Huffpost Politics
Thomas B. Edsall Headshot

Obama's Long List Of Promises To Keep, Obligations To Meet

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Faced with economic collapse on the home-front and two wars overseas, the administration of President-elect Barack Obama is signaling loudly and clearly that a substantial number of his costly campaign promises will have to be postponed or abandoned altogether.

The incoming administration has already begun to take some flak for abandoning a commitment to impose a windfall profits tax on oil companies. (Obama spokesmen have defended the windfall profits tax decision, saying it was only to be used if oil prices exceeded $80 a barrel). Weightier choices involving larger proposals with bigger constituencies lie ahead.

Obama's frequent press conferences since winning office are designed, in part, to provide him running room to prepare voters for the postponement or abandonment of some of his more costly pledges. His campaign promises ran the gamut, and many involve large federal expenditures.

These promises include a commitment to "quadruple Early Start to include a quarter of a million at-risk children;" to "put $150 billion over 10 years into establishing a green energy sector;" to "invest $10 billion per year in [a] clean technologies fund;" to establish a "National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over 10 years;" to set up a "$2 billion global education fund to counter the radical [Islamic] madrassas;" to add "65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines to relieve the strain on our ground forces;" a "solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president;" a "loan forgiveness program for doctors and nurses who work in underserved rural areas;" and the creation of "an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that would add as many as 112,000 new affordable units in mixed-income neighborhoods."

This list only touches the surface of a long inventory compiled by the National Journal -- an inventory which, using only brief summaries, runs to 10,350 words. A few of the campaign commitments might fit under the broad umbrella of a massive economic stimulus bill, including some infrastructure and green energy projects.

While refusing to concede neglect of any of the commitments made during the campaign, Rahm Emanuel, who will be Obama's chief of staff, told the Huffington Post that the President-elect will be constrained by the fact that he "inherits the worst economy since the great Depression and largest commitment of American troops overseas since Richard Nixon."

The Obama administration has the overall or "macro" goal of making America "more economically secure and safe than it is today" and that goal takes precedence over fulfilling every single campaign promise made over the past two years, Emanuel said. "I'm not read to concede" to the argument that the current fiscal crisis precludes the scope of expenditures outlined by Obama over the past year. But, Emanuel pointedly notes, if the choice is between achieving a more secure nation and fulfilling "promise x," there is no question the administration will choose the former.

In September, when the scope of the economic crisis was beginning to become apparent -- with a possible federal deficit of $1 trillion or more -- Obama conceded that he might have to delay his agenda.

In a September 23 Today Show interview, Obama said, "Does that mean I can do everything that I've called for in this campaign right away? Probably not. I think we're going to have to phase it in....and a lot of it's going to depend on what our tax revenues look like."

A longer sampling of the list of promises compiled by the National Journal shows how Obama will have to carefully navigate the shoals of the economy, and the inevitable disappointment of key constituencies as they learn that many of the expectations aroused during the campaign will not be fulfilled. The list of potential casualties includes:

Improve options for displaced workers

"Obama and Biden will also modernize and expand the existing system of trade adjustment assistance to include workers hurt by changing trade patterns. They will also create flexible education accounts that workers can use to retrain. And they will fully fund apprenticeship programs to help workers get credentials and skills in crafts that reward that investment with a middle class income and benefits."--BarackObama.com

Help community and small business development agencies

"Obama will provide additional resources to the federal Community Development Financial Institution Fund, the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies, especially to their local branch offices, to address community needs."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Improve rural schools and availability of doctors

"He will improve rural schools and attract more doctors to rural areas."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Help organic farmers and promote regional food systems

"Obama will help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance to not penalize organic farmers. He also will promote regional food systems."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Give new farmers tax incentives

"[Obama] will also provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm. Obama will increase incentives for farmers and private landowners to conduct sustainable agriculture and protect wetlands, grasslands and forests."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Provide farmers capital and help rural small businesses

"Obama will provide capital for farmers to create value-added enterprises, like cooperative marketing initiatives and farmer-owned processing plants. He also will establish a small-business and micro-enterprise initiative for rural America."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Create rural revitalization program

"Obama will create a rural revitalization program to attract and retain young people to rural America."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Improve high school graduation rates

"When I'm president, we'll fight to make sure we're once again first in the world when it comes to high school graduation rates."--9/9/08, Dayton, Ohio

Double the number of high school students taking college level courses

"And we'll also set a goal of increasing the number of high school students taking college-level or AP courses by 50 percent in the coming years."--9/9/08, Dayton, Ohio

Double charter school funding

"That is why as president, I'll double the funding for responsible charter schools."--9/9/08, Dayton, Ohio

Include more technology in public schools

"We'll help schools integrate technology into their curriculum so we can make sure public school students are fluent in the digital language of the 21st-century economy."--9/9/08, Dayton, Ohio

Provide tuition assistance to students who perform community service

"And we will keep our promise to every young American -- if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education."--8/28/08, Denver

Recruit teachers and principals

"As president, I will recruit hundreds of thousands of new teachers and principals."--5/5/07, Baton Rouge, La.

Recruit science and technology teachers

"As president, I will recruit a new generation of science and technology leaders to teach our children the skills they will need to be competitive."--5/5/07, Baton Rouge, La.

Provide pay raises for teachers and principals

"Let's make a promise right now that if you're a teacher or a principal doing the hard work of educating our children, we will reward that work with the salary increase that you deserve."--7/5/07, Philadelphia

Pay tuition for students going into teaching

"I will make this pledge as president: If you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to paying for your college education."--11/20/07, Manchester, Iowa

Increase Head Start and Early Start

"We'll increase Head Start funding and quadruple Early Start to include a quarter of a million at-risk children. I will create a Presidential Early Learning Council to coordinate this effort across all levels of government and ensure that we're providing these children and families with the highest-quality programs."--11/20/07, Manchester, Iowa

Create Classroom Corps

"To help every American receive a world-class education, I will create a new Classroom Corps."--12/5/07, Mt. Vernon, Iowa

"Obama will launch a Children's First Agenda that provides care, learning and support to families with children from birth up to 5 years old."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Double funding for after-school programs

"Obama will double funding for the main federal support for afterschool programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve a million more children."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Improve No Child Left Behind

"Obama will fund No Child Left Behind and improve its assessments and accountability systems."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Lower dropout rate

"Obama also will reduce the high school dropout rate and close the achievement gap by investing in proven intervention strategies in the middle grades and in summer learning and after-school opportunities."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Provide incentives for rural teachers

"Obama will provide incentives for talented individuals to enter the teaching profession, including increased pay for teachers who work in rural areas."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Increase assistance to land-grant colleges

"Obama will increase research and educational funding for land-grant colleges."--Obama's Blueprint for Chang

End American dependence on foreign oil in ten years

"And that's why if I am president, I will put the full resources of the federal government and the full energy of the private sector behind a single, overarching goal -- in ten years, we will eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela."--8/6/08, Elkhart, Ind.

Increase number of plug-in hybrid cars

"First, we'll commit ourselves to getting one million 150 mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrid cars on our roads within six years."--8/6/08, Elkhart, Ind.

Double renewable energy within four years

"Second, we'll double the amount of energy that comes from renewable sources by the end of my first term."--8/6/08, Elkhart, Ind.

Reduce electricity demand by 15 percent in ten years

"Third, I will call on businesses, government, and the American people to meet the goal of reducing our demand for electricity by 15 percent by the end of the next decade."--8/6/08, Elkhart, Ind.

Cap carbon emissions

"As president, I will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming -- an 80 percent reduction by 2050."--10/8/07, Portsmouth, N.H.

Create new green-collar jobs

"My energy plan will put $150 billion over 10 years into establishing a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades, including jobs right here in Ohio that pay well and can't be outsourced. We'll also provide funding to help manufacturers convert to green technology and help workers learn the skills they need for these jobs."--2/24/08, Lorain, Ohio

Help U.S. automaker adapt

"I'll be a president who finally keeps the promise that's made year after year after year by providing domestic automakers with the funding they need to retool their factories and make fuel-efficient and alternative fuel cars."--5/14/08, Warren, Mich.

Reduce oil consumption

"Obama will reduce oil consumption overall by at least 35 percent, or 10 million barrels of oil, by 2030."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Help manufacturers go green

"Obama will establish a federal investment program to help manufacturing centers modernize and Americans learn the new skills they need to produce green products."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Double clean-energy funding

"Obama will double science and research funding for clean-energy projects, including those that make use of our biomass, solar and wind resources."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Create Green Jobs Corps

"Obama will also create an energy-focused Green Jobs Corps to connect disconnected and disadvantaged youth with job skills for a high-growth industry."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Invest $10 billion per year in clean technologies fund

"Obama will create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to fill a critical gap in U.S. technology development. Obama will invest $10 billion per year into this fund for five years."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Increase money for low-carbon coal technologies

"Obama will significantly increase the resources devoted to the commercialization and deployment of low-carbon coal technologies."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Push cellulosic ethanol

"Obama will invest federal resources, including tax incentives, cash prizes and government contracts into developing the most promising technologies with the goal of getting the first 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the system by 2013."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Create energy-efficiency grant program

"Obama will create a competitive grant program to award those states and localities that take the first steps to implement new building codes that prioritize energy efficiency."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Provide universal health care

"I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premium by up to $2,500 a year."--6/23/07, Hartford, Conn.

Spend $10 billion a year on implementing electronic health system

"Barack Obama and Joe Biden will invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records."--BarackObama.com

Expand nurse-family partnership program

"Obama will expand the highly successful Nurse-Family Partnership to all 570,000 low-income, first-time mothers each year."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Help individuals purchase private health insurance

"The Obama plan will create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals who wish to purchase a private insurance plan."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Expand eligibility for Medicaid and SCHIP

"Obama will expand eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs and ensure that these programs continue to serve as a critical safety net."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Address women's health issues

"Obama will invest in research to examine gender and health disparities. Obama will also establish community-outreach programs in underserved areas to help make sure women have health care and maintain healthy lifestyles."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Establish loan forgiveness program for rural doctors and nurses

"He will attract providers to rural America by creating a loan forgiveness program for doctors and nurses who work in underserved rural areas."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Help homeowners

"Obama will create a fund to help people refinance their mortgages and provide comprehensive support to innocent homeowners."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Create an affordable-housing trust

"As president, I'll create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that would add as many as 112,000 new affordable units in mixed-income neighborhoods."--7/18/07, Washington, D.C.

Protect New Orleans

"When I am president, we will finish building a system of levees that can withstand a 100-year storm by 2011, with the goal of expanding that protection to defend against a Category 5 storm."--2/7/08, New Orleans

Invest $60 billion in infrastructure

"I've proposed a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over 10 years. This will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly 2 million new jobs -- many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by the housing crisis we're facing"--2/24/08, Lorain, Ohio

Invest in rural infrastructure

"Obama will invest in the core infrastructure -- roads, bridges, locks, dams, water systems and essential air service -- that rural communities need."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Invest $1 billion in transitional jobs programs

"I will invest $1 billion over five years in innovative transitional jobs programs that have been highly successful at placing the unemployed into temporary jobs and then training them for permanent ones."--7/18/07, Washington, D.C.

Provide every American broadband access

"As president, I will set a simple goal: Every American should have the highest-speed broadband access--no matter where you live or how much money you have."--6/16/08, Flint, Mich. Boost R&D funding

Expand high-speed Internet access in rural area

"Barack Obama will ensure that rural Americans have access to a modern communications infrastructure. He will modernize an FCC program that supports rural phone service so that it promotes affordable broadband coverage across rural America as well."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Support a global education fund

"I will support a $2 billion global education fund to counter the radical madrassas."--8/1/07, Washington, D.C.

Increase funding to train police to gather intelligence

"I will increase funding to help train police to gather information and connect it to the intelligence they receive from the federal government."--8/1/07, Washington, D.C.

Expand Army and Marine Corps

"I will add 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines to relieve the strain on our ground forces."--8/21/07, Kansas City, Mo.

Provide soldiers with necessary equipment

"As president, I will ensure that every service member has what they need to do the job safely and successfully."--8/21/07, Kansas City, Mo.

"Obama will give our troops new equipment, armor, training, and skills like language training."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Target every source of fear in the Americas

"That is why there will never be true security unless we focus our efforts on targeting every source of fear in the Americas. That's what I'll do as president of the United States."--5/23/08, Miami

Create information declassification center

"He will institute a national declassification center to make declassification secure but routine, efficient and cost-effective."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Ensure military has enough training

"Obama will rebuild trust with those who serve by ensuring that soldiers and Marines have sufficient training time before they are sent into battle."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Strengthen civilian agencies

"He will also strengthen our civilian capacity, so that our civilian agencies have the critical skills and equipment they need to integrate their efforts with our military."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Give National Guard appropriate equipment, rest

"He will permit them adequate time to train and rest between deployments and provide the National Guard with the equipment they need for foreign and domestic emergencies."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Create international anti-terrorism network

"As president, I will launch an effort across our government to stay ahead of this threat [bio-terrorism].... I've proposed a Shared Security Partnership that invests $5 billion over three years to forge an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks." --7/16/08 West Lafayette, Ind.

Make cyber-security a federal priority

"As president, I'll make cyber-security the top priority that it should be in the 21st century. I'll declare our cyber-infrastructure a strategic asset, and appoint a National Cyber Advisor who will report directly to me." --7/16/08 West Lafayette, Ind.

Update Veterans Affairs hospital system

"I've pledged to build a 21st-century VA as president. It means no more red tape. It's time to give every service member electronic copies of medical and service records upon discharge."--5/12/08, Charleston, W.Va.

Ensure all veterans are covered

"I think it is important for all veterans to be eligible for the VA. And that is something that I'm going to reverse when I'm president of the United States."--5/26/08, Las Cruces, N.M.

Ensure adequate number of VA clinics

"What we can make sure of is that there are enough clinics out there that for basic checkups, you know, problems that are outpatient situations, that people don't have to drive two or three hours. And that's something that I'm going to make sure is budgeted when I'm president of the United States."--5/26/08, Las Cruces, N.M.

Increase housing assistance

"I'll expand housing vouchers, and I'll launch a new supportive services housing program to prevent at-risk veterans and their families from sliding into homelessness."--8/21/07, Kansas City, Mo. Improve VA administrative systems

Fully fund VA

"Barack Obama will fully fund the VA so it has all the resources it needs to serve the veterans who need it when they need it. Obama will establish a world-class VA planning division to avoid future budget shortfalls."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Improve military's mental health screening and care

"Obama will improve mental health care at every stage of military service. He will recruit more health professionals, improve screening, offer more support to families and make PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] benefits claims fairer."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Improve care for various injuries and women's health through VA

"He will improve care for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging and women's health."--Obama's Blueprint for Change

Reverse 2003 ban on enrolling low-income veterans

"One of Obama's first acts will be reversing the 2003 ban on enrolling modest-income veterans, which has denied care to a million veterans."--Obama's Blueprint for Change