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For Obama, a new sense of purpose in acting alone

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From page A1 | February 22, 2014 | 9 Comments

WASHINGTON — This week, President Barack Obama promoted tougher fuel efficiency standards for trucks. He touted progress on initiatives to strengthen the U.S. patent system. And he signed an executive order intended to speed up the process for approving import or export cargo.

Welcome to Obama’s self-proclaimed “year of action,” where hardly a day goes by without the president and his top advisers trumpeting policy initiatives the White House is undertaking without the help of Congress.

The mostly modest actions — far shy of the sweeping immigration overhaul Obama hoped for this year — put into sharp focus the president’s limitations as he grapples with reluctant lawmakers in an election year. They also underscore how much has changed for Obama since the early days of his presidency, when he declared, “We do big things.”

Yet the flurry of executive actions does seem to be having a cathartic effect inside the White House, which was in need of a jolt after a frustrating and disjointed 2013 that included the flawed rollout of Obama’s signature health care law and a sharp drop in the president’s approval ratings. Advisers who ended the year dispirited now appear buoyed by a new sense of purpose — and the prospect of working around a Congress that has long been an irritant to the president.

“I think people came back from the break over the holidays in a real positive frame of mind,” said David Axelrod, a longtime adviser to the president. “You don’t want to be the prisoner of a negative narrative that somehow Congress has stymied the president and nothing can get done.”

Signaling how little the White House expects to change on Capitol Hill this year, Obama communications director Jennifer Palmieri said advisers are already mapping out plans for executive actions that will be unveiled well into the fall and winter. That process, she said, “has ignited a lot of creative thinking around here.”

Even so, the president’s political standing looks little better than it did at the end of last year. His approval rating continues to hover in the mid-to low-forties. Democrats are on edge about their prospects of retaining control of the Senate. And hope of securing an immigration overhaul — Obama’s one legislative goal that appeared to have some chance of success this year — faded when House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced this month that a measure was unlikely to pass in 2014.

In the absence of legislative action, the White House is pumping out a constant stream of executive actions on issues touching the economy, education and climate change. Some are relatively modest or simply prod along plans that were already in motion.

For example, an executive order Obama signed on Thursday to streamline the import and export process established a deadline for an effort that was already underway. And much of what the White House touted Tuesday on truck efficiency standards had already been announced by Obama during a climate change speech last year. Still, Obama personally heralded an incremental step forward in the process, even traveling to a Safeway distribution center in nearby Maryland to highlight steps the grocery store chain has taken to make its fleet of trucks more efficient.

Other executive actions are intended to be more wide-ranging, including a partnership with businesses that promised to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed during hiring and $750 billion in private sector commitments to expand Internet access in schools.

The president also signed an executive action increasing the hourly minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 per to $10.10. While the White House estimates the wage hike will affect only a few hundred thousand people, officials hope the move spurs Congress to take up a broader bill or businesses to act on their own to increase their workers’ wages. The Gap, a clothing company, did just that this week, announcing it will set the minimum wage for workers at $9 an hour this year and $10 an hour in 2015.

Obama’s predecessors have also turned to more modest executive actions in the face of congressional gridlock, including President Bill Clinton, who once launched a campaign to help schools require school uniforms. Some of those who advised Clinton during that period are also on staff in the Obama White House, including new presidential counselor John Podesta, a strong proponent of executive action.

Peter Wehner, who served in three Republican administrations, said exercising presidential power is a good way for a White House to generate a “sense of momentum and action.”

“Sometimes you wake up and you’re happy there’s just not a series of bad stories or bad news,” said Wehner, who last worked in the White House under George W. Bush. “If you can take the initiative even a little bit, it’s better than being back on your heels.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 9 comments

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  • DanielFebruary 22, 2014 - 6:03 am

    Who needs 3 branches of government while Barry is in office.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • BaseballmomFebruary 22, 2014 - 7:01 am

    My thoughts exactly. Oh wait, we need the judiciary to overrule those awful state voters when they pass certain laws... Yup. Gotta keep th robes in the courtrooms...

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksFebruary 22, 2014 - 7:05 am

    This a disgusting mess. If you got it, a truck brought it.The trucking industry needs to organize and stop the garbage going on here. There is plenty of room for efficiency without putting companies out of business for some debatable CARB mandates. Truckers unite! Shut it down and let the country know the truth about who really brings nearly everything we cannot survive without. While you're at it, add to your list the ridiculous speed limitations in certain states across the country. DO IT!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Salty DogFebruary 22, 2014 - 7:30 am

    CD: you are calling for the truckers to unite and shut down all that will do is allow you leader President Obama to get the trucks and drivers in from Mexico just like you and he wants. This is just another step down the road to government control of our lives but you can not see that you are losing your freedoms. But that is ok with you. You will be happy when you are told what to do and when to do it. We need to unit and say it is time for this Anti American Socialist president to be impeached.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksFebruary 22, 2014 - 7:45 am

    Salty Dog, you have no clue. Like I said, bring something other than nonsense if you're able. From you previous posts that doesn't seem likely.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mr. PracticalFebruary 22, 2014 - 9:12 am

    Salty, CD is on the correct side of the issue. CARB mandates are state and extremely onerous to commerce. Cap & Trade has increased utility rates and now with pollution credits being auctioned, it's not a level playing field for smaller businesses that are going to have to overpay to get their credits or their not going to get them at all. It amounts to an illegal tax since AB 32 never said anything about charging for the credits and it wasn't passed by 2/3 of the legislature. The part that speaks to CD's comments is the diesel engine mandate. Certain ages and sizes of equipment have to be removed from service by next year unless they are retrofitted at a cost of about $20,000 per. Many independent truck drivers, small tow companies, etc... won't survive it. This is going to result in less tax revenue, loss of jobs, higher shipping costs and more businesses leaving California.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Salty DogFebruary 22, 2014 - 12:26 pm

    Mr practical: you can see that but CD is blinded by his view of the government taking care of us. Unlike what he claims his views are.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksFebruary 22, 2014 - 6:03 pm

    Salty Dog, if you want to discuss what I say, please address me. But I'd appreciate it if you had something intelligent to offer. Oh yeah, you never do.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • patrickFebruary 22, 2014 - 2:08 pm

    Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: - Knowing when to come in out of the rain; - Why the early bird gets the worm; - Life isn't always fair; - And maybe it was my fault. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. - Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate - Teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch - And a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault. Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement. Common Sense was preceded in death by; - His parents, Truth and Trust - His wife, Discretion - His daughter, Responsibility - And by his son, Reason He is survived by his 5 stepbrothers; - I Know My Rights - I Want It Now - Someone Else Is To Blame - I'm A Victim - Pay me for Doing Nothing Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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