A Second First Term: Meet Obama’s New Agenda, Same As The Old Agenda, Only Less

Barack Obama won the Presidency in 2008 as the anti-George W. Bush and in 2012 he’s been trying to win again as the anti-Mitt Romney, without elaborating much of a second-term agenda. Two weeks before Election Day, we now know why. His new ambitions look a lot like his old ambitions, except stuck on repeat.

On Tuesday Mr. Obama finally tried to give the future more definition with a new plan, except it isn’t new and barely qualifies as a plan. “I’ve laid out a plan for jobs and middle-class security,” he claimed in Delray Beach, Florida, brandishing a 20-page brochure titled “A Plan for Jobs and Middle-Class Security” and going on to invoke his “plan” another dozen-odd times. “I won’t be running the okey doke on you,” he added.

Voters may okey doke themselves if they believe this document, which is heavy on backward-looking and discredited factoids and light on economic specifics. For example, Mr. Obama wants to spend money to hire 100,000 math and science teachers for public schools. Isn’t that what happened in 2009? And didn’t his own Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, say that class size barely matters to education outcomes?

The President says he’ll use community colleges to train another two million workers “for good jobs that actually exist,” perhaps to distinguish these from the jobs he said the 2009 stimulus would create but actually didn’t. And he says he’ll create a million new manufacturing jobs by 2016 via a new temporary tax credit for U.S. companies that expand domestic hiring.

All of this is merely a kind of Junior Achievement version of the stimulus, trying to create jobs with more government spending that isn’t affordable, or temporary tax favors that fail because they are, well, temporary. Businesses hire based on total employee costs, not one-off tax benefits. Since 2009 the country has lost 610,000 net manufacturing jobs, despite such preferences.

The only thing close to a real new idea is Mr. Obama’s pose as Cheerleader in Chief for oil and natural gas production. But what’s new is Mr. Obama’s support, not the production, which he has had nothing to do with. He’s now climbed aboard the caboose of this train because he can see that it’s been a winning issue for Mr. Romney.

He’s doing so even though the single biggest risk to this expanded production is his own Environmental Protection Agency, which is desperate to regulate fracking at the national level. States do the job now, and for the most part very well, but Mr. Obama won’t say if he’d stop the EPA in a second term. Want to bet a billion-dollar chemical plant on that?

He also says he’ll open up millions of acres for development, but his booklet includes far more discussion of a mandate for 80% of U.S. electricity to come from “clean” energy sources by 2035. Such a renewable portfolio standard, as it’s called, would limit demand for the very oil-and-gas surge he wants to take credit for.

Mr. Obama’s pamphlet doesn’t have the heart to mention immigration reform, perhaps because the President knows he has poisoned the political well and any plan is probably dead on arrival. His rhetorical attacks and lawsuits against Arizona and this summer’s executive-order fiat on young illegal immigrants (a policy we support as legislation) have ensured GOP hostility.

Perhaps you’ve heard that the President wants to raise taxes on the top 2% of U.S. taxpayers. If you haven’t, well, the pamphlet mentions that once or twice. Left unsaid is that this plan increases revenue only between $50 billion and $80 billion a year, a rounding error in the $1 trillion-plus deficit era. Mr. Obama does claim to have a plan to reduce the gap by $4 trillion over the next decade. Mostly this comes from unwinding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are already being unwound and assorted budget gimmicks.

But what about a grand budget bargain? Won’t that be Mr. Obama’s crowning second-term achievement? The pamphlet’s sections on health care and entitlements show that his real budget priority is to preserve all of the government he expanded in the first term.

He promises to protect the Affordable Care Act from repeal or Republican amendments. He also says he’ll “protect retirement security” by opposing “efforts to gamble Social Security in the stock market”—which no one is proposing—and “stop proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher system.” Having thus stopped serious entitlement reform, he’ll be left to fiddle around the edges with the usual cuts to providers or reducing benefits for seniors he thinks are “rich.”

Mr. Obama’s real agenda is to lock in the historic spending levels of 24% or 25% that he achieved in his first term, with ObamaCare spending set to grow by leaps and bounds after he’s left office. Taxes and spending are already set to rise unless Congress acts to stop it, and the President won’t let House Republicans do that.

One of Mr. Romney’s most effective arguments is that Mr. Obama’s second term will reprise his first. The President’s new-old pamphlet with new-old ideas proves Mr. Romney’s point. The guy is tapped out.

A version of this article appeared October 24, 2012, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Second First Term.

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