Thursday, October 30th, 2014

First 100 Days: Obama's two biggest promises

We rate Obama's "revolving door" policy for former lobbyists his biggest broken promise.
We rate Obama's "revolving door" policy for former lobbyists his biggest broken promise.

For the final installment in our coverage of President Barack Obama's first 100 days, we decided to look at the 514 campaign promises in our Obameter database and choose two — one Kept and one Broken — that we consider the most significant because they illustrate the early accomplishments and setbacks of his presidency.

Choosing them wasn't easy. We convened a meeting of the PolitiFact staff and quickly got into a spirited discussion about which ones deserve top status. We wrestled with whether we should choose one involving troop withdrawal from Iraq, which was the signature issue in his early campaign. He's made two key promises on that topic and we debated whether his early steps to end the war should be our No. 1 Promise Kept.

But after a lively back-and-forth, we decided the collapse of the economy had so drastically changed the political landscape for Obama that we needed a promise tied to the economy and his stimulus package. So here are the two we chose:

Most Significant Promise Kept:
No. 458 - Invest in all types of alternative energy

At first glance, No. 458 doesn't look monumental and it seems an unlikely choice for our top Promise Kept. It's short and vague: "We'll invest in research and development of every form of alternative energy — solar, wind, biofuels."

It's a line from a campaign video that summarizes Obama's "Blueprint for Change" on energy.  The 2-minute video is a collection of Obama comments from debates and speeches, and it goes so fast that you might miss the line about alternative energy, which is squeezed between his promise to invest in "green energy" and his pledge to "find safer ways to use nuclear power and store nuclear waste."
 
But that simple, 15-word promise illustrates Obama's biggest achievement in his first 100 days: the way he has used the economic crisis to enact major elements of his agenda.

The $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which Obama and the Democratic leadership muscled through Congress in February, includes billions of dollars for alternative energy. At the bill signing on Feb. 17, Obama boasted it "will double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years."

The bill creates a Clean Energy Finance Authority to help energy companies through loan guarantees and other financial support. It also has $2.5 billion for research and development for alternative energy, including $800 million for biomass projects and $400 million for geothermal projects. And there's another $1.25 billion for solar and wind research.

And there's more: The bill includes billions for other Obama energy promises such as weatherizing 1 million homes and a tax credit for plug-in hybrid cars . And energy is just one part of the bill. The stimulus bill includes major initiatives in education , transportation and tax policy .

At the signing ceremony in Denver, Obama said the bill would have a sweeping impact, that it would begin "the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time."

That will be a matter for historians and pundits to explore, but for now, by fulfilling promises like the one on alternative energy, Obama has gained tremendous momentum in his first 100 days.


Most Significant Promise Broken:
No. 240: Toughen rules against former lobbyists

During the campaign, Obama talked tough against Washington lobbyists.

He said they had so much influence under the Bush administration that "your tax dollars have been turned over to wealthy CEOs and the well-connected corporations." Obama told campaign crowds that "we will tell Washington, and their lobbyists, that their days of setting the agenda are over. They have not funded my campaign. You have. They will not run my White House. "

On the campaign trail, lobbyists make convenient bogeymen. But lobbyists are a permanent part of the Washington power structure and have survived and prospered despite being the target of campaign rhetoric for decades. And in his first 100 days in the White House, it's clear Obama has developed a more nuanced approach to them. He has nominated several lobbyists to senior positions and, in our view, has broken his promise to toughen "revolving-door" rules.

He promised that "no political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration."

And, on his first full day in office, he issued an executive order that did just that. We quickly (indeed, too quickly) moved the Obameter to Promise Kept.

But we soon realized that his policy had a big loophole that violates the basic principle of the promise. Waivers, granted by the Obama administration itself, are little more than the administration saying a former lobbyist is okay. Obama chose a former Raytheon lobbyist as deputy defense secretary and a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist became chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. So we moved the Obameter to Compromise and, later, to Promise Broken.

Promise No. 240 represents something of a baptism for Obama in the messy ways of Washington. It reminds us of a scene in The Natural , where Robert Redford's character Roy Hobbs comes to bat for the first time and doesn't agree when the umpire calls the first pitch a strike. The radio announcer says tartly, "Hobbs didn't like the call. Well, welcome to the majors, Mr. Hobbs."

Obama's approach to lobbyists represented an idyllic view of Washington. But once he got in office, Obama seems to have decided that lobbyists aren't all bogeymen. Indeed, he wanted several of them working in his administration.

Welcome to Washington, Mr. President.