Is Your Alma Mater Complicit in ASA’s Israel Boycott?

— by Ronit Treatman

This week, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. A Cornell University professor, William Jacobson, is leading an effort to encourage universities to disassociate themselves from the ASA.

As of this writing, Brandeis University, Penn State University Harrisburg and Willamette University have disassociated themselves with the ASA, and Northwestern University heavily criticized the boycott, but the ASA still has many members.

I have sent an email to the president of Temple University — my alma mater — Neil D. Theobald, inquiring about Temple’s position on this matter. I pointed out that Temple is a member of the ASA, and as such supports it financially.  

Please use the contact information after the jump to contact the president of your university and share your thoughts, and use the link at the end to share a link to this article with your friends and family so that they can do the same.

As alumni, donors, and parents of potential future students, we have the right to know where our schools and their American studies departments stand.

Is the college you attended a member of the ASA? Contact information after the jump.
Remaining Members of the American Studies Association

List current as of publication. Please send updates or corrections.

Alabama

Alberta: See Canada.

Arkansas

California

  • California State University, Fullerton
    • Mildred García, Office of the President, 800 N. State College Blvd.,  CP-1000, Fullerton, CA 92834, 657-278-3456, [email protected]  
    • Chair of the Board of Trustees: Bob Linscheid, c/o Trustee Secretariat [email protected], 401 Golden Shore, Suite 620, Long Beach, CA 90802, (562) 951-4020  
    • Chancellor: Timothy P. White, [email protected], Office of Public Affairs, 401 Golden Shore, 6th Floor, Long Beach, CA 90802-4210, Phone: (562) 951-4800, Fax: (562) 951-4861

  • California State University, Long Beach  
    • Donald J. Para, Interim President, California State University, Long Beach, Office of the President, Brotman Hall BH-300, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90840-0115, 562/985-4121, [email protected]  
    • Chair of the Board of Trustees: Bob Linscheid, c/o Trustee Secretariat [email protected], 401 Golden Shore, Suite 620, Long Beach, CA 90802, (562) 951-4020  
    • Chancellor: Timothy P. White, [email protected], Office of Public Affairs, 401 Golden Shore, 6th Floor, Long Beach, CA 90802-4210, Phone: (562) 951-4800, Fax: (562) 951-4861

  • University of California, San Diego  
    • Janet Napolitano, University of California, Office of the President, 1111 Franklin Street, 12th floor, Oakland, CA 94607, Media office: (510) 987-9200, [email protected]  
    • Board of Regents, Office of the Secretary and Chief of Staff to the Regents, 1111 Franklin St.,12th floor, Oakland, CA 94607, fax: (510) 987-9224, [email protected]  
    • Pradeep K. Khosla, Office of the Chancellor, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive # 0005, La Jolla, California 92093-0005, (858) 534-3135, [email protected]  
    • Peter King, Public Affairs Executive Director, Phone: (510) 987-0279  
    • Daniel M. Dooley, External relations – Senior Vice President, Phone: (510) 987-0060  
    • Charles F. Robinson, General Counsel and Vice President – Legal Affairs, Phone: (510) 987-9800

  • Stanford University

  • University of Southern California  
    • C. L. Max Nikias, USC Office of the President, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-4019, Phone: (213) 740-2111, Fax: (213) 821-1342  
    • Chair of the Board of Trustees, Edward P. Roski Jr.   USC Alumni Association, Epstein Family Alumni Center, 3607 Trousdale Parkway, TCC 305, Los Angeles, CA 90089-3106, (213) 740-2300

Connecticut

Delaware

District of Columbia

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

  • University of Hawaii  
    • David Lassner, University of Hawaii, Office of the President, 2444 Dole Street, Bachman 202, Honolulu, HI 96822, [email protected], tel (808) 956-8207, fax (808) 956-5286

Illinois

  • DePaul University
    • Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D., Office of the President, 1 East Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60604-2287, 312-362-8850, [email protected]  
    • American Studies Department, Allison McCracken, Director, Schmitt Academic Center, 5th floor, Room 560, 2320 N. Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614, 773-325-7194, [email protected]
    • Tracy Krahl – Assistant Vice President, Alumni Engagement, Alumni Center, 2400 N. Sheffield Ave., Suite 150, Chicago, IL 60614, 312-362-5577, [email protected]
    • Board of Trustees, Secretary of the University, Edward R. Udovic, C.M., 312-362-8042, Fax: 312-362-6606, [email protected]
    • Chancellor, Rev. John T. Richardson, C.M., 773-325-8712, [email protected]

  • Northwestern University, Contact information needed.

Indiana

Iowa

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

Ohio

  • Kenyon College, Contact information needed.
  • Youngstown State University
    • Dr. Randy J. Dunn, President, One University Plaza, Youngstown, Ohio 44555, [email protected], 330.941.3101  
    • Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Tod Hall, Room 203, Youngstown State University, One University Plaza, Youngstown, Ohio 44555, Phone: (330) 941 3370, Fax: (330) 941 3108
    • Dr. Sylvia J. Imler, Chief Diversity Officer/Interim Director, [email protected]
    • YSU Board of Trustees Chair: Sudershan K. Garg, M.D., Chairman, c/o YSU Office of the President, One University Plaza Youngstown, Ohio 44555, (330) 941-3101

Oklahoma

Ontario: See Canada.

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington DC: See District of Columbia.

Washington State

Wyoming

Canada

Japan

United Kingdom

Source: American Quarterly, September 2013, Volume 65, Number 3.

 

Book Review: Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Erica Brown’s Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe aims readers toward heightened self-awareness, through both traditional and self-help approaches. She does this in order to advance our capacity for teshuva — correction of our foibles and realignment of relationships as the pathway to increased happiness.

Similarly to the approach of Rabbi Abraham Twersky, the talented addictions counselor, Brown analogizes teshuva to “recovery.” Each chapter is based on a different verse of al cheyt, the prayer where we knock on the door to our hearts in Gestalt-like fashion, in hopes of awakening awareness and heightened authentic teshuva.

More after the jump.
This delightfully portable volume includes a well-written academic introduction to teshuva, translations of traditional teshuva teachings, and Brown’s own midrashic and interpretive work woven, with quotes from contemporary Jewish scholars, along with points excerpted from her reading in the field of psychology. The book is well-worth purchasing for the powerful compilation of traditional texts. Unfortunately, the self-help component is surprisingly unsophisticated, and in some cases seems likely to backfire, as I will explain later in this review.  

The author elects to join the current trend of sweetened, mussar-like awareness raising, by incorporating within the teshuva ten topics of human development: faith, destiny, discipline, humility, compassion, gratitude, anger, joy, honesty and holiness. She uses these categories to help the reader raise  self-awareness of where they may have room to grow in regard to these attributes. This is one of the volume’s strengths.

An example I especially appreciated was her “Day Two” entry, which begins: “For the sin we have committed before you with a confused heart.” While, as Brown explains, Jewish tradition more often connects this verse on the “confused heart” to doubt of some aspect of Jewish practice or Jewish history, she adds a helpful nuance for our consideration:

How can confusion ever be a sin? It is not intentional. Confusion is not an act; it is a condition brought about by the ambiguities of a situation. But we can perpetuate confusion by not seeking clarity soon enough or not at all. And for that we confess…

Dr. Brown also includes translations of excerpts from Rambam’s Hilkhot Teshuva, R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto’s Mesilat Yesharim, and R. Abraham Isaac ha-Cohen Kook’s Oros HaTeshuvah, for each topic. For example, this piece from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, that ripens powerfully when discussed with a study partner, or in a community (page 143):

Great and sublime is the happiness of repentance. The consuming fire of sin’s pain in itself refines and will result in a superior and radiant purification of character, til the great wealth of repentance to be found in the treasure of life develops and unfolds before him. Humans continue to ascend through repentance, through its bitterness and its pleasantness, through its sorrow and its joy; nothing refines and purifies man, truly uplifting him to the level of man, as does the profound contemplation of repentance, “in the place were the penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot stand.” (Berakhot 34a)


Teshuva is a foundational mitzvah: a condition of realignment within our behaviors and relationships, in which Jews almost perpetually dwell. “Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur,” 1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb.

Brown also cites teachings of leading scholars such as Jonathan Sachs, Adin Steinsaltz, Jonathan Levenson and Joseph Telushkin. Be sure to have a TaNaKh (Jewish translation of the full Jewish canon) at hand, because the narrative sections assume familiarity with the High Holiday season traditions and sacred stories. It would also be helpful if the publishers — OU Press and Maggid Books, a subdivision of Koren Publishers — could put the original, untranslated text segments online, to facilitate study by those of us with sufficient language skills. Hebrew transcends what translations can offer.

One section within each chapter is titled “Life Homework.” Here, unfortunately, Dr. Brown seems out of her element. She falls into what I consider to be a common mussar trap, of mistaking raised awareness and the force of one’s willpower as being sufficient to power sustainable change. The tragic ethical scandals accruing to too many revered pious Jewish (and other) business, educational and spiritual community leaders, would seem to substantially defeat this assumption. Brown cites, for justification, authors Roy Baumeister, John Tierney and Kely McGonigal to the effect that they “believe” that “willpower alone is our greatest human strength”.

Dr. Brown’s book and website bios do not clearly indicate in what subject her doctorate was undertaken. Perhaps education, given that she describes herself on the present front page of her website as learning not through professional training and supervised practice, but rather “by reading. I order a mountain of books on a subject, plow through them and try to organize my thoughts in relation to what others think.”

This approach shows distinctly and problematically in the narrative, which offers a more pop psychology, or self-help orientation, than an appreciation of the deep psycho-dynamic work and spiritual development necessary for effective healing within our relationships with ourselves, our family, our community and God.

Dr. Brown’s exercises are simple, decent things like writing gratitude letters to one’s parents, a teacher, etc. Later, when she suggests writing a letter commending an anger management strategy to one of the reader’s presumably adult children, it is hard to imagine this facilitating teshuva or intimacy as much as building resentment and resistance. In the words of Dr. Robert Anthony: “If you want to make an enemy, try to change someone.”

Support for how to directly seek out those with whom one needs to do teshuva, for meaningful dialogue, insight, cultivation of authentic empathy, and the gradual restoration of trust, is largely overlooked in this book. Almost everything happens in one’s head — rather than in the holy space of interpersonal encounter, termed by Martin Buber “the between.” Despite capably writing out traditional teshuva processes in an academic fashion, Brown seems unaware of that the self is co-constructed within relationships, much more than in one’s head, i.e. via projections onto others and thoughts about what they may feel or think, when asking directly is the only way to know.

Given the plural nature of the al cheyt shechatanu liturgy, the long-missing onus, of communities taking responsibility for missing ethical and mitzvah-centered behavioral marks, would also make a welcome addition within Brown’s approach to High Holiday preparation practices. While she stays within traditional Orthodox liturgy (and translations), many contemporary prayer books already add new al cheyts for the sake of things like caring for the environment, fostering better systems of healthcare, environmental preservation, education, etc.

The chosen topics in this volume are very safe. How about some mitzvah-centered risk-taking, in the way of setting communities onto chanting and reflecting upon the “sin of suppressing communal awareness of internal problems?” And “not teaching and supporting healthy boundaries between staff and students?” And “for the sin of not providing a living wage for all of our employees?” etc.

Also unfortunate is that the author does not point readers toward the array of contemporary literature and professions which offer deeper and more effective levels of teshuva and spiritual development, that are barely alluded to in Brown’s effort. To name a few, I would like to see mentioned there books such as “Sacred Therapy,” written through a Jewish lens by psychotherapist Estelle Frankel, or related articles by Rabbi Anne Brener, Mashpi’ah Carola de Vries Robles, Rabbis Abraham Twerski, Rami Shapiro, and Howard Addison and his partner Dr. Barbara Breitman.

A further problem in this first edition is that some might assume that that Brown is accurately describing Torah stories, while she is sometimes actually giving her own, often unusual and interesting, spin. (This process is known as “making midrash.”) It is also sometimes difficult to appreciate why certain texts and topics are sequenced or emphasized. It seems that parts may have been edited out at the publisher level, for the sake of greater volume brevity, with neither the insertion of alternative segue-ways, nor attention to the presentation’s conceptual flow. The absence of an index, as always, is disappointing, as indices are helpful for returning to key points and quotes.

Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe does commence with a worthy introduction to teshuva, where Dr. Brown collates a number of important primary and secondary sources for us in translation. Helpfully, she introduces the multifaceted steps of a full teshuva process, as found in the teachings of the Catalonian rabbi, Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi. He, who had abetted the burning of the works of the renowned Jewish sage, the Rambam (Maimonides), certainly came to deeply appreciate the angst and stages involved in meaningful teshuva. He even prostrated himself on the Rambam’s grave, as a component to his grief of self-awareness and yearning to achieve the joyful fullness of teshuva — in the very manner recommended in the writings of Maimonides himself!

Teshuva is a foundational mitzvah: a condition of realignment within our behaviors and relationships, in which Jews almost perpetually dwell; and this is by intentional ancestral design of our tradition. While we can turn to our sense of God for support in this process, our tradition teaches that errors with humanity can only be corrected directly through contact with each person, upon their grave, and, in the case of theft, with their heirs. God cannot fix our errors for us, save for our sense of our efforts at the fullness of teshuva being “received.”

Uncovering the “Torah” of healthy relationships is a paramount issue in most lives, and Dr. Erica Brown’s Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe offers helpful frameworks, sources and accessible discussion points for communities, individuals and families desiring self-reflective practices, that may enhance their individual capacity for teshuva.  

Philly Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Welcomes Nine New Inductees


Fishberg (left) and basketball legend Larry Brown

On May 20, Stephen H. Frishberg welcomed the 2013 inductees to the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. As Chairman of the Board, Mr. Frishberg recognized each individual’s contribution to the field of sports in Greater Philadelphia.

The 2013 inductees include Ellen Barkann, Bob Brooks, Larry Brown, Fred Cohen, Josh Cohen, Ron Cohen, Bonnie Kay, Marc Rayfield and Pillar of Achievement honoree, Jed Margolis. In addition, the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games’ Team Philadelphia Graduating Athletes received special recognition.

Inductees’ group photo after the jump.

For more about each inductee, see our article by Debbie Weiss.


Left to right: Fred Cohen, Ron Cohen, Bob Brooks, Larry Brown, Bonnie Kay, Stephen H. Frishberg, Ellen Barkann, Josh Cohen, Marc Rayfield, Jed Margolis

Larry Brown Among Nine Philly Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Inductees


Brown coaching the SMU Mustangs

— by Debbie Weiss

The Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Adolph and Rose Levis Museum (PJSHOF) will be celebrating its 16th anniversary by honoring nine new individuals at a reception to be held on Monday, May 20 at the Gershman Y.  

The 2013 inductees include Ellen Barkann, Bob Brooks, Larry Brown, Fred Cohen, Josh Cohen, Ron Cohen, Bonnie Kay, Marc Rayfield and Pillar of Achievement honoree, Jed Margolis. In addition, the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games’ Team Philadelphia Graduating Athletes will receive special recognition.

More after the jump.
The inductees into the PJSHOF represent the best of the best: those who through perseverance, dedication, superior talent and skills, have risen to the top of their respective sports. Their names and achievements will be celebrated within the walls of the museum.  

Each PJSHOF inductee has been involved in sports as an athlete, coach, manager, administrator, team owner, or member of the media. They must have at least one Jewish parent and have lived within, or competed within, the five-county Greater Philadelphia area. They have joined a special group of approximately 130 past honorees.  

This year’s special class includes one of the most successful coaches in basketball history, one of the winningest football coaches in Philadelphia’s high school history, a top radio broadcast manager, and more.

  • Ellen Barkann, a competitive figure skater, achieved the highest level in all disciplines of her sport: singles, pairs and ice dancing. In 2012 she created a nonprofit organization, The Barkann Family Healing Hearts Foundation, whose mission is to provide grants and financial assistance to families in the area who are overcome by family crisis, long term illness or sudden loss of life.
  • Bob Brooks was a multi-talented athlete as the starting pitcher on the University of Pennsylvania’s baseball team, and as a three-year starter on the basketball court who earned All-Ivy and All-State honors in his senior year. He is a longtime community volunteer.
  • Larry Brown is one of the most successful basketball coaches, at college and professional levels, of all time. He is the only head coach to lead teams to an NBA title (Detroit Pistons, 2004) and an NCAA Championship (University of Kansas Jayhawks, 1988). He is also the only coach in history to lead eight different NBA teams to the playoffs. He also is the only U.S. male to both play and coach in the Olympics, winning Gold Medals in 1964 and 2000, and is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. He is currently the head basketball coach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  

    Fred Cohen playing for Temple, 1956

  • Fred Cohen achieved a stellar basketball career in high school and the upper levels of the college game. Playing for the Temple Owls, he set an NCAA playoff record for 34 rebounds in one game, that remains intact. He played with All-Americans Hal Lear and Guy Rogers, and their 1956 team went to the NCAA Final Four. He went on to graduate Yale Law School and has had a distinguished law career as a professor, then activist and author in the area of correctional mental health law.
  • Josh Cohen ranked among the top ten tennis players in the world in U.S. Juniors, and number one nationally in every USTA age group from 12-18; he won the International Grass Court Championship, competed in all four Grand Slam tournaments, and reached the quarterfinals in the French Open. In 2012, Billie Jean King named him head coach of her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms.  
  • Ron Cohen has been the head football coach at George Washington High School for the past 28 years and is the winningest coach in Philadelphia’s history. He has been named Coach of the Year on nine different occasions. He holds the city record for most playoff wins with 55, and has coached seven Big 33 football stars, including four players who have gone on to play in the NFL.
  • Bonnie Kay has been a Philadelphia area competitor in golf tournaments for over 40 years, having won the Women’s Stroke Play Championship and the Mixed Pair Championship as well as various country club championships. As a proud player in two Maccabi Games in Israel, she won a team Silver in 1985 and a team Gold in 1997. She is a consulting psychologist to Fortune 500 corporations, city and state agencies, and private family-owned companies.
  • Marc Rayfield is the senior vice president and market manager of CBS, Inc. where he is currently responsible for live broadcasts of the Phillies, Eagles and Philadelphia Union as well as Temple, St. Joe’s and Villanova athletics. His purview at CBS includes oversight of KYW Newsradio, WIP, WOGL, WPHT and cbsphilly.com.    
  • Pillar of Achievement honoree, Jed Margolis has been dedicated to using sports to strengthen Jewish identity and pride and love for Israel throughout his 40 years working in the JCC World and at Maccabi USA, where he has served as executive director since 2002. One of the many highpoints in his Maccabi USA tenure came in 2009, when he was honored as a member of the Maccabi USA Leadership Team by The National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He also represented the USA as a member of the Masters Men’s Gold Medal Basketball Team, coached by NBA Legend Dolph Schayes, at the 1995 Pan American Maccabi Games in Uruguay.

Southeastern Pennsylvania ADA Honors Three Progressive Women

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) awarded three veteran progressive women activists at a ceremony held in the home of Bruce and Carol Caswell in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia, on Saturday, October 13, 2012.

The honorees were State Representative Babette Josephs, City Council member Marion Tasco, and Shelly Yanoff, Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

More after the jump.
Attending the event were such local political figures as State Representatives Cherelle Brown, Mark Cohen, and Vanessa Brown; City Controller Alan Butkovitz; City Commissioners Chair Stephanie Singer and Commissioner Al Schmidt; and City Council members Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Bill Greenlee.

Glenavieve Norton, Chair of Southeastern Pennsylvania ADA, opened the program, saying that the honorees “have had significant roles to play in relation to ADA over their storied careers.” ADA, said Norton, was “founded in 1947 by Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther, Arthur Schlesinger, and others. National ADA has played a prominent role in the advancement of Civil Rights, Labor Rights, education reform, anti-poverty efforts, and Wall Street deregulation, among other things.”

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter, added Norton, “has played an equally prominent role in the establishment of our City Charter, in the Rizzo Recall movement, the election of W. Wilson Goode as our city’s first Black mayor, the Casey Five campaign to elect reform judges to Commonwealth Court, and the successful campaign to prevent the takeover of public schools by a for-profit company, among other things.

“Today the values of ADA,” said Norton, “dedication to democratic principles and good government, and the advancement of social and economic justice, are under serious attack. We take this mater very seriously. We have participated, both as an organization and individually in the voter ID coalition and are championing ethics issues in education reform. We are continuing our work, and will continue our work, on redistricting (City Council districts). We are the only organization that specifically has as a goal addressing good government concerns; we do so as they arise, and as we observe them, in our work and in our lives.”

Why Does the Farm Bill Matter to Us?

— by Hannah Lee

Most Americans are protected from the travails and vagaries of our food sources.  The five-year cycle of Congressional debates on agricultural subsidies may underwhelm you, but it is relevant to your family’s well-being in hidden ways.  On Thursday, the Senate approved a new farm bill that would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

More after the jump.
Sugar subsidies were left in place.  Crop insurance was reduced for the wealthiest farmers, those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000.  This was through the efforts of Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), saving $1 billion over 10 years. Recipients would now have to take steps to reduce erosion and protect wetlands, according to a last-minute amendment by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia).  The bill eliminated about $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers and farmland owners, whether or not they grew crops.

The limited good news is new funding for the next generation of farmers through an amendment by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).  The bill will also expand block grants to states for research and promotion of fruits and vegetables.  It will encourage the expansion of farmers’ markets.  It will consolidate several conservation programs to make them more efficient.

Despite the efforts of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), the biggest cuts were to the food stamp program, now known as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

The House will begin discussion of the bill after the July 4th recess.  The House Republican budget presented by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) would reduce food stamp spending by about $134 billion over the next decade and turn the program into block grants for the states.

Among the 64 Senators approving the Farm Bill was our own Robert Casey (D), while among the 35 Senators rejecting the Farm Bill was Patrick Toomey (R).   Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) was the sole abstention.  

Jewish Legislator Silenced Defending Religious Freedom & Choice


After these remarks, House Republicans censored Rep. Lisa Brown (D-MI) for using the word “vagina,” and barred her from the subsequent debate on education. Brown said at a press conference: “If I can’t say the word vagina, why are we legislating vaginas? What language should I use?”

According to Benjy Sarlin:

A second lawmaker, Rep. Barb Byrum (D), was also gaveled down after introducing a bill that would require men to prove that their life was in danger before they were allowed to receive a vasectomy.

“I was ignored by the majority floor leader and not allowed to speak on my amendment, which would have held the same standards for men and women when it comes to legal, voluntary procedures in reproductive health, and now I am being silenced for standing up for women,” Byrum said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Jewish Organizations Push To Protect Women

— by Max Samis

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — which has been passed and reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since it’s inception in 1994 — prominent Democrats marked April 17 as “Equal Pay Day,” recognizing the importance of continuing to fight for gender equality in the workplace. Several leading Democrats issued statements and penned op-eds in order to raise awareness of the issue, as well as the larger fight for women’s rights.

Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:

President Obama and Democrats understand that equal pay is so important for women and their families that one of the first pieces of legislation Democrats passed in 2009 and the first bill the President signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensures that women can fight for equal pay for equal work, and on National Equal Pay Day we celebrate our continued fight for economic equality, regardless of gender.

The President’s commitment to women is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney and the GOP’s attitude toward equal pay for women. While Democrats and the President were making equal pay for equal work a priority, nearly every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who Mitt Romney has called a ‘hero,’ recently repealed that state’s fair pay law; and Mitt Romney refuses to say if he would have signed Lilly Ledbetter had he been president at the time. His campaign on a conference call last week couldn’t even articulate a response when asked his position on the law….

On Equal Pay Day women can rest assured that Democrats and President Obama will continue the fight for equal pay for equal work and will fight for their right to make health care choices for themselves and their families. It’s a shame that Mitt Romney and Republicans can’t say the same thing.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — the first female speaker in American history — also said:

I’m proud of the accomplishments of the Democratic-led Congress on behalf of equal pay and fairness. The Lilly Ledbetter Act-the first bill President Obama signed into law-restored the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court. Further, under the Affordable Care Act, soon women will no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same coverage and no longer will being a woman be treated as a pre-existing condition.  

On Equal Pay Day, we honor all of our nation’s women, who through their labor – at home and in the workplace – have made our country strong. And we recommit to opening the doors of opportunity for the next generation of women.

Graph of pay gap by profession, a map of pay gap by state, and op/eds by Senators Gillibrand and Boxer follow the jump.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post, discussing the importance of pay equity not just to women, but to the national economy as a whole. Gillibrand wrote:

…[T]he issue of pay equity is not merely one of fairness. Equal pay for equal work is vital for our economic growth and middle class financial security. With more and more women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle class working families-men and children included. In New York alone, women head more than 1,000,000 households. It’s estimated that because of the wage gap, New York families are deprived of $8600 a year. Nationwide, it’s been estimated that if women were paid a dollar on the dollar for equal work, the U.S. GDP could grow up to 9 percent.

Gillibrand also discussed pay equity in regards to women’s health. She wrote:

In addition to being an economic security issue, the failure to pay women a salary that’s equal to men for equal work is also a women’s health issue. The fact is that the salary women are paid directly impacts the type of health care services they are able to access for both themselves and their families. For example, if we closed the wage gap, a working woman in New York would be able to afford more than 2 years worth of additional family health insurance premiums. At a time when women’s health services are increasingly vulnerable to budget cuts, it’s more important than ever that women have financial security to maintain access to basic care for them and their families.

In Politico, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an op-ed asserting that contrary to what Republicans may have you believe, the “war on women” is very real:

Suppose it’s the championship basketball game and one player is committing foul after foul. Each time, he denies he’s committed any offense.

Eventually, he fouls out. But even as he heads to the bench, he’s protesting that he did nothing wrong.

That’s what we’re seeing today from Republicans who claim there is no ‘war on women.’ The Republican National Committee chairman likened it to a ‘war on caterpillars.’ The Senate Republican leader claims it’s all manufactured – even as female members of his caucus warn about the growing backlash against the GOP from women.

House Republicans have introduced more than 30 bills that would restrict a woman’s reproductive health care. Those same Republicans, who decry an all-too-powerful government, have no problem deciding what health care is right for our daughters, or sisters or mothers….

Here in Congress, 116 Republicans in the House and 19 Republicans in the Senate are co-sponsors of ‘personhood’ legislation, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions for the mother’s life or health. … It could even bar doctors from providing life-saving care to women with dangerous ectopic pregnancies.

It doesn’t end there. Republicans in Congress blocked an international treaty – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – even though the only other nations refusing to ratify it are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga.

They also oppose increasing the minimum wage – when women make up about two-thirds of all workers now earning minimum wage or less. Not one Republican is a cosponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which helps protect women from domestic violence, when the bill was in the Senate Judiciary Committee. They voted to repeal the health care law – including the part that says no more gender discrimination in the pricing of health insurance policies and the part that offers free preventive services like mammograms, STD screening, well-woman visits and birth control.

The facts are the facts. The Republicans have launched a war on women. Despite all the denials, women get it – and so do the men who care about them.

In addition to the fight for pay equality, Democrats have pushed for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Led by Vice President Joe Biden – who originally wrote and sponsored the bill as a Senator from Delaware in 1994 – a group of lawmakers and private citizens spoke today about the importance of passing the bill with bipartisan support. Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown wrote:

‘The idea we’re still fighting about this in Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,’ Biden said during remarks at the Eisenhower Office Building. ‘It’s not a reflection on the law. It is a reflection on our inability in this town to deal with something that by now should just be over in terms of debate about it.’

‘No one should question whether this is needed,’ Biden said at the end of his remarks. ‘It would have been bad if the law had never been passed. But imagine now, the message it sends if it is not reauthorized. Just ask what message it would send to every one of our daughters, every woman imprisoned in their home.’

Several prominent Jewish organizations have also spoken out in favor of VAWA’s reauthorization. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Hadassah have all urged their supporters to contact their local Congressional delegations and urge that they vote to pass the reauthorization of VAWA immediately. This is too important to wait.

  • Click here to read Senator Gillibrand’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read Senator Boxer’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read about how President Barack Obama’s actions have reflected Jewish values, including his accomplishments on women’s rights.

US Gender Pay Gap By State

Jewish Democrats Win Historic Election in Montgomery County


— by Bonnie Squires

Leslie Richards and Josh Shapiro were ecstatic with the response of fellow Democrats as they announced that they had received a call from Bruce Castor conceding  the election, making the Democrats the winners of the Montgomery County Commissioner majority seats for the first time in history.  For 140 years, the Republican party had dominated the suburban Philadelphia county’s politics, but November 8, 2011, became an historic day, as the Democrats won the county-wide election with comfortable margins.

This is also a historic election in that both Shapiro and Richards are Jewish.  Preliminary figures have Shapiro with 87,965 votes and running-mate Ms. Richards at 86,014, to Bruce Castor’s 76, 635, and Jenny Brown’s 74,983.  Castor is an incumbent Republican county commissioner, and Brown is a Lower Merion Township Republican commissioner.  The top three vote-getters, Shapiro, Richards and Castor, will be sworn in January in Norristown.

Three Disappointing Quotes from Obama’s Press Conference

— Adam Green, Stephanie Taylor, Michael Snook, Forrest Brown, and the PCCC team

Today, in a press conference, President Obama pushed for benefit cuts in important programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  For those who worked tirelessly to elect  Obama in 2008, here are the three most depressing quotes from today’s press conference:

1) “We’re going to have a sales job. This is not pleasant. It is hard to persuade people to do hard stuff that entails trimming benefits and increasing revenues.”

Significance: This is the first time Obama admitted he is pushing “benefit” cuts that would hurt our grandparents, kids, and the disabled — not just “savings” like negotiating lower drug prices.

2) “I want to be crystal clear — nobody has talked about increasing taxes now.  Nobody has talked about increases — increasing taxes next year.”

Significance: Polling shows that by 4 to 1, Americans want taxes increased on the rich. The “millionaires tax” proposed by House progressives would raise $1 trillion — helping to take benefit cuts off the table. By his own admission, Obama is not even asking for this!

3) “The vast majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill would prefer not to have to do anything on entitlements; would prefer, frankly, not to have to do anything on some of these debt and deficit problems.”

Significance: The House Progressive Caucus proposed balancing the budget by taxing the rich, making companies like GE pay taxes, ending the wars, and other popular, progressive proposals. By his own admission, Obama didn’t even try for these — and then he attacks progressive Democrats with false, right-wing talking points.

Full text of press conference after the jump.
PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody.  I want to give a quick update on what’s happening with the debt negotiations, provide my perspective, and then I’m going to take a few questions.

As all of you know, I met with congressional leaders yesterday.  We’re going to be meeting again today, and we’re going to meet every single day until we get this thing resolved.

The good news is that all the leaders continue to believe, rightly, that it is not acceptable for us not to raise the debt ceiling and to allow the U.S. government to default.  We cannot threaten the United States’ full faith and credit for the first time in our history.  We still have a lot of work to do, though, to get this problem solved.  And so let me just make a couple of points.

First of all, all of us agree that we should use this opportunity to do something meaningful on debt and deficits.  And the reports that have been out there have been largely accurate that Speaker Boehner and myself had been in a series of conversations about doing the biggest deal possible so that we could actually resolve our debt and our deficit challenge for a long stretch of time.  And I want to say I appreciate Speaker Boehner’s good-faith efforts on that front.

What I emphasized to the broader group of congressional leaders yesterday is now is the time to deal with these issues.  If not now, when?  I’ve been hearing from my Republican friends for quite some time that it is a moral imperative for us to tackle our debt and our deficits in a serious way.  I’ve been hearing from them that this is one of the things that’s creating uncertainty and holding back investment on the part of the business community.  And so what I’ve said to them is, let’s go. And it is possible for us to construct a package that would be balanced, would share sacrifice, would involve both parties taking on their sacred cows, would involved some meaningful changes to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid that would preserve the integrity of the programs and keep our sacred trust with our seniors, but make sure those programs were there for not just this generation but for the next generation; that it is possible for us to bring in revenues in a way that does not impede our current recovery, but is fair and balanced.

We have agreed to a series of spending cuts that will make the government leaner, meaner, more effective, more efficient, and give taxpayers a greater bang for their buck.  That includes defense spending.  That includes health spending.  It includes some programs that I like very much, and we — be nice to have, but that we can’t afford right now.

And if you look at this overall package, we could achieve a situation in which our deficits were at a manageable level and our debt levels were stabilized, and the economy as a whole I think would benefit from that.  Moreover, I think it would give the American people enormous confidence that this town can actually do something once in a while; that we can defy the expectations that we’re always thinking in terms of short-term politics and the next election, and every once in a while we break out of that and we do what’s right for the country.

So I continue to push congressional leaders for the largest possible deal.  And there’s going to be resistance.  There is, frankly, resistance on my side to do anything on entitlements.  There is strong resistance on the Republican side to do anything on revenues.  But if each side takes a maximalist position, if each side wants 100 percent of what its ideological predispositions are, then we can’t get anything done.  And I think the American people want to see something done.  They feel a sense of urgency, both about the breakdown in our political process and also about the situation in our economy.

So what I’ve said to the leaders is, bring back to me some ideas that you think can get the necessary number of votes in the House and in the Senate.  I’m happy to consider all options, all alternatives that they’re looking at.  The things that I will not consider are a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day or a 180-day temporary stopgap resolution to this problem.  This is the United States of America, and we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments.  We don’t risk U.S. default on our obligations because we can’t put politics aside.

So I’ve been very clear to them:  We’re going to resolve this, and we’re going to resolve this for a reasonable period of time, and we’re going to resolve it in a serious way.  And my hope is, is that as a consequence of negotiations that take place today, tomorrow, the next day and through next weekend, if necessary, that we’re going to come up with a plan that solves our short-term debt and deficit problems, avoids default, stabilizes the economy, and proves to the American people that we can actually get things done in this country and in this town.

All right, with that I’m going to take some questions, starting with Ben Feller.

Ben Feller:    Thank you very much, Mr. President.  Two quick topics. Given that you’re running out of time, can you explain what is your plan for where these talks go if Republicans continue to oppose any tax increases, as they’ve adamantly said that they will?  And secondly, on your point about no short-term stopgap measure, if it came down to that and Congress went that route, I know you’re opposed to it but would you veto it?

THE PRESIDENT: I will not sign a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day extension.  That is just not an acceptable approach.  And if we think it’s going to be hard — if we think it’s hard now, imagine how these guys are going to be thinking six months from now in the middle of election season where they’re all up.  It’s not going to get easier.  It’s going to get harder.  So we might as well do it now — pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas.  (Laughter.)  Now is the time to do it.  If not now, when?  

We keep on talking about this stuff and we have these high-minded pronouncements about how we’ve got to get control of the deficit and how we owe it to our children and our grandchildren. Well, let’s step up.  Let’s do it.  I’m prepared to do it.  I’m prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done.  And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing — if they mean what they say that this is important.

And let me just, Ben, comment on this whole issue of tax increases, because there’s been a lot of information floating around there.  I want to be crystal clear — nobody has talked about increasing taxes now.  Nobody has talked about increases –increasing taxes next year.  What we have talked about is that starting in 2013, that we have gotten rid of some of these egregious loopholes that are benefiting corporate jet owners or oil companies at a time where they’re making billions of dollars of profits.  What we have said is as part of a broader package we should have revenues, and the best place to get those revenues are from folks like me who have been extraordinarily fortunate, and that millionaires and billionaires can afford to pay a little bit more — going back to the Bush tax rates.

And what I’ve also said to Republicans is, if you don’t like that formulation, then I’m happy to work with you on tax reform that could potentially lower everybody’s rates and broaden the base, as long as that package was sufficiently progressive so that we weren’t balancing the budget on the backs of middle-class families and working-class families, and we weren’t letting hedge fund managers or authors of best-selling books off the hook.

That is a reasonable proposition.  So when you hear folks saying, well, the President shouldn’t want massive, job-killing tax increases when the economy is this weak — nobody is looking to raise taxes right now.  We’re talking about potentially 2013 and the out-years.  In fact, the only proposition that’s out there about raising taxes next year would be if we don’t renew the payroll tax cut that we passed in December, and I’m in favor of renewing it for next year as well.  But there have been some Republicans who said we may not renew it.

And if we don’t renew that, then the $1,000 that’s been going to a typical American family this year as a consequence of the tax cut that I worked with the Republicans and passed in December — that lapses.  That could weaken the economy.

So I have bent over backwards to work with the Republicans to try to come up with a formulation that doesn’t require them to vote sometime in the next month to increase taxes.  What I’ve said is to identify a revenue package that makes sense, that is commensurate with the sacrifices we’re asking other people to make, and then I’m happy to work with you to figure out how else we might do it.

BEN FELLER:   Do you see any path to a deal if they don’t budge on taxes?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not see a path to a deal if they don’t budge, period.  I mean, if the basic proposition is “it’s my way or the highway,” then we’re probably not going to get something done because we’ve got divided government.  We’ve got Democrats controlling the Senate; we probably are going to need Democratic votes in the House for any package that could possibly pass.  And so if, in fact, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are sincere — and I believe they are — that they don’t want to see the U.S. government default, then they’re going to have to compromise just like Democrats are going to have to compromise; just like I have shown myself willing to compromise.

CHIP REID:   Thank you, Mr. President.  You said that everybody in the room is willing to do what they have to do, wants to get something done by August 2nd.  But isn’t the problem the people who aren’t in the room, and in particular Republican presidential candidates and Republican Tea Partiers on the Hill, and the American public?  The latest CBS News poll showed that only 24 percent of Americans said you should raise the debt limit to avoid an economic catastrophe.  There are still 69 percent who oppose raising the debt limit.  So isn’t the problem that you and others have failed to convince the American people that we have a crisis here, and how are you going to change that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me distinguish between professional politicians and the public at large.  The public is not paying close attention to the ins and outs of how a Treasury option goes.  They shouldn’t.  They’re worrying about their family; they’re worrying about their jobs; they’re worrying about their neighborhood.  They’ve got a lot of other things on their plate.  We’re paid to worry about it.

I think, depending on how you phrase the question, if you said to the American people, is it a good idea for the United States not to pay its bills and potentially create another recession that could throw millions of more people out of work, I feel pretty confident I can get a majority on my side on that one.

And that’s the fact.  If we don’t raise the debt ceiling and we see a crisis of confidence in the markets, and suddenly interest rates are going up significantly, and everybody is paying higher interest rates on their car loans, on their mortgages, on their credit cards, and that’s sucking up a whole bunch of additional money out of the pockets of the American people, I promise you they won’t like that.

Now, I will say that some of the professional politicians know better.  And for them to say that we shouldn’t be raising the debt ceiling is irresponsible.  They know better.

And this is not something that I am making up.  This is not something that Tim Geithner is making up.  We’re not out here trying to use this as a means of doing all these really tough political things.  I’d rather be talking about stuff that everybody welcomes — like new programs or the NFL season getting resolved.  Unfortunately, this is what’s on our plate.  It’s before us right now.  And we’ve got to deal with it.

So what you’re right about, I think, is, is that the leaders in the room here at a certain point have to step up and do the right thing, regardless of the voices in our respective parties that are trying to undermine that effort.

I have a stake in John Boehner successfully persuading his caucus that this is the right thing to do, just like he has a stake in seeing me successfully persuading the Democratic Party that we should take on these problems that we’ve been talking about for too long but haven’t been doing anything about.

CHIP REID:   Do you think he’ll come back to the $4 trillion deal?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think Speaker Boehner has been very sincere about trying to do something big.  I think he’d like to do something big.  His politics within his caucus are very difficult — you’re right.  And this is part of the problem with a political process where folks are rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections or obtain short-term political gain, when we actually are in a position to try to do something hard we haven’t always laid the groundwork for.  And I think that it’s going to take some work on his side, but, look, it’s also going to take some work on our side, in order to get this thing done.

I mean, the vast majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill would prefer not to have to do anything on entitlements; would prefer, frankly, not to have to do anything on some of these debt and deficit problems.  And I’m sympathetic to their concerns, because they’re looking after folks who are already hurting and already vulnerable, and there are a lot of families out there and seniors who are dependant on some of these programs.

And what I’ve tried to explain to them is, number one, if you look at the numbers, then Medicare in particular will run out of money and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up.  I mean, it’s not an option for us to just sit by and do nothing.  And if you’re a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great that we look after our seniors and we look after the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term.

And if you’re a progressive that cares about investments in Head Start and student loan programs and medical research and infrastructure, we’re not going to be able to make progress on those areas if we haven’t gotten our fiscal house in order.

So the argument I’m making to my party is, the values we care about — making sure that everybody in this country has a shot at the American Dream and everybody is out there with the opportunity to succeed if they work hard and live a responsible life, and that government has a role to play in providing some of that opportunity through things like student loans and making sure that our roads and highways and airports are functioning, and making sure that we’re investing in research and development for the high-tech jobs of the future — if you care about those things, then you’ve got to be interested in figuring out how do we pay for that in a responsible way.

And so, yeah, we’re going to have a sales job; this is not pleasant.  It is hard to persuade people to do hard stuff that entails trimming benefits and increasing revenues.  But the reason we’ve got a problem right now is people keep on avoiding hard things, and I think now is the time for us to go ahead and take it on.

Rich Wolf:    Thank you, Mr. President.  You keep talking about balance, shared sacrifice, but in the $4 trillion deal that you’re talking about roughly, it seems to be now at about four-to-one spending to taxes; we’re talking about $800 billion in taxes, roughly.  That doesn’t seem very fair to some Democrats.  I’m wondering if you could clarify why we’re at that level.  And also, if you could clarify your Social Security position — would any of the money from Social Security, even from just Chained CPI, go toward the deficit as opposed to back into the trust fund?

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Social Security, Social Security is not the source of our deficit problems.  Social Security, if it is part of a package, would be an issue of how do we make sure Social Security extends its life and is strengthened?  So the reason to do Social Security is to strengthen Social Security to make sure that those benefits are there for seniors in the out-years.  And the reason to include that potentially in this package is if you’re going to take a bunch of tough votes, you might as well do it now, as opposed to trying to muster up the political will to get something done further down in the future.

With respect to a balanced package, is the package that we’re talking about exactly what I would want?  No.  I might want more revenues and fewer cuts to programs that benefit middle-class families that are trying to send their kids to college, or benefit all of us because we’re investing more in medical research.

So I make no claims that somehow the position that Speaker Boehner and I discussed reflects 100 percent of what I want.  But that’s the point.  My point is, is that I’m willing to move in their direction in order to get something done.  And that’s what compromise entails.  We have a system of government in which everybody has got to give a little bit.

Now, what I will say is, is that the revenue components that we’ve discussed would be significant and would target folks who can most afford it.  And if we don’t do any revenue — because you may hear the argument that why not just go ahead and do all the cuts and we can debate the revenue issues in the election — right?  You’ll hear that from some Republicans.  The problem is, is that if you don’t do the revenues, then to get the same amount of savings you’ve got to have more cuts, which means that it’s seniors, or it’s poor kids, or it’s medical researchers, or it’s our infrastructure that suffers.

And I do not want, and I will not accept, a deal in which I am asked to do nothing, in fact, I’m able to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income that I don’t need, while a parent out there who is struggling to figure out how to send their kid to college suddenly finds that they’ve got a couple thousand dollars less in grants or student loans.

That’s what the revenue debate is about.  It’s not because I want to raise revenues for the sake of raising revenues, or I’ve got some grand ambition to create a bigger government.  It’s because if we’re going to actually solve the problem, there are a finite number of ways to do it.  And if you don’t have revenues, it means you are putting more of a burden on the people who can least afford it.  And that’s not fair.  And I think the American people agree with me on that.

SAM STEIN:    Thank you, Mr. President.  With unemployment now at 9.2% and a large chunk of those lost jobs coming from the private sector, is now a really good time to cut trillions of dollars in spending?  How will we still create jobs?  And then to piggyback on the Social Security question — what do you say to members of your own party who say it doesn’t contribute to the deficit, let’s consider it but not in the context of this deal?

THE PRESIDENT:  Our biggest priority as an administration is getting the economy back on track and putting people back to work.  Now, without relitigating the past, I’m absolutely convinced, and the vast majority of economists are convinced, that the steps we took in the Recovery Act saved millions of people their jobs or created a whole bunch of jobs.

And part of the evidence of that is as you see what happens with the Recovery Act phasing out.  When I came into office and budgets were hemorrhaging at the state level, part of the Recovery Act was giving states help so they wouldn’t have to lay off teachers, police officers, firefighters.  As we’ve seen that federal support for states diminish, you’ve seen the biggest job losses in the public sector — teachers, police officers, firefighters losing their jobs.

So my strong preference would be for us to figure out ways that we can continue to provide help across the board.  But I’m operating within some political constraints here, because whatever I do has to go through the House of Representatives.

What that means then is, is that among the options that are available to us is, for example, the payroll tax cut, which might not be exactly the kind of program that I would design in order to boost employment but does make a difference because it puts money in the pockets of people who are then spending it at businesses, large and small.  That gives them more customers, increases demand, and it gives businesses a greater incentive to hire.  And that would be, for example, a component of this overall package.

Unemployment benefits, again, puts money in the pockets of folks who are out there knocking on doors trying to find a job every day.  Giving them those resources, that puts more money into the economy and that potentially improves it — improves the climate for businesses to want to hire.

So as part of a component of a deal, I think it’s very important for us to look at what are the steps we can take short term in order to put folks back to work.  I am not somebody who believes that just because we solve the deficit and debt problems short term, medium term, or long term, that that automatically solves the unemployment problem.  I think we’re still going to have to do a bunch of stuff — including, for example, trade deals that are before Congress right now that could add tens of thousands of jobs.

Republicans gave me this list the beginning of this year as a priority, something that they thought they could do.  Now I’m ready to do it, and so far we haven’t gotten the kind of movement that I would have expected.

We’ve got the potential to create an infrastructure bank that could put construction workers to work right now, rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our vital infrastructure all across the country.  So those are still areas where I think we can make enormous progress.

I do think that if the country as a whole sees Washington act responsibly, compromises being made, the deficit and debt being dealt with for 10, 15, 20 years, that that will help with businesses feeling more confident about aggressively investing in this country, foreign investors saying America has got its act together and are willing to invest.  And so it can have a positive impact in overall growth and employment.

It’s not the only solution.  We’re still going to have to have a strong jobs agenda.  But it is part of a solution.  I might add it is the primary solution that the Republicans have offered when it comes to jobs.  They keep on going out there and saying, “Mr. President, what are you doing about jobs?”  And when you ask them, well, what would you do?  “We’ve got to get government spending under control and we’ve got to get our deficits under control.”  So I say, okay, let’s go.  Where are they?  I mean, this is what they claim would be the single biggest boost to business certainty and confidence.  So what’s the holdup?

With respect to Social Security, as I indicated earlier, making changes to these programs is so difficult that this may be an opportunity for us to go ahead and do something smart that strengthens Social Security and gives not just this generation but future generations the opportunity to say this thing is going to be in there for the long haul.

Now, that may not be possible and you’re absolutely right that, as I said, Social Security is not the primary driver of our long-term deficits and debt.  On the other hand, we do want to make sure that Social Security is going to be there for the next generations, and if there is a reasonable deal to be had on it, it is one that I’m willing to pursue.

SAM STEIN:    Are there things with respect to Social Security, like raising the retirement age, means testing — are those too big a chunk for —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m probably not going to get into the details, Sam, right now of negotiations.  I might enjoy negotiating with you, but I don’t know how much juice you’ve got in the Republican caucus.  (Laughter.)  That’s what I figured.

SAM STEIN:    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.

LESLIE CLARK:    Have you — you’ve talked with economists, you said that economists have agreed that a deal needs to be made.  Have you worked with new U.S. business leaders at all to lobby Congress to raise the debt ceiling?  And if so, who are you talking to?

THE PRESIDENT: I have spoken extensively to business leaders.  And I’ll be honest with you.  I think that business leaders in the abstract want to see a resolution to this problem. What I’ve found is that they are somewhat hesitant to weigh in on some of these issues even if they’re willing to say something privately to me, partly because they’ve got a whole bunch of business pending before Congress and they don’t want to make anybody mad.

So this is a problem of our politics and our politicians, but it’s not exclusively a problem of our politics and our politicians.  The business community is a lot like everybody else, which is we want to cut everybody else’s stuff and we want to keep our stuff.  We want to cut our taxes, but if you want to raise revenue with somebody else’s taxes, that’s okay.  And that kind of mindset is why we never get the problem solved.

There have been business leaders, like Warren Buffet, who I think have spoken out forcefully on this issue.  I think some of the folks who participated in the Bowles-Simpson Commission made very clear that they would agree to a balanced approach even if it meant for them, individually, that they were seeing slightly higher taxes on their income, given that they’re — I think the average CEO, if I’m not mistaken, saw a 23 percent raise this past year while the average worker saw a zero to one percent raise last year.

So I think that there are a lot of well-meaning business people out there who recognize the need to make something happen. But I think that they’ve been hesitant to be as straightforward as I’d like when it says, this is what a balanced package means. It means that we’ve got some spending cuts; it means that we’ve got some increased revenue; and it means that we’re taking on some of the drivers of our long-term debt and deficits.

LESLIE CLARK:    And can you say, as the clock ticks down, whether or not the administration is —

THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry —

LESLIE CLARK:    Can you say, as the clock ticks down, whether or not the administration is working on any sort of contingency plans if things don’t happen by August?

THE PRESIDENT: We are going to get this done by August 2nd.

GEORGE CONDON:    Mr. President, to follow on Chip’s question, you said that the Speaker faces tough politics in his caucus.  Do you have complete confidence that he can deliver the votes on anything that he agrees to?  Is he in control of his caucus?

THE PRESIDENT: That’s a question for the Speaker, not a question for me.  My experience with John Boehner has been good. I think he’s a good man who wants to do right by the country.  I think that it’s a — as Chip alluded to, the politics that swept him into the speakership were good for a midterm election; they’re tough for governing.  And part of what the Republican caucus generally needs to recognize is that American democracy works when people listen to each other, we’re willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt, we assume the patriotism and good intentions of the other side, and we’re willing to make some sensible compromises to solve big problems.  And I think that there are members of that caucus who haven’t fully arrived at that realization yet.

GEORGE CONDON:    So your confidence in him wasn’t shaken by him walking away from the big deal he said he wanted?

THE PRESIDENT: These things are a tough process.  And, look, in fairness, a big deal would require a lot of work on the part of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and myself to bring Democrats along.  But the point is, is if everybody gets in the boat at the same time, it doesn’t tip over.  I think that was Bob Dole’s famous comment after striking a deal with the President and Mr. Gingrich back in the ’90s.  And that is always the case when it comes to difficult but important tasks like this.

Last question.

APRIL RYAN:    Mr. President, hi.  I want to revisit the issue of sacrifice.  In 2009, you said that — expect the worst to come; we have not seen the worst yet.  And now with these budget cuts looming, you have minorities, the poor, the elderly, as well as people who are scared of losing jobs fearful.  And also, what say you about Congressman Chaka Fattah’s bill, the Debt Free America Act?  Do you support that bill?  Are you supporting the Republican bill that is similar to his, modeled after Congressman Fattah’s bill?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m not going to comment on a particular bill right now.  Let me speak to the broader point that you’re asking about, April.

This recession has been hard on everybody, but obviously it’s harder on folks who’ve got less.  And the thing that I am obsessed with, and have been since I came into office, is all those families out there who are doing the right thing every single day, who are looking after their families, who are just struggling to keep up, and just feel like they’re falling behind, no matter how hard they work.

I got a letter this past week from a woman who — her husband had lost his job, had pounded the pavement, finally found a job.  They felt like things were stabilizing for a few months. Six months later he lost his second job.  Now they’re back looking again and trying to figure out how they are going to make ends meet.  And there are just hundreds of thousands of folks out there who really have seen as tough of an economy as we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

Now, we took very aggressive steps when I first came into office to yank the economy out of a potential Great Depression and stabilize it.  And we were largely successful in stabilizing it.  But we stabilized it at a level where unemployment is still too high and the economy is not growing fast enough to make up for all the jobs that were lost before I took office and the few months after I took office.

So this unemployment rate has been really stubborn.  There are a couple of ways that we can solve that.  Number one is to make sure that the overall economy is growing.  And so we have continued to take a series of steps to make sure that there’s money in people’s pockets that they can go out there and spend.  That’s what these payroll tax cuts were about.

We’ve taken a number of steps to make sure that businesses are willing to invest, and that’s what the small business tax cuts and some of the tax breaks for companies that are willing to invest in plants and equipment — and zero capital gains for small businesses — that’s what that was all about, was giving businesses more incentive to invest.

We have worked to make sure that the training programs that are out there for folks who are having to shift from jobs that may not exist anymore so that they can get the training they need for the jobs that do exist, that those are improved and sharpened.

We have put forward a series of proposals to make sure that regulations that may be unnecessary and are hampering some businesses from investing, that we are examining all of those for their cost and their benefits.  And if they are not providing the kind of benefits in terms of the public health, and clean air and clean water, and worker safety that have been promised, then we should get rid of some of those regulations.

So we’ve been looking at the whole menu of steps that can be taken.  We are now in a situation where because the economy has moved slower than we wanted, because of the deficits and debt that result from the recession and the crisis, that taking a approach that costs trillions of dollars is not an option.  We don’t have that kind of money right now.

What we can do is to solve this underlying debt and deficit problem for a long period of time so that then we can get back to having a conversation about, all right, since we now have solved this problem, that’s not — no longer what’s hampering economic growth, that’s not feeding business and uncertainty, everybody feels that the ground is stable under our feet, are there some strategies that we could pursue that would really focus on some targeted job growth — infrastructure being a primary example.

I mean, the infrastructure bank that we’ve proposed is relatively small.  But could we imagine a project where we’re rebuilding roads and bridges and ports and schools and broadband lines and smart grids, and taking all those construction workers and putting them to work right now?  I can imagine a very aggressive program like that that I think the American people would rally around and would be good for the economy not just next year or the year after, but for the next 20 or 30 years.

    But we can’t even have that conversation if people feel as if we don’t have our fiscal house in order.  So the idea here is let’s act now.  Let’s get this problem off the table.  And then with some firm footing, with a solid fiscal situation, we will then be in a position to make the kind of investments that I think are going to be necessary to win the future.

    So this is not a right or left, conservative-liberal situation.  This is how do we operate in a smart way, understanding that we’ve got some short-term challenges and some long-term challenges.  If we can solve some of those long-term challenges, that frees up some of our energies to be able to deal with some of these short-term ones, as well.

    All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.