Category Archives: Senate

President Obama Nominates Timothy Massad as Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair, 11/12/13

The President:

“Good afternoon, everybody. Have a seat. Five years ago today, we were in some of the darkest days of one of the worst economic crises in our history. A financial catastrophe on Wall Street was rapidly fueling a punishing recession on Main Street. We were looking over the horizon and seeing the potential for a Great Depression, not merely a great recession. And so we prepared steps to rescue our economy and put people back to work. But one of our top priorities was also to make sure that a crisis like this never happened again.

And the result was historic Wall Street reform that put in place smarter, tougher, common-sense rules of the road to protect consumers and to end taxpayer-funded bailouts once and for all. Now, five years later, our economy is growing. Our businesses are creating jobs. Our markets have hit record highs and there’s no doubt our financial system is more stable. And a big reason for that stability is the work of a small but mighty independent agency: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Was that a little — (laughter.)

The CFTC has many responsibilities. Under Wall Street reform, one of them is to guard against some of the most reckless and irresponsible practices at the heart of the financial crisis. And this includes making sure big banks can’t make risky bets with their customers’ deposits — something we call the “Volcker Rule.” It also includes oversight of risky trading in derivatives — some of the complex products that were part of what precipitated the crisis five years ago and products that Warren Buffett once called “financial weapons of mass destruction” even before they nearly brought down AIG and sparked the financial wildfire on Wall Street.

So these reforms will protect consumers and make financial systems stronger, more competitive, helping to restore confidence in our markets — confidence that markets around the world depend on. And that’s why the CFTC has worked tirelessly to implement these reforms. But they need the resources and the regulators to finish the job, and so that’s why we’re here today.

When I named Gary Gensler to lead the CFTC, I hadn’t even taken office yet. We were about a month and a half into my transition. Our economy was bleeding 800,000 jobs a month. The truth is nobody knew where the bottom would be. Around that time, Gary sat down with Tim Geithner, who would become my Treasury Secretary, as well as Mary Schapiro, who would become Chairperson of the SEC, and began sketching out on a yellow pad the early outlines of what financial reform would look like. And ever since, Gary has worked tirelessly to make it real.

Gary has one of the smallest budgets of any of the agencies charged with protecting consumers, but he has done as much as anybody to implement financial reform. Under his watch, the CFTC has transformed what was a secretive and shadowy derivatives market by bringing large parts of it onto exchanges to transparent trading. And CFTC is working hand in hand with other agencies to protect consumers by implementing the Volcker Rule, which Secretary Lew has called on regulators to complete by the end of the year.

They’ve successfully imposed nearly $1.8 billion in penalties against financial firms that engaged in rate-fixing schemes. They worked to make sure that an irresponsible few can’t hurt consumers by illegally manipulating or rigging energy markets for their own gain. And they’ve done it all while a swarm of special interest lobbyists have done everything possible to thwart their every move. Gary has never once let his team forget what this is all about — the American people, folks we are so privileged to serve. So before I introduce his successor, please join me in thanking Gary for his outstanding service. (Applause.)

Gary, as always a team player, says also a whole bunch of CFTC people are here. We want to congratulate you. My working assumption is a bunch of them will be here even after Tim goes and does whatever he does next, because the next person who is going to be taking over is going to need a whole bunch of outstanding, experienced regulators, some of whom are in this room.

The man I’ve chosen to succeed Gary at the CFTC is Timothy Massad. And for the past few years, Tim has been charged with — let’s face it — the thankless task of winding down a program that no one ever particularly liked, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, also known as TARP. He’s quietly been very successful at it. President Bush rightly began this program to stop the downward spiral in late 2008. And we continued that effort, modifying the program to rescue the American auto industry as well.

Now, under Tim’s watch, not only have the banks that benefited from TARP repaid nearly every single dollar, but he has secured a positive return of nearly $30 billion to the American taxpayer. He has worked tirelessly to improve TARP programs that help more struggling homeowners stay in their homes, more hard-hit communities remove the blight of vacant homes from their neighborhoods. At the Treasury Department, he has launched new online tools that allow American consumers to track where the funds went and what — when they were repaid. And that’s a commitment to transparency and openness that I know that he wants to continue at the CFTC.

Tim started at Treasury as the right-hand man to his predecessor Herb Allison, who passed away earlier this year and was an outstanding CEO as well as a public servant and whose work guiding our financial stability reforms we honor today. Tim was the right man to succeed Herb, and with a record that reflects a deep commitment to a reform agenda, which is why he’s the right man to succeed Gary as well. Tim is a guy who doesn’t seek the spotlight, but he consistently delivers. He gets a high return for American taxpayers without a lot of fanfare.

I have every confidence that he is the right man to lead an agency designed to prevent future crises -– because I think it’s safe to say that he never wants to have to manage something like TARP again. (Laughter.)

And I just found out that his lovely mother skydived on her 80th birthday — (laughter) — which to me is just very cool. (Laughter.) She’s very proud of him right now also.

So I urge the Senate to confirm Tim as soon as possible. Let him can get right into the vital work of protecting America’s economy and the American people.

And while I’m at it, I would urge Congress to give Tim and the CFTC the resources it needs to do the job. Ever since we passed Wall Street reform, its opponents have tried to starve funding for the agencies responsible for carrying it out. The men and women of the CFTC are charged with protecting us from financial harm, but they are undermanned. They are outgunned. They are working overtime. The sequester cuts have made it even harder for them to do their job. They’ve lost 5 percent of their team this year.

Recently, Gary announced that some have to drop — that they have to drop some open enforcement cases because Congress won’t allow them the resources required to do their jobs and complete these cases. This is like not having enough cops on the beat, not having enough prosecutors to prosecute crimes. This makes us safer. It makes our financial system work better, and it’s foolish for us not to adequately resource it.

The Republican leader in the Senate said a while back that the less we fund these agencies, the better America will be. That is just not true. We know that’s not true. We’ve got the scars to prove it, given what happened in 2007 and 2008. And that’s why we can’t let an army of lobbyists and their allies in Congress delay, defund, dismantle the rules that were designed to protect consumers and prevent a crisis from happening again. We can’t go back to the days when bad behavior could nearly bring down the entire economy unless taxpayers stepped in to rescue it. And anybody who is working hard to dismantle any of these reforms will have to explain to the American people why they did that when and if a crisis ever does happen again.

It’s important to realize that financial reform is not about punishment; it’s about making sure that everybody plays by the same set of clear and transparent rules that encourage responsible innovation and competition, and discourage fraud and manipulation, and above all, protect the American people. And these regulations can work when people allow it to work.

Let me just give you one example: One of the things we did was pass a credit card bill of rights that imposed a new standard of fairness, transparency and accountability on credit card companies. And that means a simpler bill with no more hidden fees, no more shifting deadlines or sudden changes of terms or “any time, any reason” rate hikes. That wasn’t designed to punish credit card companies; they provide a valuable service, they deserve to turn a profit. A recent study by independent economists show that these new protections are saving consumers more than $20 billion a year.

The men and women who work for agencies like the CFTC, charged with financial reform in consumer protection, this is the work that they do: Save consumers money and prevent systemic risk from happening again. They’ve exposed deceptive mortgage schemes, abusive debt collection practices that prey on Americans who were hit hard by the recession. They’ve partnered with states to secure a $50 billion settlement for 600,000 homeowners who were targeted by some of these mortgage schemes. The new consumer watchdog agency we set up is working to empower students and veterans and families with the straightforward information they need to make sound financial choices like buying a home or paying for college. And so far, it has secured more than $700 million in refunds to more than nearly 8 million hardworking American consumers who were abused by unfair or abusive practices.

So that’s what financial reform is all about. That’s what a well-functioning CFTC is all about: Protecting hardworking Americans by making sure everyone plays by the same set of rules, preserving trust in the integrity of our markets and our financial system, preventing a crisis like the one we endured from ever happening again. And we’ve come too far and the American people have sacrificed too much to go back to the old days. Our economy is growing, our businesses are creating jobs, and those of us who have been sent here to serve should be doing everything we can to strengthen the middle class, strengthen the financial markets, and rebuild an economy where everybody who works hard has a chance to get ahead.

That has been what Gary has been up to the entire time that he has served at the CFTC. We couldn’t be prouder of the work that he has done. I’m confident that as soon as Congress confirms Tim and allows him to carry on that important work, he is going to be carrying those same values with him, with the outstanding team that we have at this agency.

So to both of you, thanks for being great public servants. Gary, good luck to you. And Tim, congratulations. Let’s get you confirmed.” (Applause.)

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President Obama Speaks on Immigration Reform, 6/11/13

“This week, the Senate will consider a common-sense, bipartisan bill that is the best chance we’ve had in years to fix our broken immigration system. It will build on what we’ve done and continue to strengthen our borders. It will make sure that businesses and workers are all playing by the same set of rules, and it includes tough penalties for those who don’t. It’s fair for middle-class families, by making sure that those who are brought into the system pay their fair share in taxes and for services. And it’s fair for those who try to immigrate legally by stopping those who try to skip the line. It’s the right thing to do.

Now, this bill isn’t perfect. It’s a compromise. And going forward, nobody is going to get everything that they want — not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But this is a bill that’s largely consistent with the principles that I and the people on this stage have laid out for common-sense reform.

First of all, if passed, this bill would be the biggest commitment to border security in our nation’s history. It would put another $6.5 billion — on top of what we’re already spending — towards stronger, smarter security along our borders. It would increase criminal penalties against smugglers and traffickers. It would finally give every employer a reliable way to check that every person they’re hiring is here legally. And it would hold employers more accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers. So it strengthens border security, but also enforcement within our borders.

I know there’s a lot of talk right now about border security, so let me repeat — today, illegal crossings are near their lowest level in decades. And if passed, the Senate bill as currently written and as hitting the floor would put in place the toughest border enforcement plan that America has ever seen. So nobody is taking border enforcement lightly. That’s part of this bill.

Number two, this bill would provide a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are in this country illegally. So that pathway is arduous. You’ve got to pass background checks. You’ve got to learn English. You’ve got to pay taxes and a penalty. And then you’ve got to go to the back of the line behind everybody who’s done things the right way and have tried to come here legally.

So this won’t be a quick process. It will take at least 13 years before the vast majority of these individuals are able to even apply for citizenship. So this is no cakewalk. But it’s the only way we can make sure that everyone who’s here is playing by the same rules as ordinary families — paying taxes and getting their own health insurance.

That’s why, for immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship. If we’re asking everybody to play by the same rules, you got to give people a sense of certainty that they go through all these sacrifices, do all this, that there’s at the end of the horizon, the opportunity — not the guarantee, but the opportunity — to be part of this American family. And by the way, a majority of Americans support this idea.

Number three, this bill would modernize the legal immigration system so that, alongside training American workers for the jobs of tomorrow, we’re also attracting the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers from around the world who will ultimately grow our economy. And this bill would help make sure that our people don’t have to wait years before their loved ones are able to join them here in America….

If you’re not serious about it, if you think that a broken system is the best America can do, then I guess it might make sense to try to block it. But if you’re actually serious and sincere about fixing a broken system, this is the vehicle to do it. And now is the time to get it done.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/14Twifx

Remarks by the President Nominating Jason Furman as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, 6/10/13

“It’s now been nearly five years since an economic crisis and a punishing recession came together to cost far too many Americans their jobs, and their homes, and the sense of security that they had built up over time. And by the time I took office, my team and I were facing bubbles that had burst; markets that had cratered; bank after bank on the verge of collapse. And the heartbeat of American manufacturing, our auto industry, was flatlining. And all this meant that hundreds of thousands of Americans were losing their jobs each month. So this was a scary time. And nobody had any idea where the bottom would be.

Four and a half years later, our businesses have created nearly 7 million new jobs over the past 36 months. The American auto industry has come roaring back. We’re producing more of our own energy, we’re consuming less that we import from other countries. Our deficits are shrinking rapidly. The cost of health care is slowing. The housing market is rebounding. People’s retirement savings are growing. The wealth that was lost from that recession has now been recovered.

All of this progress is a testament to the grit and resolve of the American people, most of all. But it’s also due in some measurable way to the incredible dedication of the men and women who helped to engineer America’s response. And two of those people are standing next to me, two very smart economists: Alan Krueger and Jason Furman….

And Alan is driven by the basic bargain at the heart of our economy — the idea that hard work should be rewarded. He’s motivated by the principle that no one who works full-time in the greatest nation on Earth should have to raise their families in poverty or below poverty levels….

I’m also proud to nominate another outstanding economist to take his place. Jason Furman is one of the most brilliant economic minds of his generation, don’t take my word for it — you can talk to other economists who know a lot more than I do about it. He’s won the respect and admiration from his peers across the political spectrum. His Ph.D. thesis advisor, Greg Mankiw, chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush. Nobel Prize Winner Joe Stiglitz, on the other side of the economic spectrum, hired Jason to work for the CEA under President Clinton.

After leaving President Clinton’s White House, Jason finished his Ph.D. in economics, quickly acquired a reputation as a world-class scholar and researcher. But public service kept calling, and Jason kept answering that call because he believes deeply in it. So from working at the World Bank on issues of inequality and international finance to developing new proposals to strengthen our health and retirement programs, he helped to shape some of our most important economic policy debates.

…. And over the last five years I’ve come to trust not only his head, but also his heart, because Jason never forgets who it is that we’re fighting for: middle-class families, folks who are working hard to climb their way into the middle class, the next generation.

And when the stakes are highest, there’s no one I’d rather turn to for straightforward, unvarnished advice that helps me to do my job. He understands all sides of an argument, not just one side of it. He’s worked tirelessly on just about every major economic challenge of the past four and a half years, from averting a second depression, to fighting for tax cuts that help millions of working families make ends meet, to creating new incentives for businesses to hire, to reducing our deficits in a balanced way that benefits the middle class….

So a growing economy that creates good middle-class jobs, that rewards hard work and responsibility, that’s our North Star. Jason shares that focus. I know Alan shares that passion. And Jason’s new role as the Chairman of the Economic — Council of Economic Advisors, he’ll be working with some of our country’s leading economists, including Jim Stock, who has joined us. And I’m relying on them to provide analysis and recommendations with just one thing in mind: What’s going to do the most good for the most people in this country — not what’s best for a political party, not what’s best for a special interest. I don’t have another election. It’s not what’s best for me — what’s best for our middle class, and everybody who is working hard to get there. That’s what the American people deserve.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/11DtqWe

West Wing Week: 06/07/13 or “Cooler at Night”

This week, the President urged Congress not to let student loan rates double and to confirm three judges for the federal appeals court in Washington, held bilateral meetings with the NATO Secretary-General and the President of Chile, kicked off a National Conference on Mental Health, honored the Super Bowl champions, and announced a major new initiative called ConnectED, while the Vice President wrapped up a weeklong trip to South America.

President’s Weekly Address, 6/8/13: Time to Pass Commonsense Immigration Reform

“Hi, everybody. In the next few days, America will take an important step towards fixing our broken immigration system. The entire United States Senate will begin debating a commonsense immigration reform bill that has bipartisan support.

See, we define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. The promise we find in those who come from every corner of the globe has always been one of our greatest strengths. It’s kept our workforce vibrant and dynamic. It’s kept our businesses on the cutting edge. And it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.

But for years, our out-of-date immigration system has actually harmed our economy and threatened our security.

Now, over the past four years, we’ve taken steps to try and patch up some of the worst cracks in the system.

We strengthened security on the southern border by putting more boots on the ground than at any time in our history. And, in part, by using technology more effectively – today, illegal crossings are near their lowest level in decades.

We focused enforcement efforts on criminals who are here illegally – who endanger our communities – and today, we deport more criminals than ever before.

And we took up the cause of “Dreamers,” the young people who were brought to this country as children. We said that if they’re able to meet certain criteria, we’d consider offering them the chance to come out of the shadows so they can continue to work here, and study here, and contribute to our communities legally.

But if we’re going to truly fix a broken system, we need Congress to act in a comprehensive way. And that’s why what’s happening next week is so important.

The bill before the Senate isn’t perfect. It’s a compromise. Nobody will get everything they want – not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But it is a bill that’s largely consistent with the principles I’ve repeatedly laid out for commonsense immigration reform.

This bill would continue to strengthen security at our borders, increase criminal penalties against smugglers and traffickers, and hold employers more accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers. If enacted, it would represent the most ambitious enforcement plan in recent memory.

This bill would provide a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are in this country illegally – a pathway that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes and a penalty, and then going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally.

This bill would modernize the legal immigration system so that, alongside training American workers for the jobs of tomorrow, we’re also attracting highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers who will grow our economy. And so that our people don’t have to wait years before their loved ones are able to join them in this country we love.

That’s what immigration reform looks like. Smarter enforcement. A pathway to earned citizenship. Improvements to the legal immigration system. They’re all commonsense steps. They’ve got broad support – from Republicans and Democrats, CEOs and labor leaders, law enforcement and clergy. So there is no reason that Congress can’t work together to send a bill to my desk by the end of the summer.

We know the opponents of reform are going to do everything they can to prevent that. They’ll try to stoke fear and create division. They’ll try to play politics with an issue that the vast majority of Americans want addressed. And if they succeed, we will lose this chance to finally fix an immigration system that is badly broken.

So if you agree that now is the time for commonsense reform, reach out to your Representatives. Tell them we have to get this done so that everyone is playing by the same rules. Tell them we have the power to do this in a way that lives up to our traditions as a nation of laws, and a nation of immigrants.

In the end, that’s what this is all about. Men and women who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story, just like so many of our ancestors did. Throughout our history, that has only made us stronger. And it’s how we’ll make sure that America’s best days always lie ahead.

Thanks. And have a great weekend.”

Source: http://1.usa.gov/18fJP8l

President Obama Announces Nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, 6/4/13

“So one of the most important responsibilities of a President is to nominate qualified men and women to serve as judges on the federal bench.

And Congress has a responsibility, as well. The Senate is tasked with providing advice and consent. They can approve a President’s nominee or they can reject a President’s nominee. But they have a constitutional duty to promptly consider judicial nominees for confirmation.

Now, throughout my first term as President, the Senate too often failed to do that. Time and again, congressional Republicans cynically used Senate rules and procedures to delay and even block qualified nominees from coming to a full vote.

As a result, my judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor. Let me repeat that: My nominees have taken three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor. These individuals that I nominate are qualified. When they were given an up or down vote in the Senate — when they were finally given an up or down vote in the Senate, every one of them was confirmed. So this is not about principled opposition. This is about political obstruction.

I recognize that neither party has a perfect track record here. Democrats weren’t completely blameless when I was in the Senate. But what’s happening now is unprecedented. For the good of the American people, it has to stop. Too much of the people’s business is at stake. Our legal framework depends on timely confirmations of judicial nominees. And nowhere is this more apparent than with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The D.C. Circuit is known as the second highest court in the country, and there’s a good reason for that. The judges on the D.C. Circuit routinely have the final say on a broad range of cases involving everything from national security to environmental policy; from questions of campaign finance to workers’ rights. In other words, the court’s decisions impact almost every aspect of our lives.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/15DYK7Q