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,” says 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 have teeth.
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.