As President Barack Obama rounds the final stretch of his presidential tenure, political scientists and historians are beginning to question the legacy he leaves behind. Much of this debate is focused on Obama’s most symbolic and controversial actions, such as his implementation of the Affordable Care Act and his expansion of executive power.
While much ink is shed about these topics, far less is used to discuss the hundreds of less glamorous yet equally important pieces of legislation and executive actions that Obama has advocated for behind the scenes. Although much can be said about the president’s two terms in office, one thing is clear: for the past eight years, President Obama has been actively working to pass progressive economic and environmental legislation that will help millennials for years to come.
President Obama has long championed the idea that students should not be forced to assume crushing amounts of debt in order to attend college. In a speech on February 24, 2009, Obama stated, “We will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” So far, Obama has kept true to his promise to make college more affordable. The president implemented an expansion of the Pay as You Earn program in December 2015, meaning that five million more Americans have their student loan payments capped at ten percent of their monthly income. In addition, The White House has awarded almost two billion dollars of competitive grants since 2011 to encourage partnerships between community colleges and potential student employers.
In addition to his work on college accessibility and affordability, President Obama has also worked to protect millennial consumers from predatory Wall Street behaviors. To make sure that a crisis like the 2008 recession never happens again, Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law in July 2010. The Dodd-Frank Act is the most far-reaching Wall Street reform in history, instituting rules to prevent mortgage companies and pay-day lenders from exploiting customers. In addition, the act established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which is responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector. But most importantly, the Dodd-Frank Act contained the “Volcker Rule” which ensures that banks are no longer allowed to use hedge funds or risky proprietary trading operations for their own profit.
Finally, Obama leaves a strong legacy of environmental protection and reform. After creating three new national monuments to protect over 704,000 acres of federal land on July 10, 2015, President Obama officially bested President Teddy Roosevelt for most amount of land conserved. Since the beginning of his term, Obama has established or expanded 19 national monuments, protecting more than 260 million acres of land and water. In August 2016, Obama set aside 87,000 acres of federal land along the Penobscot River in north-central Maine as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Obama’s environmental legacy is far more than just federal land conservation—the president has taken steps to protect land in Alaska from oil and gas drilling, to change fuel standards for cars, to make a greenhouse gas agreement with China, and to restrict dirty power plants. The capstone of Obama’s environmental legacy is his Paris climate change deal known as the Paris Agreement. This landmark international agreement includes 190 countries pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. Obama explained that the Paris Agreement could be one day remembered as “the moment we finally decided to save our planet.”
Regardless of one’s views on his more controversial legislation, it is hard to deny that President Obama has been actively working to help millennials through legislation and executive action. Even with strong objections from the opposition party, Obama has steadily passed both economic and environmental reforms to protect young Americans from crippling student debt, predatory Wall Street practices, and from an impending environmental disaster.