By Vicki Needham - 10/30/11 10:40 AM EDT
Republicans are criticizing a series of steps the White House is taking to energize the economy through executive actions.
President Obama launched efforts this week to help those with student loan debt, homeowners with underwater mortgages, veterans struggling to find work and small businesses -- all designed to boost the economy's recovery.
His intentions are to show that even if Congress doesn't move his $447 billion jobs package, he's working to help the labor market and promote growth.
The House GOP says they have passed more than 15 economic bills that aren't being considered by the Senate and they question the efforts by the White House to move forward without their input.
On Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he had “great concerns” that Obama was overstepping his constitutional authority by single-handedly enacting jobs programs.
"This idea that you're just going to go around the Congress is just, it's almost laughable," he told radio talk show host Laura Ingraham.
"We’re keeping a very close eye on the administration to make sure they’re following the law and following the Constitution," he said.
He issued a stern reminder to the president that Congress controls federal spending.
"We've got an appropriations process that's under control here where we have the ability to limit their use of funds to try to bring this administration to heel," Boehner said.
The committees of jurisdiction are looking at these proposals to make sure the president isn’t exceeding his authority, he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted on Thursday, following Boehner's comments, that the "president is operating well within the balance of his authority, and in a way that is consistent with the kinds of executive actions that presidents have taken in previous administrations, presidents of both parties."
He turned the argument back on House Republicans suggesting they turn their focus to job-creating efforts.
"With regard to the executive actions, we’ve made clear that we do not believe for a moment that they are a substitute for legislative action," Carney said. "What they represent is the president’s absolute commitment to doing everything he can within his authority to assist Americans as they deal with this difficult economy."
In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama said that while the changes will make a difference "they won’t take the place of the bold action we need from Congress to get this economy moving again."
Obama spent part of the week touring the nation, hawking his jobs plan and rolling out several new initiatives as part of his "we can't wait" plan.
The White House is promising a steady stream of executive actions.
“President Obama is demonstrating leadership at a time when the American people are suffering and Republicans have refused for nearly 300 days to pass an agenda to address the need for jobs in this country,” Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Hill.
At this point the White House is seeking areas to tweak in already established programs and with already appropriated funds.
The administration announced Monday that it is revamping the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) it rolled out in 2009 to help borrowers, whose loans were backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, refinance their underwater loans with lower interest rates.
Several House Democrats, including House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), complained that the administration's proposed changes wouldn't be enough to help more homeowners, although they weren't worried about executive branch overreach.
On Wednesday, after meeting with Federal Home Finance Administration officials, Cummings said that if federal housing officials work "with us to implement this proposal, it would be an important step to address this crisis.”
On student loans, the White House initiative would lower monthly bills for students struggling to pay their education loans by accelerating implementation up to 2012 from 2014 in a law passed by Congress last year, under which borrowers could limit their student loan payments to 10 percent of their total income. All remaining balances would be forgiven after 20 years.
Furthermore, that plan allows lenders to consolidate the two types of loans into a single government loan beginning next year, reducing interest rates by up to half a percentage point and lowering monthly bills.
Currently, borrowers are allowed to limit their loan payments to 15 percent of discretionary income and erase all remaining debt after 25 years.
Republican presidential candidate and Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann criticized the plan as an "abuse of power" that will give people incentive to skip out on their debt.
"I believe it is abuse of power from the executive to impose via an executive order a wholesale change in the student loan," Bachmann said this week.
She charged that the sped-up changes could cost taxpayers money, but the administration has said the plan not only won't cost anything but it could save upward of $2 billion.
In another move on Tuesday, the administration challenged Community Health Centers to hire 8,000 veterans — about one veteran per health center site — over the next three years and another plan to fast-track military medics into programs to train them as physician assistants.
The announcement is part of a broader plan to create 100,000 jobs for former service members by the end of 2013.
Officials said there is money appropriated by the 2009 economic stimulus and in fiscal 2010 and 2011 for hiring and are hoping employers will take a closer look at the skills of veterans.
On Oct. 12, the House passed a similar bill but the Senate, which has a companion measure, hasn't taken it up yet.
The president also has asked for tax incentives for businesses that hire veterans, a plan that would need congressional approval.
Still, Republicans remained unconvinced in the president's separate efforts and urged him to work with Congress.
"If the president is serious, he ought to be up here working with us to find common ground to solve the issues that the American people want us to solve," Boehner said.