Miles to go, promises to keep

Last Updated: Wed, Apr 29, 2009 12:56 hrs

Washington: President Barack Obama has not yet achieved the big campaign promises on health care, war, the economy and so much more. It's early, it's a colossal load and Rome wasn't built in 100 days.

He has delivered, though, on the work ethic he outlined back when his Republican presidential rival challenged him to suspend campaign events and confront the financial crisis. "You know," he said then, "presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time."

So he has.

Obama has moved ahead on the towering problem of health coverage, succeeding on the first baby steps, and has taken on still big-ticket items that other leaders might have mothballed in perilous times like these.

On foreign policy, energy and the environment, Obama the President is trying to do what Obama the candidate promised. No bait and switch here.

But he'll be judged on results, not effort.

He's broken some promises:

Obama's pledge to change the way Washington works is turning out to be a mix of gimmick, genuine reform and sidelined ambition.

He promised repeatedly not to raise taxes on anyone but the rich, then did, approving a tobacco tax increase that disproportionately hits the poor.

His broad directions, though, are rooted in the rhetoric of his change-is-coming campaign.

He's winding down the Iraq war, though a little more slowly than promised.
He's reached out to adversaries as he said he would, in a stark departure from President George W Bush's uncompromising world view.

A look at Obama's progress on a sampling of his promises:


The promise: "Every dollar I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut that it matches." - Presidential debate, October 15, 2008.

The performance: Obama's contention that his programs would not deepen the deficit was treated with great skepticism in the campaign, even before the financial crisis was in full fury. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated his policy proposals would add a net $428 billion to the deficit over four years, even accounting for his spending reduction goals. Now, the deficit is nearly quadrupling to $1.75 trillion, and few independent analysts believe he can meet his goal of halving the deficit in five years.


The promise: To pursue direct diplomacy with Iran and other hostile governments. Asked in a Democratic debate in 2007 whether he would meet the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea without conditions during his first year in office, he said: "I would." Later in the campaign, Obama hedged on that after being called naive by rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, now his secretary of state. But he stuck to his basic position that the U S should engage with unfriendly countries.

The performance: Obama has offered dialogue to Tehran, made a video appealing to the Iranian people and included Iran in multinational discussions on Afghanistan, while sticking to his insistence that the Iranians not be permitted to develop nuclear weapons.

And Obama %u2014 without conditions %u2014 crossed a room at the Summit of the Americas to shake the hand of Hugo Chavez, the fiercely anti-American leader of Venezuela, and chat briefly.

The promise: "There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban-Americans. That's why I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island." %u2014 May 23, 2008, speech, Miami.

The performance: This month, Obama delivered on the promise by announcing he will allow Cuban-Americans to visit families in Cuba and send money to them. He also opened possibilities for telecommunications cooperation between the two countries while honoring his pledge to keep the trade embargo largely intact until Havana allows more freedom.


The promise: "Obama will fund No Child Left Behind and improve its assessments and accountability systems." %u2014 Obama's "Blueprint for Change" platform.

The performance: The economic stimulus bill signed February 17 includes $25 billion for education improvements, including No Child Left Behind.

The promise: "When I'm President, we'll fight to make sure we're once again first in the world when it comes to high school graduation rates." %u2014 Dayton, Ohio, September 9, 2008.

The performance: This will be a work in progress for a long time. Obama's 2010 budget proposes new spending aimed at keeping at-risk kids in school.


The promise: "I will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming %u2014 an 80 percent reduction by 2050. To ensure this isn't just talk, I will also commit to interim targets toward this goal in 2020, 2030 and 2040. These reductions will start immediately." %u2014 October 8, 2007, Manchester, N.H.

The performance: The President's proposed budget would put the U S on his promised path. His administration's declaration that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases "endanger public health and welfare" was a stage-setting pronouncement for the long and contentious debate ahead. Prospects are uncertain, as the argument for emission controls tangles with concerns about higher energy costs to consumers arising from Obama's proposed cap-and-trade system.


The promise: "When you walk into my administration, you will not be able to work on regulations or contracts directly related to your former employer for two years. And when you leave, you will not be able to lobby the administration throughout the remainder of my term in office." %u2014 Manchester, N.H., June 22, 2007.

In November 2007 he said of lobbyists: "When I am president, they won't find a job in my White House."

The performance: Obama imposed strict rules barring registered lobbyists from working for him for two years after their registrations expire. But once in office he devised a waiver that would allow exceptions for "uniquely qualified individuals," including Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn, Obama's No. 2 Pentagon official.

The promise: "As president, Obama will not sign any nonemergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days." %u2014 Campaign Web site.

The performance: Poor, starting with his first bill, a nonemergency measure giving workers more time to take their pay discrimination cases to court. No more than two days passed before it became law. Only one bill in the first 11 was posted online for five days after it cleared Congress and before Obama signed it, the Cato Institute found.

Similar pledges to give the public more insight into decision-making have yet to bear fruit, such as one to disclose all communications between the White House and outside groups concerning regulatory policymaking. Obama is also preserving Bush-era secrecy surrounding dozens of FBI databases containing personal information about Americans and foreigners.

On the other hand, Obama strengthened access to government records under the Freedom of Information Act.


The promise: "Obama will expand eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance) programs and ensure that these programs continue to serve as a critical safety net." %u2014 Blueprint for Change.

The performance: Obama signed an extension of that children's program and provided $87 billion to help states pay for Medicaid in the stimulus package in February.

The promise: "The Obama plan will create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals who wish to purchase a private insurance

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