Immigration reform? Gun control? What can we realistically expect from Obama’s second term, anyway?

This is good news: today on CNN’s State of the Union, one of Obama’s top advisers, David Plouffe, said he thinks there’s “‘no reason’ immigration reform shouldn’t move through Congress this year.” He’s also optimistic about passing gun control, but thinks it may take longer.

This points to an interesting question: how much can we expect from an Obama administration in the second term? Conventional wisdom holds that re-elected presidents face the prospect of a second term curse and usually cannot get much done.

But Paul Light, the scholar who has written the standard work on presidential agenda-setting, has argued that in fact, the best time for an administration to pursue its most ambitious proposals is at the beginning of the second term. The start of the new term, Light says, is when presidential capital tends to be at its peak. By that time, the president has spent enough time in the office to become good at the job, to learn how to move legislation through Congress, etc. At the same time, the president’s effectiveness hasn’t yet been weakened by mid-term elections or lame-duck status.

I thought Obama’s one real shot at passing big, important reforms would be his first year, and certainly, with the ACA, he achieved that. But who knows, he may be able to get more done in the second term than many of us had thought. It does bother me that we are not hearing a peep from the administration about climate change legislation or labor law reform. Realistically, though, legislation addressing those issues, and many others that are also extremely important, don’t have a prayer of passing in the Republican House. But change on immigration and guns may be in the works, and would be very welcome indeed.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee