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In Obama's second term, strong pushback from Republican opposition expected

posted 15 Jan 2013, 10:44 by Mpelembe   [ updated 15 Jan 2013, 10:45 ]

As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to begin his second term in office, immigration reform and gun control are expected to top his agenda.

CHICAGOILLINOISUNITED STATES (NOVEMBER 7, 2012) ( POOL) -  After a seemingly endless campaign, U.S. President Barack Obama won a second term and told supporters he wanted the nation to end its fractious political divisions and collaborate on the challenges ahead.

"In the coming weeks and months I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges that we can only solve together -- reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do," he said.

But any expectation that Obama might translate his 2012 election victory into a string of legislative victories on Capitol Hill in 2013 was proved short-lived when Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives made it clear they were unwilling to give ground to the Democratic political program, including their solution for resolving of the looming "fiscal cliff" crisis.

"In these deeply polarized times, I don't think political capital exists," said Thomas Mann, senior fellow of the Brookings Institution. "Certainly, Republicans showed no respect for the capital he presumably earned as a result of his stunning and overwhelming victory in the 2008 elections. To a person, Republicans opposed him on virtually everything he tried to do. So, capital meant nothing to them after the 2008 election. There is no reason it should mean something to them now."

Nonetheless, after the inauguration, Obama is expected to focus on two key domestic issue: immigration reform and gun control.

"It is not clear whether he will succeed with either, but I think he has a fighting chance that he will get something out of both," Mann said.

Obama is also calculating that he may finally be able to make good on his promise to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. He hopes to capitalize on sentiment within the Republican Party that it must reach out to Latinos, who voted heavily for Obama after tough comments on illegal immigration by Republicans.

Obama also showed a "get-tough" strategy in his determination to pursue gun control after last month's massacre of schoolchildren by a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut. Obama appears to be determined to take advantage of a public backlash against gun violence.

The actions reflect the growing confidence of a president who, without the need to seek re-election, now feels freer to stand up to a new Congress.

Some critics say Obama now runs the risk of overreaching when he should instead be building Republican bridges to resolve the next looming budget confrontation.

"I don't think this president will get any honeymoon at all," said Bradley Blakeman ofGeorgetown University who served as a senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

"We have the debt ceiling, we have the continuing resolution on the budget, we have military cuts, we have entitlements to deal with. So this president has a lot on his plate, as does this country so I don't think there is any room for a honeymoon," he said.

Lawmakers were able to reach a last minute deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff," averting economic calamity when lawmakers agreed to prevent huge tax hikes and government spending cuts.

The agreement handed a victory to Obama, who had promised before the election to address budget woes in part by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. His Republican antagonists were forced to vote against a core tenet of their anti-tax conservative faith.

Obama and Congress must agree by the end of March on increasing the $16.4 trillion U.S. debt ceiling, the fate of $85 billion in delayed automatic spending cuts and passage of a bill to fund the government after a temporary measure expires.

Obama has vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling, demanding that Congressraise it without drama. His aides have made clear they believe the U.S. public would blame Republicans -- not Obama -- if the nation is forced into a debt default that he has said would be "catastrophic" for the world economy.

Presidents often use their second term in office as a way to define their legacy. In this sense, Obama has a clear advantage -- achieving healthcare reform in his first term.

"Obama is lucky, because the greatest part of his legacy has already been decided -- Obamacare," Blakeman said.