President-Elect Barack Obama
[AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY]
Before we get into the subject of today’s press conference, there are a
couple of issues I’d like to address.
Today, we received more unsettling news about our economy: jobless
claims are now the highest they’ve been in 26 years, with more than
570,000 people filing for unemployment benefits for the first
time. And this news comes at a moment when our auto industry is
struggling, threatening the jobs, health care and pensions of not just
thousands of American auto workers, but dealers, suppliers and others
all across America.
I understand people’s anger and frustration at the situation our auto
companies find themselves in today. I raised concerns about the
health of our auto industry a year and a half ago, when I spoke to
industry leaders in Detroit. I urged them to act quickly to adopt
new technologies and a new business approach that would help them stay
competitive in these changing times. And while they’ve failed to
move quickly enough toward these goals, at this moment of great
challenge for our economy, we cannot simply stand by and watch this
industry collapse. Doing so would lead to a devastating ripple
effect throughout our economy.
As I have said repeatedly, I believe our government should provide
short-term assistance to the auto industry to avoid a collapse, while
holding the companies accountable and protecting taxpayers’
interests. The legislation in Congress right now is an important
step in that direction, and I am hopeful that a final agreement can be
reached this week.
I am also aware of your interest in the matter of the Illinois Senate
appointment. Let me say that I was as appalled as anyone by the
revelations earlier this week. I have never spoken with the
Governor on this subject. And I am quite confident that no
representatives of mine would have had any part in any deals related to
this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. Attorney
reflect that. I have asked my team to gather the facts of any
contacts with the Governor’s staff about this vacancy so we can share
them with you. And we will do that in the next few days.
Finally, on this matter, let me say that this Senate seat does not
belong to any politician to trade – it belongs to the people of
Illinois, and they deserve the best possible representation. They
also deserve to know that any vacancy will be filled in an appropriate
way. I hope and expect that the leaders of the legislature will
take steps to ensure that this is so.
I’d now like to turn to the topic of today’s press conference.
Over the past few weeks, Vice President Biden and I have announced key
members of our economic team, who are working as we speak to craft a
recovery program that will save and create millions of jobs and grow
our struggling economy.
Today, I am pleased to announce two leading members of my health care
team whose work will be critical to those efforts: Senator Tom Daschle
and Dr. Jeanne Lambrew. I have asked Tom to serve not just as my
Secretary of Health and Human Services – but also as Director of my
White House Office of Health Reform. As such, he will be
responsible not just for implementing our health care plan – he will
also be the lead architect of that plan. Jeanne will serve as
Deputy Director of this office, working closely with Tom on these
It is hard to overstate the urgency of their work. Over the past
eight years, premiums have nearly doubled – and more families are
facing more medical debt than ever before. 45 million of our
fellow citizens have no health insurance at all – and day after day, we
witness the disgrace of parents unable to take a sick child to the
doctor, seniors unable to afford their medicines, people who wind up in
the emergency room because they have nowhere else to turn. Year
after year, our leaders offer up detailed health care plans with great
fanfare and promise, only to see them fail, derailed by Washington
politics and influence peddling.
This simply cannot continue. The runaway cost of health care is
punishing families and businesses across our country. We are on
an unsustainable course, and it has to change. The time has come
– this year, in this new Administration – to modernize our health care
system for the twenty-first century; to reduce costs for families and
businesses; and to finally provide affordable, accessible health care
for every American.
Now, some may ask how, at this moment of economic challenge, we can
afford to invest in reforming our health care system. Well, I ask
a different question – I ask how we can afford not to.
Right now, small businesses across America are laying people off or
shutting their doors for good because of rising health care
costs. And some of the largest corporations in America –
including major American car makers – are struggling to compete with
foreign companies unburdened by these costs. Instead of investing
in research and development, instead of expanding and creating new
jobs, our companies are pouring more and more money into a health care
system that is failing too many families.
So let’s be clear: if we want to overcome our economic challenges, we
must also finally address our health care challenge.
I can think of no one better suited to lead this effort than the man
standing beside me today.
Tom Daschle is one of America’s foremost health care experts. He
and Jeanne have written a groundbreaking book on the subject, filled
with fresh ideas and creative solutions. And Tom’s thinking on
this issue is informed not just by statistics he’s studied or policy
papers he’s read, but by his years representing the people of South
Dakota, witnessing firsthand their struggles as hospitals closed,
doctors were few and far between, and care was often out of reach.
But Tom brings more than just great expertise to this task, he brings
the respect he earned during his years of leadership in Congress.
He knows how to reach across the aisle and bridge partisan
divides. And he has the trust of folks from every angle of this
issue: doctors, nurses and patients; unions and businesses; hospitals
and advocacy groups – all of whom will have a seat at the table as we
craft our plan.
And once we pass this legislation, I know I can rely on Tom to
implement it effectively. A gifted manager, Tom is the original
no-drama guy – known for speaking softly, but leading boldly – always
treating his staff with respect, while demanding excellence and
empowering them to deliver. And I know Tom will bring that same
decency, graciousness and pragmatism to this new role.
Tom could not have a better partner in this work than Jeanne
Lambrew. Jeanne brings a depth and range of experience on health
care that few can match. She’s a leading thinker on this issue,
nationally recognized for her research on Medicare, Medicaid, long term
care and the uninsured. She’s a policy and budget expert, having
served at a senior level at both the Office of Management and Budget
and the National Economic Council. She helped lead the effort in
the White House to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and
she helped craft the President’s Medicare reform plan and long-term
And like Tom, Jeanne has a personality perfectly suited to reaching out
and building consensus. She listens. She treats people
well. She – like Tom – believes, as Tom put it in his farewell
address to the Senate, that “The politics of common ground will not be
found on the far right or on the far left. That is not where most
Americans live. We will only find it in the firm middle ground of
common sense and shared values.”
I could not agree more, and I look forward to working with Tom and
Jeanne in the months and years ahead.