Policy Initiatives Dominate Obama's First Hundred Days

4965468When it comes to his policy initiatives, President Obama has been a man in a hurry. He's got a four year term lasting 1,461 days, but he made a deliberative effort to get his major policy initiatives on the agenda scoreboard in the first hundred days.

Since taking office, programs with an economic component have been Mr. Obama's top priorities, including a stimulus package, the budget, energy, environment and health care programs. But foreign policy initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan were also put forward.

Here is an examination of the panoply of issues the president has pursued in his first hundred days:

ECONOMIC STIMULUS:

Four days into his presidency, President Obama used his first Saturday radio and internet address to make the case for giving the troubled economy another massive financial boost in order to ease if not reverse the recession.

"In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse," Mr. Obama told the nation.

The Democratic majority in the House was quick to comply, enacting a stimulus bill a week and a day after the Inauguration, though not a single Republican voted for it.

It took until Feb 10th for the Senate to approve the plan, and after a legislative conference both chambers approved it again on Feb. 13th. Four days later in Denver, the president signed the $787-billion measure into law. Named the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the bill contained energy provisions that President Obama views as essential to economic revitalization.

"It will put 460,000 Americans to work, with clean energy investments and double the capacity to generate alternative energy over the next three years," he said.

MORTGAGE ASSISTANCE:

A day after signing the stimulus bill, President Obama used a speech in Mesa, Arizona to unveil his plan to help some homeowners with their mortgages. The plan estimates that as many as 9 million of those it calls "responsible homeowners" could be assisted.

"This plan will not save every home," said the president. "But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild. It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy."

REGULATORY REFORM:

Launched on Feb. 25th, the president said the financial crisis cried out for a new system of regulation of the industry.

"The choice we face is not between some oppressive government-run economy or a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism," he said. "Rather, strong financial markets require clear rules of the road, not to hinder financial institutions, but to protect consumers and investors, and ultimately to keep those financial institutions strong."

His plan, among other things, calls for "serious oversight" by the government of financial institutions that pose systemic risks to the market.

He also calls for "strict accountability, starting at the top," saying that executives who violate the public trust must be held responsible.

THE BUDGET:

The next day, Feb. 26th, President Obama announced his federal budget plan for the current and upcoming fiscal years. It projected massive spending and deficits:

FY'09: $3.9-trillion in spending and a $1.852-trillion deficit.
FY'10: $3.6-trillion in spending and a $1.2-trillion deficit.

He blamed the record deficits on his predecessor.

"Having inherited a trillion-dollar deficit that will take a long time for us to close, we need to focus on what we need to move the economy forward, not on what's nice to have," he said.

The Obama budget also calls for tax hikes on higher-income earners beginning
in 2011 – to affect individuals making over $200,000 a year and families over $250,000.

"And we'll save billions of dollars by rolling back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while giving a middle-class tax cut to 95 percent of hardworking families," he said.

HEALTH CARE:

In the budget for next year, President Obama put aside a $635-billion "reserve fund" to provide health care for the uninsured.

"With this budget, we are making a historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform," he said. "It's a step that will not only make families healthier and companies more competitive, but over the long term it will also help us bring down our deficit."

On March 5th, Mr. Obama hosted a White House Conference on health care reform to hear from democrats and republicans.

"By a wide margin, the biggest threat to our nation's balance sheet is the skyrocketing cost of health care," said the president. "It's not even close. That's why we cannot delay this discussion any longer.

But at the same time, he said, "the status quo is the one option that's not on the table."

IRAQ WITHDRAWAL:

At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on Feb. 27th, President Obama appeared before hundreds of Marines and other personnel to announce that he had finished talks with his National Security team and settled on a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Iraq.

"Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," he said. "So let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

FEDERAL CONTRACTING REFORM:

On March 4th, he used an event to sign a Presidential Memorandum designed to fix problems in the system of federal contracting.

"We are spending money on things that we don't need, and we're paying more than we need to pay," said Mr. Obama. "And that's completely unacceptable."

FUNDING FOR EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH:

In the East Room on March 9th, the President signed an Executive Order lifting the ban imposed by his immediate predecessor that barred any new federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

"...we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for and fought for these past eight years," he said.

Mr. Obama delivered pointed criticism of the reasoning behind President Bush's ban in 2001.

"...when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," said Mr. Obama. "In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent."

EDUCATION:

In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 10th, the president called for a substantial overhaul of the nation's educational system – most of which is run by the states. He said the time for finger-pointing is over –and the time for holding everyone accountable is here.

"It's time to expect more from our students," he said. "It's time to start rewarding good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones. It's time to demand results from government at every level. It's time to prepare every child, everywhere in America, to out-compete any worker, anywhere in the world."

He said it's time for every American to receive what he called - a complete and competitive education - from the cradle to a career. His goal, he said, is to make the US educational system – the envy of the world.

He also advocates merit pay for teachers and longer school years for students.

EARMARK REFORM :

On March 11th, President Obama signed a $410-billion Omnibus Appropriations Bill though it contained over 8500 earmarks valued at $7.7-billion.

"I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it's necessary for the ongoing functions of government, and we have a lot more work to do," he said.

But he went on to announce his approach – not to ban earmarks – but to make the process more transparent and accountable.

"Earmarks must have a legitimate and worthy public purpose," said Mr. Obama. "Earmarks that members do seek must be aired on those members' websites in advance, so the public and the press can examine them and judge their merits for themselves."

But the president can't force Congress to accept his proposals – and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer essentially told the White House to butt out of the issue and let Congress come up with its own rules on earmarks.

NATIONAL DEBT:

On March 16th, the National Debt hit $11-trillion for the first time in US history. The Debt was $10.6-trillion on the day President Obama took office.

His budget projects the National Debt will soar to $16.2-trillion in 2012. President Obama rejected criticism on the subject from Republicans.

"I suspect that some of those Republican critics have a short memory, because as I recall I'm inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit, annual deficit, from them," he said. "That would be point number one."

He also insists his plan will cut the size of the annual deficit in half in four years.

AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN:

At a morning event on March 27th, President Obama announced what he called a "comprehensive new strategy" for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"...I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan 11 and to prevent their return to either country in the future," he said.

He announced he'll be deploying another 4,000 American troops in Afghanistan, mainly to serve as trainers for Afghan security forces.

"Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner," said the president.

He said the US will accelerate its efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000, and to meet those goals by 2011.

CUBA:

On April 13th, the same day he hosted his first Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn, President Obama signed a directive easing some restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba on those with relatives there.

A White House fact sheet explained the President's intentions:

"All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects basic human, political and economic rights of all its citizens. President Obama believes these measures will help make that goal a reality."

TAXES:

On deadline day for filing tax returns, President Obama met with families whom he says will benefit from plan to cut taxes on most Americans.

"Make no mistake: this tax cut will reach 120 million families and put $120 billion directly into their pockets, and it includes the most American workers ever to get a tax cut," he said.

But he renewed his determination to end what he views as the tax breaks given to the top 2 percent of income earners in America during the prior administration.

FAITH-BASED PARTNERSHIPS:

This is one program held over from President Bush that President Obama made clear he can embrace: a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

"The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups," he said. "It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state."

President Obama has made it clear early on that he expects to be judged by the success or failure of the programs he's putting forward now.

Remember what he said at a Town Hall Meeting in Ft. Myers, Florida on Feb. 10th:

"I expect to be judged by results," he said. "And ... I'm not going to make any excuses. If stuff hasn't worked and people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction, then you'll have a new president."

Of course, he expects his programs to deliver as promised.




(CBS)
Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.