WASHINGTON – President Obama is promoting new initiatives to make the government leaner and more efficient and bring jobs back to the U.S. from overseas.
He rolled out both election-year ideas this past week and used his radio and Internet address Saturday to talk them up and call on Congress and the private sector to get on board.
"Right now, we have a 21st century economy, but we've still got a government organized for the 20th century," Obama said. "Over the years, the needs of Americans have changed, but our government has not. In fact, it's gotten even more complex. And that has to change."
On government reorganization, Obama wants a guarantee from Congress that he could get a vote within 90 days on any idea to consolidate federal agencies, provided it saves money and cuts the government. His first order of business would be to merge six major trade and commerce agencies into one -- eliminating, among others, the Commerce Department.
The proposal is in part a challenge to congressional Republicans since it embraces the traditional GOP goal of smaller government, and Obama called on Congress to back him.
"These changes will make it easier for small-business owners to get the loans and support they need to sell their products around the world," he said.
Obama is also promising new tax incentives for businesses that bring jobs to the U.S. instead of shipping them overseas, and he wants to eliminate tax breaks for companies that outsource.
"You've heard of outsourcing - well, this is insourcing," said Obama. "And in this make or break moment for the middle class and those working to get into the middle class, that's exactly the kind of commitment to country that we need."
Obama went so far as to bring several U.S.-made products to display in his weekly video -- a padlock, a candle, some socks and a pair of boots -- to demonstrate his commitment to made-in-America manufacturing.
Republicans used their weekly address to promote the Keystone XL project to carry oil from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. Under a GOP-written provision Obama signed into law just before Christmas as part of an unrelated tax bill, the president faces a Feb. 21 deadline to decide whether the $7 billion pipeline is in the national interest.
The GOP is pounding Obama over the issue, saying it's a question of whether he wants to create jobs and import energy from a close friend and ally -- or lose jobs and see Canadian oil go to Asia instead.
"If the Keystone XL pipeline isn't built, Canadian oil will still be produced and transported," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. "But instead of coming to our refineries in the United States, instead of creating jobs for our people, instead of reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and keeping down the cost of fuel for American consumers -- that oil will be sent to China."
Obama had sought to delay the project and the State Department has warned the deadline doesn't leave it enough time for necessary reviews. Hoeven accused Obama of turning his back on American workers if he fails to approve it.