WASHINGTON (AP) — Calling for "all hands on deck" to assist the economy, President Barack Obama is urging his Cabinet to identify ways to keep his administration relevant to people struggling in the up-and-down recovery.
With two weeks left before delivering an economy-focused State of the Union address to Congress, Obama is picking up the pace of his jobs message and demonstrating how he can advance his economic agenda administratively and through his ability to coax action from important interest groups.
"We're not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help they need," Obama said Tuesday as he convened his first Cabinet meeting of the year. He said he would instruct his department heads to "use all the tools available to us" to assist the middle class.
On Wednesday he will go to North Carolina to draw attention to the type of manufacturing innovation hub that he promoted in his 2013 State of the Union speech. On Thursday he has invited college presidents to discuss ways to improve workers' skills. Later this month, he is convening CEOs at the White House to lay out plans for hiring the long-term unemployed.
"Overall, the message to my Cabinet, and that will be amplified in our State of the Union, is that we need all hands on deck to build on the recovery that we're already seeing," Obama said. "The economy is improving, but it can be improving even faster."
The approach has strong echoes of Obama's 2012 "We can't wait" campaign that sought to depict Obama as an impatient executive in the face of inaction from Congress, particularly in the Republican-controlled House.
Obama's reliance on his executive powers and his bully pulpit — at the White House it's called his "pen-and-phone" strategy — illustrates the means at his disposal to drive policy but also highlights the limits of his ability to work with Congress.
Only through legislation can Obama obtain some of the most ambitious items on his economic agenda — from a higher minimum wage to universal preschool to an overhaul of immigration laws, three items in his 2013 State of the Union that will make a return appearance in this year's address.