WASHINGTON — Now President Barack Obama has some promises to keep.
His 2012 campaign wasn’t nearly as full of measurable commitments as his first one in 2008, but there were still plenty — some of which are due in a matter of weeks, not months or years.
The most immediate deliverable — and the one for which he has the clearest mandate — is a tax hike for the rich.
Obama can deliver that fairly easily because the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year. Without doing anything, he can restore the top marginal tax rate to 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent, restore the estate tax, and raise the capital gains tax cap from 15 percent to 20 percent.
But in that process, Obama also has repeatedly vowed to strike what is often referred to as a “grand bargain” — a bipartisan deal that would link tax increases for the rich to budget cuts, possibly involving Social Security, in order to start along the path to long-term deficit reduction.
In his victory speech early Wednesday morning, Obama restated his biggest promises. “In the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit; reforming our tax code; fixing our immigration system; freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.”
But there’s no way for Obama to fulfill any of those major promises unless he gets House Republicans to go along. So he has essentially promised to deliver Republicans, starting very soon. Of course, he promised to do that in 2008, too.
Post inauguration, Obama’s first big deliverable is comprehensive immigration reform providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In September, Obama told a Miami audience that his inaction on immigration was the “biggest failure” of his first term. In October, he told the Des Moines Register, he is confident he can deliver because he has new leverage.
“Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,” he said. But his assumption — that the GOP will realize it can’t afford to keep its hard line position on immigration any longer — is unproven.
Obama can keep some of his promises even with an obstructionist GOP if he’s willing to take bold, unilateral steps that he shrank from in his first term. For instance, Obama has talked about addressing the continued housing crisis; the obvious next step would be to allow principal reductions for troubled borrowers whose mortgages are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Obama is expected to start soon by firing acting Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Ed DeMarco.
Obama has promised to reduce air pollution and other environmental hazards, and a more muscular approach to agency rule-making could go a long way in that direction.
But if second-term Obama is focused on establishing a historic legacy, then he’s going to have to take on the issue of climate change — going far beyond the innovation agenda of his first term, and establishing some a carbon tax or emissions caps.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney mocked Obama for having “promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans” in 2008. Environmentalists, by contrast, are hoping the president will now act on that promise. The path to such an agreement is far from clear, however.
Similarly, it’s hard to see how Obama can deliver on his most frequent campaign promises, which related to the middle class and job creation. Underlying those promises is his vow to invest in education, research, but most of all infrastructure — and he can’t do that without Congress.
In the same town hall where he discussed his failure to achieve immigration reform, Obama said “the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.” He seemed to be suggesting that the American public help him pressure Congress.
But it’s not just Congress. Progressive activists have learned the hard way that Obama himself is best at keeping his own promises when he is held to them by organized and mobilized grassroots campaigns.
Here are some of the major promises made by the Obama 2012 campaign in ads, the Democratic Party platform,
Obama’s major speeches, debates, and other sources.
- Return to Clinton-era tax rates for families earning above $250,000.
- Give middle-class families and folks trying to get into the middle class some relief.
- 98 percent of families will not see a tax increase.
- Close loopholes that allow companies to deduct expenses when they export jobs.
- Tax breaks for companies that are investing in the United States.
- 97 percent of small businesses will not see a tax increase.
- Reduce corporate tax rate to 25 percent, while eliminating many deductions.
- Create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years.
- Help big factories and small businesses double their exports.
- Invest in advanced manufacturing.
- By the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas.
- Open more land for oil-and-gas exploration.
- Cut oil imports in half by 2020.
- Develop new sources of energy in America.
- Reduce carbon pollution.
- Hire 100,000 new math and science teachers.
- Create 2 million more slots in our community colleges so people can get job training.
- Cut tuition increases in half over 10 years.
- When Obamacare is fully implemented, costs will go down.
- Lower Medicare health care costs.
- Improve benefits, cut payments to hospitals and other providers by $700 billion.
- Put U.S. on path to cut deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years.
- Pass comprehensive immigration reform.
- Give young people a path to citizenship.
- Transition out of Afghanistan by end of 2014.
- Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.
- Keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who are mentally ill.
- Increase enforcement of current laws.
- Reintroduce assault weapons ban.