Obama intent on pushing through raft of reforms


US president Barack Obama has returned to Washington intent on pushing through a host of reforms in his second term, with a focus on immigration and gun control.

The president will set out his plans when he delivers his inaugural speech on 21 January, although his momentum could be stymied by another economic showdown as early as late February.

The biggest obstacle facing Mr Obama is the Republican caucus in the House being at war with itself, divided between moderates and Tea Party sympathisers, and this has a knock-on effect in terms of working with Democrats in Congress and the White House.

Before leaving Washington to resume his interrupted holiday in Hawaii, Mr Obama warned that time-consuming battles with Congress would prevent the US securing the kind of legislation it needs.

“We can settle this debate, or at the very least, not allow it to be so all-consuming all the time that it stops us from meeting a host of other challenges that we face – creating jobs, boosting incomes, fixing our infrastructure, fixing our immigration system, protecting our planet from the harmful effects of climate change, boosting domestic energy production, protecting our kids from the horrors of gun violence,” he said.

Better shape

He begins his second term with the economy in much better shape than when he took office in January 2009, with US involvement in the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down.

But political analysts caution that second terms often begin with high expectations, with presidents re-energised by winning an election, but end in disappointment. Bill Clinton’s second term was dominated by the Monica Lewinsky affair and George W Bush became a lame duck after Hurricane Katrina.

Norman Ornstein, a widely respected analyst at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, cautioned that second terms are usually less productive than first terms.

Mr Ornstein identified potential problems as “the continuing hold on the GOP [Grand Old Party] by the radical right, and the continuing dysfunction in our politics”, and also the high expectations among the Democratic base.

Mr Ornstein, author of one of the best-received political books of the year, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, quickly qualified this gloomy assessment to add: “But that is not a surefire prediction that Obama will have a mediocre second term. The election produced a new momentum for comprehensive immigration reform, which would be a major advance. There is, obviously, a new dynamic on gun control.”

The outlines of his second term are taking shape. When he initially jotted down his list of aims, gun control was not on it. Now it is a central issue, with proposed legislation planned for early this year - opening the way for confrontation with the gun lobby as well as members of Congress, predominantly the Republican party.

Gun laws

The start of the new Congress was accompanied by a blizzard of proposed new gun laws from Democrats, which include bans on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, a ban on large-capacity magazines and plugging loopholes that allow sales at gun shows without background checks.

Republicans are coming round to the prospect of immigration reform, having been punished by Latino voters. A path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants might be a step too far for many Republicans but they could put into legislation the Dream Act, building on Mr Obama’s executive order legalising the position of young Latinos brought to the US illegally by their parents.

Other priorities for a second term on the domestic front include steering the economy towards full recovery and consolidating healthcare reforms introduced in the first term but not due to start until 2014.

On the foreign front, the biggest challenge remains Iran and the prospect of direct talks between the US and Iran seem in the offing.

If he manages to secure some foreign policy successes – adding to first-term achievements that include healthcare reform, ending the use of torture, recognition of gays in the military, and ending the war in Iraq – he could be well on his way to going down in history as one of the better Democratic presidents, up there with LBJ and Bill Clinton. - (Guardian service)