Little-Noticed Budget Changes Signal Problems Ahead for the Obama Agenda

By Caitlin Taylor

Apr 3, 2009 11:13am

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl reports: The good news for the White House: The budget passed. The bad news: Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for it. The worse news: Little-noticed changes to the budget suggest problems ahead for the Obama agenda. On the major pillars of the Obama agenda — healthcare, energy and climate change, education, and regulatory reform — the signs from Capitol Hill are less-than promising. President Obama vowed to push for all of them this year in his speech to Congress last month. The push is happening, but the White House and its allies are beginning to scale back expectations. In the coming weeks, listen for Democratic leaders to say it is important to see "movement" or "progress" on the big agenda items this year.  Getting final passage of more than one of these before the end of the 2009 will take a minor miracle. Here’s the outlook: Healthcare — The biggest challenge here is finding a way to pay for it. The Senate last night rejected one funding source: reducing the tax deduction for charitable contributions by high-income taxpayers. The White House also proposed using revenue gained by taxing greenhouse gas emissions (cap and trade). That also appears to be a non-starter in Congress.  So, Congress can agree on how not to pay for it, but not on a viable way to pay for it. There will be a big fight ahead over using the "reconciliation" maneuver to pass a healthcare overhaul with just 51 votes in the Senate. But even then, getting final passage of sweeping healthcare legislation by the end of the year will be extremely difficult. Energy/Climate Change — Last night, two-thirds of the Senate voted to make it much harder to get it passed by opposing a the use of reconciliation for climate change, which would make it possible to pass a bill with just 51 votes. This will be one of the year’s greatest legislative battles, but even some of the bill’s most fervent advocates say the odds of final passage this year are low. One Democratic Senator who strongly favors the bill told me bluntly yesterday, "It won’t happen." Look for a major assist from Al Gore on this one. Gore’s group, the Alliance for Climate Protection, has hired Obama campaign strategist Steve Hildebrand to launch a national campaign to get a climate change bill passed this year. This will be an aggressive, high-profile, well-funded campaign. Education — Is see no sign of progress on a sweeping education reform bill this year. There’s talk of reforming No Child Left Behind, but no real movement. The year’s most significant education legislation may have already passed:  the billions in education spending included in the stimulus bill. Regulatory Reform — The financial crisis has forced this into the center of the Obama agenda, and it is the White House’s best shot for a major legislative accomplishment this year — a sweeping change to the way the financial system is regulated.

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