January 25, 2013

Obama presses liberal agenda as he starts 2nd term

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — From gun control to gay rights, President Barack Obama's second-term agenda is shaping up as an unabashedly liberal wish list.

click image to enlarge

In this Jan. 14, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama gestures speaks during his final news conference of his first term in the East Room of the White House in Washington. President Barack Obama's fledgling second term agenda so far reads like a progressive wish list. In less than a week, he's vowed to tackle climate change, expand gay rights and protect government entitlements. His administration lifted a ban on women in combat and expanded opportunities for disabled students. Proposals for stricter gun laws have already been unveiled and plans for comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, are coming soon. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In less than a week, he's vowed to tackle climate change and protect government entitlements. His administration has lifted a ban on women in combat and expanded opportunities for disabled students. Proposals for stricter gun laws have already been unveiled, and plans for comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, are coming next week.

Obama's full embrace of such an agenda suggests a president both freed for action by his re-election win and seeking to capitalize on it.

"There is a deep recognition that he has a short period of time to get a lot done," said Jennifer Psaki, Obama's 2012 campaign spokeswoman. "The American people are seeing a man who is determined to finish what he started in his first term, pushing through his agenda without the burden of running for re-election."

But following through and winning approval for his proposals will require cooperation from a Congress that is nearly as divided now as it was before the November elections.

"If the president pursues that kind of agenda, obviously it's not designed to bring us together," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who calls the start of Obama's second term "a new era of liberalism."

And it's not just congressional Republicans who could stand in Obama's way as he seeks to make good on his pledges. Senate Democrats from conservative-leaning states — who, unlike Obama, still face future elections — may have reservations about backing a liberal agenda in the lead-up to the 2014 midterms.

Democratic resistance is already proving to be a problem for some of the toughest gun control measures that Obama proposed ahead of his inauguration in response to the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. An assault weapons ban, in particular, appears to be in jeopardy, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada among the Democrats yet to voice support.

Obama's tilt to the left follows a presidential campaign that left open questions about what policies he would pursue if he won a second term. His most specific campaign pledge was to let George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans, a step he was able to achieve during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations in late December.

That's why many of his strongest supporters were surprised — some pleasantly — by the issues he raised in his inaugural address, particularly his call for tackling the threat of climate change, a topic that garnered little attention during the campaign.

And after campaigning on a balanced approach to deficit reduction, including making tough choices on entitlement programs, Obama used his inauguration to extol the virtues of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He made just one reference to the huge federal deficit.

Obama has previously said he's willing to put government entitlements on the table as Washington seeks to reduce the deficit, and aides say his inaugural address doesn't change that.

Obama also became the first president to use the word "gay" in an inaugural address, asserting that the nation's journey is not complete until "our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."

Progressive groups welcomed the president's rhetoric, but made it clear that words alone would not be enough.

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