Sun, May 18, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Obama chafes at checks on power

AFP, WASHINGTON

The most powerful man in the world is getting frustrated that he cannot get big things done.

US President Barack Obama is speaking with introspection about constraints on his power at home and abroad, as midterm election inertia stifles Washington and his hopes of major legislative wins this year.

Early skirmishes of the 2016 presidential campaign — and the unquenchable media obsession with all things Clinton — are already forcing Obama to share the political stage.

When power ebbs at home, second-term US presidents often flex muscle abroad.

However, no overseas playground awaits Obama: in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, US dominance is under siege, fueling a Republican narrative that the president fires blanks and lacks a coherent foreign policy doctrine.

In friendly company, Obama’s frustration is beginning to show.

“I’ve got a drawer full of things that we know would create jobs, help our middle class, boost incomes, make us more competitive,” Obama told wealthy New York Democrats.

“But we have a party on the other side that has been captured by an ideology that says no to anything,” he said.

The president’s gloom is partly self-inflicted.

Obama botched the rollout of his healthcare law and saw his approval ratings — and consequent power to persuade in midterm polls erode.

His administration is now struggling to contain a scandal after 40 military veterans died while waiting for treatment at a Phoenix, Arizona, medical facility.

TOUGH CROWD

The White House meanwhile blasts endless Republican probes into the deaths of four Americans in the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 as blatant partisan hackery.

“What a year, huh?” Obama said at the White House Correspondent’s gala this month, in a speech packed with the usual zingers, but delivered in an unmistakably joyless tone.

Top Obama aides say the president should not be judged on what he gets through a hostile US Congress.

With two-and-a-half years to go, Obama’s sense of his ebbing term is acute.

He said last week that only a two or three-month window remained to pass comprehensive immigration reform before November’s congressional polls. Given Capitol Hill’s record of achievement, that timetable seemed wildly optimistic.

Dreading lame-duck status, Obama declared this year a “year of action” and is using executive power to fight climate change, boost the middle class and repair US infrastructure.

While presidential orders can be effective, they pale in comparison to what a like-minded Congress could do.

With Republicans tipped to add Senate control to their grip on the House of Representatives though, Obama is unlikely to ever again find compliance on Capitol Hill.

LAST CHANCES

However, hope still lingers for a bipartisan transportation bill and for legislation regarding US National Security Agency surveillance in the post-Edward Snowden era.

A Republican Congress could also prove amenable to endorsing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that is the centerpiece of Obama’s foreign policy pivot to Asia.

Also, if latest data showing nearly 300,000 jobs were created last month is a harbinger, Obama’s administration could yet enjoy an economic Indian summer.

He also still has time to cement the pivot to Asia, following a successful regional tour last month.

CONTRADICTION

Increasingly, Obama seems to see the contradiction of his position.

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