Under the guise of reforming the executive branch, President Obama set Republicans up with a no win situation. Either they give him what he wants or out themselves as the lovers of big government that they are.
We live in a 21st century economy, but we’ve still got a government organized for the 20th century. Our economy has fundamentally changed – as has the world – but the government has not. The needs of our citizens have fundamentally changed but their government has not. Instead, it has often grown more complex.
There are five different entities dealing with housing; more than a dozen agencies involved in food safety. And my favorite example, which I mentioned in last year’s State of the Union Address. As it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in saltwater. Apparently, this all had something to do with President Nixon being unhappy with his Interior Secretary for criticizing the Vietnam War.
No business or non-profit leader would allow this kind of duplication or unnecessary complexity in their operations. So why is it OK in our government? It’s not. It has to change.
Today, I am calling on Congress to reinstate the authority that past presidents have had to streamline and reform the Executive Branch. This is the same sort of authority that every business owner has to make sure that his or her company keeps pace with the times. And let me be clear: I will only use this authority for reforms that result in more efficiency, better service, and a leaner government.
Congress first granted this authority to presidents in the midst of the Great Depression, so that they could swiftly reorganize the Executive Branch to meet the changing needs of the American people. For the next 52 years, presidents were able to streamline or consolidate the Executive Branch by submitting a proposal to Congress that was guaranteed a simple up or down vote.
But in 1984, while Ronald Reagan was President, Congress stopped granting that authority.
And when this process was left to follow the usual Congressional pace, not surprisingly, it slowed down. Congressional committees fought to protect their turf. Lobbyists fought to keep things unchanged because they’re the only ones who can navigate the bureaucracy. And because it’s always easier to add than to subtract in Washington; inertia prevented any real reform from happening. Layers kept getting added on. The Department of Homeland Security was created to consolidate intelligence and security agencies but Congress didn’t consolidate on its side. DHS right now reports to over 100 different Congressional panels. That’s excessive.
It has been a generation since a President had the authority to propose streamlining the government in a way that allowed for real change to take place. Think of all that has happened since 1984. A generation of Americans has come of age. Landlines have turned into smartphones. The Cold War has given way to globalization. So much has happened – and yet the government we have today is largely the government we had back then. We deserve better.
The president also reminded the country that he is doing everything he can to help without Congress, “Congress needs to reinstate the authority it has given to Democratic and Republican presidents for decades. In the meantime, as long as folks are looking for work and small businesses are looking for customers, I will keep doing everything in my power to help… So with or without Congress, I’m going to keep at it. I’m hopeful it’s with Congress because this is an area where we can receive bipartisan support, because making our government more responsive, strategic and leaner should not be a partisan issue.”
President Obama’s remarks have created a dilemma for congressional Republicans who claim to be both pro-small business and anti-big government. If Republicans really want to reduce the size of government and help small business, then giving this power back to the president is a no brainer. The problem is that Republicans love big government.
Historically speaking, “Of the 369,000 employees added between 1962 and 2001, 84% were added under Republican administrations and 16% were added under Democratic administrations.” George W. Bush managed to both reduce the number of federal employees while at the same time growing the size of the government. He did this with an explosion of privatization. George W. Bush outsourced every government function that he could get his hands on. Bush more than doubled the amount that the federal government spent on private contracts. W. didn’t reduce the size of the federal government. He cooked the books. The end result was the Republicans love of big government had been outsourced, not diminished.
After his speech today Republicans are faced with the choice of either standing with their stated principles, or giving Obama what he wants. If the Republicans reject Obama’s call for streamlined executive branch, they will be revealing both their political motivations and their small government hypocrisy.
The strategic gamesmanship here isn’t centered around a question of presidential power. Obama’s remarks today were a stealth attack on Republican hypocrisy. If Republicans refuse to grant the president the power that he requested, this will become another campaign issue for Obama. If Republicans do grant him the authority to reorganize his branch, President Obama gets to campaign on streamlining the federal government for small business. It’s a win-win for Obama, and all lose situation for the GOP.
Once again Obama is playing chess, while his Republican opponents still haven’t figured out checkers.