For much of the past year, President Barack Obama has been playing defense on spending cuts with the GOP, but his latest plan gives him — and potentially future presidents — a new way to go on offense.
Obama's proposal to revive fast-track authority to consolidate agencies would give the president up-or-down votes on his proposals in both chambers — bypassing filibusters and committees.
"The government we have is not the government we need," Obama said as he outlined his proposal at the White House.
The president said it is a lot easier in Washington, D.C., to add then subtract, and the new authority would help overcome special interests that he said have led to layer after layer of additional government. More importantly, it would allow him to cut through the clutter and force votes on his initiatives in an election year — and if Congress rejects the plan, Obama can accuse them of protecting wasteful duplication.
The proposal is part and parcel with a more aggressive approach from the administration to put Congress on the defensive heading into a difficult election year in which Republicans are certain to make Obama's handling of the budget and the deficit a top campaign issue.
Unlike most Obama initiatives of late, this one earned quick backing from some leading business groups and a wait-and-see response from Republicans — but it faces a tough road to becoming law given concerns in both parties that the presidency already has enough power.
And Obama's plan to first use the authority to reorganize and rename the Commerce Department and other business and trade agencies came under bipartisan fire.
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) issued a joint statement opposing the inclusion of the trade representative in the new agency.
"The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is nimble, lean and effective — and time and again it delivers on its mission and creates jobs here at home," they said. "Taking USTR, one of the most efficient agencies that is a model of how government can and should work, and making it just another corner of a new bureaucratic behemoth would hurt American exports and hinder American job creation."
And Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, said Congress "must ensure a meaningful role for Congress on all reorganization proposals at every juncture."
He noted that Congress created the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative "because our trade objectives were not adequately negotiated, implemented or emphasized when trade negotiators and enforcers were part of a broader agency."
But as he introduced his plan, Obama said there are six different agencies and departments dealing with businesses and trade.
"In this case, six isn't better than one," Obama said. "It's redundant and inefficient. With the authority I am requesting today, we could consolidate them all into one department with one website, one phone number and one mission."