President Barack Obama salutes a Marine as he exits the Marine One helicopter on his return at dusk on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, after attending remembrance activities on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France
USA Today: Obama applauds congressional budget deal
Don’t be surprised if President Obama addresses the proposed congressional budget deal on Wednesday, and to say good things about it.
In a written statement late Tuesday, Obama called the deal “a good first step” toward a “balanced” budget approach that combines prudent cuts with investments in job-generating programs.
“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like — and I know many Republicans feel the same way,” Obama said. “That’s the nature of compromise. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”
That Congress’ budget chairs – Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray – were able to reach a budget agreement at all is a minor miracle. There was ample reason to believe the negotiations were a fool’s errand and that failure was an inevitability. The assumptions, however, were wrong, and the two leaders last night unveiled their deal to fund the government for the next two years.
Broadly speaking, there are two overarching questions to consider: is the budget agreement any good and can it pass Congress. Neither is easy to answer.
BBC: ‘Volcker rule’ ban on risky trades passed by regulators
All five US financial regulators have approved the Volcker rule, designed to restrict the finance industry in the wake of the 2008-09 financial collapse.
Named after former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, it bans banks from using their own funds for trading activities.
It is considered the centrepiece of the 2010 banking reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank. Banks will have until 21 July 2015 to comply with the rules.
…. US President Barack Obama applauded the passage of a rule proposed more than three years ago.
He said in a statement: “The Volcker Rule will make it illegal for firms to use government-insured money to make speculative bets that threaten the entire financial system, and demand a new era of accountability from CEOs who must sign off on their firm’s practices.”
Kentucky.com: Health enrollment climbs during holiday period
Enrollment through Kentucky’s health benefits website has grown by more than 11,000 in a 10-day period starting Thanksgiving week.
Gov. Steve Beshear’s office says the technology team for the state’s online health insurance marketplace was expecting an increase in traffic, applications and enrollments after Thanksgiving and increased capacity to prepare.
A news release from Beshear’s office says the site enrolls about 1,000 Kentuckians a day.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk from the Marine One helicopter to the White House as they return from the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela to Washington, December 11
An orphan from Orlando Children’s Home pays tribute to Nelson Mandela outside of his house on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Dec 9
The President and First Lady left for South Africa this morning (8:10 EST), don’t have the schedule yet for their time there, will post as soon as I do. According to Mark Knoller, the trip will take about 17 hours with a refueling stop.
President Obama leaves Monday for what looks like a relatively quick trip to South Africa to honor the late Nelson Mandela. The president and first lady Michelle Obama are scheduled to attend a memorial service for Mandela in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
No other events have been announced for Obama, and he could be back at the White House as early as Wednesday.
Former President George W. Bush and wife Laura are expected to accompany the Obamas aboard Air Force One on the journey of more than 8,000 miles. Ex-presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are expected to travel separately to South Africa for Mandela services.
Word of warning to anti-Obamacare crazies – this is just the start of the flood of success stories you’ll be seeing http://t.co/Eek57LttZK
NYT: Amid the Uproar Over the Health Law, Voices of Quiet Optimism and Relief
Since his chronic leukemia was diagnosed in 2010, Ray Acosta has paid dearly for health insurance: more than $800 a month in premiums, plus steep co-payments for the drug that helps keep him alive.
Mr. Acosta, 57, owns a small moving company in Sierra Vista, Ariz., which he said had barely made it through the recession. He was thinking about dropping his coverage, but the insurance company beat him to it, informing him recently that it would cancel his policy at year’s end.
He sought advice from an insurance agent who had used his moving company. She connected him with an application counselor at a community health center, who found — to Mr. Acosta’s astonishment — that he qualified for Medicaid under the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, which gives states the option of expanding the program to include more low-income adults.
“I’m kind of in a disbelieving fog,” Mr. Acosta said last week, two days after completing an application. “I’m just hoping, keeping my fingers crossed, that this might really help me out.”
With HealthCare.gov finally working, Democrats are able to fight back in the Obamacare anecdote war.
The White House and its outside allies are already ramping up a massive effort to emphasize the personal stories of people getting coverage under the health care law — ground that Democrats were largely forced to concede to the GOP during the uproar over canceled insurance policies.
Collecting constituent stories has been a focus of the Republican strategy against the health law for several weeks. But now, with HealthCare.gov working better and enrollment beginning to surge, Democrats are prepared to launch a deluge of pro-Obamacare anecdotes as they try to promote enrollment and make a political sales pitch for the Affordable Care Act.
…. This week, Enroll America and some of its partner organizations — including Families USA and Planned Parenthood — is launching a major new initiative to highlight positive experiences of those enrolling in coverage. The push will involve a coordinated weekly theme that highlights stories of certain demographics.
If the president had a tough November, he’s certainly making up for it this month. Not only has Healthcare.gov performing at peak efficiency, killing the GOP’s favorite anti-Obamacare doomsday talking point, today’s jobs report recorded the lowest unemployment rate since before President Obama took office, with 203,000 jobs created in November. Reports suggest that in the first two days of December alone, the national website enrolled Americans at the rate of nearly 15,000 a day, while 1.5 million Americans living in poverty have gained coverage under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion – an advance blunted only by Republican governors’ and state legislators’ refusal to accept full federal funding to expand coverage.
This must be awkward for the Republicans (and for the Democrats of little faith who began to turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble with the website) – or, it would be if they had any shred of decency left. Their talking points against Obamacare are falling like flies. Not only have jobs been created in the private sector every single month since Obamacare was enacted, just as it is ready to go into full effect, unemployment dips to 7% and new jobless claims have fallen to below 300,000.
TPM: Americans Discover They’re Trapped In GOP’s Medicaid Expansion Gap
With HealthCare.gov working better and the first deadline to sign up for health coverage that starts in January approaching, Obamacare’s so-called navigators — the people and organizations receiving federal funds to help people enroll — are seeing more and people come through the doors and out to their events.
…. with HealthCare.gov finally performing better, this has been their busiest time since the Oct. 1 launch. But in 25 states, that robust interest has a downside: Navigators are forced to tell more and more people that they probably won’t be able to get covered because their state, all of which had a GOP-controlled legislative chamber or governor, have refused to expand Medicaid. Lynne Thorp, who is overseeing the University of South Florida’s navigator program in that state, told TPM that about one in four people who contact her team fall into that Medicaid gap.
“Those are hardest phone calls because it doesn’t make any sense to them,” Thorp said. “We have to explain that they fall into this gap where this program can’t assist them.”
Huffington Post: Top Georgia Democrat Fights To Prove Obamacare Can Overcome Deep South Resistance
For Democrats like Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s House minority leader, advocating for the Affordable Care Act in a strongly conservative state is a daunting task. Her Republican colleagues, who control the state legislature, are staunch opponents of the law, and Gov. Nathan Deal is one of 20 GOP governors who rejected the Medicaid expansion.
That alone would seem like enough for state Rep. Abrams and her Democratic colleagues to tackle, but it doesn’t end there. Last month, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, another Georgia Republican, chaired a congressional oversight hearing in Gainesville during which a handful of cherry-picked witnesses spoke only of being harmed by the health care law.
….. But despite the litany of obstacles facing Obamacare in her state, Abrams said that Georgians are “hungry for information” on what the law means for them and how they can sign up. She has made it her mission to bring that directly to them, by leading events explaining the Affordable Care Act to people across Georgia, many of whom have spent decades waiting for access to health insurance.
Steve Benen: Obama warns of ‘unemployment cliff’ consequences
In just 19 days, federal emergency unemployment benefits will expire for 1.3 million struggling Americans, and in the hopes of raising the issue’s visibility, President Obama devoted his weekly address to the subject over the weekend.
…. The rhetoric certainly sounded compelling and had the added benefit of being accurate. But the decision isn’t up to Obama; it falls to Congress to approve an extension before the Dec. 28 deadline. And on Fox News yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul helped encapsulate why progress appears highly unlikely:
“I do support 26 weeks of unemployment that they’re paid for, if you extend it beyond that you do a disservice to these workers,” Paul said. Paul said that business surveys indicate a reluctance to hire workers who have been on unemployment insurance for lengthy periods.
Got that? Paul believes cutting off aid to jobless Americans during a period of high unemployment is doing those folks and their families a favor.
There’s been a simmering controversy in New Jersey, which initially appeared a little too outlandish to take seriously. But late Friday afternoon, the story took an interesting turn:
A Port Authority official with close ties to Gov. Chris Christie is resigning after state lawmakers questioned whether lane closings on the George Washington Bridge that led to extensive traffic backups in September were politically motivated….
… It still seems hard to believe anyone would cause massive traffic jams as part of a petty, partisan dispute, but the questions raised thus far haven’t received reasonable answers. It’s a story worth keeping an eye on.
Pete Souza: “The day we were leaving for Oslo, the President’s first meeting of the morning was with his speechwriting team. He said he had stayed up most of the night writing. I was surprised to see that he had handwritten the entire speech so I made a few close-up pictures as he went over the speech with his aides in the Oval Office.” Dec. 9, 2009
First Lady Michelle Obama reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” at the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks to Secret Service Uniformed Division officers as he walks through the magnetometer in the Northwest Gatehouse at the White House, following his visit to Blair House, Dec. 9, 2011. The President told a reporter as he exited the gatehouse, “I just wanted to see what it was like getting in here.” (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama, with mother-in-law Marian Robinson, daughters Sasha and Malia, and First Lady Michelle Obama, react as they push the button to light the National Christmas Tree during a ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2012 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
5:0: The First family attends the National Christmas Tree lighting; President Obama delivers remarks
So much for my intention never to watch anything from MSNBC again … but I never knew the story behind this photo – here it is:
NYT (June 2013): In Mandela, Obama Found a Beacon Who Inspired From Afar
Barack Obama had been a United States senator for just weeks in early 2005 when Oprah Winfrey offered to carry a message for him to Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African leader.
Mr. Obama disappeared into a back room in Ms. Winfrey’s television studio to write the note, but he was gone so long that his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, popped his head in after half an hour.
“You’ve got to give me some time here,” Mr. Obama, pen in hand, told Mr. Gibbs, who recalled the moment recently. “I can’t just wing a note to Nelson Mandela.”
…. The two have met in person only once, in a spontaneous encounter in Washington in 2005, when Mr. Mandela was in town and was urged by advisers to take a few minutes to meet a rising Democratic senator named Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama was in a car, on the way to a meeting, but diverted to the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, where Mr. Mandela was staying. The conversation produced a lasting image of Mr. Obama, in silhouette, standing next to a reclining Mr. Mandela.
I have deliberately stayed away from commenting on Mandela, not because I have no appreciation for who he was and what he did, but rather both who he was and what he did are beyond my ability to pay tribute to.
I first heard about him about the same time I was reading Patton’s Cry, The Beloved Country. Looking back, it was like it was fated the two would happen together. Here I was reading, and being deeply influenced by, a book that exposed the worse of the apartheid system while along came a person who was willing to sacrifice everything to bring it to an end.
I remember being aghast at the hatred I heard expressed whenever his name was mentioned and the open support for the system of apartheid. Remember, this was during the Civil Rights era here and I was old enough to recognize that part of the support for apartheid was a defense of this country’s segregation policies. I think many were so against Mandela because they knew that if South Africa was able to end its racist approach to existence then the US would be at the forefront of nations that deliberately and maliciously oppressed a major segment of its population.
LL made a comment last night about how in SA they were celebrating his life, not mourning his loss. And that is the way it should be. The man gave so much of himself not for his own glory, which I think matter not one whit to him, but for the welfare of his people. And by “his people” I mean the people of SA, no matter what their color or religion was. He knew that oppression impacts both the oppressed and the oppressors in negative ways. He was never into revenge for prior wrongs but rather about having all move forward. Considering all that was done to him, that may well be his greatest legacy.
I’m breaking my MSNBC boycott again :???: – but only for the President!
Avoided depression. Huge health reform. Jump-started clean energy. School reform. Financial reform. Kinda consequential presidency, no?
Steve Benen: Job growth picks up steam, unemployment drops
Expectations going into this morning’s new monthly jobs report were fairly strong, and as it turns out, the totals from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were even better than expected.
According to the new BLS report, the U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs in November, ahead of economists’ predictions. In a pleasant change of pace, the public sector did not drag down the overall figures – the private sector added 196,000 jobs, while the public sector, which has hemorrhaged jobs in recent years, added 7,000.
The overall unemployment rate dropped 7%. That’s a five-year low, though it’s a little misleading – it reflects furloughed federal workers who returned to their jobs after the government shutdown ended.
Bloomberg: Payroll Gains in U.S. on Track for Best Year Since 2005
Job growth in November was probably strong enough to keep payroll gains on track for the best year since 2005, economists said before a report today.
Employers added 185,000 workers last month after taking on 204,000 in October, based on the median forecast of 89 economists in a Bloomberg survey before today’s report from the Labor Department. The unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent, matching an almost five-year low, from 7.3 percent as federal employees returned to work, according to the survey median.
The pickup in employment over the last three months signals companies are confident that demand will improve and gives American workers the means to spend.
Washington Post: Refusing Medicaid expansion will cost states billions of dollars
When the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the federal government could not compel states to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, it gave Republican opponents of the measure the opportunity to decline to participate in one of the law’s central tenets. But a new study estimates the decision not to participate will cost those states billions of dollars over the next decade — costs that will be passed on to taxpayers.
…. By refusing to expand Medicaid, Texas will forgo $9.2 billion in federal funding in 2022. Florida, another state that has said it won’t expand Medicaid, stands to lose more than $5 billion.
Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia will all forgo more than $2 billion in federal funding, while Louisiana, Oklahoma and Wisconsin will miss out on more than $1 billion. Both Tennessee and Indiana, two states that have yet to formally decide whether to expand the program, face losing more than $2 billion in federal funding if they decide against expansion.
As overflow guests look on in the Grand Foyer, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wait to be introduced before the Kennedy Center Honors event that was held in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 6, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Pete Souza: “Having seen more than 25 Bruce Springsteen concerts since 1978 and having seen just about every movie Robert DeNiro has ever made, it was a great thrill to be in their presence as the President greeted them before the Kennedy Center Honors at the White House.” Dec. 6, 2009
President Obama and Vice President Biden talk before the start of the Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama applaud Bruce Springsteen during the Kennedy Center Honors, Dec. 6, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a formal portrait in front of the official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room of the White House, Dec. 6, 2009 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Obama tours the biotech facilities at Forsyth Technical Community College West Campus in Winston-Salem, N.C., Dec. 6, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Pete Souza: “En route to his speech at Osawatomie High School in Kansas, I noticed a lot of people lining the motorcade route. So on departure, I rode in his vehicle so I could photograph some of the onlookers waving to the President.” Dec. 6, 2011
President Obama arrives aboard Marine One at Osawatomie-Paola Municipal Airport in Osawatomie, Kan., Dec. 6, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama prays with, from left: Richard Santana, Velma Massenburg, Jimmie Massenburg, and Tiffany Santana, during a visit to the Santana’s home in Falls Church, Va., Dec. 6, 2012 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Visiting Robben Island – The rock quarry labor camp where Nelson Mandela was forced to work as a prisoner
The First Lady: Today, our family visited Robben Island for an experience we will never forget. Robben Island is located off the coast of South Africa, and from the 1960s through the 1990s, this Island housed a maximum security prison. Many of the prisoners there – including the guide for our visit, a man named Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada – were activists who worked to bring down Apartheid, the South African government’s policies that discriminated against people of color. Under Apartheid, people of different races were separated in nearly every part of South African society. They were forced to attend separate schools, live in separate neighborhoods, even swim at separate beaches – and in nearly every case, the neighborhoods, schools and other facilities for black people were much worse than the ones for white people.