Jan. 20 Marks One Year of Broken Promises on Fiscal Prudence, Transparency By Obama, Say Govt. Watchdog Groups
A reporter shot back, “I guess, Robert, we don't think we’re the equivalent of C-SPAN. I mean, you said we reported the story extensively -- everyone here agrees with that -- but that wasn’t the standard that we heard in the campaign. The standard was different.”
The standard was Obama’s promise in the 2008 presidential campaign to provide unprecedented transparency, which included a pledge to broadcast negotiations of the health care reform legislation on C-SPAN. He also promised he would not support a mandate in the health care overhaul requiring every American to carry health insurance or face financial penalties.
In his first full year in office – marked on Wednesday, Jan. 20 – Obama left a trail of broken campaign promises primarily concerning government transparency, as well as taxing and spending, according to government watchdog organizations. The president also made a number of pledges to keep lobbyists out of his administration and to reduce earmarks – promises that he broke.
On the fiscal front, Obama has not kept his tax pledge, say taxpayer watchdog and fact check groups.
“I can make a firm pledge: Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase – not your income taxes, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes,” candidate Obama said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12, 2008.
Obama’s phrase “any of your taxes” was more qualified after he became president.
On Feb. 4, 2009, Obama signed a 156 percent increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco – a 61 cent per pack increase. But 55 percent of smokers fall into the category of the “working poor,” according to Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative taxpayer watchdog group.
Replying to a question about the consistency of the cigarette tax and the campaign pledge, Gibbs, on Apr. 15, said, “People make the decision to smoke.” Another White House spokesman, Reid Cherlin, told the Associated Press that the president meant “he would not raise income or payroll taxes.”
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House advisor David Axelrod both hedged on the tax pledge by summer.
ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Axelrod on June 29 if the president was “drawing a line in the sand” about not raising taxes on people earning less than $250,000.
Axelrod said, “Well you know what? One of the problems we’ve had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other. And you don’t get anything done. That’s not the way the president approaches [health care funding].”
Obama insisted that a financial penalty on uninsured people as part of the health care overhaul legislation would not violate the pledge of not taxing people making less than $250,000. “I absolutely reject that notion,” that the fine would be a tax increase, Obama told ABC News on Sept. 20, 2009.
The Obama campaign also pledged in October 2008 to “provide a new temporary tax credit to companies that add jobs here in the United States. During 2009 and 2010, existing businesses will receive a $3,000 refundable tax credit for each additional full-time employee hired.”
However, “After winning the election and taking office, he began working on a stimulus bill with Congress. But this idea soon stalled and appears to be dead,” according to PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact check Web site of the St. Petersburg Times.
“It never got any significant support in Congress, even from Democrats,” PolitiFact said on Feb. 17. “Lawmakers said they were concerned the credit wasn’t enough of an incentive to get companies to hire additional workers.”
During the campaign, Obama frequently criticized the fiscal recklessness of the Bush administration. However, his own pledges about fiscal prudence seem dubious now.
“Barack Obama is committed to returning earmarks to less than $7.8 billion a year, the level they were at before 1994, when the Republicans took control of Congress and the level of earmarks began increasing dramatically,” the candidate’s Web site said.
An earmark is a requirement slipped into legislation directing that money be spent on a specific project at the direction of the member of Congress.
He also said during the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, 2008, “We need earmark reform. And when I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.”
As president, on March 11, 2009, Obama signed the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, a $410 billion bill with more than 8,000 earmarks.
“But in reality, the president's leverage on earmarks is limited,” PolitiFact reported on Jan. 12, 2010. “The rules on how Congress operates are up to Congress. All the president can do, beyond using his bully pulpit, is veto appropriations bills sent his way.”
PolitiFact continued, “We'll aim to post an update when the group’s tally is official, but he’s already exceeded the 1994 level with what’s been publicly disclosed. We conclude that the president's inability to curb earmarking, unsurprising as it may be, earns him a Promise Broken.”
Candidate Obama pledged to sign a national service bill – that ended up with a $3.5 billion per year price tag – which would be “paid for in part by cancelling tax provisions that would otherwise help multinational corporations pay less in U.S. taxes starting in 2008 by reallocating tax deductions for interest expenses between income earned in the U.S. and income earned abroad. The rest of the plan will be funded using a small portion of the savings associated with ending the war in Iraq.”
That was another broken promise, according to PolitiFact, and one he perhaps should not have made based on federal budget rules.
“But Obama’s promise to offset those costs is impossible to keep,” PolitiFact said. “The problem is that current budget rules do not allow for programs like the national service plan to be offset by either tax increases or a decrease in spending in Iraq.
The federal budget has three main sections: discretionary spending, emergency spending, and taxes and entitlements. Budget rules do not allow an increase or decrease in one of those areas to offset another. Yet Obama incorporated a part of each section to create a scenario that is prohibited by the rules.”
Overall, Obama has kept more promises than he has broken, according to PolitiFact. But most of those promises appealed to his Democratic base, while the broken promises were made as a pragmatic appeal to moderates. PolitiFact’s scorecard showed 91 “promises kept,” 14 “promises broken,” 33 compromises, 87 “stalled” and 275 “in the works.”
The promises PolitiFact counts as kept include: expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research; tougher regulations on credit card companies; expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); directing military leaders to begin the process of ending the war in Iraq; expanding the fight in Afghanistan; giving a speech in an Islamic country during his first 100 days in office (Turkey); signing a hate crimes law; supporting increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts; and, creating a White House Office on Urban Policy.
Ethical and Transparent?
On the ethics and transparency front, Obama’s C-SPAN promise was not his only apparent shortfall.
“That's what I will do in bringing all parties together, not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are, because part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this process,” Obama said in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2008.
On Dec. 30, C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to broadcast the negotiations, as Obama had called for in the campaign. However, the Obama administration declined to advocate for broadcasting the health care negotiations on C-SPAN.
Obama also pledged to post bills on the White House Web site five days before signing any legislation, to provide the public a chance to comment.
“When there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you, the American voter, will have five days to look online and find out what it is before I sign it, so that you know what your government's doing,” Obama said on June 22, 2007 in Manchester, N.H.
But the first major law Obama signed – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – was passed by the Senate on Jan. 22, 2009, passed by the House on Jan. 27 and signed by the president on Jan. 29. PolitiFact cites at least three instances early in the administration where Obama did not post legislation for five days.
Further, the aforementioned omnibus bill with 8,000 earmarks violated three campaign pledges: for greater transparency; a failure to go “line-by-line” through the bill; and a failure to reduce net spending, according to Americans for Tax Reform.
While pledging during the campaign to keep an arm’s length between the White House and lobbyists should he become president, the Obama administration has, nonetheless, issued a number of waivers to allow lobbyists reportedly fairly extensive liberties.
“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,” the campaign Web site said. “And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.”
As president, Obama signed an executive order to that effect. However, PolitiFact observed last June that numerous exceptions had been made.
“We found that the administration has granted waivers to several former lobbyists, allowing them to serve,” PolitiFact reported. “The administration also allows recusals, where former lobbyists simply recuse themselves from discussions concerning whatever interest it is for which they used to lobby. The recusals have not been made public, and we don’t know how many have been issued.”
On health care, Obama has faced criticism for frequently stating that the legislation would not allow for federal funding of plans that cover abortion; that illegal aliens would not be covered; and that the plan would not add to the federal deficit. However, several independent studies by both government and private agencies have documented otherwise.
Specifically regarding campaign pledges, one of the distinctions during the Democratic primary battle between Obama’s health plan and rival Hillary Clinton’s plan was whether to mandate health coverage.
“Now, under any mandate, you are going to have problems with people who don’t end up having health coverage,” Obama said during a debate with Clinton on Jan. 31, 2008. “I think we can anticipate that there would also be people potentially who are not covered and are actually hurt if they have a mandate imposed on them.”
As of Jan. 20, 2010, President Obama supports both the House and Senate versions of health care reform. The bills have differences, but both mandate that every American carry health insurance, whether provided through an employer, purchased privately, or through a federally subsidized exchange of carriers.