An Interim Assessment of Obama’s Performance in Office

I have written a number of blogs making the case why the renomination of President Obama would be detrimental to the Democratic Party, the nation and the world. More blogs will follow to both broaden and deepen the case for finding an alternative to Obama. The interim assessment below will serve to summarize and focus the main points already made against Obama’s renomination.

 

.1) A bloated Pentagon

In his FY 2012 budget released on February 14, 2011, President Obama requested nearly $6.5 trillion for the base Pentagon budget over the next ten years. This projected spending does not include the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor does it include other militarily-related spending, such as maintenance of the nuclear weapons complex, which is mostly in the Department of Energy budget.

When he released his 12-year plan, Obama included only $400 billion in cuts to the Pentagon budget. Applied to the nearly $6.5 trillion over 10 years, it would be a cut of about six percent.

President Obama has not revealed any plans to cut major weapons systems, reduce the size of the armed forces, or eliminate any overseas bases, except for those in Iraq and Afghanistan; therefore, if Obama is elected to a second term, there will still be a bloated Pentagon, which will be even more difficult to trim down in the future.

An Afterword: In my blog on military spending, I failed to include veterans benefits in my categorization of “militarily-related spending.” Moreover, three years ago, the Center for Defense Information put militarily-related spending at $1.1 trillion, quite similar to the $1.2 trillion more recently computed by the National Priorities Project, Inc.

2) More nuke-building capacity

Contrary to an early speech as president when Barack Obama sketched out a bright picture of a world without nuclear weapons, except for the completion of a New START treaty with Russia, he has gone the opposite way on nuclear weapons.

He has embraced the nuclear weapons modernization program, of which the keystone is the construction of three new nuclear weapons facilities. These facilities will quadruple the nation’s capacity to build nuclear warheads.

Besides the modernization cost of nukes, estimated at $185 billion when delivery systems are included, a new nuclear-warhead-equipped submarine fleet costing between $110 and $120 billion is on the drawing board, as is a new bomber designed to carry nuclear warheads.

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would push to have the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed in the U.S. Senate; however, there has been no movement on that wish.

3) Deficit reduction

When President Obama began to change his plumage to that of a deficit hawk, he spoke of “shared sacrifice” and a “balanced” approach. When he unveiled his 12-year plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion, increased revenue would comprise only one-fourth of the total. Discretionary domestic spending cuts would absorb 80 percent of the overall $2 trillion spending cuts and military spending cuts would constitute 20 percent of the overall cut. Presumably, another trillion dollars would come from a reduction in wasteful spending.

President Obama also proposed a six-year, $560 billion infrastructure investment. which would eat up over half of the $1 trillion increase in revenue. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were excluded from cuts in the 12-year plan.

As the long-running debt ceiling fracas continued, President Obama started offering more spending cuts, and, finally, he threw Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid into the mix. What had been a 3 to 1 ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases, widened to a 4 to 1 or even wider ratio.

The full extent of what spending reductions Obama was willing to offer in the “grand bargain” he was trying to strike with House Speaker John Boehner is unknown, but what has leaked out is that Obama was willing to accept a new cost-of-living formula for annual Social Security benefit increases; add two years to the eligibility age for Medicare and slice Medicaid by $100 billion. Notably, when President Obama endorsed the Senate “Gang of Six” deficit-reduction plan, he also accepted the Social Security cuts found in that plan.

The next bend in the Obama spending cuts trail came when he endorsed what came to be called the Reid deficit-reduction plan. The Reid plan took Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid out of consideration for cuts.

The latest twist came in September 2011, when in conjunction with the jobs plan, Social Security was exempted from cuts but both Medicare and Medicaid would sustain cuts.

4) Taxes

Trying to follow the trail that President Obama has hacked out on taxes would leave one in a state of frustrated bewilderment. It was all so clear in the presidential campaign that Obama would end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy; however, his pledge not to raise the taxes of households earning $250,000 or less and individuals earning $200,000 or less was somewhat less clear, as it wasn’t certain if he intended to end all of the Bush tax cuts or just those for the wealthy.

President Obama broke his pledge on the Bush tax cuts, when in December 2011 he agreed to a two-year extension of all the cuts. Also included in the tax package was a two percent cut in the employee’s share of the FICA tax. Since Obama now wants to cut the FICA tax in half for both employees and employers for a one-year period, the projected loss to the Social Security trust fund for these two actions would be $379 billion, which would need to be borrowed.

The next major tax proposal by President Obama was the $1 trillion revenue increase in the 12-year plan, to be achieved by eliminating tax benefits to the wealthiest Americans. How that was to correlate with the Bush tax cuts was not explained.

When President Obama endorsed the Senate “Gang of Six” deficit-reduction plan, he also accepted its recommendation to end the Alternative Minimum Tax. The mean average loss from ending the AMT is $1.25 trillion over a ten-year period. This loss in revenue would exceed the $1 trillion revenue increase in Obama’s 12-year plan.

Another feature of the “Gang of Six” plan is a top marginal tax rate ranging from 23 to 29 percent. It is a taxation nightmare to have a top marginal tax rate that has a seven percent range; however, even at 29 percent it is a sizable drop from the current 35 percent rate for the most wealthy. As I said previously, it is like the Bush tax cuts on steroids.

The primary funding for Obama’s job creation plan was to be the closing of tax loopholes benefiting both well-off people and corporations and ending the Bush tax cuts. After Democratic senators substituted a surcharge on those earning $2 million or more, Obama quickly endorsed it and threw out his own tax increase plan. Later, when the jobs package couldn’t pass in the U.S. Senate, it was broken up into pieces, with a part of the 5.6 percent overall tax surcharge packaged with each piece.

5) Civil Liberties

President Obama has adopted just about the whole panoply of George W. Bush’s positions on civil liberties. Obama supports warrantless wiretapping, telecom immunity, indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, the Patriot Act as originally written and a greatly expanded use of national security letters.

President Obama has been hell on wheels on prosecuting and persecuting whistleblowers and he has immersed U.S. citizens deeper into what is being called a “national surveillance state.”

6) Torture

The Justice ;Department under the Obama administration has not prosecuted anyone who either authorized torture or administered it. John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Alberto Gonzalez haven’t suffered any penalty for the instrumental role they played in providing legal cover for the practice of torture.

There is good reason to believe that the United States is practicing torture yet today in Afghanistan and covering up torture being practiced by the Afghan government. Obama has also taken no action to remove a legal basis for torture found in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and did not include it when the MCA was amended in 2009.

7) War on Terror

The Obama administration has used military force as a primary means of waging the War on Terror. This focus on military force is primarily exemplified by an approximate quadrupling of drone strikes over that of the Bush II administration.

Even George W. Bush, with his stretching the envelope philosophy, did not assume the right to assassinate U.S. citizens, as President Obama has.

During his tenure, President Obama has authorized what once would have been considered acts of war in six countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

8) The intelligence empire

Barack Obama said in the presidential campaign that he would “rein in” the intelligence agencies and make them operate in a more transparent manner. The intelligence empire has, however, continued to grow in budget, in personnel, in complexes, in organizations, in buildings, in facilities across that nation — 1,700 by Washington Post reporter Dana Priest’s count — and in intelligence-gathering capability.

President Obama actually asked for more intelligence agency funding in his latest budgetary request than Congress is willing to give him. Congress also wanted more information on Guantanamo detainees and government-to-government  intelligence dealings than the Obama administration was willing to provide.

9) Health care reform

Barack Obama was a single-payer advocate as a stater senator in Illinois and in the presidential campaign he favored it if we lived in an ideal world. Yet he failed to even put it on the table because he didn’t think it could have been enacted. Given the enormous dissatisfaction with the health care system within the  general public, single-payer should at least have been tested.

Barack Obama was once a champion of the public option as a way to hold down the cost of health insurance premiums. After becoming president, he once described the public option as “a sliver” of the program and once described it as “a modest” part of the program. He eventually abandoned it.

President Obama himself downplayed the significance of what he was proposing by assuring the public that most of them would not be affected by the new health care legislation. So even though the Affordable Care Act has some good features, it has taken the steam out of future efforts to fundamentally reform the health care system.

10) Education

President Obama’s reauthorization proposal for No Child Left Behind has some good features, such as eliminating the provision that students in a failing school can transfer to a school that is making Adequate yearly Progress (AYP), and broadening the educational focus beyond just reading and math; however, the proposal ties teacher evaluation too closely to student test scores and it retains high stakes testing, which limits educational scope and leads to “teaching to the test.”

Obama’s pet project is Race to the Top, but to qualify for it there must be no cap on charter schools and there must be a link between teacher evaluation and student test scores. Only a very small percentage of schools are helped by Race to the Top.

Charter schools are an Obama infatuation. Once thought to be the educational wave of the future, charter schools have less public accountability than do full-fledged public schools; they are more segregated than are public schools; they don’t perform better academically than do public schools; and only five percent have unionized teachers. Students from states where the teachers are highly unionized do better on standardized tests than do students from right-to-work states.

Thus concludes this summary of some of the major points made in prior blogs. The next two blogs will deal with immigration reform and the regulation of big business. Foreign policy blogs will be largely broken down into how we deal with individual countries.

 

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