Year in Review: Obama Has Robust Record of Public-Sector Solutions

President Obama has, in fits and starts, tried to emphasize the importance of the private sector during his first year in office.

He showed a dose of humility regarding the government-heavy platform on which he campaigned in his first speech as president-elect last November.

"There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president, and we know that government can't solve every problem," he said in Chicago's Grant Park last year.

In the year that followed, Obama has brought CEOs together to brainstorm ways to jump-start the economy and has forged deals with private industry to lower health care costs.

But between those gestures of good will, he's leaned on government for practically every policy he's pursued.

Now that 2009 is nearly history, takes a look at Obama's major decisions to date, to get an idea of just how integral he considers the federal government in addressing the nation's problems.

Private Sector Solutions:

Health Care Costs: At the start of negotiations over health care reform, Obama struck an early agreement to cut costs with top representatives of the health care sector. The president met with the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, Pharma and other groups, and ended the session by announcing what he called a "historic" step toward reform -- a pledge from the industry to reduce spending by $2 trillion over 10 years. It was a sign from the administration that the private sector can link with the public sector toward the cause of health care reform. The impact of this long-term commitment ultimately is unclear, however. The pledge didn't mean the groups were committing to bringing costs down from the current level -- rather it was a pledge to slow the projected rate of growth. Shortly after the Obama announcement, some industry groups also came forward to say their pledges were overstated and that they were committing to more general targets.

Public-Private Investment Program: Trying to get creative with ways to shore up the investment sector following the unpopular $700 billion bailout last year, the Obama administration in March rolled out a public-private partnership program that would match private money with even more government funds for those investors willing to buy up so-called toxic assets. The multi-pronged effort brought in the Treasury Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve, and reached out to investors like hedge funds to start absorbing those troubled securities. The program has gotten off to a slow start, but the administration has attracted a number of private firms to participate.

Private Sector Outreach: Obama repeatedly has tried to extend a hand to businesses leaders in order to, by turns, call on them for help and field policy ideas from them. The most recent example was the White House jobs summit held in early December. The president invited dozens of CEOs and small business owners to Washington to hash out ideas for how to accelerate job growth, with unemployment hovering at 10 percent despite other signs of economic recovery. Obama told the businesses he needs their help to turn the job market around -- and their input may have contributed to the jobs-creation plan issued shortly afterward. Not all such meetings are so collegial. Two weeks later, Obama summoned Wall Street executives to Washington after calling them "fat cats" in an interview broadcast the night before. The president clarified he had no interest in "vilifying" the executives, but wanted to call on them to boost lending to businesses and curtail bonus payments. He said he heard some positive proposals from the CEOs and now expects "results."

Public Sector Solutions:

Stimulus: Obama's first major legislative victory was a $787 billion economic stimulus that passed out of Congress one month into his tenure. Aside from granting across-the-board tax cuts to the middle class, it devoted billions in infrastructure spending and billions in state aid to help prevent layoffs at the local government level. In a February speech delivered shortly before the bill passed, Obama declared that while "government alone" could not create jobs, "only government" was powerful enough to lift the nation out of the recession. Months later, unemployment is still at 10 percent, but the economy has started growing again and the administration claims the stimulus has created or saved more than 600,000 jobs -- this, at a cost of more than $245,000 per job, according to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Housing Help: A day after signing the stimulus package, Obama in February announced a $75 billion foreclosure prevention fund. It was aimed at helping those homeowners who owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth and those borrowers on the verge of foreclosure. According to a recent report, lenders have modified loans for 680,000 borrowers -- nowhere close to the 4 million borrowers the administration was shooting for. Meanwhile, Congress recently voted to extend and expand a program that gives an $8,000 tax credit to first-time homebuyers into next spring.

Health Care Reform: The drive to overhaul the nation's health care system has taken many twists and turns since Obama devoted himself to the issue following the passage of the stimulus. But the result is by any account a major expansion of government control of the nation's health care system -- an overhaul that passed the Senate along a party-line vote Thursday morning. Though a government-run insurance plan is out of the Senate bill for now, it remains in the House bill. Both bills create a tightly regulated insurance exchange in which private plans will need to adhere to certain standards -- like not denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Medicaid is expected to be expanded. Under the plan, Americans would also be required to buy insurance or pay a fine, a condition Obama opposed during the Democratic primary campaign. The cost of both bills is about $1 trillion over 10 years, though the administration claims the plan won't add to the deficit. The president has, in his speeches, described health care as more of a right to be provided than a product to be purchased. "No longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for the treatments you need," he said Thursday.

Auto Industry Rescue: Though expressing reluctance to do so, the Obama administration took a full-throttle approach to rescuing the sickly U.S. auto industry, which had received billions in federal loans. In late March, the administration ordered the resignation of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, as the president sought "painful concessions" from both GM and Chrysler before lending more taxpayer money. After the new terms were negotiated and Fritz Henderson took charge at GM, the company filed for bankruptcy protection and emerged a little more than a month later. Henderson has since sought to streamline his company's product line, but there have clearly been bumps -- Henderson stepped down at the beginning of December amid concerns on the board that the company wasn't improving quickly enough. This time, the administration said it was not involved. Along the way, the federal government stepped in with another program, "Cash for Clunkers," aimed at stimulating auto sales with taxpayer money. Obama has touted the success of the program, which gave people money to trade in their older, fuel-inefficient cars for fuel-efficient ones.

Financial Regulation: The House passed a sweeping financial regulatory package earlier this month, marking the biggest regulatory overhaul since the New Deal. The package, which got no Republican support, would create a new agency to oversee consumer bank transactions and give the government power to break up companies seen as a threat to the economy, among other things. Though the package was slightly watered down from how Obama envisioned it, the president hailed the passage and called on the Senate to follow the House's lead.

Executive Pay: Golden parachutes and staggering bonuses for senior executives have been the cause of great outrage in the wake of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, and the Obama administration vowed to do something about it. White House "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg has been the driving force in this effort, and he hasn't been shy. In October, he announced a plan to slash annual salaries by about 90 percent from last year for the 25 highest-paid executives at the seven companies that received the most from the Wall Street bailout -- he wants to reduce total compensation by half. Then Feinberg announced more pay caps in December for the top 25 through 100 income earners at bailed-out firms. He wants those employees at Citigroup, GMAC, American International Group and General Motors to have their compensation capped at $500,000, and more than half of that paid in stock. Under the plan, the rest would be delayed for three years or more.

Climate Change: Obama is still trying to settle on a government solution to combat climate change. He was able to strike a broadly worded, non-binding agreement with other major polluters at the chaotic conference in Copenhagen earlier this month. But treaty or no treaty, the president is trying to push Congress to enact a new law requiring sharp reductions in emissions. The reductions the president was seeking would call for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. This requirement is included in a bill passed by the House earlier in the year. But the Senate has not yet acted on climate change legislation, and it's not clear whether lawmakers will have the stomach for it next year.

Stimulus, the Sequel: After appearing to resist calls from congressional Democrats to cobble together a brand new economic recovery package, the White House and Obama acceded in early December -- and Obama stepped out with a handful of ideas of his own. Though the administration will not call the proposals a "stimulus," many of the ideas mirror those in the recovery package passed in February. Obama backed an extension of aid and health care benefits for the unemployed, some measure of which were included in the recently passed defense spending bill. The president called for infrastructure spending, rebates for people who retrofit their homes so that they're more energy efficient, and help for small businesses. Obama said he wants to target those businesses with tax credits to encourage hiring and unused Wall Street bailout dollars to increase lending. He also backed a one-year elimination of the capital gains tax on gains from new investment in small business stock and other measures. The House afterward passed a more than $150 billion jobs-creation bill, one which included significant infusions of cash for infrastructure projects and state aid, just like the previous stimulus, but which was missing the tax credits for small businesses and rebate money for people who retrofit their homes. In describing the need for the new stimulus, Obama seemed to hearken back to the language he used on the night of Nov. 4, 2008, and acknowledge the limitations of government action. "Job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators -- businesses across America," he said. But he said the new government initiatives are "right" and they are "needed" given the challenge of accelerating hiring in trying times.