Oxygen returns to Washington as Obama develops post-health care agenda

Jon Ward Contributor
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It was often said during the year-long White House push for a health-care bill that the issue was sucking the air out of Washington, keeping almost everything else off the president’s agenda.

Well, now the oxygen is returning.

Although this fall’s mid-term elections will delay movement on key issues such as immigration reform, Washington will now turn its attention to select others. Here’s the short list:

Jobs: Analysts expect one of the best jobs reports in many months this Friday, when the Labor Department releases its numbers for March. Economist Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland, predicted on Monday that the report may show about 150,000 jobs gained. Such a number will buoy the White House, but it will do little to bring down the unemployment rate. About 150,000 new workers enter the job market every month, so creating 150,000 new jobs keeps things pretty much steady.

Counter-intuitively, unemployment, which is at 9.7 percent, is likely to increase the more jobs are created, since it will encourage many workers who left the jobs market to return. Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute estimated in January that there were 3.6 million “missing workers.”

President Obama will give a speech on the economy this Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

Financial regulatory reform: Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said last week that he plans to bring his legislation to the Senate floor for debate soon after they reconvene on April 12, following a two-week recess. The White House said recently it wants the bill to the president’s desk no later than Labor Day in early September. For an overview of the legislation, see this analysis by Hamilton Place Strategies.

World affairs: President Obama travels to Prague at the end of next week, on April 8, to sign the just-completed nuclear arms reduction deal with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. A few days later, Obama will host a “Nuclear Security Summit” in Washington.

Then there’s Iran. The Group of Eight nations will discuss the issue of sanctions Monday in Ottowa. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been more hawkish in his statements toward Iran than Obama, is in Washington Monday and Tuesday and will meet with the president at the White House on Tuesday.

The White House has also said it will accelerate a push to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Speculation continues about the chances that the administration will announce they are moving the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from a civilian trial to a military commission (or not try him at all).

The economy/national debt: Deficit hawks and Republicans are generally unhappy with the Obama administration’s record on this so far. Many are calling for the U.S. to show creditors that it is serious about formulating a credible plan for reducing deficits and the national debt. One recent projection shows the U.S. spending $7.4 trillion more over the next decade than it collects in revenues, adding to a national debt that is already over $12 trillion.

The president late last week appointed Democrat Bruce Reed, a former Clinton White House domestic policy adviser, as executive director to the fiscal commission he created by executive order in February. The commission, which is headed by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, is still hiring and has yet to schedule its first meeting, but is due to deliver its report and recommendations to Congress by Dec. 1.

Energy policy
: The New York Times last week declared the idea of “cap and trade” dead, and the Senate is working on new legislation to slow greenhouse gas emissions that is not overly punitive toward business. The president is expected to give a major speech on the topic soon. And Democrats are revolting over the president’s proposed closure of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility.

Then, of course, the president will be promoting his health bill and the Democratic party for the rest of the year. Obama travels to Portland, Maine on Thursday to promote the new health law, following on his trip to Iowa last week following the bill’s passage.