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Experts analyze Obama’s next two years

In anticipation of President Barack Obama’s visit, we asked experts from around campus what they think will be most important for the president to focus on through the remainder of his term. Read responses from Sean Theriault, associate professor in the Department of Government in the College of Liberal Arts; Sherri Greenberg, lecturer in the LBJ School of Public Affairs; and Alejandra Salinas, junior in the McCombs School of Business and president of the College Democrats of America.

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In anticipation of President Barack Obama’s visit to campus Monday (Aug. 9), we asked experts from around campus what they think will be most important for the president to focus on through the remainder of his term. Read their responses below.

Watch a live stream of the president’s speech.

Sherri Greenberg
Lecturer, LBJ School of Public Affairs

Sherri Greenberg

Sherri Greenberg 

The number one issue for most Americans today is job creation. Unemployment is on the minds of everyone, from first-time job seekers to people who have been laid off and to people who are employed but worried about the future. The nation’s financial recovery is dependent on increased employment, consumer spending, and business creation and expansion.

Increasingly, Americans are looking for new energy policies. Energy independence is a key issue for America’s financial independence and national security. Also, concerns regarding finite fossil fuel resources and fossil fuel pollution require significant expansion of renewable, alternative energy resources such as wind and solar.

Additionally, American’s have become increasingly frustrated by the continuing war in Afghanistan. The war has taken a significant emotional and financial toil on this country. Ending the war and bringing our troops home expeditiously is critical.

Sean Theriault
Associate Professor, Department of Government, College of Liberal Arts

Sean Theriault

Sean TheriaultPhoto: Marsha Miller

Congress is now in recess not to come back into session until after Labor Day. When they do come back, the Republicans will not be in a very comprising mood and the Democrats will not take any more tough votes mere weeks before a midterm election that already looks bleak. As such, the 111th Congress — one of the most productive congresses in the last 50 years — will whimper to a close.

When Congress comes back into session in early January 2011, it will contain more Republicans. It is unclear at this point if the Republicans will amount to a majority in either chamber, but we’re absolutely certain the Republicans will win seats in November. As such, it is unlikely the next Congress will be able to accomplish as much as this one. While more Republicans will make President Obama’s tasks more difficult, the Republicans will have a greater share of responsibility in governing the country. For the past two years, they have balked at any meaningful compromise because Democrats alone had sufficient votes to pass legislation.

In the next Congress, there is a path to legislative accomplishments, but it is not as obvious nor as frequently trod as the path of big majorities for the president’s party. I think Obama would be wise to engage Republicans on their ground. His top focus has to be jobs. While other economic indicators suggest the recovery is well under way, the job numbers are lingering. The newly elected Republicans know that if the job numbers do not improve, the American electorate will be in an even more sour mood than it is today, which would put many of their new members at risk of losing in 2012.

President Obama’s second priority should be the war in Afghanistan. This issue, perhaps, is the only one where Obama is closer to Republicans than he is to Democrats. Obama will try to steer a course where conditions on the ground improve and the number of American troops in Afghanistan declines. Accomplishing the former will be difficult, but absolutely vital for him to remain electorally viable in November 2012. Accomplishing the latter will be difficult, but absolutely vital for him to avoid a nasty primary fight for renomination.

Immigration reform for the Republicans in Congress is what China was for President Richard Nixon. The situation in Arizona has exposed a deep and raw fissure in American society. Republicans have encouraged a security-first position only because they do not want to wrestle with the difficult question of what to do with the illegal immigrants who are currently in the United States. Security-first is a good campaign slogan, but an inadequate solution to the problems surrounding immigration. If the Republicans bargain in good faith — as they have in the past, but have been unwilling to do under Obama’s watch — real comprehensive reform that resolves the border issue, as well as the immigration status of those who are currently in the country illegally, may be accomplished.

The path ahead for Obama won’t be easy. The presence of more Republicans on Capitol Hill will be a mixed blessing. While it means that acquiring votes will be more difficult, the Republicans will once again have to be a honest partner in government — a role they have all but abandoned for the last two years.

Alejandra Salinas
Junior, McCombs School of Business
President, College Democrats of America

Alejandra Salinas

Alejandra SalinasPhoto: www.cdafuture.com 

President Obama ran a campaign that transformed our nation by engaging a new generation of voters and providing solutions to the stark challenges affecting our nation. During his time in office he has done just that on issues such as health care, student loan reform and Wall Street reform. As we look to the remainder of his first term in office, there are several issues that remain to be addressed and the president has made it clear they remain a strong priority.

As our nation works to get back on track, the economy is an issue on every American’s mind. The President has already taken strong steps with legislation to jump-start our economy through new job creation and stabilizing the market. My hope is that he continues on this track of investing in innovative industries that lay the foundation for a new American economy.

Comprehensive immigration reform is also a top priority. The president has made it clear that we need a bipartisan solution to this problem. Arizona’s new immigration law is just one more reminder of the urgency of this issue. The best way forward for the president on this issue is to push for legislation that strengthens our borders to protect our citizens from the looming drug-related violence in Mexico, and honors our tradition as a nation of immigrants by establishing a more equitable immigration process.

Finally, as so many of us take on student loans and ponder the choice of pursuing higher degrees, education is something critical for all of us. The president has already taken the first step in overhauling the student loan industry. We need to continue to fight for reform to make sure a college degree is a reality for everyone who works hard and has a desire to obtain it.

Learn more about President Obama’s campus visit.