Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Obama Shows His Substance and Style

While battles broke out between the White House and Democrats over some of the details last month, the budget approved last week by the House and Senate nevertheless provides the basis for movement on Obama’s key priorities, including covering the uninsured, starting work on a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program and paving a path to college for all. Obama’s next task is to try to extract as favorable a conference report on the budget as possible.

The president is considering pursuing health care overhaul this year. The effort has already begun on Capitol Hill, with moves by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to put together plans.

But the White House has recently moved to downplay suggestions that it would seek a carbon emissions cap-and-trade system — a centerpiece of his energy and environmental agenda — this year. Nevertheless, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week indicated she wants to move this year.

Obama also has appointed a commission led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to consider tax-reform ideas. The panel is to report back in December, so tax reform is for next year at the earliest.

Obama’s removal of General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner — and the deep involvement of administration officials in the company’s restructuring in return for a financial lifeline — demonstrates a willingness to become involved directly in the affairs of private companies that may be unprecedented for a president.

Obama justifies the intervention on the need for bold action to rescue companies on which the broader economy depends. But some Republicans wonder whether the administration will be willing to release its hold — and stop seizing companies — once conditions begin to improve.

The administration has signaled that more such interventions may be on the way. Officials are currently performing “stress tests” on banks to determine their health. The same justification for diving into the affairs of the carmakers could be used for financial institutions that are also receiving billions from the government and fail the stress tests.

But beyond that, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is seeking powers to regulate non-bank financial institutions.

Obama has been relatively silent on terrorism, the issue that consumed Bush and his presidency. Obama mentioned the effort against al-Qaida during an event in Germany as a top priority, linking it to another goal — a nuclear arms deal with Russia.

“I would like to be able to say that as a consequence of my work, that we drastically lessened the threat of not only terrorism but also nuclear terrorism,” Obama said.

Whether the receding threat to the economy or an adverse world event provokes Obama to step up his public focus on terrorism remains to be seen.

Also uncertain is the future of Obama’s outreach to Republicans, which began with great fanfare in the early days of his administration. Republicans say they have trouble backing the president because they just don’t agree with his policies. The White House says they’re wedded to business as usual.

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