Friday, January 30, 2009

Obama's First Ten Days - Progressive Agenda

Those interested in progressive governance* are happy (mostly) with the Obama administration's promising start.

Here are some highlights from the first ten days:

Tuesday, Jan. 20 (Day One) - comments from inaugural:
-President Obama's appeals to reason & progressive government: "We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise healthcare's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories, and we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age." These comments cause “a lot of happy faces … in the science world,” says Frank Press, former president of the National Academy of Sciences. "It’s not just getting money. It’s his recognition of what science can do to bring this country back in an innovative way.”

-appeals to the other nations:: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy." And, "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit, and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history. But that we will extend a hand, if you are willing to unclench your fist." Also, "To all the other peoples and governments that are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is the friend of each nation and of every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more."

Wednesday, Jan. 21 (Day Two) –
-Government Transparency & Ethics: President imposes new rules on government transparency and ethics (mandating new limits on lobbyists and requiring that government disclose more information), commenting that “[t]ransparency and rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

-Ethics in Government: institutes rules to end the unseemly revolving-door between government and private business/lobbying. “For as long as I am president,” he says, officials from his administration will be barred from lobbying their former colleagues; and former lobbyists entering the administration are required to sign a pledge promising to recuse themselves from dealing with matters they had worked with in the private sector.

-War in Iraq: meets with senior civilian and uniformed officials to instruct them to start making plans to end the war in Iraq.

Friday, Jan. 23 (Day Four) –
-Economic Stimulus Plan: President meets with leaders of both parties in Congress to advocate quick passage of an $825 billion economic recovery package, pledging that three-fourths of the combined spending and tax cuts would be used within eighteen months (and $250 billion in aid to states to help them continue to provide education and health care services during this difficult economy);

-Abortion Aid: signs executive order repealing rules enacted during the Bush/Cheney regime restricting federal money for international organizations that offer counsel on contraception or promote or provide abortions overseas (even if with their own money only). “For the past eight years,” the President comments, “[these rules] have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries.... For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.” This is good news for both pro- and (perhaps ironically) anti-abortion groups alike. As Steven W. Sindling, past director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and population adviser to the World Bank stated, “This will help many of the most effective providers of family planning services to enable women to avoid unwanted pregnancies.”

-Stem-cell Research: The President does not, however, move to lift President Bush’s restrictions on federal financing of embryonic stem-cell research, even though he has stated in the past that he supports such research. Congress will likely soon address, and is likely to pass, such a reversal; if it does not, the progressive can hope that President Obama will himself issue an executive order to that effect.

-Tightening the Financial Regulatory System: announces plans, through Treasury Dep’t nominee Timothy Geithner , economic team member Paul A. Volcker and others, to impose stricter federal rules for on financial markets and its participants.

Saturday, Jan. 24 (Day Five)
-Economic Stimulus Plan: President lays out details of the proposed $825 billion stimulus package in his first weekly video address: “This is not just a short-term program to boost employment. It’s one that will invest in our most important priorities like energy and education, health care and a new infrastructure tha are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century.” As reported in the New York Times, according to a White House report providing additional details, the plan would:

  • double the generating capacity of renewable energy over three years, enough to power six million American homes;
  • retrofit two million homes and 75 percent of all federal buildings to better protect against the weather, saving low-income homeowners an average of $350 a year in utility costs and saving the government $2 billion a year;
  • use loan guarantees and other financial support to leverage $100 billion in private sector investment in clean energy projects over three years. The plan would lay 3,000 miles of new or upgraded transmission wires for a new electric grid;
  • help 8.5 million Americans keep health care coverage by providing workers who lose insurance with tax credits to pay for continuing coverage under the “Cobra” federal law, and by expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income Americans who lack access to Cobra;
  • modernize 10,000 schools, improve security at 90 ports and build 1,300 waste-water projects;
  • bolster Pell Grants to help seven million students, and offer a new tax credit for four million college students;
  • increase food stamp benefits for 30 million Americans;
  • increase Social Security benefits by $450 for 7.5 million disabled and elderly Americans.
Monday, Jan. 26 (Day Seven)
-Environment - Clean Air: President directs the Environmental Protection Agency to move swiftly on the applications of California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards. This "progressive federalism" marks a sharp reversal from the Bush administration practice, which has been dragging its feet for years on this issue.

In addition, he directs federal departments and agencies to find new ways to save energy and be more environmentally friendly.

Tuesday, Jan. 27 (Day Eight)
-Foreign Affairs: In an interview on a major Arabic-language channel (Al Arabiya) based in Dubai, President Obama says he wants to convince Muslims that "the Americans are not your enemy," and comments that it is important to be willing to talk to the Iranians to see "where there are potential avenues for progress." Moreover, he expresses the view that the time is appropriate for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians: "Israel will not stop being a strong ally of the United State, and I will continue to believe that Israel's security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. they will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side."

-Employee Rights: Congress gives final approval to legislation, sure to be signed by the President, providing women, blacks and Hispanics with new power to bring pay discrimination claims against employers under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law addresses the Supreme Court's holding two years ago against Lilly Ledbetter in her claim against Goodyear Corporation for pay discrimination, on grounds that she should have filed suit within 180 days of the company's initial decision to pay her less than men (even though she only learned of the decision herself years later).

-Stimulus Plan: The President makes an unusual appearance on Capitol Hill and visits with House Republicans to try to win support for the Stimulus Package.

Wednesday, Jan. 29 (Day Nine)
- House passes $819 billion Stimulus Package 244-188 (no Republicans vote for it). Signaling his approval, the President comments, "What we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way. We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do." Republicans such as Eric Cantor of Virginia, however, call the package "a spending bill beyond anyone's imagination."

-The President visits the Pentagon for the first time to discuss plans for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, expressing concern about the "enormous pressure on our military to carry out a whole set of missions," and promising to use other powers at America's disposal "to make sure that [the military] is not carrying the full load."

-Thursday, Jan. 30 (Day Ten)
-President publicly criticizes Wall Street bankers who awarded themselves $18 billion in bonuses even after being bailed out by federal money. "That is the height of irresponsibility," he says. "It is shameful. And part of what we're going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility."

In short, a pretty good first week-and-a-half for the progressively inclined. Bob Herbert put it well in his Jan.24 NYTimes column: “[I]t’s called leadership. Mr. Obama has been feeding the almost desperate hunger in this country for mature leadership, for someone who is not reckless and clownish, shortsighted and self-absorbed. However you feel about his policies, and there are people grumbling on the right and on the left, Mr. Obama has signaled loudly and clearly that the era of irresponsible behavior in public office is over.”

*Constitutionally speaking, whereas the "liberty" in the "progressive liberty" concept is mandatory (i.e., government has no right to abridge inviolable individual freedom), the "progressive" part is discretionary (i.e., whether government is "progressive" or "conservative" or anything else is a political matter for the elected branches to work out among themselves).