Battles on budget, healthcare loom for Obama

SMU Political Scientist Professor Cal Jillson talks about the upcoming political wars and strategies for President Obama and Congress.

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON - After a good end to a not-so-good year, U.S. President Barack Obama faces even tougher challenges in the months ahead as looming fights over spending and healthcare set the stage for a difficult 2012 re-election campaign.

When a new Congress convenes on Wednesday, Obama will be confronted for the first time by a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a strengthened Republican minority in the Senate.

Whether he strikes deals with those newly powerful foes and continues the momentum built in December’s “lame-duck” Congress or becomes mired in another bout of legislative gridlock could be a critical factor in Obama’s prospects for a second term. . .

“What will really tell the tale is whether Obama can be taken as credible on deficits and debt, because that is how he gets the attention of independents and moderates again,” said Cal Jillson, a political analyst at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

Those centrist voters, a critical part of Obama’s 2008 election coalition, deserted Obama and Democrats in 2010. For Obama, winning them back could be more critical than keeping the party’s liberal wing, already angry about his tax-cut deal with Republicans, in his camp. . . 

“It’s not detrimental to Obama in a political sense to be seen as compromising with Republicans,” Jillson said. “If he does it in a clever way, he can win back those independents because they continue to like him personally.”

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