What Would Obama's Second Term Look Like?

Though the president moved to the center on Bush tax cuts today, news reports over the last month are suggesting that an Obama second term would be full of more moves to left on the issues of climate controls, ozone regulations, tax increases, defense spending cuts, and relaxing missile defense against Russia. Experts also are saying that the president will step down the drug war in favor of treatment and possibly dramatically increase federal control over education policy.

"This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," Obama told outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a Seoul, South Korea summit in March, unaware of the live nearby microphone that captured his words.

In the case of Russia, experts say Obama was asking the Russian president, and his comrade and current president Vladimir Putin, to lay low on their objections to a U.S. missile defense system in Europe until after the election, at which time he would be more willing to negotiate a compromise. The U.S. currently argues the defense system is necessary to protect Eastern Europe from Iranian missiles. But Russia worries that the system can also be used as an offensive weapon aimed at Russia.

Missile defense is apparently not the only issue that Obama believes should be put on the back burner until after the election. In a June New Yorker article, Ryan Lizza reported that Obama believes instituting climate change controls is the most important issue he could address in a second term. And more recently, Marc Ambinder reported for GQ that Obama is planning to turn his attention to the drug war, by focusing more on prevention and treating addiction, if given a second term.

Conservatives are also beginning to warn of a plan by the Obama administration to dramatically increase federal control over education policy using a "national curriculm" and college board testing changes to enforce its implementation.

Along with the new issues Obama apparently plans to work on, he has also delayed, or helped to delay, a number of controversial issues until a possible second term.

While Obama asserted today he will extend the Bush tax cuts to middle income Americans, i.e. those making under $250,000 on a joint tax return, experts argue Obama is likely to hold to dramatic defense spending cuts and sharp new tax increases agreed to last summer during the debt ceiling debate. Those cuts (which will go into effect because of the "supercommittee's" failure to reach an agreement) were put off until 2013. So, without any changes, the first of the year will bring both sharp new tax increases and deep spending cuts, mostly in the Defense Department.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this combination, dubbed "taxmaggedon" by the press, will cause a recession, but canceling the tax increases and spending cuts will damage long-term economic growth by adding to the national debt. The important decisions, therefore, about reducing government spending and increasing revenue through entitlement reform and tax reform, has been put off until after the election.

In addition to putting carbon controls back on the front burner, Obama will also make a decision on ozone emissions in 2013. During the George W. Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended tightening ozone emissions from 84 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion. The EPA under Obama recommended going even further to a range of 60 to 70 parts per billion.

In September, 2011, Obama decided to not accept the EPA's recommendation, arguing that the regulation, which would mostly impact the oil and gas industry and increase energy costs, would put too much strain on an already sluggish economy.

"I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover," Obama said at the time.

Obama, therefore, did not even implement the 75 parts per billion standard suggested under the Bush administration and most states remain at the 84 parts per billion standard set in 1997. Obama noted at the time, though, that the ozone emissions rule is up for review every five years, which means it will be reconsidered in 2013.

Obama has also delayed a likely confrontation with Iran. Some Israeli leaders would prefer to strike Iran's nuclear program soon to prevent its development of a nuclear weapon. This summer, Iran's nuclear program will be buried underground, out of reach of Israeli missiles. Only the United States has the "bunker busting" missile technology to take out a buried nuclear facility.

Israel, therefore, was recently faced with a choice: strike Iran now or trust that the United States will strike Iran if talks and sanctions fail to convince it to give up its nuclear program. When Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this March, he apparently convinced him that an Israeli strike would be unnecessary and the United States would strike Iran, if necessary, to prevent its development of a nuclear weapon.

Obama has recently argued that he needs more time to complete the campaign promises he made in 2008. Significant challenges lie ahead if given that opportunity.

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