Washington (CNN) – Signaling what could be a difficult year for enacting legislation in Washington, a top Obama administration official said the White House is taking a realistic view on what can pass Congress in the months leading up to the fall's mid-term election.
The top items on President Barack Obama's agenda are hardly new: tackling income inequality, reforming immigration, and combatting climate change.
Laying out White House strategy for the year to come, the senior administration official said it's unlikely an ambitious legislative agenda will come to fruition with Congress bitterly divided. Still, White House officials are feeling emboldened by the fight over extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Republicans have moved, one senior administration official argued, from debating the wisdom of extending the insurance to demanding that the cost be covered by cuts in other areas of the budget.
The senior administration official signaled some openness to finding a way to pay for the extension. But the official declined to say exactly how.
The White House, the official added, will return to the issue of income inequality in the President's upcoming State of the Union speech as well as another push for a raise to the minimum wage.
The White House is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Affordable Care Act as millions of Americans begin using the insurance coverage they obtained under the program. The senior administration official was cautious about describing the White House as having turned the corner after the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov. That official, however, noted the ACA's accelerated pace of enrollment since repairs were made to the federal web site.
Another short-term priority for the President is his upcoming speech announcing reforms to surveillance activities at the National Security Agency. Obama has signaled he may make incremental changes to the NSA's practice of collecting bulk telephone data. The senior administration official said the President will announce his proposed reforms after extensive discussions with the review group he appointed to look at the NSA's activities, as well as the intelligence community and members of Congress.
As for other pertinent items on the White House agenda, the senior administration official seemed uncertain when pressed on the fate of immigration reform in Congress. The President, the official cautioned, is still insisting on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a key sticking point for Republicans who are arguing for an incremental approach to solving the issue.
Making progress on the issue of climate change, a key Obama campaign promise in his first run for the White House, is another urgent priority for the President, the official added.