How President Obama Will Achieve His ‘Year of Action’

In his most recent weekly address, President Obama boldly declared that 2014 will be a “year of action.”

He seeks to achieve “a breakthrough” over the next 12 months, citing that “we are primed to bring back more of the good jobs claimed by the recession and lost to overseas competition in recent decades.” He pointed to the Obama administration-backed manufacturing innovation institute in North Carolina that brought together a coalition of 18 businesses and six universities to develop next-generation power electronics as the type of job-generating game changer needed to boost our economy.

To realize his broader agenda, he urges Congress to work with his administration “on proven ways to create jobs, like building infrastructure and fixing our broken immigration system.” But as the president pushes his message of bipartisanship  –better known as “legislative compromise” – to pass key initiatives, he stressed that he is willing to exercise executive action to expedite his policies.

Expect the president to unveil his entire blueprint during his State of the Union Address next week.

Obviously, he intends to make his sixth year in office far more productive than Year 5, which was marked by the ObamaCare debacle; the IRS imbroglio; the continued investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack; a government shutdown; the NSA spying scandal; and on top of all of that, self-inflicted criticism over the “selfie” snapped with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the memorial service of revered South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Despite the stock market reaching all-time highs, the unemployment rate dropping to a five-year low and economic indicators  – new car sales, home prices, consumer spending – revealing economic growth, the president’s approval rating has slumped to an anemic 40% range, the lowest point during his administration. The decline in public confidence over the past year has been staggering, especially given the enthusiastic reception to his second-term pledge of an activist government that would address a range of concerns, including job creation, immigration reform and gun violence, stated during his inauguration a year ago. Obama’s lackluster standing makes it tougher for the administration to gain support for policies not only from the GOP but congressional Democrats running for re-election this year. (Remember how quickly Dems ducked for cover during the onset of technical glitches during the Affordable Care Act rollout. )

Bottom line: Obama must make a comeback to salvage his rocky second term and ultimately his presidential legacy. And he must do so at a time when his administration hasn’t been able to claim any recent policy victories. For example, more than 2 million have signed up for ObamaCare but the administration still must convince the so-called “Young Invincibles”— those between the ages of 18 and 34 — to embrace the plan in order to maintain its economic model. Moreover, the president gave a speech last Friday to quash concerns about the National Security Agency’s spy practices, proposing new safeguards for government surveillance of communications in the U.S. and across the globe. The president’s measures to add greater judicial review and disclosure requirements while allowing the NSA to “remain vigilant in the face of threats” drew lukewarm response from the intelligence community and dismay from a number of civil liberties activists and leading technology company executives.

Over the past few weeks, he has, however, introduced two new initiatives: a program designed to enable more low-income minority students to complete college, and “promise zones” created to strengthen the middle class through partnerships with local communities and businesses.

With its abysmal approval rating of 13% and reputation for the worse performance in history, Congress may embrace bipartisan solutions so members can convince constituents to let them keep their jobs during the mid-term elections. It was a rare display during the hard-fought passage of a $1-trillion spending bill, signaling the apparent weakening of the Tea Party faction as GOP leaders, mindful of the blame the party took for the government shutdown in October, parted ways with the hard-liners. Last week, Congress approved the budget package with a strong majority of 359 to 67 while the Senate supported the measure 72 to 26. Obama signed the bill into law last Friday.

After years of Republican obstructionism, Obama should be on guard that the budget deal is not a sign of a new day. After all, he hasn’t been able to convince the GOP to support a comprehensive jobs bill nor restore unemployment benefits during a period in which the nation has suffered from the highest level of long-term joblessness since the Great Depression.

So his marching orders to Cabinet members last week seemingly communicated that he holds little patience for political shenanigans as he called for “all hands on deck” to find new ways for his administration to aid those struggling from a peripatetic recovery.

“We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” he asserted at the gathering. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

Obama stated that executive action represents a most powerful tool albeit one he hasn’t employed much when compared with presidential predecessors who were also frustrated by having legislative priorities blocked by Congress. In fact, FDR reportedly signed more than 3,700 during his 12 years in office. And Lyndon Johnson, who issued 325 executive orders during his presidency, signed Executive Order 11,246 nearly 50 years ago to prohibit federal contractors from using discrimination in hiring decisions, putting in place “affirmative action” policies that had been widely adopted for a generation.

Thus far, Obama has only issued 167 executive orders. It appears he’s willing and ready to sign a pile of them though. His recent executive orders focus on gun control, including new efforts to research causes of gun violence and enhanced requirements for the feds to track weapons used in crimes.

Of course, his political foes like Fox News political analyst and former Bush adviser Karl Rove argue that executive action “exceeds his constitutional authority.” And others on Capitol Hill like House Speaker John A. Boehner criticized his leadership, telling reporters that “he’s taken his eye off the ball on the issue of jobs.”

The GOP will continue to engage in political gamesmanship, seeking to run the clock as it waits for the Obama presidency to enter some period of lame-duck irrelevancy. So don’t expect the Washington gridlock or partisan warfare to subside.

The president still has three years to enact policies that can improve the lot of millions of Americans. Obama’s ability to complete his mission will require instruments in his toolkit. Quite frankly, he will need to keep his pen and phone handy.