Checking in on Obama's campaign promises

We're updating our Obameter database of campaign promises.
We're updating our Obameter database of campaign promises.

Summer -- the time for beaches, movie blockbusters and debt-ceiling debates. We've added another past-time: updating promises made by President Barack Obama. When he could act on his own with executive authority, he was often successful. It was harder for him to fulfill promises that required approval from Congress, especially after Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in the last election.

Most recently, Obama lived up to his promise to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ -- the policy that barred homosexuals from serving openly in the military. Although Congress repealed the measure late last year, Congress allowed the Department of Defense time to study implementation of the policy. Shortly after becoming Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta told President Obama that this study was complete. On July 22, 2011 Obama approved the department’s plan, and sixty days later, on Sept. 22, the policy will be officially rescinded.

Moving from social issues to economics, we also rated Obama’s pledge to release oil from the Strategic Oil Reserve as a Promise Kept. The Obama administration did so to combat rising petroleum prices in the wake of conflicts in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East. The United States and other members of the International Energy Agency agreed to release 60 million barrels, 30 of million of which comes from the U.S. reserve.

President Obama also scored a Promise Kept for his pledge to support network neutrality standards for the Internet. He largely fulfilled this promise by nominating net neutrality supporter Julius Genachowski as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The chairman, along with two Democratic colleagues, voted in December to officially codify net neutrality standards for the web.  

We also moved President Obama’s promise to strengthen international whaling ban from Stalled to In the Works due to a recent proclamation by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. The secretary recommended that President Obama impose trade and diplomatic sanctions against Iceland the country’s participation in commercial whaling. Locke contends that this commercial whaling is a violation of the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on whaling.

But whenever cooperation from Congress was involved in a promise, deadlock often prevailed. This was especially the case with President Obama’s environmental promises. In particular, the failure of a cap-and-trade bill to become law in the previous Congress severely hampered a number of promises premised on its passage.

We rated Obama’s promise to work with the United Nations (U.N.) on climate change as Stalled given the entrenched positions of both the United States and China on the subject. At stake is whether there will be a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol -- an carbon emissions reduction treaty -- before it expires in 2012. There is a slight chance that some agreement will be reached when the U.N. meets again in South Africa later this year.

We also rated a pair of dual promises regarding how much electricity the U.S. should get from renewable sources - 10 percent and 25 percent. We rated the former as Promise Kept. This was despite the fact that it didn’t take much effort by the Obama administration to fulfill this pledge, given that by 2009 the U.S. was almost already at that level. Despite a number of bills proposed in the previous Congress that would have accomplished the 25 percent goal, none of them became law. As a result, we rated the second promise as Stalled.

When it came to Obama’s promise to create 5 million green jobs, we found there was not enough information to determine the status of this goal. An upcoming report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, due out in 2012, will definitively state how many green jobs exist in the country. Until that report is published, we continue to rate the promise as In the Works.

Obama also promised to renew the Superfund tax, a lapsed tax on chemical and oil companies. Taxes went into a fund that paid for the clean-up of toxic sites. The tax, however, expired in 1995 and has yet to be reinstated. Obama promised to fully fund the environmental cleanup program through the resurrection of this tax. But the unpopularity of tax hikes and environmental legislation makes its reinstatement extremely unlikely in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. For this reason we rated the promise as Broken.

Readers also asked us to examine some of Obama’s promises regarding two controversial Bush administration policies -- the Patriot Act and presidential signing statements.

Attempts to provide more oversight for the powers contained in the Patriot Act have not made it through Congress during Obama’s term, and the president signed a reauthorization of the act without additional oversight. However, the Department of Justice unilaterally implemented some of the provisions in one of the Senate’s failed reform bills. Thus we rated this as Compromise.

Finally we took a look at a controversial signing statement that President Obama issued in April 2011 to see if he had violated his promise to not use such statements to go around Congressional authority, as critics said President George W. Bush had. In the statement Obama balked at a prohibition in a recent spending will that would have defunded four presidential ‘czar’ positions. After consulting with experts on the issue, we determined that Obama had not violated his pledge. Yet, because of previous actions surrounding a similar controversy in 2009, the rating remained Compromise.