More of Obama’s Promises

Last night was President Obama’s State of the Union address. There has been no shortage of people analyzing every word, every gesture, and every possible reaction. YAWN! I thought the State of the Union would be a perfect time for some real random fun. That’s right; it’s time for the triumphant comeback of “President Obama’s 500 Promises”!

You may remember the fun I had with these cards back in April 2009. It’s a box of 510 cards that compile promises Obama made in interviews, debates, speeches, and on his website while campaigning to become President. Then you go to (remember, the one with the Pulitzer bitches!) and find out how Obama is doing at fulfilling that promise. Instead of watching all the media spin I opted to open up my box of 500 Promises and draw 3 cards at random. I then went to to see how the President is doing on fulfilling them.

1. Promise 48: Close the “donut hole” in Medicare prescription drug plan. Eliminate the “donut hole” in the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program that limits benefits for seniors with more than $2,250 but less than $5,100 in annual drug costs, meaning they end up paying full price for drugs while also paying drug plan premiums.

PolitiFacts says: In the Works. After months of talking about health care reform, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced major legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system. House Democrats unveiled the 1,000-plus-page bill, called America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, on July 14, and it includes most of President Barack Obama’s key proposals on health reform.

One of Obama’s campaign pledges was to close the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program, a coverage gap that affects some seniors who have to pay for drugs that might otherwise be covered. The health care bill aims to slowly eliminate the gap, beginning with a $500 reduction in 2011 and completing phase-out by 2023. Under the House bill, that move would be paid for by requiring drug manufacturers to pay new rebates involving the Medicaid program.

We should be clear that there’s a long way to go — maybe months — before this bill becomes law. It has to get through the Senate, where many an ambitious House bill has seen its hopes dashed.

Nevertheless, the bill marks significant, measurable progress on Obama’s promise, and we rate it In the Works.

Promise 111: Allow all veterans back into the Veterans Administration. Sign an executive order ending the unfair ban on healthcare enrollment of certain groups of veterans, including ‘Priority 8’ veterans who often earn modest incomes and have no service-connected disability.

PolitiFacts says: Compromise. This promise had its roots in a government decision in 2003 that, due to limited resources and a mandate to provide quality and timely health care, the VA would prioritize those veterans who would be eligible to receive health care benefits. Priority was given, for example, to veterans with service-connected conditions, people with low income or those with special health care needs. The VA decided, however, to stop enrolling nondisabled “Priority 8” vets whose income exceeded some set thresholds.

During the campaign, Obama promised he would do away with those income thresholds. All veterans, he vowed, would be allowed back in the VA.

In May, President Obama proposed a $113 billion Veterans Affairs budget for 2010 that would make significant progress toward restoring eligibility to VA health care benefits for many “Priority 8” veterans.

According to the budget plan, “For the first time since January 2003, VA expands eligibility for VA health care to nondisabled veterans earning modest incomes. This expansion will bring nearly 550,000 eligible veterans into the VA health care system by 2013. The 2010 budget request provides the resources to achieve this level while maintaining high quality and timely care for lower-income and service-disabled veterans who currently rely on VA medical care.”

While 2013 is the longer-term goal, the 2010 veterans budget approved in July by the House Veterans Affairs Appropriations Committee included $533 million to expand eligibility for health care services to non-service disabled veterans. That amount would allow the VA to increase the income limit by 10 percent (to about $30,000, depending on where you live). The VA estimates it will translate to an additional 266,000 veterans who will enroll in the VA health care system.

The White House plan calls for relaxing the income thresholds more and more over the next several years.

That’s a big commitment. And by and large, it appears veterans leaders are pleased.

“The president is taking care of veterans,” said Joe Davis, national spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars. “He is following through on this provision.”

Still, Davis said, it will be interesting to see if the VA system is equipped to handle the additional people made eligible this year.

“It’s going to be difficult because of capacity,” Davis said. “But you have to start somewhere. Only time will tell if you can open it further.”

Testifying before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, said the VA is up to the task.

“The president’s decision to relax income thresholds established in 2003, which froze Priority Group 8 enrollments, has enabled many more veterans to access the excellent health care available through our Veterans Health Administration (VHA),” Shinseki said. “It has increased VA’s workload, but we are prepared to accommodate up to 500,000 enrollees, who are being phased in over the next four years.”

Clearly, Obama has made strides toward keeping his commitment on this promise. But in the campaign, he didn’t say he was going to phase in the changes. Look again at what Obama’s position paper stated:

“When troops serve, they are not divided by income classes or priority groups. Yet, today the VA is picking and choosing which veterans to serve. Barack Obama is committed to ending the unfair ban on health care enrollment of certain groups of veterans, including ‘Priority 8’ veterans who often earn modest incomes. He has voted to end this unfair policy, which has resulted in the VA turning away nearly one million veterans since 2003. As president, one of Barack Obama’s first acts will be signing an executive order reversing this ban.”

But it was not one of his first acts. Indeed, Obama has not signed an executive order reversing this ban, as he said he would. Instead, he has outlined a budget plan to relax income thresholds to allow more and more Priority 8 veterans to be eligible for health care benefits over time. And Obama didn’t make the change in one fell swoop as promised.

Perhaps Obama concluded that it was more sensible to roll out the changes over time so as not to overwhelm the VA system. And some would certainly argue the president is making steady progress toward keeping the substance of this promise. Nonetheless, Obama didn’t do it on the timetable he promised. And so we rule this one a Compromise.

Promise 255: Expand teacher mentoring programs and provide incentives for more planning time. Expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. Also provide incentives to give teachers paid common planning time so they can collaborate to share best practices.

PolitiFacts says: In the Works. President Barack Obama has packed a number of his campaign promises related to education into his “Race to the Top” program, which seeks to encourage innovative approaches to teaching and learning by having states compete for $4.35 billion worth of grants from the Department of Education. The program was funded through the Obama-backed economic stimulus package approved by Congress in February.

In a speech in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 4, Obama announced the criteria for states to win the grants. One of the goals, Obama said, is to create “alternate pathways to teaching for talented young people,” and he specifically cited as an example a program in Boston “where aspiring teachers work side-by-side with effective mentors in a yearlong residency.”

A notice from the Department of Education inviting applications talks about priority being given to states that provide effective support to teachers, and specifically mentions as examples “professional development, time for common planning and collaboration.”

That sounds to us like what Obama promised he would encourage if elected president.

Competition for the grants will be conducted in two rounds — the first starting this month and the second in June next year — with winners announced in April and September next year.

But by establishing a competitive grant program that encourages teacher mentor programs and paid planning time for teachers so they can collaborate to share best practices, we think that moves this promise to In the Works.

Two “In the Works” and one compromise. Not too shabby. It’s not too late to get your own box of “President Obama’s 500 Promises” and play along at home! We still have a few years left to track how he’s doing.