Obama lists financial rescue as 'most important thing' of his first year

A look at key moments of President Obama's first year in office, related to his legislative initiatives.
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

President Obama outlined Tuesday a first-year legislative record that he said rescued the economy and placed it on a path of long-term growth, even as he acknowledged that some unfinished items would probably be more difficult to achieve heading into a midterm election year.

In an Oval Office interview with The Washington Post, Obama rejected criticism that he has compromised too much to secure health-care reform or turned over too much authority to congressional leaders in pursuing his broad legislative agenda.

But some of Obama's signature initiatives, including cap-and-trade legislation and financial regulatory reform, remain unfulfilled heading into an election year likely to be shaped by what he achieved in Congress this year. Obama personally made the case for his legislative record at a time when his approval ratings are among the lowest of his presidency and as even some of his most ardent supporters are questioning the results of his congressional strategy.

"Overall, if you had a checklist of promises made, a lot of those promises have been kept," Obama said. "When those things are complete, and I think they will be, we will have achieved a fundamental shift in health care, energy, education and our financial regulatory system that will put this economy on a firmer footing to grow over the long term."

As the Senate prepares to pass its version of health-care reform legislation, Obama's advisers have portrayed a highly successful year pushing important bills through Congress, comparing his record to those of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Presidential scholars offer a more cautious appraisal, even as they note that Obama is operating in a more partisan time in Washington than those Democratic predecessors had.

Obama's legislative record includes the $787 billion stimulus bill passed in February, a mix of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and aid to state and local governments that was the largest of its kind. It also includes a variety of bills addressing issues of particular interest to his political base that had been languishing for years.

His top domestic priority

Although Obama noted in the interview that "the most important thing we did this year was to ensure that the financial system did not collapse," health-care reform dominated his agenda and will stand as at least one pillar of the legacy he leaves behind. He has come under sharp criticism for the size and shape of the legislation, including from former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, who has said he would prefer that the Senate defeat the bill rather than pass what he considers weak legislation.

In the interview, Obama vigorously defended the legislation, saying he is "not just grudgingly supporting the bill. I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved."

"Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health-care bill," Obama said. "Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill."

In listing those priorities, he cited the 30 million uninsured Americans projected to receive coverage, estimated savings of more than $1 trillion over the next two decades, a "patients' bill of rights on steroids," and tax breaks to help small businesses pay for employee coverage.

Those elements are in the House and Senate versions of the legislation; their competing proposals will have to be reconciled in conference committee next year. The House bill includes a government-run insurance plan favored by progressive Democrats; the Senate version does not. "I didn't campaign on the public option," Obama said in the interview.

Throughout the health-care debate, the president has declined to weigh in with specific preferences. The tactic has exasperated his supporters, but his advisers have deemed it key in keeping the bill moving through a balky Congress. Obama called the public option his preferred choice to ensure broad coverage and provide cost-cutting competition to the private insurers. But he has never demanded that it be part of a final bill.

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