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Round two: President facing same tough fights in Congress

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Photo - FILE - This June 15, 2012 file photo shows President Barack Obama announces that the U.S. government will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. Presidential terms are measured by sweeping laws and stirring events, but legacies are about enduring ideas. The one Barack Obama has in mind will drive most everything he tries to do in the next four years: assuring that America is a place where anyone can make it.  (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
FILE - This June 15, 2012 file photo shows President Barack Obama announces that the U.S. government will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. Presidential terms are measured by sweeping laws and stirring events, but legacies are about enduring ideas. The one Barack Obama has in mind will drive most everything he tries to do in the next four years: assuring that America is a place where anyone can make it. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Campaign 2012

President Obama will have a cordial luncheon in the Capitol with Democratic and Republican lawmakers after he's sworn in Monday, but the pleasantries won't last. Almost immediately, the president will hit the first of the major congressional obstacles that will help define his second term.

As Obama huddled in the White House to prepare for Monday's festivities, lawmakers were exchanging fire over the need to raise the nation's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit. If it's not raised, the government will effectively run out of money in mid-February.

After months of threatening not to allow an increase in borrowing, House Republicans last week said they would agree to raise the debt ceiling for three more months. But in exchange for the temporary relief, Republicans are demanding that the Democratic Senate pass a budget -- the Senate's first since 2009 -- that cuts spending. If there's no budget, Republicans said Congress won't be paid.

"We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government's spending problem," Boehner told House Republicans at their annual retreat in Williamsburg, Va. "The principle is simple: no budget, no pay."

The Republicans' push-back is an indication of what Obama faces in term two: Even as he tries to increase spending on infrastructure and pushes to raise the debt ceiling to pay the nation's bills, the GOP will try to force spending cuts they say are needed to ensure the nation's economic health.

Other fights over spending are scheduled, including the looming $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that could take effect in the coming weeks and the expiration of a temporary spending measure that is currently funding the government in lieu of a budget.

Democratic strategist Doug Schoen called it "inevitable" that Obama's second term will be dominated by repeated spending battles given that Congress is divided, with Republicans running the House and Democrats controlling the Senate.

"There is no clear solution, no clear compromise, and both sides are intransigent," Schoen said.

Obama and Congress are also already clashing over guns. The president last week unveiled an ambitious package of legislation and executive actions intended to curb gun violence, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and expanded background checks for gun buyers. Those proposals face stiff oppositions on Capitol Hill, not just from Republicans but from Senate Democrats facing re-election in gun-friendly red states.

To combat Congress, Obama is again turning to the public, reinventing his campaign organization to help build support for gun control.

"The only way we can change is if the American people demand it," Obama said.

Democratic strategist Brendan Daly, a former top aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Obama's strategy could help him squelch Republican opposition on a variety of issues, including comprehensive immigration reform and the debt ceiling.

"He just has to take it to the people," Daly said. "He has the popularity here, they don't. Obama has to make the case substantively."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said his top priority four years ago was to make Obama a one-term president, called on Obama last week to address the "seriousness of the debt crisis" in his inaugural speech and to work with "both parties in Congress" to rein in spending.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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