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On Day 100, New Questions for Obama

By Dan Balz
President Obama is enjoying favorable reviews on this 100th day of his new administration. But those reviews ought to be tempered by what still isn't known about his presidency. So here are a few questions that remain to be answered.

Are his economic policies really working?

The economy remains in terrible shape, despite what the president has called the glimmers of hope. Today's report on first-quarter gross domestic product reminds everyone of how deep this recession is and how likely it is that the unemployment rate will continue to rise. Many banks are still in shaky condition. General Motors and Chrysler face possible bankruptcy and further shrinkage.

Will Obama need to ask for a second stimulus package, and if he does, will Congress go along?

The truth is that the administration doesn't know whether this will work. Obama has embraced FDR's "bold, persistent experimentation" as his motto for dealing with the economy. But just as the Bush administration acted last fall without knowing whether it's financial bailout would work, the economic stimulus package is an amalgam of spending and tax cuts without precedent. It represents the best judgment of Obama and his advisers, but whether it is big enough or too big isn't known.

How risky are the deficits that will come with the administration's combination of short-term stimulus and long-term initiatives for health care, energy and education?

Obama has insisted that he is serious about deficit reduction. One of his most senior advisers said the budget deliberations involved hard decisions for many of the agency officials, who wanted to spend even more than the president would allow. But those deliberations are mostly invisible. The budget Obama put forward envisions huge deficits far into the future and the Congressional Budget Office has even gloomier projections. Much obviously depends on the pace of economic recovery, but if Obama's forecasts prove too rosy, what will he do?

What is the president's real view about the size and role of government?

The Republicans have argued that the Obama agenda represents a dangerous return to big government. There's no question that he is using the power of the federal government in unprecedented ways. Not just by spending money but by intervening in the private economy to change corporate behavior (and leadership). Is this reflective of Obama's philosophy or merely a pragmatic reaction to the problems he has inherited? There is little to suggest that the public has a real appetite for a resurgence of big government. Whether Obama believes this is a necessary evil or the right way to do business over the long haul will be part of the political debate in 2010 and 2012.

How much is Obama prepared to raise taxes on the wealthy and, if Congress balks, what is his alternative?

Obama's agenda depends on finding more revenue and the administration has targeted those earning more than $250,000 a year. But Congress already objected to some of the proposals in his budget and Republicans will make taxes a central part of their argument that Obama is putting the economy at risk with his economic plan. It's not clear how far Obama would like to go or may need to go--and whether he will pay a political price for doing so.

In what ways will the president's health care plan force changes in the way Americans get their medicine and the health care industry dispenses it?

Nothing as big as the president has envisioned comes without some potentially wrenching changes and a big debate. Administration and congressional officials are at work on health care legislation, but there has yet to be anything close to a public airing of the details. Democrats may have the votes to pass whatever they want, now that Sen. Arlen Specter is on their side. But can the president actually expand coverage dramatically and lower the cost to individuals, as he said throughout the campaign?

What pain could be inflicted on consumers and corporations by the president's energy proposal?

Every president has tried and failed to do something big about the country's dependence on foreign oil. The goals of reducing the use of foreign oil and combating global climate change enjoy popular support, but at what cost? The president's desire to create a greener economy means government will be making economic choices that will reward some industries and punish others. Consumers will pay more. As with health care, the country's needs a big debate on this.

The president's foreign policy initiatives represent as much or more risk as his domestic proposals. As the release of the Justice Department memos on harsh interrogation techniques showed, there is not necessarily a consensus on all of his policies. His approval ratings now are highest on his decision to withdraw combat forces from Iraq and, interesting, to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. But much of Obama's foreign policy is still to be defined or executed.

Has the president set realistic goals in Afghanistan?

Defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban is a tall order. Obama appears to believe he has lowered expectations for his Afghanistan policy. He has not talked about creating a stable democracy so much as he's emphasized eliminating terrorist threats posed to the United States. But on what timetable and at what cost in lives and dollars? Whether this will prove to be the kind of quagmire that has frustrated other superpowers is the issue that hangs over his new policy.

Can he keep the lid on in Pakistan?

The dangers of a nuclear-armed Pakistan under the sway of Islamic extremists needs no explanation. Obama has assigned Richard Holbrooke, one of the country's toughest and most veteran diplomats, to this problem (and to Afghanistan). He will need to move quickly and creatively.

Does Obama have a realistic hope of changing the behavior of Iran's leaders?

The president hopes a combination of tentative engagement and tough action will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. How much different will his policies turn out to be from those of the Bush administration's and how urgently does the president see this threat (and possible action by the Israelis to eliminate that threat)?

Will the president's promise to engage more actively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict produce more progress than the Bush administration achieved?

The change in governments in Israel threatens to set back efforts to stimulate the peace process. Obama has yet to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take the new government's temperature. The president has put former Senate majority leader George Mitchell in charge of the Middle East brief, but will he engage personally and energetically or choose not to risk capital here.

Can the president create broad public support for his anti-terror policies?

The debate over interrogation techniques that was kicked off by the administration's release of the Justice Department memos was a reminder that Americans remain divided on these issues, as they balance concerns about the safety of the country and maintenance of civil liberties and democratic values. Obama may have hoped to turn the page on the Bush policies, but it's likely he will have to keep reasserting his position in order to bring more of the country to his side. He faces similar problems on his decision to close the detainment center at Guantanamo Bay. While many applaud the decision, finding new homes for some of the terrorist suspects presents hard choices for Obama and his team.

How much will Obama's foreign policies really differ from those of former President Bush?

In style, Obama has offered a different face to the world. He also has made good on his pledge to end the war in Iraq. Ending harsh interrogations is another break from Bush. But on North Korea, Iran, the Middle East and other parts of the world, it's not clear how much he will differ. Nor can he be sure that his professed willingness to listen to other nations will bring about different behavior. It was widely noted on his foreign trip that other leaders (and their constituents) welcomed him warmly, but he made little immediate progress in winning commitments for more NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The Obama White House is understandably enjoying the reviews of the president's first 100 days. But more than with many presidents, these months are merely a prelude to more consequential days ahead.

Posted at 12:45 PM ET on Apr 29, 2009  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
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Start saving so you can afford all the
progress made in these first 100 days. Boy! things went fast (never let a good crisis go to waste).. AND we are promised more to come.
Whoopee!

Posted by: njtou | April 29, 2009 7:23 PM

I'm glad that Obama is getting "favorable reviews" from the media. After all of the skeptical and probing coverage he received during the campaign, I was afraid that the media wouldn't give him a fair chance. How fortunate we are that our fair and free press was able to put aside its inherent biases and present matters as they appear in the cold light of reality.

Posted by: orange2299 | April 29, 2009 7:04 PM

I think it is too early to see the impact of the stimulus package. It is really unfair to say that the stimulus package is not working. It takes a while for things to get implemented and the results to emerge. We need to give Obama more time.

Posted by: myhopemeg | April 29, 2009 6:53 PM


What pain could be inflicted on consumers and corporations by the president's energy proposal?
----none, except maybe price-gouging. I mean heck dan, when were we paying 4 bucks for a gallon of gas last?
---BHO can always talk to the Ukraine to make sure that the oil runs west and not east.

Has the president set realistic goals in Afghanistan?
--yes. unlike the previous administration who cut & run. And it was the Taliban from Afghanistan who claimed 9-11.

Can he keep the lid on in Pakistan?
yes- Musharoff is gone. He was a puppet anyway and our President knew it.
And it is not Pakistan per se, it is the Taliban that want to move into Pakistan. So re-word it. Can he keep the lid on the progression of the Taliban in Pakistan?

Does Obama have a realistic hope of changing the behavior of Iran's leaders?
--he may have and that is okay. I do not. I saw Sunday's interview (was it steffy?) with Abadinmjaud and he said it only once..but he said it--"the zionist machine".
We are that, and he still uses the term. Plus, he will never recognize Israel.

Will the president's promise to engage more actively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict produce more progress than the Bush administration achieved?
--depends on how much he wants his Camp David moment, which is all fluff anyway. I believe BHO will do more. Specially with Benjamin back.

Can the president create broad public support for his anti-terror policies?
---he can create public support. It's all in the presentation and the data. Broad public support, I do not know. We will see. Getting bin laden would help.

How much will Obama's foreign policies really differ from those of former President Bush?
--They already have. It's a kindler gentler foreign policy. It's a thumbs up type policy. A "we will extend our hand if you unclinch your fist" policy.

There is no Bush Doctrine. There is no shoving democracy down throats at all costs. There is no rush to war.
There is no "get him for daddy".
There is no Dick Cheney.

(smiles)

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 29, 2009 6:23 PM

In what ways will the president's health care plan force changes in the way Americans get their medicine and the health care industry dispenses it?

this is a loaded mixed up question Dan.
The health care plan is mega. Deals with alot.
how will his plan FORCE CHANGES in the way American get their medicine and the health care industry dispensing it?
I don't believe there will be too much change to the core process of
1-go to dr
2-get prescription
3-go to walgreens and fill it

too loaded of a question..

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 29, 2009 6:03 PM


the alternative...

raise the minimum wage to a sustained and realistic amount.
it is 10 bucks an hour. period.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 29, 2009 5:57 PM

How much is Obama prepared to raise taxes on the wealthy and, if Congress balks, what is his alternative?
---here's the rub folks--who are the wealthy? The middle class can be categorized as "paycheck to paycheck poor". This changes the dynamics of what you call the middle class.
There are no lump sums in the pockets of the common man any longer. We are on credit and poor.
Also, BHO humbly believes that $250,000 is the "wealthy mark". If you make that, you are wealthy--but below that you need help!
Uh, what world is that? You are fricking rich as all get out if you make that. Most of the working class America, single person, is lucky to have a job that pays out of the 20(s). Even with a degree.
This is the truth.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 29, 2009 5:55 PM

Obama brings a smile to my face every time I see him. He is such a man of distinction and honor. I am SO PROUD that he our president. Who could have imagined after the horror story since Reagan that we would have such an angel with us.

Posted by: GeorgHerbet | April 29, 2009 5:53 PM

I am entirely dramatically and positively amazed at the change, Wildly Impressed and HAPPY TO ONCE AGAIN BE One of AMerica's children, indeed, thoroughly Decisively Happy! Way to GO Barack Obama Our President. Like Alot. This is the best vote I ever wrote.

Posted by: bdrevers | April 29, 2009 5:36 PM

Will Obama need to ask for a second stimulus package, and if he does, will Congress go along?
--yes. there is no getting around it.

How risky are the deficits that will come with the administration's combination of short-term stimulus and long-term initiatives for health care, energy and education?
----so-so.. we can always stay in our wars.

What is the president's real view about the size and role of government?
---Our President is a Harvard lawyer. Lawyers have the ability to "cut to the chase" on just about every issue and idea out there. They love it. It's their thing. Barack has done marvelous in the "cutting to the chase" on problems, statements, telling us what it is all about, etc. etc.
His real view, therefore, IMHO, is that he recognizes the fine line that he cannot cross.
His view of the "role of government"---
uh......gee...how about by the people and for the people. He is Prez after all DAN!

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 29, 2009 5:11 PM

you know, it's hard when you have been backed into a corner..
from a previous administration....

Are his economic policies really working?
-there's that word policies again.
HR1, now public law, is in the "do" stage of the infamous:
plan
do
check
act
We need to "check" it. And I would say you are asking that question too soon.
Program years end June 30th.
Revisit this question after the new money of the new program year comes down on July 1st.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 29, 2009 5:05 PM

MR. BALZ: Will "The Dean" Take Off the Rose-Colored Glasses?


You are oblivious to the biggest "100 days" question of all:

Will the "good people on the inside" of the bureaucracy do the right thing...

...before an insidious, anti-democratic, security/military/intel cabal proceeds with an insidious silent coup.

Please, Mr. Balz, wake up. Read this -- from a fellow journalist who also wore rose-colored glasses until my wrongful and unjust "targeting."


http://nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-terrorizes-america

OR (if link is corrupted / disabled):

http://NowPublic.com/scrivener


Posted by: scrivener50 | April 29, 2009 4:56 PM

Obama has the same approval numbers of Jimmy Carter. We all know how that turned out.....

Posted by: pwaa | April 29, 2009 4:51 PM

Actually, when comparing Obama's approval rating against other Presidents in his first 100 days, depending on which poll you use, it is either 62% or 63%, Obama ranks behind Reagan, Eisenhower, Johnson, Carter and Kennedy.
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/100days_approval.php

Posted by: morningglory51 | April 29, 2009 4:24 PM


the usual suspects pulling the strings behind the courtains are better equipped to answer these questions and questions about torture to achieve political gain
cia's global network of extraordianry rendition + secret prisons and more.

Posted by: manittou | April 29, 2009 4:13 PM

As usual, Dan Balz offers a substantive, far-reaching catalog of issues. But aren't these hold-over questions ("questions that remain to be answered," as he himself quickly puts it) rather than "new" questions, as the title suggests?

Posted by: FirstMouse1 | April 29, 2009 4:05 PM

I'm an investor.

I've been an investor since I was 16, back before Black Monday.

President Obama has done a masterful job of saving the US from driving headfirst into the icebergs that Comrade Bush had us headed straight for - a Global Depression - and now we're only dealing with a slightly bad Recession.

Anyone who actually understands markets and why regulation is necessary can see that.

So, yes, he gets an A- for the first 100 days - marked down for too many Wall Street appointees who think financiers deserve high pay for substandard work.

Posted by: WillSeattle | April 29, 2009 3:18 PM

The threat to the US from transnational terroists will never end, the questions are only how important the risks are relative to all the other risks we face when we face each day. Plainly, the risks are too low to justify a protracted boots-on-the-ground war anywhere.

Like the torture argument, Cheney/Bush used the fear of another attack to justify things we never did to Japanese soldiers even after Pearl Harbor, Corregidor and the Bataan Death March.

Lets get out of Iraq and Afganistan as fast as it is safe to do so.

I'm not worried about Pakistan either. The country is run by its military and they will not lose to the Taliban. It may go the way of Sri Lanka, but eventually, they will defeat the Taliban (with our help).

Not worried about Iran. They don't want to die, but they hate our "special" relationships with Sunni and the Jewish regimes. All we need is a "special" relationship with the Persians too.

Obama gets it. Some of the people around him though do not. At least we don't have to worry about idiotic Republicans, or the corrupt in more ways than one Bill Clinton, anymore.

Posted by: shrink2 | April 29, 2009 2:13 PM

Is 100 days any way to grade a turnaround of the worst economy since the Great Depression?

We're off the edge of the cliff; that's a fantastic start for Obama.

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | April 29, 2009 1:11 PM

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