President Obama’s second term begins today and ends in four years time. Except that in political terms, it will be over far sooner than that.
The reality is that a clock started counting down the minute Obama took the oath of office on Sunday, a clock that will likely run out of time in, roughly, July 2014. As White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told the Post’s Scott Wilson: “Days in your second term are in many ways more important than in your first.”
At the moment, President Obama is at the height of his political influence. He is less than three months removed from a convincing re-election victory and freed from concerns about ever having to run for office again. He is coming off of two straight legislative wins — fiscal cliff and debt ceiling — and has a huge polling edge over his congressional Republican adversaries.
That means that now is the time for Obama to move on his major legislative priorities — the first of which appears to be winning some sort of tightening of existing gun laws in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. Obama also seems likely to push on immigration. And then there is the triple-headed economic monster: sequestration, a potential government shutdown and the debt ceiling.
The President must choose carefully how hard he pushes on each of his priorities — and for how long. Much of his first term — and the political capital he brought into it — was spent on fights over the economic stimulus package and his health care plan. While both of those legislative initiatives became law, it was at considerable political cost to Obama and his party — and at the expense of other priorities like energy, for example.
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