Politics
U.S. President Barack Obama’s Top Ten Challenges Over The Next Four Years
November 7, 2012
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Well, Barack Obama got what he asked for.

Four more years in the White House and four more years to, as he's put it, "move America forward."

But now that he's been re-elected, the President doesn't have a lot of time to celebrate or savour his victory.

He's got business to take care of. And the road ahead could be just as bumpy as the one he's already travelled.

With that in mind, we put together a list of the top 10 challenges Barack Obama is facing as he heads into his second term.

A Struggling Economy

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This was the biggest issue in the campaign and is the biggest issue on most voters' minds, according to exit polls.

The U.S. is slowly picking itself up and dusting itself off after its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

Unemployment has dropped but it's still high, at 7.9%. That's the highest any re-elected President has faced since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And no President since Roosevelt has held onto power with such a bad economy - not Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter or George Bush Sr.

12.5 million Americans are officially unemployed. Another 8 million are considered underemployed. And 2.5 million are said to have stopped looking for work for various reasons.

Throw in a shaky real estate market and the ongoing debt crisis in Europe, and there's plenty of concerns.

That said, some economists believe the worst is over and the U.S. economy is showing signs of not just recovering, but taking off again.

The So-Called "Fiscal Cliff"

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As of January 1st, the U.S. is facing what's being called a "fiscal cliff."

On that day, a series of tax increases and government spending cuts are due to take effect that will impact nearly every American.

And this isn't just a coincidence. This was deliberately planned by Obama and
Congress, to try to get them to agree on plan to cut the U.S. budget deficit.

The thinking is - if there's a deadline for America to go off "the fiscal cliff", the Democrats and the Republicans will come to their senses and get a budget deal.

So far, no deal.

To get one, Obama and Congress will have to agree on what to cut, what to protect and what to change - everything from social programs like Medicare and Social Security, to the defence budget, to the income tax system.

If they don't get a deal, economists say the combination of tax hikes and big spending cuts will hurt the economy, and could throw the U.S. back into recession.

The U.S. Budget Deficit and National Debt

The U-S deficit is now at $1.1 trillion or about 7% of GDP. That's actually down from about $1.3 trillion this time last year.

It's the smallest deficit since 2008 but it's also the fourth year in a row the deficit has been more than $1 trillion.

Obama inherited it when he took office, partly because of tax cuts under George W. Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama promised to cut it in half during his first four years, but it's as high now as when he took office.

That's partly because the government increased spending to try to stimulate the economy during the recession.

Meantime, the U.S. national debt is now $16 trillion.

Both the Democrats and the Republicans agree they can't keep spending and borrowing money America doesn't have.

But they can't agree on how to do it. During this campaign, Obama promised to cut deficits by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

He says he'll do it by controlling spending and getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for higher-income Americans (ie: those that make more than $250,000)

The Republicans are against that - arguing that with a weak economy, the government shouldn't be raising anyone's taxes.

Working With Congress

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Even though Obama is back in power for another four years, many Americans are wondering if anything is really going to change.

The fact is, Congress is still divided - the Republicans control the House of Representatives; the Democrats have a majority in the Senate.

So in many respects, it's the status quo. The same political gridlock that has paralyzed
U.S. politics for the past several years.

The question is - will the Republicans be any more willing to compromise with Obama now, than they were in his first term?

Not likely, according to Politico's chief political columnist Roger Simon. He told CBC News that "Congress is a place where hope goes to die."

But as the BBC points out, it all depends how each party see the election results.

The Republicans could stand firm and fight Obama every step of the way, because they see a weak president, who barely won the election.

Or they could do some soul-searching, and consider that they "have to recognize the demographic changes in this country. Republicans cannot win with just rural, white voters," as Republican senator Susan Collins told The New York Times.

Women again voted heavily for Obama by a margin of 55% to 43%.

Non-white voters voted for Obama overwhelmingly. And that population is growing, while the white population is shrinking.

Other Republicans say the party has to solve its own internal battles between moderate and hard-right conservatives.

Obama also has a choice to make - continue to push for compromise or take a harder line knowing he's not up for re-election anymore. He just needs to get things done.

The Threat Of A Nuclear Iran

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During the election campaign, Iran was characterized as one of - if not the biggest - threats to America's national security.

Of course, many Western countries are concerned Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and have imposed sanctions that are hurting its economy.

Iran says its nuclear program is for energy and is peaceful. And its leaders have defied calls by the West to abandon its program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on Obama to impose an ultimatum or "red line" that Iran cannot cross.

To this point, Obama has avoided that.

But if Iran continues to move ahead, analysts say Obama could - at some point - be forced to decide whether or not to attack Iran's nuclear sites, or to give Israel the go-ahead to go to war.

Trouble is, a military attack on Iran could set off a war in the Middle East and create more problems for the U.S.

Ideally, Obama would like to keep Iran in check through international pressure without using military force.

The Civil War In Syria

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The civil war in Syria has dragged on for more than a year and a half, killing more than 36,000 people.

To this point, the U.S. has called on President Bashar al-Assad to go but has shown no interest in getting involved militarily and that's not likely to change.

However with Obama re-elected, analysts believe the U.S. might get more deeply involved with the rebel opposition fighters in Syria.

Until now, the U.S. says it has only had contact with exile groups and political opposition figures inside Syria.

But today, Britain said it is now going to deal directly with rebel commanders. American officials are considering doing he same.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said "There is an opportunity for Britain, for America, for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and like-minded allies to come together and try to help shape the opposition, outside Syria and inside Syria."

"And try to help them achieve their goal, which is our goal of a Syria without Assad."

The War On Terror

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Even though Osama bin Laden is dead, the so-called "war on terror" isn't over. And the next few years could say a lot about how effective that war has been.

U.S. soldiers are due to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 after more than ten years on the ground.

But many analysts are concerned the Afghan government isn't fully capable of taking responsibility for the country's security.

Soon, the U.S. plans to start formal negotiations with the Afghan government about what U.S. military presence, if any, would stay after 2014.

Obama has already withdrawn the 33,000 surge troops sent to Afghanistan in 2010. 68,000 troops are still there.

The White House and the military commanders haven't decided yet how quickly those troops will be pulled out over the next two years.

As well, Obama has work to do to improve the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which is a key ally in the "war on terror."

Tensions have been high, especially since the U.S. secretly sent special forces into Pakistan to kill bin Laden.

As well, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have increased dramatically under Obama. The U.S. says the strikes have helped kill a number of senior al-Qaida militants.

However, they're very unpopular in Pakistan - which sees the strikes as an infringement on its sovereignty.

The Rising Cost Of Medicare

Medicare is a big government health care program for American senior citizens and disabled Americans.

It's been around for nearly 50 years, and is one of the Democrats' proudest achievements.

Trouble is, it's running out of money - mainly because of the growing costs of health care and an ageing population, where more and more baby-boomers are retiring and becoming eligible for benefits.

Critics of the medicare program say this is proof that government-sponsored health care doesn't work.

But other analysts say that isn't the issue. They say health care in America needs a much larger overhaul.

Don Berwick, former administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the BBC...

"America's health care delivery structure is unresponsive to the needs we've got. One needs to see this as a problem with the way that American health care is shaped and delivered for everyone, not with government-sponsored health care."

Obama has promised to protect programs like Medicare and Social Security, saying again last night...

"If the price of peace in Washington is cutting deals that will... eliminate health care for millions on Medicaid who are poor or elderly or disabled... I'm not buying that. That's not a price I'm willing to pay."

Now, the challenge is to find the money and the political will to pay for it all.

Climate Change & The Move To Clean, Sustainable Energy

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Climate change was barely mentioned during the election campaign. But last night during his victory speech Obama eluded to it by saying...

"We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

He added that "freeing ourselves from foreign oil" would be a top challenge.

In his first term, Obama raised fuel-economy standards for vehicles.

He also increased restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants (mainly coal) and put millions of dollars of stimulus money into renewable energy companies.

Now, environmentalists are hoping Obama will get even tougher on big oil and gas and make bigger cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.

They also want him to make significant investments in solar and wind power, and start America on the road to a green economy.

He'll likely be in for a fight with the Republicans, who strongly maintain that oil and natural gas production creates jobs and helps the economy.

Obama has said the U.S. needs every energy source it can find, including oil, gas and 'clean' coal.

He also still has to decide whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which greatly impacts Canada.

The pipeline would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands through several U.S. states to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Immigration Reform

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According to exit polls, Obama won 71% of the Latino vote.

With that kind of support, analysts say the President has to deliver on a key campaign promise from 2008 - immigration reform.

Obama has suggested he believes he can get it done next year, with a focus on six key areas:

(1) fix border enforcement
(2) "interior enforcement," such as preventing people from overstaying their visas
(3) prevent people from working without a work permit
(4) creating a committee to adapt the number of visas available to changing economic times
(5) an 'amnesty' type of program to legalize undocumented immigrants
(6) programs to help immigrants adjust to life in the United States

Already, there are calls from the Latino community for Obama to come through.

In a statement Eliseo Medina, a Latino union leader said "As we congratulate President Obama for winning re-election, we also send him and the new Congress a message: 'We expect passage of comprehensive immigration reform next year. We don't want promises; we don't want debates. We expect action.'"

Angie Vaca, a nurse and an Obama supporter of Hispanic descent, told CBC News "We're tired of waiting."

She called on Obama to help people "who love this country and live in fear of being pulled away from their dream."

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