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The Second Time Around: Things to Watch in Term No. 2

Fiscal cliff. Hugs with Boehner. Immigration reform. Climate change. And Clinton payback.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

November 8, 2012 - 4:59 pm

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?

IMMIGRATION

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.

But immigration reform is a second-term issue on which Republicans could not just steer the direction, but steal the president’s thunder.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had been drafting a DREAM Act alternative before Obama issued his deferred action directive to the Department of Homeland Security over the summer. A Republican who was working on something similar in the House, Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.), was defeated Tuesday.

Rubio quickly issued a statement upon confirmation of the presidential election results that noted “the conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them.”

“I look forward to working on these goals with my new and returning colleagues in Congress and hope the President will get behind our efforts,” Rubio said.

If Rubio introduces a DREAM Act of his own with wide GOP and some Democratic support, he could steal not just thunder but votes — and, with a comprehensive economic and education message to the Latino community, start reversing that downward trend in the Hispanic vote.

OBAMACARE

Obama’s pet legislation has survived a Supreme Court challenge, numerous recall efforts in the House, and a repeal vow from his challenger for the Oval Office.

Boehner told ABC News that while the House may chip at parts of the law such as IPAB, the election changed any plans for full repeal. “Obamacare is the law of the land,” he said.

State governors are split on whether they’ll set up the healthcare exchanges that were a key provision of the law, though: Ahead of a Nov. 16 deadline, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has said yes; Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback say no.

In a second term, will Obama try to toughen ObamaCare and put even more control in the federal government’s hand? With a resistant House for at least his first two years, changes might come straight from the executive branch instead of going through proper legislative channels — branded, of course, with Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” policy initiative tag.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

In his victory speech early Wednesday morning, Obama referenced an issue he didn’t exactly touch on the campaign trail: climate change. “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” he said, adding that a goal is “freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”

While the war on coal did make it onto the campaign trail, the president tried to deflect attention from his green-energy pursuits and gave copious public praise to domestic oil and gas production.

Considering the scant attention that’s been paid to an Interior Department run amok in Term No. 1, it’s not surprising Obama didn’t get called out more on his “all of the above” energy strategy which, as Republicans wryly note, pays little attention to the energy sources below ground. It will also be a signal that movement is imminent here if Obama shuffles Solyndra-ized Energy Secretary Steven Chu out the door and replaces him with someone who has experience in brokering energy bills, e.g. former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). And if Obama names Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to be secretary of State, he’s got a huge global-warming alarmist in place to push climate agreements on the international stage.

CITIZENS UNITED

Democrats haven’t forgotten about this defeat and haven’t abandoned their quest to require greater disclosure of campaign donations. Don’t expect movement on this issue to be on the top of the list — to the dismay of Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — but expect a renewed effort to run around the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling within the next four years.

THE CLINTON FACTOR

Who believes that President Clinton would do something — like, perhaps, jaunting around the country to get a Dem in trouble re-elected — for nothing?

As David Axelrod said on Piers Morgan’s show last night, Clinton was “the most valuable player in this campaign.”

It’s hard to believe that all of Clinton’s work, though, was simply because “he believes that there were two choices here and one led us forward and one led us back.”

“And so there is a strong sense of gratitude and I think the president is looking forward to calling on President Clinton in the future for advice council and assistance as we want — as we move this country forward,” Axelrod said.

Hillary Clinton has reportedly wanted to leave the Obama administration for a while, so her husband wasn’t helping Obama out to score her a prime position in his cabinet. And one can’t imagine Bill wanting to serve under Barack, so what’s next?

If Hillary wants to run in four years, you can expect that Bill will have his boot on Obama’s neck to avoid screw-ups or shifts that could cost the Democrats the White House. Does this mean that policy pushes in term No. 2 may be less drastic, less leftist than expected thanks to Clinton payback?

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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