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On Obama's agenda: maintain momentum and parry GOP jabs at 'ObamaCare'

Obama achieved several legislative victories just before going on vacation. But with a GOP-led House vowing to target 'ObamaCare' and government spending, difficult battles await.

President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia (l.) and Sasha (r.) right, returns to the White House in Washington, Tuesday, after a family vacation in Hawaii.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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President Obama had the same spring in his step when he stepped off Air Force One Tuesday that he had when he left before Christmas. His Gallup job approval has just reached 50 percent for the first time in eight months, following a burst of legislative victories in the waning moments of the last Congress.

But it’s a new year, and a new day, in Washington. Divided government is back, with Republicans taking charge of the House Wednesday. Can Mr. Obama, fresh from his Hawaiian vacation, maintain his momentum?

On the face of it, the president will have difficulty. Suddenly, he must play defense. The Republicans are gunning to repeal health-care reform, Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, with a House vote scheduled for Jan. 12. The still-Democratic-controlled Senate won’t pass it, and Obama wouldn’t sign it anyway, but the symbolic import of the House’s expected passage of repeal is lost on no one. The challenge for Obama and his fellow Democrats will be to win a message war with the Republicans, highlighting elements of health-care reform that are popular even as the overall law remains unpopular.

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