Why Obama Matters
AFSCME endorsed Pres. Barack Obama for re-election in November, and it’s not hard to see why. Since taking office four years ago, he’s racked up a lengthy list of significant accomplishments, including affordable health care, Wall Street reform, and equal pay protection for women. The independent magazine Washington Monthly compiled a list of the President’s top accomplishments that are worth passing on. In just four years, Obama:
Passed Health Care Reform: After five presidents over a century failed to create universal health insurance, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. It will cover 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014 and mandates finding ways to cut health care cost growth, the number one cause of America’s long-term fiscal problems. In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the law, protecting health care for all Americans.
Ended the War in Iraq: Ordered all U.S. military forces out of the country. Nearly all troops left on Dec. 18, 2011.
Eliminated Osama bin Laden: In 2011, Obama ordered a special forces raid of secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which the terrorist leader responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks was killed and a trove of al-Qaeda documents was discovered.
Passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Weeks after the ARRA went into effect, unemployment claims began to subside. Twelve months later, the private sector began producing more jobs than it was losing, creating a total of nearly 3.7 million new jobs. ARRA included $210 billion for state and local governments, which helped save public workers’ jobs. He passed smaller, related measures in the months that followed to help families hurt by the recession and spur the economy as stimulus spending declined, and signed a series of measures in 2010 and 2011 to extend unemployment insurance and cut payroll taxes.
Passed Wall Street Reform: Signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 to better regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. (AFSCME members’ pensions dropped by $644 billion, or 19 percent, during this crisis.) The new law limits banks’ ability to throw our money around in risky trades for their own profit. The act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to crack down on abusive lending products and companies.
Kicked Banks Out of Federal Student Loan Program, Expanded Pell Grant Spending: As part of the 2010 health care reform bill, he signed a measure ending the wasteful decades-old practice of subsidizing banks to provide college loans. Starting that year, all students began getting their federal student loans directly from the federal government. The law saves taxpayers $67 billion over 10 years, $36 billion of which will be used to expand the number of Pell Grants for lower-income students.
Turned Around American Auto Industry: In 2009, injected $62 billion (on top of $13.4 billion in loans from the Bush administration) into ailing GM and Chrysler. Since then, the auto industry has added more than 100,000 jobs. In 2011, the American automakers were selling enough cars to register “market share” —
a sign of a company’s significant size and sales — for the first time in two decades.
Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Ended 1990s-era restriction and formalized new policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.
Increased Support for Veterans: With so many soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious physical and mental health problems, facing long waits for services, increased 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs budget by 16 percent and 2011 budget by 10 percent. Also signed new GI bill offering $78 billion in tuition assistance over a decade, and provided multiple tax credits to encourage businesses to hire veterans.
Passed Credit Card Reforms: Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (2009), which prohibits credit card companies from raising rates without advance notification, mandates a grace period on interest rate increases, and strictly limits overdraft and other fees.
Eliminated Catch-22 in Pay Equality Laws: Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, giving women who are paid less than men for the same work the right to sue their employers after they find out about the discrimination, even if that discrimination happened years ago.
Protected Two Pro-Worker Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court: Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina and third woman to serve, in 2009; and Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010. Both voted against Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to anonymous corporations and donors buying elections. (See P. 10 to learn more about the importance of the Supreme Court for working families.)
Improved Food Safety System: In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which boosts the Food and Drug Administration’s budget by $1.4 billion. The act gave the FDA the authority to increase the number of food inspections it performs, directly recall tainted foods and review the food safety practices of countries shipping products for us to eat in this country.
Expanded National Service: Signed Serve America Act in 2009, which authorized a tripling of the size of AmeriCorps. Program grew 13 percent to 85,000 members across the country by 2012.
Cracked Down on Bad For-Profit Colleges: In an effort to fight predatory practices of some for-profit colleges, the U.S. Department of Education cracked down on schools where more than 35 percent of former students aren’t paying off their loans and/or students spend more than 12 percent of their total income to keep up with their student loans.
Improved School Nutrition: Signed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 mandating a $4.5 billion spending boost and higher nutritional and health standards for school lunches. New rules based on the law, released in January, double the amount of fruits and vegetables and require only whole grains in food served to students.
Expanded Health Coverage for Children: Signed 2009 Children’s Health Insurance Authorization Act, which allows the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover health care for 4 million more children.
This piece is an adaptation of “Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments” by Washington Monthly writers Paul Glastris, Ryan Cooper and Siyu Hu. To read the full story, head to WashingtonMonthly.com.