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Healthcare win may threaten rest of Obama agenda
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's victory on healthcare may spell defeat for his other domestic priorities if Republicans, incensed by Democrats' legislative tactics, succeed in blocking energy and immigration reform.
Obama, a Democrat, signed the controversial bill to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry into law on Tuesday, delivering a major political victory for his party while antagonizing Republicans, who vowed to repeal the measure and fight his agenda going forward.
"There will be no cooperation for the rest of this year," Senator John McCain, Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential election, told a radio program, criticizing the way Democrats steered the bill through Congress.
"They have poisoned the well in what they have done and how they have done it," he said.
The healthcare legislation passed both houses of Congress without Republican votes, and many Democrats say the opposition party has done little to support Obama's agenda anyway.
Even so, if the legislative "well" is in fact poisoned, the impact could be broad.
Obama's hopes to upgrade U.S. education standards, rewrite rules that govern the financial industry, fight climate change and address illegal immigration depend largely on his ability to get backing in the Senate, where Democrats lack the 60 votes necessary to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.
White House advisers, who see political momentum from the healthcare success, played down concerns about other policy initiatives being blocked.
"It would be a shame if, as a political strategy, the other side adopted a kind of 'just say no' approach," David Axelrod, one of Obama's top policy advisers, told Reuters, adding that was not what Americans wanted from their government.
"They want us to work together. They want us to disagree where we disagree and find common ground where we find common ground, and that's what the president's going to continue to work to do," he said.
Axelrod said the president would turn his attention to advancing financial regulatory reform and fighting a recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate campaign contributions -- two issues the White House sees as political winners.
LEGISLATIVE CHOPPING BLOCK
Immigration reform and legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions could suffer the most from the partisan divide.
"I think Republicans are going to be very wary of reaching across the aisle and working with the Democrats now that they've taken this scorched-earth policy on healthcare," said Republican strategist Scott Reed.
"I think it's both climate change and immigration that are the first two on the block."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a leader on both issues in the Senate, has suggested the same.
Democrats' handling of the healthcare bill will "make it very difficult to do anything complicated and controversial," he told reporters on Monday, adding that he was not dropping out of writing a climate bill with Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, and Joe Lieberman, an independent.
"I'm still committed to trying to roll out a vision of how you can price carbon and make it business-friendly," Graham said. "But the truth of the matter is, I think you're going to find most of our colleagues around here risk adverse."
Obama held meetings with lawmakers on immigration and climate change in recent weeks to get an update on both issues and prove his commitment to skeptics, and he cited the wide-ranging healthcare measure on Tuesday as an example of how bills that are broad in scope can become law.
"As we tackle all these other challenges that we face, as we continue on this journey, we can take our next steps with new confidence, with a new wind at our backs -- because we know it's still possible to do big things in America," Obama said.
A lot rides on whether that optimism proves accurate.
A U.S. climate bill is critical to advancing international talks on global warming, and immigration reform is a priority for Hispanics, one of Obama's key political constituencies whose votes will be important in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Where Obama's White House concentrates its advocacy will help determine which legislative battles Democrats are likely to win this year. Healthcare's conclusion at the very least makes room for other issues to get attention.
"Many senators who want a comprehensive energy and climate bill passed have been consumed with the drive to get healthcare passed," Kerry said.
Republicans and Democrats are both claiming momentum after the healthcare debate. The coming months will show whether that leads to progress or stalemate for both sides' policy goals. (Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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