Obama’s long list of broken promises

President Barack Obama ends his first year in office with his to-do list still long and his unfulfilled campaign promises stacked high.

From winding down the war in Iraq to limiting lobbyists, Obama has made some progress. But the president has faced political reality and accepted — sometimes grudgingly — compromises that leave him exposed to criticism. Promises that have proven difficult include pledges not to raise taxes, to curb earmarks and to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba by the end of his first year.

“We are moving systematically to bring about change, but change is hard,” Obama told a town hall crowd in California. “Change doesn’t happen overnight.”

That was in March.

During his two-year campaign, Obama thrilled massive crowds with soaring speeches, often railing against an Iraq war that now is seldom mentioned. His presidential comments now are often sober updates on issues like terrorism and the economy, a top priority now that emerged as a major issue only in the campaign’s final weeks.

Obama’s campaign ambition has been diluted with a pragmatism that has been the hallmark of Year One — without much of the progress he had hoped.

A look at some of the promises:



Obama inherited an economy in severe distress that has since shown marked improvement. With the crisis developing so close to last year’s election, it wasn’t the focus of his earlier campaign promises. But Obama managed to craft his main anti-recession measure to address one of the top political commitments.

He campaigned on a pledge to provide a $1,000 tax credit to 95 percent of all working families, and almost delivered.

The $787 billion stimulus bill included an $800 tax credit for couples making up to $150,000, and a declining credit for those making up to $190,000. The Tax Policy Center estimates that 90 percent of taxpayers qualified for a tax cut under the stimulus package.

In a Dover, N.H., campaign stop, Obama pledged that “no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase — not your income taxes, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

True, unless you’re a smoker.

Obama, himself an occasional smoker, signed into law a 159 percent increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes. Other tobacco products were hit with similar or much steeper increases to help pay for a children’s health initiative, enabling him to keep another promise to make sure all kids have health insurance.

Obama also promised to cut the federal budget deficit by more than half in his first term. That now appears unlikely, given the spending on the stimulus and the billions of dollars spent on bank and auto company bailouts. The 2009 federal budget deficit hit a record $1.42 trillion, and the red ink in the first two months of fiscal 2010 was nearly 6 percent higher than the same period in 2009.



As a candidate, Obama touted his early opposition to the Iraq war and pledged to pull all U.S. combat troops out within 16 months. As president, he pushed that deadline back two months, to August 2010.

Even then, he will leave 35,000 to 50,000 military personnel in Iraq through 2011 to train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces, and to help in counterterrorism missions.

As a candidate, he vowed to prosecute the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan, arguing that Iraq had distracted the U.S. from its anti-terror priorities. By the end of his first year, he had retooled the Afghan war strategy, replaced the U.S. commander there, doubled the number of U.S. troops in the country and ordered another 30,000 there by the middle of this year.

He also promised to “end the use of torture without exception” in U.S. anti-terror campaigns and to close Guantanamo Bay, which he called “a recruiting tool for our enemies.” He signed an executive order outlawing torture, cruelty and degrading treatment of prisoners. A companion order closing the Guantanamo prison has proven more challenging.

Congress refused to fund the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees to U.S. prisons, and foreign countries are reluctant to accept them. Obama did order the purchase of an Illinois prison to house up to 100 Guantanamo detainees. Still, Guantanamo cannot be closed until the disposition of more than 200 remaining detainees is resolved. A failed attempt at bombing a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas has made that more difficult.

Obama also campaigned to restore U.S. prestige abroad by engaging allies and adversaries alike, a direct swipe at George W. Bush, his predecessor. Now, he’s finding that rhetoric tough to live up to.

He vowed to use “tough, direct diplomacy” to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Once in office, he offered dialogue to Tehran, made direct appeals to the Iranian people and included Iran in multinational discussions, while insisting that Iran not be permitted to develop nuclear weapons.

The power centers in Tehran have largely shrugged, and Obama so far has been unable to unite a coalition of countries behind new economic sanctions intended to block Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

A solution for North Korea’s nuclear program also remains elusive. Its envoy to the United Nations said his nation is willing to conduct talks, but only if all sanctions against it are lifted.



On his 2008 campaign Web site, Obama declared that “we must redouble our efforts to determine if the measures implemented since 9/11 are adequately addressing the threats our nation continues to face from airplane-based terrorism,” including screening all passengers against “a comprehensive terrorist watch list.”

The verdict on that promise came last month, when an alleged terrorist known to authorities boarded an airliner bound for Detroit from overseas carrying explosives in his clothes. Disaster was averted when he botched an attempt to ignite the bomb.



During his political run, Obama said he would increase the number of people covered by health insurance and pay for it by raising taxes on families making more than $250,000 a year and by taxing companies that do not offer coverage to employees.

Although lawmakers have taken steps toward the broad outline Obama promised, it remains unfinished. The House and Senate have passed versions of the plan, but major differences remain. And Obama’s left flank is none too pleased with the compromises to this point, which have all but eliminated a government-run insurance option, something he called for in the campaign.

Even the process has violated one campaign pledge.

“We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies,” Obama said.

That hasn’t happened. Instead, Democrats in Congress and the White House have made multibillion-dollar deals with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in private. C-SPAN asked to televise the negotiations between the House and Senate versions; the White House insists it hasn’t seen the request.



On other domestic promises, from energy to education, Obama has been faced with a tight budget, a struggling economy and a deficit-conscious public that he will need to court if he seeks another term in 2012.

Early on, he had to recant his pledge not to sign legislation that includes lawmakers’ pet projects. “When I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely,” Obama had said in September.

But Congress controls spending, and Obama hasn’t been willing to veto bills approved by his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill. For example, he signed what he called an “imperfect” $410 billion spending bill that included 7,991 so-called “earmarks” totaling $5.5 billion. He had little choice. The measure, a holdover from the Bush presidency, was needed to keep government from shutting down.

Obama also promised to require lawmakers seeking money for earmarks to justify their requests in writing 72 hours before they’re voted on in Congress.

That hasn’t happened yet. Nor has his pledge to post legislation online for five days before acting; he broke that pledge with his first bill, a non-emergency measure giving workers more time to bring pay discrimination lawsuits. A promised ban on lobbyists serving in his administration hasn’t been absolute; a few former lobbyists were granted exemptions.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained that by saying:

“Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions.”


  1. giving-up-in-nc

    I didn’t expect miracles out of Obama like many of his supporters did, but I did expect more than what he has delivered so far.  So much for “Hope”.  I think I now can see why Hope was one of the things that the Greeks picked to be locked up in Pandoras box.

  2. MightyMo

    I find American short-sightedness and ignorance amazing. Our nation was essentially fiscally responsible until the arrival of Ronald Reagan. Reagan and his Republican friends were the inventors of unmanageable deficit spending on a grand scale.

    Of course most Americans simply didn’t mind because they were the beneficiaries of all that borrowed money, at least for most of the eight years that Reagan was President. The legacy of that spending was of course a recession that eventually brought down Bush Sr. and lead to the creation of the US National Debt Clock and Ross Perot for President.

    Now we are only one year into the Post Bush Jr legacy of insane Deficit Spending which of course most Americans blindly ignored because they were again reaping the benefits without any regard for the repercussions.

    We are also only one year into the Post Bush Jr legacy of “Going it alone” for 8 long years and ignoring the world view of America because so many of America’s ignorant Christians viewed it as a good idea to support Bush’s war on anything that isn’t Christian. Now, not only do we face an increased number of Terrorists set on punishing America for that ignorance, but we have a military that is in a complete state of disarray, and government entities that are responsible for National Security that are still as unable to work together as they were before Sept 11 2001.

    Finally, we still utilize a healthcare system that is the laughing stock of the industrialized world, which has the only virtue of richening some while at the same time bankrupting both individuals and the nation. While we all should be concerned about the state of our current system, the only argument that seems to permeate against logical change is “how will I benefit from the change”; maybe “I” isn’t the issue, but “We” is.

    Considering the crap that Obama has been left to deal with, and the total desire of the right to destroy any attempts he makes at repairing the damage of before, I think Obama has made numerous advances for the positive. I think he could make more if he would get the support of the American people instead of the American people sitting back and complaining that he hasn’t done enough for them on a personal level.

    Maybe what we Americans need to do is be more supportive and proactive. For example, even though most Americans against Obama love to bring up his spending, fact is he still has in his coffers a majority amount of the 700 billion dollar TARP package that he has not spent. I suggest that we Americans have lived the “High Life” for too long off of government borrowed money and that now we must pay the piper.

    Anyone here brave enough to support a flat tax and an increase in taxes to pay back some of that money? If not, just what do you think Obama, or any president should do to pay back on our borrowed trillions? Don’t even say spend less because that simply isn’t realistic. Our military has decayed to unacceptable levels, healthcare needs fixing, and no one is really willing to sacrifice anything in the end; they always complain when asked to give up anything.

  3. giving-up-in-nc

    I would have no problem with a reasonable tax increase to bring down the deficit, but I think we all know paying down the deficit is not going to happen.  The federal government has a million money vacuums that will suck down any tax dollars before it ever makes it to paying down the deficit.

    IMO over the years our two main parties at the national level are really not that much different.  There is a lot of screaming and theater that makes it look like there is but it is not enough to get excited about.

    Lets take Obama, Bush started the give away to the banks, Obama continued it.  Bush started two wars in the Middle East, Obama continues them.  Patriot act, still going, warrantless wire taps still going along with e-mail intercepts.  Obama is doing even more Predator drone attacks than Bush, with lots of civilian casualties. Military tribunals continue. People are still being held indefinitely without trial.  (You would think someone who fancies himself has a constitutional professor would have a problem with that…)

    I agree how we pay for health care in this country is the laughing stock of the world, but the solution the Dems are giving us is seriously flawed.   It is modeled after the Swiss system which is the second most expensive health care deliverly system in the world.  And my understanding is that they regulate their insurance companies much more than we do, so we may see little to no savings when we do it.  My real concern with health care reform is that the big corporations run this country.  They pretty much get what they ask for.  So now we are going to be forced to buy health insurance from weakly regulated health insurance companies. I don’t think that is going to end well.

    I could go on and on, but if you make post too long nobody reads them.  But let me end it on this note.  Being a true Liberal I have no party that represents my views, no more than true Conservatives have a party that truly represents theirs. To me we just have two parties that serve the rich and powerful at the peril of the average American.

    Break the sick monopoly that the two parties have on our country, vote third party whenever you can.

  4. giving-up-in-nc

    I think the jury is still out as to it not being catastrophic.  If they don’t put a strong leash on the banksters in a few years we will probably be looking at a worse replay of the financial mess we just went through…

  5. bryan mcclellan

    No promise, no delivery.

    Now reverse that,

    and find somewhere in that labyrinth the portal from which a real and principled leader will emerge.

    It all starts with the Justice in the soul of the acting, and I say acting Attorney General.

    These are bad actors in Hollywood east,  that beguile at the behest of mirror images of those infamous who were allowed to walk upon and grind with heel the highest order of the Constitution.

    Just maybe,

    by appointment,

    needs to be left once and for all with the people?