Obama’s first 100 days panel

Dylan Reed-Maxfield

One week after President Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 27, a panel of four Lawrence government students led a discussion about what the 44th president’s policy goals realistically can and should be for his first 100 days. The bipartisan panel consisted of Will Muessig and Emily Dalton, who identify as liberal, and Chris Hagin and Fanny Briceño, who identify as conservative. The event, titled “Obama’s First 100 Days,” was sponsored by the Government Club.
The idea of the first 100 days of a president’s administration being especially significant goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who entered office during a time of economic crisis. FDR campaigned largely on promises to help put Americans back in jobs and to fix a crippled banking system. Roosevelt’s famous first 100 days were significant, because his dramatic electoral victory gave him “political capital,” or the popularity to persuade Congress to follow the president’s wishes. FDR spent his first 100 days in office convincing Congress to pass the 15 pieces of major legislation known as the “First New Deal.”
Like Roosevelt, President Obama assumed leadership during an economic downward spiral, and also with unusually great political capital. However, Obama’s challenges for the beginning of his first term are arguably much broader than were FDR’s. In addition to improving the economy, Americans currently expect the president to take swift action on an array of other problems. During his campaign, Obama promised significant change on the U.S. military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental and energy policy and health care availability.
Muessig suggested that Obama’s top priorities should be to “prevent a depression and jumpstart the economy,” and much of the early discussion focused on the economic stimulus bill for this purpose. Briceño was wary of massive government spending as a solution. She thinks that the stimulus bill, which is expected to contain between $800 and $900 billion in spending, is too great. “Where is everything going to come from?” she asked.
Muessig was also worried about the size of the plan, but still praised it as a good political move for Obama, who has repeatedly urged Congress to minimize debate and pass the bill quickly. Muessig cited the large amount of the proposed stimulus package constituted by tax cuts – an estimated third – as early evidence of some willingness on Obama’s part to work with Republicans. Muessig also pointed out that the stimulus bill would provide an opportunity to take action on the green energy projects that Obama has identified as a priority of his administration.
The panel also discussed foreign-policy expectations for Obama. Briceño criticized his move toward closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center so rapidly, saying it left the status of the detainees there.
Dalton pointed out that another executive order from Obama had created a task force to establish detainee status. She suggested that such steps to quickly improve U.S. status within the international community would be a good early priority for the Obama administration.
All four panelists agreed that one of the biggest initial tests for Obama would be the extent to which he can work in the nonpartisan manner he promised. Hagin thought that Obama would seek to reduce partisanship by avoiding divisive policy issues. “There won’t be a lot of controversy” early on, he predicted.
Whether or not Obama can achieve significant policy changes while avoiding controversy seems to be an important question in his first 100 days.