There’s been a near consensus that one of the takeaways from President Obama’s second inaugural speech on Monday was that it was unabashedly liberal. “This was Barack Obama without apology—a liberal emboldened by political victory and a desire to enter the history books with a progressive agenda,” enthused New Yorker editor and biographer David Remnick. In reality, the speech wasn’t all that surprising – from the time Obama first burst onto the national political scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he has tried to wrap big government liberalism in American tradition. But if we’re assuming Obama does actually have plans to govern even further to his left in his second term, he’ll face the problem that a Republican-controlled House will prevent him from passing major legislation.
Obama did win tax increases as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal, but the only reason any Republicans went along with is that much larger tax increases would have automatically gone into effect anyway. That dynamic won’t be repeated. For instance, Republicans won’t face the prospect of the assault weapons ban automatically being reinstated if they don’t agree to a ban on high capacity magazines. This means Obama isn’t going to be able to pass legislation enacting more tax hikes, or gun control, or stimulus spending, or cap and trade, or any other liberal priorities. If the history of elections in the sixth year of a presidency is any precedent, it’s also unlikely that Democrats will regain the House in the midterms. And after the 2014 election, presidential politics will likely take over.
This raises the likelihood of Obama bypassing Congress where possible to enact his agenda. With liberals demanding action on global warming, environmental issues may be the one area in which Obama could have the most dramatic impact by imposing new regulations.