Just as President Barack Obama is pushing new initiatives on gun control and immigration, the gloomy old problem of a sluggish economy is elbowing its way back into prominence.
Consumer confidence has fallen, the economy has contracted and large automatic spending cuts are threatening to hit the Pentagon and other programs with uncertain consequences.
These troubles arise as Obama's public approval has been improving and he has been starting to use his sway to promote the key features of his second-term agenda.
The economic shrinkage and the drop in consumer confidence are attributed to one-time events, while underlying economic factors still show encouraging signs.
But in politics, power resides in the moment. Any economic setback could distract Obama as he deals with immigration and gun violence.