“He’s had a steep learning curve, but I think he’s learned a bit about how to negotiate,” says James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. “He’s tougher now.”
Instead of trying to make nice with congressional Republicans, his team has made clear, Obama will work the opposition from the outside, traveling out into the country more and playing to public opinion. His tech-savvy campaign operation, Obama for America, has morphed into Organizing for Action, an effort to turn his millions of supporters into a digital army that “will work to turn our shared values into legislative action,” as Obama wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
After the frustrations of trying to negotiate with House Speaker John Boehner (R), Obama now seems set to use the bully pulpit to exploit congressional Republicans’ extraordinarily low public approval. Already, the House Republicans’ decision Friday not to extract concessions in exchange for raising the debt ceiling for three months represents a bow to public opinion.
But there are two more “fiscal cliffs” to come on which Obama is in a weaker position – the late-February deadline for deep spending cuts known as the “sequester” and the end of federal spending authority on March 27. Obama also faces longstanding pressure to put entitlement cuts on the table.
The Republican game may be to tie Obama down, as the Lilliputians did to Gulliver, with all the fiscal cliffs. But Obama is still dreaming big. Many agenda items remain from the first term, including immigration reform, climate change, and energy.
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” he said after his Nov. 6 election victory.