Second-term agenda once full of promise now clouded in controversies

June 6, 2013 By    

Five months into his second term of office, President Barack Obama finds his administration mired in many scandals still in the making: sexual misconduct in the military, the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Justice’s seizure of the Associated Press’ phone logs as part of a leak investigation, the controversy over the Benghazi talking points, and efforts by the secretary of health and human services to raise support from private companies.

These controversies are a far cry from the ideas he put forth in his March State of the Union address, which was full of hope for his second term. Back then, his ambitious agenda to reform immigration, reach a budget deal, address climate change and strengthen gun control, among others, had real promise.

Obviously, the situation has changed. The cost to the president is real, both politically and in terms of the amount of time his administration will need to address these controversies.

The press will continue its focus, if for no reason other than to protect its freedom. The legalities of the controversies are complex, too. And, while the general public may lose interest, Congress will not, making the impact on his agenda bad indeed.

No matter if the administration acted illegally or not, or is only guilty of poor political judgment, these controversies will take their toll.

Congress’ significant oversight role is now in high gear and will ultimately lead to time-consuming investigations by many committees. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is no stranger to attacking the president and his administration. He now has his hands full.

Of the president’s second-term agenda issues, immigration has the best prospect for passage at this point. His gun control measure was defeated in the Senate, and while there were rumblings of the issue making a comeback, that now seems unlikely.

Economic issues also seem to be taking a backseat, even as the Treasury Department said the U.S. has until Labor Day until it hits the debt ceiling, pushing that battle into late summer. And with the economy slowly improving, the federal budget crisis and sequestration seem to be yesterday’s news.

Tax reform, a difficult proposition in any administration, had just begun to get some political legs with bipartisan support, but for now is derailed and may give the GOP a strong upper hand, given the IRS controversy.

While legislation to address climate change and other environmental issues is unlikely, the president may still be able to address some issues through executive action. As highlighted in his State of the Union address, the president is asking his Cabinet to “reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Last month, the Senate unanimously confirmed Ernest Moniz, a scientist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as the new secretary of energy. With Moniz now in place, expect attention to turn to the growth and role of domestic natural gas and natural gas exports.

By law, the energy secretary has the authority to decide if natural gas exports are in the best interest of the country before permits are granted to sell natural gas to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the U.S. If approved, an increase in natural gas exports will help the economy in the long term and the U.S. trade deficit. Increased exports may lead to an increase in the demand for hydraulic fracturing, however, which is under strong criticism by environmentalists.

The president’s fiercest critics maintain his administration overreaches into every aspect of Americans’ lives. These scandals only provide fodder for their concerns.

When issues regarding potential abuse of power arise, it is hard to have sympathy for any administration. The president must take strong action to address these controversies if he is to get past them. If not, it may be a long road to the mid-term elections and the remainder of his term in office, let alone the possibility of passing significant policy.

Lisa Bontempo was a longtime energy lobbyist, including 13 years with NPGA. She remains involved in national politics and can be reached at

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