President Obama lays out his second term

October 24, 2012

You may have heard about a weird campaign kerfuffle where President Obama did an interview with the Des Moines Register but insisted it be kept off the record. The paper then wrote a blistering (and correct) piece arguing that the interview should be on the record. The Obama campaign folded and the transcript is here.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

The result of this back-and-forth is an interview that's unusually revealing, as the president, presuming this was off the record, was a bit more candid than he tends to be in on-the-record settings. One of the questions the Register asked was about how Obama plans to overcome congressional gridlock if he's reelected. His answer is about the best summary we've heard from him on how he sees his second term going:

When you combine the Bush tax cuts expiring, the sequester in place, the commitment of both myself and my opponent -- at least Governor Romney claims that he wants to reduce the deficit -- but we’re going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business. 

It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.

And we can easily meet -- “easily” is the wrong word -- we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and even more in the out-years, and we can stabilize our deficit-to-GDP ratio in a way that is really going to be a good foundation for long-term growth. Now, once we get that done, that takes a huge piece of business off the table. 

The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.

So assume that you get those two things done in the first year, and we're implementing Wall Street reform, Obamacare turns out not to have been the scary monster that the other side has painted. Now we're in a position where we can start on some things that really historically have not been ideological. We can start looking at a serious corporate tax reform agenda that's revenue-neutral but lowers rates and broadens the base -- something that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed an interest in.

I've expressed a deep desire and taken executive action to weed out regulations that aren't contributing to the health and public safety of our people. And we've made a commitment to look back and see if there are regulations out there that aren't working, then let’s get rid of them and see if we can clear out some of the underbrush on that. Again, that's something that should be non-ideological.

My hope is, is that there’s a recognition that now is a great time to make infrastructure improvements all across the country. And we can pull up some of the money that we know we're going to be spending over the next decade to put people back to work right now at a time when contractors are dying for work and interest rates are really low.

So that's the plan. Leveraging the fiscal cliff into a deficit-reduction bill with a spending cuts-to-tax hike ratio of 2.5:1. A big push on immigration predicated on a Republican Party increasingly concerned about the Latino vote. Continued implementation of Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. An effort to clear out old regulations and boost infrastructure investment. 

There's no huge news here, but pay attention to the president's emphasis on immigration as a first-year priority. This was intended to be an off-the-record interview and the Des Moines Register isn't known for its unusual concern over immigration issues, so there's little reason to believe that it's mere pandering. In addition, my previous reporting has also suggested that the White House sees immigration as a big opportunity in a second term. So if Obama is emphasizing it, it's probably because he's actually planning for it.

This is subject to all the usual caveats about presidencies being driven by events and opportunities that frequently lay waste to even the most carefully laid plans. But this is, at the least, the way Obama sees it, at least right now.

Related: What could Obama do in a second term?

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