I was wondering: what is the historical track-record of second-termers when it comes to enacting far-reaching policy? My uninformed sense is that it’s really in the first term, and the beginning of it at that, where the heavy lifting gets done, and that the second term is often where things go awry.
I think this is a mistake. An enormous amount of significant legislation passed in Lyndon Johnson’s second term. As I wrote yesterday, the 1950 amendments to the Social Security Act in Truman’s second term were extremely significant, though little-remembered today. And the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 in Eisenhower’s second term were also important. The 1986 tax reform was important, and I’d say the majority of the important legislation from the Clinton era came in the second term.
The real outlier here, I think, is the second Bush administration which resulting in almost shockingly little legislation. The 109th Congress of 2005-2006 worked the fewest days of any modern congress, passed very few bills, and its most important laws (bankruptcy reform and an energy bill) were terrible. And that was before the GOP lost its majorities. The issue here is that after trying and failing to storm Fort Social Security, the conservative coalition seems to have basically given up on doing anything. Now, though, it seems like Paul Ryan is ready to charge again at Social Security and/or Medicare.