With newly-empowered Republicans poised to bring gridlock to Congress, a powerhouse liberal think tank has some advice for President Obama: "Go around."
A new report from the Center for American Progress suggests that Obama tap his executive powers to advance more modest proposals left on his agenda after spending the last two years racking up some big but messy wins in Congress.
"The public wants progress, not positioning," said John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton who now heads CAP. If Obama can't find partners in the new congressional regime, Podesta said the president should turn to executive orders, rulemaking, agency management, and his command of the armed forces to start implementing changes.
It's an approach Fortune first outlined last month in the story "How will Obama get things done?" But Podesta distinguished himself in the Clinton administration as the quarterback of a broad push to put the strategy into action, and the report fleshes out more potential targets for it.
For the economy, for example, the group proposes that Obama act without congressional approval to launch a new "competitiveness strategy;" set an aggressive agenda for the new consumer financial protection bureau; accelerate implementation of a measure aimed at boosting hiring and purchasing by small businesses; and promote automatic foreclosure mediation to stem the housing crisis.
And on energy and environmental policy, it suggests Obama move to reduce oil imports, in part by slapping a $2 per barrel fee on foreign oil; cut greenhouse gas pollution 17% by 2020, mostly by emboldening the Environmental Protection Agency; expand conservation of federal lands by using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act; and generate solar energy from the roofs of U.S. Air Force hangars.
Podesta said a shift in focus away from Capitol Hill marks a natural maturing process for every presidency, particularly true for Obama after signing several pieces of landmark legislation into law.
"Now it's in the doing," Podesta said, meaning that the White House must invest in implementing and defending those measures, on top of the menu of new actions to consider pursuing by executive fiat.
Some in the Obama camp have pooh-poohed as small-ball those items that Clinton chased after losing his congressional majorities. Clinton's effort to mandate school uniforms, for example, became emblematic of what liberals derided as presidential tinkering.
But Podesta pointed to significant achievements that Clinton notched without consulting lawmakers -- protecting more land than any president since Teddy Roosevelt, setting up protections for Americans' medical privacy, and enlisting private sector help to move 1 million welfare recipients back into jobs.
The report suggests the approach also offers political benefits to a president diminished by the grinding legislative battles of the last two years: "It would be a welcome relief from watching legislative maneuvering to see the work of a strong executive who is managing the business of the country through troubled times, doing more with less, each day working to create a stronger economy and a more effective government."