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Obama Looks to Clinton Model in Latest Policy Push

Obama Looks to Clinton Model in Latest Policy Push

By Alexis Simendinger - October 29, 2011


Democrats have urged the White House for months to emulate some of Bill Clinton's 1990s partisan muscle -- and his skills persuading voters that even incremental government infusions of economic help can float all boats. At the White House on Friday, President Obama showed that he is not averse to micro-initiatives if they help sell a campaign theme.

"It's ReGo redux!" said one former Clinton-Gore White House aide, when asked about Obama's efforts Friday to demonstrate that government is a worthy ally of American workers and U.S. businesses. Because many Republicans are eager to make “government” sound like a dirty word during this election cycle -- and Obama is head of government -- the nation’s chief executive wants to shore up his footing.

Nearly three years into a challenging navigation of a rocky economy, Obama has discovered that what’s old -- and way smaller than 2009’s big stimulus -- can be new.

In a tone reminiscent of the 1993 Clinton-Gore National Partnership for Reinventing Government project -- which bolstered Clinton’s 1996 declaration that “the era of big government is over” -- Obama turned Friday to the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration to help buoy business. In a memorandum ballyhooed by the White House, the president said he wants corporations, and in particular small businesses, to be able to access a single government website by January 2012 to help them uncover programs that can boost sales of their products and services abroad.

Obama’s second executive initiative announced Friday ordered government agencies to speed up technology transfer and “commercialization of federal research in support of high-growth businesses.” That, too, echoed Clinton, who delivered speeches galore in the 1990s describing how technology transfer (aka “dual-use” technologies) could save the U.S. defense complex.

In truth, Clinton borrowed from his predecessors, and Obama is lifting some ideas that were current when a California Republican held the White House, a gallon of gas cost 95 cents and federal spending reached $1 trillion (about a quarter of what it is today).

The president’s latest order instructs the executive branch to help businesses explore and commercialize innovations and discoveries inside agencies and government laboratories. The president’s order relies on one of President Reagan’s creations: a federal inter-agency working group on technology transfer, which was invented in 1987 via -- you guessed it -- an executive order.

Obama is marshaling what Commerce and SBA officials on Friday said were actually ongoing government efforts. The White House packaged existing initiatives with a business and economic focus with particular suggestions raised by private-sector members of Obama’s advisory council on jobs and the economy. The efforts announced Friday do not require new authorizing legislation or additional appropriations.

“This is essentially taking some of the work that we’re already doing and applying it more broadly across the whole range of federal labs inside the government,” Acting Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said.

White House advisers and the Obama campaign team are cheered that new polling indicates the president has bolstered voter support for pieces of his American Jobs Act at the same time that Americans’ approval of Congress fell to an all-time low of 9 percent.

While representatives of the business community have been harshly critical of the president’s policies, GOP lawmakers and the leading Republican presidential candidates continue to curry favor with the corporate world with promises of smaller and less intrusive government, lower taxes, and relief from federal regulations and restrictions.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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