January 28, 2010 / 10:54 PM / 10 years ago

Scenarios: Chances for ambitious Obama agenda vary by program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama seems certain to prevail on his chief 2010 legislative goal, jobs creation, after falling short on his top priority for 2009, overhauling U.S. healthcare.

A special election in Massachusetts last week cost Democrats the 60th vote they need in the Senate to clear possible procedural roadblocks — meaning Obama will need help this year from Republicans.

Given this political climate in advance of the November congressional election, here’s a look at what is likely to unfold this year in the Democratic-led Congress this year:

JOBS CREATION

Democrats and Republicans know they could lose their own jobs in the November election if they fail to pass legislation to reduce the double-digit unemployment rate, the highest in a quarter century.

So like Obama, members of Congress are likely to make this a top priority.

Last month the House of Representatives passed a $155 billion bill that aims to stimulate the job market through infrastructure projects and help states pay the salaries of public employees.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday that he and his fellow Senate Democrats will unveil a jobs package next week. He said it would include long-term and short-term measures.

EXTENDING EXPIRED TAX BREAKS

A set of tax breaks for businesses and some individuals expired at the end of 2009, including a 20 percent research and experimentation credit benefiting many big companies. The Senate and House of Representatives are expected to extend them retroactively — as they have done in the past.

The tax breaks are popular among members of both parties. While there are divisions over how to pay for them, lawmakers seem determined to find a way.

AFGHANISTAN

Obama recently riled his party’s liberal anti-war base by deciding to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan. Democrats appear divided on Obama’s call, but Republicans strongly support it — enough to provide the needed funding and ensure the troops report to duty.

SCALED-BACK ENERGY BILL

Obama’s bid for a sweeping bill to curb global warming — by lowering industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases over the next 40 years — is in dire trouble.

But Democrats and Republicans may rally around some sort of scaled-back energy bill. Congress could pass legislation to establish a nationwide requirement that electric utilities get a certain percentage of their power from renewable resources, especially if there is support for nuclear power and more oil drilling.

DEFICIT REDUCTION

In advance of the November election, there has been mounting public concern about the record federal debt, now standing at about $12.3 trillion.

That concern seems likely to unite legislators in anti-deficit rhetoric, but whether they curb spending more than symbolically is unclear.

Republicans and Democrats have sparred over legislation about tying expenditures to new sources of revenue. But they have been unable to agree on creating some sort of a bipartisan, deficit-cutting commission.

HEALTHCARE

Pelosi said on Thursday lawmakers will move “on many fronts” on the stalled healthcare overhaul, and could pass smaller pieces of the bill separately.

Obama has called for staying the course of reform but has not provided new details, leaving the door open to piecemeal or no action.

FINANCIAL REFORM

Republicans and Democrats are angry with what they see as a reckless U.S. financial industry, one that received taxpayer bailouts and then gave top executives bonuses.

So expect Congress to pass legislation to tighten control of the industry. What the measure ultimately looks like remains unclear.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd is trying to hammer out a regulatory reform bill with bipartisan support, but some Republicans and bank lobbyists are fighting to weaken or block much of the Democrats’ agenda.

The proposals that Obama unveiled last week, to limit the size of banks and the risks they take, complicated Dodd’s job.

Analysts figure the process will take several more months.

Writing by Thomas Ferraro in Washington, Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Kim Dixon, Richard Cowan and Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Peter Henderson and Sandra Maler

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