By Nick Davis
Happy New Year.
2012 has come and gone and not without it’s fair share of political turning points. We saw Barack Obama elected to his second term as president as well as ballot measures approving marijuana possession and gay marriage. Who would have thought four years ago that we would see the legalization of these two controversial issues, not to mention in the same year?
In addition, several individual events also shaped legislative policy in this country. Just recently, the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut sparked resurgence in calls for tighter gun control. The terrorist attack on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, including the assassination of the American ambassador and its subsequent handling by the Obama administration, left the country divided as to how well protected we are from terrorism.
Finally, the only thing the U.S. has been able to focus on since the election has been scheduled tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect the first of the year, also known as the fiscal cliff. Congress came together in the 11th hour to strike a deal. While the majority of expected effect was avoided, most Americans will still see an increase in taxes, mostly due to an expiration in Social Security payroll tax cuts.
After a wild ride in 2012, what can we expect to see from our government in the New Year? Here are 6 things to keep your eyes on:
As I mentioned earlier, gun control will become a hot topic in 2013. We’ve already heard from Barack Obama and the NRA as to how to deal with this culture of violence. Democrats are pushing for a renewed assault weapons ban that was first introduced by Bill Clinton in 1994 as well as a national gun registry. Republicans have opposed these measures choosing to focus on a culture of violence stemming from TV and video games and citing the lack of care and treatment of mentally ill individuals.
Despite calls for tighter gun laws, does anyone actually think we’ll take meaningful steps toward reform? We already had an assault rifles ban and yet that didn’t stop shootings from happening. On top of that, if Congress takes into account the attitudes of the American people, they’ll see that support over time has decreased for stricter gun laws, with the usual spikes after major shootings like we’re seeing right now. We’ve been through this cycle again and again. Call me a pessimist, but I’ll believe in gun reform when I see it.
After the 2012 election, Republicans were left reeling with questions about how to win non-white voters. Hispanic voters voted 69% in favor of the President leaving many to wonder whether the GOP needs to reevaluate its stance on immigration. Democrats also have immigration reform on their radar. Obama has said that it will be a priority in his new term but has kept his hand close to his chest.
Immigration is a place where Obama can score a relatively easy legislative victory as long as the proposal isn’t too radical. He has the GOP looking to revamp its stance given their loss in the last election and compromise here shouldn’t be too difficult. Republicans will be willing to work with the President on immigration in order to change their perception among minority groups, especially Latinos. At this point, all he needs to do is allocate the time, something he hasn’t done in the last four years.
If you thought the fiscal cliff deal would be the end of economic bickering for a while, think again. The United States has already reached it’s debt ceiling despite voting to raise it this past summer which saw a credit downgrade from the three major credit bureaus. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner employed some accounting measures in order to avoid hitting the debt ceiling on New Year’s Eve, but he couldn’t say how long those measures would be needed before hitting it again.
Republicans are hoping to use this new fight to reform government spending, specifically entitlement programs. There is no doubt that every department has waste it can cut out of the budget, but Republicans better be careful. After six weeks of political chicken, Republicans are seen as the guilty party when it comes to negotiating - whether they deserve it or not. They can’t roll over but they can’t take the negotiations down to the wire. The US and the Republicans, cannot afford another credit downgrade. Expect another knockdown, drag-out fight.
Reports are coming out of Syria that the death toll has risen to approximately 60,000 since the fighting began last spring. Barack Obama has taken a hands-off approach to the fighting choosing instead to arm the rebels and put increasing pressure on President Bashar Al-Assad to relinquish power. However, for a war weary nation, Obama has threatened military action if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons against its own people. The country has proven the most volatile of the Arab Spring nations and there doesn’t seem to be an end in site.
With government debt at an all time high, it doesn’t make fiscal sense to start another war. Obama needs to take the same general approach he did with Libya, keeping troops off the ground by arming and training the rebels and strategically using our drones. Americans will not be keen to see more military personnel killed in yet another Middle East country.
It’s no secret that he won a second term as president. Now what will he do with it? Obama has already proven he has a taste for landmark legislation with the Affordable Care Act. Now that he doesn’t have to run for reelection, he could take a step to the left, however, that could be negated by the fact that 2nd term presidents are usually most effective in their first two years until they become a lame duck.
I expect Obama to be more ambitious in his 2nd term, not more progressive. His ideas on the environment, gun control, and the need for immigration and education reform are well known. It will be interesting to see what one of the most polarizing president in recent memory will do with his 2nd term in 2013.
The Republican Party
It doesn’t seem the Republicans fully recovered from the ire they drew from the American people following George W. Bush’s presidency. They can’t even agree to be united among themselves as evidenced by their infighting over John Boehner’s Plan B. If they have any hope of taking back the White House in 2016, they will need to take a long, hard look at what they stand for and how they will interact with Democrats. The GOP would be better served if they dropped their hard line stances on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, and immigration and focus on how best to keep our economy and finances under control.