December 29, 2014
President Barack Obama began 2014 vowing to act without Congress if need be to get things done. This week, the White House proudly heralded more than 80 executive actions taken during the year, some of biggest taking place after his party took a beating in the November midterms.
Here’s a sampling of the unilateral actions the White House boasted about, and a few that weren’t mentioned:
On Nov. 20, Obama announced action that would shield about 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation by prioritizing deportations for people who committed crimes.
“The historic actions the president took on immigration offer millions of undocumented immigrants a path out of the shadows while holding them accountable to undergo background checks and become taxpayers, all while doing everything we can to attract and keep the most talented high-skill workers to our shores from around the world,” said a White House blog post this week by presidential assistants Jeffrey Zients and Cecelia Munoz.
2. Climate Change
While in China in November, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached what the leaders called a historic climate change deal. The United States set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, which would be rolling back to 2005 levels. China said its CO2 emissions would peak in 2030.
But aside from the climate deal with China, Obama also took several other climate-related actions: In July, he announced executive actions to help state and local government prepare for climate change. In October, agencies released plans for cutting emissions and preparing for flooding and extreme weather. Obama also pledged $3 billion in U.S. funds to the United Nations-affiliated Climate Resiliency Fund to help cut emissions for the poorest countries. And in Februar, Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to establish new fuel efficiency standards for large vehicles.
“To combat climate change, the president took steps to improve fuel efficiency for heavy-and medium-duty vehicles, put in place a Clean Power Plan to substantially cut carbon pollution from power plants; took action to make substantial cuts to hydrofluorocarbons; and reached a historic agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions with China, among many others,” the White Housesaid.
3. Minimum Wage
On Feb. 12, Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal employees and federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour. He wanted Congress to raise the wage to that level for the rest of the country. That never happened, but the White House believes it motivated action in other states.
“President Obama rallied support for raising the minimum wage, while signing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers on new federal contracts,” the White House blog said. “Cities, states and businesses across the country responded to that call, taking action that will benefit 7 million Americans as of 2017. And workers on new or modified federal contracts will be paid at least $10.10 starting on New Year’s Day.”
After the controversies in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City where unarmed black men died after altercations with police officers, Obama asked for a review of best practices police departments can take to rebuild trust in their communities. On Dec. 18, he signed an executive order to create the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force is set to hold listening sessions around the country and issue a report in March.
Early in the year, the Obama administration took action regarding mental illness and guns. The executive action came through regulations by the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services. The DOJ clarified rules on who is prohibited from purchasing a gun under existing federal law, which the White House said had been ambiguous. HHS required states to submit more information on individuals through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which was previously withheld under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, which protects medical privacy.
Obama also issued an executive order in early October to make it more difficult to fire employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, by allowing more ATF employees to be converted to career-employees classifications and eligible for civil service protections. The ATF, a scandal-plagued agency in recent years, is generally regarded as the least-favorite federal agency among gun owners.
None of Obama’s gun-related executive actions were mentioned in the White House’s year-end report.
6. Pay Discrimination
Obama issued an executive order to prevent gender pay discrimination among federal contractors in April. Three months later, he signed another executive order to ban pay discrimination among federal contractors against anyone in the LGBT community.
7. ‘Promise Zones’
In January, Obama established five “promise zones” in the United States: economically depressed areas across the country where businesses locating or expanding would be eligible for federal economic development grants, loans and tax incentives. The first five locations were San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.
8. Tax Inversion
In September, Obama took action against corporate “tax inversions,” the term used for when an American company merges with a smaller foreign company, locating the in the foreign country to avoid the higher U.S. corporate tax rates. The Treasury Department announced regulations to make inversion less attractive by banning some of the techniques firms used to avoid paying U.S. taxes, while also requiring that a company’s U.S. owners own less than 80 percent of the newly merged company to get the tax benefits. The actions were announced less than a month afterBurger King’s move to buy a Canadian coffee company and relocate in order to pay the lower Canadian corporate taxes instead of U.S. taxes.
9. Expanding Credit
Six years after the mortgage crisis, the Obama administration has taken actions to make it easier to get a home loan. On May 30, the Department of Housing and Urban Development along with the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced plans to expand access to mortgage credit. Earlier this month, the administration introduced the Home Affordability Modification Program, or HAMP, which includes $5,000 for an individual’s foreclosure prevention.
10. Green Industries
In September, Obama announced a series of government and private sector plans to buy more solar panels and promote the solar industry. In November, Obama announced commitments from 120 businesses, nonprofits and schools would buy electric vehicles and install workplace-charging stations.