The healthcare law alone fulfilled 19 promises, including pledges for tax credits for people who need health insurance, requirements for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions; and an expansion of Medicare drug coverage for seniors.
The stimulus bill, designed to kick-start the economy, was like a giant goodie bag packed with things Obama had promised. In some cases, the government simply wrote a check. But often, it provided incentives to encourage private-sector investment or push state governments to take action locally.
It funded efforts to modernize the nation’s electricity grid through competitive grants to utility companies. It offered scholarships and loan forgiveness to medical school students if they were willing to serve as physicians in rural areas. It paid for educational contests to get children interested in math and science. It sent grants to states to improve water quality. And it gave money to American car companies to build electric vehicles and hybrids.
The emphasis on incentives was a favorite Obama approach, said Michael Grunwald, author of The New New Deal, a book that documented the widespread impact of the stimulus. The massive spending effort was “the purest distillation of ’change we can believe in’ on the policy side,” Grunwald said.
After Republicans won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, they promised to claw back unspent stimulus money. But it didn’t work. Republicans couldn’t get any of the stimulus money back.
The stimulus wasn’t perfect. Republicans cited projects they said were frivolous or wasteful. Solyndra, a recipient of loan guarantees for clean energy, collapsed spectacularly after turmoil in the solar panel market. But on the whole, the stimulus remained relatively scandal-free. That’s because the stimulus was conducted with unprecedented transparency — it had its own website listing every project — and a multitude of inspectors general to investigate missteps.
“This was an Obama bill, and it was implemented in a very Obama way,” Grunwald said.
Obama benefited from other laws passed when the Democrats had control. One of his first moves was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Act, named for an Alabama woman who pursued a pay discrimination case all the way to the Supreme Court. The new law made it easier for workers to pursue such claims. He kept promises to fully fund programs for veterans. And he signed a major overhaul of the financial system, including a consumer protection agency, in July 2010.
Obama’s failure to keep 119 promises was usually caused by congressional opposition or his own political calculations about what to pursue. In some cases, Congress actively moved to block his efforts. Obama pledged to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, but lawmakers passed legislation to prohibit spending on moving prisoners to the United States. PolitiFact rated the pledge Promise Broken.
In other cases, Congress killed his initiatives through inaction. The House of Representatives passed a sweeping bill to address climate change in 2009, but Senate Democrats didn’t take it up.
In still other cases, Obama didn’t push his own agenda. He failed to introduce comprehensive immigration reform, even though he specifically said he would do so in the first year. Promise Broken.