Obama Balances Political Coalitions on Range of Issues

    U.S. President Barack Obama has charted a complicated political course over the next few months. Mr. Obama is rallying Democrats to support health-care reform in Congress. But he is also counting on Republican help for his new strategy on Afghanistan.



    U.S. President Barack Obama has charted a complicated political course over the next few months.  Mr. Obama is rallying Democrats to support health-care reform in Congress.  But he is also counting on Republican help for his new strategy on Afghanistan. 

    Each day seems to bring new challenges for a president who just marked his first 10 months in office.

    Only days after announcing his new strategy on Afghanistan, which includes sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops, Mr. Obama quickly refocused on the domestic economy and getting unemployed Americans back to work.

    "But Americans who have desperately been looking for work for months, some of them maybe for a year or longer, they cannot wait and we will not wait," said President Obama. "We need to do everything we can right now to get our businesses hiring again so that our friends and our neighbors can go back to work."

    The administration did get a small bit of good news with word that the unemployment rate last month had dropped from 10.2 to 10 percent.  But even the president's Democratic allies in Congress acknowledge that cutting the jobless rate quickly is an uphill battle and a lack of progress could leave them vulnerable during next year's congressional midterm elections.

    The Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, says there is little debate about the top priority in the year ahead.

    "Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs," said Nancy Pelosi. "It is all about jobs and as we work on these issues we always are working on the issue of jobs creation."

    At the same time, the president is trying to secure congressional passage of a sweeping health care reform plan.  Republicans are nearly unanimous in their opposition to the multi-billion-dollar plan based on cost projections, which means the president must rely on Democratic unity to pass his signature domestic priority by early next year.

    This is the House Republican leader, Congressman John Boehner of Ohio:

    "The first thing that has to happen is that the job-killing agenda that the president supports that is moving through the Congress has to be stopped," said John Boehner.

    A major political complication is the president's recently announced strategy on Afghanistan.  Some Democrats have criticized the plan, especially the deployment of tens of thousands of additional troops.

    Among them is Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who appeared on ABC's 'This Week' program.

    "We are operating at huge deficits in this country and the idea of continuing to spend for this war flies right in the face of the American people's priority to bring spending down," said Russ Feingold.

    Republicans were generally supportive of the additional troop deployment, though several questioned the president's determination to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the middle of 2011.

    The president's decision on Afghanistan comes at a time when opinion polls show the public is divided over the question of sending more troops and the future U.S. role in that country.

    The president's own approval ratings have come down in recent months and now hover at about 50-percent.

    Tom DeFrank is a longtime political observer and the Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News.

    "And he has done it in spite of the fact that Afghanistan has really polarized American public opinion," said Tom DeFrank. "Americans are basically divided, more or less evenly, on the wisdom of going ahead.  But at the same time he has muted the criticism from the Republicans."

    One recent public-opinion survey suggests that Americans in general have become more isolationist in recent years and less willing to commit resources on missions abroad, especially given economic problems at home.

    The poll was conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Council on Foreign Relations and found that 49 percent of those asked agreed with the statement that the United States should mind its own business.

    James Lindsay is the studies director for the Council on Foreign Relations:

    "Which is why arguments about cost will become more important politically, both because people will want to know why we are not spending money here at home, and also the extent to which people are worried about the deficit," said James Lindsay.

    Analysts say that for the foreseeable future the president will have to maintain a delicate and complicated political calculation.

    Mr. Obama will continue to rely on Democrats to counter Republican objections over his health-care reform efforts.  At the same time, the president will reach out to Republicans for support on national security issues, particularly Afghanistan, where some members of his own Democratic Party have chosen to break with him.  

    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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