3 Risky Issues for Obama to Tackle in his Second Term (Besides Gun Control)

Perhaps more than any other president in recent memory, when Barack Obama took office in early 2009 he faced a host of nearly overwhelming problems: huge stock market losses; giant “too big to fail” banks on the verge of failure; an auto industry about to go belly-up; two ongoing wars with no end in sight; home foreclosures at a record high; and soaring unemployment, to mention just a few.

Add to that witches’ brew the assertion made by GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell:  “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  Is it any wonder that Obama spent much of his first term concentrating on the most urgent items on his agenda: health care reform, ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and salvaging a tanking economy, all the while dealing with Republicans in Congress who refused to govern as they were elected to do?

Now that he has been re-elected, and now that one of the seemingly many political “third rails” — rational gun control — is back on the table, here are three more critical but politically risky issues for Obama to confront.

1. Impose a tax on carbon.

The devastation of Superstorm Sandy has re-energized the national debate about global warming, an issue that many Obama supporters want to see high up on his second term agenda.  One specific step he could take is to propose a tax on carbon.

A form of pollution tax, a carbon tax:

levies a fee on the production, distribution or use of fossil fuels based on how much carbon their combustion emits. The government sets a price per ton on carbon, then translates it into a tax on electricity, natural gas or oil. Because the tax makes using dirty fuels more­ expensive, it encourages utilities, businesses and individuals to reduce consumption and increase energy efficiency. Carbon tax also makes alternative energy more cost-competitive with cheaper, polluting fuels like coal, natural gas and oil.

To date, the Obama administration has rejected the idea of carbon taxes  and the current fiscal cliff fiasco has made the imposition of any new taxes a perilous proposition indeed. But the idea is gaining traction in climate change circles — even Exxon Mobil has jumped on board.  Of course, that in itself could raise more than one red flag.

2.  End the exemption on “carried interest.”

This exemption allows hedge fund managers and other investment firm executives — such as former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — to avoid regular income tax rates by paying lower capital gains tax rates on their wages.  Often these wages are simply fees charged for investing other people’s money.  The argument for this exemption is that it encourages investment, a claim that many question.  And if these executives were forced to pay regular income tax like the rest of us slobs, the estimated revenue over the next ten years is $17.7 billion.

3. Do something about campaign finance reform.

The recent election was the most expensive in history — according to Steven Schwinn, not only did it cost a stupefying $6 billion, but also approximately one of every six dollars came from outside groups, many of which claimed — not surprisingly — to be “independent.” This issue might be the most difficult of all to address, thanks in part to the Supreme Court, which infamously ruled in Citizens United v FEC that restrictions on corporate political spending amounted to a violation of free speech.  In other words, corporations are just folks. However, there are things to be done: public financing could be tied to a candidates’ small donations; campaign contributions could be more effectively limited; and, most importantly, disclosure and disclaimer requirements could be required, allowing everyone to see who really is behind the candidate and the “independent” groups.

All of these measures are small steps.  None solves the massive problems of climate change, banking/investment industry malfeasance and the corrupting power of money in our most sacred political process.  However, each one represents an act of will and a gesture of political courage.  Since Obama’s reelection, the GOP has shown no sign of any increased willingness to work with the president to solve the nation’s daunting problems, the above included.  But maybe, with a solid popular victory behind him, Obama can stop having to constantly watch his back, and in the words of Garrison Keillor, “do what needs to be done.”


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paul m.
paul m5 years ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

Obama's agenda for his second term is raise taxes, raise taxes, and then raise taxes.

Ann Breeden
Ann Breeden5 years ago

Thank you for posting. I wish him all the best.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

If the elasticity of demand for energy is -0.37, then the maximum revenue rate of a greenhouse gas emissions tax starting at $5/ton of CO2 eq. which would cause a one cent increase in the retail price of electricity which now averages ten cents a kWh, would be reached in at the 9th annual $5/ton increase, at $45/ton of CO2 eq. One third of the base physical quantity demand would be displaced by the tax. Total consumer spending on energy would be 126.73% of what it is now. Total revenue from the tax would be 60% of the base line consumer spending on energy. Consumers would be paying 67.73% of current consumer spending on energy directly to suppliers. Since half of price of electricity is for getting it from generator to consumer, a fourth is for owning, operating, and maintaining generator, and a fourth is for fuel, 8.375% of base load spending on electricity would go to fossil fuel firms for fossil fuel reserves displaced by the tax, leaving 51.625 available to spend on carbon capture and storage and/or sustainable energy equipment to replace fossil fuel.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

We need a tax on greenhouse gas emissions even more for the prohibitive tariff effect than for the revenue. Because the purpose of the tax is to destroy the product on which it is based, it MUST be: 1. limited to 10% of the current base retail price followed by another 10% increase each year, 2. held at the maximum revenue rate once it is reached, 3. divided between buying out productive capacity made surplus by the tax and other measures to fight global warming. Since the productive capacity is the fossil fuel reserves, this means buying fossil fuel reserves displaced by the tax. The other measures to fight global warming are to capture and store carbon and to replace fossil fuel with sustainable energy. Since the purpose of sustainable energy is to destroy the fossil fuel market, we must barter the sustainable energy equipment including replacement parts as needed for the fossil fuel displaced. Global Thermostat is the most likely way to capture carbon. The most likely ways to store carbon are: Enhanced Geothermal Systems which since they generate base load power must be bartered for the fossil fuel they displace, bio-diesel from algae which must also be bartered for the fossil fuel it will displace, and bio-char which is a soil amendment that will make irrigation more efficient by holding water in the soil.

tiffany t.
tiffany t5 years ago

overwhelmed : ( prisoners in our own country

Bruno Moreira
Bruno Moreira5 years ago


Bruce Van Tassell

Really all three and who knows how many more are all in involved with the party of no , no plan of their own, Republicans are willing to take America back to the pre civil war dark days to prove they have nothing to offer. Obama must find away like FDR did to get past the egg heads and get the country / world working together again and not just accept the Republican natter.

Steven M.
Steven M.5 years ago

I would add a fourth - HIGH-SPEED RAIL! NOW!!

Jessie Dijkstra
Jessie D5 years ago

i pray he does the right things.