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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Margaret Spellings
Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy

October 13, 2004

Margaret Spellings

Good to be here today and I'm looking forward to answering your questions.

David, from Lawrence, KS writes:
How do answer the charge by Democrats that the new jobs being c reated are low-paying, have no benefits, and can't really support anyone? This could be very damaging to the President, but I've never heard him answer it directly.

Margaret Spellings
Great question, David.

Since last August, the American economy has created 1.9 million new jobs. These jobs are spread across the economy, and include job creation in high paying industries like health care, construction, manufacturing, transportation, professional services, education and health care.

Both the Council of Economic Advisers and the Department of Labor point out that claims of low-paying job creation are not supported by any available economic evidence.

So view these claims critically -- there's no evidence to support them. The jobs being created right now are broad-based and reflect a growing, strengthening economy.

Check out Lawrence Kudlow's column in today's Wall Street Journal.

Sean, from Smyrna, TN writes:
How much money is given to education. If there is so much money going to education why are computers messed up and books out of date and why are the schools having to sacrafice things to pay people. The hall ways in our schools are peeling and haven't been painted in years. There are actualy holes in them. How can i get money for the school to fix them when they are behined on expanding our over crowded school.

Margaret Spellings

President Bush has provided significant increases in federal funding for education. In fact, including the President's 2005 budget, federal spending on K-12 education has increased 49% since 2001. And the President has increased money for our neediest students from $8.8 billion in 2001 to $13.3 billion in his 2005 budget, a 52% increase.

This money goes to our neediest schools where local officials can choose how to best spend the money--on things like professional development for teachers, reducing class size, buying new books, or other local needs. Federal funding for education, however, is just one part of spending for schools. Most funding for schools comes from state and local governments including funds for school construction.

I'd advise you to contact your local schoolboard about issues you see at your local school.

Vaasu, from California writes:
What is president Bush doing about the tax loophole that encourages the outsourcing of great American jobs to cheap foreign markets?

Margaret Spellings
The President's goal is to ensure that every American who wants a job gets one. His plan focuses on two key fronts -- first, make the United States the best place in the world to do business. Second, make sure workers have the skills they need to get the jobs that are being created.

To make the United States more attractive to job creators, we cannot retreat into economic isolationism. It doesn't work, and it would mean fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for Americans. 12 million Americans wake up every day and have a job because of American exports to other countries. Another 5 million Americans go to work in the morning for a foreign company -- like BMW and Honda -- that chose to invest in this country. We shouldn't take actions that would jeopardize those high-paying jobs.

Instead, the President is focused on reducing the barriers to growth in this country, including high health care costs, regulatory burdens, frivolous lawsuits, and energy costs.

Another area he's focused on is our tax code. Our international tax rules penalize U.S. companies participating in the global marketplace. You remember Chrysler? It used to be an American company. It's now based out of Germany. Which means more jobs (and tax revenues) for Germans, fewer jobs (and tax revenues) for Americans. Many people believe our international tax laws played a key role in moving Chrysler to Germany.

The President is focused on reducing the tax burden on families and businesses, to encourage more work and job creation in this country. Plans to increase the tax burden on companies like Chrysler will only encourage more companies to move overseas.

Michael, from Cedar Rapids, IA writes:
What is the President doing so that the United States will remain on top of the world in the field of technology and computers?

Margaret Spellings

Thanks for asking, I could go on and on...and I will.

The President has set an aggressive agenda to keep America the most innovative country in the world. He has set a goal of making broadband access available to every American by 2007.

He has promoted math and science education to improve the quality of our nation's workforce. He has proposed the largest ever Federal research and development budget and doubled the funding for cutting edge science such as Nanotechnology - a research that holds the promise of revolutionizing technology development.

He has extended the research and experimentation tax credit to promote private sector research. He has signed legislation into law to fight against SPAM, which jams our information highways. He has worked to protect intellectual property from foreign piracy. He has championed eGovernment to make the Federal Government more efficient and consumer friendly through the improved use of technology.

He has called for computerizing medical records to improve the delivery of healthcare. And he has fought against placing new taxes on Internet access, which would increase the cost of important new services such as broadband.

In short, the President understands the need to keep our nation the most innovative in the world and his policy are doing just that. Thanks for asking.

Sandra, from Brownwood, Texas writes:
Why are there limitations on Medicaid for adults that say no matter what your health status, if you make over $270 per month for a family of 5 you cannot qualify for Medicaid? At the beginning of September I had a heart attack, cannot get health insurance where I work,and do not qualify for any government programs.

Margaret Spellings
Sandra, I'm sorry to hear about your heart attack. I sincerely hope you are feeling better.

The President has proposed to make health coverage more affordable for people like you who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Each state has its own income limitation for Medicaid coverage but they all have one thing in common: under Medicaid, you have to stay poor to stay covered.

That is why, instead of proposing to put millions more people on Medicaid, President Bush wants to provide income-related assistance to low-income workers and their families through "refundable tax credits." Families with incomes of up to $60,000 would qualify for these credits of as much as $3,000 annually to help them purchase health insurance coverage. The credits are "refundable," which means that you get the $3,000 whether or not you pay $3,000 in federal income taxes. They also are "advanceable," which means that you won't have to wait until tax time to get your tax credit. The credits will come to you throughout the year as your premiums come due.

To make it easier for you to find affordable coverage, the federal government will make grants to states to establish health insurance purchasing pools. This pool gives you a place to "shop" for coverage and let's save on your premiums by taking advantage of volume discounts.

You can take this credit in two ways: you can use the entire $3,000 for your health insurance premium or, if you choose, you can get a $2,000 subsidy and have the government put $1,000 into a health savings account. This account will belong to you -- not to your employer or the government. You can use money from the account to pay for your everyday medical expenses. If you have money left over at the end of the year, it stays in your account. And if you change jobs, you take the account with you. Your insurance policy will cover the big expenses, like hospitalizations and surgeries. Your employer can contribute to your account as well. And, given your income level, your children almost certainly qualify for coverage under the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), so the state can use SCHIP money to provide further help with your health insurance premiums and can also put money into your health savings account.

The President believes that giving you health coverage that you own and a health savings account that belongs to you is much better than putting you on Medicaid, where a raise or a job change can result in the government taking your health care away. He is working with Congress to provide this new health insurance assistance to millions of Americans like you who can't afford health insurance coverage.

In the meantime, you should contact your state Medicaid office and ask about whether your children can get coverage under SCHIP. This coverage is available today in every state.

Joshua, from New York, NY writes:
Last night I heard a panel of distinguished scientists discuss stem cell research, specificially the benefits of embryonic stem cell research. What scientific organization has backed the President's counter-claim that the present cell lines are sufficient for future stem cell research into diseases such as juvenile diabetes and Alzheimers?

Margaret Spellings
Very important issue, Joshua. Thank you for asking.

The issue is not, of course, a purely scientific one. Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of a human embryo. So, we need to look at both the scientific interest in more federal funding AND the moral question.

The balance President Bush struck in 2001 was to allow scientists in the private sector to use any available embryonic stem cell lines (including newer lines), to provide substantial federal support to all forms of stem cell research, and to tell researchers using embryonic stem cells that taxpayer funds cannot be used for research involving the additional destruction of a human embryo.

Embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage. It will be years before we'll know whether this research will ever produce a safe treatment for disease. However, there is a lot of evidence that the balance the President struck was the right one on both moral and scientific grounds. As the head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Zerhouni, has said, the science is moving forward faster than at any time in history. Last year, NIH provided half a billion dollars to all forms of stem cell research. Substantial funding is also being provided in the private sector. Adult stem cell research, which doesn't require the destruction of a human embryo, is continuing to show great promise. Clinical trials are underway in the U.S. on the use of adult stem cells to treat heart disease, parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and leukemia, multiple myeloma, and other blood cancers.

Wendy, from Jacksonville, NC writes:
Mrs. Spellings, I am concerned about the idea and programs like no child left behind. My child is 7 years old and is high functioning with downs. I am presently fighting for inclusion in the school system in Onslow county Does the no child left behind act include children with disibilities? How can i get the schools here to alter their programs for eceptional children?

Margaret Spellings
President Bush believes that every child can learn, and is a strong supporter of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He has provided significant increases in funding for this program--funding has increased from $6.3 billion in 2001 to $11.1 billion in the President's 2005 budget, a 75% increase. As you know, the President also proposed and signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which holds schools accountable for ensuring that every child can read and do math at grade level, including students with disabilities. Before NCLB, students (including minority students and special education students) were too often shuffled along from grade to grade without knowing how to read and do math. NCLB gives schools the flexibility to assess students with disabilities in the most appropriate way for each student, but still insists on high standards for every student.

President Bush also appointed the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, and that Commission submitted its report to the President in July of 2002.

The President accepted many of the recommendations to help students with disabilities to achieve their fullest potential.

It sounds like your son has a great advocate in you.

Krishan, from MA writes:
As a recently unemployed and now partly employed, along with the millions in the same boat, I am deeply concerned about the unemployment benefit. How come the president considers it more important to extend tax cuts of trillions and not be willing to extend the unemployment benefit?

Where is his compassion?


Margaret Spellings
The President will not be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a job, and he understands how crucial unemployment benefits are for those who are looking for work.

All states provide up to 26 weeks of income support for unemployed workers. The President has signed legislation to extend Federal unemployment benefits at least an additional 13 weeks three times since 2001, providing over $23 billion to help 7.8 million American workers.

Over the last thirteen months, we have seen over 1.9 million jobs created, and the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak of 6.3 percent last June to 5.4 percent in September and we expect that trend to continue.

Trent, from Orange County, CA writes:
Hello, I am a high school student and I have served on two school boards. I am a big fan of the No Child Left Behind Act but I have a question about it. My question is; how does the No Child Left Behind Act help schools that are not meeting the the national standard in standardized testing? Thank you for your time.

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for your service on your local school boards and for your support of No Child Left Behind! Across the country, we are seeing positive results and student achievement is rising.

First, No Child Left Behind does not set a national standard for schools. Each state develops its own testing and accountability system that best meets their needs, but that ensures that all students will be proficient in reading and math in twelve years. The annual targets that schools must meet are set by each state according to their state assessments.

Each state, as part of its accountability plan, must also develop a system of sanctions and rewards for schools. When schools do not meet their annual targets for two straight years, the school must develop a school improvement plan and allow parents to transfer their child to a higher-performing public school if they so choose. If the school does not meet their targets for a third straight year, it must offer after-school tutoring to struggling students. Each state is also required to set aside 4% of its total Title I allocation (that would be over $500 million of the Federal 2005 education budget) to assist schools that are identified as needing improvement. This funding goes directly to these schools to assist in improving the school, implementing new curricula, hiring reading instructors, or addressing other needs of the school.

President Bush has also provided significant increases in funding for Title I schools across the country--those schools that serve the neediest students. Including the President's 2005 budget, Title I funding has increased 52% since 2001, and overall K-12 funding has increased 49%.

John, from Hanover Park, IL writes:
How can we be sure that partially privatizing social security will NOT take our money for so-called "matching funds" for other persons' accounts?

Margaret Spellings
First, it's important to remember that the President does not favor privatizing Social Security. The publicly-administered Social Security system would still be there, providing benefits for today's seniors, as well as for younger workers who choose not to participate in the voluntary accounts.

The President favors personal ownership within the existing Social Security system. As a federal employee, I am given an opportunity to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The TSP permits me to designate a portion of my pay to be saved in a personal account. This account helps me and other federal employees to build a nest egg for retirement.

The TSP is not a privatized system. It is a system that offers personal choice and control, but is administered by a government agency. Similarly, with Social Security personal accounts, individuals would have greater choice and control, and personal ownership. The system would not be privatized.

The issue about which you are concerned is a much greater concern in the current Social Security system. The current system is promising more than $10 trillion in benefits in excess of what it can pay over the long term. If we do not act to fix it for our children and grandchildren, then in the future we will need to either suddenly reduce benefits or drastically increase tax revenues. If the government chooses to increase taxes by $10 trillion, it is likely that much of the additional money required from taxpayers like you would not go to strengthen your own benefits, but to finance other unfunded benefits in the system. Hence, taking more of your money is a much greater risk if we do not fix Social Security than if we establish personal accounts in a stable Social Security system.

Ary, from Alabama writes:
What if anything can the government do to guarantee its citizens protection against the flu by having enough of the vaccine readily available every year. No one should have to be at risk from the flu because of shortages in the supply.

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for the good question.

The President agrees with you and believes we need to do more so that Americans aren't at risk for future flu vaccine shortages. His budget has called for investing in next generation vaccine development to guarantee year-round influenza vaccine capacity. Congress has not funded his full request. Tort reform is also critical to getting modern vaccines to Americans.

The fact is that the manufacturing process for the current flu shot is very complicated -- it literally involves chickens and their eggs! The number of flu shots produced in any given year literally depends on decisions vaccine manufacturers make about those chickens and eggs many months before any flu shot is actually given.

Because of the critical shortage this year, President Bush has directed that our public health experts in the federal government do everything they can to make sure the flu shot is available to people who need the vaccine the most, America's children, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases. The government is working to direct the flu vaccine to these people. We are tracking the vaccine supply and demand all across the country, so that we can better respond to flu outbreaks when they occur. Last year, the President became the first President to authorize purchasing the flu vaccine for children, and the government spent $40 million dollars this year purchasing over 4 million doses. We are also stockpiling drugs to help treat people with the flu.

I am glad the President took the actions he did over the last several years because his decisions have made the federal government better able to deal with the unfortunate situation we face.

Robert, from Gillette, NJ writes:
Thank you for the opportunity speak with you. I am concerned about the growing budget deficit. Many lawmakers worked very hard for years to bring deficit spending under control and now it is back. Two things... why did this happen and what is being done to bring overspending under control? Thank you very much.

Margaret Spellings
The current deficits were primarily caused by a series of shocks that slowed the economy: the stock market downturn that began in 2000 and the subsequent recession that the President inherited as he took office, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, revelation of corporate scandals years in the making that shook investor confidence, and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. These shocks significantly hurt economic growth and, by extension, tax receipts.

President Bush is committed to spending what is necessary to win the War on Terror and protect the homeland, while restraining government spending elsewhere. Annually enacted spending unrelated to defense and homeland security was increasing by 15% in the budget year before President Bush took office. Under this President, the rate of growth has been reduced every year – to 6% in 2002, 5% in 2003, and 4% in 2004 – and his 2005 budget proposes to hold the growth of spending not related to security to less than 1%.

Total annually enacted spending will increase at less than 4% under the President’s Budget – in line with the average growth in American families’ incomes. With adoption of the President’s pro-growth economic policies and spending restraint, America will be on a solid path toward cutting the deficit in half within the next five years.

Laura, from Stanton, Kentucky writes:
First of all, I would like to say that I am for George W. Bush. I agree with him on all but one thing, stem cell research. I would like to know why the president is against stem cell research when it could help so many people with diseases?

I am the mommy of a 5 year old little boy who has Type 1 Diabetes. He has suffered with this since he was diagnosed at 17 months old. His Daddy and I are like so many other concerned parents of Type 1 Diabetes children. We have been told that the stem cell could cure so many diseases including Type 1 Diabetes and we just don't understand what the president has against this.

Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question that so many of us would like answered.

A very concerned mommy, Laura

Margaret Spellings
Laura -- Thank you for writing. I have several friends with children who have juvenile diabetes and an aunt who has Alzheimers, so I understand what you are talking about.

The first point I should say is that President Bush is not opposed to stem cell research. To the contrary -- he is the first President to support Federal Funding for embryonic stem cell research.

There are many different kinds of stem cell research, all of which are important to studying disease. Last year, the NIH provided over half a billion dollars for all forms of stem cell research. He has asked NIH to establish Centers of Excellence for stem cell research, which give scientists in this area extra support, and his Administration is establishing a Stem Cell registry, to make sure that scientists can get access to embryonic stem cells quickly.

In fact, more than 3,500 shipments of eligible stem cell lines have been sent to researchers for this important work.

The President has said only that researchers using taxpayer funds cannot use the funds for research that requires the destruction of an additional human embryo. Researchers can use private funds for any form of stem cell research.

Moreover, many scientists focus on stem cell research that does not require the destruction of a human embryo because it uses cells from placental tissue or bone marrow. This type of stem cell research has already produced treatments for disease, and there are clinical trials underway on new treatments for diseases like parkinsons, multiple sclerosis, and leukemia.

I should also note that stem cells are just one of the many areas scientists are studying for possible cures and treatments for diabetes. Since President Bush took office, funding for all forms of diabetes research has increased by $336 million dollars -- a 49% increase.

Stan, from Macon, MO writes:
The opponents are saying that the Patriot initiatives are going todo away with the Constitutional freedoms of Americans? How can the President assure America that will not happen now or in future administrations based on policy changes of today's Homeland Security?

Margaret Spellings
The President's said that his first responsibility is to protect America's families and communities from our enemies. He is determined to defend the lives of Americans while safeguarding their rights. As the President said at the debate last Friday night, Americans' rights are not being watered down by the Patriot Act, and he wouldn't support it if he thought the Act did not safeguard their rights.

To meet those responsibilities the President proposed and signed the Patriot Act. It gives the FBI and others on the front lines the tools they need to track and disrupt terror groups. It allows law enforcement and intelligence officials to work closely together to prevent attacks. The Act has been used to break up terror cells within our country. There are some in Congress who voted for this good law, but now want to weaken it. But when you hear attacks on the Patriot Act, keep a few things in mind: Many of its provisions have long been used against drug smugglers and mobsters – and they should also be used against terrorists. To prevent abuses, monitoring and searches are approved by judges. The President is protecting civil liberties and protecting American security – and there is no contradiction between them.

Margaret, from Plympton writes:
Although I am very firm in my standing for President Bush I am quite concerned about the issue of funding for present day and future veterans health care. When the President is asked about this he doesn't tell us much, what he does say is what he is doing finically for the military men and women now, which is very important, but that is an active duty issue, not a veteran one. My question to you is, since it's fairly well know that the democrats have a better record financially for supporting the veteran and their family, what, as a member of the republican party is President Bush planning to specifically do for the veterans when he is reelected? Because frankly I cannot find anything that maps out a clear plan for a secure future for the hundred of thousands of veterans this war is turning out, and the ones here at home that have already fought they're wars. Thank you. A concerned veteran.

Margaret Spellings

Thanks for a great question. You are right that President Bush has provided unwavering support to our men and women in uniform by increasing basic pay, improving housing, and providing better training and maintenance. He also strongly believes that American must honor its commitment to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for our Nation. That is why he has been proud to enact unprecedented support for health care services for veterans.

The President's budget for the VA represents an increase of almost $20 billion, or 40 percent, since 2001. The President increased veterans funding more in four years than the previous Administration did in eight. The President's budget includes a 41 percent increase in veterans’ medical care since 2001. This has allowed the VA to enroll 2.5 million more veterans, increase outpatient visits from 44 million to 54 million, increase prescriptions filled from 98 million to 116 million, and open 194 new community-based clinics.

In the coming years, the President is seeking to modernize VA facilities and provide more care to more veterans in more places, where veterans need it most, like the South and West where more veterans are retiring. Also, some veterans are receiving care in old, outdated hospitals. Those who have fought in 21st century wars shouldn’t have to receive care in pre-World War II facilities. The President has committed $1.5 billion in the 2004 and 2005 budgets, and additional funding will be requested in the future to increase outpatient health care services, build new hospitals, and replace outdated facilities. Eventually the VA will distribute its health care facilities so that the vast majority of veterans are within 30 miles of one.

By the way, you have a great name.

Jacki, from San Diego writes:
I'm trying to start my own business but can't get it up and running because I have to work at a job and try doing my business on the side. People have told me that there are grants to help, but I haven't found any. Is it true or just wishful thinking?

Margaret Spellings
Dear Jacki, President Bush has acted vigorously to encourage small businesses, because the entrepreneurial spirit, like yours, helps strengthen the nation's economy and create jobs. Of course it's difficult for me to know from your email what you need to succeed in business--a business plan, startup financing, information about customers, or something else. Fortunately, our experts at the Small Business Administration ( can talk with you about the resources available. The website interactive map will direct you to local resources for SCORE (business counseling), a local Small Business Development Center (business training and information), loans, and other resources. I'm glad you want to be an entrepreneur. Best wishes!

Sharon, from Tyler, Texas writes:
Is there ANYTHING POSITIVE on the horizon that will help theAmerican working public with the rising costs of medical care, medicines, and insurance? I seem to be in no one's "bracket" right now. Make too much for low income, but not enough to let me breath; I have company insurance but it is pretty lousy when you really have to use it. I've been watching the debates and am a solid Bush supporter -- and the only thing I wonder about is how can Canada buy from the drug companies here in the US and then sell them back to Americans cheaper than we can get them here? Is this true. And if so Why, why, why?

Margaret Spellings
Thank you for the question, Sharon.

There is good news on the way to help Americans control their health care costs. President Bush signed legislation creating Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), which people can set up when they purchase a low-premium, high-deductible health policy to cover major medical expenses. You can save tax-free in the HSA to pay for routine medical expenses or future health needs.

The President wants people with HSAs to be able to get a tax deduction for the premiums they pay for their policies, allowing greater savings on coverage and more control over health care spending. To extend the option of HSAs to low-income families, the President is calling for a $1000 contribution to the HSA and a $2000 tax credit toward the purchase of the health policy. The President believes it important that families maintain control over their health care as opposed to being placed in a government-run plan and simply transfer the cost to taxpayers.

60 percent of uninsured Americans work for small businesses, that is why the President has called for Association Health Plans (AHPs) to help small businesses band together to better provide care to their workers and families.

Finally, the President believes we need common-sense reforms to fix the run-away costs of the medical liability system where frivolous law suits are forcing providers to practice defensive medicine and running more doctors out of the practice of health care, increasing costs for all.

Russell, from St. Petersburg writes:
Why are reimported drugs from Canada less expensive? What is being done to eliminate this price gap at its source? Reimportation seems very inefficient to me for both a short and long term answer.

Margaret Spellings

Some brand name drugs are less costly abroad because many foreign countries impose price-controls on drugs and have government-run health care systems. This leads to the US supporting most of the world’s research and development of new, life-saving, breakthrough drugs. But not all drugs in Canada are less expensive. You will find popular generic drugs are often cheaper here.

The President has some concerns about importing drugs from Canada. Safety is his primary consideration, so any importation of drugs must guarantee Americans the same level of safety and effectiveness we currently have under the Food and Drug Administration. The President has appointed a federal task force to find out what resources and authority would be needed to ensure that importation could be done safely.

You are right though, that Americans deserve a more efficient and dependable source of prescription drugs here in America. President Bush has worked to make medicines more affordable for all Americans by passing a new Medicare drug benefit that will cut seniors' drug costs in half. Medicare approved drug discount cards are currently saving seniors up to 30 percent on their drugs, and low-income seniors are eligible for $600 of immediate assistance. We have also closed loopholes to speed generic drugs to market, which will save Americans $35 billion in drug costs over 10 years.

Jimmy, from Ballingary writes:
how do they get the figs into the fig rolls

Margaret Spellings
I've often wondered that myself. I bet they boil the figs, make a paste, roll out the dough, put the paste on the dough, slice it into cookies and bake. Does that sound right to you?

Margaret Spellings
Wheww!!!! That pretty much covered the waterfront on domestic policy (including the cookie question). Thanks for your participation. Until we meet again. Margaret

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