By proposing on Friday to merge multiple US trade agencies, US President Barack Obama sought to outmaneuver Republicans on one of their key talking points in the presidential race: making government smaller.
It was the latest tactical move by the White House to knock down Obama’s opponents and win over middle-class voters before November’s election. White House and Obama campaign officials say there is more to come.
The new proposal helps shield Obama from attacks of being a big government liberal and, if Republicans do not support him, opens up another avenue to paint them as unwilling to cooperate.
“With or without Congress, I’m going to keep at it,” Obama said in remarks outlining his plans. “But it’d be a lot easier if Congress helped. This is an area that should receive bipartisan support, because making our government more responsive and strategic and leaner, it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
Whether grabbing the spotlight from candidates in early voting states in the race for the Republican presidential nomination or catching lawmakers off guard with a surprise administration appointment, Obama and his political team have cranked up the pressure in a strategy that seems to be resonating in opinion polls.
Other aggressive moves will roll out in the coming weeks before Obama releases his budget and gives his State of the Union address on Jan. 24.
“Fighting for the middle class is going to be a thematic that runs through all of this year, through State of the Union, through the budget, through everything we do,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in an interview.
Topics that could resonate on the campaign trail will also feature throughout the year.
On Friday, standing in the White House East Room, Obama asked Congress to grant him authority to combine federal agencies and do away with the US Department of Commerce.
By making such a proposal in an election year, when relations with lawmakers are strained, the president can campaign on a plan to streamline federal structures whether it gets implemented or not.
“It’s good politics and probably good government, too,” Democratic strategist Bud Jackson said. “If it doesn’t get passed, then the same people who criticize him as a ‘big government president’ are the same people who voted against making it smaller.”
With former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney gaining momentum in the race for the Republican nomination, Obama has a few simple priorities in the months before the general election campaign starts: raise money, build a ground game and beat his likely opponent to the political center.
Obama volunteers made thousands of calls to Democratic supporters, while Republican candidates Romney, Rick Santorum, US Representative Ron Paul and others battled for their party’s nomination in Iowa and New Hampshire. Other swing states are getting similar treatment from the Obama campaign.
“That was a snapshot of what’s going on across the country,” Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said.
Obama’s campaign announced on Thursday it raised US$68 million along with the Democratic National Committee in the last three months of last year.
Obama is also getting more aggressive in driving his message.
Last week, the president bypassed Congress to appoint Richard Cordray as head of a new consumer protection bureau, drawing howls from opposition presidential candidates.