In the biggest news of the day, Obama just gave a speech unveiling the proposal outlined in this Associated Press story:
President Barack Obama will ask Congress on Friday for greater power to shrink the federal government, and his first idea is merging six sprawling trade and commerce agencies whose overlapping programs can be baffling to businesses, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.
Obama will call on Congress to give him a type of reorganizational power last held by a president when Ronald Reagan was in office. The Obama version would be a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose mergers that promise to save money and help consumers. The deal would entitle him to an up-or-down vote from Congress in 90 days.
It would be up to lawmakers, therefore, to first grant Obama this fast-track authority and then decide whether to approve any of his specific ideas.
This could help enable Democrats to recapture the dynamic that played in the favor of Democrats during the payroll tax cut fight. Obama is co-opting a supposedly traditional Republican argument — government should be made leaner — and forcing Republicans to choose between placing themselves at odds with a core position and allowing an Obama victory on their own turf. During the payroll fight, Republicans struggled to explain their opposition to cutting taxes, relying on shifting justifications that ultimately proved politically untenable.
The GOP pushback is that Obama’s move suggests he is conceding that the Republicans argument has been right along. “After presiding over one of the largest expansions of government in history, and a year after raising the issue in his last State of the Union, it’s interesting to see the President finally acknowledge that Washington is out of control,” Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mitch McConnell, says. But will Republicans support it?
Second, the move could maneuver Republicans into having an argument about process, even as the White House touts specific proposals for getting things done. During the payroll tax cut fight, Republicans ended up arguing that the tax cut shouldn’t be extended for two months because a year-long extension would represent sounder government — even as Dems emerged as the primary advocates for immediate action to cut taxes on 160 million working Americans. Similarly, Repulicans may find themselves opposing this proposal on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough, while Obama insists on immediate action.
During his speech today, Obama bashed wasteful government; proposed to consolidate six commerce-related agencies into one; and said the proposal was driven by “one mission: helping American businesses to succeed.” He added: “With or without Congress, I’m going to keep at it.”
In other words, this dovetails with Obama’s political strategy of bashing Congress as dysfunctional while continuing to project unilateral action on the economy, in this case, helping small businesses by simplifying government — which, again, is supposedly traditional GOP turf.