3 Quick Thoughts on Obama's Second-Term Goals

Obama's speech tonight will pledge to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion, create a million more manufacturing jobs by the end of the next term, and cut the growth of college tuition in half over the next decade.

Here are the full highlights, via Playbook:

Manufacturing: Create one million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016 and double exports by the end of 2014.

Energy: Cut net oil imports in half by 2020 and support 600,000 natural gas jobs by the end of the decade.

Education: Cut the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years, recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years and train 2 million workers for real jobs at community colleges.

National Security: Invest in the economy with the money we're no longer spending on war.

Deficit: Reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade.

Three things to listen for:

(1) Entitlements? The president has repeatedly promised to not raise taxes on any family making less than $250,000 a year. That constrains how much savings he can glean from taxes on high-income earners and corporations -- I'm betting not much more than $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion. That leaves another $2.5 trillion to be cut from everything else. Arithmetic suggests you can't spare Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Is the president going to propose entitlement cuts in his DNC speech?

(2) What's the baseline? Can Obama really halve the rate of growth of college tuition? It partially depends on what figure he's trying to halve. College tuition inflation has been on a tear very recently. The average tuition at a four-year public college rose a ridiculous 15% between 2008 and 2010. But as Jordan Weissmann explained, that rise was fueled by two important factors that might be temporary: state cuts to higher ed, which will inevitably slow, and a particular acceleration in a handful of states, like California and Arizona, which could be a peculiar short-term blip. As the economy recovers, and fewer Americans escape the poor workforce by going back to school, we can expect both demand and budget factors to slow the rate of college inflation, no matter what the president does.

(3) Riding the Wave: Some of these goals cannily hitch a ride on recent trends, such as our natural gas boom and the fact that in 2011 the U.S. became a net-oil product exporter for the first time since 1949. Creating one million more manufacturing jobs by 2016 is a big lift compared to the BLS's projection that we'll hardly create 350,000 in the next ten years. But compared to a bullish report from Boston Consulting Group, the U.S. is on track to add another two and three million new manufacturing jobs by 2020.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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