Honolulu — Leaving behind a year of bruising legislative battles, President Barack Obama enters his fourth year in office having calculated that he no longer needs Congress to promote his agenda and may even benefit in his re-election campaign if lawmakers accomplish little in 2012.
Absent any major policy pushes, much of the year will focus on winning a second term. The president will keep up a robust domestic travel schedule and aggressive campaign fundraising and use executive action to try to boost the economy.
Partisan, down-to-the-wire fights over allowing the nation to take on more debt and sharply reducing government spending defined 2011. In the new year, there are almost no must-do pieces of legislation facing the president and Congress.
The one exception is the looming debate on a full-year extension of a cut in the Social Security payroll tax rate from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. Democrats and Republicans are divided over how to put in place that extension.
The White House believes GOP lawmakers boxed themselves in during the pre-Christmas debate on the tax break and will be hard-pressed to back off their own assertions that it should continue through the end of 2012.
Once that debate is over, the White House says, Obama’s political fate will no longer be tied to Washington.
“Now that he’s sort of free from having to put out these fires, the president will have a larger playing field. If that includes Congress, all the better,” said Josh Earnest, White House deputy press secretary. But, he added, “that’s no longer a requirement.”
Aides say the president will not turn his back on Congress completely in the new year. He is expected to once again push lawmakers to pass elements of his jobs bill that were blocked by Republicans last fall.
If those efforts fail, the White House says, Obama’s re-election year will focus almost exclusively on executive action.
Earnest said Obama will come out with at least two or three directives per week, continuing the “We Can’t Wait” campaign the administration began this fall and try to define Republicans in Congress as gridlocked and dysfunctional.
Obama’s election year retreat from legislative fights means this term will end without significant progress on two of his 2008 campaign promises, an immigration overhaul and closing the military prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.