Obama Returning to Familiar Themes in State of the Union, With Goals Unmet

Listeners may be forgiven if they experience a bit of deja vu tonight.

President Obama is expected to wrap his first State of the Union address around the theme of jobs creation and economic recovery, calling for advances in education, health care reform, clean energy investment and deficit reduction along the way -- just as he did last February in his first major address as president to a joint session of Congress.

Nearly a year later, Obama returns to these themes because the work is unfinished. Some of the initiatives are in progress, some have stalled, and others have barely begun.

The following is a look back at the pledges Obama made in his Feb. 24, 2009, address, and a review of how far along he's taken them.


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Obama took to the podium last year touting the just-passed stimulus package, intended to be the engine of his domestic policy agenda and the country's economic recovery.

"Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector, jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges, constructing wind turbines and solar panels, laying broadband and expanding mass transit," Obama said.

Accounting of the stimulus has turned out to be somewhat in the eye of the beholder, with critics charging that stimulus-tied jobs numbers have been inflated or manipulated. Regardless, the country hasn't come close to 3.5 million yet.

The latest third-quarter figures out of the official Recovery.gov site show 640,329 jobs created or saved from the recovery package. The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated this month that the number of jobs created or saved as of the end of 2009 was between 1.5 and 2 million, though White House advisers gave varying estimates on the Sunday talk shows over the weekend.

The economy nevertheless lost more jobs in 2009 than the recovery package created, though the stimulus may have reduced those losses. Recently released government figures showed employers shed 4.2 million jobs in 2009, pegging the unemployment rate at 10 percent. The jobless rate would be higher if so many people hadn't left the labor force altogether.

As for the claim that 90 percent of stimulus jobs would be in the private sector, that's highly dubious. A government report in late October showed more than half of the jobs saved were in education, with most of that going to save the jobs of teachers who would have otherwise been laid off. A small fraction of the jobs created were in construction.

State-by-state studies underscored the public-private sector split. A Detroit Free-Press study in November found that in Michigan, the hardest-hit state in the country, more than half of the jobs created or saved were connected to education -- the money mainly went to public sector or summer jobs.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in October reported that three-quarters of the jobs created or saved in Wisconsin were in the public sector.

On the plus side, Obama pledged a tax cut for most working households last February, and this, representing a significant chunk of the stimulus funding, was delivered.

Obama has in recent months tried to put more attention on the need to get private sector employees hiring.

He's returning to stimulus-style measures yet again Wednesday night, this time focusing his rhetoric on ways to help small businesses.

And the day after he delivers the speech, he's moving toward directing 2009 stimulus money toward construction jobs, announcing $8 billion for high-speed rail.

Health Care 

As one of the three pegs of his domestic agenda last February -- the others being education and energy -- Obama placed great urgency on health care reform.

"Let there be no doubt: Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year," Obama said.

The president didn't wait to tackle the problem. He embarked on health care reform in a big way over the summer, but the legislative process dragged on, past one deadline after another. The package seemed to be on the verge of final passage until it hit a political wall. Republican Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts special election broke the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate and slammed the brakes on health care reform.

Obama says he's not walking away from health care reform, but he's clearly pivoting toward jobs, and other Democrats are making it sound like health care reform will in fact "wait another year" -- at least.

"There is no rush," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday.


Obama cited renewable energy investment as the lead sub-plank of his domestic agenda last February. He cited investments that would be made through the stimulus package as well as through a cap-and-trade energy bill which he called on Congress to pass.

"That's what we need," he said.

The House passed such a bill over the summer, but it has since stalled in the Senate. The administration has taken matters into its own hands in trying to curb climate change, pushing strict fuel-efficiency and emissions standards in the U.S. auto industry and issuing a finding declaring greenhouse gases a danger to public health -- a move that could pave the way for future regulation.

But on the world stage, Obama hasn't achieved the level of success he would have liked. Hampered in part by the inaction of the Senate, Obama was unable to strike a binding accord at the latest international conference on climate change in Copenhagen.

Deficit Reduction 

As the president spoke last year about jump-starting the economy and creating jobs, he also pledged to "make hard choices to bring our deficit down."

The hard choices seem hard to come by. The deficit was $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2009, and on Tuesday was projected to hit $1.35 trillion in fiscal 2010.

In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, the president plans to announce a three-year freeze on "non-security" spending. He also plans to freeze salaries of White House aides and political appointees who make more than $100,000.

The three-year freeze is expected to save $250 billion over 10 years. But that's a drop in the bucket, and Republicans say Obama's latest proposals don't go far enough in tackling the country's deep deficit and rising national debt, which stands at more than $12 trillion.

Financial Regulation 

Obama talked up the need to get banks lending and hold taxpayer-aided Wall Street firms accountable last February.

A year later, Wall Street is still doling out huge bonuses and paychecks. A Wall Street Journal analysis this month found major firms are likely to pay out a record $145 billion in 2009. Top executives and traders are reportedly positioned to earn almost 18 percent more than in 2008.

Obama and Congress are now back to putting pressure on the executives.

The administration is imposing pay caps on executives at bailed-out firms, and Obama recently called for both a new tax on banks to recover bailout money and regulation aimed at limiting the size and complexity of big financial firms.

The House has passed a comprehensive financial regulatory bill, but that package is awaiting action in the Senate.


Obama promised a new way forward in the protracted Afghanistan war last February.

"With our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al Qaeda and combat extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world. We will not allow it," Obama said.

Terrorists, of course, are still plotting against the American people from halfway around the world, as demonstrated in the failed plot, allegedly hatched with the cooperation of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas.But Obama has followed through on his pledge to put a renewed focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan in hopes of disrupting those plots.

After an extensive strategy review, Obama announced a 30,000-troop infusion into Afghanistan late last year. The White House also approved a concurrent expansion of the drone program inside Pakistan.


Obama referred to the "historic investment in education" made through the stimulus plan in last year's speech to Congress. Indeed, a large percentage of that funding went toward saving teacher jobs, though the private sector seemed to get the short end of that stick.

Obama last year emphasized individual responsibility in his education platform, calling on every American to "commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training."

This year, Obama intends to announce some federal government-driven changes.

One senior administration official said the president will "highlight his commitment to education reform," saying the president's upcoming budget will include a 6.2 percent increase for the Department of Education.

No-Bid Contracts 

Obama pledged broadly to improve government transparency and end wasteful spending in Washington, but made one specific promise that he hasn't quite kept -- depending on how the promise is interpreted.

"We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq," he said in February.

Fox News has learned, however, that the administration in January awarded a $25 million contract for work in Afghanistan to a company owned by a Democratic campaign contributor without entertaining competitive bids. The company apparently got a waiver from USAID. A USAID spokesman told Fox News the deal was a renewal of an existing contract, awarded in 2004 by the Bush administration after a competitive bidding process.