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Second term challenges loom large, says panel

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Vacant cabinet posts, a slow economic recovery and the looming fiscal cliff mean the start of President Obama's second term won't be easy. A panel of policy experts outlined Nov. 28 the biggest challenges facing the president in his second term during a Brookings Institution event in Washington, D.C.

"The biggest challenge facing him is going to be implementing the healthcare act," said Elaine Kamrack, lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School. "The big stuff in healthcare, in Obamacare, starts to happen in 2014."

Many states are refusing to put together the markets for health insurance that are required under the law and there are some structural problems emerging that may require the president to "go back to the drawing board," she said.

The president will also have to address taxation, because the election revealed a clear mandate for a tax on the wealthy, said Kamrack. Taxation has been a core element of discussions on the fiscal cliff. Not only does Obama face the challenge of proposing tax reform, he must do more to improve his relationship with congressional leaders, said Former Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

"He has to build his relationship with John Boehner," said Vionovich.

"I really feel that if this is a fair deal, John would give up his speakership in order to get this done," he added. "He really is very, very concerned and I think the president should build upon that."

It will be easier for House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) to come to the table and lead, because the influence of the Tea Party has diminished, added Kamrack.

Immigration reform was another clear issue for Americans, according to exit polls, said Kamrack. It's a bipartisan issue Obama should take advantage of, she said. By and large the election was focused on domestic policy, so Obama will likely focus on domestic issues in the second term.

"Although, as we know from our studies, second-term presidents often spend a lot more time in foreign policy than domestic policy--just because they can build legacies there," said Kamrack. "They don't have to spend as much time negotiating with Congress."

"I wouldn't be surprised if the president turns to some big foreign policy initiatives in his second term, perhaps out of frustration," she said.

Deciding what issues he wants to focus on and how he plans to approach them will also influence his cabinet selections. In Obama's first term, he often worked around Congress, "quite energetically" using executive orders, guidance documents, and waivers for various policies that advanced his agenda, said Philip Wallach, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

As Obama chooses new secretaries of Treasury and State, he will have to think about what policies are most important to advance and what actions he'd like to push through the executive branch, said Wallach

For more:
- go to the event page (includes archived audio and summary)

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