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Saturday, December 3, 2016

WASHINGTON — Everywhere you turn, President Obama is accused of not offering a clear second-term agenda. It’s not surprising that Republicans say it, but you also hear it from quarters sympathetic to the president.

But how true is the charge?

The president does lack a crisp, here’s-my-plan set of soundbites. What’s less obvious is whether this should matter to anyone. Mitt Romney’s own five-point plan sounds good, but is quite vague and, upon inspection, looks rather like five-point plans issued by earlier Republican presidential candidates. Moreover, Romney has been resolutely unspecific about his tax plans, leading to the understandable suspicion that he’s hiding something politically unsavory, either in the popular deductions he’d have to slash or in the programs he’d have to get rid of.

Obama, by contrast, has been far more straightforward about what he would do about the deficit: He wants a budget deal that includes both spending cuts and tax increases. He has put forward rather detailed deficit-reduction proposals. The centerpiece is a plan that, when combined with cuts made in 2011, would reduce the deficit by $3.8 trillion over a decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Obama keeps insisting (rightly) that no deal can work without new revenue, and he is upfront that he’d begin by raising taxes on Americans earning over $250,000 a year.

Some deficit hawks argue that Obama’s tax increases are not broad enough. Others are looking for steeper Medicare and Social Security cuts than Obama is willing to endorse. Many progressives, in turn, want fewer cuts and favor additional tax increases on the very wealthy. Before signing off on deeper program reductions, progressives should consider the efforts of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), to counter all the proposals to cut tax rates. She has suggested five new, higher rates on incomes ranging from $1 million to $1 billion or more a year. The capital gains tax also needs to rise. Low levies on capital gains, the reason Romney paid so little tax on his $20.9 million income, raise problems for both fiscal balance and equity.

But these are responses to what Obama has actually proposed. To disagree with some of Obama’s specifics is to acknowledge that the specifics exist.

Some dismiss what an Obama second term might achieve by claiming that it will be mainly concerned with consolidating his first-term accomplishments. If these had been trivial, that might be a legitimate criticism. But does anyone seriously believe that implementing a massive new health insurance program that will cover an additional 30 million Americans is unimportant? Can anyone argue that translating the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms into workable regulations is a minor undertaking?