Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election in the United States, becoming the 44th President of the country and the first African-American to serve in office. It was a time in the country when there was a financial crisis occurring, with households struggling with lost jobs, lower wages, and higher costs thanks to the subprime lending that had been happening in previous years.
One of Obama’s first initiatives was to launch the Affordable Care Act, which would become collectively known as being “Obamacare.” There were numerous moments of gridlock during his eight years in office, starting with the 2010 election when the Tea Party wing of the Republican side swept into power. This issue eventually culminated in the stonewalling of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court by the Senate.
Despite the many challenges that the Obama Administration faced, there were several accomplishments of note that helped the nation to grow during the era of American politics. There were also some disadvantages that have developed over time because of the decisions made.
These are the pros and cons of Obama’s Presidency.
List of the Pros of Obama’s Presidency
1. The Great Recession ended under Obama’s leadership.
The first pieces of legislation to combat the problems generated by the economic crisis in 2007 came from the Bush Administration, but it was the $787 billion economic stimulus package that worked to get the economy back onto its feet again. This financial legislation included an extension of unemployment benefits, tax cuts, and money to fund public works projects. GDP growth turned positive just six months after.
During the first 7 months of the economic stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act put almost $250 billion into the economy. By 2010, growth rates were approaching 4%. Almost all of the money dedicated to the economic recovery had been spent by March 2011.
2. The U.S. automotive industry was able to modernize under Obama.
Without the interventions from the economic stimulus package, almost all of the American automakers would have found themselves in a place where they would have either gone out of business or forced to file for bankruptcy. The federal government ended up taking over Chrysler and General Motors to save them, which also prevent the loss of over 3 million jobs. As part of the intervention process, the Obama administration pushed the companies toward making their products more fuel efficient. This intervention helped U.S. vehicles to become more competitive from a global standard.
3. The Obama Administration reformed health care in the United States.
The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, changing how Americans could purchase healthcare insurance in the country. 95% of the population was able to have some form of coverage by 2014, with a greater number of people receiving preventive care to reduce the number of emergency room visits that were happening in the country.
Rising costs from the healthcare industry were threatening to overwhelm the federal budget. Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, over 60% of bankruptcies in the United States were due to medical bills. Although the Trump Administration is weakening the rules from this effort, the period of coverage that did become available helped many low-income families see a doctor, eliminated pre-existing conditions, and allowed parents to keep their adult children on their plans until the age of 26.
4. The banking industry saw regulation improvements in eight critical areas.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed in July 2010, improving regulations on Wall Street that Democrats and economic experts believed were responsible for the financial crisis in the years before. Harmful practices of mortgage lenders and credit card agencies were scaled back through the Consumer Financial Protection Agency because of this legislation. Hedge funds and banks that were “too big to fail” fell under the guidance of the Financial Stability Oversight Council.
The Volcker Rule banned banks from risking losses with money from their depositors. It also clarified which agencies regulated the institutions of the industry. This legislation also directed the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to regulate derivatives and futures while working to improve the credit rating agencies.
5. The 2010 Tax Cuts helped to continue the economic stimulation.
Congress and the Obama Administration worked together to create an $858 billion tax cut that would help to continue the economic stimulus that was started earlier in the year. There were three primary components of this legislation.
- There was a $350 billion extension of the tax cuts from the Bush Administration.
- $120 billion was provided to reduce the payroll taxes of workers.
- Another $56 billion in unemployment benefits were provided as well.
Businesses also received $140 billion in tax cuts to encourage them to make capital improvements, along with $80 billion in research and development tax credits. The estate tax was also exempted up to $5 million, and then there were additional credits for raising children and for college tuition costs.
6. There was a reduction in the threat of terrorism from the Middle East.
Navy SEALs were ordered to attack the compound of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. This attack led to the elimination of key leadership figures in the organization, including bin Laden himself. Over the next three years, there would be a slow withdrawal of troops from Iraq, although a return became necessary thanks to the rise of ISIS in the region.
There was also a winding down of the war in Afghanistan as well, although there was still a significant presence of personnel and money. More than $800 billion per year was spent on defense during this time, which was higher than it was during the Bush administration despite the troop movements.
7. President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
Although some Americans saw the move as one that was controversial, Barack Obama was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The Committee noted when they made the decision to offer the honor that the Obama Administration had worked to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between different people. Under this guidance, the United States reduced its overall nuclear stockpile by 10% while working to reduce the number of conflicts that involved the American military.
8. There was a reduction in carbon emissions in the United States.
The Obama Administration announced a series of carbon reduction regulations in 2014 that were designed to begin reversing the American influences on the potential global warming issues that were occurring at the time. This action was followed by the Clean Power Plan in 2015 that would cut emissions by 32% by 2030 from levels measured in 2005.
The country’s power plants were one of the significant targets of this legislation, having them agree to create 30% more renewable energy by the deadline year. This action also encouraged the trading of carbon emissions by allowing states that produce less to trade their surplus to states that produce more.
9. The Obama administration reached a nuclear agreement with Iran.
A nuclear peace agreement with Iran, the United States, and other significantly developed countries was signed under the guidance of the Obama administration on July 14, 2015. As part of the agreement, Iran could no longer build a nuclear bomb in 90 days. In exchange for delaying it to 12 months, the U.N. worked to lift sanctions it had imposed on the country five years earlier.
Although the United States opted out of the agreement in the Trump Administration, the other participants in it are still trying to make things work.
10. The development of the Trans-Pacific Partnership occurred under the Obama Administration.
In October 2015, the Obama administration worked to negotiate the world’s largest trade agreement at the time, removing tariffs that existed between 11 other nations and the United States. This agreement would have covered about 40% of the world’s GDP. Although the Trump Administration withdrew from the TPP, the other participants are instituting their own version that excludes the U.S. based, in part, from the negotiating efforts from Obama’s team. Japan and the European Union are working together on their own options as well.
Obama also launched the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as part of this work, bringing the U.S. closer to the European Union in terms of trade. This effort is still ongoing under the Trump Administration.
11. The Obama Administration helped to finalize the International Climate Change Agreement.
In December 2015, the Obama Administration and 196 other countries announced the Paris Climate Agreement. The goal of this agreement would be to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon trading to limit global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius higher than what they were before the industrial revolution. Developed countries agreed to contribute $100 billion per year to help emerging markets modernize without creating a significant environmental issue.
The developing world also faces an increased risk of hurricanes and typhoons, rising sea levels, and drought because of the impact on the climate made by higher carbon emissions.
12. There were over 16 million people added to the labor force.
As of the time of this writing (June 2019), Barack Obama is the third-best jobs creator in U.S. history. The policies that came from his administration put millions of people back to work after the recession ended in 2009. Even with unemployment rising throughout the summer of 2010, the stimulus continued to help businesses and households find the financial strength they needed to start paying bills and hiring once again.
List of the Cons of Obama’s Presidency
1. The Obama Administration had significant levels of deficit spending.
One of the primary economic issues that the Obama administration had to manage was the need for deficit spending to jumpstart the economy. During his time in office, the total deficits rose to $6.78 trillion, which was more than any other president in the history of the United States. Although the deficits began to fall during his second term as the economy began to strengthen after its recovery, this debt is something that will likely saddle the budgets of the United States for the next generation.
2. The Affordable Care Act created unintended results.
The goal of the Affordable Care Act was to keep healthcare insurance affordable for the average American family. By 2016, the Obama administration was forced to admit that the premiums offered on the exchange would increase by an average of 25%. They announced that there would be higher subsidies to help offset the costs, but that ignores the fact that using government money to offset the costs that families face is a poor economic model.
J.T. Young, who served as a staffer in the Offices of Management and Budget and the Treasure Department, had this to say about this disadvantage. “Successful economic endeavors do not need subsidies,” he said. “Producers create a product that consumers want to buy and realize a competitive rate of profit. Both sides gain and willingly enter into a transaction. Without this mutually beneficial relationship, there is no market.”
3. The costs of expanding Medicaid under the Obama administration skyrocketed.
There were 32 states that decided to take advantage of the Medicaid expansion options that became available because of the work of the Obama administration. The costs of this effort were 49% higher than anticipated, which is due to the fact that more people than anticipated began to enroll in this program. There were 11.5 million signups when just 5.5 million people were expected to take advantage of this option.
That means the states are left with higher Medicaid bills because the federal government does not have an obligation to pay 100% of the increase. That will make it more difficult in the future for legislatures around the country to balance their future budgets.
4. The myRA plan failed to gain any momentum with the American public.
The myRA program was designed to help Americans find a way to plan for the retirement since the long-term solvency of Social Security is not guaranteed for the next generation of retiree. After three years of having this option available, only 30,000 people opened an account – and over 30% of them didn’t even save any money in one. It was a program that cost $70 million to implement, and the Trump administration eventually ended it.
The structure of this plan was similar to a Roth IRA, which would allow contributions of $5,500 for anyone earning less than $131,000 per year or $193,000 for a married couple filing jointly. It was 100% risk-free because it was sponsored by the government, and it had no administrative costs. The average balance was just $500.
5. The IRS began to target conservative groups for greater scrutiny.
The Internal Revenue Service revealed in 2013 that it had selected political groups apply for tax-exempt status to go through intensive scrutiny based on political themes or their names. The vast majority of the groups were conservative, with many of them having Tea Party in their name. Although liberal groups, such as the Occupy movement, received similar treatment, it was not at the same rate as the other side.
This issue with Obama’s presidency eventually led to a condemnation of the agency, several investigations of its conduct, and a criminal probe that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered at the time. In total, from 2004-2017, the IRS used keyword targeting to dig deeper into the affairs of certain groups. The Trump Administration agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 400 conservative groups.
6. There were the changing stories of the Benghazi attack.
There was a coordinated attack against two U.S. government facilities in Libya by members of the group Ansar al-Saria. The diplomatic compound in Benghazi was attacked, resulting in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. In the aftermath of the attack, the cause behind the violence kept shifting, which eventually led to a series of 10 investigations regarding the conduct of the Obama administration at the time.
7. The Obama administration continued the ATF gunwalking scandal.
Although Barack Obama did not start the gunwalking tactic of the Arizona Field Office of the ATF (it started in 2006), they did not put an end to the program until 2011. One of the activities that the federal government allowed was to purposely permit firearm sales to illegal straw buyers, with the goal of tracking the guns to Mexican cartel leaders. It was conducted under the umbrella of Project Gunrunner, which would become Operation Fast and Furious.
Guns sold through this program were found at crime scenes on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed by one of the gunwalking firearms in 2010, along with 150 law enforcement officials in Mexico.
8. There were the abuses of power from the Health and Human Services department.
Kathleen Sebelius served in the Obama administration as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. In 2010, she threatened to put health insurance companies out of business, saying that agencies which failed to toe the party line could be excluded from the upcoming exchanges. She told them that rates would rise by no more than 2%, even though internal documentation showed that the rates would rise by at least 7%.
Hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to private health insurance companies were approved by Sebelius in 2011 despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act expressly forbid such an action. She also rewrote and narrowed a Supreme Court ruling that allowed her department to continue coercing states into implementing the Medicaid expansion program.
9. The Obama administration vetoed the 9-11 Crime Bill.
Barack Obama vetoed a measure called the 9-11 Crime Bill, which was legislation that would allow the families of those who were killed in the attacks on September 11, 2001, to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any role that they might have played in the plot. Obama said at the time that he believed lawsuits against the Kingdom would set a dangerous precedent for the future.
Congress overrided the veto by voting 97-1 in the Senate and 348-77 in the House to make the legislation official, providing a remarkable rebuke to Obama. It allowed courts in the United States to seize Saudi assets in the country to pay for judgments obtained by the victims’ families. Officials from Saudi Arabia countered that they would sell holdings in the U.S. to avoid such an outcome.
Within hours of voting to override the veto, almost 30 senators signed a letter expressing reservations of their actions.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Obama’s Presidency
It is too early to tell what history will see the Obama Administration accomplishing during its eight years of leadership. There are certainly some excellent gains that were accomplished during this time, but it came with a price tag that many would argue was too high.
Some of the policies had partial successes, such as the Affordable Care Act, but it also became unpopular because it was unable to prevent rising costs. Although more people had coverage, there are also more families dealing with high deductibles and costs with their medical care still today.
The pros and cons of Obama’s presidency are similar to those of many presidents, but there is one notable exception. Barack Obama did not have a personal scandal, serving longer than any president in several decades without that word (scandal) published next to his name in newspaper headlines.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.