The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza has spent the time and effort to go through White House internal memos to gain insights into the legislative losses of the Obama administration.
Progessives complain that the President hasn’t done enough. The right complains he has bypassed the Constitution and done too much. Both claims are wrong. Until recently, President Obama has avoided doing the Bush thing – using executive orders to bypass Congress and signing statements to void laws. If he had done so, the Progressives would have nothing to complain about. Bush earned himself the professional political scientist s’designation as our third “constitutional dictator” after Lincoln and FDR, without the excuse of a Civil War and a Great Depression.
President Obama was elected on a list of promises, just as every president is. Bill Clinton was a rarity. With the support of a Democratic House and Senate, he fulfilled 73% of his campaign promises. The percentage of fulfilled promises was figured by the very conservative Florida Times Union before the 1996 election with a complete list of Clinton’s campaign promises and what legislative action had resulted. The list included the reform of the welfare system that Newt Gingrich is taking claim for. Sorry, Newt. If Clinton had gotten Hillary’s act together and put the health care reform package on the table in mid-1996, we would have had no need for Obamacare. It was the legislative action needed for the missing 27% of campaign promises. Most presidents don’t come close to a 73% fulfillment record. They learn very quickly that they have virtually no power. They can recommend, request and lobby, but they cannot write or pass laws. That’s the way the Constitution was written – the legislative branch writes the law, the executive branch implements and enforces the law, the judiciary branch interprets and rules on the law.
The right wing also claims that the President had a majority in both the House and Senate in the first two years of his term, and he forced legislation down our reluctant throats. Also wrong.
Almost 300 laws and appointments were stopped dead by the minority of the Senate through the filibuster. All any senator has to do is say “I object” and a bill is not debated or voted upon until 60 senators agree to release it from the penalty box. Through the filibuster, the Republican Party thwarted not just the will of the President, but the will of the people who elected him.
So, what were the President’s big losses? Lizza listed them, along with the reasons they were abandoned.
In 2008, Obama promised a “bold space program.” The hysteria over the deficit stopped those plans. A memo from the West Wing explained, “Especially in light of our new fiscal context, it is not possible to achieve the inspiring space program goals discussed during the campaign.”
Obama proposed a smart energy grid, something this nation desperately needs. Just ask the millions who end up with rolling brown outs in the summer or black-outs after storms. The full 21st century visionary power grid involves solar farms in the deserts of the southwest, wind turbines in wheat fields of the midwest and a grid that controls and directs power efficiently and effectively, and preferably most of it buried underground. His advisers told him it would cost too much not provide enough short-term stimulus. They key words are “short term.” We are a nation addicted to instant gratification. We can no longer see the long-term benefits of anything.
The White House budget called for decreasing defense spending to preserve domestic programs. There was no way to get that past the Republicans. It is vital to the survival of any fascist regime that there be a powerful and eminent threat to our security. That requires a strong defense. The fact is that the military-industrial complex is alive and well and the Republicans will do anything to defend the incomes of defense contractors. The rest of us can starve to death in the cold dark.
Obama wanted a 5% increase on income taxes for those making a quarter of a million dollars a year, while retaining the Bush tax cuts on the lower income brackets. That would have brought in an additional $11 billion in revenue by 2015. There were higher taxes during the Vietnam War to pay for the war, instead of the tax cuts that Bush pushed through. The top tax rate was 90% during the Eisenhower administration to pay down a national debt equal to 125% of our GDP, much worse than our current national debt. The Bush tax cuts had not produced jobs or increased investments in America, just greater wealth for the already wealthy. The idea had to be sacrificed for unemployment benefits to sustain those who lost their jobs of Bush-onomics.
The White House wanted to scale back the budget for the State Department in its first budget. Secretary Clinton opposed any cuts. The dispute was seen as a weapon that the right wing could use, so the President lobbied for a bigger State Department budget. It turned out to be very necessary as the Middle East went wonkos.
There were aspects of both the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank that were stopped by the Republicans, thereby setting them up to fail. In the ACA, there was supposed to be a pilot program that would help determine the most effective treatments for patients. It was killed. In Dodd-Frank, there have been filibusters to prevent implementing portions of the bill, including the appointments necessary to get the required agencies up and running. It was determined in the White House that fighting for some of these things was pointless.
Early on, the President was forced to abandon his plans to get major stimulus spending and use Keynesian economics principles to help the economy recover. He was up against a chorus of right wingers screaming about over-spending, deficits, the national debt and socialism. The over-spending, the deficits and the national debt were never their concern during the Iraq and Afghan wars that cost nearly one trillion unfunded dollars or an unfunded Medicare drug program that included no provisions for bargaining for drug prices.
It’s a litany not of broken promises as the Republicans claim, but of dreams dashed on the rocks of partisanship. We elected the dream, the audacity of hope and promise of change. We ran headlong into an entrenched oligarchy with enough money and enough media control to persuade too many of our fellow citizens that the sky is purple and they have to reclaim this nation from some nebulous nefarious force, using code words for taking it back from minorities, immigrants, non-fundamentalists, gays, welfare queens and entitlement recipients, even when they themselves were recipients of those “entitlements.” We are losing our country to those who wish to take it back to the late 19th century instead of forward into the 21st. We can fight them for our future or let them drag us back into the past. It is time to take back our country.