WASHINGTON — A top White House adviser said Sunday the stars seem aligned for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul this year, but he sounded less confident about prospects for toughening the nation's gun laws.
White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe made the rounds on Sunday talk shows, outlining the president's agenda for the months ahead. He said past presidents have been able to make significant progress during their second terms, noting that President Ronald Reagan pushed through more tax cuts and that President Bill Clinton helped transform budget deficits into budget surpluses.
He said Obama's focus will be on improving the economy, saying the president believes the best way to do that is to invest in education and manufacturing while also seeking what he called "balanced deficit reduction."
Republicans agreed to let tax cuts expire this year for those workers whose incomes exceed $400,000 a year, but Plouffe said that future negotiations on reducing the deficit will have to include more tax revenue as well as spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.
"We've dealt with the tax rate issue. Now it's about loopholes," Plouffe said on ABC. "And I think the country would be well-served by tax and entitlement reform, because it'll help our economy."
Beyond the economy and the budget, Plouffe indicated that two social issues will be a focus at the outset of the president's second term: immigration and gun control.
On gun control, he mixed statements of optimism with an acknowledgement of political realities. Republicans control the House, and even some Democrats in the Senate have been extremely cautious in addressing the issue.
"It's going to be very, very hard," Plouffe said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming underscored that point. He said he doubted supporters could get 60 votes in the Senate for legislation allowing universal background checks for gun purchasers and for limiting gun magazines to 10 rounds and under.
"The debt and spending. That's where people are focused. That's the big anxiety of this country," Barrasso said on CNN.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would not answer whether he could support background checks for every gun purchase. Without getting into specifics, he advocated for better information-sharing to prevent some people with mental health problems from buying guns.
"Let's do things that will make a difference here, rather than take one more opportunity to go at an old agenda," Blunt, a gun-rights advocate, said on Fox News Sunday.
When it comes to overhauling the nation's immigration laws, Plouffe said he believes there's broader support from Republicans nationally than there is from Republicans in Congress. Still, "the stars are aligned" for a bill to include beefing up border security as well as giving those already in the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship. He cited business organizations and religious leaders as key players backing a comprehensive immigration bill.
In leading up to Monday's inauguration, the White House has sought to leave the impression that the president will seek common ground with Republicans. It will also seek to undertake public campaigns to build pressure on Congress to act on the administration's legislative priorities.
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The new mobilizing effort will be led by a tax-exempt group called Organizing for Action. The move represents the first time a sitting president has ever transformed his presidential campaign operation into an outside group with the express purpose of promoting his agenda. "We're also going to bring the American people more into the debate than we did in the first term," Plouffe said.
Blunt said the president should put forward proposals that a divided Congress can support rather than put in place an ongoing campaign effort designed to pressure Republicans into going along with his priorities.
"I don't think there's any reason to believe from looking at the last four years that that produces much of a result," he said. "It might produce a stalemate. It might get the president re-elected, but he's not running for a third term."