Benchmarking Obama: Summary Scorecard

As President Obama nears his 100th day in office, NPR News measures the progress and performance of his administration using the fairest yardstick possible: goals and benchmarks outlined by the president himself. Here, NPR's correspondents provide a snapshot summary of how the president has done so far on key parts of his agenda.

Abortion & Stem Cells

Benchmarks Set By Obama

Obama's voting record in both the Illinois and U.S. Senates has been staunchly in favor of abortion rights. But he has also tried to reach out to anti-abortion Catholics and moderate evangelical Christians by professing a desire to find common ground in the polarized abortion debate -- for example, through better sex education, increasing opportunities for adoption and helping single mothers who choose to keep their babies.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

Candidate Obama made sure some of those alternatives to abortion were included in the Democratic platform, even while the party continued to support its traditional position of legal access to abortion.

During his first week in office (although, pointedly, not on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision), President Obama reversed the so-called "Mexico City Policy," which had barred U.S. funding of international family-planning groups that perform or advocate for abortion. During his first weeks in office, the president also acted to rescind controversial last-minute Bush administration regulations that allowed health workers to refuse to provide or participate in services that violate their beliefs. And Obama also overturned his predecessor's controversial policy limiting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

Obama appears to want to satisfy both sides on politically sensitive "life" issues. But so far, he's been successful mostly at making both sides unhappy. Abortion reduction was originally one of the priorities of Obama's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. But after complaints from abortion rights advocates, that responsibility was split with the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Scientists were unhappy with embryonic stem cell funding guidelines that didn't give them as much access to different types of cell lines as they'd hoped. And anti-abortion groups remain convinced that Obama is and will remain fundamentally their enemy. Said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, "The common ground that Barack Obama seeks with the pro-life movement is the burial ground."

Climate Change

Benchmarks Set By Obama

Obama laid out at least 20 goals in his plan to make the nation's energy economy greener and slow the rate of climate change. These include modernizing the nation's electricity grid; working with the United Nations to do more to curb global warming; encouraging the development and adoption of electric vehicles; reducing dependence on foreign oil; and requiring that 25 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. Energy analysts say it is the most ambitious and detailed energy plan to come out of the White House so soon after a new president has taken office.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

The stimulus package funneled about $39 billion for Obama's green energy proposals. First out of the gate were efforts to weatherize low-income homes. The Department of Energy has also sped up its program to guarantee loans for risky energy projects that might otherwise not get financing, which addresses the president's promise to encourage research on renewable forms of energy. Critics point out that the president hasn't encouraged nuclear power, which is virtually free of greenhouse gases. And the administration has postponed leasing new oil drilling areas in U.S. waters, which might lessen dependence on foreign oil.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

Climate and energy analysts note that Obama was quick to appoint a Cabinet that includes experienced climate and energy experts, and he added a new position for former EPA administrator Carol Browner as climate czar. The president also sent a delegation to climate talks in Europe this spring to assure world leaders that the U.S. would try harder to collaborate in international climate negotiations.

The administration's preoccupation with the flagging economy has slowed the momentum on remaking the energy economy, however, and could delay some of the president's projects. And the White House is seen as lukewarm on new legislation before Congress to limit emissions of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

Health Care

Benchmarks Set By Obama

During the campaign, candidate Obama promised an ambitious health agenda: an overhaul of the entire U.S. health system, including mandatory insurance coverage for children, requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing health conditions and providing everyone with a choice of private health insurance plans in addition to a new public plan similar to Medicare. At the same time, he promised that cost-containment provisions in the new system would lower the average family's insurance premiums by $2,500 per year. In his speech to Congress on Feb. 24, President Obama kept up the pressure on lawmakers to act. "Let there be no doubt: Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year," he said.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

Just days after Obama took office, he signed a major expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- estimated to add 4 million additional low- and moderate-income children to the insurance rolls over the next decade. It was similar to a bill twice vetoed by President Bush. The economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in February included $19 billion to begin to computerize the nation's medical records and another $1.1 billion for so-called "comparative effectiveness" research, which involves head-to-head studies of drugs, devices and medical procedures to see what works best.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

The administration is leaving the actual crafting of legislation to Congress -- unlike the Clinton administration during its failed effort to overhaul health care. But Obama officials are using the president's bully pulpit and their grassroots organizing skills to move the process along as best they can. During the presidential transition, the then-president-elect urged his supporters to hold health care "house parties." These events were ostensibly to provide the incoming administration with ideas for how to build its proposal, but they also provided tens of thousands of names and e-mail addresses of supporters who could later be unleashed on reluctant or recalcitrant lawmakers if needed.

Obama also hosted a well-received health care "summit" in March that brought together Democrats, Republicans and stakeholders from across the health care spectrum. And in the budget he sent to Congress, the president proposed to set aside $634 billion, through a combination of tax changes and Medicare and Medicaid reductions, as a "down payment" on raising the money needed to pay for the health overhaul legislation.

Education

Benchmarks Set By Obama

Obama has laid out an education agenda that would expand the federal role in improving the quality of education from cradle to college. In his first 100 days, the president has laid out sweeping proposals to create uniform standards for preschool programs. He has proposed billions of dollars for what he calls "innovative, bold school reform projects"; a push for more rigorous tests and academic standards for public schools; merit pay for classroom teachers; lengthening the school day and school year; and a new national strategy to address the high school dropout crisis.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

So far, the only example of how quickly and aggressively the Obama administration is willing to move to change federal education policy is its proposal to overhaul the federal student loan program.

Under the current policy, students at some colleges borrow directly from the government, while others get loans from banks, nonprofits or state agencies that, in turn, receive subsidies from Washington. Obama wants to replace the policy with a new one that would allow parents and families to borrow directly from the Department of Education, bypassing banks entirely. Obama says it would save at least $48 billion over the next 10 years -- money that could be put back into student aid.

Higher education groups are divided over the plan. Banks and private lenders oppose it. It's the only big fight over education policy that the president has faced in his first 100 days.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

Obama has vowed to break free from what he calls the "old tired Washington debate" over education: Democrats versus Republicans, federal versus local, more money versus greater accountability. That stance has earned him some bipartisan support. For example, the president's choice for secretary of education -- former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan -- barely raised an eyebrow. Even the nation's teachers unions have not challenged Obama's proposal to link teacher pay to student performance.

Education groups on the left and the right in fact give the president credit for jump-starting the national conversation about education. But everybody agrees that 100 days is simply not enough time to gauge how much the Obama administration can or will accomplish, given the president's sweeping proposals.

The $100 billion earmarked for education in the stimulus package, meanwhile, has also bought Obama a lot of good will among educators, especially in states facing teacher layoffs and huge cuts in spending for education. Still, for all the attention schools and teachers are getting from the new administration, there's a growing concern among state and local school leaders that Obama is federalizing public education. And that, for now, is the one big fight looming in Washington.

Federal Budget

Benchmarks Set By Obama

During the campaign, Obama pledged to get the federal budget under control. That was before anyone thought the economy would falter so badly. So the actual benchmark on this one shifted considerably after he was elected in November. He ended up requesting hundreds of billions of dollars in funds to stimulate the economy and passing a budget that was more than a trillion dollars in the red.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

Obama does claim to have worked to cut down future budget deficits by proposing increases in income taxes for higher-earning Americans. The president recently asked his Cabinet secretaries to find a $100 million in cuts within the next three months. Some budget hawks argue that this effort is largely symbolic, noting that $100 million is dwarfed by the size of the president's spending plan - which includes a $3.5 trillion budget for fiscal 2010.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

From here on out, the president will weigh his policy priorities against a backdrop of red ink and growing concern over the economy's stability. Obama has pledged to cut down on earmarks in the coming appropriations bills, and he says that should help wrestle spending down in the future. But for now, his pledges of greater fiscal responsibility have been overpowered by attempts to shore up the flagging economy. The staggering numbers have provoked the most notable protests of the Obama era to date, including a variety of anti-tax "Tea Party" demonstrations held around the country on April 15, the day federal income tax returns are due.

Financial Regulations

Benchmarks Set By Obama

The 2008 presidential campaign took place amid a global banking emergency more severe than anything seen in decades. Candidate Obama often struck a populist tone when discussing the crisis, without giving too many specifics about what he would do. But he made clear that he blamed what had happened on years of financial deregulation, such as the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which allowed large financial services companies to engage in each other's businesses. "Too many folks in Washington and Wall Street weren't minding the store," he said.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

The president's first weeks in office were dominated by the urgent effort to rescue the nation's large banks, some of which seemed to be declining by the day. But lately his administration has begun laying out its ideas for long-term change in the markets.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants Congress to provide the administration with more power to intervene when very large financial companies -- those that are "too big to fail" -- seem to be teetering. He spoke about establishing a "systemic regulator" -- perhaps the Federal Reserve -- that could act to stabilize troubled companies. During the recent G-20 summit in London, the administration also voiced support for a global effort to tighten market regulation.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

The challenge of overhauling the clunky regulatory apparatus that polices the financial markets and bringing it into a 21st century world of credit-default swaps and mortgage-backed securities won't be simple.

When the Bush administration's last Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, unveiled his own proposals for fixing the markets last spring, he acknowledged that reforming the system would take years, easily outlasting his own tenure. Still, some critics say that public anger at the nation's banks right now presents a fertile climate for changing the markets, and they say the Obama administration needs to act more aggressively to take advantage of the opportunity.

Recession & Recovery

Benchmarks Set By Obama

Obama took office amid the worst financial crisis -- and what is likely to be the worst recession -- since the Great Depression. Even before his inauguration, in a Jan. 8 speech at George Mason University, the then-president-elect said America had to "act boldly" to address the crisis. He proposed a stimulus package that he said would put "money in the pockets of the American people," "save or create at least 3 million jobs over the next few years" and "invest in the future." He promised to make those investments in energy, education, health care and new infrastructure. Obama said the stimulus package should be in the neighborhood of $800 billion.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

Congress passed a $787 billion stimulus package that the president signed on Feb. 17, less than a month after he took office. Given the size and scope of the bill, it was a remarkable achievement -- but not without its critics. Republicans, especially, complained that the spending would add too much to the federal deficit and debt.

Obama met most of his broad benchmarks for the bill. The package provided "Making Work Pay" tax credits worth $400 for most individuals and $800 for most couples. That's slightly less than the $500/$1,000 credits that the president initially sought. Obama got some dollars in the package dedicated to virtually all the areas he had proposed -- from energy to infrastructure spending.

Compromises with Congress meant less in education spending than Obama had asked for. One disappointment was a failure to achieve the bipartisanship for which he had aimed: The stimulus package passed on a party-line vote.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

Spending from the stimulus package will be spread out over several years, but much of the money is expected to be dispersed quickly (Twenty-three percent of the stimulus will be spent by Sept. 30 -- the end of the 2009 fiscal year. About another 50 percent will be spent in fiscal year 2010.) Already, state and local governments have begun receiving portions of the $150 million dedicated to helping ease their budget woes. That's helped preserve the jobs of public safety officials such as police and firefighters.

Americans began receiving their "Making Work Pay" tax cuts as of April 1. The cut is distributed through paychecks: Employers reduce the amount of taxes withheld, helping to boost the take-home pay of qualifying individuals by an average of about $13 a week.

The stimulus package also calls for much of the $180 billion allocated for roads, schools and mass transit to go to "shovel ready" projects that can be started quickly. That money will start being spent this summer, but the spending will peak much later. Vice President Biden is in charge of a task force aimed at making sure funds are spent quickly and appropriately.

Re-Branding America

Benchmarks Set By Obama

Obama understood that America's standing in the world had suffered under the Bush administration's go-it-alone attitude. Obama made it clear that he would reverse some of the Bush administration's more contentious policies in an effort to bring the U.S. back into the international fold.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

In the first few days after taking office, Obama signed three executive orders that could profoundly change the way the U.S. deals with terrorism suspects. He ordered that the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be shut within a year. He launched a high-level review of how detainees are treated by the U.S. and banned the CIA from holding terrorism suspects at secret prisons. Detainees are also now to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Obama also focused on foreign policy, sending envoys on listening tours to troubled areas such as the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He himself has been careful not to make demands on world leaders whom he has met on his own recent tours.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

While Obama has been warmly received on his overseas visits, he has not produced many results on urgent issues. He failed to convince leaders at the recent G-20 summit to coordinate a global stimulus plan and was unable to get NATO nations to commit to more combat troops for Afghanistan. The measure of Obama's outreach to the world may not be fully realized until he is tested by a foreign policy emergency.

Wars In Iraq & Afghanistan

Benchmarks Set By Obama

On the campaign trail, Obama promised to end the war in Iraq. He also said he would pull combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office. But he said he would do so responsibly -- saying that the U.S. needed to be "at least as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." Obama promised to shift American resources and attention to Afghanistan. He did not lay out a precise plan or a timetable for U.S. involvement, but he did pledge to "finish the job" in Afghanistan.

Steps So Far Toward Goals

In February, Obama said U.S. combat operations in Iraq would end by Aug. 31, 2010. That would be 19 months after he took office, not the promised 16. Obama also said all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011. If he's able to stick to those deadlines, he will be seen to have honored the spirit -- if not the letter -- of his campaign promises.

On Afghanistan, Obama laid out in March a comprehensive new strategy for the region. The plan includes at least 21,000 additional U.S. troops, billions more in aid money and hundreds more civilian advisers. The president has defined the U.S. goal as being "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." But as the situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen, it's unclear whether Obama will be able to "finish the job" there, as he once promised.

Efforts To Speed Up Momentum

In Iraq, a number of key dates are coming up: a June 30 deadline for U.S. troops to be out of Iraqi cities; Iraqi national elections (scheduled for December); Aug. 31, 2010, the date Obama has set for U.S. combat troops to withdraw; and the end of 2011, the deadline for all U.S. forces to leave the country. The security situation now and at each of these milestones will dictate whether Obama can stick to the deadlines he's outlined.

Obama promised to lay out specific benchmarks to measure progress in Afghanistan, but he has yet to announce any. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has been tasked with developing new armored vehicles and other equipment necessary for U.S. troops to ramp up the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents. And diplomats continue to press NATO and other allies for more contributions to help turn the tide in Afghanistan.

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