By Mike Lillis - 09/29/12 10:00 AM EDT
The presidential contest is far from over, but House Democrats are already readying their legislative wish-lists in hopes that President Obama is reelected.
The lawmakers are floating a broad array of issues they'd like Obama to tackle immediately in a second term, placing a focus on jobs and the economy, but also thorny discretionary issues like immigration, climate change, housing – even a return to healthcare reform.
“He's got to continue to concentrate on jobs,” Rep. Bill Pascrell said last week as the House was leaving town for a long, pre-election recess.
“I'm hoping he'll do immigration reform,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).
“We should get back to an energy policy – one that acknowledges that climate change is real,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
“The critical issues will be revenue generation … and … a concerted push on immigration reform,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
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“I think he'd want his administration to start on healthcare,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).
The remarks highlight the sheer variety of issues the Democrats are hoping to address after two years in the House minority – and foreshadow the degree of pressure a reelected Obama would be under to satisfy his allies after a bruising campaign season.
The quotations also suggest some rising confidence among Democrats.
The presidential contest remains a close one, but recent polls showing Obama with a growing lead in the key battleground states of Ohio and Florida are indication that GOP contender Mitt Romney has a hard road ahead to unseat the incumbent. National polls this week also showed Obama with a growing lead, while Republican criticism of Romney has intensified.
Although the Republicans are expected to keep control of the House, an Obama win amid a lingering jobs crisis would – at least in the eyes of Democrats – validate some of the policies the president has adopted on the campaign trail and pressure Republicans to reach deals on them. Indeed, some leading Republicans have said an Obama victory would be “a referendum” for raising taxes on the country's highest earners, one of Obama's top priorities.
The power of post-election momentum was evident four years ago when Obama was swept into the White House in a wave of Democratic victories that allowed the party to secure the early passage of their controversial economic stimulus package and paved the way for the enactment of sweeping healthcare reforms the following year.
Although voter enthusiasm toward Obama waned, reelection would give the president new – if fleeting – leverage in his negotiations with GOP leaders over a range of issues.
His House supporters are hoping he uses that leverage to fight for a long list of Democratic priorities that were lost to the partisan battles of the last Congress.
Topping the list are lingering concerns about an economy where unemployment remains stuck above 8 percent.
“Debt and jobs,” Welch said. “That's the fundamental issue: How are we going to deal with the debt in a way that promotes growth?”
Obama last year floated legislation designed to create jobs by boosting infrastructure spending, promoting manufacturing and hiking taxes on corporations that outsource jobs – central elements of the Democrats' “Make it in America” agenda. But Republicans in both chambers have prevented that package from going anywhere.
Other lawmakers think social issues will be on the president’s radar.
A growing number of Democrats, for instance, see immigration as a top issue in a second Obama term, particularly if Latinos vote overwhelmingly for the president – as current polls predict – and Republicans are pressured to compromise or risk losing those voters in every national election for the foreseeable future.
“If we don't do it next year, 2014 is going to be here, and then 2016 is going to be here,” said Cuellar. “So I think we'll have a window like we had a window in 2009 after his election … and I hope we get to do it.”
Grijalva agreed that a big win for Obama with Latinos would be enough to convince Republicans to support immigration reform in early 2013 just to “put that issue behind us.”
“It's been a venomous issue politically now for almost three election cycles,” he said.
Honda, meanwhile, wants Obama to return to healthcare reform – the issue that consumed more than a year between 2009 and 2010 – to expand on the state-based insurance exchanges enacted under the Affordable Care Act.
“We've got more to do,” he said. “There should be a federal exchange.”
There's also an emerging push for the Democrats to revisit climate change legislation next year, an issue House Democrats addressed in 2009, only to watch Senate leaders ignore their proposal. The vote was a liability for a number of conservative-leaning House Democrats in the 2010 elections that swept the Republicans into the majority, but Welch argued the issue isn't as partisan as it seems.
“By focusing on energy efficiency, where there's a lot of common ground, [we could] create jobs and it would achieve one-third of the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050,” he said. “That's a big deal.”
Obama, for his part, is optimistic that Republicans would be more willing to compromise in a second term than they were in his first.
“My hope is that when the American people speak in this election – if I'm fortunate enough to be elected but we still have a Republican-controlled House – that some of the fever breaks and the particular goal of beating me no longer holds,” Obama told Ohio's Plain Dealer Thursday.
Still, the window to act on significant legislative changes will likely be short, as the fiscal cliff debate could extend well into 2013, leaving little room to maneuver before the campaign season launches for the 2014 midterms.
Asked how Obama should spend his political capital if he wins reelection, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) offered some advice.
"Carefully," he warned. "Carefully.
"Whatever we go after first has to be a bipartisan issue, whether it's cyber-security, whether it's payroll tax, whether it's the doc fix in Medicare, whether it's the jobs bill – whatever it is – we've got to do it together," Cleaver added. "Because even if we have the votes and try to run over them, the hostility will be so great here on the Hill that the midterm will very likely create problems."