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Handicapping Obama's Second Term Agenda

[ Posted Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 – 17:26 PST ]

The ceremonies are all over and Congress has slunk back into Washington, meaning President Obama's second term can now truly begin. Obama laid out an impressive and optimistic agenda in his speech on Monday, which leads to the question of how much of this agenda will actually be passed into law. Obama faces a Senate with a Democratic edge, but not a filibuster-proof edge. Obama also faces a House with fewer Republicans in it, but still enough for a solid majority. From the viewpoint of the past two years, this seems to indicate that not much of what Obama wants will get done. But perhaps -- just perhaps, mind you -- things will be a little different for the next two years.

Obama, like all second-term presidents, will only have a short window of time to push his issues. There is one way this conventional wisdom could turn out to be wrong, but it is a long shot, at best. If Democrats can manage to hold their edge in the Senate and take control of the House in the 2014 midterm elections, then Obama could defy second-term expectations and actually get a lot done in his final two years in office. But, as I said, this should be seen as a remote possibility at this point. Remember 2010, in other words.

Realistically, Obama's only going to have anywhere from a few months to (at most) a year and a half to get anything accomplished. Which is why he is right to push his agenda immediately, as evidenced by his inaugural speech. But even he must realize that he's not going to get everything he wants, so it will be interesting to see what makes it through Congress and what dies an ignoble legislative death.

There is reason for hope. Obama begins from a position of strength, politically. His job approval ratings have been consistently over 50 percent since he was re-elected -- a range Obama hasn't seen since 2009. As mentioned, the Republican presence in both houses of Congress has shrunk. More importantly, though, the House Republicans are visibly chastened (or even "shaken") by the election's outcome.

This has already allowed Obama to rack up two early victories in the endless budget debates -- and in both, Obama got almost everything he asked for, did not give up much of anything, and held firm on some very bold negotiating tactics. Obama won the fight over the fiscal cliff, which resulted in the first rise in income tax rates in two decades, and the only thing he had to budge on was the threshold for these higher taxes. Today, the House Republicans passed a "clean" rise in the debt ceiling, after Obama swore over and over again that he "was not going to negotiate" on the issue at all. The score so far is: Obama two, House Republicans zero (to put it in sporting terms).

Of course, the Republicans only extended the debt ceiling for a few months, but this shouldn't really worry anyone, because a longer-term extension will doubtlessly be a part of any sort of grand bargain on the budget talks. The Republicans, very wisely, realized they were playing a losing game and decided to reshuffle the deadlines on the calendar. Rather than being faced with the debt ceiling crisis first, and then two budgetary crises, they have moved the debt ceiling problem to the end of the list.

Which means the next big fight Obama faces is going to be another haggle over the budget. This is going to be a tough battle, and Obama is bound to disappoint some of his supporters in the midst of it. Some sacred cows are going to wind up as hamburger, although at this point it's hard to see which ones. The real measurement of success here will be whether the House Republicans and Obama can come to terms with a budget for the next year or year-and-a-half. Long-term budget stability has been largely absent from Washington for a while now, so if any agreement can be reached perhaps it'll help the economy recover a lot faster throughout 2013 and 2014. In the long run, that will be a positive thing, no matter what such a budget agreement actually contains. One safe bet for what will be in it, though, is a long-term extension of the debt ceiling.

Budget battles are going to happen no matter what else does -- that's another safe bet. What is more interesting, though, is handicapping which of Obama's agenda items will actually see some action. There are three major initiatives that Obama is currently pushing: action on global warming, comprehensive immigration reform, and gun control. Obama did mention other issues in his speech, but these are the big three for now. Gay marriage, for instance, is in the hands of the Supreme Court right now, and no matter how they rule it's hard to see any legislative action (good or bad) happening on it immediately afterwards.

Gun control will likely be the first of these debated in Congress. Vice President Biden laid out a wide array of possible actions Congress could take on the issue, all of which Obama then backed. While the Newtown massacre did indeed shift public opinion dramatically on the overall issue, the biggest initiative is not likely to become law. An assault rifle ban is very important to some Democrats, but the way I read it is that this was included to have something to "trade away" in the negotiations. If Obama gets most of the other gun control initiatives -- closing loopholes on background checks, much better tracking of weapons, and all the other "small bore" (sorry about that pun) ideas -- then he will at least be able to say he accomplished something at the end of the day. Perhaps this is pessimistic, but the mechanics of banning "assault weapons" become very tricky, when you have to actually define what they are in legal language. And such a ban may not get universal Democratic backing anyway, so I fully expect this will be shelved at some point in exchange for support for all the other initiatives. Without such a ban, the prospects for other meaningful gun control legislation get a lot better, though, and I think that a bill will eventually pass.

The second big agenda item is immigration reform. President Obama holds virtually all the cards, politically, on this one. All Republicans who can read either demographics or polling numbers know full well that this may be their party's last chance not to go the way of the Whigs. Their support among Latinos is dismal, and even that's putting it politely. Some Republicans think they have come up with a perfect solution on how to defuse the issue, but they are going to be proven sadly mistaken in the end, I believe. The Republican plan will be announced by Senator Marco Rubio at some point, and it will seem to mirror the Democratic plan -- with one key difference. Republicans -- even the ones who know their party has to do something on the immigration problem -- are balking at including a "path to citizenship" for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already in America.

The Republicans are trying to have their cake and eat it too -- and it's not going to work. "Sure," they say, "we'll give some sort of papers to these folks, let them stay, and even let them work... but there's no need to give them the hope of ever becoming a full citizen." This just isn't going to be good enough, though. There are essentially two things citizens can do which green card holders cannot: serve on juries, and vote. The Republicans are not worried about tainted juries, in case that's not clear enough.

Republicans will bend over backwards in an effort to convince Latinos that their proposal will work out just fine for everyone. Latinos, however, aren't stupid. They know that being denied any path to citizenship equals an effort to minimize their voice on the national political stage. Which is why, as I said, Obama holds all the cards in this fight. Because this is the one issue in his agenda which Republicans also have a big vested interest in making happen. Obama and the Democrats will, I believe, hold firm on their insistence on a path to citizenship, and I think a comprehensive immigration bill will likely pass some time this year, perhaps before the summer congressional break. The path to citizenship it includes will be long, expensive, and difficult (Republicans will insist on at least that), but it will be there.

On gun control, I think Obama will win a partial victory. On immigration, I think he will win an almost-total victory. On global warming, however, he's going to be disappointed. In fact, I doubt -- no matter how much "bully pulpiting" Obama does -- that any bill will even appear out of a committee in either house of Congress. This will be seen as Obama's "overreach" -- a bridge too far for the current political climate. Anyone expecting big legislative action on global warming is very likely going to be massively disappointed, to put it quite bluntly. In fact, Obama will signal this in the next few months, as he approves the Keystone XL pipeline -- much to the dismay of a lot of his supporters.

Of course, I could be wrong about any or all of these predictions. I have no special knowledge of how things will work out in Congress in the immediate future. I'm merely making educated guesses about what Obama will be able to achieve in at least the first few years of his second term. Obama has a lot of political capital right now, but that could easily change soon. The House Republicans seem almost demoralized right now, and Obama has successfully splintered them and called their bluff on two big issues already -- but they could regroup and decide to block everything the White House wants, and damn the political consequences. Unseen issues will pop up both on the domestic and foreign policy stages, as they always do. But, for now, this is my take on how the next few years are going to play out in Washington. Time will tell whether I've been too optimistic or too pessimistic on any or all of Obama's main agenda items. We'll just have to wait and see.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

21 Comments on “Handicapping Obama's Second Term Agenda”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    but the mechanics of banning "assault weapons" become very tricky, when you have to actually define what they are in legal language.

    Exactly!

    There is no such thing as an "assault rifle". It's a Media/Democrat (is there really any difference between the two these days??) construct designed to capitalize on fear-mongering..

    Without such a ban, the prospects for other meaningful gun control legislation get a lot better, though, and I think that a bill will eventually pass.

    Let's face reality.

    Gun Control is not about guns, it's about control..

    Anyone expecting big legislative action on global warming is very likely going to be massively disappointed, to put it quite bluntly.

    There's a reason for that.. :D But why open THAT can o worms, eh?? :D

    Obama has a lot of political capital right now, but that could easily change soon.

    History repeats itself..

    Obama had a lot of political capital at the beginning of his first term. He wasted it all on the most UNPOPULAR legislation in modern history..

    I have a feeling that Obama will make the same mistake with gun control..

    A very excellent prognosticating commentary.. :D

    Michale

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Gun Control is not about guns, it's about control..

    NRA boycott kills outdoors show that banned assault weapons
    http://washingtonexaminer.com/nra-boycott-kills-outdoors-show-that-banned-assault-weapons/article/2519579#.UQFnOPJZOMC

    Economic terrorism at it's worst... :(

    Michale

  3. [3] 
    michty6 wrote:

    If Democrats can manage to hold their edge in the Senate and take control of the House in the 2014 midterm elections, then Obama could defy second-term expectations and actually get a lot done in his final two years in office.

    Even then Republicans will just filibuster every single thing in sight like they did from 2009-2010. The Republican motto is their way or nothing.

    In fact, Obama will signal this in the next few months, as he approves the Keystone XL pipeline -- much to the dismay of a lot of his supporters.

    As long as he gets something in return, I don't see why this would be so bad. Something like he approves this but tags his jobs bill on to it. I know Republicans hate the economy improving under Democrats, but getting this alongside his jobs bill would be very good for the economic recovery.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    The Republican motto is their way or nothing.

    Which Democrats have adopted in the here and now...

    Michale

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    HURRAAY!!!!!!

    Harry Reid Saves The Filibuster!!!!

    Harry Reid: “I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/24/harry-reid-explains-why-he-killed-filibuster-reform/

    :D

    What did I say??

    It's called "The NUCLEAR Option" for a reason...

    Michale

  6. [6] 
    michty6 wrote:

    The Senate proves once again that they can talk to each other and reach sensible compromises, instead of seeing compromise as a dirty word and standing by their radical principles like the Tea-Partiers in the House...

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    instead of seeing compromise as a dirty word and standing by their radical principles like the Tea-Partiers in the House...

    Obama saw compromise as a dirty word when it came to HIS agenda..

    'nuff said...

    Michale

  8. [8] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Yes I remember very recently when Obama said '$250k NO COMPROMISE absolutely no way. I won't sign a bill for any more. Definitely not $450k. And all the taxes I want to increase must be increased. Definitely not some of them like you just passed. NO COMPROMISE.'

    LOLOL

    At the same time as Obama was compromising away everything, House Republicans said 'Raise taxes? No way. No compromise. Not even on millionaries'

    Once again it was left to the adults in the Senate to accept the compromised package and pressure it through the House.

    My point exactly (again).

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    {{cough}}Debt Ceiling{{cough}}{{cough}}

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Number Of Nation's Sheriffs Refusing To Enforce Unconstitutional Gun Laws Snowballs
    http://cnsnews.com/blog/gregory-gwyn-williams-jr/number-nations-sheriffs-refusing-enforce-unconstitutional-gun-laws

    Obama and the Democrats are going to have a REAL tough time trying to take guns away from the American people..

    My advice??

    Unless a shooting civil war is the plan.....

    Let it go...

    "Indiana?? Indiana?? Let it go...."
    -Sean Connery, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE

    Michale..

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    D.C. man who shot dogs biting boy could face charges
    City wants to know if gun he used was legal

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/23/man-who-shot-dogs-biting-boy-could-face-charges/

    The fact that charges are even being considered is indicative of how far gone the Left is about guns..

    Michale

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Apparently, Joe Biden reads CW.com and felt my "It's not about guns, it's about control" comment was noteworthy enough to address...

    http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/01/24/biden-its-gun-safety-not-gun-control/

    :D Hehehehehehehehehe

    Michale

  13. [13] 
    michty6 wrote:

    {{cough}}Debt Ceiling{{cough}}{{cough}}

    Not sure what you mean by this. You mean Obama should have compromised and America not paid it's bills causing a worldwide depression?? LOLOL.

    But if you want to see how crazy uncompromising and moronic the Republican in the House are, just look at what percentage (a majority) voted against the compromise fiscal cliff bill that passed the Senate with NINETY PERCENT support.

    Like I said: Senate Republicans = sensible, willing to compromise and get things done; House = lunatic, moronic uncompromising idiots who would rather pass nothing than actually get something meaningful.

  14. [14] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Btw there are some radical Democrats unwilling to compromise in the House too. Just they represent a tiny minority, not the actual majority of the party like the crazy whack-job Republicans do...

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    Not sure what you mean by this. You mean Obama should have compromised and America not paid it's bills causing a worldwide depression?? LOLOL.

    That's what Senator Obama wanted President Bush to do..

    Wait for it... Wait for it...

    "That's different..."

    :D

    Michale

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    That's what's really funny about a LOT of ya'alls arguments..

    I just have to reach back, recite some of Obama's own words and ... viola'

    Instant debate killer... :D

    Because ya'all have to concede that either Obama was wrong then or he is wrong now..

    And ideological loyalty prevents ya'all from conceding either...

    Basically, there are two rules.

    1. Obama is always right.

    2. If Obama is ever wrong, refer to rule #1.

    It's a self-fulfilling delusion...

    Michale

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    And ideological loyalty prevents ya'all from conceding either...

    In the interests of fairness, I have to concede that there are cracks forming in the universal Obama Love Fest that has permeated Weigantia..

    So the italicized statement is not entirely accurate anymore...

    Michale

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    Oh yooooo hooooooo....????

    CW????

    I thought ya might like to see this...

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/comic-book-hero-judge-dredd-might-be-gay-8466959.html

    Wonder how long it will be til Superman is gay... :^/

    Michale

  19. [19] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    michty6 [3] -

    While that seems like a brilliant plan at first glance, I think that the pipeline will be an executive branch decision that Congress has nothing to do with, so there won't be a chance to put a juicy "rider" into the mix.

    Michale [5] -

    Reid never was going to get rid of the 60-vote thing. Even the most optimistic of Lefties weren't hoping for that (except that one guy from Oregon, and maybe one or two others).

    Michale [10] -

    Another strawman -- nobody's going to take anyone's guns away. Relax. Ain't gonna happen. Even DiFi's bill has grandfather clauses.

    michty6 [13] -

    There are indeed more adults in the Senate. But I wouldn't write off the House yet. If Boehner chucks the "Hastert Rule" out the window, things could indeed start passing the House. Tea Partiers will be able to vote against stuff, but they won't be able to halt everything in its tracks.

    That's pretty rosy-glasses, I realize, but let's wait and see. The budget stuff will be ugly, but I bet Boehner is going to start allowing votes on some stuff the Tea Partiers hate.

    There are some rational GOPers in the House. Not many, but we only need a couple dozen to get some stuff done.

    Michale [18] -

    Answered this elsewhere. Search for "Walter the Robot" to see what I mean. Heh.

    -CW

  20. [20] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    CW

    The most important things the President can do in his second term is to ensure regulators get in place and smoothly implement rules for the ACA and Dodd-Frank.

    In particular, smooth implementation of the ACA is probably the most important. If it rolls out rocky and more flawed than the actual legislation, then it won't be improved (or even last long). On the other hand, if it basically comes out smoothly, then it will be tweaked and improved.

    As for Dodd-Frank, ensuring that lobbyists don't control the rule-making and making the law work for real people is tremendously important for the nation.

    Long term, I think these are his biggest second-term challenges.

  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:

    The most important things the President can do in his second term is to ensure regulators get in place and smoothly implement rules for the ACA and Dodd-Frank.

    If Obama 1.0 has taught us ANYTHING, it is that talks out both sides of his ass when he is making promises..

    He'll tell the left he is going to stop the influence of lobbyists and money from corporations and then turns around and goes to those same lobbyists and corporations, hat in hand asking, "Please sir, can I have some more..."

    "They're not attacking your policies, they're attacking your age. Whitmore seems less like the President and more like the orphaned child Oliver asking, 'Please, sir, I'd like some more.'"

    "That's clever."

    "Yeah. Well, I'm not laughing."
    -INDEPENDENCE DAY

    Michale

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