Energy and economy, intertwined
THE PROMISE: “I will invest $15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy to create 5 million new energy jobs over the next decade.” – Barack Obama, Oct. 31, Des Moines, Iowa
THE OUTLOOK: On energy and climate change, Obama's focus has shifted markedly over the course of the year as the economy has weakened.
An earlier proposal put an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gases, requiring industry and utilities to buy credits from the government to emit carbon dioxide. That plan would produce hundreds of billions of dollars in government revenue and drive up the cost of energy for everyone.
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Obama is now emphasizing a program to spend $150 billion over 10 years to develop renewable sources of energy, like wind, solar and biofuels, and to encourage energy conservation in homes, offices and public buildings. He would also provide substantial financial help to the auto industry to develop high-mileage and electric cars.
Tax breaks, old and new
THE PROMISE: “As president, here's what I'll do: cut taxes for every working family making less than $200,000 a year.” – Oct. 29, paid TV address
THE OUTLOOK: Obama pledged to extend the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 past 2010, when they would expire, for taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. He would repeal the cuts for taxpayers making more than that, effective Jan. 1, 2010.
Obama considers the extension for those making under $250,000 a continuation of current policy, not a tax cut.
But he promises a new break for taxpayers making less than $200,000 – an annual tax credit of $500 a worker, or $1,000 per working couple. It would be a refundable credit, so those who do not earn enough to pay income taxes but do pay payroll taxes would also benefit.
Given the economic crisis and the Democratic gains in Congress, the odds are good that he will push the measures through.
Reaching the 45 million uninsured
THE PROMISE: “If you don't have health insurance, you'll be able to get the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress get.” – Oct. 31, Des Moines, Iowa
THE OUTLOOK: Obama has said “every American has a right to affordable health care,” but he has not said exactly how he would finance coverage for the 45 million people who are uninsured. The economic slump and the bailout for the financial industry may reduce the amounts available to cover the uninsured.
On his Web site, Obama says his health plan “will lower health care costs by $2,500 for a typical family by investing in health information technology, prevention and care coordination.” Health policy experts endorse those goals, but say they are unlikely to produce such large savings.
If Obama hopes to keep his promise, he will need to mobilize public support for specific legislative proposals. And he will need to co-opt or placate a swarm of lobbyists.
Beyond ‘No Child Left Behind'
THE PROMISE: “A truly historic commitment to education – a real commitment – will require new resources and new reforms.” – May 28, Mapleton, Colo.
THE OUTLOOK: Obama's education plan outlined some $8 billion for recruiting, performance pay and other initiatives that represent his approach to updating the education law known as No Child Left Behind. But his plan also offered grand proposals for every level of education, including a $4,000 tuition tax credit that would make college more affordable for millions of students and a $10 billion expansion of early childhood programs.
The challenge will be how to finance all these proposals when budgets are extremely tight, experts said.
Obama's $10 billion proposal to expand early childhood education would probably produce tremendous savings to the nation later, but experts said he would find it extremely challenging to finance under current financial conditions.
Security and citizenship
THE PROMISE: “We cannot deport 12 million people. Instead, we'll require them to pay a fine, learn English and go to the back of the line.” – Sept. 10, Washington
THE OUTLOOK: As a senator, Obama supported comprehensive immigration overhaul, and in the campaign he pledged to enhance border security and provide a path to citizenship for millions in the country illegally. And while he said he favored a guest-worker program, he also advocated tougher penalties for employers that hired illegal immigrants.
But Obama's proposals are likely to encounter resistance from opponents who contend that they amount to amnesty – an argument that helped jettison a bill in Congress. And with the economy shedding jobs, opponents will also argue that immigrants are taking jobs from citizens. But experts say Obama will face pressure to act from the many Hispanic voters who supported his candidacy in part because of his stance on immigration.
Withdrawing from Iraq
THE PROMISE: “Nobody's talking about bringing them home instantly, but one to two brigades a month. It'll take about 16 months to get our combat troops out.” – May 16, Watertown, S.D.
THE OUTLOOK: Obama has said repeatedly that he would set a 16-month timetable for troop withdrawal. Some military experts believe that could lead to a reversal of the gains from the surge in troops over the past 18 months, and they argue that the generals running the war should decide how many troops to pull out and when to do it.
Obama appears to have the Iraqi government on his side. Iraqi leaders say his timetable is closer to theirs, which they put at 2010. The Bush administration timetable, which has some wiggle room, is 2011.
But all of this supposes relative stability, even while troops are withdrawing. And questions also remain about the kind and level of force Obama would leave behind.