President Obama's Promises: A Look Back at the 2009 Address to Congress

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Middle-class Americans need immediate tax relief, President Obama will say tonight in his first, official State of the Union address to a country weary of wars and the economic downturn.

Obama will address Congress at 9:00 p.m. ET in a more forceful and feistier tone than he did nearly a year ago when he was cautiously optimistic, warning Americans of the tough road ahead but projecting optimism about economic recovery.

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Much has changed since then. The Obamas have a new dog, the United States has experienced another terror attempt, which failed but still was enough to jolt the nation, and Democrats have lost a key Senate seat.

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But the challenges that Obama faced this time last year remain largely the same. If anything, he is likely to face a much more skeptical -- even somewhat hostile -- audience.

Obama has done too little on the jobs front and to jolt economic recovery, some critics charge. Others say he has put too much on his plate.

Yet his supporters argue that the president has made significant gains in his first year in office, given the tough economic climate he inherited.

The president drove home that point in his address last year, and he is expected to step up that rhetoric further in today's State of the Union.

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Here is a look at some of the promises Obama made and the key issues he addressed in his 2009 speech to the joint session of Congress and where they stand today:


The president made the economy the focal point of his speech last year. While he made it clear that he was inheriting a bad economy, the president also looked ahead and projected a rather upbeat tone.

With unemployment rising and critics stepping up their assault on the administration, Obama is expected, once again, to make the economy the focus of his address.

"We have lived through an era where, too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election," the president said last February in a not-so-subtle gibe at the Bush administration. "A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future."

The president promised to make "hard choices" in bringing down the federal budget deficit, and touted the $787 stimulus package Congress had passed quickly, at his urging. "Over the next two years," Obama said, "this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs."

While the number of jobs "saved or created" is a far cry from the president's projection, the stimulus has dampened job loss, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

In the most recent assessment, dated Oct. 30, 2009, the administration reported that the number of jobs "saved or created" by the two-year stimulus program was 640,329. The CBO estimated that the Recovery Act helped employ an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people by the third quarter of 2009.

Obama and his administration have touted the benefits of the stimulus plan, but they took heat last year for doling out the money too slowly, although nearly half of it, or about $394 billion, has been spent.

Most of the money has been in the form of direct aid to states, cities and individuals in need. But the second half of the funds will be geared toward project, specifically for infrastructure, with monthly spending more than tripling this year.

The president had promised that most of the stimulus money would go toward infrastructure projects and broadband initiatives. And nearly a year into the program, those areas have seen the greatest benefit of the stimulus plan. The U.S. Department of Education has received the biggest share of the stimulus pie.

Obama also last year promised that "95 percent of working households in America will receive a tax cut." The president then implemented the Making Work Pay tax credit, which works out to a maximum of $400 for working individuals and $800 for couples filing jointly on their 2009 and 2010 tax returns.

The president, in today's State of the Union speech, will once again address tax breaks, this time focusing on middle-class tax credits. The administration is proposing to increase the child and dependent tax credit, cap student federal loan payments and expand tax credits. The Obama administration also pushed and then extended the housing credit for homebuyers, keeping in line with the president's promise to help "responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and refinance their mortgages."

Financial Markets

Given the resistance from Republicans and the private sector, financial regulation has been a relatively tough hurdle for the Obama administration. The president told Americans in February that he would demand more accountability from banks that take taxpayer money.

"I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer," the president said. "This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks, or buy fancy drapes, or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over."

So far, however, there has been little more than a cat-and-mouse chase between Washington and Wall Street. Big banks are still planning hefty bonuses for executives.

The top-five financial institutions in the United States -- Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley -- allocated roughly $90 billion for overall compensation, of which bonuses comprise more than half. The Wall Street Journal reported today that executives from at least two banks that received federal money -- Citigroup and Bank of America -- will take private flights to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Obama has upped his rhetoric against Wall Street and has proposed a series of changes, the latest being a plan to crack down on high-risk trades by banks. The president has also proposed a new tax on banks in the hopes of making up to $120 billion given under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

"Never again will the American taxpayer be held hostage by a bank that is 'too big to fail," the president vowed last week. "We cannot accept a system in which shareholders make money on these operations if the bank wins, but taxpayers foot the bill if the bank loses."

Obama, to channel the populist anger against Wall Street, is stepping up the push against banks. In his budget proposal, Obama will promise a tax on 50 of the top financial firms to be in place for 10 years, or as long as it takes to raise the full amount necessary to cover the taxpayer losses under TARP.

Congress is also reportedly crafting a plan with the leftover money from TARP to assist small businesses. But lawmakers have yet to finalize a bill -- as Obama asked last year -- on regulatory overhaul. The House passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 in December but the Senate has yet to act on it.


Reducing the U.S. dependence on foreign oil and making the nation a leader in clean, renewable energy was a key message of Obama's address last year. In his one-year presidency, the president has pushed the international community on setting and meeting climate-change goals. Even the Nobel Peace Prize Committee praised Obama's work in this arena after awarding him the prestigious prize last year.

But on the international front, Obama's efforts have yet to yield any concrete results. The president attended the United Nations Climate Change summit in Copenhagen in December with the hope of pushing nations to agree on a legally binding global treaty to reduce emissions. But with China unwilling to cooperate on the issue of transparency, that effort only ended in a nonbinding accord.

On the domestic front, movement in Congress has been slow and difficult. The House narrowly passed climate change legislation in June, but the fate of the bill in the Senate hangs in the balance amid opposition from several key Republicans and private heavyweight groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Senate bill calls for more stringent caps on emissions than even Obama or the House had suggested.

The president also promised more investment in the country's energy infrastructure.

"Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years," the then newly minted president said. "We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills."

In December, the president touted the development in this area, saying that with investments made under the stimulus, the administration is on pace to upgrade the homes of half-a-million Americans by this time next year.

Health Care

Amid all the big-ticket items on his agenda, health care is probably the topic that has garnered the most controversy. Obama presented last year few concrete proposals except to promote the modernizing of the country's health care system.

"Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold. We can't afford to do it. It's time," Obama said. "It's a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come."

Despite his promise to keep the negotiations transparent and bipartisan, the president and Democratic lawmakers have had little success in reaching those goals. With Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts last week, the fate of the health care legislation looks hazy, at best.

The president predicted last year that negotiations on this front wouldn't be easy.

"I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. Once again, it will be hard," the president said last year. "But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and our conscience long enough. So let there be no doubt: Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."

Obama will address tonight the complications in the health care proceedings, and will urge Congress to come through on issues on which they agree if they have to give up some of what they initially wanted.

International Relations

The president's speech tonight is expected to have a heavy focus on national security, given the recent terror attempts. The president promised last year to "forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism."

In keeping with that promise, the president ordered a thorough review last year of the U.S. strategy in that region. He ordered a surge of additional troops in Afghanistan and also set a timeline for starting to withdraw U.S. troops.

On the financial front, however, the administration's efforts have stalled.

"To respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe," Obama said last February.

With many blaming much of the world's financial troubles on the United States, there has been a hesitancy to join in an international accord, putting restraints on the financial system.