Health Care Reform
Obama's health care reform plan aimed to lower health care costs and to ensure that all Americans were covered by some type of health insurance that would help them pay for medical bills, including office visits, prescriptions
, surgeries, and rehabilitation. In a speech to Congress delivered in 2009, he said, "We are the only advanced democracy on Earth-the only wealthy nation-that allows such hardships for millions of its people. There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage."
Obama wanted to pay for the plan through higher taxes on the wealthy. Yet some Americans opposed what they saw as another expensive government intrusion. Months of heated partisan debate took place within Congress. No Republican voted for the final bill that passed in March 2010, and many vowed to overturn it. The bill, known as the Affordable Care Act,
contained many important provisions:
1. All Americans must be covered under some type of health insurance by 2015, or face financial penalties.
2. Americans who are not covered by health insurance given to them by their employers or the federal government, and who cannot afford to buy it from a private company, may use “healthcare exchanges” to purchase health insurance. These exchanges are set up by the federal government and use tax dollars to help Americans purchase relatively low-cost insurance.
3. Health insurance companies that offer coverage to children of covered parents must offer families to right to choose to keep those children covered until age 26.
4. Americans who have been denied insurance by private companies because they had “preexisting medical conditions” may also purchase insurance from health-care exchanges.
Medicare and Medicaid remained unchanged by the Affordable Care Act. Between October 2013, when the exchanges opened
, and April 2014, over seven million previously uninsured Americans bought coverage. President Obama and Democrats in Congress trumpeted “ObamaCare”, as the Act came to be known, as a success. Republicans and many healthcare professionals, however, continue to debate the benefits of the plan
, and call for its revision or removal.
Energy Policy and the Environment
President Obama's energy plan called for strong enforcement of limits on the amount of pollution companies could emit. Conservatives opposed the plan, saying it would hurt businesses and possibly force companies to outsource jobs to countries with fewer environmental regulations. Then, an environmental disaster struck the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. A British Petroleum (BP) oil rig exploded
, sending nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. It was the worst marine oil spill in history. Commercial fishing and tourism in the Gulf region suffered. Obama required BP to create a $20 billion fund to assist people affected by the oil spill. Federal agencies directed the recovery, and support for the President’s environmental policy increased. He also encouraged companies and citizens to develop and purchase products that used alternative energy sources.
Throughout the first two decades of the twenty-first century, the gay rights movement gained momentum and began to demand that states offer equal marriage rights to gay citizens. When gay rights activists tried to push for marriage equality in the 1990s, Congress responded by passing a federal law that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. But pressure for equality slowly led states to change their laws to accommodate gay citizens. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first to state to allow same-sex marriages. Despite protests from some Americans, many states followed. In 2014, Pennsylvania became the 19th
state to legalize homosexual marriage.
2010 Midterm Elections
As the 2010 midterm elections approached, Obama's approval rating dipped below 50 percent for the first time. Many Americans felt that the economic and health care bills had been too expensive and had not strengthened the economy. A conservative movement called the "Tea Party"
sprang up to protest the Obama administration. The movement took its name from a reference to the Boston Tea Party protests against British taxation in the 1700s. Most in the movement opposed what they called "big government" - including higher taxes
, health care reform, and the economic plans. The Tea Party gained support and encouraged Americans to vote out Democrats in the midterms.
Republicans gained a rousing win in the midterm elections. Republicans gained 60 seats in the House of Representatives and took back control of that House of Congress. The Republicans also captured six Senate seats, though the Democrats maintained the majority. President Obama was humble the following day
, accepting blame for the Democrats’ defeat. He admitted that many members of Congress who lost their jobs did so because they voted for his economic and healthcare bills. President Obama said, "Over the last two years, we've made progress. But, clearly, too many Americans haven't felt that progress yet
, and they told us that yesterday."
President Obama ended U.S. involvement in Iraq by slowly removing U.S. forces throughout 2010 and 2011. By December 2011, almost all American troops had left Iraq, effectively ending the nine-year conflict. Part of the reason Obama pushed for ending involvement in Iraq was his desire to refocus U.S. efforts to fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and to expand the search for Osama bin Laden, who was still at large nearly a decade after the attacks of 2001.
In May of 2011, U.S. Special Forces launched a daring raid on a compound in Pakistan that intelligence reports indicated was home to bin Laden. The Navy Seal team was successful in killing bin Laden
and the al Qaeda associates located at the compound. President Obama addressed the nation on television shortly before midnight, breaking the news:
“Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who was responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”
– Barack Obama, televised speech to the American public, May 2, 2011
As Americans celebrated the death of bin Laden, Obama also authorized the use of deadly force against al Qaeda members, even without the need of due process. This authorization was highlighted in the military’s increased use of drone strikes to target al Qaeda members in the Middle East. Drones are unmanned aircraft armed with cameras and weapons.
Much change came to the Middle East during the Obama years through the protests of the Arab Spring
. In the spring of 2011, the dictators of Egypt
, Tunisia, and Libya were removed from power by freedom movements of citizens. Many experts gave credit to the internet, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in helping to bring down the totalitarian regimes in the Middle East. Protestors used the sites to spread idea of freedom and to pass information about the protests. The future of these countries is uncertain. While democracy could flourish, some analysts worry that extremists may use the upheaval as an opportunity to seize power.
Election of 2012
After a primary battle
, the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, to challenge Obama in the general election. This election shined a spotlight on the divisive partisanship that exists today. Economically
, Romney was a follower of Reagan’s style of economics while Obama subscribed to a more government-regulated model. Socially, Romney favored having morality be regulated by the government, while Obama favored a society of individual choice. Obama defeated Romney
, 332 electoral votes to 206, and won over 51 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 47. Congressionally, Democrats held control of the Senate, while Republicans continued their majority in the House.