Obama’s First Term Was A Success

So a number of people I’m friends with — on both sides of the aisle — have argued that Barack Obama hasn’t had a successful presidency. I find that claim highly inaccurate. Now I’m not saying that I love Obama or that I think he’s above criticism, that’s certainly not the case. We could easily spend a lot of time talking about things like drone strikes and the public option and slowness on LGBT rights and a number of other things, but this isn’t a post about those things. This is a post about what being a “successful” president means and whether or not Obama has been one.

A big part of the problem is that most people get their information from the mainstream media. The media has been beating the drumbeat since at least 2010 that Obama’s presidency has been a failure. And, the media, conservatives claim, is biased in favor of liberals. Most people accept both of these claims without questioning them (despite definitive proof that both claims are false), and if the media is biased in favor of Obama, then he must be doing really bad.

So what would it mean for a president to be successful? That’s a vitally important question that nobody is really talking about. Here are the things I think that make up a successful presidency (feel free to suggest others):

1. Things in the country, in general, have to get better
2. The president was successful in getting his agenda passed
3. The president avoided significant scandals

While these are listed in order of importance, we’ll take them in reverse order, since they’re easier to deal with that way. The third one is the easiest — Obama has been the most scandal-free president in my lifetime. Conservatives have tried as hard as they possibly could to manufacture something that would stick, but nothing has. Not because Obama is “teflon” or “slick,” like previous presidents, but because he seems to be a highly moral man in his personal life and it’s just alien to him to do the types of things that recent presidents have gotten in trouble for, such as having sex with interns, manufacturing wars based on lies or trading arms for hostages. There is, in fact, at this point, no scandal that would even get a one sentence line in a history book or encyclopedia, no matter how hard the right tries to turn Bengazi or the “apology” tour or any of that nonsense into a scandal.

Obama has had more of a mixed bag at getting his agenda passed. In the first two years, he had a number of his agenda items stalled by the filibuster and conservative Dems in the Senate and in the last two years, Republicans have blocked almost everything. Some of that is his fault, but the bulk of it, particularly in the last two years, really isn’t. There wasn’t much he could do to persuade this group of Republicans. When Clinton lost Congress, he triangulated by pursuing Republican bills and they joined him. Obama hasn’t tried that as much as Clinton, but even when he has, Republicans have mostly blocked it.

Last, but most importantly, is the U.S. better off than it was four years ago? In almost every possible category, the answer is yes. In most categories it isn’t as good as it could have been or should have been. And there are a few things where things have gotten worse — and I don’t count things that carried over from the previous administration in that. Since we budget a year in advance in the U.S., suggesting that the deficit in Obama’s first year in office is his fault, despite it being a budget from the previous administration, is nonsensical. So, the way to look at this is to say, which things have improved since Obama officially became in charge of them. The list is long…

And, again, this post isn’t even remotely supposed to be about what things Obama has done wrong or what things he hasn’t done well enough, you read about those things everywhere, this is about what he’s done right.

The Economy
-Of 70 economic indicators that Bloomberg News compiles, 51 of them have improved since Obama came to office. A number of the rest of them have improved since Obama’s first budget went into effect the next year
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-When Obama came to office, the economy was shedding 800k jobs per month, now we have had 32 straight months of private sector job growth and Obama has now created more jobs in his term than have been lost, despite inheriting a job-killing economy
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-The last quarter before Obama came to office, the economy contracted by a rate of 8.9 percent, since Obama’s policies have gone into effect, teh economy has grown at a rate of about 2.0 percent
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-Because of Bush’s policies, the unemployment number went up to near 10%, since then, it has fallen to under 8%
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-The last year of Bush’s policies, the yearly GDP was $12.7 trillion, this year it is on pace to be $13.5 trillion
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-The last year of Bush’s policies, the median home sale price was $208,600, this year it’s over $235k
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-In 2009, corporate profits were $1.4 trillion, in 2011, they were $1.9 trillion and are on track to go higher this year
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-The last year Bush was in office, inflation was 4.3%, it’s around 2.3% this year
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-The last year of Bush’s policies, federal discretionary spending was 8.9% of GDP, this year it is around 8.5%
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-The S&P 500 is up 81% under Obama
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-The Manufacturing Index is up 48% under Obama
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-The Consumer Confidence Index is up $86% under obama
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-The number of U.S. Drilling Rigs in operation is up 23% under Obama
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-wind and solar power production is up 116% under Obama
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-Petroleum imports are down 23% under Obama
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-5.4 million new private sector jobs have been created under Obama
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-The U.S. auto industry was saved
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-U.S. manufacturing has added more jobs than any time since Bill Clinton was president
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-Made it more difficult for taxpayers to be stuck with the bill for bailouts
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-Banned unfair credit card rate increases and fees
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-Set ground rules for risky financial speculation
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-Brought discretionary spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in 50 years
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-Under Bush’s last budget, the national deficit was $1.41 trillion, this year it is $1.33 trillion
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-Cut taxes for small businesses 18 times
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-Food and agricultural exports have reached an all-time high
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-Passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
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-Created recovery.gov to allow taxpayers to track stimulus spending
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-Completed Bush’s TARP banking rescue plan, and leaned on the program recipients to make sure that most of the money spent on the program was paid back to the government
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-Created the Making Home Affordable home refinancing plan
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-GM is once again the top car company in the world, after being bailed out by Obama
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-Double funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership
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-Signed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, giving the government more tools to investigate and prosecute fraud in the financial system
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-Created the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to investigate the economic meltdown
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-Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act
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-Increased infrastructure spending
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-Signed the Helping Families Save Their homes Act
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-Increased funding to help the homeless
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-Signed the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009
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-Increased government lending to small businesses
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-Increased online collaboration between small businesses and experts in terms of managing businesses
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-Got the G20 summit to commit $1.1 trillion to combat the global financial crisis
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-Improved minority access to capital
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-Increased funding to local housing finance agencies
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-Created the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability to assist in financial education for all Americans
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-Ordered executives taking bailout money to cut their own pay until they paid back all bailout money
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-Passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform bill, the most comprehensive overhaul of the system since the Great Depression
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-Created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
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-Created rules to reduce the influence of speculators on the oil market
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-Created rules to limit banks’ ability to use customer money on high-risk financial instruments
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-Negotiated deal with the Swiss banks allowing the government to access records of criminals and tax evaders
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-Signed the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, making it harder to outsource jobs or move money offshore
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-Signed the most sweeping food safety legislation since the Great Depression
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-Established the White House Office of Urban Affairs
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Environment
-Established the first national safeguards to cut down on mercury and other toxic air emmissions from power plants
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-Increased fuel economy standards that cut carbon pollution from cars in half
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-Enacted the largest expansion of wilderness protection in a generation
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-Established the country’s first comprehensive ocean policy
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-Reversed a Bush-era decision to allow the largest mountaintop removal project in US history
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-Ordered the Department of Energy to implement more aggressive efficiency standards for common household appliances
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-Oversaw the creation of an initiative that converts old factories and manufacturing centers into new clean technology centers
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-Ordered the EPA to begin regulating and measuring carbon emissions
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-Increased protection of the Antarctic
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-Got BP to cough up $20 billion to establish Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, to reduce the need for taxpayer funds to be used for compensation and clean up
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-Oversaw and pushed through amendment to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 authorizing advances from Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
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-Initiated criminal and civil inquiries into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
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-Barred Texas from authorizing new refinery permits on its own
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-Strengthened the Endangered Species Act
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-Improved boiler safety standards to improve air quality, and save 6500 lives per year
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-Created a pretext for closing the dirtiest power plants in the country, by limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic gasses
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-Increased funding for National Parks and Forests by 10%
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-Eliminated federal funding for abstinence-only education
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Civil Rights
-Signed the Claims Resolution Act, which provided $4.6 billion in funding for a legal settlement with black and Native American farmers who had been cheated out of government loans and natural resource royalties in the past
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-Oversaw funding of the design of a new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, which is scheduled to open on the National Mall in 2015
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-Focused immigration enforcement resources on criminals as opposed to students, veterans, seniors and military families
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-Nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic Justice in the court’s history, and the women represent only the third and fourth women to serve on the court
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-Appointed the most diverse Cabinet in history, including more women than any other incoming president
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Seniors
-Closed the Medicare doughnut hole
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-Eliminated $716 billion in waste, fraud and needless spending in Medicare
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-Eliminated $156 billion in wasteful subsidies from the Medicare program to insurance companies
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-Retirement fund balances have increased 35% since Obama came into office
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Education
-Stopped federal student loan interest rates from doubling for million students
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-Capped federal student loan repayments at 10% of income
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-Gave states flexibility to meet goals without adhering to restrictive No Child Left Behind mandates
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-Increased funding for education and career-training programs
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-Under Race to the Top, 46 states have raised standards
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-Expanded veteran access to education through the expanded G.I. Bill
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-Saved 300k education jobs, including teachers, principals, librarians and counselors
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-Increased funding for student financial aid
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-Reduced the role of banks in student loans
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-Made it possible for students to refinance student loans at a lower rate
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-Increased funding for education at all levels
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-Expanded broadband availability in K-12 schools
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-Expanded funding for school construction
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-Increased funding for early education by $5 billion
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-Expanded Pell Grants
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-Required that for-profit colleges have to prove that their students can actually find work to get federal aid
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-Signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to improve nutrition in schools
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-Oversaw and passed increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts
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Science and Technology
-Increased funding for non-defense science and research labs
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-Increased funding for private sector space programs
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-Funded enhanced earth mapping, to provide valuable data for agricultural, educational, scientific, and government use
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-Through the Connect America Fund, pushed through and received FCC approval for a move of $8 billion in subsidies away from telephone landlines to assist lower-income rural families in accessing broadband
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-Signed an executive order that will speed up deployment of a more comprehensive broadband infrastructure
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LGBT Rights
-Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
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-Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
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-Extended hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights to LGBT couples
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-Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees
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-Appointed more openly gay officials than anyone in history
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-Changed rules to prohibit sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing
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-Required hospitals to allow visitation by same-sex couples
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Persons With Disabilities
-Enacted policies to promote the hiring of people with disabilities
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-Increased funding for students with disabilities
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-Improved accessibility standards
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-Appointed the first ever Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy
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-Signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which provided an extra $12.2 billion in funds
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-Signed the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the first comprehensive attempt to improve the lives of Americans living with paralysis
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Energy
-Natural gas production in the U.S. is at an all-time high
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-The U.S. is producing more domestic oil than it has in 14 years
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-U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history
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-Created a fast-track patent approval process for green energy projects
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-Fast-tracked regulations to allow states to enact fuel efficiency standards that exceeded federal standards
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-Oversaw establishment of an Energy Partnership for the Americas, to create more markets for American-made biofuels and green energy technologies
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-Ordered energy plants to prepare to produce at least 15% of all energy through renewable resources like wind and solar, by 2021
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-Oversaw doubling federal spending on clean energy research
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-Pushed through a tax credit to help people buy plug-in hybrid cars
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-Created a program to develop renewable energy projects on the waters of our Outer Continental Shelf that will produce electricity from wind, wave, and ocean currents
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-Required states to provide incentives to utilities to reduce their energy consumption
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-Created tax write-offs for purchases of hybrid automobiles and electric cars
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-Mandated that federal government fleet purchases be for fuel-efficient American vehicles, and encouraged that federal agencies support experimental, fuel-efficient vehicles
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Health Care
-Ended the practice of insurance companies putting caps on coverage
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-Eliminated the ability of insurance companies to drop people’s coverage when they get sick
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-Increased funding for preventitive services via Medicare
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-Lowered costs on prescription drugs through Medicare
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-Lowered monthly premiums for Medicare
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-Ending the practice of insurance companies charging women more for health care coverage than men
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-Lifted restrictions on embryonic stem cell research
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-Increased funding for biomedical and stem cell research
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-Expanded the Nurse-Family Partnership program, which provides home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income expectant mothers and their families
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-Increased research ethics standards allowing tests of the effects of chemicals on human subjects
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-Allowed the FDA to regulate tobacco
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-Required tobacco companies to disclose cigarette ingredients
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-Banned the sale of cigarettes falsely labeled as light
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-Provided $500 million for Health Professions Training Programs
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-Increased funding for community-based prevention programs
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-Oversaw a 50% decrease in cost of prescription drugs for seniors
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-Began allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies on price
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-Signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, increasing the number of children covered by health insurance by 4 million
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-Expanded health insurance coverage to at least 30 million more people
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-Allowed children to be covered under their parents’ policy until they turned 26
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-Provided tax breaks to allow 3.5 million small business to provide health insurance to their employees
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-Expanded Medicaid to those making up to 133% of the federal poverty level
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-Required that health insurance companies disclose how much of your premium actually goes to pay for patient care
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-Medicare costs actually declining slightly this fiscal year, for the first time in many years, according to the Congressional Budget Office
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-Extended discounted COBRA health coverage for the unemployed from 9 months to 15 months
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-Loosened the rules and allowed the 14 states that legalized medical marijuana to regulate themselves without federal interference
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Veterans and Current Troops
-Extended rural VA health care access
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-Signed tax breaks for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and wounded veterans
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-Expanded educational benefits for vets to cover training and apprenticeship programs
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-Ended the media blackout on coverage of the return of fallen soldiers
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-Provided active combat troops with better body armor
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-Created the Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record program to improve medical care for military personnel
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-Ended the stop-loss policy that kept troops in combat zones beyond their enlistment date
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-Signed the Veterans Health Care Budgeet Reform and Transparency Act
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-Signed the largest spending increase in 30 years for the Department of Veterans Affairs
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-Increased funding for improved VA medical facilities and for constructing VA nursing homes and extended care facilities
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-Created the Green Vet Initiative
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-Signed a recruitment and employment plan to get more veterans into government jobs
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-Expaned VA funding for mental health by $4.6 billion
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-Signed the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act
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Taxes
-Cut taxes for 95% of America’s working families
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-Tax rates for average working families are the lowest since 1950
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-Extended and fully funded the patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax for 10 years
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Women’s Issues
-Under Obamacare, more insurance companies are fully covering birth control without co-pays or deductibles
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-Fought Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood
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-Under Obamacare, health insurance companies now cover mammograms and cancer screenings for women
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-Changed rules to prohibit gender-based discrimination in housing
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-Established the White House Council on Women and Girls to evaluate all cabinet-level policies to determine their effects on women and families
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-Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
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-Expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act
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-Rescinded the global gag rule
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Workers
-Required all employers to post employees’ rights where employees can see them and online
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-Cracked down on companies that were previously denying sick pay, vacation and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare tax payments through abuse of the employee classification of independent contractor
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-Extended unemployment benefits several times
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-Signed an executive order pledging support for efforts to end the global problem of violence against women and girls
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-Signed a bill that provided $4.3 billion in additional assistance to 9/11 first reponders
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-Expanded trade agreements to include stricter labor and environmental agreements such as NAFTA
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-Signed national service legislation, increasing funding for national service groups, including triple the size of the Americorps program
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National Security and Foreign Policy
-Is drawing down the number of troops in Afghanistan
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-Ordered the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden
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-Worked to reduce nuclear weapons and secure those that exist
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-Helped repair damaged alliances with countries around the world after the division caused by the Iraq war
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-The number of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is down 31% in the U.S.
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-Provided funding to save thousands fo police and firefighter jobs
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-Visited more countries and met with more world leaders in his first six months in office than any president in history
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-Closed a number of secret detention facilities
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-Appointed special envoys to several Middle Eastern countries
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-Pushed for the military to emphasize the development of foreign language skills
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-Offered funds to decrease violence in the Gaza Strip
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-Avoided potential war against Iran both by the U.S. and Israel
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-Made charitable donations to Haiti after weather disaster tax deductible
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-Established a new U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue
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-Blocked interference in and helping to stabilize Somalia
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-Allowed Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba and send them money
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-Prohibited the use of torture in interrogations
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-Released Bush torture memos
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-Brought the U.S. back in compliance with the Geneva Conventions
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-Created a rapid response fund to help spur the Arab Spring
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-Eliminated the wasteful and unused F22 planes
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-Put sanctions on Iran
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-Ended the Iraq war
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-Ordered mission to resuce hostages held by Somali pirates
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-Helped negotiate a peaceful split of Sudan into two countries
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-Reduced the useless Star Wars program by $1.4 billion
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-Restarted nuclear nonproliferation talks
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-Rebuilt nuclear inspection infrastructure protocols
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-Signed a new SALT Treaty
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-Signed a new START treaty
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-Committed to no permanent military bases in Iraq
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-Severely weakened al Qaeda
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-Signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty with India
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-Through NATO, helped take down Qaddafi
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-Helped get Egyptian dictator Mubarak out of office
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-Crafted new alliances with Asian countries uncomfortable with Chinese behavior
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-Restored funding for federal agencies like FEMA so that they could manage disasters much better than during the Bush administration
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-Beefed up border security
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Families
-Provided a $20 billion increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
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Government Accountability
-Ordered an audit of government contracts to combat waste and abuse
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-Created the Chief Performance Officer, whose job it is to make operations more efficient to save the government money
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-Froze White House salaries
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-Appointed the first federal Chief Information Officer to oversee IT spending
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-Signed the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act, designed to put a stop to wate, fraud and abuse in the defense procurement and contracting system
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-Created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
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-Instructed all federal agencies to review all federal regulations and remove any unnecessary or burdensome regulations from the books
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-Dismantled the Minerals Management Service, cutting ties between energy companies and the government
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-Banned gifts from lobbyists to anyone in the executive branch
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-Put strict lmits on lobbyists access to the White House
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-Banned anyone from working in an agency they had lobbied in previous years
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-Held the first-ever online town hall from the White House
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-Streamed every White House event live
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-Established a central portal for Americans to find service opportunities
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-Provided the first voluntary disclosure of the White House Visitors Log in history
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-Increased access to historic White House documents and curtailed the ability to use executive privilege to shield them
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-Made the Freedom of Information Act request process more open and transparent
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-Signed an executive order creating jobs immediately by instructing them to reduce the time needed for review and permitting of infrastructure projects
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Pretty hard to argue with that record. Sure, like I said, a lot more could have been accomplished and most of these things aren’t sufficient and we need more, but to argue that this isn’t a successful list of accomplishments and results is hard to do with any accuracy.

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