WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama suggested Friday that six economic government agencies be meshed into one, an election-year idea intended to halt bureaucratic nightmares and force Republicans to support him on one of their own favorite issues.
"The government we have is not the government we need," Obama told business owners he'd gathered at the White House.
In an election year and a political atmosphere of tighter spending, Obama's motivation is about improving a giant bureaucracy, but that is hardly all of it.
To voters sick of dysfunction, Obama wants to show some action toward making Washington work better. Politically, his plan would allow him to do so by putting the onus on Congress and in particular his Republican critics in the House of Representatives and the Senate, to show why they would be against the pursuit of a leaner government.
Obama asked Congress to give him a kind of reorganization power that no president has had since Ronald Reagan, a Republican icon. It would guarantee Obama a vote, within 90 days, on any idea he should offer to consolidate agencies, provided the idea would save money and reduce the size of government.
It would be up to lawmakers, therefore, to grant Obama this fast-track authority and then decide whether to approve any of his specific ideas.
Politically, Obama is seeking advantage on the turf often owned by Republicans: Smaller government. He is attempting to directly counter Republican arguments that accuse him of presiding over the kind of regulation, spending and debt that can undermine the economy: a dominant theme of this year's debate and one often cited by his potential re-election rival, Republican Mitt Romney.
His first target would be to merge six major trade and commerce agencies into a one-stop-shopping department for American businesses. The Commerce Department would be among those that would cease to exist.