The proposal comes at a politically opportune moment for the president, who has faced sustained Republican criticism that his administration has failed to tame a bloated federal bureaucracy.
With an eye squarely on his reelection campaign, Obama announced that he would initially focus on merging sprawling entities that deal with small businesses in a bid to save $3 billion by eliminating more than 1,000 jobs over the next decade.
Almost a year ago, Obama promised in his State of the Union address to create a leaner, more efficient federal bureaucracy. Since then, Republicans — both on Capitol Hill and in the presidential campaign — have charged that the administration’s health-care, environmental and financial reforms have added layers of red tape and costs at the worse possible time.
For a president who has spent months pushing his $447 billion jobs bills, the proposal sought to establish that he is also committed to reducing spending over the long term. His announcement came a day after he notified Congress of his intent to raise the national debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion to cover increased U.S. spending commitments.
Obama noted before an audience of small-business owners at the White House that the federal bureaucracy includes five different entities involved in housing and more than a dozen that regulate food safety.
“No business or nonprofit leader would allow this kind of duplication or unnecessary complexity in their operations,” Obama said. “So why is it okay in our government? It’s not. It has to change.”
Obama is scheduled to deliver this year’s State of the Union address on Jan. 24, and Republican critics, while embracing the spirit of paring the government’s size, questioned whether Obama was scrambling to make good on his pledge with his reelection effort looming.
“A year after raising the issue
. . .
it’s interesting to see the president finally acknowledge that Washington is out of control,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Other lawmakers expressed concern that the reorganization could harm U.S. trade policy, noting that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is among the agencies the president would consolidate, was established to serve a distinct role.
In a joint statement, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) questioned whether the legislation would hamper the government’s ability “to aggressively open new markets to American-made goods and services and create U.S. jobs.”
Yet the White House was banking on muted opposition from GOP lawmakers, because the consolidation proposal goes right to the Republicans’ core ideological belief that the government is too large.