- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wrapping up a busy week for his pen and phone, President Obama on Saturday vowed to continue acting without Congress wherever possible and said he’ll find new partners outside Washington to help him.

“Wherever I can take steps to expand opportunity for more families on my own, I will,” the president said in his weekly address. “I’m going to ask business leaders, education leaders and philanthropic leaders to partner with us to advance these goals.”

As part of his so-called “year of action,” Mr. Obama already has demonstrated his intention to work with CEOs, higher education institutions and others to accomplish his aims.

On Friday, for example, he announced a new agreement with more than 300 businesses — including some of America’s top companies such as Apple, AT&T, Ford and others — to aid the long-term unemployed.

Under the deal, companies will place much less importance on the length of time a job applicant has been out of work, and even less importance on credit histories.

The agreement is part of a larger effort to get the long-term jobless back into the workforce while an extension of unemployment benefits remains hung up in Congress.

Also this week, the president used executive power to raise the minimum wage for all federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10, established new government-backed, interest-bearing retirement accounts for all American workers and took other steps.

Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill countered the president’s executive actions by putting forward pieces of actual legislation that, in their view, both sides of the aisle should support.

“For example, the president talked about supporting federally funded research to unleash more great discoveries. We agree. More must be done to prioritize the resources we have for the research we need,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, Mississippi Republican, who pointed to a bill that would eliminate public funding for political party conventions and use those dollars to fund pediatric research at the National Institutes of Health.

The measure already has passed the House.

“We can’t fix it all, but surely creating a lifetime of hope and opportunity for our most, vulnerable kids is more important than subsidizing week-long political pep rallies,” Mr. Harper added.

Mr. Harper was one of four House Republicans who offered specific responses to the president’s weekly address on Saturday. Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama highlighted a measure that would allow workers in the private sector to use their overtime toward paid time off.

Such a step, Republicans argue, would address workplace flexibility and could give working fathers and mothers the chance to earn additional time off.

Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana called on the president to support legislation consolidating federal training programs and strengthening federal partnerships with community colleges. The president already has tasked Vice President Joseph R. Biden to review all federal training efforts in an effort to reduce duplication and increase efficiency.

Republicans believe those bills and others can help spur new cooperation with the president this year and slow down what looks to be a wave of executive actions.

“We believe that this can be a year of bipartisan action, a moment when speeches give way to solutions,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The American people never let us down, and we cannot let them down either.”

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