President Barack Obama’s legacy is facing perhaps its most defining week in his second term as he seeks to close two major foreign-policy goals and preserve his signature domestic achievement.
Three events over the next handful of days will help shape the Obama legacy long after he leaves office:
- After a brutal fight in Congress that he — and, curiously, Republican leaders — ended up winning, Obama is set to sign a bill that will give him so-called “fast-track” negotiating power on trade deals. His administration is in the process of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a cornerstone of his “pivot” to Asia.
- The Supreme Court is set to rule on a case involving a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows the federal government to provide subsidies for health insurance to millions of low-income Americans. A ruling against the administration could throw the future of the law as Obama envisioned it into doubt.
- The Obama administration and its European allies are lurching toward a permanent deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program.
By next Tuesday — the deadline for the Iran deal — it will be much clearer where Obama’s major domestic and foreign-policy goals stand. Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the “most important piece” of Obama’s foreign-policy legacy.
“It’s strengthening trade ties for 40% of the world’s GDP, it’s making good on US commitments to allies that are most interested in improving their relations with America, it’s a net economic benefit for the U.S. long term and, by far most importantly, it’s strategically important in countering China’s efforts to build trade and financial architecture that completes with US led global standards,” Bremmer said.
“A failure on this front would have been a huge blow to the US in the most important part of the world for long-term American national interests.”
A ‘challenging sell’
Iran is an “important, but a very distant” No. 2, Bremmer said. Still, the deal has the potential to both radically reshape Iran’s role in the Middle East and its relationship with the West, including the US. Potential cooperation with Iran looms on issues like fighting the Islamic State, but closer ties with Iran would also lead to complications with key US allies.
With just days before the end of the month, another deadline could come and go — the fourth such time it could happen in the talks. And even the run-up to a potential deal has run into opposition from everyone from Republican members of Congress to former members of the Obama administration, who wrote a letter to the president outlining their concerns on Thursday as the US delegation heads to Vienna for perhaps a final round of talks.
If a deal with Iran is ultimately struck, it will be a big part of Obama’s legacy — but one Bremmer said will be tough for the president to sell as positive.
It “will be extremely controversial in Congress and among key US allies in the region (Saudi Arabia and Israel have good reason to hate it). So I think it will be challenging for Obama to sell that as effectively as positive for his legacy,” Bremmer said.
‘Instrumental to the future of Obamacare’
The Supreme Court case could well end up being the most important event of the next few days — especially if the court ends up ruling against the Obama administration.
This challenge, King v. Burwell, has the potential to cripple the law and throw its future into highly uncertain territory in the nearly three-dozen states in which the federal government provides subsidies for low-income people to buy health insurance. Challengers argue that only states can hand out subsidies, pointing to four words in the law that say exchanges are to be “established by the state.”
If the court invalidates that portion of the law, Obama and Congress would have to scramble as more than 6 million people potentially lose coverage. It would be left to congressional Republicans to come up with either a quick fix or to use the ruling as an opportunity to start moving away from the law known as Obamacare.
The high court could also uphold that part of the law. In that case, more people would continue to enroll and be covered, and Obamacare would be viewed as the president’s crowning domestic achievement long into the future.
“It’s hard not to see the King case as instrumental to the future of Obamacare,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“If the Court sides with the government, more people will continue to enroll and the ACA will likely ultimately be seen as a signature domestic achievement of historic proportions. Obamacare will remain controversial and no doubt feature in the election, but it’s hard to see it getting repealed outright at this point.”
On the other hand, Levitt added: “If the Court sides with the challengers, chaos ensues, not only in insurance markets but in the political realm as well.
“The law could survive, but in a very weakened form. We would likely see intense debate over the future of Obamacare in the election and beyond, with the outcome of that debate clouded in uncertainty.”
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