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Obama’s second-term agenda could hinge on shutdown resolution

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2013

Some of president's key goals hang in balance

The eventual resolution to the government shutdown and debt-ceiling standoff carries serious consequences for the U.S. economy, but it also could make or break President Obama's second-term agenda.

Expanded background checks on gun purchases, immigration reform and other key goals for the president over the next three years hang in the balance, analysts say, and threaten to be crowded out and ultimately relegated to the political graveyard if Mr. Obama is unable to make a deal with Republicans.

On the flip side, the president could emerge from the current impasse with renewed political capital and a stronger hand to help shepherd his aims through Congress.

"It depends on how this plays out He's got three years left. One spinout of the likely resolution is the possibility of creating that big deal — the grand bargain — which itself would be quite an achievement," said Bruce Buchanan, a political-science professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a specialist in the presidency and public policy.

"And after that, you'll still have two years of his agenda left, but you're running out the clock and getting into lame-duck status," he added. "It's an open question whether controversial stuff like immigration reform is going to have a new shelf life, or especially gun control But if this explodes and there's ill will, then all bets are off."

In recent days, Mr. Obama has reiterated that he is asking for nothing from Republicans in exchange for reopening the federal government — which has had its nonessential functions closed for 10 days — and raising the nation's debt ceiling, a limit the U.S. is expected to hit as soon as next week.

Mr. Obama specifically has cited background checks for gun purchases and immigration reform as two issues he feels passionately about but has refused to include in current negotiations with House Republicans.

The viability of those goals, along with reforms to the nation's student loan system, spending on infrastructure and research, and other matters, rests with how the next few weeks play out in Washington.

On Thursday, the administration expressed openness to a Republican proposal that would offer a short-term increase in the nation's debt limit but would keep the government partially shut down.

Such a deal presumably would offer both sides time to work together on a larger agreement.

The White House repeatedly has said it's willing to engage in such big-picture budget talks with the GOP, but only after the current crises have passed. If and when those talks begin, Mr. Obama has indicated that parts of his second-term wish list will be on the table.

"I'll talk about ways to improve the health care system. I'll talk about ways we can shrink our long-term deficits. I'll also want to talk about how we're going to help the middle class and strengthen early childhood education and improve our infrastructure and research and development. There are a whole bunch of things I want to talk about," Mr. Obama said earlier this week when he addressed reporters in the White House briefing room.

For now, however, all of those issues continue to be overshadowed by partisan bickering and fiscal gridlock.

Even before the current fiscal crisis began, it already was an uphill battle for the White House to push through measures such as gun control and immigration reform; the fact that they've been pushed to the back burner makes it even more difficult, though not impossible, for them to come to fruition.

"It's very hard, especially in a second term. But this situation is unusual. While [the current standoff] could have a horrible ending, if it has anything like a workable ending, it could create a bit of momentum," Mr. Buchanan said. "If there is an agreement to get past the debt ceiling and shutdown they may have developed a working relationship that could be continued."

The gun control issue is especially daunting, according to analysts. Previous attempts to pass expanded background checks failed in the Senate, despite some bipartisan support and Mr. Obama's repeated use of the bully pulpit. It has been made even harder since gun-rights supporters recently showed their power at the ballot box by recalling two Colorado state senators who helped pass gun restrictions.

But on immigration reform, supporters still see a window of opportunity coming later this year and don't believe the current animosity between the administration and House Republicans necessarily means the issue is dead.

"The president doesn't need to put immigration on the [fiscal] agenda as a bargaining chip for Republicans because they need to get it done. I believe the impetus for Republican action exists already," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice.

She echoed others who believe the Republican Party, largely because of the nation's changing demographics, must embrace immigration reform to survive politically.

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