The State of the Union is essentially a presidential wishlist, so it’s not surprising that President Obama made a lot of big promises during his 2015 address.
Still, there’s a lot more wish in the list than presidents would like to admit, especially when the opposing party controls Congress.
As Obama prepares to give another speech Tuesday, here’s a look back at how he followed through on his last speech.
What Obama Accomplished:
Climate: Citing a historic agreement with China to limit emissions, Obama said last year that “other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that this year the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.” On December 12, almost 200 nations committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a landmark climate agreement in Paris.
Cuba: “Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere,” Obama said in last year’s State of the Union, and asked Congress to “begin the work of ending the embargo.” If you interpret this narrowly, it’s a promise kept: Obama did “begin the work” to end the embargo by thawing our relationship with Cuba and opening an embassy, though the embargo will stand until Congress lifts it.
Iran: “Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran,” Obama said last year. And last July, the U.S. did reach a historic agreement with Iran which would lift economic sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program.
Cybersecurity: Last year, Obama called on Congress to “finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber attacks,” urging that to be a “bipartisan effort.” The Cybersecurity Act of 2015, which was signed as part of the $1.1 trillion spending bill in December, allows private companies to hand over data to the Department of Defense or the NSA without fear or being sued. Critics say the law is too close to government surveillance.
Trade: In last year’s State of the Union, Obama called for “strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but are also fair.” In October, the U.S., Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations reached the an agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership, the biggest regional trade deal in history, which reduces tariffs and could provide major trade leverage against China. Congress still must pass the TPP in order for it to go into effect, but reaching an agreement is already a major victory.
Infrastructure: Last year, Obama asked for a “bipartisan infrastructure plan” to create 30 times as many jobs per year, and revive America’s sagging roads and bridges. “Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this,” he said in last year’s State of the Union. Last month, Congress passed a $305 billion infrastructure spending bill over 5 years and Obama signed it into law on Dec 4.
Where Obama Made Some Progress:
Free community college: Last year, Obama called on Congress to make community college free, “so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.” The America’s College Promise Act of 2015 was referred to committee in July and hasn’t moved, but last fall Obama announced a new coalition to continue to push the issue.
Budget: Last year, Obama promised a budget that would support working families. “That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement,” he said, promising the budget would put “thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.” The $1.8 trillion budget that passed late last year is a mixed bag—Obama got some of what he wanted, but not all of it. The budget included bumps for preschool programs and Childcare and Development Block Grants, but also cut funding from Race to the Top and provides no new funding for the Affordable Care Act.
Equal pay and overtime: Last year, Obama argued that “Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.” Congress did not pass any equal pay laws, but in June Obama announced an executive action extending overtime to almost 5 million workers.
Paid leave: Last year the President noted that the U.S. was the “only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers” and asked Congress for a bill to fix that, saying “it’s the right thing to do.” A bill to help Americans earn paid sick leave is stalled in Congress, but in September Obama announced an executive action requiring federal contractors to offer their employees seven paid sick days a year.
Where Obama Struck Out:
Closing Guantanamo: Obama has been talking about closing Guantanamo Bay for years, and last year’s State of the Union was no exception. “Now it is time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down,” he said. “It is not who we are. It’s time to close Gitmo.” It didn’t happen this year, and Congress once again banned the President from transferring Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. But officials say the President is still committed to closing the prison before he leaves office.
ISIS: In last year’s State of the Union, Obama called on Congress to authorize the use of military force against ISIS. Noting that the U.S. is “assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism,” Obama asked Congress to “show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.” As of last month, Congress has considered several versions of AUMF bills (authorized use of military force,) including one written by the President, but none have passed yet. That hasn’t stopped the U.S. from launching thousands of airstrikes in an attempt to wipe out the terrorist group.
Child care: Obama promised a new tax credit of up to $3,000 per child, per year, but that proposal didn’t make it through Congress.
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