirely behind immigration reform.  So you’ve got a bunch of constituencies that are traditionally much more — have leaned much more heavily towards the Republicans who are behind this.

So if people are looking for an excuse not to do the right thing on immigration reform, they can always find an excuse —  we’ve run out of time, or this is hard, or the list goes on and on.  But my working assumption is people should want to do the right thing.  And when you’ve got an issue that would strengthen borders, make sure that the legal immigration system works the way it’s supposed to, that would go after employers who have been doing the wrong thing when it comes to hiring undocumented workers, and would allow folks who are here illegally to get right with the law and pay a fine, and learn English and get to the back of the line, but ultimately join fully our American community — when you’ve got a law that makes sense, you shouldn’t be looking for an excuse not to do it.  And I’m going to keep on pushing to make sure it gets done.

Am I going to have to do some work to rebuild confidence around some of our initiatives?  Yes.  But part of this job is the things that go right, you guys aren’t going to write about; the things that go wrong get prominent attention.  That’s how it has always been.  That’s not unique to me as President.  And I’m up to the challenge.  We’re going to get this done.

All right?  Thank you, everybody.

END
12:53 P.M. EST

Political Musings November 13, 2013: Former President Bill Clinton joins circle critical of Obamacare

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Former President Bill Clinton joins circle critical of Obamacare

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama’s circle of critics regarding his health care law, the Affordable Care Act is widening. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 former President Bill Clinton called on Obama to change a key element of his law to…READ MORE

Political Musings November 10, 2013: Obama finally apologizes after spending week defending embattled health care law

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama finally apologizes after spending week defending embattled health care law

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama spent all this past week defending his health care law, the Affordable Care Act only to admit in an NBC News interview on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 that he was wrong about one his major promises with…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 21, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on HealthCare.gov Problems and the Affordable Care Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Affordable Care Act

Source:  WH, 10-21-13

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the Affordable Care ActPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks on the Affordable Care Act during a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House, Oct. 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Rose Garden

11:33 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody, have a seat.

MS. BAKER:  Hello.  My name is Janice Baker.  I have the privilege to say that I’m the first person in the state of Delaware to enroll for health insurance through the new marketplace.  (Applause.)  Like many consumers out there, it took me a number of frustrating attempts before I could apply for and select my plan.  I kept trying because I needed access to the new health care options.

I had applied to three private insurance companies only to be rejected due to preexisting health conditions.  I am too young for Medicare, but I’m too old not to have some health issues.  I was able to find a policy I am thrilled with, saving $150 a month, and much lower deductibles than my previous policy that I held through my small business.

I’m here today to encourage other people like me who needs access to quality, affordable insurance, and to tell them to have patience with such a new system.  Without this ability to get this insurance, I know that a single hospital stay could have bankrupted me and my business.

Thank you all.  And I am now honored to introduce the President of the United States.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Great job.

MS. BAKER:  Thank you.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Well, thank you, Janice.  And thanks to everybody here for coming on this beautiful day.  Welcome to the White House.

About three weeks ago, as the federal government shut down, the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces opened for business across the country.  Well, we’ve now gotten the government back open for the American people, and today I want to talk about how we’re going to get the marketplaces running at full steam, as well.  And I’m joined today by folks who have either benefited from the Affordable Care Act already, or who are helping their fellow citizens learn about what this law means for them and how they can get covered.

Of course, you’ve probably heard that HealthCare.gov –- the new website where people can apply for health insurance, and browse and buy affordable plans in most states –- hasn’t worked as smoothly as it was supposed to work.  And the number of people who have visited the site has been overwhelming, which has aggravated some of these underlying problems.

Despite all that, thousands of people are signing up and saving money as we speak.  Many Americans with a preexisting condition, like Janice, are discovering that they can finally get health insurance like everybody else.

So today, I want to speak to every American who’s looking to get affordable health insurance.  I want you to know what’s available to you and why it may be a good deal for you.  And for those who’ve had some problems with the website, I want to tell you what we’re doing to make it work better and how you can sign up to get covered in other ways.

But before I do that, let me remind everybody that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website.  It’s much more.  For the vast majority of Americans — for 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance through your employer or Medicare or Medicaid -– you don’t need to sign up for coverage through a website at all.  You’ve already got coverage.  What the Affordable Care Act does for you is to provide you with new benefits and protections that have been in place for some time.  You may not know it, but you’re already benefiting from these provisions in the law.

For example, because of the Affordable Care Act, young people like Jasmine Jennings, and Jessica Ugalde, and Ezra Salop, all of whom are here today, they’ve been able to stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26.  Millions of other young people are currently benefiting from that part of the law.  (Applause.)  Another part of the Affordable Care Act is providing seniors with deeper discounts on their prescription medicine.  Billions of dollars have been saved by seniors already.  That’s part of the law.  It’s already in place.  It’s happening right now.

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, preventive care like mammograms and birth control are free through your employers.  That’s part of this law.  (Applause.)  So there are a wide range of consumer protections and benefits that you already have if you’ve got health insurance.  You may not have noticed them, but you’ve got them, and they’re not going anywhere.  And they’re not dependent on a website.

Here’s another thing that the Affordable Care Act does.  In states where governors and legislatures have wisely allowed it, the Affordable Care Act provides the opportunity for many Americans to get covered under Medicaid for the first time.  So in Oregon, for example, that’s helped cut the number of uninsured people by 10 percent just in the last three weeks.  Think about that.  That’s 56,000 more Americans who now have health care.  (Applause.)  That doesn’t depend on a website.

Now, if you’re one of the 15 percent of Americans who don’t have health insurance — either because you can’t afford it or because your employer doesn’t offer it, or because you’re a small businessperson and you have to go out on the individual market and buy it on your own and it’s just too expensive — October 1st was an important date.  That’s when we opened the new marketplaces where people without health insurance, or who can’t afford health insurance, or who aren’t part of a group plan, can finally start getting affordable coverage.

And the idea is simple.  By enrolling in what we’re calling these marketplaces, you become part of a big group plan — as if you were working for a big employer — a statewide group plan that spreads risk between sick people and healthy people, between young and old, and then bargains on your behalf for the best deal on health care.  What we’ve done is essentially create a competition where there wasn’t competition before.  We created these big group plans, and now insurers are really interested in getting your business.  And so insurers have created new health care plans with more choices to be made available through these marketplaces.

And as a result of this choice and this competition, prices have come down.  When you add the new tax credits that many people are eligible for through the law, then the prices come down even further.  So one study shows that through new options created by the Affordable Care Act, nearly 6 in 10 uninsured Americans will find that they can get covered for less than $100 a month.  Think about that.  (Applause.)

Through the marketplaces, you can get health insurance for what may be the equivalent of your cell phone bill or your cable bill, and that’s a good deal.

So the fact is the product of the Affordable Care Act for people without health insurance is quality health insurance that’s affordable.  And that product is working.  It’s really good.  And it turns out there’s a massive demand for it.  So far, the national website, HealthCare.gov, has been visited nearly 20 million times.  Twenty million times.  (Applause.)  And there’s great demand at the state level as well, because there are a bunch of states that are running their own marketplaces.

We know that nearly one-third of the people applying in Connecticut and Maryland, for example, are under 35 years old.  They understand that they can get a good deal at low costs, have the security of health care, and this is not just for old folks like me — that everybody needs good quality health insurance.  And all told, more than half a million consumers across the country have successfully submitted applications through federal and state marketplaces.  And many of those applications aren’t just for individuals, it’s for their entire families.  So even more people are already looking to potentially take advantage of the high quality, affordable insurance that is provided through the Affordable Care Act.

So let me just recap here.  The product is good.  The health insurance that’s being provided is good.  It’s high quality and it’s affordable.  People can save money, significant money, by getting insurance that’s being provided through these marketplaces.  And we know that the demand is there.  People are rushing to see what’s available.  And those who have already had a chance to enroll are thrilled with the result.  Every day, people who were stuck with sky-high premiums because of preexisting conditions are getting affordable insurance for the first time, or finding, like Janice did, that they’re saving a lot of money.  Every day, women are finally buying coverage that doesn’t charge them higher premiums than men for the same care.  (Applause.)  Every day, people are discovering that new health insurance plans have to cover maternity care, mental health care, free preventive care.

So you just heard Janice’s story — she owns her own small business.  She recently became the first woman to enroll in coverage through Delaware’s exchange.  And it’s true, it took her a few tries, but it was worth it after being turned down for insurance three times due to minor preexisting conditions.  So now she’ll be covered, she’ll save 150 bucks a month, and she won’t have to worry that one illness or accident will cost her her business that she’s worked so hard to build.

And Janice is not alone.  I recently received a letter from a woman named Jessica Sanford in Washington State.  And here’s what she wrote:  “I am a single mom, no child support, self-employed, and I haven’t had insurance for 15 years because it’s too expensive.  My son has ADHD and requires regular doctor visits and his meds alone cost $250 per month.  I have had an ongoing tendinitis problem due to my line of work that I haven’t had treated.  Now, finally, we get to have coverage because of the ACA for $169 per month.  I was crying the other day when I signed up.  So much stress lifted.”

Now, that is not untypical for a lot of folks like Jessica who have been struggling without health insurance.  That’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  The point is, the essence of the law — the health insurance that’s available to people — is working just fine.  In some cases, actually, it’s exceeding expectations — the prices are lower than we expected, the choice is greater than we expected.

But the problem has been that the website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody.  And there’s no sugarcoating it.  The website has been too slow, people have been getting stuck during the application process.  And I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am — precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work.  I want the checkout lines to be smooth.  So I want people to be able to get this great product.  And there’s no excuse for the problems, and these problems are getting fixed.

But while we’re working out the kinks in the system, I want everybody to understand the nature of the problem.  First of all, even with all the problems at HealthCare.gov, the website is still working for a lot of people — just not as quick or efficient or consistent as we want.  And although many of these folks have found that they had to wait longer than they wanted, once they complete the process they’re very happy with the deal that’s available to them, just like Janice’s.

Second, I want everybody to remember that we’re only three weeks into a six-month open enrollment period, when you can buy these new plans.  (Applause.)  Keep in mind the insurance doesn’t start until January 1st; that’s the earliest that the insurance can kick in.  No one who decides to purchase a plan has to pay their first premium until December 15th.  And unlike the day after Thanksgiving sales for the latest Playstation or flat-screen TVs, the insurance plans don’t run out.  They’re not going to sell out.  They’ll be available through the marketplace — (applause) — throughout the open enrollment period.  The prices that insurers have set will not change.  So everybody who wants insurance through the marketplace will get insurance, period.  (Applause.)  Everybody who wants insurance through the marketplace will get insurance.

Third, we are doing everything we can possibly do to get the websites working better, faster, sooner.  We’ve got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address the problems.  Experts from some of America’s top private-sector tech companies who, by the way, have seen things like this happen before, they want it to work.  They’re reaching out.  They’re offering to send help.  We’ve had some of the best IT talent in the entire country join the team.  And we’re well into a “tech surge” to fix the problem.  And we are confident that we will get all the problems fixed.

Number four — while the website will ultimately be the easiest way to buy insurance through the marketplace, it isn’t the only way.  And I want to emphasize this.  Even as we redouble our efforts to get the site working as well as it’s supposed to, we’re also redoubling our efforts to make sure you can still buy the same quality, affordable insurance plans available on the marketplace the old-fashioned way — offline, either over the phone or in person.

And, by the way, there are a lot of people who want to take advantage of this who are more comfortable working on the phone anyway or in person.  So let me go through the specifics as to how you can do that if you’re having problems with the website or you just prefer dealing with a person.

Yesterday, we updated the website’s home page to offer more information about the other avenues to enroll in affordable health care until the online option works for everybody.  So you’ll find information about how to talk to a specialist who can help you apply over the phone or to receive a downloadable application you can fill out yourself and mail in.

We’ve also added more staff to the call centers where you can apply for insurance over the phone.  Those are already — they’ve been working.  But a lot of people have decided first to go to the website.  But keep in mind, these call centers are already up and running.  And you can get your questions answered by real people, 24 hours a day, in 150 different languages.  The phone number for these call centers is 1-800-318-2596.  I want to repeat that — 1-800-318-2596.  Wait times have averaged less than one minute so far on the call centers, although I admit that the wait times probably might go up a little bit now that I’ve read the number out loud on national television.  (Laughter.)

But the point is the call centers are available.  You can talk to somebody directly and they can walk you through the application process.  And I guarantee you, if one thing is worth the wait, it’s the safety and security of health care that you can afford, or the amount of money that you can save by buying health insurance through the marketplaces.  (Applause.)

Once you get on the phone with a trained representative, it usually takes about 25 minutes for an individual to apply for coverage, about 45 minutes for a family.  Once you apply for coverage, you will be contacted by email or postal mail about your coverage status.

But you don’t have to just go through the phone.  You can also apply in person with the help of local navigators -– these are people specially trained to help you sign up for health care, and they exist all across the country, or you can go to community health centers and hospitals.  Just visit LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov to find out where in your area you can get help and apply for insurance in person.

And finally, if you’ve already tried to apply through the website and you’ve been stuck somewhere along the way, do not worry.  In the coming weeks, we will contact you directly, personally, with a concrete recommendation for how you can complete your application, shop for coverage, pick a plan that meets your needs, and get covered once and for all.

So here’s the bottom line.  The product, the health insurance is good.  The prices are good.  It is a good deal.  People don’t just want it; they’re showing up to buy it.  Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed.  (Laughter and applause.)

And in the meantime, you can bypass the website and apply by phone or in person.  So don’t let problems with the website deter you from signing up, or signing your family up, or showing your friends how to sign up, because it is worth it.  It will save you money.  If you don’t have health insurance, if you’ve got a preexisting condition, it will save you money and it will give you the security that your family needs.

In fact, even with the website issues, we’ve actually made the overall process of buying insurance through the marketplace a lot smoother and easier than the old way of buying insurance on your own.  Part of the challenge here is that a lot of people may not remember what it’s like to buy insurance the traditional way.

The way we’ve set it up, there are no more absurdly long application forms.  There’s no medical history questionnaire that goes on for pages and pages.  There’s no more getting denied because you’ve had a preexisting condition.  Instead of contacting a bunch of different insurers one at a time, which is what Janice and a lot of people who are shopping on the individual market for health insurance had to do, there’s one single place you can go shop and compare plans that have to compete for your business.  There’s one single phone number you can call for help.  And once the kinks in the website have been ironed out, it will be an even smoother and even easier.  But in the meantime, we will help you sign up — because consumers want to buy this product and insurance companies want to sell it to you.

Now, let me close by addressing some of the politics that have swirled around the Affordable Care Act.  I recognize that the Republican Party has made blocking the Affordable Care Act its signature policy idea.  Sometimes it seems to be the one thing that unifies the party these days.  (Laughter.)  In fact, they were willing to shut down the government and potentially harm the global economy to try to get it repealed.  And I’m sure that given the problems with the website so far, they’re going to be looking to go after it even harder.  And let’s admit it — with the website not working as well as it needs to work, that makes a lot of supporters nervous because they know how it’s been subject to so much attack, the Affordable Care Act generally.

But I just want to remind everybody, we did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website.  That’s not what this was about.  (Applause.)  We waged this battle to make sure that millions of Americans in the wealthiest nation on Earth finally have the same chance to get the same security of affordable quality health care as anybody else.  That’s what this is about.  (Applause.)  And the Affordable Care Act has done that.

People can now get good insurance.  People with preexisting conditions can now afford insurance.  And if the launch of this website proves anything, it’s that people across the country don’t just need that security, they want that security.  They want it.  (Applause.)  And in the meantime — I’ve said many times — I’m willing to work with anyone on any idea to make this law perform even better.  But it’s time for folks to stop rooting for its failure, because hardworking, middle-class families are rooting for its success.  (Applause.)  And if the product is good, they’re willing to be patient.

I got a letter last week from a self-employed man named John Mier in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania.  He used the new marketplace to get himself and his wife covered and save a lot of money.  And here’s what he said, because it pretty much sums up my message today:  “Yes, the website really stank for the first week.”  (Laughter.)  “But instead of paying $1,600 per month for a group insurance plan, we have a plan that will only cost us $692 a month –- a savings of $900 per month.”  (Applause.)  John said that while he saw — when he saw what they’d be paying, he turned to his wife and told her, “We might just pull through.  We can afford this.”  And John eventually predicted that “the website will work like a champ.”

So John, he was frustrated by the website, but he’s feeling a little less frustrated once he found out that he was saving 900 bucks a month on his health insurance.  (Applause.)  And John is right, the website is going to get fixed and the law works.  That’s why we fought so hard to pass this law — to save folks like John money; to give people who don’t have health insurance the chance to get it for the first time; to lift from the American people the crushing burden of unaffordable health care; to free families from the pervasive fear that one illness — (on-stage participant becomes ill) — there you go, you are ok.  I’m right here.  I got you.  (Laughter.)  No, no — you’re okay.  This happens when I talk too long.  (Laughter.)  You’ll be okay.  Here, why don’t you go.  (Applause.)

Good catch, by the way, whoever was here.  (Laughter.)

But that’s always our goal, to free families from the pervasive fear that one illness or one injury might cost you everything that you dedicated a lifetime to build.  Our goal has always been to declare that in this country the security of health care is not a privilege for a fortunate few.  It’s a right for all to enjoy.  (Applause.)  That’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  That’s its promise.  And I intend to deliver on that promise.

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

END

12:00 P.M. EDT

Political Musings October 20, 2013: President Obama looks forward with agenda, GOP criticizes Obamacare in weekly addresses

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama looks forward with agenda, GOP criticizes Obamacare in weekly addresses (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

 

Both President Barack Obama and the GOP looked past the government shutdown to upcoming battles in their respective weekly addresses released Saturday morning, Oct. 19, 2013. President Obama continued and reiterated the agenda he laid out…READ MORE

Political Musings October 18, 2013: President Obama delivers post-shutdown speech blaming GOP, laying out agenda

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama delivers post-shutdown speech blaming GOP, laying out agenda (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama speaking from the White House’s state dining room on Thursday morning, Oct. 17, 2013 delivered his first remarks after signing the bill reopening the government from a 16-day partial shutdown and raised the debt…

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