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Crucial stretch for Obama

President Obama has a big second-term agenda, but he faces a make-or-break stretch during the next couple of months on two big issues.

He has made gun control and immigration reform top priorities, but neither is close to getting to his desk.

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By this time during his first term, Obama had signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the stimulus package.

In his State of the Union address, Obama said if Congress did not move quickly on immigration, he would offer his own plan. That proposal was subsequently leaked, infuriating key Republicans.

But Obama deftly put out that fire by reaching out to GOP senators who are working on comprehensive immigration reform in the Gang of Eight.

Yet, legislative initiatives can’t be taken very seriously until there is actual legislation. During the last Congress, the fiscal Gang of Six/Gang of Eight kept promising they would release text of a bill “soon,” but it never emerged.

The immigration Gang of Eight this week vowed to release bill language next month. By all accounts, those promises are expected to be kept. But there has been friction on the issue between important stakeholders, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If those differences are not resolved, the bill will teeter.

Gun control advocates suffered setbacks on Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said an assault weapons ban and background check legislation would not be included in the Senate’s base bill that will be considered on the floor.

Earlier this year on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called universal background checks on firearm purchases “the sweet spot” of gun control.

Reid on Tuesday said the discarded gun control measures are “important,” while stressing he needs votes to pass the underlying bill.

The bottom line is that the Democratic-controlled Senate is willing to go further than the GOP-controlled House to increase federal limits on guns and reduce them on immigration. So if the bills stumble in the upper chamber, then they have scant chance in the House.

Obama last week met congressional Republicans and Democrats in an effort to improve frosty relations, and, of course, advance his agenda. The gatherings attracted good reviews on both sides of the aisle, but did next to nothing to close the huge gap between the two parties on policy.

After final votes on Thursday or Friday, Congress is scheduled to go on a two-week recess. Members will return in April.

If there has not been substantial progress on guns or immigration by Memorial Day, both legislative efforts will be deemed in potentially deadly trouble.