But even as we continue to hold BP accountable, we also need to hold Washington accountable. Now, this catastrophe is unprecedented in its nature, and it presents a host of new challenges we are working to address. But the question is what lessons we can learn from this disaster to make sure it never happens again.
If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn’t enforce those laws – I want to know it. I want to know what worked and what didn’t work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down. We know, for example, that a cozy relationship between oil and gas companies and agencies that regulate them has long been a source of concern.
In recent weeks, we’ve taken a number of immediate measures to prevent another spill. We’ve ordered inspections of all deepwater operations in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve announced that no permits for drilling new wells will go forward until the 30-day safety and environmental review I requested is complete. And I’ve called on Congress to pass a bill that would provide critical funds and tools to respond to this spill and better prepare us to confront any future spills.
But we also need to take a comprehensive look at how the oil and gas industry operates and how we regulate them. That is why, on Friday, I signed an executive order establishing the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
So, I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about why every American has a stake in Wall Street reform.
First and foremost, you have a stake in it if you’ve ever been treated unfairly by a credit card company, misled by pages and pages of fine print, or ended up paying fees and penalties you’d never heard of before. And you have a stake in it if you’ve ever tried to take out a home loan, a car loan, or a student loan, and been targeted by the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders.
The Wall Street reform bill in Congress represents the strongest consumer financial protections in history. You’ll be empowered with the clear and concise information you need to make the choices that are best for you. We’ll help stop predatory practices, and curb unscrupulous lenders, helping secure your family’s financial future.
With reform, we’ll make our financial system more transparent by bringing the kinds of complex, backroom deals that helped trigger this crisis into the light of day. We’ll prevent banks from taking on so much risk that they could collapse and threaten our whole economy. And we’ll give shareholders more of a say on pay to help change the perverse incentives that encouraged reckless risk-taking in the first place. Put simply, Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street.
Two weeks ago, four million small business owners and organizations found a postcard in their mailbox informing them that they could be eligible for a health care tax cut this year – a tax cut potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars; a tax cut that will help millions provide coverage to their employees.
Starting in June, businesses will get even more relief for providing coverage to retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare. And a little over a month from now, on June 15th, senior citizens who fall into the prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” will start receiving a $250 rebate to help them afford their medication.
Over the past few weeks, as we’ve debated reforms to hold Wall Street accountable and protect consumers and small businesses in our financial system, we’ve come face-to-face with the great power of special interests in the workings of our democracy. Of course, this isn’t a surprise. Every time a major issue arises, we’ve come to expect that an army of lobbyists will descend on Capitol Hill in the hopes of tilting the laws in their favor.
That’s one of the reasons I ran for President: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington. And that’s why, since the day I took office, my administration has been taking steps to reform the system. Recently, however, the Supreme Court issued a decision that overturned decades of law and precedent – dealing a huge blow to our efforts to rein in this undue influence. In short, this decision gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money – literally millions of dollars – to affect elections throughout our country. This, in turn, will multiply their influence over decision-making in our government.
In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, we face a similar challenge. That’s why it’s so important that Congress consider new reforms to prevent corporations and other special interests from gaining even more clout in Washington. And almost all of these reforms are designed to bring new transparency to campaign spending. They are based on the principle espoused by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis – that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Now, unsurprisingly, these reforms have not exactly been welcomed by the people who profit from the status quo – as well their allies in Washington. This is probably why the special interests have spent a lot of time and money lobbying to kill or weaken the bill. Just the other day, in fact, the Leader of the Senate Republicans and the Chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee met with two dozen top Wall Street executives to talk about how to block progress on this issue.
Lo and behold, when he returned to Washington, the Senate Republican Leader came out against the common-sense reforms we’ve proposed. In doing so, he made the cynical and deceptive assertion that reform would somehow enable future bailouts – when he knows that it would do just the opposite. Every day we don’t act, the same system that led to bailouts remains in place – with the exact same loopholes and the exact same liabilities. And if we don’t change what led to the crisis, we’ll doom ourselves to repeat it. That’s the truth. Opposing reform will leave taxpayers on the hook if a crisis like this ever happens again.
So my hope is that we can put this kind of politics aside. My hope is that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground and move forward together. But this is certain: one way or another, we will move forward. This issue is too important. The costs of inaction are too great. We will hold Wall Street accountable. We will protect and empower consumers in our financial system. That’s what reform is all about. That’s what we’re fighting for. And that’s exactly what we’re going to achieve.
So far, Americans who have filed their taxes have discovered that the average refund is up nearly ten percent this year – to an all-time high of about $3,000. This is due in large part to the Recovery Act. In fact, one-third of the Recovery Act was made up of tax cuts – tax cuts that have already provided more than $160 billion in relief for families and businesses, and nearly $100 billion of that directly into the pockets of working Americans.
No one I’ve met is looking for a handout. And that’s not what these tax cuts are. Instead, they’re targeted relief to help middle class families weather the storm, to jumpstart our economy, and to bring the fundamentals of the American Dream – making an honest living, earning an education, owning a home, and raising a family – back within reach for millions of Americans.
You can view the full transcript here. The White House has also put together a great Recovery Act Tax Savings Tool, which will allow taxpayers to figure out their eligibility for tax benefits under the Act.
The White House also put out a very helpful fact sheet, which details the tax of the Recovery Act:
RECOVERY ACT TAX RELIEF Major Tax Benefits
Taxpayers can collect on more than a dozen 2009 Recovery Act tax benefits when they file their 2009 tax returns, including:
Making Work Pay – Ninety-five percent of working families are receiving the Recovery Act’s Making Work Pay tax credit of $400 for an individual or $800 for married couples filing jointly in their paychecks in 2009 – and will continue to in 2010.
Taxpayers whose withholding in 2009 did not provide the full amount of the credit they are due will get the additional amount when they file their 2009 tax return. Even though most taxpayers received the benefit of this credit in their paychecks from adjusted tax withholding by their employers, they still need to claim this credit on their tax returns (i.e., Form 1040 or 1040A).
Up to $2,500 in College Expenses – Families and students are eligible for up to $2,500 in tax savings under the American Opportunity Credit as well as enhanced benefits under 529 college savings plans, which help families and students pay for college expenses.
American Opportunity Credit – More parents and students are eligible for a tax credit of up to $2,500 to pay for college expenses and can claim the credit annually for four years instead of two.
529 College Savings Plans – Students can now use a 529 plan to pay for computer technology, adding this to the list of traditional college expenses (tuition, books, etc.) that can be paid for by a 529 plan.
Up to $8,000 for Purchase of First Home – Homebuyers can get a credit of up to $8,000 for first homes purchased by April 30, 2010 under the First Time Homebuyer tax credit. Long-time residents who don’t qualify as first-time homebuyers and those with incomes of up to $145,000 for an individual and $245,000 for joint filers are also eligible for a reduced credit.
Up to $1,500 in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Incentives – Taxpayers are eligible for up to $1,500 in tax credits for making some energy-efficiency improvements to their homes such as adding insulation and installing energy efficient windows.
Money Back for New Vehicle Purchases – Taxpayers can deduct the state and local sales taxes they paid for new vehicles purchased from Feb. 17, 2009 through Dec. 31, 2009 under the vehicle sales tax deduction. In states that don’t have a sales tax, some other taxes or fees paid may be deducted.
Earned Income Tax Credit – The Recovery Act increased the credit for families with three or more children, bringing the maximum amount to $5,657.
Child Tax Credit – More families will be able to take advantage of the child tax credit under the Recovery Act, which reduced the minimum amount of earned income used to calculate the additional child tax credit to $3,000 from $12,550.
Up to $2,400 in Unemployment Benefits Tax Free in 2009 – Unemployment benefits are normally taxable, but the Recovery Act made the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits received in 2009 tax free.