What Has Obama Done? 14 Major Accomplishments

© The Balance, 2018

President Barack Obama entered office in 2009 to fight the 2008 financial crisis. He immediately launched the ambitious Affordable Care Act, despite the backlash. His administration continued battling the Tea Party Republicans after they gained a Congressional majority in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Despite these challenges, Obama accomplished many great things by the time his term ended in January 2017. Here are the top 14 in chronological order.

1. Ended the 2008 Recession

In February 2009, Congress approved Obama's economic stimulus package that was estimated at the time to cost $787 billion. It cut taxes, extended unemployment benefits, and funded public works projects. The recession ended in June 2009 when GDP growth turned positive.

In fiscal year 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act pumped $179 billion into the economy. That increased real GDP growth to a robust rate of 3.7% in the first quarter of 2010. By the end of fiscal year 2011, about $725 billion had been spent. 

2. Modernized the Auto Industry

Obama bailed out the U.S. auto industry in early 2009. The federal government oversaw the restructuring in exchange for loans and working capital of General Motors and Chrysler, saving more than 4 million jobs. It forced the companies to become more fuel-efficient and much more globally competitive.

3. Received the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

On October 9, 2009, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Committee lauded "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."  He withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011. He reduced the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile by 24%. 

4. Reformed Health Care

On March 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act revolutionized healthcare, in part by creating a program that offered insurance to people with pre-existing conditions who had been shut out of the insurance system.  By 2014, the economy benefited from having 88% of the population covered by some type of health insurance.

The greater number of people receiving preventive care reduced the number of expensive visits to emergency rooms, slowing the rise of health care costs for everyone. That's because Medicaid and Medicare reimburse hospitals for some uncompensated care.

Why did health care need to be reformed? Rising costs threatened to take over the entire federal budget. In return, Americans received the worst health care in the developed world. It is one of a few OECD countries without universal health care.

President Donald Trump promised to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. By eliminating the mandate and reinstituting "skinny plans" that don't cover a slew of expensive illnesses, he weakened Obamacare even without formal repeal.

5. Regulated the Big Banks

In July 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act improved regulation of eight systems that led to the financial crisis. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reduced harmful practices of credit cards and mortgages. The Financial Stability Oversight Council was created to improve coordination among financial services regulators at the federal and state levels. The "Volcker Rule" banned banks from risking losses with their depositors' money. Dodd-Frank clarified which agencies regulated which banks, stopping banks from cherry-picking their regulators.

Dodd-Frank directed the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. These regulated the riskiest derivatives, like credit default swaps and commodities futures. Dodd-Frank also asked the SEC to recommend how the credit rating agencies, like Moody's and Standard & Poor's, could be improved. 

Changes to Dodd-Frank under the Trump administration did not gut the act, but increased the size at which a bank is subject to enhanced regulation by the Federal Reserve to $250 billion from $50 billion, with an important qualification that the Federal Reserve retains the discretion to apply enhanced regulatory standards to any specific bank greater than $100 billion, if the Fed feels that is warranted.

6. 2010 Tax Cuts

In December 2010, Obama and Congress agreed upon additional stimulus in the form of an $858 billion tax cut. It had three main components: an extension of the Bush tax cuts, a $56 billion extension of unemployment benefits, and a 2% reduction in workers' payroll taxes. Businesses received tax cuts for capital improvements and research and development tax credits. The estate tax was exempted (up to $5 million), and there were additional credits for college tuition and children.  

7. Eliminated bin Laden Threat and Withdrew Troops from Iraq

On May 1, 2011, Navy SEALs attacked the al-Qaida leader's compound in Pakistan and eliminated Osama bin Laden. Later that year, Obama withdrew troops from the Iraq War. Three years later, renewed threats from ISIS meant troops had to return. The Sunni-Shiite split within Islam means there may always be wars in the Middle East. 

8. Raised Fuel Efficiency Standards

On August 28, 2012, the Obama administration announced new fuel efficiency standards. He required cars and light trucks obtain 54.5 MPG by 2025. That would reduce oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, saving drivers $1.7 trillion. It would also reduce the damage of climate change by lowering greenhouse gases.

The Trump administration rolled back these standards somewhat. But California requires the production of a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles, and several other states have adopted at least part of California's standards. 

9. Won 2012 Presidential Reelection

On November 6, 2012, Obama won a second term. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. Voters were not sure about eliminating health benefits and regulations against big banks. Romney failed to capture the country's imagination by not presenting a new vision for economic growth.

10. Reduced Carbon Emissions

Obama announced carbon reduction regulations in 2015. He enacted the Clean Power Plan in 2015. It reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. It did this by setting carbon reduction goals for the nation's power plants. To comply, power plants agreed to create 30% more renewable energy generation by 2030. It encourages carbon emissions trading by allowing states that emit less than the carbon cap to trade their surplus to states that emit more than the cap.   

In June 2019, the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency killed the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with the more lenient Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. ACE would lower emissions by the power sector to between 0.7% and 1.5% by 2030.

11. Nuclear Agreement With Iran

On July 14, 2015, Obama brokered a nuclear peace agreement with Iran. Formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it required Iran to have only sufficient enriched uranium for its energy needs, but not enough to build a bomb. JCPOA also instituted inspection requirements. In return, the United Nations lifted the economic sanctions it imposed in relation to Iran's nuclear program. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in May 2018, contending it did not go far enough.

12. World's Largest Trade Agreement

On October 4, 2015, Obama's team negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deal have replaced NAFTA as the world's largest free-trade agreement. It would have removed tariffs between the United States and 11 other countries that border the Pacific Ocean. On January 23, 2017, Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement. The other countries renegotiated a new agreement without the U.S.

Obama also launched negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the European Union.

Obama's term ended before negotiations on the TTIP could be finalized. It would have been bigger than the TPP. President Trump did not make any further progress on the TTIP during his time in office.

13. International Climate Change Agreement

On December 12, 2015, Obama and more than 190 other countries announced the Paris Climate Agreement. Countries agreed to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon trading. The goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Developed countries will contribute $100 billion a year to assist emerging markets. They bear the brunt of damage from climate change. They face increased typhoons, rising sea levels, and more severe droughts.

On October 5, 2016, enough countries ratified the agreement that it went into effect. At the 2016 G20 meeting, China and the United States agreed to ratify the agreement. These two countries are the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. On June 1, 2017, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, but President Biden declared that the U.S. would be rejoining on his first day in office, January 20, 2021. 

14. Job Creation

Obama's policies put more than 10 million people to work from the depths of the recession to the end of his term. That's because unemployment continued to rise even after the recession ended in July. It takes a few months of economic growth before businesses are confident enough to begin hiring again.

Other Accomplishments

Maintained Continuation of Federal Reserve Policy - Obama appointed Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Janet Yellen to replace Ben Bernanke. She maintained an expansionary monetary policy. This allowed the early stages of the housing recovery and slow but steady business expansion to continue. That's because Treasury yields affect mortgage interest rates.

Deficit Spending - The major mark against Obama is the increase in the national debt. Part of the reason for this increase was the deficit spending he used to stimulate the economy. Deficits fell in his second term.

Obama's Early Years

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. He received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1983 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1991. He was a professor of constitutional law for the University of Chicago from 1992 to 2004. He published his autobiography "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" in 1995.

He became an Illinois State Senator in 1996. He served until he became a U.S. Senator in 2005. He gained national attention when he spoke on behalf of John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He published "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" in 2006.

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