- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A day after President Obama called on Congress to work with him to streamline executive departments, protect Social Security and reform corporate taxes, the White House said Mr. Obama will wait and see what ideas come in on deficit reduction and government reorganization.

In the wake of the challenge issued during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Mr. Obama instead sought to highlight the theme of U.S. innovation, traveling to Manitowoc, Wis., to showcase three local manufacturers as examples of the kind of ingenuity needed to stay atop the world economic rankings.

“Here in America we play to win,” Mr. Obama told employees at Orion Energy Systems. “If entrepreneurs like [Orion CEO Neal Verfuerth] keep sticking with it, and small businesses like Orion keep breaking new ground; and if we, as a country, continue to invest in you, the American people, then I’m absolutely confident America will win the future in this century as we did in the last.”

But Mr. Obama acknowledged success will also require “taking responsibility for our deficits” and making sure the federal government is efficient enough to respond to the needs of its citizens. Both are concepts he mentioned in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, albeit with few details beyond a proposed five-year spending freeze on most non-defense programs and a call for reorganizing federal agencies.

Pressed for specifics Wednesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Mr. Obama is “anxious to sit down” with lawmakers and review spending and other areas such as Social Security, the tax system and education reform. On the president’s plans for government reorganization, Mr. Gibbs said the administration is preparing to set up a “structure” to begin evaluating the current setup, noting that any reshuffling of agencies will likely require congressional approval.

Already, many Republicans say they are waiting to see the fine print on Mr. Obama’s plans, particularly when it comes to curbing spending and whether the president will pair his request that Congress increase the nation’s debt limit with specific cuts.

With the U.S. budget deficit continuing to soar, Congress will soon be asked to take a politically difficult vote to raise the government’s debt limit to allow the government to keep paying its bills.

GOP leaders pointedly noted that Mr. Obama’s push for new spending on infrastructure and education programs came without any specific ways to pay for his plans, aside from the elimination of federal subsidies to oil companies.

GOP House Speaker John A. Boehner said that, with the debt-limit vote looming, congressional Republicans are demanding major spending cuts and fiscal reforms as the price for their support. Instead, he said, Mr. Obama’s speech contained calls for more “stimulus” spending.

“It’s clear the president and his team haven’t gotten the message the American people sent in November: We can’t spend and borrow our way to prosperity,” Mr. Boehner said.

Fiscal conservatives also note that Mr. Obama stopped short of endorsing the recommendations of the bipartisan deficit commissions he created.

White House officials, in response, say Mr. Obama’s determination to address the nation’s debt and deficit problems will be evident in the next fiscal budget he submits to Congress. The president’s budget will be a “tough” one, aides said.

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