President Barack Obama’s convincing re-election on Tuesday gives him an opportunity to more aggressively push policies that profoundly affect South Florida, from seeking legal status for the undocumented to carrying out the new health care law.
Obama is expected to keep seeking more money for Everglades restoration, maintain looser rules on travel to Cuba and press states like Florida to set up shopping “exchanges” for buying health insurance.
He has promised to help more underwater homeowners adjust their mortgages to avoid foreclosure. And he wants to “invest” federal money in alternative energy projects while maintaining a buffer against oil drilling near Florida’s shores.
Obama’s re-election, though hard fought and far from a landslide victory, strengthens his hand. But he still faces a sharply divided Congress and Republican leaders determined to block much of his agenda.
Look for Obama to forcefully claim a mandate to govern, something he didn’t do after the 2008 election while seeking cooperation with Republicans.
“He has to seize the initiative really quickly, I mean within a week. If he doesn’t, he’s going to have problems,” said Richard Semiatin, a political scientist at American University in Washington. “He can’t wait for Congress to come back; he has to be proactive almost immediately.”
Here are issues of special concern to Florida that the president and Congress could confront:
Medicare and Social Security
Florida, a retirement haven, is especially dependent on these big entitlement programs, and Obama has acknowledged that changes must be made to keep them solvent for future generations.
“It’s going to require all of us to work together and tell the American people just how serious the current crisis is,” said U.S Rep. Alcee Hastings, D- Miramar. “Medicare in its current form is unsustainable. The same goes with Social Security.”
The issue could come up as early as this month when Obama and Congress explore ways to reduce the federal deficit to avoid falling off the “fiscal cliff,” a draconian set of tax increases and deep spending cuts that kick in at the end of the year.
Raising the eligibility age beyond 65 “is something that is going to have to happen,” Hastings said. Other resolutions require painful choices, such as raising taxes or trimming future benefits.
A likely first step: setting up a commission to recommend solutions.
Despite tight budgets, the Obama administration has consistently called for big spending on a massive re-plumbing of the Everglades to preserve South Florida’s environment, wildlife and water supplies. Congress responded with $1.5 billion of spending on related projects since 2009.
Members of both parties have cooperated, but an Obama defeat could have squeezed Everglades spending under a more tight-fisted Republican administration.
Obama’s victory also blocks Republican attempts to scale back recent federal rules and standards designed to clean pollution from Florida’s waterways.
Obama promises to expand programs that encourage lenders to modify mortgages paid by owners who owe more than their homes are worth. Plans are vague, but the goal is to simplify the process and make more homeowners eligible for loan modifications.
Hispanic voters in Florida and elsewhere helped Obama get re-elected, and he has promised to press Congress to overhaul immigration law that would give undocumented residents legal status and a path to citizenship. This really matters to Florida, home to 850,000 illegal residents.
Obama’s behind-the-scenes attempts went nowhere during his first term, so the president is obligated to try harder in a second term.
“I think the formula he’ll come up with would grandfather in (undocumented) people who have been here more than five or ten years,” Semiatin said.
Embargo opponents will keep pressing Obama to allow American tourists to visit Cuba, but some members of Congress will try to tighten travel rules and the embargo.
But the president is unlikely to move forward until the Cuban government eases its repression of dissenters and releases Alan Gross, a Maryland man jailed for bringing communications equipment to the island’s Jewish community.
Obama’s re-election, along with a Supreme Court decision in June, ensures that “ Obamacare” will remain the law of the land.
The results put pressure on Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature to set up state-run exchanges for buying insurance and to expand Medicaid -- mostly at federal expense -- to cover roughly a million uninsured people.
Some economists think a more certain playing field will prompt consumers to spend and businesses to invest, which would lead to economic growth. If so, Florida’s job market would improve, providing more opportunities for job seekers.
Now we know the health-care law will remain and who will control the government.
“The election alone will clear away some of these uncertainties,” said Sean