Freedom in the World
President Barack Obama’s first year in office was dominated by efforts to revive the economy and enact a series of sweeping domestic reforms. While the administration succeeded in passing a major spending package to stimulate the economy, other proposals—such as an overhaul of the country’s health insurance system—encountered significant obstacles in Congress. Also during the year, Obama made important changes to the counterterrorism programs inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush, but he left many elements of previous policy in place.
In his two most important foreign policy actions, Obama announced a plan for a phased withdrawal from Iraq that would have most U.S. combat forces out of the country in 2011, but also initiated a major increase in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, where the United States and other NATO countries were fighting a difficult conflict with the Taliban.
The United States is an electoral democracy with a bicameral federal legislature. The upper chamber, the Senate, consists of 100 members—two from each of the 50 states—serving six-year terms, with one-third coming up for election every two years. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, consists of 435 members serving two-year terms. At the end of 2009, the Democrats controlled the House, 257–178. In the Senate, the Democrats held a substantial lead, with 58 seats as opposed to 40 for the Republicans; there were also two independents who voted with the Democratic caucus. All national legislators are elected directly by voters in the districts or states they represent. The president and vice president are elected to four-year terms. Under a 1951 constitutional amendment, the president is limited to two terms in office.
The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Puerto Rico, which is examined in a separate report.