President Obama greets members of his jobs council, which issued a series… (Chip Somodevilla, Pool…)
Reporting from Washington — President Obama praised a series of business-friendly proposals from his jobs council — the latest example of the president's strategy of seizing Republican-leaning ideas to protect himself against attack in the coming campaign.
Obama's jobs council on Tuesday called for overhauling the corporate tax structure and reforming federal regulations. Corporate tax rates should sink to "internationally competitive levels," the report recommended, and an "all-in strategy" should be adopted to cut reliance on foreign fuels by expanding domestic drilling.
As the election season heats up, Obama has been mixing a populist economic message — trumpeting his efforts to create a consumer protection agency, for example — with steps to woo centrist voters by preempting Republican ideas. Last week, the White House offered a proposal to streamline the federal government by consolidating agencies.
White House officials characterized the council's ideas as common-sense ones that the president has been working on for some time. Next week's State of the Union address is expected to contain more of the same. Obama doesn't agree with all of the job council's proposals, aides said, and will decide in the coming weeks which ones he will act upon and how.
Shortly after the report was released, Republicans applauded the White House — albeit a bit wryly — for endorsing the GOP approach to job creation.
"With this report, President Obama's own panel of experts has endorsed the approach to job creation House Republicans have been pursuing for more than a year," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said. "Nearly 30 House-passed job bills are awaiting action in the Senate, most of which address the recommendations made today."
That doesn't mean the two sides are about to have a meeting of the minds. "This year is an election year, and so getting Congress focused on some of these issues may be difficult," Obama told the council.
But the packaging is politically useful, coming at a time when GOP presidential hopefuls are offering conservative critiques of Obama's economic policies. Obama is incorporating some of his opponents' ideas into his talking points, making prominent use of them while the GOP presidential contenders are battling one another in state primaries.
Republican primary voters are hearing a lot about economic issues. All of the leading GOP candidates favor some kind of reduction in the corporate tax rate, with front-runner Mitt Romney advocating a reduction of the top rate from 35% to 25%. Romney also suggests a review of all federal regulations against a single metric: whether they harm job growth.
Obama favors reducing federal deficits in what he calls a "balanced" way that reduces spending and raises some taxes. For months, he has been talking about reforming the tax code with an eye toward making it more sensible and weeding out special advantages for well-connected businesses.
The president also issued an executive order directing federal agencies to identify inefficient and excessively burdensome regulations that could be eliminated.
On energy, Obama has long said he supports a shift from reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels and toward domestic ones. It's not clear, however, whether he would try to implement the jobs council's recommendation to expand and expedite domestic production of fossil fuels — including allowing more access to oil, gas and coal resources on federal land.
If Obama's focus seems to be aligning with that of Republicans, that's partly a function of economic cycles, one analyst said.
"When the economy is hemorrhaging jobs, the focus is on stopping that," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. "Now that the economy is more stable and starting to grow again and on the verge of engaging, it's appropriate to start focusing on the longer run."
The timing is politically useful too, even though it's likely Congress will resist acting on any ambitious proposal Obama offers this year.
Obama said he would keep making use of his authority to take actions that did not require congressional approval.
"We have been struck by the degree of capacity we have administratively to at least chip away at some of these problems," Obama said. "Oftentimes, it's hard to get the kind of comprehensive solutions that you want without legislative involvement. But those small, incremental steps, they add up, and we're going to continue to make sure that we push that as hard as possible."