Thursday, April 30, 2009

Joint Statement President Obama and Prime Minister Harper United States-Canada Support for Chrysler LLC

The Governments of the United States and Canada have reviewed and approved the restructuring plans of Chrysler LLC and its subsidiaries, including Chrysler Canada Inc.

As a result, thanks to the considerable contributions and sacrifices of company management, the United Auto Workers and Canadian Auto Workers, and major lenders, and a successful partnership agreement with Fiat SpA, our Governments are in a position to extend support to help Chrysler restructure itself and re-emerge as a globally competitive automaker.

"We appreciate the close and cooperative relationship between the U.S. and Canadian governments during this period of restructuring in the auto industry. Together, we have put in place a financing package that will give Chrysler a chance to achieve financial viability," said President Obama.

"I want to thank President Obama and the U.S Automotive Task Force for their close cooperation with Canada on this challenging issue. Thanks to our joint efforts, there is now a road ahead to a stronger Chrysler and a stronger industry in the future on both sides of the border," said Prime Minister Harper.

The Governments will provide $US 10.5 billion in financing, including short term and medium term capital and debtor-in-possession financing to assist with the court-supervised restructuring of Chrysler LLC. Of this amount, the United States is contributing $US 8.08 billion and Canadian governments (including the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario) $US 2.42 billion.

The United States will have 8 percent of the equity of the restructured Chrysler LLC, and Canada and Ontario will have 2 percent, and the United States will appoint four independent directors to the new Chrysler LLC board, while Canada will appoint one independent director.

The close cooperation of our Governments acknowledges that the automotive industries in Canada and the United States are tightly linked, with major automobile manufacturers and suppliers operating on both sides of the border in a completely integrated way. The cost sharing reflects the historic shares of auto production in both countries for Chrysler, which will be maintained under this restructuring agreement.

The United States and Canada are committed to continuing to work together closely as we chart the path to a stronger automobile industry in both countries, both in the short term as we complete similar efforts on General Motors restructuring plan, and in the long term as we seek to ensure a competitive, environmentally responsible automobile industry for the future.

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT KICK-OFF FOR WOUNDED WARRIOR SOLDIER RIDE

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) It's good weather for a race -- not too hot.

Thank you, Secretary Gates, for your introduction, and more importantly, for the extraordinary job you're doing as our Secretary of Defense. I want to thank Secretary Shinseki, who served our country with extraordinary valor and courage, who was wounded in Vietnam, and who's leading our efforts to create a 21st century VA.

I want to thank my friend, Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in Iraq, and never stopped serving her country when she came home. I got to know Tammy in my home state of Illinois, and I know that she is going to be a great Assistant Secretary of the VA. (Applause.)

And thanks to all of those at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, the VA, and the Pentagon who have joined us today, and for all that you do for our wounded warriors. Welcome to the White House.

There are heroes among us today -- men and women who served their country without falter, without fail; men and women who selflessly risked their lives on behalf of others, so that others might live. Soldiers like Sergeant Jeremiah Church, who was shot while defending his unit from an ambush in Iraq, but kept fighting until he lost consciousness. Soldiers like Sergeant First Class Rashe Hall, who, despite being badly wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade, repeatedly charged a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan so that his men might get to safety, then returned to give them first aid before receiving his own.

And soldiers like Staff Sergeant Dillon Behr from my home state of Illinois. While in Afghanistan last year, his unit came under heavy fire. Despite sustaining not one, but two life-threatening injuries, he held his position and fought for six and a half hours until he could no longer hold a weapon -- all so that American and Afghan troops might move to safety. Today, he's undergoing rehab at Walter Reed, and he's going to college as he pursues the next chapter in his life of service.

These men served with extraordinary bravery. They saved lives. And these men were awarded the Silver Star for Valor. They were there for their brothers and sisters in the United States Armed Forces no matter what. And that's the idea behind the Soldier Ride we're kicking off today.

Now, like a lot of great ideas, this one was conceived in a bar. (Laughter and applause.) A young bartender on Long Island named Chris Carney began talking about biking across the country to raise funds and awareness for returning troops and wounded warriors. And his boss said to him, "If you don't do it, I'll find somebody who will."

So Chris hopped on his bike for what became the first annual Soldier Ride. The next year, a couple of wounded warriors joined him. A year later, even more. Civilians started to ride along. Grateful Americans began lining the streets to cheer and show their support. More rides were added, and more money was raised.

And five years after that first ride, I'm honored to have 40 wounded warriors gathered here on the South Lawn to kick off the third annual "White House to the Lighthouse" Challenge. Over the next three days -- (applause) -- over the next three days these men and women, along with family and supporters, will ride from here to Annapolis on bicycles and in wheelchairs, raising money and awareness for others returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious injuries.

Keep in mind that today's riders once faced down the possibility that they might never have an active lifestyle again. Some are missing limbs, coping with nerve damage, living with Traumatic Brain Injury or blindness. Some have endured painful rehabilitation, some still are, and some have battles yet to come.

These wounded warriors didn't get to choose the direction their lives would take the instant they were injured. But now they choose to prove that life after injury isn't about what you can't do -- it's about what you can. They choose to keep their faith with the future. They choose to keep fighting for their brothers and sisters and show them that they're not alone.

We also remember that so many are supported by spouses and children, parents and siblings who suffered the absence of a loved one, and then stood by their side through their recovery. These military families are heroes, too. And they are a top priority for Michelle and me, and they will always have our support.

To anyone who's along their route this weekend, I ask you to go out there and cheer. Salute. Say thank you. And we'll do our part to support our troops, their families, and all who have worn the uniform of the United States of America -- because when it comes to their service and sacrifice, warm words and gestures are more than warranted, but they're not nearly enough.

Our veterans deserve the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. And as long as I'm Commander-in-Chief, that's what they'll get. (Applause.) Just as these wounded warriors are there for one another, this country is going to be there for them.

And now I'm going to blow a horn and get this thing started. (Applause.)

So who has got the horn? Oh, this is the official horn? Hair trigger, white button. All right. (Laughter.) Everybody -- let's make sure everybody is lined up properly. Everybody all set? I don't want to catch anybody off-guard here.

All right, on your mark, get set -- (the President blows the horn.) (Applause.)

NOMINATION SENT TO THE SENATE:

Charles A. Blanchard, of Arizona, to be General Counsel of the Department of the Air Force, vice Mary L. Walker, resigned.

STATEMENT FROM THE PRESIDENT PRAISING HOUSE PASSAGE OF H.R.627, THE CREDIT CARDHOLDERS’ BILL OF RIGHTS

Today, under the leadership of Representatives Barney Frank, Carolyn Maloney, and Luis Gutierrez, members of both parties in the House of Representatives came together to protect American consumers, paving the way toward real, meaningful credit card reform. While Americans have a responsibility to live within their means and pay what they owe, credit card companies have a responsibility to set rules that are fair and transparent. The principles I have long supported would help ensure that these responsibilities are met: strong and reliable consumer protections; credit card forms and statements that have plain language in plain sight; tools that can help people make an informed choice about what credit card to use; and beefed up monitoring, enforcement, and penalties. And building on what we have achieved today, I will work with Congress in the weeks to come so that I can sign a credit card reform bill into law that upholds these principles and upholds the interests of the American people.

Celebrating our Teachers

On Tuesday the President welcomed the Teachers of the Year to the White House, Dr. Jill Biden tells us about the time she spent with them.

It’s been a really inspiring week in Washington– because the teachers are in town! This week I had the true honor of welcoming some very special guests to Washington DC: the 2009 Teachers of the Year. 55 of them traveled to DC representing all of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense, American Samoa, the Marianna Islands, and the Virgin Islands. I’ve been a teacher for 28 years, so I know how hard these teachers work and was thrilled to meet them and welcome them to our home, the Vice President’s Residence.

Dr. Jill Biden hosts the Teachers of the Year
Dr. Jill Biden, an educator of 28 years, addresses the 2009 National Teachers of the Year reception at the Vice President's residence in Washington D.C. Photo by Joshua Hoover


On Monday night – all of the teachers came (by bus of course) for a reception and a "class photo." I felt so at home with this group – we could have talked for hours about our work, our students, and our teaching experiences. Our dog Champ Biden even made an appearance to congratulate the teachers. As I told the group on Monday, each of these teachers deserves recognition for being the best in their state or region - but I must say that every teacher is a ‘teacher of the year’ in my experience, and I have nothing but admiration for all of my colleagues around the country.

Dr. Jill Biden hosts the Teachers of the Year, a Group Photo
Dr. Jill Biden poses with the 2009 National Teachers of the Year at a reception in their honor at the Vice President's Residence in Washington D.C. Photo by Joshua Hoover



On Tuesday morning, I taught two English classes at my community college in Virginia, quickly changed in the school bathroom, and raced to the White House so that I could be there to celebrate the teachers and congratulate Anthony Mullen, the final winner along with President Obama, Michelle Obama, and Arne Duncan. Anthony teaches Special Education to 9-12th graders in Connecticut. I used to teach at-risk students in the high schools, so I was truly excited to spend time with him and his family. It was a beautiful day in the Rose Garden and I know that everyone there left feeling inspired.





As I told the group of teachers on Monday night, the greatest thing about this Administration is that the President and my husband Joe not only believe in education, they are investing in it. I know that teachers have many challenges in their classrooms, but we’re going to keep working together to make things better. I hope someone reading this post might even be inspired to become a 2010, 2015, or 2020 Teacher of the Year. You won’t regret it and our country needs you.

NEWS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT

THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Before we begin tonight, I just want to provide everyone with a few brief updates on some of the challenges we're dealing with right now.

First, we are continuing to closely monitor the emergency cases of the H1N1 flu virus throughout the United States. As I said this morning, this is obviously a very serious situation, and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations. Our public health officials have recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of this flu strongly consider temporarily closing. And if more schools are forced to close, we've recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if their children do have to stay home.

I've requested an immediate $1.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress to support our ability to monitor and track this virus and to build our supply of antiviral drugs and other equipment, and we will also ensure that those materials get to where they need to be as quickly as possible.

And finally, I've asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: Keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick.

We'll continue to provide regular updates to the American people as we receive more information, and everyone should rest assured that this government is prepared to do whatever it takes to control the impact of this virus.

The second thing I'd like to mention is how gratified I am that the House and the Senate passed a budget resolution today that will serve as an economic blueprint for this nation's future. I especially want to thank Leader Reid, Speaker Pelosi, all the members of Congress who worked so quickly and effectively to make this blueprint a reality.

This budget builds on the steps we've taken over the last 100 days to move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity. We began by passing a Recovery Act that has already saved or created over 150,000 jobs and provided a tax cut to 95 percent of all working families. We passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for 11 million American children whose parents work full-time. And we launched a housing plan that has already contributed to a spike in the number of homeowners who are refinancing their mortgages, which is the equivalent of another tax cut.

But even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I've also said that we can't go back to an economy that's built on a pile of sand: on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards; on over-leveraged banks and outdated regulations that allow recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of all.

We have to lay a new foundation for growth, a foundation that will strengthen our economy and help us compete in the 21st century. And that's exactly what this budget begins to do. It contains new investments in education that will equip our workers with the right skills and training, new investments in renewable energy that will create millions of jobs and new industries, new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses, and new savings that will bring down our deficit.

I also campaigned on the promise that I would change the direction of our nation's foreign policy -- and we've begun to do that as well. We've begun to end the war in Iraq, and we forged with our NATO allies a new strategy to target al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals by closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and banning torture without exception. And we've renewed our diplomatic efforts to deal with challenges ranging from the global economic crisis to the spread of nuclear weapons.

So I think we're off to a good start. But it's just a start. I'm proud of what we've achieved, but I'm not content. I'm pleased with our progress, but I'm not satisfied. Millions of Americans are still without jobs and homes, and more will be lost before this recession is over. Credit is still not flowing nearly as freely as it should. Countless families and communities touched by our auto industry still face tough times ahead. Our projected long-term deficits are still too high. And government is still not as efficient as it needs to be. We still confront threats ranging from terrorism to nuclear proliferation as well as pandemic flu. And all this means you can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security -- in the second hundred days, and the third hundred days, and all the days after that.

You can expect us to work on health care reform that will bring down costs while maintaining quality as well as energy legislation that will spark a clean energy revolution.

I expect to sign legislation by the end of this year that sets new rules of the road for Wall Street -- rules that reward drive and innovation as opposed to short-cuts and abuse. And we will also work to pass legislation that protects credit card users from unfair rate hikes and abusive fees and penalties.

We'll continue scouring the federal budget for savings and target more programs for elimination, and we will continue to pursue procurement reform that will greatly reduce the no-bid contracts that have wasted so many taxpayer dollars.

So we have a lot of work left to do. It's work that will take time and it will take effort. But the United States of America, I believe, will see a better day. We will rebuild a stronger nation. And we will endure as a beacon for all those weary travelers beyond our shores who still dream that there's a place where all this is possible.

I want to thank the American people for their support and their patience during these trying times, and I look forward to working with you in the next hundred days and the hundreds days after that, all the hundreds of days to follow, to make sure that this country is what it can be.

And with that, I will start taking some questions and I'll start with you, Jennifer.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. With the flu outbreak spreading and worsening, can you talk about whether you think it's time to close the border with Mexico, and whether -- under what conditions you might consider quarantining, when that might be appropriate?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, as I said, this is a cause for deep concern, but not panic. And I think that we have to make sure that we recognize that how we respond -- intelligently, systematically, based on science and what public health officials have to say -- will determine in large part what happens.

I've consulted with our public health officials extensively on a day-to-day basis, in some cases, an hour-to-hour basis. At this point they have not recommended a border closing. From their perspective it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States. We have ramped up screening efforts, as well as made sure that additional supplies are there on the border so that we can prepare in the eventuality that we have to do more than we're doing currently.

But the most important thing right now that public health officials have indicated is that we treat this the same way that we would treat other flu outbreaks, just understanding that because this is a new strain we don't yet know how it will respond. So we have to take additional precautions -- essentially, take out some additional insurance. That's why I asked for an additional $1.5 million, so that we can make sure that everything is in place should a worst-case scenario play out.

I do want to compliment Democrats and Republicans who worked diligently back in 2005 when the bird flu came up. I was part of a group of legislators who worked with the Bush administration to make sure that we had beefed up our infrastructure and our stockpiles of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu. And I think the Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond. For example, we've got 50 million courses of antiviral drugs in the event that they're needed.

So the government is going to be doing everything that we can. We're coordinating closely with state and local officials. Secretary Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, newly installed Secretary Sebelius of Health and Human Services, our Acting CDC Director -- they are all on the phone on a daily basis with all public health officials across the states to coordinate and make sure that there's timely reporting, that if as new cases come up that we are able to track them effectively, that we're allocating resources so that they're in place.

The key now I think is to make sure that we are maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up. And individual families start taking very sensible precautions that can make a huge difference. So wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school. If you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don't get on an airplane. Don't get on any system of public transportation where you're confined and you could potentially spread the virus.

So those are the steps that I think we need to take right now. But understand that because this is a new strain, we have to be cautious. If this was a strain that we were familiar with, then we might have to -- then I think we wouldn't see the kind of alert levels that we're seeing, for example, with the World Health Organization. Okay?

Deb Price of Detroit News. Where's Deb?

Q Thank you, Mr. President. On the domestic auto industry, have you determined that bankruptcy is the only option to restructure Chrysler? And do you believe that the deep cuts and plant closings that were outlined this week by General Motors are sufficient?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me speak to Chrysler first because the clock is ticking on Chrysler coming up with a plan. I am actually very hopeful, more hopeful than I was 30 days ago, that we can see a resolution that maintains a viable Chrysler auto company out there. What we've seen is the unions have made enormous sacrifices, on top of sacrifices that they had previously made. You've now seen the major debt holders come up with a set of potential concessions that they can live with. All that promises the possibility that you can get a Fiat-Chrysler merger and that you have an ongoing concern.

The details have not yet been finalized so I don't want to jump the gun, but I'm feeling more optimistic than I was about the possibilities of that getting done.

With respect to GM, we're going to have another 30 days -- they're still in the process of presenting us with their plans. But I've always said that GM has a lot of good product there and if they can get through these difficult times and engage in some of the very difficult choices that they've already made, that they can emerge a strong, competitive, viable company.

And that's my goal in this whole process. I would love to get the U.S. government out of the auto business as quickly as possible. We have a circumstance in which a bad recession compounded some great weaknesses already in the auto industry, and it was my obligation, and continues to be my obligation, to make sure that any taxpayer dollars that are in place to support the auto industry are aimed not at short-term fixes that continue these companies as wards of the state, but rather institutes the kind of restructuring that allows them to be strongly competitive in the future. I think we're moving in that direction.

The last point -- you asked about Chrysler bankruptcy. It was the prudent and appropriate thing for Chrysler to do to engage in the filings that they -- that received some notice a while back, because they had to prepare for possible contingencies. It's not yet clear that they're going to have to use it. The fact that the major debt holders appear ready to make concessions means that even if they ended up having to go through some sort of bankruptcy, it would be a very quick type of bankruptcy and they could continue operating and emerge on the other side in a much stronger position.

So my goal is to make sure that we've got a strong, viable, competitive auto industry. I think some tough choices are being made. There's no denying that there's significant hardship involved, particularly for the workers and the families in these communities, and we're going to be coming behind whatever plan is in place to make sure that the federal government is providing as much assistance as we have to ensure that people are landing back on their feet, even as we strengthen these core businesses.

Jake. Where's Jake? There he is.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You've said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture. Torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?

THE PRESIDENT: What I've said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices. I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do -- not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day, talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, we don't torture -- when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And the reason was that Churchill understood you start taking shortcuts, and over time that corrodes what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.

And so I strongly believe that the steps that we've taken to prevent these kinds of enhanced interrogation techniques will make us stronger over the long term, and make us safer over the long term, because it will put us in a position where we can still get information -- in some cases, it may be harder, but part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world, is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy.

At the same time, it takes away a critical recruitment tool that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians. And it makes us -- it puts us in a much stronger position to work with our allies in the kind of international coordinated intelligence activity that can shut down these networks.

So this is a decision that I am very comfortable with. And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on a unscrupulous enemy.

Okay. I'm sorry.

Q -- administration sanction torture?

THE PRESIDENT: I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the -- whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.

Mark Knoller.

Q Thank you, sir. Let me follow up, if I may, on Jake's question. Did you read the documents recently referred to by former Vice President Cheney and others, saying that the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques not only protected the nation, but saved lives? And if part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?

THE PRESIDENT: I have read the documents. Now, they haven't been officially declassified and released, and so I don't want to go into the details of them. But here's what I can tell you -- that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques -- which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques -- doesn't answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?

So when I made the decision to release these memos and when I made the decision to bar these practices, this was based on consultation with my entire national security team, and based on my understanding that ultimately I will be judged as Commander-in-Chief on how safe I'm keeping the American people. That's the responsibility I wake up with and it's the responsibility I go to sleep with.

And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe, but I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are. And there have been no circumstances during the course of this first hundred days in which I have seen information that would make me second-guess the decision that I've made.

Chuck Todd.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I want to move to Pakistan. Pakistan appears to be at war with the Taliban inside their own country. Can you reassure the American people that, if necessary, America could secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban's hands or, worst-case scenario, even al Qaeda's hands?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm confident that we can make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure -- primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army I think recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. We've got strong military to military consultation and cooperation. I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan; more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don't seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services -- schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of people. And so as a consequence it is very difficult for them to gain the support and the loyalty of their people.

So we need to help Pakistan help Pakistanis. And I think that there's a recognition increasingly on the part of both the civilian government there and the army that that is their biggest weakness.

On the military side you're starting to see some recognition just in the last few days, that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally. And you're starting to see the Pakistan military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists.

We want to continue to encourage Pakistan to move in that direction. And we will provide them all the cooperation that we can. We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don't end up having a nuclear armed militant state.

Q But in a worst-case scenario --

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to engage --

Q -- military, U.S. military could secure this nuclear --

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals of that sort. I feel confident that that nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands. Okay?

Jeff Mason.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. One of the biggest changes you've made in the first 100 days regarding foreign policy has had to do with Iraq. But due to the large scale -- this large-scale violence there right now, does that affect the U.S. strategy at all for withdrawal and could it affect the timetable that you've set out for troops?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think it's important to note that although you've seen some spectacular bombings in Iraq that are a legitimate cause of concern, civilian deaths, incidents of bombings, et cetera, remain very low relative to what was going on last year, for example. And so you haven't seen the kinds of huge spikes that you were seeing for a time. The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq.

Part of the reason why I called for a gradual withdrawal as opposed to a precipitous one was precisely because more work needs to be done on the political side to further isolate whatever remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq still exist. And I'm very confident that with our commander on the ground, General Odierno, with Chris Hill, our new ambassador having been approved and already getting his team in place, that they are going to be able to work effectively with the Maliki government to create the conditions for an ultimate transfer after the national elections.

But there's some serious work to do on making sure that how they divvy up oil revenues is ultimately settled; what the provincial powers are and boundaries; the relationship between the Kurds and the central government; the relationship between the Shia and the Kurds; are they incorporating effectively Sunnis, Sons of Iraq into the structure of the armed forces in a way that's equitable and just. Those are all issues that have not been settled the way they need to be settled. And what we've done is we've provided sufficient time for them to get that work done. But we've got to keep the pressure up, not just on the military side, but on the diplomatic and development sides, as well.

Chip Reid.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. On Senator Specter's switch to the Democratic Party, you said you were thrilled. I guess nobody should be surprised about that. But how big a deal is this, really? Some Republicans say it is huge. They believe it's a game changer. They say that if you get the 60 votes in the Senate, that you will be able to ride roughshod over any opposition, and that we're on the verge of, as one Republican put it, one-party rule. Do you see it that way? And also, what do you think his switch says about the state of the Republican Party?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think very highly of Arlen Specter. I think he's got a record of legislative accomplishment that is as good as any member of the Senate. And I think he's always had a strong independent streak. I think that was true when he was a Republican; I think that will be true when he's a Democrat. He was very blunt in saying I couldn't count on him to march lockstep on every single issue. And so he's going to still have strong opinions, as many Democrats in the Senate do. I've been there. It turns out all the senators have very strong opinions. And I don't think that's going to change.

I do think that having Arlen Specter in the Democratic caucus will liberate him to cooperate on critical issues like health care, like infrastructure and job creation; areas where his inclinations were to work with us, but he was feeling pressure not to. And I think the vote on the Recovery Act was a classic example. Ultimately he thought that was the right thing to do, and he was fiercely berated within his own party at the time for having taken what I considered to be a very sensible step. So I think it's overall a positive.

Now, I am under no illusions that suddenly I'm going to have a rubber-stamp Senate. I've got Democrats who don't agree with me on everything -- and that's how it should be. Congress is a coequal branch of government. Every senator who's there, whether I agree with them or disagree with them, I think truly believes that they are doing their absolute best to represent their constituencies. And we've got regional differences and we've got some parts of the country that are affected differently by certain policies, and those have to be respected and there's going to have to be compromise and give and take on all of these issues.

I do think that, to my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine. I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change. But there are a whole host of areas where we can work together.

And I've said this to people like Mitch McConnell. I said, look, on health care reform, you may not agree with me that we should have a public plan -- that may be philosophically just too much for you to swallow. On the other hand, there are some areas, like reducing the cost of medical malpractice insurance where you do agree with me. If I'm taking some of your ideas -- and giving you credit for good ideas -- the fact that you didn't get a hundred percent can't be a reason every single time to oppose my position. And if that is how bipartisanship is defined -- a situation in which, basically, wherever there are philosophical differences I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in a historic election, we're probably not going to make progress.

If, on the other hand, the definition is that we're open to each other's ideas, there are going to be some differences, the majority will be probably be determinative when it comes to resolving just hard-core differences that we can't resolve, but there's a whole host of other areas where we can work together, then I think we can make progress.

Q Is the Republican Party in the desperate straits that Arlen Specter seems to think it is?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, politics in America changes very quickly and I'm a big believer that things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem. You're talking to a guy who was 30 points down in the polls during a primary in Iowa, so -- so I never -- I don't believe in crystal balls. I do think that our administration has taken some steps that have restored confidence in the American people that we're moving in the right direction, and that simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy.

Ed Henry.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. In a couple of weeks you're going to be giving the commencement at Notre Dame and, as you know, this has caused a lot of controversy among Catholics who are opposed to your position on abortion. As a candidate you vowed that one of the very first things you wanted to do was sign the freedom of choice act, which, as you know, would eliminate federal, state, and local restrictions on abortion. And at one point in the campaign when asked about abortion and life, you said that it was "above my pay grade." Now that you've been President for a hundred days, obviously your pay grade is a little higher than when you were a senator -- (laughter) -- do you still hope that Congress quickly sends you the freedom of choice act so you can sign it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, my view on abortion I think has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue. I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they -- if they suggest -- and I don't want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with, and families and individual women have to wrestle with.

The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day, and I think they are in a better position to make these decision ultimately than members of Congress or a President of the United States -- in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy. So that's been my consistent position.

The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again. And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the freedom of choice act is not my highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose, but I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's where I'm going to focus.

Jeff Zeleny.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving this in office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me write this down. (Laughter.)

Q Surprised, troubled --

THE PRESIDENT: I've got -- what was the first one?

Q Surprised.

THE PRESIDENT: Surprised.

Q Troubled.

THE PRESIDENT: Troubled.

Q Enchanted.

THE PRESIDENT: Enchanted? Nice. (Laughter.)

Q And humbled.

THE PRESIDENT: And what was the last one, humbled?

Q Humbled. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: All right. Okay. (Laughter.) Surprised. I am surprised compared to where I started, when we first announced for this race, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time. You know, when I first started this race, Iraq was a central issue, but the economy appeared on the surface to still be relatively strong. There were underlying problems that I was seeing with health care for families and our education system and college affordability and so forth, but obviously I didn't anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And so the typical President I think has two or three big problems; we've got seven or eight big problems. And so we've had to move very quickly, and I'm very proud of my team for the fact that we've been able to keep our commitments to the American people to bring about change while, at the same time, managing a whole host of issues that had come up that weren't necessarily envisioned a year and a half ago.

Troubled? I'd say less troubled, but sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow; that there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises. I would like to think that everybody would say, you know what, let's take a timeout on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year and then we can start running for something next year. And that hasn't happened as much as I would have liked.

Enchanted? (Laughter.) Enchanted. I will tell you that when I meet our servicemen and women -- "enchanted" is probably not the word I would use. (Laughter.) But I am so profoundly impressed and grateful to them for what they do. They're really good at their job. They are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices on our behalf. They do so without complaint. They are fiercely loyal to this country. And the more I interact with our servicemen and women, from the top brass down to the lowliest private, I'm just -- I'm grateful to them.

Humbled by the -- humbled by the fact that the presidency is extraordinarily powerful but we are just part of a much broader tapestry of American life. And there are a lot of different power centers, and so I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want, or turn on a switch and suddenly Congress falls in line. And so what you do is to make your best arguments, listen hard to what other people have to say, and coax folks in the right direction.

This metaphor has been used before, but the ship of state is an ocean liner, it's not a speed boat. And so the way we are constantly thinking about this issue of how to bring about the changes that the American people need is to say, if we can move this big battleship a few degrees in a different direction, we may not see all the consequences of that change a week from now or three months from now, but 10 years from now or 20 years from now, our kids will be able to look back and say, that was when we started getting serious about clean energy; that's when health care started to become more efficient and affordable, that's when we became serious about raising our standards in education.

And so I have a much longer time horizon than I think you do when you're a candidate or if you're listening, I think, to the media reportage on a day-to-day basis.

And I'm humbled, last, by the American people, who have shown extraordinary patience and I think a recognition that we're not going to solve all these problems overnight.

Okay. Lori Montenegro.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, when you met with the Hispanic caucus a few weeks ago, reports came out that the White House was planning to have a forum to talk about immigration and bring it to the forefront. Going forward, my question is, what is your strategy to try to have immigration reform? And are you still on the same timetable to have it accomplished in the first year of your presidency? And also I'd like to know if you're going to reach out to Senator John McCain, who is Republican and in the past has favored immigration reform?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we reach out to Senator McCain on a whole host of issues. He has been a leader on immigration reform; I think he has had the right position on immigration reform, and I would love to partner with him and others on what is going to be a critical issue. We've also worked with Senator McCain on what I think is a terrific piece of legislation that he and Carl Levin have put together around procurement reform. We want that moved and we're going to be working hard with them to get that accomplished.

What I told the congressional Hispanic caucus is exactly what I said the very next day in a town hall meeting and what I will continue to say publically, and that is we want to move this process. We can't continue with a broken immigration system. It's not good for anybody. It's not good for American workers. It's dangerous for Mexican would-be workers who are trying to cross a dangerous border. It is putting a strain on border communities who oftentimes have to deal with a host of undocumented workers, and it keeps those undocumented workers in the shadows, which means they can be exploited at the same time as they're depressing U.S. wages.

So what I hope to happen is that we're able to convene a working group, working with key legislators, like Luis Gutierrez and Nydia Velázquez and others, to start looking at a framework of how this legislation might be shaped. In the meantime, what we're trying to do is take some core -- some key administrative steps to move the process along to lay the groundwork for legislation, because the American people need some confidence that if we actually put a package together we can execute.

So Janet Napolitano, who has great knowledge of this because of having been a border governor, she's already in the process of reviewing and figuring out how can we strengthen our border security in a much more significant way than we're doing. If the American people don't feel like you can secure the borders, then it's hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, well, you're just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year. On the other hand, showing that there's a more thoughtful approach than just raids of a handful of workers -- as opposed to, for example, taking seriously the violations of companies that sometimes are actively recruiting these workers to come in -- that's again, something that we can start doing administratively.

So what we want to do is to show that we are competent in getting results around immigration, even on the structures that we already have in place, the laws that we already have in place, so that we're building confidence among the American people that we can actually follow through on whatever legislative approach emerges.

Q Do you feel confident --

THE PRESIDENT: I see the process moving this first year, and I'm going to be moving it as quickly as I can. I've been accused of doing too much. We are moving full steam ahead on all fronts. Ultimately, I don't have control of the legislative calendar. And so we're going to work with legislative leaders to see what we can do.

Andre Showell. There you go.

Q Thank you. Mr. President, as the entire nation tries to climb out of this deep recession, in communities of color the circumstances are far worse. The black unemployment rate, as you know, is in the double digits. And in New York City, for example, the black unemployment rate for men is near 50 percent.

My question tonight is given this unique and desperate circumstance, what specific policies can you point to that will target these communities? And what's a timetable for us to see tangible results?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind that every step we're taking is designed to help all people. But folks who are most vulnerable are most likely to be helped because they need the most help. So when we passed the Recovery Act, for example, and we put in place provisions that would extend unemployment insurance or allow you to keep your health insurance, even if you've lost your job, that probably disproportionately impacted those communities that had lost their jobs.

And unfortunately the African American community and the Latino community are probably overrepresented in those ranks. When we put in place additional dollars for community health centers to ensure that people are still getting the help that they need, or we expand health insurance to millions more children through the Children's Health Insurance Program -- again, those probably disproportionately impact African American and Latino families simply because they're the ones who are most vulnerable. They've got higher rates of uninsured in their communities.

So my general approach is that if the economy is strong, that will lift all boats -- as long as it is also supported by, for example, strategies around college affordability, and job training, tax cuts for working families as opposed to the wealthiest, that level the playing field and ensure bottom-up economic growth. And I'm confident that that will help the African American community live out the American Dream, at the same time that it's helping communities all across the country.

Michael Scherer of TIME.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. During the campaign you criticized President Bush's use of the state secrets privilege. But U.S. attorneys have continued to argue the Bush position in three cases in court. How exactly does your view of state secrets differ from President Bush's? And do you believe Presidents should be able to derail entire lawsuits about warrantless wiretapping or rendition, if classified information is involved?

THE PRESIDENT: I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right how it's over-broad. But keep in mind what happens is, we come into office, we're in for a week -- and suddenly we've got a court filing that's coming up. And so we don't have the time to effectively think through what, exactly, should a overarching reform of that doctrine take. We've got to respond to the immediate case in front of us.

I think it is appropriate to say that there are going to be cases in which national security interests are genuinely at stake, and that you can't litigate without revealing covert activities or classified information that would genuinely compromise our safety. But searching for ways to redact, to carve out certain cases, to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court -- you know, there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument. And we're interested in pursuing that. I know that Eric Holder and Greg Craig, my White House Counsel, and others are working on that as we speak.

Jonathan Weisman, you get the last word. Where are you? There you are.

Q Thank you, sir. You are currently the chief shareholder of a couple of very large mortgage giants. You're about to become the chief shareholder of a car company -- probably two. And I'm wondering what kind of shareholder are you going to be? What is the government's role as the keeper of public trust in bonds in soon to be public companies again?

Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think our first role should be shareholders that are looking to get out. You know, I don't want to run auto companies, I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already. I've got more than enough to do. (Laughter.) So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be.

We are in unique circumstances. You had the potential collapse of the financial system, which would have decimated our economy -- and so we had to step in. As I've said before, I don't agree with every decision that was made by the previous administration when it came to TARP, but the need for significant intervention was there and it was appropriate that we moved in.

With respect to the auto companies, I believe that America should have a functioning, competitive auto industry. I don't think that taxpayers should simply put -- attach an umbilical cord between the U.S. Treasury and the auto companies so that they are constantly getting subsidies. But I do think that helping them restructure at this unique period when sales -- you know, the market has essentially gone from 14 million down to 9 million, I don't think that there's anything inappropriate about that.

My goal on all this is to help these companies make some tough decisions based on realistic assumptions about economic growth, about their market share, about what that market is going to look like, to prevent systemic risk that would affect everybody; and as soon as their situations are stabilized and the economy is less fragile, so that those systemic risks are diminished, to get out, find some private buyers. And --

Q -- to shape the products and services that --

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think that we should micromanage. But I think that like any investor, the American taxpayer has a right to scrutinize what's being proposed and make sure that their money is not just being thrown down the drain.

And so we've got to strike a balance. I don't want to be -- I'm not an auto engineer, I don't know how to create a affordable, well-designed plug-in hybrid. But I know that if the Japanese can design a affordable, well-designed hybrid, then doggone it, the American people should be able to do the same. So my job is to ask the auto industry, why is it you guys can't do this? And in some cases they're starting to do it, but they've got these legacy costs. There are some terrific U.S. cars being made, both by Chrysler and GM. The question is, you know, give me a plan so that you're building off your strengths and you're projecting out to where that market is going to be.

I actually think if you look at the trends that those auto companies that emerge from this crisis -- when you start seeing the pent up demand for autos coming back -- they're going to be in a position to really do well globally, not just here in the United States. So I just want to help them get there.

But I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy meddling in the private sector. If you could tell me right now that when I walked into this office that the banks were humming, that autos were selling, and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran and a pandemic flu -- I would take that deal. (Laughter.)

And that's why I'm always amused when I hear these criticisms of, oh, Obama wants to grow government. No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with. But that's not the hand that's been dealt us. And every generation has to rise up to the specific challenges that confront them. We happen to have gotten a big set of challenges, but we're not the first generation that that's happened to. And I'm confident that we're going to meet these challenges just like our grandparents and forebears met them before.

All right. Thank you, everybody.

The President’s Remarks on H1N1




As a PSA, here are the President’s remarks on the H1N1 flu virus during the opening of last night’s press conference:

Before we begin tonight, I just want to provide everyone with a few brief updates on some of the challenges we're dealing with right now.

First, we are continuing to closely monitor the emergency cases of the H1N1 flu virus throughout the United States. As I said this morning, this is obviously a very serious situation, and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations. Our public health officials have recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of this flu strongly consider temporarily closing. And if more schools are forced to close, we've recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if their children do have to stay home.

I've requested an immediate $1.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress to support our ability to monitor and track this virus and to build our supply of antiviral drugs and other equipment, and we will also ensure that those materials get to where they need to be as quickly as possible.

And finally, I've asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: Keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick.

We'll continue to provide regular updates to the American people as we receive more information, and everyone should rest assured that this government is prepared to do whatever it takes to control the impact of this virus.
The President at a press conference
President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference in the White House on April 29, 2009.
White House Photo/ Chuck Kennedy


He was also asked about the government’s response during the question-and-answer portion:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. With the flu outbreak spreading and worsening, can you talk about whether you think it's time to close the border with Mexico, and whether -- under what conditions you might consider quarantining, when that might be appropriate?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, as I said, this is a cause for deep concern, but not panic. And I think that we have to make sure that we recognize that how we respond -- intelligently, systematically, based on science and what public health officials have to say -- will determine in large part what happens.

I've consulted with our public health officials extensively on a day-to-day basis, in some cases, an hour-to-hour basis. At this point they have not recommended a border closing. From their perspective it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States. We have ramped up screening efforts, as well as made sure that additional supplies are there on the border so that we can prepare in the eventuality that we have to do more than we're doing currently.

But the most important thing right now that public health officials have indicated is that we treat this the same way that we would treat other flu outbreaks, just understanding that because this is a new strain we don't yet know how it will respond. So we have to take additional precautions -- essentially, take out some additional insurance. That's why I asked for an additional $1.5 million, so that we can make sure that everything is in place should a worst-case scenario play out.

I do want to compliment Democrats and Republicans who worked diligently back in 2005 when the bird flu came up. I was part of a group of legislators who worked with the Bush administration to make sure that we had beefed up our infrastructure and our stockpiles of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu. And I think the Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond. For example, we've got 50 million courses of antiviral drugs in the event that they're needed.

So the government is going to be doing everything that we can. We're coordinating closely with state and local officials. Secretary Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, newly installed Secretary Sebelius of Health and Human Services, our Acting CDC Director -- they are all on the phone on a daily basis with all public health officials across the states to coordinate and make sure that there's timely reporting, that if as new cases come up that we are able to track them effectively, that we're allocating resources so that they're in place.

The key now I think is to make sure that we are maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up. And individual families start taking very sensible precautions that can make a huge difference. So wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school. If you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don't get on an airplane. Don't get on any system of public transportation where you're confined and you could potentially spread the virus.

So those are the steps that I think we need to take right now. But understand that because this is a new strain, we have to be cautious. If this was a strain that we were familiar with, then we might have to -- then I think we wouldn't see the kind of alert levels that we're seeing, for example, with the World Health Organization.

Taking Stock

A lot of people were taking stock today of the change that the President has so far. But throughout the federal government change has been unfolding at the agency level in thousands of ways you have likely never even heard about. Take a look at the agency reports for whatever issues you are most interested in:



We will update this list as more come in.

Retrospective in Missouri

Today the President was in Arnold, Missouri for a town hall, and took a moment to be retrospective in his opening remarks:

Today marks 100 days since I took the oath of office to be your President. (Applause.) One hundred days. It's a good thing. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, back in November, some folks were surprised that we showed up in Springfield at the end of our campaign. But then again, some folks were surprised that we even started our campaign in the first place. (Laughter.) They didn't give us much of a chance. They didn't think we could do things differently. They didn't know if this country was ready to move in a new direction.

But here's the thing -- my campaign wasn't born in Washington. My campaign was rooted in neighborhoods just like this one, in towns and cities all across America; rooted in folks who work hard and look after their families and seek a brighter children -- future for their children and for their communities and for their country.

He spoke at length of progress he believed he had made in this short time, from the Recovery Act to the Budget Resolution, but quickly added: "I want to warn you, there will be setbacks. It will take time. But I promise you I will always tell you the truth about the challenges that we face and the steps that we are taking to meet them."

The President at a town hall in Missouri
The President at a town hall in Missouri
President Barack Obama addresses a town hall at Fox High School in Arnold, Missouri on April 29, 2009.
White House Photo, Pete Souza

The questions covered a wide range of topics. On the auto industry, and Chrysler in particular, he made clear that he strongly believes America should have a vibrant auto industry:

We don't know yet whether the deal is going to get done. I will tell you that the workers at Chrysler have made enormous sacrifices -- enormous sacrifices -- to try to keep the company going. One of the key questions now is, are the bond holders, the lenders, the money people, are they willing to make sacrifices, as well? We don't know yet, so there's still a series of negotiations that are taking place.

Asked about the challenges facing America’s educational system, he noted how impressive the Teacher of the Year he spoke with last night was, and discussed how he believed we could make sure more teachers are like him:

The deal I've got to strike with teachers, though -- I may not get as much applause on this -- (laughter) -- is I would like to work with teachers and the teachers unions, because I'm a union guy, but I do believe -- (applause) -- but I do believe that it's important for the unions to work flexibly with school districts in a consensual fashion to find ways so that if you've got a really excellent teacher, after 15, 20 years, they can get paid a little bit more -- right? -- if they're doing a really good job. (Applause.) And now the flip side -- I'm telling you, I'm getting to the point where I'm not going to get applause. (Laughter.) If you've got a bad teacher who can't -- after given all the support and the training that they need is just not performing up to snuff, we've got to find that person a new job. (Applause.)

Asked about the future of Social Security, he reiterated his long-standing support for raising the cap on the payroll tax for wealthy Americans and saying that Social Security is actually the easy fix compared to health care costs:

What we face long term, the biggest problem we have is that Medicare and Medicaid -- health care costs are sky-rocketing, and at the same time as the population is getting older, which means we're using more health care -- you combine those two things, and if we aren’t careful, health care will consume so much of our budget that ultimately we won't be able to do anything else. We won't be able to provide financial assistance to students; we won't be able to help build green energy; we won't be able to help industries that get into trouble; we won't have a national park system; we won't be able to do what we're supposed to do on our veterans. Everything else will be pushed aside because of Medicare and Medicaid. That's the problem that we really confront.

That's why I've said we've got to have health reform this year -- (applause) -- to drive down costs and make health care affordable for American families, businesses and for our government. (Applause.)

So, you know, when you see -- those of you who are watching certain news channels that -- on which I'm not very popular -- (laughter) -- and you see folks waving tea bags around -- (laughter) -- let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we're going to stabilize Social Security. Claire and I are working diligently to do basically a thorough audit of federal spending. But let's not play games and pretend that the reason is because of the Recovery Act, because that's just a fraction of the overall problem that we've got.

Having taken questions directly from the public this morning, the President returns to the White House tonight for a prime time press conference. Watch it streamed at 8:00 at WhiteHouse.gov/live.

UPDATE: The President met with several people who submitted their stories of service through our site after the town hall.

The President and people committed to service through whitehouse.gov

The President and people committed to service through whitehouse.gov
President Barack Obama poses for a photo with service volunteers Wednesday, April 29, 2009, at Fox High School in St. Louis, Mo. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ARNOLD, MISSOURI TOWN HALL

Fox Senior High School
Arnold, Missouri

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you. Everybody please have a seat. Have a seat. Thank you so much. What a wonderful introduction. It's good to be out of Washington, good to be back in the Midwest.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!

THE PRESIDENT: Love you back. (Applause.)

Let me, first of all, ask everybody to give a huge round of applause to Linda for the great introduction and everything that she's been doing in the community. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

I've got a few other friends who are here -- you may know them, I want to make sure that I acknowledge them. One of, I think, the finest members of Congress that we have and somebody who's just been a great friend of mine, she is somebody you want in the foxhole with you when you got a tough fight -- please give a huge round of applause to Claire McCaskill. (Applause.)

We've got one of the finest new governors in the country, Jay Nixon. (Applause.) Where did Jay go? There he is. An outstanding Secretary of State and somebody who I think may turn out to be pretty good in Washington if she just so decides -- Robin Carnahan. (Applause.) We've got Attorney General Chris Koster here. (Applause.) State Treasurer Clint Zweifel. (Applause.) A great friend who was with me from the start -- Susan Montee, your State Auditor. (Applause.) We have our outstanding host today, Mayor Ron Counts, of Arnold. (Applause.)

We've got Congressman Russ Carnahan, who is voting on the budget today, but I want everybody to give him a big round of applause anyway. (Applause.)

I want to thank everybody here at Fox High School for their hospitality. (Applause.) I want to thank your lovely school superintendent, who is just doing an outstanding job. Please stand up. (Applause.) I want to thank the Warriors for the basketball jersey -- (applause) -- which I will wear with pride -- yeah! (Applause.) If I ever get to play basketball again -- (laughter) -- they've been keeping me a little busy.

It is great to be back in the middle of America, where common sense often reigns. (Applause.) And this reminds me of why I like to get out of Washington now and again.

The last time I was in Missouri was just under six months ago, at a high school a lot like this one. We were in Springfield; it was two days before the election, and I was making my final case to the American people. And it was just an unbelievable crowd, bigger than anything anybody had expected. And so we're here in Missouri to -- we were here in Missouri at the end of a long journey to the White House, and so now I want to come back and speak to you at the beginning of another long journey. Today marks 100 days since I took the oath of office to be your President. (Applause.) One hundred days. It's a good thing. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, back in November, some folks were surprised that we showed up in Springfield at the end of our campaign. But then again, some folks were surprised that we even started our campaign in the first place. (Laughter.) They didn't give us much of a chance. They didn't think we could do things differently. They didn't know if this country was ready to move in a new direction.

But here's the thing -- my campaign wasn't born in Washington. My campaign was rooted in neighborhoods just like this one, in towns and cities all across America; rooted in folks who work hard and look after their families and seek a brighter children -- future for their children and for their communities and for their country.

It was driven by workers who were tired of seeing their jobs shipped overseas, their health care costs go up, their dreams slip out of reach. (Applause.) It was grounded in a sense of unity and common purpose with every single American, whether they voted for me on Election Day or voted for somebody else. It was energized by every citizen who believed that the size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics. My campaign was possible because the American people wanted change.

I ran for President because I wanted to carry those voices -- your voices -- with me to Washington. (Applause.) And so I just want everybody to understand: You're who I'm working for every single day in the White House. I've heard your stories; I know you sent me to Washington because you believed in the promise of a better day. And I don't want to let you down.

You believed that after an era of selfishness and greed, that we could reclaim a sense of responsibility on Wall Street and in Washington, as well as on Main Street. You believed that instead of huge inequalities and an economy that's built on a bubble, we could restore a sense of fairness to our economy and build a new foundation for lasting growth and prosperity. You believed that at a time of war, we could stand strong against our enemies and stand firmly for our ideals, and show a new face of American leadership to the world.

That's the change that you believed in. That's the trust you placed in me. It's something I will never forget, the fact that you made this possible.

So today, on my 100th day in office, I've come to report to you, the American people, that we have begun to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, and we've begun the work of remaking America. (Applause.) We're working to remake America.

Now, we've got a lot of work to do, because on our first day in office we found challenges of unprecedented size and scope. Our economy was in the midst of the most serious downturn since the Great Depression. Banks had stopped lending. The housing market was crippled. The deficit was at $1.3 trillion. And meanwhile, families continued to struggle with health care costs, too many of our kids couldn't get the education they needed, the nation remained trapped by our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.

Now, these challenges could not be met with half-measures. They couldn't be met with the same old formulas. They couldn't be confronted in isolation. They demanded action that was bold and sustained. They demand action that is bold and sustained. They call on us to clear away the wreckage of a painful recession, but also, at the same time, lay the building blocks for a new prosperity. And that's the work that we've begun over these first 100 days.

To jumpstart job creation and get our economy moving again, we passed the most ambitious economic recovery plan in our nation's history. And already, we're beginning to see this change take hold. In Jefferson City, over 2,500 jobs will be created on Missouri's largest wind farm, so that American workers are harnessing clean, American energy. (Applause.) Across the state, roughly 20,000 transportation jobs will be supported by the Recovery Act, so that Missourians are rebuilding your roads, your bridges, your rails.

To restore fairness to our economy, we've taken several steps with Congress to strengthen the middle class. We cut taxes for 95 percent of American households through a tax cut that will put $120 billion directly into your pockets. (Applause.) We finally signed a law long overdue that will protect equal pay for equal work for American women. (Applause.) We extended health care to millions of children across this country. (Applause.)

We launched a housing plan that has already contributed to a spike in the number of homeowners who are refinancing their mortgages, which is the equivalent of another tax cut for them. And if you haven't refinanced, you might want to take a look and see if it's possible, because that can save people a lot of money. We've taken steps to unfreeze the market for auto loans and student loans and small business loans. And we're acting with the full force of the federal government to ensure that our banks have the capital and the confidence to lend money to the families and business owners who keep this economy running.

Now, even as we cleared away the wreckage, I've also said that we can't go back to an economy that's built on a pile of sand -- on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards; on over-leveraged banks and outdated regulations that allowed the recklessness of just a few people to threaten the prosperity of all of us.

So that's why I introduced a budget and other measures that build on the Recovery Act to lay a new foundation for growth -- a foundation that's built on five pillars that will strengthen our economy and help us compete in the 21st century: number one, new investments in education that will equip our workers with the right skills and training; number two, new investments in renewable energy that will create millions of jobs and new industries; number three, new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; number four, new savings that will bring down our deficit; and number five, new rules for Wall Street that reward drive and innovation. (Applause.)

Now, I've got to say that some of the people in Washington have been surprised -- they said, boy, he's so ambitious; he's been trying to do so much. Now, maybe they're not accustomed to this, but there's no mystery to what we've done. The priorities that we've acted upon were the things that we said we'd do during the campaign. (Applause.) I mean, it's not like anybody should be surprised. The policies we've proposed were plans we talked about for two years, in places like this, all across the country with ordinary Americans. The changes that we've made are the changes we promised. That's what you should expect from a President. You may not always agree with me, but if you take a look at what I said I was going to do when I was running for office, and you now look at what we are in the middle of doing -- we're doing what we said we'd do. (Applause.)

Now, after 100 days, I'm pleased with the progress we've made, but I'm not satisfied. I'm confident in the future, but I'm not content with the present -- not when there are workers who are still out of jobs, families who still can't pay their bills; not when there are too many Americans who can't afford their health care, so many of our children being left behind and our nation is not leading the world in developing 21st century energy. I'm not satisfied. And I know you aren't either. The crisis that we're confronting was many years in the making; it will take us time to overcome it. We've come a long way, we can see the light on the horizon, but we've got a much longer journey ahead.

And one of the encouraging things for me is the fact that the American people know this. You know that our progress has to be measured in the results that we achieve over many months and years, not the minute-by-minute talk in the media. And you know that progress comes from hard choices and hard work, not miracles. I'm not a miracle worker. We've got a lot of tough choices and hard decisions and hard work ahead of us. The 100th day might be a good time to reflect on where we are, but it's more important to where we're going that we focus on the future, because we can't rest until our economy is growing and we've built that new foundation for our prosperity.

We can't rest until we reform those outdated rules and regulations that allowed this crisis to happen in the first place. And that's why I've called for tough, new, common-sense rules of the road that punish abuse and reward drive and innovation in the financial sector. I expect a bill to arrive on my desk for signature before this year is out. We are going to make sure this kind of crisis does not happen again. (Applause.)

We can't rest until we have schools that prepare our children for the challenges of the 21st century. And we've already made historic investments in education and college affordability. I was talking to your superintendent about all the wonderful things that she's going to be able to do with some of the money that came out of the recovery package. We're going to continue to help our schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we're going to reward teachers for performance and give them new pathways for advancement. (Applause.) We are going to seek the goal of once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world -- we're going to do it by 2020. (Applause.)

We can't rest until we harness the renewable energy that can create millions of new jobs and new industries. The Recovery Act will double the supply of renewable energy, but the only way to truly spark an energy transformation is through a gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution so that energy, clean energy is the profitable kind of energy. And we can do this in a way that creates jobs. That's how we can grow our economy, enhance our security, and protect our planet at the same time.

I don't think we can rest until we have a 21st century health care system that makes sense -- (applause) -- one that cuts costs for families and businesses across America. That's why we invested in preventative care, we've invested in electronic records; that's why my budget makes a down payment on reform that will finally make quality health care affordable for every American. And I look forward to working with both parties in Congress to make this reform a reality in the months to come.

And we can't rest until we restore the fiscal discipline that will keep us from leaving our children with a mountain of debt. And working with people like Claire McCaskill, we have already put forward a budget that will cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term. We've launched a procurement reform effort that will greatly reduce no-bid contracts and will save $40 billion. We're going through the budget line by line, page by page; we've already identified more than 100 programs to reduce or eliminate because they don't work. And I've personally asked the leadership in Congress to pass into law rules that follow the simple principle: You pay for what you spend -- so that government acts the same way any responsible family does. If you want a tax cut, you got to pay for it; if you want a new program, you got to pay for it. Tell the American people the truth -- how are you going to pay for it? (Applause.)

And finally, we can't rest until America is secure and our leadership is restored. And that's why I've begun to end the war in Iraq through a responsible transition to Iraqi control. It is their country, they need to take control. (Applause.) That's why we have a new strategy to disrupt and dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we've renewed our diplomacy to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, to speak directly to our adversaries, and strengthen relations in the hemisphere.

And that's why we have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals. That's why I ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo; that's why I prohibited the use of torture -- (applause) -- because America is stronger than any enemy -- and we always have been -- precisely because we do what's right not just when it's easy, but when it's hard. That's what sets us apart.

We're living through extraordinary times. We didn't ask for all the challenges that we face, but we're determined to answer the call to meet them. That's that spirit I see everywhere I go. That's the spirit we need to sustain, because the answer to our problems will ultimately be found in the character of the American people. We need soldiers and diplomats, scientists, teachers, workers, entrepreneurs. We need your service; we need your active citizenship. That's why I recently signed a bill that will create hundreds of thousands of opportunities for the American people to serve. That's why I will continue to ask for your help and your ideas and your support to make the changes that we need.

I want to warn you, there will be setbacks. It will take time. But I promise you I will always tell you the truth about the challenges that we face and the steps that we are taking to meet them. I will continue to measure my progress by the progress that you see in your own lives. And I believe that years from now we are going to be able to look back at this time as the moment when the American people once again came together to reclaim their future. (Applause.) That's what this is about.

Thank you, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)

All right, this is the fun part. Everybody sit back down. I'm going to take questions. There are no rules, nobody has been pre-screened. And we're not going to be able to get through all of the questions that people want to ask, so if you can raise your hand I will try to call on you. We're going to go girl-boy-girl-boy, so nobody thinks I'm biased. (Laughter.) I'll try to just go around the gym and we'll get to as many as we can. If you can stand up, introduce yourself when the question has been asked, and we should have some microphones in the audience -- right? Where are microphone people? Raise up your mics. Okay, so we've got a few here. So wait for the microphone so everybody can hear your question.

All right, this gentleman right here -- right there. Yes, you. I guess we're going boy-girl. (Laughter.) You can go ahead and hand him the mic.

Q I'm a retired auto worker from General Motors. And I was just curious, with all the -- what's going on in the news and with the contracts and everything, where is this all eventually going to leave the retirees' pensions and our health care? I mean, we also are considered middle class -

THE PRESIDENT: Keep the mic near you.

Q Oh, I'm sorry. We're also considered middle class and it seems like they keep constantly wanting to take it away from the auto worker and prosecuting us, instead of the corporate that brought us to this.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a good question. Let me talk about what's happening with autos, because obviously this is a big concern for everybody. I believe that the U.S. should have a strong auto industry. I believe that. (Applause.) One of the things, one of the transitions I want to make, I want us to get back to making things, not just shuffling paper around. (Applause.) And so the auto industry is a major part of that.

Now, what is also true is that the decisions that were made over decades put the U.S. auto industry in a bad spot. We used to build the cars that consumers wanted, and at a certain point those weren’t the cars that were being designed. Now, in fairness to the auto industry, a lot of the cars that are coming out of Detroit have gotten really good; they are on par with foreign imports. But the problem is, is that because of a lot of those bad decisions catching up, even though there's some very good products out there, overall the companies were in really bad shape.

Now, the Bush administration had already given several billions of dollars worth of aid, and GM and Chrysler were told to come up with a plan. When they presented the plan to us, my responsibility to taxpayers is to look at those plans in a realistic way and figure are these plans going to work in order to put these auto companies on a firm, solid footing where they can operate without government subsidies and succeed, and compete in the marketplace. Because we've got the best workers; we just need the best plans. Right? (Applause.)

Unfortunately, the plan that they presented just weren’t realistic. I mean, we did a pretty thoroughgoing analysis of this thing and you couldn't -- what they were doing wasn’t painting a picture of how they could be viable over the long term -- without being wards of the state. And, frankly, there's no way that we were going to get taxpayers to just, every few months, just give a few more billion dollars, because there are a lot of other industries that would love to have those kinds of subsidies.

So we are now at the point where Chrysler is supposed to report back to us in the next day or two about their plans for a potential merger with Fiat -- and the Fiat management has actually done a good job transforming their industry. We're hoping that you can get a merger where the taxpayers will put in some money to sweeten the deal, but ultimately the goal is we get out of the business of building cars, and Chrysler goes and starts creating the cars that consumers want. And one of the potential advantages of a merger is new technologies where Chrysler starts making fuel-efficient clean-energy cars that will meet the needs of the future market.

We don't know yet whether the deal is going to get done. I will tell you that the workers at Chrysler have made enormous sacrifices -- enormous sacrifices -- to try to keep the company going. One of the key questions now is, are the bond holders, the lenders, the money people, are they willing to make sacrifices, as well? We don't know yet, so there's still a series of negotiations that are taking place.

I can tell you that no matter what happens, we want to provide certain protections to retirees for their health care and their pensions. That will also be expensive for taxpayers. But my attitude is we got here not because our workers didn't do a great job trying to build a great product; it was because management decisions betrayed workers.

There are going to be some long-term adjustments that have to be made, though, both for Chrysler and GM. GM, by the way, has 30 more days, because their restructuring is more thoroughgoing than what was required with Chrysler. But I can guarantee you I will -- I look at this from the perspective of how can I create a strong, viable, competitive auto industry that is giving workers an opportunity to build a great product, take pride in that product, and continue to support their families and build communities that are strong.

That's my entire orientation, and how do I do that in a way that doesn't waste taxpayer money -- because, as I said, people in other industries would love help, as well, and I've got to be fair to people who aren't in the auto industry. If we're going to do it, it's got to be because we think that we've got a long-term plan that actually makes sense. I think we can get there, but we've still got a little more work to do. (Applause.)

`All right. Young lady up there in the pink, right there. There we go.

Q I'm a school counselor in the Fox T6 district. President Obama, what do you feel is the biggest challenge facing our educational system today, and how do you plan on meeting those challenges?

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, excellent question. I believe that we've got a multitude of challenges. So rather than just isolate on one, let me talk about several.

Our children are coming out of high school -- in some cases, they're not even graduating high school, but even if they graduate from high school -- ranked lower on math and science scores than many other advanced industrialized countries. Nations like China and India are starting to turn out more engineers, more scientists. If we aren’t able to compete technologically we're not going to be able to compete, because this is a knowledge-based economy. We can have some people who are really willing to work hard, but if the technology is coming from overseas and all we're competing for is just our labor, then over time those countries will get richer, our countries will get poorer.

So we've got to upgrade across the board -- not just in poor, underprivileged schools, but across the board -- we've got to upgrade the performance levels of our young people. Now, in order to do that, the single-biggest ingredient is the quality of our teachers; single most important factor -- (applause) -- single most important factor in the classroom is the quality of the person standing at the front of the classroom. And that's why our recovery package put a lot of emphasis on teacher training, teacher recruitment, teacher retention, professional development.

And I've got a terrific young Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is -- (applause) -- and he is so passionate, but he's tough, and he wants to push school districts to really do what it takes to give teachers the support that they need.

Now, that involves a whole range of things. It means that how we train and recruit teachers in the first place, how do we match them up with master teachers so that they learn best practices; how do we make sure that if they're coming in and they don't have all the professional background they need in something -- a subject area like science, that we give them the training they need; and how do we recruit people who might be great teachers but didn’t go through the conventional channels. If there's a chemist out there somewhere who wants to teach, we should be able to get him into the classroom in an expedited way, because he or she is bringing skills that we need.

I just gave an award to the Teacher of the Year, who was a police officer, a cop -- had gone to the -- had become a captain in the New York City Police Department and then decided that he wanted to pursue his lifelong love of learning and went back to teach -- and asked for the toughest-to-teach kids. Well, we want to encourage people like that who have a passion for teaching.

Now, I also want to increase teacher pay so that a lot more people want to go into teaching. (Applause.)

The deal I've got to strike with teachers, though -- I may not get as much applause on this -- (laughter) -- is I would like to work with teachers and the teachers unions, because I'm a union guy, but I do believe -- (applause) -- but I do believe that it's important for the unions to work flexibly with school districts in a consensual fashion to find ways so that if you've got a really excellent teacher, after 15, 20 years, they can get paid a little bit more -- right? -- if they're doing a really good job. (Applause.)

And now the flip side -- I'm telling you, I'm getting to the point where I'm not going to get applause. (Laughter.) If you've got a bad teacher who can't -- after given all the support and the training that they need is just not performing up to snuff, we've got to find that person a new job. (Applause.)

Just a couple more comments on education generally. A lot of schools still aren't using technology as well as they could in the classroom. And one of the things we're trying to do with the Recovery Act is to help schools get broadband, get computers, but then also train people to use it properly. I think we can do more with technology. Once kids get out of high school, making college affordable is absolutely critical. (Applause.) We have to redesign the college experience so that -- not everybody is going to go to school for four years right in a row when they're 18. Some people are going to work for two years, then go back to school for two years once they figure out something they're interested in; go back to work, maybe five years down the road they need to retrain.

We've got to create a pathway for lifelong learning for young people -- and not-so-young people -- so that all American workers are continually upgrading their skills. (Applause.) So we want to put a lot more emphasis on community colleges and how they are working effectively together.

Let me make a last point because I don't want to -- I could talk about this stuff forever. One last point which I always have to remind people of -- I said that the biggest ingredient in school performance is the teacher. That's the biggest ingredient within a school. But the single biggest ingredient is the parent. (Applause.) So this is an example where, people are always trying to say, oh, Obama, is he liberal? Is he conservative? Well, I want government to do what it should do, but there's some things government can't do. That's where I'm conservative. Government can't force parents to turn off the TV set and tell your kid to sit down and do their homework. I can't do that. (Applause.) That's not my job. That's your job. Well, it is my job with Sasha and Malia. (Laughter.) Those two, I'm responsible for.

But the other part of it is it's not just making sure your kids are doing their homework, it's also instilling a thirst for knowledge and excellence. It's been noted widely that there are a lot of immigrant students who come from very modest backgrounds economically that end up doing very well. And why is that? Well, the difference is, is that in their families and in their communities a lot of times they've got that attitude that used to be prevalent, but sometimes we're losing -- sometimes I worry we're losing -- and that is, boy, it is a privilege to learn, it's a privilege to discover new things, it's cool to be smart. (Applause.) We want to reward kids for doing well in school. (Applause.)

And the community can help the parents. Listen, I love basketball. But the smartest kid in the school, the National Science Award winner should be getting as much attention as the basketball star. (Applause.) That's a change that we've got to initiate in our community.

All right, gentleman in the tie there, since he wore a tie. That was really nice of him. (Laughter.) We appreciate that. Thank you.

Q I'm the junior class vice president of Fox High School. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: All right.

Q I was just curious to what policies you're going to put into place in order to protect Social Security for the upcoming generations.

THE PRESIDENT: That's a good question. (Applause.) Let me, first of all -- a lot of people know this, but I always want to try to explain how Social Security works so that you have a better sense of what we have to do, going forward.

Social Security is not an individual account. When you pay your payroll tax, it doesn't go into -- I'm sorry, what was your name? Jay? It doesn't go into Jay's account. Your Social Security tax goes to pay for current retirees. And hopefully when you retire, young people who are working then, their money will go to pay for your retirement.

So it's an intergenerational commitment that we make to each other. What we say is, look, all of us are going to grow old, so we're going to make sure that there's enough money in there for your retirement; and those of us who are currently working, we pay into the kitty to make sure that that happens, and then we expect that the next generation is going to do the same. All right?

Now, here's the problem that we confront -- and this is a solvable problem. I've got -- there are some problems that are really hard to solve; this is actually one that we can solve. And that is -- the problem is that the baby boomers -- there were a lot of them, and they're getting older. Even though they deny it, they're getting older. (Laughter.) So what's happening is you're getting a big bulge of people who are retiring and you've got fewer workers supporting more retirees. That means you got more money going out, less money coming in -- and so you get a mismatch.

Now, what's been happening is, up until very recently we've been running a surplus in the Social Security account. So there should be enough money -- and if we were wise then all that money would be there and then we -- we're going to start running a deficit as the baby boomers start retiring, but we would have accumulated all this money and everything would be fine.

But a couple of things have happened. Number one is that the Social Security trust fund -- there wasn't a fence around it so people started borrowing out of it for other things. That's not helpful. But the other part of it is, is that there's still going to be a gap if we don't do anything -- even if we repay all the money into the trust fund, there's still a gap because there are too many retirees.

So it's not that Social Security would go away, Jay; the problem would be that by the time you retire, you'd be getting 75 cents for every dollar that was promised to you. So you'd get cheated out of a little bit of your Social Security. That's why -- when people say Social Security is going bankrupt, that's not true. The problem is not that it's going bankrupt; the problem is just that your benefit -- it would be the equivalent of a benefit cut of about 25 percent if we don't start making some changes.

Now, there are only a handful of ways to make these changes. Number one, you could just keep on trying to borrow a trillion dollars, or a couple trillion, or however much it takes from China. But that's not such a good solution, because you'd end up having to pay interest on it and at some point they're just going to be tired of lending to us because they've got their own senior citizens that they want to take care off.

Second option is to gradually raise the retirement age. Now, I don't think this is the best option just because we just talked to an auto worker over here -- that's hard work. And if people's -- if the retirement age is already 67, and now you want to get it up to 68 or 69, if you're working on an assembly line, and you've been doing that for 50 years, or 40 years, that's some tough stuff. If you're a senator, you can work until, you know -- (laughter) -- but if you're doing real work -- (laughter and applause) -- now that's -- except for Claire. Claire does some real work. Claire is a hard worker. Claire is a hard worker. (Applause.)

You could cut benefits. You could raise the tax on everybody, so everybody's payroll tax goes up a little bit. Or you can do what I think is probably the best solution, which is you can raise the cap on the payroll tax. (Applause.)

Now, let me explain one last point about this. Whether you are Bill Gates, or you are Jay, a junior at Fox High School, you pay the same rate on your payroll tax, but what happens is, is that it gets capped out at $102,000. Now, the majority of people here, for almost everybody here, what that means is, is that you pay a payroll tax on every dime that you earn. But if you're Bill Gates, that means you're only paying payroll tax on 1/10th of 1 percent of what you earn, because you earn so much more -- $100,000, that's just the first fraction of what you earn, and then you stop paying it.

So what I've said is look, for wealthier people why don't we raise the cap? (Applause.) Make them pay a little more payroll tax. (Applause.) Not everybody is wild about this idea, not surprisingly. (Laughter.) And so what I would like to do -- I had a fiscal responsibility summit where I brought together Republicans, Democrats, experts on all these issues -- how do we start dealing with our long-term deficits, our long-term debt. I actually think that we could get all those folks together, and we could come up with a solution that would ensure stability of the Social Security system for a long, long time to come.

Let me just make this last point though. The big problem we have with entitlements is not Social Security, it's Medicare. Medicare and Medicaid, the two health care programs that the federal government helps support, those are the things that are really breaking the bank.

I know you’ve been hearing all these arguments about, oh, Obama is just spending crazy, look at these huge trillion-dollar deficits, blah, blah, blah. Well, let me make a point. Number one, we inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit -- that wasn’t from my -- that wasn’t me. (Applause.) That wasn’t me. Number two, there is almost uniform consensus among economists that in the middle of the biggest crisis -- financial crisis since the Great Depression, we had to take extraordinary steps. So you’ve got a lot of Republican economists who agree that we had to do a stimulus package and we had to do something about the banks. Those are one-time charges, and they're big, and they'll make our deficits go up over the next two years. But those aren’t the problem that we face long term.

What we face long term, the biggest problem we have is that Medicare and Medicaid -- health care costs are sky-rocketing, and at the same time as the population is getting older, which means we're using more health care -- you combine those two things, and if we aren’t careful, health care will consume so much of our budget that ultimately we won't be able to do anything else. We won't be able to provide financial assistance to students; we won't be able to help build green energy; we won't be able to help industries that get into trouble; we won't have a national park system; we won't be able to do what we're supposed to do on our veterans. Everything else will be pushed aside because of Medicare and Medicaid. That's the problem that we really confront.

That's why I've said we've got to have health reform this year -- (applause) -- to drive down costs and make health care affordable for American families, businesses and for our government. (Applause.)

So, you know, when you see -- those of you who are watching certain news channels that -- on which I'm not very popular -- (laughter) -- and you see folks waving tea bags around -- (laughter) -- let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we're going to stabilize Social Security. Claire and I are working diligently to do basically a thorough audit of federal spending. But let's not play games and pretend that the reason is because of the Recovery Act, because that's just a fraction of the overall problem that we've got.

We are going to have to tighten our belts, but we're going to have to do it in an intelligent way, and we've got to make sure that the people who are helped are working American families. And we're not suddenly saying that the way to do this is to eliminate programs that help ordinary people and give more tax cuts to the wealthy. We tried that formula for eight years. It did not work, and I don't intend to go back to it. (Applause.)

All right, it's a young lady's turn. It's your turn? (Laughter.) No, I'm going to call on her. I might call on you later, though.

All right, go ahead.

Q I'm a licensed acupuncturist and licensed massage therapist in Florissant. And so --

THE PRESIDENT: I could use one right now. (Laughter.) My back is stiff. I've been working hard.

Q I'll be happy to help you. (Laughter.) And this kind of fits into what you were just talking about as far as health care. I'm wondering, as a practitioner of Oriental medicine, knowing that the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization has discovered through their studies that alternative medicine often is more cost-effective and very effective, how will alternative medicine fit in your new health care program?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, my attitude is that we should -- we should do what works. So I think it is pretty well documented through scientific studies that acupuncture, for example, can be very helpful in relieving certain things like migraines and other ailments -- or at least as effective as more intrusive interventions.

I will let the science guide me. We just swore in an outstanding new Secretary of Health and Human Service, Kathleen Sebelius, former governor of Kansas. (Applause.) It's good to see that a Jay Hawk got applause on this side of the border here. (Laughter.) But she's going to do an outstanding job. And my charge to her is, as we're going through health care reform let's find out what works.

I think one basic principle that we know is that the more we do on the prevention side, the more we can obtain serious savings down the road. So giving children early checkups, making sure that they get immunized, making sure that they are diagnosed if they've got eyesight problems, making sure that they're taught proper nutrition to avoid a life of obesity -- those are all issues that we have some control over. And if we're making those investments, we will save huge amounts of money in the long-term.

Unfortunately, the hardest thing to do in politics -- and certainly in health care reform -- has been to get policymakers to make investments early that will have long-term payoffs. Because people -- their attitude is, well, I'll be out of office by the time that kid grows up; and, the fact that they're healthy, that doesn't help me. And in the private sector insurance system, oftentimes insurers make the same calculation. Their attitude is, well, people change jobs enough for us to pay for the preventive medicine now when the problem may not crop up for another 20 years and they'll be long out of our system, so we don't want to reimburse it because it will make things more costly. That's the logic of our health care system that we're going to have to change.

The recovery package put a huge amount in prevention. We are, in our budget, calling for significant increases in prevention. And my hope is, is that working in a bipartisan fashion we are going to be able to get a health care reform bill on my desk before the end of the year that will start seeing the kinds of investments that will make everybody healthier. All right? (Applause.)

Okay, it's a man's turn. It's a guy's turn, it's a guy's turn. This gentleman right here, he raised his hand. Go ahead. Yes, sir -- hold on, wait for your -- now, are you an elected official, by the way?

Q No, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. Because elected officials, you guys can't hog the mic right now.

Q No, sir. I'm a pastor.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, God bless you. (Laughter.)

Q Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in the City of St. Louis. My question has to do with foreign policy. While we spend so much money with Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, fighting and what have you, on the continent of Africa -- Sudan, Darfur and other places -- the poverty level is so high, so many people are dying. Is there a chance in your administration that we would be able to build in that area? (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: It's a good question. Let me, first of all, say that whatever arguments we had about Iraq, I think we've been able to build a consensus that it is time for us to bring our troops home and give responsibility over to the Iraqis. (Applause.)

We are doing it in a careful way, because we don't want the country to collapse -- that would not be in our strategic interests. There's been recent flare-ups of violence in Iraq that are highly sensationalized, and that indicates the degree to which this is a ramp-down that is conducted over the course of 18 months. I think that's the right thing to do.

In Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, we do have real problems with the Taliban and al Qaeda. They are the single most direct threat to our national security interests. And I had some grumblings and complaints from certain factions in the Democratic Party when I made a decision to send 17,000 additional troops there. I understand people's concerns. But as Commander-in-Chief it is my responsibility to make sure that bin Laden and his cronies are not able to create a safe haven within which they can kill another 3,000 Americans or more. That's an obligation that I have. (Applause.)

Now, having said that both on Iraq and Afghanistan I think we're doing the right thing, I think it's difficult; it's going to require a new strategy that mixes not just military action, but also includes diplomacy and development. We can't neglect these other parts of the world. So I've appointed a special envoy, a Major General Scott Gration, a very close friend of mine, was one of the top fighter pilots in our military, in our Armed Forces, and somebody who's also an expert on development issues. He just returned from Sudan. We are trying to find a way to create peace and stability that will allow the kind of humanitarian assistance that's needed to take effect in that country.

But you're making a broader point, which is there are a lot of countries, not just in Africa, but in Asia, and Eastern Europe, et cetera, that need our help. And sometimes people ask me, why should we help other countries when we've got so much to do here at home? I mean, foreign aid is very unpopular. I'm telling you, it's probably the single most unpopular thing. If you just ask the average American, they'll say, why should we be giving money to other countries?

And people usually grossly overestimate how much our foreign aid budget is. If you ask people, they'll say, well, we give 10 percent of our federal budget away in foreign aid. Actually, it's 1 percent. We give less in foreign aid than any other wealthy country as a percentage of our GDP.

Here is the reason why it's important. The reason why it's important is that a lot of times we can advance our national interests more effectively by showing that we are interested in the well-being of the people of other countries. That makes those countries more predisposed to work with us on a whole range of issues that are very important to us. It's an important tool for us to be able to meet our national security interests.

So, for example -- let me just give you one very specific example. If in Latin America, where I just returned, people see that we are sending doctors and teachers and Peace Corps workers into these communities, then that's the face of America; when it come time for them to help us on drug interdiction, it's a lot easier for the President of a Colombia or a Mexico to ally themselves with us because we're known to the Mexican people or the Colombian people as good friends, as people who care about them. And that may actually then ultimately save us money in the long term because we don't end up having to send troops in and do some things ourselves, because we've got allies to work with us.

So not only is it the right thing to do from a ethical and moral perspective, but it is also good strategy. And so I have said to the Congress, even in these difficult times we need to do some additional work in terms of foreign assistance, because it will save money for us -- and lives, blood and treasure for us -- in the long term.

I mean, right now everybody is concerned about the swine flu, and properly so. This is a potentially serious issue, and we've got to monitor it very carefully. But think about it. If Mexico has a good strong public health system that is catching these things early, ultimately that's going to save us money, because flu gets contained. And a lot of the threats that we're going to be facing, whether it's international terrorism, cyber terrorism, nuclear proliferation, pandemic, climate change -- a lot of these issues, they cross borders. So it's not like we can just draw a moat around America, and say, I'm sorry, don't bother us; keep your problems outside. It just doesn't work that way.

People get on planes from Africa, and will bring a disease right here to our doorstep, because we weren't concerned about whether or not they had a public health system that could catch these diseases early. So this is all part of our interests, and not just other people's.

All right. Okay. I was told that I have time for one more question. I want to -- I'm sorry guys, but I'm going to go with a student -- (applause) -- because young people, this is their school. But I want a young lady, because it's a young lady's turn. This young lady right here, this is the one, the one with the lei on here.

All right, there you go. She looks ready with a good question. (Applause.)

Q It's an honor to meet you, President Obama.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. What is your name?

Q I'm a fourth grader. I was curious, how is your administration planning to be more environmentally friendly? (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that is just a great question. You're a very poised and articulate fourth grader. (Applause.) Yes, isn't she impressive? (Applause.) Yes, absolutely. We might have to run you for President some day. (Applause.)

Well, there are some short-term things we can do, and there are some long-term things we can do. On the short-term list, we already, for example, passed a historic public lands bill that creates many more acres of public space that is environmentally protected -- (applause) -- from logging and from other -- from mining and from other uses. And that I think is going to be very important.

Now, in some cases what we do is we balance the need for economic growth, but we do it in a sustainable way. There doesn't have to be a contradiction between jobs and the environment, we just have to be thinking a little smarter. So, for example, when it comes to forestry, there's nothing wrong with us cutting down some trees for timber, as long as you make sure that it's done in a sequence and is spaced properly so that the forest itself is sustained.

Sometimes these debates become this all-or-nothing thing: either commercial interests can do anything they want -- dump stuff in the oceans and tear down all the forests, and that's the only way we can get economic growth; or alternatively, everybody is hugging trees and you can't cut a tree. You know, there's a balance that can be struck, and the key principle is sustainability. Are what we are doing -- will it ensure that you have this incredible treasure we call America when you grow up, for your kids, so you can take them into a park, so sportsmen or fishermen can enjoy it. That's the key.

Now, there is a long-term problem that we've got to deal with, and that's is a tough one. And that is this issue of climate change. I want to tell you the truth here because this is going to be a debate that we're going to be having over the course of the next year. The average person probably thinks, yes, climate change, that's kind of a drag, but it's not one of my top priorities -- because you don't really see it or feel it, it doesn't hit your pocketbook, it doesn't have to do with your job directly. And so the tendency is just to kind of push it off. People think, well, this just has to do with polar bears, and I feel bad about polar bears but I've got other things to worry about.

I don't think people fully appreciate the potential damage

-- economic damage, as well as environmental damage -- that could be done if we are not serious in dealing with this problem. If the temperature goes up a couple of degrees, well, it will change weather patterns pretty significantly. It could create droughts in places where we haven't had drought; it could bring insect-born diseases up into places like Missouri that we haven't seen before. But we can probably manage. If the temperature of the planet goes up 5 degrees, you're now looking at coastlines underwater. You're now looking at huge, cataclysmic hurricanes, complete changes in weather patterns. Some places will get hotter, some places will get colder. Our economy would be disrupted by tens of trillions of dollars.

So this is no joke. And the science shows that the planet is getting warmer faster than people expected. Even the most dire warnings, it's gotten -- it's moved forward faster than anybody expected. They're talking about, just in a few years, during the summer, there won't be any ice in the Arctic, something we have never seen before. So we have to do something about it.

Now, the question, again, is how do you do it in an intelligent way? There are some people who would say this is such a big problem that you just got to shut everything down. Well, I'm sorry, that's not going to happen. People have got to go to work, and we've got to drive, we've got to fly places. Our economy has to grow.

But there are ways that we can do it that are intelligent and smart. And I think one of the best ways to do it is to say, in a gradual way, let's set a cap, a ceiling, on the carbon pollution that comes out of all sorts of places: our utilities, our cars, our industries. Let's take a look at all the carbon that's being sent into the atmosphere that's causing climate change, and let's say that each year we're going to reduce the allowable amount in total that is released.

And what we'll do to each industry is we'll say we're going to make a deal with you: Come up with ways to improve your processes and bring pollution down, and you can make money by sending out less pollution; on the other hand, if you have more pollution than you were allowed, then you're going to have to pay money. You start creating a market for the clean energy, and you start making it less economical to produce harmful energy.

Now, if we do that in a smart, gradual way and in a way that protects consumers from the initial attempts of utilities, for example, to pass on those costs to consumers -- which is what they'll try to do, so we've got to rebate some of that money to make sure that people are held harmless -- then I actually think that we can get control of this problem, we can save the polar bears, but more importantly we can make sure that we are preserving our economy.

And here is the great opportunity. Everybody knows that we're going to have to do this. The country that gets there fastest, the country that's the first one to figure out really good battery technology for a plug-in hybrid car, the first country that perfects wind power and solar power and knows how to get it from one place to another in an efficient way, that country will dominate the economy of the 21st century the same way that America dominated the 20th century. I want that to be America. That's what we're fighting for. (Applause.)

All right, everybody, I had a good time. Thank you. (Applause.)
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