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PROMISES, PROMISES: When Obama's promises conflict

Monday - 5/6/2013, 4:38pm  ET

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2012, file photo President Barack Obama campaigns at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Absent a magic potion or explosive economic growth, it was all but inevitable President Barack Obama would have to break some of his campaign promises to keep others. If there's one thing that distinguished them besides their ambition, it was their incompatibility. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

CALVIN WOODWARD
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Absent a magic potion or explosive economic growth, it was all but inevitable President Barack Obama would have to break some of his campaign promises to keep others. If there's one thing that distinguished them besides their ambition, it was their incompatibility.

Cut a staggering $4 trillion from deficits while protecting big benefit programs, subsidizing more health care, plowing extra money into education and avoiding tax increases on everyone except the rich? Not on this Earth.

The postelection reality is starting to shake out now, though how it will all settle can't yet be known.

To reach for his promised deficit reduction, Obama has proposed breaking his tax promise. Toward the same end, his pledge from four years earlier that he wouldn't trim cost-of-living benefits in Social Security has given way to a proposal to do just that.

None of that might happen.

Republicans, who oppose tax increases, and Democrats, who object to curbs on entitlements, could block his path and in doing so save Obama from breaking his own promises.

If they do, though, that big pledge to bring down deficits by $4 trillion would surely have no hope at all.

That's the overarching dilemma in a catalog of campaign promises facing varying prospects over the next few years.

Obama is driving toward success on his energy goals. He's got a decent chance of achieving an immigration overhaul. Activists who once ridiculed his promise to be a "fierce advocate" of gay rights say he's come around and become just that.

Much else is bogged in the budget swamp or is a nonstarter for one reason or another. Anything costing big money comes with big obstacles, and one promise that cost relatively little, gun control, is dust. Yet Obama, in powering through with his health care overhaul, financial regulation and stimulus spending in his first term, has shown that tough causes aren't always lost ones.

A look at Obama's leading promises and what's happening with them:

Debt:

The promise: Cut deficits by $4 trillion over a decade.

Prospects: Deals with Congress to cap spending and raise taxes on wealthier people, along with the resulting savings on interest payments on the debt, have already achieved a projected $2.6 trillion in deficit reduction for the years ahead. But the rest of the $4 trillion will be tough. To get there, he proposes a 10-year $583 billion tax increase, an additional layer of tax increases from slower indexing of tax brackets for inflation and modest curbs to federal health care programs, all helping to produce further interest savings.

Republicans are so far standing firm against further tax increases and liberal Democrats are a tough sell on trimming entitlement programs and other spending. This, as the Congressional Budget Office warns that "such high and rising debt would have serious consequences" if unchecked. Among those consequences are reduced national savings and investment, a potential fiscal crisis and higher interest costs for the government.

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Economy:

The promise: An approach to deficit reduction that doesn't undermine the recovery or unduly burden the middle class. Also, cut some corporate tax rates, penalize those who shift work overseas and create 1 million manufacturing jobs by 2016.

Prospects: Obama has had mixed success cutting the deficit without slowing growth. He struck a deal with Congress to avoid the "fiscal cliff," a set of tax increases and spending cuts in January. Businesses responded by stepping up hiring and spending.

But he and Republican leaders allowed Social Security taxes to rise, cutting take-home pay for nearly all working Americans. He wasn't able to avoid $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that started March 1.

Manufacturing has been creating more jobs but adding 1 million more by 2016 is unlikely. That would require 250,000 new factory jobs per year, nearly double the current pace. Overall, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent in April, the lowest in four years of recession and ragged recovery. The economy is growing modestly but steadily. It expanded at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter.

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Education:

The promise: Raise the high school graduation rate from 78 percent to 90 percent by 2020 and make the country No. 1 in college graduates by that year. Cut federal money to colleges that don't control tuition costs.

Prospects: A rocky path at best. There's little momentum in Congress for the spending required, his pledge to make the U.S. first in college graduates is a long shot and tuitions are climbing without the promised federal penalty.

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