Has it been a “year of action” for President Obama?
The White House has released a 42-page document boldly proclaiming "an update on what President Obama has done this year to help ensure opportunity for all Americans.” In reality, it’s a collection of spin, listing in a sugar-coated manner what the president has done for everyday Americans through executive orders, speeches, summits and meetings as well as things that would happen anyway. Out of the 45 “new actions to date” in the document, nearly all of them neatly demonstrate how Obama has maneuvered around Congress (his opponents will be thrilled) by using his executive powers, and many are only half-steps or road maps toward accomplishing "action" rather than action itself.
Here’s a selection of Obama's "Year of Action" bullet points, and what the White House left out:
Feb. 12: executive order raising minimum wage for workers on new federal contracts
Congress has ignored Obama’s vocal cry to introduce a universal minimum wage -- saying it would cost jobs -- so this was the best he could do. The president has been keen to stress how his State of the Union address has led to businesses voluntarily giving workers raises. Still, it's a consolation prize.
April 8: executive order fighting pay discrimination among federal contractors
Like his minimum wage commitment, Congress is unlikely to do anything about pay discrimination for the moment. The best Obama can do is to enforce it for federal agencies, so again a quarter of a loaf at best.
June 23: Actions taken to support working families as part of Summit on Working Families, including a presidential memorandum
The "Year of Action" document says the president announced a series of “concrete steps” to help working families. These concrete steps appear to be mostly informational. They consist of a presidential memorandum to federal agencies, a series of working groups, releasing an online map of learning locations about pregnant workers' rights and finding some money to offer grants to assist low-wage individuals.
March 13: presidential memorandum directing secretary of labor to update overtime pay protections
The document was meant to be about strengthening opportunities for ordinary Americans. Updating and extending existing protections to “reward hard work” could be seen as a necessary measure -- or more red tape for employers.
May 9: Commitment by 300 public and private sector organizations to cut energy waste and deploy enough solar energy to power nearly 130,000 homes
Obama “challenged” federal agencies to enter into $4 billion of performance contracts by 2016 to improve energy efficiency. But again, no decisive action; he's asking them nicely if they could.
June 9: presidential memorandum directing federal government to allow all direct student loan borrowers to cap their loans at 10 percent of income
The White House is keen to push this forward, but as the New York Times has pointed out, the nitty gritty suggests that, in reality, only low-paid workers with large loans will benefit.
March 28: Released strategy to reduce methane emissions
The Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions was released in March. Not a lot appears to have happened since.
June 4: Four governors and 77 mayors to call for an end to veterans' homelessness by the end of 2015
Four whole governors! And four county officials! There’s no legislation or order, just a rallying cry from a bunch of politicians. The White House says they've been urging local leaders to take action through the “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.”
Jan. 16: College Opportunity Summit with more than 150 commitments by colleges, universities and organizations
The president and first lady called for universities to make new commitments to expand college opportunities, according to the document. The action was taken by the institutions, not the White House or Congress.
June 18: First White House Maker Faire, expanding access to tools to launch businesses, learn STEM skills and lead a grass-roots renaissance in American manufacturing
In a nutshell, some businesses, federal agencies and schools will construct “Makespaces” to update and boost the manufacturing skills of employees and students. The document reiterates the president’s 2015 budget requests by pointing out investment into the “Materials Genome Initiative” to support “advanced manufacturing.”
Like Obama’s “the bear is loose” tour (which wrapped up Thursday), the "Year of Action" document has one purpose: to show that he’s getting on with running the country while the Republicans are grandstanding in Congress. As the document says on page two, “at this make or break moment for the middle class, Republicans in Congress -- the least productive Congress in history -- have set records in obstruction and are now wasting time and taxpayer dollars on political stunts like Speaker Boehner’s plan to sue the President for doing his job.”