1/25: The Agenda for President Obama’s Second Term

January 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Carl Leubsdorf, Featured

Since presidents elected to a second term don’t have to worry about re-election, they are freed from political considerations and can press however hard they wish to accomplish their goals.  What are President Obama’s priorities for his second term?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks talks with political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News about President Obama’s agenda items for his second term and the likelihood of them being enacted into law by Congress.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Listen to Part 1:

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John Sparks
Carl, President Obama is beginning his second term, and we want to talk about his agenda for his final four years in office.  Do you think that the president feels he has a mandate from the people to achieve his goals?

Carl Leubsdorf

Well, I think the president felt he had a mandate on at least one issue because he mentioned it over and over in the campaign, and that was higher taxes on wealthier Americans.  And, in a sense of course, he’s already gotten some of that in the bill that was passed to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, and he made clear during that debate that he felt he had gotten a mandate for that, and in fact, he had gotten a mandate for that.  After that, it gets a little fuzzier because it’s not like he went and promised a whole bunch of things in the campaign.  There were certain issues he talked about, and certainly, he feels there’s a national mandate to do something about immigration, and it was sort of interesting because in his inaugural speech the other day, he basically stressed a number of issues that each of which sort of tied to a different part of his electoral coalition.  What he was promising was very close to where he got his votes.  For example, he talked about immigration and that’s for Hispanics.  He talked about expanding gay rights for the lesbian and gay community.  He talked about people shouldn’t be on line to, have to stay in line forever to vote.  That’s a major concern in the African-American community.  So it was sort of like each part of the coalition was getting its due in his speech.  The things that he’s going to push basically fit his electoral coalition.  Now, whether they can get passed is something else again.

John Sparks
Let’s go into some of them, and I want to start off with something we’ve been hearing a lot about in recent days, and that concerns gun control.

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, there are a whole lot of issues in gun control, and Vice-President Biden’s task force recommended, I think, two dozen different actions — some legislative and some administrative.  I think it’s very problematic that he can get much done through legislation, and I think they’re aware of that.  For example, the idea of banning assault weapons which was done during the Clinton Administration, and the law was allowed to expire.  That’s going to be very difficult.  For one thing, you’ve got a number of Democratic senators from more conservative states who are going to be up for re-election in 2014.  They’re going to be reluctant to go forward, and secondly, you’ve got a Republican House that is unalterably opposed to such legislation.  Now, when it comes to legislation for some kind of universal registration and background checks for example, into people who are buying guns, there are now laws that affect background checks, but they’re not complete.  The so-called gun show loophole where people who buy guns at gun shows, not from registered dealers don’t have background checks the way they do when they buy from a registered dealer so I think there’ll be a proposal to tighten that law, and that probably has a better chance of passing.

Listen to Part 2:

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John Sparks

Let’s go on to some other areas.  In his inaugural address, the president spoke of protecting people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Carl Leubsdorf

Well, he also said that it’s time to make hard choices on the deficit and the future of health programs, and when he talks about the future of health programs, he’s really talking about Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.  And, the fact is that before Congress gets to any of the subjects that President Obama is most interested in, whether it be immigration or gun control or something in the environmental area, it’s going to have to deal with the budget.  I think it’s possible that the entire issue of cutting Medicare and Social Security will come up again, and President Obama is sort of caught between his promise to, you know, face up to the fiscal realities which requires cuts in those programs or protect the programs totally.

John Sparks

You know, Carl, the president will not be running for another term, but members of the Congress will be.  Now, I’m just curious what you think the affect of politics will be on shaping revisions on Medicare and Social Security?

Carl Leubsdorf

It’s going to be very difficult.  It’s going to require a bi-partisan majority.  It’s going to require some Democrats and some Republicans.  Because there are Republicans unalterably opposed to any increases, any further increases in revenue, and there are Democrats who are unalterably opposed to cutting back benefits to these programs.  So, you have to work sort of in the middle of the street to do anything.  In the Senate, as I mentioned, there, you know, among the Democratic senators who are up for re-election are a number from conservative states that were carried by Republican candidate Mitt Romney in last year’s election.  So, they’re going to be very cautious about voting for anything like Medicare cuts or increase, increases in revenues.  So, it’s going to be tough.

Listen to Part 3:

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John Sparks

It’s clear that the budget, debt ceiling, Medicare, Social Security, this must be really resolved before a whole lot of other things can happen.  But, I do want to go on to some other topics.  In the speech the other day, the President spoke about responding to climate change.  Do you think that there will be a chance for any significant legislation dealing with things like clean energy?

Carl Leubsdorf

I was surprised to see that frankly in the president’s speech and to see him make such a big, uh, major part of the speech about it.  Because they were not able to pass that kind of legislation in a Democratic Congress in 2009 and 2010.  I find it hard to believe this is going to pass.

John Sparks

You mentioned earlier in our conversation about gay rights.  It’s clear from the president’s speech it seems like to me he would support a gay marriage act.   Any chance of seeing something like this happen?

Carl Leubsdorf

I think not.  Again, I think there’s no way it would get through Congress.  I think everyone is sort of waiting at this point to see what happens when the Supreme Court rules on the California law that banned gay marriage which is being appealed.  And, there’s more likely to be action in the courts and state by state.  I think it’s unlikely a national law will be passed, and I think it’s also unlikely that they’ll repeal the federal law that says a marriage is between a woman and a man.

John Sparks

What are we likely to see in the way of immigration law?

Carl Leubsdorf

Well, I think there’s a good chance that there will be some kind of legislation there.  The president is pushing for comprehensive reform, and there are Democrats on the Hill working with Republicans, something fairly unusual these days, in trying to come up with a bill that both deals, that deals with long-term immigration problem.  The key is providing some kind of pathway, ultimate pathway, to citizenship and also some kind of a guest worker program in the meantime.  It’s frankly in the interest of both parties.  The Hispanic population is rapidly growing.  It’s the largest minority group in the country.  And, the Republicans have taken quite a beating in recent years among Hispanics in part due to their antagonism to immigration reform legislation.  And, so there’s an impetus in both parties to do something in this area.  As far as border security, we still hear this a lot, the fact is border security has been increased considerably, the amount of money being spent is up considerably, and the number of people coming through and being arrested is here illegally has gone down sharply.  Also, several papers including USA Today have done articles about the question of crime near the border and found that a lot of the stories that have been told are very much exaggerated and that the crime problem is not nearly as great as some officials have been saying.

Listen to Part 4:

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John Sparks

How about upgrading our infrastructure?  Any chance for something happening in that arena?

Carl Leubsdorf

The problem is that that takes money.  And, it’s going to be difficult at the time when the entire emphasis is on cutting to get the money now.  Congress has been struggling with transportation legislation for several years.

John Sparks

Carl, is there anything else that we should be looking for in a second Obama term.  For instance, we have not really talked about defense or foreign policy.

Carl Leubsdorf

You know, defense spending is going to go down ‘cause the Democrats feel that, you know, there’s been a lot of emphasis on cutting domestic spending, and in order to protect the safety net that we talked about at the beginning of this interview, one way to do that is to trim back some of the defense projects that, perhaps, weapons systems that are not necessary for the kind of warfare the United States is likely to have.  We also haven’t talked much about foreign policy.  One thing that happens with presidents, they often come into office with domestic agendas and find themselves spending most of their time dealing with foreign problems.  There’s no doubt that the United States faces a very volatile situation in the Middle East.  The civil war in Syrian which has taken over 60,000 lives is continuing.  Fortunately, it has not spread into neighboring countries, but there is a danger of that if it is not settled soon.  The Obama Administration has steadfastly refused to get involved in that.  That’s not going to change.  Hopes for reviving talks between Israel and the Palestinians are not great.  The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been re-elected does not bode well for those talks although he’ll have some additional pressure from the fact that the more centrist parties seem to have done pretty well and may pull him back from going so far to the right.  And, then there’s the question of Iran and the development of nuclear weapons there.  So, I think there, you know the administration has a whole series of potential land mines in the Middle East, and it’s a little hard to tell which one is going, you know, to explode first.

John Sparks

Thank you, Carl.  It’s always a pleasure talking with you.

Carl Leubsdorf

I’m always happy to do it, John.

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