What's Next On The Political Agenda (Is It Feasible?)

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With the debt ceiling and shutdown behind us, for the moment, NPR's Mara Liasson talks with host Rachel Martin about what is next on President Obama's agenda. After such a contentious battle over the Affordable Care Act, can Republicans and Democrats work together to push through new legislation, such as immigration reform?


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now that these clouds of crisis and uncertainty have lifted, we need to focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do - grow the economy, create good jobs, strengthen the middle class, lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity, and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul.

MARTIN: That was President Obama talking about getting back to work in his Saturday radio address. But after the drama of the 16-day government shutdown, how likely is that to happen? NPR's Mara Liasson joins us to talk about where we go from here. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Have the clouds of uncertainty lifted, Mara?

LIASSON: Well, they've lifted until January and February, the new deadlines when the bills funding the government and raising the debt ceiling run out and then we'll be right back where we started from with a possible difference: it's unlikely that the Republicans, despite the enthusiasm of the Tea Party for another go at this, wants to have another shutdown and a possible default.

But it's hard to see how the issues of taxes and spending are resolved by then. The conference committee on the budget, which is supposed to try to come up with some kind of compromise by December 13th, is dealing with the exact same grand bargain impasse that we've had for years, which is the president is willing to make entitlement cuts, but in return he wants Republicans to agree to raise revenue by closing tax loopholes. The Republicans say that's a tax increase and they won't do it. The Republicans are willing to give the president some relief from the sequester - those across-the-board cuts that everyone hates - in return for entitlement cuts. So, the tradeoffs are not lined up and they probably won't be by the end of the year.

MARTIN: OK. So, setting the budget debate aside, which I realize is a hard thing to do, but the president has said he wants to move forward. What is next on his agenda? What are his legislative priorities?

LIASSON: He wants to make another try at immigration reform. This is an issue that's even more divisive for the Republican Party than the showdown. Immigration reform passed the Senate. It's stuck in the House right now. Moderate Republicans are actually with the president on this issue, but the Tea Party conservatives in the House don't want a bill with a path to citizenship in it for illegal aliens. And although getting the immigration issue off the table is a priority for the national Republican Party, House Republicans who live in safe districts with very few Latino voters answer to a different political calculus. So, this is an issue that might have to wait until after the 2014 elections, closer to 2016 - a presidential year - where Republicans feel a little more urgency about this.

MARTIN: Anything else the president really wants to push through?

LIASSON: Well, the president is looking for common ground, and the problem is that there's such a huge gap between the parties on the fundamental question of the role of government, which is what the fight over Obamacare was all about. And I think that common ground is found when resolving an issue is in the political interest of both parties. That might be the case with immigration reform eventually, when the Republican Party has to pivot to a national electorate and appeal to Hispanic voters again. But don't forget there's tremendous amounts of mistrust, not just between the two parties, but inside the Republican Party. The conservative Tea Party base mistrusts the establishment leadership. That mistrust is probably even greater now after the shutdown debacle we just went through.

MARTIN: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much for talking with us.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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