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Obama Tackles Ambitious Agenda During First 100 Days in Office

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President Barack Obama, 11 Mar 2009
President Barack Obama, 11 Mar 2009

President Barack Obama has now reached the halfway mark in his first 100 days in office, a traditional benchmark when new presidents are evaluated on their progress. Mr. Obama has laid out an ambitious agenda that has focused on reviving the weak U.S. economy. But, some critics and experts wonder if the president is trying to do too much too soon.

From the very start, beginning with his Inaugural Address, Barack Obama promised an ambitious presidency.

"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real," he said. "They are serious and many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America, they will be met."

His first and most important priority was dealing with the weak U.S. economy.

But Mr. Obama also moved quickly to begin the process of reining in the cost of health care while at the same time expanding coverage to the uninsured. The new president has also promised to reform education and move the country toward energy independence.

For some critics like Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, it is just too ambitious.

"Presidents have many problems to solve," he said. "But no one ever suggested that the wisest course is to try to solve them all at once."

But in marking his first 50 days in office, Mr. Obama gave no indication that he intends to back away from his agenda.

"I know there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time," he said. "We do not have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term."

Like presidents before him, Mr. Obama's performance is being measured against that of President Franklin Roosevelt, who came into the White House in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933.

"It comes from the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency," said Jeremy Mayer, a presidential expert at George Mason University in Virginia. "He was inaugurated on March 4th, 1933, back when we inaugurated presidents in March instead of January, and it was a whirlwind of activity. Never has so much been done for so many in such a little amount of time."

President Roosevelt set out to tackle a lengthy list of problems right when he took office, from failing banks to an unemployment rate of about 25 percent. Despite Roosevelt's frenetic first 100 days, it took years for the economy to turn around.

Of course, President Obama is hoping for a much quicker economic turnaround during his tenure in office.

Mr. Obama can point to one major achievement while in office, passage of a massive economic-stimulus bill.

Jeremy Mayer says it is a noteworthy achievement.

"Divorced from whether it is a good idea or not, passing that stimulus package politically is a major achievement," he said. "Some presidents go their whole four years without ever doing anything as big as that."

Mr. Obama has had less success advancing his goal of bipartisan cooperation with Republicans. They largely reject his economic policies.

"More spending, more taxes and more debt," said Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. "That is what this budget is."

Some experts question whether the American public will give President Obama enough time for his policies to take effect.

"We have never shown a great deal of patience as a people," said Stephen Wayne, an expert on government at Georgetown University in Washington. "But on the other hand, Obama remains highly popular, much more so than the Republicans in Congress. If there are any signs of changes in the right direction occurring, I think that will be enough to placate the American people. We are not going to wait indefinitely, but at the moment the bottom line is there are no other options."

Most experts believe President Obama's political fate and eventual success is tied directly to what happens in the years ahead to the U.S. economy.

But the new president has been busy on other fronts as well, including national security and foreign policy.

Mr. Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for suspected terrorists, revised interrogation policies for detainees, set a withdrawal date for most U.S. troops from Iraq and has ordered another 17,000 troops sent to Afghanistan.

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