By Jueseppi B.
Some responses from The White House Petition Response Page:
A Balanced Approach to Reforming the Postal Service
By Dana Hyde
Thank you for signing a petition about the U.S. Postal Service. We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov and your concerns about the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in a challenging economy. The Postal Service is vital to the Nation’s commerce and communications, which is why we must act quickly to make the changes necessary to ensure its viability for years to come.
Postal volumes have dropped precipitously in recent years due to longer-run shifts in communication technologies and other economic factors. As a result, USPS accrued losses of $8.5 billion in 2010, and faced financial insolvency on September 30th. Without reform it is forecast to sustain greater losses this year and next.
However, the Postal Service needs more than just short term financial relief at this time; it needs a comprehensive plan for reform to ensure that it can be flexible and competitive in a changing marketplace. There are multiple ways to provide relief and reform, but the Administration’s proposal in The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Job Creation [PDF] represents a balanced approach for postal workers, USPS, consumers, and taxpayers.
More specifically, the proposal includes a set of near-term financial relief measures that will provide the Postal Service with the time necessary to restructure its operations and take advantage of flexibilities in the proposal, such as the ability to cooperate with state and local governments and modest pricing flexibility.
In the longer term, we are proposing to help the Postal Service reduce its excessive operating costs by providing the flexibility to gradually move to 5-day delivery, beginning in 2013. Under USPS’ plan for how it would use this authority, post offices would still remain open on Saturdays, Express Mail deliveries would still be made 7 days a week, post office box deliveries would still be made on Saturdays, and USPS would continue to make Saturday deliveries in the busy weeks leading up to the winter Holidays. These and other cost structuring actions will ensure that the Postal Service remains viable for the medium- and longer-term.
We believe USPS’ financial situation demands such reforms and the Administration’s package includes provisions to reduce the impact for USPS workers and customers. We share petitioners’ concern for the health and viability of the USPS and developed this plan with the best interest of this vital institution in mind.
As we work to get our Nation back on a sustainable fiscal path, the Administration is making tough choices across the Federal government and asking everyone to do their fair share. These shared sacrifices are not easy, but together with investments in our economic growth and job creation [PDF], they will make us stronger and more competitive for the future.
Dana Hyde is Associate Director for General Government Programs, Office of Management and Budget
A Message from President Obama about Your Petition on Reducing Gun Violence
By Bruce Reed
In the days since the tragedy in Newtown, Americans from all over the country have called for action to deter mass shootings and reduce gun violence. Hundreds of thousands of you have signed petitions on the White House’s We the People petitions platform.
I’m writing you today to thank you for speaking up, to update you on an important development, and to encourage you to continue engaging with the White House on this critical issue.
First, you should know that President Obama is paying close to attention to the public response to this tragedy. In fact, he sat down to record a message specifically for those of you who have joined the conversation using We the People. Watch it now:
President Obama Responds to We the People Petitions Related to Gun Violence
On December 19, the President outlined a series of first steps we can take to begin the work of ending this cycle of violence. This is what he said:
We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides. And as I said on Sunday night, there’s no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun. We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.
But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence, and prevent the very worst violence.
Vice President Biden has been asked to work with members of the Administration, Congress, and the general public to come up with a set of concrete policy proposals by next month — proposals the President intends to push swiftly. The President asked the Vice President to lead this effort in part because he wrote and passed the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime in America. That bill included the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
As the Vice President’s Chief of Staff, I’m going to do everything I can to ensure we run a process that includes perspectives from all sides of the issue, which is why I wanted to respond to your petition myself. Two decades ago, as domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House, I first worked with Joe Biden as he fought to enact the Crime Bill, the assault weapons ban, and the Brady Bill. I will never forget what a key role the voices of concerned citizens like you played in that vital process.
The President called on Congress to pass important legislation “banning the sale of military-style assault weapons,” “banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips,” and “requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.”
An issue this serious and complex isn’t going to be resolved with a single legislative proposal or policy prescription. And let’s be clear, any action we take will respect the Second Amendment. As the President said:
Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that’s been handed down from generation to generation. Obviously across the country there are regional differences. There are differences between how people feel in urban areas and rural areas. And the fact is the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible — they buy their guns legally and they use them safely, whether for hunting or sport shooting, collection or protection.
But you know what, I am also betting that the majority — the vast majority — of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war. I’m willing to bet that they don’t think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas — that an unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily; that in this age of technology, we should be able to check someone’s criminal records before he or she can check out at a gun show; that if we work harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one in Newtown — or any of the lesser-known tragedies that visit small towns and big cities all across America every day.
The President said it best: “Ultimately if this effort is to succeed it’s going to require the help of the American people — it’s going to require all of you. If we’re going to change things, it’s going to take a wave of Americans — mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals — and, yes, gun owners — standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids.”
So let’s continue this conversation and get something meaningful done. If you have additional ideas and are interested in further engagement with the White House on this issue, please let us know and share your thoughts here:
Thank you for speaking out and staying involved.
Bruce Reed is Chief of Staff to Vice President Biden
Many many many of you are interested in this particular petition….
Addressing the Legalization of Marijuana
By Gil Kerlikowske
Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.
At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.
Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.
…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.
When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.
Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
Building a 21st Century Immigration System
By Felicia Escobar & Doug Rand
Thank you for signing the petition suggesting that the Obama Administration provide lawful permanent U.S. residency to foreign students who have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. institution of higher education.
We appreciate your voice in the immigration debate and on February 1st at 1:30 p.m. EST we will be holding a conference call to discuss the importance of reforming our immigration system – in particular, the impact of the existing system on foreign students. RSVP for the conference call to get the call in details and a reminder to join in.
President Obama is deeply committed to fixing our broken immigration system and building a 21st century immigration system that meets our economic and national security needs. The Administration consistently has supported the basic concept that we are a nation of laws but we’re also a nation of immigrants. In order to make lasting change, we have to create a system that works for our country.
Throughout our history, the United States has been enriched by a steady stream of hardworking and talented people from all over the world, including many individuals who first came to our country as students. These generations of immigrants have helped make America the engine of the global economy. Because your proposed reform requires changes to existing laws, Congressional action is needed to move forward.
The President has made it clear that our current immigration system requires updating and legislative reform to help strengthen our economic competitiveness and create a legal immigration system that meets our diverse needs. In May 2011, the Administration released the Blueprint for Immigration Reform (pdf) outlining the challenges we must tackle and the solutions we must implement if we are to build a 21st century immigration system, including encouraging top foreign talent to stay in the U.S. after they graduate from American universities. The Blueprint states as follows:
“[T]he President supports encouraging foreign students to stay in the U.S. and contribute to our economy by stapling a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), PhDs and select STEM Masters Degrees students so that they will stay, contribute to the American economy, and become Americans over time.”
The Administration has also taken steps to ensure that talented young people from abroad who are educated here in the U.S. have more time to contribute to our economy through work training or by starting a new business. The Department of Homeland Security has expanded the existing list of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension—an important step forward in expanding the Nation’s pool of talented graduates and potential entrepreneurs in science and technology fields. By expanding this list of STEM degrees, more of the world’s best and brightest will have an extra 17 months to remain in the U.S., beyond the initial 12 months available to all foreign student graduates.
You can help the Administration make lasting change to our broken immigration system. President Obama is calling for a national conversation on immigration reform that builds a bipartisan consensus to fix the broken immigration system so that it works for America’s 21st century economy. But he can’t do it alone. He is asking you and all Americans, including business leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement leaders and others, to continue the conversation in your community by hosting a round-table that elevates this important conversation. You can find out more and tell us about your round-table at www.whitehouse.gov/immigrationaction.
Thank you for making your voice heard. We greatly appreciate your interest and hope that you continue to share your views with the Administration. Don’t forget to RSVP for the conference call on February 1st at 1:30 p.m. EST.
This conference call has already taken place. For a wrap-up of what was discussed check out the blog post.
Thank you again for your petition suggesting that the Obama Administration provide lawful permanent residency to foreign students who have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. institution of higher education. Earlier this year, we provided an initial response to your petition and held a conference call to discuss the importance of reforming our immigration system, including the existing system’s impact on foreign students. In an effort to continue our dialogue, we are providing an update on new policies recently announced by the Administration.
On Friday, May 11, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced an expanded list of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) designated degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an optional practical training (OPT) extension. This builds on the first expansion of STEM designated degree programs in May 2011, as well as a series of administrative reforms we previously shared with you that further the Administration’s commitment to attracting eligible graduates and allowing them to apply their new skills to help build an innovative economy.
Under the OPT program, international students who graduate from certain colleges and universities in the United States are able to remain in the country and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate from a STEM designated degree program can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension. The most recent expansion includes STEM degrees such as aerospace science, veterinary microbiology, quantitative economics, and pharmaceutical sciences, allowing more international STEM students to stay longer in the U.S. and contribute to our economy.
Additionally, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched the first phase of its electronic immigration benefits system (ELIS) on May 22, 2012. The goal of the USCIS ELIS system is to modernize the process of completing and processing immigration benefits applications. As a part of this first phase, individuals who come to study at U.S. colleges and universities will be able to create an USCIS ELIS account and apply online for certain changes to their immigration status; USCIS officers will also be able to review these applications online. This is an important first step which will provide more streamlined processing of applications, and will make government more efficient and improve services for immigrants.
These administrative reforms reflect the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to encourage highly-skilled international graduates to extend their post-graduate training in the United States and work in their field of study upon graduation. At the same time, however, many important changes can only be accomplished through Congressional action on legislative reform.
President Obama continues to be deeply committed to building a 21st century immigration system (PDF) that meets our economic and national security needs. The Administration consistently has supported the basic concept that we are a nation of laws but we’re also a nation of immigrants. In order to make lasting change, we must create a system that works for our country. The President has made it clear that our nation’s broken immigration system requires legislative reform in Congress.
We greatly appreciate your interest and hope you will continue to work with us to create a national conversation on immigration reform that builds a bipartisan consensus to fix the broken immigration system so that it works for America’s 21st century economy.
Felicia Escobar is Senior Policy Advisor for White House Domestic Policy Council & Doug Rand is the AAAS/Goldhirsh Fellow in the Office of Science and Technology Policy
Fixing Our Broken Campaign Finance System
By Tonya Robinson
Thank you for signing the petition “Nominate New Commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).” We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov.
The FEC is an independent agency charged with administering and enforcing the laws that govern the financing of federal elections, including campaign contribution limits and disclosure requirements. By law, no more than three of the six members of the Commission can be members of the same political party, and at least four votes are required for significant Commission actions.
While the Administration doesn’t comment publicly about the President’s personnel decisions before he makes them, the Obama Administration is committed to nominating highly qualified individuals to lead the FEC. The agency, and the system of open and fair elections that the FEC is charged with protecting, deserve no less.
The Administration also shares your commitment to the enforcement of our campaign finance laws, but simply enforcing our existing laws is not enough. This Administration has been unequivocal in its opposition to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC (pdf), which struck down critical elements of our campaign finance laws and opened the floodgates for big corporations and other special interests to spend unlimited amounts of undisclosed money to influence our elections.
In 2010, President Obama strongly supported the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have reversed some of the damage from Citizens United by establishing the toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending. Unfortunately, however, the DISCLOSE Act was blocked by Republicans in the Senate, who refused to permit an up-or-down vote on the legislation.
The Obama Administration continues to support legislation that would allow the American people to see clearly who is funding campaign activity. And the President also has proposed other reforms that would plug the holes in our current laws and limit the influence of money in politics, such as his call in the State of the Union Address for legislation to “make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa.” This Administration is fully committed to such reforms and to strong enforcement of our campaign finance laws.
Tonya Robinson is Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy
Protecting and Strengthening Social Security
By David Kamin
The Obama Administration believes that all seniors should be able to retire with dignity, not just a privileged few. And we believe that all Americans deserve to know that, if they become disabled or if they lose the breadwinner in the family, Social Security will be there to protect them. Today, about 55 million Americans receive Social Security benefits, including nearly 40 million retirees and their family members, over 10 million Americans with disabilities and their dependents, and 6 million survivors of deceased workers.
For many of these Americans, Social Security is a key source of income. In fact, for more than half of Social Security recipients aged 65 or over, the program provides over 50 percent of their family income and, because of its lifetime income protection and survivors benefits, Social Security is particularly important for elderly women.
Like Senator Sanders, the Obama Administration is committed to protecting and strengthening Social Security — and securing the basic compact that hard work should be rewarded with dignity at retirement or in case of disability or early death. The Administration believes that any plan to close the long-term Social Security financing shortfall must be balanced and that we must ask the highest income Americans to contribute more to the system as part of this.
Currently, workers pay Social Security payroll taxes on earnings up to $110,100; Senator Sanders’ legislation, S. 1558, would also apply these payroll taxes to the earnings of the highest income Americans above $250,000. This proposal deserves serious consideration. As the President has said, a modest adjustment to the Social Security cap “would do a significant amount to stabilize the system.” And, whether it be through this or through other means, the Administration is committed to having the richest Americans contribute more to Social Security as part of a balanced plan to restore Social Security solvency so that the system can continue to provide the same financial security for future generations that it does today.
The Obama Administration has also been clear that it will not accept any reform that privatizes Social Security, slashes benefits for future generations, or cuts basic benefits for any current beneficiaries. Put simply, reform should strengthen Social Security and not weaken it.
David Kamin is Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy
Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Decision to Seek Additional Information
By Heather Zichal
Thank you for your petition regarding the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. Public engagement on this issue – no matter the viewpoint – is vital. President Obama believes “the final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”
On Thursday, November 10, the State Department – which, in accordance with Executive Order 13337 [PDF], is assessing the project on behalf of the Federal government – announced that as part of its ongoing review process, it will seek additional information about this proposal.
From the State Department’s announcement:
After obtaining the additional information, the Department would determine, in consultation with the eight other agencies identified in the Executive Order, whether the proposed pipeline was in the national interest, considering all of the relevant issues together. Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.
Here is the full statement from President Obama on the State Department’s Keystone XL Pipeline Announcement:
I support the State Department’s announcement today regarding the need to seek additional information about the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood. The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people. At the same time, my administration will build on the unprecedented progress we’ve made towards strengthening our nation’s energy security, from responsibly expanding domestic oil and gas production to nearly doubling the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks, to continued progress in the development of a clean energy economy.
Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy & Climate Change
Standing Up for Equal Rights for LGBT Americans
By Gautam Raghavan
Thank you for taking the time to participate in the “We the People” petition process. We launched this online tool as a way of hearing directly from you, and are pleased to see that it has been effective in soliciting your feedback.
We understand your interest in ending discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans—a goal that President Obama firmly supports. In his own words: “Every single American—gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society. It’s a pretty simple proposition.” The President has repeatedly taken a stand against LGBT discrimination, including with respect to the types of unfair discrimination described in the petition.
For example, as the petition notes, same-sex marriages are not currently recognized under federal law because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Section 3 of DOMA requires that federal law define marriage only as a legal union between a man and a woman. President Obama has long supported repeal of DOMA through the legislative process, and he specifically supports the Respect for Marriage Act, a DOMA repeal bill that is currently pending in both houses of Congress and was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in early November. In addition, the President and the Attorney General announced their determination that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. The President instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the constitutionality of that provision in the courts, and since that time, the Department has informed courts that it believes that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.
President Obama’s strong opposition to DOMA is in line with his personal commitment to LGBT rights and his Administration’s record in standing up against the other forms of LGBT discrimination identified in the petition. It is his Administration’s policy not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal employment, and he supports inclusive employment non-discrimination legislation that would make it illegal for private sector employers to discriminate against LGBT Americans. The President believes this is also an issue about families and, in a recent presidential proclamation, he stated that it is important to ensure that all qualified caregivers are given the opportunity to serve as adoptive parents. In addition, the President issued a presidential memorandum requiring that all hospitals in receipt of Medicare and Medicaid funding—most hospitals in the United States—must provide equal visitation rights to gay and lesbian partners.
The President also has spoken out against the unconscionable bullying that young LGBT Americans too often face, including at an anti-bullying summit hosted at the White House earlier this year. President Obama and other Administration officials have also recorded video messages to give hope and support to young people who are being bullied or harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as part of the It Gets Better campaign. As he recently said: “[W]e also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they’re gay or transgender—who may be getting picked on or pushed around because they’re different. … It’s wrong. It’s destructive. It’s never acceptable. And I want all those kids to know that the President and the First Lady [are] standing right by them every inch of the way.”
Early in his Administration, the President signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which expanded the existing hate crimes law to include crimes committed based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The President also signed into law the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell(“DADT”), ending the decades-long struggle to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces without having to lie about who they are. And the President recently issued a Presidential Memorandum articulating the first-ever U.S. Government strategy to protect and promote the human rights of LGBT people internationally.
Despite all these advances, the President recognizes “that we have a ways to go in th[is] struggle.” In his words, too many LGBT Americans “are still denied their basic rights—Americans who are still made to feel like second-class citizens, who have to live a lie to keep their jobs, or who are afraid to walk the street, or down the hall at school.” That is why President Obama is committed to helping end discrimination against LGBT Americans. In his words: “We are going to make progress; we are going to succeed; we are going to build a more perfect union. … That’s the story of America—the slow, inexorable march towards a more perfect union.”
Thank you for participating in this important process and for your commitment to equality—a commitment which President Obama shares.
For more information on President Obama’s policies regarding the LGBT community, check out WhiteHouse.gov/LGBT and sign up for updates.
Gautam Raghavan is Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement
We wanted to share with you an update on this important issue.
On May 9th, 2012, in an interview with ABC News, President Obama said, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
With that one statement, he made it clear that he believes that it’s wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships from getting married.
Obviously, the President has spent time giving this issue serious consideration, and his view has been shaped by conversations with his family, his friends, neighbors, and the people who work with him at the White House.
In the interview, he said that he had discussed the issue around the dinner table with his wife and daughters. He said he’d heard from service members who, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, felt constrained because they aren’t allowed to get married.
And in the end, the President said, he believes it’s important to “treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
These are just a very few responses the White House has posted at it’s Official Response To We The People, Response Page.
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