President Obama sees 2014 as ‘breakthrough year for America’
By Hazel Trice Edney
Trice Edney Newswire
WASHINGTON — Announcing that more than a million Americans have now registered for a plan through the Affordable Health Care Act, President Obama, in a last minute press conference before leaving for vacation in Hawaii, said he envisions 2014 as a “breakthrough year for America.”
“I think 2014 needs to be a year of action,” Obama said. “I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America.”
The President’s declaration came as he prepared for Christmas vacation in Hawaii with his family. In fact, he was full of good news after the past three months of scorching criticism over a broken healthcare.gov and approval ratings in the lower 40th percentile.
“For all the challenges we’ve had and all the challenges that we’ve been working on diligently in dealing with both the ACA and the website these past couple months, more than half a million Americans have enrolled through healthcare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone,” he told reporters in the White House Press Room. “In the federal website, tens of thousands are enrolling every single day. Since October 1st, more than one million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces.
He continued, “So all told, millions of Americans, despite the problems with the website, are now poised to be covered by quality, affordable health insurance come New Year’s Day. Now, this holiday season, there are mothers and fathers and entrepreneurs and workers who have something new to celebrate — the security of knowing that when the unexpected or misfortune strikes, hardship no longer has to.”
The now fully accessible healthcare.gov is especially good news for African Americans. Blacks suffer the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group. This has been largely because of a lack of affordable and quality health care.
The President also pointed to a declining unemployment rate, which overall dropped from 7.3 percent to 7 percent between October and November; and from 13.1 to 12.5 for African Americans for those two months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A closer look at those stats still reflect a vast racial disparity as the white unemployment rate dropped from 6.3 to 6.2 percent half the rate of African Americans.
Not mentioning any racial differences in his press conference, the president pointed out the overall rate is at its lowest point in five years. The BLS predicts that rate will get better. On Dec. 19, the agency predicted that employment will grow 10.8 percent from 2012 to 2022, adding 15.6 million jobs. “Occupations and industries related to healthcare are projected to add the most new jobs,” reports BLS.gov.
President Obama is seizing the moment. “More Americans are finding work and experiencing the pride of a paycheck. Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs,” he said. “But as I outlined in detail earlier this month, we all know there’s a lot more that we’re going to have to do to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for every American. And that’s going to require some action.”
He pointed to both houses of Congress passing a bi-partisan budget bill last week as an example of action to be applauded and continued. Widely criticized as a “do-nothing” Congress mired in partisan bickering, the president set aside his criticism to praise Capitol Hill for unifying behind a bill that meant compromise for both sides.
“For the first time in years, both parties in both houses of Congress came together to pass a budget. That unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that created headwinds for our economy. It clears the path for businesses and for investments we need to strengthen our middle class, like education and scientific research. And it means the American people won’t be exposed to the threat of another reckless shutdown every few months. So that’s a good thing,” President Obama said. «It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship. But it’s also fair to say we’re not condemned to endless gridlock.”
He pointed out one sore spot: The failure of Republicans to support the extension of unemployment benefits to millions who will suddenly have no income without it.
“Because Congress didn’t act, more than one million of their constituents will lose a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime, leaving a lot of job-seekers without any source of income at all,” Obama said. “I think we’re a better country than that. We don’t abandon each other when times are tough. Keep in mind unemployment insurance only goes to folks who are actively looking for work — a mom who needs help feeding her kids when she sends out her resumes, or a dad who needs help paying the rent while working part-time and still earning the skills he needs for that new job.”
He called for Congress to revisit the issue immediately. “I know a bipartisan group is working on a three-month extension of this insurance. They should pass it, and I’ll sign it right away.”
Ultimately, because the President can only request — not force — Congress to introduce or pass legislation, he is concentrating mostly on the areas where he has most control — including influencing the economy.
“We’ve got work to do to create more good jobs, to help more Americans earn the skills and education they need to do those jobs and to make sure that those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security,” he stressed. “We’ve got to build on the progress we’ve painstakingly made over these last five years with respect to our economy and offer the middle class and all those who are looking to join the middle class a better opportunity, and that’s going to be where I focus all of my efforts in the year ahead.”