(Reuters) - Congressional Election Day on Tuesday may be President Barack Obama’s only opportunity to pause before he plunges into a 10-day trip to Asia and starts work on a long post-election “to do” list.
Here are a few of the more pressing issues facing him.
BUSH-ERA TAX CUTS
A ticking time bomb: So far Democrats and Republicans have been unable to agree on how to defuse it. Obama wants to extend the tax cuts on income below $250,000 while Republicans want the cuts to be extended for everyone, including the wealthy. Widely predicted Republican gains in the congressional vote might force Obama to compromise. If both sides fail to reach agreement, the tax cuts will expire at the end of the year.
Both Obama and Republicans agree that digging into America’s huge budget deficit will be a top priority. Polls show most Americans are deeply worried about ongoing deficits after a fiscal 2010 gap of $1.3 trillion. Extending the Bush tax cuts would be popular with voters but would complicate the fight against the deficit. A bipartisan deficit panel appointed by the president is due to report on December 1, but it is unclear whether its 18 members can reach consensus or if Congress would adopt its recommendations.
Obama has promised a review of his new Afghanistan war strategy in December. U.S. military officials have cautioned that it is highly unlikely to lead to a major rethink of how the United States is fighting the nine-year-old war, despite the strategy’s so far mixed results. U.S. casualties and Taliban attacks have risen, but the top U.S. commander there, General David Petraeus, says he is seeing progress. Meanwhile the idea of negotiations with Taliban leaders appears to be gaining ground.
The U.S. Treasury delayed a decision on whether to name China a currency manipulator until after the G20 meeting in Seoul on November 10. The value of China’s yuan currency is a running sore in relations between the world’s two biggest economies. With Chinese President Hu Jintao due to make a state visit in January, Obama will have to perform a delicate balancing act.
Obama says stubbornly high U.S. unemployment keeps him awake at night. He will still be having sleepless nights after election day as he tries to figure out new ways to stimulate the economy and bring down a 9.6 percent unemployment rate. Republicans have already expressed opposition to his most recent stimulus plan — a six-year program to rebuild U.S. infrastructure with an initial $50 billion investment.
Obama has been without a budget director since July, with Senate approval of Jack Lew, his nominee for the job, still pending. The White House hopes to get Lew approved in the short session that Congress will convene after the election. The timing is seen as especially critical with the deficit panel expected to report back on December 1.
Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak set a November 10-12 deadline for resolving obstacles that have blocked approval of a free trade agreement since 2007.
The U.S. Senate has yet to approve a new nuclear arms treaty between Russia and the United States that is the cornerstone of Obama’s efforts to reset strained relations with Moscow. Russia hopes the treaty, which commits the former Cold War foes to reducing deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent, will be passed in the short session of Congress.
The White House said this week it wants a bill on Obama’s desk by the end of the year repealing the 17-year-old policy barring gays from serving openly in the U.S. military. Obama is also waiting for a Pentagon study due by December on the impact of repealing the policy. He is likely to face opposition from Republicans and some top military commanders.
Obama is expected to reshuffle his White House team, which already has several key vacancies. Apart from getting Lew confirmed by the Senate, Obama will need a replacement for one of his most senior economic aides, Larry Summers, who is stepping down as National Economic Council director.
Reporting by Ross Colvin, additional reporting by Caren Bohan, editing by Philip Barbara and Frances Kerry