Accurate 100-Day Tests Must Review Previous 100 Days

Posted May 20, 2009 at 2:35pm

Now that we’ve moved on from the coverage of President Barack Obama’s 100th day, the flurry of “favorable— versus “unfavorable— analysis is quieting. Inaugurated under Franklin D. Roosevelt, this 100-day expectation regarding a president’s ability to yield results was spawned by the Depression-era hunger for a quick salve to soothe the most depressed of economies.

Now is no different. The public is hungry and the economy depressed. Critics who claw at the president’s credibility should unclench their fists, for their analysis must recognize the inherited policies from the previous president’s final 100 days and the potential yield of the forthcoming 100 days. Only then can an accurate accounting be cast.

Consider what was inherited.

On economic policy, President George W. Bush, aided by a GOP-controlled Congress, doubled the national debt to $10 trillion and quintupled the budget deficit from Clinton surpluses. The dollar’s decline, moreover, is due in part to gross mismanagement under Republican watch.

On foreign policy, Bush left the international community offended and unwilling to assist America in basic statecraft. This bore substantial costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, not only in lives lost and money spent, but in reputational damage done.

On civil rights, Bush abrogated the rules safeguarding human rights, both at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. This happened, ironically, as the United Nations celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008.

On education, Bush left schools fighting for dollars and students learning test-based survival. The pressure to perform forced states to skew numbers and standards and schools to close, leaving many children behind.

On energy, Bush left the world to warm with no plan for lowering carbon emissions. Petrol-politics put America at greater odds with the Middle East. Even ally Saudi Arabia refused to budge on oil production when prices peaked at the pump.

On health, Bush left millions of children uninsured and biased the insurance industry over affordable health care. That more than 7 million Americans became uninsured in the first seven years of Bush’s presidency indicates how poorly the Republicans prioritized our most vulnerable. I could go on, whether on his rolling back of labor standards or his lack of accountability.

Bush’s last 100 days made for a seemingly insurmountable 100 days for Obama. But surmount he did, in concert with Congress. Much like FDR courted Congress to coalesce Members around critical legislation, so too did Obama.

The payoffs are evident. On finances, we are cleaning up Wall Street through rigorous stress testing and reinvested dollars into revenue-generating infrastructure.

On foreign policy, the 77-member Congressional Progressive Caucus is working with the president to ensure the handling of Afghanistan and Cuba is constructive, so that we restore our reputation with allies and transform relations with adversaries. In our meeting with Obama on his 99th day, he concurred with the caucus’s assessment that counterinsurgency efforts must be overwhelmingly political and not military and that America’s Afghan agenda must reflect this.

On education, our American Recovery and Reinvestment Act prioritizes meaningful reforms, equitable funding schemes, teacher training, school repair, and student-centered learning. Working with the president, I will take this agenda further with my legislation, H.R. 1758, which calls for a national dialogue on educational opportunity and equity.

On energy, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and I, along with others, are committed to climate legislation passing Congress this year, complementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem requiring action and preparing a reputable seat for the United States at climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark.

On health, as part of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which Obama supported, we are protecting millions of children with health care access. On labor, as part of the Ledbetter Act, again which Obama supported, we are protecting workers from pay discrimination. On good governance, we are ensuring a transparent appropriations and budget process — a point particularly important to me as an appropriator.

Whether in Congress’ forthcoming work with Obama on comprehensive immigration reform or our work with him on building a culture of public service, more change is in the making. (Because I am a former Peace Corps volunteer, Obama’s call is particularly compelling to me.)

But the test of our ability to effect meaningful change will not be measured in the first 100 days but in the second. Come August, the critical infrastructure spending seen in our Reinvestment Act will begin to bear fruit, we will have cut off poorly governed financial institutions and we will see a return on investment from a whole host of economic stimulus measures — from emergency home loan assistance to work force training and development.

We can then begin to determine the course of the administration, the 111th Congress and thus the nation. But to understand these 100 days without a sufficient retrospective on the detrimental residue left in the last 100 days or without sufficient respect for returns only visible within the next 100 days, neglects the impact of the past and the potential in the future. Much like the health of a plant is judged not solely by its present appearance but by the ground on which it grew and the weather in which it will grow, so too must our performance be understood by the past, present and future 100 days. Tested this way, “favorable— is an understatement.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.