60% OF AMERICANS DO NOT VOTE
Do not leave your future in the hands of 21%
Americans point to the troubled economy as their most important issue this year when deciding how to vote for Congress, according to a nationwide CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll. With 42 percent, the economy by far topped other key issues such as health care (with 17 percent), the deficit (13 percent) and education (9 percent.)
Washington first attacked the crisis in fall 2008, after a banking and real estate mess rocked Wall Street and sent housing values plummeting. Then unemployment numbers began soaring.
Wall Street financial firms were in such danger that the Democratic-controlled Congress and the Bush administration approved $700 billion to buy troubled mortgages and other assets to keep them afloat. Supporters said the businesses were "too big to fail": that if the companies were to fail, it would have a devastating effect across the economy.
In December, President Bush approved the use of the same fund for loans that would save U.S. automakers General Motors and Chrysler, which were drowning in debt. GOP lawmakers failed to persuade Bush instead to allow the automakers to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Many voters became angry later, when some of the bailed-out firms continued to hold events at pricey resorts or to use fancy corporate jets to ferry their executives, even to a congressional hearing on the bailout.
Later, Chrysler said it would not be repaying its $7.2 billion government loan because it was filing for bankruptcy. General Motors repaid its $4.7 billion U.S. loan by April 2010.
Poll: Angry voters may erupt in November
Issues discussed included ways to prevent companies from growing "too big to fail" -- and hammering out a process to shore up collapsing Wall Street banks.
In 2009, with a new administration in the White House, one of the first actions Congress took as unemployment increased was to pass a $787 billion economic stimulus bill with virtually zero GOP support. Republicans balked at the bill's price tag, saying it was full of unnecessary spending.
Track spending from the stimulus bill
More than a year later, the Obama administration said the bill has funded about 3 million jobs, while GOP opponents pointed to the nation's still-rising unemployment rate.
Tea Party names 'crowning moment' of irresponsibility
The rise of the Tea Party movement was partially fueled by anger over the stimulus bill, said Phillip Dennis, founder of the Dallas, Texas, group. The bill was "the crowning moment of decades of irresponsible government fiscal behavior," Dennis said.
Some Americans credited the bill with allowing them to have jobs. Others plainly labeled the legislation as "stupid." Some experts hailed it as a "last chance" for America's cities.
Democrat Rep. David Obey, widely regarded as the author of the stimulus bill and the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has chosen to retire in November. He probably would have faced a tough race against a GOP challenger in his Wisconsin home district.
Mounting costs from the bailout bills, the stimulus legislation and the $940 billion health care reform law have prompted voter concern about ballooning budget deficits.
House GOP leader: Let the deficit debate begin
The deficit is the amount of money the government spends over the amount of income it receives. In 2009, the deficit was about nine times the size of those of 2002 and 2007, when Republicans controlled the White House and at least one chamber of Congress, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
This year, the Obama administration is forecasting that the deficit will hit $1.56 trillion.
Obama lists seven ways to cut the deficit
A higher deficit costs Washington more money because it has to take out more loans to pay for the shortfalls. Paying interest on those loans will mean less available money to pay for goods, services and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
A higher deficit also might increase the overall demand for loans because the government is borrowing a lot more of the total loan money that's available. This could make it harder for everybody else to get loans. Under certain conditions, this may result in higher loan interest rates.
In the wake of Congress' $787 billion economic stimulus bill and $700 billion TARP bailout legislation, fiscal conservatives are ringing alarm bells over how much Washington is spending beyond incoming revenue.
The federal budget deficit is expected to reach $1.56 trillion this fiscal year, up from a record $1.41 trillion in fiscal 2009, according to the Treasury Department.
To put it in perspective, the 2009 deficit is about nine times bigger than each of the 2002 and 2007 deficits, when Republicans controlled the White House and at least one chamber of Congress, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
But it's not the numbers that drive the debate over this issue. It's voter anger.
As reflected by the rise of the Tea Party movement, the emotional response to the ballooning deficit has been remarkable. It's been showing itself at the ballot boxes.
After Tea Partiers targeted three-term GOP Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah partly because he supported the 2008 TARP financial bailout, Republican delegates rejected Bennett at the state party convention in May. "The vote for the bailout was, in our opinion, pretty fiscally irresponsible," said Utah Tea Party activist David Kirkham.
In Kentucky, coming off a stunning primary victory against the GOP establishment, Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul said his party must change and react to the voters' mood.
"We need to be fiscally conservative," said Paul, who enjoyed support from national Tea Party leaders. "You know, when we were in charge, we doubled the deficit, but now that the Democrats are in charge, they're tripling the deficit. So they're not doing any better than we were, but when we were in charge we didn't do a very good job either."
Every dollar Uncle Sam spends that it doesn't have in the bank, it has to borrow. When the federal government has to borrow so much money, economists say it can lead to higher consumer interest rates for loans and perhaps rising prices for consumer goods and services. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said continued high deficits might threaten the nation's economic recovery.
For a few weeks earlier this year it seemed like two emotional political issues were butting heads on the Senate floor: the deficit versus unemployment benefits.
Another Kentucky Republican, Sen. Jim Bunning, whose seat Paul is running for, used his key Senate vote to single-handedly block extended unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans.
Bunning said he didn't want to vote for the $10 billion bill unless Congress would figure out a way to pay for it. It was several days before Bunning agreed to end his filibuster.
To deficit hawks Bunning was a hero, but his actions were harshly criticized by many jobless Americans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, hasn't been shy about aiming criticism at Bunning.
"Where was my friend from Kentucky when we had two wars that were unpaid for during the Bush administration?" Reid asked. Reid also mentioned the Bush administration tax cuts, which Democrats say are unpaid for.
"We don't need lectures here on debt" from the GOP, Reid said. "There are poor people all over America who are desperate today."
Sure, Democrats in Congress passed a sweeping health care reform bill, and President Obama signed it into law, but that by no means ends the issue for Election Day 2010.
Quite the opposite. With zero support for the $940 billion measure from both House and Senate Republicans, GOP leaders wasted no time using the health care law as an issue to hammer Democrats leading up to November 2.
Grass-roots Tea Party activists seized on the massive 2,700-page bill as a prime example of excessive government spending.
Republicans repeatedly warned that the plan will lead to a government takeover of America's private employer-based health care system. They also argued that it will lead to higher premiums and taxes while imposing harsh Medicare cuts and doing little to control spiraling medical costs.
Supporters countered that most consumers favor health care reform and that something must be done to protect an estimated 87 million uninsured Americans.
January's surprise Senate victory in Massachusetts by Tea Party-backed Republican Scott Brown struck a near-death blow to the bill. Brown's election ended Democrats' Senate supermajority, forcing supporters of the measure to craft unusual parliamentary strategy to win passage -- first in the House and then in the Senate.
After the measure became law and a "fixes" bill was passed along with it, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, vowed to "repeal and replace" the law if his party takes control of the House and Senate on Election Day.
Minutes after Obama signed the bill, attorneys general representing 13 states filed suit in a federal court in Pensacola, Florida. The complaint called the legislation an "unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states" and asked a judge to block its enforcement.
States behind the suit were Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington. Virginia filed a similar suit separately.
McConnell's House counterpart, Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, argued that Democratic leaders had betrayed the trust of the public by pushing ahead with a bill that lacks broad public support.
But a March CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken shortly after the bill became law suggested that support was evenly divided. When asked whether Congress should repeal it and replace it with new proposals, 47 percent of respondents said yes, and 50 percent said no.
Phased in over 10 years, the law requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine. Larger employers will be required to provide coverage or risk financial penalties.
Total individual out-of-pocket expenses will be capped, and insurers will be barred from denying coverage based on gender or pre-existing conditions. An estimated 32 million additional Americans will be covered as a result of the new law.
Several issues rose and fell to divide Congress during the grueling eight-month fight to hammer out the legislation, including whether to include a government-run public health insurance option. Another fight across the aisle concerned "budget reconciliation," a parliamentary procedure that would have allowed a vote in the Senate and circumvented a GOP filibuster.
At the 11th hour, the abortion issue nearly derailed the bill. Anti-abortion Democrats said the legislation would allow federal funding for abortions beyond the current limits of cases of rape or incest, or if the woman's life is in danger.
Obama promised to sign an executive order ensuring that existing limits on the federal funding of abortion remain in place, and the Democrats switched their votes to "yes" on the bill.
Democrats fought accusations that they weren't including the GOP in their creation of the bill. Obama said he would consider several Republican ideas. But McConnell said the ideas Obama considered were little more than a few items "inadequately addressed."
McConnell called for Congress to re-start deliberations from scratch. "If the majority manages to jam this [bill] through ... it will be the issue in every single race in America this fall," he promised.
Immigration reform returned to the U.S. political arena in 2010, three years after it was knocked down by a much-debated Senate vote. The issue drew national outrage and support after Arizona enacted a state law that allows police to ask for proof of legal U.S. residency.
The law initially allowed police to ask anyone for proof of legal U.S. residency, based solely on a police officer's suspicion that the person might be in the country illegally. Arizona lawmakers soon amended the law so that officers could check a person's status only if the person had been stopped or arrested for another reason.
Critics say the law will lead to racial profiling, while supporters say it involves no racial profiling and is needed to crack down on increasing crime involving illegal immigrants.
Some Hispanic Americans support law
Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who's locked in a competitive re-election campaign, signed the bill into law and revived an intense national debate on what to do about illegal Mexican immigrants and undocumented workers in the United States.
The law has become an issue in a competitive primary race for U.S. Senate as Republican Sen. John McCain fights to continue representing Arizona on Capitol Hill.
McCain co-sponsored the 2007 Senate immigration reform bill, which called for tightening border security and creating a path to citizenship for some of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants. But faced with a tough challenge by former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, McCain has reversed his position on offering citizenship to illegal immigrants.
The 2007 bill failed partly because many conservatives rallied against it, saying it offered "amnesty" to illegal immigrants. Observers have called the nation's failure to address immigration reform a travesty.
In July, President Obama pushed Congress to pass immigration reform legislation before the end of the year.
The president has described as "promising" an immigration reform plan outlined by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.
In a statement, the lawmakers said their plan includes "biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization" for illegal immigrants in the United States.
Reaction to the Arizona law prompted Obama to enter the fray, calling on Congress to begin work on a new immigration reform bill. The president, who called the law misguided, has also ordered 1,200 U.S. troops to deploy along the Mexican border.
The National Guard forces will help with drug enforcement and intelligence efforts until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border, an administration official said. McCain said the number fell short and called for 3,000 troops.
Reflecting their outrage about Arizona's new law, nearly 30 organizations have agreed to join an economic boycott of the state's $18.6 billion travel industry, including the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, People for the American Way, the Japanese American Citizens League and the Service Employees International Union.
Lawmakers from four other states have contacted the Immigration Reform Law Institute asking for help to draft language for bills like the Arizona bill. The group has declined to identify which states. The speaker of the Rhode Island House has said an Arizona copycat bill sponsored by a Democratic lawmaker will not be considered this session.
Elsewhere, prominent Senate and gubernatorial candidates who've weighed in on the Arizona law include Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who supports the measure, and California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who said she supports Arizona's "need to protect their citizens."
Rubio has been accused of flip-flopping on his stance over the Arizona law.
Meg Whitman, a California GOP candidate for governor, has come out against the law, as has Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
U.S. education issues in 2010 boil down to two questions: how to fund cash-strapped state universities and how to fix so-called high school "drop-out factories."
Tuition at state-funded colleges and universities has skyrocketed as recession-starved states ask students to bear more of the cost of their education.
In one of the harshest examples, funding for the California State University system was reduced by nearly $1 billion for the academic years between 2008 and 2010.
Schools have responded by increasing fees, canceling classes, cutting student support programs and furloughing professors. California fees have increased 182 percent since 2002. Class waiting lists in the state have doubled or tripled.
In March, anger and dissatisfaction led to call for a nationwide "Day of Action" to defend education. Students, professors and others held protests in 33 states including California, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Virginia and New York.
States are expected to wrestle with difficult budget decisions well into the future.
During Barack Obama's State of the Union address in February, the president promised to "provide the support necessary for all young Americans to complete college."
He set a new national goal for the United States to "once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world," by 2020.
At the pre-university level, the Obama White House has begun working with Congress to change the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act, which has been accused of being under-funded and inflexible. It set up a regimen of state reading and math tests for students in third through eighth grades, intended to identify failing schools.
These early years of schooling have long-term consequences. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a Senate education committee earlier this year that 27 percent of American high schoolers drop out and that 40 percent of the country's "young people" earn a two- or four-year college degree.
"If we're serious about preparing our nation's young people to compete in a global economy, we must, we must do better than this," Duncan told committee members.
How should we fix broken schools?
Duncan wants to shift the focus of No Child Left Behind from singling out underperforming schools -- including what he often calls "dropout factories" -- to fostering a "race to the top" to reward successful reforms.
The proposed revisions promise that low-performing schools that fail to improve will be asked to show "dramatic change," but states and school districts will be held accountable for those shortcomings as well.
The revisions support the expansion of public charter schools and calls for giving states and school districts additional flexibility in how they spend federal dollars "as long as they are continuing to focus on what matters most -- improving outcomes for students."
Educator reveals the key to parental involvement
The top Republican on the House education and labor committee, Rep. John Klein, R-Minnesota, expressed concern that tools to help students at struggling schools, such as tutoring, would move from required to optional.
Generally, the House GOP policy on federal education regulation calls on local educators and states to set "academic standards, testing systems, and curriculum ... without coercion from the federal government." Klein expressed concern for "increased intrusion into our schools" by some of the proposed changes to No Child Left Behind.
The Obama administration's $50 billion proposed education budget adds $3 billion in funding to help schools meet these revised goals, with the possibility of an additional $1 billion if the overhaul plan passes Congress.
Duncan has led the administration's stimulus bill-funded "Race to the Top" program, which rewards states for aggressively reforming their education systems. Its total fund of $4.35 billion is to be awarded in two phases to an undetermined number of states. In March, Duncan announced that Delaware will receive $100 million under the program and Tennessee will receive $500 million.
Texas became the focal point of an education debate this year when the State Board of Education approved controversial changes to social studies curricula introduced by its conservative members.
Months of ideological debate over the guidelines drew scrutiny since conservative members of the board introduced the changes in 2009 in what they considered an effort to bring "balance" to the curriculum.
Among the approved amendments, according to the Texas Education Agency: discussions of the "solvency of long-term entitlements, such as Social Security and Medicare;" and an examination of why "the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase 'separation of church and state.' "
What is taught in Texas often is taught in other states because publishers typically tailor textbooks for Texas, one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the country.
However, digital publishing has diminished the state's influence on textbooks nationally and curriculum is always going to be decided at the local level, Education Secretary Duncan said.
The worst oil spill in U.S. history has heated up the debate about how to feed the nation with cleaner, safer energy.
The argument over whether to "drill baby drill" -- the 2008 GOP campaign mantra -- returned in April after a deadly oil rig blast spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster threatened jobs in the nation's seafood and tourism industries and hundreds of miles of sensitive wetlands, marshes and wildlife.
The spill came as President Obama was backing expanded offshore oil drilling and as Congress considered wide-ranging energy legislation aimed at cutting pollution and U.S. dependency on foreign oil.
Before BP's Gulf oil disaster, Obama's late March proposal called for opening swaths of U.S. coastal waters in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas drilling. After the spill, Obama said offshore drilling is key to "our energy future," but it can move forward only with assurances that the Gulf disaster won't be repeated. The president halted drilling permits for new wells and ordered inspections of all deepwater operations.
Former GOP vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- who in 2008 called on the U.S. to "drill baby drill" in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- tweeted that Obama should offset his drilling moratorium by "correspondingly" allowing "more onshore drilling, including ANWR reserves. Domestic oil's still required in US industry."
Senate Democrats gave up on their goal of passing a slimmed-down energy bill before August recess.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blamed unified Republican opposition to the proposal.
"It's a sad day when you can't find a handful of Republicans to support a bill that would create 70,000 clean-energy jobs, hold BP accountable, and look at a future as it relates to what BP did."
Republicans pointed at Reid.
"Sen. Reid is predictably blaming Republicans for standing in the way of a bill that he threw together in secret and without input from almost any other member of the Senate," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the energy committee. "Process alone guaranteed its failure, although substance would have as well had Sen. Reid actually brought his bill up for debate or a vote."
The Democratic bill had been stripped of its most controversial components such as limits on carbon emissions.
The remaining legislation would have eliminated a $75-million cap on economic damages that offshore oil drillers would be responsible for. It would have reformed federal government oversight of offshore drilling. It encouraged the use of natural gas engines in commercial trucks; and it promoted high efficiency appliances in homes.
Republicans planned to offer an alternative bill that included lifting the Obama administration's blanket moratorium on deepwater drilling, setting up a bipartisan commission with subpoena power to investigate the Gulf oil disaster and propose reforms, and allowing for revenue sharing for states that permit offshore drilling.
An energy bill passed last year by the House of Representatives included a controversial cap-and-trade system. The system would set a price for greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, and polluters would obtain and trade credits for emissions over a set threshold.
Republicans and oil and coal producers oppose such a plan. Supporters say it's the best way to begin reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.
Would a nuclear power comeback be a good thing?
Obama has been a key figure in energy talks among lawmakers.
In late June, he met with a bipartisan group of senators at the White House to discuss passing an energy and climate change bill this year.
The president had expressed hope that something could be done.
"There was agreement on the sense of urgency required to move forward with legislation, and the president is confident that we will be able to get something done this year," the White House said in a statement.
Obama told senators that he believed the best way to make a transition to a clean-energy economy is with a bill that "makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses by putting a price on pollution," the statement said.
Like shifting weight on a seesaw, the Pentagon moved the lion's share of U.S. war troops in Iraq to Afghanistan in 2010, to reflect the nation's changing war strategy. Just months after Obama promised to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq, he faced a much-debated decision last year on whether to increase troops in Afghanistan.
Supporters of the buildup said the strategy would bring a swifter end to the war, by allowing the United States to more quickly hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces. Opponents complained that the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was corrupt and had proven to be an unreliable partner.
The nine-year U.S.-led war against the Taliban and al Qaeda has claimed the lives of more than 1,070 American troops in both hostile and non-hostile deaths. Following the fiery Capitol Hill debate, Obama ordered an additional 30,000 forces to deploy to Afghanistan.
Leadership of the Afghan war became a political bombshell in June, when Rolling Stone reported that the war's U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, had made politically explosive remarks about key administration officials. Among the reported comments, McChrystal and his staff imagined ways of dismissing Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama said McChrystal's conduct "does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general" and undermined both civilian authority and trust.
Obama accepted McChrystal's resignation and asked Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, to take over McChrystal's role.
Under Obama's plan for the Afghanistan war, the United States will begin reducing troops in Afghanistan beginning in July 2011.
In July, top House Democrats struggled to maintain support among more liberal lawmakers to pay for the Afghan war. Although the House gave final approval for almost $33 billion to fund U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, 102 Democrats joined 12 Republicans in voting against it.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, retiring chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and a reluctant supporter of Obama's Afghan buildup in 2009, said he opposed the emergency funding bill because of questions over the prospects for U.S. success in Afghanistan.
"The Afghan government has not demonstrated the focused determination, reliability and judgment necessary to bring this effort to a rational and successful conclusion," said Obey.
The federal government has "appropriated over $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to date, more than $700 billion to Iraq and $300 billion for Afghanistan," Obey noted.
"To those who say we must pay it because we're going after al Qaeda, I would note that Afghanistan is where al Qaeda used to be," he said. "Today, there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which was publicly confirmed last month by CIA chief (Leon) Panetta. Al Qaeda has relocated to other countries and regions."
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, called the Afghanistan war policy "deeply flawed."
"Occupying Afghanistan in support of a corrupt and incompetent government will continue to claim the lives of our soldiers," McGovern said. "It will continue to bankrupt us, and it will not enhance our national security. ... It is a mistake to give this administration yet another blank check for this war."
The House also voted against a non-binding resolution that called for the withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan. Currently, the United States has more than 200 armed service members in Pakistan.
Fueling liberal discontent with the war effort was the release by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks of roughly 76,000 U.S. military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed from 2004 to January 2010.
McGovern is one of a bipartisan trio of lawmakers who has called on the commander in chief to announce an exact timetable for complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"United States military strategy in Afghanistan is not in our best national security interest and makes us dependent upon an unreliable partner in the Afghan government," said a letter to Obama signed by McGovern, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin and Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina.
Some political analysts wonder if Obama's war strategy might diminish voter turnout by anti-war liberals -- and help Republicans on Election Day.
"I think the Democratic base -- the danger is it becomes a no-show in 2010," Rep. Tom Andrews, an anti-war activist and Maine Democrat, told CNN.
Washington has pressed Karzai to clean up alleged corruption in the government. Karzai's re-election victory was tainted by accusations of voter fraud. During his inauguration speech, Karzai promised to do more to fight corruption.
He has said that by the end of 2010, Afghan forces will be able to take over some security responsibilities from international troops. Karzai has said he would like the Afghan government to have full responsibility for security by 2014.
Iraq: U.S. combat role ending but issues remain
In Iraq, where U.S. troops have been deployed for seven years, Obama has pledged that U.S. forces will be pared down to between 35,000 and 50,000 troops by August 31, two months before U.S. voters head to the polls.
War casualties have plummeted.
In the past four years, attacks on coalition forces in Iraq have dwindled to about 100 per week from nearly 2,000 per week in 2006, according to the Brookings Institute, a Washington think-tank. Brookings' Iraq index estimates that there were 34,500 Iraqi civilian casualties in 2006. In 2009, 2,800 Iraqi civilians died violently.
Obama has promised to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. Until then, the U.S. will "retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: Training, equipping and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq."
After that, as Obama said when he announced the drawdown, Iraq's future is its own responsibility and the end of the war will "enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East."
But many U.S. veterans of the war will bear the wounds of their service for years to come. Doctors are diagnosing hundreds of thousands of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among returning war vets. Some soldiers report difficulty getting treatment.
For that, Obama has pledged to invest in new ways of identifying and treating combat injuries including PTSD and traumatic brain injury -- now known as the "signature" wounds of the war.
Several 2010 House and Senate candidates served in the Iraq war and are including Iraq or veteran-related issues as part of their agenda.
The government is reporting higher rates of homeless women veterans -- many of whom have children in their care. Congress is considering several bills aimed at helping veterans with housing and child care issues.
The reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq is also prompting questions about the Pentagon bidding process for private military support contracts.
Bipartisan heads of the Senate Homeland Security committee complained in May about what appeared to be decreased competition for a $568 million contract for support work in Iraq that was awarded to KBR, which had held the previous contract for services.
The contract work, for everything from cleaning laundry to preparing food and providing fuel for troops and contractors in Iraq, covers the period between September 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011.
While lawmakers debated how the Obama administration should prosecute accused terrorists, a pair of failed terrorist plots in the United States fueled political fires on the issue.
The U.S. case against accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed highlighted the nation's deep political divide over whether terrorist suspects should be tried by military tribunals or in civilian courts under constitutional law.
Critics, including former members of the Bush administration and other Republicans, argue that civil liberties under the Constitution should not be part of terrorist prosecutions and that al Qaeda terrorists should be treated as war criminals.
But Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder has said each case should be treated individually.
Critics slammed the White House anti-terrorism policy.
Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, turned the issue into a much-repeated quote after his stunning Tea Party-fueled victory in the largely Democratic state.
"I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation. They do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime," Brown said during his victory speech in January. "In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them."
Another part of the terrorism argument involves where such suspects should be tried. The Obama administration's attempt in 2009 to try Mohammed in New York brought pushback from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other local leaders worried about the massive security and logistics involved.
Officials announced in December that they were preparing an Illinois prison to house fewer than 100 prisoners who would be transferred from the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Meanwhile, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, sponsored legislation in Congress aimed at blocking federal civilian trials in the September 11 case.
But the administration may reverse U.S. policy on the issue, as White House attorneys consider their next move.
A failed December 25 plot to bomb a U.S. airliner from the Netherlands as it approached Detroit, Michigan, was followed five months later by another botched terrorist plot, this one to set off a car bomb in an SUV parked in New York's Times Square.
Charges filed against Faisal Shahzad, 30, paint him as a would-be terrorist who sought explosives training in Pakistan's volatile Waziristan region, where government forces have been working to root out Taliban militants.
Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan who was living in Connecticut, was arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy airport after boarding a flight for Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Inside the Nissan Pathfinder, authorities found gasoline, propane tanks, fireworks and non-explosive fertilizer. Investigators also found a set of keys, one of which opened Shahzad's Connecticut home. Shahzad has pleaded guilty.
Although authorities arrested suspects in both cases, that didn't totally deflect criticism away from the Obama administration's national security infrastructure.
Obama's top intelligence official, Dennis Blair, resigned in May. Two days earlier, the Senate Intelligence Committee had released a report that sharply criticized the National Counterterrorism Center, overseen by Blair's office, for failing to properly coordinate intelligence activities to detect the alleged attempted Christmas Day airline bombing in advance.
The report said the center was "not organized adequately to fulfill its missions."
In addition, the report said, other problems allowed Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, 23, to board a flight bound for Detroit. AbdulMutallab, who was issued a U.S. visa in 2008, is accused of carrying an explosive device that failed to detonate and instead set his clothes on fire.
He has pleaded not guilty.
A federal security bulletin obtained by CNN said AbdulMutallab claimed that the device "was acquired in Yemen, along with instructions as to when it should be used."
AbdulMutallab's father, a retired Nigerian bank executive, notified the U.S. Embassy weeks before the incident, saying he feared that his son went to Yemen to participate in "some kind of jihad," according to a senior U.S. administration official.
In May's Senate Intelligence Committee report, 14 "points of failure" were identified in the incident. Most of them had been raised previously by intelligence officials, including the failure of the State Department to revoke the suspect's U.S. visa, a breakdown in disseminating all information to key agencies and the failure to conduct necessary searches for information.
Blair responded to the report by noting changes made after the Christmas incident, including creation of a National Counterterrorism Center analytical unit dedicated to following up on terrorist threat information.
However, Blair's statement noted that "institutional and technological barriers remain that prevent seamless sharing of information."
In May, the Obama administration released its first National Security Strategy, a 52-page outline of the president's strategic approach and priorities, as required by Congress every four years.
This year's document combined homeland security and national security for the first time, focusing not only on threats internationally but on the threat of homegrown radicals inspired and recruited by al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, is less capable of using safe havens for training abroad and is now "trying to inspire Americans to carry out attacks on the U.S."
Federal, state and local governments will use intelligence, expanded community engagement and development programs to help local communities address the radicalization of Americans before they join al Qaeda, Rhodes said.