Politifact, the Pulitzer-winning fact-checking site launched by the St. Pete Times, has tracked President Barack Obama’s every campaign promise since Nov. 5, 2008. Today, its reporters and editors will have documented the last of the president’s 500 campaign declarations.
How did the president fare? Politifact director and St. Pete Times Washington Bureau chief Bill Adair told The Daily Caller the president’s hovering around “50-50” in the number of promises kept versus broken. More than 80 are in the former category, including the expansion of SCHIP, a directive to end the Iraq War, the scheduling of a troop surge in Afghanistan and the delivery of a speech “at a major Islamic forum” within Obama’s first 100 days in office. About 262 promises are “in the works,” which means there is evidence of forward momentum: a speech, a meeting or a proposal has been given, held or made. (Adair admits that Politifact is rather “generous” with this category.)
Only 14 promises have been broken, but all of them have been contentious: the failure to provide a guaranteed end to income taxes on seniors who make less than $50,000 a year, denying penalty-free need-based withdrawals from retirement accounts and the assurance of transparency, which would have required the health-care debate to be televised on C-SPAN, for example.
Politifact maintains another category that frequently sees its entries bumped into broken: “stalled.”
“I’d say that many of the stalled promises are likely to move to broken if we don’t see action on them in the next six months,” Adair said. “Some of them include the promise of pay-as-you-go budget rules. It’s hard in modern-day Washington to do that; there’s a way to get around the rules with book-keeping.” Within the next week, Adair said, Politifact will likely add to that list the importation of prescription drugs and Medicare’s ability to negotiate for cheaper drug prices. “The two pharmaceutical industry ones, both of those are likely to go to the broken category just based on the deals made during the health care reforms negotiations.”
Politifact doesn’t break news, nor does it make predictions. So it is notable that Adair, who referred to his team as “the referee in Washington politics,” admitted that he thinks some promises simply won’t be kept. “We were amazed at the sheer number and breadth of these promises. Obama promised something to many, many different small constituencies. He made promises for parents of autistic children, promises to people who live in the rural west and are in danger of wild fires, promises to labor,” Adair said, trailing off. But he quickly added that Politifact doesn’t rush to categorize a promise as broken. A presidential term is four years, after all, and Politifact “wants to give Obama a fair chance to fulfill his promises, or break them.”
But while Obama still has three years left in office, Adair isn’t holding his breath about the president’s promise that he’ll reduce earmark spending to 1994 levels, and has marked the promise as broken. “Earmarks are like the transparency issue,” Adair said. “It goes against the culture of Congress and Washington. Many members of Congress feel it is their constitutional duty to spend money. These guys on the appropriation committee will pull out a pocket Constitution and show you where it says they can spend it.”
There’s one more promise that Adair is betting against: the delivery of a State of the World address within Obama’s first year in office. “That will go broken next Wednesday.”