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Politfact.com ruling: Appointed commissions gain value once candidate is president

The stance

Presidential commissions are no substitute for real leadership.

Barack Obama, Sept. 17, 2008 in a campaign speech in Grand Junction, Colo.

The ruling

Campaigning in 2008, Barack Obama made light of John McCain for suggesting that a commission study the Wall Street meltdown.

"John McCain's big solution to the crisis we're facing is — get ready for this — a commission," Obama said. "That's Washington-speak for we'll get — we'll get back to you later. … We don't need a commission to tell us how we got into this mess, we need a president who will lead us out of this mess, and that's the kind of president I intend to be."

So what kind of president did Obama become? One who has established commissions.

Some background. Commissions are typically headed jointly by a Republican and a Democrat and charged with studying a thorny topic and making recommendations. Usually the recommendations are not binding, but they can serve as blueprints for action. Some have an impact, such as the panel that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Others produce reports that get put on a shelf and forgotten.

How useful a commission is "varies widely with the quality of leadership, the amount of funding and the commitment of the staff," said Paul Light, a New York University professor currently studying commissions for the Governance Institute. "Some are serious, and some are designed to distract the public and move an issue out of the headlines."

Obama's commissions aren't on trivial subjects. Here are the ones we were able to locate:

The BP oil spill. On May 22, Obama signed an order creating a National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

The national debt. On Feb. 18, Obama established the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Nuclear energy policy. On Jan. 29, Obama asked for a "Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future."

Bioethics. On Nov. 24, 2009, Obama established a Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

The White House declined to comment. To be fair, establishing a commission does not mean Obama has taken a pass on these issues. Still, his shift on this issue merits a Full Flop.

This ruling has been edited for print. For more, see PolitiFact.com.

Politfact.com ruling: Appointed commissions gain value once candidate is president 07/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 9:44pm]
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