President Obama never fully delivered on the expectations set by his groundbreaking 2008 victory—a disappointment that Republican Mitt Romney constantly reminds voters about at campaign rallies this year.
Less than a week before the Nov. 6 election, the president was defending his record in Wisconsin.
“We knew from the beginning that our work would take more than one year, or even one term -- because let’s face it, the middle class was getting hammered long before the financial crisis hit,” he said Thursday.
Many of Obama’s promises fell by the wayside as the new administration grappled with an economy in freefall and congressional Republicans. His signature pieces of legislation—the $831 billion stimulus package, ObamaCare, and the Dodd-Frank financial sector reforms—all occurred before Democrats lost the House of Representatives in 2010.
Out of 508 promises made by Obama, 41 percent of them have been broken, stalled, or compromised, according to PolitiFact.com. Another 21 percent are still “in the works.” The broken promises include founding an infrastructure bank, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, raising the minimum wage, and—yes, Newt Gingrich fans—a manned trip to the Moon by 2020.
In other cases, his policies never performed as advertised. Obama launched programs to modify and refinance as many as 9 million mortgages, but less than 3 million homeowners have benefitted thus far. Republicans have criticized the administration for not halving the deficit as promised, while emphasizing that the stimulus did not—as first projected by the administration—hold unemployment below 8 percent.
But there are three critical broken promises that are easily overlooked—ones that impact a Democratic base he’s counting on next Tuesday: immigration reform, cap-and-trade, and ending the George W. Bush-era tax breaks on families earning more than $250,000 a year.
As part of his 2008 platform, Obama endorsed a plan to allow “undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.”
Immigration reform was to be a first year initiative, he told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos on May 28, 2008. "I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days,” a then-candidate Obama said. “But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible."
At a Univision event this September, Ramos pushed Obama on the broken promise. “When we talked about immigration reform in the first year, that’s before the economy was on the verge of collapse — Lehman Brothers had collapsed, the stock market was collapsing,” the president said. “And so my first priority was making sure that we prevented us from going into a Great Depression.”
Obama claimed at the forum that he was “naïve” to believe Senate Republicans would support the DREAM Act, which allowed residency for the children of illegal immigrants who served in the military or attended college. The DREAM Act needed 60 votes for debate to be ended and the bill put up for passage, but it only mustered 55 votes at the end of 2010. Five of the nays were cast by Democrats.
On June 15, 2012, Obama announced an executive order that would stop the deportation of younger illegal immigrants. “This is not a path to citizenship," Obama said at a Rose Garden news conference. "This is a temporary stopgap measure."
And after passing a grand bargain to reduce the deficit, Obama promised the Des Moines Register last month that the “second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform.”
Mother Nature doesn’t care about the political debate over climate change. It’s pounded the country with violent storms like Hurricane Sandy, a “Snowmageddon,” and blistering summer heat—imposing billions upon billions of dollars of expenses on the country. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama pledged to enact a cap-and-trade program in an October, 2007 speech while campaigning in New Hampshire.
“As President, I will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming — an 80% reduction by 2050,” he said. “To ensure this isn’t just talk, I will also commit to interim targets toward this goal in 2020, 2030, and 2040. These reductions will start immediately.”
But by July, 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., acknowledged that the votes did not exist to pass cap-and-trade. The bill was dealt a death blow by the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives later that year in the mid-term elections. On the day after the mid-term elections, Obama held a White House press conference where he said “it’s doubtful that you could get the votes to pass [cap-and-trade] through the House this year or next year or the year after.
“Cap and trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way,” Obama said. “It was a means, not an end. And I’m going to be looking for other means to address this problem.
”The less ambitious successes Obama does have on limiting the nation’s carbon footprint earned him the endorsement of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Thursday. Obama secured that blessing, in part, because Romney rejected taking steps to address climate change that he once championed as Massachusetts’ governor.
“I want our president,” Bloomberg wrote in the endorsement, “to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”
Perhaps the defining message from Obama’s campaign this year is his claim that the budget deficit can be narrowed with a “balanced” approach that includes higher taxes on wealthier Americans.
He made a similar promise back in 2008 to let the tax breaks first enacted under Bush expire for families making more than $250,000 and individuals earning more than $200,000. But forced into a political deal at the end of 2010 to continue unemployment benefits for millions of struggling Americans, Obama decided to cave and extend all of the tax cuts for another two years.
“There are some who would have preferred a protracted political fight, even if it had meant higher taxes for all Americans, even if it had meant an end to unemployment insurance for those who are desperately looking for work,” Obama said at a Dec. 7, 2010 news conference. “I’m sympathetic to that. I’m as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years. In the long run, we simply can’t afford them. And when they expire in two years, I will fight to end them, just as I suspect the Republican Party may fight to end the middle-class tax cuts that I’ve championed and that they’ve opposed.”
That broken promise has empowered some Republican lawmakers to think that Obama would again retreat on the cuts—scheduled to sunset at the start of 2013—and extend them once again. The Republicans have essentially run on ensuring that no tax increases occur, a message that has stuck with voters despite Romney’s convoluted and hidden budget math.
“I want to keep our taxes down,” Romney said at a GOP primary debate last year. “I don't want to raise any taxes anywhere. Let me tell you, I'm not looking to raise taxes. What I'm looking to do is to cut spending.”