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Looking Ahead to Obama's Next 100 Days

Looking Ahead to Obama's Next 100 Days

By Mike Memoli - April 29, 2009

In many ways, President Obama's first hundred days were defined more by what he inherited than what he planned to do. That's not uncommon for new presidents, particularly when there's a change in party. But the scope of the economic challenge facing the nation, and the determination on the part of Democrats to reverse George W. Bush's policies made it particularly so for Obama.

So even as the White House has downplayed the 100-day milestone, calling it a "Hallmark Holiday," it enters the second hundred days ready to refocus the country on some of the key promises Obama made as a candidate, as he begins to follow through on his agenda of change.

More from RCP - In Depth: Top 10 Most Memorable Moments in Obama's Administration

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"He's made clear the things that are important: reducing the deficit, health care reform, energy reform, education reform. And he's going to continue to pursue those things," said deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

The massive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the signature achievement of the new administration thus far, enabled Obama to make some headway on these fronts. Coincidentally, Congress plans to vote today on a final budget resolution, one that moves even further on what many Democrats feel is the most critical action item: health care.

"Everybody in America knows he can't turn the economy around before the midterm elections," said Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and a candidate for president in 2004 "The one thing that he can do is deliver a health care bill for them. That'll make a really big difference in the average American's life in difficult economic times."

Dean, who is leading an independent health care advocacy effort through his political organization, Democracy for America, said that Democrats scored a major victory by authorizing the possibility of using the budget reconciliation process for health care, a step that he says ensures that health care "can't be held hostage by the Republicans."

As lawmakers work on specific health care legislation, Dean urged the president not to back down on a plan with a public insurance component.

"If it doesn't all we have is the same old stuff, and I don't think it's worth spending $634 billion on what we've already got," he said, referring to the "down payment" Obama included in his budget.

With any plan likely to come with a huge price tag, it may seem contradictory that fiscal responsibility is another self-identified priority for the Obama administration. But in recent weeks, Obama himself has attempted show movement toward that end, though his call for Cabinet agencies to cut $100 million from their budgets was widely mocked as being insiginificant.

"All across America, families are tightening their belts and making hard choices. Now, Washington must show that same sense of responsibility," Obama said this Saturday in his weekly address - the second consecutive one on the topic.

The administration and its allies also maintain that entitlement reform is a necessary first step to this end.

"Healthcare reform is going to be critical to our ability to tackle the deficit," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said.

As he works to tackle these and other domestic challenges, Obama's calendar contains several key international trips, including one to Normandy scheduled for June, and a meeting of the G8 leaders in Italy this July. Notable as well are more imminent visits to Washington by the leaders of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian state, announced last week as Obama moves on a key international priority of reigniting the Mideast peace process.

"The President spoke throughout the campaign about the simple notion that it is in the interest of this country to seek that lasting peace, and that this country should be engaged in a constructive role to move that process forward and to be engaged in it early and often," Robert Gibbs said.

Obama enters the next phase of his administration with his popularity largely intact; RCP's average of his approval rating has remained steady in the low-60s. It remains to be seen whether this still represents an ongoing honeymoon phase for a closely-scrutinized president, and if the political capital he's yet to spend in the battles ahead will impact his ratings further.

"The president has had a lot on his plate, but the American people have given him high marks for how he's handled all of the different things that he's been dealing with," Burton said. "He's going to continue to take the same thoughtful approach ... [and] hopefully the American people will continue to support his policies."

Often discussed is the high partisan gap, cited by critics as evidence that Obama has failed to live up to his promise to lead in a bipartisan way. House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters last week that it was clear after the stimulus debate "that all this post-partisan talk and working down the middle and working together was a ruse."

"Maybe we can have a new beginning," he said of the next 100 days.

"This is still a partisan place, but he has reached out to the minority party in a way that presidents have not in the recent past," McCaskill countered. Burton pointed to Arlen Specter's decision to become a Democrat as proof Obama has been more inclusive than the Pennsylvanian's former party.

Looking ahead, even after another 100 days it's unlikely Obama will have scratched the surface on fulfilling his agenda. Politifact's "Obameter," a measure of the president's record on keeping his promises, finds 27 have been kept, with 63 more considered in progress and hundreds more on the docket.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the 100 days, however, it's this: Obama never used the word "pirate" on the campaign trail, and the threat of a swine flu pandemic wasn't a topic of discussion. So even as the economy remains fragile and everyone from Wall Street to Main Street scrutinizes his every move, Obama needs to continue to show adeptness at handling the unpredictable.

More from RCP - In Depth: Top 10 Most Memorable Moments in Obama's Administration

More from RCP - In Depth: 10 of History's Boldest Presidential Promises

More from RCP - In Depth: Top 10 Most Corrupt Politicians in U.S. History

More from RCP - In Depth: 8 Handshakes That Changed History

Mike Memoli covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at mmemoli@realclearpolitics.com

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