Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Has Obama Accomplished So Far?

by Richard Crews
Much has been said about Obama's preoccupation with health-care legislation during his first year in office. When this is coupled with observation of the obstructive paralysis in Congress, this has led to the implication that he hasn't gotten much done. Nothing could be farther--FARTHER--from the truth.

Even legislatively--over tremendous lobbying pressures--he has, for example, gotten the Fair Pay Act passed expanding significantly the rights of women to sue over prejudicial pay inequities. And gotten passed new authority for the federal government to regulate tobacco. And substantial consumer protection legislation for credit card users. And legislation expanding health care to cover some 12 million children and poor families. And more.

But, the partisan paralysis in Congress being what it is, Obama has also accomplished a great deal through executive orders which build on, redesign, and reinterpret existing laws without needing Congressional action. For example:

Executive Order 134990 banning every member of the Executive Branch from accepting gifts from lobbyists, and from engaging in any lobbying activities for two years after leaving office.

EO 13491 banning torture, rendition, and CIA-run detention facilities.

EO 13505 removing barriers to responsible scientific research involving human stem cells.

EO 13514 providing federal leadership in environmental, energy, and economic matters.

EO 13526 limiting the use of "classified" designation which was used widely to keep government activities from public view.

Those are just a few of his many significant accomplishments. In addition


Passing stimulus, generating jobs. On February 17, 2009, Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill into law. In December 2009, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report estimating that "in the third quarter of calendar year 2009, an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed in the United States" due to that legislation. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, CBO has increased its estimate to 800,000 to 2.4 million additional employed through the fourth quarter of that year. Moreover, a November 20, 2009, New York Times article reported that the "consensus" among "dispassionate analysts" is that "the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working," citing nonpartisan analyses of gross domestic product and total employment figures by several companies specializing in economic forecasting. Further, a January 25 USA Today article stated that, according to its "quarterly survey of 50 economists," "[u]nemployment would have hit 10.8% -- higher than December's 10% rate -- without Obama's $787 billion stimulus program," adding, "The difference would translate into another 1.2 million lost jobs."

Eliminating wasteful spending. Obama was able to achieve some significant cuts to wasteful spending -- most notably, the elimination of the F-22 fighter jet program after he successfully lobbied the Senate to vote to strip out financing for more jets from a defense funding authorization bill. The Washington Times reported on January 14 that Obama won "60 percent of his proposed cuts" and also managed "to get Congress to ax several programs that had bedeviled President George W. Bush for years."

Sotomayor nomination. On May 26, 2009, Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court to replace the retiring Justice David Souter. She was confirmed by the Senate on August 6, 2009, and sworn in August 8, making her the first Hispanic justice, and only the third woman, on the court.

Public lands bill. On March 30, Obama signed an omnibus public lands bill, which The New York Times reported "allows for 2 million more acres to be declared wilderness... [with] more than 1,000 miles designated as scenic rivers, and adds land for national trails."

Transparency. The Washington Post reported that moves by the Obama administration to improve government transparency "included a ban on lobbyist gifts; restrictions on the hiring of lobbyists; publication of White House visitor logs and other records; and a move to bar lobbyists from serving on advisory boards." A report by Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, and U.S. PIRG stated that: "The cumulative effect of the Administration's actions has been to adopt the strongest and most comprehensive lobbying, ethics and transparency rules and policies ever established by an Administration to govern its own activities."

National service. On April 21, 2009, Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expands the scope of AmeriCorps and provides opportunities for young people and senior citizens to join in service programs.

We cannot say what he might have accomplished if there had been a functional Congress. But even without one, he has accomplished a great deal.