Wonkbook: What the inaugural meant for policy

January 22, 2013

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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 2,114. That was the number of words in President Barack Obama's second inaugural address. The speech sketched a broad vision for policy, ranging from tax policy and social-insurance programs, to energy and climate issues, to gay rights and voting access. Wonkbook takes a look at the policy meat inside the speech.

CJ GUNTHER / European Pressphoto Agency
CJ GUNTHER / European Pressphoto Agency


Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: How Twitter responded to Obama's first inauguration.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) public policy and Obama's second inaugural address ; 2) lots of health policy is in the works; 3) where energy and environment showed up in the address; 4) a moment for the history of gay rights; and 5) the GOP's three-month debt ceiling bill is moving forward.

1) Top story: Everything you need to know about the inauguration

President Obama used his second inaugural address to make the case for liberal government. "A self-assured President Obama on Monday used his second inaugural address to lay out a bold liberal vision of the American future, drawing direct links between the origins of the republic and some of the most vexing political issues of the day...The 18 1/2-minute address showed a president who had shaken off the personal caution and political gridlock that had hemmed in his ambitions before. His speech did not soar as much as it hurried: bouncing from goal to goal, building an agenda that could define his party — and his legacy" David A. Fahrenthold in The Washington Post.

Read: The full transcript of President Obama's second inaugural address.

Watch: The full White House video of Obama's address.

Here's what he had to say about his second-term policy plans. "In his second term, Obama is looking to tackle problems that were festering long before the financial crisis that immediately preceded his first term. The country faces a fast-growing national debt as a result of waves of retiring workers who expect health care and pension benefits. Businesses see crumbling infrastructure and a workforce whose education and skills have begun to trail that of many countries’ workers. Globalization and advances in technology threaten to further push down wages for middle-class Americans and exacerbate inequality." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

@RonBrownstein: Prediction: Equating gay rights with civil rights and women's right to vote will be the part of Obama's speech that history most remembers

More optimism. More partisanship. More populism. "[A] brusque Obama directed his warning toward a Republican Party he once believed he could win over. In outlining a liberal last-term agenda, Obama made clear that he still intends to change the country — but now without first changing Washington...[He spoke] with more partisanship and populism than he did on a far colder day four years ago. The more optimistic tone and specific ambition of the speech reflected not only the country’s halting progress over that time, but also his own evolution as a political leader in a divided country." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

@jbarro: The speech positioned Obama's agenda as not just correct but as one more step in the perfecting of America.

What Obama said about the role of government. "He made an assertive case for preserving entitlement programs (with a direct reference to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security), affirmed his belief in gay rights and addressing climate change, and brought the argument for equality front and center." Lisa Rein in The Washington Post

@dandrezner: In many ways, Obama's second inaugural was more liberal than his first one. But on a LOT of social issues, the country is more liberal too.

President Obama's second term starts today. It ends sooner than you think. "President Obama’s second term begins today and ends in four years time. Except that in political terms, it will be over far sooner than that. The president has 18 months, then — give or take a few months — to build out his political legacy. Which means he needs to get moving as quickly as possible or run the risk of running out of political power." Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Watch: Two inauguration videos you shouldn't miss.

Explainer: The most important paragraph of Obama's second inaugural address.

Quick facts: The second inaugural address, by the numbers.

KLEIN: A speech that shows how Obama has changed. "Obama’s reelection campaign, and his second inaugural address, was founded on a very different premise: The old arguments were indeed strangling our politics, and the only way to move past them is to win them, and the only way to win them is to fight over them...He retold the story of American history in a way that emphasized the project of collective action and liberal governance...And he painted a picture of America that is again discovering that it has severe problems that it can only solve through government action." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

CILLIZZA: The president liberals have been pining for. "Couched in rhetoric about the need to come together as a country was a strong — and surprisingly pointed — invocation of a laundry list of progressive principles: gay rights, voting rights, climate change and the inherent value of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security" Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

@robertcostaNRO: Consensus among my GOP sources:Obama is expertly repackaging old-school, tax-and-spend liberalism as the status quo, conservatism threatened

MILBANK: Preaching to the choir. "What followed was less an inaugural address for the ages than a leftover campaign speech combined with an early draft of the State of the Union address...Obama’s main event was full of crowd-pleasing lines about equal pay, same-sex marriage, poll access, immigration, gun control and health care. Although it tied together the various elements of his agenda, it failed to rise to the moment." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

COHN: That speech will stand the test of time. "President Obama had those speeches in mind today, because he too used the occasion to define his first term—in ways, perhaps, that will last long beyond his presidency. If his first inaugural address was a vision of a better politics, then this address was a vision of a better society—a progressive vision in which government acts boldly to protect the weak, to promote economic growth, and to solve the problems we cannot solve on our own." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

@BeschlossDC: President Obama has tendency to resist adorning speeches with lines destined for Bartlett's Quotations that listeners will recall & repeat.

PONNURU: Obama's bogus journey. "The world will little note nor long remember anything President Barack Obama said in his second inaugural address...Obama said that developing 'sustainable-energy sources' is 'what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.' Does anyone believe that in a week anyone will find that an arresting and compelling thought? Or credit it for being a thought at all?" Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

KINSLEY: Obama, the liberal. "Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom...The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights...There is another view of 'rights' that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama." Michael Kinsley in Bloomberg.

@TheStalwart: The more I think about, the more I think it’s a big deal that Obama didn’t say anything about grand bargain deficit nonsense. Ship, sailed.

BROOKS: The collective turn. "The best Inaugural Addresses make an argument for something. President Obama’s second one, which surely has to rank among the best of the past half-century, makes an argument for a pragmatic and patriotic progressivism." David Brooks in The New York Times.

BALZ: The divider. "In his speech, Obama set out his priorities for a second term, goals that will cheer the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and probably alarm many on the right. He challenged Republicans to meet him partway, though not exactly in the middle." Dan Balz in The Washington Post.

WILKINSON: Moral citizenship in 21st-century America. "The theme that individual liberty is based on collective security, and that it's dependent on the extent to which we afford dignity to fellow citizens, recurs throughout the speech." Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg.

Music recommendations interlude: R.E.M., "Nightswimming," 1993.

Top op-eds

BARRO: Lessons from the fiscal cliff. "[I]t is nonsense to think that cuts in government spending should be avoided in the 'short run' in order to lower the chance of a recession. If a smaller government is a good idea in the long run (as I believe it is), it is also a good idea in the short run." Robert J. Barro in Project Syndicate.

SUMMERS: About America's deficits. "Reducing prospective deficits should be a key priority but should not take over economic policy...Budget deficit obsession in conjunction with rigid bureaucratic scoring rules may preclude high-return investment in areas such as infrastructure, preventive medicine and tax enforcement that would improve our fiscal position over the very long term." Lawrence Summers in The Washington Post.

PONNURU: How to do gun control sensibly. "One [policy idea] is a new reporting requirement: If you have 'knowledge of a grave and imminent threat of serious physical harm' that someone else has made, and 'reasonable cause to believe' that person has access to a gun or bomb, you would have a legal requirement to inform a law-enforcement agency...A second proposed statute would establish a standard for securing firearms." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

GOLDHILL: The case for for-profit medicine. "Nevertheless, it is true that the profit motive -- and for that matter the nonprofit motive -- is failing us in health care. Why does no one in this industry compete to be the low- priced leader? To be the provider with the best outcomes for specific illnesses? To be the service and efficiency king? To be the safest hospital in your town?" David Goldhill in Bloomberg.

DONOVAN: Better reporting for abortions. "[W]herever we stand on the issue, we ought to have access to high-quality, up-to-date information on how many women in each state are undergoing the procedure, by what method, at what stage of pregnancy and how many times. We should know the age of the women involved and, if relevant, whether there was parental notice. Americans should insist that abortion statistics be comprehensively gathered, rapidly totaled and assessed, and reliably published by a publicly accountable body." Charles A. Donovan in The New York Times.

MLK interlude: 17 quotes you never hear.

2) Four more years for Obama to shape health policy

Congress is about to work on mental health policy. "The House Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force will host a briefing and panel discussion Tuesday afternoon designed to look comprehensively at the U.S. mental health system. Staff members said the event would focus on issues of funding, research, prevention and intervention. Pamela Hyde, administrator of the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration; Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health; and several other leaders are scheduled to participate" Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Regulations on the individual mandate are coming soon. "The White House budget office is reviewing new rules to implement benefit requirements in President Obama's signature healthcare law. The regulation could be issued this month — a review from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is typically one of the last steps before regulations are published." Sam Baker in The Hill.

For the Affordable Care Act, four more years. "For most of Obama’s first term, universal coverage was held in limbo. It survived a heated congressional debate and a Supreme Court challenge. Obama’s reelection secured the Affordable Care Act’s future, and kicked implementation into full gear. But that poses its own challenges. The health-care law’s requirement to buy health coverage — and the insurance subsidies for millions of Americans — roll out Jan. 1, 2014. The list of what needs to happen between now and then is massive." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

OK, this is really awesome interlude: A "super-repellent" surface off which liquids bounce.

3) What Obama had to say on energy and the environment

Climate change featured prominently in Obama's inaugural. "The central place he gave to the subject seemed to answer the question of whether he considered it a realistic second-term priority...[T]he White House plans to avoid such a fight [as Waxman-Markey] and instead focus on what it can do administratively to reduce emissions from power plants, increase the efficiency of home appliances and have the federal government itself produce less carbon pollution" Richard W. Stevenson and John M. Broder in The New York Times.

Can Obama address climate change in his second term? "In his second inaugural address Monday, Obama took time to stress that global warming would once again be one of his major priorities...But what might this actually mean in practice? Obama isn’t going to persuade Republicans in Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill in the next two years. Instead, the White House will likely have to consider some more modest options. Here are a few possibilities." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

What Obama needs to do on climate. "The first sign of whether Obama is serious about confronting the climate crisis will be revealed by how he organizes the White House. 'If you want to know how committed the president is to climate change, just look at the people around him,' says a leading environmentalist who asked not to be identified. 'Tim Geithner, Valerie Jarrett – they are not climate advocates. Nobody in Obama's inner circle wakes up in the morning and thinks about how we're going to stabilize the Earth's climate – and what will happen if we don't.'"Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone.

More awesomeness interlude: A Dutch firm is 3D-printing a house.

4) A moment for the history of gay rights

Obama invoked gay rights in his inaugural. "President Obama on Monday became the first president to use the word 'gay' as a reference to sexual orientation in an inaugural address, declaring the movement for equality to be part of the pantheon of America’s great civil rights struggles." Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post.

The scene at the Stonewall Inn. "'We're not just a bar. We're the Stonewall. It's like owning Rosa Parks's bus. We don't own the movement, but we own the bus,' said Stacey Lentz, one of the bar's owners, and an activist. 'This is where it started, and to have that history acknowledged in the civil rights context, that's the thing too. We've always said gay rights is civil rights, and I think he summed that up today perfectly.' She called President Obama's speech 'a huge, huge win for gay rights across the country.'" James West in Mother Jones.

Why this is a moment for gay-rights history. "In his Monday speech, Obama tended toward the general, not the specific, which is typical of inaugural addresses. But make no mistake: On the issue of gay rights, the president opted to make a real statement by wading in deeper." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Adorable animals interlude: Baby elephant at the bottom of the well.

5) GOP's three-month debt-ceiling bill moves forward

GOP bill extends borrowing authority into late May. "The bill to extend borrowing, which was introduced by GOP leaders Monday and is expected to be approved by the House on Wednesday, would suspend the debt ceiling until May 19, allowing the government to issue new debt to pay existing bills. At the end of that period, the debt limit would be increased to reflect the new amount of total debt incurred." Janet Hook and Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

Senate Democrats are willing to play along and pass a budget. “'It’s going to be a great opportunity for us because in our budget that we will pass, we will have tax reform, which many of my Republican colleagues like. But it’s going to include revenues,' Schumer said on 'Meet The Press.' The pledge by Schumer, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, indicates that Democrats are willing to go along with the proposal that House Republicans made at the end of their retreat last week: They’ll extend the debt ceiling without upfront spending cuts for three months, so long as the Senate passes a budget blueprint this spring." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Overseas markets rallied on debt-ceiling optimism. "Hopes that United States politicians will be able to reach a deal on raising the government’s debt ceiling, avoiding the risk of a disastrous default, supported global markets on Monday, with Wall Street closed for a holiday." Reuters.

Because there's always someone cooler than you interlude: The man who started his own dance party and hundreds of people joined in.

Et Cetera

Two Tuesday longreads: In The New Yorker, Jill Lepore on defense spending and Ezra Klein on filibuster reform.

Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary nominee, defender of the social safety netZachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Obama seems to think the U.S. is the only country with peaceful transitions of power. It's not. Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Biden 2016 speculation bubbles at inaugurationDavid Nakamura in The Washington Post.

In the next four years, we'll see if Wall Street can be reformedSuzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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