A make-or-break speech

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Yesterday he blew a deadline to introduce a budget. The sequestration cuts, spending reductions so draconian both parties have characterized them as disastrous, are set to take effect less than four weeks from now. The government will run out of operating funds and shut down just six weeks from now if Congress and the president don't agree to a budget. The debt-ceiling debate returns in two months for a deadline of averting default by mid-May. A new front in the war on terror, whatever you want to call it, has opened up in Mali and made clear we face a new threat from an emboldened Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb. Members of both parties in Congress are demanding to see the contents of a secret memo the administration drafted outlining its policies for drone strikes to kill terrorists. The civil war in Syria, complicated by an Israeli strike, and a burgeoning crisis in Egypt - and our role in the region at this critical moment - haven't received a mention from the president as he tours the country promoting immigration reform and new gun controls. It's not clear, certainly from the testimony of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as nominee for Secretary of Defense, just what the administration plans to do at this juncture about Iran's nuclear weapons agenda, and whether there are plans to conduct bilateral talks with the regime.

To be sure, Obama's proposals to reform our immigration system, restrict access to high-capacity ammunition clips, and require universal background checks for gun sales, are all popular policies and all have majority support in poll after poll. Even a ban on assault weapons, which is not expected to be part of the legislative push, enjoys majority support as well. It's not wrong for the president to push hard on these two issues which will require relentless focus in order to pass bills that can be signed into law.

But Obama will have to be specific on a variety of issues next week. The narrower his focus, the narrower his window of influence will be in 2013, and the sooner he makes himself a lame duck.