Analysts: Obama's challenge is to defeat gridlock
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WASHINGTON -- When newly re-elected President Barack Obama returns from Chicago this week, Washington will look much the same as when he left, analysts said.
It's a recipe for another two years of gridlock, at least until the midterm elections in 2014 -- a scenario Obama said he hopes to avoid.
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"We will see an endless grinding and disappointing repeat of the last two years," said Mark Rom, a Georgetown University public affairs expert.
With the exception of a deal that both sides agree must be reached before the end of the year on the "fiscal cliff" -- with expiration of the Bush tax cuts, a $900 billion mandatory spending cut and a debt ceiling hike -- many see little possibility of Congress passing major bills.
Not all analysts are so pessimistic. But they say a different scenario depends largely on Obama and whether he can actually act on his 2008 promise to rise above partisanship.
"One of the major disappointments of his first term is that didn't happen," he said.
Obama starts another four years as a different president than he was in 2008.
He's grayer and more experienced, but his weaknesses as a negotiator and a debater have been revealed.
He accomplished a lot in his first term, but he is bruised from the partisan battle in his re-election run, Galston said.
The economy is more stable now, a far cry from the recession Obama faced in 2009, forecasters say, but remains fragile.
A second term allows Obama to think of his legacy, but also possibly holds trouble. In the past 50 years all presidents with a second term have had a scandal, Rom said. Most had a drop in popularity.
Obama laid out his top second-term priorities two weeks ago to the Des Moines Register editorial board in an interview he thought was off the record.
One is to strike a "grand bargain" with Republicans on the "fiscal cliff." He offers to trade "adjustments" to Medicare to lower costs for a GOP agreement to let tax rates rise on households making $250,000 and up -- cutting the deficit by $4 trillion in the next decade.
The other is passage next year of the elusive overhaul of immigration -- an issue that deeply divides Republicans.
"It will be messy. It won't be pleasant," Obama said in the interview. But he said he was "absolutely confident" he could pull it off.
Obama said he believes his re-election means he won the debate over taxes and the role of government.
Among other things, he proposes to reform the tax code, hire 100,000 teachers and use savings from winding down wars to invest in infrastructure.
Some analysts said Obama must change if he wants to do more than just implement his landmark national health care law and Wall Street regulation.
"He needs to be really hands-on and repair relations with both political parties," said Brian Darling, a conservative Heritage Foundation fellow.
Galston said much depends on which Obama returns to Washington, the partisan or the compromiser.
"A president who is not willing to split his own party for the greater good of the country is not going to be a good president for the next four years," Galston said.