As President Obama’s first hundred days in office draws to a close, it provides a window into the priorities and goals of a new administration. While one hundred days is slightly less than seven percent of a four-year presidential term, it is symbolically important because the first actions of the new administration set the tone for the years to come.
President Obama’s first hundred days was characterized by change. Much of the change was reversals of Obama’s own campaign positions. It was also characterized by reversals of many Bush Administration policies. For better or for worse, it is clear that the federal government as led by Barack Obama will be radically different from that of George W. Bush.
One of the earliest indications of trouble for Obama was his difficulty in establishing a cabinet. After several Bush appointees and Republican officeholders were accused of wrongdoing, ethics reform became a key component of Obama’s campaign. However, early in Obama’s tenure many of his appointees ran into ethical problems.
Obama’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, was revealed to have failed to pay his Social Security and Medicaid taxes for four years while he worked at the International Monetary Fund. Geithner was confirmed after paying over $30,000 in back taxes, interest, and penalties.
President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, also faced tax troubles. The White House learned from questions from a USA Today reporter that Solis’ husband had over $6,400 in unresolved tax liens. The four liens, two from California and two from Los Angeles County, dated back to 1993. Solis and her husband, Sam Sayyad, paid the liens and she was eventually confirmed.
Not so lucky were Tom Daschle and Nancy Killifer. Daschle, a former senate majority leader, withdrew from consideration for Secretary of Health and Human Services and the White House Office of Health Care Reform, after paying $140,000 in back taxes and interest. While in the Senate, Daschle said, “Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter.”
Nancy Killefer, nominee for Chief Performance Officer, also withdrew from consideration. Killefer had failed to pay employment taxes on domestic employees who worked in her home for a year and a half. The District of Columbia placed a lien on her home in 2005 for the back taxes. Five months later, Killefer paid $946 to remove the lien.
An additional nominee with ethics problems was New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Obama’s pick for the Secretary of Commerce. Richardson withdrew in 2008 amid a grand jury investigation into whether Richardson may have used his political position to award a New Mexico government contract to a California company. To date, no charges have been filed in the ongoing investigation.
Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, also had ethics problems. Holder served as President Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General. In this post, he helped to pardon Marc Rich, one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives. Rich was charged with contributing to the FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist group, and income tax evasion. He received a presidential pardon in the closing hours of the Clinton Administration. A House committee report called Holder’s actions “unconscionable.”
Another campaign promise was to stop the “revolving door” in which former government officials become lobbyists and lobbyists enter government service. On the campaign trail, President Obama said, “If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years.”
This promise was also quickly broken. William Lynn, a recent lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, was appointed by Obama as Deputy Secretary of Defense. Other former lobbyists in the administration include Thomas Donilon and Ron Klain, both of whom lobbied for FNMA prior to the financial giant’s collapse and subsequent bailout.
Obama had also promised to allow a “sunshine before signing” period on legislation. According to the campaign promise, new non-emergency bills would be posted on the White House website for five days before Obama signed them. The first bill that Obama signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, was signed by Obama two days after being passed by Congress without being posted on the internet. Obama’s second bill, an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was signed hours after it was passed by Congress. Neither bill would classify as an emergency.
On the domestic side, Obama promised to cut taxes for “95% of Americans” and to “enact a net spending cut.” Obama also promised to “go line by line” over the federal budget to eliminate earmarks and wasteful spending. He also endorsed the idea of “pay as you go” to help eliminate deficit spending. These promises were all caught up the watershed moment of his first months in office: the fight for the stimulus package.
On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package into law. The bill was passed and signed so quickly that even most members of Congress did not know exactly what was contained in its 1,073 pages. In spite of Obama’s claims that the bill contained no earmarks, it did contain billions of dollars of non-stimulating pork barrel spending. The stimulus package did become law, but at the price of another Obama promise. Although Obama had promised to be a bipartisan president, not a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and only three Republican votes in the Senate. A few weeks later, Congress passed another spending bill. This $410 billion bill contained 9,000 earmarks. Again, the vote was largely along party lines with eight Republicans voting for the bill.
The massive spending increases under President Obama have increased the federal deficit to $1.85 trillion for 2009. This is an almost five-fold increase over President Bush’s largest deficit of $490 billion after the bailouts of 2008. This gives President Obama the dubious distinction of being the first president to preside over trillion dollar federal budgets and deficits.
Obama’s budget plans abandon the pay-go concept and continue to run record deficits over the next decade. Even without considering unfunded liabilities, such as Social Security and Medicare, the United States will be running trillion dollar deficits for the foreseeable future. As a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), Obama’s budgets reach levels unseen since WWII. Many economists believe that these levels of debt are not sustainable. While Obama has promised to halve the deficit by the end of his term as well as cut $100 million from the budget, even if these promises are kept, it will still leave the federal deficit at its highest levels in history. Many Americans believe that Obama’s spending will require massive tax increases on most Americans.
The stimulus package did contain tax relief, but at levels far below what Obama promised in the campaign. These tax cuts are unlikely to remain permanent given the skyrocketing levels of federal debt. Obama has already promised to let the Bush tax cuts expire, which would increase the tax burden on the majority of Americans. Additionally, Obama already has signed a sixty-two cent increase on the cigarette tax, which breaks his promise to not raise taxes on people who make less than $250,000 per year by “a single dime.” The lower and middle-class will also be hard hit by his upcoming cap-and-trade carbon tax on energy.
On foreign policy, Obama’s hundred days record is also disturbing. He has made changes and kept some campaign promises, but made some important compromises. For example, one of Obama’s first acts was to sign an executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within a year. However, Obama is not releasing the hardened terrorists held there and is even siding with Bush Administration’s policy of detaining terrorists at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.
Obama did fulfill a promise to order a withdrawal from Iraq, but the withdrawal is now a gradual one which will hopefully leave the Iraqi Army strong enough to maintain control of the country. Obama had originally promised to begin withdrawing US forces from Iraq within six months.
More troublesome is Obama’s seeming inability to admit that the US is at war. His administration has ordered an end to the use of the term “global war on terror” in favor of “overseas contingency operations.” Similarly, terrorist attacks are now “man-caused disasters.” Likewise, Obama’s decision to release selected memos detailing US interrogation techniques while we are still at war is very troublesome. The White House has even gone so far as to question whether some Guantanamo detainees could not be released into the US.
In accordance with Vice President Biden’s prediction, Obama has faced several foreign policy tests in his short time in office. As Obama took office, Israel was concluding a war against Hamas in Gaza. While Obama supported Israel in its efforts to stop Hamas from firing missiles at Israeli cities, since the war ended, he has announced his intention to provide Gaza with $900 million. Since Hamas is still the ruling party in Gaza, and since Hamas is still firing missiles at Israel, this decision has earned Obama some well deserved criticism. At minimum, the aid could be conditional on Hamas renouncing terrorism and violence.
On April 5, after weeks of announcements, North Korea tested a new nuclear-capable Taepodong-2 missile. Even though Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned North Korea that the test was a “provocation” and that “there will be consequences,” there has been little reaction from the Obama Administration except to discuss possible additional sanctions in the UN Security Council.
A few days later, on April 8, a group of four Somali pirates raided a US ship, the Maersk Alabama. The American sailors fought off the pirates, but the captain, Richard Phillips, was taken prisoner in a lifeboat. After attempting to escape by jumping overboard on April 10. Two days later, on Easter Sunday, April 12, Navy SEALs shot and killed three of the pirates and freed Capt. Phillips.
Obama has been credited with allowing the Navy to use force to free Capt. Phillips, but, looking deeper, a big question is why the SEALs had to wait four days to rescue Capt. Phillips. Over the long run, the more important question is whether Obama addresses the root cause of the piracy problem by striking at the Somali pirate bases. Unless action is taken, Somali pirates will continue to attack ships in the Indian Ocean and hold sailors for ransom. Somalia, as well as Taliban-era Afghanistan, also provides a warning of what can happen when the international community allows a state to descend into chaos and anarchy.
Additionally, both North Korea and Iran have taken a total of three American journalists captive, holding them on espionage charges. Iran has sentenced Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison in a secret trial. More recently, North Korea announced a decision indite Laura Ling and Euna Lee for “illegal entry and hostile acts.” How President Obama handles these incidents will be watched closely by both nations.
Obama’s relationship with Iran is one of the most disturbing facets of his foreign policy. As Iran draws ever nearer to developing a nuclear weapon, Obama is making overtures to open negotiations without requiring Iran to suspend its nuclear weapons program. This is most likely to simply allow the Iranians to play for time to finish developing their weapons technology. If Iran does manage to obtain a nuclear weapon, they are extremely likely to use it against either the US or Israel.
Any discussion of Obama’s priorities would not be complete without addressing his pro-abortion policies. On the campaign, Obama made no secret of his pro-choice leanings. For instance, he has repeatedly promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would remove almost all restrictions from abortions.
The FOCA has not passed through congress yet, but one of Obama’s first acts as president was to sign an executive order overturning the “Mexico City policy.” This rule, which was first imposed by Ronald Reagan, prohibited federal funding for groups that provide abortions. The policy was also overturned by President Clinton in 1993 and reinstated by President Bush in 2001. Obama’s decision to fund abortion groups means that American taxpayers will be paying for abortions around the world.
At the end of his first one hundred days, Obama’s record probably does not reflect the change that most people were looking for. His domestic agenda has unquestionably increased the federal deficit by record-breaking amounts. This spending has been of questionable value in many areas, even to those who believe in the economic value of deficit spending. A majority of Americans polled now believe that more government spending is not the answer to the recession and that the country is headed in the wrong direction. His economic policies inspired almost half a million Americans to rally against government spending and waste at 800 tea parties on April 15.
Unfortunately, Obama does appear to be placing too much emphasis on opening dialogues with hostile regimes. Overtures have been made to Iran, North Korea, and Cuba and all have been rebuffed. Further entreaties will do little except to make Obama and the United States appear weak, a perception that led to the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the first place. President Obama should realize that these dictatorships likely view negotiations only as a way to stall for time. Most disturbing is Obama’s apparent failure to take the War on Terror seriously. Many steps taken by his administration send the wrong signal to our enemies and inhibit our ability to protect ourselves.
More and more, Obama’s administration is beginning to resemble that of Jimmy Carter. Carter’s administration presided over a large expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Iranian revolution, as well as a period of stagnant growth, high inflation, and a general economic “malaise.”
Under Obama, the United States faces the possibility of a prolonged recession or depression caused by high inflation and tax increases resulting from high levels of government spending. We also face the possible loss of nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq to Muslim radicals, along with resurgent dictatorships in Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba. Hopefully, President Obama will listen to the growing numbers of Americans who say that this is not the change we need and take steps to reverse these trends.