Advocates urge Obama to wield executive powers

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President Obama, in recent weeks, has pledged repeatedly to use the full force of his office in the coming year to act where Congress will not.

On Tuesday night, viewers of the State of the Union address will find out what that entails.

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The White House has been vague about Obama’s “year of action,” the working title for his plan to pursue policy goals via executive action.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone, and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward,” Obama said this month.

He broadly listed education, support for businesses and job training as areas in which he was prepared to move unilaterally, though he did not elaborate on specifics for any proposals. 

Observers expect the president to detail at least some of this Tuesday. At Obama’s disposal are presidential directives, formal executive orders, and rule-making powers at executive agencies.

“Whether it’s 129, 200, or 72, the number of executive actions is going to be robust,” former Obama adviser Heather Zichal said last week.

Zichal, who served as Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, is among those pressing the administration to move forward with new regulations on everything from the appliance efficiency to limitations on power plant pollution.

Beyond the environment, the president is expected to announce soon the creation of a pair of Pentagon-backed “manufacturing hubs” meant to spur the industry growth.

Some Democratic lawmakers are urging the president to raise the minimum wage for employees of companies that do business with the federal government.

Food safety and consumer rights advocates, meanwhile, are pressing Obama to direct the Food and Drug Administration to impose a mandatory labeling system for food products with genetically engineered ingredients.

Any actions the president announces Tuesday are unlikely to bring cheers from congressional Republicans, who have accused the Obama administration of overzealous regulation.

At the same time, proponents of stronger protections, who have criticized the president for failing to do more, aren’t holding their breath for a full-throated defense of federal regulation.

“He’s never embraced the regulation issue,” said University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor, who serves as president of the pro-regulation Center for Progressive Reform.  “He just runs from it.”