In other speeches, Obama has offered a more serious preview of what he’d like to get done if he’s reelected. On March 30, he listed second-term priorities including reforming the immigration system; remaking the nation’s energy policy so it addresses “the long-term challenges. . . . of energy independence and climate change”; doing more to ensure that “people who don’t have work can find work” and that “our housing system is working for everybody”; pushing forward on education reform; and executing an “effective transition out of Afghanistan.”
But that’s not really a list of what Obama would do in his second term. It’s a list of what he would like to do.
Ezra Klein will live chat with readers on this topic Tuesday, May 8 at 11 a.m. ET. Submit questions and opinions for him to respond to now.
The president’s advisers are naturally reluctant to discuss what happens if their candidate wins in November. They don’t want to appear overconfident or undercut the messages of the campaign. None were willing to speak on the record. But in dozens of conversations over the past few months, it has become clear that their thinking on what the president can do has evolved significantly in the past four years.
In 2008, his campaign often seemed to believe that as president, Obama would be able to personally inaugurate a new era of cooperation in Washington. But after the past three years, which have been full of debt-ceiling showdowns they didn’t want and jobs bills they couldn’t pass, his advisers have become more realistic and are quick to caution that, in most cases, what they could get done in a second term would depend on what Congress is willing to do with them.
Everyone from Obama’s closest advisers to the GOP’s top tacticians agrees that the first year of a second term — and perhaps even more than that — would be “fiscal.” That is to say, it would be devoted to budget and tax issues.
At the end of 2012, we’ll face what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke calls “the fiscal cliff”: The Bush tax cuts are set to expire, the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts initiated when the deficit “supercommittee” failed to reach a deal are set to begin, we’re expected to hit the debt ceiling again, and many other programs and tax credits will come up for renewal.
Around the Hill, they refer to this as “taxmageddon.” And it won’t wait for a second Obama term to officially begin: Most of it will come due in the lame-duck session. But everyone expects that the outgoing Congress will manage to kick the problem to the incoming Congress.