The Obama administration continues to struggle with the employment issue. Summers has characterized “second stimulus” and “double-dip recession” as “Washington talk.” But Obama is considering additional stimulative measures including giving employers a tax break for hiring employees.
Healthcare reform. It continues to be among the most contentious issues within and outside Washington. The heart of the issue is whether Obama’s plan will reduce health-care costs or cause the deficits to balloon to unfathomable levels. The president argues that health care reform is not only a moral issue but a fiscal one. He maintains his administration can wring out savings by making Medicare and Medicaid more efficient and apply such measures as taxing large insurers on expensive “Cadillac” health plans. One of the biggest fights between conservatives and progressives has been over the public option—government-sponsored insurance that liberal Democrats assert will be the only way to ensure that insurance companies offer competitive rates while congressional conservatives maintain will wreck the insurance industry and push the nation into “a single-payer system.” Thus far, the public option has been rejected by the Senate.
Over the past few months, Obama has allowed five congressional committees to draft bills based on his guiding principles. All parties agree that some measure of health care reform will become law this year but he must play an even greater role in pushing the debate, shaping legislation and reducing the type of congressional horse-trading that can water down his initiative.
Financial stability. The panelists of a Congressional Black Caucus panel I served on a few weeks ago summed up the state of the financial industry as “a time of transition.” As many financial institutions are reimbursing TARP money that was used to keep them buoyant last year, the U.S. Treasury Department is seeking to gain billions from healthy banks to replenish the FDIC’s fund that insures up to $250,000 of deposits from their customers. Also, Obama faces another legislative battle in passing a mammoth financial reform package that seeks to increase capital reserves of institutions; expand the Federal Reserve’s powers to avert “systemic risk”; and form the Consumer Financial Protection Agency to ensure individuals don’t fall prey to “exotic” financial products, creative mortgages and derivative investments. Critics maintain that the measure over-regulates the financial industry, curbs innovation and diminishes the profitability of financial institutions through higher capital ratios. Obama appears vigilant in making sure consumers gain maximum protection and the nation avoids the same type of crisis it faced in 2008.
Foreign policy. The next several weeks will make an even more fine distinction between the Bush-era doctrine of unilateralism and Obama’s policy of engagement. At the conference, United States Central Command Chief Gen. David Petraeus reviewed the administration’s biggest military challenges: unwinding military presence in Iraq; the decision on whether to deploy 40,000 troops to Afghanistan as Americans grow weary of a war entering its ninth year; and diffusing a possible nuclear threat from Iran. In fact, the administration today received increased pressure from Congress to impose sanctions on Iran in response to last week’s discovery of a secret uranium enrichment facility within the country. Obama has yet to endorse a new set of sanctions from Congress, opting to push Iran’s compliance with United Nations’ resolutions and multilateral support, including the country’s chief trading partners Russia and China.
As you can see, Obama faces most critical challenges as the year winds down. As he once told the White House Press Corps in an earlier news conference, while some presidential administrations have face two to three daunting tests, he has confronted almost thrice that many. But true to form, he says his administration will need to “stick to it and keep working at it.”
His critics will continue to pounce—that’s evident from the reaction of his failed pitch to bring the 2016 Olympics to his adopted hometown of Chicago last week. But 2010 will be a critical year for the administration—and the country. Congressional decisions will grow more political as members eye re-election bids.
If it’s true as Axelrod says that Obama will continue to not govern by the latest poll then the president will continue to manage the nation’s affairs from the head instead of the hip. From the outset, he asserted that there were no quick fixes to America’s problems. So as the administration continues to work with persistence, the nation will be forced to exercise patience to wait and see whether Obama’s policies will have a lasting, positive impact—despite the pain felt by many in the short term. That more than anything will define the Obama Presidency.
Derek T. Dingle is the editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise Magazine