WASHINGTON - It's a good thing President Barack Obama considers
himself a congenital optimist. There are no easy "gets" as he
scrolls through his second-term to-do list and looks ahead to the
uncertainties of the next four years. Many of the items already on
his agenda aren't there of his own choosing.
First up is certain battle with Congress in the next few months
over deadlines on automatic budget cuts, expiring government
spending authority and raising the debt limit. House Republicans
last week agreed to bump up the debt limit slightly, but that just
puts off that part of the fight for a few months.
Obama's goal is to get through that trifecta and still have the
political capital left for the things he'd rather focus on:
reducing gun violence, overhauling immigration policy, revamping
tax laws, addressing climate change and more.
With Republicans in Congress approaching the new year with very
different goals, "it's a formula for deadlock and difficulty for
the president," said James Thurber, director of the Center for
Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "I
don't think this president has even a month of political capital."
The president also will have to devote significant energy simply
to safeguarding the achievements of his first term, by keeping the
economic recovery alive, making sure his health care law is
properly put in place in the face of persisting objections from
businesses and individuals, and ensuring new financial regulations
International worries, including the civil war in Syria, Iran's
nuclear intentions and instability in Mali could complicate the
president's Term Two game plan as well.
"Things are stacked up," Obama senior adviser David Plouffe
acknowledged Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Plouffe argued the president's big agenda gives him "the sort of
focus and energy you need. And I think his intention is to run
through the tape all the way."
Obama can take heart from any number of things he's got going
for him. He has a can-do attitude, growing public support for
action on some of his chosen issues and better approval ratings.
Democrats gained seats in both houses of Congress in the November
election and Republican poll numbers are weak. With the war in Iraq
over and U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, he
has more time to focus on domestic priorities. He also doesn't have
to worry as much about ruffling feathers because he doesn't have to
run for re-election again.
"People shouldn't underestimate how much we can get done," the
president said in a pre-election interview for Rolling Stone.
Obama also understands the underwhelming track record of second-
term presidents and the dangers of over-reaching. "We are very
cautious about that," he said.
The president hopes to strike a hopeful theme in his second
inaugural address on Monday. But he knows partisanship only
worsened during his first term.
"The optimism of his 2008 campaign about bridging divides has
not been realized at the end of the first term, and there's very
little prospect that it's going to be coming into a second term, so
the language has to be careful," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson,
director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public
Policy Center. …