by Matt Purushotham and Dana Martin
The President announced Friday his desire to combine several trade-related government agencies including parts of the Commerce Department, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Small Business Administration, Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Authority into one agency thus streamlining the agencies involved in the process of not only starting a business but also exporting goods.
In order to do this, the President is asking for fast-track authority to reorganize government departments, agencies and offices. Some have criticized this proposal on the grounds that President Obama has not built enough credibility as someone interested in limited government to justify taking this action in an election year. This criticism misses the mark. If granting the President this authority will allow him to take action that will make the government more effective, efficient and smaller, no legislator that believes in doing those things should object simply because they think it will paint the President in an undue positive light in an election year.
Another objection is that it will diminish the status of the U.S. Trade Representative. This seems to be a bureaucratic turf-conscious objection. The relevant question is if these changes will benefit the overall efficiency of U.S. trade and economic policy. If so, the relative status of one position or agency in the government is a trivial concern.
In March 2010, our Center called for Presidential reorganization authority in a report called Prosperity or Decline, the final report of our Strengthening America’s Future Initiative, a non-partisan effort involving nearly 200 prominent Americans from across the political spectrum and from specialties as varied as education, infrastructure, national security and healthcare. Reorganization authority was one of dozens of recommendations offered to reform government and put the nation on a path toward prosperity in the coming decades.
We want the President to be able to make decisions that improve government efficiency, and fast-track authority places pressure on Congress to pass proposed reorganization plans or provide good reason for blocking them. So far there has not been a very good reason stated for not granting the President this request.
Matthew Purushotham and Dana Martin Co-Directed the Strengthening America’s Future Initiative
by Andrew Steele
On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter interrupted primetime television programing and spoke to the American people for nearly thirty-five minutes. The ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech casts a long shadow in Washington. American politicians of all stripes have taken away a singular lesson from this moment in history. They incorrectly believe that the American people rejected the harsh truths offered by Carter and carried that displeasure to the 1980 election, which saw Carter lose to Ronald Reagan. It is a fallacy of composition. In reality, Carter’s speech was a highlight of his admittedly “mixed success” as President. His failed reelection attempt followed the speech, but was not a direct product of the speech.
Correcting this American myth should be a priority for President Obama, and his 2012 State of the Union address is an excellent venue to right the record. A realistic assessment of the nation’s woes, buoyed with rhetoric about our strengths and absolute national advantages, encourages Americans to dispel their general distrust of government.
Americans actually respond well to challenges from the President. Opportunities like these test the mettle of the nation’s character. The immediate reaction to Carter’s candid appraisal of a nationwide crisis of confidence was an 11% boost in his poll numbers. It seems that Americans welcomed a moment of introspection as necessary to identifying the root cause of the nation’s ills.
Just as the ‘Greatest Generation’ sacrificed so much during World War II at the behest of FDR, future generations envision themselves as the recipients of a torch fueled by America’s paradoxical fusion of self-reliance and communal action. The two in combination are the ingredients of American exceptionalism. Self-reliance has its place during periods of general prosperity; heightened awareness of communal vitality gains ascendancy during periods of turmoil.
July 1979, like January 2012, was a moment of national turmoil. Whether provoked by an oil crisis conceived by OPEC or confronting today’s defiant unemployment figures and uncertain government budgets, the American people are coming together to generate experimental solutions to governance problems. Suspicious of government operations, Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements epitomize a significant segment of Americans deeply distrustful of ‘politics as usual.’ Government will continue to be maligned until it lives up to its promise of communicating honestly and respectfully with the concerned citizens to whom it is beholden.
The presidential candidate who dialogs most expertly with the broader populace is likely to win the election this November. Obama is certainly charismatic enough to pull off a speech as meaningful as Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence.’ And, unlike Carter, Obama has the insider politician’s sense not to fire his entire Cabinet as Carter did, an act which triggered widespread anxiety over Carter’s leadership style.
For the first time in decades, Americans are genuinely fearful for their future. The confluence of domestic and international threats is ever-changing and thus fundamentally different from the Cold War threat. Nothing at home seems to be working, but Washington stubbornly deludes itself into believing that its 20th century mindset is already calibrated for current affairs. American preponderance on the international stage is slipping towards disjointed regional sub-theaters, but no national security doctrine is yet able to harness the opportunities wrought by the shift from a unipolar globe to a multipolar network of nations. The American people are more aware than their elected leaders that America cannot remain successful with the same playbook that we’ve been using since 1945. Obama’s frank speech about America’s problems will give new life to both public trust in the federal government and inspire individual citizens to push themselves for a cause bigger than themselves.
Obama should challenge his own political ability by telling unwelcome truths in the coming year. The American people still have fight left in them and will rally around a politician who will risk it all. Certainly, it goes without saying that Obama’s job safety is less important than the nation’s well-being. When Obama can swallow that bitter pill, he will be mentally equipped to ask Americans to trust in the government he leads. From that crucial starting point, a joint effort can be negotiated that activates a new American resurgence. Our strength at home translates to greater credibility abroad. 
Working in tandem, America’s public and private efforts have historically outdone all international peers. The American people and their democratically-elected government remain a radically successful team with a legacy of decisive victories in World War II and the Cold War. Recalibrating that national engine for present circumstances, a quasi-war mentality and globalized economic threats jeopardizing national security, begins with a speech from the President.
 The interconnectedness of domestic and foreign in crafting America’s national security agenda is expertly delineated by Captain Wayne Porter and Col. Mark Mykleby in their excellent essay, A National Strategic Narrative.
Andrew Steele is the Coordinator for the Center’s Religion in Public Life Program. Andrew is a 2010 graduate of Hamilton College. He was a double major in Chinese language and Government, spending time in Beijing and Washington, D.C.
By Kirstin Krusell
Barack Obama began his presidency with hopes for a new era of post-partisanship. However, the turbulent debate surrounding healthcare reform— the Administration’s flagship domestic policy—is symptomatic of a political environment that is more contentious than ever. Republican presidential candidates have sworn to repeal President Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and many states are vehemently opposed to its provisions. As a result, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in late March on the constitutionality of the legislation. Given that 17% of America’s GDP is spent on healthcare, the stakes are high.
The primary challenge to the ACA concerns the minimum coverage provision, or individual mandate, requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Challengers argue that Congress has overstepped its authority to regulate commerce by compelling citizens to enter contracts with private companies. They further contend that the less-discussed Medicaid expansion provision is coercive and defies limits on the spending power of Congress.
What does this case mean for the relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches in today’s combative political climate? Both the Obama Administration and the law’s opponents have a vested political interest in the Court’s decision, as the outcome will have a significant impact on the results of the 2012 presidential election. But there are strong legal arguments on both sides of this issue. Typically, a Supreme Court case is allotted about an hour of oral argument. Yet the five and a half hours of oral argument scheduled for the ACA case—the longest since Miranda v. Arizona in 1966—signals that the Court considers it among the most important and complex challenges to federal power in nearly half a century.
I believe that as the final arbiter of the law, the Supreme Court is uniquely positioned to rise above partisan politics and to move America toward a solution for one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. But it seems many Americans do not trust the Court to be impartial. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 60 percent of the public expect the Justices to rely more heavily on ideology than legal analysis when considering the healthcare law, demonstrating just how discouraged Americans have become at the polarized nature of American politics.
Nevertheless, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, one of the attorneys representing the opposition, expressed confidence at a recent panel discussionthat the Court will engage in objective judicial review. Indeed, this is the purpose envisioned for the Supreme Court by the Constitution’s framers. James Madison wrote that constitutional interpretation must be left to the reasoned judgment of independent judges, rather than to the partisan tumult of the political process. This is no less true today, and evidence suggests that partisanship will not mar the independent judgment such an important decision requires. In late 2011, conservative Judge Laurence Silberman of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals surprised observers when—despite his personal opposition to the law—he wrote that according to precedent, Congress has acted within its authority under the Commerce Clause. This is a hopeful sign for impartial legal analysis.
Yet, the Court is not designed merely to uphold individual rights in accordance with the Constitution. It is also meant to ensure that the Constitution remains a “living” document, whose interpretation evolves to accommodate an increasingly complicated world. In this sense, the Supreme Court is “distinctly American in concept and function,” as Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes has noted. And it is this institution that America may look toward for a model of non-partisan consensus-building that upholds both the ideals of liberty and progress.
Kirstin Krusell is a Health Policy Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. She graduated magna cum laude from Brown University, with a Bachelor of Arts in International Development.