We can imagine what lies ahead in 2017 — no matter the result of either the 2014 midterm elections or the 2016 presidential outcome.
There will be no more $1 trillion deficits. About $10 trillion will have been added to the national debt during the Obama administration, on top of the more than $4 trillion from the prior eight-year George W. Bush administration. That staggering bipartisan sum will force the next president to be a deficit hawk, both fiscally and politically.
In addition, there will be no huge new federal spending programs — no third or fourth stimulus, no vast new entitlements. The debt is so large and voters so tired of massive borrowing that the next president will talk not of “investments” but of balancing the budget. In 2016, President Hillary Clinton or President Marco Rubio will tell us that cutting spending and living within our means is the new cool.
If eight years of borrowing, printing, spending, and lending vast sums of money at zero interest did not lead to economic recovery, then the antithesis of all that will be the explicit platform of Republicans and the implicit one of Democrats.
Obamacare may remain in name, but in fact most of its provisions will be discarded or amended. Its full implementation next year will result in almost everything that was not supposed to happen: higher health care premiums, rationed care, scarcer doctors and fewer jobs. Obamacare will mostly go the way of the Defense of Marriage Act — officially the law of the land, but its enforcement simply ignored by the powers that be.
Despite an increase in carbon emissions since 2000, the planet did not heat up in the last 15 years. Scientists will continue to argue over global warming, but politicians will not talk much more of implementing costly cap-and-trade policies. They will still praise green energy as the way of the future, but they will not continue the massive subsidies to substitute it for far cheaper fossil fuels.
Instead, expect a renewal of federal oil and natural gas leases on public lands. There is too much newly discovered recoverable energy on federal property to continue to delay its full production — and too much of an upside in cheaper gas at the pump, more independence from Middle East autocracies, more jobs, more money and more economic growth.
Do not expect the same level of increases in disability and unemployment insurance and in food stamps. The trajectories of all those programs since 2009 are not sustainable. For all the talk that Social Security and Medicare are not in bad shape, Democrats and Republicans after Obama will be forced to save both programs by either upping the eligibility age, curbing some benefits or hiking payroll taxes — or all that and more.
The next president will jettison the sort of class warfare that has led only to short-term political gain and long-term polarization. Obama’s “fat cats” and “one percenters” will disappear from the presidential vocabulary. We will hear no more accusations that the successful really did not build their own businesses, or that they should have known when it was time not to profit because they had made quite enough money. Expect just the opposite: a Bill Clinton-like schmoozing of small businesses to please start buying, hiring and expanding again.
Aside from the partisan furor over whether the Obama policies have worked — Democrats will say that things would have been worse without them; Republicans will insist that a natural recovery was turned into long-term doldrums — we will not see them continued.
We are institutionalizing, in European style, huge government, high unemployment, sluggish GDP growth, serial annual deficits, ballooning aggregate national debt and massive dependency, along with near-zero interest rates. The two parties will disagree over the contours of this chronically weak economy, but not over the fact of its weakness — or soon, even its causes. Most Americans will not wish to continue down the road to Italy or Spain.
Barack Obama is a landmark figure: young, charismatic, seemingly post-national and supposedly post-racial. For those reasons alone, he enjoys a level of unshakeable political support not predicated on the actual record of his tenure as president — in the manner most remember fondly that he won the Nobel Prize but don’t quite know what he did to earn it.
Obama’s economic record will be dispassionately acknowledged to be similar to that of Jimmy Carter. But, unlike Carter, Obama will remain a mythical figure in liberal circles.
To borrow a line from a classic Western, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And so we will do just that.