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What Has Obama Done?

President Barack Obama's Accomplishments


Barack Obama

Obama has fulfilled most of his campaign promises.

Credit: Michal Czerwonka / Getty Images
Bankers who took the bailout

Dodd-Frank keeps banks from getting too big to fail -- and needing a bailout.

Photo: Bankers who took the bailout. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Bin Laden compound

Obama ordered Navy Seals to eliminate the bin Laden threat.

U.S. government

Barack Obama's Presidency was shaped by the 2008 financial crisis, his ambitious Health Care Reform Act, and battling the tea party Republicans after the 2010 mid-term elections. However, he's managed to accomplish a great many things. Here's the top five, and how they match up to his initial "Yes We Can!" campaign promises.  

1. Ended the 2008 Recession:

In February 2009, Congress approved Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package. It gave tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits and expedited funds for public works projects. The recession ended when GDP growth turned positive by the third quarter of 2009..  In just seven months, it pumped $241.9 billion to the economy, stirring growth to a robust 3.9% by early 2010. Job losses stopped in March 2010, and unemployment has steadily declined from its 2009 peak of 10.2%. By March 30, 2011, nearly all ($633.5 billion) of the funds were spent. Growth slowed, and unemployment remained stuck at 9.1%. Despite the plan's success in ending the recession, some critics said it was ineffectual, while others said it wasn't enough.

This included a bailout of the U.S. auto industry. On March 30, 2009, the Federal government took over GM and Chrysler. Obama saved 3 million jobs by forcing the companies to become more fuel efficient and therefore more globally competitive.

2. Reformed Health Care:

On March 23, 2010, Obama signed the a $940 billion Affordable Care Act. Six months later, concerns over the program's cost helped Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections. Why did healthcare need to be reformed? Rising costs threatened to outstrip Medicare's ability to pay for it, and contributed to 50% of all bankruptcies. The quality of care was one of the worst in the world. 

3. Regulated the Big Banks:

In July 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act became law to improve regulation of eight areas that led to the financial crisis. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency improved regulation of credit cards and mortgages. The Financial Stability Oversight Council regulated hedge funds and banks that became too big to fail. The "Volcker Rule" banned banks from being too involved with hedge funds. Dodd-Frank clarified which agencies regulated which banks, stopping banks from cherry-picking their regulator.

Dodd-Frank also asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to create additional regulation for the riskiest derivatives, like credit default swaps, and commodities futures. It also asked the SEC to recommend how the credit rating agencies, like Moody's and Standard & Poor's, could be improved. However, a year later, many of the regulations hadn't yet been enforced. The financial industry complained that these regulations were making them less competitive, and contributed to high unemployment.

4. Eliminated bin Laden Threat and Ended Iraq War:

On May 1, 2011, a team of Navy Seals attacked the al Quaeda leader's compound in Pakistan and eliminated Osama bin Laden. Later that year, Obama ended the Iraq War. He wound down the War in Afghanistan, and will withdraw troops in 2014. He increased defense spending to new record levels, partly by improving care and benefits for veterans. For more, see War on Terror Costs.

5. 2010 Tax Cuts:

In December 2010, Obama and Congress agreed upon additional stimulus in the form of a $858 billion tax cut. It had three main components: a $350 billion extension of the Bush tax cuts, a $56 billion extension of unemployment benefits, and a $120 billion reduction in workers' payroll taxes. Businesses received $140 billion in tax cuts for capital improvements, and $80 billion in research and development tax credits. The estate tax was exempted (up to $5 million) and there were additional credits for college tuition and children. Despite this tax cut, unemployment remained stuck at around 9% through 2011.

Obama's Advisers:

Part of the reason for Obama's success is his first team of economic advisers. Many of them had helped formulate the policies he had outlined during his 2008 campaign platform, which included an aggressive fiscal stimulus plan to put the country back on track. He was applauded for appointing former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker as the head of the Economic Advisory Panel. He named Mary Schapiro head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which had allowed the Madoff Ponzi scheme. However, he was criticized for including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who oversaw repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. By January 2011, internal infighting had sent most of them -- Larry Summers, Christina Romer, Peter Orszag, and Paul Volcker -- on their way.

Deficit Spending:

Obama used deficit spending to stimulate the economy.

  • FY 2012:$3.7 trillion spending, creating a $1.09 trillion deficit
  • FY 2011: $3.8 trillion spending creating a deficit of $1.3 trillion.
  • FY 2010: Spending $3.8 trillion, and creating a deficit of $1.6 trillion.
  • FY 2009: Added stimulus spending to the Bush budget, creating a deficit of $1.4 trillion.

Obama's record-setting of deficit spending was a result of his economic policies as described here. It was also due to record defense spending to support the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Revenue was much lower than anticipated thanks to slow growth and tax cuts.

Job Growth:

Obama has been criticized for not reducing unemployment enough. However, he can't force businesses to hire. Corporations have had record earnings, and are sitting on mountains of cash. They are using those funds to pay out dividends and buy up their stocks. The problem is insufficient consumer demand. Businesses won't hire until they are more confident demand is sustainable. Obama submitted the Americans Jobs Act in September 2011. It was criticized for having the same elements as the Stimulus Act, even though those policies worked.

Has Obama Kept His Promises?:

In 2008, candidate Obama promised to get the economy out of recession, and change many of the policies that had caused it. He also promised to solve many long-term economic problems, like the high cost of health care, U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and stimulating more technology and innovation. In many areas he kept his promises, but on others he did not. Find out his specific scorecard in Obama 2008 Economic Promises and Platform.

One achievement that has gone unnoticed, but is nevertheless very important, is his unblemished personal record. President Obama has served longer than any president in decades without the appearance of the word “scandal” on the front page of the Washington Post. For more accomplishments, see Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments.  Article updated January 15, 2014

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