Reality check

Norm Ornstein sums up Obama’s legislative record so far – and compares him to Lyndon Johnson. John Judis points out all the good things that are happening in the regulatory agencies.

Now that you’ve heard all the whining from the left and gloating from the right about Obama’s failure to build the Heavenly City in twelve whole months as President, listen to Norman Ornstein on Obama’s first year of legislation:

This Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president — and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.

The productivity began with the stimulus package, which was far more than an injection of $787 billion in government spending to jump-start the ailing economy. More than one-third of it — $288 billion — came in the form of tax cuts, making it one of the largest tax cuts in history, with sizable credits for energy conservation and renewable-energy production as well as home-buying and college tuition … Education Secretary Arne Duncan has leveraged some of the stimulus money to encourage wide-ranging reform in school districts across the country. There were also massive investments in green technologies, clean water and a smart grid for electricity, while the $70 billion or more in energy and environmental programs was perhaps the most ambitious advancement in these areas in modern times. As a bonus, more than $7 billion was allotted to expand broadband and wireless Internet access, a step toward the goal of universal access. Any Congress that passed all these items separately would be considered enormously productive. Instead, this Congress did it in one bill. Lawmakers then added to their record by expanding children’s health insurance and providing stiff oversight of the TARP funds allocated by the previous Congress. Other accomplishments included a law to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco, the largest land conservation law in nearly two decades, a credit card holders’ bill of rights and defense procurement reform.

John Judis weighs in on the administrative record:

Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

So let’s take a few deep breaths, stop playing Chicken Little, and get back to work.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

9 thoughts on “Reality check”

  1. Yeah, no doubt about it: If your definition of "productive" is driving the nation deeper into debt, and increasing spending, the Obama administration is the most "productive" US administration in history.

  2. "driving the nation deeper into debt, and increasing spending"

    In case you weren't aware, unemployment is an issue in this country. If you know of a way where you can increase jobs while saving money and not spending a dime, then you're welcome to share how exactly that works. Otherwise you're criticisms are simply partisan cheap shots.

  3. Mark,

    Your use of Judis's quote is a tad disingenuous with respect to the SEC. Near the end of the TNR article Judis writes:

    Of course, there have been shortcomings in Obama’s approach. Some of his appointments have been less than stellar. Mary Schapiro, selected to head the SEC, was formerly CEO of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which was set up and funded by the investment industry–and she appears at least initially reluctant to challenge the Wall Street culture.

    Hmmm. The regulatory body responsible for oversight of five of the president's top twenty campaign contributors is apparently asleep at the switch. And congressional reform efforts regarding the recent abuses of the financial industry are quickly turning into a toothless fustercluck. Where's the leadership from Obama here?

    Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to actively defend/utilize many of Bush's anti-Constitutional tactics in the War on Terror and the 2010 Defense budget is bigger than it was in 2009. On this last point, it's not much of a stretch to suppose that these numbers will be higher in 2010 as well.

    I detect more than a little bounce in your reality check.

  4. Finally read the Judis article. For someone to simultaneously argue that the Obama administration is pursuing "scientific administration" with qualified experts while at the same time trumpeting ergonomic regulations would have seemed impossible, but Judis pulled it off as persuasively as one could hope to do.

  5. "For someone to simultaneously argue that the Obama administration is pursuing “scientific administration” with qualified experts while at the same time trumpeting ergonomic regulations would have seemed impossible, but Judis pulled it off as persuasively as one could hope to do."

    The ergonomic standards that Bush repealed by executive order when he took office did not even have the full support of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which wanted more information in the standard to establish work-relatedness in a clear manner. The Judis article merely says that this administration is working on a new national standard, not that it is trying to revive the old one. Putting the relevant information column back into the OSHA logs hardly amounts to the same thing.

    It is jumping the gun a bit to imply that Team Obama is trying to pull off something that science will not support until the final product is up for public comment. If it turns out to be based on poor science, then is the time to pull out the rhetorical guns and blast the thing.

  6. "he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century."

    Which is why he has made tackling the plutocracy and reforming the senate the centerpiece of his administration? Oh, wait…

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