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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 880

Obama grapples with Republicans in quest for lasting legacy

Critical commentary by Philip Fernando

President Barack Obama faces a grueling path through a Republican-controlled House in his second term striving to achieve a lasting legacy. A $16 trillion debt, immigration reform and rising gun violence are pressing issues confronting him.

Obama has often rallied public opinion in fighting the deadlocked confrontation in Washington. He may have to rely heavily on his popularity which stands at 56 percent--up from his average first-term rating of 49 percent. Only Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had similar high approval ratings among presidents since the eighties.

He has set himself an ambition agenda of keeping to a steady economic recovery, extraction from two expensive un-winnable wars, working towards universal health coverage and an outreach to Asians, Hispanics and Blacks. He already got a few scalps worth showing off such as healthcare reform, taking out Osama bin Laden, the auto industry bailout and putting a noose on the big banks.

Ultimately the battle with the Republican House would decide his legacy. We are bound to see several hand-to-hand combats during the next 2 years according to most analysts. The discourse has never been so mired in partisan trash talk as now.

Debt and economic recovery

In order to rein in the broad sweeps of history Obama has to get his economic program through a dissenting House where the Tea party followers may be the hardest to win over. The House has tied debt reduction to economic recovery. That battle might perhaps become the worse showdown in decades.

The total US debt was just about $1 trillion in 1980 under President Reagan. Bill Clinton added $1 trillion in eight years and actually had the budget deficit back to zero so we could begin paying off the debt. George W Bush increased Federal spending by 60% from 2000-2008. Obama added a huge stimulus package during the 2008 recession. The entire $16 Trillion difference between now and when Reagan took office is become Obama’s burden.

Obama won the first round getting an in increase income tax rates to 36.9% for those making over 400,000 dollars a year and also the capital gains tax rate increase from 15 to 20%. The revenue boost would be tremendous, a much needed boost. Yet the public debt has to be trimmed by at least a trillion every year from now onwards.

The anticipated average growth forecast for the next few years is 3%. That would be higher than that of Germany or France (1.2 percent) or even Canada (2.3 percent). Increasingly, evidence suggests that the United States has come out of the financial crisis of 2008 in better shape than its peers and Obama administration may justifiably take credit for that.

The Housing market also has gained momentum. Some indicated that the Federal Reserve Bank would have to raise interest rates soon. U.S. corporations have also bounced back. Corporate profits are at an all-time high as a percentage of the gross domestic product, and companies have $1.7 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. The key to long-term recoveries from recessions is reform and restructuring, and U.S. businesses shown the willingness to respond rightly.

Reaching out to immigrants

Obama administration granted assurances to 102,965 young, undocumented immigrants that they would be allowed stay if enrolled in college programs. He also took credit for deporting 409,849 people who came in illegally to US in the 2012 fiscal year. It is a record. Obama is now readying a major immigration reform package to be presented to Congress.

He needs to convince GOP lawmakers that there's support from their constituents for immigration reform, which could be aided by conservative evangelical leaders and members of the business community who are pushing for a bill that is more than a stop gap measure.

Demographics favor Obama’s move. The Hispanic, Asian and Black populations now constitute a major slice of the USelectorate. Yet the intricacies of the ultimate reform package may see some fierce debating moments

Obama was elected on the votes of minorities, women and youth, all brilliantly identified in the most technically sophisticated campaign ever crafted by a campaigner. Nationally, only 38 percent of whites backed him, 5 percent down on 2008. He might have won endorsement for a bold new bi-partisan prospectus for his next four years.

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

U.S. forces will accelerate the transfer of primary security responsibilities to their Afghan counterparts and take on an exclusively support and training role beginning this spring as announced after several days of meetings between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top U.S. official. The remaining US troop force of 66,000 in Afghanistan may come home quickly than previously planned.

Obama announced ‘starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission: training, advising and assisting Afghan forces,” He said in a joint White House press conference with Karzai. “It will be a historic moment.”

Obama also hinted at a more-ambitious “national-building” counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy that he had advocated four years ago in hopes of improving governance and spurring economic development had fallen short. Hs said that “we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios?” he asked. “Probably not. This is a human enterprise, and you fall short of the ideal.”

Obama hopes that the central goal of shaping a “strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is willing to cooperate with us to make sure that it is not a launching pad for future attacks against the United States,” would materialize.

Obama’s second term would be eventful and we are in for some heaving hitting from both the Republican-controlled House members as well as Obama’s White House.

- Asian Tribune -

Obama grapples with Republicans in quest for lasting legacy
Obama grapples with Republicans in quest for lasting legacy
Obama grapples with Republicans in quest for lasting legacy
Obama grapples with Republicans in quest for lasting legacy
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