What Has Obama Done? 11 Major Accomplishments

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama waves to the photographers as he returns to the South Lawn of the White House on May 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama returned from Miami following a tour of the National Hurricane Center.. Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama struggled with the 2008 financial crisis and controversy over the ambitious Affordable Care Act. His Administration battled the tea party Republicans ever since the 2010 mid-term elections. Despite these challenges, he's managed to accomplish many great things. Here are the top eleven. Find out how they match up to the 2008 "Yes We Can!" campaign promises.  

1. Ended the 2008 Recession

In February 2009, Congress approved Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package.

It cut taxes, extended unemployment benefits, and funded public works projects. The recession ended six months later when GDP growth turned positive. In just seven months, ARRA pumped $241.9 billion into the economy, stirring growth to a robust 3.9% by early 2010. By March 30, 2011, nearly all ($633.5 billion) of the funds were spent. 

Obama bailed out the U.S. auto industry on March 30, 2009. The Federal government took over GM and Chrysler, saving three million jobs. It forced the companies to become more fuel efficient and therefore more globally competitive.

2. Received 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in March 2010. The Committee lauded "..his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."  He withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011. He has reduced the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile by 10 percent. (Source: "Inspires Hope for a Better Future," Nobel Peace Prize 2009)

3. Reformed Health Care

On March 23, 2010, Obamacare revolutionized healthcare. Six months later, concerns over the program's cost helped Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections. Why did healthcare need to be reformed? Rising costs threatened to outstrip Medicare's ability to pay for it, and contributed to 50% of all bankruptcies.

The quality of care was one of the worst in the world. For more on the story behind Obama's Plan to Reform Healthcare.

By 2014, the economy benefited from having 95% of the population on health insurance.That should reduce the number of emergency visits to the hospital and lower costs. Bankruptcies should decline since medical expenses are the number one cause. For more, see Obamacare Pros and Cons.

4. Regulated the Big Banks

In July 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act improved regulation of eight areas that led to the financial crisis. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency improved regulation of credit cards and mortgages. The Financial Stability Oversight Council regulated hedge funds and banks that became too big to fail. The "Volcker Rule" banned banks from being too involved with hedge funds. Dodd-Frank clarified which agencies regulated which banks, stopping banks from cherry-picking their regulator.

Dodd-Frank asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to regulate the riskiest derivatives, like credit default swaps and commodities futures.

It asked the SEC to recommend how the credit rating agencies, like Moody's and Standard & Poor's, could be improved. 

5. 2010 Tax Cuts

In December 2010, Obama and Congress agreed upon additional stimulus in the form of a $858 billion tax cut. It had three main components: a $350 billion extension of the Bush tax cuts, a $56 billion extension of unemployment benefits, and a $120 billion reduction in workers' payroll taxes. Businesses received $140 billion in tax cuts for capital improvements and $80 billion in research and development tax credits. The estate tax was exempted (up to $5 million), and there were additional credits for college tuition and children. For more, see Obama Tax Cuts.

6. Eliminated bin Laden Threat and Ended Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

On May 1, 2011, Navy Seals attacked the al Quaeda leader's compound in Pakistan and eliminated Osama bin Laden. Later that year, Obama ended the Iraq War. However, renewed threats from ISIS meant renewed military presence. For more, see Will It Ever End? How the Sunni-Shiite Split Affects the U.S. Economy

In 2014, Obama wound down the War in Afghanistan. He increased defense spending to new record levels, partly by improving care and benefits for veterans. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should have reduced the more than $800 billion in annual military spending. That's the largest discretionary budget item. It's one of the leading causes of the budget deficit and debt levels. Instead, it remained higher than during the Bush Administration. For more, see War on Terror Costs.

7. Won 2012 Presidential Election

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

8. Nuclear Agreement With Iran

On July 14, 2015, Obama brokered a nuclear peace agreement with Iran. In return, the United Nations would lift the economic sanctions it imposed in 2010.  For details, see Iran's Economy: Impact of Nuclear Deal and Sanctions.

9. World's Largest Trade Agreement

On October 4, 2015, Obama's team negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It replaces NAFTA as the world's largest free-trade agreement. It removes tariffs between the United States and 11 other countries that border the Pacific Ocean.

Obama's team is still negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union. Once completed, it will be even bigger than the TPP. 

10. International Climate Change Agreement

Obama led global efforts to reach the International Climate Agreement. It was negotiated in Paris on December 12, 2015. Countries agreed to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon trading. Members decided to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Developed countries will contribute $100 billion a year to assist emerging markets. Many of them bear the brunt of damage from climate change.These include typhoons, rising sea levels, and droughts. At least 55 of the 196 countries participating must now ratify the agreement before it can go 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 gasses. (Source: "Climate Agreement Best Chance We Have to Save the Planet," CNN, December 14, 2015) 

Obama announced carbon reduction regulations in 2014. He enacted the Clean Power Plan in 2015. It reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. It does this by setting carbon reduction goals for the nation's power plants. To comply, power plants will create 30% more renewable energy generation by 2030. It encourages carbon emissions trading by allowing states that already below the caps to trade their surplus to states that are above the cap.  (Source: "Obama Just Created a Carbon Cap and Trade Program," Climate Central, August 4, 2015. "President Obama to Announce Historic Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants," The White House, August 3, 2015.)

11. No Personal Scandal

One achievement has gone unnoticed but is nevertheless admirable. That's Obama's unblemished personal record. President Obama has served longer than any president in decades without the appearance of the word “scandal” on the front page of the Washington Post. For more accomplishments, see Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments.  

Other Accomplishments

Job Growth - Obama's policies helped the country recover from the Great Recession. More than eight million jobs have been created since he took office.  That makes him the fifth best job-creating President in U.S. history. But he actually created more jobs than that. Unemployment continued to rise even after the recession was over. That's because it takes a few months of economic growth before businesses are confident enough to begin hiring again. As a result, the economy continued to lose jobs until January 2010. If you add up all the jobs created since then, it totals 13.3 million jobs. That would make Obama the fourth best job creator among Presidents. Job gains may have been even better if Congress had approved Obama's proposed Americans Jobs Act. For more, see Job Creation by President.  

Maintained Continuation of Federal Reserve Policy - Obama appointed Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Janet Yellen to replace Ben Bernanke. She maintained an expansionary monetary policy that created the lowest interest rates in 200 years. That allowed the early stages of the housing recovery, and slow but steady business expansion, to continue. For more, see Relationship Between Treasury Notes and Mortgage Rates.

Deficit Spending - The major mark against Obama is the increase in the national debt. Partly that was because he used deficit spending to stimulate the economy. Deficits have fallen in his second term. Obama's total projected deficits so far are $6.814 trillion.

  • FY 2017 - $458 billion
  • FY 2016 - $531 billion
  • FY 2015 - $564 billion
  • FY 2014 - $649 billion
  • FY 2013 - $680 billion.
  • FY 2012: $3.7 trillion spending, creating a $1.09 trillion deficit
  • FY 2011: $3.8 trillion spending, creating a deficit of $1.3 trillion.
  • FY 2010: Spending $3.8 trillion, and creating a deficit of $1.6 trillion.
  • FY 2009: Added stimulus spending to the Bush budget, creating a deficit of $1.4 trillion.

For more, see How Much Has Obama Added to the Debt?

Obama's Advisers

Part of the reason for Obama's success is his first team of economic advisers. Many of them had helped formulate the policies he had outlined during his 2008 campaign platform, which included an aggressive fiscal stimulus plan to put the country back on track. He was applauded for appointing former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker as the head of the Economic Advisory Panel. He named Mary Schapiro head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) following the Madoff Ponzi scheme. However, he was criticized for including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who oversaw repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. By January 2011, internal infighting had sent most of them -- Larry Summers, Christina Romer, Peter Orszag, and Paul Volcker -- on their way. 

Other Presidents' Economic Policies

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