Analysis: What the Obama-Biden victory means for domestic, foreign issues

The Obama-Biden victory Tuesday night makes it more likely that the major reforms anticipated by passage of stiffer financial regulation and broader access to higher education will be implemented. It’s also likely that Republican plans for providing a defined benefit for eligible Medicare recipients to buy private insurance will go nowhere.

DOMESTIC

In several respects, the president is expected to continue domestic policies of his first term, including health care reform. The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, for example, takes four years to be fully implemented.

Obama signed the Dodd-Frank financial regulations aimed at preventing another economic crisis; these will now stay in effect rather than be repealed, as the Romney-Ryan ticket proposed. Obama also signed the Credit CARD Act in 2009 that lets consumers know how long it would take to pay off credit card debt.

Still, Obama was willing to roll back some financial regulations this year in the JOBS Act, and a second Obama administration, like the first, is unlikely to want to upset Wall Street.

Obama has said he would not continue to extend Bush-era tax cuts to those making more than $250,000 a year, and that will be a major point of contention in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s vote. Less clear has been whether he will propose continuing the payroll tax cut that expires at the end of the year. Medicare taxes on upper incomes, called for in the health care law, will proceed.

Obama has angered a significant element of his base, teachers’ union members, by supporting charter schools and pay-for-performance, which are likely to be extended in a new four-year term.

In energy production, Obama is now free to offend some environmentalists and go forward with plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Canadian tar sands to Texas oil refineries.

ECONOMY

President Barack Obama’s re-election on Tuesday gives him a pathway to pursue an economic agenda that he has argued will put Americans back to work.

The plan, which the president has been touting for months, includes a combination of tax cuts and incentives for businesses as well as investments /in public schools and infrastructure.

One of the cornerstones of the proposal is taxes.

The president has promised to lower individual and corporate tax rates while raising taxes on Americans who make more than $200,000 per year.

To make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, Obama wants to implement the so-called “Buffett Rule.” Named after billionaire investor Warren Buffet, the proposal would require families making more than $1 million a year to pay a federal income tax of at least 30 percent.

Obama has proposed a 10 percent tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers or increase wages. He has said he will end tax deductions for companies that ship jobs overseas and use the savings to create a new 20 percent tax credit on expenses incurred to move an overseas business back to the United States.

In addition, Obama has suggested allowing companies to immediately write off the costs of new plants and equipment. He has offered a number of proposals to assist Americans looking for jobs, such as requiring states to come up with more rigorous re-employment services for the long-term unemployed.

To deal with the federal deficit, Obama has proposed $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. Defense spending and other programs would be slashed, he has said, but Medicare and Medicaid would be preserved.

The president’s plan also calls for modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country and pumping money into roads, rail, airports and other infrastructure projects.

FOREIGN

Barack Obama went to Cairo in June of 2009 and spoke of “a new beginning” and “mutual respect” in U.S. relations with Middle East countries. Two years later, the world experienced the Arab Spring.

Obama doesn’t claim to have sparked it off but his administration’s behind-the-scenes actions helped fell longtime tyrants. Nonetheless, Obama now is under fire by dissidents in Syria and elsewhere for doing little to back up his rhetoric with action.

A second Obama administration can be expected to continue to encourage democratization and an end to ethnic strife around the world with a projection of an Obama Doctrine that combines a sober assessment of a changing world and America’s restraint in seeking to shape its future.

But he’ll likely do it with a new secretary of state, with Hillary Clinton expected to step down.

Obama will continue the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and continue to confront Iran over its nuclear weapons capability. He’ll also have to calm the nuclear-powered Pakistan-India rift and deal with North Korea’s missiles.

Relations with Israel will remain close and unquestioned even as Obama continues to have disagreements with right-wing Likud Party leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One almost-certain policy shift is a lowered priority for missile defense, hinted at when Obama was

caught on a “hot mic” in Korea earlier this year telling outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” in dealing with Russian objections to U.S. missile defense plans once he was re-elected.

It’s probable that U.S. relations with President Vladimir Putin will remain strained, but Obama is not likely, unlike his campaign opponent, to call Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” But Obama is also certain to face criticism for giving little support to dissidents who say free speech and fair elections are disappearing in a country sliding back towards totalitarianism.

With regard to China, Obama is likely to try to encourage America's a major creditor nation to end or limit its currency manipulation, which affects both imports and American unemployment. But it’s likely trade policy would remain the same as under previous administrations, with multinational corporations and Chinese state-owned companies dictating terms.

In addition to the U.S. troop presence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, estimates are that U.S. special operations and other secretive commando forces are operating in at least 70 other undeclared conflicts. Drone strikes in Yemen and elsewhere show Obama is determined to fight potential terrorists abroad on national security grounds, despite criticism from civil liberties and humanitarian groups.

HEALTH

In a second term, President Barack Obama is expected to continue implementing the health care reform law he signed in 2010, with most major changes to take effect in 2014.

When fully established, the new system is expected to reduce the number of uninsured Americans from about 50 million to about 24 million.

Although the Republican-controlled House has repeatedly voted to overturn the law over concerns that it is too expensive and intrusive, a Democratic Senate has refused to consider any rollback.

Broader budget and tax battles may determine how much money is available to encourage states to expand their Medicaid programs -- the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled they don’t have to enlarge them, and some will not -- but the mandate requiring most people to either buy insurance or pay a penalty will survive.

Other insurance changes, like bans on annual or lifetime coverage limits and guaranteed coverage regardless of health status, will take full effect in 2014. New regulations for provisions expected to save money will take priority.

Though state health insurance exchanges are due to be established by Jan. 1, 2014, many Republican governors have resisted, forcing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services either to allow delays or to permit states to partner with the federal government in running the exchanges from which individuals and small businesses are supposed to purchase policies.

A second Obama term will maintain spending cuts to Medicare -- $716 billion over 10 years, primarily in reduced reimbursements to providers -- although Congress will press for other changes. Perhaps it will raise patients’ eligibility age for full coverage or impose income limits.

IMMIGRATION

President Barack Obama won a second term Tuesday along with a second chance to make good on a first-term promise for comprehensive immigration reform.

But nothing comprehensive is on the table from the administration, and if Obama senses too much opposition, he probably won’t try to shepherd a large immigration package of legislation through Congress. It is likely Obama will make a renewed push for the DREAM Act although it’s not considered substantial reform by those who advocate looser immigration standards or those who want tighter enforcement and limits.

The bill provides a path to citizenship for as many as 1.7 million young immigrants, brought here as children, as long as they meet education or military service requirements.

The act failed to pass the Senate in 2010, but the Obama administration came up with a bit of a workaround expected to continue in his second-term in office.

Obama made an executive decision not to deport certain young immigrants who stayed out of trouble, got a high school diploma or served in the military. He used his presidential power in June to allow a two-year reprieve from deportation coupled with the granting of work permits.

But look for the Obama administration to continue to deport illegal immigrants -- already more than 1.4 million and counting -- who have been convicted of crimes, deemed national security threats, or have been caught crossing the borders repeatedly.

Obama characterized those ushered out of the country as “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the communities” in a presidential town hall debate.

He also has advocated granting permanent residency to foreign students who received advanced technical and scientific degrees from U.S. colleges. But Obama didn't push for this while the economy was stuck in recession.

OTHER PRIORITIES

During this presidential campaign, substance was sometimes difficult to find. Attack ads dominated the airwaves, and speeches

and debates offered scant specifics on policies and plans. Any promises came with the often-unspoken caveat that a divided Congress would determine their fate.

Even so, at least an outline of what President Barack Obama's priorities for his second term -- including many continuing from his first four years -- can be sketched.

Here, in capsule form, is some of what you can expect his administration will do -- or try to do-- on an array of issues.

Global warming:

* Says climate change "is not a hoax," and ties severe drought, wildfires and record heat to global warming.

* Advocate more use of "clean," renewal energy sources, and wants China and India to do the same.

* Avoid pushing legislation such as the unsuccessful "cap and trade" measure to control carbon emissions, which died in Congress.

Defense spending:

* Cut spending and manpower substantially, including by reducing the Army and Marine Corps by 100,000 troops over five years. The defense budget would fall from 4.5 percent of estimated gross domestic product to 2.9 percent over that time.

* Shift resources from ships and tanks to Special Operations forces, cyber war and defense, and unmanned vehicles.

* Reorient overseas basing to emphasize the Asia-Pacific region, with increased attention to China's military buildup.

Small business:

* Extend small-business tax credits that are slated to expire in 2013. Cut taxes for businesses that hire new workers or pay higher wages.

* Permanently eliminate capital gains taxes on some small-business stock that is held for more than five years.

* Promote Obama’s health care reforms as a way for small businesses to find affordable health care plans and to enjoy tax credits that may cover some costs of providing health benefits to employees.

Housing:

* Continue pushing reluctant federal housing regulators to forgive some of the debt of underwater homeowners.

* Advocate for higher minimum down payments to lessen risks in mortgage lending.

* Shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while carving out a still-undefined role for government in helping people buy their first homes.

Federal deficit:

Intend to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years by:

* Using half the savings from ending U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay down a portion of the deficit.

* Raising taxes on those who make more than $200,000 a year, and scaling back tax deductions.

* Lowering spending on Medicare and Medicaid, but without reducing benefits.

Supreme Court:

* Fill any vacancies with liberal justices in the mold of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, and possibly swing the court balance to the left.

* Vigorously defend, via the solicitor general, against challenges to same-sex marriage, the Voting Rights Act, abortion rights and environmental regulation.

* Argue in favor of overturning Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that allowed unfettered spending to influence elections.

 

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