* Fiscal fights may consume Washington, elbow out all else
* Obama vows to push ahead with broader agenda
* 'A high level of dysfunction' makes legislative wins hard
By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, Jan 4 (Reuters) - After a brutal "fiscal cliff" battle, President Barack Obama's looming budget confrontation with Congress threatens to sharply curtail his second-term agenda and limit his ambitions on priorities such as immigration reform and gun control.
Obama has vowed to push ahead with other legislative priorities during the fiscal fight, but faces the likelihood that they will be elbowed aside in a fierce struggle with Republicans over approaching deadlines to raise the limit on federal borrowing, cut spending and fund government operations.
Obama and Congress must agree by the end of March on increasing the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, the fate of $85 billion in delayed automatic spending cuts and passage of a bill to fund the government after a temporary measure expires.
Those budget battles could be even more intense than the weeks-long "fiscal cliff" fight that ended on New Year's Day with an agreement to raise taxes on the wealthy, leaving divided Republicans itching for revenge and a fractured relationship between Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
"We always felt that a bipartisan and amicable conclusion to the fiscal cliff would lead to a very positive agenda for the next two years, and the opposite occurred. It bodes poorly for Obama's other major priorities," said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way.
"There is a high level of dysfunction. They haven't cracked the code yet on how to work with each other," Kessler said of Obama and congressional Republicans.
The fiscal cliff fight overwhelmed nearly everything else at the White House for two months. A similar result in the budget battle would be bad news for Obama, cutting into the narrow one-year to 18-month window when second-term presidents traditionally still have the political clout to achieve their most significant legislative victories.
"From a Republican standpoint, if you don't want Obama to get any oxygen on these other issues, focusing on the fiscal cliff and all these budget issues is a very good way to run out the clock on him," said Republican strategist John Feehery, a former Capitol Hill aide.
Obama has promised to pursue a broad second-term agenda focused on comprehensive immigration reform, bolstering domestic energy production, fighting climate change and gun control. After the "fiscal cliff" deal, he said he would not curtail his agenda because of the looming budget fights.
"We can settle this debate, or at the very least, not allow it to be so all-consuming all the time that it stops us from meeting a host of other challenges that we face," Obama said on New Year's Day before boarding a flight to Hawaii to resume a holiday interrupted by the fiscal cliff fight.
"It's not just possible to do these things; it's an obligation to ourselves and to future generations," he said.
PRIMED FOR A FIGHT
Republicans are primed for the coming fight, believing they have more leverage against Obama than during the fiscal cliff battle. Failure to close a deal on the debt ceiling could mean a default on U.S. debt or another downgrade in the U.S. credit rating like the one after a similar showdown in 2011.
A failure to reach agreement on a government funding bill could mean another federal shutdown like brief ones in 1995 and 1996.
Republicans say they will not back an increase in the federal debt ceiling without significant spending cuts opposed by many Democrats, particularly to popular "entitlement" programs such as the government-funded Medicare and Medicaid healthcare plans for the elderly and poor.
"When you look at what's coming down the pike, it will make the fiscal cliff look like a day in Sunday school," said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.
"You're talking about a battle that's going to last weeks or months. If they get a deal, it's going to be ugly, it's going to be brutal. Once you get past that, where do you find the will to address other issues? It's going to be very hard," he said.
Administration officials promise to move quickly in January in pursuit of new legislation on gun control and immigration. The gun control effort will be led by Vice President Joe Biden, who was appointed to develop a response to the deadly Connecticut school shootings in December.
But what seemed to be fresh momentum for new measures such as a ban on assault rifles after the mass killing in Connecticut could be stalled by a protracted focus on the seemingly never-ending budget showdowns.
Obama also plans to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation this month. Republicans will have fresh incentive on the issue after Hispanics soundly rejected Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney in the November election, giving Obama more than 70 percent of their vote.
But a Senate Republican leadership aide said economic issues would be the prime concern of Congress for months, pushing back consideration of gun control and immigration. The aide blamed Obama.
"The lack of leadership on spending and debt has put us behind on a number of other issues. That is not something that can be resolved quickly," the aide said.
When blocked in Congress, Obama has shown a willingness to use executive orders and agency rules to make policy changes. During last year's campaign, Obama ordered an end to deportations of young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children and had never committed a crime.
This week, the Department of Homeland Security changed its rules to make it easier for undocumented immigrants to get a waiver allowing them to stay in the country as they seek permanent residency.
With Republicans motivated to improve their standing with Hispanics, there is a chance Congress will work with the White House to pass an immigration bill that both bolsters border security and offers a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who pay their back taxes and fines.
Finding the rare sweet spot where Obama and Republicans actually agree on an issue could be the key to second-term legislative success.
"The only thing that gets done outside of the economy are things that Republicans decide they have to get done for their own political futures," Feehery said.
But Kessler said he was skeptical that Obama and Congress can find common ground on a comprehensive immigration measure that provides a long-term solution for the country's 12 million illegal immigrants.
"Will something get done on immigration? Probably. But a major deal that addresses all undocumented immigrants in a comprehensive way? We're much less confident than we were two weeks ago," Kessler said.
"The question now is, do they even know how to make deals with each other?" he said.
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May 1, 2011: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. "Brad" Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
May 8, 2009: President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a family visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009. The youngster wanted to see if the President's haircut felt like his own. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Dec. 3, 2009: President Barack Obama fist-bumps custodian Lawrence Lipscomb in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building following the opening session of the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, Dec. 3, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
July 4, 2012: President Barack Obama holds a baby while greeting guests during an Independence Day celebration on the South Lawn of the White House, July 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
July 26, 2012: President Barack Obama holds a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 26, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oval Office Chase
July 9, 2012: President Barack Obama runs around his desk in the Oval Office with Sarah Froman, daughter of Nancy Goodman and Mike Froman, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics, July 9, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 13, 2012: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave goodbye to President Shimon Peres of Israel on the North Portico of the White House following the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony and dinner in his honor, June 13, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
April 23, 2012: President Barack Obama tours the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., with Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor, and Sara Bloomfield, museum director, April 23, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 11, 2012: President Barack Obama talks with Betty White in the Oval Office, June 11, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Venus In Transit
April 24, 2012: President Barack Obama stops to view the moon and Venus before boarding Marine One in Boulder, Colo., April 24, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
'Sweet Home Chicago'
Feb. 21, 2012: President Obama joins in singing "Sweet Home Chicago" during the "In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues" concert in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 21, 2012. Participants include, from left: Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks, B.B. King, and Gary Clark, Jr. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 20, 2011: "The Obama family was scheduled to tour the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio before dinner one night. But when heavy fog rolled in, they canceled the visit. After dinner, the fog had dissipated somewhat so they decided to make the drive up the mountain. It was quite clear when they arrived and then the fog started to roll back in. I managed to capture this silhouette as they viewed the statute one last time just before departure." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 11, 2011: "The top photograph shows the President having a water gun fight with his daughter Sasha on her birthday weekend at Camp David. Unbeknownst to me, David Lienemann captured a similar photo of the Vice President on the very same day." (Official White House Photos by Pete Souza and David Lienemann)
Dec. 11, 2011: President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Malia, left, and Sasha, right, sit for a family portrait in the Oval Office, Dec. 11, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 14, 2011: President Barack Obama tours the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 11, 2011: "This photograph by Chuck Kennedy has to catch your eye. It shows Guinness Book of World Records holder John Cassidy performing a balloon act for First Lady Michelle Obama in the Diplomatic Reception Room following a Let's Move event." (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
June 21, 2011: First Lady Michelle Obama meets with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa at Mandela's home in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
May 29, 2011: President Barack Obama greets Hugh Hills, 85, in front of his home in Joplin, Mo., May 29, 2011. Hills hid in a closet during the tornado, which destroyed the second floor and half the first floor of his house. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 9, 2011: President Barack Obama greets children at a day care facility adjacent to daughter Sasha's school in Bethesda, Md., following her 4th grade closing ceremony, June 9, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Jan. 10, 2011: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk towards the White House after observing a moment of silence for the victims of the Arizona shooting, on the South Lawn, Jan. 10, 2011. White House staff joined the President and First Lady for the moment of silence.(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
March 7, 2011: President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia, and members of the Australian and American delegations look up at the presidential seal in the Oval Office ceiling following their bilateral meeting, March 7, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
May 31, 2010: "The skies opened up on Memorial Day outside of Chicago. When the lightning began, the Secret Service told the President that it was too dangerous to proceed. He took the stage by himself and informed the audience that his speech was canceled and that for everyone's safety, they should return to their busses. Later, he boarded a few of the busses to thank them for attending and apologized for not being able to speak." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
July 20, 2010: President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron walk across the South Lawn of the White House, July 20, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
May 28, 2010: President Barack Obama and Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolf, left, inspect a tar ball as they look at the effect the BP oil spill is having on Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon, La., May 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
March 21, 2010: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and senior staff, react in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, as the House passes the health care reform bill, March 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 31, 2010: President Barack Obama practices his pitching form with personal aide Reggie Love and Jake Levine in the Rose Garden of the White House, March 31, 2010. The President threw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day of the baseball season prior to the game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Feb. 1, 2009: "During a Super Bowl watching party in the White House theatre, the President and First Lady join their guests in watching one of the TV commercials in 3D." (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
March 15, 2009: "The Obama family was introduced to a prospective family dog at a secret greet on a Sunday. After spending about an hour with him, the family decided he was the one. Here, the dog ran alongside the President in an East Wing hallway. The dog returned to his trainer while the Obama's embarked on their first international trip. I had to keep these photos secret until a few weeks later, when the dog was brought 'home' to the White House and introduced to the world as Bo." (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Moment Of Reflection
Jan. 20, 2009: "President-elect Barack Obama was about to walk out to take the oath of office. Backstage at the U.S. Capitol, he took one last look at his appearance in the mirror." (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Dec. 19, 2009: "Snowball in hand, the President chases Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on the White House colonnade. To escape, Rahm ran through the Rose Garden, which unfortunately for him, was knee-deep in snow." (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Dec. 10, 2009: President Barack Obama looks at the Nobel Peace Prize medal for the first time at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Jan. 16, 2010: "President Obama had called on the two former Presidents to help with the situation in Haiti. During their public remarks in the Rose Garden, President Clinton had said about President Bush, 'I've already figured out how I can get him to do some things that he didn't sign on for.' Later, back in the Oval, President Bush is jokingly asking President Clinton what were those things he had in mind." (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 8, 2009: President Barack Obama watches as members of the National Naval Medical Center's Marine Wounded Warrior basketball team play on the White House basketball court, Oct. 8, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Shoot The J
Oct. 8, 2009: President Barack Obama takes a shot during a game with Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress on the White House basketball court, Oct. 8, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Aug. 16, 2009: President Barack Obama looks at the Grand Canyon in Arizona on Aug. 16, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
April 21, 2009: President Barack Obama and Sen. Ted Kennedy walk down the South Lawn sidewalk at the White House April 21, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
July 10, 2009: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on July 10, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
July 13, 2009: President Barack Obama feigns a punch while talking about health care reform with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Peter Orszag, Phil Schiliro and Larry Summers in the Outer Oval Office, July 13, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 26, 2009: President Barack Obama jokingly reacts to news that staffer Nora Becker will be leaving to pursue a joint MD and PhD in healthcare economics, during the White House staff picnic on the South Lawn, June 26, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 2, 2009: President Barack Obama and former First Lady Nancy Reagan walk side-by-side through Center Hall in the White House, June 2, 2009. To the left of Mrs. Reagan hangs her official White House portrait as First Lady. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 4, 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recounts a story to President Barack Obama, Senior Advisors David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, outside the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 4, 2009: President Barack Obama tours the Egypt's Great Sphinx of Giza (left) and the Pyramid of Khafre, June 4, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Behind The Camera
Feb. 18, 2009: President Barack Obama takes aim with a photographer's camera backstage prior to remarks about providing mortgage payment relief for responsible homeowners at Dobson High School, Mesa, Ariz., Feb. 18, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Jan. 21, 2009: President Barack Obama walks into the Oval Office for his first full day in office, Jan. 21, 2009. His Personal Aide Reggie Love stands nearby. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)