Obama Claims He’s Just Getting Warmed Up
WASHINGTON - Barack Obama is only the latest president to discover how much easier it is to make a campaign promise than to fulfill it.
A year after he won election, Obama has kept some promises, including ones he didn't need Congress to approve. He has made progress - and compromises - on others that require congressional action. He has broken a few that proved impractical or threatened to tie his hands. He has delayed action on some of the most controversial.
His pledges were so specific that it has been difficult for Obama to stick to them all. Some analysts, however, give the president high marks just for trying such heavy lifts as revamping the nation's health care system.
"You can't fault him for lack of effort," says Mark McClellan, a top health official in the George W. Bush administration. "The big picture is incomplete. A lot of the major promises he made, those are all in process."
More than eight in 10 Americans said it's important that Obama keep his campaign promises in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll this month. But only 48 percent said he has been keeping them, down from 65 percent in April. The poll of 1,521 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Obama's message is simple: He has done plenty in nine months. "Here is my main message to you: We're just getting started," he told Miami supporters Monday. "Change isn't supposed to be easy. We're supposed to have to fight for it."
Critics on the left and right cite pledges they say have gone unmet. Roger Hickey of the liberal Campaign for America's Future says giving the Federal Reserve more power to regulate banks is like "putting the banks in charge of the banks." House Republican leader John Boehner says taxes proposed to pay for health care would hit the middle class.
Obama's predicament is illustrated by the two-year, $787 billion package of tax cuts and spending increases passed in February. It fulfilled many campaign promises but contributed to a rising $1.4 trillion deficit, something he vowed to reduce.
"He tucked a lot of his campaign promises on the economic front into the stimulus package, where for the most part they fit," says Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute, which tends to take liberal positions, and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
How Obama has translated promises into action breaks down into six categories:
- Congressional action. The stimulus bill included money for promises such as expanded unemployment insurance, alternative energy sources and highway construction. Obama also won passage of laws bolstering the rights of credit card holders, expanding the state Children's Health Insurance Program, protecting victims of hate crimes, boosting volunteerism, helping victims of pay discrimination in court and putting anti-terrorism restrictions on aid to Pakistan.
- Presidential initiatives. Obama added troops in Afghanistan, required humane treatment of suspected terrorists, lifted restrictions on the flow of family members and money to Cuba, and gave a major address to the Muslim world in Cairo. He also created a fund to help homeowners facing foreclosure, reversed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and appointed Republicans to his administration.
- In the works. Major health legislation is pending before the House and Senate; climate change legislation has passed the House, but Senate action isn't likely until next year. In its early stages is a pledge cited by the jurors who awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize: reducing the world's arsenal of nuclear weapons.
- Fits and starts. The president took early action to begin drawing down troops from Iraq, which had been set in motion at the end of the Bush administration, and to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. In both cases, progress has been slow. About 120,000 servicemembers remain in Iraq, 10 months before Obama's planned removal of all combat forces. And 221 detainees remain at Guantanamo less than three months before its scheduled closure.
- On hold. Some pledges have yet to get started. Obama said he would extend most of President Bush's tax cuts on middle-class families but end them for the wealthy - by the end of 2010. He has yet to tackle making Social Security solvent, creating a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, or making it easier for lesbians gay men to serve in the military - all issues that divide Congress.
- Broken promises. Obama has gone back on his word occasionally. He said he wouldn't hire lobbyists to work in their area of expertise, but he hired former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn at the Pentagon. He said he would conduct health care negotiations on C-SPAN, but the melding of five bills has been done by Democrats behind closed doors.
In general, Obama is given credit for trying to break Washington's partisan gridlock, though he has yet to succeed. "He has brought a kind of openness to the presidency," presidential historian Douglas Brinkley says. "So I think he's delivered on that one big promise."