Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Review of the Obama Administration So Far

How Far Along We Are:
It's early, very early, but perhaps not as early as you might think.
We are now in Day 20 of the Obama Administration. To put this in perspective, a Presidential term is 1,461 days long (three years that are 365 days plus a leap year that is 366 days.)

Obama has now served 1.4% of his term.

Of course, as history has shown us, there is no assurance that a Presidential term will actually last 4 years. William Henry Harrison made it only 31 days, after falling ill following a long speech in cold weather at his inauguration. All in all, 7 men have served as President that served less than a full 4 years.

So, let's take stock of what Obama, the 43rd man to serve as President (he is often referred to as the 44th President, but those counts have Grover Cleveland as both the 22nd and 24th President as he served two split terms.)

(1) His Cabinet
Obama has named people to every spot. He currently has an active nominee or incumbent for every job except Health and Human Services (no replacement has yet been named for the withdrawn nomination of Tom Daschle, although Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) and Tennessee Gov. Phil Breseden (R) are rumored to be at the top of the list.)

He has his picks for cabinet heads in place at State, Defense, Justice, Energy, Treasury, Agriculture, EPA, Education, Interior, Homeland Security, Housing and Transportation.

Still vacant (and currently being filled by Bush administration holdovers) are Labor, Commerce and Health and Human Services.

Hilda Solis is going to have a continued, ugly, bruising nomination battle as questions have been raised around lobbying activities while she was in congress, her liberal record on labor and her husband's taxes.

Judd Gregg should sail through at Commerce, probably on a voice vote.

HHS would appear to be an easy win with either Sebelius or Bredesen, both of whom would presumably garner bipartisan support.

But, all in all, to have fully 20% of his department-head cabinet posts still vacant 20 days in is below average. Obama has had several very tough nomination fights (Geithner and Holder, who were ultimately successful as well as Daschle and Richardson who had to withdraw and Solis who is facing a tough fight.) If he still has vacancies in two weeks, it will start to be a serious problem. If he gets his spots filled soon, this will probably be forgotten in a month or two. But regardless, he has expended far more political capital than he wanted to getting his cabinet in place.

(2) Executive Orders
In many ways, executive orders are the most pure form of Presidential power. Since they are essentially administrative decisions, the President requires no one's permission to issue them and they have the force of law. Obama has been busy on this front, having issued 10 orders in his first 20 days:
(i) Order Pertaining to Executive Branch Ethics
Froze pay for cabinet officers, instituted tough new lobbying restrictions (although he has since waived them at least once)
(ii) Executive Branch Transparency
Order to provide greater compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and provide more open operation of the executive branch
(iii) Interrogations
Prohibition of torture and "enhanced interrogation techniques" and setting the Army Field Manual as the standard for interrogations
(iv) Gitmo Closure
Order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within 12 months
(v) Task Force on Detainees
Order creating a task force to evaluate options for the detainees currently held at Gitmo
(vi) Notification of Employee Rights
Executive order requiring the posting by employers of employee rights for all Federal contractors
(vii) Non-Allowable Expenses Under Government Contracts
Order promotiong the neutrality of the Federal Government in contractor / labor situations, prohibits reimbursement by the Government to contractors for anti-union organizing expenses such as the distribution of printed materials, employee meetings and consultants
(viii) Qualified Worker Continuation
An order requiring the retention of existing qualified workers when a new contractor takes over for an old contractor for a government contract.
(ix) Faith Based Initiatives
Order maintaining and strengthing the use of faith-based charities in government initiatives.
(x) Project Labor Agreements
Order mandating the use of a project labor agreement for large government contracts.

In all, he's issued a lot of executive orders for 20 days, mostly ones that would please liberals (with the exception of #9.) There is a lot of reversals of Bush administration policies, most notably on the treatment of detainees and prisoners and on labor relations, both with a more liberal bent to Obama Administration policies.

(3) Legislation
Obama has signed 2 pieces of legislation:
(i) The Fair Pay Act of 2009
Significantly extends the statute of limiations on lawsuits for pay discrimination. Named for Lilly Ledbetter, a woman who discovered after a long career that she had been underpaid relative to her male colleagues but was ineligible to sue due to the previous statute of limitations.
(ii) The Children's Health Insurance Program of 2009
Greatly expands the SCHIP program that provides free health insurance to children. Expands coverage from 7 million to 11 million children throughout the country. Finances through an increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes.

The SCHIP expansion is a significant (and very scantly noticed) piece of legislation. It is part of the incrementalist approach that I previously wrote Obama may well take towards universal healthcare. The increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes was an easy target, I intend to write a blog later on about why I disagree with this regressive tax, but regardless, it is an important piece of legislation.

Of course, all of this pales compared to the stimulus plan. It looks like Obama is is fairly on track to get a bill of some sort in the next few weeks.

So, in total, Obama has had an at-times rocky first 20 days in office, but has largely stuck to his agenda and priorities, despite detours along the way for tough nomination fights. He has done a lot with executive orders and signed one major piece of healthcare legislation. The judgement of his success in his first 100 days will largely be dependent on securing the rest of his cabinet, his stimulus package and, perhaps most overlooked, His and Geithner's plan for the remainder of TARP.

Seems like a long time since election day, doesn't it?

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