Every president announces a slew of initiatives in his State of the Union address. Here, in order of delivery, is a summary of the key proposals, pledges or priorities announced by President Obama a year ago — and what happened to them.
In general, Obama’s success rate on legislation has been relatively poor since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011. Still, in 2014 — his purported “year of action” — the president did follow through on many executive actions he had promised. To see how Obama has fared in previous years, click these links: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.
For the first time, we also have a Fact Checker video accounting of some of Obama’s proposals. (See above.)
Obama: “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home.”
No action has been taken. Republicans and Democrats disagree fiercely over the direction of any tax overhaul but even a tax plan proposed in 2014 by the then-chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee failed to gain traction among his GOP colleagues.
Obama: “We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.”
Congress failed to reach agreement on a transportation bill and so passed a stop-gap measure that pushed the issue into 2015; the waterways bill was enacted into law in May.
Obama: “But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.”
In May, the White House announced a plan to expedite federal permits and reviews of major construction projects, including creating an Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center at the Department of Transportation.
Obama: “My administration has launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh and Youngstown, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work.”
The Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2014, which will create 15 manufacturing hubs, was included in the omnibus spending bill passed in December and signed into law.
Obama: “We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.”
Not much progress was made in 2014, but this is one of the few areas where Obama can expect cooperation from Republicans who now control both houses of Congress
Obama: “That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.”
The final spending bill for 2015 left the National Institutes of Health with a budget below pre-sequestration levels but did single out a few areas for increases, such as research on Alzheimer’s disease, pediatric research and the Ebola virus (and Ebola vaccine development).
Obama: “Let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.”
Patent reform had passed the House in 2013, but died in the Senate in 2014 at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Prospects look brighter in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Obama: “Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.”
Congress ignored a request in Obama’s 2015 budget for $3 million to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Clean Air Act preconstruction and operating permitting programs for sources emitting criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases; instead, the Omnibus spending bill funded Clean Air & Climate activities $32 million below Obama’s request. Administration officials say the Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to work on modernization initiatives even with budget constraints.
Obama: “I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Obama in 2014 designated four national monuments, including the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument north of Los Angeles, and designated Bristol Bay as off limits for oil and gas leasing.
Obama: “Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.”
This perennial proposal from the president went nowhere.
Obama: “In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.”
In February, Obama directed that new fuel efficiency standards be adopted for heavy duty trucks.
Obama: “That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”
The Environmental Protection Agency in June announced a rule that would reduce carbon emissions by power plants by 30 percent by 2030.
Obama: “If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.”
Although a bipartisan bill was passed in the Senate in 2013, no action was taken in the House in 2014. In November, Obama took unilateral action to shield about 4 million of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Obama: “I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”
The Senate passed an extension, but it was not taken up in the House.
Obama: “I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”
Biden’s task force issued a report outlining ways to measure program effectiveness and Obama signed into a law a bill to streamline federal workplace training programs.
Obama: “Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four-year-old. As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.”
No action was taken in Congress, but the White House has pressed ahead with initiatives to expand early childhood education, including holding a White House summit in December at which $1 billion in federal grants and private contributions were announced.
Obama: “I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.”
No action was taken in Congress, but Obama took several executive actions on student loans, such as allowing direct loan borrowers to cap their loans at 10 percent of income.
Obama: “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.”
Obama, joined by civic and business leaders, in February announced “My Brother’s Keeper:”
Obama: “I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.”
The order was issued on Feb. 12.
Obama: “Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”
No action was taken by Congress.
Obama: “Tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA.”
The MyRAs were launched, but have received mediocre reviews.
Obama: “[Congress should] offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can.”
No significant action was taken.
Obama: “Since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations of Americans.”
The Senate Banking Committee, on a bipartisan vote, in May passed the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act—supported by the administration–but otherwise no further action was taken; House Republicans denounced it. The new chairman and ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee both voted against the bill, suggesting any new legislation in the coming year would be very different.
Obama: “I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”
Congress took no action but administration officials point to a number of regulations adopted in 2014, including a Justice Department proposal to clarify who, because of mental health reasons, is prohibited under federal law from receiving, possessing, shipping or transporting firearms; a Health and Human Services Department proposed rule to reduce barriers preventing state from submitting data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; and an FBI final rule to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun. The National Crime Prevention Council in June also launched a national education campaign on safe firearms storage using a $1 million award from DOJ.
Obama: “Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.”
U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan officially ended on Dec. 28. But the United States has left a force of 9,800 troops in the country, which (except for a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy) are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2016.
Obama: “Working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs.”
The administration supported bills in the House and the Senate that would have overhauled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act but the Senate bill never came to a final vote.
Obama: “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.”
Restrictions remain in place and the prison is still open, with 122 remaining detainees, though the administration has made progress in reducing the prison population.
Obama: “As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.“
Despite the efforts of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the talks collapsed in acrimony.
Obama: “With our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
The talks are continuing but a final deal remains elusive.
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