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President Obama: His Top 5 Challenges If Dems Lose Congress

Roselle Chen |
October 20, 2010 | 5:50 a.m. PDT

Senior Editor

President Barack Obama (Creative Commons)
President Barack Obama (Creative Commons)
As President Obama arrives at USC Friday to fundraise for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, questions and mostly doubts arise as to the re-election of Democrats in the Senate. 

If polls, experts and history agree on one thing, it’s that Obama will definitely lose control of the House and is precariously close to losing the majority in Congress in next month’s midterm elections.

“Washington and California will likely determine control of the Senate,” said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director. “We need to win both of those.” 

It happened to George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and it will most likely happen to Obama: What would a divided government mean for Obama and most importantly, the U.S.? 

During the first presidential debate between Obama and John McCain in 2008, Obama listed four issues (aside from the subprime mortgage housing crisis) that he would make his priority if elected president. 

They were: energy independence, health care reform, education and infrastructure. Another looming topic discussed was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Below are five hurdles Obama is faced with if he does end up losing control of Congress:

1. National Healthcare

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare,” was signed into law on March 23. It’s been unprecedented in its own right since the U.S. hasn’t had such an overhaul in the healthcare system in five decades. 

Obama fought hard for the reform and has managed to pass it, albeit with a large number of dissenters from the left and right. 

The plan will roll out in five installments over the course of the next 10 years. See here for specifics.

If Obama loses control of Congress, Republicans will call for the law’s repeal. A Rasmussen poll released Monday said that more than half of potential voters would side with Republicans on this issue and 54 percent of voters in March opposed the health care plan. 

Although the Rasmussen Reports are described as a “conservative-leaning polling group," it would speak for the majority if Congress is taken over by Republicans.

2. Foreign Policy

Obama pulled troops from Iraq after seven years of war but put the same number of troops into Afghanistan where a nine-year war was waiting (100,000 soldiers out of Iraq and 100,000 soldiers into Afghanistan). 

Obama has said from the beginning that he was opposed to the war in Iraq and wanted to concentrate on Afghanistan to take down Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. 

Republicans spoke out against setting up a timeframe for withdrawal from Iraq, but what’s done is done. 

They agree with Obama to raise the number of soldiers being sent to Afghanistan but don’t agree, once again, to the projected timeline of withdrawing troops in July 2011.

If the Republicans in Congress take over, it will mean opposing opinion on how Afghanistan’s war strategy should be dictated and will be a main topic of discussion during Obama’s 2012 re-election period.

Historically, presidents have concentrated on foreign policy and have usually flourished in that aspect when midterm elections didn’t go their way. 

The congressional restraints put on a president domestically are less so when the president works internationally, but one of the reasons why Obama pulled troops out of Iraq was so that he could concentrate on domestic affairs.

3. Infrastructure

Obama announced a $50 billion infrastructure-spending plan in September that would rebuild roads and bridges and also create a bank that would allow the federal government to “issue low-cost loans for transportation projects to local governments.”

Republicans are against the plan and believe that government is taking too large a role in the faltering economy. 

If Congress has a Republican majority, they would cut taxes across the board, eradicate the infrastructure plan and decrease government involvement in the economy. 

“In a September 2010 Rassmusen poll, 61 percent of U.S. voters said cutting government spending and deficits would do more to create jobs than the president's $50 billion infrastructure plan,” said the Council on Foreign Relations.

4. Energy

“We have to have energy independence, so I've put forward a plan to make sure that, in 10 years' time, we have freed ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil,” said Obama during his debate with McCain in ’08.

Obama issued an energy bill in June that sought to find alternative sources of clean energy to reduce oil use and cut pollution after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. 

Republicans panned the bill, as well as more than a couple of Democrats. 

The White House’s Web site hasn’t updated its clean energy proposal since June 15 and The New Yorker said that the bill couldn’t be agreed upon in the Senate.

Although it looks like the energy bill has hit a dead end, progress on the clean energy front is being made through the Recovery Act. 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is a $787 billion economic stimulus package whose aim was to create jobs during the recession. 

Energy and energy infrastructure falls under the umbrella of the Recovery Act and to date, $32.7 billion has been awarded on energy projects such as cleanup of radioactive waste, modernizing the U.S.’s electrical grid and upgrading power transmission systems. 

And though the Republicans are likely to vote against any energy bill suggested by the Obama administration, “New surveys by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the NRDC Action Fund from 23 key congressional districts show that voters favor a clean energy plan that creates jobs and limits climate change by an average of 52 percent.”

What this means in terms of awards given to the energy sector under the Recovery Act is that there will probably be very little money given out, if any at all, by a Republican majority Congress.

5. Education

Obama’s initial education plan was to “deploy federal money to turn around failing schools, hold teachers accountable for student test scores, and open more charter schools,” which “earned glowing reviews from Republicans on Capitol Hill.”

That support has changed with the upcoming elections and bipartisan education reform seems to be a thing of the past.

Obama’s Race to the Top campaign and Pell Grant student loans will most likely be canceled as Republicans call for less government involvement in education policy.

Reach Roselle Chen here.
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