WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama rarely mentioned climate change, gay marriage or immigration reform last fall when he practically moved into Ohio during the final days of the campaign.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rarely mentioned climate change, gay marriage or immigration reform last fall when he practically moved into Ohio during the final days of the campaign.
But Obama focused squarely on those issues last week in his inaugural address. Although the president promised he would aggressively push this agenda during the next four years, he will face intense resistance from House Republicans and some Senate Democrats.
Some issues — such as gay marriage — are pending in the courts. Others, including climate change, might be addressed largely through federal regulation.Much of Obama’s agenda, however, might require action from a Congress that has been resistant to do anything he wants.
So the question becomes: Was Obama reciting a wish list on Inauguration Day, or does he truly intend to go to the mat?
A look at what’s likely to happen in the near future:Climate change
Movement over the next four years probably would be through executive orders, not Congress. Environmentalists say Obama could use the Clean Air Act — and the Environmental Protection Agency — to effect change.
That means he probably will move forward on plans to limit the carbon emissions that power plants are allowed to produce. It’s also possible he will implement stricter standards on methane emissions. He can do both through rule-making under the Clean Air Act.
Julian Boggs, policy advocate for Environment Ohio, said Obama already has taken sweeping action on climate change, including requiring improved fuel efficiency in automobiles.
“But we hadn’t had … real leadership on global warming signaled through rhetoric during his first term,” Boggs said. “Maybe we just got the signal that that’s going to change.”
Melissa McHenry of Columbus-based American Electric Power said change might come with a price, with power companies and electricity consumers predicted to see higher costs if new regulations became a reality. She said AEP is pushing for “maximum flexibility” to minimize the impact on the economy.
McHenry also said U.S. emissions are expected to be only about 10 percent of worldwide emissions by 2030, and emissions in developing countries are growing rapidly. What the United States does will have little impact if the rest of the world doesn’t also act, she said.Gay marriage
Obama became the first president to speak out for gay rights — or even use the word gay — during an inaugural speech, calling for same-sex couples to have the right to marry.
But much of the movement on gay marriage is occurring in the states. Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing gay marriage, and two others recognize gay marriages from other states. Last week, the Rhode Island House passed a bill recognizing gay marriage.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in March on a marriage-equality case that would determine whether the Constitution’s equal-protection clause bars the state of California from defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Unlikely in the near future: Congressional action undoing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Obama ordered his Justice Department to stop defending that federal law in 2011.Guns
Obama has made his agenda on gun control clear, releasing a long list of legislative priorities and executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence.
His inauguration comments were more muted. He never mentioned guns directly, but instead called for all children to know “that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”
Among the proposals Obama hopes to push through Congress: requiring criminal-background checks on prospective buyers in all gun sales, a ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and reviving the ban on military-style assault weapons. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., unveiled legislation to bring back the assault-weapons ban. House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, pooh-poohed a ban, saying it would give people a “false sense of security.”
Jim Irvine of the Buckeye Firearms Association said he worries that Obama’s proposals will do little to prevent mass shootings. While not philosophically opposed to background checks for gun buyers, Irvine said he worries about who can conduct those checks, what information would go into the checks, and what would disqualify people from owning a gun.
Toby Hoover of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, who supports stronger gun-control measures, is optimistic, particularly about Obama’s proposals on background checks.
“I think there’s really a chance for all of the things that he called for happening,” she said. “ I really do believe this time it’s different.”Entitlements and the deficit
Within a few minutes last week, Obama said two things that had Republicans on the dais behind him mystified.
He said he wants to reduce the size of the deficit. But he then offered a full-throated defense of entitlements — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — saying that those programs “do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.”
Republicans say they don’t disagree with the importance of those programs but believe they are unsustainable. Spending on entitlements accounts for 41 percent of the federal budget, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and dwarfs most discretionary spending.
Here’s why that’s important: The nation has a $16.4 trillion debt, and has maxed that out. Some economists worry that without significant action, the nation will go bankrupt. They say the nation faces a fiscal emergency if Congress does not act, and that only by addressing entitlements can spending be brought under control.Immigration reform
Both Republicans and Democrats say the nation’s immigration system is broken, with families frequently separated and those seeking a legal route to citizenship delayed at best and stymied at worst.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and tea party favorite, has rallied his party for immigration reform, saying it would allow high-tech companies in the United States to fill vacant jobs that require special technological skills. Elsewhere, an NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll found that 52 percent of respondents favored allowing employed undocumented workers to apply for legal status. And Boehner signaled last week that “you’re likely to hear a lot more on immigration reform soon.”
Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, said there’s an appetite in Congress to address the nation’s cumbersome immigration system, but he’s pessimistic that Obama is sincere about reaching an accord: “He wants to win (the House) in 2014 so he can do what he wants.”