Count on one truth above all: Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, this is an era of austerity and contraction. Given the country’s mounting debt and the political pressure to reduce it, budget wonks assume that a second-term Obama would get nowhere in resolving the nation’s financial predicament. They are already turning their attention to 2017, after the next presidential election, as the year they hope will bring substantial fiscal changes—meaning entitlement reform or deficit reduction (or both). Neither topic is in vogue this year on the campaign trail.
“I don’t think either party is preparing people for what lies ahead,” said Paul Posner, director of George Mason University’s public-administration program, who managed the Government Accountability Office’s budget and public finance work. “Democrats are not exactly preparing the way for the pain of entitlement reform. Neither are the Republicans with their antitax rhetoric.”
Instead, longtime budget experts predict that Obama’s blueprint will feature a flurry of familiar ideas from previous speeches. “The second-term administration will be about consolidation and implementation—following through on the substantial things,” Posner said. “Financial and health care reform were just huge undertakings.”
Here’s another constraint: A reelected Obama, barring a crisis, would have a short window of opportunity to make any major policy changes before the 2014 congressional campaigns begin in earnest.