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November 20, 2012

2013 looks a lot like 1937 in 4 fearsome ways

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

— Bath of cold water afterward. After this year's election, President Barack Obama made it clear that budgeting was his priority: "I'm ready and willing to make big commitments to make sure that we're locking in the kind of deficit reductions that stabilize our deficit, start bringing it down, start bringing down our debt. I'm confident we can do it."

Roosevelt too opened his second term on a sober budget- cutting note. The president, wrote journalist Anne O'Hare McCormick in 1937, was like "the Dutch householder who carefully totes up his accounts every month and who is really annoyed now that he is bent on balancing the budget, that Congress can't stop spending."

— Fearsome attack on the status quo. In his first news conference on Nov. 14, Obama went out of his way to make clear his tax increases would fall on the rich: "What I'm concerned about is not finding ourselves in a situation where the wealthy aren't paying more or aren't paying as much as they should."

Roosevelt was also ferocious, telling the old guard: "I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master."

When Roosevelt followed through in 1937, both with high taxes and his effort to pack the Supreme Court with more progressives, markets shivered.

— Fallout from first-term legislation. Obama signed his health-care act in 2010, postponing much of its enforcement until 2013, after the election. Now that the effects of the act are so proximate, markets are wondering whether they or investors can handle the changes demanded. Roosevelt's equivalents were threefold: Social Security, the Wagner Act and a new Federal Reserve law, the Banking Act of 1935, all passed well before the election. The last law gave the Fed a new tool, the easy ability to order changes in reserve requirements for banks.

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