Liberals are starting to ratchet up the pressure on President Barack Obama to support their agenda during his second term.
As an immediate priority, leaders on the left don't want Obama to compromise too much with congressional Republicans in ongoing negotiations for a budget deal. If no agreement is reached in the next few weeks, automatic tax increases and spending cuts will occur on January 1, which economists and White House officials warn could trigger another recession.
Obama and the Democrats are pushing for tax increases on the wealthy, while the Republicans favor big spending cuts, and there is no resolution in sight so far.
But Democratic liberals such as Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon are urging fellow progressives to hold firm rather than accommodate the Republicans. They argue that it may be better to let the automatic tax increases and spending cuts go into effect--which legislators refer to as tumbling off a "fiscal cliff"--rather than get a bad deal that violates liberal principles.
A coalition of labor unions also has announced new TV ads demanding Democrats focus on job creation and not give in to the GOP's calls for massive spending cuts.
Overall, the liberals' goals for the next few years include preventing massive reductions in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; enacting tax reform that will impose higher rates on the rich and reduce income inequality; insuring women's rights and pay equality between the genders; enacting legislation and encouraging federal regulations to protect the environment; protecting abortion rights and gay rights, and reducing the power of money in politics.
Liberals argue that they are making a comeback with the electorate. In the November 6 election, 25 percent of voters identified themselves as liberal, an increase from 22 percent in 2008 and 17 percent in 1984, according to exit polls. On the other hand, 35 percent of voters said they were conservative, about the same as in 2008.
Obama won re-election on the strength of massive support from Hispanics, African-Americans, young people and single women, and liberal advocates say those groups lean heavily toward the left on many issues, such as defending social programs.
"President Obama has arguably created a genuine realignment at the national level that could continue to shape American politics for years to come," write Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, political scientists at the Center for American Progress, on the center's website. The center is a liberal research and advocacy group.
In the November election, liberals claimed victories on several other fronts beyond the race for the White House. Voters in Colorado and Washington State endorsed ballot measures decriminalizing the use of marijuana (which was also a goal of some libertarians). Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington State legalized same-sex marriage. Nine states now allow gay marriage.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.