Obama's New Second-Term Plan Isn't New and It's Barely a Plan

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... but it's still probably better that what Mitt Romney is offering

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With two weeks until the election, President Obama has unveiled an agenda for a possible second term in office. The webpage is entitled "Plans", but most of what you'll find on the mini-site aren't plans for the future but descriptions of the past. For example, if you click through the first link, it loads a page of Economic Issues that includes the following items.

President Obama refused to let the American auto industry die. He took a chance on Americans, and it paid off. More than 1 million jobs were saved, the U.S. auto industry is roaring back and adding jobs and all government loans were paid back ahead of time. [Description of past events]
U.S. manufacturing has added 459,000 jobs since January 2010--the most growth in a decade.[Description of past events]
President Obama has a plan to bring jobs back to the U.S. by eliminating tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and creating incentives for businesses to bring jobs back to America. [Actual plan!]

President Obama passed Wall Street reform to make sure that Americans would never again have to pay to bail out big banks. [Description of past events] ...

It's perfectly legitimate for any incumbent president to talk about the past. And this one has a lot to talk about. His administration parachuted into a financial meltdown, helped to save the economy, and oversaw a steady, if slow, recovery. But two years after the midterms, the president has failed to pass anything more than a tax extension over the Republican Congress. His campaign has resisted new details about future plans, as if stoically resigned to the fact that putting a second-term agenda on paper is amount to publishing in the fantasy genre.

Even so, the president's new second-term agenda isn't really new, and it's barely an agenda. The president has a plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2% of the households. That's the same thing Democratic presidential candidates have been asking for since 2003. He has a plan to use "war savings" to reduce the deficit, but can you really count events that were going to happen anyway as "savings"? (Can I use count my "not-going-to-Las-Vegas-tomorrow savings" to pay back my credit card?) Too timid to re-up the American Jobs Act and call for stimulus, the president shuffles forward with mini-steps toward energy and education reform.

The president's second-term agenda looks good from maybe only one angle: Next to Romney's second-term agenda. In these debates, the Massachusetts governor rediscovered his inner-moderate, but only after a year of making promises to chase the far-right wing of the party. Far from incremental, Romney's plan represents an unprecedented step back from welfare for the poor, old, and sick, concentrating trillions in budget cuts over the next decade on Medicaid and low-income programs.

Presidents run for reelection to protect their accomplishments. But Obama's entire second-term agenda is apparently to protect his first-term agenda. That's not awful. It might even be defensible. But it's hardly inspiring.

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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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