Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- It's not premature now to say that President Obama's second-term agenda is adrift. That is, if he ever really had a well-thought-out agenda to begin with.

Little more than four months into his fifth year in office, the prospects of his legislative priorities remain murky at best, while his efforts to win support in Congress and rally the country behind his proposals have been greeted with a big political yawn.

Even some of his liberal supporters in the news media are giving him failing leadership grades on Capitol Hill and on his campaign-style efforts to build public support for his agenda at the grass-roots level.

"At this point in his presidency, Obama has pretty much tried it all. He has met privately with Republican leaders in the House, collaborated with bipartisan groups of senators and taken his case to the people," The Washington Post said in a critical front-page evaluation Monday. "This year, for the most part, none of those approaches have worked."

The president, known for his political aloofness, even among Democratic leaders on the Hill, has tried to show a little warmth with legislative leaders who can make things happen for him, as Ronald Reagan did with his second-term tax rate-cut agenda. But the Post ruefully concedes that "Obama still isn't very good at using his personal charm to achieve political success."

Let's review: His ambitious gun control proposals were shot down in the Democratic-run Senate when several members of his own party deserted him. His immigration reforms face an uncertain future in that chamber, too, and perhaps less of a chance in the GOP-controlled House. His tax-raising budget is dead.

Second-term presidencies often face difficult odds, and Obama's may be tougher than most because of his narrow re-election in the popular vote and a strategic campaign decision to avoid a salient issue that polls showed was the voters' No. 1 concern: a weak, job-scarce economy.

Reagan soared into his second term with a huge 49-state mandate and a solidly recovering economy that was growing by nearly 6 percent. He had campaigned on a tax-rate-reduction, revenue-neutral plan to scrub dozens of income tax exemptions, credits and other loopholes from the IRS code.

That plan, enacted with bipartisan support, brought in a lot of new revenue that was used in part to cut tax rates across the board and bring the top rate down to 28 percent. (The top rate under Obama for high-income taxpayers is now close to 40 percent, weakening capital investment, new business start-ups and job creation.)


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.