Budget battles threaten to cap Obama 2nd-term plan

Written by Reuters | Washington | Updated: Jan 6 2013, 08:09am hrs
After a brutal fiscal cliff battle, president Barack Obamas looming budget confrontation with Congress threatens to sharply curtail his second-term agenda and limit his ambitions on priorities such as immigration reform and gun control.

Obama has vowed to push ahead with other legislative priorities during the fiscal fight, but faces the likelihood that they will be elbowed aside in a fierce struggle with Republicans over approaching deadlines to raise the limit on federal borrowing, cut spending and fund government operations.

Obama and Congress must agree by the end of March on increasing the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, the fate of $85 billion in delayed automatic spending cuts and passage of a bill to fund the government after a temporary measure expires.

Those budget battles could be even more intense than the weeks-long fiscal cliff fight that ended on New Years Day with an agreement to raise taxes on the wealthy, leaving divided Republicans itching for revenge and a fractured relationship between Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

"We always felt that a bipartisan and amicable conclusion to the fiscal cliff would lead to a very positive agenda for the next two years, and the opposite occurred. It bodes poorly for Obama's other major priorities," said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way. "There is a high level of dysfunction. They haven't cracked the code yet on how to work with each other," Kessler said of Obama and congressional Republicans.

The fiscal cliff fight overwhelmed nearly everything else at the White House for two months. A similar result in the budget battle would be bad news for Obama, cutting into the narrow one-year to 18-month window when second-term presidents traditionally still have the political clout to achieve their most significant legislative victories. "From a Republican standpoint, if you don't want Obama to get any oxygen on these other issues, focusing on the fiscal cliff and all these budget issues is a very good way to run out the clock on him," said Republican strategist John Feehery, a former Capitol Hill aide.

Obama has promised to pursue a broad second-term agenda focused on comprehensive immigration reform, bolstering domestic energy production, fighting climate change and gun control.