John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Lot’s Of Talk, Not Much Action in First Hundred Days

Posted on April 29, 2009
Lot’s of Talk, Not Much Action

This originally appeared in The Politico

In 1994, when Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years, they pledged in their famous Contract With America to take up 10 measures and pass them within the first 100 days. 

Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) got his inspiration for a 100 days timeline from Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

FDR’s New Deal program, passed in the depths of the Depression, truly changed the face of American capitalism. In those first 100 days, FDR passed the National Recovery Administration, the Rural Electrification Act, the Public Works Administration, the Agricultural Adjustment Act and 11 other pieces of major legislation. 

President Barack Obama has allowed (and perhaps encouraged) the press to think of his election as similar to that of Roosevelt. From consciously invoking the Great Depression as a way to encourage more government intervention in the private sector to hinting that his new coalition will dominate politics much like FDR’s did, Obama has done almost everything except to smoke in public to show himself as the new Roosevelt. 

But what has the Obama White House really achieved in its first 100 days? 

Well, he did pass a stimulus bill that was largely negotiated and completed before he got into office. It got no Republican votes in the House and only three in the Senate. He signed a spending bill that was completely last year’s business. (It even had earmarks from Obama, his chief of staff and other members of his Cabinet from their time in Congress.) He signed a children’s health care bill that was largely unchanged from legislation that was vetoed by President George W. Bush. 

He appointed a treasury secretary who didn’t pay his taxes, he tried to appoint a Health and Human Services secretary who didn’t pay his taxes, and he decided not to appoint a government accountability czar who didn’t pay her taxes. 

He also visited with Jay Leno. He did very well on his NCAA college basketball pool. He fired the CEO of General Motors. He appeared on “60 Minutes” a couple of times. He went to a Bulls-Wizards game. He got a dog. His wife planted a garden.

He did some traveling. He went to Canada and then to Europe. He gave the British prime minister a bunch of DVDs that don’t work in Europe. He gave the queen an iPod and asked the French and the Germans to spend more money (they declined). He asked the Europeans for more help in Afghanistan (they declined). He said he was sorry that America got the world into this mess. 

He reversed a regulation that would have made it harder for labor union bosses to abscond with their members’ hard-earned pension money. Don’t want to have too much disclosure. 

He also shook hands with Hugo Chavez. He lifted the travel ban to Cuba. He promised to visit Russia and China. And he helpfully let everyone in the world know exactly what kind of interrogation techniques we use, just in case anybody wants to get ready should they ever get caught trying to terrorize the United States. 

The president hasn’t done much on the legislative front that wasn’t already cooked up in the last Congress. 

He hasn’t come up with a cap-and-trade proposal. We haven’t seen his health care proposal. His budget still isn’t done. We haven’t seen legislation that would regulate the financial services sector. 

We do know that his proposal to increase taxes on charities and mortgage deductions is dead. We know that the Senate will not do cap and trade under reconciliation and may not do it at all. And while health care reform might happen under reconciliation, it is not a done deal. 

Gingrich understood that for change to happen, it had to happen quickly. He learned that lesson from Roosevelt. And that is why he pushed the House Republicans to move so quickly and so ambitiously on a wide-ranging legislative agenda. 

The Obama administration has done a magnificent job of talking a good game when it comes to change. It has completely reworked the art of political communication and has largely kept the fawning media bamboozled. 

But by historic standards, the first 100 days of the Obama administration have been a lot of sizzle and not a lot of substance. 

John Feehery worked for the House Republican leadership from 1989 to 2005. He is the founder of The Feehery Group, a strategic advocacy firm, and blogs.

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