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 entered office fighting the 2008 financial crisis. He immediately launched the ambitious Affordable Care Act, despite backlash. His administration continued battling the Tea Party Republicans after they gained Congressional majority in the 2010 mid-term elections. Despite these challenges, he accomplished 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 in July when GDP growth turned positive. In just seven months, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act pumped $241.9 billion into the economy. That increased growth to a robust 3.9 percent rate by early 2010. By March 30, 2011, almost 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 General Motors 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

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 10 percent. (Source: "Inspires Hope for a Better Future," Nobel Prize.)

3. Reformed Health Care

On March 23, 2010, Obamacare revolutionized healthcare. Why did healthcare need to be reformed? Rising costs threatened to outstrip Medicare's ability to pay for it, and contributed to 50 percent of all bankruptcies.

The quality of care was one of the worst in the world. By 2014, the economy benefited from having 95 percent of the population on health insurance. The greater number of people receiving preventive care reduced the number of expensive visits to emergency rooms. 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 reduced harmful practices 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 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. 

5. 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: 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 Withdrew Troops from Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

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. 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. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should have reduced annual military spending. At over $800 billion, it was the largest discretionary budget item and one of the leading causes of the budget deficit and national debt. Instead, military spending remained higher than during the Bush Administration. For more, see War on Terror Costs.

7. Won 2012 Presidential Re-election

Obama won a second term as president on November 6, 2012.  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.    

8. Nuclear Agreement With Iran

On July 14, 2015, Obama brokered a nuclear peace agreement with Iran. In return, the United Nations lifted 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. If ratified by Congress, it would 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.

Obama launched the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the European Union. His term ended before negotiations could be finalized. It would have been bigger than the TPP. 

10. International Climate Change Agreement

Obama led global efforts to finalize 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 developing countries bear the brunt of damage from climate change, facing typhoons, rising sea levels, and droughts.

At least 55 of the 196 participating countries 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 gases. (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 percent 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 percent more renewable energy generation by 2030. It encourages carbon emissions trading by allowing states that emit less than the caps to trade their surplus to states that emit more than 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. Best Job Creator

Obama is the biggest job-creating President in U.S. history. His policies put 22.309 million people to work from the depths of the recession in January 2010 to the end of his term. That's because unemployment continued to rise even after the recession ended in 2009. It takes a few months of economic growth before businesses are confident enough to begin hiring again.

Since the beginning of his term, he put 17.267 million people to work. That makes him the second best job-creator, following Bill Clinton. Job gains would have been even better if Congress had approved Obama's proposed Americans Jobs Act. For more, see Job Creation by President.  

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 that created the lowest interest rates in 200 years. This 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. 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 total projected deficits are $6.576 trillion.

For more, see How Much Has Obama Added to the Debt and Deficit by President.

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

Obama's Advisers

Part of the reason for Obama's success is his first team of economic advisers. Many of them helped formulate the policies he outlined during his 2008 campaign platform, including 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 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, infighting had sent Larry Summers, Christina Romer, Peter Orszag and Paul Volcker on their way. 

Obama's Early Years

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 19651. 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. (Source: "Barack Obama," Whitehouse.gov. "Barack Obama," Biography.com.)

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