Obama's chances for success with agenda

At the traditional post-inaugural national prayer service Tuesday at Washington National Cathedral are President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, and her husband, Vice President Biden.
At the traditional post-inaugural national prayer service Tuesday at Washington National Cathedral are President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, and her husband, Vice President Biden. (CAROLYN KASTER / AP)
Posted: January 24, 2013

WASHINGTON - President Obama delivered a second inaugural address Monday that stood out for its specificity when it came to the agenda items the president would like to achieve over the next four years.

So, what are the chances of success for those proposals? Here's a look at five of the main agenda items he mentioned, along with the current state of play.

Bring down deficits and the cost of health care. "We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit."

Reducing annual deficits is an agenda item Obama has long mentioned, but one on which he and congressional Republicans have been able to work toward only in a piecemeal approach. While the government shutdown debates and debt-ceiling battle of 2011 brought about some deficit reduction, the 2012 fiscal-cliff deal will result in deficits totaling more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

If the White House is keen on bringing down deficits, Obama and congressional Republicans will need to come to agreement on a "grand bargain" - a prospect that doesn't seem likely given the failure of past negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

On bringing down health-care costs, the White House has maintained that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the average family's annual premium as much as $2,500 - savings that don't look likely to be fully realized until well after Obama's second term.

Protect federal entitlement programs. "The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us."

Ultimately, Obama's vow to preserve these programs in their current state is closely entwined with the negotiations over the federal debt. Any grand bargain is likely to include changes to these programs - something that has already spurred strong pushback from the Democratic base.

If the gridlock on Capitol Hill continues, it could be that the status quo on these programs prevails throughout Obama's second term, but their long-term solvency remains an issue.

Combat climate change. "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

If Obama is to act on climate change, the road ahead will likely run through the White House rather than Congress, given the failure of the last big congressional effort on the issue, the 2010 cap-and-trade bill.

The Obama administration has several tools at its disposal for tightening emissions rules and boosting energy efficiency. The president has yet to lay out his plans in detail, however, and press secretary Jay Carney declined at Tuesday's daily briefing to elaborate.

There's also the issue of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, back in the spotlight with Tuesday's news that Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, approves of the pipeline route through the state. Carney on Tuesday deferred to the State Department, which is conducting an assessment of the proposed route.

Ensure equal rights for gay Americans. "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well."

The next substantive step on gay rights will likely come not from the White House but rather from the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in late March on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and on California's Proposition 8, which had banned same-sex marriage in the state until a lower court overturned it last year.

Enact immigration reform. "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce, rather than expelled from our country."

Carney said Tuesday that Obama expected to take action on immigration reform "early in his second term, and he will keep that commitment."

Like the issue of gun control, a piece-by-piece approach rather than a comprehensive measure is the likely outcome.

Among the steps most likely to achieve bipartisan support is boosting the number of visas granted to highly skilled workers. It appears that finding agreement on a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally could be a steeper climb.

In addition to those five items, Obama also mentioned other policy specifics in his inaugural address, including protecting voting rights and ensuring equal pay for equal work.

He did not mention the word gun in his speech, but the lobbying effort begun with Obama's news conference last week and continued with Vice President Biden's address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors suggests the gun-control issue remains at the top of the White House's agenda.

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