President Bush’s reckless spending and bailouts gutted the Republican brand and paved the way for President Obama’s historic 2008 election. The most liberal president in a generation, Obama came into office promising steep tax hikes, a national cap-and-trade energy tax program, a card check bill to allow unions to organize without private ballot protections for workers, and a Washington takeover of health care. He accomplished only the last, and that only on a series of corrupt special interest deals that made the final product deeply unpopular.
Now President Obama has been reelected by a much smaller margin, in a base election in which superior use of technology allowed him to narrowly win nearly all of the swing states. An impressive political feat, without question, but not close to the scope of his 2008 win. Moreover, 2012 also ratified the historic landslide election of 2010, the principal impact of which was Republican control of the House under Speaker John Boehner.
So now we face the same issues and challenges we did four years ago. The stimulus fight is back in the form of a fight over averting the fiscal cliff. Boehner is holding strong against tax hikes, which would likely tip the economy back into recession in 2013. But Obama got his massive increase in spending last time, and he may get his tax hikes this time. But the fight will again sap all most of his political capital.
The 2009 cap-and-trade fight will be replaced with a fight over a carbon tax. In the cap-and-trade fight, we had to expend time and effort explaining that it was a hidden tax. This time the tax will be out in the open. But this time Obama will claim that the vast revenues from the tax – which, of course, will hit anyone who fills a gas tanks, turns on a light switch, or buys anything that’s grown, shipped or manufactured – will be used for deficit reduction. But Washington politicians always spend every penny they raise in taxes and every penny they can get away with borrowing. So this tax will enable more government spending, while hitting the poor especially hard.
The health care fight rages on. A large number of states are likely to reject setting up exchanges to implement Obamacare’s exchanges, the bureaucracies through which vast new subsidies flow and employer penalty taxes are imposed. That will pose an enormous logistical challenge for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, because the law didn’t anticipate this situation and provides no funding for the federal government to take over operating exchanges. Moreover, the statute is clear that subsidies and penalties apply only in state exchanges. The IRS has issued a rule asserting the contrary that the state of Oklahoma is challenging in court.
President Obama will have a relatively free hand to move forward with his regulatory agenda, including an ozone rule that could destroy more than seven million jobs. His overall regulatory agenda will cost the economy at least $515 billion according to an analysis by the National Federation of Independent Business, and Congress will be able to do little about it but hold oversight hearings. But many of these regulations will be litigated, and everything done without the benefit of legislation can be undone in the next Republican administration.
The bottom line is President Obama was reelected on a series of small-ball issues and technological prowess, but his big ideas are the same ones that failed in his first term. For conservative activists, this is no time to despair. It’s time to fight again – and from a much stronger position than four years ago.