Throughout much of the presidential campaign, the two I candidates came under constant criticism from the press and each other for a lack of specifics regarding their prospective agendas. Gov. Mitt Romney was faulted for not disclosing the details of his tax plan, and President Barack Obama was criticized more broadly for failing to advance a second term agenda that was new and different from his first, as well as for not providing details. Viewed in retrospect, I find this criticism of the president to be problematic in two respects.
First, to agree with the press that a new and different agenda was needed, was to accede to his opponents' contention that his first term was a failure, or headed in the wrong direction. The administration's position was that the recovery was on track, just slower than it would have liked. So, a second term would largely stay the course.
Second, Obama was pretty open about the policies he wanted to address in a second term. But the press and pundits didn't believe that such an agenda was reasonable, given that the balance of power was unlikely to be altered by the election. So, many dismissed it, waiting for an innovative alternative that countered the prospects in the face of continued gridlock.
Elements of the Agenda
Taking candidate Obama at his word, what will President Obama's second term agenda look like?
Foremost, he will need to address the fiscal cliff. Though he has indicated willingness to strike a "grand bargain," there will be little time to work out details, especially on the tax reform component, before Dec. 31. So the president will look for a compromise including more revenue from wealthier taxpayers, an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class and a postponement of sequestration.
Second, he will defend his first term legislative gains. With the election and the Supreme Court ruling, he will move energetically to implement the Affordable Care Act. This will involve negotiating with governors, including a record 30 Republicans, to set up state health exchanges by 2014, and expand Medicaid coverage. At press time, six Republican governors have indicated they will forego substantial federal funding and not expand Medicaid coverage.
The president will quickly replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in part to drive forward the bogged-down rulemaking process needed to implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, while also addressing the still missing...