How Obama would govern in a second term

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If he wins a second term, President Obama is likely to make renewed pushes for comprehensive legislation on immigration and energy, as well as pursue some kind of long-term deficit reduction plan.

Democrats also expect the president would spend much of his second term trying to successfully implement two of the signature pieces of legislation passed in his first term: the financial regulation provision adopted in 2010 and the universal health care law the Supreme Court just upheld.

To be sure, most Democrats are more focused on the campaign, watching as the president holds only a narrow lead in most polls. And even as they begin to look at 2013, much remains unknown; particularly, how Congress would approach the president and his ideas.

The Republicans are likely to hold onto control of the House of Representatives and could win the Senate as well.

If Romney is defeated, the big question is how Republicans will interpret that. Will the GOP view that as a sign that voters back Obama’s views on some key issues and look to reach compromises with him? Or would they attribute Romney’s defeat to a flawed candidate who was unable to articulate conservative principles, and persist in opposing much of Obama’s agenda, for both ideological and political reasons?

And most importantly, will both parties start looking towards the elections in 2014 and 2016 pretty soon after this November, effectively giving Obama only about 18 months to implement his second term plans?

“I am slightly optimistic in the second term, the president will be able to accomplish goals both parties share, for example, getting the budget on a sustainable path,” said Jared Bernstein, who served as Vice President Biden’s top economic aide until last year. “There seem to be grown-ups behind the scenes, looking at these issues.”

Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, said, “I definitely believe there will be more willingness to cooperate, particularly on immigration and energy, and probably on the deficit as well. In my private conversations with several GOP members, there is a wariness with the polarization, and I am sure some of that is due to constituent frustration.”

But John Feehery, a former top GOP aide on Capitol Hill, said, “I think there is such [a] philosophical gulf between Obama and the Republicans in Congress, I just don’t see much room for compromise.”

Democrats, including the president, are already laying the groundwork on fiscal issues after November’s elections.  A group of tax cuts passed under President Bush, as well as those passed under Obama, will expire in January, and mandatory cuts in defense spending are also scheduled for then.

President Obama and other Democrats have long wanted to increase tax rates for households with income over $250,000 a year to help balance the federal budget. For now, Democrats, including the president, are saying they will not extend the tax cuts for lower and middle-income people unless Republicans agree to the tax increase for upper-income families. And Democrats are warning they are willing to let all of the tax cuts expire, effectively raising taxes on all Americans, and allow the defense cuts, which the GOP strongly opposes, unless Republicans relent on the upper-income tax cuts.

“There are a lot of legislative deadlines that he (Obama) will be able to essentially draw a line in the sand and force a compromise because there will not be enough votes to override a presidential veto in either chamber,” said Paul Braithwaite, a former top Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill.

That fiscal debate is likely to extend into 2013. The outlines of a broad-based deficit reduction agreement already exist, both in the informal discussions in 2011 between the president and House Speaker John Boehner, and in the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan. In general, they would involve some spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and domestic spending programs, along with some proposals to raise more tax revenue.

Some Democrats will be resistant to cuts in Medicare, but the biggest challenge is likely to be overcoming conservative Tea Party opposition to tax increases.