WH touts ‘progress’ in ‘Year of Action’

President Obama's "Year of Action" agenda hasn't improved his poll numbers or paid any dividends on Capitol Hill, but the White House is nevertheless claiming victory in a new report released Saturday.

The 28-page document outlines two dozen executive actions undertaken by the president this calendar year, part of an administrative push to forward Obama's economic agenda despite congressional GOP opposition. 

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In a conference call with reporters on Friday, National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zeints said the report demonstrated that the "concrete actions" undertaken by the administration were "working like a jolt of caffeine" to spur economic investment.

"While Republicans in Congress are setting records in obstruction — even shutting down the government and trying more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act while voting against giving hardworking Americans a raise — the president is making progress for the American people," the White House said in a release.

Zeints and senior White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer highlighted hundreds of millions of dollars in private sector commitments toward presidential goals like expanding Internet access in schools and building manufacturing institutes as evidence the president's unilateral actions were paying dividends. 

And, they argued, the president's push on minimum wage, including an order forcing federal contractors to pay employees $10.10 per hour, had motivated lawmakers in states like Maryland and Hawaii, which recently hiked their own minimum wages.

But the White House's attempts to highlight their "pen and phone" accomplishments have also drawn questions about areas where the president has opted not to act.

Immigration activists have pressured the White House to slow the record deportation of illegal immigrants. Obama has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to review its procedures with an eye at making deportations more "humane," but the White House is yet to announce any executive actions.

Pfeiffer said Obama was "struck and heartbroken by the painful separations that are a byproduct of our broken immigration system" but that no executive action could carry as significant an impact as comprehensive legislation.

Obama has also come under increased pressure to sign an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employees. The administration has so far rejected calls for such a measure.

On Friday, Pfeiffer said the administration's "first priority" was to pass legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation for all workers.

"If we do that, we wouldn't need to" take executive action, he argued.

More troubling for the White House, though, is that the "Year of Action" push has failed to pay dividends at the polls. The president's approval rating remains mired in the low 40s, with one survey released by The Washington Post earlier this week showing Obama at just 41 percent approval — the lowest of his presidency.

The same survey showed that only 42 percent approve of Obama's handling of the economy — the same as a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday. That's two points lower than Oct. 3, 2010 — just before Democrats suffered significant losses in that year’s midterm elections.

Because Obama has been unable to convert his executive initiatives into political capital, they've also done little to inspire action on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have been unwilling or unable to strike agreements on the minimum wage, unemployment insurance or immigration reform legislation, despite broad support among the electorate at the president's attempts to build momentum.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) dismissed the Obama executive actions outlined in the report as "grandstanding."

"If he wanted action, he’d use his pen to approve the Keystone pipeline or use his phone to get Democrats behind a bipartisan plan to boost American exports and create jobs," Buck said in a statement.

"Instead, while House Republicans have been passing one jobs bill after another, the president has spent his time trying to divide the American people and putting partisanship before the economy," he added.

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