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LAMBRO: Obstacles mount to the Obama agenda

More issues add to the Obamacare train wreck

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2013

Nearly six months into his second term, things haven't been going well for President Obama on a number of critical fronts.

His agenda, if he has one to speak of, is going nowhere on Capitol Hill, and his party faces daunting challenges in next year's midterm House and Senate races. The U.S. economy remains weak and may be getting weaker, with little prospect of significantly improving anytime soon. His job-approval ratings are declining faster than you can say "17.2 percent underemployment."

His foreign policy is a shambles just about everywhere, with little if any idea how to deal with and strengthen U.S. interests abroad. The Middle East has exploded into civil war. Iran, North Korea, Russia and China are challenging us more seriously than ever before. Syrian President Bashar Assad killed nearly 100,000 of his citizens while Mr. Obama did nothing to stop the slaughter. Our European allies are becoming more critical of his policies in the wake of national security leaks that have damaged his presidency and have undermined our national security as well as theirs.

A Gallup poll released Thursday shows Mr. Obama is fast losing popular support at home, too, with 47 percent saying they disapprove of how he is running the country and 47 percent saying they like the way he is handling the nation's problems. (Who are these people?)

Thus, a little more than eight months since he won re-election to a second term, Mr. Obama has lost his governing majority.

Nowhere is this more evident than on Capitol Hill, where Mr. Obama's agenda has run into a wall of opposition, and not just in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Soon after he unveiled his sweeping climate-change environmental agenda that targets the coal, oil and natural-gas industries, it became clear that he faces stiff opposition from Midwestern, Western and Gulf Coast Senate Democrats, whose shaky economies depend on fossil fuels.

Some of these same Democrats ganged up to kill his Al Gore-backed "cap and trade" plan during his first term. Although his plan doesn't rely on Congress to enact it and requires only regulatory changes, it faces strong opposition from oil and coal state Democrats who may try to block it legislatively.

"It's clear now that the president has declared a war on coal," said Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, who vowed to fight the plan.

"I believe that overzealous regulations are harmful to our economy," said Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat.

Meantime, Mr. Obama's Senate-passed immigration-reform bill, which includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, ran into a buzz saw in the House, where Republican leaders are focusing on border security, among other reforms, but not citizenship.

It is hard to see the two chambers coming together on any immigration legislation this year, and even harder next year when the midterm election campaigns will pose even deeper obstacles to a compromise.

House Republican leaders said Wednesday, after a meeting of the entire party conference, that the Senate bill was a non-starter.

Nowhere does the president face more obstacles than over "Obamacare," his signature achievement, as the White House prepares to kick off the health care law with a nationwide promotion campaign that is just now getting underway in the states.

What isn't fully realized or acknowledged by the news media here is that Obamacare may never get fully off the ground and faces a lot of internal regulatory problems of its own making. The White House decision to delay the thorny business mandate for a year was the first clue that Obamacare is based on a shaky financial structure that may be showing some early signs of collapse.

Small businesses with 50 or more employees can't afford to sign on in the numbers needed to make the health care plan work. That was why the administration delayed the employer mandate until 2015 to give it time to find a way to fix a huge hole in the program.

Dana Milbank, a political analyst at The Washington Post, noted Wednesday that "even a number of liberals agree [the employer mandate is] bad policy," adding, "Republicans could probably find support for repealing that provision."

A more serious obstacle will be signing up the millions of younger, healthy Americans who won't threaten the system with higher medical bills but provide the insurance industry with customers needed to offset the higher costs of Obamacare. Yet with just 81 days left before the insurance plan opens for business, relatively few younger Americans are aware of the program, let alone planning to sign up.

The delay in the employer mandate, plus other growing problems, "contributes to critics' allegations that the White House does not have the ability to launch its biggest legislative accomplishment on schedule," says The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff.

That may be the next shoe to drop. "You trade off one set of painful stories for another set of painful stories," says Bob Kocher, a former Obama health care adviser. "I would think that if I'm an administration official today, it's a way more troublesome news story for people to say that we're not ready to launch."

This Rube Goldberg health care reform contraption may fall apart before it gets fully off the ground. Throw in the approaching deadlines for the 2014 budget and raising the debt ceiling to fund the government and you have the makings of a legislative train wreck.

Meanwhile, the mood across America is growing increasingly negative as the economy weakens and good jobs are harder to find. The Gallup Poll this week puts its underemployment rate — which includes people working part time or fewer hours when they need full-time work — at 17.2 percent. Gallup also reports that 42 percent of the Americans they polled about their economic circumstances told them they were "struggling," an astounding percentage, and an additional 4 percent said they were "suffering."

Another recent survey noted that most Americans get their news from television. Tragically, in the age of Obama, you rarely see stories about any of this on the nightly network news.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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