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Amy Traub

Can’t Get Anything Done?

"Obama administration can't get anything done due to fear of GOP." That was yesterday's Daily News paraphrase of Governor David Paterson's remarks. His actual words were more equivocal, but still raised the question: is the Obama Administration so paralyzed by partisan warfare that it has accomplished nothing?

Anyone who expected universal health care, a robust economic recovery that benefits everyone, a Wall Street clean up, dramatic steps to halt climate change, better labor laws, immediate troop withdrawals from Iraq, and comprehensive immigration reform on Day One is bound to be feeling disappointed right about now. We need all of those things, and we needed them yesterday. But political change is often incremental, and although Obama is responsible for some distressing policy reversals and setbacks, he can also boast of some pretty impressive accomplishments. If we sink into despair, or pretend this is a do-nothing President who has achieved little, we play into the hands of those who seek to roll back the Administration's very real gains and see nothing more accomplished.

If the nasty, frustrating health care fight is getting you down, the following very partial list of Obama Administration highlights may provide some cheer:

• Passed a $787 billion stimulus package that brought our economy back from the brink of a depression and prevented an estimated 6 million Americans from falling below the poverty line, while reducing the severity of poverty for 33 million more. ("Those are conservative estimates," notes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). Lest we forget, the bill also provided tens of billions of dollars in environmental and health care investments to lay the groundwork for further reform.

• Appointed a highly qualified new Justice to the Supreme Court - the nation's first Latina in that position - and successfully navigated the confirmation battle

Expanded public health coverage to 4 million children via SCHIP.

• Via the EPA, officially recognized the public danger posed by green house gasses, opening the door to regulation under the Clean Air Act; permitted California to regulate auto emissions; and just this week ordered polluters to begin reporting their emissions.

Banned the most egregious abuses of credit card companies, saving Americans billions of dollars in unfair fees and penalties.

Reduced barriers to stem cell research.

Rolled back Bush Administration efforts to preempt strong state and local laws on consumer protection, workplace rights, and the environment.

• Bolstered the labor rights of contractors working on federal projects through memoranda and executive orders

Took the first steps to shut down Guantanamo Bay.

Eliminated federal funding for ineffective "abstinence only" sex-ed programs.

Moved to institute "Net Neutrality"

Again, this is a very partial list. Many of these accomplishments are only partial victories. And none of it excuses inaction on critical issues facing the country, from the Administration's failure to stem the foreclosure crisis to inadequate size of the stimulus package. But it ain't nothing. If Governor Paterson had accomplished the New York State equivalent of even one or two of these policies, he might not be facing the political trouble he has today. (then again, I'd argue that our last governor had a much better record of accomplishment -- with a Republican State Senate -- but of course it didn't much help him politically.)

Amy Traub: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:09 AM, Sep 24, 2009 in Economy | Health Care | New York | Progressive Agenda
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