As President Obama sits down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos for a Sunday morning exclusive, there appears to be no shortage of hurdles ahead for the president coming up this fall. Here are five big ones.
1) Syria. The great unknown. There are still so many questions. Early this morning, the U.S. and Russia reached an ambitious agreement to transfer Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, but it remains to be seen whether the plan will work. And if not, what then? Obama certainly did not appear to have the votes in Congress to authorize military action earlier this week, but under the War Powers Act, Obama would have the authority to carry out a limited, brief military strike against Syria without Congressional approval. There are also inevitable financial considerations in any outcome: If a diplomatic solution succeeds, who would pay the hefty cost of securing and removing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles? And, if it fails and military action eventually comes to pass, how much would it cost the government? And how would the U.S. markets react?
2) A government shutdown? It’s looming. Federal funding for the federal government runs out on Sept. 30, and with just over two weeks left to pass a spending bill — one of those weeks being a so-called constituent work week where the House won’t be in session — Republicans are deadlocked. The reason for the deadlock: Obamacare. Conservative Republicans don’t want to sign on to a government funding bill unless it specifies that none of that funding would go towards Obamacare. Of course, any such measure would never make it out of the Democratically controlled Senate, and so Congress is at an impasse. On Wednesday, House Republicans delayed a previously scheduled vote on a spending bill that included a healthcare measure after it became apparent that the votes were not there. The way the bill was presented, the healthcare measure could have been defeated but the spending bill could still pass, so conservatives turned against it. It’s highly likely a government shutdown would be blamed on Republicans, but it’s a headache for the White House, and something that makes Washington as a whole look terrible.
3) Federal Reserve fight. Obama is said to be seriously considering nominating former Harvard president and Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as his pick to replace Ben Bernanke for this important economic position. If he does, he can expect an uphill battle in the senate, where Summers would need to be confirmed before starting the job. Summers is a controversial figure. He’s been disliked by women’s groups since 2005 when he hypothesized in a speech that one of the reasons why there were fewer women in tenured positions in science and engineering departments at top schools might be a result of a “different availability of aptitude.” Liberal Democrats are not fans of his work deregulating Wall Street. Republicans have reservations about him as well after his prominent roles under two Democratic presidents, but namely his work as director of the National Economic Council in the first two years of the Obama administration. Obama will have his work cut out for him with this choice.
4) What about immigration reform? Can a comprehensive reform plan — or any reform plan — be reached? The ball is in Congress’s court and with a full slate of urgent budget issues to tackle this fall, it appears as though the legislation is indefinitely stalled in the Republican controlled House of Representatives, making it tricky for the president to help move it along.
5) A growing lack of focus from lawmakers and the media. Time is not on Washington’s side as we head into the last several months of 2013. Come the new year, a significant amount of focus will shift to the midterm elections. In Congress, several key lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are going to face tough re-election battles, and Republicans have a real chance to pick up seats in the upper chamber in states like Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota, making it that much harder for Congress to get anything done. The DC media focus will be split as well, one eye on Washington but another focused on these battleground races. And then there’s the 2016 presidential race, which sometimes feels like it’s already kicked off, but will really get into gear as soon as the midterms are over.
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