President Obama doesn’t get enough credit. As fellow Big Thinker Kris Broughton wrote in a recent post, it’s ridiculous to say that Obama hasn’t accomplished much while in office, whatever you think of the specific things he has done.
Passing health care reform alone—which presidents have for years tried and failed spectacularly to do—would make President Obama’s first two years in office remarkably productive. His supporters can argue with his decision not to push for the public option, but the fact that he managed to pass the bill at all is a remarkable accomplishment. But Obama and the Democrats also passed a sizable stimulus bill, instituted sweeping reforms of the financial services and credit card industries, expanded the rights of workers to sue for wage discrimination, broadened the SCHIP program providing health insurance for low-income children, invested in clean energy and renewable fuels, and along the way managed to appoint two justices to the Supreme Court. Obama hasn’t accomplished absolutely everything liberals might want—and, as I’ve argued, on issues like gay marriage and civil liberties he really isn’t all that liberal—but what he has accomplished is nevertheless remarkable.
President Obama also made a huge mistake early on, however, and it’s going to cost him. Instead of pushing for an even larger and more effective stimulus bill he made an effort to attract bipartisan support. While most economists believe that the Recovery Act kept the economy crisis from getting even worse—and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates it saved between 1.4 and 3.3 million jobs—it wasn’t enough to get the economy really going again. There probably wasn’t anything that Obama or any president could have done to get us out of the recession right away. But he could have done more. And considering how much American workers are suffering he should have. His recent call for $50 billion in new infrastructure spending is too little too late. It’s not that it’s a bad idea—our roads are crumbling and we haven’t invested enough in our national infrastructure since the Great Depression—but that it won’t do much stimulate economic growth or create jobs any time soon.
That’s the main reason the Democrats are likely to take a beating in the midterm elections this fall. It now seems increasingly likely that the Republicans will take back the House, and Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight gives them a one-in-four chance of taking the Senate as well. Obama and the Democrats didn’t cause the economic crisis. And the Republicans,as I argued last week, may not have a serious plan for getting us out of it. But two years into Obama’s term, the Democrats are likely to be held accountable for not doing more to fix it themselves.