News Column

High Hurdles Hinder Obama 6 Months Into 2nd Term

July 19, 2013

Anne K. Walters, dpa


U.S. President Barack Obama is just six months into his second term in office, and the challenges facing the leader could not be further from the optimism that marked his first half year in office five years ago.

When he was sworn in for his second mandate in January, Obama vowed quick action and progress on a variety of left-leaning priorities, including higher taxes on the wealthy, immigration reform, gun control and gay rights.

"For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay," Obama said. "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."

But six months later Obama is facing anger from allies abroad over a broad US spy programme and poor opinion ratings at home along with an recalcitrant Congress that won't cooperate on domestic policy reforms.

"Obama has 48 months as president, but six months in, the wind has already gone out of his sails ... The public has completely lost interest," political analyst and former presidential advisor David Gergen told Politico.

Obama was re-elected on a message focused on reviving the still lagging US economy, but after an election that changed little in the divided US government there has been little room for him to manoeuvre.

Unemployment has fallen to 7.6 percent in July from 7.9 percent in January and the economy grew at a rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter - slower than initially projected but much faster than the 0.4 percent expansion of late 2012.

Obama has a job approval rating of just 46 percent with 48 percent disapproving, according to the most recent survey by pollster Gallup.

A separate Gallup poll shows just 42 percent approve the way Obama, a Democrat, has handled the economy, even as most Americans blame former president George W Bush, a Republican, for the poor state of the economy.

Even Democratic insiders surveyed by National Journal magazine expressed disappointment with Obama last month, with one noting: "He's viewed as allowing events to shape our destiny rather than striking a bold, leadership role. He can arrest this slide and perhaps turn it around, but five months into a 48-month term, it already seems late."

The year began with a major win for Obama as he worked out a deal with Republican lawmakers that raised taxes on the rich, but that agreement later turned sour as it left in place across the board spending cuts designed to force a broader agreement on deficits. Republicans faced off with Obama to allow those cuts to go into effect.

US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that massive cutbacks in spending at all levels of government was stunting US economic recovery, costing as many as 600,000 jobs, and presenting a major drag on consumption, growth and employment.

Obama also fell short of passing the major gun control legislation he had promised in the wake of last year's Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

He faces further challenges in implementing his health care reforms passed in his first term. On Thursday, Obama urged Republicans in Congress to stop trying to repeal the law and swore to push forward with implementation, even as some parts of the law have been delayed amid difficulties in putting them into place.

In international politics, he has faced challenges from Syria, where he has moved to provide arms to rebels, to Egypt, where the administration has stopped short of calling the military ouster of president Mohamed Morsi a coup. He renewed his pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but faced pressure following a long detainee hunger strike.

European allies have increasingly sought to distance themselves from a massive spying programme by the National Security Agency (NSA) that gathered US phone records and international internet traffic. The former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who released the information to the media, has been holed up in the Moscow airport, adding fuel to already tense relations with Russia.

The scandal follows on the heels of other controversies, including the collection of journalists' phone records by the government and improper tax audits of conservative political groups.

Immigration reform looks to be Obama's best hope for a major policy initiative, after Senate passage of a bill that would offer a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people in the country illegally. But the reforms face a far tougher road in the Repubican-controlled lower House of Representatives.

As on many of his legislative priorities - health care, budget austerity, economic stimulus and gun control - Obama, despite his Senate history, has done minimal direct lobbying in Congress. Instead, he has remained campaigner-in-chief, trying to build support from the Democratic base without risking his credibility with demands for legislative specifics that Republicans could attack and reject.

"The idea that we're staying out of it is a fallacy, and has been forever," spokesman Jay Carney said in defending Obama's tactics. "We wouldn't be where we are if the president hadn't been re-elected and made comprehensive immigration reform one of his top priorities."

As Obama looks to score a victory on immigration reform and institute his health care reforms, speculation has already begun to swirl about who will follow him into the White House in 2016 elections, with many Democrats already urging Hillary Rodham Clinton to again seek the office.

For more stories covering politics, please see HispanicBusiness' Politics Channel

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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