The second time around might be lovelier when it comes to love, but not exactly when it comes to being president.
Richard Nixon had Watergate. George W. Bush got a burst housing bubble and a recession (and ducked a shoe flying at his head). Ronald Reagan had the Iran-Contra affair. Bill Clinton got impeached for lying about his affair.
The second term wasn’t even a picnic for George Washington: walking a tightrope to keep from getting dragged into hostilities between Britain and France, squashing the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, and putting up with Jefferson and Hamilton drama when he just wanted to retire to his farm.
And though a fair number thought President Obama, struggling with stagnant economic recovery, would go the way of Jimmy Carter, he will be sworn in for a second term in January.
He faces economic woes, a nuclear Iran, empowered China and Russia, al-Qaeda that wasn’t quite so “on the run” after all, and more.
What happens next?
Those questions will begin to be answered even before inauguration. There are pressing issues to deal with in the lame-duck session as Congress returns next week from the lengthy campaign recess.
Deemed the “fiscal cliff,” the Bush tax cuts expire next month and drastic sequestration cuts that could gut national defense go into effect just after the new year unless Congress steps in. Just a few months after that, the nation will hit the debt ceiling again as the latest continuing resolution funding a budget-less government will expire.
Despite heated debates and stalemates over both, many on the Hill are actually counting on taxes and spending as the friendliest, least incendiary place for Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to start forging some agreement.
In a news conference yesterday, Boehner said his is a message not of confrontation, “but of conviction” — and he pooh-poohed the idea of passing short-term resolutions to the fiscal cliff in the lame duck.
“That might get us out of town, but it won’t get us out of the problem. It will also hurt the economy,” he said. “We can’t go on like that. We can’t keep setting the bar that low. It’s time we raised the bar.”
“Mr. President, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives stands ready to work with you to do what’s best for our country. And that’s exactly what I told the president earlier today,” Boehner continued. “That is the will of the people. And we answer to them.” He encouraged 1986-style tax reform in the model of President Reagan working with Tip O’Neill’s Democratic House.
“In order to garner Republican support for new revenues, the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt. We aren’t seeking to impose our will on the president; we’re asking him to make good on his ‘balanced’ approach,” the speaker said.
“The president reiterated his commitment to finding bipartisan solutions to: reduce our deficit in a balanced way, cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses and create jobs,” the White House said in a readout of Obama’s phone calls to congressional leaders after his victory. “The president said he believed that the American people sent a message in yesterday’s election that leaders in both parties need to put aside their partisan interests and work with common purpose to put the interests of the American people and the American economy first.”
Any thawing in the icy relationship between Obama and Boehner, perhaps over a shared affection for golf or smoking, would certainly be a baby step forward in reaching any sort of agreement — carefully forged to not create GOP losses in midterm elections.
But there’s another factor that will be screaming in the back of Republicans’ minds: if you’re going to get something from the president, make sure it has an immediate return.
After all, Obama has notoriously reneged on agreements with GOP lawmakers. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) extracted 11th-hour promises from Obama to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal in exchange for the Christmas 2010 passage of the New START treaty — promises that still haven’t been fulfilled.
So don’t trust, and definitely verify.
What are some other second-term issues to keep an eye on?
Some Dems were confidently citing the immigration issue, on which Obama failed to deliver reform as promised in his first term, as the reason for his re-election. “Nobody can deny the power of the Latino vote and the immigration issue in electing President Barack Obama,” tweeted Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) noted that Hispanic voter approval for Obama is only around 50 percent, and said they saw him as the “lesser of two evils” but “didn’t have a fondness for him.”
“Bush 43 got 41% of the Hispanic vote, McCain got 31%, and Romney got 27%. We are going in the wrong direction,” Graham tweeted.