THE BLOG

How to Govern When Congress Would Rather Repeal and Re-investigate Than Legislate

05/20/2014 12:00 am ET | Updated Jul 19, 2014

You don't need Nate Silver or fivethirtyeight.com to tell you what the American people want their elected representatives to focus on -- it's the economy, plain and simple. Put another way and to steal a phrase -- it's the economy, stupid. That's what President Obama is focused on, because despite tremendous progress over the last five and a half years, we have more work to do to expand opportunity to all Americans who are willing to work hard and play by the rules.

However, we have a Republican Congress focused on virtually anything but the middle class -- obsessively trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ginning up politically motivated investigations, and reflexively blocking any proposal that would grow the economy and create jobs.

Given this dynamic, President Obama has only one option -- use every ounce of his authority to unilaterally improve economic security. He is more than willing to work with congressional Republicans, but he is certainly not going to wait for them.

Around the White House we refer to this strategy as "the Pen and the Phone" -- the Pen is the use of executive orders, presidential memorandums, and other authorities; the Phone is the 21st century version of Teddy Roosevelt's Bully Pulpit -- using the power of the Oval Office and social media to get businesses, local communities, nonprofits, and ordinary citizens to take steps to improve the country.

President Obama is putting his pen and his phone to work, making measurable progress on the Opportunity Agenda laid out in the State of the Union. Since the start of 2014, he's taken more than 20 executive actions -- from launching high-tech manufacturing hubs to creating retirement programs that makes it easier to save -- that will help create jobs, while broadening opportunity for millions of Americans. And there are more on the way. None by itself is a moonshot, but taken together these executive actions represent concrete, meaningful steps to help the middle class and everyone who wants to join it.

The best example of the president's philosophy for governing in a divided Washington is his effort to raise the minimum wage. Last year the president called for raising the minimum wage in the State of the Union. This caught a lot of pundits in Washington by surprise because there hadn't been much discussion of the issue in recent years. The president wanted to put it on the table even though he knew the legislative path was difficult, to say the least. What has happened since that speech is pretty remarkable: The president has launched a national movement to raise wages in this country. To begin with, he signed an executive order to raise wages for people working on new federal contracts. He has also has called on states, cities and businesses to do their part in the absence of Congressional action. And the thing is, folks are listening: From Maryland to Hawaii, states are raising their wages, and from the Gap to Punch Pizza, businesses are doing their part too. The actions that have been taken in just five states this year -- Maryland, Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Hawaii -- mean that more than a million workers will see a raise.

Next week, as congressional Republicans spend their energy on yet another partisan investigation, we'll be picking up the pace on the executive actions to help the economy.

America is still the best place to invest, and this week the president is highlighting efforts to bring jobs back to our shores. Three years ago, President Obama created a team dedicated to helping businesses insource jobs. Today, SelectUSA is helping companies around the globe create jobs right here in America. On Tuesday, businesses heeding the president's call to do their part will meet at the White House to announce new American jobs.

And on Thursday, building on his 2012 executive order promoting travel and tourism, the President will visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, to highlight efforts to make it easier for foreign tourists to see more and spend more money in our country. (And, no, this not just an excuse to go the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

When 2014 comes to an end and we get together in the White House to analyze our progress, the question won't be "How many bills did the president sign?" (although he would like to sign many). The question will be, "How many people's lives did we improve?" And on that measure we are off to a pretty good start, and we're going to keep pushing forward. We have many more executive actions to come, and every day the president has charged us with looking for additional ways to expand opportunity.