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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.


Claude A. Allen
Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy

February 17, 2006

Claude A. Allen
Good Afternoon. It a pleasure to be with you today from the White House and the Domestic Policy Council. As we are celebrating African American History Month, I am reminded of my own heritage and am thankful for the opportunity to celebrate it as a member of the President's staff.

The Domestic Policy Council serves the President by providing advice on all non-economic policy issues including education, health care, labor, housing, veterans, HIV/AIDS, and other domestic issues. I look forward to receiving your questions.

kate, from Bethesda, MD writes:
hey, what is your job, and what do you do?

Claude A. Allen
I hope my introduction answers your question.

Nato, from Georgia writes:
When will immigration law be passed?

Claude A. Allen
Nato, comprehensive immigration reform is a top priority for the Administration. The President has called for comprehensive immigration reform to (1) secure the border, (2) improve enforcement of immigration laws within the United States, and (3) create a temporary worker program that will relieve pressure on the border and reject amnesty. The House of Representatives took an important step toward the President's goal of comprehensive immigration reform in December with valuable legislation to enhance border security and interior enforcement. The Senate plans to consider comprehensive immigration reform next month. The President will continue working with Congress so Congress can pass and he can sign a comprehensive immigration reform bill into law in 2006.

Karen, from Tampa, Florida writes:
what exactly is the American Competitivness Initiative? I'm not sure I really understand it... thanks

Claude A. Allen
President Bush proposed the American Competitive Initiative during his State of the Union Address as a follow on effort to his 2004 innovation initiative to keep America a global leader in innovation. The ACI consists of a proposal to double the critical core physical science budgets of three agencies over 10 years: the National Science Foundation; the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce National Institute for Standards and Technology. Additionally, ACI calls for investments in K-12 education by training 70,000 teachers in science and math education so they can inspire students in elementary school and provide targeted assistance in middle school for students who need additional math instruction.

The ACI also seeks to recruit, train, and deploy 30,000 math, science, engineers, and technology experts from the private sector in classrooms across the US to enrich the math and science education students receive. Other components of the program include providing Career Advancement Accounts to 800,000 workers to seek skills and education that will prepare them to take jobs of the 21st century.

Finally, ACI calls for immigration policy reforms designed to attract the world's best and brightest to work along side America's best and brightest in math, science, and engineering fields of research and development.

Nancy, from Newark, DE writes:
Mr. Allen,I feel that the President, although he claims to have a diverse administration, does not have as many minorities as former Presidents have had. Being a minority, how do you respond to this as well as what actions has the President taken in helping minorities in our country?

Claude A. Allen
Thanks for your question Nancy, but this President actually has created a very diverse Administration. For instance, if you include women, 8 out of 15 Cabinet Secretaries are diverse candidates which makes the current cabinet the most diverse ever. These high profile cabinet positions are held by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, just to name a few.

This President is serious about bringing a strong, diverse team into the Federal Government. He believes that diversity is one factor that makes America strong. President Bush is personally involved in the selection of all of our Senate confirmed appointees during bi-weekly meetings with the Office of Presidential Personnel. Right now, there are currently 1,639 of these appointments in the Administration!

Nick, from Washington, D.C. writes:
Mr. Allen: First, best wishes to you as you prepare to leave the White House. Second, I'm wondering how many seniors have enrolled in the Medicare drug benefit program, and if you think that the implementation has been succesful thus far? Many thanks for your service.

Claude A. Allen
Thank you for your good wishes Nick, and you ask a very important question. I would certainly say that the Medicare prescription drug benefit enrollment is going well thus far. More than 24 million seniors have already enrolled to date, hundreds of thousands more are enrolling each week, and the vast majority of beneficiaries use their card without any difficulties. More than a million prescriptions are being filled every day.

There were, as you may have seen in the press, some initial enrollment issues, and the Department of Health and Human Services has been working through those quite well. These problems mainly involved individuals who were "dually eligible" for both Medicare and Medicaid. There was some confusion in the system, and in some cases states stepped in and reimbursed pharmacists while the problems were solved. In those cases, we are making those states whole.

Overall, the program is already showing great results and savings. The competition in the prescription drug market has been stronger than expected and is lowering costs for taxpayers and seniors alike. This year, the Federal government will spend 20 percent less overall on the Medicare drug benefit than had been projected just last July. The average premium that seniors pay is a third less than had been expected -- just $25 per month, instead of $37 per month. And the typical senior will end up spending about half of what they used to spend on prescription drugs each year.

Troy, from Harrisburg writes:
Are there any significant African American paintingspiecs of art work in the White House? I thought it was great so many Presidents attended Mrs. Kings funeral and didn't know if there was a portrait of her or Dr. King.

Claude A. Allen
At the moment we have several pieces of African-American art on display at the White House. The first that comes to mind would have to be "Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City" by Henry Ossawa Tanna that hangs in the Green Room as part of the White House collection since about 1994. There are also the portraits of President William Clinton and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, both by African-American artist Simmie Knox. President Clinton's portrait is currently on display in the entrance hall and Senator Clinton's portrait is displayed on the ground floor Ease Wing corridor. A final piece that I can recall is a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. on loan from the National Portrait Gallery since about 2000. The bust currently sits in the library and is the work of yet another African-American artist Charles Alston.

Daniel, from Lakeville, CT writes:
When do you think Health Savings Accounts and the American Competitiveness Initiative will be taken up by Congress? Thank you.

Claude A. Allen
Thank you for your question. There are several bills introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives that include elements of the President's Healthcare Initiative and the American Competitiveness Initiative that enjoy bipartisan support. Legislation in these areas are working their way through the committee process.

Terry, from Illinois writes:
What exactly is the Voting Rights Act? I thought we all had the right to vote in our country, hense why we are a democracy?

Claude A. Allen
Thanks for your question, Terry. The Voting Rights Act, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, has been called one of the most successful pieces of civil rights legislation ever enacted. Most important, the Voting Rights Act enforces the Constitution's ban on discrimination in voting on the basis of race.

President Bush has directed the full power and resources of the Justice Department to protect each person's right to vote and to preserve the integrity of our voting process. The President has also called on Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act, and the Administration looks forward to working with Congress in the coming year to reauthorize this vital piece of civil rights legislation.

John, from Texas writes:
How committed is the president to renewing the Voter Rights Act? Is he lobbying Congress forcefully enough? I know his father, back when he was a Republican congressman from Texas during the LBJ era, had political and moral courage when he supported it. A Republican southerner supporting voters rights was a rare breed back then.

Claude A. Allen
Good follow-up question, John. President Bush is strongly committed to renewing the Voting Rights Act and ensuring that every qualified person in every community of American citizens has an equal chance to vote and to have that vote count. As the Attorney General emphasized earlier this week, President Bush's administration will push for renewing the Voting Rights Act, which is one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in our Nation's history.

Jackie, from Washington D.C. writes:
Who was the greatest personal influence in your life? And besides George W. Bush, which President do you most admire and why?

Claude A. Allen
Jackie, thank you for your question. I feel the individual who most influenced my life would have to be my grandfather, who I might add lived to be an impressive 114 years old. In terms of past Presidents, I have always admired the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and that of Ronald Reagan.

Claude A. Allen
Well, we seem to have run out of time. Thank you for your interest in domestic issues and for all of your thoughtful questions.

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