Sunday, January 22, 2012

President Obama's Scorecard - After 3 Years, The End of Stimulus

President Obama - Center-Left Leader

Lost in the fervor of the primary season is the quiet passing of the 3 year anniversary of President Barack Obama's inauguration.

There is a lot of rhetoric on both sides around the President's performance.  Is he a European Socialist?  A moderate pragmatist?  A shrinking violet or a badass Commander-in-Chief who kills terrorists?  An ineffective President or a victim of Republican obstructionism?

I've made no secret over the past few years about how valuable fact-checking sites like Politifact are.  It's been a long time since we've reviewed the President's 2008 campaign promises, but his 3 year anniversary seems like as good a time as any.

Whether what the President stands for is a debate for those of us of varying political philosophies to have.  But whether he did what he said he would do is more or less fact.

Politifact kept meticulous track of the President's promises and were able to document 508 specific things that then-candidate Barack Obama said he would do if elected to office.  Of those 508, 2 were specific to how he would respond to a national disaster, so they can only be evaluated if one occurs, therefore we will focus on the other 506 promises.

Of those 506, Politifact rates him as follows:
162 Promises Kept
50 Compromise (partially implemented based on a deal he cut with Republicans or others)
56 Broken (he had a chance to execute them but did not)
64 Stalled (the President still advocates for this position but has been unable to secure action on it)
172 "In The Works" (basically have not been acted on, but he seems to still advocate for)

If you give the President a 1 point for Promises Kept and half a point for Compromises, he's effectively implemented 190 out of 506 things he said or 38% of his promises.

There is a fair argument to be made to exclude the "In The Works" promises from the calculation.  President Obama never said he would do everything in the first 3 years and it is fair to say that there are some issues he simply hasn't gotten to yet.

Excluding those 172, he gets 190 points out of a possible 334 or a completion rate of 57%.

Since "Stalled" promises for the most part represent things that Congress has blocked the President's preferred path, it would also be fair to say that of the things he has been able to influence, he gets 190 points out of a possible 270 or 70%.

So, basically, on the things the President has been able to control to some extent, he has been 70% consistent with what he's said on the campaign trail.

Frankly, that's not a bad record.  By and large, we got what we were promised from President Obama. 

Of the promises that he has broken, it is instructive to see that in most cases, they are basically he leaned further right than what he campaigned on.  Some of the key promises he broke include:
* Increasing taxes on high income earners including repealing the Bush Tax cuts
* Signing card check
* Greater worker rights including guaranteed sick days and expanded FMLA
* Closing GITMO / trying terrorists in civilian courts
* Increasing the minimum wage to $9.50/hour
* Implementing Cap and Trade
* Introducing comprehensive immigration reform

So, ironically, the left has a whole lot more to complain about than the right.  The things President Obama has done have largely either been in line with how he campaigned, or meaningfully to the right of how he campaigned. 

You will hear some pretty crazy rhetoric about President Obama in the coming season.  But President Obama has not acted as a liberal, he's operated as a left-center progressive, far more similar to Bill Clinton than Jimmy Carter.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - Did It Work?
Not surprisingly, all of the most significant legislation that President Obama has signed into law over his term occurred during the first two years of his term, when Democrats at least nominally controlled both houses of Congress.  Clearly, in my mind, the most significant pieces of legislation were:
* The American Recovery and Reinvesment Act (aka The Stimulus)
* The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)
* Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

Of these, the stimulus package really set economic policy for the first three years of his administration.  As of today, the $741B of the $799B in tax cuts and spending set out in the bill has been spent or 93%.  So, the effect of the bill is almost complete.

Republicans will rightly complain that the President projected that unemployment would remain under 8.5% with the bill, a marker that it didn't even come close to meeting.  The President will argue that things would have been far worse without the bill.

The problem is, we don't have an alternative universe under which to gauge how things would have been different without the bill.  Definitely aspects of the tax incentives clearly worked, such as Cash for Clunkers revitalizing the auto industry or clean energy tax credits creating a boom in the installation of energy efficient windows and solar panels.  But the large quantities of transfer payments to states and enhanced entitlement spending are a lot more grey.  Did they simply shift the problems of states and individuals to problems of federal debt?  And how will we ultimately pay for all of this?

These are all issues to debate in the coming election.  It would help in that debate if either side had a real opinion about how to rein in the deficit.  President Obama seems content to talk about letting tax cuts expire while continuing to extend them.  Republicans seem to want even lower taxes without a real plan to cut the kind of spending that would be required.

Third party candidate, anyone?

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