How Will Obama Shape a New America?

Change has come to America and with these words, on election night as Obama took to the stage at the Grant Park in Chicago, he acknowledged the millions of Americans who have entrusted him with the power and responsibility of the Presidency of the United States of America. In its editorial, the Los Angeles Times said: "By any measure, this is a monumental day in our nation’s history. The election of Barack Obama symbolizes the resurrection of hope and the restoration of belief in a country that has often failed to treat its black citizens as kin." Obama premised his candidacy on his ability to rise above petty and divisive policies. In fewer than nine weeks, Obama will inherit not just the economic crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the ongoing threat of a terrorist attack, a resurgent Russia and nuclear proliferation in many parts of the globe. Obama offered America an opportunity to get back on track. Now that all eyes are on him, America is looking up to president-elect Barack Obama to deliver on his promises.


Recently in an interview, Barack Obama listed the economy, energy independence, a health-care overall, tax cuts and education among his priorities. In his first interview as president-elect on ’60 Minutes’, Obama mentioned national security and economy as his immediate concerns. With the economy struggling and the global financial system in serious trouble, the president-elect said that the nation had little choice but to boost government spending, something he said conservative and liberal economists agreed on. "We have to do whatever it takes to get this economy moving again," he said. "We’re going to have to spend money now to stimulate the economy."


Having listened to Obama at a number of his election campaigns and having had the opportunity to meet with him during his campaign trail in New Jersey and New York, I decided to acquire a deeper insight into what changes we could expect from President-elect Obama (who according to John Podesta is a "a transformational figure") on the various policies and how he will bring change.


DEFENSE:


IRAQ – On the war in Iraq, Obama’s promise to get the US troops out of Iraq in the first 16 months of his Presidency helped launched his candidacy. He had opposed Mr. Bush’s troop reinforcement plan and sponsored legislation in January 2007 that would have removed all American combat brigades by the end of March 2008, while allowing a small force to remain for training, counter-terrorism and the protection of the American Embassy and its personnel. President Bush had repeatedly rejected a fixed timetable for complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Iraq’s cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a proposed security agreement that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. This would go beyond the UN mandate deadline that will expire this year end. Iran which opposed the pact has softened its stance possibly because of the election of President Obama. It remains to be seen if Iraq will be able to ultimately take over control of its security from the Americans during transition.


Afghanistan ? Obama plans to have a more American military presence in Afghanistan to quell the growing number of militants there. He said he would add about 7,000 troops to the US force of about 31,000. He will redefine the Afghan strategy as part of an overhaul of U.S. global security policy, and one that gives credence to the ‘soft power’ of persuasion.


Iran – Obama made it clear that he will not be soft when it comes to Tehran. "Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon I believe is unacceptable. We have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening," he said.  "Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, I think, is something that has to cease". Given Iran’s rising dominance in the region, I certainly think Iran will become a major concern for America in its Foreign Policy.


Pakistan- Obama has repeatedly stated that he would unilaterally cross the border into Pakistan to fight the terrorists and go after Osama Bin Laden who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan’s northern tribal areas above Peshawar. Pakistan has repeatedly said that it would not tolerate America or any nation intruding into his sovereignty.


ENERGY:


With energy being a key hot button issue, Obama has said that he wants to spend $15 Billion a year to spur alternate energy and more efficient use of energy, with the aim of putting 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015. However given the current economy, this could be a challenge. Obama has also said he will increase fuel economy standards 4 percent per year while providing $4 billion for domestic automakers to retool their manufacturing facilities in America to produce these vehicles.


Talking about nuclear power, although Obama does not oppose nuclear power, he has expressed reservations about building dozens of new reactors due to concerns about radio active waste. Obama’s energy department is expected to continue the current path on nuclear weapons program and related waste clean up efforts which account for most of the department’s budget. Obama called for tapping into America’s strategic oil reserves as part of his plan to provide relief from high gas prices. He had previously said that he was opposed to using the strategic reserves, but later he proposed selling 70 million barrels of oil from the reserves in order to lower gas prices.


The good news is that gas prices at the pumps are down to $1.99 a gallon today which has brought relief to the American consumers and Obama no longer opposes offshore drilling.


EDUCATION:


Obama has pledged to overhaul Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind Education’ Law. ‘No Child Left Behind’ mandates that all children meet proficiency standards on multiple choice tests by 2014.  Schools will face increasingly severe penalties if their students don’t meet achievement goals. Obama says that it emphasizes annual test scores in reading and math too heavily at the expense of subjects such as music and art and is too punitive for struggling schools. Yet, it is unclear as to how much of the law Obama will ultimately undo. 


As American students fall behind many of their peers abroad, business leaders and others have said education must be a top priority if the nation is to produce a work force that is more competitive.


Mr. Obama has called for increased funding for NCLB programs such as teacher training and better testing. He wants to increase spending on early-childhood education by about $10 Billion annually and provide a $4000 annual tax credit to college students who perform 100 hours of community service.  The big question now is whether Obama will undertake these education reforms given that the federal government is under severe pressure to rescue homeowners, banks, automakers as well as a federal deficit that is ballooning out of control (> $1 Trillion). The good news is that Obama is likely to increase funding on education but I wonder if education is going to be put on the backburner for now.


HEALTH INSURANCE:


Obama has said that he wants the government to help millions of lower income people buy health-insurance through greater use of government subsidies.  For adults, Obama would establish a new public insurance program as part of a National Health Issuance Exchange, which would include private insurance plans. This would ensure that millions of Americans would get some federal help in paying their premiums.


However, as analysts say, it is very likely that the democrats may abandon some of the health care positions staked out by the Bush Administration particularly when it comes to Medicare. Barack Obama and the newly elected democrats may also entrust Medicare with the power to directly negotiate with Pharmaceutical companies.  It is likely that there will be more scrutiny of drug companies through FDA.  The administration is also likely to monitor the rising cost of Medicare. 


OUTSOURCING:


Barack Obama has repeatedly said that while America cannot "shy away" from globalization, it would have to take measures to ensure that jobs are not shipped overseas. He said that as President, he would stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and start giving them to companies that create jobs within the U.S.


Obama’s victory has put the Indian Outsourcing Industry in jitters. Republican Administrations in the US have conventionally been more India-friendly as Bush has looked to India as a strategic ally. The recently signed nuclear deal is an indication of this friendship. Although the H-1B visa program has previously come in for criticism from some senators who said it was being used to displace qualified U.S. workers with foreign employees, many technology companies in the U.S. say the program provides skilled workers which they can’t find easily in the U.S.


Clearly, in this rough economy, companies are always looking to cut costs. Some analysts hold that the fears may be exaggerated as a U.S. economic recovery will depend largely on cutting costs, which offshore outsourcing offers. Obama’s comments about bringing jobs to the U.S. were primarily in the context of manufacturing jobs, according to Gartner.


It remains to be seen as to how this is going to affect outsourcing in the long run as it is very certain that Obama and the democratic party is going to come under severe pressure from labor unions and American workers who want to keep jobs from going overseas. I have personally heard from a number of American workers talking about their concerns of jobs going overseas and them losing their jobs because of this.


TAXES:


Barack will extend the Bush tax cuts for most Americans and eliminate the income taxes for senior citizens earning up to $50,000. He would increase the tax from 15 to 20 percent for individuals earning more than 200,000 a year and families earning more than $250,000. The tax would be eliminated for small business and startups. About 95% of working couples would get $1000 tax cut. Critics have accused him of being a socialist and wanting to spread wealth. But the bottom line is that Obama will cut taxes for middle-income Americans and raise taxes on wealthy.


To those who think or profess that America’s geostrategic dominance and super power status is likely to diminish, I do not agree. America is the greatest nation on the planet and the American economy has historically demonstrated resilience and it is our hope that a new government in Washington, DC will be able to get our country back on the right path and on the road to recovery.

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