“My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together”

In 2012, President Barack Obama was re-elected the President of the United States of America (USA) in a closely fought election with his rival from the Republican Party, Mitt Romney. Obama triumphed with 50.6% of the votes despite facing poor economic conditions as a result of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

He was officially sworn in for the second term during the inauguration ceremony by Chief Justice John Roberts. During his inauguration address on 21 January 2013, he outlined the priorities for the second term of his presidency.
Obama being sworn in for the second term as the President of the United States of America. Source: guardian.co.uk
Obama being sworn in for the second term as the President of the United States of America. Source: guardian.co.uk

Unresolved issues
Obama entered the second term of his presidency with a number of unresolved issues. He identified some of these issues during his inauguration address. Some of his initiatives include:

  • lowering the high budget deficit and debt,
  • managing opposition to the healthcare programme,
  • overhauling the tax code,
  • reforming the education system,
  • changing the voting system,
  • managing the undocumented immigrants in America,
  • addressing climate change,
  • and curbing gun violence

The USA also faces external challenges. The Syrian armed conflict is still continuing with heavy casualties, North Korea remains belligerent after their third nuclear test, and the leadership renewal at the People’s Republic of China also presents new unknowns for Obama. On the economic front, the United States would also have to manage on-going negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral free-trade agreement involving 11 countries.

However, standing in the way of tackling these issues is the partisan deadlock which is impeding decision making in America’s Congress. Appealing for cooperation, Obama said that they “cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate”.[1]

Partisan deadlock
In 2008, Obama entered the White House with high hopes for change in America. However, he was quickly bogged down by fierce fights with the Republican Party in the Congress.

In the recent years, there is an increasing trend of partisanship in America’s political system- parties favouring their own policies and the tendency to refuse any alternatives by others. This has led to increasing difficulties in attempts to pass any controversial, but necessary, political, economic and social policies in the Congress, which could complicate Obama’s ability to govern in his second term as the President.

One example would be the nomination of Obama’s new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. A Republican, Hagel faced intense scrutiny by his fellow Republican Senators during his confirmation hearing. In a period when the USA is facing security challenges from countries like Iran and North Korea, the Senate Republicans said that they had “serious doubts about his basic competence”, and managed to delay his confirmation vote. After much deliberation, he was eventually confirmed as the Secretary of Defense after the delay.[2]

In another case, continued bickering between the Republicans and Democrats over the budget allocations resulted in a budget cut of US$85 billion taking effect from 1 March 2013, to the detriment of the world economy. This budget cut is automatically triggered as a deficit reduction bill was not passed. The budget cut resulted in “long waits at US border posts, reduced military readiness, cuts to special needs education programs, and the curtailment of some emergency medical services”. The Republicans reportedly refused to agree to close any tax loopholes enjoyed by the rich and large corporations, which resulted in the stalemate that caused the budget cut.[3]

Signs of improvement?
While the partisan divide remains deeply entrenched, there is increasing recognition by all sides that Americans are getting impatient with the deadlock in Washington. This is especially the case with the Republicans, who realised that their conservative stance on issues like immigration may have cost them precious votes in the presidential election.

A bipartisan group of Senators, made up of four Democrats and four Republicans, were reported to be working together to unveil measures to give legal status to the illegal immigrants within the United States border. A similar group was also formed in the House of Representatives.[4]

A group of Republican state governors who are due for re-elections also expressed willingness to cross the political divide and work with their counterparts from the Democratic Party. The issues which they are willing to work on include immigration, budget cuts, and the healthcare mandate law. As Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer said, as the leaders of their state, they “have to be much more pragmatic” in their decision-making.[5]

Looking forward
Obama’s second term is likely to be fraught with difficulties. The recovery of the economy from the depression is tepid at best, and his attempts to pass policies are being repeatedly stymied by members of the Congress with vested interests. Even though there is increasing awareness that voters and constituents are getting impatient with the hardened stances adopted by the Republican and Democratic Party members, it is unlikely that they would soften their stands soon. It remains to be seen if Obama could overcome these obstacles and lead the country to greater heights in the next four years.

Thinking question
  1. How can we resolve the political deadlock in Washington?

[1] Inauguration: Barack Obama tells US to seize the moment
[2] Republicans ask Barack Obama to withdraw Chuck Hagel nomination
[3] Despite budget cloud, Obama kick starts second term agenda
[4] Senate immigration reform backers seek quick action
[5] GOP Governors Softening Rhetoric Toward Obama During Second Term