100 Days of ... not much

Barack Obama has now hit the 100th day of his second term, a milestone which generally means less than it does in the first term, when a new President has a true honeymoon.  Obama was the first President in long memory to win a second term with a lower percentage of the vote (and fewer votes) than in his first election, a pretty clear sign that Obama didn’t have a big popular mandate to ride in the first months afterward, too.  Even with lower expectations in mind, Obama has done almost nothing to advance an agenda, leaving the impression of a lame-duck executive at least two years too early.

Brian Hughes, the Washington Examiner’s White House correspondent, writes that time is running out:

One hundred days into his second term, President Obama has not accomplished any part of his ambitious legislative agenda. And the window to turn things around is closing fast.

For Obama, the past three months were critical to building momentum for legacy-defining achievements, starting with gun control and comprehensive immigration reform. Like any second-term president, the sprint from Inauguration Day is seen as the most productive time for major new laws.

But the president enjoyed no honeymoon at the start of his second term. Even his push for expanded background checks on gun purchases, which the White House trumpets as an issue with the backing of 90 percent of Americans, was too steep a climb on Capitol Hill.

Obama has alternated between stretches of blasting Congress and wooing lawmakers, essentially running his own good-cop, bad-cop routine. Neither strategy has worked so far. And some Obama supporters are now expressing concern that the first 100 days of the second term were wasted.

It didn’t help that the White House budget proposal, which was due on about Day 15, didn’t appear until Day 80.  Budget proposals frame agendas and priorities in a concrete manner, and until Presidents offer budgets, no one has a clear idea what the White House actually wants to do for the next 18 months.  The long delay, on top of all the fighting over the sequester and tax rates, ended up wasting what little momentum Obama had.

Marc Ambinder writes that Obama’s shift to the middle has made it more difficult to move an agenda:

With detractors on both sides, Obama is, for better or worse, now positioned in the political center on an array of domestic and foreign issues. On issue after issue — gun controlthe Keystone oil pipeline, immigration reform, Social Security and Medicare, and more — any sober assessment puts Obama in the center. He has been moving there for years, most notably starting in his 2011 State of the Union address.

The real question isn’t if Obama is in the middle — it’s whether owning the center can translate into actual victories in Congress — and whether Obama’s political style is effective in a polarized Congress.

Actually, Obama isn’t in the “middle” on Keystone or on Social Security and Medicare, either — he’s nowhere.  Other than chained CPI, which is a very modest reform in Social Security, Obama keeps talking about entitlement reform but opposes every proposal to enact it, instead insisting that tax hikes will fix entitlement programs.  Despite years-long pressure from Congress on Keystone, Obama won’t take a position on the pipeline that Canada now says will be a critical measure of their relationship with the US.  And on gun control, Ambinder seems to forget that Obama went all-in on the assault-weapons ban and the demagoguery against gun owners before backtracking to background checks — hardly a “middle” position.

Even his victories turn out to be flops.  Obama won tax hikes in January but ended up making the rates and the AMT fix permanent, removing all leverage from the sequester fight when Republicans turned the tables on him.  He spent weeks stoking hysteria over a 2.3% reduction for a federal budget that had grown 36% in six years, then spent another few weeks looking foolish when the sky didn’t fall.  That’s hardly a productive way to spend the first 1o0 days of a second term.

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