Fresh off a tough re-election campaign, President Obama filled his 2013 State of the Union address with a long list of priorities from a leader who had the backing of more than half of the American public.
It didn’t take long for a combination of crises and Congress to bring his agenda to a halt. Gun control couldn’t even get enough backers to make it out of the Democratic Senate. Immigration reform did, but then stalled in the House. A wave of problems, from the IRS targeting of conservative groups to revelations about the National Security Agency’s spying programs to the flawed rollout of HealthCare.gov put the president on the defensive.
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Given the administration’s recent pledge to focus on executive actions that don’t require congressional approval, it’s possible that Mr. Obama’s to-do list for the coming year will be more achievable than that of 2013, which was heavily reliant on lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Here’s a look some of the pledges in the 2013 State of the Union address, and how the president did:
The pledge: “Overwhelming majorities of Americans -- Americans who believe in the Second Amendment -- have come together around common-sense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because these police chiefs, they’re tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned. Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.”The progress: Mr. Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address came just weeks after a horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The violence against a group of children seemed like the most likely impetus to bring the two parties together on a controversial issue, but a year after the shooting, not a single gun control law has passed Congress. Mr. Obama was able to sign a series of executive orders that makes federal background check data more widely available, tracing seized guns, preparing for active shooter situations in schools and other institutions and more aggressively prosecuting gun crimes.
The pledge: “Let’s set party interests aside and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. Let’s agree right here, right now to keep the people’s government open, and pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”
The progress: On this promise, there was both big failure and big success. In October, a standoff between the president and congressional Republicans over Obamacare funding led to a 16-day government shutdown. As part of the deal to end the shutdown, however, Democrats and Republicans agreed to craft a bipartisan budget deal in December. Against the odds, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., were able to write a two-year budget that won approval from a sufficient number of lawmakers to give Washington its first taste of a normal budget process in years. That’s a victory – but one for Congress, since President Obama had no hand in the negotiations to end the government shutdown (that was the work of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) or in crafting the budget.
The pledge: “I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy… I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.”The progress: Surprising no one, Congress didn’t even take a stab at bipartisan climate change legislation. So in June, the president directed the Environmental Protection Agency to limit the carbon emissions from new power plants, and pressed ahead with those rules in September despite protests from the industry and Republicans. The Energy Security Trust he proposed quickly died on Capitol Hill.
The pledge: “Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.”The progress: The results of the 2012 election, in which Republican nominee Mitt Romney performed dismally among Hispanic voters, made it seem like Congress would finally be able to take bipartisan action on an issue with a long history of failure. The first half of the year went well for advocates of a comprehensive reform plan that included a pathway to citizenship: eight senators came together to craft such a bill, which passed the Senate with a healthy bipartisan vote. The measure died a slow death in the House, as the Republican leadership first pledged they would not take up the Senate bill and then refused to work with the Senate on an immigration bill at all. Mr. Obama has renewed his calls for action in the last few months, but House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds most of the cards on the issue. And the president is in an increasingly perilous situation as frustrated activists call on him to suspend deportations, which Mr. Obama has said he cannot legally do.
The pledge: “Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour….here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year -- let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”The progress: The president will announce at Tuesday's State of the Union that he will sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour. Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., wrote a bill that would raise the minimum wage for all to $10.10 per hour. Mr. Obama supports the bill, but it has gone nowhere yet in the Senate. In a speech last December, the president called the combination of growing income inequality and a lack of upward mobility “the defining challenge of our time” and pledged to take steps to address both. Raising the minimum wage is one issue he and the Democrats plan to highlight ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
The pledge: “I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Department of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America. We can get that done.”
The progress: Earlier this month, the president announced that Raleigh, N.C., would be the site of the first manufacturing hub, and that two more would be announced soon. But Congress took no action to help with this initiative.
The pledge: “On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital; they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.”The progress: In his 2014 budget proposal released in April, Mr. Obama proposed several structural reforms to the Medicare program including higher premiums for wealthier beneficiaries, reducing payments to hospitals and drug companies, and offering fewer benefits. All in all, it would have saved about $400 billion over 10 years. But, as with previous years in his presidency, Republican control of the House and a dysfunctional budget process meant the president’s ideas remained just that – ideas.
The pledge: “To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected….The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring -- a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t work the system and pay a lower rate than their hardworking secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that are creating jobs right here in the United States of America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.”
The progress: Tax reform, like entitlement reform, is one of those things that many people in Washington profess to want but no one can actually get done. It’s also an issue where the president could outline his priorities to Congress, but they would have to write the legislation. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had been the lead Democrat working on the issue, but Mr. Obama is nominating him to be the next ambassador to China, leaving a void in congressional leadership on rewriting the tax code.
Democrats pressed Republicans to undo some of the mandatory sequester cuts by closing certain tax loopholes to raise revenue during negotiations to set a budget for the next two years, but ultimately had to capitulate on the issue in order to strike a deal and avert another government shutdown.
The pledge: “We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes one of the most fundamental right of a democracy: the right to vote. When any American, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right because they can’t afford to wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals…I’m announcing a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And it definitely needs improvement.”
The progress: The Presidential Commission on Election Administration sneaked in just under the deadline last week and presented the president with a list of suggestions for states and municipalities to improve the voting process. It was a relatively easy lift: the commission just had to make recommendations, which are nonbinding, and require no legislative action.
The pledge: “I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”The progress: America’s efforts to target terrorists became much more transparent this year with after leaks from former government contractor Edward Snowden publicly revealed the extent of the NSA’s spying program. That obviously wasn’t what the president had in mind, but in response to the outcry he has proposed reforms to way the agency collects its information to safeguard Americans’ privacy. Mr. Obama continues to be thwarted by Congress in his attempts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, although the recent defense authorization bill does ease restrictions on transferring detainees out of the military prison.
The pledge: “The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”The progress: A group of world powers is in the midst of implementing a six-month deal with Iran to halt its nuclear program in hopes that the temporary agreement will allow time for broader negotiations. If successful, this would represent a major achievement for Mr. Obama – but even Democratic lawmakers are threatening to undermine the deal by imposing further sanctions on the Iranian government.
The pledge: “This year, my administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, and education, and housing.”The progress: This was another initiative that got checked off the to-do list just before the 2014 State of the Union address. Earlier this month, the president named the first five of 20 “promise zones,” where the administration will cut red tape and streamline federal funding from multiple government agencies to spur economic growth and improve mobility.
The pledge: “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. That's something we should be able to do.”
The progress: Funding for Head Start, the preschool program for low-income families, took a hit in 2013 with the implementation of budget cuts mandated by the sequester. Nearly 60,000 children were dropped from the program when the agency lost 5.27 percent of its $8 billion budget. But under the recent budget deal, the program’s budget was boosted to $8.6 billion, a $1 billion increase over 2013 funding that will give 90,000 new children access.
The pledge: “Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before, so what are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill.”
The progress: The Responsible Homeowner Refinancing Act of 2013, a bill introduced by Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of N.J. and Barbara Boxer of California, has been stuck in a Senate committee since February.
The pledge: “To boost American exports, support American jobs and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I’m announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union -- because trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.”
The progress: The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal between the U.S., Canada and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, is still under negotiations that are expected to finish next year. Then, it will have to pass Congress. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations are also underway, but the European Union just committed to a three-month period for the public to weigh in on certain investment protection provisions.