When President Barack Obama assumed office one year ago, supporters were ecstatic, agnostics appeared willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and even Republicans — however tentatively — were willing to grasp his outstretched hand.
A year later, almost everyone seems to have a grievance against the president. Liberals feel shorted on some big issues. Unions think he needs to do more. Business groups are unhappy, though they expected to be.
Lobbyists who early last year voiced some optimism the president would work with them are mostly being kept at arm’s length. Democratic interest groups on a variety of issues wonder where the president is. And Republicans are trying to outdo each other heaping attacks on him.
White House officials are philosophical.
“Throughout the campaign and during his first year in office, President Obama routinely reminded people that bringing change to Washington was not going to be easy,— one White House aide said. “These tough decisions may have upset the D.C. establishment, but they also pulled the economy back from the brink of collapse, improved the employment outlook across the country and brought us close to health insurance reform that will hold the insurance companies accountable like never before.—
The worst fights are always within the family, and many liberals feel Obama has disappointed them on the long-cherished goal of adding a public insurance option to the nation’s health care system and the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.
“The main point of concern for progressives is the way in which we are stabilizing and reconstructing Afghanistan,— said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus Afghanistan Task Force. “The military solution will continue to fail as long as the political, economic and social realities of Afghans remain unstable,— Honda said. “In 2010, much like in 2009, Afghanistan will be a priority for progressive Members and I will be inviting the [Government Accountability Office] to meet with the caucus in the coming weeks so that we can better measure and monitor progress, because we are very concerned that there isn’t enough.—
One aide to a Progressive Caucus member said the group’s lawmakers are angry about both the troop increase and the supplemental spending bill for Afghanistan passed earlier this year.
But he added that on climate change legislation, some believe Obama backed them on a stronger bill than that advanced by House Democratic leaders.
Nevertheless, “they would have liked Obama to have taken a strong leadership role— in making the bill’s cap-and-trade section more robust. And some progressives believe the president arrived too late in Copenhagen to save the world climate change treaty.
Progressives’ allies in the House Hispanic Caucus are frustrated that Obama has not yet made good on his promise to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform. Some are angry about it, according to a House Democratic aide. But many understand that the president has a lot on his plate.
“They still remain hopeful he will keep his promise on the issue,— the aide said. “But many understand that jobs have to come first,— the aide continued, referring to the jobs bill Obama is expected to push once the health care legislation is finished.
Union officials have frustrations on several fronts with the president.
“I think people started out the year with a lot of goodwill toward Mr. Obama, and some of that remains,— one senior union official said wryly.
The Recovery Act passed early in the year, with its job programs and other initiatives, was generally seen as a sign of good things to come, even if some thought it included too many tax cuts.
But union officials have been angry for months over Obama’s support for taxing generous health insurance plans as a way to pay for health care reform. Some union officials have negotiated just such plans for their members.
The president’s personal attention to the matter in meetings last week, which resulted in a deal on the issue, went some way toward salving bruised feelings, according to the senior union official.
“People were not happy, exactly, but they were satisfied the issue was being addressed,— the official said.
Now impatient labor leaders want Obama to make good on his pledge to put momentum behind the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to unionize workplaces. They also want a tougher line from Obama toward China and its exchange rate policy, which gooses Chinese exports at the expense of U.S. manufacturers.
Gay leaders remain frustrated that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell— remains the Pentagon’s policy.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence just released a report on Obama’s first year titled, “Failed Leadership, Lost Lives.—
Across the aisle, Republicans say Obama spends too much, wants to nationalize health care, coddles U.S. enemies and hopes to sink the U.S. economy with a variety of taxes.
Does Obama have a friend in Washington other than his dog, Bo?
One bright light is the House Blue Dog Coalition, according to a senior Democratic aide. Members were impressed that the president got behind pay-as-you-go legislation the moment he took office and credit him for helping get the House to pass it. They are encouraged by his role in ongoing talks to get the Senate to approve the legislation, too, and to create a commission on reducing the deficit.
“Those talks are progressing at the White House, and he’s putting a lot of real effort behind it,— the senior Democratic aide said.